Monday, December 29, 2014

Gone But Not Forgotten


One of eleven children, LeRoy Crume was the son of a Missouri sharecropper who would relocate with his family to Chicago when LeRoy was ten years old. Living in 'Bronzeville', he attended grammar school with a kid named Sam Cook. Both of their fathers were preachers, and before long both boys were out there singing in family Gospel groups. LeRoy saved up enough money from his paper route to buy a guitar, and was soon playing it with the group, becoming one of the first to introduce the instrument to Gospel Music.

Sam went on to become somewhat of a teen sensation as the lead singer of the popular Highway Q.C.'s, who would develop a friendly rivalry with The Crume Brothers, each trying to 'cut' the other in area appearances. Shortly after founding father R.H. Harris left The Soul Stirrers in 1950, he recruited LeRoy to play guitar for his new group, The Christland Singers. The Soul Stirrers, meanwhile, had chosen Sam to replace the highly regarded Harris, which was considered quite a bold move at the time. As the guitar began to become an essential component of Quartet Gospel (thanks, in large part, to LeRoy), The Stirrers hired a Philadelphian named Bob King away from The Southern Tones to accompany them on the road. When King became too ill to travel, Sam convinced the group to ask LeRoy to join them.

Against his better judgement, Crume left his 'day job' in Chicago and accepted their offer. Two 'young bucks' in what had essentially been an old man's game, the pair soon became inseparable, and their late night exploits raised eyebrows up and down the Gospel Highway.

After Cooke 'crossed over' in 1956, Crume became the group's de-facto leader, and it was his closeness with Sam that influenced their decision to sign with his new SAR label, a decision Crume would later call "the biggest mistake I would ever make... I allowed friendship to overrule my business sense." Be that as it may, LeRoy remained out there on the road backing up a series of Sam's successors, like Johnny Jones, Johnnie Taylor and the extremely 'bad' Jimmy Outler:

Just positively amazing stuff, I don't think you can say enough about LeRoy's driving guitar work, and just how great The Stirrers continued to be after Sam departed. He and Leroy remained very close and, in his mind, I don't think Cooke ever really left. "Sam was a Soul Stirrer until the night somebody murdered him," Leroy said.

"Sam was as close as any blood relative I've ever had... me and Sam had that special connection." Heartbroken, Leroy had lost his best friend, and within a few months he quit the group as well. He maintained that there was a lot more to Sam's death than met the eye, and that he was killed for not playing the game the way certain people wanted him to...

Leroy eventually wound up back in Chicago where, in addition to getting a job driving a bus for the CTA, he would become a member of the Jubilee Showcase house band. He began performing some secular material with a friend of his from The Clefs of Calvary named Calvin April, and somehow they wound up recording at American for Sound Stage 7 in 1968.

I'm Alright Now
SS7 2612
"We recorded that in Memphis. It was just before the assassination of Martin Luther King, in fact, they were checking into The Lorraine Motel as Calvin and I were checking out. We even talked for awhile to some of the people with him, like Jessie Jackson, The Staple Singers, and some of the others. The following night after getting back to Chicago, I turned on the TV, and it had just happened. That's how I first heard about it... by the way, Soul X 2, was NOT my favorite name, it was given to us by the DJ from, WLAC radio in Nashville, Hoss Allen. I later renamed us Branding Iron, and that's the way that story goes!"

In the wake of the tragic killing of Dr. King in their own backyard, Al Bell was faced with re-creating the newly independent Stax Records into something more than the sum of its parts. He immediately signed The Staple Singers and hooked up with Jesse Jackson and SCLC compatriot Larry Shaw in Chicago in an effort to keep the label on the cutting edge. While in Chicago, Pervis Staples took him to see 'Father of The Blues' Willie Dixon who had recorded a demo he wanted Bell to hear.

Willie had written Right Tight and Out of Sight with a soul duo like Sam & Dave in mind. Bell liked the song, but was more interested in signing the guys who were singing it... Leroy and Calvin - now known as Branding Iron.

The record began to make some local noise, which led to an appearance on another Chicago institution, Soul Train. Things were definitely looking up! The flip of that first Volt release, Slave For Love was written by another legendary Blues figure, J.B. Lenoir. Arranged by Gene Barge, the 45 was about as Chicago as you could get. Despite Bell's assurance that "you guys are going to make so much money, you won't be able to count it all!," the record never made the national charts and, after one more Volt release, they were let go. Although Branding Iron would cut another 45 for the tiny Stag label (produced by Leroy's brother Dillard), by then he was back on the road with The Soul Stirrers, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

"I thank God for allowing me to hang around as long as I have, after literally taking away all of those that once walked along with me when this journey started... they're all gone. Now that's the scary part, because I know the next soldier to fall will definitely be me. Sometimes I wonder why was I left as the last Soul Stirrer standing, and then something seems to say, it's not yours to reason why. It's not for any man to understand God's plan."

Leroy Crume was called home on October 20th.


SSS 2612
After Huey Meaux was hauled off to prison in 1968, his friend Shelby Singleton brought the duo he had been cutting hits on at Grits 'n' Gravy to Music Row to record what has to be the only Soul song ever to feature both an electric sitar and a pedal steel guitar! Peggy and Jo Jo are just belting it out, while top shelf 'Nashville Cats' Jerry Kennedy, Pete Drake, Chip Young, Wayne Moss, Kenny Buttrey, Charlie McCoy, David Briggs and Bob Wilson burn down the house! One of my favorite records, they don't come much better than this.

Chip Young left us on December 20th,
Jo Jo Benson on December 23rd.


Space Captain
A&M 1174
I don't think we knew it at the time, but for a lot of American kids going to high school in the 1970s, Joe Cocker was as close as we got to Soul Music. When Mad Dogs & Englishmen was released in 1970, it featured covers of Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Sam & Dave tunes, alongside the Beatles, Traffic and Stones. With an all-star band put together by Leon Russell, we would soon recognize the name of every artist on there, especially that of the saxophone player, Bobby Keys, who would be cutting Sticky Fingers with The Stones within a month of those initial Fillmore East dates. This great tune we have here never fails to bring me back...

Bobby Keys passed December 2nd,
Joe Cocker on December 22nd.

Please join me in bidding farewell to these others who left us in 2014:

May Perpetual Light Shine Upon Them.


Blogger Private Beach said...

Every time I see the B-Side pop up in my RSS reader, it usually means another soul luminary's light has gone out. Your previous post at Christmas was a happy exception to this rule, but this depressing list more than makes up for that!

9:01 PM  

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