Jimmy Hughes - You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy (You Really Know How To Make Him Cry) (Fame 6410)
You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy (You Really Know How To Make Him Cry)
PART ONEOnce in a great while, a CD comes along that changes everything... that somehow gets under your skin and makes you wonder how you ever lived without it. The Best of Jimmy Hughes is like that. Long considered the 'holy grail' of Southern Soul, the music that Rick Hall produced down in Muscle Shoals for his FAME label had never been re-issued on CD. As we reported back in November of 2006, a historic agreement with EMI was about to change all that. Complete with a magnificent re-mastering job by Rick's son Rodney (at the same landmark studio where it was cut in the first place), and over two hours of interviews in an enhanced package, this collection of Jimmy's groundbreaking recordings represents the first release from that legendary catalogue.
It kicks ass.
Thanks to the folks at Shore Fire Media, I was able to speak with Jimmy on the phone this past Monday about all of this, and he is simply elated that people are discovering his music all over again. Let's take a closer look...
As we've discussed in the past, Rick Hall played bass in a 'frat circuit' group called The Fairlanes, along with a sax player named Billy Sherrill, and a musical genius of a guitar player named Terry Thompson. Working the same territory was a band called The Pallbearers that was led by a brash young kid named Dan Penn. Holed up in a room over the drug store in the small town of Florence, Alabama (with another local character named Tom Stafford), they'd listen to R&B, write songs, and fantasize about making records of their own.
Rick Hall, never much of a dreamer, set out on his own to make that happen. He borrowed some money and converted an old tobacco warehouse out on the Wilson Dam Road into a studio of sorts. When a local guy that worked in the town's movie theater showed a song he had written to Stafford, he brought him out to see Rick. He would record Arthur Alexander's You Better Move On and a song Terry Thompson had written, A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues, using members of both The Fairlanes and the Pallbearers as the back-up band in the summer of 1961.
It was there in that place that the 'Muscle Shoals Sound' was born.
Thanks to a sympathetic Nashville dee-jay named Noel Ball, the record was picked up by Randy Wood's Dot label, and spent three months in the Billboard Hot 100, climbing as high as number 24 in early 1962 (on its way to becoming one of the most influential two-siders ever recorded). The guys down in Florence couldn't believe it. This felt like the big time. Suddenly a star, Alexander used the royalties he got to buy himself a brand new Lincoln, and make sure he was seen driving it all around town.
Jimmy Hughes was working at a place called E.S. Robins Floor Products across the river in Muscle Shoals. He had been singing lead in a quartet-style Gospel group called The Singing Clouds since his senior year in high school back in his hometown of Leighton, five years before. He was good, and he knew it. He saw Arthur behind the wheel of that Lincoln, and thought, 'Hey, why not me?'. A fellow member of the Clouds named Carl Bailey worked at a car lot that was owned by Rick Hall's father-in-law (Bailey would go on to become a well known radio personality in the region, eventually becoming the owner of station WOWL), and it was Bailey who got Hall and Jimmy together out at the studio on Wilson Dam Road.
In his upcoming autobiography Hell Bent For FAME (as told to Terry Pace), Rick recalls meeting Jimmy for the first time, "I was awestruck by his chiseled movie-star good looks and mesmerized by the power of his high tenor voice." Hall decided to cut a song on him that he had written with WLAY dee-jay Quin Ivy and, on the strength of his success with Arthur Alexander, was able to lease it to the Guyden label up in Philadelphia in late 1962. Although it did well locally, I'm Qualified never managed to dent the charts. Jimmy 'kept his day job' at Robins, but began singing R&B on the weekends... he had 'crossed-over'.
"Why don't you try your hand at writing something?" Rick told him and, after spending a couple of weeks working on it during the late shift at Robins, Jimmy came back with a song so good, it would basically create the whole concept of 'Southern Soul', only at that point Rick didn't quite get it. They recorded a demo of the song, and it got put on the back burner.
Rick, meanwhile, took the money he had made off of 'You Better Move On', and used it to design and build a new studio at 603 East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, which opened its doors in the Spring of 1964. Along with Terry Thompson, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam and Jerry Carrigan (who were now the nucleus of the first 'rhythm section'), Jimmy Hughes became the first person to ever record there, putting the finishing touches on the song he had written two years earlier, Steal Away. According to Rick, "Jimmy simply reared back, dug in, and with passion and determination written all over his face, HE NAILED IT!!! 'What a singer,' I thought, 'What a singer! What a star!!'"
Finally convinced of what Dan Penn had been telling him all along, that Steal Away had the potential to be a big hit, he began shopping it around to record companies, without any luck. Atlanta impresario Bill Lowery, who had brought The Tams down there to record, was the one who convinced Hall to start his own label, and release the song himself. Just as he had done with the studio, he named the label after the publishing company they had started back in the drugstore days, Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, better known as FAME.
He pressed up 1000 copies of the 45, packed them into a Ford Fairlane wagon he borrowed from his Father-In-Law's lot (along with two cases of vodka and Dan Penn) and set off on a mission to get Steal Away the attention it deserved. They knocked on the door of 'every R&B station that had a tower' in the South, covering hundreds of miles over the course of a couple of weeks. Rick, a "white cracker" as he described himself, would tell them "I ain't much, I ain't got nothin'... but I'm begging, please play my record. Listen to it, and if you like, it play it..." and so they did. By the time he and Dan got back, the phones were ringing off the hook at the distributors all up and down the line, clamoring for copies of that first Fame single. Steal Away, as Jimmy himself said, was "what Black people liked" and was one of the first records to focus on that whole 'how can something so right be so wrong?' thang that is still resonating in Southern Soul today.
Jimmy, meanwhile, had no idea what Rick and Dan were up to, and was as surprised as anyone to hear his song being played on the radio. He took two weeks vacation from Robins, and went out in support of the record. He was amazed by the response he was getting and, at the end of the two weeks, he signed on with Bill Lowery, who booked him all over the South. He never looked back. Faced with ever increasing demand, Rick signed a distribution deal with Vee-Jay Records through their southern representative, Mac Davis. This song of songs would spend the whole summer of 1964 on the charts, and put Muscle Shoals, and Jimmy Hughes, on the map.
They began work on a Steal Away LP that would be released on Vee-Jay in 1964 (VJ 1102). The singles from the album still appeared on FAME, and Jimmy's version of Try Me would make it to #65 R&B that Fall. Perhaps the most notable thing about that 45, however, was its B side, Lovely Ladies, which was one of the first collaborations between Dan Penn and the new keyboard man at the studio, Lindon 'Spooner' Oldham. Jimmy continued to write himself, and It Was Nice was cut as the B side of his next record, but it didn't do much.
The Loving Physician, another Hughes composition (later covered by Ted Taylor), was released as the flip of our current cool selection. Another early Penn/Oldham number, they just don't come much better than this. They say that Dan and Spooner would hole up at the studio for days at a time writing these timeless songs. Imagine? If you listen closely, I'm pretty sure that's Penn on the background vocals. Very cool. Amazingly, though, once again, the record didn't chart (perhaps even more amazingly, it didn't make the CD!).
Despite their quality, neither of Jimmy's next two records, Midnight Affair and Everybody Let's Dance, would make the charts either. The main reason for that, I think, was FAME's distribution deal with Vee-Jay. By mid 1965, the company was collapsing under its own weight, and was involved in lawsuits involving everyone from The Four Seasons to The Beatles. Once the premier black-owned R&B label in the world, their move from Chicago to L.A. had been the beginning of the end. Caught up in their own difficulties, promoting Rick Hall's singles just wasn't that high on their to-do list. By August of 1966 the company was out of business.
As luck would have it, this was also about the same time that Joe Galkin, the Southern promo man for Atlantic Records, started knocking on the door. Joe handed the phone to Rick Hall one day, and he told Jerry Wexler about this guaranteed #1 hit that Jimmy's cousin had just cut with his old pal Quin Ivy. It was this part that he played in convincing Atlantic to pick up When A Man Loves A Woman that helped get Rick his new distribution deal with ATCO. He brought in Ray Stevens, and they cut a new 'funked-up' version of Neighbor, Neighbor (now up on The A Side), a Huey Meaux song that Jimmy had already recorded for the Vee-Jay LP. With the muscle of the big company behind it, it just took off, climbing all the way to #4 R&B at the same time that cousin Percy's big record was riding the #1 spot in May of 1966. Jimmy and Percy had gone to the same high school in Leighton, and here they were both in the top five. Wow.
With the 'second rhythm section' now firmly in place, Fame was just burning it up on all cylinders. Jimmy's follow-up record was another incredible Penn/Oldham number, I Worship The Ground You Walk On, which would hit the R&B top 25 at the same time that Wilson Pickett's Fame recorded Land of 1000 Dances (on which Jimmy told me he sang those high Na-Na-Na-Na-Nas) was in the top slot. Incredible stuff. A Country songwriter named Jimmy Gilreath had been hanging around the studio for a while, and Hughes heard him working on a tune up front in the lobby. "What you gonna do with that song?" he asked him. "You want it, you can have it," Gllreath said. Jimmy's favorite of all the songs he recorded, Why Not Tonight is one of the all time great 'Black Country' songs which would, once again, crack the top five in early 1967. It was also just a huge record overseas and, according to our friend Ben the Balladeer, it was heard more than the national anthem in Suriname in those days. Jimmy was still writing himself, and the B side of that record, the phenomenal I'm A Man Of Action, is one of his best.
Jimmy was there when Atlantic brought down Aretha, when Otis Redding cut Arthur Conley, when Chess brought Etta James. His own take on Don't Lose Your Good Thing (the Rick Hall/Spooner Oldham/Bob Killen classic) was released next and although it didn't chart, it still holds up as the best version, in my opinion. Another Hughes composition, Time Will Bring You Back, was released as the flip of a rocking cover of Hi-Heel Sneakers which missed the charts as well. Most of his work from this period was collected on the Why Not Tonight LP (ATCO 33-209) issued in late 1967.
This was around the same time that Jimmy, like most everyone else that worked the Southern chitlin' circuit back then, signed on with Red-Wal, the Macon based management and booking agency started up by Otis Redding and Phil and Alan Walden. They were involved in the big Stax-Volt package tour of Europe that year, and were instrumental in getting Arthur Conley on the bill. They represented Johnny Taylor, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave... "You should sign with Stax," they told him, "that's where it's all happening!" "Besides," they said, "we're all distributed by Atlantic anyway, right?" Just one big happy family. Eventually he was convinced, and Alan Walden brought Jimmy to Memphis to sign a deal with them.
Otis Redding's plane went down on December 10, 1967.
Atlantic, meanwhile, had made the decision to move Jimmy (along with Clarence Carter) up to the big label. On January 20, 1968, they released one of the best songs Jimmy had ever written, It Ain't What You Got (Atlantic 2454), a record which would put him right back on the R&B charts. On February 3rd, Atlantic was sold to Warner Brothers, which would set in motion the severing of their relationship with Stax. Shortly after this, Jimmy told me, he found himself sitting next to Jerry Wexler on a plane. "You know that we're no longer going to be distributing Stax, right?" he asked him. Jimmy was floored. He had no idea.
continued in PART TWO...