Monday, March 29, 2010

The Soul Clan - That's How It Feels (Atlantic 2530)

That's How It Feels

An American Single?

In Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick said "...the singers never did get to actually meet in the studio... but instead recorded their vocals separately to a backing track which Covay had put together with Bobby Womack at the Wildwood Studio in Hollywood."

In Nowhere To Run, Gerri Hirshey said " session... was actually cut in Nashville in February 1968, yielding... Soul Meeting and That's How It Feels."

Hmmm... although I've never actually featured either side of this awesome 45 here on the site, I have spoken about it a number of times:

An idea that Solomon and Don Covay had been working on for some time, The Soul Clan, had finally begun to take shape in 1967. The idea was for all of these great performers to pool their talents and resources, and become a positive force within the black community. They envisioned things like buying ghetto real estate and refurbishing it, providing jobs, building schools, and creating black-owned restaurant franchises that would knock the McDonald's and KFCs out of the box... the possibillities were endless.

Originally, it was to include Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Solomon, and Don Covay. When Otis died in late 1967, Pickett backed out as well saying, "I got my own hit records, I don't need that shit!". They were replaced with Redding's sidekick, Arthur Conley, and former Drifter Ben E. King. Covay put together the backing tracks out in L.A., and each of the artists overdubbed their vocals in turn. The resulting single hit the charts in July of 1968, and climbed to #34. At this point, Solomon Burke claims, "The record was stopped and banned...we were going against the grain of what black entertainers are supposed to do. We were all just supposed to go out and buy red Cadillacs. We weren't supposed to go out and start talking about spending millions of dollars on building and developing... We were supposed to talk about having parties and good times and eatin' barbecue ribs. You know, pork chops."

Don Covay and Bobby Womack had put together the backing tracks for the long-awaited Soul Clan single out in L.A., and Atlantic had each individual artist record his vocals whenever they were available. After Wilson Pickett balked, and Otis Redding went and died on them, they arranged for Ben E. King and Arthur Conley to replace them. Conley recalled that he never even spoke with the other members of the Clan about the record, and that he recorded his part all alone up in New York. The single would go to #34 R&B in the Summer of 1968, and then, according to Solomon Burke, "the record was stopped and banned". He may have been right.

Joe had cracked the top ten with both of his releases (Skinny Legs And All and Men Are Gettin' Scarce) just prior to the issue of the Soul Clan single in June of 1968. He was, arguably, the hottest star on there at that point, and would continue his success on the charts well into the seventies - something his fellow Clan members would be unable to do... In 1981, there were big plans for a Soul Clan reunion, complete with a world tour and a new album. At a press conference in New York in July of that year, Joe told author Gerri Hirshey "It ain't gonna work... We are five different men. Most of us are loners... a soul man is that, singular... As far as I can see, the future of the Soul Clan died with Otis Redding." As it turned out, he was right, the single concert held in NYC that summer was a disaster, and the rest of the plans failed to materialize.

I know we've talked about The Soul Clan before (in our Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, and Arthur Conley posts), but it's important to remember that the whole thing was Don Covay's idea. He was the one spinning the elaborate aspirations, daring to imagine a world in which Black Americans could control their own destinies. According to Solomon Burke, they had initially asked Atlantic for a million dollar guarantee up front, and the project was to include a complete album of material. The Clan was reportedly waiting for Otis Redding to fully recover from minor throat surgery when he died in that infamous plane crash in December of 1967. Covay, more than ever now, was committed to making his dream come true. He wrote and recorded the basic tracks of the single out in Hollywood with (an uncredited) Bobby Womack, and the rest of the Clan overdubbed their vocals as their schedule permitted. Arthur Conley, of course, would replace Otis, and Soul Meeting broke into the R&B top 40 in the summer of 1968. Although a great record, the Soul Clan's moment seemed to somehow already have passed. Whether it was due to a conscious decision on the part of the Atlantic brass (as Covay and Solomon Burke believe to this day) or not, that would be the end of that...

Well, I think we were all wrong.

As I mentioned over on the other side, it has been my intention to continue the work I started with the American Soul mix, and focus on some great singles that were cut at American Sound that may have never gotten the attention they deserve. Like I said in the interview thing with Roben Jones, I continue to discover the work of these amazing musicians on records I've listened to for years, with today's selection being, perhaps, the most glaring example... let's do the math:

If the backing tracks were indeed cut in February of 1968 (which seems about right as the single was released in July, and it probably would have taken that long to get all of those separate vocals on there), that was precisely the period when Atlantic was ensconced down there on 827 Thomas Street, with Tom Dowd cutting both Arthur Conley and Solomon Burke there the following month. Buddy Killen cut all of Joe Tex's records there. Bobby Womack was living in an apartment in downtown Memphis, and had become one of 'the Boys' cutting his breakthrough Fly Me To The Moon LP at roughly the same time. Don Covay, who lived in St. Albans out here on Long Island back then, had been cutting at American since August of 1967.

The Atlantic Records Session Index for 1968 had this to say:

Note the question mark... and

Which would seem to indicate that Covay worked on finishing the project in New York, near where he lived. It certainly seems a stretch to think that both Covay and Womack wound up in Los Angeles right in the middle of all of this...

And so it is my considered opinion, my friends, that this much revered and talked about 45 (with it's way cool intro that puts you in mind of Conley's Burning Fire) was indeed an American Single. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

American Soul

American Soul

Hey everybody, if you've been around here awhile, you already know what a big fan I am of the music that was recorded at the American Sound Studio in Memphis. From #1 hits on people like Elvis, B.J. Thomas and Neil Diamond to obscure B sides by some of our favorites like Sir Lattimore, Roscoe Robinson and Sam Baker, the American Group gave it their all. The most versatile of any of the great Memphis studio bands, I continue to discover them again and again on great records that I've played for years. Whether produced by their own Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill, or by outsiders like Buddy Killen, Papa Don Schroeder and Tom Dowd (to name a few) the music they created there continues to intrigue and amaze me.

There's been a couple of exciting new developments recently, and I wanted to share them with you...

First off, Erick Crews, whose father Don was the co-owner of the studio with Chips, has started up a Facebook Group called Chips Moman & Don Crews' American Sound (Recording) Studio. As much as I had resisted joining Facebook in the past, it's things like this that make it all worthwhile. Erick has collected some fascinating photographs, news clippings and memorabilia, and more are being added everyday. The group counts Spooner Oldham, Gene Chrisman and Bobby Wood among over 240 other members, and it's great hearing what they have to say. This is truly a phenomenal resource, folks, with the potential to become even better. Come join us!

Also, the long-awaited Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios has just been released by the University Press of Mississippi.

Written by Roben Jones, the book takes the reader inside the day to day operation of the studio using actual session logs kept by Reggie Young and Bobby Emmons. How cool is that? Roben fell in love with the American Group's music as a young girl, and has been collecting it ever since. As she told Allen Smith over at Soulful Music, "One Saturday morning in April 1969 I heard on the radio the Box Tops version of I Shall Be Released. I was fourteen. To this day I can't describe how affected I was by that record. It wasn't the song so much as it was the production... Tommy Cogbill and Chips Moman had woven the music so creatively around this Bob Dylan tune that they had transformed it into a statement of their own. It was just such an original concept. It made me aware of the producer's role in making a great record..." Roben went on to become a published poet, and brings those unique sensibilities to the writing of this book. A 'labor of love', she began the project way back in 2002.

Roben was kind enough to speak with me last week:

Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios is now available at Amazon.

Now, I first put together the American Soul mix we have here back in January of 2008 when I was working on the Chips Moman Story, and put it out there on the late lamented Soul Detective Podcast. Shortly after that, the Podcast thing was taken down because of some 'terms of service' violation or something... anyway, I thought maybe a lot of people hadn't heard it so I'd re-post it here on the main page. Let's take a look...

Joe Tex - Skinny Legs And All (Dial 4063) 1967 - a top ten pop hit (#2 R&B), they say that Reggie Young's incredible guitar lick actually knocked Joe down on the floor!

Arthur Conley - Funky Street (ATCO 6563) 1968 - Just four months after Otis died, Tom Dowd took Arthur into American and produced this high energy stomper... check out those handclaps!

King Curtis - Cook Out (ATCO 6534) 1968 - The flip of the King's cover of a Buffalo Springfield song, this one picks up where 'Memphis Soul Stew' left off... 'we call that dinner on the ground'

Bobby Womack - I'm Gonna Forget About You (Liberty 56186) 1970 - Actually recorded two years earlier for the amazing My Prescription LP, it was written by Womack's mentor Sam Cooke and produced by Moman, they just don't come much better than this, y'all!

Roscoe Robinson - How Many Times Must I Knock (SS7 2618) 1968 - That's Womack on the guitar backing up the man who introduced him and his brothers to Sam in the first place. Check out Tommy Cogbill working that bass! Lord Have Mercy!

Soul X 2 - It's Alright Now (SS7 2612) 1968 - Another great J.R. Enterprises production, this time on former Soul Stirrers guitarist LeRoy Crume and Pilgrim Wonders' Calvin April's attempt at crossing over. Just another example of how great this band was.

Sam Baker - Sugarman (SS7 2620) 1968 - John R took Monument songwriter Kris Kristofferson's noir street tale to Chips and cut it on our friend Sam Baker. I love the horn arrangement...

Don Covay - Never Had No Love (Atlantic 2440) 1967 - Produced by Cogbill, this one just kills me. Reggie Young's guitar is just unbelievable, man. How great is Don Covay?

Solomon Burke - Meet Me In Church (Atlantic 2527) 1968 - You already know how I feel about this one... it still kills me every time I hear it. A Tom Dowd production of an Arif Mardin arrangement, Reggie's guitar is, once again, amazing.

Oscar Toney Jr. - For Your Precious Love (Bell 672) 1967 - Here's the top 5 hit that Papa Don cut on Oscar in one take down there on Thomas Street. It will live on forever.

Wilson Pickett - I Found A True Love (Atlantic 2558) 1968 - When Jerry Wexler sent Pickett to American, he teamed up with Bobby Womack to cut some of the best records ever made. This is one of them!

The Masqueraders - Love, Peace And Understanding (AGP 122) 1969 - Finally on their own, Tommy Cogbill produced this simply fantastic 45 on this most under-appreciated of all vocal groups for American's own label.

As great as these records are, they are only beginning to scratch the surface. The depth and quality of the music that was created at American Sound just boggles the mind.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Chips Moman, Tommy Cogbill, Don Crews, and all of the Memphis Boys for that... you guys are the greatest!