Posts Tagged ‘Chess’

Tommy Tucker

Friday, November 13th, 2015

tommytuckerhiheeleduka, Tommy Tucker, Checker, Chess, Don Covay, Pye

Listen: Hi-Heel Sneakers / Tommy Tucker TommyTuckerHighHeeled.mp3

It was very early on that I’d learned to depend on certain labels for a consistant style or quality. Many collectors focus on their entire runs, and Chess/Checker is easily one such company. Basically, I was never disappointed by their 60′s output. Must have been an early radio station handout that turned me on to Tommy Tucker, although this did reach #11 in ’64. His Jimmy Reed style was an instant magnet, and I’m happy to this day that I plonked down $5 for his one and only Checker album at the time.

Don Covay also comes to mind, he wrote ‘Long Tall Shorty’, Tommy Tucker’s followup to ‘High Heeled Sneakers’. Covered by The Kinks and The Graham Bond Organization, it was apparently a common staple in the London clubs for a bit. Not a hit at the time, it’s deservedly risen to an equal ‘classic’ position for Tommy Tucker through the years.

Mitty Collier

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Listen: I Had A Talk With My Man / Mitty Collier
I Had A Talk With My Man / Mitty Collier

The oddest things can happen, and will.

Mitty Collier got pop play on my local Top 40 when I was a kid. Now, her records were strictly black hits, even though ‘I Had A Talk With My Man’ did cross to some pop outlets in major cities. I did not, however, grow up in a major city. But WOLF, as I’ve raved on about before, was indeed an educational source in it’s day. Right there next to The Rolling Stones and Them we could hear The Vibrations, Irma Thomas and yes, Mitty Collier, thanks to their programming excellence.

Basically, the single was a secularised version of James Cleveland’s gospel song ‘I Had A Talk With God Last Night’ and reached #41 on Billboard’s Top 100.

Gloria Lynne, who had jazzier material and therefore more grown up appeal, grabbed some airplay on the easy listening formats, as it was referred to then. So my parents’ stations played her, and I regularly heard ‘Watermelon Man’ at our local barbers. There’s a definite resemblance between their voices, both full and heavy.

I actually bought ‘I Had A Talk With My Man’ at Walt’s Records instead of a new Searchers single one particular week. If you’re listening, this is it, rough around the edges but still intact.

Listen: Free Girl (In The Morning) / Mitty Collier
Free Girl (In The Morning) / Mitty Collier

Despite being a freezing November Saturday, ‘I Had A Talk With My Man’ brings back warm, vivid winter memories of rushing from the bus into Walt’s, desperate to find this record. Once back home, I played it over and over. But in the weeks that followed, B side ‘Free Girl (In The Morning)’ ended up grabbing my attention and by Christmas break, I probably made everybody nuts with it.

These RnB records really did go over the heads of my friends. Motown was way okay, but the hardcore stuff, not so easily tolerated. A twisted little kid, yes, happy to have been one.

Listen: Together / Mitty Collier
Together / Mitty Collier

Keeping up with the B side infatuations, ‘Together’, the flip to her next single ‘No Faith, No Love’, was really a gem. A most obvious similarity between ‘Together’ and ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ is undeniable. I wonder which of the two was written first.

Not long after releasing her final records for Chess, Mitty Collier was stricken with throat problems, polyps, which ultimately threatened to end her career. Never to sing again, she became completely devoted to her Christian beliefs. By ’72, there was an unexpected turn of events, Mitty’s voice regained strength and her ability to sing restored.

One of the first recordings as a result: ‘I Had A Talk With God Last Night’. Gospel albums followed. She established a Bible Study Telephone Prayer Line and a community outreach program, “Feed-A-Neighbor” (FAN), for which she received the key to the city of Birmingham in 1987.

Mitty Collier became a preacher, and was ordained in 1989, later being appointed pastor of the More Like Christ (MLC) Christian Fellowship Ministries in Chicago. She has received a number of humanitarian and other awards, including the National Council Of Negro Women (NCNW) and Woman Of Wonder Award 2000.

If that doesn’t warm someone’s heart, nothing will.

The above UK demo gifted to me by Vicki Wickham, a living saint. Thank you dearest Vicki. XXX

Mitty Collier

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Listen: My Party / Mitty Collier
My

With a voice like the great Mitty Collier’s delivering the lyric of ‘My Party’, it’s impossible to imagine anything but the woman in this story being more than one drink away from getting dirty on her offender. Although songs like these from New York or Chicago’s deep soul labels are lyrically and thematically text book perfect, they’re near useless without a singer that makes the listener believe. Enter Mitty Collier.

Not unlike Walter Jackson’s ‘Deep In The Heart Of Harlem’, the two records crawl with the harshness of a ghetto existence, precisely what attracted anyone to them, excepting those forced into living that unlucky lifestyle.

These records sold primarily in the world they captured, achieving little to no airplay or exposure beyond that limited audience when current. Now, one listen and every collector worth their salt needs to own a copy.

Howlin’ Wolf

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Listen: Do The Do /Howlin’ Wolf
Do

Blues. It’s a funny genre, almost extinct, possibly musical days gone forever.

I used to be okay with an LP side of the blues, and one day, my pal Phil Ward told me he hates the blues, and I swear, I’ve never been able to hear it the same since.

Now the occasional song or side of a single, if intriguing, still pushes my button. The dirtier the better. Some of Bessie Smith’s records are so filthy, they make Lil’ Kim sound as ass licking safe as Sheryl Crow.

Even the raunchiest of small town southern, chitlin circuit stations would not have touched ‘Do The Do’, hence it being banished to a Howlin’ Wolf B side status.

In ’90, Betty Boo went to #7 in the UK with ‘Doin’ The Do’, an undeniably terrific pop single. But in the early 60′s, there was no chance of getting airplay on a song that, let’s be real, was all about oral sex. Yeah right, no one did it then……

All good, makes this one even more fun to have and hear. ‘Do The Do’ never made it to the box set, and God knows if it’s ever been included on a compact disc, as I believe they are called. I’m sure, as the majors scrape every last morsel to keep lights on in those corner offices, it’s been re-released.

But does it sound like the mono vinyl 7″ pressing above? No way.

Gus Jenkins

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Listen: Chittlins / Gus Jenkins
Chittlins

Damn, I wish I knew more about Gus Jenkins. I know he recorded as early as ’56, under the name Gus Jinkins, and he’s up there as one of the most mysterious raw blues obscurities around.

Someone at Capitol decided to release ‘Chittlins’ via their newly formed subsidiary, Tower, in late ’64.

The Tower label went on until ’68, amassing a small, but fairly collectable bunch of releases, the most famous of course being all the very early US singles by The Pink Floyd. But there were more, Joe Meek masters by Heinz and Tom Jones, Ian Whitcomb & Bluesville, The Chocolate Watch Band, The Standells…pull up a Tower discography sometime. Nice stuff.

Even on first listen, you’ll agree, a wonderfully noticeable amount of Gus Jenkins’ swagger may have influenced The Cramps just a bit, and even more, The Rolling Stones, sounding not unlike any number of tracks from their first few albums.

According to BILLBOARD’s November 14, 1964 RnB DJ Roundup below, along with Jimmy Reed’s ‘I’m Going Upside Your Head’, Ed Wright at WABO Cleveland was spinning it, Ed Hardy over at KDIA in San Francisco chose ‘Chittlins’ as well as Little Jerry Williams’ ‘I’m The Lover Man’, a filthy sleaze fest of a single, a no fucking around must for every collection. And let’s not forget WYLD’s Ed ‘Screaming’ Teamer in New Orleans, who was not only jamming Gus Jenkins and Little Jerry Williams, but was playing the mad great ‘My Country Sugar Mama’ by Howlin’ Wolf.

Marlena Shaw

Friday, August 19th, 2011

Listen: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy / Marlena Shaw
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy / Marlena Shaw

Like with Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’, I also have a similar penchant for ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’. Basically, never do I pass up a copy, in fact, the loungier the better.

There are plenty of renditions around by everyone from Jaco Pastorius to Nils Lofgren. Not to mention versions buried in jazzy muzak albums that came fast and furious in the late 60′s.

’67 was the year that saw the song hit Billboard’s Top 5 twice, The Buckinghams version with lyrics, and the original instrumental from The Cannonball Adderley Quintet which went to #1, no doubt a surprise to both artist and label. Big fan of both.

Those in the know, like England’s mods, would attest that the grooviest, hands down, is from Marlena Shaw. Here’s a lady that recorded for the who’s who of RnB/Jazz labels during her career: Chess subsidiary Cadet, Blue Note and Verve.

In ’63, after initially deciding to go for the big time, and get into a record company, she auditioned for, but was turned down by Columbia. Several years later, they changed their minds and signed her away from Blue Note after releasing the wonderfully titled WHO IS THIS BITCH, ANYWAY?

Sounds familiar. I got invited in to Columbia for an interview in the late 80′s, never heard another word from them. About ten years later, out of the blue they rang again, this time offering me a job. I figured, give it a try. Lasted twelve years.

Willie Dixon

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Listen: Walking The Blues / Willie Dixon
Walking The Blues / Willie Dixon

Nowadays, especially if this were shorter, it would be known as an interlude. A lot of urban albums thread songs together with simple, stripped down stuff like this. But in ’64, ‘Walking The Blues’ was a single, how lucky for mankind.

The UK hipsters turned musicians of the day were insatiable for almost any US blues player. Stories of major rock band formations based on the love of American blues legends are endless. Willie Dixon was king. After all, he wrote “Little Red Rooster”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Spoonful”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, “I Ain’t Superstitious”, “My Babe”, “Wang Dang Doodle”…the list goes on.

This B side makes for a nice, not overplayed, listen, complete with the original shop sticker on the company sleeve indicating point of purchase.

Tiny

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Ah! Shucks Baby / Tiny

Listen: Aw! Shucks Baby / Tiny
Aw! Shucks Baby / Tiny

Not unlike Big Maybelle, Tiny could belt it out. With only a few minor hits to claim, she came and went in relative obscurity. Despite being signed to King/Federal, and touring with, amongst others, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, Little Willie John, Etta James and Ray Charles, it seems her star never properly shined. From the sound of this single, she was a powerhouse. Originally released in ’57 (she was signed from ’57 – ’60), King decided on reissuing this, her most successful record in ’63 which is pressing above.

I was in Washington DC in the early 90′s, returning to New York on a Sunday. Duane and I were there to see a band for Medicine, my label. Next morning, I scoured the yellow pages for a vinyl shop. One small listing was close by and sounded interesting, claiming doo-wop, gospel and blues amongst it’s specialties, so we gave it a go.

It was in a pretty run down section of town and to be honest, we were the only two white folks in sight. The elderly man who ran the place, as he had for 30+ years, was behind the counter making small talk with a few women his age, all in their Sunday best, fresh from church. The shop was filled with cds and only a small section of 7″ vinyl in a back corner, not at all like he described his stock when I’d called earlier. Even more frustrating, the very vast majority of them were recent reissues. Really dreadful.

But I did notice a few Chess, Checker and King originals amongst them, all of which I selected and eventually made my way up to the counter with them in hand. Duane too had picked out a bunch. When I asked the price, he looked through them and said “They’re usually $4 but I think we should have a half price sale today, seeing as you boys have chosen some really nice stuff here”.

We immediately launched into all kinds of questions – from both sides. “How did we know about these records?” from him, and “Did you ever get to see Inez & Charlie Foxx or Slim Harpo?” from us. That kind of banter. We were having a great old time. Then he says “It’s about time to close but if you’d like, I’ll let you into the basement. I have a lot more records down there and you might find a few good ones”. We were taking the shuttle home, they flew hourly and therefore in no hurry. Seemed a little odd to close your shop midday (it was at that point around 2pm) and invite the only two customers, behind the counter then down to the basement. We took the chance.

Oh my God, the place was heaving with boxlots of 45′s. Loads and loads, mostly Chess and King. He came down and started spinning Sonny Boy Williamson and Hank Marr records, so many others too. We were there for hours, high as kites on the buzz. I still ask Duane, what were we thinking? We should have bought them all. I came home with at least 200, all in company sleeves. Tiny’s ‘Aw! Shucks Baby’ was just one of the endless jems.

After all that, this truly kind, gentle and generous man drove us to the airport in his big old, polished, oversized 70′s car, going way below the speed limit, in true fashion. It was like a little kid’s first ride in a stretch, and the stories about the past, like seeing shows at The Howard Theatre, kept flowing. Duane recalls his name being Christian, but in the high of the moment, we didn’t exchange contact info, a real regret. Still, a priceless memory for life.

King Records Warehouse

Above: A shot of the King Records shipping room. I wonder if any of Tiny’s were being picked and packed?

Ty Hunter

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Listen: Bad Loser / Ty Hunter TyHunterBadLoser.mp3

With Berry Gordy’s sister Gwen, Billy Davis started Anna Records in ’59, and later the Checkmate label in ’61. Both were distributed by Chess and one of their first Anna signings were The Voice Masters, whose various members took the lead vocal, depending on the track. Ty Hunter was one, as were David Ruffin and Lamont Dozier.

That web and family tree is all tangled but in a good way. Simultameously, Ty Hunter released singles for each imprint, and had moderate RnB success.

When Gordy/Davis eventually sold the masters of both imprints to Chess, Ty Hunter continued as a solo artist for that label, and released a handful of 7′s. None were hits, but years later became in demand. He’s seldom name checked in the history of RnB/Soul but the purists among us had been well aware for years.

The one Chess release of his that eluded me until now, ‘Bad Loser’, became a jaw dropping Sunday morning rummage sale find. ’tis that season again.

Listen: Something Like A Storm / Ty Hunter TyHunterSomethingLike.mp3

Like Hi, Motown, Stax etc, each company’s entire roster seems to have played, recorded, written and produced each other. Noticing Bo Diddley co-wrote this B side, I can’t help wondering, is that him on the bv’s, did he play on it, was he there?

After Ty Hunter’s run with Chess ended, he joined The Originals in ’71. Signed to Motown, and with Marvin Gaye producing some of their intital hits, they continued to have a decent run of US RnB chart entries. Ty Hunter finally got some deserved recognition – it only took fifteen years or so.

Jackie Ross

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Listen: Selfish One / Jackie Ross JackieRossSelfishOne.mp3

Always thought, for the longest time, this was a Mary Wells or Tammi Terrell single. With it’s intentional Motown swing and sound, I vaguely recalled hearing it as a current. And despite it’s somewhat pricey Northern Soul status (a genre loosely defined as Motown soundalikes that flopped), it was actually a US #11 Billboard pop hit.

Forever, ‘Selfish One’ evaded me, until my trip a few weeks back to Detroit. I’d completely forgotten about it’s unfilled slot in my wall shelf.

Great thing about collecting records, there’s always something you need. And when you find it at 94¢ plus tax, that moment of warmth is unbeatable.

Rotary Connection

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

RotaryAladdin, Rotary Connection, Cadet Concept, Chess, Minnie Riperton, Marshall Chess

Listen: Aladdin / Rotary Connection
Aladdin

Often described as a highly experimental band, Rotary Connection were actually the idea of Marshall Chess, son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. Marshall was also the culprit behind a new Chess Records subsidiary, Cadet Concept Records, an outlet to focus on psychedelic jazz rock instead of the blues and r’n'r genres which had made the Chess label so popular. Basically, he was a chip off the old block but with his finger on the pulse, as they say.

Despite the left of center commercial attempts, The Rotary Connection were basically unsuccessful at the check out counter, yet their critical and influential imprint grew over time. Looking back on their albums proved a lot more was brewing than most folks gave them credit for. ‘Aladdin’ was in an early stack of promos I picked up at the WMCR one night. I played it every few days for a couple of years. I guess you could say it was in light rotation.

I had no idea Minnie Riperton was their vocalist. At the time, I never even owned the albums, just the 7′s. Years later, the completist in me searched out those long players. Lo and behold, it’s Minnie Riperton. I should have recognized that voice, any time you’re not sure if it’s a piccolo or a person, it’s usually Minnie.

In the mid 90′s, when coffee table trip hop became the must have, hipsters Nuyorican Soul covered Rotary Connection’s ‘I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun’, and almost took it mainstream. I think the problem was it was too white for urban radio, and too black for pop, therefore falling into that bottomless crevasse known as ‘almost crossed over’.

Earth, Wind & Fire / Ramsey Lewis

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

EWFMightyUKA, Earth Wind & Fire, Columbia, CBS, Warner Brothers

EWFMightyPS, Earth Wind & Fire

Listen: Mighty Mighty / Earth Wind & Fire EWFMighty.mp3

During the summer of ’74 – summer ’75, I worked at Discount Records, then a northeastern chain, owned by CBS, and heavily stocked in catalog. Most record shops in those days carried lots of….records. This was a time when all the excitement happened right there in the store as opposed any of the other shops competing for the youth dollar.

Today it’s known as an Apple Store. Both had genius bars, well no, that’s a lie. Record shops had counters populated by genius record experts. Same difference.

There were a couple of co-workers who relentlessly hogged the turntable, seemingly for the sole purpose of playing Earth Wind & Fire’s newest album, OPEN OUR EYES. I cringed at it’s polish having preferred their previous two Warner Brothers albums. They were way less refined and more street dirty. After all, leader Maurice White had started his professional career in ’69 as a session drummer at Chess, eventually joining The Ramsey Lewis Trio. Then something happened, literally in mid song, I realized I absolutely loved ‘Mighty Mighty’. It was the last track on one of the sides as I recall, and had just been released as a single. How perfect. It’s been a staple ever since.

EWFDrumSongUKB, Earth Wind & Fire

Listen: Drum Song / Earth Wind & Fire EWFDrum.mp3

So once my guard was down, I started noticing a bunch of things in there, like LA’s latin sound, which War had coined a year or two prior, sentimentally grabbing my attention via a first visit in ’73. Plus new to me, African beats. Miriam Makeba’s ‘Pata Pata’, shockingly a pop hit several years earlier, was my only exposure at that point. B side of ‘Mighty Mighty’ and album track, ‘Drum Song’ became a favorite even. I was officially a fan.

EWFKalimbaUSA

Listen: Kalimba Story / Earth Wind & Fire EWFKalimba.mp3

Was I happy when ‘Kalimba Story’ was released as a 7″. It was almost too good to be true, being my other favorite from the album. I’ve noticed kalimba on every record they’ve ever made, at least all the ones I know.

RamseyUSA, Earth Wind & Fire, Ramsey Lewis, Columbia

Listen: Sun Goddess / Ramsey Lewis And Earth Wind & Fire EWFSunGoddess.mp3

Full circle to ’75, when Maurice White reunites with Ramsey Lewis to record what would become a #1 Urban classic. These guys had really hit their stride.

Sonny Boy Williamson

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

sonnyboywilliamsonhelpme, Sonny Boy Williamson, Chess, Checker, Paul Jones, BBC 2

Listen: Help Me / Sonny Boy Williamson SonnyBoyHelp.mp3

I wonder if Plyrene Atkinson misses this single – or maybe she upgraded to a cleaner copy, preferring a more recent Checker label design. Yeah right. I loved this copy when I stumbled on it in a Greenpoint junk store. The basement was FULL of records. Still is – but it’s been seriously picked. This was in 2001, just before 9/11. I spent several weekends in that basement. No one was buying the records, as the guy had loads of great chachkas, furniture, kitchen items and clothes on the ground floor level. Very few even ventured into the basement. I supplied him with boxes of promo cd’s which were selling like hotcakes, so all the 45′s came my way first.

The name sticker on the label, which I would usually remove, became a romantic attraction to another time – when blues would sell to the nooks and crannies of America, truly becoming the folk music of it’s day.

I never loved this record until Paul Jones played it on his BBC Radio 2 program. How did I not ‘hear’ this one years earlier? Before the day of streaming and/or archived BBC content, Roger Armstrong would religiously record both the Paul Jones show and SOUNDS OF THE SIXTIES onto DATs every Saturday, then drop them in the mail. Talk about a friend.

Still a BBC 2 fixture, Paul Jones is certainly the voice of authority when it comes to the blues. ‘Help Me’ was, well, an RnB hit actually, peaking at #24 in April ’63. It sure does sound good in a 1959 Seeburg 222.

Sugar Pie DeSanto

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

sugarpiedesantouk, sugar pie desanto, chess, checker, pye

Listen: Use What You Got / Sugar Pie DeSanto
SugarPieUseWhat.mp3

You need only get the new cd, GO GO POWER – THE COMPLETE CHESS SINGLES 1961 – 1966, open the booklet and begin your lusting for Sugar Pie DeSanto. The liner notes should be essential reading at Harvard, but they can’t touch the photos. She was more of a firecracker than I’d ever imagined. I missed out on seeing her during the heyday. Luckily, I did get to watch a still sizzling Sugar Pie DeSanto last fall at the Rhythm And Blues Foundation Awards in Philadelphia. Yum. Still hot.

Happily there are a bunch of must-haves amongst her Checker/Chess singles. The bump and grind vamp of ‘Use What You Got’ might be one the world’s greatest B sides. It started out as the A side in the States, but was flipped for the UK. This copy’s from the Tony King collection, it dips a toe into the vast pool of RnB pressings he amassed. Musically, not unlike The Cramps, or should I say they were not unlike Sugar Pie and the label’s house band: Leonard ‘Baby Doo’ Caston (organ), Gerald Sims (guitar), Louis Sutterfield (bass) and Maurice White (drums). Listen and you’ll see what I mean.