Monday, July 28, 2008

Sir Lattimore Brown - It's Such A Sad, Sad World (SS7 2575)

It's Such A Sad, Sad World


After John R got booted from Stax in late 1965, he had no choice but to return to Nashville, and try and pick up where he left off. He had been using Cliff Parman, a well respected old school arranger, and he brought him in on Lattimore's next record, the phenomenal I Know I'm Gonna Miss You. Cut as a duet with Roscoe Shelton (who, as we established last week, had also been recording at Stax), it's one of the truly great Sound Stage 7 45s. Co-written by Allen Orange and Parman himself (using his 'pen-name' of M. Terry), it remains one of Lattimore's best known songs.

In many ways, 1966 was a banner year for the label, and Nashville R&B in general. Things were really hoppin' up there on Jefferson Street and, fortunately for us, Bill 'The Hossman' Allen was a regular visitor. Allen was an R&B dee-jay on WLAC, but unlike John R (who, by all accounts, was kind of 'straight'), Hoss 'lived the life', hanging out in the clubs and enjoying himself. He was also a promotion man, who had done some work for Chess before setting up his own Rogana Production company to record the local talent. Allen used The Imperial Seven (the Johnny Jones led group that had developed out of the King Casuals) as his studio band, which featured most of the crowd that hung out at Buzzard's, including Billy Cox, Larry Lee, Freeman Brown, Aaron Varnell and Harrison Calloway.

Truly 'color-blind', Hoss got the idea for the first nationally syndicated R&B television show, The!!!!Beat. Teaming up with a Dallas producer named Tommy Johnson, Allen filmed two seasons worth of shows that offer a priceless glimpse into that bygone world. As Rogana provided most of the talent for those shows, they're pretty much Nashville all the way, with the addition of Texas' own way cool Clarence' Gatemouth' Brown (at least for the first season) leading the band. In February of 1966, Lattimore travelled back to Dallas to tape an episode of the show. "I couldn't believe it," he told me, "they filmed that show in the Texas School Book Depository building, in the same room that Oswald was in when he shot President Kennedy!" Unreal.

Check out this incredible video of the grand finale from that third ever episode:
This is the real thing, boys and girls, with Etta James, Esther Phillips, Roscoe Shelton and our man Lattimore just going off on Brother Ray's ode to the wild thang, they just don't come much better than this, y'all! There's definitely a party goin' on, and when Lattimore sings "When you see me in misery, come on baby, see about me - I need a drink!" you just know that Hoss and the gang are right there with that! I love it when Lattimore goes back, picks Gatemouth up bodily, and carries him to the microphone, rocking him back and forth while he just keeps on playing... me and Chase got to sit down and watch this with Lattimore while we were in Clarksdale, and I asked him if he remembered what it was that Gate told her Ma & Pa he was gonna do down there in Arkansas. He was pretty sure it had to do with a taboo sexual practice that wasn't ready for prime time back then... This is history right here, folks. Thank God (and Bear Family Records) that these shows exist!

Still working with Universal Attractions, Lattimore told me that he got a call one night that spring while he and his band were in Greenville, North Carolina. Ben Bart wanted to know if they could make the trip to the NC State campus in Oxford to play behind a new singer he was representing, whose first record was suddenly breaking wide open. "When we got there, we found this scared kid from Alabama who had never even seen that many people in one place before. We backed up Percy Sledge on his first gig outside of his hometown... we must have played 'When A Man Loves A Woman' about 50 times. It was the only song he knew at that point!"

Back in Nashville, meanwhile, Buzzard married a blues singer named Marion James, and moved into a larger house where they continued the tradition of providing a safe haven for their fellow musicians. Marion would have a local hit on Excello in 1966 that was written and arranged by Jimmy, and featured most of the Imperial Seven backing her up. Known professionally as 'Houserocking James', she would go on to become 'Nashville's Queen of the Blues', and is still active down in Music City where she runs her Musicians' Aid Society, which is a direct outgrowth of those days just off Jefferson Street with the Buzzard.

As you may recall,1966 was also the year that John R hired a young kid from Detroit as a key figure in his J.R. Enterprises scheme. I imagine he figured that as long as he was shut out of Memphis, why not try and bring some Motown (or, in this case, Golden World) into the mix. One of Bob Wilson's first sessions for Sound Stage 7 was on Joe Simon's Teenager's Prayer, and he would go on to work with Cliff Parman on material of his own, as well as singles by Little Richie and Allen Orange. What happened next pretty much changed his life...

When Lattimore came in off the road, he told John R and the folks at Monument that from then on, he wanted to be known as Sir Lattimore Brown. He had made that his stage name, and wanted his records to reflect that as well. I asked him why he did that, and he told me "I don't know, I thought it sounded good... more professional, you know?" I'm right there with that, and at the height of the British Invasion, I'm sure it made sense (hey, it had worked for Doug Sahm and Huey Meaux the year before, right?).

Right around this same time, John R and Cliff Parman had some kind of big blow-out, and he was left without an arranger. "Not to worry," Allen Orange told him, "we can handle it... I'll bring in some of the guys from Jefferson Street." That's just what he did, with saxophone man Aaron Varnell acting as the new arranger. Today's positively awesome B side is a result of Wilson's first session with Sir Lattimore, one of the first without Parman.

As Bob told us on soul detective, it was "Recorded at Bradley's Barn, Piano/Organ: Bob Wilson, Bass: Billy Cox, Drums: Freeman Brown, Guitar: Chip Young, Arranger: Aaron Varnell, Harmony Voices: Sam Baker and Roscoe Shelton. Lattimore, Sam and Roscoe overdubbed the vocals simultaneously, with one microphone, standing with their arms around each other like three brothers. Their voices had a beautiful, beautiful blend. The Impressions had nothing on these three guys!" I hear that. In my opinion, this hauntingly beautiful song is the best thing Sir Lattimore ever recorded... check him out snapping his fingers there with the beat. This is pure soul, man.

The plug side of this 45 is, of course, the mighty, mighty Shake And Vibrate (now up on The A Side), which was cut at the same session. This young white kid from Detroit could play, and they invited Bob Wilson back with them to Jefferson Street. He became a regular at 'Big Marion's', where he got to know Buzzard and the rest of the crew. It was truly amazing, he told me, "...they had the whole basement set up like a night club, with little cocktail tables and everything. People would get up on this tiny stage built out of two by fours and plywood and just jam all night." Before long, Bob (along with his bass player and drummer that had come down from Michigan) was sitting in with Sir Lattimore at the Steal-A-Way Club on Jefferson Street, which led to them actually going out on the road with him and his 'revue'... you can read more about all of that on The A Side.

Suffice it to say that those days (and nights) with Mister Brown made quite an impression on the young Mister Wilson, and remain among his most cherished memories. I consider it a privilege to have been a part of the reunion of these two men, who had not seen each other in almost forty years. From the beginning, when we first found Sir Lattimore down in Biloxi, Bob's focus had been to get him back into a recording studio and try to cut some new material. We were finally there, in Memphis, and about to make that happen...

First, let me give you a little background: Bob Wilson is what I call 'analog retentive'. In other words, he believes so much in the purity of sound delivered from an analog signal that he is willing to carry around a cassette playing 'boombox', rather than have to listen to CDs. He believes in it so much that, when he decided to build his own studio in his home outside of Detroit, he scoured the country until he found a vintage analog board and two inch tape machine at a Gospel studio somewhere in Texas, and drove down there and carted it back in the trunk of his car. It took him a couple of years of fiddling and tweaking, but his studio is now up and running. The challenge then became to find a place down south that still did things that way, and had equipment that was compatible with his.

I had posted a picture of the legendary board at Royal Studio here on The B Side a couple of years ago, and when Bob saw it, he immediately recognized it as the same one he had. After some phone calls back and forth, Boo Mitchell (who is Willie's grandson, and runs things down there nowadays) assured him that the equipment was right, and Wilson booked a couple of days there at Poppa Willie's time capsule of a studio to record Sir Lattimore Brown. Talk about coming full circle!

Although Wilson was the producer, once Willie heard who it was that we had there in the studio, he came in to check things out. "Shit, I cut Lattimore... plenty of times! he told us. When Lattimore was struggling a little bit out there in the vocal isolation booth, Willie (with Wilson and Boo looking on) sat behind the board and told him "Hey Lattimore, it's 1965... now SING!" That's just what he did, delivering a soulful performance I'll never forget. It was like being in the room with Otis Redding or James Carr or something... I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

In a session that included Skip Pitts on guitar, Steve Potts on drums and David Smith on bass, Bob Wilson showed his chops, and not only on the keyboards, but as a top notch producer as well. As someone who worked with everybody from John R to Bob Johnston, Shelby Singleton and Billy Sherrill to Sonny Sanders, Don Davis and Quin Ivy it's hard to imagine anybody who's better qualified at this game. As he eases back into things here, his company is going to be the one to watch...

The main thing right now, though, is that for the first time in a very long time, there is going to be a new Sir Lattimore Brown record!! A record that's part Memphis and part Detroit. How great is that?? The plan is to try and release a single first. An analog vinyl single that was recorded on analog equipment... I can't even remember the last time that happened.

Ain't Life Grand?

continued in PART SIX

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lattimore Brown - I'm Not Through Lovin' You (SS 7 2553)

I'm Not Through Lovin' You


After the bottom dropped out in Dallas, Lattimore drifted from New York back to Little Rock, but nothing much was happening.

After a while, he got a call from his old pal, The Buzzard. "You ought to get on down here to Nashville," he told him, "we got it goin' on!" By the early sixties, Jefferson Street in North Nashville had developed into one of the premier showcases in the nation for real R&B. Spreading down the hill from both Tennessee State and Fisk Universities, the club scene was thriving, with young blacks from all over the South in town, and ready to shake it down.

When Leonard Chess decided to record a live album on Etta James in 1963, he chose the New Era Club on Jefferson Street as the location. The great Etta James Rocks The House offers a glimpse into what it was like on 'the strip' back then. Nashville, to be sure, is not the first place you think of when it comes to R&B but, in those days, it was considered the top spot on the Chitlin' Circuit, the place where performers pulled out all the stops. Lattimore was all over it.

Jimmy Stewart had become kind of like the elder statesman of that world, and his apartment just off the main drag was like 'musician central'. Everybody from young kids coming up, to seasoned veterans like Lattimore hung out there in between gigs; "Jimmy had a piano in there, and we'd get together and write songs. At any given time there'd be six to eight of us up there, making us pallets on the floor. It was a two bedroom apartment. I'd be in there cooking neck bones and pinto beans, corn bread. If a musician only had one piece of bread he'd break it in half for his friend. That's the way we were, man... It was a bonding, like family. It's Love, that's what it is. We had Billy Cox up there, Larry Lee, and this kid that didn't have no name, he was just another guitar player... Jimi motherf#@kin' Hendrix, man!"

Hendrix and Billy Cox were heading up the King Kasuals at that point, and were the house band at another fabled Jefferson Street club, the Del Morocco. In the liner notes to The Band Of Gypsys Return, Cox had this to say; "Look on the back of any number of old blues albums and you will see the name Jimmy Stewart, aka ‘Buzzard’. He was a trumpet player and arranger extraordinaire. Buzzard was also my mentor and was always there to help show Jimi and me the way..." He and Lattimore were 'the best of friends'. That must have been some apartment, huh?

It was Buzzard who introduced Brown to John R, arguably one of the most influential people in R&B at that point. His nightly show on WLAC had listeners in every state east of the Rockies, and his feel for a good record kept them tuning back in. In 1964, he had formed a company called J.R. Enterprises to serve as an outlet to record some of the great music that was being made up there across the river on Jefferson Street. One of the first things he did was to hire a young songwriter and arranger named Allen Orange. Orange had worked with Allen Toussaint in New Orleans, and had come to Nashville after the bottom seemed to drop out of the Crescent City R&B scene the year before. Their first production together was on a local singer named Roscoe Shelton, who had previously been recording Blues for Excello, without selling too many records. Released on the tiny Sims label in 1965, Shelton took Orange composition Strain On My Heart to #25 R&B in early 1965.

This caught the attention of Monument Records chief Fred Foster, who had started up a subsidiary label for R&B called Sound Stage 7 in 1963. Foster, in a stroke of brilliance, approached John R about taking over the reins at the label, thereby assuring not only a steady stream of good records, but automatic airplay on the most listened to R&B show in the nation. Not bad. Shelton became the first artist he signed in early 1965, and John put the word out on the street that J.R. Enterprises was looking for talent. With Lattimore's years of experience and name recognition out there on the circuit, he wasted no time signing him up.

While we were on our way up to Memphis from Clarksdale on the road trip, Lattimore told us "Yup, I made my first record for John R at the Stax Studio with Willie Mitchell." We were like, "WHAT??" I figured this was Alzheimer's setting in, or just the scrambled ramblings of this old man... but he was right on the money! I had made a CD of the 45s I had on Lattimore for the car ride, and he picked out two songs in particular, our current selection and Don't Trust No One (now up on The A Side) and told us to listen closely:

"That's Steve Cropper right there, ain't it? And ain't nobody played the drums like Al Jackson! That Duck Dunn, he was the best bass player I ever worked with..." We were blown away. Really. This incredible record we have here is a hidden slice of the MGs in their prime... with one exception. I'm betting that's Isaac Hayes on the piano, as Booker was away at college in those days. Truly amazing, folks, and Lattimore is at his best. No doubt inspired by the fact that he's at Stax, recording with Otis Redding's band, he's really singing on this one. I love that whole soulful break-out there at the end... very, very cool. I asked him about what he said about Willie Mitchell being there... "Shit, ain't nobody did a session in Memphis without Willie... John R never did, anyway."

You know, it's common knowledge that Atlantic recorded both Wilson Pickett and Don Covay at Stax in 1965 (resulting in such classics as In The Midnight Hour and Sookie Sookie), but I never knew about this. Apparently, neither did Rob Bowman, as there's no mention of the sessions in Soulsville USA. Just over the moon about our discovery, the first stop we made when we got into town was the Stax Museum. The Media Director of the Soulsville Foundation, Tim Sampson, was as thrilled as we were with the news, and was kind enough to allow us to film Lattimore as he walked through the museum, talking about his experiences recording there. Unreal.

I've since found out that John R recorded Sam Baker there as well (we'll talk more about that later on), and when you think about it, it makes sense. He was the one who 'stayed on' These Arms Of Mine after every other station in the country had stopped playing it. There are those who say that it was John R who 'made' Otis Redding, and consequently Stax, by believing in that record. I'm sure Jim Stewart (no relation to Buzzard...) was only too happy to let him use the studio (with visions of future airplay of Stax product dancing in his head), and Richbourg had found a way to get 'that sound' for his label, something he had been unable to do in Nashville up to that point... but it didn't last long. In December of 1965, Stewart barred all 'outside' artists from recording at his studio, ostensibly because he didn't like Jerry Wexler stealing his thunder. John R, and Lattimore, were going to have to figure something else out...

continued in PART FIVE

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lattimore Brown - Teenie Weenie (Duchess 1002)

Teenie Weenie


Highway 61 lives on in the American imagination as the mythic pulsating aorta of 'The Blues'. Helped along, I'm sure, by being included in the title of Dylan's best album, it has come to represent so much more than the sun-baked two lane blacktop that bisects the Delta. As the home of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Albert King and so many others, the region has certainly earned its reputation as the birthplace of this thing they call 'The Blues'. What I don't understand is why people seem to stop there. I mean, both Ike Turner and Sam Cooke were born in Clarksdale... how about Bo Diddley, Pops Staples (and, yes, Elvis Presley)? R&B, Soul, Gospel, Rock & Roll... the argument could be made that all American music originated in these fertile fields, as uprooted West Africans transformed the senseless opression of a society that continues to marginalize them into art that will live forever.

Lattimore Brown takes pride in the fact that he was born in Mississippi, and is quick to point out all the famous sons of the Delta that have moved on to bigger and better things. One of his major heroes is Morgan Freeman. A man, he says, that never forgot where he came from, and brings a little bit of the Delta to all of his work. Freeman has re-invested in Clarksdale, opening a highly rated restaurant called Madidi, and becoming partners in the aptly named Ground Zero Blues Club. We were able to book a room upstairs from the club (in the Delta Cotton Company Apartments), and Lattimore was in his glory.

That night, Chase Thompson and I (along with about twenty five other people) were privileged to witness Lattimore Brown's return to the stage. A true performer, once he got up there with the microphone in his hand, it was like he had never left, and the past thirty five years seemed to melt away. He led local blues band Daddy Rich through a rocking rendition of Shake, Rattle & Roll that offered a glimpse of what things must have been like out there on the Chitlin' Circuit back in the day...

Like most everybody else in R&B in the early sixties, Lattimore was booked by Ben Bart's Universal Attractions. Bart's number one client was James Brown, and he was the man behind building the Famous Flames into the slickly polished James Brown Revue. Some of Bart's other artists were less than happy with that arrangement, most notably Jackie Wilson who felt his career was being neglected in favor of Brown's. Lattimore tells the story of a legendary fist-fight between James and Jackie on the stage of The Apollo (although I'm not sure who won), and it's a total trip listening to him spin his tales of life out there on the road. Unlike The Godfather, though, most of Universal's artists didn't travel with their own band. That's where Lattimore came in.

He had developed his own outfit as one of the few 'reading bands' on the circuit, and Universal would book them as part of a package with their 'lone ranger' acts like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley as well as behind singers like Etta James and Big Maybelle. There was plenty of work, and Lattimore got to know just about everybody. Settling in Dallas, he opened a nightspot called the Atmosphere Lounge, along with a silent partner who helped grease the wheels and keep everything running smoothly with the local authorities. He worked out a deal with Universal, and started up his own agency that booked Bart's attractions into the club whenever they had a night off, and were within 300 miles. Able to attract the top names in the business that way, Lattimore and his band built the Atmosphere into an immensely popular watering hole that was packing 'em in most nights of the week.

I don't know much about the Duchess label (I imagine it was supposed to be the female counterpart to Duke), but according to Lattimore it was run by a local Dallas producer named Al Klein. No, not the Allen Klein who went on to represent people like Sam Cooke and The Rolling Stones, but a different guy entirely, who later became a producer at Motown in the early years. How the label got to be distributed by Instant (which in turn was distributed by Imperial) is anybody's guess. Anyway, this cookin' little selection we have here today was Lattimore's first effort for Duchess. Although the label says it was written by Brown, it's a cover of his Memphis buddy Rosco Gordon's big record from the year before, Just A Little Bit. Roy Head's 1965 version of the song has the same kind of chicano bop feel to it as Lattimore's here (and is listed on iTunes as Teeny Weeny Bit)... you can't help but wonder if the young Head and his Traits were influenced by Mr. Brown in those Texas days. It certainly sounds like it! In addition to his duties at the Atmosphere Lounge, Lattimore kept up his road schedule, and his affiliation with Universal Attractions. On Thursday, November 21, 1963, he and his band had just finished up a week long engagement at the Apollo Theater in New York, as part of a package that included Little Willie John, Rufus Thomas, Jimmy Reed, Big Maybelle and Etta James. Their next stop was in Washington, D.C. at the Howard Theater. James Brown was booked into the Apollo the following night, so Lattimore and the rest of the crew made the four hour trek to D.C. after the show.

The way things worked back then, there were three shows a day, with the first one starting at one in the afternoon. Just before he was due to go on, Lattimore heard the news on the radio backstage. He couldn't believe it. President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas literally around the corner from his club. He had to go out on the stage of the Howard and tell the audience. It was one of the hardest things he ever did, he said. When he made the announcement, people 'just fell out' in the aisles. The entire crowd was devastated, as was the rest of the nation. The Howard engagement was cancelled, as the president's body was flown back to Washington for the funeral. The performers headed back to New York, and Bart paid them anyway.

On Sunday, November 24th, Lattimore had the TV on in his hotel room. He watched in horror as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. Ruby, who ran his own Carousel Club in Dallas for the white folk, was his silent partner in the Atmosphere Lounge! The booze, the cars, the girls, all of it had been bankrolled by Ruby, whose 'reputed mob ties' were now out in the open. Brown knew it was all over. Everything he had built up was gone in that single instant; an instant that lives on as one of the most indelible images of the twentieth century.

Can you imagine?

Lattimore just walked away. There was no reason to go back to Dallas.

continued in PART FOUR

Monday, July 07, 2008

Lattimore Brown - It Hurts Me So (Zil 9005)

It Hurts Me So


We went looking for a hat...

The plan was to pick up a straw hat for Lattimore on our way out of town. After a couple of unproductive stops in Gulfport, I happened to look in the window of a little store called New York Hi Style as we went walking by. I couldn't believe my eyes. There, in sartorial splendor, were arrayed dozens of straw hats in every color of the rainbow. That's what drew us inside.

As it turned out, it was a stop we needed to make. The owner, Sunder Ramchandani, who had also lost most of everything he owned in the storm, listened to our story. Before we knew it, he had put together a full outfit for Lattimore. From suit to shoes, this man had impeccable taste! After giving us a great price on all of this (as the Soul Detective budget, as usual, was strictly from hunger), he introduced us to the lady who does the alterations at his shop, Susie Lee. She wasn't scheduled to work that day, she said, but something told her to come in. Amazingly, Lattimore had sung with her huband, Donnie, in the choir at the Main Street Missionary Baptist Church in Biloxi up until Katrina hit. She hadn't seen him since the storm, and had wondered what became of him. This wonderful woman was the first to tell us "This ain't nothin' but God!", as we recounted the sequence of events that had brought us there. She called the pastor at the Church, and before we knew it, we were on our way back to Biloxi to meet with him.

You really can't make these things up, folks. Believe it or not, Dr. Kenneth Haynes, the pastor of Lattimore's church, is Bo Diddley's brother. We spoke for a while about Bo's recent funeral, and extended our condolences to the family. Bo, he said, had been ill for some time, and pretty much confined to his bed for the last few months of his life. He rose up there at the end, Reverend Haynes told us, and lifted up his hand. "I'm going to Heaven" were his final words. Incredible. We talked about the storm, and how the whole neighborhood had been pretty much destroyed. We held hands and we prayed. I won't go into details here, but there was power in the room. You could feel it. As Lattimore said, the fact that we set out looking for a hat, and somehow found ourselves back in Church made you believe that all of this was indeed a part of some greater plan.

Now truly a team, we headed out of town, up Highway 61 on a journey back through time. As the miles drifted past, Lattimore shared his incredible life story...

He was born into a sharecropping family in 1931. He never knew his mother or his father. His earliest memories are of 'chopping cotton' with his grandfather, 'from the front to the back, and back again'. The family worked a parcel of land known as 'the lost forty', because it was so far back in the woods. After the harvest every year, when it came time to settle up, somehow they ended up owing money to the white man who owned the land. Treated no better than slaves, they were working merely for the overpriced food they were forced to buy from the land owner.

Lattimore told us this chilling tale:
"When I was about eight years old, one Friday, my grandfather told the white man 'I ain't got no groceries here to feed my family. There ain't but a dust of flour in the barrel.' The man just nodded his head and walked away. Come Monday, my grandfather said, 'None of you go out to the fields today.' Once the land owner saw that nobody was chopping that cotton, he came flying up the road, all the way out to our cabin. 'Why ain't you nigras out in them fields where ya belong?' he said. My grandfather just lifted up his shotgun and said 'I told you on Friday my family was hungry, and you didn't care, we ain't going out in the field until we eat.' The man threw up his hands and drove off. Well, we thought my grandfather had really done it now. We thought that the man was gonna come back with a lynch mob or worse. 'I'd rather die like a man, than starve here like a dog!' my grandfather told us, and he sat there on the porch with that gun on his lap. After a while, we could see the dust from the wheels of that man's pick-up far off... he was coming back. 'You children get out there in them corn fields and lay down out of sight,' he told us. We didn't know what was gonna happen. We were scared stiff, man, watching that cloud of dust come closer and closer, thinking maybe we all gonna die. Well, that man came back, and he had him a truckload of groceries, apologizing to my grandfather for being so forgetful and all of that... and we went back to the fields."

It was that same kind of fiercely independent spirit that had founded the municipality of Mound Bayou, which was the closest town to Lattimore's lost forty, back in the 1880s. The first black town in America, it had been organized as a sort of colony by ex-slaves, and was the first place where blacks could actually use their newly won right to vote. Life wasn't easy. As the cotton industry in the delta grew, Mound Bayou became internationally known as the purveyor of the highest quality product, and Blacks found it hard to make it amidst white economic pressure to control the land.

Nevertheless, Mound Bayou has survived with its history intact, due in large part to the efforts of people like Darryl Johnson (pictured here with Lattimore) whose comprehensive vision of the town as the 'Black Jerusalem' includes such efforts as the Eagle Music & Media Academy, which seeks to preserve and promote the rich musical heritage of the region. Lattimore himself hadn't been back to Mound Bayou in 55 years, and it was a rare privilege to walk those fields and country roads with him once again.

Known back then simply as L.V., he was sent by his grandfather at the age of nine to go live with his Uncle Jim. Jim had been crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, and was unable to work his fields. L.V. set about the tasks of providing for the family, chopping, picking, and bailing cotton alongside the men, growing up real fast in the process. "I'll never forget walking behind that mule all day, with him farting in my face, and me sweating out there in the fields... to this day, if I see cotton, I gotta turn my head." His aunt and uncle were 'church people', and he had soon organized a vocal group called the Shady Grove Specials at their congregation.

They would tune in to King Biscuit Radio on KFAA out of Arkansas, he told me and, like most of his contemporaries, it was these twin influences of Gospel and the Blues that helped form his musical identity. After a few years, his uncle miraculously got better, and was able to resume taking care of the family. His aunt, who was jealous of the attention her husband gave the young L.V., physically abused him, beating him whenever Uncle Jim wasn't around. One day she hit him with a piece of 'stove wood', and that was it. L.V. set off on his own. He was 12 years old. He traveled around a bit, walking most places on foot, doing whatever odd jobs he could find to survive. By the time he was fifteen, he was married, and became a father the following year. Traveling to San Antonio to be with his wife's family, he went to the recruiting office there to see about joining the Army. At only seventeen, they told him he was too young. He told them his life story, and begged them to reconsider. "You know son, it sounds to me like you've had a tough time coming up. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to give you a break... well, I'm gonna be that person in your life," the officer told him, "you're in the Army now."

They were sending him overseas, and when it came time to sign the papers, he said the only name he had ever known was L.V. "Well, make something up," they told him, and that was when he gave himself the name Lattimore Vernon. Although it was 'no picnic', he told me, the time he spent in both Korea and Vietnam helped to make him a man, and defined the person he was to become. During those war years he listened to The King Cole Trio and Big Joe Turner. Together they taught him the unique combination of R&B shouting and smooth vocal phrasing that he would carry on into his later work.

When he was discharged after his three year stint in the service, the bus left him off at the crossroads in Cleveland, Mississippi. He walked the four or five miles out to the place where his wife was now staying with her mother. After a while, his mother-in-law came to see him. "Now don't get upset." she told him, "but your wife's made some mistakes while you were away. She's pregnant and about to have the baby..." Lattimore couldn't believe it. He had to walk another four or five miles to borrow his brother-in-law's car, and drive her to the hospital... after the baby was born, the nurse came out and showed it to him. "Mr. Brown, this calls for a celebration!" she said. "Celebration? This calls for an Investigation!" he told her. Needless to say, he didn't stick around long, and made the trip that so many others were making around the same time, arriving in Memphis in 1953.

They say that Highway 61 ends at the Peabody Hotel, and in Lattimore's case, they were right. He got a job as a bellhop, and loves to tell the story of how when he first got into town "B.B. King was playing on the corner of Beale Street for nickels and dimes, and Elvis Presley was driving a furniture delivery truck, wearing these raggedy-ass overalls..." Brown was there when it all began. From the Amateur Nights at the Palace Theater, to eating the legendary chili upstairs at Sunbeam's, he was there. He remembers fondly the big bands of Tuff Green, Ben Branch and Al Jackson, Sr. "He'd have little Al set up there on a Coca-Cola crate, playing the drums..." The man is a walking history lesson, man. He remembers Ike Turner bringing Howlin' Wolf to town for the first time, and Bobby Bland and Junior Parker recording at Sun for Sam Phillips.

He left town as a singer with the ambitious King Reid Amusements, as part of a sort of 'minstrel show' attraction that Reid put on under the big top several times a night. It included black dancing girls, comedians, and musicians from the American South, and Lattimore played all over the U.S. and Canada, spreading the exotic music of the Delta to places it had never been before. He encountered many fellow musicians out there on the road and, with his affable personality (and the gift of gab), was a favorite of everyone he met.

Enter 'The Buzzard'. One of the hidden heroes of this music, Jimmy Stewart was a trumpet player who had come up through the ranks, working for Don Robey as a member of Junior Parker's Blue Flames and backing everyone from Bobby Bland to Little Richard on the road for the label. In 1957, when west coast impresario Joe Scott took over, Stewart (who was nicknamed 'Buzzard', apparently partially due to a permanent cleft that had formed in his upper lip as a result of his trumpet playing) was looking for a gig. He was originally from Arkansas, and had the opportunity to put together the house band at a place called the Cameo Club in Hot Springs. He called Lattimore and told him to come on up.

They were a huge success, and Lattimore carried that band on out of there to Little Rock and beyond, as they made a name for themselves out there on the Chitlin' Circuit. Another early member of that group was sax player Jimmy Beck, who lived in Nashville. It was Jimmy who introduced Brown to Ernie Young. Ernie owned the best record store in town, and had built his Nashboro and Excello labels up into a force to be reckoned with. In those days, most Excello product was recorded in the funky little studio he had built in a room over the store, and today's cool selection is no exception. Lattimore's first single (which for some reason was released on a subsidiary label called ZIL), I imagine that's Beck blowing that fine saxophone...

After one more release on Zil, the countrified Chick Chick Chicky Chick (which Lattimore maintains could have made him a million if Colonel Sanders ever got a hold of it), and Somebody's Gonna Miss Me on the main Excello label went nowhere, Brown moved on...

We'll talk more about that next week.

continued in PART THREE
At this point, I'd like to thank my friends and fellow Lattimore Brown fans Greg B. (who provided the audio) and Peter H. (who came up with the Zil and Excello scans for me at the last minute), without whom this post would not have been possible. You guys are the greatest!