Thursday, July 30, 2009

Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson - Here With Me (SSS 736)

Here With Me

Hailing from one of the most soulful areas on the planet, Jo Jo Benson came up singing, along with his brother Fletcher Flowers and his cousin Ralph 'Soul' Jackson, in Phenix City, Alabama. Just across the river from Columbus, Georgia (Oscar Toney Jr's hometown), Jo Jo got himself noticed by local dee-jay and record store maven Ed 'Dr. Jive' Mendel. Benson's 'Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye' would become one of only two releases on the Doctor's tiny Men-Del label in 1967.

The single made some local noise, and Benson soon hooked up with a throaty 17 year old he heard singing at the C'estbon Club, one Peggy Scott. Mendel, meanwhile, had started up another label called Peggy-Sue and managed to get a release by local group The Men from S.O.U.L. picked up by Shelby Singleton's nascent SSS International. The Doctor also managed to get Singleton, who was on the lookout for R&B talent, interested in Jo Jo and Peggy. Shelby signed them to the new label he had just recently created after walking away from his high level position at Mercury.

Singleton had come up out of the Louisiana Hayride scene in Shreveport and started out with Pappy Daily and Don Pierce at Starday, before making the move to Mercury as part of the George Jones deal in 1957. As he told our friend John Broven in the excellent Record Makers and Breakers; "After the first couple of years, they gave me a completely free rein... Huey Meaux and I became friends back during those years... he's the one that I got the master of Jivin' Gene from, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, and he used to get things like I'm A Fool To Care by Joe Barry... He was a unique talent, he was a master promotion man, and he could get records played... he could discover talent, for some reason."

Small wonder, then, that he turned to his old pal Meaux when he started up SSS International in early 1968.

As we've discussed in the past, Huey got in trouble with the Feds for supposedly bringing an underaged prostitute to the NATRA convention in Nashville in 1966. He fought the indictment in court for over a year, and moved to Clinton, Mississippi to try and avoid the spotlight. Along with a local character named Bob McRee (and songwriting brothers Cliff and Ed Thomas) Meaux set up shop in an old movie theater in town and the 'Grits and Gravy' Studio was born. He would continue his superb production work there with Barbara Lynn and others, and when Singleton sent Jo Jo and Peggy down there to record, Huey was ready.

Today's cool selection was the flip of their first 45 (and biggest hit) for SSS, Lover's Holiday. Produced by Meaux, it's just drippin' with soul. The record would enter the charts on April 20, 1968. According to the Billboard article above, however, by the time it had climbed into the R&B top ten that May, Huey was already in jail. He had also produced their follow-up single, Pickin' Wild Mountain Berries (which would go top ten that Fall), before they put him away...

Singleton then brought Peggy and Jo Jo to Nashville, where they would record the mighty Soulshake (#13 R&B) with his main man Jerry Kennedy and a host of other Music City session men (including our own Bob Wilson) in early 1969. After one more R&B top forty hit for SSS, they made the move to ATCO, but their charting days as a duo were over. Both Peggy (Scott-Adams, now) and Jo Jo have remained active, and both have current releases.

Shelby Singleton, of course, hit the jackpot when a release on his country Plantation label crossed over and took Jeanie C. Riley to the top of the pop charts with Harper Valley P.T.A. in the fall of 1968. The resulting influx of cash had enabled him to, among other things, build the Playground Studio down in Florida with Finley Duncan and buy Sun Records lock, stock & barrel from Sam Phillips in September of 1969. "We kinda dropped the ball on the Black market when we got involved in Sun..." Shelby told John Broven. By 1971, SSS International had ceased to exist. Singleton still presides over the Sun Entertainment Corporation down in Nashville to this day.

It took Huey Meaux a little while to regroup after he got out of the slammer but, by the early seventies, he had bought the former Gold Star Studio in Houston, where so many East Texas hits had been recorded. After completely retooling the place, he rechristened it 'Sugar Hill' and set about doing what he did best, cutting hit records. After finding old pal Freddy Fender working in a car wash down in Corpus Christi, he brought him in and cut what may be the most unlikely #1 pop hit ever, Before The Next Teardrop Falls. A remake of Freddy's 1959 swamp pop classic, Wasted Days and Wasted Nights, would break into the top ten as well that summer of '75. Huey was back in the game, big time.

In the mid eighties (just as he had done twenty five years before with This Should Go On Forever), Meaux was back helping old friend Floyd Soileau take regional Louisiana music into the national spotlight. According to Wikipedia: "Huey Meaux got the original leased to Epic Records (a division of Columbia Records), who released it nationally, and for a brief moment Rockin’ Sidney made musical history. Epic managed to get Rockin’ Sidney into the country Top 40 where he stayed for 18 weeks. It charted in the UK Top 100. Rockin’ Sidney even spent one week at #98 in the pop charts. Later that year My Toot Toot was certified platinum and won a Grammy Award. "My Toot Toot" became a national and international million-selling phenomenon. It was the first Zydeco record to get major airplay on pop, rock and country radio stations..." Huey was still making things happen.

But History has not been kind to Huey P. Meaux. After being arrested at Sugar Hill in 1996 on drug and pornography charges, he spent the past twelve years in jail. He is now eighty years old and out on parole, forced to wear one of those 'ankle monitor' things. "I took them to court and I beat them. They had to release me. They fabricated a case against me and I beat 'em, and they've been pissed ever since..."

Thanks to our friend Chuck Chellman, I was able to speak with this American legend last week:

Living History, boys and girls.