Joe Goldmark is not only a musician but also a scholar, whose International Steel Guitar and Dobro Discography – “a resource book that attempts to list every steel guitar and Dobro instrumental ever recorded” – is a fascinating reference tool for those interested in Syd Nathan’s King Records legacy.
Jerry Byrd – one-time steel guitarist for Hank Williams – recorded four songs at Cincinnati’s King Records studio on October 29, 1954 as part of The Country Cats (with Al Myers on guitar). “Mountain Mambo,” is the A-side of a King 45 that playfully incorporates Latin elements within a hillbilly jazz framework:
“Mountain Mambo” The Country Cats (featuring Jerry Byrd) 1954
Audio clip includes excellent B-side, “Hot Strings.”
Thanks to The Jerry Byrd Fan Club website, I now know that “during the 1950s, Jerry Byrd upgraded to a seven-string, pre-war model of the same Rickenbacker Bakelite steel guitar (as pictured below). He was playing this fine instrument while on WLW radio in Cincinnati, Ohio, and recorded his popular Decca album, Hi-Fi Guitar, using this guitar.”
Steel Guitarists – and the Music Historians Who Love Them
Listed below are the other King/Federal/Deluxe/Audio Lab recordings referenced in The International Steel Guitar & Dobro Discography, with the names of the featured steel guitarists – where known and/or applicable – indicated in parentheses:
New!Streaming audio for many of the recordings below:
Son’s of Funk – i.e., Fred Wesley & the JB’s – with their 1972 single release on the King label:
“From the Back Side (Pt. 1)” Son’s of Funk 1972
Is it really true – as YouTube contributor, BuckeyeCat2002, recalls – that “this James Brown / Fred Wesley cut was given to King Records as a going away present by James Brown?”
As it turns out, both parts of this rare soul 45 would be included in Ace’s top-notch collection of King Funk, and Dean Rudland’s CD liner notes affirm that this two-part instrumental recording by The JB’s was, indeed, “given to King as a favour by James himself a couple of years after he had left to go to Polydor.”
Even though the artist on this track is but one of several amusing variant names for Fred Wesley & the JBs, it is fascinating nevertheless to discover that this 45 would be the only one to be released under the name, Sons of Funk.
Brown’s last release for King would be “Soul Power (pt. 1),” which reached #3 on the soul chart and hit the US Top 40 (#29), as well as UK Top 100 (#78) in 1971. The Collins brothers, Bootsy and Catfish – neighborhood kids who lived close to the King studio – played as part of The JBs on “Soul Power,” an epic 3-part soul tune that was, curiously enough, recorded in Washington, DC.
Brown’s first single release for Polydor meanwhile – “Escape-ism (pt. 1)” which was written by Brown’s arranger & bandleader, David Matthews – would hit Top 10 R&B (#6) and Top 40 (#35) in the US.
King wasn’t the only independent label in the early rock era to dabble in various sounds and musical genres; nevertheless, it’s still pretty hard to beat King for its sheer stylistic breadth. While never really considered much of a “rock” label, King nevertheless signed another Beatle-sounding group (besides Them) called The Impacs, who – judging by the Fender guitars on their two King album covers – look like they might also have a little west coast surf in their sound.
The Impacs first recording session on December 10, 1963 yielded 28 songs, of which 12 (including “Cat Walk”; “The Grab”; “Hamburger”; “Ambush”; “Love Struck” & “The Breeze”) would remain unreleased. One more round of recording on May 12-13, 1964 would yield 8 more songs, all of them seeing light of day as single and/or album tracks. All recording was done “principally” in Miami.
An avid collector of 45s once described The Impacs as “surf rock” within the context of “pre 65 garage” music. Of the five King 45s released, only one is available for preview, however, on YouTube – but it’s classic:
I suspect the B-side, “Cape Kennedy Fla,” and album track, “Music for a Space Station,” are both instrumentals, as I know “Kool It” and “Zot” both to be.
The Impacs King Discography
King 45 #5851 “Two Strangers” b/w “Jo-Ann” 1964
King 45 #5863 “Shimmy Shimmy” b/w “Zot” 1964
King 45 #5891 “Kool It” b/w “She Didn’t Even Say Hello” 1964
King 45 #5910 “Ain’t That the Way Life Is” b/w “Don’t Cry Baby” 1964
King 45 #5965 “Your Mama Put the Hurt on Me” b/w “Cape Kennedy Fla” 1964
Just weeks following The Beatles’ landmark first appearances on television’s Ed Sullivan Show, King Records would lease recordings belonging to a “European” group by the name of The Beehives, whose versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” would grace both sides of their one and only King 45 released in April, 1964.
Later that same year in September, a Cincinnati group by the name of Them would record a handful of songs at the King recording studio — “Don’t Look Now,” with its obvious Mersey influence, would see release as the A-side of a King 45:
“The Torquays were started in 1961 by a couple of students at Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills High School. After a couple years of building their skills and reputation, they got a contract with King records in September 1964 to record their first 45. The band decided to change their name to Them (after the 50s film, without any knowledge of the Irish band, Them, with Van Morrison) prior to the record’s release, allegedly because a band in Lexington, KY was using the Torquays name. The 45 that emerged turned out to be a classic two-sider – “Don’t Look Now” b/w “A Girl Like You”, featured on many “compilations” of 60s garage band music.
“Them kept getting bigger and bigger, while the band members attended the University of Cincinnati by the fall of ’64. Between appearances at U.C. dances, teen dances, fundraisers, etc., Them were the biggest group in town. In the fall of ’65 Them got a regular TV gig on “Between Time,” a teen-oriented variety show on Cincy’s WCPO TV. They added Mary Ellen Tanner, a beautiful singer, and later Steve Welkom, a guitarist and singer who was a few years younger than the other members and brought the band some of more harder edged ’66 era garage influences.
“It was Steve who composed the A-side of Them’s second 45, “Baby (I Still Need Your Lovin’). Before the recording, Them had been negotiating with the American arm of Brian Epstein’s management for a contract. The second 45 was also recorded at King, but the record was released on the short-lived Toy Tiger label, run by local promoter Don Litwin, who also had a connection to Cincinnati resident and future famed film scorer, Randy Edelman. Edelman was connected to a vocal group, the Strangers in Town, who recorded a 45 on Toy Tiger with Them providing the music.
“The Toy Tiger 45 was released twice, first using the name TTHHEEMM and another pressing as It’s Them to prevent confusion with the Irish band and to avoid potential interference if they got a contract with Epstein. For some reason the record is very hard to find (the Buckeye Beat team wants a copy badly, please!). “Baby I Still Need Your Lovin'” is an absolutely great piece of snarlin’ garage rock featuring [future Adrian Belew producer] Stan Hertzman on the organ.
I wish I could say that this slice of 1970 sunshine pop released by King Records was recorded in Cincinnati; however, Michel Ruppli’s 2-volume King discography indicates the recording to have taken place in Los Angeles on May 21, 1970. Check out the fancy picture sleeve worked up by the Starday-King art department for this single release.
Even better, check out the art work for their 1971 King album —
Frank’s Vinyl Museum has a hilarious piece about the group’s debut 45 – the museum’s “first 45 rpm single” as it turns out:
The first 45rpm single in Frank’s Vinyl Museum is brought to us by Starday-King Records in Nashville (a city that seems to have been quite adept at producing this kind of thrift-store quality record). I was drawn to this disc by its title — The Establishment. What a name for a band! What were these guys thinking? That they’d be the “alternative” rock band for sensible folks who didn’t identify with the counterculture? Or did they once hear some hippies talking about “the establishment” and mistake it for a cool buzzword?
Pretty certain dogs are no longer allowed to ride motorcycles in music videos
Attached to Frank’s piece are comments from three former members of The Establishment, as well as history from family members who note, for instance, that the group served as part of Jonathan Winters’ backing ensemble for his TV variety show.
Two of the three songs recorded in Los Angeles were issued as a 45, while the third track – “Don’t Let Go” – remains unissued to this day. In August, 1970, The Establishment would record eight songs over two days in Nashville and issue them – along with their 45’s A & B sides – as The Establishment, their lone LP for King. “House of Jack” from these Nashville sessions would also get issued as a promo single.
There is, interestingly enough, a Japanese label that shares the name King Records. Japan’s King Records even predates Cincinnati’s King Records by twelve years or so.
But back in 1970, it was Cincinnati’s King Records who released two LPs and exactly three 45s by an “all-girl” Japanese pop group, The Tokyo Happy Coats, who are five sisters, we are told — Eiko, Keiko, Shoko, Tomiko & Ruriko Hakomori. This would make at least three prominent family acts vying for dominance on the pop chart at the dawn of the 70s: The Jackson 5, The Osmonds & The Hakomori Sisters of Tokyo Happy Coats.
Ed Sullivan Show – February 27, 1966 (source: William Bickel)
I confess I am still bewildered by the fact that I only just now found out about these “guys.” Did any of the local stores in my Cincinnati hometown stock The Tokyo Happy Coats in the early 1970s, I wonder — back when Ultraman, the Japanese space superhero television series, was broadcast regularly on Cincinnati’s local independent station, WXIX (channel 19 in Roman numerals)? Check out the gals’ take on Sonny & Cher’s “Beat Goes On” from their 1970 live club performance LP, The Tokyo Happy Coats Live:
“The Beat Goes On” The Tokyo Happy Coats 1970
Music writer, Ken Shimamoto (The Stash Dauber) writes a fascinating first-person essay that leads into a review of and “appreciation” for The Tokyo Happy Coats from which we learn that “they were a lounge act that toured the states pretty extensively from the mid-’60s on, playing Las Vegas and The Ed Sullivan Show, as well as dives in Pittsburgh and Detroit. Between ’em, those Happy Coats played a whopping 26 instruments.” Shimamoto perfectly captures the oddball element in this real-life transcontinental story when he observes, “incredibly, they used to record for King Records, the same label as James Brown.” Even more revealing are the heartfelt and enthusiastic comments attached to this blog piece that attest to the group’s magnetism, as well as magnanimity.
Starday-King (the King label having been consolidated with Starday upon the death of founder, Syd Nathan in 1968) actually leased these recordings from another label — the discography does not indicate where. What’s odd, however, especially in light of their popularity, is the complete absence of Tokyo Happy Coats recordings in either 45Cat or Discogs apart from these five Starday-King releases.
Billboard‘s June 13, 1970 edition reports that the “Tokyo Happy Coats, another of the Starday-King acts, opened at the Sahara Tahoe on June 4. They recently released their first single, ‘Forevermore,’ and their first album, The Tokyo Happy Coats Live.”
“An Astro Sonic Production” – distributed by Starday-King
Of course, no discussion about Cincinnati in song would be complete without a reference to the city’s storied indie label that helped give birth to rock & roll music – King Records.
September 14, 1967 may not be a date that registers strongly in Cincinnati local history, but it should: for on this date, James Crawford recorded a mighty slice of James Brown-produced funk – “Fat Eddie” – at King’s recording studios on Brewster Avenue:
A member of the James Brown Revue for several years, Crawford is one of several artists who were so mesmerised by the Great Man’s personality and success that they attempted to make their vocal styles indistinguishable from the real thing. He came from Toccoa, Georgia where he sang with a young Bobby Byrd in the Gospel Starlighters, and where he may have started his involvement with JB. Crawford never really mastered James’ crude “rasp”, having a naturally purer tone to his voice, but his sense of timing and dynamics are straight Brown. No doubt the presence of Brown sidemen like Nat Jones – not to mention James’ own production skills – reinforced this tendency.
He cut some funk/boogaloo tracks of course, like “Much Too Much”, “Help Poor Me” and “Honest I Do” but also recorded some really cracking ballads. “Strung Out” was the first, a simple but very effective song. A great plodding bass line, piano triplets and subdued horns back Crawford up as his voice cracks with emotion – lovely. “Stop And Think It Over” is another first rate performance, over a stop/go structured ballad, with minor keyed chord changes and a sympathetic string section. Think Brother James on “Man’s Man’s World” and you’ll be in the right territory.
“Hooray For The Child Who Has It’s Own” is fine deep soul as well, the “climbing” horn chart and arpeggio piano giving Crawford room to show his abilities. “I’ll Work It Out” may just be the best of the bunch though. For my money it’s his most committed and emotionally compelling effort, and the backing is just magic, with the guitar and horns meshing to superb effect.
Cincinnati is hardly the first American city to be celebrated in popular song. Nevertheless, I find it curious how frequently — i.e., over 200 songs — Cincinnati (ranked #64 among US cities by population) has appeared in a popular song title in the past 95 years, to wit:
Click on song titles below for (in most cases) access to streaming audio = Note the impressive 29-year consecutive run between the years 1959-1988. [US artists unless otherwise indicated (in red*)]
“Cincinnati Jail” is a song title shared by two Ohio Valley greats — Ironton, Ohio’s Bobby Bare (1969) and West Harrison, Indiana’s Lonnie Mack (1986).
“Cincinnati Stomp” by blues & boogie pianist Big Joe Duskin was released in 1978, while the following year, Akron “punks” Teacher’s Pet recorded their own song of the same name that made reference to The Who concert tragedy of December 3, 1979 (but did not see release until nearly 30 years later in 2008).
Amusing to note back-to-back releases out of the UK in 1970-71 with the city’s name misspelled: “Cincinatti Cream” by Brett Marvin & the Thunderbolts (1970) and “Cincinatti Woman” by Spode (1971).
Intriguing to note that Spain had a three-year consecutive run of Cincinnati songs between the years 2014-2016.
“South of Cincinnati” by Dwight Yoakam (who was born in Pikeville, KY, southeast of Cincinnati) was initially included as part of a 6-track EP in 1984 on Oak Records, two years prior to Yoakam’s major-label debut (bearing the same title and cover art) on Reprise Nashville.
1959’s “High School USA (Cincinnati)” is one of two “franchise” concepts [1961’s “Cincinnati Twist and Freeze” being the other] where the artist made/marketed versions of the song for various US metropolitan regions, Cincinnati included, in this case with spoken-word breaks that specify the names of public and parochial high schools in Cincinnati and beyond — all the way to Columbus, in fact.
#1: “Cincinnati Hit Parade” from 1950, the oldest entry on this Top Ten list, is a truck driving tale by Bill Franklin, with backing from The Skyline Boys, that bears the unmistakable influence of Hank Williams with regard not only to the vocal but also the prominent steel guitar:
According to Discogs, Franklin started in radio in 1934 at the age of six, performing as The Franklin Brothers, along with his brothers Delmas and Clyde. Franklin later became a member of the Skyline Boys, singing with the quartet and performing solo work, playing both mandolin and guitar. “Cincinnati Hit Parade” appears to be among the earliest in a brief recording career that also includes exactly one King single: 1958’s “That Moon’s No Stopping Place for Me” b/w “One Minute.” Franklin’s interest in space exploration would show up again four years later on a 1962 single release for Loyal “God and Glenn” b/w “Space Flight.”
#2: Jesse Fuller is a blues singer/songwriter and “one-man band” who is most famous for his “San Francisco Bay Blues,” which has been covered by The Weavers, Peter, Paul & Mary, Glenn Yarborough, Tom Rush, Janis Joplin, Richie Havens, Mungo Jerry, Phoebe Snow, and Eva Cassidy among others. Elijah Wald notes in his appreciation for Acoustic Guitar that Cincinnati was the first destination for Fuller (born 1896) after leaving his hometown of Jonesboro, Georgia. Writes Wald —
[Fuller] put together a rack that could hold a harmonica, a kazoo and a microphone, and invented the fotdella, a six-string bass with a modified piano action that drove felt hammers against the strings. The fotdella, which he played with his shoeless right foot, was a visual novelty and gave his music a solid bottom, and he completed the rhythm section by using his left foot to keep time with either a sock cymbal or another homemade contraption that scraped a rubber arm across a washboard.
Fuller would not call Cincinnati home for long, and his “Cincinnati Blues” appears to recount the time he decided to leave the city behind. Fuller’s aching vocal and plaintive Piedmont-style fingerpicking, not to mention sublime slide work — on this live performance from a 2006 box set by Smithsonian’s Folkways [Friends of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival 1961-1965] — make for compelling listening:
In the mid-1960s, one of Jamaica’s leading lights, Prince Buster, slyly called out praise to King Records’ most famous artist (guess who?) in this far-sighted fusion of rocksteady and funk – “Cincinnati Kid” – that draws a direct line between Kingston, JA and Cincinnati, OH, while also making a winking reference to Lalo Schifrin’s film soundtrack of the same name:
To be fair, the city’s name is not an easy one to spell
It’s also unclear when the new Clavinet-driven funk arrangement was first issued – note that this “live” version from 1967’s Prince Buster on Tour LP is the same studio recording albeit with dubbed crowd sounds:
#4: 1971’s “Cincinnati Woman” by The Hubbubs is catchy AM radio power pop with fuzztone guitar, “go-go” horns and Laugh-In production sound and yet – surprise – German lyrics! Fortunately, the song title (in English) begins each chorus and will have you singing along in no time:
#5: One of the more amusing observations when one scans the list above of 200+ songs from 1924-2019 that contain “Cincinnati” in the title:
In the years 1970-71, there were back-to-back releases out of the UK with the city’s name misspelled: “Cincinatti Cream” by Brett Marvin & the Thunderbolts (1970) and “Cincinatti Woman” by Spode (1971).
Today’s featured song – Spode’s “Cincinatti Woman” – is distinctive for its “throwback” sound: galloping guitar lines, evocative of early ‘60s Hank Marvin of The Shadows, set against a lonely Moody Blues-style backing vocal that conjures up the mysterious charm of that elusive lass from the heart of the Ohio Valley, thousands of miles away:
1971’s “Cincinatti Woman” [not to be confused with The Hubbubs’ release of the same year in Austria with the (near) identical title] was a B-side when released by Decca in the UK, France, Belgium, Spain & Turkey. Discogs informs us that Spode is an “alias of the band Cats Eyes [UK band from Evesham], only for recording 1971” and that “live concerts at the time were still played as Cats Eyes.”
45 – France (left) 45 – Spain (right)
#6: “Cincinnati Square” by Chuck Robinson is a groovy early 1970s “psych-jazz-funk” celebration of that super hip and happening gathering spot – “Cincinnati Square”— that, uh, doesn’t actually exist. However, let’s give the singer the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant Fountain Square (in the heart of downtown), so as not to bring the party down any further:
The label was founded by singer-songwriter and producer Ray Pennington with Curtis Potter, the former of whom had produced for Waylon Jennings. At the time of the label’s foundation, it was one of the few independent country music labels to have significant chart success, most notably in 1991, when the label released Clinton Gregory’s “(If It Weren’t for Country Music) I’d Go Crazy“, the only independently-released single on the Billboard country charts at the time of its release. The label lasted into the mid 1990s, having Top 40 success again in 1996 with Western Flyer’s “What Will You Do With M-E?“. Other artists signed to the label included The Geezinslaws, Ray Price, Faron Young, and Pennington himself.
Ray Pennington was one of the best writers in Nashville. King Records founder Syd Nathan loved him. Ray once told me, during a session in the 1980s, that he would be “still be working for The Man today if he was alive.” Ray was an easy-going guy who wrote many country hits. At King, he was a hit songwriter too. But in Nashville, he blossomed. As a singer, he recorded for Monument and other labels. As an A&R man at RCA, he produced a lot of big acts, including Willie Nelson, Kenny Price, and Waylon Jennings. He produced and wrote Jennings’ “I’m a Ramblin’ Man.” Ray wrote it back in his early years in Cincinnati, when he performed under his own name and also as Ray Starr. He did rockabilly, country, and R&B. He intended for the song it to be done in a R&B style. I wonder if Jennings appreciated it. “Jennings and Nelson hated Ray,” producer Carl Edmondson told me. Ray cut one of Carl’s songs, “I Break Easy.” Perhaps Jennings and Nelson saw themselves as the Outlaws and Ray as the traditionalist. I can’t see why anyone would have disliked him. He had a lot of friends in Cincinnati and Nashville. He did not play the role. I am including here a recording I co-produced with Ray back in 1980. We used Ray’s usual studio band, which included the talented guitarist and songwriter Dave Kirby and drummer D.J. Fontana. We recorded a song written by the great Norro Wilson, who was hot then. The band listened to a demo of “Mama McCluskie,” then knocked it out perfectly on the first take. I gave the players no lead sheets. They didn’t need any. I told Ray that it sounded perfect to me. He said, “We’ll do a couple of more takes just to get our money’s worth.” We ended up using the first. Ray will be missed. RIP, Mr. Ramblin’ Man.
#8: Tuneful, jangly guitars come to the fore on this fetching, uptempo indie-pop number “Cincinnati” by a Scottish band, Holidaymakers, who recorded a couple singles in the UK in the late 1980s for Newcastle-based indie label, Woosh — and then nothing more. Released in 1988 – the bicentennial year, coincidentally, of the city that began life as ‘Losantiville‘ (until General Arthur St. Clair intervened) – “Cincinnati” was the second of three releases for Holidaymakers:
#9: Findlay Market and (if I’m not mistaken) the city’s abandoned subway get a shout-out in a song – “Oh, Cincinnati” by The Seedy Seeds from 2008 – that sure sounds, to my ears, like an obvious (though unlikely) local radio hit, with wistful banjo lines tempered by a modern pop sensibility that somehow manages to convey a hopefulness throughout:
Instruments and vocals by Margaret Darling and Mike Ingram (with assistance from friends and family), “Oh, Cincinnati” can be found on The Seedy Seeds’ debut CD release Count the Days — available through Bandcamp:
#10: Zavala (given name, Alex) – of Seattle “alternative” hip hop duo Dark Time Sunshine – stepped out on his own in 2009 on a split LP with PNS (Juvenal Robles) entitled Canciones Modernas. The irresistible groove of Zavala’s hip hop/funk instrumental with the odd title – “Cincinnati Bears” – makes an ideal backdrop for a scenic Cincinnati drive:
Another notable hip hop number is 1994’s “Cincinnati” by Mood (produced by Hi-Tek), the kick-off track on a 4-song cassette demo that was “pushed out to radio and stores,” according to Discogs [Butch Gibson informs me the group was previously known as Three Below Zero]. “Cincinnati” was also used as the closing track on the Cincinnati group’s 1997 debut album, Doom, on which Talib Kweli guests on five of the tracks:
Spotlight: Dean Kay and His Elusive Cincinnati Song from 1967
According to the text that accompanies this streaming audio clip of Dean Kay singing his original composition “Sittin’ in a Drum”:
Taken from US test pressing single-side Acetate LP (Harmony Recorders) [entitled] Dean Kay – Who Is Dean Kay … Ultra-scarce test pressing/acetate of Dean Kay. Songs written/copyrighted by Dean Kay Thomson and Hal Blair around 1967-68. Songs are most likely unpublished, making this record even more interesting.
“Walking Around Cincinatti [sic]” is the second of five songs that can be found on a disc, of which only one copy exists! Fascinatingly, Dean Kay himself chimed in one year ago with this comment attached to the YouTube streaming audio clip:
Hi … I’m Dean Kay. This IS interesting to me. I don’t think I have a copy of this track or the other tracks on the Acetate. This is a true one-off. I hand made the sleeve and gave it to the producer, Bob Ross, alone with the Acetate, as a joke. I’m assuming that the album was among the items in Bob’s estate and was probably donated, thrown away or sold after he passed. The tracks were produced in Hollywood probably in 1967-68 (as suggested above) with the idea of pitching them around to try to land a record deal … Didn’t happen. I started seeing the sleeve on the net a year or so ago. This is the first time any of the tracks have been uploaded. Kind of fun to hear this 50 years after the fact. Of interest, perhaps, is that the lyricist, Hal Blair, wrote 13 songs recorded by Elvis in addition to many big hit records … you can read about him on my website. http://www.deankay.com/clients.html#halBlair You might find other interesting things on my website http://www.deankay.com/ as well.
I am riveted with Peter Guralnick’s biographical account – Dream Boogie – of the visionary musical entrepreneur, Sam Cooke, who also happened to be gifted vocalist. My attention was particularly piqued by Sam’s fraught – and ultimately unsuccessful – attempt to release the song “Yeah Man” as a single.
Rare 1965 French EP
Beginning in 1963, Sam Cooke’s managerial and business affairs were being run by Allen Klein – the one who Mick Jagger would later (in)famously recommend to The Beatles as a manager in the wake of Brian Epstein’s tragic and unexpected death – and September of 1964 would find Sam angry and resentful over his failure to override Klein’s decision to release “That’s Where It’s At” b/w “Cousin of Mine” as a 45 on the heels of Sam’s September 16th appearance on TV’s Shindig live music program instead of “Yeah Man.”
As Peter Guralnick writes:
Sam met with Allen [Klein] while he was in New York to discuss the immediate future. He was still [cheesed] off about the new single release. He had wanted to put out “Yeah Man,” the litany of dances set to The Valentinos’ distinctive beat that he had recorded in March, but Allen had hated it. In fact, violating one of his own cardinal rules for managing – not for the first time, and not by just a little – he told Sam it was the worst [flibbity] song he had ever heard in his entire life. “What the [funst] do you know?” Sam shot back. [“Yeah Man”] was the kind of stripped-down simplified number he was convinced the kids would go for. But in the end, he had allowed himself to be swayed by Allen’s opinion, and now the single they had released, “Cousin of Mine,” which Allen had insisted was a cute little song that they could sell pop, had shipped fewer copies than any single Sam had put out in three years, and they had thrown away “That’s Where It’s At” on the B-side [editor’s note: 45Cat very clearly identifies “That’s Where It’s At” to be the A-side for the U.S. market — hmmm].
It burned Sam up. He knew “Yeah Man” would have been a hit, but Allen had been right about so many things, and the thing about it was, the [fathead] wouldn’t back down, even if you put a gun to his head.”
Adding layers of complexity to the story, 30 pages earlier we learned that The Valentinos – a family-based affair signed to Sam’s SAR label that would later produce careers for brothers, Bobby and Cecil Womack – had already laid down the musical groove that became the foundation for “If I Got My Ticket” but had the song rejected initially by Sam — only to subsequently find it re-fashioned by Sam and re-titled as “Yeah Man”!
As Peter Guralnick explains:
[The Valentinos] had another song, “If I Got My Ticket,” something which they had been working on at Soul Station #1 and believed in almost as strongly as “It’s All Over Now” [famously covered by The Rolling Stones], but after a couple of rehearsals, Sam pronounced it “too churchy” and told Bobby it needed more work, they ought to just set it aside until the Womacks had a chance to polish it and turn it into more of a finished song. It could not have come as a greater surprise, then, when Bobby and his brothers showed up at the studio to play on Sam’s session the following day, only to find him exploring the same groove, the same riff they had worked out for “If I Got My Ticket” as the centerpiece of a new number of his own.
“Yeah Man” was a song he had first come up with in England, a dance number along the lines of the call-and-response vehicle he had devised for Cassius Clay [Muhammad Ali], with a large chorus responding to a series of rhetorical questions (“Do you like good music?”) with a rousing “Yeah, yeah.” What made it different was the vocal charm, the rhythmic complexity, the agile horns, and booming bass.
My attention sufficiently piqued, I immediately jumped on YouTube in order to hear for myself the song that both offended Allen Klein and embittered Sam Cooke:
“Yeah Man” Sam Cooke 1965
How amusing then to quickly discover that this song – which already had been thieved by Sam Cooke – would itself get appropriated two years later by Arthur Conley (with the very able assistance of Otis Redding) and get turned into classic soul music homage, “Sweet Soul Music”!
I’m kicking myself for needing assistance to figure out that the song’s signature intro was itself “inspired by” (i.e., stolen from) Elmer Bernstein‘s Magnificent Seven theme song! For a little bit of extra fun, in fact, play both clips at the same time to see if you can get the two songs songs to line up in sync.
Where do I go to report all this thievery?
What’s even more fascinating is the fact that Peter Guralnick does not, at any point, make reference to “Sweet Soul Music,” which is curious, given that the song is not an obscure one, or even hint at “Yeah Man” laying the ground work for a future hit single. I checked the index of the book to be sure and found references to numerous songs by title — but not “Sweet Soul Music.”
Why am I not terribly surprised that Todd Rundgren’s Utopia went to the trouble and expense of dressing up as Fab Four lookalikes in their video for affectionate Beatle pastiche, “I Just Want to Touch You”:
From 1980 album, Deface the Music, just two short years after spoof Rutles documentary – All You Need Is Cash — written by Eric Idle & Lorne Michaels, with songs composed by close friend of The Beatles and guitarist for The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Neil Innes.
Paul Lester’s excellent and informative essay that accompanied the CD reissue of Deface the Music points out that this track was considered but ultimately rejected for feature film, Roadie – purportedly since the song too closely emulated the early Beatle sound and songwriting style.
Released in the UK as the kick-off track on a 4-song EP — check out the cheeky copy on the back of the sleeve:
“Meet UTOPIA, an instantly likeable and aware quartet of bright young lads, carving a niche in today’s feverish pop market-place. No Post-Industrial Funk for these pop-picking boys, just catchy snatches of hot rock ‘n’ roll. Take the first cut, ‘I Just Want to Touch You’; a perfect example of Todd’s expressive lead vocals, combining with the harmonies of Willie and Roger. Once heard, never forgotten, ‘Silly Boy’ of course is purposely tongue in cheek, showing how UTOPIA’s writing has expanded into wider fields. Flip the disc over and straight into ‘Life Goes On’ revealing a more complex side to the band’s musical tastes. A real grower this, and certain to become a stage favourite. Finally, but not least, the record finishes with ‘All Smiles,’ a sure-fire UTOPIA classic, containing enough hooks to catch a haul of mackerel. So there it is, four great songs by a great band. Roll up folks and meet UTOPIA.”