Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sam Baker - Comin' To Bring You Some Soul (SS7 2613)

Comin' To Bring You Some Soul


There is no force so great as an idea whose time has come...

As you might have noticed, the name Sam Baker showed up again and again as I spun the tale of the Legend of Sir Lattimore Brown. Like true brothers, their life stories are forever intertwined, along with that of the late great Roscoe Shelton. As we have seen, these men were the 'big three' at Sound Stage 7 as John R took over the label and developed it's unique sound. According to the excellent piece on Sam over at Sir Shambling's Deep Soul Heaven; "Apart from Joe Simon, Baker had more 45s issued by John Richbourg on his SS7 label than any other artist – a tribute both to his talent and Richbourg’s enduring good taste..." Sam Baker was good. Really Good. Like Lattimore, his fate has been shrouded in mystery all these years, and the word on the street was that he was dead.

When we first started talking to Lattimore about all of this, he told us that Sam, like himself, was still very much alive. He said he lived in Jackson, but that his brother lived right there in Gulfport, which was just down the road apiece. He told us that once we got down there, Sam's brother would be happy to give us his address. We started hatching plans to reunite these two old friends who hadn't seen each other in forty years, and get the whole thing on film... only we couldn't find Sam's brother. Lattimore had us drive around in circles for a while, then decided it was 'like a needle in a haystack', and we gave up.

That was that, I thought.

Not 10 minutes after the whole 'rainbow vision' thing I told you about yesterday, I plowed the rental car into some kind of construction debris on Highway 90, which is still being rebuilt in the wake of Katrina. Instantly, I had two massive blow-outs, with both tires on the driver's side just ripped to shreds. I couldn't believe it. Here I was in Biloxi, and my plane was due out of Jackson at 2 that afternoon. It was around 9 in the morning... no problem, I could still make it, I thought. They came and towed the car away, then sent a cab to take me to their closest rental location, at the airport in Gulfport, about 25 miles away. By the time we worked all of that out, it was after 11. Not bad, I could still make it, I thought.

When I got to Hattiesburg, I hit traffic. There was a sign that said 'Highway 59 Jackson', so I took it... little did I know that this route was going to take me eighty miles out of my way, and add over an hour to my trip. By the time I realized what had happened, I was in Meridian, and it was too late. I was freaking out, driving like 95 miles an hour. I got to the airport in Jackson at 2:01. I just abandoned the car, and ran to the airline ticket counter.

The same storm that I had left back in Biloxi had made it's way to Jackson by then, and there was a deluge of rain and hail hitting the runways. The plane was being delayed... this wonderful woman behind the desk called down to the gate, and they were actually going to bring the plane back so I could get on board. Awesome. Talk about Southern Hospitality! I ran off to the gate, but first I was going to have to go through the Homeland Security, take off your shoes, place all bags on the conveyor belt routine... no problem, I thought, there were only three people in front of me. To my absolute disbelief, just as I got there, the X-ray machine broke. I had never even seen that before. The airline was paging me... doing their best to hold the plane, but they had to search everyone's bags by hand. By the time I got there, it was too late... somebody just didn't want me on that plane.

I started thinking about all of this. There had to be some reason that the fates had conspired to keep me in Jackson for another night... then I remembered Sam Baker. I kind of got a chill. When I told this story to the nice lady back at the Southwest counter, she kind of got one too. She, of course, had never heard of Sam, nor had any of the guys that were handling the baggage. She did know somebody who might be able to help me, though. An old flame of hers was a musician, she said, and had played with just about everyone in town. She tried his cell phone, but there was no answer. She wrote the number on a piece of paper and gave it to me. On the way back to the car, I saw a Jackson phone book, and I took it. If I couldn't get through to this boyfriend of hers, why I was gonna call every damn Baker in the book till I found him.

After about the third Baker had hung up on me, I decided to try and call the number the airline lady had given me... the name of the guy was Chalmers Davis. It kind of sounded familiar to me... but I couldn't place where I'd seen that name before. Well, to make a long story short (ummm...too late, Red), I got through, and he invited me out to his home studio somewhere in the woods south of town to talk about all of this. As it turned out, he's been an accomplished studio musician for years, and had idolized Carson Whitsett as a kid coming up. When he and a friend snuck in to see the Imperial Show Band one night, he knew that's what he was born to do. He would go on to become a Muscle Shoals regular, and was a member of the Fame Gang II. He was there at the birth of Malaco, and his band Natural High was one of the first to record for the label. For the last twenty years, he's been the keyboard man in Little Richard's band. He'd backed Tommy Tate, knew George Jackson, and just about everybody else in town... except for Sam. We went out to dinner and, man did he have some stories to tell! He promised to make some calls and ask around, and the next morning I was on my way back to New York.

Unbeknownst to me, right around this same time, Sam Baker was the subject of a 'thread' on the Yahoo Southern Soul List. Like I said, everybody thought he was dead. When Chalmers' former band mate in Natural High, Adib Owens-Sabir came through with Sam's phone number about two days later, I was about to post a message about it on Yahoo, but Scott Barretta beat me to it. Sam was most definitely still with us.

I've spoken with him several times since then, and he is an absolute delight to talk to. He suffered an aneurysm in 1992, and is confined to a wheelchair, but he's "hangin' tough", he told me. Just a wonderful man, he will be the focus of an article in the next issue of In The Basement, as well as an upcoming CD release on Garry Cape's Soulscape label, with liner notes provided by the aforementioned Sir Shambling. After all these years, we all found him at once... talk about an idea whose time had come!

Rather than compete with the pros, and go into Sam's incredible life story here, I just wanted to lay this positively FAT and funky tune on you, which was recorded at American in their absolute prime. Check out Reggie Young, Bobby Emmons, Gene Chrisman and Tommy Cogbill just working it out, man. How a record like this wasn't a huge hit is beyond me. "Say London, England! I hear you got a thing goin' on over there!" Word. According to the liner notes of the Sound Stage 7 Story, it was recorded in conjunction with a 1967 European tour Baker made with Sam & Dave and Arthur Conley. Those same liner notes go on to say something that Sam wants me to clear up once and for all; "Richbourg had become disenchanted with Baker after having to bail him and his band, along with Ella Washington, out of jail in The Bahamas after he tried to abscond from his hotel without paying."

"Where do these people get this stuff from?" he asked me, "I've never even been to The Bahamas in my life, and I sure enough never left no hotel without paying." As long as we were on the subject, I asked him another hard question... what about the rumor that John R let him go because he was a heroin addict, and was showing up high for recording sessions? "Man, Red, let me tell you, I ain't never messed with no drugs in my life. Above all, I loved my craft, which was singing. I wasn't about to do anything that would hold me back from that, ever." He went on to say that, just as we had suspected, something changed financially between John R and Monument Records in 1969, which resulted in his, Lattimore's and Roscoe's contracts not being renewed, and that was that. Period.

Welcome back, Sam Baker. We missed you!

Well, it's official. I Believe In You, the long awaited collection of Sam Baker's Sound Stage 7 singles was released this past Monday, September 15th. Lovingly remastered in glorious mono by Paul Mooney, it's the latest in a long line of stunning CDs issued by Garry Cape on his Soulscape label. This is the first appearance of most of these songs on CD and, with real liner notes written by the inimitable John Ridley, you really need to own one of these.


Anonymous Eli Reed said...

Bravo again man, you are killing it lately. I've been a Sam Baker fan for a long time now (you can definitely hear it in my singing I would imagine). All this news is blowing my mind!

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Tim Whitsett said...

Good post, Red.

I met Sam in the summer of 1959. His band, The Blue Notes, and my band were hired by a local radio station for an open air promo dance on back-to-back nights. I beame an instant fan. Two years later, we each released our first records during the same week - his was "So Long" on the Copa label; mine was "Jive Harp" on Imperial.

I lost track of Sam for about 25 years, then ran into him in the lobby of Malaco Records. That was over 10 years ago, after which I lost track of him again. Had no idea he was here in town, unfortunateoy confined to a wheel chair like my former band mate, Tommy Tate. Thanks for finding him for all of us.

Tim Whitsett
Jackson, Mississippi

4:25 AM  
Anonymous Paul Mooney said...


I just finished mastering the forthcoming Sam Baker album so I got the chance to hear all these tracks again in great detail.

I can't stop playing the intense ballad 'I Love You' and that's the track which most demonstrates the influence Sam had on my current favourite soul singer, Eli Reed.

It's spooky, I close my eyes and I hear young Eli.

Best regards,

Paul Mooney

12:06 PM  
Blogger The Stepfather of Soul said...

Is it just me, or are you a conduit of God's work these days? Bravo!

11:53 AM  
Blogger SoulBoogieAlex said...

You should start calling yourself the Super Natural Soul Detective. Just detective doesn't cut it any more.

12:32 AM  
Blogger raggedy said...

I love this story so much. It is such a typical "southern" story: people in the South are going out of their ways to be as friendly and helpful as they can possibly be.
Long lives Mississippi and its folks!
I am absolutely crazy about Sam's "That's All I Want From You."
Say, is there a way to say "Hi" to the master himself? Let him know that his voice is still thrilling people?

3:40 PM  

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