Lattimore Brown was deep. There was a certain compassion, a spirituality about him that was hard to define. You can see it in the Cheryl Gerber portrait above. When you were around him, things happened. Unexplainable, almost mystical things. He lived his life on the edge, walking a fine line between Heaven and a Hell that never seemed too far away.
“I’ve thought about it a lot since then,” I wrote after I first met him in 2008, “and for me it’s come to represent the apparent contradiction of absolute beauty living right next door to the ultimate evil… of the dark as a necessary component of the light. It’s helped me to understand the reality of a life of tragedy that is continually redeemed through faith, of art that is purchased with pain… of the true meaning of Soul.”
From the blistering heat of a broken childhood spent picking cotton in the Mississippi Delta, to the unspeakable cold of a Korea that froze his Army comrades to death, Lattimore had become well acquainted with that pain before he turned twenty, yet he went on to live an incredible life. He was there with Sunbeam Mitchell in Memphis in the early fifties, with Ernie Young at Excello later on in Nashville. In Houston, in Dallas, in Little Rock, he made a name for himself leading one of the best ‘reading bands’ on the circuit. Busting out of the Club Stealaway on Jefferson Street in the mid-sixties, he would become known as ‘The Tennessee House Rocker’. Before long, Brown was recording with The M.G.’s at Stax, with The Memphis Boys at American, and with Rick Hall’s Fame Gang in Muscle Shoals…
Yet, success remained elusive. Despite the inherent quality of his records, for one reason or another, they never made the charts. By the time Benny Latimore dropped his first name in the early seventies, our Lattimore felt he was fighting a losing battle, and just walked away, into an obscurity that all but devoured him.
Everyone thought he was dead.
By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard the story of how Hurricane Katrina nearly blew what was left of him away – of how it led, instead, to his miraculous re-discovery. It seemed he still had a tale to tell – unfinished business on this side of the line, in the land of the living…
Sir Lattimore would have turned ninety this year, and in honor of that fact, Chase Thompson and I are collaborating on a ‘documentary mini-series’ that will attempt to convey the power and the personality of this American original in his own words, using unreleased video footage that we shot of him along the way.
We’ve completed two episodes so far, and I’m including them here, as well as on the completely re-imagined sirlattimorebrown.com, where we will post more of them as they become available.
This episode is dedicated to the memory of Sherry Emmons Brugman who, like her father, was much loved by all who knew her. Her enthusiasm and warmth of spirit shone like the sun. It was Sherry’s kindness that made it possible for us to digitize Bobby’s session log books, thereby insuring that his music will live on for future generations… May God Rest Her Beautiful Soul.
As we discussed in episode one, 1967 was a transitional year at Hi Records. Let’s take a closer look at what was happening down there on South Lauderdale:
Despite being listed as the lone songwriter of the soulful The Goodest Man (the flip of Gene ‘Bowlegs’ Miller’s only single for the label in 1967), despite her superb lip-sync performances of unreleased Hi tracks on back-to-back episodes of The!!!!Beat in 1966, the great Veniece Starks would have no 1967 releases of her own on Hi. As a matter of fact, of the four sessions held on her that year, the only track listed by name in Bobby’s book to see the light of day was 18 Days, which wasn’t released until 1971 (as a B side, and then again as one in 1974!), and the label couldn’t even bother to spell her name correctly. This classy lady (who passed away, sadly, in 2019) deserved better (there, I’ve said it).
Up until this point, there was no producer credit given on Hi 45 labels, and it’s interesting to note that both Bowlegs Miller and Willie Mitchell were the first to receive one on back-to-back Hi releases that Summer. Miller’s production of Love What You’re Doing To Me on Janet & The Jays is pure uptown Soul, kind of like Stax meets Motown. Small wonder it sounds like a Stax record, as it was written by McLemore Avenue heavyweights William Bell, Joe Shamwell and Harold Beane. Picked as a ‘Best Bet’ in Cashbox, apparently all bets were off as once again Hi seems to have dropped the ball on promoting another highly talented young lady (even though they managed to spell her name correctly this time out). According to Sir Shambling, the group hailed from Holly Springs, Mississippi and, in addition to Janet Wallace, included Essie Brown and Marilyn James. As far as I can tell, this would be their final release… what a shame.
It was the next Hi 45, however, that was the first to credit Willie Mitchell as producer. It was the A side of that record that was predicted by Billboard to make the R&B charts (although it didn’t), and was a song so good that Hi would issue it again in 1972, but let’s focus on this hidden gem of a B side. George Jackson had been working with Quinton Claunch and Dan Greer at Goldwax, where they had had a 1966 single release as George and Greer which went nowhere. Alex Migliara was a Memphis music industry attorney and agent, who had been writing liner notes for Hi LPs on Ace Cannon and Willie Mitchell. I imagine it was Migliara who brought George to Willie at Hi, even though he may have still been under contract to Goldwax (more on that next episode). In any event, Magliara helped himself to a share of the writer’s credit on both sides (along with another Goldwax mainstay, Dot Hester) on this August release. So Good To Me just cooks along, once again mining some of that Motown magic, with Tommy Cogbill just going off on bass. What a record!
There were two sessions held on Don Bryant in January, but Hi chose to use a track recorded six months earlier, The Call Of Distress, as the flip of his first single release from those sessions that April (maybe because Ray Harris claimed half the songwriting credit?). In episode one we already mentioned the top side of Don’s next Hi 45, identified by Reggie as being cut on January 6th, but not released until July. Check out the equally great B side of that record (given a B+ by Cashbox), Is That Asking Too Much. Probably cut at the June 30th session (with Willie Mitchell listed as the producer), I’m thinking it features both Teenie Hodges and Reggie on guitar. As Don recently told Heikki Suasolo, “It was not all the time I was trying to sound like somebody else. I was trying to get ideas from what was going on at the time and, depending on the type of song, I would model it on somebody.” Judging by those killer unreleased Detroit demos (that we talked about in episode one), they were often better than whomever it was he was modeling them on! Bryant had one more 45 issued by Hi that October, but by then both Reggie and Bobby Emmons had pretty much flown the coop. [If you haven’t already, you should buy Bryant’s Grammy nominated 2020 album You Make Me Feel. I swear, the man is singing better now than he was back then! You go, Don!]
Hi subsidiary label M.O.C. would issue only three singles in 1967. The first one, an awesome record by Norm West (with both sides penned by Don Bryant) was issued in May, but had been cut at a session back in February of 1966. The next release would be by the way cool Big Amos. Although both books list a split session held on him on February 9th, they only mention the flip side, Going To Vietnam (and yet another unreleased Veniece track). The big fat Willie Mitchell production here on the plug side, I’m Gone, may have been cut at an earlier session in November, as I’d say that’s definitely Reggie on guitar and Bobby on the organ. In any event, it’s another little known slice of the emerging ‘Sound of Memphis’. Except for a couple more songs trotted out of the can in 1970 for Hi Lp Rivertown Blues, Big Amos Patton’s career ended, unfortunately, here.
The final 1967 M.O.C. 45 was cut during two separate sessions held on a local kid named Finley Brown in May and June. Just a wild record, I Can’t Get No Ride (with both Bill Cantrell and Ray Harris sharing the songwriting credits with Don Bryant) kinda sounds like Sam The Sham meets The Hombres (or something). Billed as a ‘mind-blowing… groovy effort’ in the same August 5th edition of Cashbox mentioned earlier, Hi was no doubt looking to grab a piece of that psychedelic Summer of Love thang. The predicted ‘chart ride’ never happened though, and Finley would go on to cut a couple of singles for Stax subsidiary Enterprise before fading from view.
Jerry Jaye & The Jaywalkers were a Rockabilly outfit that had been out there working the Arkansas club circuit since the late fifties. After a couple of releases on local labels that withered away, they came to Roland Janes at Sonic and cut two sides in the Fall of 1966. Jaye then created his own label, Connie, and pressed up 500 copies of the record to sell at the band’s gigs. He then brought a box of 25 of them to Joe Cuoghi at Poplar Records, who used his considerable clout to get the B side chosen as ‘pick of the week’ at Memphis radio station WCM, after which the initial run sold out in a flash. Cuoghi (and Ray Harris) offered Jerry a deal…
Hi would re-issue the 45 (this time with the correct title and songwriting credits), and sign Jaye as an artist for future releases. With London’s distribution behind it, My Girl Josephine would spend nine weeks on the Hot 100, climbing as high as #29. Hi Records hadn’t dented the charts since Willie Mitchell’s Bad Eye in 1966, and the pressure was on to cut an LP while the record was hot. According to Jerry, “We cut the album in one day. We started around two in the afternoon, took a break around ten and went for a bite to eat, came back and by four the next morning wehad the album cut. It was really rushed.”
According to Bobby’s session notes, that would have been on April 10th and 11th, despite the fact that Jerry Wexler had flown Reggie, Tommy Cogbill (and like half of Muscle Shoals) up to New York on the 10th. Predictably, Jaye’s album (which lists Cuoghi himself as the producer) just isn’t that good. The follow-up single, another cover of a Fats Domino tune pulled from the Lp, fell on deaf ears, as did four more Hi releases on him. I think it says a lot about the state of affairs on South Lauderdale at this point that the only real chart hit that Hi would have in 1967 was cut at Sonic…
According to Reggie, he had gotten a phone call from Ray Harris somewhere right around in here that had changed everything. “Listen, I know we’ve been paying you guys fifteen dollars a session,” Harris told him, “but we’re gonna have to cut it to ten…” Within a few hours, Young said, he got a call from Joe Cuoghi telling him to disregard what Ray said, assuring him that things would continue on as usual, but the damage had already been done. From that moment on, Reggie told me, he had made up his mind that it was time to move on.
If Hi as a company at this point seemed a bit behind the times when it came to Soul or Rock & Roll, when it came to Country they were a bit ahead of them – with the same results. Narvel Felts had first recorded on South Lauderdale in 1959 with Cowboy Jack Clement, and had been signed by Roland Janes at Sonic shortly after that. With over a dozen releases as a Pop artist that failed to click with the public, Hi signed him in 1966. After two more lackluster singles, somebody at the label (probably Ray Harris) decided to ‘cut him Country’ on Carl Butler’s 1962 smash hit, Don’t Let Me Cross Over. Nobody bought it. When Jerry Kennedy cut the same song on Jerry Lee and Linda Gail Lewis two years later, it went top ten Country. Go figure. Ironically, Narvel would break into that same top ten himself in 1973 with a cover of Dobie Gray’s (and Reggie’s) masterpiece Drift Away, the first of over forty chart entries in the decade to follow.
In late 1966, Hi had signed Charlie Rich with the stipulation that his manager, Seymour Rosenberg (yes, the same guy who had been a partner with Chips at American), could produce him. After one lavish release that didn’t sell, ‘Sy Rose’ was back at it in February, recording Rich on a slew of demos that would go unreleased, including some of the same tracks that Willie Mitchell had cut on the folks from Detroit (see episode one). According to Colin Escott’s liner notes for I’ll Shed No Tears, it was Ray Harris and Joe Cuoghi who “came up with the concept of a Hank Williams tribute album recorded in an uptown Country style.”
On the surface, it seemed like a great idea, only once the tracks for the record were completed in March, Hank’s widow supposedly objected to Hi using his name on the album… although the real story is probably that she wanted Hi to fork over some cash to use it, and that wasn’t gonna happen. “It was just a shot,” Ray Harris told Hank Davis, “we were trying to be successful for Charlie. You never know in the record business.” No, you sure don’t. Released in May as Charlie Rich Sings Country & Western, it didn’t sell, nor did the single culled from the album. Although a lot of it is a little too ‘syrupy’ for my taste, the great head arrangement here on Cold, Cold Heart (despite the cloying background vocals) still holds up, I think.
Finally given the green light to record his own compositions, Rich was back at the studio in July to cut what would become his final Hi release that Fall. This great ‘undubbed’ version of the top side of that single (sans background singers), Only Me, kind of foreshadows the work Reggie and Bobby would be doing with Elvis in a year or so. Once again, though, nobody seemed to notice, and when Charlie’s one year contract was up, Rosenberg brought him to Billy Sherill in Nashville where he would begin his incredible onslaught of Country chart hits within a few months, and become recognized as the superstar he was. I’m sure Ray Harris and Joe Cuoghi were left shaking their heads.
Instrumental albums had been Hi’s bread and butter for years (people used to think that ‘Hi’ stood for ‘Home of the Instrumentals’), and it was Ace Cannon who told us that Joe Cuoghi liked that “middle-of-the-road, Sinatra stuff.” According to BSN Pubs, Hi would issue three albums on Ace in 1967. Bobby Emmons, in addition to performing on over fifteen live gigs with Cannon, also lists six sessions on him at Hi in his log book. Reggie, on the other hand, only noted two. This may possibly be due to the aforementioned gaps in his log entries, but one session they both made note of was on March 1st, when Since I Fell For You was recorded. Released as an album track on The Incomparable Sax Of Ace Cannon, it’s another obscure ‘head arrangement’ of a great song that’s gone unnoticed all these years.
Ace Cannon would only have two single releases in ’67. The first of those, issued in July, was his unique take on Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line, which later appeared on his Hi Lp Memphis Golden Hits. I hadn’t realized it until I started writing this episode, but that’s CLARENCE NELSON on guitar! How do I know? Well, the first clue is that Clarence always recorded with his guitar plugged straight into the board, which sounds right in this case. Secondly, it was no doubt one of eleven sides cut on Ace during sessions which Bobby (but not Reggie) had listed as being held on April 17th and 19th. It is our considered opinion that Clarence was also in the house for the April 18th session… but more on that next episode. Very Cool!
The backbone of the label, of course, had always been Bill Black’s Combo, who had started the instrumental ball rolling back in 1959. Hi would release four albums on them in 1967, none of which sold very much. Bobby Emmons lists nine Bill Black sessions in his log book, Reggie only one, held on March 20th. The title track from their second release, King Of The Road, was recorded that day, and is one of the few tunes that we know for sure featured both Bobby and Reggie. Produced by Joe Cuoghi, it comes across, in my opinion, as a hackneyed holdover from a formula which had run its course by then. Black had been dead for two years, and I’m sure that by this point Young was all too ready to lay down his pencil and hit the road himself…
Amazingly, there would only be one single released by Bill Black’s Combo in 1967, neither side of which appeared on any of the albums. As we’ve discussed in the past, when we asked Jerry ‘Satch’ Arnold why he hadn’t left Hi for American when pretty much everyone else did, he answered “I wasn’t asked.” As the only founding member of the Combo left there on South Lauderdale, he may have felt it incumbent upon himself to carry on in Bill’s name. Both sides of the single had been written (and I imagine, produced) by Arnold, which was chosen as a ‘Best Bet’ in Cashbox in April. The plodding B side, Peg Leg features a guitar player that is (once again) neither Reggie Young nor Clarence Nelson. Theories abound about who it might be – from Teenie Hodges to Tommy Cogbill to Chips Moman himself! Detectives?
Check out this cool photo recently unearthed by Mark Nicholson in a 1964 Billboard. Tommy Cogbill is on guitar here as the picture was taken on a promotional River Boat cruise to celebrate Hi Records’ fifth anniversary on September 23, 1964, when Reggie was still touring the UK with Bob Tucker and the road version of The Combo. That’s Satch on drums, and Bill himself on electric bass. The gentleman on sax is Charlie Chalmers, who was about to play a significant part in the label’s history.
Even though, for the most part, it was the same studio crew playing on all of Hi’s instrumental releases, Willie Mitchell was the only one who had broken out of the nether regions of the Billboard charts since Cannon’s Tuff in 1961. Three Willie Mitchell 45s would be issued in 1967, with Slippin’ & Slidin’ crawling to #96 that Summer, but let’s take a look at the B sides of those three records, shall we?
Cut in late ’66, the top side of this one was another Cashbox Bet that didn’t pay off, but it’s the stunning B+ B side that highlights one of the most unsung of all Memphis musicians, saxophonist Fred Ford, whose elegant rendition of Erroll Garner’s Misty just knocks me out. It would later be included on Hi Lp The Hit Sound Of Willie Mitchell, where Elton Whisenhunt proclaims “Fred Ford… does a terrific job. His fullness of sound, as he weaves back and forth between melody and original styling, is something to behold.” It sure is. What an awesome record!
As discussed, Willie had begun bringing Teenie Hodges to the studio in 1966. Aw Shucks, the flip of the #96 ‘hit’ mentioned earlier credits Andrew Love and Teenie as songwriters (along with Willie), and that’s definitely him on guitar. On the B side of Mitchell’s next release Lucky, though, I’d say that’s definitely Reggie. Such was the nature of things on South Lauderdale at the time I imagine, as Reggie wasn’t always around. Bobby Emmons is just killing it on both of ’em, though! Neither of these sides would be included on Lp.
Mitchell had released two albums already but, that November, with Joe Tex’s Skinny Legs And All dominating the charts with that ‘live from the studio’ sound, and Buddy Killen working on Tex’s Live And Lively Lp in Nashville, Hi decided to cut one on Willie. When I first saw the personnel listed in the credits on Discogs, I figured they had to be wrong. By then Reggie, Bobby and Mike Leech were with Chips at American full time, I thought, and there was no way the drummer at Hi could have been Gene Chrisman… so I ran it by Charlie Chalmers, who told me “Yup. that sounds about right!” So there ya go. So much for Moman having everybody tied up at 827 Thomas, I guess! I find that whole ‘live’ concept kind of annoying, but check out Chalmers (who, of course, had cut the Wilson Pickett version with Chips at Fame) deep in the pocket with them Memphis Boys on Mustang Sally. Yeah, baby!
In early 1968, when Hi traditionally would have released a single from the album, they put Willie’s ‘live’ cover of Joe Zawinul’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy out as the B side, but chose a track from the previous Lp, Ooh Baby, You Turn Me On, as the plug side. Cut back on March 8th, Soul Serenade features Teenie Hodges’ guitar front and center, with the role of King Curtis being played brilliantly by Charlie Chalmers. The record took off, soaring into the top ten on the R&B charts, and even climbing as high as #23 on the Hot 100. In many ways, the success of this 45 paved the way for the future at Hi Records in the post Reggie (and Bobby) era as, within a year, the rest of the Hodges brothers would join with Teenie and Howard Grimes to form Hi Rhythm and, shortly after that, Charlie would lay down his horn to anchor the distinctive background vocals of Rhodes-Chalmers-Rhodes on dozens of Hi hits to come…
Special thanks go to Howard Grimes, Charlie Chalmers, Ace Cannon, Jerry ‘Satch’ Arnold, Don Bryant, Scott Bomar, Colin Escott, Hank Davis, John Ridley, Tom DeJong, Mark Nicholson and John Broven.
Entire Episode also available on Soul Detective, where the in-line audio links actually work… also, don’t forget to check the 450 or so other audio tracks on the 1967 Discography page.