Soul Serenade: BT Express, “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)”

BT Express - "Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)"As the 1960s transitioned to the 1970s soul music began to transition too. The sweet sound of Motown soul began to give way to something deeper, something harder, something funkier. Of course, funk had been around for awhile, primarily in the form of James Brown who had already been putting forth the funk for a number of years. But suddenly he began to get some company.
In the early ’70s, Brooklyn was a hotbed of musical activity. There was even a “Brooklyn sound” and one of its proponents was a band called the King Davis House Rockers. The band recorded a couple of singles, 1967’s “We All Make Mistakes Sometimes” and “Rum Punch” in 1972 but they went nowhere. Three members of the band, guitar player Richard Thompson, and sax players Bill Rissbrook and Carlos Ward did go somewhere, however. Somewhere else. They formed a new band that they called Madison Street Express.

New players were drafted to fill out the lineup including bass player Louis Risbrook (who later took the name Jamal Rasool), percussionist Dennis Rowe, drummer Terrell Wood, and vocalist Barbara Wood. The new band hooked up with a producer named Jeff Lane and made a deal with a production company called Roadshow Records. Their first recording was “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied,” a song that was written by Billy Nichols.

BT Express

Roadshow shopped the record to a number of labels and found a taker at Scepter Records. Scepter, however, didn’t think much of the Madison Street Express moniker and suggested that the band change their name to Brooklyn Transit Express. In August 1974, Scepter released “Do It” and it quickly shot into the Top 10, ultimately peaking at #2 on the Pop chart will simultaneously topping the R&B chart.

As you might imagine, Scepter was most interested in continuing their relationship with BT Express. They agreed to an album deal and even gave Roadshow their own imprint within the company. The band’s first album reached the top of the R&B chart and hit #5 on the Pop chart. The album spawned the smash single “Express” which was also an R&B chart-topper while reaching #4 on the Pop chart. Disco was beginning its ascendency and the BT Express records were in the mix.

BT Express released an album a year beginning with that 1974 debut. While the albums continued to be successful on the R&B charts, their success on the Pop chart began to diminish with each release. The band went through several lineup changes and faced a challenge when Scepter went belly-up in 1976. They made a distribution deal with Columbia Records but began to get lost in the shuffle of the much larger company, which had many other acts to promote.

After five years, BT Express decamped from Columbia and made a final album for Coast to Coast Records in 1982. There was a single for Earthtone Records that year and they eventually wound up their career recording for a label owned by their manager, King Davis. All-in-all, BT Express placed eight singles in the R&B Top 40. In addition to “Do It” and “Express” other chart singles included “Give It What You Got,” “Can’t Stop Groovin’ Now, Wanna Do It Some More,” and “Shout It Out.” Six of their albums reached the Top 40 on the R&B chart, the first two making it to #1.


Soul Serenade: Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, “Little Latin Lupe Lu”

Mitch Ryder & the Detroit WheelsBefore the Righteous Brothers became the megastars they would become when “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” raced to the top of the charts in 1964, brother Bill Medley wrote a song for the duo called “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” It was released as the Righteous Brothers’ debut single in 1963. It was moderately successful, just edging into the Top 50 on the Pop chart. Stardom would have to wait another year for the Righteous Brothers.

The original version of “Little Latin Lupe Lu” was not the only version, or even the most successful. The latter designation would go to a band called Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels who released their cover of Medley’s song in 1966. Unlike the Righteous Brothers original or subsequent covers by the Chancellors (their 1964 version was a regional hit in Minneapolis and Chicago) or the Kingsmen (theirs reached #46 the same year), Ryder’s torrid take on the song was a bonafide hit, racing all the way to #16 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Ryder came out of Hamtramck, Michigan and formed his first band, the Tempests, while he was in high school. The Tempests gained some popularity in the Detroit clubs but it wasn’t long before Ryder was fronting another band, Billy Lee & the Rivieras (Ryder’s given name was William S. Levise, Jr.). Along the way, they came to the attention of Bob Crewe whose production and songwriting credits included a number of hits for Four Seasons. The first thing that Crewe did was to change the name of the band to Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.

Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels

The original Detroit Wheels lineup included John Badanjek on drums, lead guitarist Jim McCarty, and bass player Earl Elliot. The Wheels breakout single with Ryder was “Jenny Take a Ride” which reached the Top 10 in 1965. The follow-up single was “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and it did nearly as well in 1966. But the best was yet to come as Ryder and his Wheels had a stone smash with “Devil With a Blue Dress” that same year. In 1967, “Sock It to Me, Baby” almost equaled the success of “Devil” reaching #6 on the Pop chart. All of the singles were originally released on Crewe’s DynoVoice label with Crewe producing.

In 1968, Ryder left the Wheels behind for a solo career. He had some success with his version of “What Now My Love,” reaching the Top 30, but that was the last single he placed in the Top 50. In the early ’70s, Ryder formed a band called Detroit that included Badjanek and guitarist Steve Hunter. Lou Reed liked Hunter’s playing on the Detroit version of his song “Rock & Roll” so much that he grabbed Hunter for his band. That said, the one album that Detroit released in 1971 barely crept into the Top 200.

Ryder developed throat problems and bowed out of the music business in the 1970s. He managed a comeback in 1983 with an album called Never Kick a Sleeping Dog which was produced by John Mellencamp. The album spawned a Top 100 single version of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” Ryder’s most recent album, The Promise, was released in 2012. It was his first album in nearly 30 years.

McCarty and Badjanek reunited later to form a group called the Rockets, and McCarty had some hard rock success with the band Cactus. Meanwhile, the influence of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels has proved incalculable, inspiring rockers like Mellencamp, Bob Seger, and Bruce Springsteen, whose “Detroit Medley” was a staple of his live set for years.

Mitch Ryder was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

Soul Serenade: Barbara Lynn, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”

Barbara Lynn








In this column, I’ve written about everyone from superstars who ran numerous hits up the charts to one-hit wonders who only had that single moment in the sun. Then are those who broke out of the gate with their big hit and then never repeated that initial success. It has to be the most frustrating feeling of all. Such an artist is Barbara Lynn who, while she had other chart records and even some R&B hits, never managed to equal the enormous success of her first release.

Lynn was born in Beaumont, Texas and began her musical pursuits as a piano player before she switched to guitar. Surely a female, African-American, left-handed electric guitarist who wrote her own songs was a rare thing at the time. Lynn’s influences were a mixture of blues artists like Jimmy Reed and pop purveyors like Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. Lynn began her career playing in local clubs and her break came when singer Joe Barry caught her act and introduced her to producer Huey P. Meaux.

Barbara Lynn

Meaux owned SugarHill Recording Studios in New Orleans along with a few record labels. But when it was time for Lynn to record her debut single she went to Cosimo Matassa’s legendary J&M studio. The song that was chosen was one written by Lynn and Meaux called “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” Among the session players was one Mac Rebennack AKA Dr. John. Jamie Records released the single in August 1962 and it shot up to the #1 spot on the Billboard R&B chart while also nudging into the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Based on the success of her debut single, Lynn hit the road with some of the biggest stars of the day including James Brown, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Ike & Tina Turner, and Marvin Gaye. There were appearances at the Apollo theater and on American Bandstand. Lynn continued to release singles for Jamie until 1966. Among them were “You’re Gonna Need Me,” “Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’),” a Lynn-written song that was covered by the Rolling Stones, “Don’t Spread it Around,” and “It’s Better to Have It.” All of these titles were Top 40 R&B hits.

After leaving Jamie, Lynn signed with Meaux’s Tribe label where she had another R&B chart hit with “You Left the Water Running.” In 1967, Lynn signed with Atlantic Records. Dissatisfaction with the label together with the desire to raise her growing family led Lynn to mostly opt out of the music business in the 1970s although while living in Los Angeles during this time she did play a few club gigs and released one-off singles here and there.

In 1984, Lynn toured Japan where she recorded a live album. After her husband died, Lynn returned to Beaumont in and 1994 she recorded her first studio album in over 20 years. Several more albums followed most recently Blues & Soul Situation in 2004. Lynn received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999.


Soul Serenade: Bobby Womack, “It’s Party Time”

Bobby Womack







There’s a house party way ‘cross town

People coming from miles around

After working hard all week long

They got to get a thing going on

And suddenly we find ourselves at the end of another year. Time passes slowly when you’re young but it seems to accelerate as you get older. 2017, a difficult year if there ever was one, has sped by like a bullet. The good news is that with each new year there’s the hope of renewal, another chance to put the past behind us and start again. I don’t know who set things up this way but it’s kind of cool when you think about it. That’s what New Year’s resolutions are all about. So whether you want to lose a few pounds, read more books, or set a goal of being nicer to people, here’s your chance. It’s a time of celebration because once again we have the chance to see out the old and welcome in the new.

Bobby Womack has been covered at length in this column over the years so I’ll just say that in 1978 he released an album called Pieces and the leadoff track from that album, “It’s Party Time,” is perfect for your New Year’s celebration. The song was written by Don Davis (who also produced the album) and Willie Schofield, and the album’s backing musicians included Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, and Jimmy Johnson of the legendary Muscle Shoals Swampers. Also of note is the presence of Candi Staton and former Temptation great David Ruffin helping out with vocals on a couple of tracks. While the album nods in the direction of the then prevalent disco sound, Womack retains his credibility as an old-school soul master.

Speaking of parties, a key component of any successful party is the music. Over the years I have been maintaining a Spotify playlist informed by this column. Each week I add the column’s featured song to the playlist. At this point, there are 361 songs on the list, nearly 20 hours of great soul music. So if you’re having a party this year, simply bring up the playlist, hit the play button, and enjoy yourself knowing that the music is taken care of. Here’s the link:

I want to close the column, and the year, by thanking you for taking the time to read my musings each week and wishing you all the best in 2018. Happy New Year!


Soul Serenade: Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, “Merry Christmas, Baby”

Johnny Moore's Blazers - "Merry Christmas, Baby"Christmas is all about tradition. We all have things that we do every year around the holidays. In recent years I have become part of some nice traditions that I really look forward to. One of my traditions is to write a Christmas entry for this series every year and this year is no exception.

Last year I celebrated with Otis Redding’s 1968 version of the classic “Merry Christmas, Baby.” This year I thought I would take you back to the song’s origins, 21 years earlier. Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers are remembered these days primarily for the inclusion of Charles Brown in the lineup. Moore grew up in Texas and relocated to L.A. in the 1930s. There the guitarist (whose style influenced Chuck Berry) met two fellow Texans, pianist Brown and bass player Eddie Williams. Together they became the Three Blazers.

Oscar Moore, Johnny’s brother, became a member of the Nat King Cole Trio. When Cole ended his deal with Atlas Records and moved to Capitol in 1943, Oscar Moore suggested to label owner Robert Scherman that the Three Blazers could replace Cole. Scherman was amenable, but only if Oscar was involved. Johnny wasn’t happy about it but for awhile his group became Oscar Moore with the Three Blazers. The group backed Ivory Joe Hunter and had a 1945 hit with “Blues at Sunrise.”

The next year, with Brown singing lead, the group had its biggest hit with “Driftin’ Blues.” Even though it had become clear that Brown was the group’s big attraction, Johnny Moore refused to credit him on the records. Moore was also not interested in being tied down to one record label which resulted in the group’s early recordings being released on a variety of labels including Philo (later Aladdin) Records, Exclusive, and Modern.

Johnny Moore's Three Blazers

More R&B hits followed including “Sunny Road” in 1946 and “New Orleans Blues” in 1947. “Merry Christmas, Baby” was also a hit that year and the holiday song returned to the charts in each of the next two years. Years later Brown said that the recording came about when Leon Rene, owner of Exclusive Records, decided that he needed a Christmas song to compete with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

At the time there was a songwriter by the name of Lou Baxter who used to hang around the Three Blazers. Baxter had throat cancer and needed surgery. He was short of funds so he asked Brown if the group could record one of his songs. Baxter gave Brown a bunch of songs to look over but Brown wasn’t impressed by what he saw. There was one song called “Merry Christmas Blues” and while Brown didn’t think much of the song, it did give him an idea.

“I saw “Merry Christmas Blues,” but the idea struck me. I said this would be a good idea, but it wasn’t like what he had written. I wrote the title “Merry Christmas Baby,” and I wrote the words, how I was going to sing it, and I mapped it out, played the piano, and I presented it to Johnny Moore,” Brown said.

Unfortunately for Brown, Exclusive Records never paid him for his work but when Hollywood Records took over the label’s lawyers promised payment. Once again, however, no one was paid. To add insult to injury, at some point Johnny Moore gave himself a songwriting credit, along with Baxter. Brown’s name does not appear on the record. That songwriting credit ended up having great value because over the years “Merry Christmas, Baby” has been covered by artists like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Etta James, and Bruce Springsteen.

The lack of recognition and money weighed on Brown and he left the group for a solo career in 1948. The two remaining Blazers soldiered on for a number of years with a variety of singers. Even Oscar Moore returned for a while when the Nat King Cole Trio folded. The group continued recording into the early 1960s.

The treatment of Charles Brown was certainly not in the spirit of Christmas but nonetheless, he went on to have a splendid solo career. I hope that Christmas treats you better this year. I wish you the peace of the season and the hope that you get to spend it in the warm embrace of family and friends.



A Fan’s Notes: Notable Albums Of 2017

DrakeIn early 2015 I published a list of my favorite albums of the previous year. In my story, I chastised writers who had rushed to get their lists out early and in doing so missed the December 15, 2014 release of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah album. It was my favorite album of the year and I was smugly self-satisfied that I had waited for it before publishing my list. The year I very nearly became what I beheld. I was all set to publish my list earlier this week. In fact, it was about 30 minutes away from going live on Popdose. Then I heard that the new Eminem album, Revival, would be released on Friday, December 15. Of course, there had been at least two earlier release dates publicized and the album had failed to appear. But I had a good feeling about the December 15 date since it was the same date that saw the release of the D’Angelo album. So I decided to wait until I could hear Revival, confident that it had a very good chance to be on my list. My confidence has been rewarded. What follows is the original, pre-Revival text of my story but adjusted to accommodate Eminem’s sprawling, scathing, and altogether majestic album.


It’s that time again. Time to proclaim my favorite albums of the year. It’s nice to know that people are still interested in my opinion in this regard but frankly, it’s a lot of pressure. Obviously, there’s no way to listen to every album that is released in a given year so all I can really do is listen to as many as possible and choose the ones I liked best. I remind you once again this year that I am not saying that these are the best albums of the year, only that they were my favorites.

2017 was a pretty good year for music with hip-hop again ruling the roost. In a sign of changing times last year, I included a mixtape on my list. This year it’s Drake’s playlist at the top and both Eminem’s Revival and Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. in the Top 5. But there was also some good old guitar rock this year as espoused by bands like the War on Drugs Bash & Pop, and the Dream Syndicate. The singer/songwriters had another good year with fine albums from Nicole Atkins, Ryan Adams, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Jason Isbell, John Moreland, and others.

A brilliant new star arose in the heavens in the form of Rhiannon Giddens, and there was a passionate tribute to Joni Mitchell from Kevin Jenkins. Shelby Lynne and her sister Allison Moorer finally got together to release the poignant Not Dark Yet, and the unjustly ridiculed Michael McDonald proved just how wrong his critics are with his first album of new material in many years.

Glen Campbell said goodbye with the stirring Adios, and perennial underdogs Pugwash and the Waterboys proved that they can’t be counted out just yet. Speaking of not being counted out, U2 returned with their finest album in years simply by not trying so hard. Other veterans made powerful statements too. Neil Finn, Cat Stevens, Peter Perrett, Randy Newman, and Chris Hillman all released strong albums.

Here’s my list of my favorite albums of 2017. The Top 10 are in order, the rest are not.

The Top 10:

1. Drake – More Life
2. Nicole Atkins – Goodnight Rhonda Lee
3. Eminem – Revival
4. Cindy Lee Berryhill – The Adventurist
5. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
6. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
7. Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway
8. Ian Felice – In the Kingdom of Dreams
9. Ryan Adams – Prisoner/Prisoner B Sides
10. Kevin Jenkins – She: A Tribute to Joni Mitchell (EP)

Bubbling Under:

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
Vic Mensa – The Autobiography
Michael McDonald – Wide Open
Robert Cray – Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm
John Moreland – Big Bad Luv
Bash & Pop – Anything Could Happen
Matthew Ryan – Hustle Up Starlings
Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer – Not Dark Yet
Zeshan B – Vetted
Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black
U2 – Songs of Experience
Yusuf/Cat Stevens – The Laughing Apple
Randy Newman – Dark Matter
Pugwash – Silverlake
Chris Hillman – Bidin’ My Time
Neil Finn – Out of Silence
Craig Finn – We All Want the Same Thing
The Dream Syndicate – How Did I Find Myself Here?
The Waterboys – Out of All This Blue
John Calvin Abney – Far Cries and Close Calls
Glen Campbell – Adios
Benjamin Booker – Witness
Peter Perrett – How the West Was Won
The Front Bottoms – Going Grey
Gucci Mane – Mr. Davis


Soul Serenade: The Majors, “A Wonderful Dream”

The MajorsIt’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I don’t know how you feel about the season this year but for me, all the struggle and strife that’s going on in the world is making me appreciate the holidays this year even more than usual. I’ve enjoyed the shopping, I’ve enjoyed the eating (too much!), and I look forward to enjoying the rest of the season in the warm embrace of family and friends. What does all of this have to do with the Majors? Not very much unless you consider that the holiday season is something of a wonderful dream.

They were known as the Premiers when they first got together in their hometown of Philadelphia in 1959. The group’s original lineup included lead singer Ricky Cordo, esteemed for his wicked falsetto, Robert Morris, Gene Glass, Frank Troutt, Ronald Gathers, and guitarist Bobby Tate. Before long, Idella Morris replaced her brother Robert in the group.

By 1960, the Premiers had caught the ear of Ro-Cal Records owner Buddy Caldwell. He signed them to his label and because there was already a local group called the Premiers, they became the Versatiles. The first Versatiles single, “Lundee Dundee” b/w “Let Me Whisper in Your Ear,” caught some buzz locally but Ro-Cal, unlike some other local labels, had no arrangement for national distribution so Philadelphia was as far as things went for the record.

The Majors

It seemed like things were at an end for the Versatiles when several members entered the military. But two and a half years later the very same lineup got back together and this time they called themselves the Majors.

Jerry Ragavoy was one of Philadelphia’s most prominent producers at the time. He was familiar with the Versatiles single and he liked what he heard from the newly re-formed Majors. He got them a deal with Imperial Records and the group went into the studio with Ragavoy in July 1962. They emerged with “A Wonderful Dream” b/w “Time Will Tell.” “A Wonderful Dream” was an immediate hit, reaching the charts in August and rising up to #22 on the Billboard chart by September.

The follow-up single was “A Little Bit Now (A Little Bit Later)” b/w “She’s A Troublemaker” and although the record didn’t have the same success as “A Wonderful Dream,” both sides made respectable appearances on the charts. Five more Imperial singles followed including “Anything You Can Do,” “Life Begins at Sweet Sixteen,” and “I’ll Be There.” Those three made the charts but failed to crack the Top 100.

When the Imperial contract ended, the Majors were without a label. They found a temporary home at ABC-Paramount in 1966. They undertook their final recordings with the same lineup but another new name, the Performers. Unfortunately, the resulting single failed to find any success. The Majors continued to tour in the 1960s but eventually split up.