Monday, November 11, 2013
I don't know anything about Chris Morgan and The Togas, other than the fact that this was their second out of two singles (their first, a version of Bob Dylan's "Baby, I'm In The Mood For You", was simply credited to "The Togas") and that Chris Morgan later hooked up with Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers who produced a pair of Bell label 45s for Chris in 1969. Also, they were probably from California.
Oh, and I know one other thing - when I first heard this on some college station I swore that it was The Animals. You will, too.
Chris Morgan and The Togas - Would You Believe (Love Is Dead) (Challenge 59330) - 1966
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Those of you keeping score, add this one to the list. I first heard this on an old reel-to-reel tape my father had (remember?) and have been obsessed with it ever since. Turns out Lamar Morris was the lead guitarist for The Bama Band, who were Hank Williams, Jr.'s backing group. I'm guessing Hank had some pull with MGM, and got his buddy Lamar a contract. For his first 45, Lamar wrote "Kleenex" with Mack Vickery, who would go on to write a few of Jerry Lee Lewis' 1970s country hits (including the just plain dirty "Meat Man"). If not for anything else, "Kleenex" should be considered a great country 45 for its opening lines - "You can send me a box of Kleenex/Make it the biggest one they've got/'Cause since it seems I'm gonna be your ex/I know I'm gonna cry a lot".
Now, anyone who rhymes "Kleenex" with "your ex" is either a genius or a loony. I'm going with loony here. Let's face it, you couldn't have too great a stronghold on reality if you were touring with Hank, Jr. in the 60s and 70s, writing with a guy who once put out a live LP from a women's prison (and was one of Jerry Lee's best buddies, albeit one whom Jerry Lee never shot), AND allowed your first solo session to be produced by the truly certifiable Jack Clement (who had a gigantic swing installed in his living room and wrote the aforementioned "Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart"). But, hey, so what? If we only allowed sane individuals to make records, there wouldn't be any good ones.
By the by, Lamar's still alive and kickin'! Check out his website.
Lamar Morris - Send Me A Box Of Kleenex (MGM 13586) - 1966
Friday, October 18, 2013
Thee Midniters. The best band to ever come out of East L.A. Unfortunately, their records were seldom heard OUTSIDE of East L.A. But for those lucky folks who saw them live, or owned their records, these guys were unbeatable. They could do it ALL -rock any house, croon sweet ballads, raise the roof with a little soul, even get political (dig up their "The Ballad Of Cesar Chavez" 45 for that). In East L. A., these guys were like the BEATLES.
The group started out in the early 60s, evolving from a band known as The Gentiles (!!!) and playing local clubs and entering contests known as "Battle Of The Bands". They called themselves The Midnighters, but soon changed their name to THEE Midniters to avoid getting sued by Hank Ballard and his group of Midnighters. In those days, the group wore masks over their eyes for that extra air of mystery. The group's lead singers were Little Willie Garcia (aka Little Willie G) and Lil' Ray Jimenez. Jimenez left in 1964 to go solo (and made a single for the Impact label), but Little Willie G soldiered on.
The group's fortunes changed in late 1964 when one of their live shows was recorded by their manager, Eddie Torres, who got the group a deal with local L. A. label Chattahoochee Records. One of the group's signature songs was the old Chris Kenner tune "Land Of 1000 Dances", which the group released as their first single. With the support of DJ's like Huggy Boy (Dick Hugg) on KRLA and Godfrey on KTYM, the disc got heavy airplay. However, at almost exactly the same time, another group from East L.A., Cannibal and The Headhunters, released their version, which eventually became the bigger hit. As for who came up with the "naaah, na-na-na-naaah" riff (which is not on Kenner's version), we'll probably never know. Little Willie G says he came up with it, but according to Bob Shannon and John Javna's book Behind The Hits, Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia (no relation to Willie G) forgot the words one night and improvised the lick on the spot. Who knows? Who cares? Despite losing the hit to Cannibal, "Land Of 1000 Dances" became the biggest hit Thee Midniters ever had, hitting #67 nationally.
After several follow-ups on Chattahoochee (including "Whittier Blvd.", a wild instrumental, and the killer garage-rock 45 "I Found A Peanut"), manager Eddie Torres formed his own label, Whittier Records, in early 1966. Thee Midniters immediately had a big hit in L.A. with the label's first release, "Love, Special Delivery", and Whittier was on its way, though on a small scale - they didn't have the distribution of a larger label, so the records pretty much stayed in the L.A. area.
The 45 I'm blogging about now has a weird history. In early 1967 the group released their fourth single for Whittier - "The Walking Song (Shouldn't You Wonder)"/"Never Knew I Had It So Bad". Even though "The Walking Song" was the A-side, "Never Knew I Had It So Bad" started getting big-time spins in L.A., so Eddie Torres re-released "Never Knew I Had It So Bad" as an A-side, and put the group's version of Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" on the flip. That was kind of a strange move, because usually a canny label boss would put a song on the flip that was one of his copyrights, to make even more money off of a hit record (this is why sometimes you find old 45s with alternate B-sides). But Eddie Torres apparently didn't care or didn't know any better.
In either case, I'm certainly glad he did what he did, because this version of "Everybody Needs Somebody" puts an ass-whipping on every other recording of it (yes, including Wilson Pickett's, though not by much)!! Supposedly recorded live (though who knows - many times it was studio cuts with audience noise dubbed in), the band is absolutely ON FIRE and at its garagiest and grungiest, with Little Willie G contributing one of his most soulful vocals ever!!
Thee Midniters went on from there, but with Little Willie G going solo in late 1968, the group lost a lot of its drive. That combined with the frustration of not having national success (and the money that came with it) caused the group to call it quits in 1969.
For many years, Thee Midniters' records remained buried in the L.A. scrap heap, and the group, though a local legend, were all but forgotten about. But over the years, this group has gotten the respect it so richly deserves. Norton has reissued several of their singles and an LP called In Thee Midnite Hour, but if you really want to get the full effect of the incredible range of these guys, check out the Micro Werks CD box set called Thee Complete Midniters (though, be forewarned, since the master tapes were lost long ago, and vinyl copies had to be used, the sound isn't quite CD-quality).
If you want to hear more of Thee Midniters (and other East L.A. groups), check out this AMAZING blog.
Thee Midniters - Everybody Needs Somebody (Whittier 504) - 1967
Saturday, September 21, 2013
The group, consisting of Wanda "Wendy" Sheriff, Dorothy "Sunny" Dyer, Pat "Punkin" Strunk, and Linda "Lin" Schroeder, started in Cincinnati in 1961. Dorothy, Pat and Linda all went to the same high school, and Dorothy and Linda soon formed a duo, singing in local parks and teen hangouts. One night, they went to a spot called The Tulu Club, a place sponsored by local radio station WSAI, and run by one of their DJ's, Ron Britton. As the band was playing onstage, Dorothy and Linda began singing along. The bandleader heard them and asked them to come up on stage to sing with them (today, the musician's union would put the kibosh on that). They were such a hit that they decided to form a group and get into the music business. They recruited Pat Strunk a short time later, and they worked as a trio for a little while, playing teen dance clubs in and around Cincinnati.
At one gig, the Teardrops were booked on the same bill as a band called The Matadors, whose guitarist, Bud Reneau, was co-owner of a small record label called Saxony Records. After the show, he called his partner, Paul Trefzger, to tell him about this great girl group he'd just played a gig with. Soon the trio was signed to Saxony, and shortly afterward they were joined by a fourth member - Wanda Sheriff. Wanda's hobby was hairdressing, and if you've ever seen pictures of The Teardrops (there are quite a number in John's book), the first thing you'll notice is the group's wild hairdos, with Wanda's being the wildest of all!
In early September of 1964, the Teardrops had their first session at the legendary King Records Studios, and the first single from the session was "Tonight I'm Gonna Fall In Love Again"/"That's Why I'll Get By". "Tonight....", with Linda Schroeder on lead, became a huge hit in Cinncy, and the group was on its way to the big time, touring all over Ohio and Kentucky while the DJs in Cincinnati wore out their needles on the Saxony 45.
But that's not the record I'm featuring here......their follow-up, in early 1965, is the pick for this blog post - "I'm Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend". Dorothy Dyer took the lead on this one, with one of the toughest, bitchiest vocals this side of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Starting with handclaps and an irresistible "doom-bop-a-dooji-bop, whoa-ho", the record roars in like an angry dad picking up his teenage daughter from a frat party. Basically, the singer is pissed off because she sees her best friend treating her man like dirt and decides, "screw her, he's gonna be mine" - and is proud of it! Again, the record got some airplay in the Cincinnati area, but the record didn't sell as well as its predecessor - possibly because Trefzger decided to change the label design from something accessible (a nice light blue label with a large stylized "S" at the top) to something dark, obscure, and just plain plain (see the pic above).
The group fared better with their third single, "Tears Come Tumbling", which was such a huge hit in the midwest (and Philadelphia and Boston) in late 1965, that Trefzger and Reneau leased the record to Musicor, who released it in early '66. Despite all the airplay, the record never charted on a national level. The group cut one more single for Musicor, "I Will Love You Dear Forever", which flopped completely (though Trefzger re-released it on his reactivated Saxony label in 1993). The group soldiered on for a while, playing the Cincinnati club circuit as members came and went, but decided to call it quits in 1969.
The Teardrops were probably one of the best "girl groups" you've never heard of (and of course the idiots at Rhino completely missed the boat by not including them on their girl groups box - SHAME on you, Sheryl Farber and Gary Stewart). But you can become very familiar with their material easily - Saxony Records is still doing business, and you can buy Teardrops CD's (and even original 45s!!) on their website.
A lot of the research (okay, ALL of the research) for the factoids presented in this blog post was done by my good buddy John Clemente, and you CANNOT call yourself a girl group enthusiast unless you have a copy of his book "Girl Groups: Fabulous Females Who Rocked The World". Even if you have the one from a few years ago, you need to buy this new edition. First of all, it's THREE TIMES as thick as the old book, has MANY more articles on many more artists, plus there's a TON of rare and cool pix crammed in there!! You can get it here. So buy the book. Now. I said NOW!!!
The Teardrops - I'm Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend (Saxony 1008) - 1965
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Anyway, pretty much all the Excello 45s in the lot were by three artists - Lonesome Sundown, Lazy Lester, and Lightnin' Slim. I already had a half-dozen Lightnin' Slim Excello 45s, but he must have made a million of 'em because no matter how many I get, there's always a whole lot more that I don't have. There were a number of Lightnin's good ones in this bunch - "Tom Cat Blues", "Winter Time Blues", "I Just Don't Know" and this one, from early 1963. I threw it on the ol' Thorens TD124 and let 'er rip, and got my HEAD BLOWN OFF! Not only is the band chugging out a bone-crushing shuffle, and not only is Lightnin' Slim singing like he wants to win First Runner-Up for the Jimmy Reed Award For Mumblin', but the one lyric I can clearly make out is such a killer that I'm surprised Willie Dixon didn't write it first: "I'm so EVIL, pretty baby, my SHADOW'S scared to follow me!"
The question then became: why was Lightnin' Slim not at least as well-known as Muddy, Wolf, Sonny Boy and those other famed blues cats?
So I did a little research. Lightnin' Slim (real name: Otis Hicks, 1913-1974) made his first records for Louisiana producer/label owner Jay D. Miller (who would figure prominently in the Excello Records story and also run the infamous Reb Rebel label, which released pro-segregation recordings throughout the late 60s) in 1954. Miller had a label called Feature Records, which released Lightnin's "Bad Luck Blues", and it became a local hit. After releasing two more singles on Feature, Jay Miller realized there was quite a market for blues recordings (up to that point, most of the 45s on Feature were country records), but also realized that running a label was becoming a pain in the ass. So he folded Feature in early 1955 and leased Lightnin' Slim's next record to Johnny Vincent's Ace label. I'm guessing Johnny wasn't exactly forthcoming with the cash generated from Lightnin's record, because Miller ended up making a deal with Ernie Young's Excello Records as an independent producer - Miller would make records in his studio in Crowley, LA, and Excello would press, release and distribute them.
Lightnin' Slim debuted on Excello with "Lightnin' Blues" in late 1955. It sold well throughout the South, and Jay Miller was in business. He continued with many more successful 45s (and 78s) by Lightnin'. In 1956 Miller added Lonesome Sundown and Lazy Lester to his roster of blues artists, and it was around this time that Lightnin' Slim started bringing his brother-in-law to his sessions, a guy named James Moore (who would later become famous as Slim Harpo).
Unfortunately, while Excello was one of the biggest labels in the South, they didn't have a national distribution network. While you could find Excello product in almost every record shop from Florida to southern Indiana to Texas, you'd be hard-pressed to find Excello 45s anywhere else (at least, until the early 1960s, that is). You could order Excello 45s through the mail (did I mention Ernie Young also owned Ernie's Record Mart, one of the biggest mail-order record houses in the country?) but back in those days, mail-order sales weren't charted by Billboard magazine. Plus, let's face it, you weren't gonna hear Lazy Lester or Lightnin' Slim on the radio unless you were in the South (the Chess brothers, up north in Chicago, circumvented this problem by buying a station, WVON, and, to be fair, they also had a fantastic rapport - read: payola - with other Chicago stations and Alan Freed, who pushed Chess product in Cleveland and New York). So Lightnin' Slim became a phenomenon in the southern states, but never went national (and international) on the level of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson. Which is unfortunate, because Lightnin' Slim's records are highly prized by those in the know, and some blues historians rank him right up there with Muddy and Wolf.
Unfortunately, Lightnin' didn't make much money in the deal with Jay Miller and Excello (big surprise there), so he stopped making records in 1966 and moved to Michigan to work in a foundry casting metal for auto parts. Fortunately, he was re-discovered by some blues freaks in 1970 and he re-signed with Excello (this time without Jay Miller) and began making LPs for them, spending the rest of his life touring in the US and Europe in blues festivals.
Lightnin' Slim died from stomach cancer on July 27, 1974, aged 61.
Those of you who dig the blues, pick up on some Lightnin' Slim. You won't be disappointed.
Lightnin' Slim - I'm Evil (Excello 2228) - 1963
Monday, July 15, 2013
Since I can't tell you anything about Juanita Williams, I'll tell you about Golden World Records, and its sister labels Wingate and Ric Tic. I promise, it's a good story.
Golden World Records was started in 1961 by Detroit businessman Eddie Wingate and his partner, Jo Anne Bratton. Wingate was a known wheeler-dealer about town, and by the early 60s owned a taxicab company, several cafes, a motel and, eventually, Detroit's most famous supper club, The Twenty Grand. In fact, he was so well-known within Detroit that Berry Gordy, shortly after forming Motown, asked Wingate to be his business partner. Eddie turned him down flat, figuring he could do what Berry was doing and make all the money for himself!
By January, 1962, Golden World had its first release - "I Wonder" by Sue Perrin. For the next year and a half, Golden World (and its subsidiary Ric Tic) would release eight singles, none of them even coming close to being a hit - not even in Detroit. One reason for this may have been that they weren't Detroit records - Wingate did all of those early recordings in New York City, mainly because he couldn't find studio musicians in Detroit that were up to his standards. But the talent pool must have gotten better by the summer of 1963, because that's when Wingate decided to record exclusively in Detroit. Wingate redesigned the label art for his records and started a new numbering system for his catalog (1962-1963 Golden World 45s were in a 100 series - the new system started at 1). In September, 1963, the revamped Golden World released its first single - Willie Kendrick's "Take This Train". But, despite some good releases, Wingate's companies still didn't have anything resembling a hit.
Enter The Reflections. A white doo-wop group from Detroit, they had a smash hit with their first waxing for Golden World - "(Just Like) Romeo And Juliet". The record sold close to a million copies, and Eddie Wingate was in the money. The first thing Eddie did was form a new label and name it after himself - Wingate Records. The second thing he did was build his own recording studio, called Golden World.
Here's where it gets interesting: Wingate was always on the lookout for the best musicians in Detroit, and some great musicians came to Golden World from an unlikely source - Motown Records. Seems that Berry Gordy, Jr. was a bit stingy when it came to paying his house band, so whenever they got a chance, The Funk Brothers would lay down tracks for Eddie Wingate at Golden World. It didn't take long for Gordy to find out what was going on (hell, all he had to do was listen to some Golden World/Ric-Tic 45s) and, the next time the Funk Bros. came to Motown to play, he fined them $100 each. Eddie Wingate got wind of this and, according to legend, crashed the Motown Christmas party and paid the guys back double on the spot!
Gordy had good reason to be angry - not only did Wingate make him look like a fool at his own office party, but Golden World's sound was getting a little too close for Motown's comfort. Not just the sound; Wingate even had singers who sounded like established Motown artists. Motown had Diana Ross, Wingate had Barbara Mercer ("Hey!!", "Doin' Things Together With You"). Motown had Little Stevie Wonder, Wingate had Little Carl Carlton ("Nothin' No Sweeter Than Love"). Motown had Marvin Gaye, Wingate had J. J. Barnes ("Say It"). That's not even counting Edwin Starr, who made some of the best non-Motown Motown 45s for Ric-Tic in 1965-1966. The competition was too fierce; something had to be done.
Gordy finally set up a meeting in September 1966, and made Wingate an offer he couldn't refuse; a reputed $1 million for the studio, the house publishing company (Myto Music) and the entire artist roster of Golden World and Wingate (which wasn't much at that point), PLUS Edwin Starr's contract. Eddie was allowed to keep the Ric-Tic label active (where the hits continued with artists such as The Fantastic Four, The Detroit Emeralds and The Flaming Ember), but closed Golden World and Wingate Records.
Apparently, around 1968 Eddie Wingate got tired of the record biz, and called on Berry Gordy once again. Gordy bought out what was left of Wingate's empire (though he only got the Fantastic Four out of the deal) and the Golden World/Wingate/Ric-Tic label family was no more.
The Juanita Williams 45 above (remember what I was talking about originally?) is a great example of the way Wingate operated - a high-quality production by a great singer singing a great song, but six months later you'd find yourself asking "whatever happened to....?" I don't know what happened to Juanita Williams, but she (and Eddie Wingate) made one hell of a good record here.
NOTE: I woulda posted this A LOT sooner, but DivShare apparently decided to hire lobotomized monkeys to oversee their servers and I couldn't upload the audio file. Honestly, DivShare, you have ONE job - to store mp3's. If this is too hard for you, you should shut down and refund my money. Morons.
Juanita Williams - Baby Boy (Golden World 18) - 1964
Monday, June 3, 2013
Hank Jr. seems to have been around forever, and there's a good reason - he got an incredibly early start, making his first records for MGM in late 1963 at age 14, and had his first hit in early 1964 with a remake of his dad's old hit "Long Gone Lonesome Blues". When listening to the record I'm blogging about today, remember that Hank Jr. was SIXTEEN YEARS OLD when he recorded it.
Sixteen. He already sounds 40 when he sings the opening line - "Down at work it's gettin' bad/It's gettin' kinda rough as a cob/My boss done told me/better get my mind back on my job". He probably WAS sixteen going on 40 at that point, with a domineering mother trying to push Hank Jr. into pale imitations of his father's music, without being able to assert himself legally and break away from the path his mother set him on (he finally got away from her in the early 1970s).
In any case, I just wanted to post this because it's a cool country number (written by John D. Loudermilk) with bluesy guitar licks and great drums. And no rowdy friends.
Hank Williams, Jr. - You're Ruinin' My Life (MGM 13392) - 1965