Roy "C" - I'll Never Leave You Lonely (Alaga 1008)
I'll Never Leave You Lonely
In the 1950s, 16 year old Roy C. Hammond 'left his home in Georgia', and headed for New York City. He had dreams of becoming a professional boxer, and that's where the lights shone the brightest. He learned early on, however (after sparring with the likes of Hurricane "The Animal" Jackson), that prize fighting just wasn't for him.
He began singing tenor with The Genies, a group of guys that sang together every weekend on the boardwalk out in Long Beach. They got to be pretty tight and, after adding second lead singer Claude Johnson, they were offered a recording deal by Bob Shad. Shad had come up with Savoy in the 40s, and was working A&R at Mercury Records with folks like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington at the time. The Genies jumped at the chance to enter the studio with him, and Shad paid them $25 each for the session. When Who's That Knockin' was released, it wasn't on Mercury, as the group had every reason to believe it would be, but on Shad. It would hit the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958 anyway, but Shad never paid them another dime.
Their next stop was Atlantic, where Jerry Wexler decided he liked Roy's voice better than Claude Johnson's (who had handled the lead on their Shad hit). Johnson ended up leaving the group over it, going on to become the "Juan" of Don and Juan fame. To make matters worse, Atlantic never released the sides they had recorded with Roy singing lead due to the "conflict" within the group... a conflict they themselves had created! The Genies went on to release a few more singles on local labels but, when Roy was drafted into the Air Force, that was essentially it for them.
While stationed overseas, Roy had a lot of time to think. He began writing songs, and plotting his return to the airwaves. When he got back home to New York, he got a bunch of "white high school kids" together, took 'em into Broadway Studios in midtown and cut Shotgun Wedding. He put it out on his own Hammond label, but when it began to take off he leased it to Bill Seabrook, a Jamaica (New York) independent, who released it on his Black Hawk imprint. The record, with it's novelty ricochet opening and it's risqué subject matter for the times, was a smash hit, rising to #14 on the national R&B charts in 1965.
When it was released in the UK (on the Island label), it did even better (#6), and led to a much touted British tour (something Roy feels might have hurt his chances at a follow-up hit at home). In any event, Shotgun Wedding has seen at least three subsequent releases (actually breaking the UK top ten again in 1972!), and remains Roy's most requested song.
Bill Seabrook, meanwhile, refused to give Roy free reign in the studio, and released a few singles he felt were "good enough", (over Roy's objections). They weren't. He next signed with Bert Berns' Shout label, but things there were even worse. While he was trying to get a release from his contract with them, Smash picked up a pair of songs he had recorded on his own, and released them under the name "Little Frankie".
At this point, Roy decided to leave the recording end of things alone for awhile, and open up a record store. He kept his eye on what was going on in the industry, and the wheels started turning once again. He figured if he opened his own company, for real this time, and used everything he had learned so far, he could call his own shots...
ALAGA cane syrup (so named for the sovereign states of Alabama and Georgia) was a staple of the Southern diet, and on the table of every 'soul kitchen' in America. What better name for the label that would launch his own brand of down home soul?
In Divorce Court was the first release on the label (in 1970), and also marked the first time that Roy collaborated with guitarist J. Hines (if you've been following case three over at soul detective, you already know the deal...). They would become "like brothers", and despite various ups and downs, combined to make a formidable songwriting and production team that worked together for over 20 years. A song they wrote, Got To Get Enough (Of Your Sweet Love Stuff) would put Roy right back in the charts (#45 R&B) in the summer of 1971. Along with the B side, Open Letter To The President, it showed that Roy "C" wouldn't shy away from controversial lyrics, and was finally his own man.
Today's selection (the flip of I'm Gonna Love Somebody Else's Woman) was released later that year, and captures both men at their soulful best. Roy's just FEELIN' IT here, and J.'s guitar work is absolutely da bomb... Recorded in Manhattan by a record company that was based in Jamaica, Queens, it's as good a case as any for the existence of 'New York Soul'!
In addition to his own publishing company (Johnson-Hammond), Roy started up yet another label, NATION-WIDE as an outlet for recording Hines and a few other local artists (for more on the Nation-Wide story, please visit soul detective). Roy's own back-up band, The Honey Drippers, would remain on Alaga... (more on that in a little while). It wasn't long before the big record companies began to take notice, and in 1973 Roy, along with Nation-Wide artists Mark IV, would sign with Mercury, this time on his own terms.
After his first single for the label, Don't Blame The Man, hit #56 R&B, Mercury packaged it, along with the best of his Alaga masters, as the smash album Sex and Soul. The suggestive title (and cover!), as well as the great music, helped propel the LP to #56 that year as well. Roy would spend five years at the label, waxing 7 more singles (three of which charted), and two more LPs before top Mercury execs tried to reign him in, taking exception to his outspoken political stance in songs like Great, Great Grandson Of A Slave. That, along with poor promotion, convinced him not to re-sign with the label when his contract was up in 1978, and to take his Alaga and Nation-Wide masters with him.
By early 1979 Roy had re-established himself on the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue in Queens with his new label, THREE GEMS. He kept on producing high quality soul and, although changing times would keep him off the national charts, his records continued to find their audience. In the mid-eighties he moved his offices to Freeport, out on Long Island, and by the end of the decade he had decided to transfer the whole operation to Allendale, South Carolina.
Spiraling NY real estate costs (as well as the fact that J. Hines already lived in the area) helped convince Roy to make the move. His records sold well down there, and gigs were plentiful on the 'beach-music' scene. The company has grown to include his own Carolina Record Distributors, and has released over 15 albums by Roy alone (not to mention great LPs by artists like Dennis Edwards and Jonathan Burton).
J. Hines turned his back on secular music in the 1990s, and returned to his roots in Gospel, actually becoming an ordained minister. He passed away, I'm sorry to report, in October of 2004.
Roy, meanwhile, continues to speak to a whole new generation. He released the amazing Impeach The President on Alaga under the name of his band, The Honey Drippers, in the early 70s. It was a great idea then, as now, and has been sampled by any number of Hip Hop artists, the latest being west coast based DJ Shortkut, who actually lists Roy C. Hammond as his co-artist.
Roy was kind enough to speak with me twice during our recent J. Hines investigation over at soul detective. I told him the fact that he was not only the artist, but songwriter, publisher, arranger, producer, and label owner way back in 1970 was just plain amazing. "People like Bobby Shad and Jerry Wexler taught me well," he said, "to take care of my own business".
That's just what he continues to do.