The long awaited 'Soundtrack to Roben Jones' Book', Memphis Boys - The Story of American Studios is to be released here in the States on March 13th. As our man John Broven says in his excellent introductory essay, "It seems scarcely credible that 'Memphis Boys' is the first compilation devoted to Chips Moman's American Recording Studios..." It most certainly does. As I'm sure you know by now, we are just huge fans of Chips and his mighty American Group, and it does my heart good to see them getting some of the attention they deserve.
Just as Roben told us in the interview thing we did two years ago now (!), her liner notes point out that "There is passion in all of the American Group recordings... the passion that comes from knowing that one has endured" Endured they most certainly have, as has the timeless music they created there in those few short years in Memphis.
This essential CD manages to provide an in-depth overview of that music (no mean feat in this one disc package), by including obligatory chart toppers like Son of A Preacher Man, The Letter, and Angel of the Morning while paying close attention to the Soulful side of things as well.
Major R&B hits from King Curtis, Arthur Conley, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Womack, James & Bobby Purify, Oscar Toney, Jr. and James Carr stand alongside little known gems from favorites like Solomon Burke, Spencer Wiggins, Percy Milem and L.C. Cooke. One of the highlights of the album is an obscure take on Dark End of the Street by The Glories, the Frankie Gearing led Detroit vocal group that would soon rename themselves Quiet Elegance and begin recording across town with Willie Mitchell at Hi.
Speaking of Hi, I'm sure you've all heard the story of how James Carr's original, definitive version of Dark End of the Street was waxed at Royal Studio as well, while the board at American was under repair. Well, according to Tony Rounce's brilliant track commentary, Joe Simon's top twenty R&B hit Nine Pound Steel (the tune that Wayne Carson and Dan Penn wrote 'a pound a day') was cut on South Lauderdale Street under similar circumstances, while the American console was acting up again. As you may recall, Sam Baker told us that he also recorded for Sound Stage 7 at Royal, cutting the great I Believe In You there, presumably around the same time. This kind of synergy with Hi goes all the way back to when Chips brought Carla Thomas around the corner to cut Gee Whiz in 1961, and Sandy Posey across town five years later for the same treatment on Born A Woman (which is on the CD, by the way).
One could go so far as to say that American actually represented the evolution of the early Hi Sound, as Reggie Young, Bobby Emmons, Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech were all session musicians at Royal at one time or another... not to mention the fact that Chips hired James and Willie Mitchell to run his horn section up until Willie left to concentrate on Hi full time in late 1968...
On March 1st, which would have been his 84th birthday, Willie was honored in a private unveiling ceremony of the newest Shelby County historical marker, located directly in front of the studio he loved and ran tirelessly until the day he died. Still in operation under the guidance of his beloved Boo, Royal remains a Soul Mecca.
The same cannot be said for American, I'm afraid...
This is what the corner of Chelsea and Thomas looks like today, with a brand new Family Dollar location completely occupying the space where the Ranch House Restaurant and American Sound once stood... what a shame.