Darryl Carter - Looking Straight Ahead
According to Darryl, when Chips Moman heard him sing the Johnny Mathis number he had rehearsed, he told him, "With a voice like that, maybe you should become a songwriter!" Moman encouraged him to 'hang around' the studio nonetheless and, in addition to working on his songwriting, Darryl gradually learned the nuts and bolts of working the board and making records from him, something he remains grateful for to this day. He was in 'on the ground floor' at American, and was an old hand by the time Chips put together the 827 Thomas Street Band, and truly opened for business in 1967.
OSCAR TONEY, JR. (Bell 1011)
No Sad Song
It was only natural that one of the first songs Chips pitched to his new customers was one Darryl had written. First recorded by Paul Revere & the Raiders for their Goin' To Memphis LP, Papa Don Schroeder was the next one to pick up on it, cutting it on Oscar Toney, Jr for the album For Your Precious Love. The 1967 date stamp on this B Side of a UK single we have here places its release prior to the #22 R&B hit Joe Simon would have with it in early 1968.
John Richbourg liked No Sad Songs so much that he would make it the title track of Simon's next album. He had been sending Sound Stage 7's entire roster of artists to American since shortly after Papa Don had broken the ice in April of 1967. Darryl recalls working closely with Allen Orange as he brought in folks like Ted Ford, Arthur Alexander, Ella Washington, Roscoe Robinson, Sam Baker, Roscoe Shelton and good ol' Sir Lattimore Brown, cutting some of the best Soul records ever made in the process. With the chart success Bell and Monument were having at the studio, it was only a matter of time before Atlantic showed up. Chips told me, "I loved it every time they sent Tom Dowd down to us, because I knew I'd be getting my equipment upgraded for free!"
THE SWEET INSPIRATIONS (from Atlantic SD-8155)
Oh! What A Fool I've Been
Jerry Wexler booked Esther Phillips into American for a couple of sessions in the Spring of 1967, but things really heated up in July when they brought Wilson Pickett in with a full entourage that included Bobby Womack and King Curtis. The music they cut that Independence Day weekend (songs like I'm In Love and Memphis Soul Stew) will never die. When they bought The Sweet Inspirations down there that August to finish their first album, they cut this little known gem, composed by Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham and Darryl Carter. Amazing.
L.C.COOKE (Wand 1171)
Half A Man
When Pickett left American that Summer, Womack decided to stay. He and Darryl Carter hit it off right away, and when Florence Greenberg sent Sam Cooke's brother L.C. down to Memphis soon afterwards, he cut this tune, which may have been the first song that Darryl and Bobby wrote together. Produced by Chips, you can hear Carter singing back there in the 'Moman Tabernacle Choir' (the flip of this sought after 45, by the way, was the Penn/Oldham classic Let's Do It Over, which Joe Simon had cut while they were still at Fame in 1965).
BOBBY WOMACK (Minit 32030)
All four songwriters - Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Bobby Womack and Darryl Carter - got together shortly after that and came up with this unreal 45 which, in my opinion, should have been a smash hit. Again produced by Chips Moman, this record is just da bomb, and yet it remains virtually unknown. Talk about cookin' on all burners! That's Darryl who asks "Hey Man, What You Doin' Up Here On Broadway...? With shout outs to Pickett and the Godfather, this one should have been as big as Funky Broadway or Skinny Legs and All ...except that the Disk Jockeys still had a problem with playing Bobby's records, Darryl said, and so it was relegated to the B Side of his second Minit single, Somebody Special, instead.
WILSON PICKETT (from Atlantic SD-8183)
Let's Get An Understanding
When The Wicked One himself returned to American in March of 1968 to record his next album (presumably around the same time Broadway Walk was cut), he got together with Womack and composed the eternal title track, then proceeded to cover five more Womack tunes, two of which were written with Darryl; Remember, I Been Good To You (check out Carter & Womack on the backup vocals!), and this one on which Pickett is also credited as a co-writer. "I think I'll just step back and let the band cook a little bit, alright fellas?" Yeah, you right!
When Womack's third Minit single, What Is This, actually charted, reaching #33 R&B in May of 1968, the company finally sat up and took notice (we'll talk more about that one in a moment). They suddenly wanted an album's worth of material from Bobby. I'm not sure why they decided to neglect the other four sides they had in the can already on the three issued 45s (especially Broadway Walk), but the only ones they wanted were Somebody Special and What Is This. Womack cut his own versions of the two biggest hits he had given Pickett and then (as we mentioned back in 2007),"He started fooling around with a few standards with the guys in the studio, and the album that Minit finally received contained covers of Fly Me To The Moon, Moonlight In Vermont and California Dreamin'. They were none too thrilled..."As it turned out, though, two of those would hit the R&B top twenty, and the heat was on from Minit for a follow-up album.
BOBBY WOMACK (Minit 32071)
It's Gonna Rain
Getting back down to business with Darryl at that point, together they would compose some of Bobby's most enduring material. This rockin' little number we have here would be the first of the new songs they wrote together to be released, and would break into the R&B top fifty in early 1969. Check out the interplay between Bobby's guitar and Tommy Cogbill's unbelievable bass line... just top shelf stuff, boys and girls!
Bobby's next two singles were co-written with Darryl as well, the infectious Oh How I Miss You Baby, which clocked in at #14 R&B, and More Than I Can Stand which climbed to #23. All are taken from Womack's landmark second LP, My Prescription, which also contains another of their compositions, the hauntingly beautiful Thank You. Produced by Chips Moman, this essential album represents, in my opinion, the high water mark of R&B music recorded at American Sound. By the time it was released, however, both Womack and Carter were gone. I'm not sure exactly why, but Soul had pretty much left the building by the time Elvis showed up in early 1969...
When Womack headed back to California, Darryl was right behind him.
DARRYL CARTER (Venture 611)
Part of a West Coast scene at the label that included cool cats like Johnny Watson and Larry Williams, Darryl continued to write with Womack and his collaborator at Minit, Jimmy Holiday. According to Darryl, this rockin' dancer they came up with was starting to hit out on the coast, but MGM had no clue how to promote a black record, and didn't even press enough copies to keep up with demand. Disillusioned, he headed home to Memphis. Up until now the next part of the story seemed a little hazy, but thanks to my compadre Dan Phillips over at Home of the Groove, I think I'm beginning to see the light...
MARGIE JOSEPH (Volt 4037)
What You Gonna Do
In his excellent post about Margie Joseph last year, Dan put up her second Volt single (released in October of 1969), What You Gonna Do, which, he pointed out, was written by Bobby Womack. The song didn't really ring any bells, so I googled it. Although Womack's version didn't make it onto his first album, it turns out it had been released as the B Side of What Is This (Minit 32037). I found the original posted on YouTube and, according to the label scan, Womack had co-written it with Masquerader David Sanders and Darryl Carter... well, what do ya know! Once again, how this awesome track could have been left off Fly Me To The Moon remains a mystery.
Now... Margie Joseph was married to influential Crescent City DeeJay Larry McKinley, who had been producing her records down there with underground wünderkinds Wilson and Earl Turbinton, under the name of something called 'Colsoul of New Orleans'. After a couple of Okeh singles that went nowhere, he managed to get her signed by Volt in Memphis, with the apparent understanding that her records would still bear the 'Colsoul' name (so he could continue to collect on the production royalties, one would imagine). According to Dan, "McKinley told Rob Bowman... that Isaac Hayes actually did the main production work on What You Gonna Do." Hayes, much like our man Darryl, hung around American with Chips in the early days of the studio, and it's not much of a stretch to imagine that they were good friends. It makes sense, then, that Isaac would have pitched this underachiever of a tune (that his recently returned prodigal pal had written) to McKinley.
Your Sweet Lovin'
It also makes sense that when Don Davis brought Freddie Briggs down from Detroit, it was Hayes who partnered him with Darryl Carter to produce Margie (for Colsoul) from then on. [Darryl has since told me that he heard Margie singing one day as he was walking down the hallway at Stax, and he stopped to listen. When he introduced himself, she came over and hugged him - "I've been looking for you!" she said, and he brought her to meet Freddie.] They took her down to Muscle Shoals Sound and cut this killer number they had written especially for her. It would become her first chart hit, climbing into the R&B Top 50 in the Summer of 1970. Their follow-up single on Joseph, just an amazing cover of Stop! In The Name Of Love, did even better. The Volt LP Margie Joseph Makes a New Impression was so good that Atlantic signed her away from them in 1972...
THE MAD LADS (Volt 4041)
Seeing Is Believin'
While Margie was still ascending the charts, Volt put Darryl and Freddie together with Al Jackson, Jr. to produce this smooth number they had written with Mad Lads lead singer Gary Williams. According to Rob Bowman, "By this point, The Mad Lads were down to a threesome... and did an impressive job, but radio support was simply not forthcoming." Carter told me (just as Jimmy Hughes had a couple of years ago) that it was easy to kind of get lost in the shuffle during this period at Stax, especially if you weren't on the main imprint, as there didn't seem to be much in the way of promotion beyond their top selling artists.
(What's Under) The Natural Do
I'm not sure if Carter viewed it as a step down from Volt (although I guess that's pretty much what it was), but the company next called upon him to produce the first single on their new Respect subsidiary (and the album it was taken from, Color Me Human) with a guy Al Bell had hired, Tom Nixon. It was Nixon who had built Mickey Stevenson's aforementioned studio out in Beverly Hills, so I imagine he knew Darryl well. That's Larry Lee playing that funky guitar on this one which, predictably, went nowhere. Darryl read the handwriting on the wall at that point, and decided to kiss Memphis (and Stax) goodbye, and go somewhere himself.
This time, though, he was headed for New York.
DARRYL CARTER (Perception 500)
I don't own this 45 and, despite years of looking, have never even seen one offered for sale. I ripped this B Side off of YouTube, and it's great, but for some reason the flip is nowhere to be found. According to Darryl, Perception had pulled out all the stops for that top side, Never Forget Where You Came From, sending him down to Sigma Sound in Philadelphia to record it in 1971, and adding strings later on in Detroit. "It got the number one pick in the country," he said, "and it looked like it was going to hit big, but the label put all their promotional efforts behind some kid..." I'm not sure who that might have been but, within a year the company had hit the big time with King Harvest's Dancing In The Moonlight, and their attention had definitely drifted away from R&B. Darryl was on his way back to Memphis.
BOBBY WOMACK (United Artists 50902)
Woman's Gotta Have It
Yes, I know I have this up on The A Side, but I have 'repeated it here for emphasis', so to speak. As I was saying over there, "In my opinion, this is one of the best records ever made. Released in April of 1972, It was Bobby Womack's first number one hit, and the last truly great recording cut at American Sound in Memphis." The fact that they were able to re-capture the magic, and send this record to the very top of the R&B charts (after having been absent from the studio for almost four years), shows what important figures both Darryl Carter and Bobby Womack are in the history of 827 Thomas Street... a fact that needs to be further acknowledged, I think.
QUIET ELEGANCE (Hi 2223)
I'm Afraid Of Losing You
Willie Mitchell, who had worked on Womack's first two albums at American (before vowing never to return), knew a thing or two about number one hits in those days, and liked what he heard. After signing Frankie Gearing and Quiet Elegance to the label, he cut this beautiful song Darryl had written with Isaac Hayes' cohort Helen Washington (presumably while still at Stax) as their debut single. According to Darryl, Willie brought him and Womack in to Royal (apparently while they were still in town working on 'Woman's Gotta Have It') for this session, and that's Bobby playing Teenie Hodges' guitar! Check out Howard Grimes... just excellent stuff, man.
OLLIE NIGHTINGALE (Pride 1002)
How Far Am I From New York City
Across town at Jerry Butler's Mark XVI studio, 'Bowlegs' Miller was also paying attention, and cut another of Darryl's Stax era compositions (this time co-written with Freddie Briggs) on Ollie Nightingale for MGM subsidiary Pride. Ollie had left Stax around the same time as Darryl citing, once again, their lack of promotion (among other things). This great side also appeared on the glorious LP Sweet Surrender, which our hero Sir Shambling calls "a must have for any self-respecting Soul fan." I concur.
DARRYL CARTER (TTC 101)
The Only Thing That Saved Me (Was The Love She Gave Me)
Back in New York, Darryl hooked up with a small time record man (with apparent delusions of grandeur) named Lonnie Kaufman. He was starting up something called the 'Transworld Telefilm Corporation', which would include a subsidiary label called TTC. He hired former Jubilee producer James Shaw (who had worked with Little Buster, and a host of others), and when Darryl brought them a song he had written, Shaw 'took a piece' of the record, listing himself as a co-producer, arranger and conductor.
"Don Crews was the backbone of American," Darryl told me, and with Chips gone to Atlanta, he brought Shaw out to Don's 'American East', Onyx Studios in East Memphis, to cut TTC's lone release [I've since found out that there was at least one more 45 issued by the label... thanks, Eli!]. Don told me that Darryl was a 'good fella', and he was happy to have him. Pretty funky stuff, it's got this kind of atmospheric blues thang goin' on... wonder who's blowing that harp? Despite Kaufman's (albeit dated) Big Apple connections which secured Darryl an appearance on The Joe Franklin Show (!), and a mention as 'the next big thing' in Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town column in the Daily News, the record (and the corporation) was sinking fast. Darryl knew some people at United Artists in New York, who had just purchased the industry giant Robbins Publishing from MGM. They offered Darryl a job working with Buddy Kaye in their Los Angeles office and, just like that, he was headed back to the Left Coast.
Darryl told me he showed up for work one day and Willie Mitchell was sitting there waiting for him. He couldn't believe it. They went into his office and Willie played him the record he had just cut on Syl Johnson, We Did It. They both agreed it was good (it would eventually hit #23 R&B in early 1973), but Willie thought it could be better. "I'm spreading myself too thin," Willie told him, "I can't do all this work myself. Why don't you come back to Memphis and help me out? We both know that's where you belong." He was right, of course, and Darryl knew it. It didn't take him long to make up his mind, and his arrival at Hi inaugurated the most consistently creative period in the label's history.
O.V. WRIGHT (Back Beat 628)
I'd Rather Be (Blind, Cripple & Crazy)
Soon after he got back home, Darryl told me, he decided to go over to the studio to check things out. When he got there, O.V. Wright was standing out there on South Lauderdale Street, taking a break between sessions for his forthcoming album. As we discussed back in 2009: "He and O.V. were... shooting the breeze back and forth, when one of them said something like 'I'd rather be Blind, Crippled and Crazy than to ever do that again...' Carter recalls telling O.V. 'There's a song title right there...' and they went back into the studio and found Charles Hodges sitting at the organ. 'We wrote that song together, the three of us, in about 25 or 30 minutes,' Darryl said, 'and we cut it that same day.'" Imagine?
This is just about as good as it gets, as is the album they were working on, Memphis Unlimited, which is universally acknowledged as O.V. Wright's defining work, and one of the greatest Soul albums of all time. In addition to I'd Rather Be... (which hit #33 R&B when it was released as the first single pulled from the record), Darryl would contribute the song that had been his ill-fated TTC 45, The Only Thing That Saved Me, which O.V. just absolutely nailed, making it his own forever in the process. Memphis Unlimited represents, to me, the full maturation of Willie Mitchell's 'Sound of Memphis', and it was the addition of Darryl Carter to the team that helped pull it all together. He was home.
OTIS CLAY (Hi 2239)
I Can't Make It Alone
Now that Darryl was in the house, Willie cut a song he had written with Johnny Keyes (who had been a Magnificent with L.C. Cooke, and Isaac Hayes' road manager) on Otis Clay, whose vocal approach was similar to Darryl's. Check out the amazing Rhodes-Chalmers-Rhodes spacey background, James Mitchell's punchy horn lines and, as always, Howard Grimes immaculate percussion. Overshadowed by one of Reverend Al's biggest hits (Call Me - Hi 2237), this great record never stood a chance.
DARRYL CARTER (Hi 2244)
Looking Straight Ahead
As part of the deal that brought Carter back to Memphis, I'm sure Willie had promised him a chance to record again under his own name, and they got right down to it, cutting this one in the Spring of 1973. Most significantly, Darryl shares production credits with Willie, which is something that as far as I know had never happened before, and must have been part of the package as well. Written with Hi stalwart Earl Randle and Memphis disk jockey Bernard Miller (who would also be listed as a co-writer on Ann Peebles' mega-hit I Can't Stand The Rain around the same time), this one took a little getting used to, I think, and wound up being his only release as an artist for the label (the mellow flip, Sunshine, although it had been written with Buddy Kaye out on the Coast, didn't fare any better).
SYL JOHNSON (Hi 2250)
Back For A Taste Of Your Love
At this point, Darryl rolled up his sleeves and got down to the business of doing what Willie had initially hired him to do, work with Syl Johnson. Both originally from Chicago, it was a perfect match-up, and Johnson took this great number they wrote together (which was released as the follow-up to the 45 Willie had played for Darryl out in L.A.), to #16 R&B in the Fall of 1973, when Al Green just owned the top five. Not bad.
Darryl would work with Syl on his next 45, I'm Yours, which also charted, and on Johnson's first Hi LP, Diamond In The Rough, co-writing great songs like Let Yourself Go and I Want To Take You Home (To See Mama) (both of which made the R&B charts when they were pulled from the album as Johnson's next two singles) as well as the magnificent B Side, I Hear The Love Chimes, with the rest of the Royal Studio crew. It was reviewed as a Top Album Pick by Billboard in October of 1974; "He has a style quite his own, mixing smooth vocals against funky backgrounds... While the cuts on this LP are good for the disco market, they are more than simple dance records." Indeed.
MASQUERADERS (Hi 2251)
Now That I've Found You
Actually, I think the promise of being a producer at Hi was part of the initial package that Willie had offered Darryl, and he had his sights on his friends the Masqueraders all along. Released as the B side of both of the singles they would cut at Royal, this minor keyed pleader just kind of rolls along until it gets under your skin and takes you there with it. Written and produced by Darryl, it is as far as I can tell, the first time anyone but Willie Mitchell received a sole production credit on a Hi 45.
MASQUERADERS (Hi 2264)
Wake Up Fool
This fantastic record here is one of the best things ever cut on South Lauderdale Street. Written by the group, and produced by Darryl, that's the great Sam Hutchins (who had those two awesome AGP releases under his own name) on the lead vocals. Were these guys great or what? With Charles Hodges and Howard Grimes just locked in, this one is definitely in the pocket! "At Hi they were basically just concentrating on Al Green," Tex Wrightsill told Soul Express, "so we got lost in the shuffle." They would sign with Isaac Hayes' new HBS label soon after this killer record got lost as well.
ANN PEEBLES (Hi 2271)
Do I Need You
Darryl Carter had become an integral part of Willie Mitchell's songwriting team at Hi, and got together with Don Bryant and Ann Peebles to compose this one which, despite (or maybe because of) it's similarity to I Can't Stand The Rain stalled at #57 on the R&B Hot 100 in the Summer of 1974. According to John Ridley, "DJs and some commentators were beginning to say that Mitchell's productions had become formulaic... that all the releases on Hi sounded the same.
WILLIE CLAYTON (Pawn 3802)
It's Time You Made Up Your Mind
"Part of the response to this was to set up a new label... so Pawn Records was born." Willie brought in the Bradley brothers' tight band (and subject of the ongoing Case Seven over on Soul Detective) The Memphians for the label's inaugural release, then brought in a young kid named Willie Clayton to cut this solid soul belter that Darryl, Don Bryant and Earl Randle wrote for him. Still sounding pretty much like those aforementioned 'formulaic' Hi releases, it didn't get much airplay at the time.
SILK STORM (Pawn 3805)
Love Will Make You Feel Better
Going for that seventies falsetto Blue Magic type of vocal group sound on this one, Willie tried changing things up a bit by calling on Hi Rhythm bassist Leroy Hodges to produce this Bryant/Carter composition he had already cut on Quiet Elegance earlier in the year. Neither record charted, and at this point, I think Darryl began to question his place in the organization. With The Masqueraders gone, and no apparent plans to continue to cut him as an artist or use him as a producer, it looked like it was time to move on... again.
Things were changing in Memphis, and Darryl knew it. American was already boarded up and, within a year, the mighty Stax Empire would fall as well. Shortly after that, Willie sold Hi to the highest bidder, and things were never quite the same... "If I worked there, they went out of business," he told me. He moved around a bit, and continued to write. As we've seen, he has composed songs with some of the greatest names in the business, as well as others we haven't mentioned, like Don 'Juan' Mancha and Sir Mack Rice. In a way, perhaps that has been his greatest strength, the rare ability to truly collaborate with other people, and create something greater than the sum of its parts. This last number I offer you here may just be the one that Darryl is most proud of.
DARRYL CARTER & the ATLANTA UNDERGROUND (from HCD 002)
Baby Use A Dime
Back when he was working at Robbins Publishing in California, he noticed that one of his heros, Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Otis Blackwell, was a client. He came into the office one day and Darryl said "We should write a song together," to which Otis replied, "OK, how about right now?" and the two of them sat down at the piano and knocked this one out. Incredible. Darryl said he's been saving it for the right artist all these years, and finally cut it himself on an album of his songs that he put together "sort of as a collection of demos," ...And Then I Wrote in 1995.
Darryl is still going strong, and just kind of knocked me out that night in Memphis, when we hung out with Sir Lattimore at Howard Grimes' house in 2009:
- ed. note: be sure to check out Darryl's 2013 EP, The Woman's Gotta Have It!