Lattimore Brown - Teenie Weenie (Duchess 1002)
Highway 61 lives on in the American imagination as the mythic pulsating aorta of 'The Blues'. Helped along, I'm sure, by being included in the title of Dylan's best album, it has come to represent so much more than the sun-baked two lane blacktop that bisects the Delta. As the home of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Albert King and so many others, the region has certainly earned its reputation as the birthplace of this thing they call 'The Blues'. What I don't understand is why people seem to stop there. I mean, both Ike Turner and Sam Cooke were born in Clarksdale... how about Bo Diddley, Pops Staples (and, yes, Elvis Presley)? R&B, Soul, Gospel, Rock & Roll... the argument could be made that all American music originated in these fertile fields, as uprooted West Africans transformed the senseless opression of a society that continues to marginalize them into art that will live forever.
Lattimore Brown takes pride in the fact that he was born in Mississippi, and is quick to point out all the famous sons of the Delta that have moved on to bigger and better things. One of his major heroes is Morgan Freeman. A man, he says, that never forgot where he came from, and brings a little bit of the Delta to all of his work. Freeman has re-invested in Clarksdale, opening a highly rated restaurant called Madidi, and becoming partners in the aptly named Ground Zero Blues Club. We were able to book a room upstairs from the club (in the Delta Cotton Company Apartments), and Lattimore was in his glory.
That night, Chase Thompson and I (along with about twenty five other people) were privileged to witness Lattimore Brown's return to the stage. A true performer, once he got up there with the microphone in his hand, it was like he had never left, and the past thirty five years seemed to melt away. He led local blues band Daddy Rich through a rocking rendition of Shake, Rattle & Roll that offered a glimpse of what things must have been like out there on the Chitlin' Circuit back in the day...
Like most everybody else in R&B in the early sixties, Lattimore was booked by Ben Bart's Universal Attractions. Bart's number one client was James Brown, and he was the man behind building the Famous Flames into the slickly polished James Brown Revue. Some of Bart's other artists were less than happy with that arrangement, most notably Jackie Wilson who felt his career was being neglected in favor of Brown's. Lattimore tells the story of a legendary fist-fight between James and Jackie on the stage of The Apollo (although I'm not sure who won), and it's a total trip listening to him spin his tales of life out there on the road. Unlike The Godfather, though, most of Universal's artists didn't travel with their own band. That's where Lattimore came in.
He had developed his own outfit as one of the few 'reading bands' on the circuit, and Universal would book them as part of a package with their 'lone ranger' acts like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley as well as behind singers like Etta James and Big Maybelle. There was plenty of work, and Lattimore got to know just about everybody. Settling in Dallas, he opened a nightspot called the Atmosphere Lounge, along with a silent partner who helped grease the wheels and keep everything running smoothly with the local authorities. He worked out a deal with Universal, and started up his own agency that booked Bart's attractions into the club whenever they had a night off, and were within 300 miles. Able to attract the top names in the business that way, Lattimore and his band built the Atmosphere into an immensely popular watering hole that was packing 'em in most nights of the week.
I don't know much about the Duchess label (I imagine it was supposed to be the female counterpart to Duke), but according to Lattimore it was run by a local Dallas producer named Al Klein. No, not the Allen Klein who went on to represent people like Sam Cooke and The Rolling Stones, but a different guy entirely, who later became a producer at Motown in the early years. How the label got to be distributed by Instant (which in turn was distributed by Imperial) is anybody's guess. Anyway, this cookin' little selection we have here today was Lattimore's first effort for Duchess. Although the label says it was written by Brown, it's a cover of his Memphis buddy Rosco Gordon's big record from the year before, Just A Little Bit. Roy Head's 1965 version of the song has the same kind of chicano bop feel to it as Lattimore's here (and is listed on iTunes as Teeny Weeny Bit)... you can't help but wonder if the young Head and his Traits were influenced by Mr. Brown in those Texas days. It certainly sounds like it!
In addition to his duties at the Atmosphere Lounge, Lattimore kept up his road schedule, and his affiliation with Universal Attractions. On Thursday, November 21, 1963, he and his band had just finished up a week long engagement at the Apollo Theater in New York, as part of a package that included Little Willie John, Rufus Thomas, Jimmy Reed, Big Maybelle and Etta James. Their next stop was in Washington, D.C. at the Howard Theater. James Brown was booked into the Apollo the following night, so Lattimore and the rest of the crew made the four hour trek to D.C. after the show.
The way things worked back then, there were three shows a day, with the first one starting at one in the afternoon. Just before he was due to go on, Lattimore heard the news on the radio backstage. He couldn't believe it. President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas literally around the corner from his club. He had to go out on the stage of the Howard and tell the audience. It was one of the hardest things he ever did, he said. When he made the announcement, people 'just fell out' in the aisles. The entire crowd was devastated, as was the rest of the nation. The Howard engagement was cancelled, as the president's body was flown back to Washington for the funeral. The performers headed back to New York, and Bart paid them anyway.
On Sunday, November 24th, Lattimore had the TV on in his hotel room. He watched in horror as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. Ruby, who ran his own Carousel Club in Dallas for the white folk, was his silent partner in the Atmosphere Lounge! The booze, the cars, the girls, all of it had been bankrolled by Ruby, whose 'reputed mob ties' were now out in the open. Brown knew it was all over. Everything he had built up was gone in that single instant; an instant that lives on as one of the most indelible images of the twentieth century.
Can you imagine?
Lattimore just walked away. There was no reason to go back to Dallas.
continued in PART FOUR