Ivory Joe Hunter – Still Here

YouTube Playlist of all tracks belowif you scroll down and hit ‘play’ you can listen while you read the notes!

By the time Ivory Joe Hunter signed with Atlantic in late 1954, he had been a regular visitor to the upper echelons of the R&B Charts for almost a decade. Of his thirteen prior top ten hits, three had climbed to number one and spent over two months in the top position, including two massive hits for MGM in 1950, I Almost Lost My Mind and I Need You So. Since he had taken the follow-up, It’s A Sin, to #10 R&B for the label in early 1951, however, the hits had dried up, and MGM apparently chose to not to re-sign him. Wexler and Ertegun, who were fast becoming THE force to be reckoned with in R&B music, were only too happy to offer Hunter a contract.

Hunter’s first release for Atlantic, It May Sound Silly, was picked as the Cash Box ‘Rhythm ‘N’ Blues Sleeper of the Week’ in January of 1955, the same week that I’ve Got A Woman, the Ray Charles tune that changed everything, broke into the charts for the label, eventually cruising to #1. Ray would go on to just own the R&B top ten for the next few years, but Ivory Joe’s ‘sleeper’ didn’t do too bad either, climbing to #14. As Cash Box had predicted, Hunter’s composition had ‘every quality that will lead to Pop covers’ and it did. When The McGuire Sisters took it to #11 on Billboard’s Honor Roll of Hits for rival Coral Records that Spring, Atlantic’s in-house Progressive Music Publishing reaped the rewards.

After another 1955 release that went nowhere, Cash Box would again pick an Ivory Joe and His Ivorytones release as ‘Sleeper of the Week’ in February of 1956, A Tear Fell. Picked up pretty much immediately by Coral this time, Theresa Brewer’s cover version would chart the same time as Hunter’s, going top five Pop, while Joe had to settle for #15 R&B. Although Hunter was not the songwriter this time out, the Burton-Randolph composition had been published by Progressive Music… cha-ching!

The Industry was paying attention, and Randy Wood at Dot Records decided to cut the ultimate R&B cross-over crooner, Pat Boone, on a remake of Ivory Joe’s 1950 classic I Almost Lost My Mind. Just a huge record, it would go nation-wide in the Summer of 1956, spending a full month at #1 on the Billboard charts. Nat ‘King’ Cole had also taken the song to #26 Pop (#7 R&B) for Capitol in 1950, but this was a whole new ballgame. Somewhere around in here, 1650 Broadway publishing giant Hill and Range went from ‘Sole Seller’ of the sheet music, to owning the song outright. In any event I’m sure Hunter, as the sole songwriter, was still getting paid.

Atlantic was not amused. As Jerry Wexler told Rob Finnis: “…we were very hipped on what Pat Boone was doing. He lifted a technique and a style from Ivory Joe, and we went back and lifted from Boone.” They released what was essentially a re-write of the same song, with new lyrics and an updated arrangement by Ray Ellis, for the label that December. Since I Met You Baby turned out to be an unprecedented success, becoming Atlantic’s first million-seller, spending three weeks at the top of the R&B charts, while crossing over on its own (without the benefit of a white person covering it) to just miss the top ten, climbing to #12 on Billboards’s Pop Honor Roll of Hits as 1956 gave way to 1957. The publishing on this one? Why, Progressive of course…

Ivory Joe on Top of The World

Joe made the cover of Cash Box on March 30th, 1957, receiving his Gold Record in front of millions on The Ed Sullivan Show. This was the big time! Right there on the front page, it was also reported (as it had been in Billboard) that Hunter had ‘just signed a three year contract with Atlantic’…

On February 23rd, Elvis Presley, with Too Much then at #1 on the Pop Charts (#3 R&B), had been at Radio Recorders in Hollywood cutting tracks for an upcoming LP to be be issued in conjunction with the Paramount Pictures film Loving You, which would premier that Summer. By all accounts a big fan of our man Ivory Joe (whose gigundo smash for Atlantic was then still riding the charts) Elvis chose to cover Hunter’s 1950 #1 R&B hit I Need You So for the album. On March 26th, four days before Joe graced the cover of Cash Box above, Elvis officially purchased Graceland on the outskirts of Memphis.

Hunter’s follow-up for Atlantic, his own composition, Empty Arms, had been chosen as ‘Disk of the Week’ in Cash Box on March 23rd, but had to share that honor with the Teresa Brewer version, which was released on Coral the same day. Joe was hot, and the boys on Broadway knew it. The Atlantic single would spend sixteen weeks on Billboard’s Pop chart, but only make it to #43. Coral’s ‘whitebread’ version, however, would hit #13 during its own seventeen week run. Hunter was all smiles though as, if you notice, the publishing credit on both labels now reads ‘Ivory Music’. As a veteran performer, I’m sure Joe knew where the real money was in the business, and had apparently demanded his own publishing as part of his new deal with Atlantic.

Aside from Ivory’s newfound Pop crossover success, it was the R&B charts that had always been his stronghold. Sure enough, Empty Arms made it to #2 in Billboard on May 15th, kept from the top slot by Chuck Berry’s fourth top five hit in a row, School Day. As you can see, Hunter had taken the number two spot that Elvis’ All Shook Up (which had been selected as the Cash Box ‘Disk of the Week’ in the same issue that featured Joe on the cover), occupied a week earlier. By May 22nd, however, that monster of a record came roaring back, hit #1 R&B and stayed there for the next month (not to mention the nine weeks it spent leading off Billboard’s Pop Honor Roll of Hits). The flip of Joe’s record, Love’s A Hurting Game, would also chart, but only make it to #7 R&B. Rock & Roll was definitely here to stay, and Ivory Joe Hunter would never see the R&B top five again.

Ivory Joe Hunter visits Graceland, July 30, 1957

Elvis, much to his eternal credit, invited Ivory Joe to visit him at Graceland in July, while (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear was in the midst of it’s seven week stay at the top of Billboard’s Pop charts. George Klein told Peter Guralnick about that visit in Last Train To Memphis: “Elvis said, ‘Ivory Joe, I sure do like your songs. You ain’t got any more of them for me, do you?’ Now, Ivory Joe was a real friendly guy. Great big kind of guy. You just immediately liked him, and he said, ‘Well, baby, I just have – I got one just for you.’ So we went in the piano room, and he sang My Wish Came True and Elvis said, ‘Shit, I’m cutting that at my next session!’ Which he did, even though it didn’t come out for a couple of years… and they sat there for hours, mostly singing Ivory Joe’s songs, a few of Elvis’ – man I just wish I had a tape machine!” We wish you did too, George.

Despite Atlantic’s boastful full-page ad in Cash Box that August, Hunter’s next release for the label (now published by something called ‘Desiard Music’) missed the charts entirely, as did his next three subsequent Atlantic singles. For whatever reason, the R&B record-buying public had appeared to move on, and Ivory Joe couldn’t buy a hit for over a year. In September of 1958, perhaps due to its great baritone-heavy arrangement, Yes I Want You (with Progressive back as the Publisher) did crawl to #94 on Billboard’s newly instituted ‘Hot 100’ and climbed as high as #13 R&B that October. It would be Hunter’s last R&B chart appearance, ever. There would be one more Atlantic single, released in March of 1959, but by then (amazingly) both parties seemed to have agreed to dissolve that three year contract a year early.

True to his (and George Klein’s) word, Elvis had cut My Wish Came True at the September 1957 ‘Christmas’ sessions with Leiber & Stoller at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. Released as the flip of yet another #1 record, A Big Hunk Of Love, it would also chart on its own, going to #12 on that Hot 100. The King had also recorded another Ivory Joe tune, this time in June of 1958, Ain’t That Loving You Baby (penned with Joe’s pal Clyde Otis), but it wasn’t released until 1964, when it hit #16 in Billboard.

No doubt encouraged by Hunter’s recent Pop crossover success, and the fact that Pat Boone had had such a huge hit for the label with Joe’s material, Dot Records signed Joe in late 1958. There doesn’t seem to have been any mention of it in the trade papers at the time, which seems odd, really. I mean, it must have been one sweet deal, and would certainly have been newsworthy, I’d think. Oh well. In any event, Dot managed to effectively end any shot Joe had at staying relevant as an R&B artist with their first release on him. At the time that City Lights was recorded, Ray Price’s version of the song was in the midst of its thirteen week stay at #1 on Billboard’s new Hot C&W Sides chart. It’s hard to imagine what Randy Wood was hoping to accomplish here. Although Ivory’s waxing of it did make it to #92 on the Hot 100 in early 1959, that would prove to be his final appearance on any chart whatsoever. Hunter had now essentially become too white for the black people, and had remained (of course) too black for the whites. How the mighty had fallen, and in less than two years!

Ivory Joe would soldier on for Dot out in Hollywood, releasing three more singles that went un-noticed in 1959. By 1960, he was back in New York recording for George Goldner. Of the four sides released that year on Goldisc, Let Them Say is probably the best, but even Goldner’s golden touch as producer didn’t help. Apparently signing a one year contract with Capitol in 1961, his three underwhelming singles cut for the big label that year once again failed to connect with the public. A great one-off for Ewart Abner’s Vee-Jay imprint in 1962, You Only Want Me When You Need Me (written by veteran songwriter Charles Singleton), died on the vine as well, even though the previous release on the label had gone top twenty both R&B and Pop for Jerry Butler… Ivory Joe couldn’t catch a break.

In June of 1963, Cash Box reported that Joe had become “…a part of the talent line-up of Smash Records. Inking, made by A&R man Shelby Singleton, is a continuation of the label’s ‘name’ artist build-up.” I’m not sure what ‘names’ they were referring to, as at this point Roger Miller and Jerry Lee had yet to sign with the label. Be that as it may, after Ray Charles had taken Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music to the top of Billboard’s LP charts the Summer before, I imagine Singleton had high hopes of replicating that kind of cross-over success with Ray’s former Atlantic label-mate. Shelby put Hunter together with Bill Justis to cut an album’s worth of material in April of ’63. The first of two singles for the Mercury subsidiary would be released in May. Joe’s own composition, My Arms Are Waiting (once more published by Desiard), is just Nashville all the way, and no doubt features our friend Jerry Kennedy on guitar. Perhaps it was too Country for the Pop Charts, but it would be another three years before Charley Pride would break through the color barrier there in Music City. Singleton then tried sending Joe back to New York to work with Sigma Seven Productions, but the resulting single just wasn’t that good. There didn’t seem to be any room at the Inn for Ivory Joe, no matter where he turned.

Where he turned next was Memphis.

Here was Hunter, on the ‘comeback trail’ right there on McLemore Avenue at the dawn of the ‘Soul Explosion’ as Stax was coming into its own. On Can’t Explain How It Happened, in addition to ‘big Joe’s’ laid-back ‘vocal chords’, he lets loose on the piano more than he had done in recent years, I think. Along with those Memphis horns, Cropper’s stinging guitar and Duck Dunn’s strolling bass line, it’s the drums on this one that make it a truly great record, in my opinion. Although again published by Desiard, the ‘Shaw’ credited as Joe’s co-writer here, refers to the Memphis based itinerant record man and all-around operator Jimmy Shaw, who we talked a little more about here.

I hadn’t noticed it the first time I read it, I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t paying attention. I had started writing this piece in February, just before I got the news that our friend Howard Grimes had passed. On the plane on the way down to Memphis for the funeral, I decided I’d read Timekeeper: My Life In Rhythm one more time. When I saw this, I got chills, man. It was almost as if Howard had reached out and grabbed me…

I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with the record but, for Bulldog to say it was ‘the most complicated rhythm I ever cut’ (in an entire lifetime of complicated rhythms), I knew I had to check it out… Whoah! Kind of like Smokey Johnson meets Ray Barretto or something, here’s yet another example of Howard’s innovative percussion work and sheer genius behind the drum kit. This Kind Of Woman just cooks along, with Joe apparently playing the organ on this side and slyly spelling out just what kind of woman he wants (along with the kind he doesn’t), punctuated by some punchy latin-tinged horns. No wonder I thought the drums on the A side were great… it was Howard! Like he said, they ‘gave it everything every time’, and it shows.

One has to wonder how such a solid single failed to get noticed (aside from those 17 Louisiana and Texas dee-jays). Did Atlantic, as the Stax distributor, possibly still harbor some ill will over Hunter’s prematurely jumping ship five years before? Hmmm…

There is one other 1964 Ivory Joe single that is usually dated as being cut after his lone Stax outing, Joie 720. Apparently a subsidiary of something called L & S Records out in Los Angeles, not much else seems to be known about Joie other than that there were two other releases on the label around the same time. Hunter, who had cut his teeth cutting hits on his own West Coast labels in the late forties, was credited here as the producer, with the mis-spelled ‘De Saird’ now sharing the publishing with ‘Portulaca Music’. I suppose it doesn’t much matter, but I think the Joie single may have been recorded first, as the copyright for the A side, I Need A Woman, was registered in June, while Howard’s complicated Stax B side above was copyrighted that August, around the same time that it was released. Pretty much a straight ahead West Coast Blues number, I wonder who the guitar player might be… Arthur Adams? It is also interesting to note that, even though it says Desiard on the label, the song was registered by Morris Levy’s Frost Music Corp. which ‘In August of that year [1964] had… recently expanded via the purchase of other publishers.’ What a tangled web Joe (and Joie) wove…

Not one to sit still, it was another year, another record label for our man Ivory as he teamed up with Huey Meaux sometime in 1965. Meaux’s ‘Crazy Cajun Enterprises’ was based in Conroe, Texas, just about 100 miles west of Kirbyville, where Joe grew up. Not sure why Huey decided to place Hunter on his Tear Drop imprint, on which about half of his recent releases had been Chicano, instead of on Tribe (the label he had just scored big on with The Sir Douglas Quintet), but there it is. Hunter would cut four sides that year for Huey in Houston at Gold Star Recording. With the great Joey Long‘s guitar mixed front and center, Meaux succeeded in putting a little bit of the ebony back in ol’ Ivory’s records. For my money, the pure Blues of I’ve Asked You For The Last Time still holds up as one of Joe’s best records from this period. You have to wonder if Shelby Singleton, who had gotten his start plugging Huey’s productions, was instrumental in hooking Hunter up with him, and if the subsequent signing of the SDQ to Smash while Meaux was otherwise engaged a few years later was part of the deal…

Bettye Jo Elliot got her start in the industry working for Sam Phillip’s ‘all-girl’ Memphis radio station WHER in the mid-fifties before becoming one of their much-loved on-air disk jockeys. In 1957, she met and married Louis Jack Berger, owner of the West Memphis nightclub The Plantation Inn. Under her guidance, it soon became one of the few places where white kids could go and hear black music, influencing an entire generation in the process. Impressed with the sheer talent of the acts they were booking, she would start her own record label, Bet-T, in 1960 and release a single on William Bell’s Del-Rios, a full year before Chips Moman cut him at Stax. In 1965, Bettye began working for Ray Brown’s National Artist Attractions which, according to Travis Wammack, ‘booked everyone in town’. Convinced she could do better for her artists, she left a year later and formed her own agency, Continental Artists Inc., naming Don Dortch as her vice-president. Ivory Joe would become one of Continental’s first clients, which may have been what lured him back to Memphis in 1966.

It certainly seemed like the right move as, when Hunter signed with Goldwax that Spring, James Carr was climbing the charts for the label, eventually breaking into the R&B top ten. According to the liner notes for The Complete Goldwax Singles, Volume Two, Quinton Claunch had cut Every Little Bit Helped Me on Joe in 1964 (apparently before his stint at Stax), and released it ‘out of the can’ in June of ’66. After nobody seemed to notice, Claunch changed gears a bit and recorded Hunter in a more pop-oriented, Bert Berns style production, leasing his next 45 to United Artists subsidiary Veep in early 1967. Despite being picked as a ‘best bet’ in Cashbox in March, no ‘secure chart berth’ ever did materialize for Don’t You Believe Him, or it’s B+ B side, What’s The Matter Baby.

As discussed earlier, Goldwax brought both Reggie Young and Bobby Emmons across town for an Ivory Joe session at Sam Phillips Recording on June 26th, 1967. Issued that September as Veep 1270, the flip, From The First Time We Met (essentially a re-make of his biggest hit for Atlantic) was predicted by Billboard to reach the Hot 100, but didn’t. It’s the ‘Plug Side’, Did She Ask About Me, however, that just knocks me out. Quinton’s immaculate production, Reggie’s shimmering guitar and Hunter’s heartfelt vocal delivery combine to make this one a winner. It was written by Goldwax ‘Country Series’ artist Carmol Taylor, in a genre which fit Ivory Joe like a glove. Claunch was just a couple of years ahead of his time…

At this point, there is no mention of Ivory Joe Hunter in any of the trade magazines for well over a year, until he is mentioned in Billboard in December of 1968 as ‘returning to the disk scene’ for Sound Stage 7.

Signing with the Monument subsidiary during the exact period when John Richbourg’s ‘exclusive production arm’ had been cutting all of its artists at American in Memphis, it is inconceivable to me that Fred Foster would not opt to send Ivory Joe there as well, especially in light of the great record we just talked about that Hunter had cut in 1967 with most of Moman’s ‘Memphis Boys’ at Sam Phillips.

Although only the Joe Simon and Ella Washington singles mentioned as ‘chart bound!’ in the Cash Box ad at right actually charted, all of them (except for Ivory Joe’s) had been cut with Moman at 827 Thomas, and still hold up today as the stone classics they are.

A Billboard article about Monument from the week before states simply that John R “currently produces all Sound Stage 7 artists with the exception of Arthur Alexander and Ivory Joe Hunter,” but gives absolutely no reason why that might be.

Production duties for Ivory Joe would be handled by Monument’s Vice President and National Sales Director Steve Poncio, who had joined the company in August of 1967. Prior to that, Poncio had come up through the ranks in Houston, and had been running his own company, United Record Distributing, there since 1949. Instead of Memphis, Poncio chose to cut Hunter at the ACA Studio in Houston with local session musicians. His choice of material seems questionable as well as, rather that let Joe cut his own compositions, the label had him cover a tune that Otis Williams and his Charms had taken to #11 Pop (right behind Cathy Carr at #2 and Gale Storm at #6) in 1956, Ivory Tower. Although ol’ Joe is singing his heart out, the tune sounds, if you will, dated – because it was.! Poncio would produce two more singles for the label on Hunter at ACA in 1969 which are, in my opinion, virtually unlistenable. It all just seems a shame, and such a missed opportunity. I’d love to have heard what magic Chips might have created with Ivory Joe in the house…

In January of 1969, Sonny James, cut Ivory Joe’s Since I Met You Baby. When it was released that August, it went straight to the top of Billboard’s Country chart – Sonny’s tenth number one hit in a row. On April 10th, 1971, his version of Hunter’s Empty Arms became the fourteenth [James’ unparalleled streak of #1’s would grow to 16 by the end of the year]. In his book Willful Shadows, Sonny said, “I was doing a personal appearance in Monroe Louisiana, where he [Joe] lived… he said ‘Son back there when you did those songs for me my catalog of songs was… just laying there and wasn’t anybody touching them, any of the recorded ones or the one that had never been recorded… all of the sudden my whole catalog – they started doing songs I’d forgotten I’d written!’

On May 4th, 1971, Elvis was featured on the cover of LOOK magazine, with a feature about his ‘hidden life’ promised inside. Since Suspicious Minds had gone to number one in November of ’69, The King’s chart position had been steadily slipping, and I’m sure RCA (and The Colonel) were glad for the exposure. On May 15th, Presley returned to RCA Studio B, the site of his ‘marathon sessions’ the year before, to work on a proposed new Christmas Album. Somewhere around 2am on May 20th, Elvis sat down at the piano and performed an Ivory Joe B side from 1950, I Will Be True, a favorite of his which he had also recorded while in the Army in Germany. With engineer Al Pachuki rolling the tapes, Elvis then launched into five takes of another Ivory Joe song that nobody in the studio had ever heard before, It’s Still Here. When RCA decided to include it on the ‘Fool‘ album in 1973, it was Gladys Music (the publishing arm named after Presley’s mother) that registered the copyright. In the Elvis Collectors Forum, it says the song is “intriguing, as there’s no known recording of it prior to Elvis.”

Long time contributor, Tom Erik Ogland (Norway’s own Soul Detective) begs to differ…

After some world-class digging, Tom unearthed a previously unknown single by Ivory Joe on Delta, a small Louisiana label. He first found the B side, I’m Looking For A Girl (Who’s Looking For A Boy), on YouTube, where there was a comment about the A side of that single actually being It’s Still Here, but he could find no confirmation of that. Then the real detective work began. Through the comment on YouTube, eBay and a Popsike listing, Tom was able to track down the owner of one of the two known copies. Although it had recently been sold again, luckily he had kept scans and mp3 rips of both sides, which are presented here for the first time. With the help of Praguefrank and another knowledgeable record collector friend from Finland, Tom was then able to use the matrix numbers to definitively date the record as being released in early 1968, before Hunter’s first sessions for Sound Stage 7 in Houston.

Now, how about that?

Desiard Street, Monroe 1960s

Although now sharing the BMI publishing with what must have been Delta’s own Ark-La-Miss Music, Desiard is still listed first, which would certainly suggest (although there appears to be no record of it) that the song was indeed copyrighted at least five years before the Gladys Music entry mentioned above. As it turns out, Desiard is the name of the bayou and main drag that wind their way through Ivory Joe’s adopted hometown of Monroe, Louisiana. Who knew? In a 1970 Commercial Appeal article, Hunter is quoted as saying, “Now, Elvis, he’s something else. He recorded some of my songs and they all sold over a million for him. He’s money in the bank when they put a record out on him…” I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine Joe sending Presley a copy of the Delta 45 when it was released. The fact that Elvis was able to sit down at the piano and perform it through from memory in 1971 seems to indicate that he had played it many times before, and knew it by heart. Thanks, Tom!

Tired of going nowhere fast at Sound Stage 7, in early 1970 Joe decided to return to Memphis on his own. In the same article in The Commercial Appeal mentioned earlier, Bettye Berger outlines Hunter’s own appeal to ‘put his career in her hands’. Bettye circled the wagons at that point, and asked Charlie Chalmers to put together a session in late March at Sam Phillips that would include heavy hitters Bowlegs Miller, Jack Hale, James Mitchell and Isaac Hayes, who would also write this poignant note about Hunter being ‘copped and then dropped’ for the back of the album cover.

Epic apparently won the bidding for Berger’s tapes and, on May 19th, 1971 (the day before Elvis sat down at that piano), they released a single from the album (now aptly titled The Return Of Ivory Joe Hunter), Heartbreak And Misery. “That’s Jackie Harvell on guitar,” Charlie Chalmers told me, “I hired him to do that record.” Arranged by Chalmers and Sandra Rhodes, who also plays bass on the album, that’s her sister Donna on drums. “That was before I started singing backup with them,” Charlie said, “I wrote those strings, but I didn’t do horns… must have been in a hurry!” Seeing as the whole album was cut in two days, I’d say so. It’s interesting to hear the Rhodes – Rhodes backup without the Chalmers in the middle. It was Willie Mitchell who would figure out that equation just a few months later.

In October of 1972, Ivory Joe was a special guest at The Grand Ole Opry’s 47th birthday celebration, and the crowd went wild as he launched into some of those recent Sonny James hits. Perhaps the best of the surviving live audio from The Ryman is Hunter’s version of the Charlie Rich tune that Jerry Lee Lewis took into the Country Top 20 in 1958, I’ll Make It All Up To You. Just a consummate performer, Joe and his under-stated piano make the song his own as he holds the audience in the palm of his hand. Wow! He would make three more appearances on that stage over the next couple of years…

In November of 1972, with the migration of Moman’s Memphis Boys to Nashville almost complete, Bettye Berger would book Ivory Joe into Jack Clement’s Studio B to work on a new album. One of his first real jobs in Music City, Reggie Young’s log book shows him cutting with Hunter on his days off between the Quadrophonic Dobie Gray sessions that yielded Drift Away. Berger brought in other Memphis stalwarts like Tommy Cogbill and Stan Kesler to work with Cowboy Jack, and began shopping the album around to various labels.

Although, as we’ve seen, certainly not his first, Cash Box reported that Ivory Joe was forming his own publishing firm there in Nashville in March of 1973 – that would be four months before the Elvis’ Gladys copyright outlined above. Always the optimist, Hunter is quoted as saying “I have always been Country, but I happened to hit with a Blues song and then after that I was categorized Blues” [a situation, by the way, that continues at The Grammys to this day] By November, Record World announced his signing with Paramount Records, a division of Gulf + Western that had purchased Randy Wood’s Dot label (and Stax!) a few years before. According to the article, the label was going all out on promotion, with ‘appearances on nationally syndicated radio and television shows’ including WSM’s Music City U.S.A.

Issued on October 3rd, 1973, He’ll Never Love You, with Lloyd Green on pedal steel and Charlie McCoy on harmonica, is a top-shelf Country record. Just a great song, it had been written by Bettye Berger for Donnie (Dortch) Dexter for a previous release on her Bet-T label. Be that as it may, Ivory’s pleading vocals, Hank Levine’s arrangement (and Reggie’s guitar) make this one a winner. Joe’s LP, I’ve Always Been Country, made up mostly of covers of Country standards, was released in early 1974.

Then, tragically, just when it seemed that Hunter might have had a shot at making it in Nashville, he was diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer, which had him in and out of Methodist Hospital in Memphis for most of the year. In Guralnick and Jorgensen’s Elvis Day by Day, they report that, on August 5th, the King sent Bettye Berger a check for $1000 to help defray the cost of Joe’s medical bills, accompanied by this note: “I am very sorry to hear of Joe’s illness. I have been a long-time admirer of Ivory Joe and his talent. Please tell Joe for me that I wish him a speedy recovery. Joe is a great talent and has been an inspiration to many artists that have come along. It hurts me deeply to hear of his condition. I sincerely hope that this check will be of some help. Thank you for letting me know about Joe. – Sincerely, Elvis Presley.”

On October 1st, Bettye Berger organized a benefit concert at the new Opry House location. A testament to Ivory’s wide appeal, it featured such diverse talents as Isaac Hayes, William Bell, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. They airlifted Joe from his hospital bed in Memphis, and brought him on stage in a wheelchair. He would perform three songs, his current single, “He’ll Never Love You,” “Empty Arms” and a song he had recently co-written with Berger, God Just Lent Them To You, There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. When you think of this as the last song Hunter ever performed, well… I can certainly see why.

On November 8th, 1974, Ivory Joe Hunter was called home.

As Bettye Berger said: “It was his realness, that uniqueness of expression that enabled his message to relate to everyone. His Blues were a very soft variety, his gentle but determined nature always obvious even throughout his long period of illness, when he insisted: ‘I plan on being around for a long time… forever!'” Record World 11/23/74

You know what? Joe was right… he’s still here!

Ivory Joe Hunter – Still Here YouTube Playlist

Ivory Joe had recorded a second Country album in 1973 at Pete Drake’s studio in Nashville. Tentatively titled Just Tell My Friends, it was shelved after his death, and had remained in the can until it was released digitally on Tim Whitsett’s LocoBop label as This Is My Country, which, for some reason has been erroneously dated on YouTube as having been originally recorded in 1964… the version of It’s Still Here on the album was indeed recorded after Elvis…

In Loving Memory: Bettye Berger passed away at 89 years old in January of 2020

Special Thanks to: Tom Erik Ogland, Charlie Chalmers, Mark Nicholson, PragueFrank, Rob Finnis, Rob Bowman, Peter Guralnick, John Broven and Richard Tapp

1967 Episode Six – Tip On In

YouTube Playlist of all tracks below

if you scroll down and hit ‘play’ you can listen while you read the notes!

By 1966, Ernie Young had been releasing J.D. Miller’s Crowley, Louisiana productions on his Excello label for over a decade, resulting in some truly great records. When Slim Harpo’s Baby Scratch My Back hit the airwaves that January, it took the country by storm, soaring to #1 R&B in both Billboard and Cash Box, and staying there atop all that Motown for a couple of weeks, while even crossing over into the Top 20 on the Hot 100. Young’s usual method of distributing his singles through Ernie’s Record Mart couldn’t keep up with demand, and he was forced to ship orders directly from the pressing plant, a situation he was none too happy with. I’m not sure if that had something to do with it (or if he just decided to strike while the iron’s hot) but, by July, the 74 year old Young had sold everything lock, stock and barrel, to something called The Crescent Amusement Company.

Miller had been under the impression that his productions had been ‘leased’ to Nashboro/Excello, and that he had retained ownership of his master tapes. Crescent’s legal team felt otherwise, and sent new label president Jack Funk and newly named VP Shannon Williams (shown here re-signing The Thunderbolt Of The Middle West) down to Crowley to try and smooth things over and continue the arrangement he had with Young. J.D. would have none of it, and in the ensuing battle of wills, the last two Miller-produced Slim Harpo singles (including the future Jagger & Richards’ favorite, Shake Your Hips), were virtually ignored by the folks in Nashville and, consequently, by the record-buying public as well.

With his eye on the future, Harpo took advantage of a loophole in his contract with Miller to sign directly with the new regime at Excello. This was seen by J.D. as the final betrayal, and embroiled him in an extended legal battle with the label, one which he would eventually lose.

As Shannon Williams told John Broven in South To Louisiana: The Music Of The Cajun Bayous“Well, of course, after we signed him the question was ‘What are we going to do with him now?’… Nashville just is not a Blues location, and the players are not here; let’s take him somewhere that we think maybe he can turn out a hit… We got in touch with this guy Ray Harris; he set the whole thing up, said he could get the pickers and Willie Mitchell and these guys that played there. It was like a house band, I guess, and they loved to do it.”  Martin Hawkins, author of Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge, sent me this great ad for an ‘All Star Rhythm & Blues Show’ in El Dorado, Arkansas (just over the Louisiana state line) in December of 1966. “The interesting thing is that he was part of a package led by Willie Mitchell,”  Hawkins said, “and may have been backed by Mitchell’s guys rather than carrying his own group… Harpo had Memphis in mind, even if he didn’t hatch a plan with anyone else.”  In other words, Slim might have let Williams and Ray Harris think it was all their idea.

“So we’d all go down to Memphis to do this and it turned out very well…” Williams went on to tell Broven, He [Slim] loved it. He felt this was such a good switch; he was very up on this whole thing… I think the Hi session men got down with him. Willie Mitchell didn’t have much to do with the session; it was mostly directed by this fellow Harris… it didn’t seem like Harris was too much on for Harpo’s harmonica, but that of course is a trademark. We insisted on it… I recall the difficulty in mic’ing as to where Harpo could both do his guitar and his harp and sing. Played guitar on all the records, it was sort of ordinary.”

Hmmm… So, it was a known fact that Slim had recorded at Hi sometime in the Spring of 1967. In 2012, Broven and I asked Howard Grimes if he had ever worked on a session with Harpo – “Nope, that’s one I would remember,” he said, I backed him up a few times when he came through Memphis, but I never cut with him.” In October of 2016, when I first got my hands on Reggie’s 1967 session log book, one of the first things I did was look for any mention of Slim’s visit, to no avail…

In May of 2020, when the late great Sherry Emmons Brugman sent me Bobby’s 1967 log book, BINGO!, there it was. The fabled session had been held on April 18th but, if that was the case, why hadn’t Reggie made note of it in his book? Well, the last date entered from his New York sojourn for Atlantic was the 15th, after which begins the first of those inexplicable ‘black holes’ in Reggie’s journal, with no entries at all for the ensuing two weeks. Although that may indicate that he hadn’t worked at all for the rest of the month of April, it seems highly unlikely.

The first record released from the session was the timeless Tip On In, which would climb to #37 R&B during that long hot Summer. Driven by what Colin Escott describes as “One of the most elegant grooves in all of R&B,” the bass, the drums and that shimmering rhythm guitar are just locked in behind Harpo’s ‘trademark’ harp and sly vocals. I’d say that’s Satch Arnold on drums and either Mike Leech or Tommy Cogbill on the bass – the question remains, though, is that Slim on guitar? HawkinsIt is likely that Slim Plays the dry scratch that keeps time while Teenie Hodges plays lead, and in that case Slim must have overdubbed his harp solo”  Escott“I don’t think Harpo could have played the through-riff AND sung. He could have overdubbed his vocal, but the guitar still sounds too professional. Sounds like a studio guy – no flubbed notes or changes.”  Hmmm…

I think I’d have to agree that the tremelo ‘scratch’ rhythm is being played by a ‘studio guy’ – it could be Reggie, or it could be Teenie Hodges (or even Cogbill), but there is no doubt in my mind that the lead guitarist here is Clarence Nelson! ‘That fellow Harris’ would have brought him in to ‘Blues things up a bit’ as he had done with Amos Patton a few months before and, as we mentioned in episode four, we know Nelson was in the house for the Ace Cannon session held the following day. Very cool! Bob Holmes, who Excello had recently hired as a producer and arranger, is listed as a co-writer on Part 1, which may have been to give him a share of the royalties, as he’s not credited on Part 2. In any event, this is just an awesome record all the way around… who knew there was that much ‘Swamp’ right there on South Lauderdale?

Even though it was the notation in Bobby Emmons’ book that opened this can of worms in the first place, there does not seem to be any keyboards on either side of Tip On In. They do appear, however, on Harpo’s next release from the session, with Bob Holmes (whom Williams described as “the respectable black front to the company”) now earning his ‘mechanicals’ via a producer’s credit. I’m Gonna Keep What I’ve Got, grooves along in the same elegant fashion, and features more of Clarence Nelson’s ‘vise-grip’ guitar work. According to Martin Hawkins, the flip of that single, the straight ahead Blues number I’ve Got To Be With You Tonight, was also cut at the Memphis session, as was Hey Little Lee, which was only released on 45 in France (go figure). The reverb-y lead guitar on both of these sides is played by someone else entirely, and I believe it to be ol’ Slim himself! This would reconcile the Williams’ comment about him ‘playing guitar on all the records’. Also, in Hawkins’ chapter on these recordings, he says that Harpo …had recently taken to playing some electric lead,” then goes on to quote Slim’s wife Lovell, who said “He would never finish an engagement until he had played his guitar.”  There ya go, folks!

Speaking of Louisiana…

New Orleans’ Minit label was formed in 1959 by Joe Banashak and WMRY radio personality Larry McKinley. Once Ernie K-Doe’s Mother In Law went positively viral for Minit in 1961 (topping both the R&B and Pop charts), it ushered in the ‘second wave’ of popularity for Crescent City R&B. No doubt encouraged by that success, a local woman named Connie La Rocca (then working at her brother-in-law’s hoppin’ chicken restaurant on Carrolton Avenue) started up the Frisco label with WYLD deejay Harold Atkins in 1962. According to Earl King, “Harold was the key to Frisco’s success. Harold was a genius. He knew everybody in the business and could get records played. He was a soft-spoken person; a gentleman in every respect.”

After a couple of releases of his own, as ‘Al Adams‘ (and an awesome instrumental by Porgy & The Polka Dots), Hal and Connie signed local legend Danny White who was, without question, THE most popular entertainer in New Orleans. White’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye would become a local phenomenon that Fall, blaring from every juke box and car radio in town but, due to a lack of any real distribution, only managed to ‘bubble under’ the Hot 100 nationally. Undaunted, Frisco continued to issue great sides on White, with Earl King’s Loan Me A Handkerchief picked up by ABC-Paramount in early 1964, along with two more ABC 45s released later that year.

1964 was also the year that Hal Atkins got a job at WDIA and relocated to Memphis. With his gregarious personality, and his continuing ability to ‘get records played’, he would soon became a player on the local music scene. At that point, Isaac Hayes and his new songwriting partner David Porter had yet to realize their full potential at Stax, and were looking for an outlet for their considerable talents. Atkins was impressed with what they had to offer, and convinced Connie La Rocca to fly Danny White up to Memphis to record.

According to the liner notes of the 1998 Ace release The Frisco Records Story, compiled by John Broven and Tad Jones, the session on White was at ‘Hi’ that Summer, anchored by Bowlegs Miller, Floyd Newman and what would eventually become known as The Memphis Horns. That (?) there no doubt refers to Miller’s bass player, Cleve ‘Frog’ Shears, whom we met last episode. The interesting thing is the inclusion of Howard Grimes and Teenie Hodges on the list, a full two years before I thought they’d arrived there on South Lauderdale. I asked John Broven about those A.F.of M. contracts, “I’m afraid all the Frisco files were submerged by Katrina,” he said, so I called Howard, but the name Danny White didn’t ring any bells. Hmmm…

Composed, ‘Arranged & Conducted by D. Porter & I. Hayes’, the four tracks cut that day would comprise White’s last two Frisco singles, the best of the lot being Can’t Do Nothing Without You, named by Sir Shambling as a ‘personal favourite’, “…with White snarling and growling his way through the lyric in fine style.” Just excellent stuff, man, I agree – but it just doesn’t sound like The Bulldog on the drum kit to me, you know? I sent the tracks down to Howard (who doesn’t do the ‘computer’ thing) and he’s gonna listen to them and report back…

Stay Tuned!

With Connie La Rocca winding down things at Frisco, Hal Atkins decided to try his hand at forming another label with his newfound compadres Hayes and Porter and (wait for it…) Chips Moman! Isaac had been one of the first artists through the door at American, cutting a single there for Youngstown in 1962, and knew Chips well. Calling the label Genie, they brought in a local kid who had also been having a hard time ‘breaking in’ at Stax, Homer Banks, in early 1965. The soaring Lady Of Stone (a ‘Hamp Production’, as in Hayes-Atkins-Moman-Porter) was selected as a ‘regional breakout’ in Billboard that Summer, along with a Youngstown single cut there on Thomas Street around the same time. Although Homer’s single never quite broke out, the other single would become the one that put American Sound on the map

In Rob Bowman’s indispensable Soulsville, U.S.A., he reports that cutting the Genie single with Moman (of all people) had Jim Stewart ‘more than a little piqued’. “Somehow or another, the word got out that I was responsible,” Banks told Bowman, “I lured [Hayes and Porter] into doing it. That closed the door even tighter. For a long time I was barred from the studio. I wasn’t allowed to come in there.” Be that as it may, the incident may have been the first step towards Stewart further appreciating what he had there in Hayes and Porter.

Perhaps that’s why he consented to allow Atkins to cut Danny White there as one of the last ‘outside sessions’ held on East McElmore in late 1965. Hayes and Porter’s groovin’ A side Keep My Woman Home, is right up there with any of the other Stax/Volt records cut there at the time. The flip (with Steve Cropper now joining Isaac and David as a songwriter), I’m Dedicating My Life To You is even better. Wow! It seems a shame that Stewart didn’t sign White as an artist right then and there, but he may still have been annoyed enough with Atkins to make sure that didn’t happen. Instead the single was released on the one-off Atteru label before being leased to New York based Atlas where it disappeared without a trace.

Shortly after Lew Chudd at Imperial purchased Minit Records from Joe Banashak in 1963, he sold the whole shooting match to Liberty, who then moved all operations to the West Coast and discontinued Minit as a subsidiary label entirely. With the dawn of the ‘Soul Era’ upon them in early 1966, Liberty wanted to get back in the game and re-activated Minit as their R&B outlet under the direction of the energetic Renny Roker. Roker had no qualms about swooping into Memphis and picking up the crumbs that fell off the Stax table. On April 23rd, Billboard announced that the ‘new’ Minit’s first release would be by none other than McLemore Avenue outcast Homer Banks. The article went on to say that the single was being recorded in Memphis by ‘an outside production company’. “It was Bowlegs,” Howard Grimes told me, “Bowlegs knew everybody and had the connections, he was the one rounding up the musicians up to do those sessions” One of those musicians, we now believe, was Reggie Young.

You may recall, as mentioned back on the 1966 Discography Page, that Young kept two log books in 1966, the second one being an attempt to ‘clean up’ and keep better track of his session work. A notation for ‘Peacock’ on April 16th (a week before the Billboard article) had us mystified. I mean, there didn’t appear to be any evidence of Don Robey cutting at Hi before he brought O.V. Wright there that November. A ‘memoranda’ that read ‘Izak’ didn’t help matters either. After being clarified in the second book as referring to ‘Isaac Hayes’, that actually made things worse. We were like, Huh? Now, due to the dogged persistence of Mark Nicholson, I think we might have figured it out.

Arranged by Gene ‘Bowlegs’ Miller, there is absolutely no doubt that the supremely excellent Fighting To Win has Reggie’s guitar all over it. Banks shares the composer’s credit with Hayes and Porter on this one, and with Deanie Parker (another Stax employee who had yet to come into her own), on the plug side, A Lot Of Love (think Spencer Davis might have owned a copy?). How this was not a major hit (I mean beyond the Twisted Wheel ‘Northern Soul’ boys) is beyond me… These are definitely two of the ‘3 tunes’ that Reggie says he cut that day, with the third one issued as a B side that September, Do You Know What, another Hayes and Porter gem.

So, what’s with the reference to Peacock? Something Howard Grimes said may hold a clue; “Bowlegs was working for Don Robey…” At first I was, like, ‘Ummm… no’ until I noticed this entry in Reggie’s 1966 book for September 28th. Hmmm… As we discussed last episode, the former Fernwood Studio on North Main had been purchased by Don Robey and was run by Earl Forest and Gilbert Caple, another dis-affected member of the Stax family. The upper left hand corner notation in Reggie’s book always indicated the name of the studio where a session was held (as in ‘Sun’, ‘Pepper’, ‘American’ etc.) and, with ‘Peacock’ being the name of Robey’s primary label and Houston nightclub empire, that may have been how the studio was known in those days – a hypothesis I have yet to corroborate… Detectives?

With artists like Louis Jordan, The Ink Spots and Buddy Johnson, Decca Records had been a major player in the post-war ‘race’ records market. Once Owen Bradley took over the reins of their Nashville division in the late fifties, it had become primarily a Country label. Now, just as we’ve seen with Mercury, Decca was looking to recapture their slice of the lucrative R&B pie.

Washington D.C. disk-jockey Al Bell had formed the Safice label with former member of The Rainbows, Chester Simmons, and Falcons founder Eddie Floyd in 1964. Although distributed by Atlantic, their releases failed to make much noise outside of Bell’s WUST listening area. In Eddie Floyd’s great book Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood, he relates, “Al Bell was benefiting from his closer ties to Atlantic. Joe Medlin, the label’s head of national promotion, introduced Al to Milt Gabler, who ran A&R at Decca. Milt was well known, a sophisticated jazz man, and he brought us the singer Grover Mitchell… he sung a ballad that I wrote with Chester and Al, called I Will Always Have Faith in You. Nobody really heard it at the time, but it’s a song with a deep gospel feel to it that would come back for me many times over.” – most notably, when Carla Thomas took it to #11 R&B a few years later. Eddie had first met Carla (by then already an established star at Stax), when she was attending Howard University in 1965. She had been impressed with his songwriting, and agreed to cut a couple of demos for Bell and Floyd that Spring. “It must have been some kind of karma,” she said later. The kind of karma that brought all three of them back to Memphis to cut one of those ‘Isbell-Floyd’ compositions, Stop! Look What You’re Doing at Stax, and send it to #30 R&B that Summer.

On the basis of that success, Jim Stewart would allow Safice to cut another of those last ‘outside’ sessions there on Eddie and Roy Arlington, whose soulful rendition of ‘Isbell-Floyd’ tune, Everybody Makes A Mistake Sometimes just lays me out.

At the time, Stax was in need of a full-time promotion man and, once Jerry Wexler agreed to pay half his salary, they hired Al Bell in October of ’65. According to Rob Bowman, Bell was …taken around the country and shown the tricks of the trade by Atlantic promotion man and longtime friend Joe Medlin.” Medlin had been one of the first artists signed to Atlantic in 1948, before recording for a variety of labels in the 1950s. He began his career as an A&R and promotion man for United Artists in 1962, and secured his position there at Atlantic shortly thereafter. In August of 1966, he received the National Association of Radio Announcers Dave Dixon Award (named after the NARA president who had perished in a tragic accident in 1964) for his distinguished service at Atlantic. Within a month, he had resigned.

Further demonstrating their commitment to resuscitating their R&B division, Decca had hired Medlin away from Atlantic for what must have been a princely sum that September. “I know about 500 R&B deejays by name – and I know the names of about 300 of their wives,” Medlin told Billboard shortly thereafter, “When I want play on a record I visit the deejay or call him up, ask about the family, chew the fat awhile, and relax. More often than not, he’ll ask me what looks like it might happen.” Joe knew that at that point, more often than not, what might happen might happen in Memphis.

One of the first things Medlin did was sign Danny White. Although I’m sure he would have rather cut him with his friends at Stax, by then the doors had been closed to outsiders for good. Medlin booked a session at Hi instead, with Bowlegs (once again) serving as the arranger. There has been some mystery about when this might have been held, as Reggie makes no mention of White in his 1966 book.

According to the Discography Of American Historical Recordings, Decca logged the four song session as being held on October 12th, a date for which Reggie had no entry. At first I thought that perhaps the actual date was the September 28th ‘Bo Legs’ session discussed earlier, but now I believe it was held the week before, on the 20th. I hadn’t associated the ‘from N.Y.’ with Decca, but there it is plainly stated on the label… duh!

With Eddie Floyd’s blockbuster Knock On Wood then climbing the charts on its way to #1 R&B, Decca chose Floyd composition Taking Inventory as White’s first release. Although predicted to reach the R&B singles chart in Billboard that November, it didn’t. If our calculations are correct, the B side of that single, then, would be the first recording of Don Bryant’s Cracked Up Over You which, as we’ve seen, would be cut by both Lee Rogers and Junior Parker shortly thereafter. This may well be the best version of ’em all, with Danny just going for it over those kickin’ drum breaks… Satch Arnold? Sammy Creason? Howard Grimes? Hmmm…

Released in March of 1967, You Can Never Keep A Good Man Down (another Don Bryant tune), would become the next single pulled from that session. It was selected by Billboard as ‘destined for top-of-the-chart honors’, but somehow that failed to materialize. Just a great record, punctuated by Reggie’s unmistakable guitar, you have to wonder why it didn’t make it – especially in light of all of Medlin’s ‘fat chewin’… The flip was the last of the ‘4 Tunes’ Danny cut with Bowlegs that day, another stab at his big Sugar Town smash, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. It’s not bad, but I do miss those Irving Banister guitar fills… just sayin’. All four of these sides were ‘Produced by D & A Productions’ – anybody have any idea who that might have been?

A month later, Joe Medlin was back at Hi with a young lady he had discovered singing in a Church Street nightclub in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. Maydie Myles had come up singing Gospel, but took the name of Debbie Taylor when she began performing R&B. With Medlin now credited as producer (and no mention of Bowlegs on the label), Don Bryant’s I Get The Blues sure sounds like a Gene Miller arrangement to me. That fat baritone, the two guitars (Cogbill and Reggie?), the background singers, those smokin’ drums… another hidden South Lauderdale gem, folks!

Reggie would log one more session in 1966 for Decca, on November 14th, with ‘Bo-Leggs’ listed as the leader. Although we may never know for sure, at first we thought that may have been when these two unreleased tracks, discovered among the Decca masters, were recorded, but now I don’t think so…

The first of the tracks is a high voltage duet featuring both Debbie and Danny White, I Don’t Mind Overtime With YouWhew! The second, I’m Gonna Use What I’ve Got To Get What I Need, is by Danny White and is, in my opinion, every bit as good as the issued recordings, if not better. Initially, I thought the guitar player on here was definitely Reggie but, after repeated listenings, I became convinced it was someone else… I think it’s Bobby Womack. Wait… what?

Catalogued as ‘Overtime’, according to the Discography of American Hisorical Recordings, the duet was recorded on June 30, 1967, with consecutive matrix numbers assigned to two Danny White tracks, with ‘[Unknown Title(s)]’ no doubt referring to the unreleased song featured above. On June 30th, both Reggie and Bobby had logged a Goldwax session at Sun, followed by a Don Bryant session at Hi. This could mean, of course, that Decca hadn’t assigned those matrix numbers to these earlier recorded tracks until then (as we’ve seen), or that they were cut somewhere else, without Emmons and Young. The Atlantic Records Discography places both Bowlegs and Womack in the house at American the following day for the start of the Wilson Pickett sessions on July 1st. What if they got there the day before?

As we saw last episode, Bowlegs had worked as an arranger at American for Mercury in May. Medlin, I’m sure, was itching to get Decca in the door there as well and may have booked a session, leaving it up to Miller to ’round up’ the musicians. With Reggie unavailable, Bowlegs (who ‘knew everybody’) could have heard that Womack was in town and hired him instead. With Moman’s former partners Hayes and Porter also on board as songwriters (and defacto producers), it seems extremely possible that those June 30th sessions may have been held at 827 Thomas.

The magnificent Check Yourself would go on to chart in early 1968, and whoah, is it good! A slightly modified version of the song had also been cut on Ruby Johnson at Stax, but had remained unreleased – possibly because of Debbie’s smoldering take on it here. Think it was cut at American?

Lending creedence to the theory that the Debbie and Danny session was actually held on the date Decca said it was, is the fact that the Gladys Tyler session they logged as being held on March 24th is confirmed by Bobby Emmons’ book. Gladys, like Debbie, hailed from Virginia and had cut a single for Decca subsidiary Coral in 1963. After another release on the tiny Brooks label out of Richmond, Decca had re-signed her in 1966, pairing her with Ray Scott and The Scottsmen. Scott’s real name apparently was Walter Spriggs, whom All Music describes as a ‘musician/manager/songwriter/hustler’. Spriggs had hooked up with Jesse Stone at Atco in the late fifties, before changing his moniker and label-hopping a bit before Decca picked him and Gladys up shortly before Joe Medlin got there.

Medlin had booked both of them into Hi for that March ’67 session, while heavily tapping the Stax talent pool around the corner. With Bowlegs getting the label credit this time as arranger, the producer is listed as James Cross. James had started out working at The Satellite Record Shop before engineering late night sessions for Chalice, the Gospel subsidiary that Al Bell had created soon after he came on the scene. Jim Stewart shut down Chalice in late 1966, after only eight releases. According to Rob Bowman, Cross would then wed “…one of the great unkown Stax singers, Wendy Rene (nee Mary Frierson). Being close to Packy Axton, Cross was never a favorite of Jim Stewart’s.” I’m sure he was only too happy to help out the competition.

Decca selected two more Hayes & Porter tunes for the plug sides of the 45s cut at the session, but check out these two awesome Mack Rice flips. Just as we’ve seen with Mercury, Rice’s music was now in demand since Mustang Sally tore up the charts for Atlantic earlier in the year. Gladys is really belting it out on the rockin’ Mr. Green, Mrs. Green, with Reggie’s galvanic guitar and that barking baritone combining to make this one a keeper! Yeah, baby! The Ray Scott record, Can’t Get Over Losing You, isn’t far behind. Ray’s pleading delivery over those hypnotic background vocals, Bobby’s piano, Reggie’s bluesy guitar and that driving bass, this is just pure Memphis, y’all! As far as I can tell, these are the only tunes James Cross was ever credited as producing. What a shame.

Decca was back on South Lauderdale in November, for a session ‘directed’ by Willie Mitchell, as Bowlegs had apparently moved on by then. The producers are credited as Joe Medlin and Jack Gibson. Quite a colorful character, ‘Jack The Rapper’ had launched the first black-owned radio sation in the nation in 1949, become the founder and guiding force behind NARA in 1955, and had joined Berry Gordy at Motown in 1963. Landing him for Decca’s renewed R&B resurgence in late 1966 must have been seen as quite the coup. I’m not sure if Jack and Joe were present at the studio when they recorded it, but Tony Ashley’s hard-hitting vocals on We Must Have Love are just pure Soul, with Reggie’s incisive guitar mixed right up front, no doubt at Willie Michell’s ‘direction’. As we saw in episode four, Willie was still including Reggie and Bobby on sessions at Hi as late as November of 1967, and we believe this to have been another indication of that…

Ashley may have been one of the ‘two others’ noted in Emmons’ book on November 6th, with ‘Jackson’ no doubt referring to George – or in this case ‘Bart’. What’s up with that? Well, as you may recall, we had speculated that it was ‘music industry attorney and agent’ Alex Migliara who was behind recording George’s lone 1967 Hi single that Summer, and that perhaps Jackson had failed to mention that he was still under contract to Goldwax at the time. In any event (although I’m sure the name change didn’t fool anybody in Memphis), when Migliara arranged to have this one picked up by Decca, he had decided to play it safe (while helping himself to a piece of both the songwriting and production credits in the process). The rockin’ Dancing Man just cooks along, with Jackson’s wit and way with words hinting at his future work in Muscle Shoals…

1967 Episode Six Playlist

Special thanks go to Howard Grimes, Charlie Chalmers, Rob Bowman, John Ridley, Martin Hawkins, Colin Escott, John Broven, Mark Nicholson, and 45cat.

Why Lattimore Matters…

Sir Lattimore Brown backstage at The Ponderosa Stomp 2009

Lattimore Brown was deep. There was a certain compassion, a spirituality about him that was hard to define. You can see it in the Cheryl Gerber portrait above. When you were around him, things happened. Unexplainable, almost mystical things. He lived his life on the edge, walking a fine line between Heaven and a Hell that never seemed too far away.

“I’ve thought about it a lot since then,” I wrote after I first met him in 2008, “and for me it’s come to represent the apparent contradiction of absolute beauty living right next door to the ultimate evil… of the dark as a necessary component of the light. It’s helped me to understand the reality of a life of tragedy that is continually redeemed through faith, of art that is purchased with pain… of the true meaning of Soul.”

From the blistering heat of a broken childhood spent picking cotton in the Mississippi Delta, to the unspeakable cold of a Korea that froze his Army comrades to death, Lattimore had become well acquainted with that pain before he turned twenty, yet he went on to live an incredible life. He was there with Sunbeam Mitchell in Memphis in the early fifties, with Ernie Young at Excello later on in Nashville. In Houston, in Dallas, in Little Rock, he made a name for himself leading one of the best ‘reading bands’ on the circuit. Busting out of the Club Stealaway on Jefferson Street in the mid-sixties, he would become known as ‘The Tennessee House Rocker’. Before long, Brown was recording with The M.G.’s at Stax, with The Memphis Boys at American, and with Rick Hall’s Fame Gang in Muscle Shoals…

Yet, success remained elusive. Despite the inherent quality of his records, for one reason or another, they never made the charts. By the time Benny Latimore dropped his first name in the early seventies, our Lattimore felt he was fighting a losing battle, and just walked away, into an obscurity that all but devoured him.

Everyone thought he was dead.

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard the story of how Hurricane Katrina nearly blew what was left of him away – of how it led, instead, to his miraculous re-discovery. It seemed he still had a tale to tell – unfinished business on this side of the line, in the land of the living…

Sir Lattimore would have turned ninety this year, and in honor of that fact, Chase Thompson and I are collaborating on a ‘documentary mini-series’ that will attempt to convey the power and the personality of this American original in his own words, using unreleased video footage that we shot of him along the way.

We’ve completed two episodes so far, and I’m including them here, as well as on the completely re-imagined sirlattimorebrown.com, where we will post more of them as they become available.

episode two: MOUND BAYOU
episode one: BILOXI

Lattimore Lives!

-red kelly, October 2021

1967 Episode Four – Can’t Get No Ride

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

This episode is dedicated to the memory of Sherry Emmons Brugman who, like her father, was much loved by all who knew her. Her enthusiasm and warmth of spirit shone like the sun. It was Sherry’s kindness that made it possible for us to digitize Bobby’s session log books, thereby insuring that his music will live on for future generations…
May God Rest Her Beautiful Soul.

As we discussed in episode one, 1967 was a transitional year at Hi Records. Let’s take a closer look at what was happening down there on South Lauderdale:

Despite being listed as the lone songwriter of the soulful The Goodest Man (the flip of Gene ‘Bowlegs’ Miller’s only single for the label in 1967), despite her superb lip-sync performances of unreleased Hi tracks on back-to-back episodes of The!!!!Beat in 1966, the great Veniece Starks would have no 1967 releases of her own on Hi. As a matter of fact, of the four sessions held on her that year, the only track listed by name in Bobby’s book to see the light of day was 18 Days, which wasn’t released until 1971 (as a B side, and then again as one in 1974!), and the label couldn’t even bother to spell her name correctly. This classy lady (who passed away, sadly, in 2019) deserved better (there, I’ve said it).

Up until this point, there was no producer credit given on Hi 45 labels, and it’s interesting to note that both Bowlegs Miller and Willie Mitchell were the first to receive one on back-to-back Hi releases that Summer. Miller’s production of Love What You’re Doing To Me on Janet & The Jays is pure uptown Soul, kind of like Stax meets Motown. Small wonder it sounds like a Stax record, as it was written by McLemore Avenue heavyweights William Bell, Joe Shamwell and Harold Beane. Picked as a ‘Best Bet’ in Cashbox, apparently all bets were off as once again Hi seems to have dropped the ball on promoting another highly talented young lady (even though they managed to spell her name correctly this time out). According to Sir Shambling, the group hailed from Holly Springs, Mississippi and, in addition to Janet Wallace, included Essie Brown and Marilyn James. As far as I can tell, this would be their final release… what a shame.

It was the next Hi 45, however, that was the first to credit Willie Mitchell as producer. It was the A side of that record that was predicted by Billboard to make the R&B charts (although it didn’t), and was a song so good that Hi would issue it again in 1972, but let’s focus on this hidden gem of a B side. George Jackson had been working with Quinton Claunch and Dan Greer at Goldwax, where they had had a 1966 single release as George and Greer which went nowhere. Alex Migliara was a Memphis music industry attorney and agent, who had been writing liner notes for Hi LPs on Ace Cannon and Willie Mitchell. I imagine it was Migliara who brought George to Willie at Hi, even though he may have still been under contract to Goldwax (more on that next episode). In any event, Magliara helped himself to a share of the writer’s credit on both sides (along with another Goldwax mainstay, Dot Hester) on this August release. So Good To Me just cooks along, once again mining some of that Motown magic, with Tommy Cogbill just going off on bass. What a record!

There were two sessions held on Don Bryant in January, but Hi chose to use a track recorded six months earlier, The Call Of Distress, as the flip of his first single release from those sessions that April (maybe because Ray Harris claimed half the songwriting credit?). In episode one we already mentioned the top side of Don’s next Hi 45, identified by Reggie as being cut on January 6th, but not released until July. Check out the equally great B side of that record (given a B+ by Cashbox), Is That Asking Too Much. Probably cut at the June 30th session (with Willie Mitchell listed as the producer), I’m thinking it features both Teenie Hodges and Reggie on guitar. As Don recently told Heikki Suasolo, “It was not all the time I was trying to sound like somebody else. I was trying to get ideas from what was going on at the time and, depending on the type of song, I would model it on somebody.” Judging by those killer unreleased Detroit demos (that we talked about in episode one), they were often better than whomever it was he was modeling them on! Bryant had one more 45 issued by Hi that October, but by then both Reggie and Bobby Emmons had pretty much flown the coop.  [If you haven’t already, you should buy Bryant’s Grammy nominated 2020 album You Make Me Feel. I swear, the man is singing better now than he was back then! You go, Don!]

Hi subsidiary label M.O.C. would issue only three singles in 1967. The first one, an awesome record by Norm West (with both sides penned by Don Bryant) was issued in May, but had been cut at a session back in February of 1966. The next release would be by the way cool Big Amos. Although both books list a split session held on him on February 9th, they only mention the flip side, Going To Vietnam (and yet another unreleased Veniece track). The big fat Willie Mitchell production here on the plug side, I’m Gone, may have been cut at an earlier session in November, as I’d say that’s definitely Reggie on guitar and Bobby on the organ. In any event, it’s another little known slice of the emerging ‘Sound of Memphis’. Except for a couple more songs trotted out of the can in 1970 for Hi Lp Rivertown Blues, Big Amos Patton’s career ended, unfortunately, here.

The final 1967 M.O.C. 45 was cut during two separate sessions held on a local kid named Finley Brown in May and June. Just a wild record, I Can’t Get No Ride (with both Bill Cantrell and Ray Harris sharing the songwriting credits with Don Bryant) kinda sounds like Sam The Sham meets The Hombres (or something). Billed as a ‘mind-blowing… groovy effort’ in the same August 5th edition of Cashbox mentioned earlier, Hi was no doubt looking to grab a piece of that psychedelic Summer of Love thang. The predicted ‘chart ride’ never happened though, and Finley would go on to cut a couple of singles for Stax subsidiary Enterprise before fading from view.

Jerry Jaye & The Jaywalkers were a Rockabilly outfit that had been out there working the Arkansas club circuit since the late fifties. After a couple of releases on local labels that withered away, they came to Roland Janes at Sonic and cut two sides in the Fall of 1966. Jaye then created his own label, Connie, and pressed up 500 copies of the record to sell at the band’s gigs. He then brought a box of 25 of them to Joe Cuoghi at Poplar Records, who used his considerable clout to get the B side chosen as ‘pick of the week’ at Memphis radio station WCM, after which the initial run sold out in a flash. Cuoghi (and Ray Harris) offered Jerry a deal…

Hi would re-issue the 45 (this time with the correct title and songwriting credits), and sign Jaye as an artist for future releases. With London’s distribution behind it, My Girl Josephine would spend nine weeks on the Hot 100, climbing as high as #29. Hi Records hadn’t dented the charts since Willie Mitchell’s Bad Eye in 1966, and the pressure was on to cut an LP while the record was hot. According to Jerry, “We cut the album in one day. We started around two in the afternoon, took a break around ten and went for a bite to eat, came back and by four the next morning we had the album cut. It was really rushed.”

According to Bobby’s session notes, that would have been on April 10th and 11th, despite the fact that Jerry Wexler had flown Reggie, Tommy Cogbill (and like half of Muscle Shoals) up to New York on the 10th. Predictably, Jaye’s album (which lists Cuoghi himself as the producer) just isn’t that good. The follow-up single, another cover of a Fats Domino tune pulled from the Lp, fell on deaf ears, as did four more Hi releases on him. I think it says a lot about the state of affairs on South Lauderdale at this point that the only real chart hit that Hi would have in 1967 was cut at Sonic…

According to Reggie, he had gotten a phone call from Ray Harris somewhere right around in here that had changed everything. “Listen, I know we’ve been paying you guys fifteen dollars a session,” Harris told him, “but we’re gonna have to cut it to ten…” Within a few hours, Young said, he got a call from Joe Cuoghi telling him to disregard what Ray said, assuring him that things would continue on as usual, but the damage had already been done. From that moment on, Reggie told me, he had made up his mind that it was time to move on.

If Hi as a company at this point seemed a bit behind the times when it came to Soul or Rock & Roll, when it came to Country they were a bit ahead of them – with the same results. Narvel Felts had first recorded on South Lauderdale in 1959 with Cowboy Jack Clement, and had been signed by Roland Janes at Sonic shortly after that. With over a dozen releases as a Pop artist that failed to click with the public, Hi signed him in 1966. After two more lackluster singles, somebody at the label (probably Ray Harris) decided to ‘cut him Country’ on Carl Butler’s 1962 smash hit, Don’t Let Me Cross Over. Nobody bought it. When Jerry Kennedy cut the same song on Jerry Lee and Linda Gail Lewis two years later, it went top ten Country. Go figure. Ironically, Narvel would break into that same top ten himself in 1973 with a cover of Dobie Gray’s (and Reggie’s) masterpiece Drift Away, the first of over forty chart entries in the decade to follow.

In late 1966, Hi had signed Charlie Rich with the stipulation that his manager, Seymour Rosenberg (yes, the same guy who had been a partner with Chips at American), could produce him. After one lavish release that didn’t sell, ‘Sy Rose’ was back at it in February, recording Rich on a slew of demos that would go unreleased, including some of the same tracks that Willie Mitchell had cut on the folks from Detroit (see episode one). According to Colin Escott’s liner notes for I’ll Shed No Tears, it was Ray Harris and Joe Cuoghi who “came up with the concept of a Hank Williams tribute album recorded in an uptown Country style.”

On the surface, it seemed like a great idea, only once the tracks for the record were completed in March, Hank’s widow supposedly objected to Hi using his name on the album… although the real story is probably that she wanted Hi to fork over some cash to use it, and that wasn’t gonna happen. “It was just a shot,” Ray Harris told Hank Davis“we were trying to be successful for Charlie. You never know in the record business.” No, you sure don’t. Released in May as Charlie Rich Sings Country & Western, it didn’t sell, nor did the single culled from the album. Although a lot of it is a little too ‘syrupy’ for my taste, the great head arrangement here on Cold, Cold Heart (despite the cloying background vocals) still holds up, I think.

Finally given the green light to record his own compositions, Rich was back at the studio in July to cut what would become his final Hi release that Fall. This great ‘undubbed’ version of the top side of that single (sans background singers), Only Me, kind of foreshadows the work Reggie and Bobby would be doing with Elvis in a year or so. Once again, though, nobody seemed to notice, and when Charlie’s one year contract was up, Rosenberg brought him to Billy Sherill in Nashville where he would begin his incredible onslaught of Country chart hits within a few months, and become recognized as the superstar he was. I’m sure Ray Harris and Joe Cuoghi were left shaking their heads.

Instrumental albums had been Hi’s bread and butter for years (people used to think that ‘Hi’ stood for ‘Home of the Instrumentals’), and it was Ace Cannon who told us that Joe Cuoghi liked that “middle-of-the-road, Sinatra stuff.” According to BSN Pubs, Hi would issue three albums on Ace in 1967. Bobby Emmons, in addition to performing on over fifteen live gigs with Cannon, also lists six sessions on him at Hi in his log book. Reggie, on the other hand, only noted two. This may possibly be due to the aforementioned gaps in his log entries, but one session they both made note of was on March 1st, when Since I Fell For You was recorded. Released as an album track on The Incomparable Sax Of Ace Cannon, it’s another obscure ‘head arrangement’ of a great song that’s gone unnoticed all these years.

Ace Cannon would only have two single releases in ’67. The first of those, issued in July, was his unique take on Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line, which later appeared on his Hi Lp Memphis Golden Hits. I hadn’t realized it until I started writing this episode, but that’s CLARENCE NELSON on guitar! How do I know? Well, the first clue is that Clarence always recorded with his guitar plugged straight into the board, which sounds right in this case. Secondly, it was no doubt one of eleven sides cut on Ace during sessions which Bobby (but not Reggie) had listed as being held on April 17th and 19th. It is our considered opinion that Clarence was also in the house for the April 18th session… but more on that next episode. Very Cool!

The backbone of the label, of course, had always been Bill Black’s Combo, who had started the instrumental ball rolling back in 1959. Hi would release four albums on them in 1967, none of which sold very much. Bobby Emmons lists nine Bill Black sessions in his log book, Reggie only one, held on March 20th. The title track from their second release, King Of The Road, was recorded that day, and is one of the few tunes that we know for sure featured both Bobby and Reggie. Produced by Joe Cuoghi, it comes across, in my opinion, as a hackneyed holdover from a formula which had run its course by then. Black had been dead for two years, and I’m sure that by this point Young was all too ready to lay down his pencil and hit the road himself…

Amazingly, there would only be one single released by Bill Black’s Combo in 1967, neither side of which appeared on any of the albums. As we’ve discussed in the past, when we asked Jerry ‘Satch’ Arnold why he hadn’t left Hi for American when pretty much everyone else did, he answered “I wasn’t asked.” As the only founding member of the Combo left there on South Lauderdale, he may have felt it incumbent upon himself to carry on in Bill’s name. Both sides of the single had been written (and I imagine, produced) by Arnold, which was chosen as a ‘Best Bet’ in Cashbox in April. The plodding B side, Peg Leg features a guitar player that is (once again) neither Reggie Young nor Clarence Nelson. Theories abound about who it might be – from Teenie Hodges to Tommy Cogbill to Chips Moman himself! Detectives?

Check out this cool photo recently unearthed by Mark Nicholson in a 1964 Billboard. Tommy Cogbill is on guitar here as the picture was taken on a promotional River Boat cruise to celebrate Hi Records’ fifth anniversary on September 23, 1964, when Reggie was still touring the UK with Bob Tucker and the road version of The Combo. That’s Satch on drums, and Bill himself on electric bass. The gentleman on sax is Charlie Chalmers, who was about to play a significant part in the label’s history.

Even though, for the most part, it was the same studio crew playing on all of Hi’s instrumental releases, Willie Mitchell was the only one who had broken out of the nether regions of the Billboard charts since Cannon’s Tuff in 1961. Three Willie Mitchell 45s would be issued in 1967, with Slippin’ & Slidin’ crawling to #96 that Summer, but let’s take a look at the B sides of those three records, shall we?

Cut in late ’66, the top side of this one was another Cashbox Bet that didn’t pay off, but it’s the stunning B+ B side that highlights one of the most unsung of all Memphis musicians, saxophonist Fred Ford, whose elegant rendition of Erroll Garner’s Misty just knocks me out. It would later be included on Hi Lp The Hit Sound Of Willie Mitchell, where Elton Whisenhunt proclaims “Fred Ford… does a terrific job. His fullness of sound, as he weaves back and forth between melody and original styling, is something to behold.” It sure is. What an awesome record!

As discussed, Willie had begun bringing Teenie Hodges to the studio in 1966. Aw Shucks, the flip of the #96 ‘hit’ mentioned earlier credits Andrew Love and Teenie as songwriters (along with Willie), and that’s definitely him on guitar. On the B side of Mitchell’s next release Lucky, though, I’d say that’s definitely Reggie. Such was the nature of things on South Lauderdale at the time I imagine, as Reggie wasn’t always around. Bobby Emmons is just killing it on both of ’em, though! Neither of these sides would be included on Lp.

Mitchell had released two albums already but, that November, with Joe Tex’s Skinny Legs And All dominating the charts with that ‘live from the studio’ sound, and Buddy Killen working on Tex’s Live And Lively Lp in Nashville, Hi decided to cut one on Willie. When I first saw the personnel listed in the credits on Discogs, I figured they had to be wrong. By then Reggie, Bobby and Mike Leech were with Chips at American full time, I thought, and there was no way the drummer at Hi could have been Gene Chrisman… so I ran it by Charlie Chalmers, who told me “Yup. that sounds about right!” So there ya go. So much for Moman having everybody tied up at 827 Thomas, I guess! I find that whole ‘live’ concept kind of annoying, but check out Chalmers (who, of course, had cut the Wilson Pickett version with Chips at Fame) deep in the pocket with them Memphis Boys on Mustang SallyYeah, baby!

In early 1968, when Hi traditionally would have released a single from the album, they put Willie’s ‘live’ cover of Joe Zawinul’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy out as the B side, but chose a track from the previous Lp, Ooh Baby, You Turn Me On, as the plug side. Cut back on March 8th, Soul Serenade features Teenie Hodges’ guitar front and center, with the role of King Curtis being played brilliantly by Charlie Chalmers. The record took off, soaring into the top ten on the R&B charts, and even climbing as high as #23 on the Hot 100. In many ways, the success of this 45 paved the way for the future at Hi Records in the post Reggie (and Bobby) era as, within a year, the rest of the Hodges brothers would join with Teenie and Howard Grimes to form Hi Rhythm and, shortly after that, Charlie would lay down his horn to anchor the distinctive background vocals of Rhodes-Chalmers-Rhodes on dozens of Hi hits to come…

1967 Episode Four Playlist

Special thanks go to Howard Grimes, Charlie Chalmers, Ace Cannon, Jerry ‘Satch’ Arnold, Don Bryant, Scott Bomar, Colin Escott, Hank Davis, John Ridley, Tom DeJong, Mark Nicholson and John Broven.

Entire Episode also available on Soul Detective, where the in-line audio links actually work… also, don’t forget to check the 450 or so other audio tracks on the 1967 Discography page.

Travis Wammack – Somethin’ Else

Some new revelations straight from the horse’s mouth… along with a major discovery!

(YouTube playlist of all tracks below, as always…)

Down in The Shoals, it was kinda like ‘all Travis all the time’ as, in addition to being asked to speak at the unveiling of his ‘star’ at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, we got to see him and The Snakeman Band perform at no less than three different gigs over the course of the few days we were down there – the Johnny Belew Benefit at Champy’s, the Rally by the River benefit for St. Jude’s Hospital, and the tenth annual Sheffield Street Party later on the same day. The fact that he and his band were willing to set up and play all three shows, knowing they were only getting paid for one, says a lot about the type of people these guys are, and further demonstrates the warm and welcoming vibe of the ‘Quad-Cities’ area… it always feels like goin’ home.

Having the opportunity to hang out and bother Travis in between sets enabled me to clear up a few things, and answer a few questions I had after our big investigation last time out…

As you may know, Sam Phillips left more records ‘in the can’ at Sun than he actually released. Over the years, that material has seen the light of day on myriad compilations, CDs and box sets. In 1985, a company called Redita Records in The Netherlands issued an LP called Rock ‘N Roll Fever, composed of mostly obscure tracks by Rockabilly era artists, one of whom was named ‘Little Louis’ Robertson. According to the liner notes on that album, his identity is “…a mystery, appearing only on some Memphis demos from 1957…” Actually, according to the excellent resource 706 Union Avenue, the session for Robertson’s previously unreleased track on the album, I’m Gonna Rock, was held at Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service on August 12, 1958.

In the early nineties, Dave Travis purchased Eddie Bond’s Stomper Time Records and ‘relocated it in England as a reissue label’, according to Discogs. I’m not sure what happened next, but somehow Mr. Travis must have decided that the pre-pubescent dulcet tones of ‘Little Louis’ must actually have belonged to ‘Little Travis’, and released the same recording of I’m Gonna Rock in a few different formats as a Travis Wammack cut, an error which has now been carried over in the digital age to places like YouTube and Spotify.

It’s gotten so out of hand that on Discogs, Wammack is actually listed as an ‘alias’ of Robertson. Well let’s set the record straight once and for all:“That ain’t me,” Travis told me, “and I never heard of anybody named Louis Robertson, little or otherwise, back then. I’m not sure where they got the idea… I told Stuart Colman that it wasn’t me when I was over in England with Little Richard… I remember a guy named Lou Roberts, but I don’t think it’s the same person.” There ya go.

Lou Roberts headed a ‘blue-eyed Soul’ band, The Marks, that played the same circuit in and around The Muscle Shoals area as groups like The Fairlanes, The Del-Rays, The Pallbearers and Hollis Dixon’s Keynotes in the early sixties. He did record at Sun (by then Sam Phillips Recording on Madison Avenue) in early 1965, cutting four sides for Stan Kesler, who leased them to MGM. Known locally as ‘King Louie’, he would continue to record for Kesler’s Sounds Of Memphis subsidiary in the early seventies. Roberts’ keyboard player, Don Culver, was quite the songwriter and (as we discussed earlier) wrote one of the truly great Soul songs, picked up by Charlie Chalmers for Barbara & The Browns, and later by Papa Don Schroeder for James & Bobby Purify. So, detectives, do you think Lou Roberts is actually the grown-up version of Little Louis Robertson? Hmmm…

One of the absolute highlights of our road trip was getting to see J.M. Van Eaton, the fabled Sun Records drummer, perform Great Balls of Fire with Travis Wammack. At 83 years old, Van Eaton still seems as spry as ever, beating them skins with the same kind of energy he displayed as one of the architects of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He recently re-located to Muscle Shoals, he told me, to be closer to the music, and you never know where he might turn up, sitting in with local acts like The Snakeman Band whenever he gets the chance. Along with Roland Janes, he was one of Billy Lee Riley’s Little Green Men, and had a couple of cool instrumental releases under his own name on Riley’s Rita and Nita labels after leaving Sun in 1959.

In 1988, Bear Family Records in Germany issued an LP called The Roland Janes Sessions that pulled together some obscure tracks by the Green Men, including three previously unreleased cuts attributed to J.M. Van Eaton that were recorded at Sonic in 1964 with Travis Wammack on guitar. As it turns out, one of those tunes, entitled Something Else on the LP, actually was released as the flip of one of Travis’ ARA singles as Somethin’ Else in late 1965. Written by Van Eaton, it sounds more New Orleans than Memphis, with those punchy horn lines over that second-line drumbeat. In any event, I guess it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, it’s just great to see these two Memphis legends back playing together after 57 years!

“I’ve got something for you,” Travis said after his set at Champy’s… I had no idea what he was talking about. After the ‘star’ ceremony at the Hall of Fame, he handed me a near-mint copy of the Red West Combo 45 we featured in our last post. “Just my way of saying thank you,” he said. I was pretty much blown away… I mean, I didn’t expect anything. Very Cool! Just a great record, My Babe has this early-Stax Memphis instrumental vibe goin’ on, and holding it there in my hand afforded me the opportunity to ask him who else was in the ‘Combo’ – “That’s Prentiss McPhail on bass, James (Brown) Hooker on organ and Danny Taylor on drums… Danny and Jerry ‘Smoochy’ Smith had a duo that was kickin’ butt in Memphis at the time.”

As it turns out, that butt kickin’ duo actually had a release on what appears to have been their own label, Smo-Dan. I’m not sure how Shelby Singleton got the publishing on The Only Thing Wrong With Her, but there ya go. Speaking of arcane Memphis records, Travis told me that, as part of the same deal with Red West, they cut Elvis’ ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ girlfriend, Anita Wood, at Sonic, resulting in a couple of Santo 45s of her own. Released in April of 1964, This Has Happened Before, with Roland Janes employing the same kind of ‘vocal doubling’ that Chips Moman would begin using on Sandy Posey a couple of years later, is just a great ‘popcorn’ record that has flown under the radar for far too long.

You know, every time Mister Wammack opens his mouth, it seems like there’s more to be learned about his history in the music business. I just found out that, in addition to his band playing behind Peter and Gordon on their first U.S. tour in 1964, the Pop duo also covered two of Travis’ compositions on their U.K. album released shortly after that, My Little Girl’s Gone and Two Little Love Birds. Travis would cut his own more rockin’ version of that one for Janes’ ARA label in 1965.

At the Hall of Fame event, Travis told us “I was always on the look-out for a new sound for my guitar, and one night I was at the Drive-In Movies and I started thinking about what my guitar might sound like coming out of that little speaker that you hung there in the car window… so I just kind of forgot to take it out of the window one night, and drove home with it. I hooked it up to my amplifier, and it sounded pretty good!” I asked him later on if he had used that set-up on any records – Stay, he said. Released in June of ’66, I wonder if Wexler knew what Travis was up to… you can’t make this stuff up!

Travis went on to say, “When I was a kid, my family would tie up the butter and milk on a rope, and lower it down into the well so the cold water would keep ’em fresh. I used to love to hang over and stick my head down in there and yell… I loved the big fat sound the echo made. One day, I found this like ten foot length of pipe and I dragged it down to the studio. ‘Roland,’ I said, ‘I’m gonna put my amp at one end of this pipe, and I want you to put a microphone on the other.’ Sounded good, man!” Once again, I asked him if there were any records with that set up on them – Have You Ever Had The Blues,” which was his next release on Atlantic. “I told you George Jackson grew up in the same neighborhood as me in Memphis, and that’s him that asks ‘Tell me, have you ever had the blues?’ at the start of that record. Years later, when I was playing those like ‘Legends of Rock & Roll’ shows with Little Richard, Lloyd Price [who wrote the song with Harold Logan] made it a point to come up to me and tell me how much he liked my version. I was amazed he had even heard it!” Ya gotta love it…

After the re-discovery of the incredible Ray Harris produced A-Bet 45 by Dee and Don in our last installment, I asked Travis about them: “I used to feature Dee and Don as part of my live shows, and I was the one that brought them to Ray at Hi.” I then started ‘googling’ a bit to try and find out more about who they were. As it turns out, there is a page about them on Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven (of course) on which Jim O’Neal, the founding editor of Living Blues reports:

“Don’s real name is Homer McMinn, better known now as Papa Don McMinn, a regular performer on Beale Street since the 1980s. He has been called ‘The Pale Prince of Beale Street’ and ‘The Boogie Man.’ He is a white singer and guitarist originally from Kansas, where he made a 45, Mary Jane, in the 1960s on the Runnin’ Wild label under the name Tiny Lyman & the Jukes. He’s mostly known for blues and boogie but also does country, rock and R&B.” Well, alright… John Broven then sent along an obituary confirming the sad news that the Pale Prince had passed away in 2017. There was, alas, still no information on Dee, but through Broven I was able to reach out to O’Neal directly and get him on the case…

“I found Don McMinn’s Facebook page still accessible today and started tracing a Dee Martin who was mentioned and connected somehow. One thing led to another and I have attached my file on her: born Catherine Virginia Fisk, she married McMinn (here in Kansas City), recorded as a backup singer as Dee McMinn (with Roy Head), Dee McKinnie (with John Mayall), Virginia Fisk (with McMinn) & Dee Martin (on the last sessions she did in Memphis).. . . Please forward to Red under condition that I be awarded an honorary Soul Detective badge for this!” [Actually, folks, Jim earned his badge years ago providing us with vital information about Sir Lattimore Brown and Cosimo Matassathanks, Jim!]

Catherine Virginia Fisk 1954

Once Jim mentioned Facebook, we were able to find out that Dee was inducted into The McNairy County Music Hall of Fame in 2015, at which time her husband Eddy Jack Martin wrote:

“Dee began performing in public at the age of four, by the age of 7 Dee made her first TV appearance on The Red Foley Show. By the early 70s Dee found herself in Memphis, TN singing backup in many of the Memphis studios . Jeff Beck is just one of many artist Dee sang back up for. While working in Memphis, blues legend John Mayall came into a club where Dee was preforming. Three months later Dee is in LA recording the first of three albums with MAYALL… over the next three years Dee did two American and European Tours, from here Dee went to New Orleans to record her album which was produced by ALLEN TOUSSAINT. As if that is not enough Dee has performed with such artists as Robin Trower, Buddy Miles, Rufus Thomas, The Memphis Horns, Joe Cocker, Greg Allman, Larry Taylor (Canned Heat), Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac) and The Amazing Rhythm Aces just to name a few…” Just, like, wow!

Sadly, however, Jim O’Neal also discovered that she too had passed away, in December of 2015. According to her obituary: “Her character and temperament can best be shown from the first time she was diagnosed with that ugly word cancer until she left this world for the beauty and promise of the next. Although she had every right to cry, be mad, or even fall into a depression after her diagnosis, she instead loved and lived every moment she was given. Neither hard times nor cancer would rob her of who she was. Always graceful, until God called her home.” May She Rest In Peace.

It was through Facebook, once again, that I was able to make contact with Papa Don and Dee’s daughter, Lorina, who is carrying on in the family tradition, singing The Blues in Memphis: “Papa Don was indeed my father. I have some extremely fond memories of Allen Toussaint and those days… The one you posted [A-Bet 9429], I had never heard. I even sent it to my stepmother, Don’s wife, and she had never heard it. They had to have been The same age as their youngest grandson is now then. Lol. We did a family album at Ardent about 7 years ago and thankfully I got Mom in there too to do one song. I forgot all about the Travis Wammack stuff that they both told me about in the past. You’re just now saying that jogged my memory about that. It’s weird how things go full circle… that they were at Hi back then, and I have recorded there independent of them since their passing blows me away.” All of this pretty much blows me away, too.

Now, courtesy of Lorina, please allow me to present the first known photograph of Dee and Don:

Dee & Don McMinn, circa 1967

How awesome is that? Thanks so much, Lorina – You Rock!

Before I go, let’s take a look at another of those Congress sides that Wammack waxed at American with Tommy Cogbill producing in 1969, recently unearthed by Frank Bruno and Mark Nicholson. The breezy folk-rock of Don’t Walk Out Of My Life really does feature Travis ‘singing like a Bee-Gee,’ and with Reggie Young and the 827 Thomas Street Band behind him, definitely could have been a hit. It wasn’t, but remains just another indication of how broad and varied Travis’ solo career was before he even got to Muscle Shoals…

He’s Somethin’ Else!

YouTube Playlist for Travis Wammack – Somethin’ Else

…and just in case you missed our Soul Detective Road Trip Special Report, here ya go:

…gotta love the fact that YouTube picked Billy Lawson’s mug as the ‘thumbnail’ – lol!

Special thanks go to Travis, Mitzi and Monkey Wammack, Lorina McMinn, J.M. Van Eaton, Jay Halsey, Jim O’Neal, John Broven, John Ridley, Mark Nicholson, Frank Bruno, Billy Lawson, Johnny Belew and all our friends in The Shoals.

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

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 VinylBeat.com, 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.