Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Clarence Carter - She Ain't Gonna Do Right (Fame 1016)

She Ain't Gonna Do Right

Clarence Carter, blinded when he was one year old, came up as a student at the Talladega School for the Negro Deaf and Blind, the same institution that produced Clarence Fountain and the rest of the Blind Boys of Alabama. His first love was the Blues, however, and he took up the guitar when he was only eleven years old.

Clarence would go on to graduate from Alabama State University in 1960 with a Bachelor's Degree in Music - no mean feat for a blind black man in the South in those days! He would hook up with another blind student by the name of Calvin Scott, and they began performing together as Clarence and Calvin. They would back up national acts like John Lee Hooker as they passed through Montgomery on their way around the 'chitlin' circuit', and made a name for themselves in the South. Don Robey signed them to his Duke label in 1962, and released four singles over the next three years (sometimes calling them the 'C&C boys'), but they went nowhere.

In early 1966, after Robey failed to renew their contract, the 'boys' paid for some studio time at the new Fame studio facility in Muscle Shoals, and cut a 'one-off' single for Atlanta dee-jay Zenas Sears (later released on ATCO). Rick Hall liked what he heard and began recording them himself. At this point, Calvin got married, and was convinced by his wife to 'go solo', leaving Clarence to fend for himself.

Hall was impressed with Clarence's songwriting abilities, and signed him to his Fame label. Carter composition Tell Daddy was his first Fame single, and broke the R&B top 40 in January of 1967 (Etta James, of course, would take the feminized version to the top ten later that year). After Thread The Needle cracked the top 40 as well, Atlantic signed Carter to the 'big label' by the end of the year.

Today's crankin' soul burner was recorded around this time, but there's some conflicting information about when it was released, with some sources placing it as late as November of '68. In a happy turn of events for us, our tune is listed as the B side of the single by no less an authority than The Soul Of The Net, and is the flip of the bluesy Road Of Love. With the fabled 'second section' absolutely on fire (check out Jimmy Johnson's guitar!), this is one of my all time fave Fame records. Woo-Hoo!!

The first Atlantic single, Looking For A Fox, was a top 20 hit. The second release, Funky Fever (a kind of answer song to Funky Broadway) made #49 in June of 1968, before dee-jays everywhere flipped the record over and started playing the B side, Slip Away. Just like Jimmy Hughes' Steal Away had done four years before, this 'cheatin' song ate up the charts, spending two weeks at #2 R&B that summer (it was only kept from the #1 position by Hugh Masekela's massive hit Grazing In The Grass). It would become a million seller, as would the #3 follow-up, Too Weak To Fight. Records like Snatchin' It Back and Doin' Our Thing would keep Clarence in the top ten in 1969, while 1970 saw the release of his biggest record ever, Patches. Clarence had first heard the song on a Chairman Of The Board album, and turned it into the sentimental smash that cracked the pop top five that August.

Carter was unable to keep producing the mega-crossover hits for Atlantic (who by now was busy with Led Zeppelin and CSN anyway), and by early 1972 he was back recording for Fame. He has actually cut more songs at the studio than any other single performer over the years, and Rick Hall has said that Clarence is "at the top of my list... he's not only one of the finest artists, but one of the finest people I've ever met".

When Hall closed down his label in 1974, Clarence moved to ABC and, would record later on for the Venture label. Carter continues to perform to this day, and remains immensely popular in the South. His early 90s Ichiban album, Dr. C.C., contained a little ditty called Strokin', which remains a favorite of wedding DJ's everywhere, and ensures that he'll be heard for years to come...

OK, now, take a look at the songwriting credits on our current killer b side - that's right, Dan Penn and Lindon Oldham.

As we've mentioned here before, Dan Penn is the man who brought the 'soul to the shoals', burning up the fraternities with his own brand of high voltage R&B as the leader of the Mark Vs. When a song he wrote up over the drugstore, Is A Bluebird Blue?, became a hit for Conway Twitty in 1960, people began to take his songwriting skills seriously. Shortly afterward, Penn changed the name of his band to The Pallbearers, and they began showing up for gigs crammed into an old hearse. Something happened out there on the road, and Dan decided to give it all up for the Lord, moving to Texas to work in a Christian bookstore.

After he got that out of his system, he came back to Muscle Shoals and joined Rick Hall as a staff songwriter at his brand new studio, bringing The Pallbearers in as studio musicians. After the success of Jimmy Hughes' Steal Away, it was Dan Penn who had the second release on the Fame label in June of 1964. It didn't sell much, so he continued to write, working with old pals David Briggs and Donnie Fritts. As the Pallbearers started to drift away for better paying jobs in Nashville, Hall brought in a new keyboard man, Dewey Lindon Oldham.

'Spooner', as his friends called him, would release a single on Fame as well, and soon became Penn's favorite collaborator. They'd "take a couple of pills, and stay up all night writing... the songs'd fall on the floor, and in the morning the artists would come in and want to cut 'em!", Penn said. One such artist was Joe Simon, who had come to Fame on the advice of WLAC's John R, and took Penn-Oldham composition Let's Do It Over to #13 R&B in the summer of '65.

When James and Bobby Purify broke into the top ten with I'm Your Puppet in 1966, the record companies began to realize how great their songs really were. They had developed quite an extensive catalogue of material by then, and their tunes were in demand. Penn, frustrated with Rick Hall, left the Shoals to work with Chips Moman in Memphis right around this time. Oldham stayed behind, playing on some of the greatest records ever made.

He and Spooner had cut rough demos of most of their songs at Fame, and Dan brought them with him to Memphis. Moman has said that those demos were "masterpieces... there's nothing more entertaining then a Dan Penn - Spooner Oldham demo, I'd rather hear that than anybody's master!". I have managed to hear a few of them myself over the years, and I agree, these guys were something else (Barry Fowden featured one on his radio show just last week).

Penn kept on writing, and with Chips as his new partner, would come up with all-time classics Do Right Woman-Do Right Man and The Dark End Of The Street while working at American Studios with him. He began producing as well, and one of his first efforts, The Letter, was absolutely huge, putting The Box Tops on top of the pop charts for a month in the fall of 1967. The pressure was on for a follow-up record, and Dan finally convinced Spooner to come join him in Memphis. It took a while, but the old magic re-surfaced, and the song they came up with, Cry Like A Baby, would coast to #2 in early 1968.

"We kind of have this chemistry. I mean everybody's different; plenty of guys are good. But me and Spooner have this...when we're all...I can't tell where Spooner stops and I begin. When we write a song, it don't sound like two people wrote it", Penn has said about their partnership. When you think of the incredible body of work they have created together - songs like It Tears Me Up, Sweet Inspiration, Take Me Just As I Am, In The Same Old Way... it's hard to imagine American music without them.

Penn and Oldham have been performing together perodically since appearing at an 'In Their Own Words' songwriters' workshop in 1991. They released a great album that captures the special chemistry between them, Moments From This Theater, a few years back, and were touring again this past summer. By all accounts they were simply fantastic.

Talk about living history, man!


And now, as the extended family descends on the B side hacienda, I'd like to wish all of you a happy and a healthy Thanksgiving... and remember, the bird is the word!

Catch ya on the flip side!


Blogger dcisok said...


An excellent post on CC, FAME, Penn and all. I checked out the demo on the radio show link--a great (and I would assume rare) cut from Penn . . . you would think with as many "writer's writers" who've broken through on some level, Penn would've broken at some point.

A friend who grew up just north of Musle Shoals tipped me off (by way of his brother who knows Penn fairly well) to a Spooner and Oldham show recently at Douglas Corner in Nashville a couple weeks ago, billed as the Musle Shoals Revue, I think. The two of them playing in tow w/Donnie Fritts, David Hood and a few other kindred souls (cameos from Delbert McC and Russell Smith). Just one problem--Penn was a no-show!

(To be honest, I'm not the biggest Donnie Fritts fan, and he stood in for Penn and unofficial MC/lead guy, while Spooner sang one song, I think.)

He was mentioned a couple times, but no explanation. A friend of Fritt's there that night said Penn was tied up with his mother-in-law's knee replacement surgery. Seems like not billing him would've been appropriate, but maybe something unexpected occurred.

All due sympathy for the old girl--but damn!

Anyway, thanks for the great post and link.


4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow....Thanks for recognizing the contributions of Dann Penn and Oldam--what a great team they were. Do you have Spooner and the Spoons' 45? I've been hunting that for 15 years.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

no, W. Chris, I don't have either of those cool early Fame 45s... every time one shows up on eBay it goes for big bucks... out of my league, anyway.

You can pick up a copy of the Spooner record here for $45... like I said, out of my league, anyway.

thanks for stoppin' by!

8:34 PM  
Blogger Barbara Doduk said...

this is a wicked blog you have here.

12:43 AM  
Blogger Ben The Balladeer said...

Love Clarence his Venture 141 release If I Stay.

1:41 PM  

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