Sunday, October 29, 2006

Johnnie Taylor - Rome (Wasn't Built In A Day) (SAR 131)

Rome (Wasn't Built In A Day)

Johnnie Taylor's career as a Minister had pretty much played itself out by April of 1961, and he was ready to cross back over and start singing popular music. Sam and Alex had been waiting for him, and welcomed him back into the fold. In his absence, SAR Records had become more than just an outlet for The Soul Stirrers and, in addition to Gospel, was now recording R&B and pop on artists like Johnnie Morisette and The Simms Twins. The first single released under Taylor's own name, A Whole Lotta Woman (SAR 114), didn't do much.

Beverly and Betty Prudhomme (shown here with influential LA dee-jay Art Laboe, the founder of Original Sound Records), were a pair of twin 'proto-groupies' that began hanging around Sam soon after he hit big with You Send Me in 1957. They had written a song that was recorded by a country singer named Johnny Russell, and they pitched it to Sam. He asked them if he could 'work with it', and essentially wrote a new tune centered around the twins' original idea. The girls, needless to say, were thrilled with the idea of Sam recording their song.

Sam, meanwhile, thought it would be perfect for Johnnie Taylor's next single (he promised the twins he would record it himself later on, and he did). The sessions that produced Rome (Wasn't Built In a Day) were held in January of 1962 in Hollywood. Cooke and Alex pulled out all the stops, using Sam's arranger Réné Hall along with stalwarts Clif White on guitar and Earl Palmer on drums. Sam was a perfectionist in the studio, and kept after Johnnie until he got the vocal just the way he wanted it. Unhappy with the background vocal track, he overdubbed himself, Alex and Lou Rawls singing those 'hup-hah-cha-las' and basically turned out a Sam Cooke record, with Johnnie sounding almost exactly like the man himself. The record sold well locally, but didn't turn out to be the hit record they all thought it would. I think it's great, myself, and as good if not better than the stuff RCA was producing on Cooke at that point.

Johnnie was becoming increasingly resentful of Sam, saying things like "Sam always trying to tell me how to sing a song? I know how to godamn sing a song!", and feeling he and his label mates were being 'taken advantage of'. He apparently also believed that the only reason Cooke had him signed to his label at all was to keep him from competing directly with him (!).

J.W. Alexander started up his Derby subsidiary in 1963, and, after one more SAR single flopped early that year, it was decided that Taylor's records would be released on Derby. As a matter of fact, Alex thought it best to run the sessions on Johnnie himself, and Sam stayed away entirely. The concept paid off, as Johnnie's second single for the label, Baby We've Got Love (Derby 1006) actually broke the Billboard Hot 100 late in the year.

That summer, a San Fransisco based blues singer named Johnny Merrett who had changed his name to Little Johnny Taylor took Part Time Love all the way to number one R&B (it even cracked the top 20 pop). At first, Johnnie was pissed off, but he soon realized that he was getting more gigs because of it. He changed his whole approach, and began singing a more 'bluesy' brand of R&B, just like 'the other guy'.

On December 7, 1964, Johnnie Taylor was at the RCA studio in Hollywood with Alex, working on his next single. Sam met them there when they were done, and the three of them went to catch Little Johnny Taylor's act at The California Club. Cooke was murdered just four days later. The record they had been working on, You Can Run (But You Can't Hide) became the second to last release on SAR before Alex folded the label in 1965.

JT's incredible story continues over on The B side....

11/2/06 Hey y'all, I just HAD to bring this up from the 'comments' section...

Roberto left a link to a Dutch radio blog page that features an incredible you tube video of Johnnie performing 'Rome' live on TV. Please click here to check it out!

Thanks, Roberto... I'm lovin' those 'go-go boys'!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an awesome tune.
Check this clip out:

1:54 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

hey im a really big fan of this song, and i was wondering if anyone has a hard copy of the live version from the 1966 the!!!! beat performance. its been taken off youtube, and i dont have a credit card so i cant buy the actual dvd. thanks alot

5:06 PM  

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