Soul Serenade: Lyn Collins “Think (About It)”

Lyn Collins







But let me tell you something
The sisters are not going for that no more
‘Cause we realize two things
That you aren’t doing anything for us
We can better do by ourselves
So from now on, we gonna use
What we got to get what we want
So, you’d better think, think
Now’s the time when we have
That’s the thing I never will forget

When I heard the latest news about the unfolding Harvey Weinstein scandal the lyrics to this song came to mind. So I thought it would be an appropriate time to feature this funky record from 1972.

Gloria Laverne Collins was born in Texas in 1948. She began her singing career in her teens with the Charles Pike Singer and recorded her first single, “Unlucky in Love,” at the age of 14. Her break came when, after seeing James Brown perform, she decided to send her demo tape to him. Brown heard something he liked and asked Collins to join the James Brown Revue.

It wasn’t quite that easy though, and Collins had to spend a couple of years on the bench before being called into the Revue. While she waiting, Brown took her into the studio and she recorded five songs. Two of them, “Wheels of Life” and “Just Won’t Do Right,” were released as a single on Brown’s People Records label. Shortly thereafter she was handed the lead singing spot in the Revue where Brown dubbed her the “Female Preacher” in deference to her gospel-based singing style.

Lyn Collins

Despite the fact that Brown was not particularly well known as an enlightened male, he wrote and produced “Think” for Collins, and his J.B.’s provided the backing track. With its spare drumbeat and sometimes random background vocal interjections, it’s easy to imagine that the entire track was recorded live in the studio with little or no overdubbing. However it was recorded, it worked out well, with the record reaching to the Top 10 in 1972.

“Think (About It)” became the title track for Collins’ first album, released by Polydor, which included four other Brown-written songs. But first and foremost, Collins was a salaried member of the James Brown Revue and as such saw very little of the profits from her hit record. She contributed songs to blaxploitation films like Black Caesar, and Slaughter’s Big Rip Off, and there was a much-loved duet with Brown called “What My Baby Needs Now is a Little More Loving.”

Collins recorded one more album for Polydor before leaving the Revue in 1976. She moved to L.A. and got a clerical job at the Record Plant recording studio. She didn’t stop singing though, providing background vocals for artists like Dionne Warwick, Al Green, and Rod Stewart.

Funk had a comeback in the mid-’80s and Collins decided to try to be a part of it. She released a new dance single called “Shout,” and her two Polydor albums were reissued, bringing her to the attention of a new generation of listeners. Even more attention was paid when Rob Base & DJ Ezy-Rock sampled her “Think” vocal for their 1989 smash “It Takes Two.”

Fame arrived again for Collins in 1998 when Polydor released an album called James Brown’s Funky Divas which included 11 Collins songs. In 2005 she toured Europe where she was treated like a star by audiences. Sadly, Collins suffered a seizure brought on by choking on a piece of food. She died on March 13, 2005, at the age of 56.

Yes, “Think (About It)” was a hit in 1972 but the record became even more popular in later years for the samples it spawned. In fact, it became one of the most heavily sampled of all of Brown’s records, and that’s saying something. In addition to Rob Base & DJ Ezy-Rock, those who used one of the record’s five breaks on their own records included Roxanne Shante, De La Soul, Kid Rock, Janet Jackson, Snoop Dogg, TLC, and Fergie. The feminist anthem disguised as a funk record lives on in all of these recordings.


Soul Serenade: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” — Who Did It Best?

Marvin Gaye - Gladys Knight & the PipsIt’s that time again. Yes, it’s time to do your civic duty as a citizen of the soul music community and help to resolve an age-old question: one great song, two great versions, who did it better? Your vote will go a long way toward deciding this crucial question, so before leaving, even if you don’t want to read the rest of this, cast your vote below. You don’t have to input your email address or anything else. Just vote.
In the past maybe you found these polls too easy. Maybe you thought, “hey, is this guy kidding? This is a no-brainer.” But this week I’m convinced that I have a tough one for you. No one can say that the choice between Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips is an easy one. Oh, you might have your favorite, and that’s the one you’ll vote for, but calling either version superior is a stretch, to say the least.

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” in 1966. Barrett, you had contributed mightily to the success of Motown with his early hit “Money (That’s What I Want),” had the idea one day while walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. He’d been hearing the phrase “I heard it through the grapevine” quite often. There’s no telling if he knew that the phrase had its beginning during the days of slavery when slaves passed messages through their own version of a telegraph, the human grapevine. Whitfield helped Strong to flesh out the idea and a classic song was born.

It was neither Gaye nor the Pips who recorded the first version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” That honor fell to the Miracles in 1966 although it has been claimed that Whitfield meant for the Isley Brothers to record it first. Some say that the Brothers did, in fact, record it but no one has been able to come up with the recording. The Miracles version appeared on their Special Occasion album in 1968 but Berry Gordy, Jr. had decided that it was not worthy of being a single.

Meanwhile, Marvin Gaye got a crack at the song in 1967. Whitfield produced the five sessions that were needed to complete the recording. The Funk Brothers laid down the track and the Andantes sang the backing vocals. Gaye wasn’t happy when Whitfield asked him to sing the song in a key that was higher than what he was used to, but Whitfield had been successful when he got David Ruffin to do the same on the Temptations hit “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” so Gaye ended up abiding by the producer’s wishes.

Once again, Gordy decided that Gaye’s version was not single-worthy and it became an album cut on In the Groove. Later that year, Gladys Knight & the Pips took a whack at it. Once again, Whitfield was behind the producer’s desk. He had admired what Aretha Franklin did with Otis Redding’s “Respect” and wanted to get a little bit of that Muscle Shoals funk into the record. Hence the funkier arrangement.

Gordy still wasn’t convinced that he had a hit single but he reluctantly gave in and the Pips version was the first single to be released on the new Motown imprint Soul Records in September 1967. Their take on the song shot up the chart to reach the #2 position.

In August 1968, Gaye’s In the Groove album was released and when DJs began to play “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” regularly, Gordy rethought his earlier decision and Gaye’s version was released as a single in October of that year. By December, it was the #1 single in the land and remained atop the charts for seven weeks. It became the biggest single in Motown history until it was eclipsed by the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” nearly two years later.

Incidentally, Gladys Knight was not happy when Gaye’s version did better than hers. She accused Whitfield of using a track he had created for her group. Gaye denied the accusation, although, troubled by personal issues including the illness of his singing partner Tammi Terrell, felt that he didn’t deserve the success he had with the record.

Over the years there have been many covers of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” including an 11-minute epic by Credence Clearwater Revival. But there’s little doubt that the two greatest versions of the song ever recorded were those by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips. So which one is your favorite? Do you like Gaye’s soulful passion or Gladys Knight & the Pips quicker, funkier take? I know, you love them both. But if you had to choose just one …

Click here to vote.

Soul Serenade: Big Mama Thornton, “Hound Dog”

Big Mama ThorntonIn 1950, a kid from Baltimore met a kid from Long Island in Los Angeles. The older of the two, Mike Stoller, was a piano playing college freshman. The other, Jerry Lieber, worked in a local record store called Norty’s while he was a high school senior. The pair bonded over a common love of blues and R&B.
Lieber and Stoller began to write songs together. Jimmy Witherspoon recorded their first song, “Real Ugly Woman,” but it was Charles Brown who gave them their first hit with “Hard Times” in 1952. That same year, Lieber and Stoller wrote a song for a blues singer by the name of Big Mama Thornton. The song was called “Hound Dog.”

Big Mama Thornton

She was born Willie Mae Thornton in Alabama and began singing in the Baptist church at an early age. Thornton left home at the age of 14 and got a job with Sammy Green’s Hot Harlem Revue. It wasn’t long before she was being called “the new Bessie Smith.” In 1948, she moved to Houston where her career began to gain some traction. Three years later she signed with Peacock Records. The next year, with Lieber and Stoller producing, Thornton recorded “Hound Dog.”

The record topped the R&B chart, but as happened all too often in those days, Thornton saw very little money from it. She continued to record for Peacock until 1957 but never had another hit. In the early ’60s, she wrote and recorded a song called “Ball ‘n’ Chain” for the Bay-Tone label. The record was never released and when the song was recorded by Janis Joplin several years later, it was the record company that had the copyright and again Thornton ended up on the short end of the stick.

Thornton relocated to San Francisco, but her career was clearly on the decline. She continued to tour, and to record for a succession of labels and in 1969, after Big Brother and the Holding Company included “Ball ‘n’ Chain” on their hit album Cheap Thrills, the renewed interest in Thornton led to a record deal with Mercury. But again she found little success and moved on to other labels.

By that time, interest in original American blues singers like Thornton was fading while younger artists were making huge amounts of money playing the blues in arenas. Thornton thought she would be more appreciated in Europe and in 1972 she was part of a successful tour of the continent that included Big Joe Williams, Robert Pete Williams, T-Bone Walker, and others.

A year later Thornton performed at the Newport Jazz Festival alongside Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. By that time, years of heavy drinking were taking their toll on Thornton. She recorded her last two albums for Vanguard Records in 1975. She continued to appear at blues festivals for several years but in 1984 she was found dead in a Los Angeles boarding house, the victim of her excesses at age 57.

Thornton was inducted into the Blues Music Hall of Fame that year. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” includes “Ball ‘n’ Chain.” There is little doubt that racial segregation in the United States prevented Thornton from getting the recognition that she deserved, and she remains under-appreciated to this day for her role in helping to shape American music.

Thornton’s recording of “Hound Dog” spent seven weeks at the top of the R&B chart and sold 500,000 copies. The song has been recorded more than 250 times since then. The most well-known of those records was the 1956 Elvis Presley version which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and topped the Pop, R&B, and Country charts in the U.S.

Soul Serenade: Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”

The Supremes - The TemptationsEver since I decided to make “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” the focus of this week’s column I’ve been wracking my brain to think of another instance when the full lineups of two huge groups collaborated on a hit record. Yes, there have been supergroups like Cream and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young made up of former members of various bands, but in this instance, we’re talking about the all the members of two groups who were at the top of their game getting together. If you can think of another example, please let me know in the comments.

“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is a Motown record, right? Well yes, but oddly its origins are pure Philly Soul. The song was written by Philadelphia legends Kenny Gamble and Jerry Ross, who was Gamble’s mentor. It has been claimed that Gamble’s partner Leon Huff had a hand in the writing but only Gamble and Ross are credited on the record. But the time the Supremes and the Temptations got around to it the song had been a hit twice already.

The original version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was recorded by Dee Dee Warwick and produced by Ross. In late 1966, the Mercury Records release attained the #13 spot on the R&B chart and crossed over to #88 on the Pop chart. Also of note on the Warwick release were the background vocals which were provided by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. Although it was not her biggest hit, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is the record most associated with Warwick because of the hit it later became for the Supremes and Temptations.

In all, Ross produced a total of ten recordings of “I’m Going to Make You Love Me.” Among the others were a 1967 version by Jerry Butler and a cover by Jay & the Techniques a year later. Aside from Ross, what all the versions had in common was the presence of Ashford and Simpson as background singers.

In 1968, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was offered to Dusty Springfield who demurred but passed it along to Madeline Bell who was a background vocalist for her. In an interesting turning of the tables, Springfield ended up singing in the background for Bell on the record. When the record became a #26 hit, Bell, originally from Newark, New Jersey, got to come home from the U.K. with a hit record.

“It was great to go back to my hometown with a record in the charts. I was so happy to go home a success,” Bell said later.

The Supremes - The Temptations

And so the stage was set for the song’s greatest moment. The Supremes and the Temptations collaborated on an album called Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations and in 1968, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” became the lead single, although that wasn’t the plan at the beginning. The version of “The Impossible Dream” that the two groups had collaborated on was supposed to be the lead single, but when advance copies of the album hit radio stations the DJs started to play “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.”

This time the record was produced by Frank Wilson and, wait for it, Nick Ashford. Diana Ross and the Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks shared the lead vocal duties, and Otis Williams of the Tempts contributed the spoken word section. The always-present Funk Brothers provided the backing track which also included the Detroit Symphony.

In case you were wondering, the Supremes and the Temptations never performed “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” together live. When they appeared together on the legendary TCB special in December 1968, they sang “The Impossible Dream,” still scheduled to be the lead single at that point, to close the show. Both groups performed the song live on their own, however, the Temptations on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the Supremes at their farewell performance in Las Vegas.

“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was a huge hit for the Supremes and the Temptations, racing up to the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1969 and reaching the same lofty perch on the R&B chart.

Soul Serenade: Lloyd Price, “Personality”

Lloyd PriceIn the last couple of years, we have had powerful returns to form from classic soul men William Bell and Don Bryant. Now we can add Lloyd Price, whose new album This is Rock and Roll will be released on September 22, to that list. In honor of the occasion, I thought I would take a look at one of Lloyd’s greatest hits this week.
Price was born on the outskirts of New Orleans and got his start singing and playing piano and trumpet in his church’s gospel choir. He got his big break when Art Rupe came to town in 1952. Rupe owned the Los Angeles-based Specialty Records. He got word that something was happening in the Crescent City and when he arrived there he found that Lloyd Price was very much a part of what was happening.

Price had a song called “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” that Rupe thought would be a hit. He hired ace arranger Dave Bartholomew to work on the record and Bartholomew’s band was there too, a band that included Fats Domino on piano. As it turned out, Rupe was right. “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” was a smash. The follow-up, “Ooh, Ooh, Ooh” didn’t do quite as well and subsequent Specialty singles failed to chart.

In 1954, Price was drafted. When he got out the service he found out that he had been replaced at Specialty by Little Richard. To add insult to injury, Larry Williams, who had been Price’s chauffeur, was having hits for the label. That door closed, Price used the opportunity to start KRC Records along with Harold Logan and Bill Bosken. When the label’s first single, “Just Because,” was picked up by ABC Records for distribution it became a hit. It was the first of several national hits that Price had for the label. “Just Because” was followed by “Stagger Lee,” and “Personality.”

“Personality” was written by Price and Logan and recorded in 1959. The ABC-Paramount single reached #2 on Billboard Hot 100 that year and also climbed to the top of the R&B chart and remained there for four weeks. Billboard named “Personality” the #3 song of the entire year. “I’m Gonna Get Married” was another Top 10 hit for Price in that era. The hits led to Price television appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and the Ed Sullivan Show.

In 1962, Price founded another label with Logan, this one called Double L Records. One of the labels earliest signings was Wilson Pickett. Seven years later, Logan was murdered. Price, on his own, started a label called Turntable and opened a club in New York with the same name. Price proved to be an astute businessman. In addition to the club, he became a builder, erecting 42 townhouses in the Bronx, and promoting fights with Don King including the Ali-Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974.

Price was not done with music, however. In 1993, he toured Europe with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Gary U.S. Bond. More recently, in 2005, there was the “Four Kings of Rhythm & Blues” tour which featured Price along with Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, and Ben E. King.

Lloyd Price

And that brings us to the new Lloyd Price album, This is Rock and Roll. The album is a winning combination of new Price songs including “I’m Getting Over You,” “The Smoke,” and the funky social commentary of “Nobody Loves Anybody Anymore.” When Price turns to covers of classics like “Blueberry Hill,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” and Jimmy Reed’s “Peepin’ and Hidin’” (recorded live in New York City) he brings his own unique twist to the old chestnuts. He is at his best, however, on an emotional cover of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”

This is Rock and Roll was recorded primarily at City Lights Studios in Farmingdale, New Jersey with studio owner Guy Daniels producing. The sessions yielded 27 songs and Price chose the ten that he felt sounded like “a reflection of the past but still right now.”

Lloyd Price was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010. The new album will be available digitally tomorrow at iTunes, and Amazon. The CD can be purchased at Price’s website.

Soul Serenade: Wynonie Harris, “Good Rockin’ Tonight”

Wynonie HarrisWhat was the first rock and roll song? It depends on who you talk to and to some extent how you define rock and roll. Some would say it was recorded Jackie Brenston who sang in Ike Turner’s band and hit pay dirt with “Rocket 88” in 1951. Others bestow the title on Billy Ward’s Dominoes who made it big with “Sixty-Minute Man” that same year. But go back three years earlier, to 1948, and there you will find the Wynonie Harris smash “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”
Harris was born in Omaha in 1915 to an unwed 15-year-old mother and an unknown father. At the age of 16, Harris had dropped out of high school. He didn’t start his show business career as a singer though, he began as a dancer. In the early 1930s Harris teamed up with Velda Shannon and by 1934 they were appearing regularly at Omaha’s Ritz Theater. The success of the dance team allowed Harris to earn a living as a performer, no small feat during the Great Depression.

One of the circuit stops for Harris and Shannon was Club Harlem and it was there that Harris began to sing the blues. In order to study the form more closely, he started to travel to Kansas City where he could see masters of the form like Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner up close. Harris’ big break as a singer came at a club in Los Angeles where he earned the title “Mr. Blues.”

Harris toured continually and when the musician’s strike took place in the early 1940s, and no recording was allowed, all that was left was live performance. It was during one of these appearances, at the Rhumboogie Club in Chicago, that Harris caught the eye and ear of bandleader Lucky Millender. Harris was invited to join the band and soon thereafter he found himself performing at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater for the first time.

The strike ended in 1944 and Harris went into the studio with Millender for his debut recording session. The band recorded five songs that day and Harris sang on two of them, “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well,” and “Hurry, Hurry.” The session was for Decca Records but there was a war on and there was an embargo on the shellac needed to actually make the records.

The record was delayed but Harris kept gaining popularity as he toured the country with Millender. Eventually, a disagreement about money led Harris to quit the band in September 1945. When a promoter threatened to cancel a Millender gig in Houston because Harris was no longer with the band, Harris relented and returned to the band for the then handsome price of $100 a night, but that would be the last time Harris played with the band.

Wynonie Harris

Decca finally released “Who Threw the Water in the Well” in April 1945. By July, the record was #1 on the R&B chart and remained in that spot for eight weeks, even attracting interest from a white audience, something unusual for that era. The Decca contract was with Millender so that meant that Harris could field offers from any record company for his solo career. He eventually landed with a label called Philo and employed Johnny Otis as his bandleader.

Harris, along with the band that Otis assembled for him, recorded a song called “Around the Clock” for Philo in 1945 and while it wasn’t a huge hit, it was a popular record spawning several high-profile cover versions. But Philo was just the beginning. Harris did sessions for labels like Apollo, Bullet, and Aladdin.

It was at Syd Nathan’s King Records that Harris broke through. In the late ’40s and early ’50s, Harris had a series of hits for the label including his 1948 cover of the Roy Brown tune “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” The record turned out to be Harris’ second #1 R&B hit, but the first under his own name. Three years later, Elvis Presley scored big with his version of the song. Other Harris hits of the era included “All She Wants to do is Rock,” “Sittin’ on it All the Time,” and “Bloodshot Eyes.” He even reconnected with Millender for “Oh Babe,” a #7 hit in 1950.

By 1954, Harris’ time at King Records was over and he recorded for various labels with no major success. He recorded six songs for Roulette in 1960 including a remake of his own “Bloodshot Eyes.” But Harris was known to be a carouser and he fell deeper and deeper into debt. In 1964 he settled in Los Angeles. There he would make his final recordings, for Chess Records, “The Comeback,” “Buzzard Luck,” and “Conjured.” Harris played his last big show at the Apollo in November 1967 on a bill that included legends Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Witherspoon, and T-Bone Walker.

By 1969, Harris was gone, a victim of cancer at the age of 53. As I said at the outset, it all depends on how you define it, but any discussion of the records that gave birth to rock and roll has to include Wynonie Harris’ “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

Soul Serenade: Benny Spellman, “Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)”

Benny SpellmanSometimes it’s not all about where an artist is from. Instead, it’s about the place where they did their best work. Some would say that Jerry Butler is a good example. Although he is a Chicagoan through and through, he will always be associated with Philly Soul because of the work he did in that city with Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. The same is true of the O’Jays who came from Canton, Ohio and also pushed Philly Soul hits up the charts. Otis Redding came from Georgia, but will always be associated with Memphis music. You get the idea.
Another good example is Benny Spellman. He was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida in 1931, but music wasn’t his first love, football was. His love for the game gained him a scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He began his singing career in Baton Rouge, hooking up with Alvin Battiste’s jazz group. But then the Army called, Spellman served, and when he got out he went back to Pensacola.

In 1959, fate intervened. Huey “Piano” Smith and his Clowns were on tour in Florida when they wrecked their truck. Spellman stepped up and offered to drive the band back to New Orleans. Once they were back in the Crescent City, Smith offered Spellman the opportunity to become one of the Clowns. Spellman took him up on the offer and became a New Orleans resident from that point on.

Fortunately for Spellman, he had arrived in town at a great time. The local R&B scene was flourishing and before long he had a deal with a new record label called Minit. His first recordings for the label didn’t get much attention and Spellman survived by working as a background singer on other people’s records.

Once again Spellman found himself in the right place at the right time. This time he happened to be in the studio when Allen Toussaint was producing the session that would result in Ernie K Doe’s massive hit, “Mother-In-Law.” Toussaint, who wrote the song, wasn’t very happy with the way the session was going and he called on Spellman to help out. Spellman sang the distinctive bass part that put the song over the top.

Benny Spellman

That was the start of a relationship that found Spellman recording a double-sided single featuring two Toussaint songs, “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette),” and “Fortune Teller.” The record turned out to be Spellman’s biggest hit, reaching #28 R&B chart and #80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The record spent six weeks on the chart.

“Well, ‘Lipstick Traces’… the guy, Benny Spellman, that sang the bass part on “Mother-In-Law” — he didn’t know what it was worth at the time we were doing it, but when ‘Mother-In-Law’ came out and sold, and went to number one, let’s say, Benny Spellman that sang the bass part made sure that everyone within the sound of his voice got to know that he sang that part,” Toussaint told Terry Gross of NPR.

“And then he would go around — he would gig — based on [the fact that] he sang the low part on “Mother-In-Law,” Toussaint added. “And he encouraged me … with much force, to write him a song that he could use that concept. And one result of that was the song ‘Lipstick Traces.’”

The Rolling Stones covered “Fortune Teller,” and the O’Jays released their version of “Lipstick Traces,” but Spellman never had another chart record. By 1968 he was done with the record business and he went home to Pensacola where he got a job as a Miller Beer salesman. He tried for a musical comeback in the 1980s but a stroke cut the effort short.

In 2009, Spellman, by the residing in an assisted living facility, was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Two years later he died at the age of 79.