Soul Serenade: Garland Green, “Jealous Kind Of Fella”

Garland GreenA couple of weeks ago I wrote about Danny White, a southern soul singer who toiled for years looking for a hit that proved elusive. This week, I’ll take a look at a singer who managed to find that hit, even reaching to Top 20 on one occasion, before fading from the memory of most people.

Garland Green was born in Mississippi, one or eleven children. He joined the great northern migration when he moved to Chicago at the age of 16. Green was still in high school when his singing talent came to the attention of Argia Collins, a local restaurateur. Collins became Green’s patron and paid for him to attend the Chicago Conservatory of Music where Green studied voice and piano.

While he was in school Green began to sing in the clubs around town and he won a talent contest at a place called the Trocadero. The win earned him the chance to open a show for Lou Rawls and Earl Hines. Joshie Jo Armstead was in the audience the night of the concert. Armstrong had written songs with Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson and she saw something in Green. Armstrong arranged for Green to record in Detroit and the resulting single, “Girl I Love You,” found enough local success that MCA Records picked it up for national distribution on their Revue Records imprint.

Green recorded a few more singles for Revue before being moved up to MCA’s most prominent label, Uni Records. “Jealous Kind of Fella” was a song co-written by Armstead and Green along with R. Browner, and M. Dollinson. When the single was released in 1969 it raced up the charts, reaching #5 on the R&B chart and winning a Top 20 spot on the pop chart while selling a million copies. Unfortunately, the follow-up single, the oddly titled “Don’t Think I’m a Violent Guy,” failed to come anywhere near matching the performance of “Jealous Kind of Fella,” not even cracking the Top 100. That put an end to not only Green’s association with MCA but his partnership with Armstead as well.

Green landed at Cotillion Records, an Atlantic subsidiary. He released five singles for the label but only the Donny Hathaway-produced and arranged “Plain and Simple Girl” found any success. The single was a Top 20 R&B hit but again didn’t crack the pop Top 100. The lack of success led Green to depart Cotillion for Spring Records. There he released five more singles including “Let the Good Times Roll” (not the Shirley & Lee song), and “Bumpin’ and Stompin’.” None of the singles found anything more than minor success on the R&B chart which led Green to yet another label, RCA.

At RCA, Green released three more singles and an album that was produced by Leon Haywood. The search for another hit continued to come up empty for Green. He moved to California in hopes of changing his luck. There he recorded for an indie label called Ocean-Front Records. The album that Green released for the label was co-produced by Lamont Dozier but only the single “Trying to Hold On to My Woman,” a song that had been a hit for Dozier a decade earlier, found any traction, reaching #63 on the R&B chart.

There was no quit in Green, however. He continued to record and release his own records until 2011 when he signed a new record deal with a subsidiary of CDS Records called Special Soul Music. The following year, Green released his first album of new material in 29 years, the appropriately titled I Should’ve Been the One. Indeed.

Soul Serenade: Otis Rush, “Homework”

Otis RushI’ve known Billy Hector for more than 30 years. It began when I managed a band he was in in the early 1980s. Billy is a legendary figure in New Jersey and beyond, a bluesman without equal. He’s been entertaining audiences with his high-energy guitar playing and singing for decades and if you’re lucky you can still catch him playing three or four nights a week. Billy has his own material but he also plays blues classics and it was his torrid version of the Otis Rush song “Cut You Loose” that turned me into a Rush fan for life.

In the mid-’80s, while I was trying to make money in the music business, I still had a job in the corporate world which allowed me to make actual money. It was a pretty straight job with a major financial institution but it did have its perks. The best perk was that I got to travel to Chicago three or four times a year. Not only did I have friends living in the Windy City at the time, but the town was also still a hotbed for the style of electric blues that bore its name. Among the artists I got to see, all in small clubs, were legends like Junior Wells, Son Seals, Jimmy Johnson, and of course Otis Rush.

It was at a club called Blue Chicago at that time located on State Street on the near North Side. The club’s proximity to the downtown area made it a haven for tourists. I’m generally not fond of those kinds of places but when I learned that Otis Rush was playing there while I was in town I put that aside. I don’t remember that much about his set beyond the feeling that he was everything I hoped he would be and that was a high bar to surpass indeed.

Rush came up to Chicago from the South like many of the other artists who created the Chicago blues sound. He was born in Mississippi in 1935 and moved to the city with his family when he was 14. He made some important recordings for Cobra Records in the 1950s including the #8 R&B hit “I Can’t Quit You Baby” which was released in 1956. Other notable songs from that period included “All Your Love (I Miss Loving),” and “Double Trouble.”

When Cobra went belly up, Rush landed at Chess Records. He recorded eight sides for the label before moving on to Duke Records. His output at Duke was even lower. There was just one single for the label but that one single was “Homework.” The song was written by Rush along with Al Perkins and Dave Clark. It wasn’t a hit for Rush but it was a song that would gain new life when it was covered by the J. Geils Band on their debut album in 1970.

Rush continued recording through the 1960s on labels like Vanguard and Cotillion. His Cotillion album Mourning in the Morning was produced by the storied guitar player Mike Bloomfield along with Nick Gravenites. Both producers were members of the Electric Flag at the time. The album was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals and appropriate to that setting the sound of the album found Rush moving in the direction of rock and soul.

In 1971, Rush recorded his classic album Right Place, Wrong Time for Capitol. For some reason, Capitol refused to release it. Five years later, Rush bought his master back from the label and had the album issued in Japan. Eventually, it was released by Bullfrog Records in the U.S. There were more recordings for labels like Sonet and Delmark in the 1970s.

Then there was a gap of 16 years between Rush albums. The drought ended when he released Ain’t Enough Comin’ In in 1994. The album won Rush his first Grammy Award. He continued to tour into the new century until a stroke brought his touring days to a halt in 2003. Although he was unable to play, Rush made an appearance at the Chicago Blues Festival in 2016 where the city’s mayor proclaimed it Otis Rush Day.

Otis Rush passed away on September 29, 2018. He had been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Jazz Foundation of America earlier this year.

Billy Hector has a fine new album called Some Day Baby. You can find it at iTunes and the usual online retailers or better yet if you’re in the area go to one of Billy’s gigs and pick it up there.

Soul Serenade: Darrell Banks, “Open The Door To Your Heart”

Darrell BanksWhen you think of great singers whose lives and careers were cut short when they were on the wrong end of a gun, Sam Cooke is the first name that comes to mind. But there was another great soul singer who lost his life when he was gunned down, and that was Darrell Banks.

He was born in Ohio, but grew up he grew up in Buffalo, New York, singing in church before beginning a career in secular music. One of the Buffalo joints Banks sang in early on was called the Revilot Lounge. He hooked up with a producer named Lebron Taylor whose company was called Solid Hitbound Productions, and Taylor decided to use the name of Banks’ favorite club, the Revilot, as the name of the label which would release the first Banks single.

“Open the Door to Your Heart” was written by Donnie Elbert specifically for his friend Darrell Banks. Elbert was on the road when Taylor recorded the song, which wouldn’t have been a problem except that when the record came out, Banks was credited as a songwriter, the only songwriter. Naturally, Elbert wasn’t too pleased.

Darrell Banks

A legal battle ensued, which Elbert eventually won, although he remained bitter about the fact that Banks, who wasn’t a songwriter and did very little to improve the record, was the co-owner of a soul classic. While the original single only carries Banks’ name as a songwriter, subsequent releases list Banks and Elbert. Meanwhile, the single shot up the charts, reaching #2 on the R&B chart, and #27 on the Pop chart in 1966.

The follow-up single, “Somebody (Somewhere) Needs You,” did respectable business, reaching #34 R&B and #55 Pop. It was a Motown song, written by Marc Gordon and Frank Wilson, but it was never recorded by a Motown artist. It was Ike and Tina Turner who recorded the original version of the song for Loma Records. But Banks’ version was successful enough to get him regular work on what was then called the “chitlin circuit.”

At that point, Banks’ Revilot moved to the more prominent Atco Records. Two 1967 singles for the Atlantic imprint, “Here Come the Tears, and “Angel Baby (Don’t Ever Leave Me),” failed to find any chart success. Atco, in turn, moved Banks over to another Atlantic subsidiary, Cotillion Records. Banks recorded one more single for the label, “I Wanna Go Home,” and then departed for Memphis, and Stax Records.

In 1969, Banks released two singles for Stax’s Volt imprint. Neither “I’m the Only One Who Loves,” or “Beautiful Feeling” set the charts alight, although they did sell reasonably well.

Sadly, Darrell Banks didn’t live long enough to live up to his full potential. In March 1970, he was shot to death in Detroit by an off-duty cop who was seeing Banks’ girlfriend behind his back. When Banks discovered the betrayal, he pulled a gun. The cop responded with deadly force, limiting Banks’ career to just four years, during which he released seven singles and two albums.

By 2014, what was thought to be the only extant copy of the original recording of “Open the Door to Your Heart” was drawing bids of thousands of pounds in a U.K. auction. Not only had Banks become a hero in England’s Northern Soul scene, it was widely acknowledged that when EMI won the rights to distribute the single, they had destroyed all of the original copies of the single, all but one. Eventually, the record sold for the equivalent of $23,000 American.

Soul aficionados acknowledge Darrell Banks as one of the greatest singers the genre has ever known. Unfortunately what we’ll never know is how great he could have become.

 

Soul Serenade: The O’Kaysions, “Girl Watcher”

girl watcherThey called themselves the Kays when they first got together in Kenly, North Carolina. The year was 1959, and the original lineup included guitarist Wayne Pittman, trumpet player Eddie Dement, sax player Gerald Toler, bassist Jimmy Hinnant, drummer Steve Watson, and vocalist/organ player Donnie Weaver, who was only 12 years-old at the time.

It took nearly 10 years, but on February 8, 1968, the O’Kaysions found themselves in what was described as a “broom closet studio” called Sound Studio in Greenville, NC. That day they recorded a song that Pittman had written called “Girl Watcher.” The record featured the now 22 year-old Weaver on the lead vocal. Weaver was also responsible for the idea of re-christening the band as the O’Kaysions … (more)

Soul Serenade: Ronnie Dyson, “When You Get Right Down To It”

Soul Serenade - Ronnie DysonSome people just aren’t destined to live a long life. Ronnie Dyson was one of those people, but he filled the 40 years he had with music that continues to make people smile to this day. Before Dyson was ever a star on the charts, he was a star on the Broadway stage. He was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in New York City. He began his singing career in church, and by the time he was 18 years-old, he had won a starring role in the Broadway musical Hair. Dyson’s voice was featured on the show’s most well-known song, “Aquarius.”

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planet
And love will steer the stars

Hey, it was 1968. A year later, Dyson appeared in Robert Downey Sr.’s cult comedy Putney Swope. In 1970 Dyson returned to the theater with a role in the musical Salvation. It was his recording of a song from that show, “(If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You?” that began his recording career. The record went Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. The follow-up single, “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” scored big on the R&B chart. Dyson’s hot streak continued with his version of Barry Mann’s “When You Get Right Down to It,” which the Delfonics had a hit with the song the previous year. Dyson’s version didn’t do quite as well, but managed to reach the Top 40 on the R&B chart in 1971.

Ronnie Dyson

If you’ve been reading this column for awhile you know that the name Thom Bell comes up quite often. In 1973 Dyson’s label, Columbia, sent him to Philadelphia to work with Bell. The collaboration resulted in the album One Man Band, which featured four songs written by Bell and his co-writer Linda Creed.

The rest of the album included Creed’s remixes of songs that Dyson had previously recorded. In addition to “When You Get Right Down to It,” these songs included Dyson’s covers of the Chi-Lites “Just Don’t Want to be Lonely,” and George Harrison’s “Something.” The album’s title track was released as a single and reached #28 on the Pop chart, and #15 on the R&B chart.

Dyson recorded three more albums for Columbia in the 1970’s. The title track from The More You Do It (1976), was a Top 10 R&B smash. After moving on to the Atlantic Records imprint Cotillion in 1981, Dyson recorded two more albums, and released a series of singles that met with only moderate success on the R&B chart. The last of these singles was “All Over Your Face,” which was released in 1983.

By that time Dyson was already in ill health, and his singing and acting careers suffered as a result. He died of heart failure seven years later, leaving behind a trail of hit records, and indelible stage and screen performances. A year after Dyson’s death the posthumous single “”Are We So Far Apart (We Can’t Talk Anymore),” a duet with Vicki Austin, had a five-week run on the Billboard Hot 100.

Soul Serenade: Otis Clay, “Trying To Live My Life Without You”

Otis Clay - Trying to Live My Life Without YouDavid Bowie died this week. He had been fighting cancer for 18 months, but very few people knew about his struggle. Last week, on his 69th birthday, he released a stunning, adventurous new album called Blackstar. Just as people were digging into it, word came that Bowie had died, and suddenly the lyrics on the album had a whole new meaning. It soon became clear that David Bowie had found a way to say goodbye to the world … (more)

 

Soul Serenade: Brook Benton, “Rainy Night In Georgia”

Brook Benton - Rainy Night in GeorgiaI don’t know if it has been the same where you live, but here in the northeast, and in New England in particular, we are having a most unusual autumn. We have enjoyed temperatures in the 50s and 60s for weeks on end. There has been a noticeable lack of frigid temperatures, ice, snow, and the other factors that often define the season here. Yesterday I took a ride down to a nearby beach. Surfers, paddle boarders, and kayakers were all enjoying the water, and guys in shorts were tossing around a football on the beach.

I have to admit that it’s been enjoyable. The older I get, the less I like the cold and snow. The thing is, it’s not normal. Or is this the new normal? Climate change is no longer a theory, or a prediction, it’s a reality. Maybe it’s the cause of this unseasonable weather. I don’t want to spoil the party, but maybe this temperate weather is not a good thing. Then again, we could get buried in snow in January, and this will all be forgotten.

So what’s the fixation on weather this week? Well, we’re going to talk about rain. We haven’t had much here recently, but the rain I’m talking about fell in Georgia on one particular night, many years ago. Tony Joe White chronicled it in a song, and Brook Benton brought that song to the world a few years later … (more)