Sunday, October 23, 2016

HOME AT LAST - part two: Mo' Better

When Hurricane Katrina literally blew the President Casino's Biloxi barge away, and damaged virtually all of the other 'floating' gambling houses on the Gulf Coast in 2005, the Mississippi State legislature acted almost immediately to approve a law that the casino owners had been lobbying for all along. They were now able to build on shore, 'up to 800 feet inland', instantly increasing waterfront property values around ten thousand-fold.

This set off a veritable feeding frenzy, and there was little incentive to rebuild the hundreds of historic homes that occupied those 800 feet before the storm, as property owners sat back and watched as the corporations moved in. There was big money to be made on this suddenly vacant peninsula, and the big boys from Vegas and Atlantic City were on their way. Citing the 'creation of jobs' and increased tax revenues, the City and State were all for it.

It's a nice idea, only it doesn't seem to work. If anything, the East Biloxi ghetto off of North Main Street where Lattimore was living has only grown more neglected and desperate, as large portions of it were not rebuilt by the absentee landlords that own the houses there. They are, I imagine, waiting for their own piece of the pie.

The house Lattimore was renting with his wife when the storm hit is a case in point. It remains a vacant, mildewed shell to this day. The building he was living in that October of the Road Trip had been given a new coat of paint and some sprucing up by some post-Katrina volunteers but, Lattimore told me that next morning when I picked him up, the guy who owned it was 'ignorant', and would rather spend the money he gets from renting out rooms on booze than on paying the light bill. He was, he said, a 'stone alcoholic' and a bad influence on him. "I've got to get out of there," he told me, and I couldn't have agreed more.

Just as he had promised, Sir Lattimore didn't let me down, and he was ready to roll by nine o'clock. Surprisingly, he didn't seem to have suffered too much wear and tear from the previous night's festivities, and was his usual charming self. It looked like things were gonna be alright after all, and I settled in for the long drive ahead, with this most unusual of passengers filling my ear with his amazing stories.

I wouldn't have traded it for the world.

We were headed for Clarksdale, that mythic epicenter of 'the Blues' that drew Lattimore back like a magnet, only this time we weren't taking Highway 61, we were going to Jackson first. I had just written about Tommy Tate the week before I left, and learned that he was living in a 'Nursing Center' there. He was happy to have Lattimore and I as visitors, and has managed to keep his sense of humor in those somber surroundings. It was an honor to shake the hand of this man who means so much to Southern Soul.

We had one more stop to make.

One of the most influential R&B dee-jays in the South during the 'Soul-Era' was a gentleman named Sonrose Rutledge. Broadcasting on KOKA out of Shreveport, Louisiana, his 'on-air' name was 'Gay Poppa' (that's him in the shades next to the Godfather in the photo above). As many radio personalities were in those days, he was also a promoter, and helped make the Port City a regular stop on the Chitlin' Circuit.

As we drove on, Lattimore filled me in on some of the chilling details of the supposed mob hit that caused him to walk away from the music business in 1975; "Gay Poppa had organized a show at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium one weekend with a bunch of acts, and it was gonna be huge, man! Just sold out! I was living in Jackson at the time and, the morning of the show, I'm packing my things and getting ready to go, and the phone rings. It's Gay Poppa telling me 'Lattimore, I don't want you to come to the show tonight, I just got the word that there's some people out here that are out to kill you, and if you come to Shreveport, you're going to be shot down like a dog. I know I'm gonna lose money on the show and everything, but I don't want that on my head... please, just stay home.' I couldn't believe what I was hearing, it was like my whole world just fell apart on me, man."

It all came to a head, he told me, when the poster printing company he had been using for years messed up on some of his advance publicity and mistakenly advertised one of his gigs as a 'Latimore' performance. The promoters, he told me, had accused him of trying to capitalize on the sudden success Latimore had when Let's Straighten It Out went to the top of the R&B charts in 1974, and this only served to convince them they were right. Nothing could have been further from the truth, he told me, "Shit, I had been out there on the road doing my own thing for twenty years by then, I didn't need to steal nothin' from nobody else. Wherever I went, I turned the place out, man. They used to call me 'The Tennessee House Rocker'! I didn't need to copy no Benny Latimore!"

"After I got that call from Gay Poppa, I didn't know what to do. I went downtown to see Johnny Vincent, who had just put that record out on me, Warm and Tender Love, and he got on the phone to some people he knew that were in the Mob back in Louisiana, and they told him that yes, sure enough, there was a contract out on me, and that they didn't like no raggedy-ass singer messing with their money. Johnny went to bat for me man, told those people that I had been out there under my own name of Lattimore for years, and that the whole thing was just a mistake. They told him all that was alright and everything, but the only way they were gonna cancel the hit on me was if I agreed to stop performing... they didn't leave me much choice!"

Sam Baker was scheduled to appear at that fateful show in Shreveport that day as well. The two had been singing together since their days at Sound Stage 7, and often shared the bill wherever they went. In Lattimore's words, they were "like brothers." After Johnny Vincent's phone call, however, he found it hard to trust anyone, even Sam. Benny Latimore had been in Jackson only a few weeks earlier... he began to suspect anybody and everybody. He just couldn't live his life looking over his shoulder. Lattimore walked away from Chimneyville and never looked back.

That is until I dragged him there. I had no idea about any of this, really, and as he relayed all of it to me in the car, my jaw began to drop. I had arranged to stop by and visit Sam Baker on the Road Trip, but hadn't mentioned I'd be bringing Lattimore. It was going to be a surprise for both of them, and after I told Lattimore what I had in mind, he got kind of quiet, and began sort of dragging his feet the closer we got to Sam's apartment. I think he associated both Jackson and Sam Baker with what must have been the worst time of his life, and had been content to let sleeping dogs lie. Now here comes this overweight white guy out of nowhere stirring things up... I didn't know what to expect.

As it turned out, both men were genuinely glad to see each other, and the memories of the good times far outweighed the bad. "God brought us together one more time," Lattimore told him, and I have to believe that was true. Sam told me he always called Lattimore 'Mo back in the day, and from that moment on, so did I... As we pulled away in the car, 'Mo got kind of emotional, "I want to thank you, Red, for making me do this. To see Sam again in that wheelchair and everything... well it just kind of puts so much to rest in my mind. I feel like I can finally make peace with all that happened, and move on after all these years."

Their reunion was a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Sir Lattimore admired Morgan Freeman, and hardly a day went by when he didn't mention him and his continued connection with the Mississippi Delta. I had booked the same room above the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale that we had stayed in with Chase Thompson the year before, and after we checked in that evening we headed downstairs to the bar. As the beers began to pile up, it kind of broke my heart to see this genuine Mississippi R&B legend being ignored by this room full of 'blues tourists' who had no idea who he was, and honestly couldn't care less.

I don't remember how we got back upstairs...

continued in Part Three

Tuesday, June 14, 2016



Coming Home
Produced by Chips Moman in Memphis 1985

After I started writing The Chips Moman Story in early 2008, a controversial article appeared in The Commercial Appeal entitled Chips Moman: The Missing Man of Memphis Music. The comments on the article reflected the "complicated love-hate relationship" that Chips had with the city. I couldn't help but add my two cents, and spoke up about what a positive force Moman had been in the development of American Music, and blah blah. I was completely blown away when Chips longtime friend Marty Lacker contacted me and said Chips wanted to talk to me. Not a little nervous when I picked up the phone, I really couldn't believe that this legendary giant of a man had actually called me!

I literally felt like I was speaking with Elvis, or something, and I stammered my way through a few sentences before Chips went out of his way to put me at ease with his affable and genuine 'just one of the boys' manner. He appreciated what I had said in those comments, he told me, and that Marty had showed him the article I had written, and he liked it. This kind of stuff just doesn't happen too often, folks, believe me, and I can't tell you how awesome I thought it was that this man had taken the time to call and tell me that. We talked a little bit about his early days at Stax and the great R&B and Soul records he had cut at American - "That was the good stuff!," he said, and that was about it.

As I continued to write about the music over the next couple of years, I discovered more and more evidence of the underlying subtle genius of Moman's guitar playing and production in all kinds of places where I had least expected it. When the groundbreaking Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios was released in 2010, I devoured it, and was lucky enough to connect with the author, Roben Jones, who came at the music from a different angle, and helped me to broaden my understanding of the man and his music.

In 2011, The Memphis Boys were slated to play the inaugural show at the newly renovated Franklin Theater in Franklin, Tennessee. I bought tickets the first day they became available, rented a car and drove down. As I parked the car, much to my amazement, I saw Chips sitting alone out back of the theater, smoking. "Don't you have anything better to do, Moman, than to hang around the back of a Movie Theater, sneaking a cigarette?" He looked at me amazed... I really couldn't believe I had just said that, to tell you the truth. "Do I know you?" he said. After I told him who I was, he remembered immediately, and told me he was glad to finally meet me in person. Once again, he went out of his way to put me at ease and seemed to enjoy my pestering him about his early days at Stax with William Bell, Carla Thomas, Prince Conley and The Triumphs. The show was incredible, and I got to hang out with Moman both during intermission and after the show back in the smoking section out in the parking lot. Amazing.

Elvis Week in 2012 was like total Chips immersion as John Broven and I travelled to Memphis for the American Group's Beale Street Note dedication. A few well-placed phone calls helped me accomplish one of my long time goals, to re-unite Moman with Darryl Carter and The Masqueraders, all of whom he hadn't seen since he closed American in 1972. He was so into it.

After another rousing Memphis Boys show at Graceland, we moved on to Nashville where our friend at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Michael Gray, was kind enough to let us hang out backstage with Chips, Bobby Emmons and the rest of 'The Boys' after his excellent interview of Moman for the Museum.

In 2014, it was announced that Shelby County intended to place a Historical Marker at the former site of American Studios at the corner of Chelsea and Thomas in Memphis. Broven and I again made the trip, and were a bit taken aback to see our man Chips arrive in a wheelchair. He had suffered a stroke, and had difficulty speaking, but he was still sharp as a tack. When I brought Howard Grimes (who had been his drummer at Stax over 50 years before) over to see him, he knew him immediately, and it did my heart good to see them back together again.

At the Memphis Boys Salute at Graceland later that night, Chips cheered on his band from the front row, but I knew that things would somehow never be the same. We had taken a lot of photos at the Marker Dedication, and I printed a bunch of them up and sent them out to Chips, Reggie and the rest of The Boys. About a week later, my cell phone rang, and I was amazed to see Moman on the Caller ID. It was Chips' wife Jane, who told me that he insisted she call me to thank me for the pictures. After a couple of minutes, she put him on the line.

He just wanted to tell me, he said through his stroke-slurred speech, how much he appreciated all I had done... I felt the lump in my throat. "No," I told him, "I should be thanking you for all YOU have done for American Music, and I can promise you one thing - as long as I'm around there will be someone out here who will make sure that people never forget just how great and important your work continues to be..."

I hung up the phone and I wept.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Called Home

As you may know, every December I try to write something up as a sort of tribute to those who have gone on before us in the preceding year... it is a grim task that has seemed to grow more difficult as time marches on.

The sudden passing of Allen Toussaint in November took us all by surprise, and broke the heart of the Crescent City. As New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at Allen's Memorial Service, "He was as much of a New Orleans icon as St. Louis Cathedral or The Superdome," and now, in an instant, he was gone. One of the very few people who deserved to be called a musical genius, I don't think we'll see the likes of him again in our lifetime.

New Orleans seemed to have been hit particularly hard in 2015, with the loss of people like Harold Battiste, Big Chief Bo Dollis, Smokey Johnson, Frankie Ford, Trumpet Black, Charles Otis, Irving Smith and, on November 21st, blue-eyed soul brother Skip Easterling. Skip had come up across the lake in Slidell singing with Eddie Lang and, after a couple of singles on Reno and Ron that went nowhere, was signed by Joe Banashak in 1963 and handed off to Toussaint for his new ALON label.

Don't Let Him (Come Between Us)

Although Easterling is remembered mostly for the records he cut later on with Eddie Bo and Huey Smith, this little known Toussaint composition (almost certainly cut while he was home on leave during his stint in the Army) provides us with a glimpse of the under-appreciated work he was doing at Cosimo Recording during that period.

Wayne Carson, who had penned songs like The Letter and Soul Deep for The Box Tops, and Nine Pound Steel for Joe Simon (along with Dan Penn, who said they came up with about "...a pound a day."), while at American Sound in Memphis, said he wrote his most enduring composition "in ten minutes sitting at my kitchen table". In late 1971, Chips Moman told him he had to come up with a 'bridge' for the song before he would record it on him. Staff songwriters Mark James and Johnny Christopher sat down with Wayne upstairs in Chips' office and hammered one out on an old upright piano. Moman approved. According to Roben Jones, he liked the results so much that he flew Carson personally to Nashville to shop the tapes to Fred Foster at Monument, who told them "I don't think the world is ready for it."

Always On My Mind

He may have been right... but Chips never gave up on the song. Ten years later (when he was producing Poncho and Lefty on Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson), he and Bobby Emmons offered the song to Merle who declined to cut it for the album. Willie, however, said it "bowled me over the moment I first heard it." An absolute masterpiece, Moman's towering 1982 Memphis Boys production of it on Nelson will, in my humble opinion, live on forever... Bobby Emmons left us on February 23rd, Wayne Carson on July 20th.

Soul Meeting

The passing of Don Covay in February, followed by Ben E. King in April, brought the entire Soul Clan back together one more time (well, actually, they never really were together when they cut their lone Atlantic single in 1968, recording their vocals at different times whenever their schedule permitted). Don Covay was the prime mover and shaker behind the whole super-group idea and, as we've seen in the past, wanted King in the Clan from day one. After recruiting Bobby Womack to play guitar, he produced this funky artifact of Soul from a time and place that will never come again.

It's All Wrong But It's Alright

Speaking of Atlantic, when Percy Sledge died in April, it really hit home. He was, to my generation, our first introduction to Southern Soul. If you are of a certain age you know what I mean... I still get all emotionally involved whenever I hear When A Man Loves A Woman, and I know I always will. This phenomenal B Side, written by Marlin Greene and Eddie Hinton (neither one of whom gets a mention in the Muscle Shoals movie), has the same effect on me. Percy had that power... "It's your love that's keeping me alive..."

Soul Deep.

Please join me in saying goodbye to all those who have gone on before us in 2015:

Until We Meet Again!

Monday, December 14, 2015

J. Hines and The Boys - A Funky Xmas To You (Nation-Wide 101)

A Funky Xmas To You

The focus of Soul Detective's Case Three, our investigation into the life and times of J. Hines has been one of our most rewarding and comprehensive.

Long the partner and collaborator of Roy C. Hammond, J. Hines and his guitar have left an indelible stamp on Southern Soul, and his influence on the music can still be heard today. It was my good fortune to have visited Allendale, South Carolina several times during the course of our inquiry, and to have made the acquaintance of Roy, Benny Gordon and his family, and J.'s marvelous wife, Ann. One of the most soulful places on the planet, I will never forget the moonlit night that Ann took me out to visit Hines' (who had passed away in 2004) as yet unmarked grave. This man was deep, folks, and by all accounts one of the kindest and gentlest human beings that ever walked this earth.

Although we knew of this record's existence, back in 2008 I said "I have never even heard of an existing vinyl copy." Well now, as you can see, all that's changed. I came across this one on eBay a short time back. Released as an alternate holiday B side of Funky Funk Part 1 (Nation-Wide 100), I can't imagine there were too many of these pressed at the time. That's Roy on the vocals, and J. Hines on that rockin' guitar...

"Down the chimney came a big black Santa Claus with a funk sack on his back, singin' there ain't nothin' like a Funky Christmas!"

No, there sure ain't! I hope Santa treats you good!


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Allen Toussaint 1938-2015

The quiet genius of Allen Toussaint flowed like a river through the city he loved. Enormously talented, he knew few equals as a songwriter, producer and arranger, yet he carried himself with humility and grace. "My music is homegrown from the garden of New Orleans," he said, preferring always to deflect the attention away from himself. Genteel, immaculate, Allen Toussaint was, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful people I've ever known.

I first met him in 1988 when I took the bus up to Clematis Avenue and knocked on the door of his Sea-Saint Studio. I was nothing short of amazed when he welcomed me in, and showed me around himself, even taking a seat at the piano and playing a little something. From that moment on, I became his disciple, and went to see him perform whenever I got the chance. Without fail, he took the time after each show to listen to me and answer my questions... he didn't have to do that, but he did.

As I continued in my quest to find the records he had a hand in creating, the doors kept opening in front of me, as one obscure discovery seemed to lead to the next. When Katrina hit ten years ago, Toussaint was the reason I started writing this stuff on the internet, as it felt like the wind might just blow it all away... Go Back Home (Alon 9021) would become my first B Side post in September of 2005.

Since then, Allen and his music have seemed to run like a thread through everything I've ever written. If you type his name into one of those red kelly search boxes, you get over ten pages of results. In 2006, I went so far as to dub him 'The Patron Saint' of the site, as he cut so many great B sides. The more I discovered about him, the more impressed I became with the impeccable quality of his work. In 2008, I posted a podcast called An Instant of Toussaint that pulled together some of the under-appreciated records he produced for the New Orleans label, and the hits just kept on comin'.

I didn't know what they meant at the time, but most of the 45s I was putting up bore that 'cryptic hyphenated set of two numbers' that would come to be known as The Cosimo Code. As we moved forward in researching and building the site in 2012, Toussaint and his work became more prominent than ever before, and the more we learned, the more it confirmed his importance in the development of the music.

This past April, when John Broven was invited by the French Quarter Fest to moderate a discussion about Cosimo Matassa that would feature Allen and Deacon John Moore, he asked me along to do a short presentation on The Cosimo Code, and what it represents. I was truly honored, and not a little nervous, to say the least... after all, this meant I would be sharing a stage with Toussaint!

Before the panel, I told Allen that he was now 'the patriarch' of New Orleans music, and that I thought he was every bit as important a figure as Louis Armstrong or Professor Longhair - but he'd have none of it, and dismissed that kind of talk with a wave of his hand. I kept at it, though, "You're the guy who called Professor Longhair 'The Bach of Rock'," I said, what should we call you?" He looked at me with that sardonic grin of his and said, "You can call me the guy who called Professor Longhair The Bach of Rock," and that was that.

You can check out a video of the entire panel discussion on The Cosimo Code, but I wanted to include this short clip from that day here:

Always at his best when someone else was in the spotlight, Allen's piano here is positively brilliant. I didn't know it would be the last time I'd ever see him....

"Music is everything to me short of breathing," he said, and now that music is all we have left. Rest In Peace, Southern Knight... this world is a smaller place without you in it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mighty Sam - Silent Tears (Amy 990)

I just got the sad news that the great Mighty Sam McClain has passed on due to complications from a severe stroke he suffered back in April. Sam had a voice as big as the whole world, and a heart to match. Since I wrote this piece on him almost eight years ago his career had taken off, releasing over a dozen albums and touring all over the planet. Although he was nominated 22 times for a Blues Foundation award (including 12 for 'Soul-Blues Male Artist of the Year'), somehow he never won. That, my friends, is a crying shame.

Rest In Peace Mighty Sam!!

Silent Tears

Mighty Sam McClain is the genuine article.

As one of a family of thirteen children growing up in Winnsboro, Louisiana, he learned early on that life wasn't gonna be easy. Singing with his mother at Church on Sundays taught him the power of song, and helped him realize that he had a special talent. By the time he was in seventh grade, Sam (with the help of his gym teacher) had put together a group of his own, and was earning some money playing parties on the weekends. Maybe his stepfather resented that, I don't know, but he made it a point to try and bring this gifted boy down, telling him that he'd 'never amount to nothing'. Within a year young Sam was gone, setting out on his own to prove him wrong.

Heading up the road to Monroe, he got a job as the 'valet' for local bluesman Little Melvin. Travelling all over the South with him, he cut his teeth out there on the 'Chitlin' Circuit' in the late fifties and early sixties. When Melvin's featured vocalist Sonny Green left to pursue his solo career, young Sam stepped up and took his place. As he began to make a name for himself with his full throated vocals, he became known as 'Good Rockin' Sam'. On a swing through Pensacola, Florida in 1963, McClain liked it so much that he decided to stay, holding down a regular gig at the fabled 506 club. Tom's Tavern, another juke joint across town, hired him one night and, apparently unable to remember the 'Good Rockin' part, billed him as 'Mighty' Sam. The name stuck...

In 1956, an aspiring Nashville songwriter named Don Gibson recorded a song he wrote called Sweet Dreams (Of You), which made it to #9 on Billboard's Country and Western chart. It was picked up later that same year by Shreveport honky tonk hero Faron Young, who would take it all the way to #2, second only to an upstart kid named Elvis Presley. In 1960, Gibson, who was by then a superstar in his own right, cracked the top ten once more with his own newly recorded version.

In early 1963, Patsy Cline was finishing up work on an album with producer Owen Bradley. The primary architect of 'music row', his sweeping vision and trademark lush orchestrations had revolutionized the 'Nashville Sound'. Although Cline was afraid she might lose her 'down home' audience, she couldn't help but be impressed with the quality of the sessions. Before the record was released, she would meet her end in that fateful plane crash in March of 1963. The version of Sweet Dreams (Of You) she had recorded with Bradley was released as a single within a few weeks, and rocketed to #5 Country, while barely missing the Pop Top 40. This timeless song indeed 'had legs', and had earned its reputation as a Country 'standard'...

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, local Pensacola dee-jay Papa Don Schroeder caught Mighty Sam's act at the 506 club in the summer of 1966. Itching to fulfill his destiny as a record producer, he approached Sam about travelling to Fame Studios with him up in Alabama (where he had cut demos with Rick Hall back in his Nashville days) with him to do a session. Schroeder had set it up for a weekend, when Hall could spare the studio time, but Sam was reluctant to lose a lucrative Saturday night at the club. Finally, he relented, and made the trip to Muscle Shoals with Papa Don and his father-in-law.

As Papa Don recalls it, Rick Hall didn't even come in for the session, and it was engineered by Dan Penn. Nobody really had any material ready, and so they worked on a few 'old saws' like Georgia Pines and, yes, Sweet Dreams (Of You). They were feeling pretty good about the results, until, as Sam tells it, somebody walked in with a copy of Billboard, and they couldn't believe their eyes. Not only was a version of Sweet Dreams already climbing the charts, it had been recorded by some kid named Tommy McLain who grew up in Jonesville, not fifty miles from Sam's hometown! Pretty spooky stuff, and McClain was convinced his 'career was over', even before it got started.

Undaunted, Papa Don loaded everybody into his International Harvester and set out for Nashville, where he still had a few connections. Their first stop was old friend Buzz Cason's office, and he loved the tapes. Cason then called Bell Records owner Larry Uttal, who was hanging around Nashville looking for the next big thing. Convinced he had found it, he offered Papa Don and Mighty Sam a contract. Hastily recording Cason composition Good Humor Man as the B side (as a way of thanking him with the 'mechanicals'), it was released as Amy 957 in the summer of 1966 (in spite of lucrative counter-offers from Jerry Wexler, who was not Uttal's biggest fan).

Although not reflected in the Billboard charts, Mighty Sam's version of Sweet Dreams was a big record in spite of (or maybe even because of) Tommy McLain's top twenty hit. Cason's infuence in Nashville (which I'm sure included WLAC), along with Uttal's in New York got it plenty of airplay in those markets. Before long, Sam was playing the Apollo, and things were looking good. His follow-up record, a high energy cover of Buster Brown's 1959 #1 R&B smash Fannie Mae, kept him popular out there on the circuit, although it once again failed to dent the charts.

On a return trip to Pensacola, Sam made what he feels may have been his biggest mistake when he took Papa Don to see The Dothan Sextet at his old haunt, Tom's Tavern. Schroeder, just as he had done with McClain, lured James Purify and Robert Dickey to Muscle Shoals, and the rest is history. After they hit the big time with I'm Your Puppet, Sam says he 'couldn't even get Don on the telephone'. When I told Schroeder (who was kind enough to leave a comment a couple of weeks ago) I was going to write this piece, he emailed me & said, "Mighty Sam was a very important part of my life. Unfortunately, he never did forgive me for not doing the same for him that I was able to do for the Purifys, Toney... etc. but God knows I tried. Sweet Dreams and Fannie Mae were the closest..."

In the Sundazed interview he goes on to say, "I guess he was just a little too black for the white market…not for me though. He was over the line even from Bobby Bland. But he was a great artist…a great artist. And I really tried, man. You see all those sides I cut on him? We just couldn’t make it happen." I do believe that Papa Don was trying, as Sam's Amy sides, when you listen to them today, are uniformly excellent. Today's selection is the flip of his fifth non-charting single for the company, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham's In The Same Old Way. With the possible exception of Arthur Conley's deeply emotional rendition, Mighty Sam's version remains the definitive one. The cool B side you're listening to was co-written by Papa Don and Oscar Toney Jr, and released in 1967. I'm not sure where it was recorded, although the fact that Toney is the co-writer would seem to place it after Schroeder made the move to American in Memphis... the guitar work here is positively amazing! What do you think... Reggie Young? Eddie Hinton? Moses Dillard...? {ed. note 11/15: OK, I just confirmed it with ol' Papa Don himself - the single was indeed cut at American, and features our guitar hero Reggie Young along with the rest of the 'Memphis Boys'. Thanks, Papa!}

Nothing if not persistent, Papa Don would continue to release 'product' on Mighty Sam right up until the day he walked away from Uttal and Bell/Mala/Amy in 1969. Listening to these records today, as I said, it's hard to imagine why they didn't meet with greater success. You can check them all out on the excellent Sundazed CD Papa True Love - The Amy Sessions. Once Papa Don had left the business (temporarily), Mighty Sam began working with his 'right hand man', Charlie Capri.

Wexler finally got his wish, as Capri got Mighty Sam a deal with Atlantic Records in 1970. After only two singles that didn't make the charts (one of which was included on Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers last year), the big company lost interest, and dropped him (maybe going with Uttal wasn't such a bad idea after all). Capri's next stop was Malaco Records in Jackson, Mississippi, where they recorded the great cheatin' song Mr And Mrs Untrue.

Atlantic was the Malaco distributor at that point, and refused to pick up the single on an artist they had just cut loose. Malaco decided to release it anyway and, in what must have seemed like 'deja vu all over again' to Sam, they watched in disbelief as Candi Staton's version of the same song appeared on Fame around the same time. Candi's record climbed all the way to #20 R&B, while Sam's died on the vine. Unreal. As the market for his kind of music began to disappear in the mid-seventies, the once mighty McClain sank into a dark and desolate period that found him living on the streets, and eating out of garbage cans.

Drifting to New Orleans, he came to the attention of The Neville Brothers, who were instrumental in getting him recorded by the small Orleans label in 1984. An album would follow a few years later, after which Sam was invited to perform in Japan. A live LP (which featured Wayne Bennett on the guitar) was released by Japanese label DeadBall in the mid-eighties.

All of this brought him to the attention of Hammond Scott, and he became the featured vocalist on the 1987 Black Top release Hubert Sumlin's Blues Party. Although this is probably what caused Sam to be categorized from that moment on as a 'Blues' artist, at least he was working again. Relocating to Houston, he tried his hand at real estate, but the music was in his blood.

A move to Boston in the early nineties was followed by the critically acclaimed Audioquest album Give It Up To Love in 1993. Now able to support his own band, Sam found regular work in and around New England, as well as touring the European 'festival circuit' every year. Moving to southern New Hampshire, he put down roots, and has continued to release great records right up to the present day, forming his own record label and production company in 2003.

An unashamed Christian, Mighty Sam's music refuses to be categorized, and contains elements of Gospel, Blues and Soul, in a true reflection of what lives in his heart. As a way of giving something back, his latest project has been to join in the Give Us Your Poor campaign to end homelessness. In addition to appearing on the album (released this past September), he'll be performing at the benefit concert this Friday, November 16th at the grand re-opening of the Strand Theater in Boston.

Just Like Old Times.