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: Sam Cooke, “Having A Party”

Ok, 2016 has been a terrible year. One of the worst in memory. There, I’ve said it. If the year was good to you, I’m happy for you, but so much negative stuff happened that was beyond our control — the deaths of some or our favorite musicians, and the ugly political climate to name just two — that it’s hard to see how anyone could call this year good and not be accused of worrying only about their own self-interest.

What do you do with such an annus horribilus? You kick it the hell out the door, that’s what you do with it. And when you do, you could party like it’s 1999, but that would only remind us of one of the biggest losses we suffered this year. Time is a healer though, so let’s take it back a little further. Let’s go all the way back to 1962 and party with the great Sam Cooke.

Cooke’s original recording of “Having a Party” was released by RCA Records on May 8 of that year. The song, written by Cooke, had been recorded just two weeks earlier at RCA Studios in Hollywood, and produced by the team of Hugo & Luigi. Lou Rawls provided background vocals just as he did on the record’s B-side, “Bring it On Home to Me.” The sessions musicians included Wrecking Crew stalwarts like guitarist Tommy Tedesco, bass player Ray Pohlman, and pianist Ernie Freeman, among others.

Sam Cooke

The story is told that the recording session was in the very spirit of the song itself.

“It was a very happy session,” recalled engineer Al Schmitt. “Everybody was just having a ball. We were getting people out there [on the floor], and some of the outtakes were hilarious, there was so much ad lib that went on.”

Despite the fun atmosphere, there was serious hit-making work to be done. “Having a Party” was recorded first at the session, and it took the 18-piece backing group 12 takes to get it just right. It was worth all the effort though because when they were done for the day, Cooke and the assembled musicians had created an indelible two-sided hit.

“Having a Party” rolled right up to #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. Given time though it became a hit for the ages, due in no small part to cover versions by Rod Stewart, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and the Pointer Sisters. Cooke himself used the song as the closing number at his shows from the time of its release until his death in December, 1964.

No one can know what’s ahead of us in 2017. So when New Year’s Eve comes along it will be a good time to put “Having a Party” on the turntable, and celebrate like it’s the last time we’ll have the chance. Tomorrow is promised to no one. Happy New Year!

Soul Serenade: Bobby Hebb, “Sunny”

Soul Serenade - Bobby HebbDifferent people react to tragedy in different ways. Some people weep, and some dance. Some people mourn, and some sing. Bobby Hebb was a singer. But not just a singer, he was a singer with a song that he wrote at a time of personal and national tragedy. The song helped to heal him, and the nation, and it made him a star.

Hebb was born in Nashville. His parents were blind musicians, and together with them and his older brother Harold, formed a washboard band of street performers called the Hebb’s Kitchen Cabinet Orchestra. Despite the fact that country music at the time (and now for that matter) was an overwhelmingly white enterprise, Bobby became a member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys when he as still in his teens. He played spoons and other instruments in the otherwise all white band.

After serving a stint in the Navy, where he learned to play guitar and trumpet, Hebb realized that his future did not lie in country music, and he began to turn up at the jazz and R&B clubs of north Nashville. In 1955 he took a trip to Chicago, and legend has it that while he was there he played on a Bo Diddley record called “Diddley Daddy,” but there is no definitive proof of that.

Back in Nashville, Hebb sang with a doo-wop group called the Hi-Fis, and played on records by Kid King’s Combo for the Excello label. Eventually he got the opportunity to make his own records for Rich Records, a company owned by DJ John Richbourg. But Hebb was looking for wider acceptance, and a music scene that could provide him with the artistic freedom he was seeking.

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In 1961 Hebb moved to New York City. It was there that he wrote the song he became famous for, “Sunny.” On November 23, 1963 his older brother was murdered outside of a Nashville nightclub. Just one day earlier, John F. Kennedy had been murdered in Dallas. Hebb, along with the rest of the nation, was in deep despair.

“I needed to pick myself up,” Hebb said.

One night he came home from a jam session in Harlem which involved a lot of drinking. The early morning sun was just coming up, and the sight of the purple dawn inspired him. Hebb wasn’t the first artist to sing “Sunny” though. Japanese singer Mieko Herota first recorded Hebb’s song in 1965. Then Dave Pike, a vibraphonist, put the song on one of his albums. It was producer Jerry Ross who finally convinced Hebb to record “Sunny.”

“It was done as the last thing on the session, when we only had a few minutes left,” Hebb told Goldmine magazine

“Sunny” was a smash hit, shooting up the chart all the way to #2 in 1966. The record became a calling card that landed Hebb on the Beatles 1966 tour, their last. Also performing on that tour were the Cyrkle, the Ronettes, and the Remains. Unfortunately, Hebb was never able to replicate the success of “Sunny,” although several of his records including “Love Me,” “A Satisfied Mind,” and “Love Love Love” became popular among Northern Soul fans in the UK. Hebb did have another hit as a songwriter however when Lou Rawls scored with Hebb’s “A Natural Man” in 1971. Rawls won a Grammy for the record.

By the early ’70s Hebb was done, thanks in no small part to his problems with alcohol. He did try again with a disco version of “Sunny” in 1976. His career had a bit of a revival when he moved back to Nashville in 2004. He appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, where he had performed 49 years earlier with Roy Acuff. He was also featured in an exhibition called Night Train to Memphis: Music City Rhythm and Blues 1945-1970 that was mounted by the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 2005 Hebb released his first album in 35 years, That’s All I Know. There was a short tour in Japan in 2008.

Bobby Hebb died in 2010. He was 72 years-old. His song “Sunny” has been covered countless times over the years, including versions by Marvin Gaye, Dusty Springfield, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra (with Duke Ellington), Cher, José Feliciano, Wes Montgomery, James Brown, the Ventures, the Four Seasons, Nancy Wilson, Jimmy Smith, the Four Tops, and Booker T and the MGs. There is little doubt, however, that Bobby Hebb’s version remains the greatest.

Soul Serenade: McFadden & Whitehead, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”

Soul Serenade - McFadden & WhiteheadI try to keep my personal politics out of this column, but after a somewhat … unusual … convention in Cleveland, the circus has moved on to Philadelphia this week. It’s one of my favorite cities, and I don’t need any inspiration to write about Philadelphia music. But since the eyes of the world are focused on Philly this week I thought I’d add my gaze as well.

I’m in the middle of reading a fine book called A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul by John A. Jackson. According to Mr. Jackson, disco was invented in the City of Brotherly Love, specifically when session drummer Earl Young combined a thumping, four-on-the-floor bass drum rhythm with stick work on an open high-hat cymbal. When called upon by producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in 1973 to play on the Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes session for “The Love I Lost” (a song that was originally intended to be a ballad), Young invented the disco beat right there on the spot. The resulting single featured Teddy Pendergrass singing lead, and it was Pendergrass who called the record “perhaps the first disco hit.” … (more)

Soul Serenade: Billy Paul, “Me And Mrs. Jones”

Billy Paul - Me and Mrs. JonesIt’s time to head down the Turnpike to Philadelphia again. These trips to the City of Brotherly Love are pretty much my favorite part of writing this column. As I’ve said many times, here and elsewhere, it was the kids of Philadelphia, with their profound love of soul music, that had an everlasting effect on a kid growing up an hour away in Atlantic City. It’s a debt I can never repay, for a gift I will never forget.

You know the names. They echo down the halls of the virtual museum of American soul music, in the wing that they call Philly Soul. Gamble & Huff, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, the Stylistics, Barbara Mason, the Intruders, Teddy Pendergrass, the Delfonics, MFSB, Patti LaBelle, Blue Magic, Hall & Oates, the Soul Survivors. And they’re not all Philadelphians either. Out-of-towners like Jerry Butler, the O’Jays, and the Spinners found their greatest success when they recorded in Philadelphia … (more)

 

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

Soul Serenade - Garland Green

Popular songs are a funny thing. What is it that makes some hit songs live on forever, while others are forgotten with the passage of time? Is there something in the melody or lyrics that give a song its staying power? I suppose that if anyone knew the answers they would be cranking out timeless hits on a regular basis …

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