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1967 Episode One – Sho Is Good

At long last, here’s the first episode of the 1967 Reggie Young (and Bobby Emmons) Discography Liner Notes (YouTube playlist below):

By 1966, Bobby Patterson and his Mustangs were the hottest R&B act in Dallas, packing the same clubs that Lattimore Brown and his Mighty Men had a few years before. John Howard Abdnor, whose primary business was selling Insurance, signed Bobby to his Abnak record label, but soon moved him to his R&B subsidiary, Jetstar, for Patterson’s further releases.

Dale Hawkins, whose own Abnak 45s were going nowhere, would become Abdnor’s producer, and in early January of 1967, he sent him to Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio in Memphis to record a few sides on Patterson. Only one track from those sessions was released at the time, the great Long Ago (Jetstar 108), which Dan Penn had written with Muscle Shoals compatriot Bob Killen, and recorded a killer demo of just prior to leaving Fame six months earlier.

Penn and Moman are credited as arrangers on the label, and the two of them had been thick as thieves since writing The Dark End Of The Street at The Anchor Motel in Nashville that past October. Just as they promised Quinton Claunch, they had cut it on James Carr at Hi (with both Reggie and Bobby Emmons on board) just five weeks before Patterson’s session at American. It was selected as a ‘regional breakout’ in Billboard in February, alongside another record that Dale Hawkins had produced for Abnak, Western Union by The Five Americans.

‘The Dark End Of The Street’ would eventually go top ten R&B, while ‘Western Union’ climbed even further, to #5 on the Hot 100, after which Abdnor would make Hawkins vice president of the label. There sure was a lot of talent under one roof there on Thomas Street, and although Billboard had picked ‘Long Ago’ to hit the R&B chart in the same issue, somehow it never did.

Some thirty years later, another track recorded at those sessions, the Penn/Oldham gem I Do, would be released as the final track on a Kent Records CD, although mis-titled as ‘Who Wants To Fall In Love’ (Check out Dan Penn on the second vocal! – as well as Dan’s own version on his great new album Living On Mercy). It’s interesting to compare Reggie’s and Bobby’s notes for that session. Reggie simply noted ‘Dale Hawkins’, as no doubt he knew him from his Louisiana Hayride days, but Bobby (ever the perfectionist) notes ‘Chips’ (indicating American), client name, artist and even song titles (although he got ‘I Do’ right, he apparently had to go back and correct ‘Long Ago’…).

It appears that, at this point, Reggie had come in off the road for good but Bobby Emmons was still out there performing, playing local gigs behind guys like Wayne Jackson and Charlie Freeman, and touring with Ace Cannon throughout the Mid-South. The day after the session with Chips outlined above, he was off to Mississippi with Ace, while Reggie stayed on South Lauderdale.

The two sides cut there on January 6th provide a glimpse of what was going on at Hi at the time. Bowlegs Miller was still very much ‘in da house’, and collaborated with Reggie on the hilarious Sho Is Good (Hi 2021). Don Bryant is at the top of his game, both as a singer and songwriter, on Can’t Hide The Hurt (Hi 2131), which is only the second Hi 45 to credit Willie Mitchell as a producer, a credit he would also soon be receiving from the ‘outside labels’ that recorded there. There was, understandably, friction between the two trumpet playing bandleaders working under one roof and, according to Howard Grimes, Willie and Bowlegs were soon to have a ‘falling-out’ (we’ll talk more about that later on).

On January 8th, Reggie and Bobby again joined Chips at American to cut Roosevelt Grier on the way funky Slow Drag, with label credit to both Chips and Dan Penn as producers. Grier had been signed by MGM (making the move from the in-house Youngstown label), a major step up, no doubt brought on by Chips’ having just produced back-to-back hits for MGM on Sandy Posey. It was MGM’s Jim Vienneau who had brought Chips and Dan together in the first place, and he was also the man responsible for bringing a young songwriter into the fold in late 1966, one Wayne Carson Thompson. Just a few days after the session with Rosie at American, Chips would take Reggie with him to Nashville to cut Sandy’s third top 40 hit in a row, What A Woman In Love Won’t Do. The flip of that single, the haunting Shattered, was written by Wayne Carson and is, in my estimation, one of her best. It was Sandy’s records that were no doubt paying the bills at this point, and there were more sessions held on her, both in Nashville and Memphis (and even one at Fame) in 1967 than on any other artist, resulting in the whopping 25 other tracks that are playable on the discography page.

Luther Steinberg, the son of W.C. Handy’s piano player Milton Steinberg (and the brother of original Booker T. & The M.G.s bass player Lewie Steinberg) was another ‘trumpet playing bandleader’ who led his own popular orchestra in the late forties and early fifties. They would cut two sides at Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service in 1951 which were released on Chess 1465 under the name of Lou Sargent and his Orchestra. As evidenced by this great Cashbox ad at right, Chess had high hopes for Luther’s “Ridin’ The Boogie,” pushing it as the jukebox folow-up to Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” (hmmm… would that make it the second Rock ‘n’ Roll record?). In any event, Lou Sargent never did make the charts, and this lone 78 appears to represent Steinberg and his band’s entire recorded output.

In 1954, Luther’s wife Martha Jean would become one of the first female (and black) disk jockeys in the nation when she joined the staff at WDIA, and was soon nicknamed ‘The Queen’ by fellow dee-jay Robert ‘Honeymoon’ Garner. Her Saturday afternoon show, on which she would spotlight the latest R&B records released that week, was called ‘Premium Stuff’. Over the next decade it would become one of the most listened to on-air programs in the South. Pulling up stakes in 1963, The Queen headed for that other epicenter of Soul, Detroit, where she would continue her career as a radio personality on WCHB.

Mike Hanks was a Detroit record man who couldn’t stand being in the shadow of Berry Gordy’s Motown Empire. “Shit, I was driving a Cadillac when Berry was still riding a bike!,” he was quoted as saying. After heading up various other small labels, Hanks formed D-Town (get it?) around the same time that Martha Jean came on the scene in 1963. With financial backing from Pro Football players Roger Brown (defensive tackle on The Detroit Lions) and Pete Hall (who had been a teammate of our man Roosevelt Grier on the 1961 New York Giants), Hanks meant business. In early 1965, D-Town scored big with a hit by Lee Rogers, I Want You To Have Everything, which would climb to #17 on the Billboard R&B chart. Flush with the success of that record, Hanks entered into a contract to buy a vacant house literally 100 feet away from Motown’s ‘Hitsville U.S.A.’ studio on West Grand Boulevard. Gordy was not amused, and managed to block the sale of the building to D-Town. Setting up shop in another location 4 blocks away, Hanks started a subsidiary label he named Wheelsville U.S.A. a few months later. After dozens of releases on D-Town that went nowhere (including one by Roosevelt himself), Wheelsville became the primary label.

Apparently not happy with the return on his investment, Pete Hall argued with Hanks about money, and wrested control of Wheelsville from him in the Summer of 1966. According to the amazing Soulful Detroit website (where I found most of this information in the first place), Pete had a ‘close relationship’ with our Queen Martha Jean, who by then had made the move to the Motor City’s ‘Tiger’ station, WJLB. Persona Non Grata at Motown, and now at Hanks’ ‘Pig Pen’ studio as well, Hall set his sights on Memphis, where Ms. Steinberg still knew just about everybody. With Stax recently closing its doors to outside interests, Hi was only too happy to welcome Hall in. The first of those Bluff City sessions was held in September of 1966, when Lee Rogers cut Don Bryant composition Cracked Up Over You, which would later be covered by Junior Parker at the studio, just after Lee’s version had been released on Wheelsville 118 that November.

Hall would return to Memphis with Rogers in January of ’67 to cut another Bryant composition Love Can Really Hurt You Deep (Wheelsville 121), but he also brought with him a couple of songs that had been written by future Detroit Gospel legend Bill Moss. Although Bobby Emmons noted the titles of those tracks in his log book, it’s unclear whether the artists that finally released them also made the trip to Memphis, or overdubbed their vocals later on in Detroit over the backing tracks cut for Hall that night. What is clear is that Pete created a brand new label for Martha Jean to showcase those songs on, named (wait for it…) Premium Stuff. The Fabulous Peps’ I Can’t Get Right and Dee Edwards’ I’ll Shed No Tears (both of whom had formerly been signed by Hanks on D-Town) were among the label’s first releases in 1967.

Pete Hall was back at Hi in February, and this time brought both The Fabulous Peps and The Lil’ Soul Brothers with him. Inexplicably, the resulting recordings, Been So Long and I’ve Been Trying, would be released on yet another imprint I can find very little information on, Wee 3 (an ironic choice of a name as ‘We Three’ was what the crack songwriting team at Stax called themselves after another Detroit record man, Don Davis, moved in and changed everything by cutting their Who’s Making Love on Johnnie Taylor just over a year later). Be that as it may, at least one more session was held with Hall on South Lauderdale in June, resulting in Premium Stuff releases by both The Peps and Lee Rogers, including Lee’s great take on Don Bryant’s Sweet Baby Talk.

There was one more reference to The Motor City in Bobby Emmon’s book, on July 10th – “Ernie (Detroit) – 5 Sides” Reggie’s session log for that date only mentions Willie Mitchell. This had us mystified for a while until ‘bloodhound’ Nicholson sniffed out an article about Martha Jean’s fellow dee-jay at WJLB, Ernie Dunham. It’s not much of a stretch to connect those dots, and it seems likely that The Queen could have hooked Ernie up with his own session down on South Lauderdale. Hmmm… could be, but what were those five sides?

Well, I think we may have figured that out. An obscure Detroit record company named Super Sonic Productions ran the Sport label, along with it’s subsidiary, Sir-Rah. Of the ten sides released on those labels in the latter part of 1967, exactly half of them were produced by Willie Mitchell. Bingo! Although none of the five songs were written by him, Don Bryant demos of all of them have since been discovered as well. There is no direct evidence of Ernie Dunham’s involvement in the session, and the two names that do appear on the 45 labels, Shelley Haims and Andrew Harris, don’t ring any bells with me… detectives?* The ‘five sides’ are now all up on the discography page, but the best of the lot by far is Jim Coleman’s Cloudy Days. Just deep, deep Soul of the highest order, folks!

Two weeks after that July 10th session, as the Detroit riots raged in the long hot Summer of 1967, Martha Jean Steinberg stayed on the air for 48 hours straight in an attempt to calm everyone down. The Queen was one remarkable woman…

We will continue our discussion of the incredible body of work that Reggie Young and Bobby Emmons created together in 1967 in our next episode.

Each episode will also be published incrementally on Soul Detective , where the in-line audio links actually work. There will also be a YouTube playlist, like the one posted below, for each of them… but don’t forget the other 450 or so tracks that are always available on our discography page! Thanks for tuning in!

Playlist for Episode One of the 1967 Reggie Young and Bobby Emmons Discography liner notes

FEEDBACK: Peter Nickols has gotten in touch with this: “According to Ady Croasdell, Shelley Harris apparently originally owned Pied Piper Productions and the Golden World label. Andrew Harris owned the Sport label and also the Super Sonic Sound studio – source for all of this is the Detroit Soul Facebook Group… I agree about the quality of Jim Coleman’s ‘Cloudy Days’ but I personally think Don Bryant’s longer demo [now added to the YouTube playlist] is even better… perhaps a mention for Aaron Fuchs’ The Northern Souljers Meet Hi Rhythm CD would be in order as it was a ground-breaking release giving us ready access to most of these fine sides for the first time.” Thanks, Pete!

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