Friday, December 28, 2007

Kim Tolliver - I'll Try To Do Better (Rojac 129)

I'll Try To Do Better

"It was a cold day in December, and I was trying to find myself a little restitution.

All of a sudden, I found out it was a New Year, so I made myself a New Year's resolution.

I've got to change my way of living, instead of taking, I've got to start giving."

Kim Tolliver, who gave us all so much, lost her long battle with Alzheimer's disease this past summer.

I couldn't think of a more fitting song to pay tribute to those who have gone on before us here in 2007. This Harlem Soul masterpiece is just about as good as it gets.

Say Amen, somebody!

Please join me in a moment of reflection as we honor these great men and women who have left this world a better place:

May they rest in peace.

I'll talk to you next year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Johnny Adams - Please Come Home For Christmas (Hep'Me 138)

Please Come Home For Christmas

About twenty years ago, I bought a 1968 Seeburg LS2 jukebox. This was during the time when all the bars and pizza places and stuff were clearing out their old vinyl jobs and upgrading to these shiny new CD machines. You could pick up one of the old ones for next to nothing. So I did.

In addition to being a simple and easy way to play 160 sides of pure analog vinyl goodness at an insane volume level without having to actually DO anything but press a few buttons, it's also become a great friend over the years. I've resisted all attempts to marginalize the old girl, and she still maintains her place of prominence here at the B Side Ranch. This time of year, switching out the usual 45s for the Christmas Records has become as much a tradition as trimming the tree.

Some of them are good, some are kinda hokey and hey, I admit it, some of them are just downright bad. It goes with the territory. I'll tell you what, though, the first time I hear something like, say, the original single version of Nat Cole's The Christmas Song for the year, it still just does me in.

I know, I'm a sap.

Anyway, this buttery New Orleans recorded version of Charles Brown's classic came up on the ol' box the other day, and it stopped me in my tracks. I figured I'd share it with you.

Johnny Adams possessed one of the truly great voices of our time. He was also the victim of some dubious business practices and just plain old bad luck. Soon after he took Mac Rebbenack's A Losing Battle to #27 R&B in the summer of 1962 (the flip of which became our fourth B Side post way back in the fall of 2005), he travelled to Detroit along with Joe Jones and Earl King to meet with Berry Gordy at Motown. As legend has it, Gordy was all set to sign Johnny to a contract when he received a telegram from Ric and Ron founder Joe Ruffino threatening legal action if he did. That was one of the last things Ruffino did before he died of a heart attack.

His brother-in-law, Joe Assunto, convinced Adams that he was still under contract, only now he was signed to Assunto's own Watch label. Now working with Earl King and the ubiquitous Wardell Quezergue, Johnny recorded the deep soul classic Part Of Me (now up on The A Side) in 1964. Although a big record down in Sugar Town, Assunto's lack of any kind of national distribution kept it from breaking into the charts. Johnny continued to soldier away for a variety of local labels throughout the sixties, but nothing much was happening, and so he found himself back at Watch by 1968. Shortly before the company went under in the wake of the Cosimo Matassa/ Dover Records fiasco, Assunto was able to lease Adams' version of Release Me to Shelby Singleton in Nashville. Another incredible Quezergue arrangement, the record broke into the R&B top forty by the end of the year.

Singleton signed Johnny to his SSS International label and brought him to Nashville. He would record his biggest hit at Columbia's studio on 'music row' with session stalwarts like Jerry Kennedy and Pete Drake. It's easy to understand why the all time Country Soul classic Reconsider Me soared to #8 R&B in the summer of 1969. It is simply an amazing record. He would chart twice more for the label but, by 1974, Singleton had decided to get out of the R&B business altogether, and Johnny was left high and dry.

Back home in New Orleans, Adams began his long association with Walter 'Wolfman' Washington and, in 1976, they hooked up with Senator Jones and started recording for Hep'Me. Jones had worked out a deal with Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn that allowed him to use their Sea-Saint studio in exchange for a cut of the profits. Surrounding himself with great local talent like Johnny's old compadre Quezergue, Isaac Bolden, and Sam Henry, Jr, the good Senator came up with some great records, although they didn't sell much outside the city limits. Today's selection hails from that period, and is pretty straightforward until Johnny steps out there towards the end and lets loose. I love it. Jones leased another of Adams' Country Soul outings, After All the Good Is Gone, to Ariola Records in 1978, and it barely dented the charts. Ariola would record a 'disco' album on him shortly after that but, after it failed to sell, they dropped him, and he was back working with Jones.

As he told Jeff Hannusch in the essential I Hear You Knockin', those Hep'Me singles "...kept my name out there. I didn't care really if they weren't selling. As long as I had a record out that got played once in awhile on the radio and on a few jukeboxes, I could work off that... like I said, the money is in the gigs, not in the records." One of those gigs was his annual appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and, as 'Jazz Fest' began to grow, more and more people were exposed to his music.

One of those people was Rounder Records producer Scott Billington, who signed Johnny to the Massachusetts based label in late 1983, beginning their long association with the Crescent City. He would cut nine albums for them over the next fifteen years (including my own personal favorite, Walking On A Tightrope - The Songs Of Percy Mayfield), and his voice remained just as amazing as ever.

I was lucky enough to see Johnny Adams myself a couple of times in those days, and I'll never forget it. I consider myself privileged to have heard the 'Tan Canary' sing, man. I couldn't believe it when I heard he had passed away following a long battle with cancer in 1998. He was 66 years old.

"Johnny, we hardly knew ye..."

Now, as things really start to get crazy around here, let me take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas from our home base just outside the greatest city in the world...

I hope Santa treats ya good!

- your pal, red kelly

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Roberta Flack - Go Up Moses (Atlantic 2851)

Go Up Moses


I was saddened to learn that all around hip cat and total original Joel Dorn passed away after suffering a massive heart attack yesterday in New York. I'm going to do something I don't usually do here, and repost this supremely excellent song that I put up when Arif Mardin died back in July of 2006... I think it's one of the best things Dorn ever produced. Here's some of what I had to say back then:

"Joel Dorn was a disk jockey on Philadelphia's legendary jazz station, WHAT FM. Atlantic Records honcho Nesuhi Ertegun, a big "jazz man", heard him and offered him a chance to produce an album for the company. When The Laws Of Jazz, the first record to feature Hubert Laws as band leader, became a breakthrough success in 1964, Ertegun hired Dorn full-time. He went on to essentially head the jazz division of the label, and soon became a vice-president.

One of his favorite artists at Atlantic was Les McCann, a great piano player and vocalist whose ground-breaking work with his trio came to be known as "soul-jazz". It was Dorn and Ertegun who paired them with sax giant Eddie Harris at the Montreux Jazz Festival and recorded the hip classic Swiss Movement in 1969. When they released Compared To What, the incredible tell-it-like-it-is proto-rap message song that still rings true today ("...have one doubt, they call it treason!") as a single from the record in early 1970, it broke the R&B top 40 and became somewhat of a cult classic. The tune was written by Gene McDaniels, who would go on to create hip-hop underground favorite, Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse, the following year...

When Les McCann heard Roberta Flack singing at The Bohemian Caverns in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1968, he flipped. "Her voice touched, tapped, trapped and kicked over every emotion I've ever known", he said, and brought her down to Joel Dorn at Atlantic. He agreed, and the album they recorded in early 1969, First Take, is simply amazing. Produced by Dorn, it blurs the lines between jazz, soul, and folk (yup!) and comes up with some truly powerful stuff. An all-star jazz line-up featuring John Pizzarelli on guitar and Ron Carter on bass complemented Flack and her piano. In addition to Compared To What, it features two songs written by a friend from her days at Howard University, one Donny Hathaway... Her next album, Chapter Two, continued in the same vein, with Dorn using his jazz chops to bring in folks like Hubert Laws and Chuck Rainey. Donny Hathaway contributes another song, and actually plays keyboards on a few tracks. Although the album lists King Curtis as co-producer, he doesn't seem to be playing on it...

When Joel Dorn began production on Roberta Flack's third album, Quiet Fire, in 1971, he brought in Mardin as an arranger. The album features more jazz session heavyweights like Hugh McCracken, Bernard Purdie and Grady Tate. Today's B side (the flip of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow) was co-written by Flack, Dorn and Jesse Jackson(!), and is an answer to the traditional spiritual Go Down Moses. It exhorts Black America to quit begging off Pharoah and just let HIM go. Powerful stuff, delivered in this kind of spooky 'night-tripper' groove that just keeps building... I love it! In one of those little known places that Arif Mardin turns up in, that's him and Dorn joining in the background vocals on here. WAY cool, man..."

Yes, way cool, indeed, and just the sort of thing that Dorn did best, defying all genres and classifications to cut the best record he knew how. In a recent interview in Jazzitude, Dorn rails against the 'Pigeonhole Patrol' and the state of 'the industry' in general. Everything he had to say was right on the money...

"The days of the Alfred Lion, Norman Granz, Leonard Chess, Berry Gordy…all these one of a kind guys who ran labels according to their passion, or their own taste…that’s over. They can come up with all the bullshit in the world about, you know, piracy and MP3 and downloading and the economy…let me tell you something. You make a record tomorrow that makes you feel like a Marvin Gaye record did thirty years ago, I don’t give a f*#k how bad the economy is, people will be in there. They’ll buy that record.”

A realist who refused to play the game, he was a breath of fresh air in this stuffy world.

I'm gonna miss him.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ike Turner - Won't You Forgive Me (Sue 749)

Won't You Forgive Me


Ike Turner died yesterday. He was 76 years old. You cannot overstate his importance in the development of American popular music.

His longtime partner, Tina Turner released this statement through her publicist:

"Tina is aware that Ike passed away earlier today. She has not had any contact with him in 35 years. No further comment will be made."

What a bunch of crap. I don't care who this woman (or her 'publicist') think they are, but please!

I can tell you this, The B side will be doing an extensive examination of Ike (and Tina's) music in the coming months... life is just too crazy right now, with Christmas almost upon us, to give this story the attention it deserves. But we will, I promise.

This ultra-cool selection we have here was released as the flip of their mega 1961 hit It's Gonna Work Out Fine. Apparently, the first pressings of the single were issued under Ike's name alone, and Tina's was added later on as the record went to #2 R&B (kept from the #1 spot by Bobby Lewis' smash Tossin' and Turnin'). It would stay there on the label for the next fifteen years...

Won't You Forgive Me?, Ike asked. Tina's answer to that question, quite obviously, is a resounding NO!

I forgive you, Mister Turner.

God Rest Your Soul.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bobby Womack - Don't Look Back (Liberty 56186)

Don't Look Back

Part Two

OK, folks, it's hard to believe it was over a year ago that I promised you a second installment of the Bobby Womack saga, but time flies when you're having fun, I guess...

When we last left our hero, he was taking a lot of heat for marrying Sam Cooke's widow, and was unable to get his records played on the radio, as the disk jockeys that had known and loved Sam were 'throwing his records in the garbage'. Releases on the Him label and Fred Smith's Keymen Records went nowhere, and Bobby was itching to get back to work. In 1965, he auditioned for a spot in Ray Charles' band.

Ray was reportedly amazed by the fact that Bobby could keep up with him, no matter what changes he called, without being able to read the music they had set in front of him. "My music is way more complicated than Sam Cooke's stuff," Ray told him, but in spite of that, Womack was hired. He spent the next year or so out on the road with Brother Ray, playing over 200 dates a year. Conditions were less than rosy, however, and Bobby, as the newest member of the outfit, had to take the brunt of it.

From ill fiiting hand-me-down uniforms, to doubling up in hotel rooms with the epileptic Curtis Aimey, Bobby seemed to be the last one on the list. The thing that finally got him fired, however, was that he complained about the fact that Ray would fly the band's plane himself. "Man, I couldn't sleep for thinking about our flights between gigs," Bobby said, "...a blind man was flying the plane. I had attacks about that." Incredible. Ray fired him in early 1967.

According to the liner notes of Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers, Bobby's lone session for Atlantic was held in September of 1966. When Atlantic 2388 was released in early 1967, his last name had been misspelled as 'Wommack'. As you may recall, that same spelling had been used on the writer's credit for the first song he gave to Wilson Pickett, Nothing You Can Do, which was recorded at Fame in Muscle Shoals. I'm guessing that Bobby's single was recorded there as well.

It was Pickett who told him about the studio in Memphis he was headed to next... "Bobby," he said. "there are some white boys down there; if you closed your eyes, you could not tell they weren't black. Those f#*@ers can play!" The studio he was referring to, of course, was American Sound, and in July of 1967, Bobby Womack flew into town, installed himself into the Trumpet Motel, and showed up at American for Pickett's first sessions there. In addition to playing guitar, he brought along another one of his compositions, the amazing I'm In Love, which The Wicked One would take to #6 R&B later that year. When Pickett left, Bobby stayed on, becoming an integral member of the 'American Group' during its absolute heyday.

" one bothered me there. No one asked me about Sam Cooke or nothing... they just knew me as Bobby Womack, guitar player," he said, "It was the place to be, I loved the atmosphere, and there was a little soul-food place around the corner. Perfect." His serious chops got him accepted right away, "I was especially good at the intros. That's what made Moman and the others notice me... they called me cold-blooded, the way I could slip a guitar break in to make a track sing. Give a crafty hook to the intro, something people don't forget."

All of these quotes are taken from the fascinating autobiography Bobby published last year, Midnight Mover: The True Story Of The Greatest Soul Singer In The World. In the book he describes the American Group as "a strong house band, with Bobby Emmons on keyboards, Tommy Cogbill on Bass, Bobby Wood the piano player, drummer Gene Chrisman, and Mike Leech who also played bass and arranged strings." No mention of Reggie Young, though... When Barney Hoskyns asked Chips Moman about Womack in those days, he said "He and Reggie played guitar together for a couple of years there, and the two of them would be just magic, alternating between lead and rhythm, and getting each other's playing down totally." That sounds about right, and I think the friendly competition between the two guitarists created something more than the sum of its parts. Chips saw that, and was happy to have Bobby on board.

Womack also became a regular member of Wilson Pickett's touring band, and has some stories to tell about that whole experience. As Pickett travelled back to Muscle Shoals to record, Bobby made the trip with him, supplying much of his material in the process. All in all, Wilson recorded some seventeen Womack compositions (like I'm A Midnight Mover and I Found A True Love), and Bobby was happy to sit back and collect the publishing checks.

Before he left California, however, Bobby had signed with Minit Records, after playing some of his songs for them as demos. They told him to go out and record something, and that they'd be happy to release it. After a couple of years of putting them off, Minit was finally looking for some 'product', only Bobby had given all of his originals away to Pickett. He started fooling around with a few standards with the guys in the studio, and the album that Minit finally received contained covers of Fly Me To The Moon, Moonlight In Vermont and California Dreamin'. They were none too thrilled.

Much to everyone's surprise (except Bobby's, of course), Fly Me To The Moon became a big hit, breaking into the R&B top twenty in the summer of 1968. California Dreamin' would do the same for the company that fall. Womack was onto something, and they let him run with it. When Womack covered a song, it became something else entirely. He made each one his own. Hoping to continue in that vein, his version of I Left My Heart In San Francisco was released as a single in early 1969, but only managed to dent the top fifty.

The album it was taken from, My Prescription, is often overlooked, but represents, in my opinion, some of the best stuff to ever emanate from 827 Thomas Street. Minit would pull three more singles from the album for release in 1969 and early 1970. All of them charted, with How I Miss You Baby climbing as high as #14 R&B. Then the company went out of business... more accurately, it was 'consolidated' by the corporate conglomerate that owned it (like the once mammoth Imperial label before it) into its parent company, Liberty Records.

Looking for more of the same, Liberty would release one more single from this mighty Minit Lp, I'm Gonna Forget About You. Written by Womack's mentor Sam Cooke, it would become an R&B top thirty hit in the summer of 1970. Today's positively infectious B side was the flip of that single. Originally written by Smokey Robinson for the Temptations in 1965, it had become Paul Williams signature song, and closed out many a Temps performance. This version is better. Way better. Let me just say here that in all the time I've been doing this, this has to be the absolute BEST RECORD I've ever put up here. I mean it, boys and girls. The unbelievable Chips Moman production, Bobby's soulful vocals, the interplay of the guitars, the organ, the drums, the cookin' bass line... like the label says, it's 'An American Group Production', this time for one of their own, and was recorded around the same time that Elvis was in the building. It just doesn't get any better.


Liberty would release a live album, as well as one last single on Bobby before being 'consolidated' right out of business itself in 1971, when something called The TransAmerica Corporation rolled it over into United Artists. The new label would release another single from the live album, one that was responsible for giving Bobby his nickname, The Preacher, as he told it like it was over both sides of the 45, just like he did at the end of his live shows.

Bobby, although he never changed anything, now found himself at his third record label in two years. As it turned out, that wasn't so bad, as the people at United Artists seemed willing to listen, and gave him creative control over his releases. 1971 was also the year that he collaborated with Gabor Szabo and came up with the immortal Breezin'. Bobby also began working with Sly Stone, and appeared on his groundbreaking There's a Riot Going On album. It was Sly who convinced him to lose the suit, and came up with the idea for the cool cover shot on his first UA album, Communication. In many ways, this was the record that kind of defined what Womack, and much of black music in the seventies, was all about. The title track would hit the R&B top forty, but the next single off the album, That's The Way I Feel About 'Cha, became his biggest hit yet, climbing to #2 R&B in December of 1971.

His next album, Understanding, was released in 1972. Just a fantastic record, Bobby Womack's genius is fully realized here for the first time. Establishing him as the R&B superstar Sam Cooke had envisioned he was destined to become, there was no turning back. One of the last albums to be recorded at American before Moman closed it down, it was produced by Womack himself, and it shows. Two 45s were taken from the album, resulting in no less than three chart hits.

The first of these, the timeless Woman's Gotta Have It, became Bobby's first #1 hit in April of 1972. Speaking to the ladies in the audience (another thing he had learned from Sam), they let him know that all was forgiven. The Womack was back. Both sides of his next single would chart, with Harry Hippie (reportedly written about his ill-fated brother, Harris Womack) going top ten, and Sweet Caroline (which he had no doubt been a part of when Neil Diamond cut the original at American) top twenty...

I think we'll leave the rest of the Bobby Womack story for another day. There's plenty more to tell, believe me.

One can only hope it doesn't take me as long this time to get around to telling it...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Esther Phillips - Cheater Man (Atlantic 2417)

Cheater Man

Johnny Otis came up in the 1920s in Berkley, the son of a Greek immigrant grocery store owner. By the time he was eighteen, he was the drummer in a local swing band, Count Otis Matthew's House Rockers. Following the music to Los Angeles, he started his own outfit, and by 1945 had made a name for himself on the red hot R&B scene. Within a few years, he had opened up his own club, the fabled Barrelhouse, which would become the number one spot for what was happening in black music on the west coast.

Born in Texas, Esther Mae Jones grew up splitting her time between her father in Houston and her mother out in Los Angeles. Already noted for singing in the Church, her sister urged her to enter the weekly amateur talent competitions that Otis held at The Barrelhouse. She was thirteen years old. Johnny, and everybody else at the club, were just knocked out by the pipes on this kid, and he brought her into the studio to record two sides for Modern, which went unreleased at the time.

Convinced 'Little Esther' was a star, he added her to his live revue, and signed a deal with Herman Lubinsky's Savoy imprint in 1950. Their first single for the label, Mistrustin' Blues, was just a monster, spending nine weeks at number one, and making Esther the youngest person to ever have a #1 R&B hit. The public just couldn't get enough, and all six of the other singles released by Savoy on her that year hit the top ten, including two more that made number one. She had started out her career at the very top.

Little Esther was in demand, and she (accompanied by her mother) spent 1950 out touring with the Johnny Otis band. Billed as the Savoy Records Barrelhouse Caravan Of Stars, the revue also included Mel Walker and The Robins (the group that would later become The Coasters). in 1951, Little Esther would sue Savoy for non-payment of royalties, and sign on with Syd Nathan at Federal.

Although she continued to perform to sold out houses across the nation with the Otis band, for whatever reason, her Federal sides (with the exception of Ring-A-Ding-Doo which went to #8 in early 1952) weren't doing much. In 1953, she parted ways with Johnny Otis, and began touring the chitlin' circuit with folks like H-Bomb Ferguson and Willie Mae Thornton. By the mid-fifties, Esther had switched labels once again, but her Decca sides sank like a stone. By the end of the decade, her personal appearances had become few and far between, and she had all but faded from the public eye. Reportedly fighting a major battle with heroin addiction, she moved back to Texas to be close to her father.

Performing at local clubs to make ends meet, Esther (who had by then begun using the last name Phillips) shared the bill with an up and coming singer by the name of Kenny Rogers one night in 1962 (you can't make this stuff up). Kenny brought his brother Leland to see her (just as he would do with Bettye Lavette a few years later), and he was knocked out. Ray Charles' landmark album, Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, was all the rage that year, and the single of I Can't Stop Loving You taken from the Lp owned the number one slot all summer long. Leland decided to take Esther to Nashville to record.

Along with partner Bob Gans, he started up the Lenox label and, in what proved to be a stroke of genius, recorded Esther's own country album, Reflections Of Country and Western Greats with Cliff Parman and the Anita Kerr Singers. Released as a single in November of 1962, Release Me went straight to number one R&B and stayed there for three weeks. Incredibly, 'Little' Esther Phillips was back on top. Four more singles would follow (including a duet with Big Al Downing), but none of them went anywhere and, by late 1963, Lenox was out of business.

Signed By Ahmet Ertegun (who said she had "one of the best voices I've ever heard") to Atlantic in 1964, they seemed unsure of what to do with her. In the midst of the 'British Invasion', the label eventually hit paydirt in early 1965 with Esther's great rendition of And I Love Him, a feminized version of the Beatles' hit from the year before, which just missed the R&B top ten. Apparently hoping that lightning would strike twice in the same place, the label re-released her Lenox Lp as The Country Side of Esther Phillips in 1966. It bombed, as did an attempt to go back to her R&B roots, Confessin' The Blues.

Although When A Woman Loves A Man, a gender-reversed answer song to Percy Sledge's smash hit, broke into the R&B top thirty in May of 1966, it wasn't until almost a year later (after Jerry Wexler had worked his magic on Aretha Franklin) that Atlantic decided to try and record Esther as a soul artist. Today's cool selection, the flip of a remake of Brenda Lee's 1960 #1 pop hit I'm Sorry (see what I mean?), is the result of that attempt. Before we talk about that, though, I'd like to take a closer look at the short-lived collaboration between two soul legends, Dan Penn and Chips Moman.

As we've discussed before, Penn left Fame sometime in the summer of 1966, and started hanging around Moman's American Studio in Memphis. They traveled together to a notorious 'Disk Jockey Convention' in Nashville, where they got involved in a poker game with our man Papa Don Schroeder. Moman, as usual, was winning. During breaks in the game, he and Penn worked on writing what they conceived as 'the greatest cheating song ever', The Dark End Of The Street. Goldwax owner Quinton Claunch heard what they were up to and offered them the use of his room next door, if they promised him the song for James Carr. They accepted, and when they had finished the song, Penn convinced Moman to let Papa Don win back his money. Carr would record this monumental composition at Royal Studio in Memphis in late 1966.

Jerry Wexler, meanwhile, had been importing Moman and Tommy Cogbill to Muscle Shoals on a regular basis to work with Wilson Pickett at Fame. When he put in the call to Chips that he was bringing Aretha Franklin down there in February of 1967, Penn was not about to miss out. He began working on another song with Moman expressly for that session, Do Right Woman-Do Right Man. The song wasn't finished, and Penn recalls using bits and pieces of what Wexler and Aretha said as part of the bridge, before they finally cut a rough version at Fame that night. The rest, as they say, is history, as Wexler took the raw tapes back to New York and pieced together yet another classic Penn-Moman soul masterpiece (for more on all of that, please check out our Aretha post).

Flush with the success of his Muscle Shoals in NYC Aretha material, Wexler got the idea of doing the same kind of thing with Solomon Burke. He flew Penn and Moman up to New York (along with Tommy Cogbill, Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Johnson, and Roger Hawkins) to produce a few songs on him in April of 1967. The resulting two-sider, Take Me (Just As I Am) - (now up on the ol' A Side, by the way)/I Stayed Away Too Long (Atlantic 2416) was released immediately prior to our current selection and is, as far as I can tell, the only other record to read 'produced by Chips Moman & Dan Penn'.

This was when Chips told Wexler that he was done traveling, and that if he wanted that 'Memphis Sound' he'd have to come to Memphis. With the sudden interest of his nemesis Larry Uttal in Moman's studio, Wexler figured he'd better take him up on that quickly, and so sent Esther Phillips down there as the first Atlantic artist to record at American just five days later, on April 15th 1967. Erroneously reported (in my opinion) as a Muscle Shoals session in both the liner notes to Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters and the Atlantic Records Discography Project, it features the full 'American Group' along with the fledgling Hi horn section led by James Mitchell. Although the label credits the song as another Dan Penn-Chips Moman composition, I believe that's in error too, as it had been released originally on Fame by Penn, before he'd even met Chips (the BMI database lists Spooner Oldham as the co-writer). Be that as it may, Esther's just cookin' it up here, man. I love that break, with the bass just kind of melting into that cheesy organ laid over Reggie Young's surf guitar licks. Very cool.

Although the Solomon Burke record would go to #11 R&B that May, neither side of the Esther Phillips single charted, and that was apparently the end of the Moman-Penn production team (once Penn's own production of The Letter busted things wide open later that summer, things were never quite the same between them).

Phillips reportedly was having renewed difficulties with heroin addiction at this point, and spent time in what we now call 'rehab'. Upon her release in 1969, she rejoined forces with Leland Rogers for a few singles on the Roulette label, one of which would crack the R&B top forty, before re-signing with Atlantic in 1970. Wexler brought her down to his new digs at Criteria in Miami, and paired her up with the legendary Dixie Flyers.

Their first single together, Set Me Free, broke into the top forty as well that August, but after three subsequent releases failed to chart, Atlantic (as we've seen with so many other of their soul acts during this same tres Warner Brothers period) lost interest and let her go. As it turned out, that may have been the best thing that could have happened to her.

Signed to a contract by Jazz impresario Creed Taylor in 1972, Esther Phillips was re-invented once again as a sultry and soulfully hip chanteuse who'd been around the block a couple of times. Her amazing first album for Taylor's Kudu subsidiary, From A Whisper To A Scream, still stands up today, as does the bone-chilling Gil-Scott Heron composition pulled as the first single from the record, Home Is Where The Hatred Is. Deep stuff. She would chart a couple of more times for the label in the early seventies, but Disco was coming on strong.

In 1975, Taylor got the idea of pairing Esther with jazz guitarist Joe Beck. An adept arranger, he took an old swing era number and brought it right to Studio 54. What A Diff'rence A Day Makes was just a huge hit, and heralded Esther's unique genius to yet another generation. Truly an incredible woman, it's hard to think of anybody else who was able to make that kind of transition as flawlessly as she did. From 78rpm 'race records' to 12" club singles, she had certainly seen it all.

When Kudu folded in the late seventies, Esther signed with Mercury, but nothing much was happening. She would chart one more time with a song called Turn Me Out on the Winning label in 1983. Sadly, she would die the following year from health issues brought on by her ongoing addiction.

Like Dinah Washington before her, Esther Phillips bravely faced a life of pain. Pain that is redeemed in the beauty of the work she left behind.

God rest her soul.