Travis Wammack – One Bad Boy

A Soul Detective survey of some of the lesser known sides cut by the man Sam Phillips called “The greatest Rock & Roll guitar player around.”

You Tube Playlist Below…

Born in the small town of Walnut in the Mississippi ‘Hill Country’ in 1946, Travis Wammack moved to Memphis with the family he describes as ‘dirt poor’ when he was four years old. He had a guitar in his hand by the time he turned eight, and hung out down on Broad Avenue, the main drag that dragged its way through the blue-collar Binghampton section of town where he was growing up. By the time he was ten years old, he had learned every song that blared out of the gin joints and honky tonks along the strip.

Travis tells the story of how he would stand there next to the jukebox with his guitar, and when a customer would come up to play a song, he’d ask them what they wanted to hear and convince them to drop their dime in his guitar instead so he could perform it for them. A wheeler-dealer even then, one of the patrons that caught his act was Eddie Bond, then a disk jockey on the popular KWEM out of West Memphis. Bond was impressed, and soon got permission from Wammack’s parents to allow him to tour as the opening act on the musical ‘jamborees’ he sponsored across the mid-South. By all accounts, ‘Little Travis’ became quite the sensation, stealing the show from the likes of Carl Perkins and Bond’s own Stompers, which at the time would include Reggie Young and John Huey. It must have been a sight to behold!

A.F.of M. local 71 was not amused, and told Bond that it was alright for Little Travis to sing, but he wasn’t allowed to play his guitar because he wasn’t in the Union, even though technically he wasn’t old enough to become a member. When they played local clubs like Hernando’s Hideaway, Travis said, they had to sneak him in inside the bass drum case! After some legal wrangling, and a trip to the main office in New York, Wammack become the youngest person to ever join the Musician’s Union, at eleven years of age.

Roland Janes had gotten his start in Memphis around the same time. “Jack [Clements] and Slim [Wallace] were building a little studio in Slim’s garage on Fernwood Street,” Janes told David Less“Jack said, ‘Oh, you play guitar huh?’ and I said, ‘Well, yeah, I’m… somewhat.’ and he said, ‘Well bring your guitar in and let me hear ya play somethin.’ So I did, and we played around a while and he said, ‘We’re trying to get together to cut this little record on this guy named Billy Riley. You think you might be interested in helpin’ us on that?’ of course I jumped at the chance…” When Clements brought the tapes to Sam Phillips at Sun he hired him on the spot, promptly signed Billy Lee Riley, and released Trouble Bound on Sun in May of 1956. Janes would soon become Phillips’ go-to session guitarist, playing on earth-shattering records like Riley’s Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll and The Killer’s Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On.

Eddie Bond showed up at Slim’s garage shortly after that, and brought Little Travis with him. In what may have been Scotty Moore’s first project with the label, they would cut two sides on the young Wammack that he had written himself. Released as Fernwood 103 in September of 1957, both Rock & Roll Blues and I’m Leavin’ Today are just cookin’ records that still hold up today. With Bond’s Stompers (with Reggie Young on guitar, Smokey Joe Baugh on piano, Stan Kesler on bass and Johnny Fine on drums) on board, this kid had it goin’ on! A session cut at Sun a few months later resulted in an unreleased track commonly attributed to Travis called I’m Gonna Rock, but, as Travis told us himself recently, that’s not him… 

Travis did hang around Sun as often as he could, however, usually catching a ride with another musician friend from the neighborhood, Harold Dorman. He was there the night Ray Harris cut Greenback Dollar, Watch And Chain“Man, they couldn’t keep the mic on him,” he told me, “he’d get so into it that he’d be jumping around like a wildman, waving his arms and howling…” As Ray’s future business partner Bill Cantrell told Colin Escott, “In the studio he’d throw himself around, arms going like windmills… they had to keep up with the guy. Man, he was crazy.” The kind of crazy that made quite an impression on our 12 year old rocker. That’s Wayne Cogswell on guitar here, but once again the piano player remains unknown…

In addition to his studio guitar duties at Sun, Roland Janes had been out there performing with both Jerry Lee’s band and Billy Riley’s Little Green Men for a few years. After Ray Harris split to form Hi Records (with the aforementioned Cantrell and Quinton Claunch) in 1957, and Sam Phillips fired Jack Clement and Bill Justis in early 1959, things at 706 Union Avenue were not the same. Adopting the more user-friendly surname ‘James’, Roland would produce a session on himself at Sun that February. Although most of that material remained unreleased for decades, the way cool Guitarville (featuring Martin Willis and the rest of the Green Men), was released on Sam’s brother’s label, Judd, in May… kinda makes you wanna surf down Madison Avenue, don’t it?

That Summer, Roland brought Jack Clement and Harold Dorman to visit Ray Harris at Hi to cut a song Dorman had written that they thought had potential. Dorman had recorded for Sun back in ’57, but it seemed like Sam Phillips was leaving more records ‘in the can’ than he was releasing. Partially in response to that, Janes and Billy Riley would create their own Rita imprint and issue Mountain Of Love on it in December.

A few other releases (including Janes’ only other solo record, given a three star rating in Billboard) would follow, before he pulled Harold’s single, added strings, and re-released it with the power of Bill Lowery’s National Recording Corrporation behind it in February of 1960. The record took off, climbing to #21 on the Hot 100, but going all the way to #7 R&B that Spring, during the same period when Bill Black’s Combo (with our man Martin Willis now wailing on that sax) just owned the #1 slot that May. Pretty amazing, when you think about it – that two of the R&B top ten records were cut on South Lauderdale by Little Green Men. Wow!

Presumably with the proceeds from Dorman’s big hit, Roland Janes would open the doors at his own studio at 1692 Madison Avenue in late 1961 – The Sonic Recording Service, about two miles down the road from the new location of Sam Phillips.

Little Travis, meanwhile, had grown up a bit. After a stint as one of Bud Deckelman’s Daydreamers, he formed his own band that played around the neighborhood. It was the bass player in that group, Prentiss McPhail, that told him about Sonic, and suggested that he go ‘try out’ at the studio. Fearless teenager that he was, Travis reportedly told Janes “I’m going to be a star and I want to be your session guitarist.” Now it was Roland’s turn to ask the question that Jack Clement had asked him eight years ago, “Let’s see what you got, kid…” Impressed with his guitar ‘chops’, he told him to come back next Tuesday, when he would be cutting Jerry Lee Lewis’ uncle (and father-in-law) Jay W. Brown (more on the results of that session in a minute).

So there you have it, the innovative cutting-edge Memphis guitarist of the fifties handing off the baton to the next generation… very cool! As Wammack settled in as the ‘house’ guitar player, Sonic was willing to cut whoever came through the door. Travis tells the story of how Red West, then head honcho of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia, came in and told them he wanted to make a record, but that he couldn’t sing, or play any instruments. “No problem!,” they told him, and cut this down and dirty version of Willie Dixon’s My Babe, which was released on Wayne McGinnis’ Santo label in early 1963. Great Stuff!

Roland had started up another label in 1962 named Renay, cutting local acts like Narvel Felts, Jerry Lane and Ken Williams. The big fat Memphis grease of Williams’ My Very Own (Trash Can) gives you an idea of the creative atmosphere at Sonic in those days. Wammack fit right in. Originally released on Renay, a song Roland cut on Narvel Felts’ drummer Matt Lucas would be picked up by Mercury after Rufus Thomas got behind it on WDIA. Issued on their Smash subsidiary in May of 1963, I’m Movin’ On (a rockin’ cover of Hank Snow’s 1950 smash hit) would hit the charts itself that Summer and climb almost halfway up Billboard’s Hot 100, stalling at #56. An even bigger hit in Canada (go figure), Lucas needed a guitar player to go up North with him in support of the record, and Travis was only too happy to oblige.

One of Style Wooten‘s first productions at Sonic was on a gentleman named Cowboy Slim Dortch (who had no doubt, like Quinton Claunch, spent his youth listening to ‘border-blaster’ XEG). The smokin’ Sixteen Miles is one of the few examples of pure Rockabilly cut in the midst of the British Invasion. After Slim exhorts Travis to “Make it moan, son!”, he does just that, whipping out some of the fastest guitar licks ever committed to vinyl. Phew! Speaking of Rockabilly, Arkansas’ own Bobby Lee Trammell booked Sonic soon after that and cut six sides for the obscure Hot label. In addition to that twangin’ guitar, I believe it’s our boy Travis that intones the name of Bobby’s favorite condiment here on this awesome garage rocker Mayonnaise, with label credit to Roland Janes as producer. Yeah, baby!

In the Spring of 1964, Wammack got a call from his booking agent, Ray Brown, about a six week gig that Summer backing up British pop duo Peter and Gordon, then climbing the charts with Lennon-McCartney’s A World Without Love. Smack dab in the middle of the ongoing Beatlemania that was sweeping the nation, Travis has some tales to tell about that tour (incuding a rather shocking one of their appearance at the New York World’s Fair!). Another Memphis group, Reggie Young and Bill Black’s Combo, would be accompanying The Fab Four themselves on their second U.S. tour that August, but Travis and his band were out there among ’em first.

1964 was also the year that Roland formed the ARA (American Recording Association) label with someone named Wayne Todd, to release some of the material he had been recording on Travis, Prentiss McPhail and others. Jerry Wexler apparently got wind of the label in New York while Travis was up there that Summer, and picked up National distribution on it that August. Firefly was supposed to be the A side of ARA 204, but it was the Big Apple disk jockeys that flipped the record over and ‘got on’ Scratchy which, with the big company’s muscle behind it, would spend 12 weeks on the charts that Fall.

Just a hugely influential record on both sides of the Atlantic, I don’t think you can say enough about how groundbreaking a recording this was. It would peak at #69 in Cashbox that December (as Johnny Rivers’ version of the Harold Dorman song that had started it all was climbing into the top ten), but remains a timeless guitar classic. Travis still sings the praises of what a studio genius Roland was. Working in an era before multi-track capability, he was a master at ‘ping-ponging’ overdubs without any degradation of quality. That garbled section there in the middle of Scratchy represents the first instance of running the tape backwards to be released on vinyl – years before ‘Revolver’ hit the racks, boys and girls. The fact that this funky studio located in a strip mall in Memphis represented the state-of-the-art in experimental recording techniques at the time is kind of hard to get your mind around… but it did. Thank You Mister Janes!

Wammack would go on to have five more releases on ARA (including a duet issued as Travis and Prentiss), but none of them dented the charts. Some attempted to mine the same gonzo instrumental vein that Scratchy had, with titles like Distortion, Part 1 (on which he employed the primitive ‘fuzz box’ he had invented from household electrical parts), but the best of the lot was his cookin’ cover of the Bobby Bland anthem, Don’t Cry No More. Released in July of 1965, Travis told me, “People thought I was a black woman!” 

You can’t make this stuff up.

In late 1965, Wexler stepped in and purchased a bunch of Sonic masters, including the tapes from Travis’ initial 1962 session on Jay W. Brown, releasing Don’t Push Me Around (penned by Roland) on ATCO that January, with our young guitar slinger’s stinging style already well developed. Atlantic would also re-issue both sides of Bobby Lee Tramell’s first Hot single on the main imprint that May, with hoppin’ dance number (co-written by Travis and Trammell) Shimmy Loo designated as the ‘plug side’. Both just great records, I’m pretty sure that’s Travis blowin’ that wild harmonica, too.

As part of the same deal, Bert Berns also picked up a couple of Prentiss McPhail sides for release on his Atlantic subsidiary, Bang. The ‘Wooly Bully type’ Moolah Man has Travis’ guitar all over it, but sounds more Jessie Hill than Sam Samudio to me… check out those harmony vocals!

Travis’ records had now been moved up to the main label at Atlantic as well, and there would be three 45s issued on him in 1966, but nobody seemed to notice. With blockbuster hits on the label by folks like Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett taking most of his attention, It’s almost as if Wexler wasn’t quite sure what to do with him or, for that matter, Roland Janes. Wammack’s singles ran the gammut from raunchy instrumental covers of R&B hits, to the sensitive ‘singer-songwriter’ type material Travis had been writing himself. Waiting falls into that latter category, and is just a hidden gem of a deep blue-eyed Soul record. I love Janes’ atmospheric production, with our young man’s pleading vocal layered over those dreamy guitars. Despite being given a B+ in Cashbox as a ‘warm soulful outing’, it sank like a stone.

In February of 1967, with the sudden explosion of Martial Arts in American popular culture (due in large part to Bruce Lee’s role as The Green Hornet’s kickin’ sidekick Kato on everybody’s TV), Atlantic would release Travis’ own contribution to the craze, It’s Karate Time. Just a floor-filler of a dance record, it’s hard to believe it didn’t make the charts back then (especially in light of the fact that Bert Berns would be sending JerryO’s Karate-Boo-Ga-Loo into the R&B top 20 within a few months), but the fact remains it didn’t. Increasingly frustrated with his perennial lack of success at Atlantic, once Aretha hit for Wexler that March, Travis would become even less of a priority at the label. As the year progressed, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do, and then his phone rang…

It was that ‘wildman’ Ray Harris at Hi Records. Excello had brought in Slim Harpo for a session at the studio in April, and he had made a deal with them to release some of his ‘product’ on their labels at a later date… only now there was a problem. Reggie Young and Bobby Emmons had jumped ship, and signed on with Chips Moman at American. “They were scared to death of Ray,” Travis told me… he wasn’t. A ‘wildman’ himself, you could find Wammack most days hunting rattlesnakes in the wetlands down under the Memphis-Arkansas bridge, and Harris would beg him to come to the studio instead. It was a transitional period at the label, with Willie Mitchell beginning to bring in members of his road band like Teenie Hodges and Howard Grimes, but Ray liked the idea of running the show. As we’ve discussed over on the Reggie Young Discography Project, Willie Mitchell had begun receiving label credit as a producer at Hi earlier that year, but not Ray… even though he had behind the board for just about every record cut there since 1959, including those monumental Soul sides by O.V. Wright. This may be partially due to the fact that the ‘producer’ credit on the label was a relatively new development, I don’t know, but all that was about to change.

Stacy Lane kind of styled himself as the Memphis version of Wilson Pickett, and had cut a couple of sides for Estelle Axton’s Bar label before Travis brought him to Ray at Hi. Together they came up with the smokin’ African Twist, more or less an answer record to ‘Funky Broadway’. Yes, that is Charlie Chalmers blowing his heart out on that sax! Excello had high hopes for the record, judging by their ad in Record World in February of 1968, with ‘Produced by Ray Harris’ printed right on the label [Inexplicably, also credited as a songwriter on both sides of the single, is James Fuller, a founding member of The Ventures!] 

The B side of the follow-up on Excello is another mover and groover, Funky Little Train. I love when Stacy says “Ok, Travis, you go…” The big fat plug side of that record, No Brags Just Facts, written by Travis and Stacy, out Picketts the Wicked Pickett but, nonetheless, it couldn’t seem to crack the charts. Excello would issue another great Ray Harris produced two-sider on their A-Bet subsidiary that May, this time a duet by Dee And Don. Travis brings the swamp into the mix on the swaggerin’ I Can’t Stand It, which had first been given the male/female treatment by Jerry Butler and Betty Everett in 1964. Call me crazy, but I like this version better! The deep Soul B side, How Much It Hurts Me (written by ‘T. Wommack’), is just about as good as it gets. How is it that a killer record like this had been virtually ignored for so long? Wow! Not to be confused with Dee & Lola, who had been cutting at American with John R, this 45 appears to be their only release.

“We’re all here, why don’t we cut somethin’?” Travis told me Harris said one day. “OK, Ray, let’s do Hendrix’s Fire,” Travis answered. “He had no idea what I was talking about…” but they cut it anyway, with that ‘live in the studio’ vibe that was all the rage back then. “Sho is Funky!!” Released on Hi’s M.O.C. subsidiary in October of ’68, it’s the flip of this one that just knocks me out. That’s Stacy Lane and Travis claiming “We Got Soul”, and you know what, they do! This side has often been included on these like Royal Memphis Soul compilations, and it’s natural to think that it’s a Willie Mitchell and Hi Rhythm track… but it’s not. Travis had brought in his bass player Bob Wray by then, and that’s James Hooker on the B-3. I’m not sure who came up with the name ‘Bad & Good Boys’, but it certainly fits. We Bad!!

We asked Jerry ‘Satch’ Arnold why he hadn’t gone with the others to American, “I wasn’t asked,” he said, and that’s that. With Travis kind of serving as the bridge between the old school and the new, he would soldier on in the house band along with both Satch and Willie Mitchell on the instrumentals the label was famous for. Buried treasures like Ace Cannon’s funky Soul For Sale, and groovy Bill Black’s Combo records like Creepin’ Around and Closin’ Time would be cut during Wammack’s tenure there at Hi. Who knew?

With Travis’ Atlantic contract expired, he was in the market for a new label. I’m not sure how it came about, but he would sign with Congress, a newly re-activated division of MCA, in early 1969. They certainly pulled out all the stops, sending ‘Wamack’ for a session at American during its absolute prime.

As this page from Reggie Young’s session log book indicates, he was in good company!

I’m not sure what Congress’ target audience might have been (they had also just signed Elton John), but the decision to cut Travis on a re-make of Wolverton Mountain, a 1962 #1 Country hit for Claude King, makes you wonder. By Travis’ own admission, “I was singing like a Bee-Gee on that one…” Despite Tommy Cogbill’s production (and Reggie’s guitar), it didn’t do much. They would send Travis back to American in November to record his latest composition, Twangin’ My Thang. Another funky-ass dance number (with a tip of the hat to Skip Pitts’ gravelly guitar work that had propelled The Isley’s It’s Your Thing to the top of the charts a few months before), it nevertheless died on the vine.

Rick Hall had been flying Travis down to Fame for sessions for a few years, without giving him any label credit. When he asked him why, Rick told him, “Memphis and Muscle Shoals are in competition for the recording dollar, and I won’t put the name of a Memphis musician on the records I produce here…” “What about Charlie Chalmers, Bowlegs Miller and James Mitchell?,” Travis asked him, “they’re all from Memphis.” “Yeah, but you’re famous,” Hall told him. At that point, I’m sure Travis thought, ‘Hell, I ain’t THAT famous!’ In any event, Rick had been ‘blowing smoke’ about Travis relocating to The Shoals for a while and, with ‘The Swampers’ recently departed for greener pastures, he doubled up on his efforts. Without much happening for him there in Memphis, in late 1969 Travis took him up on the offer.

One of the first things he did when he got there was to re-cut Twangin’ My Thang, this time released as a group effort by his new compadres, The Fame Gang. Produced by Mickey Buckins, it just cooks along with Travis’ sitar and chunky wah-wah rhythm over those ‘vehicular’ horns, this is one awesome record. Check out Jesse Boyce and Freeman Brown just gettin’ on down… Da Fonk is in Da House! There is a LOT more to the Travis Wammack saga, and we will pick up our narrative with the rest of the great music he’s been creating down there in Northwestern Alabama for the past fifty years in our next installment…

For now, though, I just want to congratulate Mister Wammack, who will be receiving his Bronze Star from The Alabama Music Hall of Fame on June 11th…

You Go, Little Travis!!

– with special thanks to Travis, Jay Halsey, Colin Escott, John Ridley, John Broven, Mark Nicholson, Frank Bruno, Alexander Petrauskas, David Less, Junior Lowe, Billy Lawson and Johnny Belew…

YouTube Playlist for TRAVIS WAMMACK – One Bad Boy

1967 Episode Three – Let It Happen

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.

Redemption Harmonizers 1956

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.

Edgar Clayton

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 IsCheck 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…

1967 Episode Three – Let It Happen

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.

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.

Quinton M. Claunch 1921-2021

It seemed he would always be there.

There, in the unassuming house in Parkway Village that he bought for his family in 1948. The house he lived in while he was working with Sam Phillips at Sun. The house he lived in as a progenitor of Hi Records. The house where a late night knock on the door would usher in the Soul Era at Goldwax.

I knocked on that door myself many times over the years, and got to know the man behind so much of the music I loved. A true character, his quick sense of humor and way with words was always accompanied by a mischievous glint in his eyes. No matter how much you thought you knew about him, there was always something more to tell. It was almost as if he left something out on purpose, so he could talk about it later on.

The last time John Broven and I knocked on that door in 2019, he told us the tale of how he would stay up nights as a boy growing up in Tishomingo, Mississippi and tune in ‘Border Blaster’ radio station XEG so he could listen to Cowboy Slim Rinehart on the radio. He wanted to play guitar so bad, he said, that his father sold a calf from the family farm and bought him one from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue. When the family moved north to Muscle Shoals, as his father got work as part of the war effort at Alcoa Aluminum, Quinton brought that guitar with him and changed American Music forever.

He had never mentioned that before.

He had told us before that, when Sam Phillips didn’t follow through on a promise to him and his best friend Bill Cantrell that he would use one of their songs as the flip of a Carl Perkins single, was when they made up their minds to leave Sun and start their own company, Hi Records. What he hadn’t told us, but now happened to mention that November afternoon, was that when The Beatles later covered the song (Sure To Fall), he was able to pay off the note on the house.


When I was doing the research for my 2015 interview of Willie Hightower at The Ponderosa Stomp, I discovered that Claunch and Cantrell had actually produced a whole album on Willie at Hi in 1982, one that hadn’t been released until 2007. Even though I had known him for years, he had never mentioned that either. It was that interview, and Hightower’s excellent performance at The Stomp, that would eventually lead to Quinton’s triumphant return to Muscle Shoals to work with Billy Lawson at Wishbone and produce one of the best Soul albums in years, Hightower’s Out Of The Blue in 2018.

He had said he wanted to go out in a “blaze of glory,” and he did – the record is nothing short of amazing.

I used to call Quinton a lot, and when I asked him how he was he would invariably respond, “I’m still here.”

Now, sadly, he is not.

Memphis will be a different place without him in it… I will miss my friend.

Jim Cannon – Underwater Man

The Soul Detective interview by MARK NICHOLSON

An entry in Reggie Young’s 1967 log book for a session held on March 27th caught our eye for a couple of reasons. First of all, it showed that Reggie had already been scheduled to travel to New York to cut Solomon ‘Berk’ for Atlantic, a trip which didn’t actually occur until April 10th (possibly because of new bookings at American for Goldwax and Sound Stage 7 that week). It also showed that Young did lead a session that date instead at ‘Lyn Lou’ on someone name James Cannon. Lyn-Lou, of course, was the studio that Bill Black had founded on Chelsea Avenue a few years before his untimely demise, which by then had been purchased by Larry Rogers. We asked Larry about the session and, although he remembered James Cannon, he said he had no recollection of the session. Hmmmm…

All of this set ‘bloodhound’ Nicholson on Cannon’s trail, who would then discover not only the 45 that was released from that session, but an excellent article about James in the Memphis Flyer that had been written by his grandson Joshua – Rockabilly Man. Mark reached out to Joshua, who then arranged for the trans-Atlantic interview below:

James Cannon, circa 1958

James Wesley Cannon might be a name not widely known, but he has the distinction of being a Memphis music scene figure that was both central and peripheral. He is not related to Ace Cannon, although they lived near each other: “I got his bank account one time as we both banked at the same place. Somebody put his money in my account, and I was happy, man! I thought I was going to retire early. He said ‘Cannon, you got all my money!’ but I told him I didn’t ask for it.”

It all started in 1948 when James’ family became residents of the city’s Lauderdale Courts housing project. He became tight with the family of Bill Black, who also lived there. The Presley family soon followed. Today Elvis historians and residents that still reside at Lauderdale Courts regale tales of summer nights on the triangular patch of grass outside the apartments where young hopefuls gathered with guitars to sing and jam. James Cannon was one of them, Elvis was another… On one occasion a pre-fame BB King happened to be passing by. Johnny Black (Bill’s brother) described the occasion to James’ grandson Joshua during an interview published by The Memphis Flyer in 2015: “We were playing a little country because that’s all we knew. Then a young black man came along and said, ‘Can I play your guitar?’ We had never heard anything like that. We were not only amazed, but we were delirious.”

Jim Cannon (left), Jean Jennings, Johnny Black’s wife Carolyn, and Elvis circa 1952

When the 1950’s started to find its stride, so did some of the Lauderdale Courts kids. However, James Cannon’s session for a planned single for Sam Phillips had to be shelved due to being drafted to Korea in 1953. Whilst out there he learned that two of his former neighbours were brewing a mini storm with That’s Alright, Mama. In an interview with the Memphis Press Scimitar in the 1970’s James revealed that “Bill Black’s mother was always writing to me when I was overseas, telling me about ‘this little record’ Elvis had coming out.” James tried to get a piece of the action for himself upon his discharge in 1955 by forming a combo with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette. “When I got back out of the service, everyone I knew who had any talent was on Sun or some other label. I started chasing the rainbow, but it looked like the train had already pulled out of the station.” he told his grandson Joshua.

James Cannon never gave up. He married Peggy in 1959 and started a family, but he still pursued the dream. Calling himself Jim Cannon, he balanced family life with a regular job and gigs. At nights he performed at the same clubs as some of The American Studio group: “We all played in a club called The Palms – that’s where I had been playing most of the time whilst I was coming up – and they would come through and sit in.” Chips Moman also frequented the venue: “Chips was a whiz, man! Sometimes he went up there with the band. He was a good guitar picker, but he got so busy with recording he had to quit playing around. He had to get out of it to make all of those records.”

During that time Jim kept in close contact with Bill Black, often hanging out at the original Lyn-Lou studio at 627 Chelsea Avenue: “After my son Jeffery was born, me and Peggy had just left the hospital and we went by Lyn-Lou. Bill was there with a wire record rack and a silver dollar in his hand, and he was dragging it on the rack… zingggg… and I’d say, ‘What’s that, Bill? Getting another sound?’ and he’d say ‘I’m getting it!’ He then saw Jeffery and said ‘Let me have him.’ Bill was the first person to put their hands on him… Jeffery is still proud of that. I used to hang out at Lyn-Lou talking music with Bill all day.”

In the 1960’s he even started his own record label and publishing company called ‘Wescan’ (based on the first three letters of his middle name and surname – a little bit like Stax!). His first single was to be My Evil Eye, the track he intended to record for Sun Records back in 1953 (with some lyrical adjustments insisted on by Sam Phillips!) and Jim’s chosen producer was Chips Moman: “He brought Reggie and the guys to the session as they were already a package.” Jim recalls My Evil Eye being “mostly” recorded at American Sound [probably late 1966] and its flipside, Underwater Man, being recorded at Bill Black’s former studio:  “Lyn-Lou was on one side of Chelsea and  American was on the other side. The two songs were recorded very close together, but we had to go back and forth because Chips hadn’t quite got settled down at his own studio.”

My Evil Eye

The intro to My Evil Eye boasts a spikey guitar riff from Reggie Young and a droning organ sound: “We wanted a spooky sound on that, so Bobby Emmons said, ‘Tell you what, let me do this’ and he shut the power off as he was playing the organ then he’d kick it back on. We sent it down to the Plastic Products pressing plant in Cold Water, Mississippi and they thought the tape had stretched!”

Underwater Man

Underwater Man features an unusual musical contribution from Chips Moman: “That was done at Bill’s and you can hear Chips right at the start of that record! He had a straw and a cup of water and he was blowing down into it. I tell you what, man… back then it cost me ten dollars an hour for musicians, so that cost me ten dollars to have him blowing that straw to make bubbles, but it turned out good anyway!”

Jim also speaks respectfully of the other musicians that Chips brought to the sessions for his first single on Wescan: “I had Gene Chrisman on drums, and they called him ‘Mr Metronome’ because he didn’t miss a lick. Tommy Cogbill on the bass… he was a sweet guy! I tried to use Tommy nearly every time. Man, he could thrump!!! Reggie only played on that one record as I usually hired John Hughey for Steel Guitar on my Country stuff, but those American guys were good, and they ended up getting real busy soon afterwards.” (John Hughey later played steel guitar on several AGP sessions).

Indeed, as the American guys became swamped with studio work at 827 Thomas, Jim Cannon continued onwards with a handful of his compositions released on his own label. One was Sing Your Heart Out, Country Boy, which was produced by Roland Janes at Sonic. He also recorded for the ‘Memphis’ label based at 625 Chelsea, next door to the original Lyn-Lou. Both were shop fronts for a vacated movie theatre – sounds familiar?

The studio facility at 625 had originally been set up by barber Marshall E Ellis, who had operated Erwin Records from there. Marshall had loaned Jim Stewart the recording equipment used for the first Satellite singles and was also the man that first introduced him to Chips Moman. Bill Glore also operated his own Glorite label and recording studio from 625 Chelsea in the late 1960’s before taking it all across to the vacated American Studio in 1977. In the 1970’s Jim Cannon was signed to Estelle Axton’s Fretone label. So many connections…

Jim Cannon still lives in Memphis and is still writing songs!

Mark Nicholson, April 2021

  • photos courtesy The Cannon Family
  • with special thanks to Jim and Joshua Cannon, Frank Bruno and Larry Rogers

1967 Episode Two – Wayne’s World

Our second installment of the notes for the 1967 Reggie Young & Bobby Emmons Discography (You Tube Playlist below)

Now let’s talk about another major player in this story, one W.D. ‘Buddy’ Killen. Killen grew up in Muscle Shoals, but left for Nashville ‘before the ink was dry’ on his high school diploma in 1951. working as an itinerant bass player, he was soon holding down a gig at The Grand Ole Opry and working as a session musician in the burgeoning studio scene that would become known as Music Row. Jack Stapp was the program director at legendary clear channel radio station WSM, the broadcast home of The Opry. Figuring out where the real money was in the music business, Stapp had founded his own publishing company, Tree, around the same time Buddy got to town. Stapp admired Killen’s energy (and studio connections), and hired him as a ‘song plugger’ for the company in 1953.

In October of 1955, Mae Boren Axton pitched a song she had written with Tommy Durden to Elvis Presley, and offered him a third of the songwriter’s credit if he would record it. It remains unclear whether it was before or after he (and Col. Tom Parker) agreed, but Axton offered the publishing rights to Buddy Killen and Tree. In January of 1956, Presley and The Blue Moon Boys arrived in Nashville to record his first RCA Victor release, Heartbreak Hotel, which just blew the doors off of everything, breaking into the top five on Billboard’s Pop, C&W and R&B charts on its way to becoming The King’s first million seller, and putting him (and Tree) firmly on the map. In 1957, Jack Stapp would reward Buddy by naming him Vice-President and partner in the firm.

In late ’57, with Elvis about to be drafted, and Colonel Parker refusing to pay them what they were worth, The Blue Moon Boys saw the handwriting on the wall and left the Elvis circus behind. They headed home to Memphis, where Scotty Moore teamed up with Slim Wallace at his Fernwood label. Prior to Moore’s arrival, Wallace had been using Sam Phillips’ publishing company (Knox) for his releases but, soon after Scotty’s arrival, Fernwood 105 and 106 were published by Tree.

The way the story goes is that Scotty’s paper boy, Tommy Wayne Perkins (brother of Tennesse Two guitarist Luther Perkins), led a vocal group at his high school, and was itching to cut a record. Dubbing him Thomas Wayne, Moore would record a couple of sides on him in early 1958. Released as Fernwood 106, Scotty was excited about the chances of the top side, Ray Scott composition “You’re The One That Done It” and leased it to Mercury (71287) that March. The flip, This Time, had been written by Wayne’s guitar player, a kid named Lincoln Wayne ‘Chips’ Moman. Billboard agreed with Scotty, characterizing the A side as ‘intense’ and ‘sincere,’ while Moman’s flip was only ‘agreeable’ and ‘okay’… be that as it may, neither side charted and the record sank like a stone. Moore would start up his own publishing company, Bluff City Music, after that and go on to great success with Thomas Wayne a few months later when Tragedy soared to #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Meanwhile, a kid named Gary Shelton had had the second release on Mercury’s Smash subsidiary in 1957, and been moved up to the big label (71310) around the same time as the Mercury Wayne single, with similar results. Gary must have heard something nobody else did and, after floundering around to a few other labels, he changed his name to Troy Shondell and cut This Time for the tiny Gold Crest imprint in his home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana. After being picked up for national distribution by Liberty in September of 1961, it would go on to become a smash hit, climbing to #6 on the Hot 100 and hitting #22 on the UK Singles Chart when it was released in England on London (got that?). Suddenly a top earner for Tree, Moman was now firmly on Buddy Killen’s radar.

By then, Chips had been tied up with Satellite for a couple of years, and was there as the label changed its name to Stax around the same time as the Shondell record hit in late 1961. Killen, meanwhile, had created his own Dial label (distributed by London) in Nashville as an outlet for Joe Tex around then too. In the Summer of 1962, Moman would have his notorious blow-out with Stewart and Axton over money and move on. A trumpet playing lawyer named Seymour Rosenberg offered to sue Stax and wound up negotiating a settlement of $3000, which he and Chips would use to open their own studio in North Memphis literally across the street from former Blue Moon Boy Bill Black’s studio, Lyn-Lou. It would be called American Sound.

As part of the same deal, Rosenberg had set up the Penthouse label, along with a subsidiary named Youngstown and an in-house publishing company, Press Music. The first release on Penthouse would be by Chips himself, recording under the name of Larry Wayne. At this point, Rosenberg apparently offered former Dixie Rambler Wayne McGinnis a piece of the pie if he would also issue the 45 on his already established Santo label. 

A far cry from the groundbreaking R&B Moman had been cutting on McLemore Avenue, both sides of the single had been written by former Rockabilly powerhouse Patricia Ferguson, and published by Press Music. The Nashville flavored Dialing Your Number (By Mistake) is the better of the two sides, which isn’t saying much… despite a mention in Cashbox that November, the record died on the vine and apparently marked the end of Lincoln Wayne’s career as a performer. By his own admission, by then Moman was “a down son of a bitch,” and had gambled or drank away most of his interest in the Rosenberg American empire.

In the August 10, 1963 edition of Billboard, Buddy Killen announced that Chips Moman had been signed to an exclusive contract with Tree Publishing both as a writer and producer, and would also be serving as his personal assistant. Hmmm… Joe Tex’s Dial releases had been going nowhere, and I’ve often wondered if Chips had anything to do with great records like I Wanna Be Free, which would be released that November. In any event, Chips’ stay there in Music City appears to have been short-lived, as he was back in Memphis cutting records on Barbara & The Browns and O.V. Wright at American as early as the Spring of 1964. Shortly after that, Killen would bring Tex to Muscle Shoals to record his breakthrough hit, Hold What You’ve Got, which would break into the top five both R&B and Pop after Jerry Wexler convinced Buddy to switch Dial’s manufacturing and distribution deal from London to Atlantic.

This Time was still earning Moman and Tree ‘mechanicals’ when it was released as the flip of future Memphis Boy Bobby Wood’s #46 Country hit That’s All I Need To Know in late 1964. Somewhere around in here, Don Crews bought out Rosenberg’s share of American, along with that of his nephew, Wayne McGinnis. When MGM picked up the Youngstown release of The Gentrys’ Keep On Dancing in 1965, Chips offered Crews a half interest in the record and leveraged himself back in as half owner of the studio, the labels and, most importantly, Press Music.

As we saw in 1966, after Jerry Wexler started using Chips Moman as his ‘contractor’ to import The Sound of Memphis to Fame in Muscle Shoals, Killen began doing the same thing, bringing Chips, Tommy Cogbill, Gene Chrisman and Reggie Young (remember him?) to Nashville for sessions with Bobby Marchan for Cameo/Parkway.

In January of ’67, Buddy would import Bobby Emmons as well for a session he co-produced with New York record man Phil Kahl for Diamond Records. Initially set up to record both label veteran Johnny Thunder and recent acquisition Ruby Winters seperately, it was Kahl’s brother, label head Joe Kolsky, who came up with the idea of cutting them as a duet. The concept worked, and Make Love To Me, propelled by Reggie’s great guitar fills and Bobby’s punchy organ, would spend the next two months on the charts, climbing as high as #13 R&B in Billboard. Diamond made sure they got their money’s worth on the trip to Nashville, paying the musicians overtime to cut the artists individually as well, resulting in two more Diamond 45s, including Winters’ blisteringly deep Try Me, with Reggie’s bluesy guitar reminiscent of the work he was doing at Hi with O.V. Wright.

Just six days later, Killen brought Reggie back to Nashville for another marathon nine hour session on January 24th, although this time it was for his own Dial label’s big star, Joe Tex. Joe had continued his chart-topping ways, with back to back #1 R&B hits as ’65 gave way to ’66, followed by three more that would land in the top ten, and cross over into the Pop Top 40. Buddy’s confidence in Tex was finally paying off. One of Joe’s most enduring classics, Show Me, was cut that day, and go on to hit #35 on Billboard’s Hot 100 that Spring. They just don’t come much better than this y’all! Although not released until December, the great Don’t Give Up (with Reggie’s trademark licks all over it) was also cut at that session. Now here’s something I never realized until I started researching all this… the very same day that this session was being held in Music City, Chips Moman, Dan Penn, Tommy Cogbill and Charlie Chalmers were 125 miles away in Muscle Shoals, cutting Do Right Woman, Do Right Man on Aretha for Jerry Wexler at Fame. Unreal!

Killen would bring both Reggie and Bobby back to Nashville in February to cut Bobby Marchan’s funky Help Yourself for Cameo/Parkway. Although not mentioned by name in either of the log books, we believe that the three hours overtime listed by both of them was used for a Dial session on the man John Ridley calls a ‘most eclectic personality,’ Little Archie. Released that March, the high energy All I Have To Do represents yet another hidden Nashville R&B gem, cut by the boys from Memphis.

billboard 4/29/67

A few weeks later, Killen brought the boys back again to cut Dial’s new signee, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry. Lo and behold, there, released as the flip of Tree songwriter Curly Putnam’s Hummin’ A Heartache, is Moman’s This Time! Maybe the best version of the tune to date, I love how Frogman kind of goes off there towards the end. The guitar doesn’t really sound like Reggie, and may well have been played by ol’ Chips himself. Another favorite from these sessions is Frogman’s take on Marchan’s Shake Your Money MakerI’d bet the farm that’s Tommy Cogbill on that bass!

Buddy Killen had picked up Paul Kelly’s Chills And Fever from Lloyd, a small Miami label, and released it on Dial in late 1965. Despite Atlantic getting behind the record, it didn’t do much. Impressed by his songwriting abilities, Killen signed him and issued one more Dial 45 on him in February of ’66 that did even less. By November, Buddy had worked out a deal with Mercury, who (as we’ll see) was looking to expand their R&B operations, to license Kelly’s records to their Phillips subsidiary. As is obvious from the great Billboard photo above, Killen believed in Kelly (almost as much as he did Joe Tex), and would work closely with him for years. After the Frogman session on March 10th, Killen produced four sides on Paul for Phillips, including the marvelously deep Cryin’ For My Baby… wow!.

In the issue of Record World that was published the same date as the Billboard mentioned above, it was announced that Tree had purchased a 50% stake in Press Music. With Penn/Moman composition The Dark End Of The Street currently riding the charts, and Do Right Woman, Do Right Man earning Press mechanicals as the flip of Aretha’s huge number one hit (before it broke into the R&B top forty on its own), I’m sure Jack Stapp was happy to oblige. Besides managing to get Chips into a suit and tie, the deal would also provide a much needed influx of cash to fund the recent equipment upgrade at American. Don Crews was all smiles, as I’m sure Stapp was later on, as future Press big sellers like Cry Like A Baby and Suspicious Minds were now half theirs.

With the console at American now up to snuff, and his ‘house band’ just about where he wanted them, by May of 1967 Chips Moman had decided that from then on, the Mountains would have to come to Mohammed… and they did.

As mentioned earlier, almost the entire month of May had been left blank in Reggie’s book, but we had found a reference in the Cameo /Parkway log sheets (thank you, Teri Landi!) for a session held at American on Bobby Marchan on May 19th, which was subsequently confirmed by an entry in Bobby Emmons’ book. One of the absolute greatest records to ever emanate from 827 Thomas Street was cut that day – the Buddy Killen produced Someone To Take Your Place*, which still knocks me out every time I hear it. Check out Reggie’s guitar, and Charlie Chalmers wailing on that saxophone! Yeah, Baby! Marchan would also record the way cool New Orleans flavored Sad Sack at American that October.

…as it turns out, however, Marchan’s May 19th session may not have been Buddy’s first visit to American after all. In the liner notes to a Shout CD Singles A’s & B’s Volume 2, they refer to a session held on May 8th in ‘Tennessee?’ which yielded #24 R&B hit Woman Like That, Yeah. So, Nashville or Memphis? Well, that’s Reggie on there for sure, but according to Bobby’s book, Emmons was otherwise engaged, working on demos for eight hours at Pepper for Larry Raspberry. Ultimately, I guess it doesn’t matter much. Buddy did indeed bring Joe to American for sure on June 28th, to cut the great A Woman’s Hands, which also climbed to #24 R&B in Billboard that Fall. It was Joe’s next visit to American in September that has gotten all the press over the years, and rightfully so…

“Reggie was so creative, God, what a guitar player,” Killen told John Broven in a 2003 interview, “when he hit that lick on Skinny Legs And AllJoe fell out in the middle of the floor, he started kicking!” In Killen’s autobiography he said, “I brought the tape back to Nashville and listened to it a number of times. I felt that it still needed something…” It was Jerry Wexler who gave him the idea of dubbing in an audience to make it sound like a live recording. “The studio held only thirty people, not enough to sound like an auditorium crowd, so we overdubbed the applause more than once,” Buddy goes on to say, “…I also added slapback reverb to the tape, so it sounded as if the music was bouncing off the walls of the auditorium.” The idea worked, and ‘Skinny Legs’ went straight into the Pop top ten in both Billboard and Cash Box, and spent an incredible four months on the R&B charts, including two weeks at #2 (only kept from the top slot by I Heard It Through The Grapevine), on its way to becoming the all-time classic it remains to this day. It was Joe Tex’s 18th chart appearance in a row, a feat which would put him on the front cover of Cash Box in early 1968. I guess there’s not much else to say that hasn’t already been written about this record, except that I’d like to point out something I had been able to confirm with Darryl Carter, who was there in the room – it is Bobby Womack who asks Joe why he doesn’t take that woman with the skinny legs…

In a definite case of less probably having been more, the unparalleled success of that single convinced Atlantic to record a whole album with that ‘live in the studio’ concept. On Live And Lively, released in early 1968, Killen overdubbed audience sounds over Joe’s previous three hits as well, and held sessions in Nashville with Tex’s own band on November 2nd to flesh out the LP. There is one track listed as having been cut at those sessions, however, that we believe has Reggie playing on it, his deep reading of Do Right Woman, Do Right Man. That guitar may have also been an overdub, as Buddy would bring Joe to American one more time a week later to cut his timeless holiday classic, I’ll Make Every Day Christmas (For My Woman). Buddy had also brought Paul Kelly along with him on that visit, and cut the great My Love Is Growing Stronger the following day.

That’s about it for Buddy Killen’s 1967 involvement with Reggie and/or Bobby Emmons, but there is one more Dial release we need to talk about…

An entry in Reggie’s book for a session on August 28th for Shelby Singleton Productions had us scratching our heads, and coming up blank. Singleton had left Mercury earlier in 1967, and started up his own SSS International label, but we couldn’t seem to connect the dots on any of those releases. Once we were able to compare Bobby’s entry for that date, however, we were able to figure it out… well almost, anyway.

Apparently Skip Gibbs first recording, the snappy upbeat arrangement here on Fugue For A Lost Soul belies its title, and it’s dark subject matter (which, despite repeated listenings I have yet to figure out). Gibbs would go on to have five releases on Shelby Singleton’s Plantation label later on, so there’s that connection… but (just when you thought we were done with all that ‘Wayne’s World’ stuff we were talking about earlier), it turns out that the composers of this little gem were none other than the same Fred Burch and Gerald Nelson who wrote ‘Tragedy’ for Thomas Wayne back in 1958… You really can’t make this stuff up! Burch also produced, and would go on to work with Singleton as a songwriter (including writing the awesome He Made A Woman Out Of Me for Betty Lavette on Silver Fox), so how on earth this 45 ended up on Dial is anybody’s guess…

Shelby Singleton himself apparently did show up at American on September 17th to co-produce one of the great lost Soul records with Finley Duncan. Duncan had started up his Minaret label in 1962, but had also produced singles by Len Wade and The Tikis for Dial at Fame in 1966. Singleton had apparently bought an interest in Minaret shortly after that.

According to Sir Shambling, The Double Soul was made up of Elmore Morris and Charles Cooper. Morris was an R&B veteran who had cut a number of sides for Peacock in the late 50s. Cooper would later make up half of another duo Finley put together for the Abet label, Chuck & Mariann. Written by Morris, Blue Diamonds was selected as the A side of their lone 45, although the other two tunes cut that day (available on the discography page) are just as good. At this point, Singleton was still about a year away from hitting the big time with Harper Valley P.T.A., after which he and Duncan would build their Playground Recording Studio in Valparaiso, Florida.

…to be continued.

1967 Episode Two – Wayne’s World

*also available on ACE CDHCD 1572 The Soul Of The Memphis Boys

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. Special thanks go to Mark Nicholson, John Broven, John Ridley, Jay Halsey, Teri Landi and Russ Wapensky.

“Any freakin’ thing is possible…”

(YouTube playlist below)

In his comments after I posted episode one, Peter Nickols went on to say: “…surely Al Gardner’s ‘Just The Touch Of Your Hand’ is also superb… Don demoed that too. I know you feature the Gardner side in your audio samples but I think it’s worth a text mention – just my opinion.” Hmmm… I thought about that a while, then I remembered why I had decided not to ‘text mention it’ in the first place.

Sir-Rah 504

Although I totally agree with Peter’s assessment that Just A Touch Of Your Hand is a superb record, with Reggie Young’s guitar all over it, there is no mention of Willie Mitchell on the label… as a matter of fact, the label says ‘Supervised by Jack Ashford’… Huh? Like Motown Tambourine playing Funk Brother Jack Ashford? This obviously would place this as a Detroit production and, although it had been included on the Northern Souljers CD as being cut with Willie in Memphis, I figured I’d have trouble connecting those dots, and so I left it alone.

As Nickols mentioned, Don Bryant had also cut a demo version of Just A Touch Of Your Hand – a version so good it was released as a 45 (backed with Don’s equally awesome demo of Cloudy Days mentioned earlier) on Garry Cape’s Hit and Run label just last year. Unhindered by the syrupy strings and Motor City echo chamber of the Ashford supervised release, Don delivers the goods over what appears to be the same backing track. Wow! Bryant’s resurgence as one of the greatest living Soul singers still out there doing it has earned him a Grammy nomination for his excellent 2020 album You Make Me Feel. With The Grammys less than a week away, my friend (and producer of that record) Scott Bomar still took time out to ask Don if he could recall any details about how it is he cut this demo of somebody else’s song at Hi: “Unfortunately he didn’t recall any details about how the song came to him,” Scott said,  “…Willie was handling everything.”

Hmmm… maybe the names of the songwriters might offer us a clue? I had no idea who ‘H. Leeper’ might be, until Nickols put me on her trail: “…that’s a fairly unusual name and I think it is probably the influential North Carolina DJ known locally in Charlotte as Chatty Hattie Leeper. Like Martha Jean the Queen, Hattie was one of the first female R&B disk jockeys in the South, with a loyal following over 16,000 watt WGIV in Charlotte. It was through her position as secretary of the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers, however, that she also maintained close contacts with most of the major players in the mid-sixties Soul scene… more on that in a minute.

SS7 2653
SS7 2629

The other songwriter listed on the label was Allen Orange. The subject of our exhaustive Soul Detective Case Five (the case which would lead to our re-discovery of Sir Lattimore Brown), it didn’t seem possible that I hadn’t come across Hattie’s name before. Sound Stage 7 had released Paul Vann’s cover of the song as The Touch Of Your Hand (Means So Much) in February of 1970, with Orange listed as the sole composer. This is the version that we featured on the site back in 2007. What I hadn’t realized at the time was that SS7 had also issued it as Just The Touch Of Your Hand the year before, where ‘Hatty’ had also been given credit on the label. I still can’t decide if they are both the same recordings…

Bob Wilson 1966

In 1967, Orange was already working with John R at Sound Stage 7 alongside Bob Wilson in Nashville. How was it that this song had been recorded in Memphis via Detroit (and North Carolina) a full two years before the SS7 versions? Wilson had started out in Motor City with Ed Wingate at Golden World/Ric Tic before hiring on in Music City with Richbourg at Monument/SS7. It was through the aforementioned Case Five that I got to meet and hang out with him and do some amazing things (like cutting Sir Lattimore with him at Royal Studio in Memphis in 2008). Although we hadn’t spoken for a while, I figured I’d ask him: “I am on the Paul Vann cut, and have label credit as arranger, with Terry Burnside (Cincinnatti, white fellow, King Records background)… when we were with Willie, I don’t recall if I spoke of my background in Detroit, at Ric Tic, or not. I know he was very aware of my Sound Stage 7/Joe Simon/John R connection, but, don’t recall discussing Detroit. I never heard Willie Mitchell’s name spoken in Detroit, but, as you know, any freakin’ thing is possible…” It sure is.

There’s A Place In My Heart is another Allen Orange/Hattie Leeper song that was produced by Willie Mitchell at those sessions in Memphis in July of 1967 on a vocal group called The Appreciations. It appears once again that the same backing track was used as on the Don Bryant demo. In Mark Windle’s book It’s Better To Cry, there is an in-depth portrait of The Appreciations based on extensive interviews with several members of the group. They first got together as students at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina where they came to the attention of Chatty Hattie, who would become their manager and biggest advocate. After arranging a session with Jerry Wexler in New York for Atlantic that somehow ended up on Jubilee, Leeper set her sights on Detroit.

According to Windle: “Their next recording was I Can’t Hide It / No, No, No (Aware 1066). Hattie set up Aware for this sole release. The tracks were recorded in 1966 at the Golden World / Ric Tic Records Studios in Detroit. The group liked the Motown sound and wanted to be part of it. Willie Mitchell (band leader, producer, wind and keyboard player) coached and arranged the session and, according to Charles, played baritone sax. Mitchell is perhaps more associated with Memphis than Detroit. In reality however he wrote, produced, arranged and recorded a number of tracks for Lee Rogers, Buddy Lamp and others  on Detroit labels such as Wheelsville, Premium Stuff and D-Town, either from his Memphis base or in Detroit itself. ” Whoah… wait a minute – this is the first I’ve heard about Willie actually recording in Detroit! Windle goes on to explain “…the lead singer was adamant it was Willie. I questioned him two or three times to double check, as obviously I knew this would be an issue.” The baritone sax solo certainly sounds like Motown stalwart Mike Terry, but when asked years later, Terry said it wasn’t him. I suppose, if Willie actually was there at Golden World, his late great brother James, who was a killer baritone man in his own right, would probably have been there as well… like Wilson said “…any freakin’ thing is possible.” We may never know for sure, but that would certainly explain his connection with Hattie Leeper.

But what about our hypothesis last time out that it was another disk jockey, Detroit’s Ernie Durham, that cut those Sport and Sir-Rah tracks with Willie in Memphis? Perhaps the key to understanding all this lies in Stuart Cosgrove’s excellent Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul where he writes: “By 1967 Frantic Eddie Durham’s power was in decline and the old R&B radio station era he had come to personify was hanging on for dear life… the radio personalities that had inspired Gordy as a teenagerwere losing their grip on power.” Although it may not have seemed like it, Motown had begun to lose its grip as well, despite purchasing the Golden World studios shortly after the Aware sessions outlined above. Mickey Stevenson had abruptly left the company in early 1967, and people began to get the message that all was not well in Hitsville U.S.A.

Sensing that vulnerability, a Detroit big shot named Andrew Harris started up his own trio of labels (Boss, Sport and Sir-Rah), hiring some of the biggest names in Detroit in the process, like Andre Williams, Shelley Haims and the aforementioned Jack Ashford. According to Ady Croasdell’s liner notes to the Kent CD Pied Piper Finale, “Harris is remembered by Ashford as a wealthy older guy who wanted to get involved in records, and by Jay Johnson of The Four Sonics as a red-haired white guy who was reputed to have earned his fortune through gambling. Ashford’s initial meeting with him was notable for being the first time he had seen a $500 bill when Harris peeled one from a wad to cover expenses…” It’s certainly not much of a stretch to think that he might have peeled a few of those off and sent them in Frantic Ernie’s direction to cover those sessions in Memphis… “…any freakin’ thing is possible.

Hmmm… but what about Allen Orange’s collaboration with Hattie Leeper? Initially I thought that perhaps Orange had accompanied John R and Joe Simon to Royal Studio in March (more on those sessions soon), and somehow made the connection there. Then I remembered what Aaron Varnell had told Bob Wilson and I when we met with him in Nashville during our Case Five investigation all those years ago – that Allen had gone to live with relatives in North Carolina. It was Garry Cape who then told us he had met with Allen at an assisted living facility in Nashville in 2004, but the next time he tried to contact him they said he had moved out to be with relatives, and they were not at liberty to tell him where that was. All of that led to our discovery of this Death Notice in The Charlotte Observer from 2006, that would be Charlotte, North Carolina, Ms. Leeper’s home town. Although at this point it’s ‘purely conjecture’, I can’t help but think they had known each other ‘back in the day’ and had written these songs together way before any of this happened.

I’m attempting to reach Orange’s son, DeMarcus, who had contacted us during our initial investigation, to ask him about all this… stay tuned!

“Any Freakin’ Thing Is Possible…”

UPDATE: I went out and bought us a copy of Chatty Hatty The Legend, the autobiography, in hopes of shedding some light on all of this. Although she mentions her Chatlee publishing company, she doesn’t seem to talk much about her songwriting. In her chapter on managing The Appreciations, neither of the songs in question are listed. She does go on to say “I must mention these good associates as we had record deals and were in constant communication in the business,” then goes on to list thirty one names in no apparent order, other than her own estimation of their significance, I suppose. Our man Allen Orange is the second name on the list (although his location is given as Nashville, which makes sense). The only person mentioned in Detroit is Berry Gordy, and the only one from Memphis is Leroy Little. Not much help in this case, I’m afraid, but still fascinating to see the names of all these movers & shakers in the industry, from Jerry Wexler and Florence Greenberg to Marshall Sehorn and Hy Weiss. As Hatty says herself, “I was BIG!”

Special thanks to Don Bryant, Scott Bomar, Bob Wilson, Mark Windle, Garry Cape, Peter Nickols and Mark Nicholson, without whom this post would not have been possible.

1967 Episode One – Sho Is Good

At long last, here’s the first episode of the 1967 Reggie Young (and Bobby Emmons) Discography Liner Notes (YouTube playlist below):

By 1966, Bobby Patterson and his Mustangs were the hottest R&B act in Dallas, packing the same clubs that Lattimore Brown and his Mighty Men had a few years before. John Howard Abdnor, whose primary business was selling Insurance, signed Bobby to his Abnak record label, but soon moved him to his R&B subsidiary, Jetstar, for Patterson’s further releases.

Dale Hawkins, whose own Abnak 45s were going nowhere, would become Abdnor’s producer, and in early January of 1967, he sent him to Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio in Memphis to record a few sides on Patterson. Only one track from those sessions was released at the time, the great Long Ago (Jetstar 108), which Dan Penn had written with Muscle Shoals compatriot Bob Killen, and recorded a killer demo of just prior to leaving Fame six months earlier.

Penn and Moman are credited as arrangers on the label, and the two of them had been thick as thieves since writing The Dark End Of The Street at The Anchor Motel in Nashville that past October. Just as they promised Quinton Claunch, they had cut it on James Carr at Hi (with both Reggie and Bobby Emmons on board) just five weeks before Patterson’s session at American. It was selected as a ‘regional breakout’ in Billboard in February, alongside another record that Dale Hawkins had produced for Abnak, Western Union by The Five Americans.

‘The Dark End Of The Street’ would eventually go top ten R&B, while ‘Western Union’ climbed even further, to #5 on the Hot 100, after which Abdnor would make Hawkins vice president of the label. There sure was a lot of talent under one roof there on Thomas Street, and although Billboard had picked ‘Long Ago’ to hit the R&B chart in the same issue, somehow it never did.

Some thirty years later, another track recorded at those sessions, the Penn/Oldham gem I Do, would be released as the final track on a Kent Records CD, although mis-titled as ‘Who Wants To Fall In Love’ (Check out Dan Penn on the second vocal! – as well as Dan’s own version on his great new album Living On Mercy). It’s interesting to compare Reggie’s and Bobby’s notes for that session. Reggie simply noted ‘Dale Hawkins’, as no doubt he knew him from his Louisiana Hayride days, but Bobby (ever the perfectionist) notes ‘Chips’ (indicating American), client name, artist and even song titles (although he got ‘I Do’ right, he apparently had to go back and correct ‘Long Ago’…).

It appears that, at this point, Reggie had come in off the road for good but Bobby Emmons was still out there performing, playing local gigs behind guys like Wayne Jackson and Charlie Freeman, and touring with Ace Cannon throughout the Mid-South. The day after the session with Chips outlined above, he was off to Mississippi with Ace, while Reggie stayed on South Lauderdale.

The two sides cut there on January 6th provide a glimpse of what was going on at Hi at the time. Bowlegs Miller was still very much ‘in da house’, and collaborated with Reggie on the hilarious Sho Is Good (Hi 2021). Don Bryant is at the top of his game, both as a singer and songwriter, on Can’t Hide The Hurt (Hi 2131), which is only the second Hi 45 to credit Willie Mitchell as a producer, a credit he would also soon be receiving from the ‘outside labels’ that recorded there. There was, understandably, friction between the two trumpet playing bandleaders working under one roof and, according to Howard Grimes, Willie and Bowlegs were soon to have a ‘falling-out’ (we’ll talk more about that later on).

On January 8th, Reggie and Bobby again joined Chips at American to cut Roosevelt Grier on the way funky Slow Drag, with label credit to both Chips and Dan Penn as producers. Grier had been signed by MGM (making the move from the in-house Youngstown label), a major step up, no doubt brought on by Chips’ having just produced back-to-back hits for MGM on Sandy Posey. It was MGM’s Jim Vienneau who had brought Chips and Dan together in the first place, and he was also the man responsible for bringing a young songwriter into the fold in late 1966, one Wayne Carson Thompson. Just a few days after the session with Rosie at American, Chips would take Reggie with him to Nashville to cut Sandy’s third top 40 hit in a row, What A Woman In Love Won’t Do. The flip of that single, the haunting Shattered, was written by Wayne Carson and is, in my estimation, one of her best. It was Sandy’s records that were no doubt paying the bills at this point, and there were more sessions held on her, both in Nashville and Memphis (and even one at Fame) in 1967 than on any other artist, resulting in the whopping 25 other tracks that are playable on the discography page.

Luther Steinberg, the son of W.C. Handy’s piano player Milton Steinberg (and the brother of original Booker T. & The M.G.s bass player Lewie Steinberg) was another ‘trumpet playing bandleader’ who led his own popular orchestra in the late forties and early fifties. They would cut two sides at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service in 1951 which were released on Chess 1465 under the name of Lou Sargent and his Orchestra. As evidenced by this great Cashbox ad at right, Chess had high hopes for Luther’s “Ridin’ The Boogie,” pushing it as the jukebox folow-up to Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” (hmmm… would that make it the second Rock ‘n’ Roll record?). In any event, Lou Sargent never did make the charts, and this lone 78 appears to represent Steinberg and his band’s entire recorded output.

In 1954, Luther’s wife Martha Jean would become one of the first female (and black) disk jockeys in the nation when she joined the staff at WDIA, and was soon nicknamed ‘The Queen’ by fellow dee-jay Robert ‘Honeymoon’ Garner. Her Saturday afternoon show, on which she would spotlight the latest R&B records released that week, was called ‘Premium Stuff’. Over the next decade it would become one of the most listened to on-air programs in the South. Pulling up stakes in 1963, The Queen headed for that other epicenter of Soul, Detroit, where she would continue her career as a radio personality on WCHB.

Mike Hanks was a Detroit record man who couldn’t stand being in the shadow of Berry Gordy’s Motown Empire. “Shit, I was driving a Cadillac when Berry was still riding a bike!,” he was quoted as saying. After heading up various other small labels, Hanks formed D-Town (get it?) around the same time that Martha Jean came on the scene in 1963. With financial backing from Pro Football players Roger Brown (defensive tackle on The Detroit Lions) and Pete Hall (who had been a teammate of our man Roosevelt Grier on the 1961 New York Giants), Hanks meant business. In early 1965, D-Town scored big with a hit by Lee Rogers, I Want You To Have Everything, which would climb to #17 on the Billboard R&B chart. Flush with the success of that record, Hanks entered into a contract to buy a vacant house literally 100 feet away from Motown’s ‘Hitsville U.S.A.’ studio on West Grand Boulevard. Gordy was not amused, and managed to block the sale of the building to D-Town. Setting up shop in another location 4 blocks away, Hanks started a subsidiary label he named Wheelsville U.S.A. a few months later. After dozens of releases on D-Town that went nowhere (including one by Roosevelt himself), Wheelsville became the primary label.

Apparently not happy with the return on his investment, Pete Hall argued with Hanks about money, and wrested control of Wheelsville from him in the Summer of 1966. According to the amazing Soulful Detroit website (where I found most of this information in the first place), Pete had a ‘close relationship’ with our Queen Martha Jean, who by then had made the move to the Motor City’s ‘Tiger’ station, WJLB. Persona Non Grata at Motown, and now at Hanks’ ‘Pig Pen’ studio as well, Hall set his sights on Memphis, where Ms. Steinberg still knew just about everybody. With Stax recently closing its doors to outside interests, Hi was only too happy to welcome Hall in. The first of those Bluff City sessions was held in September of 1966, when Lee Rogers cut Don Bryant composition Cracked Up Over You, which would also be covered by both Danny White and Junior Parker at the studio, right around the same time that Lee’s version was released on Wheelsville 118 that November.

Hall would return to Memphis with Rogers in January of ’67 to cut another Bryant composition Love Can Really Hurt You Deep (Wheelsville 121), but he also brought with him a couple of songs that had been written by future Detroit Gospel legend Bill Moss. Although Bobby Emmons noted the titles of those tracks in his log book, it’s unclear whether the artists that finally released them also made the trip to Memphis, or overdubbed their vocals later on in Detroit over the backing tracks cut for Hall that night. What is clear is that Pete created a brand new label for Martha Jean to showcase those songs on, named (wait for it…) Premium Stuff. The Fabulous Peps’ I Can’t Get Right and Dee Edwards’ I’ll Shed No Tears (both of whom had formerly been signed by Hanks on D-Town) were among the label’s first releases in 1967.

Pete Hall was back at Hi in February, and this time brought both The Fabulous Peps and The Lil’ Soul Brothers with him. Inexplicably, the resulting recordings, Been So Long and I’ve Been Trying, would be released on yet another imprint I can find very little information on, Wee 3 (an ironic choice of a name as ‘We Three’ was what the crack songwriting team at Stax called themselves after another Detroit record man, Don Davis, moved in and changed everything by cutting their Who’s Making Love on Johnnie Taylor just over a year later). Be that as it may, at least one more session was held with Hall on South Lauderdale in June, resulting in Premium Stuff releases by both The Peps and Lee Rogers, including Lee’s great take on Don Bryant’s Sweet Baby Talk.

There was one more reference to The Motor City in Bobby Emmon’s book, on July 10th – “Ernie (Detroit) – 5 Sides” Reggie’s session log for that date only mentions Willie Mitchell. This had us mystified for a while until ‘bloodhound’ Nicholson sniffed out an article about Martha Jean’s fellow dee-jay at WJLB, Ernie Dunham. It’s not much of a stretch to connect those dots, and it seems likely that The Queen could have hooked Ernie up with his own session down on South Lauderdale. Hmmm… could be, but what were those five sides?

Well, I think we may have figured that out. An obscure Detroit record company named Super Sonic Productions ran the Sport label, along with it’s subsidiary, Sir-Rah. Of the ten sides released on those labels in the latter part of 1967, exactly half of them were produced by Willie Mitchell. Bingo! Although none of the five songs were written by him, Don Bryant demos of all of them have since been discovered as well. There is no direct evidence of Ernie Dunham’s involvement in the session, and the two names that do appear on the 45 labels, Shelley Haims and Andrew Harris, don’t ring any bells with me… detectives?* The ‘five sides’ are now all up on the discography page, but the best of the lot by far is Jim Coleman’s Cloudy Days. Just deep, deep Soul of the highest order, folks!

Two weeks after that July 10th session, as the Detroit riots raged in the long hot Summer of 1967, Martha Jean Steinberg stayed on the air for 48 hours straight in an attempt to calm everyone down. The Queen was one remarkable woman…

We will continue our discussion of the incredible body of work that Reggie Young and Bobby Emmons created together in 1967 in our next episode.

Each episode will also be published incrementally on Soul Detective , where the in-line audio links actually work. There will also be a YouTube playlist, like the one posted below, for each of them… but don’t forget the other 450 or so tracks that are always available on our discography page! Thanks for tuning in!

Playlist for Episode One of the 1967 Reggie Young and Bobby Emmons Discography liner notes

FEEDBACK: Peter Nickols has gotten in touch with this: “According to Ady Croasdell, Shelley Harris apparently originally owned Pied Piper Productions and the Golden World label. Andrew Harris owned the Sport label and also the Super Sonic Sound studio – source for all of this is the Detroit Soul Facebook Group… I agree about the quality of Jim Coleman’s ‘Cloudy Days’ but I personally think Don Bryant’s longer demo [now added to the YouTube playlist] is even better… perhaps a mention for Aaron Fuchs’ The Northern Souljers Meet Hi Rhythm CD would be in order as it was a ground-breaking release giving us ready access to most of these fine sides for the first time.” Thanks, Pete!

Cosimo Code 2.0

A User’s Guide

Hello y’all… I’ve been using some of this enforced stay-at-home time to completely restore and update our Cosimo Code project. The target of a malicious hacker, our URL had been hijacked, so that a Google search for any of our pages re-directed you to some shady pharmaceutical firm selling performance enhancing drugs that was based in Cyprus. Not good… I hired some people to help sort out the problem, and it appears that, after a couple of attempts, we finally did.

Nothing if not ambitious, when we launched the site in 2013, we had created a ‘forum’ where people could submit newly discovered records and discuss all matters New Orleans. Soon flooded with all manner of spam, it had gotten so bad that hardly anyone logged into it anymore. This, apparently, was the weak link that allowed these miscreants access to the site, and so it has now been discontinued. I don’t think anybody’s gonna miss it that much.

By way of review, The Cosimo Code is the name we gave to the ‘cryptic hyphenated set of two numbers’ that Cosimo Matassa began assigning to all the records he mastered at his studio on Governor Nicholls Street in New Orleans from October of 1960. Long the subject of speculation, it was Davie Gordon, one of the founding members of the indispensable 45cat, who finally had cracked the code in 2012. The first number, he postulated, represented Matassa’s ‘client‘, or the record company that was footing the bill (at last count, there was over 300 of them!). It’s the second number, though, that made this discovery so important. That number was strictly chronological, which meant we could now accurately date these recordings consecutively across those hundreds of different labels. To a discographer (and admitted ‘record-nerd’) like yours truly, this represented a major breakthrough.

Gordon began working on identifying as many records that Cosimo had imprinted with the code as he could find, and called on well known New Orleans record collectors Peter Gibbon, John Ridley, and John Broven to help him compile a list. Broven, in turn, asked me to figure out a way to open their quest up to the public , and The Cosimo Code was born. Within the first year, (thanks in large part to deep-crated enthusiasts like Peter Hoogers and Anabella), we had more than doubled the amount of known code numbers, and the list has grown steadily ever since.

Rather than bore you here with a long explanation of the site and how it works, please allow me to refer you to the short video below:

“Ok,” you might say, “got it.” So what’s changed? Well, the concept behind the year-by-year listings, was to provide a link for each coded track to a page with more information about that particular record, and a playable link to YouTube audio where available. Since we first published the site eight years ago, Gordon’s 45cat site has grown exponentially, and so I’ve been able to add ‘info’ links to hundreds more records. Also, back then YouTube was routinely taking down videos as part of that whole DMCA thing, and so I knew there were some ‘dead’ audio links on our pages. As I began to update them, however, I found out that times had definitely changed. Over the past month or so, I’ve been able to locate and provide audio links for over 1200 individual tracks on the site… Lord Have Mercy!

94-218 – ACE 618 – (1961)

This whole process has been a voyage of discovery, as one hidden gem after another demonstrated the incredible depth of the music that Cosimo had a hand in creating. Gems like this one… I just love it. Try as I might, I can’t seem to find out much about Joe & Ann, except that Joe’s full name is actually ‘Joseph Joseph’ (try Googling that!), and that by 1962 they had become known as ‘The Original’ Joe & Ann. The ‘A. Tyler’ in the songwriting credit refers, of course, to Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler, who, in addition to being a member of Cosimo’s original J&M Studio band (along with Earl Palmer and Frank Fields), had been working as an A&R man for Johnny Vincent’s Ace label since 1955, cutting some of New Orleans’ biggest hits in the process. As Mac Rebennack told John Broven, “I don’t think anybody ever gave Red the credit, but he was the true leader of the band. He would sit down and organize most every song. He would organize the changes, teach the guitar player to change, have the piano run it down for everybody to learn…”

Shortly after this record was made, Tyler left Ace and joined with Harold Battiste as one of the founding ‘executives’ of A.F.O. records, where he would be involved with yet another huge Crescent City blockbuster, Barbara George’s I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More). Lynn Abbott, an archivist at Tulane University’s Hogan Jazz Archive, recently alerted us to the fact that the first LP released on A.F.O., Monkey Puzzle by the Ellis Marsalis Quartet, bore Cosimo Codes which dated it as being mastered in early 1963. We wondered if A.F.O.’s next LP release, A Compendium by The A.F.O. Executives with Tammy Lynn, was coded as well but it is apparently a very rare record indeed. We had asked around, but nobody seemed to own a copy… nobody, that is, except the intrepid owner of the exhaustive, Joe Goldmark, who just recently found ’69-837′ etched into the dead wax on side two, which accurately dates it as being cut in the Summer of ’63. Thanks, Joe!

I am also proud to announce, as part of our re-launch of the site, that we have added an in-depth appreciation of the late Irving Banister, written by his friend and biggest fan Bret Littlehales, to our Second Line section.

There is also a new Photographs page, which features some of the historic photos that Jonas Bernholm took during his fabled Soul Music Odyssey in 1968, and had allowed us to use in our recent presentation at the Friends of The Cabildo 2020 Symposium.

Now boasting some 39 informative pages, The Cosimo Code is back, bigger and better than ever before… but we still need your help. There are still almost one thousand code numbers that are missing and unaccounted for. Check them records, boys and girls!

…and, thanks.

Bill Robbin & The Blue Jays – White Christmas

Pink 708

After this one popped up on the ol’ Christmas jukebox last night, I started thinking about who might be playing that funky organ. We had featured the flip, Rockin’ Bells, a couple of years ago and, after I posted it, Charlie Chalmers chimed in and told us that was him on sax. Way Cool! I mentioned the obvious Bill Black influence, and he told me it was really the other way around! Bill Robbin was actually a Memphis guitar player named Bill Robley, who had come up with that ‘pencil’ method of whacking the guitar strings with his band, The Blue Jays, and Bill Black saw it and brought the concept back to Reggie Young at Hi. I asked Reggie about Robley, and he said he’d never heard of him, which is entirely possible. Satch Arnold told us Bill Black had him and Reggie over to his house to practice the Smokie Part 2 riff before they cut it, and pretty much as soon as the record hit, Reggie was drafted and sent to Ethiopia.

Bobby Manuel then commented, “I’m pretty sure that’s Bill Robley on guitar playing or ‘slapping’ it with a pencil. He was the leader of Bill Robbin and the Blue Jays. He was a kind hearted guy who took time with a 13 year old kid trying to learn how to play… surely no one can take away from Reggie’s creativity and craftsmanship. He was and is the best and he taught us all.” As you all know, I’m right there with that.

Both sides of the record were given a (B) in Cash Box when it was released in November of 1960, agreeing that it was a ‘strong Bill Black Combo-flavored reading’ and had a ‘sound that will interest the kids’. There ya go. The review goes on to say that the Pink label was ‘handled’ by Ace Records, as in Johnny Vincent Imbragulio, Jackson Mississippi Ace Records? Hmmm…

I was able to get a hold of Charlie Chalmers again (bless his heart) and ask him about the personnel on this ‘sock-rock vehicle’, and he told me it was no small wonder that it sounds like a Bill Black record, because in addition to Robley on guitar and Bobby Stewart on bass, it features the aforementioned Jerry ‘Satch’ Arnold on drums and Carl McVoy on the organ – in other words, half of Bill’s combo! He went on to say that they cut the record at Hi which, in light of the fact that the record’s producer, Quinton Claunch, had recently left the company seemed nothing short of amazing.

Despite repeated attempts on our (and many others) part, no-one has ever gotten Quinton to talk about the actual circumstances of his departure. We spoke a little about all this in our Clarence Nelson investigation, and I’d like to feature an excerpt from the case here:

In Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick says “By this time Claunch, to his eternal regret, had left Hi for a number of cogent reasons…” Huh? According to Colin Escott in Good Rockin’ Tonight“Claunch left Hi with considerable ill will on all sides in 1960 after he recorded a Bill Black sound-alike for another label.” Which is echoed on a Black Cat Rockabilly page where it goes on to say that “Carl McVoy bought Claunch’s share for $7000….” According to Colin Escott, “Cantrell and Claunch had something to do with Walter Maynard. …”

…Maynard had released a Christmas 45 on Robbin, featuring the same kind of ‘untouchable’ arrangement, this time called Rockin’ Bells… By then, Claunch’s name was printed plainly there on the label for all to see, so I imagine the final break with Hi (and the sale of his share in the label to Carl McVoy) must have come somewhere right around in here. It is also interesting to note that Pink (which had been originally distributed by Ember) was now a part of the Johnny Vincent Ace empire…

Let’s just pause here a moment and consider how important a figure Quinton Claunch really is. Perhaps the most independent of the ‘independent record men’, when he didn’t like the way things were going at Sun, he had no problem leaving Sam Phillips behind and starting up his own label with his friends. Then, as far as Hi Records is concerned, in the liner notes of The Complete Goldwax Singles Volume 1, Claunch says “I did not think things were moving along fast enough, so I moved on to some independent projects…”  I’m sure Quinton felt that what was good for the goose should have been good for the gander, and if it was OK for Cuoghi to lease copycat records to other labels, then his projects should have been given the green light as well. When they weren’t, he cashed in his chips and walked away. This idea that he was somehow ‘muscled out’ appears to be a misconception… one which Claunch has done little to dispel over the years. After all, why should he?

Why indeed. Quinton turned 99 on December 3rd. Imagine that… he said “When I reach 100, I’m gonna start over!” I’ll tell y’all what, if he makes it we’re gonna throw one hell of a party!

So, anyway, in light of all this, the question of how on earth Quinton could have cut this at Hi, in the midst of all that ‘considerable ill will’ appears to be answered. As part owner of the company, Carl McVoy was now calling the shots, and could do whatever he wanted… I can almost see the sardonic grin on Claunch’s face.

Merry Christmas, folks!

…and don’t forget to check out the red kelly Christmas Index – Ho-Ho-Ho!

Joe Tex – I’ll Make Everyday Christmas

I had to figure something out… my entire web presence had been hacked. It seemed like everything I had ever written was about to go up in smoke. It’s always been bad enough that when you googled me you came up with about 100 pages about Hockey, but this was something more malevolent and sinister. I ended up hiring some people to ‘clean’ my sites, and it seemed to work – but then it happened again. Ugh.

As you may know, I’d been working on The Reggie Young Discography Project for a few years now, and the recent discovery of Bobby Emmons’ 1967 session log book (thank you, Sherry) had opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. Mark Nicholson and I had identified almost 500 tracks that Reggie and/or Bobby had played on that year, and put it all together on the 1967 Discography Page last Summer, but I didn’t want to post it until I had finished the ‘liner notes’ as I usually did. After I had written way more than I had for any of the other years, I realized that I was not even a quarter of the way through. Then the whole hacking thing made me kind of question what the hell I was doing.

So this is what I came up with, this new site will feature my ‘works in progress’, and I will be breaking up those notes into ‘episodes’ and posting them here as I finish them, before eventually pulling them all together. In the meantime, that 1967 page is live now front and center on Soul Detective, just in time for Christmas.

Joe Tex recorded I’ll Make Everyday Christmas (For My Woman) with Reggie and Bobby at American Sound on November 9th, 1967 – just one of the truly amazing records they cut that year…

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas in these troubled times… I hope Santa treats you good!