Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Sweet Inspirations - Sweet Sweet Soul

The Sweet Inspirations were formed by Emily "Cissy" Drinkard (later taking the surname Houston after marriage). In the fifties, Cissy, her sister Lee (mother to Dee Dee & Dionne Warwick), along with Judy Guions (who later became Judy Clay), Marie Epps, Larry Drinkard, Nicholas Drinkard, Ann Moss were members of The Drinkard Singers, a family-based group that marked history in 1958 by having the first gospel album to appear on a major label.

In the early sixties, a collection of female vocalists consisting of Doris Troy, Dee Dee & Dionne Warwick found themselves in great demand by producers and songwriters throughout the industry. Around 1963, Doris and Dionne dropped out of the outfit to pursure solo careers and Sylvia Shemwell (sister to Judy Clay) and Cissy Houston stepped in to fill the gap with Cissy as leader of the troupe. When Dee Dee bowed out of the group in 1965 to nurture her own recording carreer, Myrna Smith served as her replacement. Shortly after, Soon after, Estelle Brown joined the group to complete the line-up.

In March 1967, the girls provided back up vocals for Van Morrison's classic, "Brown Eyed Girl". At this time the group still didn't have a name so one day at the suggestion of R&B crooner Chuck Jackson, the quartet was dubbed The Sweet Inspirations. One month later after the Morrison recording, the group recorded its first sides for Atlantic records. One of the tunes was a cover of the Staples Singers song, "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)". You can hear Sweet's version of "Why" on the jukebox featured on this site. While the singles did little in the way of sales, Atlantic stuck with the group and released their self-titled debut LP.

A few months later, The Sweets headed back into the studio again to work on their follow-up LP, a Gospel set entitled, Songs Of Faith & Inspiration. It was released in 1968 under the name "Cissy Drinkard & The Sweet Inspirations".

Not wasting any time, fresh off the Gospel album release, the ladies quickly got to work on their next project. The end product was the 1968 album, "What The World Needs Now Is Love". The LP featured two charting cuts the first, a cover of "To Love Somebody" originally recoded by the Bee Gees and the second, a soulful reading of the Righteous Brothers hit, "Unchained Melody". By this time, the Sweets had begun working with Elvis Presley in dual roles as backup singers and opening act.

The group's 4th Atlantic LP Sweets For My Sweet was issued early in 1969. For this set, the followed the formula of their first LP utilizing Alabama's Muscle Shoals rhythm section as the main backing band.

The ladies ventured into Philly's Sigma Sound Studio where they hooked up with Gamble & Huff staff producer, Ugene Dozier to begin laying groundwork for their next LP. Cissy's last recording date with the quartet was in October 1969, since left the group to pursue a solo career and put more focus on raising a family (I didn't bother to mention eaerlier that Cissy is the mother of Whitney Houston, I figured it was common knowledge already). The session produced the girls' next R&B hit, "Gotta Find Me A Brand New Lover" penned by Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. With Cissy's departure, Ann Williams signed on to finish the rest of the recordings that would make up the group's fifth and final album for Atlantic; Sweet Sweet Soul, released in 1970.

Williams left the group during a 1971 tour with Elvis. The girls pressed on as a trio recording the album, Estelle, Myrna and Sylvia for Stax in 1973.

In 1977, the Sweets teamed up with Philadelphia producer/arranger Richie Rome to record the one-off single, "Black Sunday". Released on CBS subsidiary, Caribou Records, the song was a disco take on a John Williams composition for the motion picture of the same name.

In 1979, another line-up change saw Gloria Brown replacing Estelle Smith. Brown toured with the group but didn't actually sing on their last album, Hot Butterfly issued in 1979 on RSO records. After a tour as the featured act on the Bee Gees' Spirit's Having Flown Tour, the Sweets disbanded.

The group reformed in 1994 with new member, Portia Griffin. In 2005, an all new full-length project entitled, In The Right Place was released on Frixion records. For the latest info on the group, visit their official website here.

In 2002, Sweet Sweet Soul was reissued on CD alongside Sweets For My Sweet as part of a 2-fer series on Spy Records (a division of Rhino). If you're interested, click here and grab a copy's been out for six years already...who knows when it'll go OOP.

If CDs aren't for you and you just gotta have that flat black plastic, then you can get it right here.

Featured cut: "At Last I've Found A Love"

For the full album, listen here (password req'd)

1 comment:

bll said...

Never thought I would get to hear this album again, thanks a lot. It is one of the shortest LP's ever. But the 20+ minutes we get is sheer magic early Philly sound.

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