Friday, October 28, 2011

Soldier Theory

C.C.Rider. Everyone from Leadbelly to the Grateful Dead has performed "C.C. Rider," but the question remains: Who was C.C. Rider?
    The song is listed as "traditional," meaning no one knows who wrote it. During the Civil War, C.C. stood for Cavalry Corporal. Riding is probably the most common metaphor for sexual intercourse in the blues. The rider is a sexual partner, a steady lover. Was a woman singing to her soldier lover in "C.C. Rider"?
    On the other hand, both male and female blues singers have sung "C.C. Rider." This makes sense, given that in African American usage, "rider" may be used to mean a lover of either sex - and it makes the soldier theory rather interesting.

(Debra DeSalvo: The Language of the Blues from Alcorub to Zuzu, New York 2006, p. 34 f.)
C.C. Rider broke a pattern for Chuck. Until that time he had only recorded songs of his own. C.C. Rider is a traditional folk song whose authorship is obscure. It has been a favorite of many great blues singers, including Ma Rainey, Lil Green and Bea Booze, all of whom recorded it. Chuck's adaptation is his own and is striking in the originality of its styling.
(From the notes on the back cover of Atlantic LP 8018 by Guy Remark)
"C.C. Rider" became a triumph of production technique for Jerry Wexler. ... This was one of the best records of its time, not really rock 'n' roll or rhythm and blues but an inspired mood that drew from both styles and also from conventional popular music.
(Charlie Gillett: The Sound of the City. The Rise of Rock and Roll, new ed. New York 1996, p. 71)
Baker reached way back to the repertoire of the "Mother of the Blues," Ma Rainey, for the classic "See See Rider." Many young listeners must have as- sumed - as I did at the time - that it was a new song.
(Chip Deffaa: Blue Rhythms. Six Lives in Rhythm And Blues, New York 2000, p. 193)

For the record:

   Chuck Willis: »C.C. Rider«. Recorded Jan. 31, 1957, in New York. First rel. on Atlantic # 1130 in March '57, the tune first charted in April, eventually reaching #1 r&b (BB) and #12 pop. Released on Atlantic LP # 8018 (Chuck Willis: King Of The Stroll) in late March 1958. Personnel included Gene Barge (tenorsax), Phil Kraus (marimbas) and Jesse Stone (arr/cond). In July, the album had passed the half- million sales mark; Chuck Willis died only two weeks after its release. BB Review Spotlight: Watch this one. Willis exhibits his usual sock show- manship and drive on "C.C. Rider," a great old blues with a haunting arrangement.

Atlantic LP # 8071 (cover)
   LaVern Baker: »See See Rider«. Recorded Sept. 26, 1962, in New York. First rel. on Atlantic # 2167 in Nov. 1962, the tune charted first in Dec., eventually reaching #9 r&b and #34 pop. It was to be the last of LaVern Baker's songs in the r&b Top Ten ever. Released on Atlantic LP # 8071 (See See Rider) in late Dec. '62 or early '63 (copyright on the back cover says 1962). BB 4-star-review: The old blues-standard is handed a wild, swinging, middle tempo rea- ding. The tune is handled in a modern groove with smart backing ...

*** BONUS SONG added March 31, 2012 ***

A smooth, jazzy-mellow reading of »C.C. Rider« from King Curtis' Atco LP King Size Soul (1967), recorded in Memphis, July 4, 1967 (yeah, they were working that day...). I don't know whether this album version is the same as the one released on Atco # 6711 in 1969.

King Curtis & The Kingpins: »C.C. Rider« from the Atco LP # SD 33-231 (1967):

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rock My Troubles Away

mid-week gospel

Gotta slow down some! Yesterday I couldn't remember one of Aretha's own songs and mixed it up with another tune. How much worse than this can it get? On the other hand, if I wait for my gray cells to be wired up better I might well close this blog. So I have to put up with it. And so do you, be warned.

Musicallywise, slowing down doesn't appeal to me much. Should I speed up instead? Let's see. Today we make a test whether this works. We can do the testing thanks to Lula Collins.

There is next to nothing I know about her apart from a few notices scattered over the net. Not that the net offers much; the only substantial information you'll likely to find is on Just Moving On, read it here. (There's also a page, little helpful, on MySpace) In the early '70s, Lula Collins recorded for a number of small labels (H-B, Hub-City et al.), Luna Records being among those.
     Luna was established in spring 1972. In the Billboard April 22, 1972, issue we read (p. 32):
»John Richbourg, president of Seventy-7 Records, has announced in Nashville the formation of a subsidiary label, Luna Records, to be encompassed with Seventy-7 under the parent complex, JR Enterprises, Inc.« The first singles on Luna were then released in May 1972.

Now, for all we know, in 1973, Luna # L-807 was released, Lula Collins's one-and-only single release on that label. This 45 regales us with two awesome soul-wreckers, »Hold Me Jesus« and »What Is This«. You could call them church wreckers as well, but what Lula in these tunes really does, with all the intensity of her performance, is wreck your soul. The first song, »Hold Me Jesus«, is a rockin' plea. Lula implores the Lord and as her plea intensifies she winds up by shouting come on and rock me, rock me, Jesus
  rock my tears away
     rock my troubles away
        rock my trials and all o'my tribulation
           rock me Jesus
              rock me Jesus
                 rock me Jesus
                    I know you can
                       I believe you will
                          Lord, I'm waitin'
                             Yes I am
                                Lord, I'm waitin'
                                    I'm waitin' on you ...

                                         and then you're just out and done as is the song.
The B-side is »What Is This«. A conversion song, telling of the workings of the Holy Spirit. (You can hear a related song, entitled »Something's Got A Hold On Me« and performed by Geraldine Jones of the Ward Singers, here) ... I know somethin' got a hold on me. Settin' my soul on fire! Keep upsettin' me. Whatever it is! This thing I'm talkin' about. What is this I can feel inside? Somebody tell me. Won't let me hold my peace! I got it all over me. The Holy Ghost! Make me live right. The Holy Ghost! Treat my neighbor right ... and you'll notice that Lula is going out of her breath early in the song and keeps on hissing for air ... as well she might:

Lula Collins: »Hold Me Jesus« / »What Is This« on Luna # L-807 (1973):

For the record: The billing on the A-side is »Lula Collins and The Stars of Nightin- gale«; the female background singers on the B-side are uncredited. Production of the 45 is credited to (Bishop) Bobby King, a known gospel producer from Memphis.

POSTSCRIPT  04/12/2011
The song (and actually the very same recording) »Hold Me Jesus« was also re-issued under the title »Rock Me« on Michal (# 5-23-73) and Hub-City # 5-26-73. On the Hub-City single it is explicitly marked as »Side 1«, the billing on the label is »Lula Collins & The Stars of Nightingales«. On a white-orange promo issue of Luna # 807, the billing runs »Lula Collins and the Nightingale Stars«. I here include a pic of both labels (left: Luna # L-807A, right: Hub-City # 5-26-73-A):

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

YEAH !!!

Today I have to offer you little more than an eye-delight. (Which is good, by the way, because I had a stressy day and don't have much force left for lengthy writing.) But what delight it is! When I saw the photo, because a photo it is that I am speaking of, it took my breath away. I've never seen it before - and it even comes in high resolution! However, the photo should be vaguely familiar to many of you:

Thank you so much! This thanks goes to the wonderful blog Jazz in Photo. Go visit it!

Well, I for my part can only add some sound to the visual experience. As many of you will have realized, the photo is similar, not identical though, to a portrait shot of Aretha Franklin which was used for the cover of her 1965 Columbia LP  Yeah !!! (Columbia CS # 9151). And a yeah it is!

The album was released in May 1965 and proved eventually quite successful on the LP charts in the latter half of '65. It certainly is the jazziest recording Aretha made during the '60s and as such it reminds much of  Rheta Hughes's Columbia LP released in November '65. We have a live setting here, with Aretha (»the swinging chick« according to the sleeve notes) playing with "her quartet" and occasionally in person at the piano. The LP arguably is among the least known albums of Aretha. Mainly, she covers standard tunes here, fault- and effortlessly as always. Man, she IS the Voice! Being live and Aretha accompanied in all songs by the same musicians, the album does inevitably lack somewhat variety of style and arrange- ment. However, as I had to single out two songs for today, my choice was not too difficult after all: »Muddy Water«, the most up-tempo song on the LP, a »true blues« with »healthy blues-shouting« (whatever that is!) according to the notes by Dan Morgenstern on the back cover. After that, you can hear »Without The One You Love« which maybe is the most emotive tune on the album and show-cases Aretha's vocal art particularly well. Again according to the back notes, the tune is »a gospel-flavored pop tune«. Well. The nice thing is that the song was penned by Aretha herself (thanks to Marie from the Catch That Train and Testify! blog for giving me the right hint), and in the version below you can hear Aretha also at the piano. For the record: the album was recorded on February 10, 1965, in New York.

Aretha Franklin: »Muddy Water« / »Without The One You Love« from the Columbia LP # CS 9151 (1965):

* * *
All right, down here I can well supply the cover art of Columbia LP # 9151 in case you don't remember it:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Got a Telephone

Let's just pick up last Sunday's thread with the Mighty Clouds Of Joy. The follow-up album to their Live At The Music Hall LP was Peacock LP # PLP-151 (if we disregard their Best Of album, Peacock # 136, which came in between). There's some confusion about when this LP (that is, Presenting: The Untouchables) was released, and dates from the mid-'60s to 1973 have been proposed. However, 1968 seems to be the most probable date; Hayes/Laughton's Gospel Discography corroborates this.

Peacock LP # 151 back cover
This album is flawlessly produced and the tunes are much varied in style. Maybe it does lack a standout tune. If I had to chose one it would be the hymn »I'll Trust In God« (aka »My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me«), a beautiful solo performance by Ermant Franklin, but it's too much of a funeral song and I can't bear hearing it today. But Ermant Franklin it is, so we go with his »Call Him Up« and »He's Real To Me«. (E. Franklin sings lead on most songs, leaving only »Pray For Me« and »How Far Have I Stray- ed« to W. Joe Ligon).

»Call Him Up« (»... I got a telephone in my bosom, I can call him up on my own ...«) is known under many titles: »Jesus On The Mainline« or »Go Tell Him What You Want«; The Caravans (feat. Albertina Walker) recorded this song as »Tell Him What You Want« (States # 154). Parts of the lyrics also crop up in Richie Valens's Woodstock performance of »Free- dom«, since he had sung gospel back in the '50s in Brooklyn (read more about it here: Denise Sullivan: Keep On Pushing. Black Power Music from Blues to Hip-Hop, Chicago 2011, p. 101 ff.). On the Peacock LP, the song is credited to »E. Franklin« (i.e. Er- mant Franklin, I presume) what is weakly justified by the fact that the song as performed by the Clouds is not exactly identical to any other version I know of (there are myriads, though). The song was for the first time recorded in the late '30s, but the peculiar charm of the lyrics hasn't worn off. - Read also the postscript.
     »He's Real To Me« is likewise a standard tune and usually credited as traditional. It's one of the songs on this LPs where you can hear the Clouds backing the lead singer (or actually the lead sermonizer) with falsetto voices. Best I leave you now to the songs with the nice headline you find on many a Peacock LP above the song list: Your Program For This Performance! And here it is. Happy Sunday all!

Mighty Clouds Of Joy: »Call Him Up« / »He's Real To Me« from the Peacock LP # 151 (1968?):

POSTSCRIPT Oct 29, 2011
On the Melting Pot blog, you'll find a thoughtful review of the 3-CD set Fire in My Bones: Raw + Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007) released in Oct. 2009 (get info here). This review (read it here) is pertinent to topics often raised in this blog of mine, viz. the question concerning the relation between pop (secular) music and gospel and, a closely related point, how (and whether) to appre- ciate gospel music with or without regard to its sacred character. In addition, there are interesting remarks about the song »Call Him Up« aka »Telephone In My Bo- som«. I would like to quote here some passages from this review:
It’s the sacred character I’d argue that sets many of these performances above the standard fare produced in similar times. There’s a feeling in these performances that is shared in other sacred musics, but not as readily found in more secular, popular sounds (except not surprisingly when artists come from the Church, i.e. Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, etc, etc, etc.). However you want to appreciate this music, what’s most important is that you DO experience it. Regardless of your own religious belief or feeling, this music is deserving of your attention and your ears will be richly rewarded once you delve into this fine set.
For those of you into Gospel Funk, there are plenty of choices here too. Lula Collins’ “Help Me” from 1973, is a track that could have just as easily ended up on obscure Tennesee funk comp. by itself. Aside from some relatively minimal religious references, it is easy to take this song on very secular terms. That’s a more difficult task with a song like “Telephone In My Bosom,” from the Amazing Farmer Singers of Chicago. While the sound has a bit of Sly & Funkadelic, the lyrics keep you focused on the sacred, which is, after all, the true point of this music. You can appreciate it simply on its sonic merits, because it’s very funky, it rocks, it swings, is deeply soulful or just has a certain sound. But it’s very important to understand the context this music was recorded and to remember that even at its most rockin’ it remains sacred music.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Feeling All Right

Recently, in another blog (here: Catch That Train And Testify!), the question of the mutual influence and the relations between country and soul was touched upon. This finally made me spin Maxine Weldon's first album today, after I have been thinking for weeks now to post something about her.
     Maxine Weldon is a singers' singer, no doubt. She could sing it all, and she did. First problem though, this made her difficult to handle for the music industry when the pro- motion & sales responsibles wouldn't know whether to put her into the soul, jazz, blues or still another field. Second problem, she didn't record much. Most of her career she was busy gigging and touring, starting 1967 in California. Before that she had been performing in Hawaii for some 2 years, then moved to Japan and Seoul. But only when she came back to California, her career began in earnest. You can read a detailed account of her life and career here. I cannot add anything to what you find there.

Mainstream LP # MRL 319 Right On was her first album. 1970 is commonly given as its release date, but for all I know it was only released in 1971; the recording sessions, however, took place in '70. Maxine's debut album is little-known today, although there seem to be no valid reasons for this: apart from Maxine's stellar performance you will note that the tunes are wonderfully arranged and lavishly orchestrated; special praise certainly merits the horn section. Even the Billboard critic was looking for superlatives when he wrote the following (July 3, 1971): There is a fresh feeling here. One which is seldom heard from a female vocalist. No Aretha, No Nina Simone. All Maxine Weldon and a voracity and attack of a fresh new singing sensation.

Mainstream LP 319 back cover
So what about soul and country? Well, listening to Maxine's debut LP you'll find that a number of songs are much in the country vein, with some folksy undertones. And it's less in the instrumentation or the arrangements, more in the choice of songs (that is, in the harmonies) and the inflection of Maxine's voice. Other songs, however, are clearly in the r&b mould, with funky undertones. So I posted two songs each below that to me seem typical for both trends. The interesting thing is that the tunes are arranged similarly in regard to orchestra- tion - and of course the vocalist is the same -, but the overall effect of the respect- ive tunes is quite different. This is some sign showing the genius of the arranger! (For the record, it was Artie Butler's creative work).

Interesting also that Maxine Weldon didn't live in the South. She was born in Oklahoma but at an early age moved with her family to Califor- nia; and she even spent most of the '60s outside the States. Thus hers is not the bio- graphy of, say, Denise LaSalle who was reared on C&W radio in Mississippi or that of many others growing up around Memphis, Nashville, Macon or New Orleans. But, and this is the marvel of it, you cannot hear that on her debut album. I first put the tunes that are on the countryish-folksy side: Bob Dylan's »It Ain't Me Babe« and »Tomorrow On My Mind«. And we also have the near-country-version of Loretta Lynn's »Johnny One Time« on this LP which I didn't include below. Then, there are the r&b viz. soul tunes, »Right On« and Joe Cocker's 1969 »Feeling All Right«:

Maxine Weldon: »It Ain't Me Babe« / »Tomorrow On My Mind« from the Mainstream LP # MRL 319 (1971):

From Maxine Weldon's personal webpage
Maxine Weldon: »Right On« / »Feeling All Right« from the Mainstream LP # MRL 319 (1971):

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Don't Jump

That's what I'm telling myself, once in a while. So what I was doing since last week- end was going through the older posts of this blog, revising here and there and adding several postscripts. After all, this blog is work in progress and I often come across some new or updated information, especially as information about many artists or songs featured here isn't easily to come by or, worse still, isn't as reliable as one would like. It also happens that I forget to browse my CD collection for re- issues or re-masterings of LP. I should always remember doing so because in many cases the CDs come with substantial and well-researched liner notes which provide information (not seldom in collaboration with the original artists) not found any- where else. And of course, there are the usual mistakes or errors you only detect when not looking for them. You know how it go.

In order not to tell you this without a rhythmic delight coming along with it I made today another Fontella-day! Her first release on Checker (and actually her first 45 after Vesuvius # 1002) had been »Don't Mess Up A Good Thing«, a duet with Bobby McClure arranged by Oliver Sain. The follow-up to this 45, in spring '65, was »You'll Miss Me (When I'm Gone)« / »Don't Jump«. The song on the A-side fared well enough, reaching #27 r&b and even denting the pop charts (# 91). A Billboard critic pronounced »You'll Miss Me« a »stronger entry« than the 45 that went before and prophesied that it had »hit written all over it« (see below). I'm not convinced. But still, these are nice songs and Fontella Bass does, as she always did with whatever material, make them worth listening to. And not to forget that the duets with Bobby McClure (with whom Fontella was also touring in '65) are the great fanfare announcing her soon-to-follow breakout with »Rescue Me«, released on Checker later in '65. My copy of Checker # 1111 has the burgundy red label with Checker in silver letters to the left, while there are other copies around showing the red-and-black »checkered« label on light blue ground. For all we know, the burgundy label was in use before Chess / Checker switched (for a short time really) to the »checkered« label.

Fontella Bass & Bobby McClure:  »You'll Miss Me« / »Don't Jump« on Checker # 1111 (1965):

* * *
Billboard, May 22, 1965, page 35

Sunday, October 16, 2011

If I Had a Little More Time

Peacock LP # PLP-134 (1967)
Sometime in late 1966, the Mighty Clouds Of Joy played the Music Hall in Houston. The concert was taped and released on Peacock LP # PLP-134 in February or early March 1967.
     By many seen as the most successful gospel quartet in history, the Mighty Clouds were riding high in the mid- to late 60s (and beyond that as well). They had their stage suits made by the same tailor who made clothes for The Temptations; from early on, they had adopted electric guitars and developed an elaborate stage choreography. Horace Boyer called their distinctive style »hard gospel«, i.e. »singing loudly and rhythmically at the extremes of their vocal range« (The Golden Age of Gospel p. 239). Or in other words: »The Clouds reached the top by being the hardest-driving, best-dressed, house-wrecking- est group in the business« (Alan Young: Woke Me Up This Morning, Jackson 1997, p. 60).

None better testimony for their »hard gospel« than their live album of 1967. It's a real house-wrecker indeed! A Billboard critic said in the March 11, 1967, issue that it was a »rousing album that will bring sales in r&b markets«. Yet it isn't in any way close to r&b, except in instrumentation. The performance of the Clouds is much too intense for that, as you can hear below. It is 100% spiritual, if that includes songs like »I'm Glad About It« (aka »It's Another Day's Journey«) which are really about everyday life: if you got money to give it to a pauper eating out of a trash can, be glad about it; if you got eyes to lead the blind, be glad about it and thank the Lord for your eyesight. The lead voice in the live version is that of Willie Joe Ligon, founding member of the Clouds. The song is kind of a sermonette, often employed by Ligon, somewhere between singing and preaching. Or, in the useful definition put forward by Alan Young, »a morality tale, usually told by the lead singer while the rest of the singers hum or sing softly in the background« (Woke Me Up This Morning, p. 63). In 1966, this tune was also released on Peacock single # 3099.

Peacock LP # PLP-134, back cover
However, before that we'll have another tune from that live album, »Stand By Me«. Last Sunday I posted Mavis Staples's version of that song which she recorded back in 1961. The live version of the Clouds (lead vocals Ermant Franklin, another founding member) is in as good as every respect the very opposite of Mavis's interpretation: while hers is calmly intense, soulful almost, deep like her spine-shivering contralto, Ermant's version is rough, desperate almost, out-crying and ... well, house wrecking in the best sense. Take a seat. If I had a little more time ... happy Sunday all!

Mighty Clouds Of Joy: »Stand By Me« / »I'm Glad About It« from the Peacock LP # 134 (1967):

Further reading about the Mighty Clouds Of Joy:
  • Robert Darden: People Get Ready! A New History of Black Gospel Music, New York 2004, pp. 283-87.
  • Alan Young: Woke Me Up This Morning. Black Singers and the Gospel Life, Jackson 1997, pp. 60-64.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What She Is

In the wake of her smash single »Trapped By A Thing Called Love« (released in July 1971 on West- bound # 182, eventually to reach # 1 r&b and # 13 pop), Denise LaSalle had her first Westbound album out by January 1972. (Westbound was a Detroit- based label distributed by Janus.) »Trapped By A Thing Called Love« was not her first single: There was »A Love Reputation« (released on Tarpon # 6603 and Chess # 2005 in 1967, see here and here), then her first Westbound 45, »Hung Up, Strung Out« (Westbound # 162, rel. in May 1970).

Her first Westbound LP (WB 2012) set the tone for most of LaSalle's later career. Recorded in Memphis (see photo below) and arranged by Willie Mitchell and Gene Bo-Legs Miller (yes, it is actually written »Bo-Legs« in the sleeve notes), the album embodies the post-Stax »new« Memphis Soul of the early '70s which is bound up with the names of Ann Peebles, Al Green and many others. Production credits are to Crajon Enterprises, the company LaSalle was running with her husband Bill Jones. What is noteworthy above everything else, however, is that LaSalle wrote most of her material, thus being one of the few female singer-songwriters around in soul music.
     But »soul music«, especially as that term was used in the early '70s, her music was not. So what was it, then? Denise LaSalle spoke at length about that in an interview with David Freeland. This is what she had to say:

[W]hen you go to the Grammys, who they put in a blues category is going to be KoKo Taylor, Etta James, and people I ain't never heard of before. People that never seen a record on a major radio station in their life. And they're in the Grammys. And then they'll put a white girl up that ain't nobody ever heard of but white folk. And KoKo Taylor performs mainly to white audiences. They'll pull these people and put them together and they'll ignore me over here.
     Then they go to the soul music; I'm
ignored there. Then we'll go to the pop music; I'm ignored there. You go to R&B, I'm ignored there.
     So what am I? I'm nowhere. So I say, "Well, okay, so I'm not a blues singer, y'all say." But the R&B people say, "You're a blues singer." And then the blues singers say, "You're not a blues singer, you're R&B." So I'm here in this middle of nowhere. And I say, "OK. I'm a soul-blues singer." I'm a soul-blues singer. Why can't I get someone to see that? And every time I'm interviewed I say, "I am a soul-blues singer." I cannot get people to recognize that terminology. Give me a category. I deserve it.

(Quoted from D. Freeland: Ladies of Soul, Jackson 2001, p. 35 f.)

And that's not all. Talking to Freeland, LaSalle emphasized that country music is what really influenced her, and country has always remained her favorite music. She said as much in a number of other interviews. Lately she put it a bit differently, yet she wouldn't diminish the role of country music: The Blues and Gospel is what really got me. I should say it is my favorite. But to be honest with you, when I write and listen for my own writing mood, it is Country music. I'm sorry. I disappoint a lot of people. Country music has been with me since the beginning of my life. I would lean in that direction (see Monica L. Yasher: »Sitting Down with Denise Lasalle & a Cup Of Coffee«, May 16, 2011).

On her first Westbound album much of that is not yet completely evident. »Trapped By A Thing Called Love«, »Heartbrea- ker Of The Year« and »Catch Me If You Can« are on the pop-side of soul. But there are some tracks which, in hindsight, clearly show the direction LaSalle would be moving towards in the following years: soul-blues, as she wanted to have it. »Good Goody Getter« and »Do Me Right« would qualify, and so do »Now Run And Tell That« and »Keep It Coming«. »Now Run And Tell That« was released in January '72 on Westbound # 201, and »Keep it Coming« had been the B-side of Westbound #182:

Denise LaSalle: »Now Run And Tell That« / »Keep It Coming« from the Westbound LP # WB 2012 (1972):

* * * 
From BILLBOARD, May 22, 1971, page 33.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just Some ...

... plain, clean fun for a working day. Today with the hottest album from the sum- mer of '62, Dee Dee Sharp's It's Mashed Potato Time (Cameo LP # C 1018, mono issues only).

Dee Dee Sharp in May 1963
The Philly girl Dee Dee Sharp (real name Dione LaRue but »everybody called her "D" and she sang in D sharp«), aged 17, was called in the studio to add her vocals to Chubby Checker's »Slow Twistin'«. Chubby wasn't convinced at first and wouldn't have a female voice on his record. He was convinced after he had heard her, anyhow, and the song ended finally up as a true duet, with Dee Dee's vocals as prominent, or even more so, as those of her male counterpart. But among those convinced was also Kal Mann, founder of Cameo Records, who had brought Dee Dee into the studio in the first place (and had written »Slow Twistin'« under his pseudonym Jon Sheldon). Next Day, Dee Dee recorded her immortal hit »Mashed Potato Time«. Together with that song (#1 r&b in spring '62) went the usual album, released in May 1962.

Not the usual hit-plus-filler album, though. You have three chartbreakers on that LP - »Slow Twistin'«, »Mashed Potato Time« and »Gravy! (For My Mashed Potatoes)« - and besides that a number of other nice songs, and varied in style, too. Two ballads, »Two Loves« and »Remember You're Mine«; a number of cover versions (»Splish Splash«, »Be My Girl«, »I Sold My Heart To The Junkman«) and ... quite astonishingly, the jazzy remake of an old r&b smash, »Hurry On Down«, Nellie Lutcher's song from 1948 (released on Capitol # Cl 13013 in Dec. '48). The cover of my LP is the one shown here, with the Cameo-label in the upper right corner. However, there are many copies of that LP around that show the Camel-label in the lower left corner, whereas in the upper right corner we find a round sticker, in blue, saying »This album con- tains the hit song GRAVY«. Now, »Gravy« was one of those few tunes who got much radio play without being available on a single, that is, it got exposure from the LP version. Until the beginning of June »it received so much reaction that Cameo put it out as a single« (quoted from Billboard, June 2, 1962, p. 24). This leads me to think that the cover without the Gravy-sticker was the first, original edition, because an- nouncing the song on the cover only makes sense after it had unexpectedly stirred up some noise. So the cover shown above seems to be very first one.

And another thing: The label of Cameo 1018 shows, at the bottom, »© 1960 CAMEO Records« (see label scan). This is, at first sight, obviously wrong since we know for sure that the LP was released in May 1962. But we find the same indication on several other Cameo LPs and singles that were released in 1961 or 1962. The mystery behind this can be resolved easily: the date doesn't give the pro- duction or release date (which, in any case, should have been indicated by ℗, not ©). What it really does indicate is that the label design was introduced and copyrighted by Cameo in 1960. That's it. (Any of you sellers of this LP on the net offering it as a 1960 release, amend your info!)

So on to the songs, first the jazziest number on the LP, second the song that started Dee Dee's career. If anything, Dee Dee's version of »Hurry On Down« shows that her LP was not only a »teen item« as most critics of the day had it. And »Slow Twistin'« is simply a wonderfully groovin' duet, is all. However, the LP-version of that song is different from the previous 45-version (see Postscript). Shimmy!

Dee Dee Sharp (*with Chubby Checker): »Hurry On Down« / *»Slow Twistin'« from Cameo LP # C 1018 (1962):

POSTSCRIPT, some days later ...
Per chance, I discovered that among my CDs I actually have the re-issue of Dee Dee Sharp's LP from 2010, released on Ace / ABKCO (CDCHD 1295). It contains fine liner notes by Ed Osborne, providing information I couldn't find anywhere else. Thus, to complete this post, let me add the following here from Osborne's booklet: »Hurry On Down« was recorded between April 7 and 18, 1962, in Philadelphia's Cameo Parkway & Reco-Art Sound. »Slow Twistin'« was recorded during the same time, and this is precious information: The LP-version of that song is, therefore, not identical to the 45 version recorded originally on January 23 (I didn't check that). The instrumental track is different and the vocals were recorded anew; only the backing group, The Dreamlovers, remained the same.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Staples Reloaded

In 1969, a lot of people, and especially the tradesmen in the record industry, had understood what market force gospel music had become. Emblematic for this growth in importance and sales numbers was the extraordinary success of »Oh Happy Day« by The Edwin Hawkins Singers. The song was known since the 18th century, but the new version by that local Californian choir opened up a new world. I'm not concerned with that song now. Rather, I would like to draw your attention to an interesting article by Daniel Goldberg which was published in the World Of Soul-special of the Billboard August 16, 1969, issue: »1969 - Gospel Makes Great Industry Strides« (pp. S16, 18 & 25). Here are some salient passages of that long article. It contains an interesting overview of the then relevant Gospel labels:

      It is perhaps paradoxical then, that 1969 should be referred to as a year when gospel is making great strides. It is also a little deceptive for in its purest sense gospel is not a field whose success can be judged by commercial standards alone (implicit in many religious teachings is the insignificance of worldly wealth). Nevertheless it is indisputable that in recent months, gospel has begun to emerge from the outskirts of the music world. Until recently it has been a relatively obscure musical cult, spawning many but in itself appealing to a faithful and widespread but small audience while gospel »stars« like James Cleveland or the Statesmen quartet remained largely unknown to the mass market.
    It is impossible to discuss gospel music without specifying what kind. The only thing that the word »gospel« implies is a connection to any of the many Christian churches in this country. The field divides itself into two very separate entities differing from each other culturally and musically. One of them is black or »soul« gospel, which comes out of black churches and has influenced virtually every major r&b artist. The music has the same African roots.
     Soul gospel fans are found wherever there are r&b fans: the major cities, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Nashville, Baltimore and throughout the south. In many of those areas there are strictly gospel radio stations, while in others, r&b stations devote part of their airtime to gospel programming.
    On the other side of the gospel spectrum is white of country gospel, correspond- ing in sound and appeal to the groowing country market. There is scarcely a country artist who has not put out an album of hymns at one time or another. Two of the biggest, Johnny Cash (»The Holy Land«) and Tammy Wynette (»Inspiration«) have had good activity on the pop chart with such material this year. Country gospel, aided by the fledgling Gospel Music Association is becoming a substantial field.

    And no account of gospel in the last few months would be complete without mention of »Oh Happy Day« which has stirred controversy throughout the black gospel world while capturing the fancy of the general public and becoming gospel's first RIAA certified million dollar record. Another sign of a growing interest in gospel was the move of two major record companies previously uninvolved in the field to come out with gospel series.
     The first was Buddah records who added to their »360 degree sound« when they came out with the »Sunday Series« as well as their contribution of the smash Edwin Hawkins Singers work. The other was Jubilee records who came out with an 11 album release earlier in the year complete with a publicity sweep through the south called the »Jubilee Gospel Train«. The Jubilee release consisted mainly of previous- ly unrecorded gospel artists, but included Novella Williams, Gospel Majors of Louis- ville and King Solomon's Choir. The Buddah release included albums by the Five Blind Boys, The Harmonizers, and The Staple Singers.
     Both of these newcomers dealt in the soul gospel line. Scarcely a newcomer to the field is the exclusively soul gospel Savoy Records of New Jersey. Savoy has some of the biggest names in the soul gospel business including James Cleveland, Dorothy Norwood and the Angelic Choir. Other artists recording for the label are the Davis Sisters who did »Wait A Little Longer« and Charles Banks. James Cleveland is probably the biggest draw and the most loved gospel soloist around. While someone like Mahalia Jackson (one of the few who has made the jump to a popular audience without a sacrifice in her content) restricts her performances to large public audi- toriums, Cleveland who has comparable popularity in gospel areas, will frequently play a small town church. By far his best selling record to date is »Peace Be Still« which has become a gospel classic, and still sells at the rate of 50,000 copies a year. Dorothy Norwood whose big hit was »The Denied Mother«, is the label's leading female soloist. Her most recent single is »The Prescription« which is a story-telling song. The Angelic Choir has backed up both artists, as well as record- ing by themselves. They backed up Cleveland on »Peace Be Still« and »Bread of Heaven« and currently have »He's Sweet I Know.« Another choir recording with Savoy is the Southern California Community Choir whose »Come See About Me« featuring Cleveland is their current release.
     Another major gospel label is Peacock, the gospel branch of Duke which is an r&b company. Some of their top artists are Rev. Julius Cheeks Jackson and the Sensational Nightingales, the Jackson Southernaires, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. They also have Rev. Cleophus Robinson whose LP »He Did It All« a collection of sermonettes and music is one of their best selling albums. Other of their top albums are: The Loving Sisters »Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King,« »Presenting the St. Matthews Baptist Church Choir,« and the Brooklyn Skyways, »The Unbelieving Man.« The biggest single for Peacock this year was »Too Late« by the Jackson Southernai- res.
     Hob is the gospel label of Scepter records, and in recent years it has become a major gospel force. Some of their major choirs are the New Hope Baptist Church Young Adult Choir which is directed by Ann Moss of the Drinkard sisters (Cissy Drinkard of the Sweet Inspirations also came from that group), the Thompson Community Singers, who are known for »I'll Trade a Lifetime« which was recorded with Rev. Milton Bronson, and the Brockington Ensemble who came out with a version of »Oh Happy Day« around the same time as the Pavillion smash. Other top Hob artists are Albertina Walker and the Caravans, the Swan Silvertones, who did »Only Believe« and Evangelist Shirley Caesar whose »Don't Drive Your Mama Away« was a major gospel hit.
     Nashboro is an exclusively gospel company whose top artists include The Brooklyn Allstars who are known for »He Said He Would Move,« Dorothy Love, The Swanee Quartet, the Original Gospel Harmonettes, and the Consolers who recorded »Lord Bring Me Down«.
     The United Artists subsidiary Veep, primarily an R&B label, has recorded gospel acts as well. Their leading soul gospel group is the Robert Patterson Singers who have an international reputation. Their current LP is »Live In Germany.«
     Chess records has a gospel line also. They have the Chicago quartet The Soul- sters (Sam Cooke's first group) who now have a song called »Soul Is In But Gospel Is Out of Sight,« The Majestic Choir, who have recorded »Let's All Walk a Little Bit Prouder,« the Violinaires, and Gene Vialli, a white singer who has a song called »What Color Is God?«

  Ralph Bass of Chess is not at all surprised by the growing commercial success of gospel. For yeears he has been talking about the possibility of what he calls »Gos-Pop,« gospel-oriented music with a mass popular appeal. There are a few artists who have become popular through gospel. The most prominent of there is Mahalia Jackson; others are Clara Ward and the Staple Singers. Bass believes that people now have the need for the kind of spiritual message that gospel provides, and that if presented correctly, gospel offers great appeal for the mass market. This opinion is shared by many others in the soul-gospel business who feel it is one of the most challenging musical fields.
     Others, however, view commercialization with disdain, feeling that using the sacred religious message for profit is a perversion of what is holy. They question the motives of gospel entertainers who would perform in a nightclub. The conflict between those who are in it for completely religious reasons and those who hope to make it a thriving commercial entity came to a head with the controversy sur- rounding »Oh Happy Day.«

1969, then, was a good year for gospel. As Goldberg noted, several record companies jumped for it, not the least among them Buddah Records from New York. They started to release a re-issue series (the Buddah 2000 series), putting out old records by the Five Blind Boys (of Alabama), The Caravans, The Harmonizing Four and ... The Staple Singers. All these LPs used Vee-Jay masters, and so did Buddah LP # BDS 2009: The Best Of The Staple Singers (on the label, we actually read The Very Best Of ... see below). The Staple Singers had by 1969 become famous on the Stax roster, and Mavis Staples had gone solo in spring 1969 (see here). But Buddah pos- sessed the rights to their old Vee-Jay recordings and they put them to good use in April 1969 when BDS 2009 was released. (I don't know whether the fact that the kitschy cover, showing a black Madonna instead of the artists, was likewise a result of copyright issues; after all, the Staples weren't signed to Buddah).

Cover of VJLP 5019 (1962)
Now, Vee-Jay LP # 5019 (The Best of The Staple Singers) had been in itself kind of an after- thought: Not because Best-Of-albums are by their very nature re-issues of older material, but because the Staple Singers were not even any longer signed to Vee-Jay when they put out this LP. They had switched from Vee-Jay to Riverside in Febuary 1962, but the Vee-Jay LP was released only in October. Staples reloaded, therefore, when there was no new material to be had ... but at least they put a wonderful group photo on the cover!
     The material released on the Vee-Jay LP was recorded between 1955 and 1961. There is one song from the very first session of the Staples for Vee-Jay (Chicago, Nov. 1, 1955: »God's Wonderful Love«), and various songs from the very last session on January 20, 1961. This is the tracklist (it's the same for the Vee-Jay LP and the Buddah re-issue), with recording dates. Original releases on 45rpm or LP are shown in brackets:
  • A1 »Uncloudy Day«, rec. Chic. Sept 11, 1956 (Vee-Jay # 224), Mavis lead vocals
  • A2 »I Know I've Got Religion«, rec. Chic. Sept. 11, 1956 (Vee-Jay # 224), Roebuck lead vcls
  • A3 »Will The Circle Be Unbroken« rec. Chic. Feb. 25, 1960 (Vee-Jay # 885), Roebuck lead vcls
  • A4 »God's Wonderful Love« rec. Chic. Nov. 1, 1955 (Vee-Jay # 169), Mavis lead vocals
  • A5 »Low Is The Way« rec. Chic. Jan. 9, 1958 (Vee-Jay # 866), Mavis lead vocals
  • A6 »Don't Knock« rec. Chic. Feb. 25, 1960 (Vee-Jay # 902), Mavis lead vocals
  • B1 »Let's Go Home« rec. Chic. Jan. 9, 1958 (Vee-Jay LP # 5000), Mavis & Roebuck lead vcls
  • B2 »I've Been Scorned« rec. Chic. Jan. 20, 1961 (Vee-Jay # 902), Roebuck lead vcls
  • B3 »Swing Low« rec. Chic. Jan. 20, 1961 (Vee-Jay # 912), Mavis lead vocals
  • B4 »Stand By Me« rec. Chic. Jan. 20, 1961 (Vee-Jay LP # 5014), Mavis lead vocals
  • B5 »Pray On« rec. Chic. Aug. 19, 1959 (Vee-Jay # 893), Mavis lead vocals
  • B6 »Downward Road« rec. Chic. Aug. 19, 1959 (Vee-Jay # 881), Mavis lead vocals
Mavis Staples, ca. 1964
This indeed covers much of the best the Staples recorded for Vee-Jay (starting with their initial smash »Uncloudy Day« ... »with Mavis singing a deep, erotic lead« as Anthony Heilbut wrote). It's as fine an anthology as there ever was, and the Vee-Jay recordings of the Staple Singers remain classics. And it was a time when they were still strongly connected to church circles. This only changed from 1962 onwards, when they started to play secular venues and turned towards folk and blues tunes. In August 1962, already contracted to the folk-jazz label Riverside, they made their first cabaret appearance. As this happened, their white audience listened up and the Staples were soon the darlings of the emerging folk circus. In spirit, if not so much in style, they were soon miles away from their Vee-Jay recordings.

Buddah LP # 2009 (1969, but label
design is post-1971)
Below, you can hear two songs from the Buddah LP # 2009 (and so from Vee-Jay LP # 5019 as well); both tunes have Mavis Staples singing lead. The first song, »Pray On« was originally released in November 1960. It is an uptempo shouter, »a frantic rhythm shout with Mavis belting like her idols Dorothy Love [Coates] and Ruth Davis« (Anthony Heilbut, The Gospel Sound, p. 279). The second song, the famous hymn »Stand By Me«, was composed back at the beginning of the 20th century by Charles Albert Tindley. There are numerous versions of it but few as heart-rending as Mavis's (see also below, postscript of March 26, 2012). And it's a beautiful song that very much transcends religious boundaries as well, speaking about the frailty of human exi- stence. For the record, Mavis takes some liberty with the lyrics; I transcribed them below.
Happy Sunday all!

The Staple Singers: »Pray On« / »Stand By Me« from the Buddah LP # 2009 (1969, rec. 1959/61):

When the storm of life is raging, stand by me
     When the storm of life is raging, stand by me
When this world is a-tossing me
Like a ship, oh yeah, out on the sea

     Thou who knowest the wind and water
     Come on, come on and stand by me.

When I done, done all I can
And my friends, oh yeah, they don't understand
     Thou who knowest, you know all about it
     Come on, come on and stand by me.

* * *
POSTSCRIPT 10/11/2011
I forgot to mention that Vee-Jay LP # 5019 was »reloaded« after 1962 the first time on Exodus, the short-lived label created when it was plain that Vee-Jay would fold soon (read more here). The LP # EX/EXS-64 was released in 1966. So this makes Buddah # 2009 actually the second re-issue, albeit the first from outside Vee-Jay/Exodus.

POSTSCRIPT March 26, 2012
From the liner notes of Clive Anderson (Charly CD # SNAP 282: The Staple Singers: Come Up In Glory. The Best of the Vee-Jay Years, 1955-1961, 2006):
The quality of the The Staple Singers' output for Vee-Jay remained uniformly high. Album tracks were never filler and sometimes represented the group's finest work. Their reading of Stand By Me ..., from the 20th January 1961, is a case in point. A sacred song penned by ... C.H. Tindley, it had been record- ed many times since The Pace Jubilee Singers put out their version on Victor in 1928.  ... [N]o interpretation has ever stood comparison with The Staple Singers' waxing. Their sense of light and shade, the simple precision of Roebuck's guitar and above all Mavis Staples' reticulated, fibrous lead were stunning.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Released Her, Finally

After her untimely death in August '84, Esther Phillips was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Compton, California. It took a benefit concert in April '85 to procure her mortal remains another resting place that would have, at least, her name on it. Herman Lubinsky of Savoy Records had seen her in 1949 in a L.A. amateur night and signed her right away. Johnny Otis, Greek by race but black of soul, produced her; aged 13, she was billed as »Little Esther«. It then happened that she had a r&b # 01 hit with her single »Double Crossing Blues« in spring 1950. She was the youngest female artist to achieve this, and this record has held ever since.

I am very happy that the name of Esther Phillips finally appears in this blog. Where to start? It took me a long while thinking about how to introduce her to my blog. There's so much to say about her. She was a strong personality, keeping her wits ready and never shy to have her say; she put the fist on the table if need be. But she was weak as well, succumbing again and again to devilish king heroin. The sad truth is that her strength was her weakness, and her weakness kept her strong.

She is the great underrated voice of 20th century music. If you heard her voice once you're not likely to ever forget it. There are obvious parallels in her life and art to Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Nina Simone, but Esther Phillips never reached, in the public imagination, their fame. That ain't right.

As I said, I got to make a start somewhere. Her 50s singles, her Lenox smash, her Atlantic sides, her short stint with Roulette, her fantastic and immortal Kudu recordings? Whatever. Let's start today with the last # 01 hit Esther Phillips had in any chart, »Release Me«. Arguably, it's her most famous song until today, although many wouldn't know the singer. It has become one of those »oldies but goodies« which flow from loudspea- kers in elevators and supermarkets (and Atlantic as early as 1967 marketed this song as a »vin- tage classic«, and in Dec. '68 the song appeared on the Original Sound sampler »Oldies But Goodies«). The tune also is more than a little atypical for what Esther would record during most of her career. Yes, her voice is here, in this song, you couldn't confound it. And yes, it's hell of a song. But it's the one song I wouldn't have chosen to build her fame. Alas, it can't be helped: great part of the fame Esther Phillips enjoys today is still bound up with this song.

»Release Me« was, well, released in October 1962 on the Lenox label. Having been a C&W hit for Ray Price in 1954, Esther's version shot up the charts and prompted Billboard to publish her »Artists' Biography« in the November 24, 1962, issue (p. 10). Lenox Records in itself was a curious business, since it had been established, as it were, for Esther Phillips. Behind it were Lelan Rogers and Bob Gans. Both were impressed with the recent successes of Solomon Burke and Ray Charles who took C&W tunes into the r&b field, and with Esther they intended to do the same. And they did.

Recorded in Nashville and backed by the Anita Kerr Singers (they are credited prominently on the back cover of Lenox LP # 227), Esther produced with »Release Me« the most soulful C&W-song ever. But C&W it remains, and it's funny to see in retrospect how a perspicacious Billboard critic arrived at saying that »it's a ballad somewhat in the country vein« (Oct. 13, '62, p. 40). Certainly somewhat! And along with the success of the single release of »Release Me« came the (obvious) idea to put out an album centered around that song. This LP, Lenox # LX 227, was then released in January 1963. On the back cover of the LP is a long excerpt from the November 17, 1962, issue of Music Reporter which provides many details about Esther's Nashville recordings for the LP. You can read it below (scroll down to the end).
Ad from Billboard (January 26, 1963)

First of all, Little Esther had to have another name for she was little no longer. Yet in order not to give up the resonance of »Little Esther« one retained the »Little« but put it into quotation marks. Newly fashioned was, however, the second part of her name: Phillips. As often reported, Esther had taken it from a billboard advertising Phillips 66 gasoline at a gas station in Houston. She had adopted that fake family name (her real one was Jones) already when she was gigging in Houston and thus before being signed by Lenox; but it was on the Lenox sides that »Phillips« for the first time appeared officially.

Aptly, the cover shows the title of Esther's recent hit in big letters and bears below it the subtitle »Reflections of Country and Western Greats«. This was certainly meant to remind the buyer of Ray Charles's LP »Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music«. What, however, the specification »Reflection 1« in the left lower part of the cover was meant to indicate I do not know. Was there to be another LP? Anyhow, there was no follow-up and Lenox, for all the initial success they had had, claimed bankruptcy before 1963 was over. Inevitably, a greater and financially more potent label stepped in at this point and preyed on the carcass of Lenox. Atlantic bought up all the Lenox masters and took over Esther Phillips as well. In February 1964, Esther was signed to Atlantic,with Jerry Wexler and the Ertegun brothers happily smiling for the event (photo from Billboard, February 8, 1964):

Atlantic then tried different things with Esther, seemingly without concept. They pushed her away from C&W-flavored r&b and eventually plunged her into the MOR- pool. They did two LPs with her, producing the weakest sides of Esther Phillips's entire career with Beatles covers and insipid answer songs. But I won't go into Esther's Atlantic period here. What needs to be said, though, is that the Atlantic makers were at their wits' end regarding Esther in 1966. She was obviously unhappy with the stuff she was given to sing, and her performances showed. After she had appeared at the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival in July, this is what a critic had to say:
»Esther Phillips, who can sing such great blues, followed and it was immediately discernible that this was not her night. Not that she didn't sing the blues well (her unnecessary pop tunes suffered from the faulty intonation, however), but she was backed atrociously by a trio that showed an amazing lack of familiarity with the kind of music she has performed so well over the years« (Billboard, July 16, 1966, p. 38).
What is more, she was back on heroin and wouldn't get off it during the following years. Atlantic at this point remembered the Lenox masters and put them out again on an Atlantic LP. This album was entitled The Country Side Of Esther Phillips and actually a re-issue of Lenox LP # 227; only the sequence of songs was changed. It was, for all marketing purposes, sold as a seemingly newly recorded LP and was as such received in much of the contemporary press. Only a little note on the back cover said »The selections contained in this LP were previously issued on the album "Release Me" on Lenox Records.« It was to be Esther Phillips's last Atlantic studio LP (and it wasn't even that!) for many years.

Here is the song. The first version is ripped from the Lenox LP # 227 (mono). The second version is of my own making: I mixed the two mono recordings from Lenox LP # 227 and Atlantic LP # 8130 and produced kind of a fake stereo version. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

Esther Phillips: »Release Me« from the Lenox LP # LX 227 (1963, rec. 1962):

And as one song seems a bit poor for this lengthy post, you can hear »No Headstone On My Grave« in the following. It was penned by Arkansas-born country singer (and Elvis's buddy) Charlie Rich and is about the bluesiest tune to be found on Lenox LP # 227. Thus it was an obvious choice for this blog. But there's more to it: Reportedly, it was this very song which Kenny Rogers (the C&W singer) heard in a Houston club back in 1962, sung by Little Esther. Kenny then told his brother Lelan (also »Leland«) about it. Lelan Edward Rogers then got interested in Esther and eventually set up Lenox Records with Bob Gans. The rest is history. Saddest thing is, however, that this song sounds right only from the lips of Esther Phillips, as she got no headstone at first. Sometimes you just wouldn't like songs to come true.

Esther Phillips: »No Headstone On My Grave« from the Lenox LP »Release Me!« (1963):

* * *

Notes from the back cover of Lenox LP # 227 / Excerpts from the November 17, 1962, issue of Music Reporter. By Nola Jaye:
  It was 3 a.m. and as the recording session moved to towards its fourth hour, 23 musicians and singers milled quietly about the microphone and sound-screen jungle. There was no talking (...). There was an atmosphere of reverence and respect seldom seen. The crew listened to the final note of the playback of the song just recorded. Then, everyone applauded.
  Everyone but the short, solidly built negro girl in the gray flannel slacks. The applause was for her.
  The dramatic reaction was a spontaneous tribute to the 26-year old singer known to the world of show business as 'Little' Esther. She is one of the hottest singing properties in the country and the applause came halfway through a seven hour recording session for her first Lenox Records album.
  That session has already carved a niche in Music City as a new born legend. The musicians and the Anita Kerr Singers are still talking about the spunky singer's refusal to take rest periods and how she cut one song after another with almost flawless perfection. There were few retakes as Esther recorded 10 sides
[that is, all songs of the LP except »Release Me«].
  A songwriter with five BMI awards to his credit called the session 'The most enjoyable night of my life ... I was exhausted when I walked in but she made me forget whether it was day or night.'
  A publishing company rep with 20 years in the trade called it, 'The greatest album I have ever heard recorded.'
  Bass man Bobby Moore exclaimed, 'Little Esther picks up where others end.'
  The whole story of the session is loaded with the kind of dramatics that would make Hollywood script writers flip in wide-screen, technicolor somersaults.
  First, the star, 'Little' Esther, walked into the session in the wake of a hit-wave that ended thirteen years without a hit for her. The gifted singer's 'Release Me' in Lenox Records passed the 200,000 sales mark the afternoon of that session. (...)
  In real movie style, Esther was belting out blues six nights a week in Texas oil towns for $75 a week. One night, while Bob Gans (...) was in Houston, Lelan Rogers took him to see and hear Esther's performance. Gans was so impressed he signed her on the spot, and within weeks she waxed the old Ray Price C & W spell-binder, 'Release Me.' Tradesmen figure it is possible for this tune, which into the top 40 of the Big 100 in just three weeks, to become the number one record in the nation.
  Bob Jennings, of Four Star Sales, says he can't get over the 'Little' Esther LP session. 'Musicians hear so much here,' he explained, 'that nothing moves them. And, some of these people had started working on other sessions at 9 a.m. the day before ... it was 3 a.m. and they laid aside their instruments and applauded.'
  Nashville's number one nighttime pop deejay, Audie Ashworth of WKDA, said: 'She worked so steady and sung so hard ... she's got to be a great talent. And those arrangements ... I've never seen or heard anything like it.' (...)
  Esther took the praise in stride with a beaming, winning smile. At one point, after finishing an applause winning performance of Hank Williams' C & W evergreen, 'I Can't Help It,' a musician remarked, 'Esther, that was out of this world.'
  She shook her head, smiled wistfully and said, 'That Mr. Williams is too tough for little Esther to cut.'

  Esther Phillips presents this album to you with all her heart and soul - particularly the latter.