Tuesday, October 30, 2007

James & Bobby Purify - So Many Reasons (Bell 648)

So Many Reasons

I'd like to start out here by talking a little bit about one of the most colorful characters to emerge from the southern soul scene, Papa Ding-Dong Diddley Daddy Debatably Daring Dig’in Out Dash’n Dip Dig’in Don Schroeder.

A native of Pensacola, Florida, Don was working summers as a lifeguard at a posh resort called Castle Park up in Michigan (go figure). He occupied his time writing songs on his guitar, and playing them for the gaggle of girls that hung around his chair. Harry Smart, a rich Chicago businessman that was staying there, heard him, and was duly impressed. He called one of his friends back in the Windy City, one Ewart Abner, then vice-president of Vee-Jay Records. Arrangements were made for him to come to Chicago and audition.

Abner was impressed as well, and had the young Schroeder in the studio with legendary producer Calvin Carter the next day. Melanie, one of those typical fifties 'I'm a teen in love' songs, was released by the company in 1959, making him the first white guy to record for the label. The record didn't do much, but Don just fell in love with the whole idea of making records, wanting more than anything to become a producer himself someday.

After working with Gary S. Paxton as one of the Hollywood Argyles, Schroeder found himself attending the University Of Tennessee. He took his record to the local radio station, WATE, and they were all over it, eventually giving him his start as a promoter and a dee-jay with his own popular show.

The big time, it seemed, was only a two hour drive away, and before long 'Papa Don' (as he was already known) gravitated to Nashville. He began working with our man John R, who became his manager, and was instrumental in getting him a deal with Phillips Records, where he'd release a couple of singles in 1962. The following year, he would sign with Fred Foster's new Monument subsidiary, Sound Stage 7, for a one-off release. None of these records would make the charts.

Radio was in his blood, however, and before long he was broadcasting his unique 'shtick' over Nashville's #1 station, WKDA. He continued writing songs, and began producing demos of them down in Muscle Shoals, just another two hour drive away.

He brought some of those tapes to Jim Denny, who owned the blockbuster Cedarwood Publishing Company, and he hired him as a staff songwriter on the spot. Working with folks like Mel Tillis and Wayne Walker, he brought his own 'pop' perspective to the Country music they were writing. He would go on to write #1 Country smash Those Wonderful Years for the flamboyant Webb Pierce (pictured), and things were looking pretty good.

The only problem was that Don "just hated" Nashville. Tired of playing the game, he headed home to Pensacola. Now a big fish in that relatively small pond, Papa Don became a huge local celebrity, with his popular WBSR radio show garnering an unheard of 78 share of the market. At a time when very few others were doing it, Papa was playing R&B that was aimed at a white audience. Like John R back in Music City, his sense of what made a good record kept people, both black and white, tuning in every day. He branched out into promotion, booking top-name R&B acts as they swung through 'the panhandle', and eventually opened up his own club.

Keeping his finger on the pulse of what was happening, Papa Don first heard a Louisiana kid named Sam McClain perform at the foremost 'black' venue in town, Abe's 506 Club. He was amazed by his voice, and talked Sam into going with him to Muscle Shoals so he could produce a record on him. Cutting a cover of Don Gibson's Sweet Dreams at Fame over the course of a weekend, he brought the tapes to Nashville to shop them around. It was there that he was introduced to New York record man Larry Uttal.

Uttal (shown here with Papa Don and the man who would become his partner, Moses Dillard) had already made his move into the southern R&B market by then, and (as we've seen) was already distributing both Sansu and Goldwax products on his Bell family of labels. He loved the record, and (to Jerry Wexler's eternal regret) entered into a 'handshake deal' with Schroeder to release it (under the name of 'Mighty Sam'), and to handle all future 'Papa Don Enterprises' productions. Although that first release didn't do much (for various reasons that we'll talk about in an upcoming post), it would turn out to be a pretty good deal for all involved.

Back in Pensacola, Mighty Sam took Papa Don to a joint called Tom's Tavern to see an Alabama group he had performed with off and on, The Dothan Sextet. Tearing into high energy covers of the latest soul hits, they just brought down the house. Schroeder was once again enthralled with the voices of both their lead singer, James Purify, and their guitar player, Robert Dickey. Empowered by his new deal with Bell, he arranged for them to accompany him back to Fame, where he planned on producing sides on both of them. He brought along a keyboard guy who had been playing in his club by the name of Barry Beckett.

When they got there, Schroeder realized that they didn't have any material, and locked himself in an upstairs office, listening to demos on a small tape recorder. A few hours later, he emerged with a song that he thought could work. Written by Fame's own Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, it had been released as a single by Penn (MGM 13415) the year before, and had sunk without a trace. Papa Don heard something in the song that apparently nobody else in the room did, and they began working on it.

At this point, I'd like to quote from the excellent Bill Dahl interview of Schroeder that's been posted over at good ol' sundazed (which is where I found most of this information in the first place):

"I don’t think either one of ‘em liked the song... from the get-go, ‘cause it wasn’t R&B enough to suit either one of ‘em. And I said, ‘Guys, if you’ll just work with me on this, I’m telling you, I’m trying to cut us a hit record not just for the black market, I’m trying to cut a record that white people will love too... Dickey just couldn’t get it, man. He was trying so hard to sing the lead like I wanted... James Purify said, ‘Hey, man, here’s what he’s talking about.’ He started doing the lead. Wow! Then I said, ‘Dickey, you do the harmony.’ And we created James & Bobby Purify on the floor at... [the] studio. And they agreed to be a duet."

Schroeder called Uttal in New York, and played him the song over the phone... "he said, 'What's the name of the act?' Well, I knew Robert Dickey... and Bobby’s a nickname for Robert. And Purify, I thought was the funkiest soulful name I ever heard in my life. I said, ‘Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba...’ And I named ‘em James & Bobby Purify on the telephone, talking to Larry Uttal. And Larry Uttal said, ‘Wow, what a name!’ I said, ‘Yeah, it is funky, man, isn’t it?'..." It sure was. Released in September of 1966, I'm Your Puppet would spend over four months on the charts, cruising to #5 R&B, and #6 Pop.

Today's sweet selection was released as the B side of that timeless song. Another 'Oldham-Penn' jewel, it was recorded at the same session. Papa: "James Purify kept saying ‘folks aks me why instead of ask me why’ and I said, ‘James, it sounds great, but it’s not "aks," it’s "ask."’ ‘That’s what I said, man, aks!’ ‘All right, James, but try one more time for me. Let’s try it one more time.’ ‘Folks aks me why...’ Go listen to it! Oh, God, I went round and around with him on that. I finally said fine. 'Sounds like "ask" to me, man'..." I love it. All of this was going on around the same time that Atlantic was recording the Wicked Pickett at Fame, and was importing some Memphis musicians to work with him. In the interview, Papa Don says that he was "bringing Chips Moman down to play on my sessions..." as well. Anyway, I'm guessing that that breezy, high-up-in-the-mix guitar on here is being played by Moman himself. Cool, right?

"Chips pulled me over... and he says, ‘Papa Don, I’m building this incredible studio in Memphis, and I want you to be the first record producer there. I mean it, man - I need you‘. I had a lot of respect for Chips Moman. He’s a talented guy. He said, ‘These guys in Muscle Shoals are great. But I’m telling you, Papa Don, I have found the best musicians in the world in Memphis… the best musicians I’ve ever worked with. Just try it - if you don’t like it, you ain’t gotta pay for it. The studio’s almost finished.’ I said, ‘Chips don’t call me ‘til that studio’s finished..." Soon after they recorded the follow-up record at Fame, top 40 hit Wish You Didn't Have To Go, Papa Don got that call, and switched his base of operations to American in Memphis.

James and Bobby's super-charged Shake A Tail Feather (Bell 669), a cover of a 1963 Five Du-Tones hit, was the first single to be recorded with Chips in Memphis. The incredible Reggie Young guitar over the whole 'party' atmosphere (overdubbed by Schroeder in New York with no less than Doris Troy and Melba Moore helping him out) sent the record to #15 R&B (#25 Pop) in May of 1967. Out in the public eye, they were right up there with Sam & Dave as one of the top 'duo' acts on the market. As a matter of fact, The Purifys own version of Sam & Dave's I Take What I Want, would actually outsell the original, and kept them in the top 40 all that summer.

They would cut two LPs for Bell, one at Fame and one at American, both kind of hastily put together affairs, as albums often were in those days. Still, there's some great stuff on there, like covers of You Left The Water Running and You Don't Love Me, that make them worth seeking out. Papa Don's ear for a great song remained intact, and a single pulled from that second album, Let Love Come Between Us (written by Mighty Field Of Vision's own John Wyker), was a huge 'beach music' hit that fall, breaking into the top 25 Pop.

All of this fame and fortune was apparently taking its toll, as James Purify and Papa Don were increasingly 'not on the same page'. Difficult to work with at the best of times, James was now making it a habit of showing up late for sessions, and basically challenging the authority of his long-time producer. Schroeder was not a happy camper, and he let Larry Uttal know it.

At odds with Chips Moman as well, he consolidated his 'Papa Don Productions' company, and hired guitarist Moses Dillard as his right hand man. With Bell's blessing, they built their own studio down in Pensacola in 1968, and shifted their base of operations southward. Initially, Schroeder thought that many of the 'Memphis Boys' would join him in Florida, but somehow that never happened.

Things came to a head for Papa sometime in 1969. "...James was very difficult and he just took the fun out of it for me," he said, "I called Larry Uttal, I said, ‘Larry... I’m through with the Purifys - you go get me an act, or I promise you, I’m leaving.’ He said, ‘You can’t quit! We have a deal and we have to have product on these guys now!’ I said, ‘Larry, you ain’t the one putting up with James Purify! I’m telling you, I quit! I’m quitting the business!’ Man, Larry flew down to Pensacola the next day... I still can’t believe he wasn’t smart enough to be a little more flexible and understanding of the situation. ‘We have to have product on the Purifys!’ I said, ‘I will never go in the studio again with James Purify... He says, ‘No Purifys, no deal.’ I said, ‘Goodbye!’ I locked up my studio... I quit my deal with Larry Uttal and Bell Records over that and I have never regretted it." Shortly after that, James Purify and Robert Dickey went their separate ways.

Years later, after James recruited a new 'Bobby Purify' (Ben Moore of the Atlantic 'soul duo' Ben and Spence), he approached Papa Don about producing them again, and he relented, cutting an album for Casablanca in 1975 which would produce a top 30 R&B hit, Do Your Thing. He would also work on a 1977 Mercury LP that would spawn two 'solid' UK hits, including a remake of I'm Your Puppet. "Never say never!" he said.

In 2005, that second Bobby Purify, now blind from glaucoma, would get together with an all-star cast including Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Reggie Young, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Wayne Jackson and the late Carson Whitsett to create the incredible Better To Have It, and if you don't, you should. He is presently filling in for Clarence Fountain on some Blind Boys of Alabama dates, due to Clarence's ongoing kidney problems.

Papa Don, meanwhile, owns his own radio station down in Pensacola, and operates a family run business. You Can't Keep A Good Man Down.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gene (Bowlegs) Miller - What Time Ye Got (Goldwax 305)

What Time Ye Got

This past weekend, The West Memphis Blues and Rhythm Society sponsored a series of events that celebrated the importance of the Plantation Inn in the development of Southern Soul. Speakers included Willie Mitchell, Wayne Jackson, Calvin Newborn, Jim Dickinson and Robert Gordon. The kick-off 'symposium' on Friday morning was called Ben Branch, Bowlegs, and the Birth of the Memphis Sound. I wish I could have been there...

Morris Berger's Plantation Inn was located at 3600 E. Broadway on 'the strip' in West Memphis, Arkansas. As we've discussed in the past, the 'PI' provided a place where white patrons could dance to black music, something that was simply not possible in those days without crossing the Mississippi. In the early fifties, the swing stylings of Phineas Newborn's Orchestra gave way to smaller tight-knit combos whose stripped down horn structures laid the foundation of what would come to be known as the 'Memphis Sound'. The bands of Willie Mitchell, Bowlegs Miller and Ben Branch became a proving ground for a generation of up and coming Memphis musicians, and provided a readily available talent pool for the explosion of small record companies and studios that grew up in the wake of Sun and Elvis.

Although the name of Bowlegs Miller is woven into the very fabric of this music that we all love, there seems to be no biographical information available about him anywhere. His name is not mentioned in the 'All' Music Guide, nor is there much written about him in the varied books and liner notes of the CD re-issues that I have. I can tell you that he was born in the thirties, and came up as a student of Nat D. Williams at Booker T. Washington High School. Like his contemporary Willie Mitchell, the fact that he was older and more experienced (and had a working band) made him a mentor to many an aspiring young performer...

In yet another example of how everything to do with Memphis music is connected one way or another, let's take a look at the Fernwood label. Started up in late 1956 by Jack Clement and Roland 'Slim' Wallace, they recorded in a small studio set up in Slim's garage. Long recognized as one of the primary incubators of Rockabilly, they produced seminal sides by guys like Thomas Wayne and Travis Wammack.

Just as his partner Bill Black had done with Hi, Scotty Moore joined forces with Fernwood after Elvis was drafted in 1958. His influence soon paid off, as the label began to have some significant national hits. Like Sun before it, Fernwood also acted as a 'recording service', and would cut a record for anyone who came in off the street. Those records saw limited distribution, and even though some of them were released on Fernwood subsidiaries like Whirl-A-Way and Pure Gold, they were mostly confined to the city limits. Many of those singles have been collected in a CD called Fernwood Rhythm 'n' Blues From Memphis that contains the first efforts of future Goldwax artists like The Lyrics and Barbara Perry among others. Those early sessions were run by our man Bowlegs, with members of his band providing the back-up, and appear to be his first appearance on vinyl.

Another Memphis entrepreneur who would start up his own record company in those heady days was Ruben Cherry. Cherry owned the infamous 'Home of the Blues' record shop on Beale Street, and named the label after his store. He used the Fernwood studio to record many of his releases, which he sold primarily over the counter. Willie Mitchell's first records appeared on Home of the Blues alongside those by Roy Brown and The 5 Royales. After Cherry sold his masters to Vee-Jay in 1961, One More Time Part One (Vee-Jay 400) became the first single issued under the name 'Bowlegs and his Band'.

According to the liner notes of The Goldwax Story, Miller then "cut for Zab, Bee Jay, and Christie before signing a six side deal with Goldwax..." As you may recall, we spoke a couple of weeks ago about how it was The Ovations that first brought Bowlegs to the attention of Claunch and Russell, who used his band to back them up on on their first release Pretty Little Angel (Goldwax 110). 'Gene (Bowlegs) Miller' would have the very next release on the label, the smokin' two-sider Toddlin'/Bow-Legged (Goldwax 111) in late 1964.

By 1965, things were really starting to heat up on the soul scene down there in Memphis. Members of Miller's band Marvell Thomas and Andrew Love (who had been with him since he was in tenth grade) held down steady gigs at Stax, as did a kid who played the bass for him before switching over to organ at one of their gigs at the Flamingo Club, Booker T. Jones. Atlantic Records was still very much involved with Stax, and called in Bowlegs to augment the Mar-Key Horns (as they were known at that point) as a second trumpet on Otis Redding's landmark album, the Tom Dowd produced Otis Blue. They liked the arrangement so much that they continued to use him, and he appears on everything Otis recorded up until late 1966.

Atlantic would go on to use Miller on the Wilson Pickett and Don Covay material they cut on McLemore Avenue as well, before Jim Stewart threw Jerry Wexler out at the end of 1965. When Wexler made the move to Fame in 1966, he attempted to take Memphis with him, bringing along guys like Chips Moman, Tommy Cogbill and Bowlegs Miller. Miller found a home there, and would go on to become an integral part of the 'Muscle Shoals Horns' at the studio.

Today's cool selection (the flip of the cookin' Here It Is Now) hails from that period at Fame, with Rick Hall listed as a co-writer as is Andrew Love, who's apparently blowing that funky horn. That's Bowlegs on the hilarious vocals which, I think, illustrate the sense of humor that made him a favorite of everyone who knew him. "...the sound of that drum sure blends nice with this rum" - I hear that! With his years of experience, Miller was instrumental in coming up with those incredible 'head arrangements' of the horns on so many Fame recorded sides. A talent that, I'm sure, kept him a favorite of Rick Hall as well, as he didn't have to pay a separate arranger.

As Atlantic's presence at the studio diminished after the Aretha Franklin incident, Bowlegs was there as Chess moved in, working on monumental records by Irma Thomas, Laura Lee and, of course, Etta James. Although the label credits read 'Arranged and Produced by Rick Hall & Staff', you can bet the store that Bowlegs had something to do with those amazing horn lines on songs like Tell Mama and Dirty Man... just top shelf stuff, kids.

Bowlegs continued to play with his band in Memphis, and became a member of the horn section at Hi along with James Mitchell, Willie's brother. Hi would release three singles by 'Gene Miller' (including 1969's way cool Frankenstein Walk), but he is remembered primarily as the man who 'discovered' Ann Peebles when she got up on stage to sing with his band at the Club Rosewood one night, and he brought her to Royal to meet Willie the next day.

Other labels that wanted a piece of that Memphis Magic began sending their artists to Royal as well, as was the case with Decca and Danny White. This circa 1966 single was a Gene Miller arrangement of a Don Bryant song... a Hi product all the way, with Bowlegs being given an arranging credit on the label so he could get a share of the 'mechanicals' from the big company. The label also says it was was produced by 'D & A Productions', anybody have any clue who that might have been?

In 1971, Detroit's Westbound label sent a young singer named Denise LaSalle down to Willie at Royal Studio, and he came up with her biggest hit, #1 R&B smash, Trapped By A Thing Called Love. On her next trip to Memphis in 1972, Bowlegs was again given label credit for arranging the follow-up album On The Loose, which included the single Man Sized Job, another R&B blockbuster that spent over three months on the R&B charts, climbing to #4.

Miller was in demand.

In 1971, John Richbourg had leased a single by a South Carolina singer named Ann Sexton from a small label called Impel for release on his new Seventy Seven imprint. He would send her to Memphis (along with David Lee, who was apparently the owner of Impel and Sexton's manager) to record with Miller, and the resulting single is one of my (and O Dub's) favorite records ever. As far as I can tell, You're Gonna Miss Me (now up on The A Side) is the first record where 'BoLegs' is given credit as the producer. It would crack the R&B top fifty in the fall of 1973.

1973 also saw the release of another soul treasure, Pep Brown's wonderful It's All Over, which was 'Produced by Gene Miller and Alan Walden dedicated to the Big O'... the big O being of course Otis Redding. A truly great record that, along with its equally good B side, delivers "the throwback sound that set Pep’s anguished tones in a perfect context to deliver a double sided helping of deep soul heaven," so says Sir Shambling. I heartily agree.

That same year, Gene would produce the excellent Sweet Surrender, by Ollie Nightingale. One of the most under-appreciated albums in soul history, it was released on the MGM subsidiary label Pride, and sank like a stone (it's recently been re-issued on a Japanese P-Vine CD). The nature of things in the record business was changing at this point, as the whole Disco era was coming on fast. One of the few holdouts through all of that was Hi Records, who continued to turn out hit records by folks like Al Green and Ann Peebles, records that I'm sure continued to have contributions from Bowlegs in the horn section.

He would release a 1977 single called It's Bump Time on the Select-O-Hit label that would be, as far as I can tell, his last record under his own name (a 1974 Bay Town release credited to Gene Miller was, according to our man Sir Shambling, by 'another guy altogether'). In 1983, Bowlegs would produce a critically acclaimed self-titled album for Lanier & Company on a Los Angeles based label called LARC. That is the last reference I can find on him...

Gene 'Bowlegs' Miller passed away in Memphis on Christmas Day 1987. He was 54 years old.

He never got anywhere near the recognition he deserved.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spencer Wiggins - Walking Out On You (Goldwax 312)

Walking Out On You

Let me start out here by talking a little bit about the man known as the 'Jackie Robinson of Radio', Nat D. Williams.

A graduate of both Columbia and Northwestern, Williams began writing a newspaper column about African-American issues way back in 1931. Soon nationally syndicated, his name was known throughout the black community. Faced with bankruptcy, an AM radio station in Memphis made the landmark decision to change its format from Classical to R&B, and hired Williams as the first black dee-jay below the Mason-Dixon line. His 'crossing of the color-line' in 1948 proved to be a brilliant idea, as WDIA soon became immensely popular, and proved that 'race music' was indeed commercially viable. Nat's legendary 'Tan Town Jamboree' became one of the most listened to shows in the South, and paved the way for WLAC's white imitators. Williams continued to write his column, and was the man who initiated those fabled 'amateur nights' at the Palace Theater down on Beale Street.

In addition to all of this, Williams was also the much loved History teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in East Memphis. One can only imagine how cool it must have been to have a genuine celebrity for a teacher, as he led an entire generation by quiet example, instilling in them the concept that anything was possible, even in the segregated south. A list of his students reads like a 'who's who' of Memphis Soul - Rufus Thomas, William Bell, Booker T. Jones, David Porter, 'Bowlegs' Miller, Maurice White, Louis Williams, Andrew Love, J. Blackfoot... the list goes on and on. This may have been where Nat Williams had his greatest influence after all, inspiring young people to go forth and create. They say he never missed a show in all his years on WDIA, until he was felled by a stroke in 1972. Just a wonderful man, he passed on in 1983, and is fondly remembered by all who knew him.

Williams taught two brothers who were coming up in those days, inseparable and willing to sing at a moment's notice, they were named Percy and Spencer Wiggins.

[As you may know, Ace released the excellent Spencer Wiggins - The Goldwax Years in April of 2006. The exhaustive and comprehensive liner notes were written by Colin Dilnot, who has been kind enough to post them at his excellent Keeping Soul Alive page. A result of years of painstaking research and some hard-won interviews, they remain the definitive authority on all things Wiggins. What follows is my own feeble attempt to summarize those notes. Thank You, Colin!]

Growing up in a religious family, both Percy and Spencer were singing along with their Mother in the choir of the New Friendship Baptist Church while they were still in grade school. Before long they had formed their own group, The New Rival Gospel Singers, which would also include their sister, Maxine. They became a local sensation, and even had their own 15 minute radio spot on WDIA. As they entered High School, their passion for singing remained intact, and both boys became members of the Glee Club. They continued to sing Gospel as well, as part of the Southern Junior Wonders, emulating the quartet sound of the elder group. The Wiggins brothers loved R&B as well, and formed a vocal group called The Four Stars that performed in local talent and variety shows.

Upon graduating from High School, the brothers set their sights on individual careers as R&B singers on the hot Memphis club scene. Spencer held down a long time gig at the Flamingo Room, and was often joined onstage by Percy singing Sam & Dave style duets. Quinton Claunch, on the lookout for talent for his new label, caught his show one night and offered Spencer a contract in early 1965. For whatever reason, his first release for Claunch was on the Bandstand USA imprint, apparently a planned subsidiary of Goldwax that never left the ground.

As we've seen, it's difficult to nail down exact studio and session details with Goldwax, as they moved around a lot, but Spencer's first release on the main label was the excellent Penn/Oldham gem Take Me Just As I Am (Goldwax 308) in 1966 (a song which Solomon Burke would take to #11 the following year). Judging by the unmistakable Reggie Young guitar, It appears to have been one of the first records Dan Penn worked on after he made the move to Memphis. In any event, it's a great version, and showcases the full range of Wiggins' incredible voice, which is kind of like a mixture of Wilson Pickett's, Bobby Bland's, and Johnny Adams' (if that makes sense).

Spencer had known George Jackson for years before Claunch hired him as a staff songwriter in 1966. The two men understood each other, and worked together for hours at Jackson's mythic broken down piano, writing songs that were custom made for him. That chemistry is obvious in Wiggins' next release for the label, a record some consider to be his best, Old Friend (now up on The A Side). This cookin' blues number you're listening to now was released as the B side of that single. A rough and tumble R&B shakedown, Jackson wrote it, I'm sure, with Spencer's club act in mind. This was just the sort of number to get things going, and the band sure is kicking it there towards the end! Strut 'dat stuff, y'all! What a great record... with a bit of B.B. King creeping into his amazing vocal performance, Wiggins shows that he can belt it out with the best of 'em!

You know there must be something to this whole distribution thing, as Spencer's blistering 1967 version of Uptight Good Woman (Goldwax 321), yet another fantastic Penn/Oldham (and Jimmy Johnson) tune, failed to make the charts, while Chess was able to take Laura Lee's version into the R&B top twenty later that year. On the other hand, Solomon Burke's Fame recorded take on the song became his first release on Bell, and it cracked the top fifty in early 1969. Go figure. The Wiggins version is better than either of them.

A great talent like Spencer's was seemingly 'lost in the sauce' of the Memphis Soul Stew in those days, as Goldwax's blessing (being right there in the thick of things) in some ways proved to be its curse. Maybe there was just too many great singers, or maybe it was their decided lack of promotion. As he told Colin, "Goldwax never put a show together of their stars. This was my biggest problem and why I got lost at Goldwax, I had no one managing me. I was a young man [but] I didn’t know nobody and nobody knew me... I was young and it was down to the fact then that no one was there to guide me and be interested in me. No one ever approached me and said they would like to be my manager. I was right there with Isaac Hayes and David Porter – I came up with them – they were in the right place at the right time – they were with Stax, and Stax was on the move – Goldwax was on the move but we didn’t really have a good distributor at the time.” Apparently so.

After three more singles that didn't do much, Claunch brought Spencer (along with ol' brother Percy) down to Fame in 1969, a point at which the Fame Gang included one Duane Allman on guitar. Wiggins' last release for the label (and fifth to last for Goldwax overall), was a smokin' version of Aretha's I Never Loved A (Wo)Man, that features his trademark slide guitar. Although truly a great record, it died on the vine, as the company would later that year. Rick Hall knew there was more 'in the can' from those sessions and licensed the material from Claunch for release on his own Fame label. Two excellent singles would follow, the second of which, Double Lovin' (Fame 1470), would result in Spencer's only chart appearance when it hit #44 R&B in the fall of 1970.

Wiggins would follow most of the other Goldwax graduates (as we mentioned last week) and sign with the MGM subsidiary Sounds Of Memphis. His lone single for the label, I Can't Be Satisfied, is now the title track of the new Ace CD I told you about. There would be two more releases on XL before Spencer left Memphis and moved to Florida in 1973. Like so many others, he was having trouble making a living singing blues and soul in the clubs and, in 1976, he would return to his Gospel roots and promise God that he would "sing for Him for the rest of my life."

That's just what he's been doing. As a deacon in Miami's New Birth Baptist Church, he leads their music program and directs the choir. After a locally released cassette of songs he had written got considerable airplay on Christian radio down there, he recorded a Contemporary Gospel album called Key To The Kingdom for Tayvette Records in 2002. Known as 'The Florida Gospel Tornado', Spencer Wiggins is still singing his heart out, just as he did growing up in Memphis way back when.

Percy, meanwhile, is still performing R&B in his hometown, where I was lucky enough to hear him sing backed up by Hi Rhythm at the Ponderosa Stomp last year. He was phenomenal. His great Atco single, Book Of Memories, was included on the Atlantic Unearthed collection last year as well.

Enormously under-appreciated, the music these brothers have created has stood the test of time. Nat Williams would be proud.