Monday, March 26, 2007

King Curtis & The Kingpins - This Is Soul (Atco 6562)

This Is Soul

Hey y'all... a couple of weeks ago I put up a cool record by King Curtis called 8th Wonder. Well, I'm not sure if you've been following the comments on that post, but they developed into a very lively discussion. As if in some audioblogger's dream, British researcher and all-around King Curtis expert Roy Simonds weighed in with some interesting facts, and clarified a few things for us.

First off, he said that King Curtis was indeed a guitar player as well as a reed man, and was the guitarist on the 1962 Enjoy release Hot Potato by a group called the Rinkydinks. Oddly enough, that tune would be used as the initial theme song for a newly syndicated TV show called Soul Train in 1971. Ever the entrepreneur, Bobby Robinson changed 'Rinkydinks' to 'Ramrods' and re-released the song as Soul Train (Rampage 1000) in 1972. It would spend five weeks on the Billboard R&B chart that summer, climbing as high as #41... not bad for a ten year old recording!

Mr. Simonds goes on to say that it was none other than King Curtis himself who played the guitar on Blue Nocturne, answering the nagging question posed by Larry Grogan last December. Roy was kind enough to send me a copy of his exhaustive Curtis discography, a labor of love compiled over the past thirty-odd years, which details every known session that the King ever played on. A truly amazing document, it chronicles his career in painstaking detail. Today's selection is a case in point:

The only other song recorded at the December 5, 1967 American Studio session that produced 8th Wonder, This Is Soul is somewhat of a Curtis rarity, as its only release was as this B side of (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay in early 1968. Top ten hit Memphis Soul Stew was still riding the charts when this session was held and, in the same kind of spoken word rap in which he delivered his famous 'recipe', Curtis details his 'Definition of Soul':

"...if this music makes you feel like you want to dance, or if it makes you feel like you want to cry, that music has Soul."

I'm right there with that, man!

According to Simonds' notes, that's Spooner Oldham on piano along with the usual American crew of Bobby Emmons on the organ, Reggie Young and Bobby Womack on guitars, Gene Chrisman on the drums and Tommy Cogbill on bass. Cogbill is also listed as a co-producer with Tom Dowd (which in a way is kind of odd in itself, as 8th Wonder was produced by Arif Mardin). Anyway, I think it's just a great record, and I wanted to share it with you.

Also, in that last post I mentioned the Sam Moore solo album that King Curtis was producing when he was killed. For whatever reasons, Atlantic didn't release it at the time, and the tapes gathered dust in a vault somewhere for over thirty years. It was finally released as Plenty Good Lovin' in 2002 by an outfit called 2K Sounds, and I just picked up a copy. Let me tell ya something, with King Curtis producing and blowing 'dat horn and both Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway on keyboards, the record just COOKS! Get yourself a copy.

Thanks again, Roy!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

J. Hines And The Boys - Can't Think Of Nothing (Blank Mind) (Nation-Wide 105)

Can't Think Of Nothing (Blank Mind)

If you're a regular visitor over at soul detective, you already know that this is the great B side that started us off on case three way back in May of last year. Here's what I had to say back then:

"I just love it to death. That guitar, the sax, the drums, the bass... the whole deal is just pure soul heaven to me. Another record that never leaves the ol' jukebox. Now, in those innocent, pre-google days, I didn't even know where to begin to look for info on J. Hines or his Boys. I used to call radio stations and stuff. Nobody had ever heard of him..."

Well, all that's changed. Due to the incredible co-operation and input of people from all over the world (especially J's wonderful family and his long-time partner Roy C), we've been able to piece together Hines' life story.

Over the course of these last ten months, the case has grown to include seventeen other rare sides, and not just by J Hines, but other folks like Dynamite Singletary, James Shaw, Benny Gordon and Roy C (all of which are still available for download).

The reason I'm going off like this over here on The B side, is that I've finally been able to gather the photographs that were so graciously supplied to me by his family and post them as part of the J Hines story. Please click here to check it out.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to say that soul detective, and this case in particular, has grown beyond my wildest expectations, thanks to all of you.

Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Luther Ingram - I Can't Stop (KoKo 2113)

I Can't Stop


Luther Ingram lost his long battle with diabetes and kidney failure this past Monday, March 19th. A giant of seventies Southern Soul, his enduring contributions to the music will live on forever.

Born in Jackson, Tennessee, Luther sang with his brothers in the Midwest Crusaders before venturing north to New York in the early sixties. He reportedly worked with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller before recording a one-off single for Decca, Northern Soul favorite Ain't That Nice in 1965. He next recorded a song he wrote called I Spy For The FBI on Smash, which would later be covered by Jamo Thomas. After a couple of other minor singles failed to hit, he signed up with Johnny Baylor's KoKo label.

When Baylor moved his base of operations down south to Memphis, working out a distribution deal with Al Bell at Stax in 1969, Luther went with him. There are many horror stories told about Johnny's strong-arm tactics (some of which are detailed in the great Soulsville, USA), but there's more to it than that. As Luther put it himself; "He was a coach. He taught me. Baylor was determined for me to show the world and the industry and Stax Records and everybody else that I was a great talent. That was his concept of me."

After a showdown with Isaac Hayes over production, Baylor took Luther down to Muscle Shoals Sound in 1972 and did precisely that. The phenomenal (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right would spend a month at number one R&B that summer, even climbing as high as #3 on the Hot 100. Luther Ingram had arrived. His smokey, emotional delivery was the perfect vehicle for what, in my opinion, is the greatest of all those seventies 'cheatin' songs... it's deep, man.

When he appeared at Wattstax in August of 1972 he was, at that moment, the brightest star the company had. His follow-up single I'll Be Your Shelter (In Time Of Storm) hit the R&B top ten (top 40 Pop), and mined the same romantic territory. The crankin' tune you're listening to now was released as the B side of that record, and features Luther just beltin' it out, while showing off his great songwriting skills at the same time (he had already co-written Respect Yourself with Mack Rice the year before). Baylor's funky production of the crack Muscle Shoals team here is just flawless. Wow!

Two more top 40 singles would follow but, by late 1973, Johnny Baylor's problems with the IRS forced him to close down KoKo for the next three years. Once he returned, Ingram was right back in there with great records like Let's Steal Away To The Hideaway and Do You Love Somebody hitting big in the latter part of the decade. Later releases on Profile in the eighties hit the charts as well, and he remained a huge attraction until falling ill in the 1990s.

The remarkable documentary Only The Strong Survive was filmed, in part, at a 1999 benefit concert organized to help defray the costs of Luther's much needed kidney transplant. He was universally loved by all who came in contact with him.

Our heartfelt condolences to his loving wife, Jacqui, and the rest of his grieving family.

May God Rest His Soul. Always.
Funeral arrangements are as follows:

'Musical Visitation'
4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, March 25th
St. Augustine R.C. Church
1910 West Belle Street
Belleville, Illinois

Monday, March 26th
Mount Carmel Catholic Cemetery
Belleville, Illinois

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Roscoe Robinson - How Many Times Must I Knock (Sound Stage 7 2618)

How Many Times Must I Knock


[This post has been in the pipeline for a long time, and I figured that since we've been focusing on some under-appreciated sides that were cut at American Studios during the height of their success, now would be as good a time as any to finally make it happen. Before we go any further, I'd like to acknowledge the generous contributions of John Ciba and David Cole, without whom it never would have been possible.]

Roscoe Robinson was born in 1928 in either Dumont, Alabama or Dermott, Arkansas (I've seen it listed both ways). In any event, his family (like so many others) moved north to find work, and had settled in Gary, Indiana by the late thirties. Roscoe's vocal talents were evident early on and, by the time he was fourteen, he had begun singing with local 'quartet-style' Gospel groups, much like his close friend Sam Cooke.

(For the scoop on Robinson's storied Gospel career, please be sure to visit holy ghost, where I've attempted to outline it in detail...) By the early sixties, Roscoe had been essentially shut out of the Gospel field, and was having trouble finding work. He decided to try and 'cross-over' and recorded a one-off single for the Tuff label, a New York concern that was distributed by Chess. The record, What Makes A Man Do Wrong, didn't do much, and Roscoe decided to take matters into his own hands.

Reportedly pawning his Cadillac, he started up his own record company, and named it after his wife, Gerri. Drawing on the wealth of experience he had accumulated in over twenty years out on the 'Gospel Highway', he arranged and produced a song written by Raven Wildroot called That's Enough, and released it as Gerri 001 in late 1965. Backed with the deep Ivan Thompson ballad, One More Time, the record couldn't miss.

When it started to make some noise locally, Chicago record distributor Ernie Leaner got interested and, after lending Robinson the money to get his car out of hock, shopped it around to some major labels. It was picked up by Wand in New York, who agreed to allow Leaner to handle distribution in the midwest. Released as Wand 1125 in the summer of 1966, this bouncy uptown soul number spent thirteen weeks on the R&B charts, climbing as high as #7.

The follow-up (Wand 1143) was another great two-sider, How Much Pressure (Do You Think I Can Stand) backed with Do It Right Now, which were both written by Robinson as well. Both songs hit the R&B top 40 on their own in successive weeks in December 1966. His next few Wand releases failed to chart, however, and after a disagreement with the company over management issues, he walked away the following year.

His next stop was Nashville, where he would hook up with the legendary John R, the influential WLAC disc jockey that was the head of production for the Sound Stage 7 label. Roscoe became a part of the team at 'J.R. Enterprises, Inc.', and "was helping producing and arranging and putting it all together." Excellent records like One Bodillion Years and Fox Hunting On The Weekend kept him in the public eye down South, and he was getting plenty of work, but the records couldn't dent the national charts.

Today's positively AWESOME B side (the flip of Why Must it End) was recorded down in Memphis in 1968 with the 'American Studio Group' (aka The Memphis Boys) just cranking it out. I'm not sure if that's Tommy Cogbill or Mike Leech playing that bass, but, man! The punchy horn lines by Nashville stalwart Bergen White along with those high energy female vocals combine to make this one of my favorite of Roscoe's records. After his next Sound Stage 7 single (the great I'm Burning and Yearning (For You)) tanked in early 1969, Roscoe decided it was time to move on.

“John Richbourg was like a daddy,” Robinson told David Cole a few years ago, “I loved him. He was good for getting a lot of folks’ careers going. But Sound Stage 7 had a star already, Joe Simon..." Ultimately, he said, John's radio show was no longer enough to break his records nationally, and there just wasn't much promotion beyond that. It was once again time to take matters into his own hands, and he re-activated his Gerri label.

After releasing the ultra-collectable Don't Forget The Soldiers (Fighting in Vietnam) (Gerri 002), he got together with another legendary southern dee-jay, Ed 'Doctor Jive' Mendel. Mendel asked him to go into the studio and cut something, and he came back with a cover of Fred Hughes' Oo Wee Baby, I Love You that he had pressed up on Gerri. When Doctor Jive started to spin the record on the air, his phones lit up, and he knew they had a hit. He was able to place it with Atlantic, and it climbed to #42 R&B in the summer of 1969.

Somewhere around in here, Roscoe began hanging out at Sound Of Birmingham, Neal Hemphill's Alabama studio, where he worked with people like Frederick Knight, Jerry Weaver, Sam Dees and his Black Haze Express (pictured at left), and the elusive Cold Grits. The two unreleased Roscoe Robinson tracks that have come to light on John Ciba's excellent The Birmingham Sound compilation are simply amazing. If you don't have it, get it.

After so many years around the business, Roscoe knew just about everybody, and he got together with his old friends Harrison Calloway and Aaron Varnell down in Muscle Shoals in 1970. The record they produced with The Fame Gang, Don't Pretend (Just Be Yourself) (Fame 1469) is simply top shelf stuff, and one of the most sought after of all the Fame 45s, routinely going for serious cash when it shows up on eBay.

Apparently not content until he recorded in every studio in the south, Roscoe next headed for Stan Lewis' Sound City out in Shreveport, Louisiana (for more on the great records he made out there, please check out The A Side). By 1972, Robinson made the decision to 'cross back over' into Gospel music, where he, for the most part, still remains today (as I mentioned above, his Gospel side is covered at length over at holy ghost).

In 1998, Roscoe released an album of secular standards called 'Roads and Rails', and made a very well received appearance at the Blues Estafette in Utrecht, Holland as part of a Sound Stage 7 revue that also featured the great Earl Gaines. (I just read that my man Little Buster performed at the festival that year as well!)

More recently, that same album was re-issued under the title So Called Friends in 2004, and Roscoe has his Gerri label up and running again with a 2005 release, The Gospel Stroll.

He performed with Ralph 'Soul' Jackson at two shows last year that helped celebrate the release of the Sound Of Birmingham CD (a decidedly low-fi video of the Birmingham show is up on You Tube).

I know I must sound like a broken record sometimes, but Roscoe Robinson truly deserves a LOT more recognition than he's ever received. The reality is, however, that because he recorded for so many different labels, there will probably never be a decent CD overview of his work. A contemporary of Sam Cooke, who would go on to replace one of the most prominent voices in 'hard Gospel' before crossing over, just as Sam did, Roscoe should be considered a treasured part of our heritage...

How Many Times Must He Knock?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

King Curtis & The Kingpins - 8th Wonder (Atco 6582)

8th Wonder

In 1943, a Houston sax player named Illinois Jacquet played a wailin' solo on a Lionel Hampton record called Flying Home. It would climb to #3 on the 'race record' charts, and is considered by some to be the first rock & roll record. That honkin' and hollerin' vamp would spawn a whole generation of 'bar-walking' Texas sax players, and the joint was jumpin'. Growing up outside of Dallas, two young kids were paying attention. Coming up out of their respective High School Bands, Grady Gaines would go on to lead Little Richard's fabled Upsetters, while a young Curtis Ousley took off for New York.

Ousley landed a job in the band of Sam 'The Man' Taylor, who had been instrumental in creating Atlantic Records trademark sound with his elemental saxophone work on early R&B sides by Ruth Brown and Joe Turner. Curtis would continue that tradition, becoming their new 'go-to guy', laying down those stammerin', stutterin' solos on big hits by The Coasters, Chuck Willis and Clyde McPhatter. His own ATCO sides from this period (recorded under the stage name he'd been using since high school, King Curtis), went nowhere, as did an album called Have Tenor Sax Will Blow.

By 1960, he had signed with Prestige, and was exploring his Jazz roots together with great side-men like Nat Adderley and Wynton Kelly. In addition to continuing his session work for small labels like Wand/Scepter (think The Shirelles), he would also release a cool album called Trouble In Mind in 1961, on which he actually sings the blues!

Ousley formed a band around this time called The Noble Knights, that played locally in New York. As we've mentioned before, Bobby Robinson heard them playing at Small's Paradise up in Harlem and bet Curtis he could deliver him a hit record if he let him produce it his way. According to Bobby, that way included a 'less is more' approach that gave the rest of the Knights a chance to stretch out a little bit. Soul Twist would become the first release on Robinson's Enjoy imprint, and a massive hit, topping the R&B charts for two weeks in early 1962.

King Curtis set about forming a crack touring band that he would dub The Kingpins at this point, bringing in great musicians like fellow Texan Cornell Dupree on guitar.

When Little Richard 'got religion' in 1957, Grady Gaines' Upsetters had gone to work for Little Willie John. After that arrangement fell apart in early 1962, Sam Cooke hired them to go out on the road with him. They would share the bill with King Curtis many times that spring, and Sam couldn't help but notice how tight The Kingpins were. Cooke began bugging him about replacing Gaines as his back-up band, but Curtis kept telling him to forget about it, that they were making too much money as freelance studio musicians in New York. Cooke persisted, going so far as to 'name check' Soul Twist in his top five smash Having A Party that summer. After ego problems between Sam and certain members of The Upsetters came to a head, Curtis gave in and consented to go out on tour with Cooke in January of 1963.

Lucky for us, RCA recorded a show from that tour down in Miami at a chitlin' circuit joint called The Harlem Square Club. The resulting album has recently been remastered, and captures both Sam and Curtis at the height of their game. You should own a copy.

The King signed with Capitol around this time, but his singles failed to even dent the charts. An album called Country Soul didn't make much noise either. His second album for the label, Soul Serenade, is an out of print gem. Even though the title track (written by Curtis and Shirelles producer Luther Dixon) barely made it to #51 R&B in early 1964, it has become one of King Curtis' most enduring songs (...helped in part, I'm sure, by the great version that Willie Mitchell took to the R&B top ten in 1968).

By late 1965, King Curtis was back with Atlantic Records, where he would once again become a pivotal part of their sound throughout the 'soul era' at the label. One of the first projects he was involved in was as a producer. Ray Sharpe, a guitarist friend from his Fort Worth days, had had a minor hit in 1959 with a song called Linda Lu. Curtis brought him to ATCO, and the 1966 single Help Me (Get The Feeling) is credited to Ray Sharpe With the King Curtis Orchestra. That 'orchestra' included a young Jimi Hendrix. Although the record tanked, the hot backing track would turn up later on (more on that in a minute). His driving sax would help propel Herbie Mann's Philly Dog into the R&B top 40 later that year.

His work in the studio brought him in contact with a largely ignored staff arranger named Arif Mardin, a Turk that Nesuhi Ertegun had hired and then promptly forgotten about. It was Curtis who brought Mardin's considerable talents to the attention of Jerry Wexler in 1966. As you may recall, when Aretha's Muscle Shoals sessions went south in early 1967, Wexler brought the Fame musicians north, ostensibly to record an album called King Curtis Plays The Great Memphis Hits. Once that was finished, Wexler hunkered down with Curtis, Mardin and Tom Dowd to help him finish Aretha's historic album.

King Curtis was all over it, recycling the Ray Sharpe track from the year before which, with the addition of some new horn charts and lyrics penned by Aretha's sister Carolyn, would become the cookin' Save Me. When the crew in the studio was stuck trying to formulate a bridge to round out Otis Redding's Respect, it was Curtis who came up with the idea of using the bridge section from When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, which he had just recorded for the Memphis Hits album. According to Mardin, "Respect is in C, but that bridge, Curtis' saxophone solo, is in F Sharp - a totally unrelated key, but we liked it! We liked those chords, so we put it in." If that solo was the only thing he ever did, that would be enough for me, man!

Mardin and Ousley became pretty much inseparable from that point on, and worked together on sessions both in New York and Memphis. They recorded the classic Memphis Soul Stew at Chips Moman's American Studios in July of 1967. Today's cool B side (the flip of Theme From the Valley Of The Dolls) was recorded down there that December and, in addition to the usual Memphis Boys, includes the very cool Bobby Womack (an American regular himself by then) on guitar. It's got this kind of Sanford & Son thing goin' on, right? Great stuff.

As the only African American member of the 'inner circle' of producers and arrangers at Atlantic, King Curtis had earned his stripes by consistently adding his own brand of genius to countless sessions over the years. As the decade drew to a close, his own albums like Instant Groove (on which he would use the Ray Sharpe track once again as the basis for the title cut) and Get Ready took their place alongside Atlantic's new roster of artists like Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie and The Allman Brothers Band, all of whom revered him.

By 1970, the touring line-up of The Kingpins had solidified, and in addition to Dupree on guitar, included the legendary Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie on drums, Jerry Jemmott on bass, and Truman Thomas on the keys. Jerry Wexler convinced Aretha Franklin to use them as her back-up band, and booked the whole lot of them into the Fillmore West in February of 1971. The addition of the Memphis Horns and Billy Preston on the Hammond organ made for one kickin' band, let me tell ya. The concerts were taped, and spawned two incredible live albums, the aptly titled Aretha Live At Fillmore West and King Curtis Live At Fillmore West. Check 'em out!

Curtis had become a top-notch producer by then, and had worked on great albums by Roberta Flack, Donnie Hathaway and old Texas pal Freddie King. In the wake of the Fillmore gigs, he became Aretha's musical director, and was producing a long-awaited solo album on Sam Moore.

On August 13th 1971, King Curtis was carrying an air conditioner into his apartment on West 86th Street in Manhattan. Two junkies were sitting on the steps, blocking his way. When he asked them to move, one of them stabbed him in the heart. He was taken to nearby Roosevelt Hospital, but there was nothing they could do.

Atlantic Records closed down their offices on the day of his funeral. Jerry Wexler delivered his eulogy, calling him a "sensitive virtuoso." Aretha Franklin sang the haunting Never Grow Old. He was buried in a cemetery out on Long Island.

Years later, Aretha had this to say to author Gerri Hirshey; "King Curtis could make me laugh so hard... he was a soul superhero, and I miss him still."

Me too.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Solomon Burke - Save It (Atlantic 2527)

Save It

Well, the Bride and I went to see Solomon Burke last night at B.B. King's in Manhattan. If you've been around here a while, you already know that The Bishop of Soul holds a special place in our hearts.

The appearance was originally billed as 'The Soul Piano Show', but somewhere along the way had been changed to the 'Thank You Americana Tour'. We weren't sure what to expect. As it turns out, his latest effort, Nashville (an album which I have grown to LOVE, by the way), has recently spent seven weeks atop the Americana Music Association's alternative radio chart. Having a number one album after fifty years in the business is indeed quite the accomplishment, and this short four date 'tour' was Solomon's way of showing his gratitude.

He brought along a tight core group of 'Soul's Alive' veterans, led by his long-time guitarist and musical director Sam Mayfield. With the addition of the youngest of his 21 children, Candy, on background vocals, and a 'master of the Stratocaster' identified only as 'Guitar Jack', Solomon just rocked the house. It's hard to describe the incredible power of this man's voice in person... he hasn't lost a thing, man. If anything, I'd have to say that he sounded better than the last time I saw him a few years ago. One of the highlights of the evening was Tom T. Hall's That's How I Got To Memphis, a song which he has now, obviously, claimed as his own.

Speaking of Memphis, I figured we'd go back there ourselves for today's cookin' B side. It was released as the flip of the wife's all-time favorite (when she requested it last night, Solomon actually hauled her up on stage...), Meet Me In Church. Let's take a look at the album it came from...

In March of 1968, Atlantic Records had sent Solomon down to Memphis along with Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin. What they came up with is, in my opinion, one of the most under-appreciated gems in all of soul music. Had the album been titled 'Solomon in Memphis' or something (you know, like Dusty or Elvis) instead of I Wish I Knew maybe that would have helped. With great tunes like the one you're groovin' to now (written by Memphis' own Don Bryant), and Toussaint's Get Out Of My Life Woman on there, the record should have been huge. As it is, it had been out of print for many years before becoming available as a Japanese Import, and just recently as a partial album download on iTunes.

Chips Moman had been in on the ground floor at STAX, but left after a dispute about money around the time Green Onions hit big in 1962. A lawyer friend of his suggested that he sue them, and got him an out-of-court settlement of $3000 the following year. Moman used that money to open his own studio, American, in an old Easy Way grocery store at 827 Thomas Street in Memphis. He was recording for local labels (like Pepper and Goldwax) before a song he produced, Keep On Dancing by The Gentrys, went all the way to #4 on the pop charts in September of 1965. Chips plowed the money he made back into the studio, and began to gather some of the best musicians in Memphis around him.

Moman's friend Tommy Cogbill was one of the first to come on board, followed shortly thererafter by guitarist Reggie Young. Young had been a member of the Bill Black Combo, and was working at Royal Studio with guys like Willie Mitchell and Ace Cannon. Jerry Wexler, who was essentially shut out of STAX by December of '65, was paying attention, and began using Moman, Cogbill, and Young on Wilson Pickett and Aretha sessions in both Muscle Shoals and New York. In April of 1967, he flew Chips Moman and Dan Penn up to Broadway (along with Cogbill and Young) to produce Solomon's great two-sider I Stayed Away Too Long b/w Take Me (Just As I Am). As American began to gain momentum, with hits by James & Bobby Purify and Oscar Toney Jr, Moman decided to cut out the traveling 'gun for hire' act, and told Atlantic (and everybody else) that if they wanted to use his band, they'd have to come to Memphis.

One of the last (if not the last) of these 'road trip' sessions was held in New York in September of 1967 for the great King Solomon album. Wexler had put Tommy Cogbill together with Joe South and most of the Muscle Shoals gang to come up with yet another under-rated Solomon Burke record. Great material like It's Just A Matter Of Time and Keep A Light In The Window make this album a must-have as well (I just found out that Collectables has released a 'two-fer' CD with both King Solomon and I Wish I Knew on there... go for it).

At the same time that Cogbill was recording for Atlantic up in New York, American was enjoying it's biggest chart success yet, with the Dan Penn produced The Letter spending a month at number one on the pop charts in the fall of 1967. By then, Moman had assembled the rest of his 'house band', with another Hi veteran, Bobby Emmons, on the Hammond organ and Sun studio regulars Gene Chrisman on drums and Bobby Wood on piano. When Tommy Cogbill decided to hang up his bass and become Moman's #2 man at the studio, they brought in Mike Leech to hold down the bottom. This hometown 'bunch of farmers', by then known as 'The American Group', played on a mind-boggling array of hit records for everybody from Neil Diamond to Joe Tex.

Atlantic was probably their best customer, bringing Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, and The Sweet Inspirations down to the studio even before the Solomon sessions in March of 1968. That August, they recorded two of the most heralded albums to ever emanate from 827 Thomas Street, Memphis Underground and Dusty In Memphis. Without a doubt, though, the high water mark for Moman and American was the arrival of the faded Elvis in early 1969. Chips was able to cut through all the crap and find the talent that was still there underneath, handing Presley his first #1 record (Suspicious Minds) in five years.

By 1972, Moman had had it with Memphis, and closed up shop, moving his whole operation to Atlanta where he 'built a studio in an industrial park' in about eight days. It closed within six months, and he and his incredible band gravitated one by one to Nashville, where they became forever known as 'Those Memphis Boys', continuing their legendary session work on countless Country records.

The 'Boys' are back performing again nowadays, with some European dates scheduled for later this year, as well as an appearance at 'Elvis week' in Memphis in August. Be sure to check out their cool website, where you can buy CDs and T-Shirts and stuff. It's good to see them back together and enjoying themselves!

Solomon Burke, meanwhile, remains the absolute embodiment of Soul. Backstage after last night's show, he was genuinely glad to see us, and delivered a profound blessing that showed just how strong his living Gospel roots are. More than that, his words brought home even further the true and honest power behind this great music.

He is, without a single doubt, our greatest living soul singer.