Soul Serenade: The Vibrations, “My Girl Sloopy”

The VibrationsI saw a lot of amazing musicians when I was a kid growing up in Atlantic City in the 1960s. Every summer, the city’s famous Steel Pier became the epicenter for shows by some of the best-known artists of the day. There were appearances by Chubby Checker, Duke Ellington, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, Count Basie, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles among many others. Dick Clark even brought his Caravan of Stars to the Pier every summer from 1960-1964. Those shows included artists like the Shirelles, and the Crystals.

One group that I remember seeing at Steel Pier on several occasions was the Vibrations. They first got together in Los Angeles in the 1950s and called themselves the Jay Hawks. They had a Top 20 hit in 1956 with “Stranded in the Jungle” on Flash Records. By 1961 they were known as the Vibrations with a lineup that included Jimmy Johnson, Carl Fisher, Dave Gowan, Don Bradley, and Ricky Owens. That group scored with the #25 hit “The Watusi” which was released by Checker.

The Vibrations

In a rather unique twist, that same lineup had another hit in 1961 with “Peanut Butter” (Arvee Records) only this time they were known as the Marathons.

It was a move to Atlantic Records in 1964 that brought the Vibrations their biggest hit. “My Girl Sloopy” was written by Wes Farrell and Bert Berns. The Vibrations recorded the song in January 1964 and the Atlantic release reached the Top 10 on the R&B chart and #26 on the pop chart. But the Vibrations original was not the most successful version of the song. A year later a band from Dayton, Ohio called the McCoys took a retitled and edited down version of the song, by then called “Hang on Sloopy,” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Although they never equaled the success of their earlier records, the Vibrations scored again with “Love in Them There Hills” in 1968. “Cause You’re Mine” (Okeh Records) and “Surprise Party for You Baby” (Neptune Records) also made some noise and helped to make the Vibrations records a staple spin on the UK’s Northern Soul scene.

The Vibrations split up in 1971 when Ricky Owens left for an ill-fated stint with the Temptations. Before long, Owens returned, the group re-formed, and the Vibrations found success as a nightclub act in the 1970s before dissolving for good in 1976.

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Soul Serenade: Willie Tee, “Thank You John”

Willie TeeWilson Turbinton was born in New Orleans in 1944 and raised in that city’s Calliope projects. His older brother Earl played the saxophone and by 1960 formed the Seminoles. The younger Turbinton had the good fortune of having as a music teacher the legendary Harold Battiste. History tells us that Battiste was an excellent judge of talent and when he saw it in Turbinton he added the young man to his AFO (All For One) Band. The band also included the New Orleans icon Ellis Marsalis on piano.

As a part of the arrangement with Battiste, Turbinton, by then Willie Tee, recorded for the AFO Records label. In 1962, Tee released his debut single for the label, “Always Accused.” It wasn’t a hit but it served to establish the blend of jazz and R&B that Tee would pursue for the balance of his long career. It wasn’t long before Tee left AFO. He played with a band called the Souls for a little while and then signed with the NOLA label. In 1965, Tee released his first single for NOLA and “Teasin’ You” became the label’s first hit. Somehow the local hit found its way to L.A. and the Righteous Brothers covered it on the Shindig! television show.

The success of “Teasin’ You” came to the attention of Atlantic Records and they made a deal to distribute the single nationally. With a B-side called “Walking Up a One Way Street” the single didn’t make much of a dent on the pop charts but it came very close to the Top 10 on the R&B chart. Tee’s next single for the label was “Thank You John” and it failed to chart at all but it became a classic in the canon of Carolina Beach Music and was covered by Alex Chilton.

Willie Tee

Atlantic gave up on Tee after his next single, “I Want Somebody (To Show Me the Way Back Home),” also failed to chart. Tee returned to NOLA Records and released “Please Don’t Go” on the label’s Hot-Line imprint but neither that single or the follow-up, “Ain’t That True Baby” managed any charged success. By 1968, NOLA was out of business and Tee was on his own once again.

Tee hadn’t found much success as a recording artist so he turned to production. He worked with Margie Joseph on her 1969 Volt Records classic “One More Chance.” Tee’s piano playing eventually came to the attention of Cannonball Adderly who helped Tee to get a deal with Capitol Records. There, in 1970, he released his first album I’m Only a Man. But success as a recording artist continued to be elusive for Tee and his time with Capitol was short.

Tee then re-formed a band he had been in earlier with his cousin Ulis Gaines. Gatur released the ballad “The Man That I Am” and followed that with the funky singles “Your Love and My Love Together” and “Swivel Your Hips” that pointed to a new direction for Tee. In 1973, the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indian Band enlisted Tee to put together a backing group for an album they were recording. He brought his older brother Earl and guitarist Snooks Eaglin and composed all of the music incorporating elements of funk and Afro-Cuban music and rearranging some New Orleans classics. The resulting album became one of the most beloved albums in Crescent City music history. The album was noted for spreading the Native American Mardi Gras culture to a worldwide audience.

In 1976, Tee decided to try his hand as a solo artist again. He signed with United Artists and released his second album, Anticipation. It was the last album he would ever make for a major label but he continued to play the clubs with Gatur. In 1988, Tee and his brother Earl made a jazz album for Rounder called The Turbintons. Eventually, Tee became a favorite on the Northern Soul scene in England and his music was sampled by hip-hop artists like Sean “Puffy” Combs and the Geto Boys.

Willie Tee passed away in 2007.

Soul Serenade: Aretha Franklin, “I Say A Little Prayer”

Aretha Franklin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m back. I was happy to have a couple of weeks to recharge my batteries in terms of writing this column but enough is enough. I had many ideas that I wanted to write about while I was on my short sabbatical but then Aretha Franklin passed on and I knew that there could only be one subject for my first column back … the Queen of Soul.

I’ve written about Aretha before in this column, three times in regard to her own records and many more times in passing while writing about another artist. There’s virtually nothing that I can add to the extensive coverage that we’ve all been following since Aretha died. We’ve heard all about her childhood from her birth in Memphis to her family’s move to Buffalo when she was two to her permanent relocation to Detroit. We know that Aretha was the daughter of the prominent minister C.L. Franklin, that he separated from his wife when Aretha was six-years-old, and that her mother died four years later.

It wasn’t long after her mother’s death that Aretha began to sing in her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church. The first hymn she sang, at age 12, was “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.” Her reputation as a gospel singer continued to grow until Aretha reached the age of 16. At that point, she began to contemplate a move to secular music with encouragement from Sam Cooke who had followed the same path.

There were several offers from record labels and eventually Aretha signed with Columbia Records and released her first secular album in 1961. She made some fine albums for Columbia but the truth is that the label failed to take advantage of her strengths and when her contract expired in 1966, Aretha moved on to Atlantic Records. One day at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in January 1967 was all it took to cement her place in history. The song that was recorded in Muscle Shoals, “”I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” was Aretha’s first Top 10 hit and was followed up by her take on Otis Redding’s “Respect” which took her to the top of the charts and became her signature song. “Respect” was followed by “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Chain of Fools.” Not a bad run, right? And it was far from over.

Aretha Franklin

There were more hits, many more hits over the years. While Aretha had her greatest string of hits in the 1960s, she was still creating hits into the 1980s and beyond. Her classics for Atlantic and Arista are too numerous to mention and besides, you know them all. So I’ll focus on one hit in particular, Aretha’s take on the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song “I Say a Little Prayer.”

The song was originally written by Bacharach and David for Dionne Warwick with whom they had so many hits. Her version was another in that run, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of 1967. Despite the success, Bacharach himself was never happy with the finished record, feeling that it was too rushed.

The following year, Aretha and her background vocalists, the Sweet Inspirations, were rehearsing songs for the upcoming Aretha Now album and they began singing “I Say a Little Prayer” just for fun. It wasn’t long before they realized that their version, markedly different from Warwick’s, had potential. In July 1968, “I Say a Little Prayer” was released as the B-side of “The House That Jack Built” but before long it was getting airplay on its own. By October 1968 the B-side was a Top 10 hit on the pop and R&B charts. It was Aretha’s ninth consecutive Top 10 hit for Atlantic and it would be her last for the label.

Aretha Franklin’s music was important to generation after generation. Even more important was her commitment to civil rights and women’s rights. “Respect” and “Natural Woman” became anthems for those causes and she provided her time and money for the struggle from behind the scenes and on stage at various benefits over the years.

It’s hard to imagine a world without Aretha Franklin. She was one of those rare artists who remained our hearts and in our ears for decades. Even after all of this time, no one changes the channel when “Respect” comes on the radio. We’re more likely to start singing along at the top of our lungs with huge smiles on our faces. The Queen is gone but in truth, she will never really be gone at all. Long live the Queen.

Soul Serenade: The Chairmen Of The Board, “Give Me Just A Little More Time”

Chairmen of the Board

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spend a lot of time traveling in my car between my current home in Rhode Island and my former home state of New Jersey. Last summer, I was delighted when SiriusXM added a channel called Carolina Shag which played the best of Carolina Beach Music. Unfortunately, after the summer SiriusXM removed the station from the radio airwaves and although you can still hear it online it’s just not the same as being able to listen in the car as you’re headed down the highway.

If you know anything about Beach Music you know that the Chairmen of the Board are the reigning kings of the genre. The group was led by General Johnson who was no stranger to musical success. Johnson had chart hits in the early 1960s with a group from New Orleans called the Showmen. Those hits included “It Will Stand” and “39-21-46” which itself is a Beach Music standard.

The idea for the Chairmen of the Board came from the songwriting and production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland which had left Motown Records in a contract dispute in 1967 and founded their own Invictus/Hot Wax label group. It was their concept to team Johnson with Eddie Custis, Danny Woods, and Harrison Kennedy. At first, the lead vocals were divided more or less evenly among the group but it wasn’t long before Johnson’s unique vocal style came to the fore.

Chairmen of the Board

“Give Me Just a Little More Time” was released in December 1969 and it rocketed up the chart to the #3 spot. By May of the following year, the record was a million-seller. Although “Give Me Just a Little More Time” was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland along with Ronald Dunbar, the ongoing lawsuit with Motown necessitated the use of the pseudonym Edythe Wayne in the songwriting credits. One thing that hadn’t changed for Holland-Dozier-Holland was their use of the Funk Brothers to supply the backing track just as they had done on all of those Motown hits.

While “Give Me Just a Little More Time” was the biggest hit for the Chairmen of the Board, it was not their only success. The group also scored with “(You’ve Got Me) Dangling on a String,” “Everything’s Tuesday” (the B-side of that single was the original version of “Patches” which was later a hit for Clarence Carter), and “Pay to the Piper.”

There were several lineup changes and solo albums by various members but Johnson kept the act alive until 1976 when he signed a deal with Arista Records as a solo artist. Two years later Johnson and Woods reformed the group adding Ken Knox to the lineup. They founded their own label, Surfside Records, and began their career as Beach Music kings. The label exists to this day and so do the Chairmen of the Board although Johnson passed away in 2010 and Woods passed away earlier this year. Knox now tours with Thomas Hunter and Brandon Stevens.

The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame inducted the Chairmen of the Board in 1999.

Soul Serenade: The Free Movement, “I’ve Found Someone Of My Own”

The Free MovementThe dog days of summer are upon us. I’m feeling lazy these days and I’ve even considered suspending the column for the rest of the summer and coming back fresh in September so if you don’t see the column for the next few weeks, don’t worry, I’ll be back. I’m pretty proud of my non-stop streak though so chances are I’ll be back next week.

The Free MovementThere’s not much to say about the Free Movement. They are one of those groups that hit big once and then faded into history. The Free Movement got together in L.A. in 1970 in an apparent effort to build on the success of fellow Angelenos the Fifth Dimension. And it worked … for a minute. The original members of the Free Movement were Godoy Colbert, Josephine Brown, Cheryl Conley, Jennifer Gates, Adrian Jefferson, and Claude Jefferson. Their lineup even emulated that of the Fifth Dimension albeit with the addition of one more female singer.

Their first record deal was with Decca and it was for that label that the Free Movement had their one and only hit. “I’ve Found Someone of My Own” climbed the pop chart all the way to #5 in 1971 while also making its way to the Top 20 on the R&B chart. Ironically, by the time the single hit, the Free Movement had moved on to Columbia Records where they released their one and only album for which “I’ve Found Someone of My Own” was the title track. The album failed to make the Top 100 on the pop chart but did rise to #26 on the R&B chart.

The follow-up Free Movement single, “The Harder I Try (the Bluer I Get),” barely crawled into the Top 50 on the pop and R&B charts and subsequently a cover of Stephen Stills’ “Love the One Your With” and another single called “I Can’t Move No Mountains” failed to chart at all. And that is where the story of the Free Movement ends.

It’s a short story of one sweet single this week. See you soon.

Soul Serenade: Love Unlimited, “I Belong to You”

Love UnlimitedFor a while there in the 1970s, it seemed like Barry White was the king of the music world. He could do no wrong whether it was as a songwriter, a producer, or a solo artist. For a period of about five years, from 1973-1978, White ran one hit after another up the charts. The hits included “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” both of which reached the top of the charts in 1974.
White’s success went well beyond the records he released under his own name though. In fact, he had success as a songwriter and producer before he ever did as a solo artist. Love Unlimited had formed in 1969 with an original lineup consisting of Glodean James (who later married White), her sister Linda James, and their cousin Diane Taylor. It wasn’t long before White took the group under his wing and began to polish their sound.

Eventually White got Love Unlimited a deal with Uni Records and in 1972 they had their first hit with “Walkin’ in the Rain With the One I Love,” a record written and produced by White. The single reached #14 on the pop chart and #6 on the R&B chart at the end of 1972. Oh, and that’s White himself who plays the part of the male lover on the record.

The 1973 Love Unlimited album Under the Influence of … Love Unlimited was a #3 hit on both the pop and R&B charts. They were the first female group to have a Top 5 album since Diana Ross & the Supremes did it in 1970.

Love Unlimited

White had made his production deal at Uni Records with Russ Regan. When Regan left the label for 20th Century Records, White followed him and took Love Unlimited with him. It was for 20th Century that the Love Unlimited single “I Belong to You” was a smash hit, reaching the top of the R&B chart and remaining on the chart for five months in 1974.

Love Unlimited had several other chart records over the next six years including “Share a Little Love in Your Heart,” and “High Steppin’, Hip Dressin’ Fella (You Got It Together)” which was released on White’s own Unlimited Gold label. In addition to their own hits, Love Unlimited could be heard providing backing vocals on White’s hits and for his live appearances.

All in all, Love Unlimited recorded four albums but when Diane Taylor passed away in 1985 at the age of 38, it marked the end of the group. Barry and Glodean White were married in 1974 and in 1981 they had chart singles as a duo with “Didn’t We Make it Happen Baby” and “I Want You.” They also released an album called Barry & Glodean.

Glodean White can be heard singing on White’s last album, Staying Power, which was released in 1999.

Barry White passed away in 2003.

Soul Serenade: The Marvelettes, “When You’re Young and in Love”

The MarvelettesOne year ago in this column, I featured Ruby and the Romantics and their 1963 smash hit “Our Day Will Come.” The record was so big that it cemented the group’s legacy all on its own. But that wasn’t the end of the Ruby and the Romantics output. They were the first to record two other songs that, while they were moderately-sized hits for Ruby and the Romantics, they were even bigger hits for the artists who covered them.
In 1963, Ruby and the Romantics followed up “Our Day Will Come” with the original version of “Hey There Lonely Boy.” The song was a major hit for the group, reaching #27 on the pop chart, and #5 on the R&B chart. But six years later, Eddie Holman changed the gender of the lyrics and took “Hey There Lonely Girl” all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

That wasn’t the end of the story with regard to successful covers of Ruby and the Romantics hits. In 1964, they released the single “When You’re Young and In Love” which was written by Van McCoy and produced by Allen Stanton, the head A&R man at the group’s label, Kapp Records. Again, it was a respectable hit, Top 50 on the pop chart and Top 20 on the R&B chart.

The Marvelettes

Sure enough, three years later along came Motown’s Marvelettes with their cover of “When You’re Young and In Love” and sure enough, they had a bigger hit with it. It wasn’t the most successful Marvelettes single but it did well enough, reaching #23 on the pop chart and #9 on the R&B chart. The backing track on the Marvelettes hit came courtesy of Motown mainstays the Funk Brothers and the label’s top session singers the Andantes flesh out the background vocals. The record also features the sound of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. It was one of the last Marvelettes records that founding member Gladys Horton appeared on although by that time Wanda Rogers was singing most of the leads including the one on “When You’re Young and In Love.” Shortly after the release of the single, Horton left the group to care for her daughter Sammie who had been born with cerebral palsy.

In 1995, the Marvelettes were given a “Pioneer” award by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and in 2013, they were inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. They have been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice but so far they haven’t gotten enough votes to gain induction.