Thanks to the local public library, I am no longer the same person I once was after reading Roger Steffens‘ comprehensive and thoughtfully organized oral history of Bob Marley and, by extension, The Wailers, from their earliest days. Halfway through the book I felt compelled to take notes about a number of the more obscure early Wailers tracks.
What got me off the couch was the reminder that Johnny Nash, Arthur Jenkins, and Danny Sims (i.e., the JAD production team, featured late last December) brought in top NYC session players to “sweeten” the tracks for American ears – including Bernard Purdie (subject of a recent King history piece). However, when you check the credits on disc one (1968) of the three-disc JAD box set, it says musicians “probably include” Eric Gale, Bernard Purdie, et al. If not Purdie on tracks 1 through 14, asks Zero to 180, then what other drummer? Check out “Love” – a surprisingly tender ballad from the Wailer with the most militant reputation – and decide whether Bernard Purdie provides the drum part on this JAD production from 1968:
“It Hurts to Be Alone” features vocalist, Junior Braithwaite, another early member. Check out the opening guitar line and instrumental solo break – who else could it be? Answer: Ernest Ranglin.
“It Hurts To Be Alone” The Wailers 1964
Bunny Wailer affirms that “It Hurts to Be Alone” — a “smash” when performed live in the early days – was a song directly inspired by Curtis Mayfield‘s “I’m So Proud,” as recorded by The Impressions:
“I’m So Proud” The Impressions 1964
Beverley Kelso, another member from the earliest days [who can be heard on early hit, “Simmer Down“], tells The Jamaica Observer in 2012 that she provided harmony on the original recording of “It Hurts To Be Alone“. This song, notes Steffens — “the group’s first ballad to make a big impression” (get it?) — was written by “the teenaged Junior Braithwaite and recorded on August 28, 1964, the day before he left the island for Chicago” to join his family in the States.
Originally (but never officially credited on Wailers-related records), it was an adaptation of a song “My Dream Island” by El Tempos on a Vee Jay Records 7-inch (VJ 580, 1963). Composed by Al ‘Bunk‘ Johnson, lead singer of El Tempos.
Wailers in the JA Pop Charts: What Constitutes a “Hit“
Steffens states (on pgs. 56-7) that in 1965, “the Wailers had the number one [“Simmer Down”], two [“It Hurts To Be Alone“], three [“Rude Boy“], five [“Jailhouse“], and seven [“Put It On“] songs in the Top Ten at once.” Earlier in the book, Dodd helps give some context as to what constitutes a “hit”: “When ‘Simmer Down’ come out, in those days, anything from five thousand was a hit. I would say twenty thousand would be a strong hit.” Steffens adds, “At the height of the success of ‘Simmer Down’ it kept four pressing plants going and sold a reported eighty thousand copies on an island with only about two million inhabitants.”
During their early years, The Wailers were a pretty volatile live act, you might be surprised to know, as Bunny Wailer makes clear:
Our first appearance was at the Palace. Wailers were hot. When we hit the stage it was just fire … When we came on, half the people left their seats and were down almost to the edge of the stage, ’cause Wailers were like gymnastics. Flickings and splits and snap falls. All Wailers split. We did stuff where Bob would take me and throw me in the air and we’d split. Bob would kneel down, I would go over his back — splits. Peter would come there and bounce us like rubber balls, just comin’ up and goin’ down like that. I would run to him, he catches me, and as my belly cross his arm he just flicks and split.
Bunny says that at the last show before Bob left for Delaware, it was a first-ever concert in the National Stadium, and the moment that made the crowd lose control happened during one particular Bob ballad, “I’m Still Waiting“:
We had a little plan for “I’m Still Waiting” where when Bob said ‘my feet’, his feet just feel from under him, and we caught him before him hit the ground and just bring him back on mic.
“I’m Still Waiting” The Wailers & Soul Brothers Orchestra 1965
“Freedom Time” – 1966 song of liberation from Dodd, despite being recorded at Studio One with The Soul Brothers is the first Wail‘n’ Soul’m 45 b/w “Bend Down Low” (Bunny says it sold something like 50,000 copies):
Check out the loping rocksteady version of “Stepping Razor” from 1967 — augmented by heavy hand drums (note the flubbedchord by the band just seconds before fading):
More Nyabinghi hand drums on Tosh/Wailers “Burial” (below) the flip side to “Pound Get a Blow,” almost certainly recorded during the time Bob was in Delaware (where part of his time was spent sweeping floors at the opulent Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington) –- great piano on this killer rocksteady Wail’n Soul’m 45 release from 1968:
Hotel Du Pont: Where Jeff Nold once imbibed
Musical blooper: bassist accidentally plays opening note too early (or does he?)
Glad to be reminded that the ill-named Best of the Wailers album that was recorded at Leslie Kong’s studio (and released August, 1971) was intended as reggae’s first “concept” album — a “thematically structured collection of songs,” explain the liner notes to JAD’s 3-disc box set, “geared to the idea of giving themselves a pep talk: we’re back in the business, we’re not afraid, and we’re moving forward to new heights, and the past be damned.”
A more appropriate album title, asserts Bunny Wailer, would’ve been “Cheer Up”:
“Cheer Up” The Wailers 1970
Carlton + Family Man = “Hippy Boys”: Trivia
Bunny Lee produced the first recording session to feature Carlton and Family Man on a song (“Bangarang” by Stranger Cole & Lester Sterling) “that marked the transition from rocksteady to reggae” (see earlier sidebar re: “first reggae song“):
“Bangarang” Lester Sterling & Stranger Cole 1968
Two songs recorded for Catch a Fire that got reissued in recent years as bonus tracks:
“Survival featured a song written by [Anthony] Sangie Davis called ‘Wake Up and Live‘ … Sangie was given credit on the original Survival cover for co-writing ‘Wake Up and Live.’ He received a small payment upon the album’s release in 1979, but nothing since. His name has been removed from the credits on all subsequent pressings.”
“In late summer of 2006, Sangie and reggae great Joseph “Culture” Hill visited the Reggae Archives. Davis, who had been a staff producer at [Bob Marley’s studio] Tuff Gong, revealed that he was the composer of the unreleased gems “Babylon Feel This One,” a dub-plate commissioned for the Twelve Tribes Sound System, and “She Used to Call Me Dada.”
“She Used to Call Me Dada” Bob Marley & the Wailers
“Babylon Feel This One” Bob Marley & the Wailers
Joe Higgs & the Wailers Legacy
Excerpt — Reggae Bloodlines:In Search of the Music and Culture of Jamaica (1977) by Stephen Davis and Peter Simon:
The unsung Joe Higgs is often ranked with Bob Marley as one of the greatest singers Jamaica has produced, and clearly is reggae’s major theoretician. Describing himself usually as a protest singer, Higgs has an unadorned style not unlike that of the old Jamaican country singers. His hits include “The World Is Upside Down” (1971), “Burning Fire” (1971), “Don’t Mind Me” (Higgs & Wilson – 1969), and “Wave of War” (1971). In the early ’60s, Higgs teamed with his Trench Town neighbor Delroy Wilson to form a successful duo recording Jamaican “blues” for West Indian Records, an old-line label then owned by Edward Seaga, currently the leader of the opposition Jamaica Labor Party. Seaga left the record business to go into politics (a completely logical shift) during the height of Higgs & Wilson‘s fame, and the pair went through several more producers before splitting in 1964.
It’s well known in Jamaica that Joe Higgs was the musical force behind the early Wailers, having organized the band, taught them timing, tactics, harmony, breathing, duende, and sound precision. But Higgs has usually been and continues to be a shadow figure for the younger reggae stars. His disdain of commerciality has kept him out of the spotlight and relegated him to a supporting role, where perhaps he does his best work. Higgs toured America with the Wailers in 1974, replacing Bunny Livingston on hand drums and high harmony.
Roger Steffens Weighs In on the King Records Legacy!
Zero to 180 is delighted to report that Roger Steffens himself was kind enough to check out this history piece on the early Wailers recordings and respond to my query about Bernard Purdie and the King Records legacy:
“As far as Mr. Purdie’s contributions to the catalog, I don’t think there’s anything I could add to what is in Leroy Pierson and my Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Definitive Discography. (If you don’t have this book, it’s indispensable to your work, and still available on Amazon.) I wouldn’t trust Danny [Sims]’s memory on any specific tracks, but Purdie himself has acknowledged being on several. We acknowledge specifically “Nice Time”; “Soul Almighty” & “Bend Down Low,” and you can check the discog book for many others too.
In 1956, after my graduation from grade school in suburban NJ, my dad was transferred to Cincinnati. We lived in North Norwood and I started high school at Purcell, working six afternoons a week delivering 356 copies of the Post and Times-Star. I went back to Cincy many times in the ’60s and ’70s while reading poetry in the schools. Saw REO Speedwagon in ’70 at the Ludlow Garage. Have very fond memories of the city.
I have dinner every Tuesday night with a bunch of aging musos, and a frequent guest of late has been Seymour Stein. He also moved from NY to Cincy in 1956, and we were born in the same hospital in Brooklyn, three months apart (he’s older). Stein’s autobiography, Siren Song, is a great read, with much about his time as a youth mentored by the King Records head.”
King Records makes an appearance early in the book when the authors recount the rise of Duke Reid, owner of Treasure Isle, one of the top Jamaican labels in the 1960s:
“In the early ’50s, Reid’s wife, Lucille, won a substantial lottery prize, which she invested in their future by buying a business, an off-license called the Treasure Isle Liquor Store, which was located in the same run-down ghetto area that the Duke had patrolled [as a police officer] for a decade. The store was such a success that, in 1958, they relocated to larger premises at 33 Bond Street.
It was normal practice around Kingston for shopkeepers and bar owners to play recorded music to attract customers. Not to be outdone, Reid rigged up a 78 rpm record player in the shop, with a speaker outside the front door, and discovered a formula for increasing his turnover. Nothing drew in the music-hungry local people like a Wynonie Harris record rocking out through the speaker and carrying right across the street.”
The First Trojan Record
The authors identify the very first Trojan 45 release on page 32 — nevertheless, from the comfort of your computer, you can pull up the titles of the A and B sides of TR-001 yourself in three easy steps:
Observe the very first item listed — “Judge Sympathy” by Duke Reid [& His All-Stars] b/w “Never to Be Mine” by Roland Alphonso — with a release date, 28 July 1967, that coincides with the label’s founding by Lee Gopthal and Chris Blackwell.
“Judge Sympathy” Duke Reid All-Stars 1967
“A classic tale of a rude boy getting his comeuppance -or not- in court.”
It is highly improbable, of course, that producer Duke Reid appears on this recording but rather, as YouTube contributor rudeboy6000 states, “Alton Ellis and John Holt are probable guest voices [ref.: Trojan Records].”
< click on all song titles below for streaming audio>
Two years after its founding, the Trojan organization would expand operations in 1969:
“Another significant move in that year was the appointment of St. Kitts-born Joe Sinclair. Joe had been with the Musicland shop at 23 Ridley Road since 1965 … and had elevated the premises to be the number-one retail outlet of the chain. He was rewarded with an appointment as the manager of Trojan Records.
Joe was an accomplished keyboard player and, as well as being responsible for the day-to-day running of the office, moved into playing on and producing records. He founded the Grape label in late 1969 as a ‘take on Apple‘ and started to record UK-based group The Rudies on crunching skinhead-friendly numbers like the revamped ‘Guns of Navarone‘. Some of their records were covers of other artists’ tunes, such as ‘Shanghai‘, which was similar to the Lloyd Charmers original, already released by Pama.
“As reggae gained a firm hold in the charts and minds of Mr. Average Record Buyer, the stars of rock took notice, including The Rolling Stones, who had championed black music since their early days. Under the headline ‘Rudies Play at Mick Jagger‘s Wedding‘, the 10 June 1971 issue of US magazine Rolling Stone reported, ‘At the slightly seedy Cafe des Arts, where the reception was held, a local band opened the show and flopped. Next came The Rudies, a thumping reggae group big in their own scene in Britain. They lifted up plenty of souls ready for a set by Terry Reid and his band.”
Depends What You Mean By “Exclusive”
Part of the UK reggae industry’s colorful history includes a bit of “double dealing”:
“The other problem that confronted [Joe] Sinclair, and that had caused headaches far back for Chris Blackwell, was the [Jamaican] producers’ philosophy of getting as much mileage out of a record as possible. Sometimes Trojan were offered a brand-new recording from Jamaica; they would buy the master tape from the producer and issue it on one of their labels. Pama would have gone through a mirror-image situation with the same producer, who would have two or three copies of his ‘exclusive’, which he would proceed to sell to rival companies before jetting back to the sunshine with a maximum profit.
Sometimes two rival companies’ labels would release a record almost simultaneously — such as Marley‘s “Lively Up Yourself“, which appeared on Trojan’s Green Door imprint and Pama’s Punch label — or, if one unfortunate owner saw it already out on the street, they would just shelve their release. Trojan Records own a considerable number of recordings that they have never released due to this problem, and one can conjecture that the other labels active at the time also had a box of unuseable master tapes.”
This inter-label rivalry (according to Wikipedia – please don’t hit me) “had been fuelled by Bunny Lee’s earlier licensing of Derrick Morgan’s ‘Seven Letters‘ to both Pama and Trojan.”
Sid estimates that, by the end of the decade, his hand was present in around 70 per cent of all the recordings coming from the small island, so great was the demand for his talents as a freelance producer and engineer. He estimates that the average number of recordings he would undertake in a normal day was a staggering 12. He never had to look for work as his reputation preceded him and most producers looked to him to turn a song into a hit.
As a professional engineer and producer at Dynamic Studios (after leaving Studio One and his freelance career), he recorded work for, among others, Bunny Lee, Harry Mudie, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin and Leslie Kong. He was the engineer on Johnny Nash’s smash ‘I Can See Clearly Now‘, engineered the formative DJ work of producer Keith Hudson with Big Youth on ‘Ace 90 Skank‘ and worked on the first three Marley Island albums. He also remixed both Duke Reid’s and Coxson’s work at various times to give ‘a more up-to-date sound’.
Sadly, much of Sid’s work has been unrecognised, and it is only now that account has been taken of his vast input to Jamaican music. He recalls that, in the reggae heyday of the start of the ’70s, ‘I would be asked to do two mixes of a tune, one for Jamaica and a lighter one for the UK as a new burgeoning market for their products and their need to retune the sound accordingly.”
Clyde McPhatter and the Trojan Connection
One original era vocal legend, tragically, was not able to hang on for the roots rock revival scene that began to take shape in the early 1970s — Rob Bell recounts:
‘Here’s one artist probably no one in the world knows had a Trojan connection – Clyde McPhatter, lead singer of the Drifters in the early ’50s, who then branched out to a solo career by around 1955 or ’56. Huge influence on R&B – you can listen to thousands of R&B or doo-wop recordings from the ’50s and hear Clyde’s influence. Enormous.
‘He was in London for awhile around 1971 [the master index shows that Clyde recorded in 1970 for Trojan], down on his luck. I don’t know how he showed up at Trojan, but he did. We cut a session with him and The Rudies, with ex-Pioneer Sydney Crooks as producer. Four tunes, assigned Song Bird matrices. Somewhere around SB 1027 to 1032 A and B, as far as I can recall … For some reason, Graham [Walker] and Lee [Gopthal] hated him, and I remember having to tell Clyde that we had no bread for him on the one occasion that I met him.
‘It is not a moment that I recall with relish. He seemed like a nice man and was certainly a singer for whom I had a very high regard. As far as I know, these titles have never been issued.’
Actually, one single ‘Denver‘ would be issued on the “pop-slanted” B&C label in September of 1969 — a nicely arranged piece of pop soul (penned by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham) that would be one of the last releases from the legendary vocalist, who succumbed to alcoholism in 1972 at the age of 39.
UK release in 1969 + Picture sleeve for Spain – 1970
I Roy vs. U Roy vs. Hugh Roy
Forget what you learned in school: U before I, except after Roy. Rob Bell explains:
“I myself was responsible for one cock-up, and that was calling toaster U Roy on his early UK releases Hugh Roy. As you know, Jamaicans tend to drop Hs, and to add them sometimes, viz Marley’s line in ‘Trench Town Rock‘, ‘an ‘ungry man is a hangry man’.
So little old middle-class Rob Bell, one of whose tasks it was to prepare label copy, very carefully typed ‘Hugh Roy’ on the copy for those releases … As I did all the label copy for at least two years, I am sure I am responsible for many cock-ups! However, in my defence, I took the details from the Jamaican label, or got the info from the producer — both sources being, of course, absolutely infallible!
(If it’s any consolation to Rob, the toaster’s debut LP, Version Galore, was issued by Duke Reid in Jamaica in a sleeve proclaiming the artist to be I-Roy!)”
“Full-price ska/reggae albums sold in minute quantities. The Tighten Up series did sell well, but that was because they consisted of compilations of singles that had already sold very well indeed. Trojan wanted to piggyback other titles … hence the ambitious TTL reissue project.”
Tighten Up‘s first volume featured primarily previously-released Trojan 45s and was given the TTL “budget” designation (“though no one now can recall what these initials stood for”). The authors further explain —
“Priced at just 14/6d – the cost of two singles – this album moved units, and its first pressing on the original all-orange Trojan label sold out quickly. It was repressed with a slightly altered sleeve design using the new orange-and-white label design, which was introduced in 1969 …”
“Tighten Up Volume Two appeared quickly afterwards and was not only much more up to date in its tracks; it was also a sizzling selection of recordings … Tighten Up Volume Two was Trojan’s all-time best-selling album and would remain available for many years, such was its enduring popularity. It even score in the pop album charts, the entry rules for which were promptly revised to exclude budget records!”
“Tighten Up Volume 3, issued in 1970, took the pretty girl off the sleeve and on to the bedroom wall with a splendid double-album-sized poster nestled in a die-cut sleeve. The young lady peeped through the central hole and, when the poster was opened out, revealed the titles of all the album’s tracks painted on her finely toned body. It may have been a gimmick, but because of the poster Tighten Up Volume 3 became legendary in every school classroom and extremely popular on the skinheads’ walls.”
With respect to Pama’s competing series of budget-priced oldies — Straighten Up — Lloyd Bradley, in 2000’s Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King, would simply say that the “sleeves were tacky enough to make Trojan’s lewd efforts look classy.”
Trojan’s reliance on “strings reggae” would hurt the label during the 1970s, as reggae audiences gravitated toward a heavier roots sound as the decade progressed. The label would have liquidity issues in the mid-1970s and find itself under new ownership: Marcel Rodd of Saga/Allied Records. Former Island staffer, Dave Hendley (“with the departure of Tony Cummings”) would be promoted to Artists & Repertoire. The authors take the baton:
“So in the late ’70s, Trojan was drifting, as the only product which producers would offer them was rejects from other deals or substandard work. Due to the company policy of not paying to the same level as their competitors, such as the rapidly expanding Greensleeves Records, Trojan’s reputation in the marketplace had taken a dive. Marcel Rodd was determined to reverse this trend. And so February 1979 saw Dave Hendley, Mo Claridge and fast-rising reggae DJ David Rodigan heading out to Kingston. Dave’s brief was to raise the Trojan flag in Kingston and sign up some acts – although the company had provided no contacts for him to visit.
Due to Dave’s resourcefulness, the outcome was Sugar Minott‘s Ghetto-ology album and The Morwells‘ 12″ disco 45 ‘Kingston 12 Tuffie‘, with a stunning remix by courtesy of Prince Jammy.”
Dave Hendley breaks down the economics for the rest of us:
“Trojan would pay £300 max for a disco 12” single, while the going rate was £400, and they would only pay up to £2,500 for an album, when up to £4,000 was the normal price. I badly wanted a Freddie McGregor album that Niney had and, give him his due, Rodd went to four grand, but Niney wouldn’t let it go for that. Freddie was just so big back then. I tried for the ‘Hard Time Pressure‘ 12″ single from Sugar Minott but couldn’t get it due to the money. In the end I put it out on my own Sufferers’ Heights label.”
“[Page 81] After the departure of Dave Hendley, Trojan began a period of comparative inactivity, seemingly reissuing the same dozen golden oldies in as many permutations as possible, until it was sold to Sharesense Ltd. in 1985…
[Former Chairman, Colin Newman] No matter what some people want to say about the period in which we ran Trojan, we think we acted in manner that was fair and reasonable. We think we gave care and attention to the music, care and attention to the artwork, care and attention to the way the music was presented to the public. We enjoyed doing it and, as you know, we built up other labels which had other genres of music — again, all built up with direct artist relationships. with very few problems. We built up a big chart list of British singles charts, tracks that ha individually been in the charts, and we mixed the benefit of those releases with Trojan’s expertise, in terms of the ability of putting tracks on compilations and things like that. And we had some success with TV ads, probably the most famous was ‘Israelites‘ by Desmond Dekker for a TDK ad [Maxell, actually], with ‘My Ears Are Alight’, which we thought was great and very funny.”
Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” = Maxell Cassettes
Lord Tanamo’s “I’m In the Mood for Ska” = Paxo Stuffing
Toots & the Maytals’ “Broadway Jungle” = Adidas Footware
Mastered From Vinyl: Superior to Master Tapes?
Those of you who wondered if Trojan’s often murky mixes were somehow caused by limitations in your sound system, you can now rest assured that neither your ears nor playback equipment were at fault:
“Many high-street retailers disliked stocking reggae singles due to their poor sound quality. Joe Sinclair explains the reason:
‘Apart from the big producers like Leslie Kong and Byron Lee, who provided us with master tapes, we always had to dub off a record for our releases.’
In other words, a normal Jamaican-pressed record would be used as the master copy for the Trojan release. All the inherent faults of the none-too-special JA pressing would thereby be transferred to the UK issue, along with a second step away from master-tape sound quality.”
All playlists below in order by catalog #
All dates indicate year of release in the UK — not Jamaica
Amalgamated: According to Discogs —
Founded in 1966 by Joel Gibson (a.k.a. Joe Gibbs) at his radio and TV repair shop on Beeston Street in Kingston, Jamaica, Amalgamated became one of the fastest-rising labels in correlation with the uprising of Rocksteady music. Though the credits almost always read “Produced By Joel Gibson”, production was actually handled by Lee ‘Scratch‘ Perry for the first two years, followed by Winston ‘Niney‘ Holness who took over for the following six years after the fact.
Says the book: “Some of the best sides from 1968 and 1969 were collected on Amalgamated’s Jackpot of Hits compilation.” Also of note to historians: “… the sides by The Cobbs are believed to be Ken Jones‘s productions.” Worth pointing out that obscure early reggae track ‘Red Red Wine‘ by The Immortals – flipside of AMG 869 – “has nothing to do with its more famous namesake.”
“The Train Is Coming’ by The Inspirations = 45 track not on 1970 LP
Attack: According to Discogs —
Reggae label based on Bunny Lee productions. This label contains releases on multinational markets [from multiple producers, actually].
This UK label were originally started in 1969 as a subsidiary of [Grame Goodall‘s] Doctor Bird Records. Trojan Records took over in 1970, and the label lasted until around 1980. Attack was briefly revived in 1988 until about 1991, issuing compilations of classic Jamaican music from the sixties and seventies.
Zero to 180 emphasizes the array of producers issued on Attack besides Bunny Lee, including (but not limited to) Tony Brevitt, ‘Prince’ Tony Robinson, Warwick Lyn, Winston Riley, Phil Pratt, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Lloyd Coxson, Lee Perry, Pat Rhoden, Sidney Crooks, Ernie Smith, Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Eric Donaldson, Linval Thompson, and Harry J.
Originally a subsidiary of Island Records in 1968, Big Shot was absorbed into the Trojan Records group when it spun off from Island that same year, and became one of Trojan’s top secondary subsidiary labels, particularly thanks to its consistent output of material from controversial artist Judge Dread.
Zero to 180 notes the variety of producers whose recordings were issued on Big Shot: George ‘Clive’ Tennors, Ken Khouri, Paul Khouri, Derrick Harriott, Bunny Lee, Niney, Sonia Pottinger, Herman Chin-Loy, Eric Barnett, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Des and Webster, Les Foster, Winston Riley, Rad Bryan, Lloyd Daley, Hugh Madden, Glen Brown, Lloyd’s TV & Radio, Lloyd Charmers, and Lloyd & Glen, among others.
Blue Cat Records (UK) was a subsidiary label of Trojan Records. Around 70 records were released on the label between 1968 and 1969, with a variety of early reggae and rocksteady releases from artists such as The Pioneers, The Untouchables, and The Maytones.
Zero to 180 notes the various producers who were represented on Blue Cat, including Dermot Lynch, Joe Gibbs, Charles Reid, Coxson Dodd, Clancy Collins, Charles Ross, Enos McLeod, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Nehemiah Reid, and others.
UK reggae label launched by Trojan in 1970 as a subsidiary label for Jackie Edwards and his productions. Almost halfway through Bread’s 20-issue existence, Jackie’s output seemed have been switched to Trojan Records and Horse, with other producers taking over the Bread label [such as Lee Perry, Clancy Eccles, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, and Bunny Lee].
Clancy Eccles label. Established by Trojan Records in 1969 as the UK counterpart to Clancy Eccles back-a-yard operation in Jamaica.
Clandisc ground to a halt early in 1972, and Clancy Eccles seemed to disappear from the recording scene.
Zero to 180 notes that by 1972, Downtown would showcase the work of other producers, including Kenneth Wilson, Derrick Harriott, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee, ‘Prince’ Tony Robinson, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Gussie Clarke, Glen Brown, Clancy Eccles, and Byron Lee, among others.
UK reggae / ska label, active from 1968 until late in 1973 when Trojan Records didn’t need the label any longer. Originally initiated to handle output from Arthur “Duke” Reid. Also, label issued Joe Mansano production with ‘blue’ Joe labels and ‘DU’ catalog numbers. Later, label got separate catalog numbers with ‘JRS’ prefix and brown/yellow design.
Zero to 180 adds this observation:
Plenty of producers showcased on this imprint besides Duke Reid: JJ Johnson, Harry J, Joe Gibbs, Lynford Anderson, Hot Rod, Winston Lowe, Clancy Eccles, George ‘Clive’ Tennors, Byron Lee, Bart Sanfilipo, Herman Chin-Loy, Sir Collins, Maurice ‘Blacka Morwell’ Wellington, Rupie Edwards, Lloyd Charmers, Bruce Anthony, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Lee Perry, Keith Hudson, Pat Rhoden, Glen Brown, Neville Willoughby, Phil Pratt, Lloyd Daley, Sonia Pottinger, Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin, Hugh Madden, Dennis Bovell, Gussie Clarke, Bunny Lee, and Whistling Willie, among others.
This Trojan subsidiary dealt with releases from Byron Lee‘s Dynamic Studio (formerly WIRL, or West Indies Records Limited) and spanned some 55 releases between 1970 and 1972. Aside from Lee’s productions, Dynamic also put out material from a variety of other producers recording at Dynamic at the time, most notably Syd Bucknor, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee, and Tommy Cowan.
Adds Zero to 180:
Other producers include Max Romeo, Barry Biggs, S. Francisco, J. Franscique, Eric Donaldson, Neville Willoughby, Neville Hinds, Comic Strip, Winston Wallace, Jimmy Sinclair, C. Wilks, and Geoffrey Chung, among others.
British reggae label started in 1969 and released about 90 vinyl 7″ singles until it’s end in 1974.
Zero to 180 adds this note:
A multitude of producers spinning the dials on these 45 tracks: ,Lloyd Charmers, Derrick Harriott, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Rupie Edwards, Keith Hudson, Laurel Aitken, Nat Cole, Harry Mudie, Neville Willoughby, La-Fud-Del, Herman Chin-Loy, Sir JJ, Vincent Chin, Lloyd Daley, Lloyd’s Radio & TV, Bunny Lee, Pat Rhoden, Federal, Bush, Sonny Roberts, Lee Perry, Harry J, Duke Reid, and Randy’s, et al.
Ruppli’s King Labels discography is a 2-volume reference set that can be hard to make sense of initially, given all the subsidiary labels and various quirks in its numbering systems, among other things.
Volume 1 features information pertaining to all the releases on the King label from 1943 to 1973, with a great many of these recordings laid down at King‘s Cincinnati studios. It can be great fun to browse chronologically in order to determine whether any recording took place on the birthdate of someone you know, such as family members and friends. At first I was disappointed to find out that no King artists were laying down any new sounds on the day of my birth — at least, in Cincinnati.
Page 470 concludes the post-Syd Nathan Starday-King era, with a listing for a Nashville session that took place on September 23, 1973 by a group called The B.K.‘s [Bob Kames + company], with only one song recorded “Choo Choo Choo” (the B-side of King 6426 — a 45 that appears never to have been issued). However, pages 471-476 list a King 16000 master series of recordings that took place in Los Angeles between the years 1961-1963 (sessions with Johnny Otis and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, et al., including “Gangster of Love“).
But the real kicker is this announcement near the bottom of page 476:
“Note: Series discontinued and resumed later in Macon, Ga.”
Volume 1, thus, ends with four pages of King recording sessions between the years 1964-1965 that took place in Macon, Georgia at Bobby Smith Studios (and therefore serve as the “missing link” to all the later work* highlighted in last October’s celebration, “Bobby Smith’s King Productions“). So, today I decided to browse these pages with a certain date in mind, and wouldn’t you know it: The Fabulous Denos recorded two songs with Bobby Smith at the helm [“Once I Had a Love” & “Bad Girl“] on the day of my birth — April 13, 1964!
“Bad Girl” The Fabulous Denos 1964
“Bad Girl” – the featured song in this King history piece – served as the B-side of a single released in June, 1964.
Tip of the hat (again) to 45Cat contributor davie gordon for this snippet from Billboard‘s August 22, 1964 edition that shows “Bad Girl” to be a ‘R&B Regional Breakout’ for the urban centers of Atlanta and Cleveland, the city where my dad would relocate by decade’s end — foreshadowing?
Bobby Smith Productions = 1964-1965
Info from The King Labels: A Discography compiled by Michel Ruppli
<click on all song titles below for streaming audio>
Zero to 180 on his Father’s lap – Cincinnati, OH – March, 1966
*Brian Powers was, indeed, correct in his assertion (back in October, 2018) that Bobby Smith Studios had been up and running prior to 1966
For Serious King Records Fans Only: Page 481
Check out these random bits of King recording session info on the very last page of Volume 1 that fall under the catch-all title Additional King Sessions — including a live James Brown & the Famous Flames set at Baltimore’s Royal Theater in 1963.
“Dry Bones Twist” would be among the last songs written by Toombs, however, as 45Cat contributor mickey rat notes darkly:
R-T Pub. Co. (BMI) was one of the many publishing imprints that Syd Nathan at King shared with his favoured producers and songwriters. Rudy Toombs in New York had a share in R-T which was officially located at 1540 Brewster Avenue, Cincinnati along with all Nathan’s other ventures. Rudy Toombs was brutally murdered [by robbers in his Harlem apartment house] in November 1962 just a few months after this record was released and I guess R-T was folded into King’s flagship publishing imprint Lois.
Note misspelling of Windsor King’s name in copyright registration.
Both tracks recorded in Cincinnati April 12 1962.
This 1962 single would also signal, coincidentally perhaps, the end of The Drivers’ recording career, whose first recordings for King were on its DeLuxe subsidiary label.
Would You Believe?
Someone paid $271 in 2014 for a copy of The Drivers’ King 45.
Rudy Toombs Fun Fact
In 1974, Mike Lookinland (TV’s “Bobby Brady”) laid down his version of “Gum Drop” — a Rudy Toombs song that would be designated the B-side of his one and only record release. Initially recorded by Otis Williams and the Charms, “Gum Drop” would appear to have served as the launching pad for fellow King artists, The Gum Drops.
Check it out: 1956 Otis Williams & the Charms “Gum Drop” EP sold for $209 in 2016.
Extra Credit: Library Assignment
Check out the “Publication Timeline” in OCLC’s fabulous WorldCat database (combined holdings of member libraries worldwide) for Toombs, Rudolph which utilizes a color-coded bar graph to illustrate the extent of publishing activity during the artist’s lifetime, as well as after.
Zero to 180 is thrilled to learn that two titans of funk who both recorded for King – Bernard ‘Pretty‘ Purdie and William ‘Bootsy‘ Collins – are teaming up for a set of new recordings. In accordance with this event’s historical significance, the Mayor of Cincinnati, John Cranley, recently paid tribute to Purdie’s King drumming legacy by proclaiming January 5, 2019 to be “Bernard Purdie Day“! Zero to 180 is honored to have provided the King Records Building Non-Profit Steering Committee with background research in preparation for this proclamation.
Purdie’s first King sessions for Mickey and Sylvia, actually, precede his work for James Brown and yet, nevertheless, connect him once more to hip hop history, as vocalist, Sylvia Robinson (née Vanterpool) – “the Mother of Hip Hop” – would go on to found Sugar Hill Records! Ruppli’s King Labels recording sessionography lists Bernard Purdie as the drummer on Mickey and Sylvia’s big hit, “Love Is Strange” — not the original 1956 recording but a “redo” of the song several years later for the tiny Willow label, as Purdie recounted for Drum Magazine in their January 16, 2013 edition.
But wait — as Ruppli reveals, Willow was, in fact, a label distributed by King Records. Furthermore, Discogs asserts Willow to have been a subsidiary label “created in 1961 by Mickey [i.e., Baker, long-time King session guitarist] and Sylvia.” Purdie’s name is listed as drummer for Mickey and Sylvia on at least 4 sessions for Willow in 1961 that produced six songs [click on all song titles below for streaming audio]:
[L to R] Philip Paul; Bernard Purdie; Celia Purdie; Otis Williams; Bootsy Collins; Anzora Adkins
Photo by Elliott V. Ruther
According to Herzog Music, “The City of Cincinnati now owns the King Records buildings on Brewster Avenue in Evanston. The King buildings are being stabilized with $700,000 of city and Evanston funds, thanks to a united City Council.”
“CMHF will acknowledge the tax deductible donations and share with each Steering Committee organization as it works to formalize the non-profit arrangement with the City. CMHF is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization — donors may deduct contributions as provided in IRC 170(c)(3) of the U.S. Tax Code.”
You can be part of the King Records revitalization success story — please consider a donation to the King Building Fund.
But wait: 1975 sounds much too late in the post-Syd Nathan saga for a new production to come out of the Starday-King studios, especially with IMG/Gusto now running the show. I’m suspicious.
For one thing, the catalog number 106 would indicate the recording to be closer to 1969, tied to the first string of releases from the resuscitated DeLuxe imprint — at that point owned by Lin Broadcasting. An examination of the catalog record for this 1975 Gusto 45 release on Discogs finds this revealing note:
“This is the legal second issue from 1975 – reissued for the UK Northern Soul market. The original does not have the ‘1975 etc’ text around the outside and the release is originally from the late 60’s/early 70’s.
So uh, no, this was not the “final” DeLuxe 45, in terms of latest original recording intended for release.
From browsing Discogs’ listing of DeLuxe releases in chronological order and then examing the catalog numbers in (relative) sequential order, I see that the highest number “152” coincides with 1973 single release from The Manhattans – “Do You Ever” b/w “If My Heart Could Speak” (with the A-side written by Agape recording artist, Myrna March, who also co-produced). Could this possibly be one of the final recordings to come out under the DeLuxe label? To answer this question, it sure would help to know the recording dates of the other DeLuxe 45 releases from 1973:
Ruppli provides no information whatsoever about these recordings and, in fact, does not even list Royal Flush, Reuben Bell, or J. Hines & the Fellows in the index. Not even known whether any of these 45 releases had been recorded in the year 1973. More research is needed to determine the final recording to come out on DeLuxe.
Click on song titles above to hear streaming audio of A & B sides
With regard to Zero to 180’s recent musings about which Bethlehem release was the last original recording intended for that King subsidiary label, this online discography has considerably more detailed information than Ruppli’s sessionography with regard to Bethlehem’s last few years of existence, thus forcing me to recalculate the situation …
The James Brown recording session from May 20, 1970 (David Matthews’ “The Drunk” recorded in two parts, with only Part Two issued) that ended up as the B-side of a Bethlehem (not King) 45 “A Man Has to Go Back to the Crossroads” b/w “The Drunk” appears to be the last original recording released on Bethlehem — a session that took place at King Studios in Cincinnati (as did the session for the single’s A-side on March 2, 1970, on which David Matthews served as Director). Interesting to note that A-side “charted on 18 July, 1970 on Record World‘s “Singles Coming Up” chart peaking at #110″ (Discogs). Note: If you scrutinize this electronic version of Record World‘s July 18, 1970 issue (page 24), you will see that “Crossroads” peaked only at the #134 position. Also, on page 1 of this issue, “Sex Machine” is selected as one of the Singles of the Week (“James Brown pulls no punches and proves once more that he is truly ‘Soul Brother Number 1’ with ‘Get Up I Feel Like a Sex Machine'”), while on page 7,”Crossroads” is reviewed as one of the “four-star” single picks of the week (“He seems to have a new release every other day. This is a genuinely compelling ballad for those who find ‘Get Up’ too heavy.”). Lastly, Record World‘s version of the “bubbling under” LP chart (“LP’s Coming Up”) lists JB’s It’s a New Day – Let a Man Come In And Do the Popcorn album at the #20 spot in this same issue, while “Sex Machine” (identified more chastely as “Get Up”) is at the #30 position on the Top 50 R&B Chart, up seven spots from the previous week.
The next-to-last entry for 1970 says that Arthur Prysock laid down 12 tracks with “unidentified orchestra” and Bill McElhiney serving as arranger/director at Nashville’s Starday-King recording facility on April 8, 1970 for Prysock’s Unforgettable album (released on King). The two singles from this LP, curiously, would be issued on separate labels — “Cry” b/w “Unforgettable” on King, while “Funny World” b/w “The Girl I Never Kissed” ended up on Bethlehem.
As it bids adieu to the King Records’ 75th Anniversary Celebration, Zero to 180 would like to pose these four questions:
What is the last original recording for Starday-King that took place at Cincinnati’s King Studios?
What is the final recording — regardless of whether the artist was under contract to Starday-King — that took place at the (former) King Studios in Cincinnati?
What is the last original recording at the Nashville Starday Studios intended for release on Starday-King or one of its subsidiaries?
What is the last original release from Starday-King before the label’s sale to IMG/Gusto?
A Starday/King/DeLuxe Musical Prank*
Whoa! Is it possible that 1973 instrumental “Victory Strut” by J. Hines & the Fellows (on Starday-King subsidiary, DeLuxe) features what must be some of the earliest turntable scratchingon record?! But alas, the comment below – in reply to the person who posted this audio clip – reveals musical tomfoolery perpetrated at the hands of DJ Ol’SkOul!
“So as much as I love the record scratches on this, I actually bought this 45 thinking they were a part of the song. Sooo yeah, you might want to tell people this is your remix of it. Either way thanks for posting. Great tune.”
Hear for yourself = special ‘REMIX’ of “Victory Strut”
DJ Ol’SkOul likewise provides turntable embellishments for A-side “Camelot Time“
History Messing with My Mind Dept.
Recently, in the course of scanning the index in Ruppli’s King Labels sessionography, I was struck by a fairly unusual name: “SACASAS”. Anselmo Sacasas, it turns out, was a Cuban bandleader who recorded exactly one session for King Records in Miami on April 8, 1955 – four songs recorded, including one tune entitled (hold onto your hats) “Trumpcrazy”!
Billboard‘s reviewer would score this trumpet-heavy “Latino instrumental” a 72 (in the “good” range) in its July 23, 1955 edition. This extremely obscure 45 was nearly lost to history until an audio clip was posted on YouTube in July of 2016.
Michel Ruppli’s 2-volume King Labels recording session discography indicates that Boot, a “hard rock” outfit, had released their debut album on People, a James Brown-owned subsidiary of Starday-King Records. But alas, this turns out not to be true, as Boot’s first album was, in fact, issued on Starday-King subsidiary Agape.
Boot’s album would comprise eight songs, including “Hey Little Girl” and “Liza Brown” (A and B sides, respectively of a 45), plus “Andromeda“; and “Destruction Road.” Among the tracks left in the can is one curiously titled “Funky Country Music.”
Dan Eliassen: Bass & Vocals Jim O’Brock: Percussion Mike Mycz: Rhythm Guitar & Vocals Bruce Knox: Lead/Slide Guitar & Vocals Mike Stone & Peter K. Thomason: Producers Michael S. Stone: [Re-mix] Engineer David L. Rosenberg: Photography & Design
Recorded at Starday-King Studios
Distributed by Starday-King Records
Worth noting that this album was reissued on CD in 1986 by German label Lizard Records — although, Discogs reports this work to have been “licensed from Kingston Records.”
Hey, check this out: Bad Cat Records currently has a listing of the “Hey Little Girl” 45 with a price tag of $85 that also includes some much needed music history:
Hailing from Port Richey, Florida, bassist Dan Eliassen and drummer Jim O’Brock put their first band together in 1972. Originally known as The Kingsmen, they opted for a name change when the Washington-based Kingsmen scored a hit with ‘Louie Louie’. Morphing into The Allusions, Eliassen, O’Brock and a changing cast of players continued to perform at local school dances and teen centers.
By 1966 the lineup featured Eliassen, O’Borck, and lead guitarist Bruce Knox and rhythm guitarist Mike Mycz. They’d also opted for another name change (The Split Ends) as well as moving away from performing largely cover material to penning their own stuff. Signed by the local CPF Records, they also made their recording debut with a 1966 single: ‘Rich with Nothin’ b/w ‘Endless Sun’ (CPF catalog CPF 4).
The 45 proved a regional hit, opening the door to wider exposure including an opening slot on Dick Clark’s Happening ’67 tour. That in turn saw them offered an opportunity to compete on Clark’s ‘Happening ’68 television band contest.
In 1969 the quartet decided on another image and name change – this time adopting the moniker Blues Of Our Time – quickly abbreviated to Boot. With a repertoire of largely original material, the band hit the road playing clubs and concerts nearly non-stop for the next four years.
Released by the Texas-based Agape label, the band debuted with 1972’s cleverly-titled “Boot”. Co-produced by Mike Stone and Peter Thomason, the album was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee at James Brown’s Starday/King Studio. With all four members contributing material the album offered up a mixture of blues-rock and blues-rock, with an occasional stab at a more commercial tune. The band was blessed with three decent singers. Nothing more than a guess on my part, but judging by the songwriting credits (assuming whoever wrote the track probably handled lead vocals), Mycz seemed to have the tougher-rock voice in the group while Eliassen was gifted with more commercial chops. Knox fell somewhere in the middle with a modest country-rock feel to his voice. Knox also showed himself to being an immensely talented lead guitarist — check out his lead work on ‘Hey Little Girl’.
Zero to 180’s sprawling overview of King Records‘ rare and unissued recordings made reference to Wild Goose‘s “surprisingly adventurous ‘Flyin’ Machine‘ which features trippy sounds at the opening and closing, as well as harmony guitar lines during the middle instrumental break” — thank you to the YouTube contributor who uploaded a recording of this rare 45 released on Starday-King imprint Agape:
“Flyin’ Machine” Wild Goose 1971
This 1971 promotional 45 “Flyin’ Machine” b/w “Every Day – Every Night” appears to be the entire recorded output of Wild Goose, about which so little is known.
Starday-King launched Agape in 1971, as reported by Billboard, but alas, it was not long for this world — nine 45 and two LP releases between the years 1971-72 that are currently accounted for (i.e., Discogs and 45Cat). Any other Agape releases?.
On 12 August 2018 – the day this history piece was originally drafted – a copy of the “Flyin’ Machine” 45 was selling on Ebay, incredibly enough, for only $10.
Notable-But-Obscure 45 Release on Agape
Six years before he helped form the Redneck Jazz Explosion with Danny Gatton and Buddy Emmons, fiddle player Buddy Spicher would record a one-off single for Agape, as The Family Jewels in 1972, with Hal Rugg — “Sweet Sauce” (by Boudleaux Bryant) b/w “Chicken Gumbo,” an original tune by Hal Rugg and Jim (“Six Days on the Road”) Colvard.
“Sweet Sauce” Buddy Spicher & Hal Rugg (a.k.a., Family Jewels) 1972
Note: This is the second of 3 history pieces dedicated to Starday-King imprint, Agape.
This is quite an extraordinary first record for a group. It features some of the tightest arrangements heard in a while and vocals that flow well with the music. To say the Coldwater Army is a brass based group would not be fair, although their brass section is dynamite. The LP must be taken as one unit as the Army marches along to the beat of a different drummer. One of the brightest groups to appear in a very long time.
NEW YORK — The Starday-King Music Group has formed a new label, Agape Records. According to Hal Neely, president of Starday-King, the new label will serve as an outlet for the increasing number of contemporary pop, rock and country-rock records scheduled for release later this month, while other labels within the Starday-King complex will continue their output of specialty product.
“The significance of the label name we’ve chosen,” said Neely, “derives from the Latin and means ‘love, feast and fellowship.’ In some early Christian times the Feast of Agape was celebrated in good spirit, brotherhood and acts of charity–so much of which is reflected in contemporary music and stressed in the lyric content of the new generation of songwriters. He added, “We hope to bring some of that early spirit of the ancients into modern times.” (Agape is pronounced ah-goh-pay.)
Several artists have already been signed to Agape including songwriter – singer – producer Myrna March from New York; Fort Worth, Tex. producer David Anderson; a rock group from Georgia known as Coldwater Army to be produced by Bobby Smith; First Friday who will be produced by Darrell Glenn, and a Miami-based unit whose production will be undertaken by veteran producer Kelso Herston.
Agape’s initial product will feature singles by Miss March and Anderson. While Miss March has written a great deal of product for Starday-King artists, and recently produced Tony & Carol and the Manhattans for King via her Make Music Productions with Bert Keyes, she is making her Agape debut with a Bee Gees song, “Touch and Understand Love” backed with her own “I Can Remember.” Recorded in Nashville, her sessions were under the personal supervision of Neely. Anderson’s release will be “Songbird.” Prior recordings by David Anderson with the company will ultimately be switched over to the Agape label.
Initially, the Agape label will be managed and administered by the staff of Starday-King with heavy responsibilities falling to sales manager Lee Trimble, Mike Kelly in the East, Bob Patton in the Midwest and Dexter Shaffer on the West Coast will coordinate regional promotion for all new releases and the over-all operations will be guided by Neely and vice-presidents Henry Glover and Jim Wilson.
The inception of Agape marks the latest in a series of moves towards the rebuilding of Starday-King under the encouragement and guidance of the LIN Broadcasting Corp., of which it is a division. In addition to strengthening the operations of the Starday and King labels, the company has reactivated the old Macon, Ga.-based Federal label and the original DeLuxe Records, a blues-rock label. Recent increased activity, too, has centered on the jazz-oriented Bethlehem label with particular interest focusing on the big sounds of Oscar Brandenburg.
Coldwater Army’s debut/only album Peace would also find release in 1971 in Canada, albeit on Columbia [speaking of which: Seymour Stein, you might recall, had curated a pair of King hits anthologies for “Big Red” in 1967 — see here and here]. Peace was issued for the first time on compact disc in 2017.
Bobby Smith, we now know, had been commissioned by Syd Nathan to build a recording studio in Macon, Georgia — the adopted hometown of King Records’ biggest star, James Brown. The following recordings were produced by Bobby Smith at Bobby Smith Studios, the recording location for these (Starday-)King-related releases — with one notable exception, as indicated a little further down the page:
History Wrinkle: The earliest appearance of “Macon, Georgia” as a recording location in Ruppli’s King recording sessionography – “May 4, 1966” – can be found on a session for Thomas Bailey that yielded “Just Won’t Move” and “Fran” — a single that, for some odd reason, did not find release until 1970. Perhaps Ruppli’s carbon-dating tests somehow got mishandled in the lab? The more likely explanation can be found in John Ridley’s liner notes for the first Ace UK/Kent compilation King Serious Soul:
“Bailey was active in the Macon area with his group, the Flintstones, around the turn of the 70s and was involved with Bobby Smith. He wrote material for Mickey Murray, among others, as well as making his own discs. His first Federal 45 coupled the ballad ‘Fran’ with the strutting Southern funk of ‘Just Won’t Move.'”
Zero to 180 recently spoke with King Records historian, Brian Powers, who asserted that Bobby Smith Studios, indeed, was up and running by 1966 and, in fact, had already been in operation for several years.**
Here’s one other Bobby Smith production that might be the latest recording of the bunch — first of two featured songs in today’s history piece:
Must note with confusion that Bobby Smith is listed as producer on Gloria Walker’s classic slice of funk “Papa’s Got the Wagon” (along with its mate “Your Precious Love“), even though Ruppli’s sessionography notes state that this March, 1971 single had been recorded in “Cincinnati” — is it possible that Smith came to King Studios for this session (which also produced “Lonely and Blue” and “Dancing to the Beat” – two songs that remain locked away in the King vaults)?
NOTE: Check out the “prequel” to this piece via King Records — Day of My Birth, which includes session information for Bobby Smith Productions 1964-1965
In the course of browsing the Federal Records section of Ruppli’s King Labels recording sessionography, I couldn’t help but notice one particular James Duncan session** that took place in Muscle Shoals, Alabama — not Macon, Georgia. But wait, Bobby Smith’s name is attached to this entire August 14, 1969 recording session — is it possible that Smith traveled to Muscle Shoals to record James Duncan? Listen to the classic guitar work on “I Got It Made (in the Shade)” — sure sounds like Eddie Hinton, right? Compare with “This Old Town” by Wilson Pickett, a song previously celebrated here.
“I Got It Made (in the Shade)” James Duncan 1969
As it turns out, the ‘Musical Columbo’ – Soul Detective – had already pondered this question ten years earlier, having discovered a key piece of research in John Ridley’s liner notes to Volume 2 of the Ace UK/Kent anthology series, King Serious Soul that affirms Ruppli’s assertion, pointing out that James Duncan’s Federal singles “were mainly cut at Muscle Shoals [Sound] and were uniformly of a very high standard indeed.”
Liner notes for King’s Serious Soul Vol. 2:
After an initial R&B-styled 45 for Gene in 1962, Duncan recorded a series of six singles for King between 1964 and 1966. Several of these, like his version of “Out of Sight” (King 6039), were heavily influenced by the then current styling of Brother James, although Duncan’s voice was far less harsh and more melodic. They also had a pronounced R&B flavour and tracks like “Mr. Goodtime” (King 6013) have featured on dance floors recently. Others, like his original version of the southern soul war-horse “My Pillow Stays Wet” (King 5887) are more suited to collections like this. After a gap of a couple of years, Duncan rejoined the King group via the ubiquitous Bobby Smith who placed four singles on the Federal label from 1969 to 1971. These were mainly cut at Muscle Shoals and were uniformly of a very high standard indeed. “My Baby Is Back” may just be the pick of the ballads, and is a rec-cut of his only 45 for Major Bill Smith’s Charay concern from 1964. What a great retro sound! It’s pushed by the classic 6/8 slow country soul of “I’m Gonna Leave You Alone” – only the Alabama musicians could play like that. The up-tempo “Money Can’t Buy True Love” shows how adept they were at dance cuts as well.
James Duncan, along with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, laid down six songs at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama on August 14, 1969, with producer Bobby Smith at the helm: “Money Can’t Buy True Love”; “My Baby Is Back”; “All Goodbyes Ain’t Gone”; “I’m Gonna Leave You Alone”; “I Got It Made (in the Shade)” & “You’ve Got to Be Strong” [Ruppli]. Also recorded at Muscle Shoals, according to Ridley, is the Lori & Lance single “I Don’t Have to Worry” b/w “All I Want Is You.”
** Zero to 180 would subsequently stumble upon Bobby Smith’s productions for King and assemble a “prequel” research piece, King Records — Day of My Birth, posted April 25, 2019.