Friday, July 06, 2012

Driving People Bananas

Atlantic LP # 8120
After his fabulous success with »Mercy, Mercy« (feat. Jimi Hendrix on guitar) Don Covay was soon picked up by Atlantic. In February 1966, they put out his album See-Saw, the second on Atlantic but actually the first entirely produced and recorded under Wexler's supervision; it has acquired its place in the history of memorable covers, showing a decently dressed white girl in a wintery landscape on a see-saw ... so much for Atlantic's shrewd (if inherently racist) policy of how to sell the energy-loaded music of a black singer, tall, handsome and sexually attractive, to the mainstream market in mid-60s America.

Covay's initial time at Atlantic was not as successful as many had hoped for, the only hit in 1965-66 being the album's title song »See-Saw«. What most don't know, however, or do not care to remember, is that four of the album's 12 songs were written by Steve Cropper & Covay and recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis on 30 June '65: »See-Saw«, »I Never Get Enough Of Your Love«, »Iron Out The Rough Spots« and »Sookie Sookie«. (According to some, »Iron Out The Rough Spots« was recorded in a later session but this is almost certainly wrong.) The personnel playing in the June '65 session was actually made up of Booker T. & the MG's, together with other known Stax session musicians: Duck Dunn, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson, Booker T Jones, Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love and Floyd Newman. Hard to think of anything more »Stax« than this mix! And indeed, those four songs are about the best on this album which has its fair share of fillers; hear two of them below.

In the Stax studio: Jim Stewart, Don Covay, Steve Cropper, David Porter (right to left); photo from Rob Bowman's Soulsville U.S.A.

As is known, Atlantic brought on several occasions promising singers to Memphis, and for the use of the Stax studio and musicians Atlantic then split with Stax the publishing and Stax got a share of the sales from Atlantic product recorded in Memphis. Before Wexler headed to Memphis with Covay, Atlantic had recorded Wilson Pickett there. So towards the end of June, Covay appeared in the Stax Studio. Rob Bowman in Soulsville U.S.A. has some details about the Covay sessions (p. 62 f.); in particular he quotes Steve Cropper with the words:
I remember that Jim Stewart [the boss of Stax] called Jerry Wexler and said, 'Get Don Covay out of here. He's driving us nuts.' Don Covay was a little bit on the weird side. I loved Don to death. We get along great but I don't think Jim and them understood Don. He ... was kind of driving people bananas. ... He's kind of frantic when he makes decisions. He jumps from this place to that. You never know what he's gonna do next.
Bowman puts this a bit more neatly in saying that »Covay's high energy and extreme unpredictability were the antithesis of Jim Stewart's banker personality«.

Both Pickett and Covay were difficult to work with and their respective Stax sessions turned out to be rather turbulent. What is more, the Stax studio musicians started to rebel and Jim Stewart was likewise not gifted with undue patience. So after the Pickett and Covay sessions, Stax wouldn't let Atlantic stars record as often or as easily as before. However, the Covay sessions produced some prime Memphis soul from the first heyday of the legendary Stax sound.

Don Covay: »Iron Out The Rough Spots« / »Sookie Sookie« from the Atlantic LP # 8120 (1966):

1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog today. Great post about one of my all-time fav. soul men.