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


Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Merle Haggard and The Strangers - I Threw Away The Rose (Capitol 5844)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Charles Brown - Merry Christmas Baby (King 6194)

Merry Christmas Baby

That's right... you guessed it - it's time for yet another version of Charles Brown's Merry Christmas Baby!

As we said last year, "Brown recorded what many consider to be the definitive version for King Records in Cincinnati in August of 1968, shortly after Syd Nathan died. By October, King had been taken over by Don Pierce and Hal Neely, who apparently chose not to renew Brown's contract..."

Be that as it may, the King release soon supplanted both the Hollywood and Imperial versions, and was the one you heard on the radio in 'Soul Locations' every Christmas. As we've seen, by 1973 it had chased them off Billboard's annual Christmas Singles chart as well, and had become the new standard.

Sadly, this is no longer the case as places like Pandora, Sirius XM and Spotify don't seem to have this record in their rotation, and the one you hear is the 1994 Cool Christmas Blues version. Oh well...

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Patience Valentine - Woman In A Man's World (SAR 157)

Woman In A Man's World

Harold Battiste had 'the touch'.

After studying music at Dillard University, he found work as a music teacher in New Orleans' public schools. In 1956, Harold and fellow Dillard graduate Ellis Marsalis travelled to Los Angeles to jam with Ornette Coleman. In love with the concept of 'modern' jazz, he made some demo recordings while he was out there, hoping to shop them around to some west coast labels.

When he knocked on the door of Specialty Records, Bumps Blackwell was getting ready to cut a session on the recently 'crossed-over' Sam Cooke. Blackwell had big plans for Sam, and had pulled out all the stops, going so far as to hire the decidedly whitebread Lee Gotch Singers to sing background vocals. "Sam had this song called You Send Me," Battiste told John Sinclair, "it was a nice little thing but it didn't say nothing, so he told me to change the words, and make this verse the second verse and something like that... we had some singers there in the studio, and they didn't have anything to sing, so I wrote out some parts for them... at the session, man, Art Rupe came in, and he wigged! He didn't go for that. 'What you got Sam doing here? It sounds like white folks on there!'"

Blackwell had been delivering red hot R&B chart toppers to Specialty on Little Richard, and Rupe expected more of the same. Rock 'n' Roll was where the money was to be made, he thought, not this middle-of-the-road crap. By all accounts, Rupe really went off at the session, making it virtually impossible for Bumps (and Sam) to continue to record for the label. When the smoke cleared, Rupe hammered out a deal that essentially released them from their contracts, and allowed Blackwell to hold on to the tapes from what he considered a worthless session. Released as a B side on the fledgling Keen label, it wasn't long before the dee-jays flipped it over, and the 'white folks' ate it up, sending 'You Send Me' to the top of the Billboard Top 100 for three weeks in December of 1957.

With Johnny Vincent gone, Rupe put Battiste in charge of his New Orleans operation. "I came back down here and set up an office on North Claiborne, he told Sinclair, "...I would audition people here, and then Art would listen to the tapes and decide what they wanted me to record. Man, I had Chris Kenner, they turned him down. I had Toussaint - him and a cat named Allen Orange came and auditioned, and they turned them down. I had Irma Thomas - I mean, everybody around here, I had a shot at. Because I did auditions on them and sent them off to Art Rupe, and he passed on them." (Imagine?) The requisite Rock 'n' Roll records Battiste did produce for the label on folks like Art Neville and Jerry Byrne went nowhere, fast.

By 1959, Rupe began to lose interest in the music business altogether and stopped supplying Harold with a regular paycheck. He then went to work for local record man Joe Ruffino, arranging a session for him on the energetic Joe Jones. Released on Ruffino's Ric imprint, You Talk Too Much was making some local noise, "...but me and Joe felt we could make this a big record," Battiste said, "Joe was a real hustler, and we went out all through the South in his station wagon, stopping at every radio station that had an antenna... that was just about the time Fidel Castro was doing his marathon speeches, you know, in Cuba, so Joe started playing off that. He wrote a letter to Castro, and sent him a record... By the time we got to Chicago, we had got an answer back from Castro! One of his boys, they wrote back a nice little letter..."

"So we went over to Jet magazine with this letter from Castro, congratulating us, and they ran a little feature. And the record really began to take off behind this publicity." You gotta love it.

Continuing on to New York City, the pair were flat broke when they saw in the paper that fellow New Orleans homeboy Lloyd Price was performing at a club 'out in Coney Island'. Scraping together enough change for two tokens, they took the subway to where Lloyd was playing and he helped get them back on their feet, arranging a meeting with infamous Roulette Records chief Morris Levy. Jones had neglected to tell Battiste (or Joe Ruffino for that matter) that he had already signed a contract with Levy, and had actually cut a version of 'You Talk Too Much' for Roulette in 1958 that hadn't been released. Levy went ballistic, summoning Ruffino to New York to threaten him with a lawsuit (and Lord knows what else). "After Roulette got Joe's throat there," Harold told John Broven, "boy, I was scared to death... that's the Mafia!" Once the smoke cleared, Levy had made Ruffino an offer he couldn't refuse, re-released the single on Roulette, and asserted his right to Jones' contract, sending Harold home with his tail between his legs.

"After that I started thinking about the way things worked in the recording industry and what could be done about it," he told Sinclair, " seemed to me that as musicians on the one hand, and as Blacks on the other, we had to do something to reclaim the ownership of the music we produced so that we would be the ones to profit from it, if there were profits to be had. So I started talking to the cats about this, and we formed A.F.O. as a means of gaining some control over what we were producing. The original shareholders and board of directors were also like the house band, what we called the A.F.O. Studio Combo: Red Tyler, Melvin Lastie, Roy Montrell, Chuck Badie and John Boudreaux."

With 'All For One' representing both the name of the company and it's idealistic world-view, Battiste set out to find national distribution. Sonny Bono, who had been in charge of Specialty's Los Angeles office just as Harold had been in New Orleans, put him in touch with Juggy Murray at Sue Records in New York. The fact that Murray was a black man fit nicely with the A.F.O. vision and they signed on with him. Now distributed by Sue, the label's second single, I Know by Barbara George, shot straight up to the top, spending a month at #1 R&B in early 1962.

...but there was a problem.

Marshall Sehorn had brought Murray's New York competitor Bobby Robinson down to New Orleans in the Summer of 1961 to cut Lee Dorsey's Ya-Ya. "I tried to hire Allen Toussaint to play piano on Dorsey's sessions," Robinson said, "but Allen was 'on staff' for another record company... Harold Battiste, who was another great New Orleans musician, got the band together for me. He wrote the arrangement overnight." Robinson, of course, couldn't resist printing 'Arranger: H. Battiste' on the label as it beat George's A.F.O. single to the top of the R&B chart in November of 1961. "I didn't know anything about that shit, man, New York and all that, Harold said, See, me, I'm still thinking like Muhammad: we're all Black cats, you know what I mean? We'll supply all y'all's music, man, we got plenty of it here, there's no use fightin' over a record - we'll just do another one!" But Murray was pissed off, and his relationship with Harold was never the same. By May of 1962, he had succeeded in luring Barbara away from her hometown, and signing her directly to Sue, effectively sounding the death-knell for A.F.O as a national hit-maker.

By August of 1963, the oppressive heat of the New Orleans Summer seemed to have dried up the Crescent City R&B scene for good. Harold and the rest of the A.F.O. executives decided to pull up stakes and head out for greener pastures on the left coast. There Battiste would re-connect with Sam Cooke, who had started up his own independent SAR label (along with former Pilgrim Traveler J.W. Alexander) which shared much the same vision as A.F.O.. For his part, Sam was impressed with Battiste, and the two became fast friends. "It was obvious," Harold told Peter Guralnick, "that he wanted to be more than a popular singer, that he wanted to be involved in social things." Just as he had done for Specialty back home on Claiborne Avenue, he floated the idea of creating 'Soul Stations' in the heart of the black community in Los Angeles to audition local talent that would otherwise be shut out by the recording establishment.

Sam was all over the idea, and by January of 1964 'Soul Station #1' was in operation on the corner of 37th and Vermont. Cooke was a big enough star by then to be able to call the shots at RCA, and brought the unlikely combination of his Soul Stirrers and the A.F.O. Combo together on the session that yielded top forty R&B hit Tennessee Waltz. Sam then made sure Harold was in the house when he cut the mighty, mighty A Change Is Gonna Come two days later... Installed at the Soul Station, the Combo became SAR's 'house band', and by March of 1964 Battiste had been named the label's 'Chief of Productions'.

Things were finally looking good.

The positively senseless murder of Sam Cooke that December shocked Black America, and brought SAR to its knees. "It was ridiculous, man," Battiste told John Broven, "of all the cats in the world to die under those circumstances, Sam didn't deserve that." He most certainly did not. Although J.W. Alexander would valiantly try to carry on, without the support of Sam's widow Barbara, SAR was doomed to fail. Released in March of 1965, this amazing record we have here today, 'Arranged and Conducted by Harold Battiste, Jr.', would be the final SAR release. With it's lush minor-keyed orchestration and subject matter, at first glance it appears to be an answer record to James Brown's It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World...

...except for the fact that the Godfather's record wouldn't be released for another year! Hmmm... According to BMI, Brown co-wrote his #1 R&B smash with his then girlfriend (and sometimes back-up singer) Betty Jean Newsome. A demo version of the song had been recorded in Chicago in June of 1964, but it remained unreleased until it surfaced on the great Star Time boxed set in 1991. Our Patience Valentine track here was co-written by J.W. Alexander and his then girlfriend, Carol Crawford, and was apparently released before the Brown demo was cut. Not much seems to be known about Crawford (or Patience Valentine for that matter), but it all just seems like too much of a co-incidence...

Be that as it may, while Harold was running the shop at Soul Station #1, his friend from the Specialty days, Sonny Bono, was a frequent visitor. He had hooked up with a back-up singer named Cherilyn Sarkisian, and cut a 45 for Vault Records under the unwieldy name of Caesar and Cleo in March of 1964. On the strength of that record, they were signed by Reprise and, after one more release, somebody got the bright idea to change the name of the duo to Sonny and Cher. Although he is not credited on the label, Battiste arranged their next single Baby Don't Go, which got some local airplay in the Fall of 1964, but apparently not enough to keep Reprise interested.

With Sam dead, and SAR folding, Harold was available, and Sonny brought his secret weapon with him when he signed with ATCO in early 1965. Although still un-credited, it was Battiste's astounding arrangement that sent the eternal I Got You Babe to the top slot on the Hot 100 for three weeks that Summer. Re-released by Reprise, Baby Don't Go would break into the top ten during the same time frame. After a few more releases, Harold was finally given label credit as Sonny and Cher's 'Arranger & Conductor', and would go on to be the Musical Director of their hit TV show for the next fifteen years.

As a respected member of the Los Angeles recording scene at places like the legendary Gold Star Studios, Battiste helped get work for the New Orleans musicians he knew from the Specialty and A.F.O. days, including a young piano player named Mac Rebennack. As legend has it, Harold and Mac hatched the concept of Dr. John the Night Tripper (loosely based on Need You, an unreleased song Jessie Hill had written for Prince La La at A.F.O.) during unused Sonny and Cher studio time that ATCO had already paid for. Reportedly, Ahmet Ertegun was not amused.

In addition to producing the first two Dr. John albums, Battiste formed a company with Rebennack called Hal-Mac Productions and cut some truly great 45s on fellow New Orleans expatriates like the aforementioned Jessie Hill, Alvin Robinson and King Floyd for a short-lived Mercury subsidiary label named Pulsar. With little or no promotion from the parent company, these records went nowhere and, by the early 70s, the 'N.O., LA in L.A.' recording scene had pretty much ceased to exist...

In 1989, Ellis Marsalis, the man who had first accompanied him to Los Angeles in 1956, convinced Harold to return home and join him as a member of the Jazz Studies faculty at The University of New Orleans, where he would continue to influence generations of aspiring musicians. Building on what he had started back in 1961, Harold would then create the AFO Foundation, a non-profit service and educational organization "dedicated to recognizing, perpetuating and documenting the heritage of New Orleans music and the people who make the music... the future of our past."

A true visionary, Harold Battiste's spirit will live on...

...This Is How We Do It In New Orleans.

Be sure to check out Harold's great autobiography, UNFINISHED BLUES: MEMORIES OF A NEW ORLEANS MUSIC MAN. Co-written with fellow UNO faculty member Karen Celestan, it was published by the Historic New Orleans Collection in 2010. Click here to listen to a WWNO interview in which Harold discusses the book with our pal Fred Kasten.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Ben E. King - It's All Over (Atco 6315)

With the passing of Don Covay in February, and now the great Ben E. King, the entire Soul Clan has been reunited once again...
Rest In Peace Soul Man!

Here's a piece I wrote about King back in 2010:

It's All Over

You know, after I did that post over on the other side about the Soul Clan single, I realized that the only member of the Clan that I hadn't written about was Ben E. King. I guess I just never got around to it... but there's more to it than that, I think. When people talk about the great Atlantic Soul singers, King's name is hardly ever mentioned. As a matter of fact, people have written (myself included), that Ben E. was a last minute addition to the Soul Clan project, recruited to replace Wilson Pickett. Well, as I pointed out a while back, I don't think that was the case. Don Covay, the principal architect of the whole idea, was apparently a big fan, and had hoped to include him all along...

Born in North Carolina, but raised in Harlem, Benjamin Earl Nelson came up singing doo-wop on the street corners, like most kids his age. His group The Four Bs took second place at one of the Apollo Theater's fabled amateur night competitions, and led to his being asked to join the more established Five Crowns. After the Crowns apparently showed up the listless Drifters (who had been reeling ever since Clyde McPhatter left the group three years earlier) on stage at the Apollo in 1958, heavy-handed manager George Treadwell fired what was left of the original members, and from that moment on, The Crowns became The Drifters.

Atlantic assigned the group to their west coast w√ľnderkinds Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, who had just delivered three consecutive #1 R&B hits on The Coasters. They were on a roll. Ben brought them a song he had been working on in their live performances, and had written with their lead vocalist Charlie Thomas in mind. At the sessions in March of 1959, Charlie had trouble with the tune, and so Ben E. (who was usually the baritone) took the lead, and just blew everyone away.

Even more astonishing was Leiber & Stoller's decision to add strings to what essentially was a straight ahead doo-wop record, something that had never been tried before. When they played it for Jerry Wexler, he "pronounced it dogmeat... it sounded like a radio caught between two stations, neither one totally tuned." Ahmet Ertegun persuaded them to remix the record with Tom Dowd, but the company was still reluctant to release it. When they finally did put it out that summer, it took the country by storm, going straight to #1 R&B (#2 Pop) and staying on the charts for almost 5 months as it paved the way for just about everything that was to follow.

Wexler had been proven spectacularly wrong - something which, I'm sure, he was loath to admit.

Leiber & Stoller, on the other hand, had proven themselves to be bona-fide hit makers and began to demand things like label credits and producer's royalties, something which had been previously unheard of.

They brought in fellow 'Jewish Mambo-Nicks' like Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (who had worked with the group when they were still The Crowns) and created a string of unforgettable Drifters' hits including Dance With Me, This Magic Moment and Save The Last Dance For Me, all of which featured our man Benjamin Nelson on lead vocals. These songs will live forever, and are woven into the very fabric of American Popular Music.

But Leiber & Stoller weren't through.

When Nelson tried to renegotiate the terms of his contract with George Treadwell, it became apparent (just as it had to Clyde McPhatter before him) that he was little more than a hired hand. He left the group at the height of its popularity, and set out on his own as Ben E. King. In October of 1960, with Save The Last Dance For Me at #1 on both the R&B and Pop charts, King entered the studio with Leiber & Stoller and cut two more absolute Soul standards, Young Boy Blues and Spanish Harlem, both of which had been co-written with a new arrival from the left coast, Phil Spector. Released on ATCO, Spanish Harlem would break into the Pop top ten in early 1961 (only to be surpassed ten years later, of course, when Aretha took it and made it forever her own).

Perhaps the most timeless of all the songs that King would record with Leiber & Stoller, however, was cut at those same 1960 sessions. Just as had happened with There Goes My Baby, it was Ben who brought the idea into the studio. Taken loosely from Charles Tindley's Gospel standard (and the Soul Stirrers 1959 adaptation), Stand By Me is just an amazing piece of work. Featuring, once again, that 'Jewish-Latin' beat, and resonating in the heart and soul of everyone who's ever heard it, it spent a month at #1 R&B (#4 Pop) in 1961.

Despite all of this, Atlantic was in trouble. Both Ray Charles and Bobby Darin had walked out on them by then, and things were not looking good. Leiber & Stoller's accountant advised them to perform a 'routine audit' of the royalties the company owed them, and found that they had been underpaid by $18,000. Wexler who (as we've seen) was not their biggest fan to begin with, must have viewed this as the last straw. "I'm deeply offended," he told Leiber. Ahmet Ertegun told them "Fine, I'll pay the eighteen thousand, but I don't ever want to do business with you again..." They backed down, and let Atlantic keep the money they owed them, but the damage was done. By the end of 1961, they were gone.

Much has been made of Solomon Burke's arrival at Atlantic as signaling the beginning of the 'soul era', and perhaps that's true. Wexler himself called it "the infusion of fresh energy I needed," and went on to produce Burke's first single for the label, Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms), in September of '61. A sweet remake of a Country standard, it made the top ten R&B, and even broke into the Pop top forty. It was around this time that Wexler latched on to another Brill building regular, and began using him as a producer to try and replace the work Leiber & Stoller (and the recently departed Phil Spector) had been doing for the label.

Bert Russell Berns was yet another New Yorker with a feel for the Latin rhythms he had heard growing up in The Bronx. After a couple of 45s that didn't do much, Bert had decided to concentrate on his songwriting and production. Like Leiber & Stoller before him, he had been doing freelance work for New York area labels like Wand and Big Top when Wexler enlisted him to work with Solomon Burke. They would take a song Berns had written, Cry To Me, all the way to #5 R&B in early 1962, and set the stage for the dozens of records he would produce on Solomon over the next few years. Perhaps the song that gets the most attention nowadays as one of the archetypes of Soul music (even though it only made it to #58 R&B at the time) is 1964's Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, which Berns had co-written with Wexler and Burke.

Right... so, what does this have to do with Ben E. King? Well, Berns had begun producing him as well in 1963, and this incredible number we have here (written by Berns and Mike Leander) was actually recorded two weeks earlier than Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, with the same studio band - a band that featured Wild Jimmy Spruill on electric guitar. Check out King's soulful vocals here, man... I mean, whoa! It's hard to believe that this 45 only managed to crawl to #72 R&B when it was released (two months after the Burke single) in September of 1964. The follow-up, Seven Letters, made it to #11, but is much more middle of the road... a place which Atlantic seemed to have reserved for King from then on.

Despite 1967's ambitious What Is Soul? (whose B side, They Don't Give Medals To Yesterday's Heroes, may have cut a little too close for comfort), and a trip to Muscle Shoals to record later that year - despite sessions held with Don Davis in Detroit and at American Sound in Memphis in 1968 (as well as his inclusion in the Soul Clan) somehow King was unable to claim his rightful place as one of Soul's true pioneers. 1969's prophetically titled Til I Can't Take It Anymore would be his last ATCO single to make the charts. "It was just a sign of the times, really..." King has been quoted as saying, "You have to accept that you are not going to stay on top forever."

As the story goes, Ahmet Ertegun heard him singing in some night club in Miami in the mid-seventies, and was so impressed that he re-signed him to Atlantic on the spot. His tremendous dance record, Supernatural Thing, would become his biggest hit since Stand By Me, going all the way to #1 R&B (#5 Pop) in early 1975. Incredibly, Ben E. King was back, scoring bigger hits in the 'disco era' than any of his fellow Soul Clan members had been able to. His follow-up, Do It In The Name of Love, cruised to #4, and led to his collaboration with the Average White Band, with whom he would chart twice in 1977. After one more chart appearance for the label in 1980, King moved on once more. "I think the saddest thing I've seen happen is the black music section of Atlantic disappear almost completely..." he said, "It shouldn't be like that, everybody should listen to the music, and if the music is good, put it out - whatever the hell it is."

The release of Rob Reiner's Stand By Me sent Ben E. King's original 1961 version of the song back into the top ten in 1986. It would actually hit #1 on the U.K. singles chart the following year, after it was used in an advert for Levi's. Not bad for a 25 year old recording! Stand By Me continues to live on, and was selected as number four out of the top 100 songs of the twentieth century by BMI. It's been covered by everyone from John Lennon to Maurice White (not to mention being sampled by Sean Kingston for the odious Beautiful Girls in 2007), and shows no signs of slowing down.

In 2005, a non-profit group named Playing For Change created this amazing global video based on Ben's song of songs:

How very cool is that?

Ben E. King, who will turn 72 in September, isn't slowing down either. He continues to perform, and is the head of his own Stand By Me Foundation, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for countless children who have been impacted by poverty, and further their education by providing much needed financial assistance. A veteran of over fifty years in the entertainment business, King's unique voice is truly one of the cornerstones of American Music.

No wonder Don Covay wanted him in the Soul Clan!