Friday, April 23, 2010

Ben E. King - Hey Little One (ATCO 6666)

Hey Little One

It totally amazes me sometimes how everything, eventually, seems to be connected. Last time out, we were talking about the mighty Soul Clan single, and I was postulating that maybe, just maybe, the backing tracks had been cut at American. We spoke about how everyone involved, from Womack and Covay to Burke, Tex and Conley had cut records with The Memphis Boys around the same time. But, as you may have noticed, I failed to mention Ben E. King. Well, shortly after that, I decided to write about that most unheralded of all the Clan members over on The A Side, and I found something very cool:

Yes, according to the Atlantic Records Discography for 1968, Ben E. King had also recorded in Memphis, with 'Arif Mardin's Orchestra' that October. Till I Can't Take It Anymore had been released as ATCO 6637 in January of 1969, and broke into the R&B top forty. It would also be included on the hastily put together Soul Clan LP on ATCO, which was fleshed out using cuts by each individual artist, that February. Just to give you an idea of where Atlantic's head was at in those days, ATCO LPs released that same month included Ball by Iron Butterfly, and Buffalo Springfield's Retrospective.

Solomon Burke was already gone, charting that March for his new label (Bell) with his awesome Fame recorded version of the Penn/Oldham/Johnson chestnut Uptight Good Woman (driving Jerry Wexler, I'm sure, just a little further up the wall in the process). King, no doubt, saw the handwriting on that wall, and by the time ATCO released this incredible record we have here today in April of 1969, he had already made the decision not to renew his contract. Needless to say, the label didn't promote the single, and I'd be surprised if many copies were pressed after the initial run of 'white label' promos.

So, the discography thing just says 'Memphis', and besides Ben E., only refers to 'Arif Mardin (arr) and others', as being on this session, so how do we know this was cut at American? Well, first of all, there is the fact that the label lists King Curtis as Mardin's co-producer, and American was his home away from home in those days. Mardin and the King were a team, and it was Curtis who brought Mardin's talents as an arranger to the attention of Jerry Wexler, who then turned around and made soul history by using him on those initial New York Aretha sessions. They had been working closely together ever since and, along with Tom Dowd, cut some simply amazing music there at 827 Thomas Street.

There is all of that, and then there's this...

Another name that jumps out at you on the label is that of the songwriter, Dorsey Burnette. A Memphis legend, he had formed the influential Rock and Roll Trio with his brother Johnny back in the early fifties. In 1956, he had hired a young kid named Chips Moman to go on the road with them, and travel out to the west coast. It was out there in California that Moman did his first session work, and got to know his way around a recording studio. He was hooked. The Trio basically broke up at that point, and after Dorsey cut a couple of singles that didn't do much, he decided to concentrate on his songwriting.

Burnette got himself noticed by Ricky Nelson, who would take one of his compositions, Believe What You Say, into the top five in 1958. The Burnette Brothers were then signed by Imperial (Nelson's label), and had songs covered by some of their old school R&B guys like Roy Brown. By 1960, Dorsey had signed with Era Records, and his first single for them, Tall Oak Tree, would go to #23 Pop. Hey Little One was the follow-up, and made it to #48. It's just a great record, man...

In 1968, the song was all over the radio again, as Glen Campbell took it and crossed over from #13 Country into the middle of the Hot 100. His album of the same name would top the Country LP Charts that year, and send another single, I Wanna Live, into the Pop top forty. Hey Little One was suddenly hot again, and helped put Burnette, who had been struggling with a series of personal demons since his brother Johnny's premature death in 1964, back on his feet. Capitol subsequently signed him, and he hit the Country charts regularly for them on his own in the early seventies.

Anyway, I'm betting that Chips Moman might have had something to do with the selection of this song by the Atlantic producers, and this haunting atmospheric American Group work of genius puts me in mind of the sound they would be creating for Elvis in just a few short months.

It is truly a hidden gem.

OK, folks, thanks to Noel-23 down there in the comments, I would say we now have definite proof that this awesome record we have here was cut at American Sound. He was kind enough to point me in the direction of the scan at left of King's prior ATCO single (6637), both sides of which (according to the discography) were cut at the same session as 'Hey Little One'. There on the label credits it reads "Produced & Arranged by Arif Mardin and King Curtis Recorded at American Studios Memphis, Tennessee". Why that information was left off the later single is anybody's guess, but it proves our suspicions were correct. Which, of course, means that ALL of the Soul Clan members cut at American in 1968...