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.


Blogger Red Kelly said...

...most label scans courtesy of

2:35 PM  

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