Thursday, March 20, 2008

S4L Showdown II: "The Charmels vs. The Emotions"

For the second chapter of the "S4L Showdown" I'm puttin' Washington's own Charmels up against the ladies from the Windy City; The Emotions. In the spotlight, we have the soulful, "As Long As I've Got You," penned by Stax hitmakers, Issac Hayes & David Porter.

Both groups recorded for the Stax subsidiary, Volt and both versions were produced by Hayes & Porter but only The Charmels 1967 recording ever saw a commercial release. Two years later, during their very first session for Stax, The Emotions began recording their cover. Unfortunately, the one-take song was scrapped and the tapes wound up locked away in the Stax vaults as an unfinished demo.

The bad news is The Charmels 45 is hard as hell to find and even more so if you're not willing to fork over at least $100-$200. The good news is, over the years, the song has popped up on quite a few compilations. You can find it here on Stax/Volt: The Complete Singles, Vol. 9 or here on the 2004 comp, Stax Breaks.

The Emotions version can be found on the 2004 collection of rare and unreleased material; Songs of Innocence & Experience, available here.

Listen (password req'd)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Major Harris - Jealousy

Sorry this one's a little late folks. I was holdin' off posting it until I could clean up the vinyl a bit. Never got around it, but no matter.
Born on February 9, 1947 in Richmond, VA, Major Harris III (yup, that IS his birth name) represents the continuation of a long musical legacy, with vaudeville-performing grandparents, a professional guitarist father, choir-directing mother, and talented sibling (Joe Jefferson, Philly songsmith who penned major hits for the Detroit Spinners) and cousin (legendary guitarist, songwriter, and super-producer Norman Harris). With a lineage like that, it was pretty much predestined for Major to make his mark on the music world. It would, however be twenty-eight long years of dues paying before he'd make that mark.

Major started out, like so many other soul legends, singing in church and later in junior high school, where he'd sing in the bathroom, "cause you know, it had that sound in there," he explained in a 2001 chat session over at (you can read the complete transcript here).

In following years, Harris performed with numerous R&B groups, including The Charmers, Frankie Lymon's Teenagers, and The Jarmels. He recorded as the lead with Philly group The Nat Turner Rebellion, and released a few solo sides for both Okeh and Laurie labels; none of these efforts, however, garnered much success. In 1970, Major joined The Delfonics as a replacement for Randy Cain (who would later go on to help form the group Blue Magic).

In 1974 he left the group and put together his own band [in an effort] to try his hand as the frontman for a new act. He successfully landed a deal with WMOT (We Men Of Talent) Productions, which in turn quickly led to a label signing with Atlantic records, and release of the single "Each Morning I Wake Up," credited to The Major Harris Boogie Blues Band. The outfit, comprised of Harris, Allison Hobbs, Phyllis Newman & Karen Dempsey, enjoyed minimal success with the single, but it was to be Harris's next release as a solo act that would become his first big hit.

Pulled from on his '75 debut album My Way, the timeless ballad, "Love Won't Let Me Wait," penned by guitarist Bobby Eli, skyrocketed to the top spot on the R&B chart and climbed as high as number five on Billboard's pop chart. The song would go on to sell 8 million copies worldwide.

The following year, Major released his second LP for Atlantic. Sticking to the formula that created his first album, Jealousy was loaded with the usual Philly soul ingredients, lush orchestration by MFSB, arrangements by Norman Harris, Ron Kersey, and Bobby Eli, and background vocals by "The Sweethearts of Sigma," a trio of made up of Barbara Ingram, Carla & Yvette Benson, also known as "The Sweeties," (basically Philly soul's equivalent of the southern soul's Sweet Inspirations) all cooked down at Joe Tarisa's Sigma Sound Studio for that signature, silky-smooth, slick sound. [How's that for alliteration?]

Still, with all that going for it, the album stalled on the charts. The same year, Major hit the stage with labelmates Blue Magic and Margie Joseph at New Jersey's Latin Casino; the end result was the 2-LP set, Live.

In 1978, Major signed with RCA records, where he teamed up with producer Jerry Ragavoy for his next solo lp, How Do You Take Your Love. After the solo hits stopped coming, Harris reunited with the The Delfonics and enjoyed a busy touring schedule.

In 1984, Harris took another break from the group and went back into the studio as a soloist, this time with Butch Ingram (brother to Barbara (see above)). Butch, former lead member of the family group The Ingram Kingdom (later redubbed Ingram), took the helm as the project's sole producer and arranger. The end result was the Streetwave records release, I Believe In Love.

Throughout the next two decades, Harris reunited with The Delfonics several times and was featured on the group's 1999 album, Forever New. As of this writing, he continues to tour both as a solo act, as well as part of The Delfonics with original members William Hart & Randy Cain.

If you're looking for Major Harris reissue material, the best place to go iz 'zon or Dusty Groove-- at either you can track down his first solo LP, My Way, as a Japanese import and the WMOT Live album with Margie Joseph & Blue Magic as an affordable US reissue on Collectables. As for Jealousy... sorry this one's still in the vaults. On the bright side, you can easily find low-cost original vinyl pressings of it and most of Major's other albums on the bay or GEMM pretty easily.

Featured cut: "Jealousy"
Help yourself to my vinyl rip here. [Note: this one's a li'l dusty in spots, but who cares; if you're really into this kinda stuff, a little needle noise shouldn't matter right? It comes with the territory.] Anyway, judge for yourself. The audio is more than good enough to decide whether or not you wanna drop coin on yer own copy. Who knows... if time allows, maybe I'll re-rip it after a good scrubbing.

[Sidebar: It's a long story with more than I care to get into but I'll boil it down and try not to bore y'all with the details. It goes like this....

I'd been putting it off for years because of the ridiculous price tag, but a flooded basement and a few crates of mildew-ridden vinyl made it a necessity, so I gave in and nabbed one of those pricey record cleaning machines for a steal on a certain auction site. Great right? Wrong!! The seller pulled a fast one on me and I wound up gettin' got. Well... kinda. . He had a high enough positive rating for selling high-end audio gear, so I didn't balk when, after shellin' out my hard-earned shekels, 2 weeks pass by with no deliveries from my friendly neighborhood postal carrier. It looked like he was playing some kinda waiting game that stretched on for about four weeks. When I finally spoke up, he claimed stories like he was out of town, missed the end of the auction then had a friend ship it; then the friend went on holiday and couldn't be reached for info. Really?? All the while he maintained he had no idea where it could be and that I should keep waiting for it to arrive. After a few more letters from me, he offered me a refund and said if it showed up we'd deal with it later. Now lemme get this straight, you sell something worth almost $400, have no idea where it is and cheerfully offer to give up the only thing you have to show for it?? That's so nice.....too nice. Maybe I'm wrong, but something just doesn't sound right about that. I have absolutely no way of proving it, but my conspiratorial gut tells me he probably wanted a bigger fish and decided to throw me back. I guess I have no real beef since I did get my dough back. But still...]

Monday, March 3, 2008

Betty Everett - There'll Come A Time

Most folks remember Betty Everett primarily for one huge pop hit in the 60's, but she was also a phenomenal soul singer who, like so many others, has amassed a huge catalog of excellent sides that have been ignored by the general public.

Betty, born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1939, started playing the piano and singing in church at the age of nine. She continued singing in gospel choirs as she grew up, finally moving to Chicago in 1957.

She recorded songs on some of the local Chicago labels such as C.J., Cobra and OneDerful in the late 50s and early 60s, scoring local hits such as "I'll Be There" and "I've Got A Claim On You." In the early sixties she signed with Vee-Jay records. One of her first releases for the label was "You're No Good," a midtempo number that stalled just short of the Top 50 late in 1963.

[Sidebar: In 1974, cover queen Linda Ronstadt's rendition of "You're No Good" skyrocketed to number one in the United States.]
Everett finally hit pay dirt when she recorded the Top 10 smash, "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)" in the Spring of 1964.

[Sidebar: "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)" was covered by Linda Lewis and made it to the Top 10 in the UK. Cher took a turn at covering "The Shoop Shoop Song" in 1990 and reached #33 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in the U.S., #3 in Germany and France, #5 in Australia and #1 in the UK making it her most successful single to date, selling more than six million copies worldwide.]

Her follow-up Vee-Jay releases,including "I Can't Hear You" and "Getting Mighty Crowded" didn't fare as well, however.

Later in 1964, Betty performed a duet with another prominent Chicago-area singer, Jerry Butler, that landed her her second Top 10 hit. Other Everett/Butler singles followed, as well an entire album of duets entitled Delicious Together.

After Vee Jay folded in 1966, Betty signed to ABC records but found no commercial success. Finally, in 1969, Everett signed with Uni records, where she released her 1969 LP, There'll Come A Time. The title track would wind up being both her last top forty hit as well as her first entry in the soul charts, climbing to the number two spot.

In the following years, Betty continued recording and managed to place five more records onto the soul charts among her releases for Uni, Fantasy, and Sound Stage 7 labels between 1970 and 1977.

From the 1980s until her death, Everett resided in Beloit, Wisconsin, where she was involved in the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and the churches of the Fountain of Life and New Covenant. In 2000, she made her last public appearance on the PBS special Doo Wop 51.

Everett died in her home in Beloit on August 19, 2001; she was 61 years old.

For this week's post, I've pulled out Betty Everett's 1969 Uni LP, "There'll Come a Time". reviewer Richie Unterberger gives his $.02 about the album. [There'll Come a Time] ...has much more of a sweet soul flavor than her Vee-Jay sides, at times blending the trademarks of her brassy native Chicago scene with a Philadelphia influence. It's far from too sweet, though, with strong material, punchy arrangements, and Everett's always dependably energetic and warm vocals. It also contains the R&B hit "I Can't Say No to You."

If you can find it, the now out of print 1995 Varese Sarabande CD reissue includes three hard-to-find singles released between 1969 and 1970 that were previously unavailable on any album, including the Top 20 R&B hit "It's Been a Long Time," penned by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Jerry Butler with arrangements handled masterfully by Donny Hathaway.

If you're looking for the CD reissue, the last time I checked there was a pricey copy still up for grabs on but you can always try your luck here instead.

You could also try to snag an original vinyl copy on the 'bay or maybe even GEMM.

Featured cut: "1900 Yesterday"

Listen to the full album here