Friday, January 25, 2013


I had never heard of this record until I read about it in Dave Marsh's book "The Heart Of Rock And Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made" (buy it here) about 15 years ago. The cool thing was that a) it was the last record essayed in the book (as # 1001), and b) neither Dave nor any of his friends had any idea who Joyce Harris was, or where the record came from.

Marsh tells a fascinating story; here's the short version: Marsh's friend Michael Goodwin went off to Cornell University in 1959, and soon went to work at the college's radio station, WVBR, as a jazz and folk DJ. Every year, during finals week, WVBR would have the "rock and roll marathon", where the regular playlist would be suspended and the student DJ's would spin rock and roll 45s for a week. Well, the day after finals were over, Goodwin locked himself in a studio with some blank tape reels and began recording all the 45s that his fellow students brought in. "No Way Out" was one of them, but Goodwin forgot to list the record on the tape box!

When Goodwin decided to listen to the college tapes a few years later, he couldn't identify "No Way Out", and spent YEARS trying to figure out what it was. Goodwin later became a writer, and would drop references to the mystery record in his columns. Still nothing. Goodwin finally found a copy of the record in the mid-1970s, but still had no idea of its descent (Goodwin guessed New Orleans).

Of course this was all before the internet (something this guy doesn't seem to forgive Marsh for), when research meant RESEARCH, meaning you couldn't instantly access knowledge from a billion people in a mouse-click.

But now, since the internet exists, we can finish the story of Joyce Harris and "No Way Out" with ease.

Joyce Harris was born in 1939 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and moved to New Orleans when she was a teenager (that Michael Goodwin had some ears on him!). She and her sister Judy would sing together often, and in 1958 Judy and Joyce cut their first single for the tiny Seville label (same label that had Ernie Maresca's "Shout! Shout! [Knock Yourself Out]"), recorded at Cosimo Matassa's famous studio. After two more 45s, for Decca and Dot, Judy got married, leaving Joyce to go out as a solo, recording one single ("The Boy In School") for the UT label in 1959. She left New Orleans and ended up in Mexico, performing in restaurants.

Lucky for Joyce Harris, a woman named Lora Richardson was on vacation in Mexico and heard Joyce sing in one of those restaurants. Lora was part-owner of a record label in Austin, Texas called Domino Records, which had already had some success with a group called The Slades, who had a minor hit with the original version of a song called "You Cheated" (this song was then covered by The Shields, who had the big hit with it in 1958). Richardson paired Joyce Harris with The Slades to record an "answer" record to their one hit (that Joyce wrote with Slades member Don Burch), calling it "I Cheated". The record flopped (mainly because "answer" records only worked when the first version was still on the charts, not two years later), but Richardson was unfazed.

She then paired Joyce with a black R&B group called The Daylighters, who were led by rhythm guitarist Clarence Smith (years later, Smith would change his name to Sonny Rhodes and have some success in the 1980s and 1990s in the blues field). Joyce had written another stormer of a song called "No Way Out". With Joyce's soulful delivery, Clarence Smith's interjections (including the famous "IIIIIII'VE GOTCHA"s at the beginning) and the Daylighters killer (and wonderfully off-kilter) backing, "No Way Out" became an unforgettable piece of wax. Released at the end of 1960 on Domino, the record began to sell quite a bit. So much, in fact, that by March of 1961 Domino leased the record to a Los Angeles label, Infinity Records (supposedly part-owned by Howard Hughes). Infinity released it in April, and secured an appearance for Joyce to make an appearance on "American Bandstand" on April 7, 1961 - IF ANYONE HAS A VIDEO OF THIS, LET ME KNOW!!!!

The record sold well in L. A., Texas and, oddly enough, in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, it never hit the national charts, but Joyce Harris was on her way - or so she thought. Domino Records folded shortly afterwards, and Joyce found herself without a label. "No Way Out" was still selling in L. A., so she moved there in early 1962. After a string of appearances in small clubs, Joyce hooked up with producer Ed Townsend and signed to his label, Serock Records. She cut one KILLER single, "Don't Knock It", but for some reason decided to change her name to "Sinner Strong" for this release. The record should have gotten some good airplay, but unfortunately it was released at the same time as "The Love Of My Man" by Theola Kilgore, also on Serock, and so Kilgore got all the promotion.

After that bit of bad luck, Joyce decided to go home to New Orleans. She cut one more 45 for the Fun label, owned by Eddie Bo, and started a residency at the Mask Lounge (in the Mardi Gras Lanes bowling alley), backed by the group who would later become garage-rock legends Dr. Spec's Optical Illusion.

Joyce is still around, living in Sun, Louisiana, playing mandolin and guitar for a bluegrass gospel group, living in semi-retirement. She did come out, however, for the 2010 Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans, and from all accounts tore the house up.

I'd like to thank the following websites for a lot of the info for this blog post (and you can click on the links to see pics of Joyce Harris - va va voom!).

I'd also like to thank Dave Marsh for writing about this 45 so many years ago.

Joyce Harris - No Way Out (Domino 905 / Infinity 005) - 1960 / 1961

No comments:

Post a Comment