There is no doubt that Bill Brandon was a great vocalist. His strong gospel baritone, at times pleading, at times compelling, has been undervalued for years. He was born on October 7, 1943 in Huntsville, Alabama and was raised in a very musical environment. Brandon started his career with Quin Ivy cutting some very superior southern soul. Self Preservation is a deep soul classic, a beautifully realised country ballad, superbly produced by Spooner Oldham. Percy Sledge paid the song the compliment of a cover. The flip is the rip-roaring “Full Grown Lovin’ Man”, a real groover which should be as big a dancefloor favourite as Don Varner’s “Tear Stained Face”.
Brandon cut many more songs at the Quinvy studios, even though only two more 45s, on Tower and Quinvy, were issued. Rainbow Road is one of the most sought after of all deep soul tracks – and what a masterpiece it is. According to Southern Soul folklore Dan Penn and Donnie Fritts (the Elegant Alabama Leaning Man) wrote this sad story for Arthur Alexander, from whose life they obtained some of the details. But Brandon’s version predates Alexander’s Warner Bros rendition by some 4 years and, with its meandering trombone and superb rhythm work, is surely the preferred one. This is one occasion when a record’s scarcity is matched by its quality. The cut was leased to New York based Tower records as a one-off, and the B side “You’ve Got That Something Wonderful” is a cracking 1960s dance track propelled by driving horns and intricate piano.
After Quin Ivy stopped issuing records Brandon recorded five high quality singles for Clinton Moon’s Moonsong label in the then thriving soul city of Birmingham, Alabama, under the production of genius Sam Dees and Frederick “Witness” Knight. Of these the gospel drenched I’m A Believer Now and his anguished version of the stalwart It’s All Wrong are probably the best. The rhythm track for the former was cut at MSS and the class shows. A brilliant one-off Tag Tag for the Nashville based Piedmont label followed in 1976. This lovely melodic ballad with it’s lovely Dees lyric and subtle arrangement was recorded as part of his Moonsong material and totally overshadows the rather overblown but considerably more famous “Streets Got My Lady”.
Brandon then signed for producers Moses Dillard and Jesse Boyce who had a licence deal with Prelude. They took Brandon back to Muscle Shoals to the Wishbone studios where he cut three 45s for the New York label and his only LP to date. By this time, even the southern soul production values were much smoother and more fully orchestrated: in keeping with the times Brandon’s vocals are somewhat restrained and throttled back. However some good sides appeared, particularly “Can’t We Just Sit Down” (Prelude 71098) and “Special Occasion” (71105). The album gives more than a nod to the disco scene but is well worth searching out. The last Prelude single came out in 1978 and since then no further Brandon recordings have surfaced.
Since leaving the music business in 1987 Brandon has earnt a living as a long distance truck driver, and has no regrets over his career choices. My only regret is that the only people who hear him sing these days are the other members of the congregation of his church in Harvest, Alabama.
Full grown lovin' man / Self
preservation ~ SOUTH CAMP 7006 (1967)
Rainbow road / Something wonderful ~ TOWER 430 (1968)
Strangest feeling / Since I fell for you ~ QUINVY 7007 (1970)
I'm a believer now / Stop this merry-go-round ~ MOONSONG 9001 (1972)
Whatever I am I'm yours / Johnnie Mae Wright ~ MOONSONG 9003 (1973)
I am free of your love / Piece of your heart ~ MOONSONG 9004 (1973)
Doing right don't wrong nobody / It's all wrong it's all right ~ MOONSONG 9005 (1973)
Let's make our new love something special / Let me be your full time groover ~ MOONSONG 001 (with LORRAINE JOHNSON) (1973)
The streets got my lady / Tag tag ~ PIEDMONT 078 (1976)
You made my life so bright / Can't we just sit down and talk it over ~ PRELUDE 71098 (1977)
We fell in love while dancing / same (long version) ~ PRELUDE 71102 (1978)
Special occasion / Get it while it's hot ~ PRELUDE 71105 (1978)
Bill Brandon ~ PRELUDE LP 12149 (1978)
Bill Brandon ~ SEQUEL CD 746 (1995)
Note 1 – Brandon cut 10 sides for Quin Ivy that remained in the vaults until Charly UK reissued them as part of their series of LPs on South Camp and Quinvy. The tracks are “All I Need Is You”, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, “One Minute Woman”, “Little By Little”, “She Knows What To Do For Me”, “To Make My Life Beautiful”, “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, “When You Get What You Want” and “Your Big Chance”.
Note 2– LP and CD reissues of Brandon’s early Quinvy Studios material differ from the issued 45s in mix and length. For example the Charly LP and Overture versions of “Since I Fell For You” have a string section, but not the flute or horn section that was overdubbed on the 45.
Note 3 – Brandon also cut 2 songs during his spell at Moonsong – Good Guys (Don’t always Win) and “Let’s Get It Back Together Again” – which were unissued at the time but which were included on CDs from Ace UK.
Note 4 - In The Basement magazine (see Links) published a fascinating interview with Brandon in issue 33 Feb/April 2004 – buy it.
Thanks to Pete Nickols for the Radio Ad.