Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fork Of The Road

* In December 1968, Brunswick released The Gospel Soul of Big Maybelle (Brunswick LP # 754142).
* Some weeks before, GRT (General Recorded Tapes, a Californian company active since 1966 and producing 4- and 8-track stereo cartridges) announced that it had now available Aretha Franklin's old Checker record The Gospel Soul of Aretha Franklin on 8-track. (GRT exploited Checker recordings since Jan.1, 1968, after an agreement had been reached: »General Recorded Tape has obtained exclusive duplicating rights to the catalogs of the Chess-Checker- Cadet und King libraries. ... The pacts strengthen GRT's broadening rhythm and blues catalog, which now encompasses material from Duke/Peacock ..., the Atlantic family of distributed labels, Scepter/Wand, Backbeat, Shout, and Sound Stage 7«, see Billboard Dec 30, 1967, p. 33).
* In 1969, Minit released The Soul of Gospel (Minit LP # S 24021 / 40021) by the Robert Patterson Singers (the LP had been actually recorded live in Frankfurt, Germany); later, problably in the early '70s, this was followed up with the LP Gospel Soul on Sunset, a German pressing this time (Sunset LP # 50305).
* In September 1969, Checker re-released Aretha Franklin's album Songs of Faith: The Gospel Soul of Aretha Franklin (orig. Checker # 10009 from 1965), and they did it again in May 1972. The latter re-release prompted this biting commentary in JET (May 18, 1972, p. 60): »When white-owned record com- panies compete, they really go for blood, like officials at Checker records releasing again their almost eight-year-old album, The Gospel Soul Of Aretha Franklin, with a new cover, just as officials at Atlantic records are getting ready to release Aretha's first gospel album in eight years.«
* In 1969, also Motown jumped on the Gospel Soul-train and released Shades of Gospel Soul (Motown LP # MS 701), today a rarely found LP containing 10 tracks by Detroit gospel singers.
* Not to miss this trend, Specialty put out two albums featuring old recordings by Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers under the title The Gospel Soul of Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers, the first volume in 1969 (Specialty LP # SPS- 2116), the second in November 1970 (Specialty SPS-2128).
And then we have, from around the same time, The Gospel Soul of Bessie Griffin (Savoy LP # MG-14233). Hers was still a great name in gospel music, and you could hear her last Sunday on this blog. Phyl(lis) Garland in her book The Sound of Soul (Chicago 1969) named Bessie Griffin, alongside Mahalia Jackson, Marion Williams, Clara Ward, Alex Bradford and James Cleveland, among the »leading interpreters« in the »gospel music of today« (p. 64).

Savoy LP # MG-14233
It's not exactly known when Bessie Griffin's Savoy-LP was released. Traditionally it is assigned to 1968, but there is one detail which points to the following year: The song »At The Fork Of The Road« (you can hear it below), written by Frank Williams and accredited to Planemar Music (via Herman Lubinsky tied to Savoy!), was filed for copyright on September 3, 1969. As this song is an original recording on this LP and was, as far as I can see, never recorded before by any singer, chances are that the copyright claim and the release of the LP happened at about the same time, thus in 1969. And some other songs of the LP, credited to Bessie Griffin through Lubinsky's Planemar Music Co., were likewise filed the same day. Anyhow, in 1969 the Gospel Soul-craze was at its peak, and Bessie Griffin's album fits neatly into that year.

On the back cover of the LP, we find »The Soul Sounds are on Savoy!« written in capitals. Well, seen from today's perspective this boastful claim hardly stood the test of time if you consider that this album has remained quite obscure to the present day (and is even listed under the wrong title, as Come Ye Disconsolate, on the otherwise useful pages at Tony Cummings, who called this album »unremarkable except as a great example of her voice« (here), added to the con- fusion by saying that Bessie Griffin recorded »an album with the Gospel Pearls entitled 'Gospel Soul' on Sunset, a subsidiary of Liberty.« There was a Liberty LP by Bessie Griffin (LRP 3310/7310), but it was called The Gospel Peals Starring Bessie Griffin and released back in July 1963. An album called Gospel Soul was put out on Sunset, but it featured the Patterson Singers and was released much later (see above). So far, I could therefore not corroborate what Cummings wrote about Bessie Griffin's presumed Sunset-album.

Since Bessie Griffin's album is somewhat shrouded in mystery and does not seem to be much known, I felt that the notes on the back cover might be of a certain general interest; you can read them on the photo to the left. The LP contains ten songs, and one of those, »Let Him In Your Heart Today«, is a duet of Bessie with her husband Spencer Jackson. Some songs are original recor- dings, others like »Blessed And Brought Up« or »It's Running Time«, are presented here in new versions but go back to the time when Bessie was touring with the Caravans in 1953/4: »Blessed And Brought Up« is actually the same song as »I've Been Blessed And Brought Up By The Lord«, recorded in Dec. '53 or Jan. '54 with the Caravans and released on States # 137 (and Gospel LP # 3008 He Won't Deny Me). And the LP also features »Come Ye Disconsolate«, for many a kind of signature song of Bessie, as she performed it since the days she had come first to Chicago in 1951.

It's interesting to see, at any rate, how old songs got re-packaged on this Savoy-LP. A good case in point is »It's Running Time«. On the face of it, no other song by this title is known up to 1969. Yet also this song belongs to Bessie's repertoire of 1953/4: She recorded it, together with the Caravans, in Jan. '54 under the title »Let Us Run (While It's Running Time)« (States # 140). And the year 1969 saw a stiff competition regarding that song: Albertina Walker (who had shared the studio with Bessie back in 1954) re-recorded that song on her album The Famous Caravans: Where He Leads Me (Gospel LP # 3080, 1969), and here the song appears as »Run While The Sun Is Shining«. It is plainly a nightmare for every serious-minded discographer!

Well, it shouldn't overly trouble us, we sorted it out by now. Let's listen instead to two songs from Bessie Griffin's album. I propose one from among the original recordings, »At The Fork Of The Road«, and her re-recording of the classic »It's Running Time« (aka »Let Us Run«). The first is a soaring hymn, and Bessie bestows upon us a emotive, spiritful delivery. The second tune, much better known (if not in Bessie's version of 1969), is a fast-paced gospel boogie.
I wish you a pleasant and peaceful Sunday!

Bessie Griffin: »At The Fork Of The Road« / »It's Running Time« from the Savoy LP # MG-14233 (c.1969):

P.S. / Info from the back cover of Savoy LP # 14233:
»Notes and supervision: Fred Mendelsohn
Recording: Rev. Lawrence Roberts
Mastering: Medallion Studios
Fabricated by Modern Album of New Jersey Inc., Flemington, N.J.«

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