Soul Serenade: Danny White, “Can’t Do Nothing Without You”

Danny WhiteFor every musician who becomes a household name, there are hundreds, probably even thousands who toil in clubs for many years, getting a whiff of success every now and then but never quite climbing that ladder to the top rung. At some point they must realize that they are never going to get there and yet, they toil on, maybe because they love music or maybe because it’s the only thing they know.

Danny White was born and raised in New Orleans. After serving in the Army in California he returned to the Crescent City and began his music career with a band called the Cavaliers who played at clubs like the Golden Cadillac and the Sho Bar. It was there that White was spotted by the legendary Huey “Piano” Smith who helped White get a deal with Ace Records. White recorded several singles for the label but none of them got much attention. During this time White also made a quickly forgotten single for Dot Records.

White didn’t give up, however, and before long he met a woman named Connie LaRocca who had started a label called Frisco. LaRocca’s A&R man was Al Reed and Reed had written a song called “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” White went into the studio with another legendary New Orleans musician, producer Wardell Quezergue, to record Reed’s song. The resulting single was a hit throughout the Gulf Coast and even though White tried hard to replicate the success of the single with tracks like “Loan Me a Handkerchief” and “Love is a Way of Life” he never seemed to be able to match that first Frisco single.

Danny White - "Can't Do Nothing Without You"At that point, looking for something to spur White’s career, LaRocca thought that the answer might be found in Memphis. It was there that White hooked up with the dynamic production team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter to record a gem of a ballad called “Can’t Do Nothing Without You.” Sadly, the single didn’t score and neither did a follow-up called “Note on the Table.” When Frisco shut down, White stayed in Memphis and signed with Stax so that he could continue to work with Hayes and Porter. The team recorded another powerful single, “Keep My Woman Home” b/w “I’m Dedicating My Life.” Among the backing musicians was guitarist Steve Cropper but large scale success continued to be elusive.

White’s moved on to record with producer Bowlegs Miller and their collaborations featured the Hi Records rhythm section as well as the Memphis Horns. Singles from that period included “Cracked Up Over You,” Don Bryant’s “You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down,” and “Taking Inventory,” which was written by Eddie Floyd.

The provenance of the next White recordings remains unclear. The productions are credited to the New Orleans team of Marshall Seahorn and Allen Toussaint but it’s quite possible that tracks like “Natural Soul Brother” and “One Way Love Affair” were leftovers from the Bowlegs Miller sessions since the sound of those records is quite similar.

Despite the renown of the producers that White worked with and the quality of those recordings, White never quite managed to break through. He finished his recording career with a single for Kashe Records, “King For a Day,” b/w “Never Like This.” White was done as a performer by the end of the 1960s although he stayed in the game by becoming the manager of the Meters at the start of their career. But by the early 1970s, White quit the music business altogether and moved to Washington, D.C. He died in 1996 and although he never became a household name many of his recordings are treasured by soul music aficionados.

Soul Serenade: Benny Spellman, “Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)”

Benny SpellmanSometimes it’s not all about where an artist is from. Instead, it’s about the place where they did their best work. Some would say that Jerry Butler is a good example. Although he is a Chicagoan through and through, he will always be associated with Philly Soul because of the work he did in that city with Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. The same is true of the O’Jays who came from Canton, Ohio and also pushed Philly Soul hits up the charts. Otis Redding came from Georgia, but will always be associated with Memphis music. You get the idea.
Another good example is Benny Spellman. He was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida in 1931, but music wasn’t his first love, football was. His love for the game gained him a scholarship to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He began his singing career in Baton Rouge, hooking up with Alvin Battiste’s jazz group. But then the Army called, Spellman served, and when he got out he went back to Pensacola.

In 1959, fate intervened. Huey “Piano” Smith and his Clowns were on tour in Florida when they wrecked their truck. Spellman stepped up and offered to drive the band back to New Orleans. Once they were back in the Crescent City, Smith offered Spellman the opportunity to become one of the Clowns. Spellman took him up on the offer and became a New Orleans resident from that point on.

Fortunately for Spellman, he had arrived in town at a great time. The local R&B scene was flourishing and before long he had a deal with a new record label called Minit. His first recordings for the label didn’t get much attention and Spellman survived by working as a background singer on other people’s records.

Once again Spellman found himself in the right place at the right time. This time he happened to be in the studio when Allen Toussaint was producing the session that would result in Ernie K Doe’s massive hit, “Mother-In-Law.” Toussaint, who wrote the song, wasn’t very happy with the way the session was going and he called on Spellman to help out. Spellman sang the distinctive bass part that put the song over the top.

Benny Spellman

That was the start of a relationship that found Spellman recording a double-sided single featuring two Toussaint songs, “Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette),” and “Fortune Teller.” The record turned out to be Spellman’s biggest hit, reaching #28 R&B chart and #80 on the Billboard Hot 100. The record spent six weeks on the chart.

“Well, ‘Lipstick Traces’… the guy, Benny Spellman, that sang the bass part on “Mother-In-Law” — he didn’t know what it was worth at the time we were doing it, but when ‘Mother-In-Law’ came out and sold, and went to number one, let’s say, Benny Spellman that sang the bass part made sure that everyone within the sound of his voice got to know that he sang that part,” Toussaint told Terry Gross of NPR.

“And then he would go around — he would gig — based on [the fact that] he sang the low part on “Mother-In-Law,” Toussaint added. “And he encouraged me … with much force, to write him a song that he could use that concept. And one result of that was the song ‘Lipstick Traces.’”

The Rolling Stones covered “Fortune Teller,” and the O’Jays released their version of “Lipstick Traces,” but Spellman never had another chart record. By 1968 he was done with the record business and he went home to Pensacola where he got a job as a Miller Beer salesman. He tried for a musical comeback in the 1980s but a stroke cut the effort short.

In 2009, Spellman, by the residing in an assisted living facility, was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Two years later he died at the age of 79.

 

Soul Serenade: Bobby Marchan, “There’s Something On Your Mind”

Bobby Marchan - There's Something on Your MindI have this friend named Billy. The world at-large knows him as the Reverend Billy Wirtz. If you saw him, with his long hair and copious tattoos you would think he’s some wild rockabilly madman, and that is exactly what he wants you to think … when he’s on stage. Off stage he’s one of the most gentle and kind people I know, and he is a walking encyclopedia of popular culture.

Although I haven’t seen Billy for a long time, I retain fond memories of the times I’ve seen him play. He is road dog, and he tours non-stop, mostly in the south. So if you hear that he’s coming to your town, make it a point to be there. I guarantee you a great evening of music, along with a lot of laughs … (more)

Soul Serenade: Robert Parker, “Barefootin’”

Robert Parker - "Barefootin'"Last week I paid tribute to the recently departed New Orleans music giant Allen Toussaint. He was certainly one of the greats to emerge from the Crescent City, but not the only one. Another towering figure in the musical history of the city was Wardell Quezergue, who passed away in 2011.

Quezergue was so highly thought of that he acquired the title of the “Creole Beethoven.” Back in the 1940’s he got his start playing with Dave Bartholomew’s band before leading his own Dukes of Rhythm in the ’50s. During this time he also worked as an arranger for leading lights Fats Domino and Professor Longhair among other … (more)

Soul Serenade: Allen Toussaint, “What Do You Want The Girl To Do?”

Allen Toussaint - Southern NightsWhen Allen Toussaint died this week he was far from the city he loved. He had played a concert in Madrid and then suffered a heart attack. Toussaint was revived once, but a second attack took his life. Although he was an ocean away at the time of his death, the truth is that Allen Toussaint took New Orleans wherever he went, and any place he played was transformed into New Orleans for just a little while … (more)