Friday, May 15, 2009

Gene Allison - Have Faith (Vee-Jay 855)

Have Faith

This is, in my humble opinion, one of the best records ever made.

Gene Allison came up singing Gospel, but not long after Ted Jarrett hunted him down in a Nashville poolroom in 1954, he agreed to try his hand at R&B. After a few sides that went nowhere, Ted brought him into Owen Bradley's primitive 'Quonset Hut' studio on Sixteenth Avenue South (soon to become the cornerstone of  'music row') in 1957 to cut a song he had written called You Can Make It If You Try, using members of the Joe Morris Orchestra. He leased the masters from that session to Decca, but only for a limited time. When they failed to appreciate what they had, Jarrett moved on.

Already a force on the Nashville R&B scene, Ted picked up Larry Birdsong's contract when his time at Excello was up. Birdsong had hit big for the label in 1956, when Pleadin' For Love almost broke into the R&B top ten, but hadn't done much since. Jarrett had been friends with Ewart Abner for a few years, and when Abner took over as General Manager of Vee-Jay, he came knocking on Ted's door, looking to sign Birdsong to the Chicago company. "You can have Larry," Jarrett told him' "but only if you sign this kid Gene Allison, too." Abner was none too happy about it, but he agreed to take on both artists. Much to everyone's surprise (except Jarrett's, of course), it was Allison who broke things wide open when the same Quonset Hut recording he had leased to Decca climbed all the way to #3 R&B (and even broke into the Pop Top 40) in early 1958 (Birdsong, unfortunately, would never chart again).

Vee-Jay knew a good thing when they saw it, and was set to pull out all the stops when it came to recording Allison's follow-up record. Borrowing Sonny Thompson's eighteen piece orchestra from Syd Nathan at King, they scheduled a session at Universal Studio in Chicago that Spring. According to Jarrett; "...I slipped up and drank too much before the session. In fact I had so much alcohol, I was in the Twilight Zone... they wouldn't let me in. I raved and ranted... Finally they went and got the president of Vee-Jay, Ewart Abner, and he let me in." In spite of (or possibly because of) the booze, it was Ted who came up with that great big E Flat intro that sets the tone for this monumental recording. I just love it.

With the same kind of inspirational message as Gene's first hit, I had always assumed that Have Faith (which would just miss the R&B top ten itself) was written by Jarrett. Not so... according to the label, it was composed by Sonny Thompson and Henry Stone. Henry Stone? Like T.K. Records, Get Down Tonight Henry Stone? Now, how did that happen? Well, as it turns out, when Syd Nathan re-activated his Deluxe label in 1953, he had leased some sides that Henry had produced on Otis Williams & The Charms for his Florida based Rockin' label, and put Stone in charge of the subsidiary. When The Charms sent Hearts Of Stone to #1 R&B for nine weeks in the fall of 1954, Deluxe, and Henry Stone, were on top of the world. In 1955, amidst all kinds of turmoil in the group, Stone worked out a deal that left Otis Williams with Syd Nathan at King, while he took what was left of The Charms (along with other 'mutually owned properties') to Florida to form his own label.

That label was called Chart, and among it's releases were several singles by Sonny Thompson. These sides must have been part of the deal he made with Nathan, as Thompson remained under contract to King (going on to be the man behind all of those great Federal Freddy King records) until they closed their Chicago office in 1964. On Henry Stone's website, it says that he formed two publishing companies in 1955 as well, one of which was called Pelican. Pelican is listed on the Vee-Jay label here as one of the publishers, and I guess it's not much of a stretch to think that Stone got a piece of both the songwriting and the publishing on Have Faith as part of the deal he made with Syd Nathan. Intrigued by all of this, I called Henry in Miami. I left a message with the guy who answered the phone, who asked me what this was in reference to... Henry hasn't called me back.

Be that as it may, Gene Allison was hot. Ted Jarrett put together a Nashville R&B package that included, at one time or another, Allison, Christine Kittrell, Roscoe Shelton, Earl Gaines and Larry Birdsong, and hired Jimmy Beck & His Orchestra to back them up out on the road. Known as 'The Pipe Dreamers' after their 1959 local instrumental hit, this was essentially the band that The Buzzard, and Lattimore Brown, had taken out of Little Rock the year before. Lattimore travelled with Allison and the band to Fort Worth, Texas, and there is a famous story (repeated by the recently deceased Jarrett in his great autobiography You Can Make It If You Try) about how Gene abandoned the band there in Texas to starve while he went off to perform some gigs in Florida.

Our man Lattimore remembers it differently, as he and the rest of the band saw opportunities on the hoppin' club scene in Dallas, where they could rule the roost in places like The Empire Room, and didn't want to go back to Nashville where they'd be lost in the crowd. The Pipe Dreamers apparently broke up at that point, with Allison deciding he ought to stick with Jarrett (whom he referred to as 'Dainty'), and head on back to Music City. As Lattimore took over the reins of the band, this would begin his 'Dallas period' when he recorded those great Duchess sides, and worked behind the scenes with Jack Ruby at The Atmosphere Lounge...

Sir Lattimore still speaks highly of Gene Allison (who passed away, sadly, in 2004), and remembers those days out on the road with him fondly. At any moment, he is apt to break into his own rendition of Have Faith, and has told me that the song pretty much represents his outlook on life...

"Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,
Just Say A Prayer At Night.
Have A Little Faith In What You Do,
And Everything's Gonna Be Alright."

I am right there with that.


Blogger ana-b said...

wow...somehow 'excellent post' just doesn't quite do this one justice......

it's a beautiful song...thank you..

have faith, indeed..

6:29 PM  
Blogger Darcy said...

Well, what do you know? - I bought 4 singles at the weekend, I get onto the internet to find out some more about the artists and two of them lead me to you Red. Sweet Miss Coffy led me to your Senator Jones (RIP) post and Gene Allison led me here.

Great posts as always. I keep reading, I keep listening, I keep buying, I keep learning.

11:39 AM  

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