Monday, February 02, 2015

Don Covay & The Goodtimers - It's In The Wind (Atlantic 2494)

It's In The Wind

I just got the news that Soul Visionary Don Covay has left us. His contributions both as a songwriter and performer (and founding member of The Soul Clan) will live on forever. This hauntingly beautiful record, cut at American Studio in Memphis in 1967, still just lays me out every time I hear it.

"There's a sad, sad day for me up ahead..." May He Rest In Peace.

Below is an appreciation of Covay that first appeared on the site back in 2007.
Temptation Was Too Strong

Don Covay was born in South Carolina, but moved north to Washington D.C. shortly after his Baptist Minister father passed away in the mid-forties. His family kept close to their religious roots, and soon formed a Gospel group called The Cherry Keys that performed locally.

While still in High School, he was invited to join The Rainbows, a hot DC doo-wop group that had recorded for Bobby Robinson. After cutting a few sides on Pilgrim that went nowhere, the group broke-up. Although the exact circumstances are up for grabs, this was right around the time he met Little Richard (in Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick says that Covay was opening a show for Richard, while in The Quasar Of Rock, Richard himself says that he met him while in Washington to record Keep-A-Knockin').

Richard goes on to say that Covay "hung around me and my band, then he started to drive me places. I called him 'pretty boy'... he wrote a song based on that title and I said that he could use my band to record it..." The resulting single, Bip Bop Bip, was picked up by Atlantic in 1957, and is one of the greatest recorded examples of The Upsetters in their absolute prime, while Covay just rips it up, doing his best Little Richard. The artist credit on the record actually reads 'Pretty Boy'. I love it.

The next few years would see him recording for a dizzying number of labels. Blaze Records credited him as Don "Pretty Boy" Covay, while on his subsequent Sue effort, he's simply Don Covay.

To confuse matters further, Firefly listed him as 'Don Covay of the Rainbows', while on Big Records he was back to being known simply as 'Pretty Boy'. In any event, none of these records went anywhere.

He signed with Columbia in 1961, recording another trio of singles that died on the vine, before becoming one of Florence Greenberg's Soldier Boys on Scepter. A one-off single for Epic would follow, without much luck.

Meanwhile, a song he had written with former Rainbow John Berry, Pony Time, was released on Arnold Records, and would reach #60 on the pop charts. When Parkway Records released Chubby Checker's version of Pony Time in early 1961, it would blow by Covay's, going all the way to #1 both R&B and Pop on its way to becoming an even bigger hit than The Twist had been a couple of years earlier.

Cameo (Parkway's parent company) signed Covay to the label the following year, and would try to cash in on yet another dance craze, The Popeye. While Checker's Popeye (The Hitchiker) broke into the top ten, the single they released on Covay barely crawled to #75. It was called The Popeye Waddle and, despite a catchy Contours like number that promised 'you'll do fine if you get in line', it failed to catch on. The flip of that single, One Little Boy Had Money, hinted at the vocal style that was to come. Something called Do The Bug would follow, along with two Parkway singles that went nowhere.

The success of Pony Time, I'm sure, helped convince Don that his songwriting skills were in demand (as he would later explain to author Gerri Hirshey, "copyrights last longer than record labels"), and he moved to New York City. He began hanging around The Brill Building, and soon was writing songs for Roosevelt Music, the most respected name in R&B publishing in those days. It was during this period that he met Jesse Stone, who worked with him on composing 'happy blues' that were radio ready. Stone introduced him to Jerry Wexler, who had been hanging around the Brill Building ever since his Billboard days.

Wexler had just signed Solomon Burke to Atlantic, and was on the lookout for material for him. Covay knew the type of singer that Solomon was, and was able to tailor the follow-up record to his 1962 smash Cry To Me, specifically to him. I'm Hanging Up My Heart For You remains one of Burke's all-time classics, and marks the beginning of a life-long friendship and collaboration that would send songs like You're Good For Me and Tonight's The Night soaring into the top ten over the next few years.

I'm not sure why, but Atlantic was releasing Covay's own singles on a subsidiary label called Rosemart at that point (I've never seen records by any other artist on that imprint. have you?). Mercy, Mercy would crack the R&B top 40 in the fall of 1964, and essentially define Covay's own brand of funky guitar-driven R&B. There has been much speculation over the years about whether or not Jimi Hendrix played on that record (and Covay's next Rosemart release Take This Hurt Off Me), but there doesn't seem to be a definitive answer. One thing appears to be certain, that Covay (who wrote using the guitar instead of piano) is playing on those cuts. I like that.

Atlantic collected those singles, along with other material cut at their New York studios in 1964, and released Covay's first LP, Mercy!. In an interesting aside, Don had been using the name 'The Goodtimers' off and on since the first release of Pony Time in 1961. The name appears on the Rosemart singles, as well as on his Atlantic releases (like today's selection) until 1967. It apparently refers to the vocal group that backs him up on those records (sometimes, however, it sounds like only one other voice), but I can't for the life of me find out any information on who they might be. It seems possible that it was just Covay overdubbing a second harmony vocal (as was all the rage back then) but I don't know... In any event, his next single, Please Do Something, (featuring The Goodtimers, of course) went to #21 R&B in early 1965, becoming his biggest hit yet.

That was the summer that Wexler brought Wilson Pickett down to Stax to record his blockbuster hits In The Midnight Hour and 634-5789, and he figured it made sense to do the same with Don Covay. Just as Pickett had done, Covay collaborated with Steve Cropper to write the biggest-selling record of his career, the incredible See-Saw. It would spend almost four months on the charts, reaching #5 R&B and almost cracking the top 40 Pop (As good as this record was, I'm here to tell ya that the incendiary version that Aretha would take to the top ten in late 1968 is better... just ask Larry Grogan).

All in all, Covay recorded four sides at Stax (one of which was the amazing Sookie Sookie) before things got a little rough. According to Cropper; "Jim Stewart called Jerry Wexler and said 'Get Don Covay out of here. He's driving us nuts!'... I loved Don to death. We got along great, but I don't think Jim and them understood Don. He thinks in different areas... He jumps from this place to that. You never know what he's going to do next." Stewart used that, along with the house band's supposed dislike of Wilson Pickett, to bar Atlantic from sending any more of their artists down there in December of 1965.

As we talked about last week, this was the same period in which Covay wrote (and sang on) I Don't Know What You've Got (But It's Got Me) for his old friend Little Richard. As B side regular Lyle pointed out in the 'comments' on that post, Guralnick called that song "arguably equal to James Carr's The Dark End of the Street as the greatest soul ballad of all time... the Mt. Rushmore of soul." I will second Lyle's "Amen" to that.

After both Sookie Sookie and Iron Out The Rough Spots (the last of the Stax-recorded material) failed to chart in 1966, Atlantic brought Covay back into its New York studios to record today's cool B side. The flip of Somebody's Got To Love You (which didn't chart either), I think it has the same kind of vibe going on as the Little Richard record. With Atlantic's 'A team' (including King Curtis and Bernard Purdie) backing him up, I just love the way Covay name checks the whole Soul Clan on here, almost two years before the release of their lone single. You know, it's been commonly thought that Ben E. King was a last minute replacement for Wilson Pickett after he balked at the idea of being a member, but this way cool record would seem to prove otherwise... Don had him on the list all along!

He would return to the R&B top 50 with Shingaling '67, and In August of that year, Atlantic sent Covay down to American Studios in Memphis to record another unacknowledged soul masterpiece, It's In The Wind, one of my favorite records ever.

Covay was every record company executive's dream, a staff songwriter who could deliver the hits. Leonard Chess had begun using some of his material (think Etta James), but in late 1967, Atlantic would record what remains his best known work, Aretha Franklin's Chain Of Fools. With Joe South's tremelo-laden guitar tuned way down low to start things off, this immaculate Wexler production 'arranged and directed by Tom Dowd & Arif Mardin' cruised to #1 R&B (#2 Pop) in early 1968, and is simply one of those timeless songs that will never die.

I know we've talked about The Soul Clan before (in our Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, and Arthur Conley posts), but it's important to remember that the whole thing was Don Covay's idea. He was the one spinning the elaborate aspirations, daring to imagine a world in which Black Americans could control their own destinies. According to Solomon Burke, they had initially asked Atlantic for a million dollar guarantee up front, and the project was to include a complete album of material. The Clan was reportedly waiting for Otis Redding to fully recover from minor throat surgery when he died in that infamous plane crash in December of 1967. Covay, more than ever now, was committed to making his dream come true. He wrote and recorded the basic tracks of the single out in Hollywood with (an uncredited) Bobby Womack, and the rest of the Clan overdubbed their vocals as their schedule permitted. Arthur Conley, of course, would replace Otis, and Soul Meeting broke into the R&B top 40 in the summer of 1968. Although a great record, the Soul Clan's moment seemed to somehow already have passed. Whether it was due to a conscious decision on the part of the Atlantic brass (as Covay and Solomon Burke believe to this day) or not, that would be the end of that.

As the decade came to a close, Covay would start up another project, The Jefferson Lemon Blues Band. Along with John Hammond and Joe Richardson (whom Covay had worked with in The Soldier Boys), he created a very cool concept album called The House Of Blue Lights. The All Music Guide lauds it as "the sonic and spiritual blueprint for Let It Bleed and Exile on Main Street and parts of Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs". There ya go! Black Woman, a single by the band would chart in early 1970, and would be Covay's last recording for Atlantic.

Stops at Polydor and Janus would follow, before Covay signed with Mercury Records, reportedly working A&R for them as well. Superdude 1, his way cool 1973 album, would produce awesome cheatin' classics I Was Checkin' Out She Was Checkin' In and Somebody's Been Enjoying My Home. It's Better To Have (And Don't Need) clocked in at #21 R&B in 1974, followed by Rumble In The Jungle and one last Mercury album, Hot Blood, the following year.

He joined with Gamble & Huff at Philadelphia International for the disco-flavored No Tell Motel and Travelin' In Heavy Traffic in 1976, but the records didn't do much at the time. I'll tell ya though, the funky B side Once You Had It almost made it as today's selection... it's bad, yo! A single called Badd Boy on the Newman label would hit #75 in 1980, and that would be the end of Don's charting career.

In 1981, he was the man behind the long awaited Soul Clan reunion, which ended up being not much more than a press conference and a poorly planned concert. In any event, Covay still believed. As he told Guralnick; "The Soul Clan was to me the greatest thing that ever happened. I think the kind of love we had was an everlasting situation. If any of us ever need each other, you know we gonna be there."

In 1990, I went to the Lone Star Roadhouse in Manhattan to see a Booker T & the MGs reunion show at which Eddie Floyd was a special guest. I was seated at a table with a big guy in a pink suit and beaded corn-rows ala Stevie Wonder. I knew he had to be 'somebody', but I wasn't sure who. When Steve Cropper introduced him to the audience, I found out I was sitting with Don Covay. Unreal. As Covay got up to make his way backstage after the show, I followed along after him, and they let me pass, figuring I was with my man Don. Ol' Red was in soul heaven that night, hanging out with Cropper, Duck Dunn, Floyd and Covay talking about those glory days down on McLemore Avenue...

In 1992, Don Covay had a serious stroke that severely limited his abilities. He was unable to attend the ceremonies when the Rhythm & Blues Foundation presented him their pioneer award the following year. Through the love and support of his family and friends (the Rolling Stones apparently bought him his own rolling rehab facility), Covay has gotten better. He actually released an album called AdLib in 2000, on which he was joined by Wilson Pickett, Otis Clay, Dan Penn and Ronnie Wood.

Just last year, an album called Back To The Streets - Celebrating The Music Of Don Covay pulled together people like Wood, Mick Taylor, Gary U.S. Bonds and Robert Cray in a joyous tribute to Covay's incredible career. The BMI Repertoire database lists him as the writer or co-writer of some 340 songs. Songs that run the gamut from Doo-Wop to Rock & Roll, R&B, Soul, Blues and Funk. Don Covay's unique genius encompassed it all.

Have Mercy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wild Magnolias - (Big Chief Like Plenty Of) Fire Water (Treehouse 801)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Gone But Not Forgotten


One of eleven children, LeRoy Crume was the son of a Missouri sharecropper who would relocate with his family to Chicago when LeRoy was ten years old. Living in 'Bronzeville', he attended grammar school with a kid named Sam Cook. Both of their fathers were preachers, and before long both boys were out there singing in family Gospel groups. LeRoy saved up enough money from his paper route to buy a guitar, and was soon playing it with the group, becoming one of the first to introduce the instrument to Gospel Music.

Sam went on to become somewhat of a teen sensation as the lead singer of the popular Highway Q.C.'s, who would develop a friendly rivalry with The Crume Brothers, each trying to 'cut' the other in area appearances. Shortly after founding father R.H. Harris left The Soul Stirrers in 1950, he recruited LeRoy to play guitar for his new group, The Christland Singers. The Soul Stirrers, meanwhile, had chosen Sam to replace the highly regarded Harris, which was considered quite a bold move at the time. As the guitar began to become an essential component of Quartet Gospel (thanks, in large part, to LeRoy), The Stirrers hired a Philadelphian named Bob King away from The Southern Tones to accompany them on the road. When King became too ill to travel, Sam convinced the group to ask LeRoy to join them.

Against his better judgement, Crume left his 'day job' in Chicago and accepted their offer. Two 'young bucks' in what had essentially been an old man's game, the pair soon became inseparable, and their late night exploits raised eyebrows up and down the Gospel Highway.

After Cooke 'crossed over' in 1956, Crume became the group's de-facto leader, and it was his closeness with Sam that influenced their decision to sign with his new SAR label, a decision Crume would later call "the biggest mistake I would ever make... I allowed friendship to overrule my business sense." Be that as it may, LeRoy remained out there on the road backing up a series of Sam's successors, like Johnny Jones, Johnnie Taylor and the extremely 'bad' Jimmy Outler:

Just positively amazing stuff, I don't think you can say enough about LeRoy's driving guitar work, and just how great The Stirrers continued to be after Sam departed. He and Leroy remained very close and, in his mind, I don't think Cooke ever really left. "Sam was a Soul Stirrer until the night somebody murdered him," Leroy said.

"Sam was as close as any blood relative I've ever had... me and Sam had that special connection." Heartbroken, Leroy had lost his best friend, and within a few months he quit the group as well. He maintained that there was a lot more to Sam's death than met the eye, and that he was killed for not playing the game the way certain people wanted him to...

Leroy eventually wound up back in Chicago where, in addition to getting a job driving a bus for the CTA, he would become a member of the Jubilee Showcase house band. He began performing some secular material with a friend of his from The Clefs of Calvary named Calvin April, and somehow they wound up recording at American for Sound Stage 7 in 1968.

I'm Alright Now
SS7 2612
"We recorded that in Memphis. It was just before the assassination of Martin Luther King, in fact, they were checking into The Lorraine Motel as Calvin and I were checking out. We even talked for awhile to some of the people with him, like Jessie Jackson, The Staple Singers, and some of the others. The following night after getting back to Chicago, I turned on the TV, and it had just happened. That's how I first heard about it... by the way, Soul X 2, was NOT my favorite name, it was given to us by the DJ from, WLAC radio in Nashville, Hoss Allen. I later renamed us Branding Iron, and that's the way that story goes!"

In the wake of the tragic killing of Dr. King in their own backyard, Al Bell was faced with re-creating the newly independent Stax Records into something more than the sum of its parts. He immediately signed The Staple Singers and hooked up with Jesse Jackson and SCLC compatriot Larry Shaw in Chicago in an effort to keep the label on the cutting edge. While in Chicago, Pervis Staples took him to see 'Father of The Blues' Willie Dixon who had recorded a demo he wanted Bell to hear.

Willie had written Right Tight and Out of Sight with a soul duo like Sam & Dave in mind. Bell liked the song, but was more interested in signing the guys who were singing it... Leroy and Calvin - now known as Branding Iron.

The record began to make some local noise, which led to an appearance on another Chicago institution, Soul Train. Things were definitely looking up! The flip of that first Volt release, Slave For Love was written by another legendary Blues figure, J.B. Lenoir. Arranged by Gene Barge, the 45 was about as Chicago as you could get. Despite Bell's assurance that "you guys are going to make so much money, you won't be able to count it all!," the record never made the national charts and, after one more Volt release, they were let go. Although Branding Iron would cut another 45 for the tiny Stag label (produced by Leroy's brother Dillard), by then he was back on the road with The Soul Stirrers, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

"I thank God for allowing me to hang around as long as I have, after literally taking away all of those that once walked along with me when this journey started... they're all gone. Now that's the scary part, because I know the next soldier to fall will definitely be me. Sometimes I wonder why was I left as the last Soul Stirrer standing, and then something seems to say, it's not yours to reason why. It's not for any man to understand God's plan."

Leroy Crume was called home on October 20th.


SSS 2612
After Huey Meaux was hauled off to prison in 1968, his friend Shelby Singleton brought the duo he had been cutting hits on at Grits 'n' Gravy to Music Row to record what has to be the only Soul song ever to feature both an electric sitar and a pedal steel guitar! Peggy and Jo Jo are just belting it out, while top shelf 'Nashville Cats' Jerry Kennedy, Pete Drake, Chip Young, Wayne Moss, Kenny Buttrey, Charlie McCoy, David Briggs and Bob Wilson burn down the house! One of my favorite records, they don't come much better than this.

Chip Young left us on December 20th,
Jo Jo Benson on December 23rd.


Space Captain
A&M 1174
I don't think we knew it at the time, but for a lot of American kids going to high school in the 1970s, Joe Cocker was as close as we got to Soul Music. When Mad Dogs & Englishmen was released in 1970, it featured covers of Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Sam & Dave tunes, alongside the Beatles, Traffic and Stones. With an all-star band put together by Leon Russell, we would soon recognize the name of every artist on there, especially that of the saxophone player, Bobby Keys, who would be cutting Sticky Fingers with The Stones within a month of those initial Fillmore East dates. This great tune we have here never fails to bring me back...

Bobby Keys passed December 2nd,
Joe Cocker on December 22nd.

Please join me in bidding farewell to these others who left us in 2014:

May Perpetual Light Shine Upon Them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jimmy McGriff - Soul Song of Christmas (Silent Nite) (Jell 503)

Soul Song of Christmas

In 1959, a Newark Jukebox and 'Coin Op' named Joe Lederman started up his own label to try and plug in to the hoppin' local R&B market. Apparently originally named 'Jolt', the name was changed to 'Jell' after he discovered there was a west coast outfit with the same name. After a few releases that didn't do much, he hooked up with Philadelphia B-3 wizard Jimmy McGriff and cut a smokin' two-sided version of Ray Charles' I've Got A Woman in late 1961. Whenever WNJR played it the phones lit up, and it wasn't long before infamous record man Juggy Murray took notice across the river.

Releasing it on his Sue label in the fall of 1962, the record took off and spent 11 weeks on the Billboard charts, climbing all the way to #5 R&B, and #20 on the Hot 100. The subsequent album of the same name that Murray cut on Jimmy would produce follow-up hit All About My Girl, which narrowly missed the R&B top ten in early 1963. Jimmy was on a roll, and that December Sue issued the now legendary LP Christmas with McGriff, along with a 45 of the title track.

Within a year, however, a series of bad business decisions had essentially put Sue out of business, and McGriff was back recording with Joe Lederman. Attempting, no doubt, to capitalize on the success of the earlier Sue LP, Jell released Christmastime for the Holidays in 1964. This laid back take on Silent Night we have here was released as a single from the album, and is interesting because, except for that one flourish from the organ early on, it apparently features our man McGriff on the piano! Sleep in Heavenly Peace, my brother!

Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at The B Side Ranch... Ho-Ho-Ho!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Floyd Newman - Sassy (Stax 143)


Floyd Newman is a national treasure.

Besides B.B. himself, Floyd is the only person pictured in the iconic Ernest C. Withers photograph above that is still with us. As the baritone man in B.B.'s mid fifties Memphis outfit, that bus served as his second home as it rolled countless miles on the Chitlin' Circuit.

Floyd is also one of the few people left on this earth to have eaten a bowl of chili upstairs at 'Sunbeam' Mitchell's Club Handy, and is a veteran of those legendary late night jam sessions where the Sound of Memphis was born. A contemporary of influential Beale Street sax men like Bill Harvey, Fred Ford, George Coleman and Ben Branch, Floyd's unique Baritone sound laid the foundation for what was to come.

In the early sixties, Floyd would form his own group with some of the younger members of Ben Branch's band, including a couple of kids named Howard Grimes and Isaac Hayes. The Floyd Newman Orchestra would become the house band at the fabled Plantation Inn, and they were there on McElmore Avenue with Chips Moman at the very dawn of the Stax era.

Although not a vocalist by any stretch of the imagination, Floyd's voice is one of the most recognized in the history of Memphis R&B. He was the man who intoned "Ooh... Last Night" and "Ohh... YEAH!" on the fledgling (as in it was still called Satellite) label's breakthrough smash by The Mar-Keys in the Summer of 1961. It was Floyd and tenor sax partner Gilbert Caple who came up with that trademark horn riff that will live on forever.

Mining the same territory, this cool B Side we have here was issued as the flip of the only 45 Stax would press under Floyd's name, released shortly after he helped propel another Stax classic into the top ten, Rufus Thomas' Walking The Dog. It was that baritone heavy Stax sound that Jerry Wexler dubbed 'those Memphis horns' and, along with folks like Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love, Bowlegs Miller, Jack Hale, James Mitchell and Joe Arnold, Floyd began to deliver that big fat sound to Muscle Shoals and beyond, playing on scores of hit records in the process.

As Issac Hayes became Black Moses, he never forgot his mentor, and took Floyd with him on his way to Super Stardom. He was an integral part of Hayes' triumphal appearance at Wattstax, and remained with him on the road until Isaac decided to 'take a break' and open his own studio and label that he would name after his monster 1969 LP, Hot Buttered Soul (HBS).

Although Floyd considers Isaac a true musical genius, he told us "That was a mistake. While we were taking a break, they released a man that sounded just like him - Barry White. Barry White just killed Isaac. Everybody thought it was Isaac, but Isaac wasn't on the road. So then, Isaac said, 'Let's go back...', but Barry White had taken it away from him... Barry White smothered him."

Floyd Newman, however, landed on his feet. After playing baritone on Stephen Stills 2, Stephen took him on tour with him. This was back when Stills' phone was still ringing, and being 'on tour' included the full rock-star magilla of private jets to Europe, limos, red carpets and the finest hotels. Quite a different experience than riding on the B.B. King bus!
As the Memphis music scene continued to self-destruct in the late seventies, Floyd settled in to his career as Music Director and Guidance Counselor at area schools, thereby influencing generations of up and coming musicians...

When Preston Lauterbach and I were scheming and plotting to put Hi Rhythm back together with Otis Clay for the O.V. Wright benefit and tribute concert in Memphis in 2008, we left the recruitment of the horn section up to them. I'm not sure if it was Floyd's former Plantation Inn bandmate Howard Grimes who made the call that brought Floyd out of retirement to anchor 'those Memphis horns' for us that night, but it was an experience I'll never forget. "If you think you're the Soul Detective," Howard said, "you ought to talk to Floyd..."

...and so I did, beginning an ongoing discussion through letters and phone calls that culminated in Floyd and his remarkable wife Jean welcoming the Soul Detective team into their home in August of 2012.

Floyd's tales of his life in music are truly fascinating, but perhaps the most amazing one is the story of his horn: "I'm still playing that 1949 horn that my father bought for me that cost $200 out of the pawn shop. I've never played but one horn all these years... I didn't need but one." Running down the serial numbers years later, he found out that the horn was manufactured in 1918. Imagine? Talk about an artifact of Soul! After blowing that baritone on The Bo-Keys 2011 album Got To Get Back, Floyd had tucked it away in a closet, and we had to convince him to dig it out...

We're sure glad he did. It was an honor to stand in the presence of this man and his marvelous horn, and to hear once again the deep pure tones they create when they're together... a couple of weeks ago, I got a letter in the mail:

So humble and under-stated, just like the man himself, this giant of Memphis music (and his solitary horn) should have received their 'note' long ago. If I wasn't 1200 miles away (or Soul Detective had any kind of budget), you know I'd be there.

Thank You Floyd for your years of dedication and hard work in spreading The Sound of Memphis to the world at large.
"Ohh... YEAH!"

NOVEMBER 1st 2014, 1pm
Be there!