This one’s been bugging me for years…
UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2021
Back in 2007 I wrote something about an amazing James Carr B Side Forgetting You. “…the band (led by that incredible Reggie Young guitar) shifts things down to a minor key, then just builds and builds,” I said. Years later, when I asked Reggie about it he said, “That’s not me.” Hmmmm… as we delved further into the Memphis guitar player thing with our Clarence Nelson investigation, I thought maybe we had our man. I asked Goldwax founder Quinton Claunch point-blank like ten times… “No, it wasn’t Clarence. It was some other guy – Chips found him for me.”
The song had been written by the great O.B. McClinton, who was there on the ground floor with Quinton, both as an artist and songwriter, cutting this seminal B Side for Goldwax in 1964, She’s Better Than You. In the liner notes to The Complete Goldwax Singles Volume 1 Quinton is quoted as saying, “He wrote that for James… I brought Steve Cropper to do guitar on that thing. He wasn’t tied up exclusively at that time. I just employed him to play on that one track.” Hmmm… The following year, Carr would wax the definitive version of the song that O.B. had composed for him, She’s Better Than You on Goldwax 119, featuring a guitar player that is not Reggie Young, nor Clarence Nelson…
James would then take another song O.B. had written for him and break into the Billboard R&B top ten, taking You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up all the way to #7 for Goldwax in early 1966. The liner notes for The Complete Goldwax Singles Volume 2 mention “Reggie Young’s distinctive opening guitar…” but it is quite obvious that whomever the guitar player is on here is the same as on the record that started all this in the first place, the flip of Carr’s next release for the label, Forgetting You. If we are to believe Reggie’s assertion that it’s not him (and why wouldn’t we?), then who on earth could it be?
I’ve been working behind the scenes here deciphering the 1967 log book as part of our Reggie Young Discography Project with (besides the usual suspects) my friend Mark Nicholson, the proprietor of the excellent American Sound Archive on YouTube. As it turns out, he is also quite the Soul Detective…
‘Bloodhound’ Nicholson recently pointed out this review of Carr’s 1967 You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up LP by Thom Jurek, a ‘Senior Staff Writer’ at AllMusic, in which he states “By the album’s end with the title track, listeners hear the totality of the force of Memphis soul. With Steve Cropper’s guitar filling the space in the background, Carr offers a chilling portrait of what would happen to him in the future…”
Wait, WHAT??? STEVE CROPPER???
Hmmmm… Well, come to think of it, it does kind of sound like him, and we’ve already established that he was employed by Goldwax “to play on that one track…” Do you think it’s possible that Quinton Claunch, that sly old fox, has been keeping Cropper’s name out of it all these years because of his being ‘tied up’ at Stax when James cut these landmark recordings?
Now THAT would be something!!
Please let us know your thoughts on all this… Thanks!
UPDATE MAY 2021:
Scott Ward asked Steve Cropper if that was him on ‘Forgetting You’ “Nope.”
Rob Bowman asked Steve Cropper if that was him on ‘You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up’ “Nope.”
The crew at Diggin’ Deep Records recently sent me a copy of their new James Carr release (bless their hearts), with two rare Goldwax era cuts new to 45. I Don’t Want To Be Hurt Anymore is quintessential Reggie Young all the way. The flip on the other hand (which Quinton had left ‘in the can’ at the time) is Carr’s smoldering take on Roosevelt Jamison’s There Goes My Used To Be which, I believe, features our same mystery guitar player…
There is one more track that we hadn’t mentioned yet that, without a doubt, has our mystery man on guitar – the awesome Quinton Claunch penned Love Attack, which would cruise to #21 R&B in the Summer of 1966.
With Quinton Claunch now passed on, the quest to identify this great Memphis musician becomes even more compelling… detectives?
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2021:
While we were down in Muscle Shoals last month, we played the ‘mystery guitarist’ tracks for our man Travis Wammack, who was a Memphis guitar slinger himself in those days, working with Roland Janes at Sonic. “I don’t know for sure,” he said, “it could be Chips.” Larry Rogers had said the same thing, as did Juke Blues founder Cilla Huggins… but I wasn’t buying it. Why wouldn’t Quinton have just said that, instead of saying it was ‘a guy Chips found’ for him? I don’t know.
Then I realized there was one other Memphis guitar player from those days that I hadn’t asked, Bobby Manuel. What he said kind of blew me away:
“I just had a wild thought. If it has that telecaster sound like Reggie or Cropper it possibly could have been the Bar-Kays first guitar player, Jimmy King. I know James Alexander founder of the Bar-Kays was friends with Chips. James took me to American to meet Chips, so I know there was a relationship there. Chips could have been made aware of Jimmy King, the next in line to take Cropper’s place until he was killed with Otis in that terrible crash…”
WHOAH!!! Let’s check it out…
As far as I can tell, King’s first appearance on record was with The Pac-Keys on Stone Fox. According to Rob Bowman, it was cut at Hi in mid 1966 as ‘revenge’ for Jim Stewart refusing to cut Packy Axton at Stax. The Bar-Kays themselves had been turned away at Stax’ door by Steve Cropper, and were only too happy to help out, I’m sure. In addition to Jimmy, that’s James Alexander on bass, and ‘prodigy’ Carl Cunningham on drums. The earliest of the James Carr ‘mystery’ tracks above (She’s Better Than You) was cut in the latter half of ’65, and the guitar sound is pretty close, I’d say. Chips Moman, of course, had his own axe to grind with Stax, and may have recommended King just to aggravate Cropper.
The remaining Carr sides mentioned above were all recorded prior to Moman cutting The Dark End Of The Street. with Reggie Young at Hi in November of 1966.
According to Bowman, it was Jim Stewart who suggested to The Bar-Kays that they come and audition at Stax when Cropper wasn’t around. On March 13, 1967 they cut the song that would become an international phenomenon, Soul Finger in ‘about fifteen minutes’. It would climb as high as #3 R&B (#17 Pop) that Summer of Love, before the B Side, Knucklehead (with Booker T. on harmonica!), began charting as well, going to #28 R&B on its own.
With Isaac Hayes and David Porter now assigned to produce them, The Bar-Kay’s follow-up single, Give Everybody Some, would break into the R&B top 40 as well. Once you hear “alright, guitar, you got it,” (at about 1:10) Jimmy King launches into a smoldering Memphis guitar solo that may be the best evidence yet that he is indeed our mystery man… but allow me to call your attention to exhibit B – this ‘deep’ track from the obligatory Lp Stax would release on them that Fall, With A Child’s Heart. There’s that slight distortion, that superb tone we hear on the Carr sides… I have to agree with Bobby, I think we have our man!
Not more than a child himself, Jimmy King (in glasses above) was just 18 when he perished along with Otis Redding, Carl Cunningham and four others in the icy plane crash that tore the heart out of Memphis.
May God Rest Their Souls.
YouTube Playlist of all tracks below:
Special thanks to Quinton Claunch, Bobby Manuel, Travis Wammack, Steve Cropper, Rob Bowman, Scott Ward, Larry Rogers, Cilla Huggins, Diggin’ Deep Records, Thom Jurek, Mark Nicholson and John Broven.