Bob Wilson - In The Midnight Hour (Sound Stage 7 2570)
In The Midnight Hour
When we last left our hero, he had just embarked on a road trip to drum up support for his Ric-Tic B side. Although Bob Wilson was stopping at any radio station he could find, he had his sights set on one in particular the whole time, WLAC.
Late at night, he and all the other musicians he hung out with in Detroit tuned their radios in to the 50,000 watt clear channel signal emanating from the Life & Casualty Tower in downtown Nashville. There was one show in particular they didn't want to miss, Ernie's Record Parade. As we've mentioned before, this was the absolute pinnacle of cool, where hipsters in some 30 states found out what was going on in black American music as it was happening. The show was hosted by the legendary John R, the coolest cat of 'em all.
Wilson showed up at the station about eleven one night, when he knew the Record Parade was on the air, and asked to see John R. Like most everyone else in his listening audience, he had assumed that John was black, and it was quite a shock to realize that the bespectacled middle aged white dude he was talking to was really him. Once they got past all of that, Bob played him his record, and John thought it was great. "You're kind of like a white Ramsey Lewis," he told him... unreal. John R asked him to come back at three AM and have breakfast with him, there was something he wanted to ask him.
Over eggs and grits, he laid it all out. Fred Foster, who owned the Monument label, had recently given full creative control of his Sound Stage 7 subsidiary to John's production company, J.R. Enterprises. The entrenched 'music establishment' in Nashville just wasn't interested in recording R&B, and John was up against it. He had just signed a major artist, Joe Simon, to the label, and wanted to make sure things were done right. He had a proposal to make. What if he offered Bob 500 bucks to help him relocate and, in addition to signing him as an artist, made him the union leader on all his future sessions, an arrangement which would guarantee him double scale? He had recently brought in Allen Orange (now the subject of soul detective's Case Five!) from New Orleans, and promised Bob that, if he came on board with them, 'the sky would be the limit' as far as production, songwriting and everything else was concerned. From John R's standpoint, this was a brilliant move. Here he was bringing Detroit into the mix, a full two years before Al Bell hired Don Davis at Stax.
The twenty something kid couldn't believe it. He was still under contract to Golden World, he told him, and he wasn't sure how 'Uncle Ed' would take it. John R called Wingate later that day, and explained the terms of his offer to him, but told Bob he'd have to handle the rest himself. When he got back to Detroit, he met with both Wingate and Joanne Jackson and, although initially expressing their disappointment that they'd never get to finish the San Remo Quartet album, they gave him his release and wished him well. At this point, I'm sure Wingate's wheels were turning... it certainly couldn't hurt to have the most influential dee-jay in the country in his corner! In any event, Wingate would sell Golden World lock, stock & barrel to Berry Gordy less than a year later, and his Davison Avenue digs would become 'Motown Studio B'. It looked like Wilson made the right move.
This week, I thought we'd focus on the only two records Bob ever waxed for Sound Stage 7 under his own name.
In The Midnight Hour was arranged by Cliff Parman, a respected figure on the Nashville scene, who had kind of taken the young keyboard wizard under his wing. John R pulled out all the stops, booking the session at Bradley's Barn outside of Nashville, the first facility in the area that had a 4 track recorder (just like Golden World had been in Detroit). It was cut 'live', with Parman counting it off, and no overdubs. That's former Fame rhythm section veterans Norbert Putnam on the bass and Jerry Carrigan on the drums, along with Chip Young on the guitar. One of Bob's fondest memories is of Quitman Dennis smokin' that flute groove, then laying his flute down on the piano bench, picking up the baritone sax, and just taking 'em home. Yeah, baby!
Back then, instrumental tracks were all the rage, and the radio guys loved 'em, using them here and there to fill in the blanks, or as a 'talkover' leading up to the news. Phones would light up, with people calling to find out the name of the song. Bob Wilson's records were often used like that, in addition to getting full exposure on WLAC. When John R signed off the air every night, it was time for Randy's Record Shop, the legendary 'boogie-woogie' show hosted by 'Jivin' Gene Nobles. The opening theme for the show was Erskine Hawkins' recording of After Hours. Wilson loved it, and made it a point to tune in, if only to catch one of his favorite songs. John R had heard Bob playing around with it one day in the studio, and arranged for him to cut his own version at the same Bradley's Barn session outlined above. I'm sure he just loved spinning Randy's theme song on Ernie's show!
(continued in PART THREE)