Soul Serenade Extra: The Isley Brothers, “Ohio”

Kent StateToday marks the 47th anniversary of the tragic day when four students were murdered in cold blood by National Guard troops on the campus of Kent State in Ohio. Nine more were wounded. Shortly after the tragic event, Neil Young responded with a song that was a scathing indictment of the government’s complicity in the killings. Young then quickly gathered together his colleagues in Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, together with bass player Calvin Samuels and drummer John Barbata, and the group recorded the song at the Record Plant in Los Angeles on May 21, 1970. For maximum impact, the record was quickly mixed and mastered and was released within weeks of the Kent State tragedy.

Young later said that what happened at Kent State was “probably the biggest lesson ever learned at an American place of learning.”

The following year the Isley Brothers included “Ohio” on their album Givin’ It Back. The Isleys version was taken at a slower, more ominous pace than the original, opening with a funereal drumbeat and featuring the intense guitar work of Ernie Isley. Their passion is evident as they put their own stamp on Young’s powerful anthem.

May 4, 1970 is a day that should never be forgotten. It was a day that the government of the United States turned its guns on its own citizens. It happened once, and must not be allowed to ever happen again. This year it feels more important than ever to mark the anniversary.

The names of the dead:

Jeffrey Miller – 20 years-old

Allison Krause – 19 years-old

William Schroeder – 19 years-old

Sandra Lee Scheuer – 20 years-old

Soul Serenade: Shirley and Lee, “Let The Good Times Roll”

Shirley & LeeIt’s Jazz Fest time down in New Orleans so I thought that it would be appropriate to tap some of the Crescent City’s rich musical history for this week’s column. And that brings us to the story of Shirley Mae Goodman, who, with her partner Leonard Lee, created an indelible hit record in 1956.
Goodman was born in New Orleans, where she started singing in her church choir. By the age of 14, she was already in a local recording studio making a demo with some friends. But it was Goodman’s solo voice that stood out and captured the attention Eddie Messner, who owned Aladdin Records.

Messner had the brilliant idea of pairing Goodman with Lee, and it wasn’t long before the duo had their first hit. “I’m Gone” was produced by the legendary Cosimo Matassa and shot all the way up to #2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1952. There was something special about the blend of Goodman’s soprano voice and Lee’s baritone. Some say that their sound influenced the creation of ska and reggae music.

Although Goodman and Lee weren’t lovers in real life, they adopted a persona for which they were. As far as the public knew, they were the “Sweethearts of the Blues.” But it was a subtle change in their style that led to their biggest hit. In 1956, Shirley and Lee’s song “Let the Good Times Roll,” with Earl Palmer on drums, topped the R&B chart and crossed over to Top 20 success on the Billboard Hot 100. The record was a million-seller and a gold disc winner.

Shirley & Lee

The follow-up single, “I Feel Good,” was a hit as well, reaching #3 on the R&B chart, and #38 on the Pop chart. But subsequent releases for Aladdin didn’t fare as well and in 1959 the duo lit out for Warwick Records. But the new label failed to bring renewed success, and by 1963 the duo had split up. Lee went on to make some solo records that didn’t do particularly well.

Goodman moved to California where she made a name as a session singer. She worked with some of the biggest stars of the day including Sonny & Cher, and Dr. John. She even sang background vocals on the classic Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street.

After a short retirement, Goodman reunited with Lee for a show at Madison Square Garden in 1971. The “oldies” show featured other artists from the original rock era including Bobby Rydell, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley.

In 1974, Sylvia Robinson came calling. She had been half of the hit-making duo of Mickey & Sylvia, and by then was the co-owner of All Platinum Records. Robinson wanted Goodman to sing lead on a dance track called “Shame, Shame, Shame.” Goodman took the gig, and the record credited to Shirley & Company became a huge smash hit, reaching #12 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Shame, Shame, Shame” is widely considered to be one of the records that led to the disco craze.

Also in 1974, Goodman once again reunited with Lee to appear on the Midnight Special television show, which featured an oldies theme that week. Naturally, the duo sang their biggest hit, “Let the Good Times Roll” for the occasion.

Leonard Lee died from a heart attack in 1976. He was only 40 years-old at the time of his death. Eventually, Goodman retired from the music business and returned to New Orleans in the late ’70s. She had a stroke in 1994 and returned to California. Shirley Mae Goodman died in Los Angeles in 2005 and was buried in her hometown of New Orleans.

Soul Serenade: “Respect” – Which Version Gets Yours?

Otis Redding - Aretha FranklinThis week I’m going to try something new. It seems like a good idea after 300-plus Soul Serenade columns.
Throughout the history of popular music, there have been many great songs that were recorded by more than one artist. Most of the time one version is clearly better, or at least more popular, than the others. But occasionally there has been a terrific song recorded my two or more terrific artists and those records prompt debate about who had the superior version. Of course, it’s all subjective. Who can say if one version is better than another?

I’ve gathered together a collection of soul songs that have more than one great version, and I’ve built a little poll and placed it at the bottom of the column so that you can tell me which version is your favorite. You can also tell me why in the comments section. And I’ve started with one of the greatest songs of all, and the two most powerful versions of that song. Let’s begin.

Otis Redding wrote “Respect” and released it in 1965. He originally intended the song to be a ballad for a guy named Speedo Sims to record with his group, the Singing Demons. Speedo and his Demons tried, but somehow they couldn’t make it work. So Redding decided to record “Respect” himself, and he included it on his third album, Otis Blue. Steve Cropper produced and played on the record, and the background vocalists were William Bell and Earl Sims.

The Redding version of “Respect” was also released as a single, reaching the Top 5 on the Billboard Black Singles chart, and finding crossover success at #35 on the Pop chart. It was in many ways the record that kick-started Redding’s career.

Two years later, Aretha Franklin released her version of “Respect,” and it was a smash hit. Produced by Jerry Wexler, the song was recorded on Valentine’s Day in 1967. It was the same song alright, played at about the same tempo, and in a similar style, but the message that Aretha was delivering was clearly different. Lyrically the verses were the same, but the refrains were substantially different.

While Redding offered a short “But all I’m asking is a little respect when I get home,” Aretha began her chorus by spelling out the word then demanding that listener find out what the word meant to her before spelling it out again and telling her man to “take care … TCB” while the background singers (Franklin’s sisters Erma and Carolyn) intoned “sock-it-to-me” over and over. There was no sax solo on Redding’s version, but King Curtis provided one on Franklin’s, and Franklin herself played piano on the record.

I’m sure that at the time some people didn’t even realize that the two records were the same song.

Franklin’s record was a bigger hit. “Respect” appeared on her first Atlantic Records album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. The single topped the Billboard Hot Singles chart for two weeks and remained on the Black Singles chart for eight weeks. Her version became a Civil Rights and Women’s Rights anthem. Even Redding expressed admiration for it saying that “Respect” was a song “that a girl took away from me, a friend of mine, this girl she just took this song.”

But this is not about commercial success, it’s about which version you like better. Vote in the poll below, and if you feel like it, tell me why in the comments section. If there is enough interest, we’ll do more of these.

Vote here

Soul Serenade: Jewel Akens, “The Birds And The Bees”

Jewel AkensThe long New England winter is apparently over. Actually, it wasn’t a bad one at all and despite the fact that spring doesn’t officially arrive until this weekend, we have been enjoying some nice sunny weather here in Rhode Island this week. The birds are beginning to sing, the bees are starting to buzz, and thoughts turn to … Jewel Akens.

Akens was born in Houston in 1933. Early in his singing career, he was with groups like the Medallions, who recorded for Dootone Records, and the Four Dots, who made records for a label called Freedom. In 1960 he teamed up with Eddie Daniels, and the duo known, appropriately, as Jewel and Eddie, recorded for Silver Records.

Jewel Akens - The Birds and the Bees

It was as a solo artist that Akens found his greatest success, however. In 1965 his recording of “The Birds and the Bees” for Era Records shot up the Billboard Hot 100 chart to #3, and the Cashbox chart to #2. It was a million seller and a gold record winner. Jewel Akens had finally made the big-time, or so it must have seemed at the time.

I remember walking on the boardwalk in Atlantic City that summer. “The Birds and the Bees” could be heard everywhere. It was a song that appealed to everyone.

Once you have a hit record the follow-up becomes key. It goes a long way toward determining if an artist is going to be a true star, or merely a one-hit wonder. Sadly, the latter was the case for Akens. His follow-up single was something called “Georgie Porgie,” and when it only managed to reach #68 it marked the end of Akens brief ascent to stardom.

That’s not to say that Akens gave and went home. He kept on singing, doing live shows in which he often paid tribute to Sam Cooke, who he considered a mentor. Akens also fronted one of the many groups calling themselves the Coasters, despite the absence of any original Coaster. The success of “The Birds and the Bees” even earned Akens a slot on tour with the Monkees in the late ’60s.

By the middle of the 1970s, Akens was ready to call it a day. But that still wasn’t quite the end of the story. In 2005 he reassembled the Four Dots, albeit with new members, and they played shows for five years.

Jewel Akens died in 2013 as a result of surgical complications. He was a one-hit wonder in the truest sense of the word, but in light of the fact that the vast majority of artists never have a hit record, it’s really not such a bad designation, especially when your one hit is joyous, and indelible record.

Soul Serenade: Peaches & Herb, “Let’s Fall In Love”

Peaches & HerbI was going to call in sick this week. I’ve been down with some evil thing for a few days, and I’m sure the boss would have understood. After all, I never take sick days. And that’s the point. I have written this column week in and week out, foul weather and fair, for well over six years now and I can’t recall missing a week. If you search for “Soul Serenade” on the Popdose website you can find over 300 entries in this series. So ill health be damned. I’m going to tell you about Peaches & Herb.

They were both born in Washington, D.C. Herb Fame (born Herbert Feemster) starting singing as a child. Eventually, he took a job in a record store, which is where he met Van McCoy, who introduced him to an A&R guy by the name of Dave Kapralik who signed Fame to Date Records, a Columbia subsidiary. Meanwhile, Francine “Peaches” Barker (born Francine Edna Hurd) was singing with the Darlettes. When they got a deal with Date Records they changed their name to the Sweet Things.

McCoy produced two singles for the Darlettes, but when they didn’t go anywhere Kapralik had the brilliant idea of teaming Peaches & Herb to record as a duo. They released their first single in December 1966 but “We’re in this Thing Together” wasn’t getting any traction. Then a DJ in St. Louis flipped the record over and “Let’s Fall in Love” became Peaches & Herb’s first hit.

“Let’s Fall in Love” was an American songbook standard, written in 1934 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler and recorded by luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and the Four Aces. The Peaches & Herb version made it to #11 on the R&B chart, and crossed over to the Pop chart, reaching #21.

The next two years saw Peaches & Herb have a string of hits including “For Your Love,” and “Love is Strange.” But Barker got tired of the touring life so Fame got himself a new Peaches in the form of Marlina Mars, who had been a member of the Jaynettes, for live performances. Barker still sung on the records though and even made some solo records for Columbia under the name Francine Barker.

Fame retired in 1970 and became a D.C. cop. He decided to get back into the music business six years later but once again he needed a new Peaches. McCoy recommended Linda Greene, and the most successful Peaches & Herb era began. At first, they recorded for MCA, and McCoy produced their first album for the label, but only one chart single came out of it, the ironically titled “We’re Still Together.” I guess it depends on what your definition of ‘we’ is.

Peaches & Herb

Then they moved on to the Polydor label MVP and things started to happen. The album 2 Hot went gold and “Shake Your Groove Thing” streaked all the way to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The follow-up single from the album was a little something called “Reunited,” which went triple platinum and topped both the R&B and Pop charts. There were several more hits for Polydor including “I Pledge My Love” before the duo moved on to the Entertainment Company, where they released their seventh and final album in 1983.

Fame retired again and again went into law enforcement, working for the U.S. Marshal Service. Greene and her husband Stephen Tavani released three gospel albums. But Fame couldn’t stay retired, and while still working at the Marshal Service he revived the Peaches & Herb name in 1990, this time making Patrica Hawthorne the fourth Peaches. But they only ended up doing a few shows and didn’t record together.

Despite the fact that the Fame and Greene version of Peaches & Herb had sold nine million records for Polydor, Fame was not as well off as he should have been. He sued his former label and won the unpaid royalties he was entitled to. Now financially secure, he opted to put the money in the bank and keep working at the law enforcement job he loved.

By now you see a pattern, right? Yes, there was a fifth Peaches. She was named Miriamm and she became part of the duo in 2002. This is the pair that you see on PBS fundraising specials like Rhythm, Love & Soul that still air periodically. Sure enough, there was a sixth Peaches, Wanda Makle. That duo was planning to make an album in 2008 but it didn’t happen, and Peaches number seven, Meritxell Negre came over from her home in Barcelona for the gig.

This time there was an album as Fame and Negre released Colors of Love in 2009. It was the first Peaches & Herb album in more than 25 years. But eventually, Fame returned to number six and the Peaches & Herb that are touring these days are Fame and Makle. Stay tuned for further developments.

Soul Serenade: Howard Tate, “Ain’t Nobody Home”

Howard TateHoward Tate had six hit singles in the late 1960s. He is perhaps best known for his association with the legendary songwriter and producer Jerry Ragovoy, who worked with Tate on most of his hits. But Tate’s story is one of loss, and ultimately, redemption.
He was born in Georgia but grew up in Philadelphia, which is where he began his singing career. In his teens, he was part of a gospel group which included Garnet Mimms. A subsequent group, the Gainors, also with Mimms, began to make R&B records for the Cameo and Mercury labels.

Mimms went on to success with his Enchanters, who had hits like “Cry, Baby,” and “Quiet Place,” while working with Ragovoy. He introduced Tate to the producer, who began to work with Tate using the cream of the crop of New York sessions musicians that a producer of Ragovoy’s status could request.

Tate and Ragovoy worked together from 1966-1968, making records for the Verve label. During that time they produced a string of blues and R&B hits that included three singles, “Ain’t Nobody Home,” “Look at Granny Run Run,” and “Stop,” that reached the Top 20 on the Billboard R&B chart. Tate was also a favorite with critics like Robert Christgau, who wrote that the singer and his producer brought out the best in each other.

Howard Tate

After leaving Ragovoy, Tate worked with Lloyd Price and Johnny Nash, who produced an album for him called Howard Tate’s Reaction in 1970. Two years later, Tate was back with Ragovoy for a self-titled album for Atlantic Records. The album, which was reissued in 2003, included songs by Ragovoy, as well as covers of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country,” and “Jemima Surrender,” by Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm.

Tate made a few more records in the ’70s, but by the end of the decade he was done with the music business. He became a stockbroker, but when tragedy struck in the ’80s, and his teenage daughter died in a house fire, Tate turned to drugs, and ended up on the streets. He managed to turn his life around by the mid-1990s and worked as a preacher, and a counselor to other with drug problems.

It was a disc jockey from New Jersey who rediscovered Tate in 2001, and that year Tate played a show in New Orleans, his first in many years. Two years later, the singer reunited with the partner with whom he had the most success, Jerry Ragovoy, for an album called, appropriately, Rediscovered. The album included a new version of Ragovoy’s classic “Get it While You Can,” which Tate had recorded in the ’60s before it became a smash by Janis Joplin.

Howard Tate Live was released in 2004, A Portrait of Howard, produced by Steve Weisberg, followed in 2006, and the Jon Tiven-produced Blue Day came out in 2008.

“Howard and I danced for a few years before we actually made a record,” Tiven told me. “Jerry Ragovoy asked me to produce Howard because he was signed to Jerry’s production company and they weren’t getting along. So we started and stopped and then he did that album with that other dude (Steve Weisberg). When he finally got free and wanted to get into this, he was easy. (He) just had to make sure he got paid and then everything went well.”

The stirring comeback of Howard Tate came to an end in 2011 when he died of complications from leukemia at the age of 72.

Soul Serenade: Judy Clay & William Bell, “Private Number”

Judy Clay & William BellThis week’s classic soul record is very much a duet from two great singers. I have written about William Bell before in this column, and probably will again. Suffice to say that he is not only still active at the age of 78, he won a Grammy for his most recent album, last year’s This is Where I Live. But this week I’m going to focus on his duet partner, Judy Clay.

She was born in North Carolina in 1938, with the name Judith Grace Guions. She lived in Fayetteville with her grandmother until she moved to Brooklyn in her early teens. There, she became a member of the Drinkard Singers family gospel group. It was a group that at one time had notable members like Cissy Houston, and her daughters Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick. The Drinkard Singers eventually morphed into the Sweet Inspirations.

Clay’s first recording experience came with the Singers on their album The Newport Spiritual Stars, in 1954. She stayed with the group for six more years before departing for a solo career. She signed with Ember Records but her first single for the label, “More Than You Know,” didn’t do much business. Labels like Lavette, Scepter, and Stax followed, but success proved to be elusive for Clay.

She got her big break in 1967 when Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records decided to pair her with Billy Vera. They were the first racially integrated duo in American history, and they teamed up with the Sweet Inspirations to record “Storybook Children.” Unfortunately, people were not ready for an integrated couple, and despite the fact that Clay was married to jazz drummer Leo Gatewood and pregnant at the time, it was assumed that Clay and Vera were a couple and that the child was his.

Nevertheless, the song was a hit, reaching #20 on the R&B chart, and #54 on the Pop chart. But when it came to performing it on network television, the ugly specter of racism reared its head again and the song was performed by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood.

In his Judy Clay obituary for The Guardian in 2001, Vera wrote:

“Other than an appearance on Hy Lit’s show on WKBS in Philadelphia, and one on Robin Seymour’s Swingin’ Time in Detroit, our little revolution was never televised.”

William Bell & Judy Clay

Vera and Clay had another hit for Atlantic, “Country Girl, City Man,” which did almost as well as “Storybook Children,” and there was also a duet album for the label. Perhaps tiring of the racism that was blocking the duo from a wider appeal, Clay decided to return to Stax Records. There she was teamed with William Bell, and together they recorded “Private Number” in 1968.

The song was written by Bell and Booker T. Jones, and produced by Jones. The single reached #17 on the R&B chart and #75 on the Pop chart. It didn’t even better in the U.K., where it soared all the way to #8 on the singles chart. The duo charted one more time with “My Baby Specializes,” before Clay returned to Atlantic for one more single with Vera, “Reaching for the Moon.” She also had one last solo hit with “Greatest Love” in 1970.

After that Clay became an in-demand backup singer, working with luminaries like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett. She returned to gospel music after recovering from a brain tumor in 1979, and on occasion sang with Cissy Houston’s choir in Newark. It was complications from a car accident that eventually took Clay’s life in 2001. She was 62 years-old.

In his obituary, Vera concluded: “With Judy’s passing, we have lost a great singer who never got her due.”