Various Artists “The Fame Studios Story 1961-1973” (UK Kent 3-CD Set Kentbox 12)
by Pete Nickols
A VERY SIGNIFICANT CD COLLECTION FOR WHICH SOUL FANS HAVE LONG BEEN WAITING
CD1: Arthur Alexander~ You Better Move On; The Tams ~ Laugh It Off; The Mark 5 ~ Night Rumble Pt.1; Tommy Roe ~ Everybody; Arthur Alexander ~ I Hope They Get Their Eyes Full; Jimmy Hughes ~ Steal Away; Dan Penn ~ Let Them Talk; Joe Tex ~ Hold What You’ve Got; Barbara Perry ~ A Man Is A Mean, Mean Thing; The Del-Rays ~ Fortune Teller; Bobby Marchan ~ Funny Style; June Conquest ~ Almost Persuaded; The Entertainers ~ Too Much; James Barnett ~ Keep On Talking; Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces ~ Searching For My Love; Spooner & The Spoons ~ Wish You Didn’t Have To Go; Joe Simon ~ Let’s Do It Over; Jimmy Hughes ~ Neighbor, Neighbor; Billy Young ~ Feed The Flame; James & Bobby Purify ~ I’m Your Puppet; Arthur Conley ~ I Can’t Stop (No, No, No); Terry Woodford ~ Gonna Make You Say Yeah; Spooner’s Crowd ~ Two In The Morning; James Gilreath ~ Why Not Tonight; Wilson Pickett ~ Land Of 1000 Dances.
CD2: Otis Redding ~ You Left The Water Running; Clyde McPhatter ~ A Shot Of Rhythm & Blues; Art Freeman ~ Slippin’ Around With You; Kip Anderson ~ Without A Woman; Arthur Conley ~ Sweet Soul Music; Clarence & Calvin ~ Thread The Needle; Aretha Franklin ~ I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You); Ted Taylor ~ Miss You So; Don Covay & The Goodtimers ~ You Put Something On Me; Etta James ~ Tell Mama; Terry & The Chain Reaction ~ Keep Your Cool; Irma Thomas ~ Cheater Man; Jeanie Greene ~ Don’t Make Me Hate Loving You; Linda Carr ~ Everytime; The Wallace Brothers ~ I Stayed Away Too Long; Laura Lee ~ As Long As I Got You; The Blues Busters ~ Don’t Lose Your Good Thing; Clarence Carter ~ Slip Away; Otis Clay ~ Do Right Woman, Do Right Man; Spencer Wiggins ~ Once In A While (Is Better Than Never At All); Ben & Spence ~ Thief In The Night; Mitty Collier ~ (Take Me) Just As I Am; Maurice & Mac ~ Why Don’t You Try Me; George Jackson ~ Search Your Heart; David & The Giants ~ Ten Miles High.
CD3: Lowell Fulson ~ Lady In The Rain; Wilson Pickett ~ Hey Jude; Unknown Female ~ Another Man’s Woman, Another Woman’s Man; Clarence Carter ~ Snatching It Back; Etta James ~ I Got You Babe; James Govan ~ Wanted: Lover (No Experience Necessary); George Jackson ~ Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em And Forget ‘Em; Candi Staton ~ I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’); The Fame Gang ~ Grits And Gravy; The Osmonds ~ One Bad Apple; Spencer Wiggins ~ I’d Rather Go Blind; Brothers Unlimited ~ Take Me Back; Willie Hightower ~ Walk A Mile In My Shoes; Clarence Carter ~ Patches; Bobbie Gentry ~ Fancy; George Jackson ~ Double Lovin’; Little Richard ~ Greenwood, Mississippi; Roscoe Robinson ~ What Colour Is Love; Lou Rawls ~ Bring It On Home To Me; Bettye Swann ~ I Can’t Let You Break My Heart; Willie Hightower ~ Back Road Into Town; Candi Staton ~ The Thanks I Get For Loving You; George Soule ~ Get Involved; Clarence Carter ~ Put On Your Shoes And Walk; Travis Wammack ~ You Better Move On.
It’s not for me to second-guess UK Kent’s criteria for the tracks they chose to include in this much-awaited 3-CD release, rightly glorifying the majestic music made at Rick Hall’s studio in Muscle Shoals, but I see it as appealing to two different types of potential buyer: the serious soul fan looking both for rare recordings and indeed first-time-issued demos but also to the more general music fan simply seeking to find out what the legendary Fame label was really about in terms of its total output in all of the musical genres it featured during its halcyon years. I’m sure it succeeds impressively on both fronts, albeit I suspect that it also has a third raison d’etre, namely as a fine anticipation-generating sampler for what is yet to come from Ace/Kent’s exhaustive exploration into Fame’s vaults.
One is rightly made aware of the many non-soul Fame recordings which became big hits and which therefore, from an economic standpoint, very much helped keep Rick Hall’s ‘pot’ boiling (not that many of these recordings were in any way short of artistic and musical merit by pop standards). Although one should immediately stress that the set majors on soul-related output, it understandably also includes several of these poppier items, some of which, like Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy”, may well appeal to soul fans, while others almost certainly will not, e.g. the Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple”, despite it being penned by Fame’s luminary writer, demo-cutter and recording artist, George Jackson.
However, let’s concentrate here on some of the seemingly most significant soul-related items on offer amongst the 75 tracks – of which there are many, some very significant indeed, in both the historical and the musical sense.
Firstly, to the new-to-CD (or indeed, usually, new to anywhere) soul-related tracks.
To come across a completely unknown Arthur Alexander recording from his earliest sessions at Hall’s first Wilson Dam Fame studio was a major find and “Hope They Get Their Eyes Full” doesn’t disappoint. Intended as a possible follow-up to Arthur’s initial Dot-released hit “You Better Move On”, it retains the same appealing pop-soul approach and Arthur’s vocal is top-drawer.
Billy Young’s early version of “Feed The Flame” (a song which was even earlier demoed by co-author Dan Penn) was cut at the singer’s “You Left The Water Running” session but was not sent to (or picked up by) Chess. It’s as good as any other version yet released and is a “must hear” track.
Otis Redding’s early-1967 cut of the aforementioned “You Left The Water Running” was long thought to be the first demo of the song, although, when a two-plus-minute long version was released illegally on Stone (and later legally by others), the horn, bass and drum parts made it sound more of a ‘completed’ recording. We now know (a) Dan Penn cut the original demo some 18 months earlier (b) the extra instrumentation was overdubbed later and (c) that Redding’s actual performance back in early-1967 featured just his vocal, his guitar plus some ‘spare’ percussion and lasted for over 4 minutes. At last we can really hear all of what was ‘put down’ by the Big O on that day and just what a genuinely soulful performance it was.
The caucasian singer-songwriter James ‘Little Band Of Gold’ Gilreath penned “Why Not Tonight”, which made a great Fame vehicle for Jimmy Hughes but this earlier unissued version by the song’s author is a very fine example of blue-eyed country-soul which itself warranted release.
Calvin Scott wasn’t in A1 condition long-enough (thanks to his wife shooting him) for Clarence Carter to cut many sides with him at Fame as Clarence & Calvin. The released “Step By Step” by the blind duo has received some reissue attention but it’s nice to hear instead their original demo of Carter’s “Thread The Needle”, which Clarence would go on to cut solo for Fame after Scott was ‘out of the picture’. This version is worth hearing alone for the amusing end-of-track banter between the duo!
It’s great also to hear a new solo recording from the 60’s by the wonderful predominantly background and demo-singer, Jeanie Greene and, what’s more, one which was not simply sung by her in the style of some other artist who had been earmarked to record it. Jeanie makes Junior Lowe’s “Don’t Make Me Hate Loving You” very much her own and shows once again (further to her Quinvy-cut Atco single) just what a very fine blue-eyed soul-songstress she could be.
We also get the self-sung demo version of Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away” which is every bit as good as the later released ‘take’; while the merely previously Kent EP-issued Ben & Spence jaunty mid-pacer “Thief In the Night”, whilst well-enough sung, frankly doesn’t appeal quite so much to me.
Mitty Collier provides a previously unissued 1968 interpretation of Dan-Penn-as-Lonnie-Ray’s impressive and well-covered song “Take Me (Just As I Am)”. Mitty’s version is a real tour-de-force, powerful, deep and gospelly. Taken alone, it’s stunning – yet somehow the slightly less in-your-face and more country-influenced versions by the likes of Conley and Burke serve the original ‘feel’ of Penn’s song rather better for me.
George Jackson’s original cut of his own great deep winner “Search Your Heart”, penned especially for Wilson Pickett, is outstanding. As the sleeve-notes imply, there’s genuinely little to choose between this and the issued versions from the original soul era by Pickett and James Carr – Pickett still just gets my vote, but it’s a mighty close call!
Next, we get a nice demo of “Another Man’s Woman” by a good-quality but unidentified female singer. Apparently co-writer George Jackson got her to sing this for him instead of doing it himself. However George did indeed cut the original demo of his song “Double Lovin’” (later released by Spencer Wiggins and then the Osmonds) and that demo is also featured here.
Also featured are several issued tracks which have rarely, if ever, appeared on CD and some of these are also well worth a mention.
There’s Arthur Conley’s Fame 1007 cut of Penn and Hawkins’ “I Can’t Stop (No No No)”, which you won’t find on Kent’s recent Conley CD release; then there’s Don Covay’s superbly deep Atlantic ‘B’ side “You Put Something On Me”; while the fine Jamaican duo The Blues Busters provide a terrific version of “Don’t Lose Your Good Thing” from the withdrawn version of their Shout 235 single – a song demoed at Fame by Dan Penn and also cut there by Jimmy Hughes and Etta James.
Another classic interpretation of a Fame ‘standard’ can be found in Otis Clay’s very fine Cotillion cut of ”Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, while Kip Anderson fans (and who isn’t?) will delight in a good quality CD issue for his magnificent “Without A Woman” (I am only personally aware of it previously seeing CD release on 2005’s “Tearjerkers” on UK Mojo/Chess).
James Govan is another ‘cult’ soulman and rightly so. His Fame 1461 version of Laura Lee’s “Wanted: Lover, No Experience Necessary” is as different from Ms Lee’s fine, raunchy interpretation as chalk and cheese – it’s turned here by James virtually into a deep-soul gem – a great performance.
A quick mention for one of two Spencer Wiggins songs included here, namely his amazing cover of Etta James’ very fine Fame cut “I’d Rather Go Blind”. Wiggins is/was a singer of such quality (my own personal No.1 soulman, by the by) that he really could take on songs that were revered via their apparently unassailable original versions and still produce something to rival even those (he did it again with Aretha’s “I Never Loved A (Wo)man”).
Willie Hightower was another ‘top-drawer’ soulman and, of his two tracks on this set, “Back Road Into Town” (Fame 1477) is message-country-soul at its finest. Bettye Swann’s only Fame label release “I Can’t Let You Break My Heart” also features but my final comment is left for Little Richard’s Reprise 0942 side “Greenwood Mississippi”, rightly likened to a piece of Creedence Clearwater ‘backwoods funk’, and a cracking ‘vehicle’ for one of black music’s great voices.
Before ending, it would be wrong not to also compliment Ace/Kent and Messrs Rudland, Rounce and Palao on the great sound quality achieved plus the beautifully-crafted booklet, sleeve-notes and rare pictures which accompany all this fine music. Of the many memorable photos, two in particular appealed to me: a terrific one of James and Bobby Purify in their full-suited 60’s ‘glory’, walking along a London street under a large umbrella; and a lovely studio shot of Rick Hall with Spencer Wiggins.
This release is quite simply a ”must have” for any serious southern soul fan and also a great ‘ear-opener’ for newer southern music fans generally.