Soul Serenade: Curtis Mayfield — Keep On Keeping On

Curtis MayfieldCurtis Mayfield was 14 years old when he joined the group that would become the Impressions. He was born in Chicago in 1942 and by the time he was seven, he was singing in the church’s gospel choir with a group called the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers. Mayfield became friends with Jerry Butler in high school and in 1956, he joined Butler’s group, the Roosters. The other members of the group were the brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks. Two years later, the group changed their name to the Impressions and added Sam Gooden to the lineup.

The Impressions had an early smash with Butler singing lead on “Your Precious Love” and it was enough to motivate Butler to leave the group to start a solo career. Mayfield followed him and co-wrote and played on Butler’s solo hit “He Will Break Your Heart.” But Mayfield wasn’t interested in being a sideman and soon returned to the Impressions who had replaced Butler with Fred Cash. It was the classic Impressions lineup of Mayfield, Gooden, and Cash which signed with ABC Records and released a string of hits which began in 1961 with “Gypsy Woman” and continued with “I’m So Proud,” “It’s Alright,” “Keep on Pushing,” “Amen,” “We’re a Winner,” and “Choice of Colors,” which would be the last hit that Mayfield recorded with the Impressions.

After 14 years with the group, Mayfield left the Impressions to start a solo career. That is where Keep On Keeping On, the new box set from Rhino Records begins. Rhino has lovingly collected Mayfield’s first four solo albums to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the start of Mayfield’s solo career and to mark the 20th anniversary of his death. The set begins with Mayfield’s first solo album, Curtis, which was released in 1970 and reached the Top 20 on its way to becoming a Gold Album. Curtis includes the hit singles “If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go,” and “Move on Up.” In addition to its commercial success, Curtis was one of the most influential albums of its time, inspiring later socially conscious work by Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.

Curtis Mayfield - Keep On Keeping OnA year after his successful debut as a solo artist, Mayfield returned with Roots, which reached the Top 10 on the R&B chart. While not quite as successful as the debut, Roots scored with hits like “Get Down,” “Beautiful Brother of Mine,” and “We Got to Have Peace.” Mayfield’s next effort, which is not included in this set because it was not a true solo album, was his incredibly successful soundtrack for the film Super Fly. The album went to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts and pushed two singles, “Freddie’s Dead,” and “Superfly” into the Top 10.

In 1973, Mayfield released his third proper solo album, Back to the World. The album topped the R&B chart and returned Mayfield to the Top 20 on the pop albums chart. The album’s hit singles included “Future Shock,” “If I Were a Child Again,” and “Can’t Say Nothin’.” Mayfield’s fourth solo album and the final one collected in this set was released in 1974. Sweet Exorcist came within a whisker of the top spot on the R&B chart, settling at #2 and also found Top 40 success on the pop chart. The album’s success was driven by two hit singles, the title track, and “Kung Fu.”

Keep On Keeping On ends with the Sweet Exorcist album but fortunately, Mayfield’s career did not. He continued to record into the 1990s and standout albums from this period included Sparkle (1976) and Heartbeat (1979). “So In Love,” released in 1975, was the last Mayfield single to hit the pop chart but records like “Only You Babe” (1976), “You Are, You Are” (1978), and “She Don’t Let Nobody (But Me)” (1981), continued to find success on the R&B chart. In all, Mayfield scored more than 30 solo hits on the R&B chart to go along with a similar number of R&B hits during his time with the Impressions.

On August 13, 1990, Mayfield was paralyzed when a lighting rig fell on him during a show in Brooklyn. The accident ended his career as a guitar player but he could still write songs and sing, something he did to great effect on his final album, New World Order, in 1997. Mayfield died of complications from diabetes in 1999.

Curtis Mayfield is remembered for introducing social activism into soul music. The Impressions hits “Keep On Pushing,” “People Get Ready,” and “We’re A Winner” became anthems of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and were often used by Martin Luther King to inspire marchers. Mayfield and the Impressions were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 (he was also inducted into the Rock Hall as a solo artist in 1999, one of a handful of double inductees). He received a Grammy Legend Award in 1994 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. Just before he died, Mayfield was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Soul Serenade: Barbara Lynn, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”

Barbara Lynn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this column, I’ve written about everyone from superstars who ran numerous hits up the charts to one-hit wonders who only had that single moment in the sun. Then are those who broke out of the gate with their big hit and then never repeated that initial success. It has to be the most frustrating feeling of all. Such an artist is Barbara Lynn who, while she had other chart records and even some R&B hits, never managed to equal the enormous success of her first release.

Lynn was born in Beaumont, Texas and began her musical pursuits as a piano player before she switched to guitar. Surely a female, African-American, left-handed electric guitarist who wrote her own songs was a rare thing at the time. Lynn’s influences were a mixture of blues artists like Jimmy Reed and pop purveyors like Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. Lynn began her career playing in local clubs and her break came when singer Joe Barry caught her act and introduced her to producer Huey P. Meaux.

Barbara Lynn

Meaux owned SugarHill Recording Studios in New Orleans along with a few record labels. But when it was time for Lynn to record her debut single she went to Cosimo Matassa’s legendary J&M studio. The song that was chosen was one written by Lynn and Meaux called “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” Among the session players was one Mac Rebennack AKA Dr. John. Jamie Records released the single in August 1962 and it shot up to the #1 spot on the Billboard R&B chart while also nudging into the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Based on the success of her debut single, Lynn hit the road with some of the biggest stars of the day including James Brown, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Ike & Tina Turner, and Marvin Gaye. There were appearances at the Apollo theater and on American Bandstand. Lynn continued to release singles for Jamie until 1966. Among them were “You’re Gonna Need Me,” “Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Goin’),” a Lynn-written song that was covered by the Rolling Stones, “Don’t Spread it Around,” and “It’s Better to Have It.” All of these titles were Top 40 R&B hits.

After leaving Jamie, Lynn signed with Meaux’s Tribe label where she had another R&B chart hit with “You Left the Water Running.” In 1967, Lynn signed with Atlantic Records. Dissatisfaction with the label together with the desire to raise her growing family led Lynn to mostly opt out of the music business in the 1970s although while living in Los Angeles during this time she did play a few club gigs and released one-off singles here and there.

In 1984, Lynn toured Japan where she recorded a live album. After her husband died, Lynn returned to Beaumont in and 1994 she recorded her first studio album in over 20 years. Several more albums followed most recently Blues & Soul Situation in 2004. Lynn received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999.

Soul Serenade: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” — Who Did It Best?

Marvin Gaye - Gladys Knight & the PipsIt’s that time again. Yes, it’s time to do your civic duty as a citizen of the soul music community and help to resolve an age-old question: one great song, two great versions, who did it better? Your vote will go a long way toward deciding this crucial question, so before leaving, even if you don’t want to read the rest of this, cast your vote below. You don’t have to input your email address or anything else. Just vote.
In the past maybe you found these polls too easy. Maybe you thought, “hey, is this guy kidding? This is a no-brainer.” But this week I’m convinced that I have a tough one for you. No one can say that the choice between Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips is an easy one. Oh, you might have your favorite, and that’s the one you’ll vote for, but calling either version superior is a stretch, to say the least.

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” in 1966. Barrett, you had contributed mightily to the success of Motown with his early hit “Money (That’s What I Want),” had the idea one day while walking down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. He’d been hearing the phrase “I heard it through the grapevine” quite often. There’s no telling if he knew that the phrase had its beginning during the days of slavery when slaves passed messages through their own version of a telegraph, the human grapevine. Whitfield helped Strong to flesh out the idea and a classic song was born.

It was neither Gaye nor the Pips who recorded the first version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” That honor fell to the Miracles in 1966 although it has been claimed that Whitfield meant for the Isley Brothers to record it first. Some say that the Brothers did, in fact, record it but no one has been able to come up with the recording. The Miracles version appeared on their Special Occasion album in 1968 but Berry Gordy, Jr. had decided that it was not worthy of being a single.

Meanwhile, Marvin Gaye got a crack at the song in 1967. Whitfield produced the five sessions that were needed to complete the recording. The Funk Brothers laid down the track and the Andantes sang the backing vocals. Gaye wasn’t happy when Whitfield asked him to sing the song in a key that was higher than what he was used to, but Whitfield had been successful when he got David Ruffin to do the same on the Temptations hit “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” so Gaye ended up abiding by the producer’s wishes.

Once again, Gordy decided that Gaye’s version was not single-worthy and it became an album cut on In the Groove. Later that year, Gladys Knight & the Pips took a whack at it. Once again, Whitfield was behind the producer’s desk. He had admired what Aretha Franklin did with Otis Redding’s “Respect” and wanted to get a little bit of that Muscle Shoals funk into the record. Hence the funkier arrangement.

Gordy still wasn’t convinced that he had a hit single but he reluctantly gave in and the Pips version was the first single to be released on the new Motown imprint Soul Records in September 1967. Their take on the song shot up the chart to reach the #2 position.

In August 1968, Gaye’s In the Groove album was released and when DJs began to play “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” regularly, Gordy rethought his earlier decision and Gaye’s version was released as a single in October of that year. By December, it was the #1 single in the land and remained atop the charts for seven weeks. It became the biggest single in Motown history until it was eclipsed by the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” nearly two years later.

Incidentally, Gladys Knight was not happy when Gaye’s version did better than hers. She accused Whitfield of using a track he had created for her group. Gaye denied the accusation, although, troubled by personal issues including the illness of his singing partner Tammi Terrell, felt that he didn’t deserve the success he had with the record.

Over the years there have been many covers of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” including an 11-minute epic by Credence Clearwater Revival. But there’s little doubt that the two greatest versions of the song ever recorded were those by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips. So which one is your favorite? Do you like Gaye’s soulful passion or Gladys Knight & the Pips quicker, funkier take? I know, you love them both. But if you had to choose just one …

Click here to vote.

Soul Serenade: The Commodores, “Brick House”

The CommodoresThe late 1970s were a good time indeed for funk. Given the fact that disco and punk were both ascendent in those days, it’s remarkable that funk could have gained a toehold, but that’s exactly what happened. Last week I wrote about the 1978 Parliament hit “Flash Light,” and this week I’m going to remain in that era and feature a 1977 smash by the Commodores called “Brick House.
In 1968 there were two groups, Mystics, and the Jays, that were made up of students at Tuskegee Institute. Lionel Richie was a Mystic, a group that leaned a little more toward jazz, as were Thomas McClary, and William King. The Jays membership included Andre Callahan, Michael Gilbert, and Milan Williams. Those six got together and chose the name Commodores at random from a dictionary.

“We lucked out, we almost became the Commodes,” William King told People Magazine with a laugh.

At the start, they had a singer named James Ingram (no, not that one) and played frat parties and local clubs. Ingram was a little older than the other guys, and when he was sent to Vietnam, the Commodores replaced him with William ‘Clyde’ Orange, who played drums. The new singer split the lead vocals with Richie and wrote or co-wrote a lot of the Commodores’ hits.

It was a gig opening for the Jackson 5 that got the Commodores noticed, and signed to Motown in 1972. Their first hit for the label was “Machine Gun” in 1974. The single reached #22 on the Pop chart and was Top 10 R&B. “Slippery When Wet” produced a second hit for the band the following year, getting to the top of the R&B chart, and crossing over to #19 on the Pop chart. Top 10 hits like “Just to be Close to You” (1976), and “Easy” (1977) followed.

The songwriting on “Brick House” is credited to Lionel Richie, Milan Williams, Walter Orange, Ronald La Pread, Thomas McClary, William King, and Shirley Hanna-King was an uncredited writer. As the story goes, there were equipment problems in the recording studio so the Commodores took a break. Bass player Ronald LaPread began playing a riff, and soon the rest of the band joined in. Before long, they had a track.

Producer James Carmichael liked what he heard, but knew that there was still work to do to make it a song. William King took the tapes home, and he was asleep when his wife, Shirley Hanna-King came up with the “brick house” lyrics for the riff. William King told the band that he had written the lyrics, and it was decided that Orange would be the right singer for the funky groove, instead of Richie, who was singing a lot of the lead vocals at that point. It took years for the band to learn of Hanna-King’s contribution, and although she remains uncredited, the band does acknowledge her part in the creation of the hit.

The Commodores

“Brick House” was released in August 1977. The single rose to #5 on the Pop chart, and #4 R&B. The Commodores still had bigger hits in their future.

“Three Times a Lady” was their biggest hit. The Richie-sung ballad was released in 1978 and became a #1 smash on the Pop and R&B charts. The following year “Sail On” hit the Top 10 on both charts, and that same year “Still” again rose to the top of both charts. In 1981 the band had two more Top 10 hits with “Oh No,” and “Lady (You Bring Me Up).”

The success was more than enough to push Richie out of the nest in 1982 and on to a huge solo career. He was replaced by Skylar Jett. McClary left the following year, LaPread in 1986. Sheldon Reynolds (who joined in 1983) left to play with Earth, Wind & Fire the next year, and original member Milan Williams left in 1989, apparently because he would not play in South Africa.

Despite all the changes, the Commodores were not yet done. They did, however, become less funky, opting for a more easygoing sound. J.D. Nicholas, formerly of Heatwave, came aboard in 1984 and shared vocal duties with Orange. They hadn’t had a hit for awhile when “Nightshift,” with Orange singing lead, shot up to the #1 spot on the R&B chart, and #3 on the Pop chart. The song was a lovely tribute to two icons who had died the previous year, Jackie Wilson, and Marvin Gaye. “Nightshift” won the Commodores their first Grammy in 1985.

That hit marked the end of the Commodores stint with Motown Records. In 1990, they formed their own label, Commodores Records, and re-recorded their biggest hits for a two-volume compilation. There was also a live album and DVD, and a Christmas album. These days the Commodores are still out there, and Orange, King, and Nicholas are still part of the group, along with a five-piece band.

Soul Serenade: Barrett Strong, “Money (That’s What I Want)”

Barrett StrongFor each empire that has risen up in the history of the world there is a starting point, a moment when it became apparent that something exceptional was afoot. The Motown empire is no exception. On January 12, 1959, Berry Gordy, Jr. opened Tamla Records, using an $800 loan from his family to start the company. It was a beginning, but that’s all. There was certainly no guarantee of success.

Tamla’s first release was Marv Johnson’s “Come to Me,” but it’s first hit was Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” The song was written by Gordy, along with Janie Bradford (Barrett claimed that he should have had a writing credit, but he never got one), and Tamla released it in August, 1959. Unable to meet demand for the single, Gordy licensed the record to Anna Records, a label owned by his sisters Anna and Gwen, an Billy Davis. Anna had national distribution through Chicago’s Chess Records, and that enabled “Money” to rise up to #2 on the R&B chart, and #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. Barrett Strong was 18 years-old when his record hit. “Money” was famously covered by the Beatles in 1963, and has had many other cover versions.

Barrett Strong

Although “Money” was a big hit, and showed the way forward for Gordy’s burgeoning empire, by the mid-’60s Barrett was working primarily as a Motown songwriter, teaming up with producer Norman Whitfield. Among the smash hits they penned were “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” a hit for both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips, Edwin Starr’s “War,” and “Smiling Faces Sometime” by the Undisputed Truth.

And then there were the line of Whitfield-produced hits for the Temptations including “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “Psychedelic Shack,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” “Cloud Nine,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” and the non-psychedelic hit “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).”

Motown left its Detroit home for Los Angeles in 1972. Strong didn’t follow. He left the label and resumed the singing career that had had such a promising start some years earlier. Strong signed with Epic Records that year, and then moved on to Capitol Records, where he recorded two albums in the 1970’s. He had one more hit as a writer, penning the 1988 Dells classic “Stay in My Corner.”

Barrett Strong was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.

Soul Serenade: The Originals, “Baby, I’m For Real”

The Originals

I’ve been writing this column for over six years now. There have been well over 300 entries in the series. So every now and then I have to check to see if I’ve featured a certain artist or song previously. A dig through the Popdose archives revealed that I did write about the Originals previously, but it was way back in 2010, it was brief, and it featured another of their hits, “The Bells.” I want to expand on their story today, and feature another one of their great records.

The Originals first got together in Detroit in 1966. The original Originals were Walter Gaines, Freddie Gorman, C.P. Spencer, and Hank Dixon. They were all veterans of the Detroit vocal group scene, and before there was a Holland-Dozier-Holland production and songwriting team, there was a Holland-Dozier-Gorman team. As a member of that team, Gorman was the co-writer of Motown’s first #1 hit, the Marvelette’s “Please Mr. Postman.” Gorman came by the inspiration honestly, as he had actually been a mailman.

The group first made their name in the late ’60s as background singers, appearing on hits like “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” by Jimmy Ruffin, “For Once in My Life,” by Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin’s “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me),” and Edwin Starr’s “War,” and “25 Miles.” The Originals were the male counterparts of the Andantes, Motown’s female house backing group, and neither group was ever properly credited.

The Originals did release records under their own name for Motown, beginning in 1966 with the Leadbelly song “Goodnight Irene,” which featured Joe Stubbs (brother of Levi) on the lead vocal, but didn’t make the charts. Another 1966 release that didn’t chart was “Suspicion,” but in later years the song became a Northern Soul staple. In 1969 neither “We’ve Got A Way Out Of Love” or “Green Grow The Lilacs” managed to find any chart success.

The Originals

One of the Motown artists that the Originals had backed on record was Marvin Gaye. They appeared on his “Chained,” and “Just to Keep You Satisfied.” When Gaye began to work with the group in 1969, they began to find success in their own right. Gaye produced and co-write the Originals two biggest hits, “Baby, I’m For Real,” and “The Bells.” Both records became soul classics.

The Originals had a very good year in 1970 with two album releases, and four Top 20 R&B hits. Things slowed down after that however, and no Originals record made the charts between 1971-1975, despite several album releases for Motown during this time. The disco era brought renewed success for the group though as “Down to Love Town” became a #1 dance hit for the group. They left Motown in 1977 and signed with Columbia Records. They released two albums for the label but didn’t find any success. After one last album for the Phase II label they split up in the early ’80s.

When Ian Levine began seeking out Motown veterans for his Motorcity label, the Originals signed on. They recorded a single for the label called “Take The Only Way Out,” and former member Stubbs, who had been in the group for about six months early on, released some solo recordings for Motorcity. There was also a duet recording with their former Motown labelmates the Supremes, “Back By Popular Demand,” in 1991.

Stubbs, Spencer, Gorman, and Gaines have all passed on. Hank Dixon is the only surviving founding member of the Originals, and he remains active musically.

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: Willie Hutch, “Love Power”

Willie HutchNow we know the truth. For years poets have written about it, and singers have sung about it. Today we know for sure that if we’re going to get through this, if we’re going to survive as a species, we’re just going to have to love one another. We have to pull our loved ones a little closer, and yes, reach out a hand to those with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye. I know the latter is not easy, believe me I know, but nothing less than our very existence is at stake.

Willie Hutch knew a little something about the power of love. William McKinley Hutchinson was born in Los Angeles, and grew up in Dallas, where he was a member of a vocal group called the Ambassadors while he was in his teens. At the age of 20, he signed with Johnny Rivers’ Soul City label, and shortened his name to Willie Hutch. He released his first single, “Love Has Put Me Down,” in 1964.

It was the legendary producer Bones Howe who first took notice of Hutch. At the time Howe was busy turning out hits for the Fifth Dimension, and before long Hutch was writing, producing, and arranging for the group. Not satisfied with being behind the scenes, Hutch signed a new record deal with RCA in 1969, and released two albums for the label.

Motown Records came calling in the form of producer Hal Davis. Davis had written the music for a song called “I’ll Be There” which was intended for the Jackson 5. Lacking lyrics, Davis reached out to Hutch. The morning after Davis made that call, the Jackson 5 was in the studio recording the song, which of course turned out to be a huge hit. Berry Gordy, Jr. was suitably impressed and signed Hutch to produce, arrange, write, and play for the label.

During his time at Motown, Hutch co-wrote songs that were hits for not only the Jackson 5, but also Michael Jackson as a solo artist, Smokey Robinson, and Marvin Gaye. But Hutch still had the desire to record his own music, and in 1973 he recorded the Fully Exposed album for Motown, as well as recording and producing the soundtrack album for a blaxploitation film called The Mack.

Hutch sent some R&B hits up the charts during this time, including “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” and “Slick.” In 1974 Hutch released the soundtrack album for Foxy Brown. Six more Motown albums followed. One of those, 1975’s Ode to My Lady, included Hutch’s biggest single, “Love Power.” The record reached #41 on the Billboard Hot 100.

When famed producer Norman Whitfield left Motown in 1977, Hutch followed him out the door and signed with Whitfield Records, only to return to the Motown fold in 1982. That same year “In and Out” became a disco hit for Hutch. He also put two songs, “The Glow,” and “Inside You” on the soundtrack album for the film The Last Dragon. But the return to Motown wasn’t particularly fruitful for Hutch and he left the label again at the end of the ’80s.

By 1994 Hutch had moved back to Dallas, and was pretty much done with the music business. He was 60 years-old when he died in 2005.

Love power. The power of love. They’re not just words. Love each other. We’re all we’ve got.

Soul Serenade: Johnny Bristol, “Hang On In There Baby”

Johnny Bristol - Hang On In There BabyIn 1974 Johnny Bristol set the charts alight with his biggest hit, “Hang On In There Baby,” but he traveled a long road to get to that point. Bristol was born in Morgantown, North Carolina in 1939. By his own admission, his show business career began purely by chance.

In the 1950’s Bristol joined the Air Force, and he was stationed at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, Michigan. There he met a fellow airman by the name of Jackey Beavers. The two men had a common interest in singing, so they decided to form a duo which they called Johnny and Jackey. They played doo-wop shows in the Detroit area, and one night Gwen Gordy, sister of Berry Gordy, was in the audience. She was impressed enough to sign the duo to a management contract … (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)