Our third installment of the notes for the 1967 Reggie Young & Bobby Emmons Discography (You Tube Playlist below)
This episode is dedicated to the memory of Quinton M. Claunch, who passed away while I was writing it, and to Roosevelt Jamison who sought him out all those years ago, changing all of our lives forever. They are together again. May God Rest Their Souls.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to commend my friends at Ace Records in the UK for the excellent job they have done preserving and annotating the Goldwax legacy. This piece could never have been written without them. Thanks!
Now, let’s turn our attention to Goldwax, the legendary Memphis label operated by Quinton M. Claunch and his more or less silent partner, Rudolph V. ‘Doc’ Russell. “I used Reggie Young as my guitarist whenever I could get him,” Claunch told me, and he got him (and usually Bobby Emmons as well) for no less than 15 sessions over the course of the year.
As Tony Rounce pointed out in Ace’s Complete Goldwax Singles Volume 3, 1967 was indeed the peak year for the label, resulting in some of the best records ever made. There are some 24 of those Quinton Claunch produced tracks available on the discography page, but let’s take a moment to highlight a few here.
On January 30th, Claunch hired Reggie for an overdub session at Sam Phillips Recording on Madison Avenue [heretofore referred to as simply ‘Sun’ as both Reggie and Bobby did] on Spencer Wiggins. Atlantic had recorded this ‘Oldham-Penn’ stalwart at Fame as an album track for The Wicked Pickett the October before, but Spencer’s take on Up Tight Good Woman here is, in my opinion, the definitive version (yes, better even than the ensuing chart hits that Laura Lee and Solomon Burke would have on it) “…among soul music’s greatest moments,” indeed.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint with any accuracy exactly which sides were cut on which dates, Reggie’s notation for a Goldwax session at Sun on March 12th was most probably on The Ovations (Bobby’s book had him still out on the road with Ace Cannon). I’ve Gotta Go, the Penn-Oldham penned ‘plug side’ of Goldwax 322 was released in May, but didn’t fare any better than the past four Ovations singles (despite adding ‘featuring Louis Williams’ to the label). Although more prominent on the flip, Ride My Troubles And Blues Away, I believe this 45 to be another of the rare instances of Clarence Nelson and Reggie Young playing on the same record. As Reggie told us back on the 1966 page, he would have definitely “stayed in the background… out of respect.” I’d say that’s him on the ‘chank’ rhythm, then, behind Nelson’s unmistakeable lead. Very Cool! For one reason or another, Goldwax wouldn’t release another Ovations single until 1969, but we believe Let’s Stick Together may have been cut at the December 8th session noted in Bobby Emmons’ book, although it didn’t see the light of day until 1977, when it appeared on one of those P-Vine Japanese releases (and subsequently on an Ace CD).
On April 3rd, the artist scheduled for a Goldwax session at American ‘didn’t show up’… no doubt Goldwax’s biggest star, James Carr, who actually did arrive on the scene a couple of days later. With The Dark End Of The Street still high on the R&B charts, Claunch wanted a follow-up hit. As we’ve seen, ‘Dark End’ was actually cut at Hi [once again, we will refer to Royal Studio from now on as ‘Hi’ as the musicians did at the time], but Chips Moman now felt his equipment at American was ready for the big time. Although not quite the top ten smash as its predecessor, the Penn-Oldham penned Let It Happen climbed to #30 R&B, and ‘bubbled under’ the Hot 100 during The Summer of Love. I’m thinking that’s Bobby Emmons playing that Gospel flavored piano, as Bobby Wood wouldn’t make the move to American until 1968, which brings up an interesting question… could it be Spooner? As far as I can tell, this is the first Penn-Oldham tune published by Press Music, and not ‘Fame-Rec’, which would seem to indicate that it was written there in Memphis, not Muscle Shoals. If you listen, there’s also an organ in the background, hmmm…
We may never know why, but Goldwax chose to not return to American at all in 1967, and held James Carr’s next session at Sun on June 16th. Betty Harris told Peter Nickols what happened next: “We were travelling together and we sang all kinds of songs. I went with him (to his session and) on our way his guitar-player wrote this song for him. At the session we were goofing around with it, not doing anything for real, but it was taped and it sounded good. I called Marshall Sehorn about me being on it and he said ‘No’.” Sansu had just released Betty’s spectacular Nearer To You (which would eventually climb to #16 R&B that Summer) a couple of weeks before, and I think the reality is that Sehorn didn’t want Goldwax to use Betty’s name on the label unless Sansu got paid. Knowing Quinton, I think we can safely surmise that wasn’t gonna happen. In any event, the cookin’ I’m A Fool For You remains one of the all-time classic Soul duets, and would just miss the R&B Top 40 that Fall. Carr’s ‘guitar player’ here is (of course) Reggie, but the song wasn’t written by him as Betty suggested above, but (as Nickols put it on Deep Soul Heaven) “…by no less than five top Memphis-related personalities, namely Dan Greer, Quinton Claunch, Earl Cage, George Jackson, and Rudolph Russell.”
The absolutely priceless confluence of having both Reggie Young’s and Bobby Emmons’ session log books to cross-reference allows us to identify a couple of other killer sides that were recorded at those same Sun sessions in June.
While Reggie simply wrote ‘Goldwax’, Bobby (in addition to James Carr) also noted that the artists were Percy (Milem) and Timmy Thomas. Percy, as the lead vocalist of The Lyrics, had the inaugural release on Goldwax back in 1963, and we spoke a little about his first release as a solo artist on the label here. This time out, he delivers his own soulful take on the 1965 classic that Don Covay wrote for Little Richard, I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me). “I can feel your hands on me!” Like Percy, Timmy Thomas started out as a member of a vocal group that cut for Goldwax early on (Phillip And The Faithfuls). As Dean Rudland said about Quinton’s decision to cut Jerry Lee Lewis’ seminal rocker Whole Lotta Shaking Going On as a boogaloo record on Timmy – “…although it shouldn’t, it works brilliantly.” It sure does! Once again, Goldwax proved to be just a little bit ahead of its time, as Thomas would begin his climb to the top of the charts a few years down the road.
‘Wee’ Willie Walker had grown up in Memphis, and worked with Roosevelt Jamison in a Gospel group called The Redemption Harmonizers in the late fifties. By 1967, he had relocated to Minneapolis, but through Jamison and another of his childhood friends, George Jackson, he signed with Goldwax on a visit home. Cut at Sun on June 30th, his version of the song Roosevelt had written for O.V. Wright (that Quinton had always envisioned as the ‘top’ side) There Goes My Used To Be is even better than Wright’s was. For whatever reason, Goldwax leased Walker’s next two singles to Checker up in Chicago, and the phenomenal You Name It, I’ve Had It (with Reggie’s guitar mixed right up front) may have been cut at another session on Walker that Bobby Emmons noted in December. Walker had been ‘re-discovered’ in recent years, touring extensively behind some award winning albums. Sadly, he passed away in November of 2019.
Even though he had been producing some of the greatest R&B records ever, Quinton’s Country roots ran deep. He and his friend Edgar Clayton had started out at WLAY in Muscle Shoals as a guitar playing duo that evolved into The Blue Seal Pals. Around the same time that Claunch and Cantrell left the band and headed for Memphis, Clayton decided to pursue a solo career in Nashville. When his star failed to shine as brightly as he had hoped, Edgar returned to The Shoals and became a Country dee-jay on WLAY where he started up a live broadcast called The Shoals Music Jamboree. By the mid-fifties, he had relocated to Hamilton, Alabama where he hosted the same kind of popular Country music show on WERH that featured local acts. He was still at it in 1967, and convinced old pal Quinton to start a ‘Country Series’ on Goldwax for artists he had discovered like The Terry’s and Carmol Taylor. Since there is no mention in either book about any sessions on them, we decided to leave the resulting releases out of our discussion here…
Like Clayton himself, Carmol Taylor was also quite the songwriter, and pretty much immediately after Quinton released Taylor’s own version of Did She Ask About Me (Goldwax 324), he decided to record it on Ivory Joe Hunter at Sun on June 26th.
‘The Happiest Man Alive’, Ivory Joe had been label-hopping ever since Atlantic dropped him in 1959, most recently recording for Stax (!) and Huey Meaux’s Tear Drop imprint before being picked up by Goldwax in 1966. His lone release on the label (Goldwax 307) hadn’t done much, and so Quinton and Doc would lease his next two singles to Veep, a United Artists R&B subsidiary label. They didn’t do much either. The soulful reading of Taylor’s song, Did She Ask About Me, cut at that June session is pure Country however, proving once more how prescient an ‘ear’ Quinton had. After Edgar Clayton’s pal Sonny James took Ivory Joe’s Since I Met You Baby to #1 Country in 1969, Hunter would become a fixture at The Grand Ole Opry, and record his last album, I’ve Always Been Country with Reggie (and Tommy Cogbill) in Nashville in 1972.
There is one Goldwax Country session listed in Reggie’s book, held at Sun on July 14th on someone he refers to only as ‘(girl)’. Quinton had gone so far as to create a subsidiary label he dubbed Timmy (although I have no idea why he chose to call it that) for his Country projects. The inaugural release that October was by a (girl) named Kathy Davis, who had been brought to Claunch’s attention by another of his Blue Seal Pals, Bill Cantrell. The little known Penn-Oldham gem The Wife Of The Life Of The Party [also now published by Press Music, by the way] hits all the buttons, and might have been as big a hit as the records Billy Sherrill was then producing on Tammy Wynette (both of whom had started out with Edgar Clayton at WERH) if it had gotten any airplay in Nashville, but it didn’t. Great guitar, but do you think it’s Reggie?
There is no doubt, however, that it’s Reggie’s guitar that leads off the Goldwax single that was released around the same time, on another (girl) named Jeanne Newman. Jeanne had come up out of Arkansas and been signed by Sam Phillips, who had handed her off to Quinton after he shut down his Phillips International label in 1963. In 1966, Claunch had also closed out his Bandstand USA imprint with a release on her, before moving her up to Goldwax. Although there is no mention of the word ‘Country’ on the label, the choice of the Harlan Howard tune that the ghost of Patsy Cline had charted with in 1964, He Called Me Baby, seems to leave little doubt as to the target audience. Just a great record (check out Tommy Cogbill!), the fact that it was on an R&B label, and had a cover of a Seekers song on the flip, had the reviewers at Cashbox scratching their heads – “…could hit with pop or blues listeners,” they had said, but it didn’t, nor with the Country crowd Quinton had apparently had in mind. The song would, of course, hit with ‘blues listeners’ as Ella Washington carried it into the R&B Top 40 in 1969, and Candi Staton brought it all the way to the top ten in ’71… Claunch was ahead of his time once again. As he had with Kathy Davis, Quinton also cut a Penn-Oldham composition on Jeanne Newman, a gut-wrenching version of It Tears Me Up that amazingly went unreleased until Ace dug it out of the Goldwax vaults in 2011. Wow!
On July 21st, Quinton brought Reggie and Bobby back to Sun to cut a song he had written for Spencer Wiggins, The Power Of A Woman. Although it briefly dented the CashBox R&B Top 50, it deserved better. One of the best Goldwax sides, it’s as much of a testament to Spencer’s powerful delivery as Claunch’s songwriting skills, with Reggie contributing some of the trademark licks he had been using across town at American for Atlantic. Quinton told us that Jerry Wexler took him for a ride in his car one day around this period, and told him he had made a big mistake when he hooked up with Larry Uttal at Bell as his distributor. “If you had gone with us,” he said, “I could have delivered you a slew of top tens and a few number ones…” He was probably right, as great records like this one continued to miss the mark.
After one more Goldwax session at Sun noted in Reggie’s (but not Bobby’s) book on July 29th, Quinton appears to have taken a break from recording until Thanksgiving weekend, almost exactly a year after he had cut The Dark End Of The Street on South Lauderdale.
This time he brought essentially the same crew to Madison Avenue to cut James Carr again on a song that Billboard picked to reach the R&B Top 20, A Man Needs A Woman. It did, climbing to #16 in early 1968. Written by Goldwax mainstay O.B. McClinton (who had penned Carr’s breakthrough #7 R&B smash You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up* in early 1966), it is an absolute masterpiece of Deep Southern Soul. For the first time on a Goldwax label, Stan Kesler is credited as ‘mixing engineer’, perhaps to point out that this obvious ‘AGP’ record was not cut at 827 Thomas.
Bobby Emmons’ book documents one more 1967 Goldwax session, to cut Spencer Wiggins on another great Claunch composition, That’s How Much I Love You at Sun on December 29th. As Quinton told Heikki Suosalo, he was strongly influenced here by the Roosevelt Jamison song that got the ball rolling at Goldwax, That’s How Strong My Love Is. Check out Reggie’s absolutely brilliant guitar work. It’s interesting to note that, as late as December, Goldwax was still recording at Sun. As a matter of fact, of those 15 sessions mentioned earlier, all but two of them were held there on Madison Avenue. A fact which would seem to contradict the accepted wisdom that Chips Moman had his Memphis Boys ‘tied up’ at American by that time…
In any event, the timeless body of work represented here on this page will stand forever as a shining example of how great Memphis music could be.
Thank You, Quinton M. Claunch.
*with Quinton now gone on, the unidentified guitar player on here becomes even more of a mystery…
Special thanks go to Quinton Claunch, Roosevelt Jamison, Spencer Wiggins, Mark Nicholson, John Broven, John Ridley, Peter Nickols, Heikki Suosalo, Tony Rounce, Dean Rudland, Bob Dunham, Alec Palao, Roger Armstrong and Ady Croasdell.