Monday, August 04, 2008

Sir Lattimore Brown - Nobody Has To Tell Me (You Were Meant For Me) (SS7 2586)

Nobody Has To Tell Me (You Were Meant For Me)


The way things worked in those days, a great deal of music industry business was conducted at the annual NATRA R&B 'disk-jockey convention', which was essentially a great big floating party that moved to a different city every year. Financed by the record companies, it gave them a chance to 'showcase' their artists, and make sure the dee-jays were well taken care of. In 1966, the convention was held in Nashville, which would have made John R the king of the roost. I'm sure he was approached by all kinds of people who wanted to get their records heard on the radio (as we've discussed before, this was the year that Huey Meaux got into all that trouble). He was also approached, I'm sure, by Chips Moman for another reason entirely.

We know that Moman was there at the convention because that was where he and Dan Penn wrote The Dark End Of The Street. Chips was in the final stages of readying American Sound for its incredible run as the home of the hits. He had assembled his 'American Group' one by one, and had just about succeeded in luring Penn away from Rick Hall at Fame. He knew that Richbourg wanted that 'Memphis Sound', and he offered him the chance to get it. When the timeless record Penn and Moman had written for James Carr hit the streets in February of 1967, I'm sure John R played it to death.

When he flipped over Aretha's number one hit a month later, there was yet another untouchable song by these two guys. Richbourg knew talent when he saw it, and would become one of the first customers through the door at 827 Thomas Street, along with Papa Don, Buddy Killen and Jerry Wexler. As near as I can figure it, Joe Simon's top 50 R&B hit Put Your Trust In Me (SS7 2583), which hit the charts that June, was the first side he cut at American. According to the label, it was arranged by Chips Moman. Chips would also be credited as a co-producer on the label's next release, the funky Jive Mother-In-Law by Jamo Thomas.

The next three Sound Stage 7 singles represent a little known body of work by the other half of the team, Dan Penn. Beginning with Sam Baker's That's All I Want From You (2585), Penn would become John R's arranger. Lattimore was up next, and this wonderfully deep selection we have here shows just how good Penn was at finding that place where soul lives. Taken in context with the label's next record, Roscoe Shelton's There's A Heartbreak Somewhere (which, like It's Such A Sad, Sad World, would feature all three of them harmonizing on the vocals), it's like this hidden pocket of Southern Soul arranged by one of the key figures in its development at the top of his game. As we've seen, though, within a couple of months the success of The Letter changed things between Penn and Moman and the moment was gone...

Once again, though, our man Lattimore was there. We took him back to the overgrown vacant lot at Chelsea and Thomas where American once stood, and talked about what it was like recording there. He had nothing but good things to say about Moman, Penn, and the rest of those Memphis Boys. Willie Mitchell and his brother James were always there for the sessions, he said, and their horn charts were a big part of that sound. He remembers driving over from Nashville late at night with John R at the wheel, listening to his competition on the radio, forever on the lookout for the next big thing.

By 1967, Otis Redding and Phil Walden had built RedWal, the company they had started together two years before, into a major booking agency that represented nearly all of the southern-based Chitlin' Circuit artists. Lattimore, like so many others at the time, left Universal Attractions and signed up with his friend Otis. There was plenty of work, and he no longer had to go to New York to get paid. He admired Redding, and considered him to be not only a great talent, but a smart businessman as well, kind of like Sam Cooke had been.

On December 10, 1967 Lattimore and his Revue had just finished up a gig in Birmingham, Alabama when he got the tragic news that Redding had died when his plane plunged into an icy lake up in Wisconsin. Once again, he just couldn't believe it. Almost three years to the day after Sam had passed, Otis, who was just so full of life, was gone too. The Revue went through the motions, and finished up engagements in Montgomery and Mobile before Lattimore, Sam Baker and The Twirlers made their way to Macon for the funeral on December 18th.

Held at the City Auditorium, Lattimore told me he had never seen anything like it; "The entire town was closed down, restaurants, gas stations, everything. It was like a County Fair. There were people everywhere, lined up for blocks and blocks just trying to get a glimpse of the casket. Once the pallbearers finally brought him out, the crowd went wild, and carried his body through the streets... I'll tell you, it took the heart out of that town for years. Otis was Macon's favorite son."

Just after Christmas, Lattimore told me, he was back in Memphis at American cutting the tribute he had written for his friend, the great Otis Is Gone. In the BMI database, the song is titled 'Dedicated to Otis', and is made up mostly of the titles of Redding's most enduring songs. Brown maintains that he wrote (or co-wrote) most of the material he recorded, but he's only credited with nine songs on BMI. When I asked him about that, he said that he always let John R was take care of the publishing, and that he's never received a dime...

I guess this would be as good a spot as any to talk about Lattimore's lack of Billboard chart hits. The Sound Stage 7 singles that Richbourg was producing were guaranteed airplay on 50,000 watt clear-channel WLAC. That meant they were heard nightly in over thirty states. I imagine that Fred Foster figured that was good enough, and didn't waste his time or money promoting the records in other markets. The 45s were also guaranteed sales through the bargain 'ten-packs' from Ernie's Record Mart that John R sold over the air. None of this rang any bells with the usual indicators Billboard used in those days to compile their national R&B chart, radio station playlists and sales figures reported by record stores. In other words, just because Lattimore never 'made the charts' doesn't mean his music wasn't heard. It most certainly was.

Meanwhile, back in Nashville, the ongoing construction of Interstate 40 had completely devastated Jefferson Street, with entire blocks being bulldozed in the process. This once thriving cultural mecca had been reduced to rubble, supposedly in the interest of 'urban renewal'. You can't help but wonder, though (as many people did back then), if the project wasn't racially motivated. After all, it was the black college students from up on the hill that had staged the infamous 'sit-ins' that forced the city to desegregate its public facilities in the early sixties.

Lattimore moved his base of operations to Knoxville and, although he was still represented by Phil Walden, he said his business 'went downhill' after Otis died. He was in Knoxville when he heard that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot down like a dog in Memphis in April of 1968. Chase and I took Lattimore to the scene of that crime, The Lorraine Motel, which is now a part of the National Civil Rights Museum. We took him there so we could film him talking about how the Lorraine was the place to stay for black entertainers in Memphis back in the day. It was at the pool at The Lorraine that he shook hands with Sam Cooke for the last time, he said, just three weeks before he was killed. Lattimore told us he didn't want to talk about Dr. King... that it was too emotional a subject for him. He told us that, and then he did anyway. You could have heard a pin drop there on that impossibly perfect Memphis Sunday morning, as he talked in hushed and reverent tones about the man he considered a martyr for his people, a man who had died there some forty years before. To be there, in that place, with this remarkable man who has lived so much of this history, was profound, my friends, and an experience I will never forget.

"Everything kind of went sideways..." after Dr. King was assassinated, he told me. The nation was in turmoil, as was the music industry. The uneasy alliance between whites and blacks that had been responsible for the birth of soul was being stretched to its limits. The NATRA convention was held in Miami that August, and according to Peter Guralnick, "Jerry Wexler... was hung in effigy. Marshall Sehorn... was pistol whipped. Phil Walden... was met with death threats. There were fist fights and confrontations." All was not well in Soulsville. There are stories about armed guards on the roof at American, where John R continued to record artists like Roscoe Robinson and Ella Washington, in addition to Sam and Lattimore. Something happened there in late 1968, though, and I'm not sure what it was. Willie Mitchell left, vowing never to return. So did Wexler. Papa Don was already gone, and by the end of the year so was John R. Some say that Chips threw everyone out so he could concentrate on his own AGP label, but I don't know about that... in any event, it was time to turn the page.

continued in PART SEVEN


Blogger Red Kelly said...

Hi folks...

First off, I'd like to say thanks for hanging in there with me over the course of the last six Mondays, as I unraveled this incredible story. Lattimore is indeed the real deal!

I'm off this morning on a camping adventure with the kids, and so the next installment may be a little late... but, I'll be back, I promise.

Thank You once again for your continued support!

your pal - red

8:35 AM  
Blogger SoulBoogieAlex said...

Have fun Red!

I'm starting to think this has the potential of a book. It constantly surprised with the key moments of Soul that had Lattimore lurking in the background.

I think your series explains some of the finer mechanisms behind Soul. I would love to see this in some kind of incarnation beyond the web. If not a book, maybe in a magazine.

Great stuff.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog and even though i don`t know most of the artists i find all your stories very interesting and very well written. Keep on the great work.

2:57 PM  

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