Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kool & The Gang - Caribbean Festival (De-Lite 1573)

Caribbean Festival

Hey, everybody. Here is the year end post I was planning before The Godfather left the building...

Most of the records we've been listening to together here over the past year or so were recorded some 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. Just as we've been doing with our 'greatest generation' World War II veterans, we can only bow our heads in remembrance and appreciation as the people behind this wonderful music pass on before our eyes.

As you know, I have attempted to pay tribute here on the B side to these legendary performers, producers, and 'record men' who died in the past year:

Wilson Pickett
Lou Rawls
Billy Preston
King Floyd
Little Buster
Irving Green
Arif Mardin
Barbara George
Ruth Brown
Buddy Killen
Marshall Sehorn
Ahmet Ertegun

Rather than being sad and mournful, however, my goal here is to provide a space where we can join together and celebrate a life well lived. All of these folks have contributed something that helped to make the world a better place. This is my way of saying Thank You.

Claydes E.X. Smith was a jazz trained musician who became a founding member of Kool & The Gang. As the co-author of songs like Hollywood Swinging and Jungle Boogie his seminal guitar work helped lay the foundation for the Funk Revolution. Today's B side 'disco version' is taken from the 1975 album Spirit Of The Boogie, and has this sort of NOLA Brass Band 'second-line' feel to it that I just love... check out that smokin' guitar work!

Smith remained a major player in the 'new era' ushered in by the arrival of vocalist 'JT' Taylor and producer Eumir Deodato, co-writing big hits like Celebration, Joanna and Get Down On It. He passed after a long illness this past June.

As you groove along with Kool, please take a moment to remember these other greats who have gone on before us in 2006:

Johnny Jenkins - Macon Guitar Legend
Desmond Dekker - Ska Pioneer
Gene McFadden - Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now
Ray Barretto - King Of The Hard Hands
June Pointer - Soul Sister
Phil Walden - Otis Redding Manager
Floyd Dixon - Hey Bartender
Freddy Fender - Texas Tornado
Gerald Levert - Ohio Soul's Heir Apparent
Jay McShann - Kansas City Piano Man
Sam Meyers - Sleeping In The Ground
Homesick James - Robert Johnson Contemporary
Robert 'Junior' Lockwood - Another One
Ali Farka Touré - From Mali to Memphis
Bennie Smith - Dean of St. Louis Guitar
Allen 'Catroy' Broussard - King of the Zydeco Sax
Timothea Beckerman - New Orleans Siren
Tina Mayfield - Percy's Widow, 'Mama Tina'
Jessie Mae Hemphill - Delta Blues Queen
H-Bomb Ferguson - I Dig Your Wig
John Pepper - WDIA Founder
Freddie Gorman - Original Original
Tony Sylvester - A Main Ingredient
Milan Williams - The Brick House Man
Rudy Taylor - Gap Band Producer
Emanuel Lasky - Welfare Cheese
Walter Ward - Olympics Lead Vocalist
Joe Weaver - Seminal Detroit Bandleader
Joe Shamwell - Soul Ranger
Barbara Hall - Drop My Heart Off At The Door
Jennell Hawkins - Moments To Remember
Stanley Mitchell - Domino and Tornado
Herman Wallace Lott - Shreveport's Buzzard

My condolences to the loved ones they leave behind. They will be missed.

I'll talk to you next year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

James Brown - Make It Funky (Part 2) (Polydor 2-14088)

Make It Funky (Part 2)

People, it was deep.

By the time I got uptown at about 10:30 yesterday morning, the lines had already stretched around the corners of 125th Street, up Frederick Douglas and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevards. By noon, somebody said that the lines went all the way up to 132nd Street. I haven't heard an official count as yet, but there were literally thousands upon thousands of people lined up in the streets to pay tribute to the Godfather.

The wonderful folks I met there in the line (like guitarist Ralph Ladson, promoter M. Morton Hall, and my brothers Thorn and Terry) had all been there 'back in the day', and it was an absolute pleasure listening to their stories. There's something about standing around outside in the cold (with no bathroom) for five hours that brings people closer together, let me tell ya.

By the time the horse drawn caisson arrived around 2 pm, it seemed as if we had known each other all our lives. These members of the 'soul generation' remembered along with me those dark days after Doctor King was shot, and the lasting power of James Brown's message - Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud! One thing we all shared was our love of JB's unstoppable infectious groove thang that continues to move us deep down inside.

As we finally entered the theater around 3 o'clock, a hushed reverence came over all of us as we caught a glimpse of the stage. Live At The Apollo was playing on the sound system as we walked down the aisle. As somebody reached out to help me up the steps, James had just started singing I'll Go Crazy. To stand there, in that place, on that stage with the body of James Brown laid out before me was something I can't even begin to describe. It was profound my friends, and I will never, ever forget that moment.

As people filtered back out on to the streets, a crowd began to gather in front of Bobby's Happy House, Bobby Robinson's legendary record store that has been a Harlem landmark for over sixty years. Songs like Try Me and Please, Please, Please blared from the outdoor speakers, and people nodded in appreciation. As things got a bit funkier with songs like Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine), and The Payback, the whole street started movin' and groovin'.

The biggest hit of the evening though, by far, was our current selection. As circles of people gathered around chanting Make It Funky, everybody from little kids to old men got the feelin' and were just dancing in the streets, doing their best James Brown. People were doing splits, throwing off their jackets like sequined capes, doing The Popcorn and The Mashed Potatoes. It was truly amazing. The man that was standing next to me in front of Bobby's had this to say:

"Now look at this, this is beautiful, man... when was the last time you saw something like this? This is the way things are supposed to be. I wish all the politicians could come and see it... we don't need no laws, just the love that's in the music. I'll tell ya, Bush ain't no president, James Brown's my president, man... and you know what? You think James Brown is dead? He ain't dead, just look around you!"

He was right, of course, and as I eventually drifted away into the Harlem night, I began to realize just what a special day it had been.

As the man himself once said:

"JAMES BROWN is a concept, a vibration, a dance. It's not me, the man. JAMES BROWN is a freedom I created for humanity."

It will live forever.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

James Brown And The Famous Flames - Cold Sweat - Part 2 (King 6110)

Cold Sweat - Part 2

When I got the news on Christmas Day that The Man Who Never Left had indeed left us, it hit me like a ton of bricks. He represented more to me than even I realized. A part of the American cultural landscape for over fifty years, his death hits hard, man. Like Sinatra or Brother Ray, his was an instantly identifiable image, a twentieth century media icon... but even those comparisons don't do him justice. Perhaps Soul Brother Number One said it best himself when he told his protegé Reverend Al Sharpton, "There are two American originals, Elvis and me... Elvis is gone, and I've got to carry on."

Rather than attempting to sum up The Godfather's incredible life and times in this space, I thought I'd try to share with you what he meant to me...

Like a lot of suburban kids growing up in the 1960s, I listened to the AM radio. I had this white plastic box with a big gold dial on it next to my bed, and I tuned in every week for the 'countdown' of the top 21 by the 'WMCA Good Guys' (I actually used to write them down in a little notebook, and compare numbers with rival station WABC's 'survey'). Anyway, in the summer of 1965 (when I was 11), cutting through all of the Beatles, Beach Boys and shiny Motown came this primal scream of a dance number called Papa's Got A Brand New Bag. Even at that tender age, I knew something was up. I had no idea what Papa's 'bag', might be, but I knew that I dug it. When the opening yelp of I Got You (I Feel Good) shook the little white box later that year, I was ready. James Brown had arrived in suburbia.

I didn't know it at the time, but Brown would win a Grammy that year (Papa's Got A Brand New Bag was named 'Best Rhythm & Blues recording'), and was very much in the public eye. I remember watching his performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in May of 1966, and trying to imitate his unreal dance moves (without much success). The song that hit the top ten that summer, It's A Man's Man's Man's World, (which would go on to become one of my all-time favorite deep soul masterpieces later on) was a radical departure from the style I had come to associate with James, and failed to capture my 12 year old imagination, I guess.

I do remember hearing about Brown's and Vice President Humphrey's Don't Be A Drop-Out campaign and hearing the song on the radio, but hey, I was still in 7th grade. This was right around the time my older sister started bringing home albums like Freak Out and Are You Experienced, and the little white radio wasn't getting the play that it used to.

As I entered high school myself, I began sneaking in to 'the Village' and hanging around places like the Fillmore East, trying to act cool. Like I mentioned back in my very first post, it was on one of these forays that I found the actual record you're listening to now. It was lying there on the cement in front of the fabled Electric Circus on St. Mark's Place. How it got there is anybody's guess. When I took it home and played it, it was like a message from outer space... like barely noticed tribal drums growing louder and louder through the mist of scratchy vinyl. I had no idea. Something was happening out there that I had missed out on. Something big. I must have listened to that 45 a thousand times back there in the ninth grade and, as you can see, I'm still listening to it.

As Larry Grogan says in his remarkable article, The Genius Of James Brown, "If Out Of Sight was the first shot at Lexington and Concord, Cold Sweat was the Declaration of Independence." It still stands as a groundbreaking piece of music, and marks the emergence of 'funky drummer' Cyde Stubblefield's breakbeat that is still echoing today.

As bands like the Talking Heads and the B-52s began to cite James as a major influence (specifically Jimmy 'Chank' Nolen's guitar work) in the late 70s and early 80s, I began to, finally, pay attention. I bought vinyl on the streets. I would go see The James Brown Revue whenever they came to town. Places like the Lone Star Cafe, Roseland and The Blue Parrot gave me a chance to get up close and personal with the brute force that was still emanating from The Hardest Working Man In Show Business. I was blown away.

More than anything else, it was the precision of the band, the discipline of the rhythm section that just knocked me out. This was around the same time that Polydor was releasing all of those great Cliff White re-issues, like Ain't That A Groove and Doing It To Death, and I was soaking it all in. I learned a lot back then, not only about music, but about the 'mantra' like groove that can take a simple repetitive guitar pattern and bring you to another level entirely. There is power in JB's music, man, and anybody who knew me in those days can tell ya, I was a disciple!

I would see James at Radio City during the Living In America tour in 1986, and, although it wasn't my favorite tune, I was glad to see him getting all that exposure through Stallone and Rocky IV. The next time I would see him was at Jazz Fest in New Orleans in May of 1988. It was a disaster. We waited hours for him to show up, and when he did he could barely speak, much less sing. Within four months he had been arrested after his infamous two state car chase, and the world found out about his drug dependence. When he was sentenced to a six year prison term in December, I thought it was all over.

After he was paroled in 1991, James gradually started getting out there again, and soon was performing over 50 dates a year. Things in my own life started to change about the same time, and once the kids showed up, my days of carousing in the clubs were put on hold. James beat prostate cancer in 2004, and was touring again early this year. He had played the weekend before the Ponderosa Stomp in Memphis, and the local folks I spoke with down there said he was fantastic... I was sorry I missed him.

Somebody handed me one of these outside the Aretha Franklin show I told you about last month. I looked down at it, and all of these memories came flooding back... like any real New Yorker though, I immediately thought 'New Year's Eve's a tough night to be in Times Square, man', and I figured I'd catch him the next time he came to town.

I will be going to see him at the Apollo tomorrow.

Long live Mister Dynamite.

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown - Santa Claus Is Definitely Here To Stay (King 6340)

Santa Claus Is Definitely Here To Stay


There are no words.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Drifters featuring Clyde McPhatter - The Bells Of St. Mary's (Atlantic 1048)

The Bell's Of St. Mary's

You know, the Ahmet Ertegun (and Atlantic Records) story is just so huge, I think it makes sense to break it down into smaller pieces.

Nesuhi Ertegun took his younger brother Ahmet to see Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington in London in 1932, and ignited a lifelong love affair with African-American music. By the time the brothers reached their twenties, they had amassed a legendary record collection of over 20,000 jazz and blues 78s. Living in Washington DC, they were frequent visitors to the Howard Theater, and often invited their favorite musicians 'home' to the Turkish Embassy for Sunday luncheons and impromptu jam sessions. Before long, the brothers were promoting concerts of their own featuring artists like Leadbelly and Big Joe Turner (For more on these early years, please check out Rob Whatman's excellent Living In A Hopeful Future post on Brown Eyed Handsome Man).

A frequent visitor to those concerts was kindred soul Herb Abramson. He'd often hang around afterwards and talk through the night about their shared passion for American roots music. One of the places they hung out was 'Waxie Maxie's' Quality Music, a record store where they'd become Max Silverman's best customers. Abramson, who was studying to become a dentist, was also working part time as an A&R man for National Records. He and Ahmet convinced Silverman to back them and started up Jubilee Records in 1946. They cut a few Gospel sides and, when the records went nowhere, Waxie Maxie backed out of the deal. Herb sold Jubilee to Jerry Blaine the following year to help raise money for their new label, Atlantic.

They would borrow the rest of the money from the Ertegun's Turkish dentist, and Atlantic held it's first recording session in November of 1947. They ran the company out of a fleabag hotel on 56th street in Manhattan, with Herb's wife helping to make things work. Faced with an imminent Musicians' Union strike in 1948, the fledgling label recorded some 65 sides by the end of the year. They couldn't give them away.

Abramson had been working with Jesse Stone at National, and asked him to come and join Atlantic as an arranger. Stone was from Kansas City, and his Blue Serenaders had first recorded for Okeh back in 1927 (a record which the Erteguns owned, no doubt). It was Duke Ellington who brought him to Harlem, and got him a gig at the Cotton Club in 1936. His skills as an arranger and composer (he reportedly studied with Cole Porter around this time) kept him in demand uptown, with folks like Chick Webb and Louis Jordan using his charts. Benny Goodman took Idaho, a Stone composition, all the way to #4 on the pop charts in 1942. A deeply influential figure, the Atlantic story doesn't really begin until Jesse Stone comes on board.

He accompanied Ertegun and Abramson on a trip down south in 1949 to try and figure out why their records weren't selling. A productive journey, they would find Blind Willie McTell playing on the streets of Atlanta and Professor Longhair doing his thing just outside of New Orleans (check out Dan Phillips' cool Goin' To Night School post over at Home Of The Groove for more on the 'Fess story). More importantly, Stone noticed that the kids in the clubs were 'dancing different' than they had before, and he hatched an idea for a new bassline and backbeat rhythm that would make Atlantic's records more 'danceable'. This may have been the moment when Rock & Roll was born.

One of the first songs to feature Stone's new concept was Ruth Brown's Teardrops From My Eyes, which would soar to #1 R&B in the fall of 1950. This record really introduced 'the sound' that came to define an Atlantic production. Ertegun has said that most of the people in the record business at the time were in it simply as a means to make money, and couldn't have cared less about the music. He changed all that by bringing his impeccable taste to bear, and raising the quality of their 'product' (which just happened to be black American music) to a new level. His connections in the jazz world enabled him to hire the best studio musicians (like Mickey Baker on guitar, Sam 'The Man' Taylor on sax, and future Modern Jazz Quartet drummer Connie Kay), and Atlantic's records showed it. They also were the first in the industry to pay their artists 'performance royalties', which helped to attract the talent as well.

Unable to interest good songwriters in taking a chance on his largely unknown new label, Ahmet began writing the songs himself, under the pseudonym A. Nugetre - Ertegun spelled backwards (please check out Rob Whatman's ongoing Nugetre's Nuggets series for more info on his compositions). Around this same time, Ertegun went to see Big Joe Turner sing with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Apollo. He and Basie's Band weren't 'clicking', and the merciless uptown crowd essentially booed Turner off the stage. Ahmet found him down the street at a hole-in-the-wall bar, and offered him a contract with Atlantic. He gave Big Joe one of his 'nuggets' to record, Chains Of Love, and the bluesy Jesse Stone arrangement spent a month at the #2 position on the national R&B charts in the summer of 1951. The only thing that kept it from the top slot was The Dominoes' absolutely gigundo smash hit, Sixty Minute Man.

Billy Ward was a Juilliard trained pianist and arranger who gave voice lessons on the side. He had been working with the Mount Lebanon Singers, a harlem Gospel quartet, and formed an R&B vocal group called The Ques around two members of the quartet, Charlie White and Clyde McPhatter. The group won the fabled 'amateur night' at The Apollo, and also an 'Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts' competition in 1950. Ralph Bass signed them to his new Federal label (a subsidiary of King Records), and changed their name to The Dominoes. Their first single, Do Something For Me, with McPhatter on the lead vocal, went to #6 R&B, but it was the Bill Brown led Sixty Minute Man that busted things wide open. Ertegun went to see them at the Apollo, and says that when he heard Clyde McPhatter sing he "fell off his chair."

Clyde's lead vocal on the incredible Have Mercy Baby captivated the nation, and put The Dominoes at the top of the charts for ten weeks in the summer of 1952. Billy Ward, apparently quite the egotist, refused to give Clyde any credit for the group's success, and kept him on a salary of $100 a week. He was not a happy camper. When Ertegun went to see them at Birdland in NYC in May of 1953, he was astonished to learn that Ward had fired McPhatter a few days before for 'breaking band rules'. He ran outside, found a phone book and started calling the McPhatters he found listed in Harlem. Once he got him on the phone, Clyde readily agreed to sign with Atlantic, as long as Ahmet ironed it all out with Federal.

Herb Abramson, valuable for his dentistry skills, was drafted into The Army at about the same time. Realizing they would need help while he was gone, he and Ahmet approached Billboard Magazine writer Jerry Wexler about working with them. Always the operator, Wexler asked for a share in the company first, and they gave him a 13% interest in the label for about $2000 (which they then used to buy Jerry a company Cadillac).

One of Wexler's first sessions was with Clyde and a group of friends he brought downtown from Harlem in June of 1953. Telling Clyde the group needed 'more bottom', he sent him back home to work on their sound. Instead, Mcphatter used his Gospel connections to put together an altogether different bunch of singers that included brothers Bubba and Gerhart Thrasher who had been singing as The Thrasher Wonders. Clyde's new group, now formally known as The Drifters, also included Willie Ferber and Bill Pinkney. Jesse Stone had written an amazing song with Clyde in mind, and drilled the group on the arrangement for weeks. When they entered the studio in August, they were ready. The positively brilliant Money Honey became the Drifters first single and just took off, spending 11 weeks at #1 R&B that fall.

At this point, Willie Ferber was in an accident, and left the group before their next sessions for the label in November. The rhumba-flavored Such A Night would beat out Dinah Washington's version in the charts as the follow-up, and the group was in demand. The B side of that record, Lucille, had actually been recorded with the first group Mcphatter brought to Atlantic, and went to #7 on its own in early 1954. The Drifters were scheduled for their next recording date in February, and Wexler was working on material. He and McPhatter came up with another smash, the suggestive Honey Love. The fact that the record was banned from airplay by many radio outlets helped keep it at #1 for two months that summer. Jesse Stone's magic touch was paying off once again! A 'nugget' Ertegun wrote for the session, What'Cha Gonna Do, would become the basis for the 'Twist' craze of a few years later.

That incredible recording session (engineered by Tom Dowd in the Atlantic offices, with the desks pushed out of the way) would also produce the timeless White Christmas and our present b side, The Bells Of St. Mary's. Bill Pinkney's bass lead on White Christmas has become one of the truly great moments in holiday R&B, and still blows me away every time I hear it. The arrangement was based on The Ravens' version of a few years earlier, but the sheer talent, and flawless production of this record has kept it in the mix for over 50 years! It would go to #2 that December, then #5 again the following year, and so on... making Atlantic 1048 one of the company's biggest sellers ever, as they continued to release it every year (as you may have noticed, the copy we have up here today hails from some time in the '80s, and is on loan from the ol' jukebox).

I never understood what The Bells Of St. Mary's had to do with Christmas music... it just may be the fact that it was the B side of this giant 45 that put it up there in the canon of carols, I don't know. A World War I era sentimental favorite, made popular again by a World War II era Bing Crosby film, this song packs some juice! I absolutely LOVE the way Jesse Stone drops the background singers down to a hushed minor keyed wail there after the break (used to great effect by Martin Scorsese in Goodfellas, I might add). Spine tingling stuff, man.

Now, I know there's a LOT more to say here, not only about Atlantic, but about Clyde McPhatter (who started his solo career shortly after this record was released), and The Drifters (who would go on to make some of Atlantic's best sides with a totally different line-up) as well. We'll go there together in the coming year.

Things are gettin' kinda crazy around here, just like they do every year about this time, but I'd like to take a moment to extend my warmest wishes to all of you out there on the other side of the screen for a happy and a healthy holiday season... I hope Santa treats ya good!

Merry Christmas from the greatest city in the world.

-red kelly

Friday, December 15, 2006

Percy Sledge - True Love Travels On A Gravel Road (Atlantic 2679)

True Love Travels On A Gravel Road


Please join me in a moment of silence for a true man of vision, Ahmet Ertegun.

I had already begun work on this post when I got the news last night that Ertegun, who had been in a coma since falling backstage during Bill Clinton's 60th birthday bash at the Beacon Theater in October, had passed on. The fact that the post happens to be about a big fat Atlantic slab of soul is kind of spooky. There are no coincidences, friends. We'll look into Ahmet's incredible story in a future installment, I promise.

Today's selection presented me with a bit of a problem. I had found it listed as both an A side and a B side, and was counting on the Atlantic discography at Global Dog to be the tiebreaker... only they seem to now be toast [Ed. Note: as of 1/7 Global Dog appears to be back in business. The verdict? - B side!]. In any event, this song you're listening to now is, in my opinion, the best (OK-second best) thing Percy Sledge ever recorded, and one of my favorite soul songs by anybody ever.

I first heard it when Peter Guralnick included it as the opening track on the companion CD to Sweet Soul Music - Voices From The Shadows, in 1992. As many of you know, this was right around the time my wife and I got engaged. The song was high in the rotation in those days, and still does either one of us in... I have yet to listen to it all the way through without jumping out of the ol' chair and singing along with a lump in my throat. I know, I'm a sap.

For whatever reason, this song doesn't seem to get any press whatsoever. The silly album reviews of Percy's various greatest hits CDs in places like the 'all' music guide fail to even mention it. Who knows why. B side or not, I wanted to kinda wind down this year's posts with one of my true desert island 45s...

Quin Ivy is yet another of those southern white boys who grew up listening to John R and Hoss Allen over WLAC. He fell in love with the music, and before long was emulating his heroes spinning R&B records as a dee-jay on his hometown radio station in Oxford, Mississippi. He moved on to WMPS in Memphis before landing a job on WLAY in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in the early sixties. Like everyone else in town back then, he got caught up in the 'songwriting fever' that was going around, and began writing lyrics for a young Rick Hall. Ivy was Hall's co-writer on two early Jimmy Hughes recordings, I'm Qualified and Lolly Pops, Lace And Lipstick, the B side of Fame's first release, top 20 R&B hit Steal Away.

Quin opened a record store in Sheffield called Tune Town, and watched as Rick's new Fame studio grew. Fame soon had more business than it could handle, and Ivy approached Hall with an idea; what if he were to open his own small studio to record the people Hall was turning away? Rick was all for it, and Ivy opened his Norala (presumably Northern Alabama) studio across the street from Tune Town in late 1965. He had initially asked Rick to let him hire Dan Penn as his engineer, but he turned him down and introduced him to local guitarist Marlin Greene instead. The two became fast friends, and Ivy soon gave him a percentage of the business.

Although there appears to be several versions of the story, this is basically what happened next; Jimmy Hughes' cousin was an orderly at Colbert County Hospital, and had begun singing with a local combo called the Esquires nights and weekends. The band was working the same fraternity circuit that the Fairlanes and the Mark Vs had done a few short years before. Percy Sledge and fellow Esquires Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright had come up with a song that they thought could be a hit. They loaded Wright's Hammond B3 into the back of a pickup and hauled it down to Fame. Dan Penn recorded the tune, and pleaded with Hall for a chance to produce them. Rick flatly refused, and Dan sent them over to see Ivy at Norala.

Jimmy Johnson was working part time at Tune Town, and had agreed to 'work the board' and engineer Norala's sessions on the primitive equipment Ivy had assembled. They worked and re-worked the song the Esquires had brought them in the fall of 1965, using studio musicians who were 'moonlighting' from Fame. The version they eventually brought to Rick Hall would feature Spooner Oldham on the Farfisa, Roger Hawkins on drums and Junior Lowe on the bass along with Marlin Greene on guitar. As soon as Hall heard it, he knew it was a hit, and called Jerry Wexler at Atlantic. Although Wexler was skeptical at first, Rick assured him that he felt "strong as death" that the song would be a #1 record.

He was right, of course. Wexler had worked out a deal with Ivy to lease the single (a deal that would include a 2% 'finders fee' for Rick Hall), but he wanted him to re-cut it, and clean it up a little. Happy to have landed a deal with a major label, Quin set to work polishing the track, making sure to fix the off-key horn section, and Percy's painfully out of tune vocals. He sent the new master off to New York, and Atlantic released When A Man Loves a Woman in April of 1966. It would quickly soar to #1 on both the R&B and pop charts, and was just an absolute monster. Much to Ivy's amazement, the big company had used the original version by mistake!

It's hard to overstate the incredible power of this song that came up out of the woods of Alabama and somehow slowed everything down, defining the meaning of romance for an entire generation in the process. It still gives me chills.

Percy Sledge had put Muscle Shoals on the map, and his brand of deep southern soul along with it. Sledge's follow up record, Warm And Tender Love (the Joe Haywood song reportedly pitched to Wexler by Bobby Robinson backstage at the Apollo), would hit #5 R&B (#17 pop) despite Ivy's 'Mr. Whitebread' production. Incredibly, it was recorded at the same Norala session as all time Penn-Oldham classic It Tears Me Up in May of 1966, while When A Man Loves a Woman was still topping the charts.

Needless to say, Sledge had gone from hospital orderly and weekend warrior to the big time in about six months. Second only to Otis Redding in this poster at left, it must have been quite an adjustment. Suffering from 'nervous exhaustion,' Sledge reportedly checked himself in to the hospital where he used to work for a week in late 1966. Singles like Baby Help Me and Penn-Oldham's Out Of Left Field barely made the R&B top 40 in early 1967 and, as is often the case, Percy was having trouble duplicating his initial big smash.

Ivy was able to build a new facility by then, however, and opened Quinvy Studios across town on Broadway in Sheffield. He would soon create his own labels as well, and great records by local talent like Tony Borders and Bill Brandon were released on his Quinvy and South Camp imprints. They remain some of the rarest, and best, of the Muscle Shoals 45s of the late sixties (if you can find them!).

Percy was back in the top ten with the fantastic Take Time To Know Her in the spring of 1968, and continued to tour constantly. Sudden Stop and My Special Prayer would hover around the top 40 later that year.

In early 1969, RCA booked Elvis into Chips Moman's (and Dan Penn's) American Studios in Memphis. American was in the middle of an incredible run of hits (like Cry Like A Baby) at that point, and RCA was trying to 'capture lightning in a bottle' and revitalize the King's sagging career. The album they came up with is an absolute classic, with 'country soul' songs like Suspicious Minds, In The Ghetto, and Kentucky Rain becoming huge chart hits. The industry, of course, took notice, and Presley's 'comeback' had begun.

Quin Ivy apparently took notice as well. He had made the top 40 with Sledge's syrupy version of Love Me Tender in 1967, and figured if it was 'country soul' the people wanted, who better to give it to them than the man who helped invent it! Sledge covered Any Day Now (as Presley had done on the album), and broke the top 40 for Atlantic again in April of 1969. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road was written by 'Music Row' giants Dallas Frazier and 'Doodle' Owens and included on the Presley album. Ivy apparently recorded Percy's remarkable version we have here today in September of that year. It was released as the flip of Faithful And True, a Dan Penn-Marlin Greene slow dance, and may well have been the B side, as the romantic ballad was viewed as Percy's 'bread and butter'.

I've long suspected that the positively awesome lead guitar on here is furnished by the great Eddie Hinton, and Bruce Schurman has confirmed for us over on the Mighty Field Of Vision Group that Hinton did play on the session along with Marlin Greene. He's not sure who takes the lead, however. In any event, neither side of the record even dented the charts. Changing times, along with Atlantic's declining interest in their R&B artists, may have contributed to that. I don't know. All I can say, once again, is how much this record continues to floor me. Boy, is it good.

Quin Ivy walked away from the whole thing in 1970, and went on to become a professor of Business Administration back in Mississippi.

Although nothing much was happening, Sledge hung in there with Atlantic until 1973 when a song called Sunshine barely made the charts. He signed with manager Phil Walden's Capricorn label the following year. Through a 'special arrangement' with Walden, the Ivy produced I'll Be Your Everything put Percy back in the R&B top 20 in late 1974. Disco was rearing its ugly head by then, and Sledge's charting days were soon over.

Percy Sledge has continued working, however, and still performs over 100 shows a year all over the world. He remains one of the most loved performers of all time, and never fails to emotionally connect with his audience.

There was a lot of grumbling last year when he was inducted into the silly Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. People were actually saying that he was nothing more than a 'one hit wonder' who didn't deserve to be in there. Can you imagine?

As far as I'm concerned, Percy Sledge is a national treasure... Bless his Sweet Little Soul!