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Ray Charles’ “Singular Genius” Shines Through on New 5-CD Box

6 Nov
 
This, in my humble opinion, is a long-overdue release. Florida native Ray Charles’ output while with the ABC-Paramount label was pretty extraordinary. And while his earlier Atlantic recordings placed him on our collective radar for the first time, his ABC singles allowed him to stretch out and reach for the stars. Country, soul, pop, R & B … it’s all here. And laid down in a way only Brother Ray could. In fact, I can think of no one else who could have pulled this kind of mix together in such a cohesive, effortless manner. 53 singles, 11 #1 hits. You call yourself a true fan of American Popular Music and Culture? Then you simply must own this historic collection.

 

RAY CHARLES’ SINGULAR GENIUS: THE COMPLETE ABC SINGLES,
AVAILABLE NOVEMBER 15 ON CONCORD RECORDS, COMPILES
HITS AND B-SIDES — MANY NEVER PREVIOUSLY ON ALBUM

106 recordings on five compact discs totaling 53 singles
are housed in handsome linen-textured collectors’ box

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — With the release of Ray Charles’ Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles, on November 15, 2011, Concord Records will make available for the first time the artist’s collection of ABC-Paramount singles during this prolific period (1960-1972).

The digitally remastered deluxe 106-song collection presents the A and B sides of 53 singles, including 11 #1 hits, such Grammy Award winners “Hit the Road Jack,” “Busted,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Crying Time,” “America the Beautiful,” and many more.

 

Twenty-one of the songs are making their digital debut, and 30 have never previously been available on CD. Liner notes were written by R&B recording artist and music historian Billy Vera and rare photographs are included.

According to Valerie Ervin, president of the Ray Charles Foundation, “This compilation provides an opportunity to hear Ray’s evolution into a full-fledged artist and creative force. The song selection was based upon the interpretation he could bring to the music and not the genre. The ABC singles comprise an epoch of essential Ray Charles music and a window into how his genius evolved.”

John Burk, Concord Music Group’s Chief Creative Officer stated, “Ray Charles is one of America’s most iconic and treasured voices. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to present Ray’s historic ABC singles with the reverence and respect they deserve and continue our dynamic partnership and acclaimed reissue program with Valerie Ervin and everyone at the Ray Charles Foundation.”

By the time the singer released his first single for his new label affiliation, ABC-Paramount, in January 1960, he had crossed over into the stardom that show biz insiders had long known was his due. After several years of R&B hits on his previous label, Atlantic Records, he’d finally reached the coveted white teen market with his smash, “What’d I Say,” the simplest, most basic song of his career.

 

Charles’ contract was coming up for renewal and the Atlantic brass expected an easy negotiation. After all, most entertainers took a passive approach to their business, especially when things were going well. However, his agency, Shaw Artists, wanted to bring Charles to a broader audience, which they felt could be better delivered by a major record company.

One such company was ABC-Paramount, a newer major that had found success with teen idols Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian, while crossing Lloyd Price over into pop. ABC’s Larry Newton convinced label president Sam Clark that Ray Charles was the ideal artist to not only make hits but to attract other black acts to the fold. Charles was granted a magnanimous contract that included ownership of his masters after five years. Even Frank Sinatra, as Vera points out, did not have a deal like this.

 

Sid Feller became Charles’ A&R man and producer. Though as Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler once said, “You don’t produce Ray Charles; you just get out of the way and let him do his thing.”

After striking a rich deal, the Ray Charles/ABC relationship had a momentary setback when the first ABC single, “Who You Gonna Love” b/w “My Baby,” sold disappointingly. The second single, “Sticks and Stones,” a “What’d I Say” knockoff, went to #2 R&B and #540 pop. Finally, the third ABC single, “Georgia on My Mind,” culled from the album The Genius Hits the Road, reached #1 on the pop charts. With the overwhelming popularity of “Georgia on My Mind,” Charles was at last a full-fledged mainstream star, right up there with the Nat Coles and Peggy Lees. The company’s strategy was to cater to his new market while still releasing singles to serve his R&B base.

Charles in the meantime launched a publishing arm, Tangerine Music, signing one of the greats of West Coast blues, Percy Mayfield. Mayfield brought with him a song he’d pitched to Specialty Records without success, “Hit the Road, Jack.” Ray’s version rose to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. It was followed by “Unchain My Heart.”

ABC-Paramount celebrated his grand success by giving Charles his own label, Tangerine, which he used to record some of his personal R&B heroes including Mayfield, Louis Jordan, and Little Jimmy Scott. At the same point in time, Charles became enamored of country music and recorded several country sides: “Take These Chains From My heart,” “Busted,” “That Old Lucky Sun,” and from Buck Owens, “Crying Time” and “Together Again.”

 

1966 saw the opening of Ray Charles’ own RPM Studios on Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles. The first song he recorded at the facility was “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a Coasters cover penned by Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Jo Armistead.

The ABC-Paramount recordings continued into the late ’60s and early ’70s. In 1972 Charles cut a version of the New Seekers hit, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma,” but it was the B-side, “America the Beautiful,” that became a runaway hit, Grammy Award winner (one of five on this collection) and to a younger generation unfamiliar with his earlier major works, his signature song.

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Ray Charles Live In Concert to be Re-issued by Concord Music Group

22 Mar

In the half-century between his earliest recordings in the 1950s and his death in 2004, Ray Charles ascended to icon status by leaving his mark on virtually every form of American popular music that emerged in the latter half of the 20th century. Nowhere was this more evident than in his live performances, where one was likely to hear shades of blues, soul, R&B, jazz, gospel, country, and more in a single evening – indeed, sometimes in a single song. To put it simply, the Right Reverend did it all.

 All of these subtle shades and styles are evident in Concord Music Group’s reissue of Ray Charles Live in Concert. Originally released as a 12-song LP on ABC-Paramount in early 1965, Live in Concert captured Ray at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in September 1964. More than four decades later, the CD reissue brings additional depth and perspective to the 1964 recording with the help of 24-bit remastering, seven previously unreleased tracks and extensive new liner notes that provide additional historical context to what is already considered a pivotal recording in Ray’s overall body of work.

“There could be no more uplifting live musical experience than digging Ray Charles and his mighty orchestra in their prime,” says roots music historian Bill Dahl. Indeed, the 15-piece orchestra backing Ray on this date – assembled just a few years earlier in 1961 – boasted no less than a dozen horns, including formidable saxophonists David “Fathead” Newman, Hank Crawford, and Leroy “Hog” Cooper, all of whom had been with Ray since his days as a leader of smaller combos. “This amazing aggregation,” says Dahl, “was every bit as conversant with the intricacies of modern jazz as with the gospel-blues synthesis that Brother Ray pioneered during the mid-1950s, when he began accruing serious cred as the father of what would soon become known as soul music.”

Chris Clough, Concord’s manager of catalog development and producer of the Live in Concert reissue, notes that the Shrine Auditorium performance took place at a transitional moment in Ray’s career, just as he was transcending the confines of R&B and entering the mainstream by demonstrating a firm grasp of various other genres. “He’d made his ascendance in the early ’60s, and he had the world at his feet by this time,” says Clough. “He’d basically invented soul, he’d done R&B, he’d conquered country and he was on his way to becoming an American icon.”

In the span of 19 songs, Live in Concert illuminates the route to that destination. Ray wastes no time taking his audience on a ride from jazzy big band groove of “Swing a Little Taste” to the Latin-flavored “One Mint Julep” to the blues-gospel hybrid of his classic “I Got a Woman.” Although his live rendition of “Georgia On My Mind” on this date didn’t make the cut on the original LP, the song is a standout track on the reissue, thanks to his complex organ runs and the flute lines moving in counterpoint with his rich vocals.

Clough considers the yearning “You Don’t Know Me” and the previously unreleased “That Lucky Old Sun” to be among the high points of the recording. “It sounds like he’s really baring his soul on those two tracks, and they just sound incredible,” says Clough, noting that Ray was unaware that tape was rolling during this performance. “This particular date was at the end of their tour, and the performance seems a little loose as a result – in a good way, and in a less slick way.”

Further in, the rousing “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” is driven by a gospel groove and embellished with a sax solo by Newman that closely mirrors the original 1957 recording. The result is a familiar hit for an audience that’s more than ready to reinforce Ray’s foot-stomping beat with handclaps.

The sly and swaggering “Makin’ Whoopee” is delivered completely off the cuff, with drummer Wilbert Hogan, bassist Edgar Willis, and guitarist Sonny Forriest improvising an accompaniment behind what Dahl calls “Ray’s luxurious piano and breathy, supremely knowing vocals.” By all accounts, Ray spontaneously inserted the song into the set in response to the negative press he’d received overseas about his private life.

In the home stretch, Ray introduces the Raeletts, the female backing vocalists who served as his foil for some of his biggest hits. Together they work their way through “Don’t Set Me Free” (with Lillian Fort stepping forward for a duet with Ray), the comical “Two Ton Tessie” and the torchy “My Baby” before climaxing with the churning “What’d I Say,” a song tailor-made to stoke any room to a fever pitch.

A huge piece of the Ray Charles legacy is his mastery of any style he touched, and his ability to make it his own in a way that no other artist could – powers that can only come from an innate sense of adventure and spontaneity that are fully evident in Ray Charles Live in Concert.

“Few performers were less predictable onstage than Ray Charles,” says Dahl. “And nobody did it better.”

www.concordmusicgroup.com

New CD Releases from Classic Cameo-Parkway Artists

16 May

I was once a big fan of the music of the late 1950s and early 1960’s. You know, that funky little window of time between Elvis and The Beatles. American popular music was sort of finding its way and labels like Cameo and Parkway were mainstays on the hit parade.  And listening to these new additions to the Collectors’ Choice catalog made me remember why I found this innocent, energetic era so appealing.

South Carolinian Chubby Checker was perhaps the best known artist produced by the labels. Chubby, whose name was derived from Fats Domino, was a terrific dancer, a charismatic personality, and a serviceable vocalist. His material consisted mostly of dance tunes and novelty songs, yet he managed to elevate the performances thanks to the shear energy he brought to the stage or the studio.   

Clint Eastwood, on the other hand, was best known as a rugged young cowpoke on the TV series “Rawhide.” But record companies of the day were quite proficient in turning matinee idols into recording stars. Ed “Kookie” Byrnes is perhaps the best example of this, although Ricky Nelson was the surely most successful. Clint actually had a pretty good singing voice and his early recordings were bolstered by top notch studio musicians and “can’t miss” Western material like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In.”  And yes, I’ll admit that Clint’s first theme song “Rowdy” has even made its way onto my iPod.

Bobby Rydell was another teen idol blessed with good hair and straight teeth, but the kid actually had substantial vocal chops in the Bobby Darin/Wayne Newton style. He later stretched out on more swingin’ adult-oriented tunes like “Volare,” “Frenesi,” and “So Rare.” Rydell never quite made the transition to the world of Frank, Dino and Sammy. However, he did enjoy a long, somewhat lucrative career thanks to some very loyal female fans, supper clubs, casino lounges, and good genetics.

The Orlons were most like the classic Spector girl groups of the 1960s. There was a man in the group (Stephen Caldwell), but his role was typically to supply a humorous “froggy” voice to offset the soaring vocals of the act’s three skilled female singers. The Orlons, formed in Philadelphia in 1960, charted major hits with “South Street” and the dance craze “Wah-Watusi” and frequently benefited from supremely catchy material cranked out by the Brill Building’s finest songsmiths.  

Read on below — and explore these important re-releases from Collectors’ Choice. They are, along with the work of Phil Spector, part and parcel of the missing link between the birth of Rock and Roll and the British Invasion.   

Note: Terry Knight and The Pack did not exactly fit in neatly with the other artists  in this initial rollout. Their sound was highly derivative of the British Invasion performers (The Stones, Yardbirds, Donovan, etc.) and Knight really never found himself as a vocalist or performer. But that doesn’t mean this CD is not a worthwhile addition to your collection. Several tracks — including “A Change is on the Way,” “Sleep Talkin’,” and “Numbers” are fine examples of ’60s garage sounds. I also found their take on the Yardbirds’ “You’re a Better Man than I” to be extremely well-crafted and executed. Check it out if you dig The Shadows of Knight, The Buckinghams, and other Midwest rockers of the time.

On June 22, 2010, Collectors’ Choice Music in conjunction with ABKCO Music & Records will begin a rollout of six reissues and compilations from the legendary Cameo and Parkway Records masters. The initial six CDs, including four twofers, are Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites, Bobby Rydell Salutes The Great Ones/Rydell at the Copa, Chubby Checker’s It’s Pony Time/Let’s Twist Again, The Orlons’ The Wah-Watusi/South Street, Terry Knight And The Pack/Reflections plus the compilation Remember Me Baby: Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups Vol. 1 which features The Lydells, The Dovells, The Tymes, Lee Andrews, Billy And The Essentials and more.

For some time ABKCO had been looking for the right team with whom to delve into its vaults to create an ongoing Cameo Parkway reissue program.  ABKCO found the right mix in Collectors’ Choice Music and have entered into an exclusive arrangement, ensuring that a flow of reissues and compilations will be available over the next few years. All releases will be curated by Teri Landi, ABKCO’s resident engineer and catalog archivist, and annotated by respected music journalists.

Jody Klein, CEO of ABKCO Music & Records commented, “We are delighted to have Collectors’ Choice Music onboard for these releases of great historical relevance. Their expertise in this area will ensure that the music that made Cameo-Parkway such a cultural touchstone will be enjoyed by music fans who have long awaited these collections.”

Much of the material has not been available since its original release on vinyl some 45-50 years ago. Both companies have approached these reissues with careful A&R, annotation, package design and sound engineering. Said Gordon Anderson, Sr. VP of Collectors’ Choice, “The opportunity for our company to release this material represents the culmination of a career-long dream for me, and a fervently-held dream for thousands of our Collectors’ Choice Music customers.”

Founded by Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann in December 1956, Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway was one of the great American indie labels during the late ’50s and ’60s.  It was home to big pop-rock and R&B stars like Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker and The Orlons, as well as to all manner of styles and artists both famous and obscure. It also represents the last great, largely untapped repository of vintage pop music from the rock ’n’ roll era.

It has been argued that popular culture was forever changed by the impact of Cameo-Parkway hits. Cameo-Parkway was one of America’s leading independent labels during the era that preceded the British invasion, offering a breathtaking range of pop, soul, rock, novelty and dance records that have continued to resonate with fans over the past five decades.  The label’s biggest claim to fame is the string of dance craze hits that followed in the wake of “The Twist.”  These included “Mashed Potato Time,” “The Wah-Watusi,” “Bristol Stomp,” “Do the Bird,” “Hully Gully Baby,” “Pony Time,” “The 81,” “Limbo Rock” and, of course, “Let’s Twist Again.”

Beyond the dance songs — most of which originated in Philadelphia — Cameo-Parkway issued garage rock classics from the Midwest including ? And The Mysterians’ “96 Tears” as well as early tracks by Detroit’s Bob Seger, The Rationals and Terry Knight And The Pack. The label even embraced the British invasion, releasing sides by The Kinks and Screaming Lord Sutch. Soul played a significant role with singles by The Tymes, Patti LaBelle And Her Bluebells, Frankie Beverly And The Butlers, The Five Stairsteps, and Bunny Sigler. Beyond those, Cameo was the label home of Bobby Rydell, who transformed from “swingin’ pop idol” to a mature vocalist and was accepted by both teen and adult audiences with such hits as “Wild One,” “Kissin’ Time” and more adult fare such as “Volare” and “Sway.”  

Collectors’ Choice’s initial rollout of six CDs includes the following:

• Bobby Rydell — Bobby Rydell Salutes The Great Ones/Rydell at the Copa. These two 1961 albums — presented here in their original stereo mixes — represented an effort by Rydell to move beyond the limitations of his teen idol persona. The title of Rydell’s Cameo LP, Bobby Rydell Salutes The Great Ones, works on two levels.  It is an early tribute to the performers the young singer admired all his life, as indicated by the little caricatures of Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the upper corner of the LP’s cover, and the “great ones” in the title refers to songs from the Great American Songbook such as “Mammy,” “That Old Black Magic” and “All of You.”  By recording a live album at the Copa, Rydell was following a well-trodden trail left by other pop male vocalists like Bobby Darin and Paul Anka.  Jim Ritz contributed liner notes. 

• Chubby Checker — It’s Pony Time/Let’s Twist Again. This twofer includes two albums from the height of the Chubby Checker twist phenomenon that he and Cameo-Parkway had spawned, virtually ruling the music charts in 1960 and 1961. The first album’s title track, “Pony Time,” went to #1, his only chart-topper besides “The Twist,” while Let’s Twist Again, his fourth album, hit #11, shortly followed by three Top 10 albums in a row. Also featured here are “We Like Birdland,” “The Watusi,” The Hully Gully,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Let’s Twist Again” and more.  Jim Ritz penned the liner notes.

The Orlons — The Wah-Watusi/South Street. Discovered by high school classmate and future Cameo labelmate Len Barry, The Orlons (Shirley Brickley, Marlena Davis, Rosetta Hightower and Stephen Caldwell) were one of Cameo-Parkway’s most popular vocal groups and certainly the label’s top girl group. This twofer presents their only two charting albums from 1962 and ’63 respectively, and both featuring Top 5 title tracks. Heard here in their original pristine mono with notes by Gene Sculatti that contain quotes from Caldwell (he of the ultra-low “frog” voice), this reissue contains the title hits plus “Dedicated To The One I Love,” “Tonight,” “Cement Mixer” and more.

• Terry Knight And The Pack — Terry Knight And The Pack/Reflections. Although Cameo-Parkway was best known for rock ’n’ roll, pop and R&B, these albums (originally released on Cameo’s Lucky Eleven imprint) illustrate the label’s embrace of Midwestern rock. Flint, Michigan’s Knight And The Pack were a garage band with many regional hits that never broke nationally; they might have become stars but for the fact that band members Mark Farner and Don Brewer left to form Grand Funk Railroad, with Knight producing. In his liner notes, Jeff Tamarkin tells the story of their 1966-67 fuzz-laced sounds featured in “Numbers,” “You’re a Better Man Than I,” “The Lovin’ Kind,” “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show,” “Dimestore Debutante” and others.

Clint Eastwood — Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites: Oscar-winning actor Clint Eastwood has demonstrated a musical streak throughout his acting and directing career, and this 1963 album catches him at the beginning. Fresh from his success on the TV series Rawhide, he croons (and quite convincingly so) a collection of cowboy favorites. The set includes the 1962 single “Rowdy” b/w “Cowboy Wedding Song,” as well as “San Antonio Rose,” Bouquet of Roses,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” “The Last Roundup,” “Sierra, Nevada” and more.  Jim Ritz contributed liner notes.

Remember Me Baby: Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups Vol. 1: There are collectors and there are doo-wop collectors, which is why Collectors’ Choice devoted its very first compilation in the series to the vocal groups whose recordings defined Cameo-Parkway during its earliest years. Heard here are The Gainors’ “You Must Be An Angel,” Billy And The Essentials’ “Remember Me Baby,” and never before released tracks by The Dovells and The Tymes, “Short On Bread” and “Did You Ever Get My Letter?,” respectively.  Also featured are rare tracks from The Anglos, The Defenders, The Exceptions, The Expressions, The Gleems, Pookie Hudson And The Spaniels, The Impacs, The Rays, Rick And The Masters, The Sequins, The Skyliners and The Turbans — 24 tracks in all. Annotated by Ed Osborne.

http://www.ccmusic.com/

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