Soul Serenade: Dinah Washington & Brook Benton, “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)”

Brook Benton and Dinah WashingtonIt’s terribly sad to watch the unfolding tragedy in Texas. The images on television are all the more horrifying when they come with the knowledge that any of us could be in the same dire situation as the people there at any time. If you are compelled to help, as I was, there are a variety of charities that you can donate to. Personally, I chose All Hands Volunteers but the decision to give and where to direct your donation is entirely up to you. And if you’re not in a position to give, add your thoughts and prayers to those of millions of other people. There’s no telling what we can achieve when we work together.
Two of the biggest stars of the 1950s and 1960s were Brook Benton and Dinah Washington. Benton, who grew up in South Carolina, had Top 10 hits with songs like “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” “So Many Ways, “Kiddio,” and “The Boll Weevil Song.” Washington, from Alabama, scored with songs like “I Wanna Be Loved,” “Teach Me Tonight,” “Unforgettable,” and her Top 10 smash “What a Difference a Day Makes.”

In 1960, Benton and Washington collaborated for the first time on a song written by Benton along with Clyde Otis and Murray Stein. “Baby (You’ve Got What it Takes)” raced up the Pop chart to #5, and reached #1 on the R&B chart. The record remained atop the chart for a remarkable ten weeks and became one of the biggest R&B songs to be released in the 1960s. The song itself had an even longer history, spawning cover versions by duos like Jerry Lee Lewis and Linda Gail Lewis, Kevin Mahogany and Jeanie Bryson, Martha Davis and Ivan Neville, Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis, Charlie Louvin and Melba Montgomery, and Nellie McKay and Taj Mahal.

Brook Benton and Dinah Washington

Benton and Washington weren’t done as a duo, however. Also in 1960 the pair released “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love).” The song, also written by Benton and Otis, along with Luchi de Jesus, was initially recorded by Priscilla Bowman two years earlier. Bowman was backed by noted doo wop group the Spaniels on the record. Like “Baby (You’ve Got What it Takes),” “A Rockin’ Good Way” shot to the top of the R&B chart, and was a Top 10 Pop hit. In 1983, Shakin’ Stevens and Bonnie Tyler had a U.K. hit with their cover of the song.

Benton’s chart career cooled a bit after his two hit duets with Washington but he came roaring back in 1970 with his #4 smash “Rainy Night in Georgia.” Unfortunately, it was his last big hit, and he passed away in 1988.

1960 was a huge year for Washington. In addition to the two hits with Benton, she scored a #24 hit that year with “This Bitter Earth,” and reached #30 with “Love Walked In.” The following year, “September in the Rain” ran up the Pop chart to #23. With the exception of “Where Are You?” which reached #36 in 1962, Washington’s days on the upper reaches of the charts were over. A year later, at the age of 39, she was dead as a result of a drug overdose.

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Soul Serenade: The Radiants, “It Ain’t No Big Thing”

The RadiantsChicago has been known as a blues mecca ever since giants like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf made their way north from Mississippi seeking greater opportunity. In fact, the electrified and electrifying sound they and others developed would come to be known as Chicago Blues. But the music coming out of the Windy City was not limited to blues. Soul music giants like Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, Jerry Butler, and Billy Stewart called Chicago home as well.

The Radiants never quite reached the level of success that the artists I mentioned above achieved but they did manage to send a few records up the charts in the 1960s. The group’s original lineup of lead vocalist Maurice McCallister, baritone Wallace Sampson, second tenor Jerome Brooks, bass singer Elzie Butler, and first tenor Charles Washington met while they were singing in the youth choir at Greater Harvest Baptist Church. Like other artists who got their start in church, the Radiants began their career singing gospel in churches but also adding in some secular R&B songs that McCallister wrote.

It wasn’t long before the Radiants abandoned gospel altogether. Before their first recording session, Washington had left the group and been replaced by McLauren Green. The group recorded demos and shopped them around but couldn’t get a bite. All of the big labels turned them down including Motown and Chess. But Chess eventually had a change of heart and signed the Radiants.

At Chess, the group was mentored by Billy Davis, one-time songwriting partner of Berry Gordy, Jr. The Radiants’ first single for the label was released in 1962. “Father Knows Best” b/w “One Day I’ll Show You” was unsuccessful everywhere with the exception of Cleveland, where it was a local hit. Chess singles “Heartbreak Society,” “Shy Guy,” and “I Gotta Dance to Keep My Baby” followed and while they all sounded like hits, none of them were. Poor promotion by the label seems to have been the culprit.

Green was drafted and he was replaced by Frank McCollum. But by 1964 the Radiants were in disarray. Things got so bad that the group actually broke up, leaving only McCallister and Sampson to form a new lineup. Leonard Caston, Jr. had been the organist at Greater Harvest and his return from the army was timely as he became the third member of the new Radiants lineup.

The Radiants

Now a trio, the Radiants released “Voice Your Choice” in late 1964. It was their biggest hit, reaching #16 on the R&B chart, and #51 on the Billboard Hot 100. The follow-up single was “It Ain’t No Big Thing” and although it failed to make the Pop chart, it reached #14 R&B. The Radiants modeled themselves after the Impressions on these records, with McCallister and Caston trading lead vocals, and employing the Impressions three-part harmony style.

Caston had his eye on a songwriting and production career and left the Radiants in 1965. James Jameson replaced him and he can be heard on the single “Baby You Got It.” That’s about the time that things got complicated. McCallister left the group shortly after the single was released and the departure of the group’s founder should have put an end to things, right? Well, no.

There was another Chess group called the Confessions and they were led by a guy named Mitchell Bullock. They recorded a single called “Don’t It Make You Feel Kinda Bad” but broke up before it was released. Davis had the idea of enlisting Bullock to work with Sampson and Jameson. When they added Caston’s brother Victor, the Radiants were a quartet again. Remember that Confessions single? Without re-recording it or changing anything Chess released it as a Radiants single.

“Don’t It Make You Feel Kinda Bad” wasn’t a big hit, only reaching #47 on the R&B chart, but the next Radiants single, “Hold On,” managed to reach #68 on the Pop chart, and #35 R&B in 1968. It would be the last chart record for the Radiants. They left Chess the following year and broke up in 1972.

McCallister went on to have some success with as part of a duo that also included former Radiant McLauren Green. They two collaborated as Maurice & Mac on a single called “You Left the Water Running” which is revered by soul music aficionados. Chess never released a Radiants album but did include several of the group’s singles on compilation albums.

Soul Serenade: Bob Kuban And The In-Men, “The Cheater”

Bob Kuban and the In-MenBob Kuban and the In-Men only had one major hit. That one hit was a record called “The Cheater” which stormed up the charts in 1966. And maybe the band’s story would have ended there if it wasn’t for the compelling story that surrounds them, in particular lead singer Walter Scott, and keeps people interested to this day.

Kuban was a drummer from St. Louis. He was just out of high school when he put together his In-Men there in 1964. They were eight pieces strong and included a horn section, which was something of an anachronism given that it was the year that the British Invasion, with its emphasis on guitars, was arriving on these shores.

The British Invasion wasn’t the only thing that was going on at that time. The Vietnam War was heating up and musicians were just as susceptible to the draft as anyone else. In order to keep their deferments, members of the In-Men had to stay in college or work day jobs as teachers. That impacted the band’s ability to tour much beyond their local area.

Bob Kuban and the In-Men

They recorded “The Cheater” in St. Louis, and released it on Musicland Records in 1966. Originally the song had been written in the first person, but as Kuban told writer Rick Simmons, he was looking for something with energy, excitement, and a driving rhythm, so the narrative was changed to third person and a bridge was added.

Whatever changes they made worked very well. The record charged up the Billboard Hot 100 until it peaked at #12. It was a million-seller and gold record award-winner. The success of “The Cheater” led to nationwide touring and television appearances for the band, including a spot on American Bandstand.

“The Cheater” was also a hit overseas and a tour was planned but the United States government stepped in at that point and let Kuban know that if the band went overseas their deferments would be pulled and they would all be re-classified 1-A. Instead of touring, they returned to the studio. They were looking for a strong follow-up to “The Cheater,” but what they got was “The Teaser,” a song that Kuban himself had little use for and only managed to reach the #70 spot on the Pop chart.

The next single, a cover of the Beatles song “Drive My Car,” didn’t even do that well, only reaching #93. Still, Bob Kuban and the In-Men had placed three singles in the Top 100 in a single year, and that was promising to say the least. But the future would not turn out to be as bright as it looked, primarily because the band’s manager, Mel Friedman, was plotting, unbeknownst to Kuban, to pull lead singer Scott out of the group and push him into a solo career.

There they were, a band with three chart singles in one year, including a million-seller, and yet they were on the verge of dissolution. Eventually, Scott did leave for that solo career, a move that didn’t work out for him, or for Kuban and the band because none of them was able to reach the heights they had hit with “The Cheater.”

Flash forward almost 20 years and Bob Kuban and the In-Men, including Scott who had realized his mistake, were planning a reunion concert in 1983. Then suddenly and mysteriously, Scott disappeared. It took nearly four years to find his body at which time it emerged that Scott had been shot and thrown into a water tank. In a shocking twist of fate, given that Scott was the lead singer on “The Cheater,” the perpetrator turned out to be the then-boyfriend of Scott’s second wife. In addition to Scott, he killed his own wife and was given two life sentences for his crimes. Scott’s ex-wife was sentenced to five years for hindering the prosecution of the murders.

Kuban continues to tour around the Midwest with his band to this day. He remains bitter about the way that Friedman undermined his band when they were on the brink of big-time success. Kuban was recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their permanent exhibit of one-hit wonders.

Soul Serenade: Little Anthony & The Imperials, “I’m On The Outside (Looking In)”

Little Anthony & the ImperialsWay back in the early days of this column, in 2011 to be specific, I featured the Little Anthony & the Imperials hit “Hurt So Bad.” It seems like a long time ago now and there have been somewhere around 300 installments of this column since then, so I thought it would be a good time to feature another Little Anthony hit. This time it’s the record that launched a string of four straight Top 20 hits for the group. It was a run that made them stars.
They first got together in New York City in the 1950s. The group’s original lineup also included Clarence Collins, who founded the group, Ernest Wright, Nate Rogers and Tracey Lord. Collins had a group called the Chesters that included Rogers. It was that group that Gourdine, who had been in the DuPonts, joined. At the time Ronald Ross was in the group, but he was replaced by Ernest Wright.

End Records signed the Chesters in 1958 and changed their name to the Imperials. Their first single for the label was a smash. “Tears on My Pillow” sold over a million copies and reached #4 on the Pop chart and #2 on the R&B chart. A follow-up single, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop” did very well too, reaching #24 in 1960. But when further success proved elusive for the group, Gourdine decided to go it on his own.

Imperials came and went over the next few years and Gourdine eventually returned in 1963. At that point, the classic lineup of the group, Collins, Gourdine, Wright, and Sammy Strain, who had joined when Gourdine was pursuing his solo career, was in place. The quartet hooked up with an old friend, producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo, signed with Don Costa Productions (DCP), and the hits began to come. The run began with “I’m on the Outside (Looking In)” which reached #15 on the Pop chart in 1964.

Little Anthony & the Imperials

Their biggest hit, “Goin’ Out of My Head” followed that same year, and reached #6. Then came “Hurt So Bad,” #10 in 1965, and “Take Me Back,” #16, also in 1965. Little Anthony & the Imperials were on top of the music world. While they never again achieved the level of chart success that had marked their four hit streak, singles like “Hurt,” “Better Use Your Head,” and “Out of Sight Out of Mind” did respectable business. During this time Little Anthony & the Imperials were fixtures on television, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, American Bandstand, Midnight Special, and the Tonight Show among other programs.

Eventually, the Imperials signed with United Artists Records and singles like “World of Darkness,” It’s Not The Same,” “If I Remember To Forget,” and “Yesterday Has Gone” appeared on the label’s Veep imprint. While most of the records made it to the charts, none had the kind of success that the group had enjoyed earlier. During this time they recorded the original version of “You Only Live Twice” for the James Bond film of the same name but the Nancy Sinatra version was the one included in the film, apparently due to the influence of her father.

In the 1970s, Little Anthony & the Imperials recorded for Janus Records (“Father, Father”), Avco Records (“La La La,” “I’m Falling in Love with You”) but had little chart success. Group members came and went. Gourdine tried the solo route again, this time with more success. Collins carried on with his own group of Imperials until he left in 1988.

The classic lineup of Collins, Wright, Strain, and Gourdine got together again for a Madison Square Garden concert in 1992. The reunion was successful enough to lead to a tour and an appearance on the 40th anniversary special for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. There were more TV appearances in the ’90s and two new albums, one of which was their first live album. It was the first time that the lineup had recorded in 30 years.

They continued on into the new century until Strain retired in 2004. Collins finally called it a day in 2012 but he still retains the Imperials name. Gourdine continues to tour and published his autobiography, Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny, in 2014. As recently as 2015 Little Anthony & the Imperials were still touring with a lineup that includes Gourdine and Wright.

In 2009, Little Anthony & the Imperials were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other honors include induction into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Official Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Soul Serenade: Richard Berry And The Pharaohs, “Louie Louie”

Richard BerryIf Richard Berry had only done that one thing in his life it would have been more than enough. What is that one thing? Well in 1955 Mr. Berry wrote a little song called “Louie Louie” and two years later he recorded it with his group, the Pharaohs. It was released by Flip Records as a B-side to Berry’s cover of “You Are My Sunshine.” It was a hit, albeit a minor one, regionally, selling 130,000 copies.

Obviously, Berry’s song has a history that has lived on far beyond that original recording. In fact, it lives on to this day. But let’s talk about the composer before we get back to the song. Berry was born near Monroe, Louisiana but brought up from the time he was a baby in Los Angeles. He badly injured a hip as a child and was on crutches until he was six. While at a summer camp for crippled children Berry took up his first instrument, the ukulele.

At Jefferson High School, Berry harmonized in the hallways along with many other students, and that led to him recording with a number of doo-wop groups including the Penguins, the Cadets, the Chimes, the Crowns, and several others. He eventually landed in the Flairs in 1953, and sang bass on their single, “She Wants to Rock,” which was produced by none other than Lieber and Stoller, and released on Modern Records.

It wasn’t much later when Lieber and Stoller were recording the Robins and needed a bass voice for their “Riot in Cell Block #9.” They remembered Berry, and although uncredited (because he was under contract with Modern), that’s Berry singing on the ominous introduction to the hit, which was released on Spark Records. That wasn’t the last hit that Berry, uncredited, sang on. That’s him on Etta James’ first hit “Wallflower (Dance With Me, Henry).” He sang with several other groups including the Arthur Lee Maye and the Crowns, and a group called the Dreamers, who eventually became the Blossoms.

Richard Berry

By 1954, Berry was done with the Flairs. He formed his own group which he called the Pharaohs. But in between the Flairs and the Pharaohs Berry worked with a group called Rick Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers. Inspired by the Latin rhythms of their song “El Loco Cha Cha,” and not a little bit by Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon,” Berry began work on a new song. He wrote down the lyrics, inspired by Sinatra’s “One for My Baby” according to Berry, on a piece of toilet paper before a show one night.

It took six years, and the controversy of an FBI investigation into the song’s lyrics, until “Louie Louie” became a huge hit. Alas, it wasn’t Berry’s version that struck gold, but one by a group called the Kingsmen. Worse yet, Berry had sold the copyright back in 1959 for $750 because he needed the money to pay for his wedding. So although “Louie Louie” has been recorded over 1,000 times, Berry has seen very little of the money.

“Everybody sold their songs in those days,” Berry said in 1993. “I never was bitter with the record companies. They provided a vehicle for five young black dudes to make a record.”

Berry didn’t stop writing songs however and one of them, “Have Love, Will Travel,” became a regional hit for the Sonics and has inspired a number of cover versions including one by the Black Keys in 2003.

By the mid-1980s Berry was living on welfare in his mother’s house in Los Angeles. When a company called California Cooler wanted to use “Louie Louie” in a commercial and needed Berry’s approval to do so. The company located Berry and sent a lawyer to see him. The lawyer convinced Berry that he could win back the rights to the song that he had sold so long ago. Berry went to court and the settlement made Berry, at long last, a millionaire.

Berry continued to play shows into the ’90s, even reuniting with his Pharaohs in 1996 for a benefit concert in L.A. Unfortunately his health began to decline around that time and he passed away the following year at the age of 62.

“Louie Louie” is the most recorded song in rock history. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame called it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and the song entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. In addition to the countless honors and widespread recognition, Richard Berry’s birthday, April 11, is now celebrated as International Louie Louie Day.

Soul Serenade: “I Can’t Get Next To You” – Which Version Gets Next To You?

The Temptations - Al Green

 

 

 

 

 

Back in April, I presented you with a poll that asked you to chose your favorite version of “Respect,” the Aretha Franklin cover, or the Otis Redding original. Aretha won that particular vote pretty handily. I thought I’d try the same thing with another song this week, asking you to choose your favorite version of “I Can’t Get Next to You” — the rhythmic, driving take by the Temptations, or the intense, slow-burning version by Al Green.

Let’s talk about the song itself first. “I Can’t Get Next to You” was written by Motown stalwarts Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. The first version of the song was recorded by the Temptations. Dennis Edwards had replaced David Ruffin by that time, but the rest of the classic Tempts lineup was intact, with Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Otis Franklin. Whitfield produced the record, and the always-able Funk Brothers provided the backing track.

The Temptations - I Cant Get Next to You

The Temptations took “I Can’t Get Next to You” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 1969, and it stayed there for two weeks until it was replaced by the Elvis Presley classic “Suspicious Minds.” The record also topped the R&B chart. Pieces of the Temptations recording were used on other records. The Jackson Five appropriated the bridge for their 1970 hit “ABC,” and the applause that opens “I Can’t Get Next to You” was borrowed by the Temptations themselves for their 1970 smash “Psychedelic Shack.”

There have been a number of covers of “I Can’t Get Next to You” including takes by the Osmonds, Savoy Brown, Annie Lennox, and Toto. But at least in my mind, there is little doubt that the finest of these covers was the one released by Al Green in 1970. The song provided the title of the album Al Green Gets Next to You, and the single reached #60 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #11 on the R&B chart.

Al Green - I Can't Get Next to You

This is not a matter of which take on the song is better. They are as vastly different as the Aretha and Otis versions of “Respect.” Green replaced the muscular, up-tempo group effort of the Temptations with a dramatically slowed down, solitary, deeply felt, down-on-his-knees-begging-for-love, Hi Rhythm Section version. So it’s simply a matter of which one you prefer or maybe even which one you prefer at one particular moment.

This is that moment. Listen to the two versions below and be reminded of the greatness of each one. Then vote in the poll and make your feelings known. The comments section is open to you if you would like to comment beyond your vote.

“I Can’t Get Next To You” – Which Version is Your Favorite?

Soul Serenade: Ruby And The Romantics, “Our Day Will Come”

Ruby and the RomanticsAlright, you caught me. Yes, I played hooky last week. But after all, I was on vacation at the beautiful Jersey shore, and it was the first week I missed in more than six years, so I’ve earned a little slack, right? Besides, I’m back this week with a really cool song that was a huge hit in 1963.

Who was this Ruby of Ruby and the Romantics? She was Ruby Nash of Akron, Ohio, and while she was still studying at Central High School in Akron she began singing in groups that included her sister and three friends. And what about those Romantics? Well, some of them had been in a group called the Embers who eventually became the Supremes (no, not those Supremes), and then the Fellos.

Leroy Fann, one of the Fellos, knew Ruby from Akron, and occasionally asked her to sing with his group. Eventually, a group coalesced around Ruby that included Fann, Ronald Mosley, Ed Roberts, and George Lee. In 1961 they signed with Kapp Records out of New York and became Ruby and the Romantics at the behest of Kapp A&R man Allen Stanton.

Crooner Jack Jones was supposed to be the one to record “Our Day Will Come” but Ruby and her group liked the song, saw its potential, and pressed Kapp to let them record it. They were right of course as their recording of “Our Day Will Come” shot up the Billboard Hot 100 to #1 in 1963 and gained the same lofty position on the R&B chart.

Ruby and the Romantics

“Our Day Will Come” was written by Mort Garson and Bob Hilliard. In order for them to allow Ruby and the Romantics to record it, Stanton had to promise the songwriters that if group’s version failed to become a hit, Jack Jones would record it. With Stanton at the helm, two versions of the song were recorded, but it was the one with the bossa nova beat and Leroy Glover’s striking organ solo that was chosen for release and became a smash. Other backing musicians on the record were guitarists Vinnie Bell, Al Gorgoni, and Kenny Burrell, bass player Russ Savakus, drummer Gary Chester, and percussionist George Devens.

The follow-up single for Ruby and the Romantics, “My Summer Love,” did respectable business too, reaching the Top 20. And then they came back with the original version of “Hey There Lonely Boy” (later a smash for Eddie Holman as ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’), which worked its way up to #27 on the Pop chart. Kapp released several other singles but none of them saw much success. Ruby and the Romantics moved on to ABC Records, where three singles and an album failed to match their earlier chart successes.

Ruby and the Romantics recorded one single for A&M Records in 1969. “Hurting Each Other” was notable due to the fact that it reunited the group with Stanton. Unfortunately, the old magic failed to materialize, and it was the final single that Ruby and the Romantics recorded before breaking up in 1971.

The full-range harmonies of Ruby and the Romantics were an acknowledged influence on the Temptations, and the Carpenters gathered inspiration from the group as well, recording three of their songs. There have been over 60 cover versions of “Our Day Will Come” including takes on the song by Bobby Darrin, Frankie Valli, Dee Dee Sharp, Amy Winehouse, the Supremes (yes, those Supremes), and James Brown.

Ruby Nash returned to Akron when the group broke up and still lives there. She is the only surviving member of Ruby and the Romantics. Sadly, neither she or any of the heirs of the Romantics see any royalties from the hit records.

In 2013, Ruby and the Romantics were part of the first class of inductees into the newly established Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.