Willie Charles Gray
Willie Charles Gray was a Texan from Dallas who spent a little bit of time in the Masqueraders when they were still learning their trade in the city in the early 60s. He went on to join one of the hottest acts in the neighbourhood – Les Watson and the Panthers. They recorded a very obscure album for Jarrett Boren which purported to be a live concert from Dallas’ Blackout Club which contained the band’s version of recent popular R & B tunes like “Stand By Me”, the Coasters “Young Blood” and “You’re So Fine” by the Falcons.
As Charles Gray he also cut a 45 for Boren’s Village label which may even be rarer than the LP. The top side of this was a rousing cut of the 5 Royales “Don’t Do It” which also featured on the LP. Listening ot them both it is clear that the album version is simply the 45 with overdubbed crowd noises which – since that cut is the only one on the LP with any noise from the “audience” – casts a lot of doubt on the “live” claim for the set.
By about 1965 or 1966 Gray was calling himself Willie Charles and had set out on a solo career. He recorded in Nashville for Shelby Singleton who leased out a 45 to Mercury, both sides of which Gray penned and which are class southern soul. “Here I Go Again” is a fine bouncy tune with some tasty Otis Redding styled vocals. Even better was the beat ballad I’m Gonna Be A Winner. This had the benefit of a strong hookline and some well-arranged horns. Two other tracks from this session were never issued on 45, or had horns added, but did appear on an acetate. The deep ballad The Way Of Life was particularly attractive and worthwhile. The tuneful toe tapper “The Old Songs” was good too – great Gray performance.
Gray continued to record for Singleton who put out a couple of 45s on his own SSS International label. The first one had a rather forgettable “Don’t Look Like Another Happy Day” but the other side was something else. I’ve Really Got Something To Be Proud Of was a classic southern soul deep track – really first rate. I like the arrangement a lot and Willie’s vocal cut is chock full of emotion. He followed this with a James Brown styled boogaloo “A Whole Lot Of Soul” and a version of My Ancestors which was also recorded with distinction by Obrey Wilson. Gray does a fine job here with the interesting socially conscious lyric.
As CHARLES GRAY LES WATSON & THE PANTHERS
Don’t do it / I found a love ~ VILLAGE 103 (1964/5?)
From the Blackout Club ~ JARRETT LP 21516 (1964/5?)
As WILLIE CHARLES GRAY
I’m gonna be a winner / Here I go again ~ MERCURY 72608 (1966)
I’ve really got something to be proud of / Don’t look like another happy day ~ SSS INT 701 (1967)
My ancestors / A whole lot of soul ~ SSS INT 725 (1967)
Note ~ Special thanks to my friend Yass for kindly sharing his very rare acetate for the soundclip here.