Friday, October 20, 2006

Happy Birthday Wanda Jackson

Described by Nick Tosches as “simply and without contest the greatest menstruating rock ‘n’ roll singer whom the world has ever known” (Unsung Heroes Of Rock ‘N’ Roll) Wanda Jackson, The Queen of Rockabilly, was born on 20 October 1937 in Maud, Oklahoma.

Those who saw Wanda at The Luminaire last month can testify that she is still a great rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly singer. Remarkably, just a month shy of 69, Wanda Jackson was still capable of those feral whoops and guttural yelps that typify her finest work.

But then Wanda Jackson has always been a remarkable woman.

In 1953, whilst still a schoolgirl, Wanda had her own radio show; in spring the following year Hank Thompson (of Humpty Dumpty Heart fame) heard it and invited her to tour with him and his Brazo Valley Boys. With Hanks patronage she was signed first to Decca, for whom she recorded from 1954 to 1956, then to Capitol.

In 1955 Wanda toured with Elvis Presley. Wanda, like everyone and everything else, was changed by Presley.

"Elvis had been talking to me about trying to sing this new rock 'n' roll or rockabilly - I don't think we even had a name for it yet - and I didn't think that I could. I told him, no, I'm just a country singer but it seemed like he knew something I didn't know. He said: 'you can do this, I know you can and you need to!' So... we were working in Memphis and one afternoon he picked me, took me to their house, the one on Audubon, the small house. And we went there and we played records all afternoon, we sang and he was trying to give me the feel for this, the way he sang songs. I was impressed that he just really seemed to care about my career" (Wanda Jackson I Remember Elvis)

Her first record for Capitol, I Gotta Know, prevaricates between country waltz and rockabilly dynamite. It is, I think, a fascinating audio snapshot of a time before rock ‘n’ roll became such a knowable thing. It prickles with mistrust and intrigue. A then unknown Buck Owens played rhythm guitar on it.

From 1956 to 1961 Wanda cut some of the finest rockabilly music you could wish to hear and, in 1957, toured with the racially mixed band Bobby Poe and the Poe Kats who featured Big Al Downing on piano.

‘“Bobby and I would do solo spots,” Downing told Bill Millar, “warming up the audience before Wanda came on. Frankly, there wasn’t as much prejudice as you’d expect even though I’d stand beside her and sing with her. She liked my playing and would introduce me to the audience, which helped.”’ (from Roadkill On The Three-Chord Highway Colin Escott)

It was with the Poe Kats, in 1958, that Wanda recorded the album for Ken Nelson that included Lets Have A Party which eventually became a surprise Top 40 hit in August 1960, by which time Wanda was playing Vegas lounges.

In 1961 she released the self penned country song Right Or Wrong (the flipside Funnel Of Love is now a live favourite amongst Wanda’s fans) followed by In The Middle Of A Heartache for which Wanda wrote the lyrics. Both are appealing Patsy Cline-ish numbers and both dented the Top 30.

In October that year Wanda married Wendell Goodman, who also became her manager in 1970. They became born again Christians in 1972 and Wanda wished to become a country gospel singer. Capitol were less enamoured of the idea and Wanda was released from her contract. She then pursued her vocation as a singer and Christian on small specialist labels such as Word and Myrrh.

With Capitol from 1961 to 1973 Wanda was a regular on the country charts. Although these tracks tend to lack the coruscating urgency of Wanda’s rockabilly sides they amply demonstrate the breadth of her talent as she adapted to changes in country fashions. It is these tracks which make up the Ace CD The Very Best Of The Country Years and it was the promotion of said CD which saw Wanda rockin’ up a storm at a packed Luminaire. Watch some of it here, courtesy of Richard Gibson .

Further reading here and here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Soule Man

George Soule is best known, where he is known at all, for the 1973 Fame single Get Involved. Soule originally cut this George Jackson penned call to action as a demo:
Rick Hall decided it was worth a shot as a record and did his thing getting it ready for release (overdubs, my vocal, horns etc.)” remembers George.The record made the black Top 20 and the black television stations came calling but he felt he had to decline their invitation, because George Soule wasn’t, as so many had assumed, a black artist.
As he told Barney Hoskyns, for his book Say It One Time For The Brokenhearted:
“I just didn’t feel comfortable being a white artist giving this black message.”

In 1965 Soule had appeared, together with Ray Charles, on Jack Good's American television show Shindig singing a number called I Love The Way You Love.
“I would like to tell you I was on the show because of something I did in the music world at that time,” says Soule “The truth of the matter is it was arranged by my mother who grew up with Tom Moore, President of ABC TV. All it took was a phone call and I was on Delta flying to CA.”
The following year George produced I Gotta Find A Way / It’s Over My Head by the Six Soul Survivors on the small Meridian based Rap label. Paul Davis, of the Six Soul Survivors, had written both numbers.

In 1967 Tommy Couch founder of Malaco Records opened a recording studio in a disused Pepsi Cola warehouse in Jackson Mississippi:

‘Almost the first people to drop in were white Meridian songwriters Paul Davis and George Soule. “They were both kinda like Dan Penn,” says Tommy; “country and bluesy at the same time”’ (Say It One Time For The Broken Hearted, Barney Hoskyns)

They brought with them black singer Eddie Houston:
“Eddie Houston worked for the Soule' family business here in Mississippi as a shipping clerk. He was aware of my interest in the music business and presented me with a demo tape of him and his band. I took the tape to Tom Couch and we decided to do a speculative session on Eddie.”Capitol Records liked what they heard and issued Simon Says (a Soule/Davis composition), “The Capitol release on Eddie was a first for Tom and myself. It was the first master we ever leased to a major record label.” says Soule.

That same year Cozy Corley, who was the first artist Malaco had recorded, cut the Soule/ Davis composition Warm Loving Man.

1969 was a big year for Soule. Tetragrammaton Records released his first record as a singer Mississsippi River/ Talking 'bout Love. The b-side was a Soule/ Davis original. Mississippi River was also Paul Davis’ solo debut released the same year on the Bang label.

Also that year Floyd Brown enjoyed regional success in New Orleans with Someone the first song Soule had ever had published and recorded:
“I co-wrote the song with a life long friend Richard Cherry when we were both teenagers. The first recording was by Sue Thompson on Hickory in 1964. Later, Frank Ifield recorded the same song for Hickory. Also Etta James cut it at one point years later. There have been several cuts on the song. It never has been a hit, but, the folks at Acuff-Rose Publishing used to kid me and say it was the only soul song in their catalog.”

Most importantly, in December ’69, Jerry Wexler picked up four Soule compositions.
“At that time I decided to move to Muscle Shoals from Jackson, MS. I remember the session (for Saving It All For You Judy Clay), and how exciting it was to have Mr. Wexler use my material. I was not involved as a player on the session but was present and watched Mr. Wexler do what he does so well, produce records.”

As the Seventies dawned Soule cut So Glad You Happened To Me for the Bell label.

‘“George could really sing, he sounded totally black, says his one time writing partner Terry Woodford. “A real insecure guy, but very talented. I signed him as a writer and singer and produced his first record for Bell then he produced me on Cottillon” (Say It One Time For the Brokenhearted, Barney Hoskyns)

Soule recalled: “"So Glad You Happened To Me" did well in Washington D.C. upon release but didn't get off the ground anywhere else.”

It was with Woodford that Soule penned soul favourite You Can't Stop A Man In Love which has been recorded by Reuben Howells, Carl Carlton and Bobby Womack amongst others.

One of my favourite Woodford/ Soule compositions is Paul Thompson’s Special Kind of Woman (B Side of What I Don’t Know Wont Hurt , also co written by Soule, Volt 4042) Says George “The Paul Thompson session was a spec session in hopes of securing a record deal for Paul with a good company. After completion of the session and mixing the master was leased to Volt Records, a division of Stax in Memphis.”

In 71 he issued We’re Into Something Good on Great Western Gramophone Records as George Glenn. “Glenn is my ex-wife's maiden name. We thought at the time since everyone was having problems pronouncing my last name correctly we’d use "Glenn" instead of "Soule' ". (its pronounced Soolay by the way)

The following year saw his first Fame release I’ll Take Care of You.

In addition to releasing Get Involved, 1973 saw Soule co-write Stony with Dan Penn at the latter’s Beautiful Sounds studio. It is apparently in a similar vein to Penn’s "Nobody's Fool" album of that year though it is not included on that album. Soule also contributed the title track to Percy Sledge’s highly thought of I’ll Be Your Everything album issued by Phil Walden’s Capricorn label that year.

In 1975 he produced Frustrated Housewife by the late Ava Aldridge at the Music Mill in Muscle Shoals.
“A speculative session had been recorded on Ava and MGM was one of the companies we dropped by to pitch Ava's masters to. We made a deal for Ava and the album "Frustrated Housewife" was released on MGM as a result. The title track of the LP was used in the movie Fighting Mad starring Peter Fonda.” says Soule. He also wrote Woman Without Love with Ava Aldridge who he remembers as “a songwriter's songwriter, a great vocalist and friend.”

In the years that followed George Soule busied himself as a freelance studio man and songwriter.

In 1992 Soule contributed to Etta James' The Right Time album:“Jerry Wexler came to Muscle Shoals Sound to produce Etta James. At that time I was still living in the Muscle Shoals area and visited the studio on a regular basis. “Knowing him from his visits in the early 70's, he invited me to visit with him in the office while he made preparations for the Etta James session. He asked me how I was doing etc...and if my catalog of songs were producing enough income for a living. After he finished the tracks and lead vocals on Ms. James, he asked some of us local singers to put together a backup group… That was the last session I participated in before moving back to Mississippi.”

And that was that, more or less. (In 1994, together with Ava Aldridge, he sang background vocals on Dan Penn’s Do Right Man album.)

Then in 2003 Casual records released an excellent compilation called Country Got Soul which featured Soule’s Get Involved alongside the work of such artists as Larry Jon Wilson, Tony Joe White and the late Eddie Hinton.

Such was the interest generated by this record that early the following year its compiler Jeb Loy Nichols got together several of the featured artists including George Soule at Dan Penn’s Nashville studio for a new album Testifying . I’m Only Human written and sung by George Soule is, to these ears, the stand out track on this outstanding album.

In 2005 he performed at the Muscle Shoals night as a part of The Barbican’s 'It Came From Memphis' festival.

In July 2008 I had a quick chat with Larry Jon Wilson, who was in the UK promoting his eponymous new album. Conversation came round to the Barbican gigs and Wilson said before going on Soule was too nervous "to spit" and that Bonnie (Bramlett, who was also on the bill that night) was pretty worried. Wilson was determined to look out for Soule whom he called "that cajun guy" :" I introduced him (at the Barbican), as a man who CAN sing in key that made him laugh and he was able to perform after that" recalled Wilson.

Soule went on to perform a number of songs including a rather lovely version of The Dark End Of The Street.

All of which is a long winded way of telling you that at 60 years of age George Soule, one of the great lost voices of blue eyed soul, is releasing his first album today (tomorrow in the US). Recorded in Nashville and produced by Mark Nevers , it’s called Take A Ride and is issued by the excellent Zane records. Listen to a bit here then rush to your nearest independent record shop and buy it!!

(By the way I have, like George Soule, been a member of The Southern Soul list for some years now and those quotes not taken from Say It One Time For The Brokenhearted are taken from messages George Soule sent to that group. Thanks are therefore due to the Southern Soul moderator and listees)