Thursday, July 30, 2009

Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson - Here With Me (SSS 736)

Here With Me

Hailing from one of the most soulful areas on the planet, Jo Jo Benson came up singing, along with his brother Fletcher Flowers and his cousin Ralph 'Soul' Jackson, in Phenix City, Alabama. Just across the river from Columbus, Georgia (Oscar Toney Jr's hometown), Jo Jo got himself noticed by local dee-jay and record store maven Ed 'Dr. Jive' Mendel. Benson's 'Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye' would become one of only two releases on the Doctor's tiny Men-Del label in 1967.

The single made some local noise, and Benson soon hooked up with a throaty 17 year old he heard singing at the C'estbon Club, one Peggy Scott. Mendel, meanwhile, had started up another label called Peggy-Sue and managed to get a release by local group The Men from S.O.U.L. picked up by Shelby Singleton's nascent SSS International. The Doctor also managed to get Singleton, who was on the lookout for R&B talent, interested in Jo Jo and Peggy. Shelby signed them to the new label he had just recently created after walking away from his high level position at Mercury.

Singleton had come up out of the Louisiana Hayride scene in Shreveport and started out with Pappy Daily and Don Pierce at Starday, before making the move to Mercury as part of the George Jones deal in 1957. As he told our friend John Broven in the excellent Record Makers and Breakers; "After the first couple of years, they gave me a completely free rein... Huey Meaux and I became friends back during those years... he's the one that I got the master of Jivin' Gene from, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, and he used to get things like I'm A Fool To Care by Joe Barry... He was a unique talent, he was a master promotion man, and he could get records played... he could discover talent, for some reason."

Small wonder, then, that he turned to his old pal Meaux when he started up SSS International in early 1968.

As we've discussed in the past, Huey got in trouble with the Feds for supposedly bringing an underaged prostitute to the NATRA convention in Nashville in 1966. He fought the indictment in court for over a year, and moved to Clinton, Mississippi to try and avoid the spotlight. Along with a local character named Bob McRee (and songwriting brothers Cliff and Ed Thomas) Meaux set up shop in an old movie theater in town and the 'Grits and Gravy' Studio was born. He would continue his superb production work there with Barbara Lynn and others, and when Singleton sent Jo Jo and Peggy down there to record, Huey was ready.

Today's cool selection was the flip of their first 45 (and biggest hit) for SSS, Lover's Holiday. Produced by Meaux, it's just drippin' with soul. The record would enter the charts on April 20, 1968. According to the Billboard article above, however, by the time it had climbed into the R&B top ten that May, Huey was already in jail. He had also produced their follow-up single, Pickin' Wild Mountain Berries (which would go top ten that Fall), before they put him away...

Singleton then brought Peggy and Jo Jo to Nashville, where they would record the mighty Soulshake (#13 R&B) with his main man Jerry Kennedy and a host of other Music City session men (including our own Bob Wilson) in early 1969. After one more R&B top forty hit for SSS, they made the move to ATCO, but their charting days as a duo were over. Both Peggy (Scott-Adams, now) and Jo Jo have remained active, and both have current releases.

Shelby Singleton, of course, hit the jackpot when a release on his country Plantation label crossed over and took Jeanie C. Riley to the top of the pop charts with Harper Valley P.T.A. in the fall of 1968. The resulting influx of cash had enabled him to, among other things, build the Playground Studio down in Florida with Finley Duncan and buy Sun Records lock, stock & barrel from Sam Phillips in September of 1969. "We kinda dropped the ball on the Black market when we got involved in Sun..." Shelby told John Broven. By 1971, SSS International had ceased to exist. Singleton still presides over the Sun Entertainment Corporation down in Nashville to this day.

It took Huey Meaux a little while to regroup after he got out of the slammer but, by the early seventies, he had bought the former Gold Star Studio in Houston, where so many East Texas hits had been recorded. After completely retooling the place, he rechristened it 'Sugar Hill' and set about doing what he did best, cutting hit records. After finding old pal Freddy Fender working in a car wash down in Corpus Christi, he brought him in and cut what may be the most unlikely #1 pop hit ever, Before The Next Teardrop Falls. A remake of Freddy's 1959 swamp pop classic, Wasted Days and Wasted Nights, would break into the top ten as well that summer of '75. Huey was back in the game, big time.

In the mid eighties (just as he had done twenty five years before with This Should Go On Forever), Meaux was back helping old friend Floyd Soileau take regional Louisiana music into the national spotlight. According to Wikipedia: "Huey Meaux got the original leased to Epic Records (a division of Columbia Records), who released it nationally, and for a brief moment Rockin’ Sidney made musical history. Epic managed to get Rockin’ Sidney into the country Top 40 where he stayed for 18 weeks. It charted in the UK Top 100. Rockin’ Sidney even spent one week at #98 in the pop charts. Later that year My Toot Toot was certified platinum and won a Grammy Award. "My Toot Toot" became a national and international million-selling phenomenon. It was the first Zydeco record to get major airplay on pop, rock and country radio stations..." Huey was still making things happen.

But History has not been kind to Huey P. Meaux. After being arrested at Sugar Hill in 1996 on drug and pornography charges, he spent the past twelve years in jail. He is now eighty years old and out on parole, forced to wear one of those 'ankle monitor' things. "I took them to court and I beat them. They had to release me. They fabricated a case against me and I beat 'em, and they've been pissed ever since..."

Thanks to our friend Chuck Chellman, I was able to speak with this American legend last week:

Living History, boys and girls.


Blogger Joe Lyle said...

Hey Red. I really love what you've got going on here. I have yet to find another site that delves as deeply in to the stories behind this wonderful, unreplicable music. Your extensive knowledge of R&B is beyond impressive. And so I write to you today wondering why someone as seemingly credible and well versed on soul music as yourself is bothering talking with someone as loathsome and contrarily non-credible as Huey Meaux. Im all for giving praise where its due. Meaux was a talented producer who had a knack for picking hits. He was a clever, shrewd businessman. That being said, I don't think his contributions to music were grand enough to exonerate him from half the evil things he did over the years. You, on the other hand, seem to. Your attitude through out your article is that of "the innocent man, wrongfully incarcerated" stance. You laugh it up with him on your video. You agree he didn't deserve his prison sentence. And so comes the question of your credibility. All you have to do is google his name to find the Houston Press article published around the time of his 1996 incarceration. It reads "Acting on tips provided by estranged members of Meaux's extended family, they (the police) had obtained a warrant to search Sugar Hill and earlier had arrested the producer outside his Scarsdale-area home...There, they forced open a locked door and entered into what investigators say Meaux referred to as his "playroom." Inside were testimonials of an altogether different nature than the ones displayed out front. Among the items police say they found in the playroom were a physician's examining table, complete with gynecological stirrups, and just under 15 grams of cocaine in one of the drawers. There were also a king-size bed and a dozen or so sex toys nearby. And strewn about the room and stuffed inside a large chest were hundreds of photographs and dozens of videos that police say Meaux had produced himself at Sugar Hill over the past 20 years. According to investigators, some of the photos were of nude girls as young as seven. Some of the videos showed Meaux having sex with girls ranging in age from 12 to 16, among them the two daughters of Meaux's former live-in girlfriend."

Video tapes. Photographs. It's not a matter of he said, she said Red. He's a perverse man. The only shame is that he didn't serve more time.

I'm a teen in San Francisco who frequents this blog constantly on my never ending search for great music. After discovering Solomon Burke's take on "What Am I Living For" here, its become one of my favorite songs. Its a great fucking blog man. So for the sake of keeping an audience that respects and trusts you, don't lose your cred. by making a sympathetic character out of a conniving pedophile. I know its a rare joy to encounter and talk with someone who played a roll in all the greatness that was the 1960s. Trust me, I know. But there are some characters too seedy to be appreciated and forgiven. Nobodies a saint, but Huey Meaux takes that saying a bit too lightly.

-Joe Lyle

9:56 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

OK, Joe.

You don't think I'm aware of all of that? You don't think I read all of that stuff? Do you think, for one minute, that I am condoning it? Don't you think I find it abhorrent and reprehensible?

This blog thing is about music, not about people's personal lives. After serving 12 years in prison for something which he maintains was 'fabricated', I, for one, am willing to give him a break. Is he telling the truth? Was it a set-up? The evidence was destroyed. I don't know.

Is he now, for all time, simply a loathsome pedophile? His unique contributions to this music dismissed forever?

Michael Jackson, even though they failed to convict him in court, was ostracized and shunned for the same reasons... that is, until he died. I just didn't want to wait that long with Huey Meaux.

As far as my 'credibility' goes, you can think what you want.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous alejandro said...

Hi Red,
I was trying to find some information on this song called "Love The Bass Man" from a band called Flight 505, also produced by Shelby Singleton but on a Sumpter label. Larry at F16C directed me to another tune by Jo Jo Benson & Peggy Scott (Soulshake) that was written by the same team of Margaret Lewis and Myra Smith on SSS but I haven't been able to find anything about the group Flight 505. Would you happen to have any more info since you know some history about Singleton? I have posted the tune in my blog:
Thanks and have a great weekend and loved the tune you posted by the way!


1:55 PM  
Blogger The Eggplant said...

Saying child molestation is limited to one's own personal life sounds a lot like condoning it. I don't know Joe from Adam, but he has a valid point.

5:25 AM  
Anonymous Paul Mooney said...

It's a difficult and sensitive subject, regardless of what may or may not be true about the sexual nature or crimes of Huey Meaux.

But I think we should recognise that human beings are complicated; they have the capacity to be both good and bad, weak and strong.

It really isn't as simple as "good men" and "bad men". Some good and interesting men have done some terrible things in their lives.

And Huey was punished for the crimes he was convicted of.

We can all have opinions but we can't rewrite musical history to erase the contribution of a man because he is a convicted criminal, no matter what we may think about the crimes.

Red is obviously interested in Huey's music history, as are others. It wouldn't have been relevant or appropriate for him to pass judgement on other matters.

He spoke with Huey in an impartial and polite manner, concentrating on the music. I really don't see that he could (or should) have done it any other way.

Best wishes to everyone.

Paul Mooney

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think his other crime, if what I've read is true, would be giving himself credit for songs he didn't write.

Meaux is now a registered sex offender - you can look it up online - victim's age was 12. What's he gonna say that will change anything? Who cares if he has some conspiracy theory to use as a defense, no one buys it now.

The best any interviewer could hope for is some concrete info about his music career.

2:08 AM  

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