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


Blogger The Stepfather of Soul said...

Great next chapter, my man! Once I get this bar exam out of the way I'm going to give you a call!

3:06 PM  
Blogger SoulBoogieAlex said...

This really is one of those blog chronicles I hope will never end. Fantastic stuff Red!

3:20 PM  
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2:21 PM  
Blogger whiteray said...

This just gets better and better, Red! Wow!

11:58 PM  
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6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh hell yeah. Of all these record bloggers, you certainly the best writer. it's a real joy. thankyou again and again... richie

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Red, thanks for going those extra miles, both to find Mr. Brown and to bring out his story. You do nice work!

12:29 AM  

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