Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bob Wilson And The San Remo Quartet - All Turned On (Ric-Tic 104)

All Turned On

You know folks, as we've traveled this road together over the last couple of years, each of these 45s has been like an opening door... you just never know where that door might take you. This particular one has led me all sorts of wonderful places in the past six months, and taught me a good many things in the process. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try and share some of that journey with you as we explore all of this together...

As young Bob Wilson was growing up near Detroit in the 1950s, his love of music became apparent at an early age. His parents did the right thing, providing him with six years of classical piano training which, among other things, would make him proficient at reading music, a skill which would come in handy down the line.

By the time he entered high school, his taste in music began to evolve, and he 'idolized' the way cool Mack Vickery, Detroit's very own Elvis. Before long, he was sneaking across the border to Toledo (where a growing boy could get a real beer), and hanging around Mack's band. Helping out carrying the equipment soon gave way to sitting in with the band on keyboards whenever he could. He was hooked.

The guitar player in that band was the legendary 'Wild Bill' Emerson who, as a left-hander, played the guitar 'upside down and backwards'. His crazy stage antics were way ahead of their time, and he was 'known to set his guitar on fire, or jump onto tables and stomp his way to the floor while playing a solo'. Bobby Wilson ate it up, and to this day describes Emerson as his 'mentor'.

Wilson soon started his own band, and was by now playing the bass occasionally as well. They became quite popular on their own, and the fact that they featured a baritone sax (kind of like the Mar-Keys) set them apart from the crowd.

The early sixties were heady times in the Motor City, and the emerging 'Sound of Young America' that Berry Gordy was creating over on West Grand Boulevard captured everyone's imagination.

Even before Bob got his driver's license, he'd bug his father to drive him over to the Motown studio where he'd hang around and just 'soak it all in'. Mickey Stevenson, Gordy's A&R director, was impressed with Wilson's band, and filmed a demo with them in consideration of an upcoming album. Although the group kind of broke up before that happened, Stevenson continued to let Bob haunt the 'snake pit' and play that piano in between sessions.

Even though his serious chops got him accepted by everbody over there, there really wasn't much of a place in the organization for a teenaged white piano player. Eventually, it was his friend Pat Lewis who suggested that Bob go over to Golden World. Founded by local African-American business figure 'Uncle' Ed Wingate and his partner Joanne Jackson in 1962, the company had recently broken things wide open when white vocal group The Reflections hit the top ten with Just Like Romeo And Juliet in early 1964.

The success of that record enabled Wingate to build his own 'state of the art' studio in Detroit the following year. Hiring engineer Bob D'Orleans, a sound wizard they had recorded with at Mirasound Studios in New York, they gave him carte blanche to design and build his dream studio in an old industrial building on West Davison Avenue. When it was finished, it would boast the first four track machine in Detroit. Many of Motown's Funk Brothers would do late night sessions over there, with Wingate covering the fines Berry Gordy would charge them when he found out.

Golden World's secret weapon was the dimunitive Sonny Sanders, a former member of Detroit vocal group The Satintones who was now an arranger for the company. He had been the man behind The Reflections' big hit, and was currently working his magic on Edwin Starr's Agent Double-0-Soul, which would be released on subsidiary label Ric-Tic (#103) in mid 1965. That's him in the photo at right with Carl Davis, who would spirit him away to Chicago by the end of the year, where he would create even bigger hits for Okeh and Brunswick.

When Patsy Lewis had introduced Bob Wilson to Golden World A&R man John Rhys he was duly impressed, and 'strongly recommended' to Wingate that he sign him. 'Uncle Ed' liked what he heard as well, and started calling him his 'White Ramsey Lewis'. He began doing session work at the new plant, and working on an album of his own instrumental material for the label. They let him bring in the drummer from his old band, Richie Ries (pictured at left) to work with him.

With Bob Babbitt on bass, and Sonny Sanders working out different arrangements of the first track for the record, they went through several studio guitarists without getting the 'feel' they were looking for. It was Bob's idea to bring in ol' Wild Bill Emerson, whose inspired playing kicked the whole thing up a notch. When Uncle Ed heard what they were doing, he called in saxophone genius Charlie Gabriel to complete the ensemble, and within a couple of takes they had it down.

In those days, it was common practice to back a record with an instrumental B side that the company owned the publishing on, ensuring that they received the extra 'mechanicals' on the sales of a 45. When Golden World released Barbara Mercer's "The Things We Do Together" in the summer of 1965, the radio stations flipped it over and began playing the instrumental side (something called Hungry For Love), despite Wingate's pleas that they were playing the wrong song. Sensing a hit record, he pulled the release back (Golden World #27) so he could plug the instrumental as the A side.

Now all he needed was a name for the conglomeration of moonlighting Funk Brothers and slumming members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra that played on the single. He and Joanne came up with The San Remo Golden Strings, apparently named after the Italian Riviera town they had visited earlier that year (go figure). Wingate called Bob Wilson into his office. "Kid," he said, "Uncle Ed's about to do you a major solid..." He had decided to use the smokin' track they had 'in the can' for Wilson's album as the B side of the single, christening it "All Turned On by Bob Wilson and the San Remo Quartet" (while, of course, retaining the publishing and listing Joanne Jackson as a co-writer). Ric-Tic 104 would climb to #27 on the Billboard Hot 100 that summer and, in addition to the extra income from his share of the 'mechanicals', it gave Bob some priceless name recognition around town. It also just plain cooks!

Married, and with a new baby, Wilson had been working second shift at the Ford plant, and going to school part time trying to make ends meet. After the record hit, friends convinced him to quit his job and go into music full time. He was soon playing in a band that included Ray Monette on guitar and Mike Campbell (later known as Michael Champion) on vocals, playing gigs all over the Detroit area.

He then decided to go on a promotional road trip, bringing copies of the 45 to radio stations, and asking them to consider playing his B side. As it turned out, this would be a trip that would change his life...

(continued in PART TWO)


Blogger Red Kelly said...

Hey folks...

Be sure to check out the incredibly in depth Golden World Story (where I borrowed some of these pictures from) over at Soulful Detroit for more information about this era. It's a truly amazing site.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Private Beach said...

From the name "San Remo Golden Strings" and the cheesy album cover, you'd expect them to sound like Mantovani!

10:12 PM  

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