Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Five Pennies - Mr. Moon (Savoy 1182)


Clifford Curry went to Austin High School in Knoxville, Tennessee with Benjamin Washington, who was the lead singer for a local doo-wop group named The Echoes. A song Clifford had written just knocked Washington out, and he invited him to become the sixth member of the group, who had just changed their name to The Five Pennies (go figure). In late 1955, The group's manager arranged for them to travel to New York City and audition for Atlantic Records. Although Atlantic apparently wasn't impressed, Herman Lubinsky at Savoy was.

They cut Clifford's song in one take with Sam 'The Man' Taylor on tenor, Mickey Baker on guitar and Panama Francis on drums. "I can still see Mr. Lubinsky jumping up in the control room," Clifford told us. Although it would miss the R&B charts, Savoy believed in the record enough to advertise it in Billboard, and send all 6 Pennies out on the road to open for Nappy Brown. It was all a lot of fun but, when Clifford's father insisted that he finish High School, they went their separate ways.

Once he graduated, Clifford's brother convinced him to come see this hot band that was tearing it up at the local clubs whenever they came through Knoxville, The Bubba Suggs Organ Combo.

"Some guy hollered... 'Hey Bubba, we got a guy in here can sing - let him sing one!'So they called me up there... the place was packed, and I sang 'Further On Up The Road' by Bobby Bland. They asked me to leave with them the next time they came... I stayed with them four years. I thought they were ambitious like I was, but evidently they weren't. Ted Jarret produced one record on them, and it never came out... we played on two recordings by Joe Tex. We toured with him a long time."

Meet Me In Church

Yes, much to his credit, Buddy Killen would use Bubba's band, with Clifford handling the backup vocals, on both sides of Dial 3007 in 1962 (as you may recall, it was Solomon Burke's cover of this side that would have a significant impact on yours truly years later).

Once his gig with Bubba had run its course, Clifford returned home to Knoxville, where he had been one of the first black entertainers to perform with local white bands in the late fifties. He would hook up with Rob Galbraith's Midnites and hold down a gig at the popular University of Tennessee watering hole The Pump Room three nights a week. Although the 16mm clip below has no audio, it still offers a glimpse into just how popular and influential a figure Curry was in those days throughout the Mid-South.

How cool was this cat?

Clifford's other Nashville recordings have been well-documented, as are his subsequent collaborations with 'white boys' like Buzz Cason, Mac Gayden and Chuck Neese which would produce the eternal She Shot A Hole In My Soul and lead to his long tenure as the undisputed King of Carolina Beach Music for the past several decades.

I'd like to take a moment here to talk about Clifford Curry the man, and how I came to know him. After the re-discovery of Sir Lattimore Brown in 2007, I set about scouring the web for any and all records by him that I could find. On one of the great Seventy-Seven 45s the songwriter credits read 'C.Curry - L.Brown' - as I said back then:

Bless Your Heart

"This had to be Clifford Curry, I figured. I was able to track Clifford down through his manager, Joe Meador, and spent a delightful hour on the phone with him... Like most everybody else, he thought Lattimore was dead, and he couldn't believe we had found his long lost friend. He told me that he met Brown when he came into Knoxville to play a gig at Harper's V.I.P. Lounge, and that he liked the town so much he decided to stay. The two became fast friends, and hung out together all the time. Curry, who wrote most of his own material, recorded demos of his songs with a piano player named Winfred Doggett on a little Wollensack tape recorder that he had. Lattimore liked two of the songs, and brought them to John R in Nashville. Clifford never heard another word about them, he said, and didn't know if they had ever been released, or even recorded, until now. This was all news to him..."

I spoke with Clifford often after that, and I learned something new every time we talked. He had continued writing his own material, and kept up a steady stream of CD releases on small labels that he could offer for sale at his many gigs in The Carolinas, where he was as much a star as he had ever been. Every now and then, he'd mail me an autographed copy of one of them, along with a personal note in which he never failed to ask God to Bless me and my family.

I loved him.

In 2009, as I hatched a scheme to bring Lattimore back to Nashville and re-unite him with his Jefferson Street compadres, I knew that all I really had to do was call Clifford, who helped me put the whole thing together.

Clifford was the first one on the scene, and it did my heart good to see the genuine love he had for this prodigal son of Soul - this friend he liked to call 'The Mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee' who had been lost, and now was found, after forty years in the desert. People, it was deep.

Clifford was a very spiritual man, in the best sense of the word. When you were with him, he never spoke about it, or tried to proselytize, yet you knew this was a man who was grounded in Faith. He never failed to send us a Christmas Card... he didn't have to do that, but he did.

In 2012, during our epic Soul Detective Road Trip that year, Clifford welcomed John Broven, Chase Thompson and I into his modest apartment in Nashville that was filled floor to ceiling with photos, mementos and memorabilia from his almost sixty years in the business. I am so thankful that Chase had the cameras rolling as we sat with him and listened as he told the old stories. We really knew very little about the early days of his career at that point, and this post is the direct result of that interview on that sweltering August day...

Stacked In The Back

Ever the promoter, Clifford sent us home with a copy of his latest CD, The Soul of Clifford Curry. Produced by Clayton Ivey and Bruce Dees, it was the real deal, and we played it over and over again in that little rental car as the miles flew by. If there was any justice in the world, it should have been a major hit.

Clifford called me a while back to tell me he was moving back to Knoxville, and gave me his new address. When the Christmas Card we sent him was returned as 'moved no forwarding address' last December I feared the worst. I called his cell phone. It had been disconnected... not a good sign.

As I was driving through Knoxville on yet another August road trip last month, something told me to try that number again. I couldn't believe it when he answered the phone. "Mister Kelly! (that's what he always called me, Mister Kelly) Oh man, you made my day! I didn't think I'd ever hear from you again! Yes Sir, you made my day! It's so good to hear your voice!"

We spoke for a while, and he sounded like the usual upbeat, positive force in the universe that he was, telling me all about the plans for his next performance on September 28th, with no mention of the ongoing health issues that had landed him in the hospital earlier in the year. I made a note of his new address, and promised to visit him next time I was in town... as usual I was on my own self-imposed tight schedule, and on my way to Nashville. I should have gone to see him right then and there, I owed him that much.

But I didn't.

I will regret that decision for the rest of my life.

Clifford Curry Funeral Arrangements:
Saturday, September 17th - 3pm
Patton Funeral Home
265 Fair St SE
Cleveland, TN 37311



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