Sunday, December 18, 2011

lee roberts

The Netherlands own Head MotownHead Roger Heijster contacted us recently after reading some of the stuff I've written about Arthur Conley:

"Arthur was indeed one of the greatest soul singers of that era, and he was so much better in the later days of his life! Such a pity the world did not witness this... My friendship with Arthur, or Lee as he called himself mostly in those days, started in '97. Around 2000 I started to write more 60's inspired soul music which Arthur liked a lot and plans where made to record a new album as well as a show around this new music. It was not easy, as Arthur had a great fun side, but was also in a struggle with his personal demons. His experiences in the music industry still affected him a lot.

"He and I were very close, and he told me some amazing stories, for instance; 'I was relaxing on this bed in a hotel room. Then through the closed door came a huge black guy built like the old slaves, and behind this big man my late grandmother walked. She came to me, lying frightened and astonished on the bed, and bending towards me she pointed her finger at me, saying 'Boy, you're gonna have a big hit - A biiiiiiig hit!' and then the two left walking straight through the closed door out of my room. A few days later I went into the studio to record Sweet Soul Music with Otis Redding at Fame... and the rest is history'

"The first person to say that he thought Conley would become a star was Rufus Thomas. Arthur was young and had not even met Otis yet. He maintained contact with Rufus until he passed away in 2002. After the death of Otis, which was a huge blow for Arthur, the only one who cared enough to call him was Little Richard.

"Arthur told me that he was in the middle of writing a song called 'We Gonna Rock This World' with Tom Dowd when Jerry Wexler came in. He made them stop and record 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da', the Beatles song. The idea was to cut a crossover... but I think all of us would rather have heard the other song!

"Another time he was in a studio session, and they wanted him to sing a song that he really hated... so he refused to sing it. The 'producer' put a gun to his head and told him 'Sing Motherf**er!'

MAY

May

"There is a friend of mine and Arthur named Alwin Mutgeert with whom Arthur wrote some songs, 'May' and 'Soul Heaven'... May is just stunning, mainly because of the superb lyrics and the beautiful singing of Arthur. At his funeral three songs were played, I'm A Lonely Stranger, Sweet Soul Music and May. This is so, so Arthur Lee Conley. Actually, I think Arthur was his whole life a lonely stranger in a certain way...

SOUL HEAVEN

Soul Heaven

"Soul Heaven was recorded just a couple of months before Arthur was hospitalized because of his illness... I said goodbye to him just a few hours before he passed away. I'll never forget the words we said and the look he gave me. I was very close to Arthur and I lost a friend. Such a pity that such a great talent did not shine more for this world..."

And so, courtesy of Arthur's friends from Holland, it is an honor and a privilege for me to be able to present to you these achingly beautiful unreleased Lee Roberts songs in their entirety... he was, quite simply, a Superstar.

An opinion that is apparently shared by Ace Records in the UK, who will be releasing a killer compilation of Arthur's more soulful material this week. Simply a must-have, I applaud Ace for the sheer persistence it took to make this happen.

fame 1007

In The Same Old Way

Oddly, one of my all time favorite Conley recordings isn't on there... it doesn't appear in the track listings of their soon-to-be-released Fame Sudios Story 1961-73 either (although it's crankin' A Side does). This just wasn't making sense until I realized that it had already been included on Sweet Inspiration, the Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham edition of their Songwriters Series that was released earlier this year. You guys have been doing a cracking job lately, man... thanks!

According to Roger, there is more unissued Lee Roberts in the can. He said that much of this material was offered to Solomon Burke in the Summer 0f 2010, and he was definitely interested, but passed away before anything was finalized. I think the time has come for it to be heard.

A special thank you goes out to Roger, Alwin, and their good friend Lee Roberts. You have made this world a better place.

Just magnificent...

Friday, November 11, 2011

the starrs

Singing Bones proprietor Ana-B wonders:

PHANTOM 200

Crying Over You

"I've got a seriously mysterious record that's been driving me nuts for over two years. A really great record. No listing for the label, no info on the group anywhere, not even a BMI listing for the b-side song, which is credited to Ike Turner, or the publishing company itself. Three other folks more savvy than I have looked into it and we can't find anything.

"The only other copy I've seen showed up on Ebay about six months ago. I contacted the seller to see if he knew anything, turned out he was a very knowledgeable dealer out of Oakland. He was like, 'I don't know anything, first time I've ever seen it, thought I'd put it up as an unknown and see what it does'... the record went for over $200, which about gave me and the seller a joint heart attack!"

SHOCK 200

I'm Hurting

"The best guess so far is that it might be Billy Gayles (post-Ike Turner?). It does sound something like Gayles' 'I'm Hurting' (also credited to Turner) on the Shock label, a record on which some people say Turner plays piano, not guitar. If this record was done around the same time, that would date it as '61 or '62, which sounds dead-on to me."

We both agreed that the Starrs 45 sounds like a New Orleans record (the flip is a cover of Ain't Got No Home), and talked about the fact that George Jackson supposedly cut his first 45 with Ike Turner down in the Crescent City around the same time that Mac Rebennack places him down there in those free and easy pre-Jim Garrison days... do you think it's possible that Ike brought Billy to Cosimo's back then to try and cash in on some of that Sugar Town chart magic?

Hmmmm.... thanks for this one Ana, your record collection continues to amaze and delight us all!

update:

OK folks, Ana did a little more digging...

"I now have slightly more info on the Starrs record than when I was last in touch... Around the same time I posted this 45 on my blog, a collection called That Kat Sure Could Play was released (very nice, btw). It purports to include every Ike Turner related cut issued between 1952 and 1957, and the Starrs 45 is included.

"However, it's the only 45 in the collection on which no information is given. Fred Rathwell, who wrote the liner notes, calls it a 'discographical blank', and opines that the singer might be Jackie Brenston (not an opinion I agree with).

"A short while after that, a friend who'd seen my blog post contacted me to say he'd traced the run-out code some months before... and hadn't he told me that it was pressed at the Monarch plant in California sometime in December 1960? Well, no, he hadn't.

"Anyway, that info has since been re-checked and is in fact correct. Which not only means that the 45 falls outside the time period supposedly covered by 'That Kat Sure Could Play', but also places it fairly close in time to the Billy Gayles 45 on Shock..."

...detectives?

james lewis fields

UK Soul Maven Nick Sands postulates:

TOP POP 2262

How Long Shall I Wait

"I have just heard for the first time (shame on me) James Lewis Fields 'How Long Shall I Wait' on the Top Pop label out of NY. As soon as I heard it I said Lee Fields (the clue is in the second and third names), as this sounds like James Brown as did Lee Fields - who was known as 'Little James Brown'...

"Looking around the net there is no reference to this, and even Mr. Ridley has a straight review of it being just James Lewis Fields. Lee Fields also worked out of NY (still does), so my guess is it's him???"

Well, as you might have guessed yourself, Sir Shambling has little use for this funky A side, and is more enamoured with it's 'deep' flip, I Really Love You. Both sides are great, as far as I'm concerned, and if this soulful slab of vinyl is indeed Lee Fields, I can't imagine why he wouldn't want to be credited for it.

What do you think?

shirley ellis

Nick Guarino, Film & TV Music Director at Universal, asks:

COLUMBIA 44021

Soul Time

"I'm sorry to trouble you, but I was wondering if you knew anything about Shirley Ellis (of The Name Game fame) and what might have become of her. I'm placing her music in a commercial and am trying to make sure that all the payments make it to her, but we've got no current contact info and very little to go on. I'm sorry if I'm imposing on you but I thought maybe you or someone in your vast Soul Network might have a lead."

I warned Nick that our 'Soul Network' was really only half-vast, and I have as yet have been unable to find out anything definite about Ms. Ellis. I find it hard to believe that someone who had been as well-known as Shirley, who had released two top 5 R&B hits that are still heavy in the rotation today, could have disappeared from the public eye so completely.

Both Google and Wikipedia lead nowhere, and there seems to be no record of her after 1968. This great 45 we have here would be her last chart appearance. It was released in the Spring of 1967. I don't know, do you think that perhaps Shirley has been overlooked by the 'serious' Soul fan out there because she was too 'Pop' or something?

Her real name was Shirley Marie Elliston, and she was born in The Bronx. A search of the Social Security Death Index yielded this:

Although Wikipedia lists the year of Elliston's birth as 'circa 1941', it certainly seems plausible that she may have lied about her age back when the phones were still ringing. Although I sincerely hope I'm wrong, this may indeed be her.

Can anyone out there shed any light on all of this?

update:

Nick got back in touch with us to report, sadly, that the SSDI entry we found did indeed refer to Shirley Ellis...
"I just spoke to Shirley's niece who says she loves the commercial... Shirley did leave the business in the late 60s and never seems to have looked back, only occasionally belting out a tune at block parties."

Well there ya go... thanks, Nick, and may she rest in peace.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

bobby williams

updated March 9th

Detective Naoya Yamauchi wrote in a while back with this:

ARC 12433


Nobody Knows You (When You're Down And Out)

"I am looking for information about the captioned singer who was based in Florida. As far as I know, Bobby was born in Washington DC and relocated to Florida and had been recording since the late 50s. He released several 45s and 3 LPs from Rew and R&R labels in 1975 or so. His last 45 was for the Nickelodeon label in North Carolina.

"I recently purchased this 45 which was released by the ARC (Another Record Co.) label in Georgia under the name of Bobby Williams. I was told by one man that this 45 was released in 1979... I asked some people about this Bobby Williams but no one seems to know much about him. It is not so far between Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida, so I am thinking that this Bobby on ARC label is maybe the same singer as the Bobby Williams from Florida, but I have no evidence."

As usual, neither do I, so I figured I'd open it up to the rest of you detectives out there... any ideas?

update:

Good ol' detective Dan Phillips weighed in with this:

"Hi, fellow obsessives. Long time no comment... been kind of busy hitting my own dead-ends! I have a question for Naoya. Was the Florida Bobby Williams the same guy who cut 'Funky Superfly' for Duplex Records our of Orlando, FL in 1973???? I've got a copy (not rare), and I think Grogan featured it years ago. Interestingly, it was produced by Clarence Samuels and Jimmy Liggins, who have historical significance in the blues and jump blues fields of the late 1940s and early 1950s. I am sure there is a good story there... Also, that Bobby Williams is not the same guy as the New Orleans drummer who worked with Eddie Bo and cut a couple of obscurities with his band, the Bobby Williams Group, in the 1960s..."

To which Naoya replied:

"Yes, The Florida Bobby Williams is the same singer who cut "Funky Superfly" for Duplex Records and one of his LPs released from R&R label was tittled "Funky Superfly" as well. Most of his 45s have been released in Florida. I know there are some Bobby Williams who are singer in Detroit, Chicago, etc. but I am looking for an information on Bobby in Florida and Georgia. Anyone?"

This just in:

"I recently got information from one of my Japanese friends that Bobby had released an LP on the ARC label which is attached hereto for your reference... both songs on the ARC 45 are included on the LP, but I still do not know if he is the same as the Bobby Williams in Florida... I would appreciate it if you would post the LP image on Soul Detective so that someone may be able to provide me with new information on Bobby..."

OK, according to the very cool Greenville & Beyond website, all of the Southern records were cut by the same Bobby Williams (pictured at left). According to the site, "Robert Moore was born in South Carolina but raised in Washington DC. By the late 50s he was based in Orlando, Florida and proceeded to make a name for himself as Bobby Williams... As his music career wound up in the 80s, Bobby often worked as a chef back in Orlando before passing away in 1992."

Thank You, Naoya!