Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #17

Another double header...

December 2012 has seen the passing of 2 great soulmen.

On December 2nd Howard Tate passed away at the age of 72. Born in Macon Georgia in 1939, as a teenager he began performing in a gospel group that also featured the great Garnet Mimms. He recorded R&B sides for Mercury and Cameo Records in the ealy 60's and also performed with the organist Bill Doggett.

Garnet Mimms introduced Tate to the legendary producer Jerry Ragovoy and between 1966 and 1968 the two of them produced some outstanding soul/blues recordings for Verve Records including "Ain't Nobody Home", "Look At Granny Run Run" and "Stop" all of which reached the Billboard R&B Top 20.

After more recordings for Turntable, Epic and his own label, Tate retired from the music business in the early 1970's and began selling insurance in Philadelphia. Tragedy struck when he lost his daughter in a house fire and as a result he started drinking heavily and became addicted to drugs, ending up homeless. By the mid 1990's he had cleaned up and was counselling drug users and preaching. Around this time his 1967 album "Get It While You Can" was reissued on CD and in the sleeve notes Jerry Ragovoy wrote that Tate was probably dead.

In 2001 a chance meeting between Tate and a member of Harold Melvin's Blue Notes in a grocery store let everyone know he was very much alive and in 2003 Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy worked together again to produce the comeback album "Rediscovered". Over the ensuing years Howard Tate had a second career, making further albums and touring regularly.

So in tribute I give you Howard Tate's 1967 recording for Verve "Baby, I Love You"...enjoy

Just 4 days later on December 6th came the news that Dobie Gray had also left us. If you don't know Dobie's name I'm willing to bet you've heard his 1973 hit single "Drift Away" before.

Born either Lawrence Darrow Brown or Leonard Victor Ainsworth (a name under which he later recorded) in 1940, his family were share croppers in Texas and he developed a love of gospel music through his grandfather who was a Baptist minister. In 1960 Lawrence/Leonard moved to Los Angeles where he recorded for a number of local labels under various names, including Leonard Ainsworth, Larry Curtis and Larry Dennis. Sonny Bono recommended him to Stripe Records and it was they who suggested the name change to "Dobie Gray" (a nod to the then popular sitcom "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"). During the early 1960's the newly renamed Dobie Gray issued a clutch of singles on Stripe and more on Real Fine, Cordak and Jak before he turned up at Charger Records.

Dobie's first single for Charger gave him his first worldwide hit. In 1964 "The "In" Crowd" reached number 13 in the US Pop charts and 25 in the UK.
His legendary position with UK soul fans was, however, cemented by his 5th release for Charger. "Out On The Floor", released in 1966, is Northern Soul encapsulated on a 7" single. It was a complete flop when first released but has become revered over the years due to it's popularity on the Northern Soul dancefloor. When re-released in the UK in 1975 it reached number 42 in the charts and in 2000 former Wigan Casino DJ Kev Roberts placed it at number 2 in his list of the all time greatest 500 Northern Soul records, second only to Frank Wilson's "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)".

So we bid farewell to Dobie Gray, one of the greats of Northern Soul, by bringing you "See You At The "Go-Go""...I'll see you where the girl's are...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #16

OK, so I'm sure Mr William 'Smokey' Robinson needs absolutely no introduction...does he ?

Singer, songwriter, record producer, record company executive, known as "Mr Motown", he was probably second in importance at Motown Records only to Berry Gordy Jr himself.

Bob Dylan described him as "America's greatest living poet".

The list of songs he has written is, frankly, quite astonishing, "My Guy" for Mary Wells; "The Way You Do the Things You Do", "My Girl" and "Get Ready" for The Temptations; "When I'm Gone" for Brenda Holloway; "Ain't That Peculiar" and "I'll Be Doggone" for Marvin Gaye, not to mention the many classics for his own group The Miracles, "Tears Of A Clown", "Tracks Of My Tears", "I Second That Emotion", "Shop Around" and "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" (later covered by The Beatles).

Born William Robinson Jr. on February 19, 1940, at the age of 6 his Uncle gave him the nickname "Smokey Joe". In African American culture "smokey" is used to decscribe dark skinned black people. Young William was very light skinned and his Uncle told him "I'm doing this so you won't ever forget that you're black". In his teens "Smokey Joe" was shortened to "Smokey" and the name stuck.

In August 1958 Smokey, who was already playing Detroit venues with his group The Matadors, met Berry Gordy Jr and co-wrote the song "Got A Job". The Matadors changed their name to The Miracles and recorded the song with Gordy for End Records in November 1958. The Miracles also recorded for Chess Records and in 1959 Robinson suggested to Gordy that he start his own label. This saw the birth of Tamla Records.

The Miracles were amongst the first signings to the new label and in 1960 their 4th single for the new label, "Shop Around", became Tamla's first number one hit on the R&B singles chart and companies first million-selling single when it reached number 1 on the Cash Box Pop Chart. During their career The Miracles achieved 17 US Pop top 20 singles.

"Whole Lot Of Shaking' In My Heart (Since I Met You)" wasn't written by Smokey Robinson and didn't make the US Pop top 20, it peaked at 46 and missed out on the UK chart completely. The song was written by Motown staff writer Frank Wilson, of "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)" fame.

It's a 100mph slice of prime Motown soul featuring an urgent horn section and the Funk Brothers creating dance floor dynamite on the backing track. The vocal performance by all of the Miracles is fabulous but check out Smokey's almost scat like vocalising on the word "I" at around 2 mins 14 seconds, that's a masterful singer at work.

I've just had a copy of this record given to me (yes GIVEN!) and it'll definitely be getting an outing at our next soul night on 14th January. Until then please enjoy The Miracles and "Whole Lot Of Shaking' In My Heart (Since I Met You)"...

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #15

This is one I bought back in October but didn't get around to writing about and I think it deserves it.

Erma Vernice Franklin was born in Shelby, Mississippi on March 13, 1938. 4 years later her sister Aretha came into the world. Together with their sister Carolyn they sang at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit where their father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin, was pastor.

In the late 1950's Erma was approached by Berry Gordy and his songwriting partner Billy Davis who were interested in making her the first artist for their new record label. She travelled to Chicago with Gordy and Davis to meet with Phil Chess of Chess Records trying to arrange a distribution deal for their fledgling label. Erma's father persuaded her to complete her education telling her that she could always sing after she graduated. She was later to learn that three songs Gordy and Davis had intended for her to sing were recorded by others, most notably "I Get The Sweetest Feeling" recorded by Jackie Wilson. She did eventually record the song, releasing it in 1970.

After Erma finished college The Rev. Franklin took her and Aretha to audition for Columbia Records. Aretha signed with Columbia and Erma with their subsidiary label Epic. The label issued 7 singles and an album on Erma between 1961 and 1963. At the end of her contract she spent 5 years as the featured vocalist with The Lloyd Price Orchestra.

In 1967 Erma signed with Shout Records and that year released what is probably her best known recording, the original version of "Piece of My Heart", which earned her a Grammy nomination for best new artist in 1968.

Following the sudden death of Shout label owner and songwriter, Bert Berns, Erma moved to the Brunswick label where her debut single in 1969 was "Gotta Find Me A Lover (24 Hours A Day)".

I first heard this at a very sparsely attended charity allnighter and it grabbed me immediately. That driving guitar gives it the feeling of a rock single as much as a soul groove. But whatever, it's a fantastic record that sends me dashing for the dancefloor whenever I hear it.

Erma Franklin sadly passed away in 2002, but she left behind some great music (the b-side of "Gotta Find Me A Lover..." is well worth a listen too). But right now sit back and enjoy the driving "Gotta Find Me A Lover (24 Hours A Day)" from the "The Queen Of Soul's" big sister, Erma Franklin...