Archive for the ‘The Sweet Inspirations’ Category


Monday, February 14th, 2011

Country Girl, City Man / Billy Vera & Judy Clay

Listen: Country Girl, City Man / Billy Vera & Judy Clay
Country Girl, City Man / Billy Vera & Judy Clay

Judy Clay got a raw deal. An early member of The Sweet Inspirations, she grew up singing with her relatives, Cissy Houston, Dee Dee Warwick and Dionne Warwick. She’s on endless sessions (mostly Atlantic) for Wilson Pickett, Don Covay, Aretha Franklin, God only knows how many. When she finally had a hit with ‘Storybook Children’, as one half of the intentionally multi-racial duo Atlantic Records had masterminded: Billy Vera & Judy Clay; network television wouldn’t touch them. Instead Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood got their slots, including performing ‘Storybook Children’ on The Hollywood Palace. Hey, we love Nancy & Lee but hold on.

I used to hear the follow-up, ‘Country Girl – City Man’, on a bunch of stations. It featured The Sweet Inspirations (as did ‘Storybook Children’ and most tracks on their Atlantic LP), mixed RnB with country beautifully, and appealed to lots of formats. It’s another permanent jukebox fixture. I play it a lot. She sounds like she could’ve been an actress, that phrasing.

JudyClayPrivateUKA, Judy Clay, William Bell, Stax

Listen: Private Number / Judy Clay & William Bell
Private Number / Judy Clay & William Bell

If you’re not a believer, check her duet with William Bell.

Maxine Brown

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

maxineohnouk, Maxine Brown, Ace Records, Wand, Manfred Mann, Carole King, Goffin, Fontella Bass, Dusty Springfield, Dee Dee Warwick

Listen: Oh No Not My Baby / Maxine Brown MaxineBrownOhNo.mp3

Infamous Carole King (did you know she married one of The Myddle Class) / Gerry Goffin classic. Like many of their compositions, ‘Oh No Not My Baby’ was recorded by a whole bunch of folks. Cher, Manfred Mann, Fontella Bass, Dusty Springfield and Dee Dee Warwick amongst my favorites.

The US hit version went to Maxine Brown (#24, 1964). Unfortunately, most of her singles for Wand (Pye International in the UK for this one), as well her duets with Chuck Jackson, achieved undeserved low Billboard pop chart peaks, Bubbling Under The Hot 100 entries or non hits whatsoever. Hence, their place in every last Northern Soul price guide.

As with most of her work for the label, Cissy Houston and The Sweet Inspirations provided backups. It had to have been a magical time around the New York studios that catered to the RnB sessions in those days. Seems a day didn’t pass without a classic being recorded, just think of all the unreleased, forgotten songs.

Worth getting: BEST OF THE WAND YEARS, a flawless cd comp from Ace UK with the usual amazing booklet. The details will have you drooling.

Above: Jukebox Tab signed by Maxine Brown

The Sweet Inspirations

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Sweet Inspiration / The Sweet Inspirations

Listen: Sweet Inspiration / The Sweet Inspirations
Sweet Inspiration / The Sweet Inspirations

That's How Strong My Love Is / The Sweet Inspirations

Listen: That’s How Strong My Love Is / The Sweet Inspirations
That's How Strong My Love Is / The Sweet Inspirations

Cissy Houston, Lee Warrick with daughters Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick, Judy Clay, Doris Try – they were all members of The Sweet Inspirations at one time or another. Even if you haven’t heard these classics by them – you have heard these voices many times, contributing to endless sessions by Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Esther Phillips, Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ‘Burning Of The Midnight Lamp’, even Elvis. Ahmet Ertegan finally decided in 1967 to record them as their own entity. Not only cutting an initial album, but in a one year window, they recorded three. Their versions of current hits became hits again – this time for themselves: ‘Why (Am I Treated So Bad)’, ‘To Love Somebody’, ‘Unchained Melody’. They really hit pay dirt with The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section in Alabama during the early months of 1969 – from which these singles come. Their theme song is a classic. And the gospel purity of ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ makes for difficult upstaging.

The Strawberry Children

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Strawberry Children Picture Sleeve

Listen: Love Years Coming / The Strawberry Children

Turns out Johnny Rivers was a pretty hip cat, as I believe he’d be referred to at the time. Like his career, Johnny Rivers’ record label Soul City, was very Los Angeles centric. Having earned parent company Liberty a ton of cash, he was afforded an imprint and indeed quite the businessman, which occasionally populated the landscape during the 60′s. In short, he licensed his masters instead of allowing the label to own them. Not only as performer, but as producer and A&R alike, Johnny Rivers had talent, signing The Fifth Dimension to Soul City as well producing many of their hits. Reputedly giving Jimmy Webb his initial songwriting placements, Rivers teamed he and The Strawberry Children together. Never shy on picture sleeves, Soul City issued ‘Love Years Coming’ during the summer of ’67. It was almost a hit.

Looking back on one of my local radio station’s chart below, ‘Love Years Coming’ was that week’s pick hit. Look further though. Usually a very tight follower of the national Top 40, seems WNDR was burning it’s bra that summer as well. The sunshine was clearly powerful as acid pop singles aplenty were being played: Sagittarius at #15 (which they misspelled), The Third Rail, The Forum, The Merry-Go-Round, The Will-O-Bees, The Cyrkle, The Left Banke and pyschedelic folk hippie Marcia Strassman. Not to mention some decent soul/Northern soul: Linda Jones, The Sweet Inspirations, Betty Swanne and a portion, though not big enough, of UK stuff: The Kinks, The Spencer Davis Group

It was a great summer.