White Christmas – The Rance Allen Group

Every year around this time, a 45 reaches out of the ol’ Christmas Jukebox and just slays me…

just, wow…
The Rance Allen Group – L-R: Thomas, Rance, Steve

After Stax Records’ first stab at running a Gospel subsidiary label, Chalice, sort of faded away once Atlantic pulled out, Al Bell decided it was time for another foray into that lucrative market in early 1972. Hiring Dave Clark, who knew a thing or two about Gospel Music after spending most of the previous two decades working for Don Robey at Peacock, Bell put him in charge of newly created imprint The Gospel Truth. According to Rob Bowman, Clark had been ‘awestruck’ by a group of three brothers when he served as a judge at a Gospel competition in Detroit, and signed them on the spot. After cutting some tracks with local producer Toby Jackson, Clark brought the tapes down to Memphis, where The Rance Allen Group would have the first release on the label that January.

The Rance Allen Group live at Wattstax, August 20, 1972

The raw power of the trio’s performance at Wattstax that August helped put them on the map, and had Dave Clark promoting Stax’ new vision of ‘Gospel Rock’ to anyone who’d listen. It apparently paid off, as Rance and the group broke into the R&B Top 40 for the label with I Got To Be Myself in the Spring of 1973.

In 1974, faced with increasing financial pressure, Al Bell decided to phase out ‘The Gospel’ and rechristen the label as simply ‘Truth’. Stax would then be able to release new Soul product on there as well, in an effort to sidestep their dismal distribution agreement with CBS. It appeared to have been a good move, as Shirley Brown would take Woman To Woman (Truth 3206) all the way to #1 R&B that Fall. Paired with David Porter and the man who had taken Isaac Hayes’ place as his writing and production partner, Ronnie Williams, The Rance Allen Group’s first Truth release, Ain’t No Need Of Crying, made it to to #61 R&B in early 1975. According to Williams, It was a tune which became ‘the company’s unofficial theme song’ as Stax continued to crumble around them.

Be that as it may, at Stax’ 50th Anniversary Celebration at The Orpheum Theater in 2007, Rance Allen and his brothers literally stole the show with their performance of it that night…

God Is Good… all the time!

We lost Bishop Rance Allen in 2020. His music continues to uplift and inspire all those who have ears to listen…

Merry Christmas, everybody – I hope Santa treats you good!

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!