Mac, The Twins, and Shine
This week my old PC (piece o'crap), that I've been threatening to replace for years, finally crashed, necessitating that I make good on the threat. Meanwhile, I'm using my wife's more up to date model on a time-sharing agreement, until my new one arrives. So, life and blogging can go on (hey, it's a credit economy); and I'm back with a couple of songs and artists Mac Rebennack/Dr. John was involved with during the mid to late 1960s, when he was based in Los Angeles.
Because many first rate New Orleans players (Plas Johnson, and Earl Palmer, to name but a few) had migrated to the L.A., CA music scene over the years, taking advantage of the fairly abundant work available in a major recording center, Mac was in good, familiar company there. He had hightailed it out to la-la-land in 1965 after serving some time in the poky for a drug bust back home, needing a change of venue, though not yet willing to change his ways. Seeking income in the new locale, he re-connected with Harold Battiste, who had recorded him and used him on sessions at AFO Records a few years earlier. Battiste had moved West with other player/owners of AFO, after it went belly-up, and began working with Sam Cooke and his record company, SAR. After Cooke's tragic death, Battiste continued to do projects with Cooke's business partner, J. W. Alexander, who generously hired Rebennack for various small jobs and helped him get established. As Battiste got more arranging and production calls, particularly for the trendy pop duo, Sonny and Cher, Mac continued to work for him and make other connections, as well. He kept writing songs, collaborating with other old New Orleans runnin' partners, Dave Dixon, 'Shine' Robinson and Jessie Hill, with whom he started a publishing company and label. Eventually, through Battiste, Mac got some unused studio time from Sonny and Cher sessions; and he and the producer put together the first Dr. John LP, Gris Gris. But that's a story for another day.
The songs we're focusing on now came out around the time of his career changing Dr. John project, but were separate from it, though they clearly had various direct and indirect connections to the transplanted Rebennack and the Home of the Groove.
"Poor Boy" (M. Rebennack)
"Give It Up" (M. Rebennack)
The Aubrey Twins, Epic 10135, 1967
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At the tender age of 12, twins Tyrone and Jerome Aubry recorded their first single with New Orleans producer and label owner Stanley Chaisson, having performed at talent shows since they were just 8. Chaisson, a drummer and recent high school graduate, had started his own record labels around 1961, while working for All South, a large New Orleans record distributor in New Orleans. He loved music and had gotten interested in the business side while hanging out and running errands at Cosimo Matassa's famed studio, which is where he first met Mac Rebennack. After hearing the Aubrey Twins at a show, Chaisson started managing them and released their first single on his Chase label in 1963. The follow-up to that, "Hip-ity Hop" b/w " Take Me Home With You", both written by Rebennack, came out on Jamie, owned by Huey Meaux, who produced the sessions at Cosimo's. Chaisson soon upped the ante by getting the twins a deal with ABC Records, who sent the boys to Muscle Shoals to record at Fame Studios. The sessions were under the direction of Nashville producer Felton Jarvis, who had worked with Elvis. Recording songs selected from Nashville publishing houses by Chaisson, including Lennon and McCartney's "I Saw Her Standing There" which had not quite hit it big yet for the Beatles stateside (as soon as it did, the twins version couldn't be released), the Aubrys were moving strongly in a pop/rock direction for ABC; but their high quality records ran into resistance at radio stations unwilling to take a chance on black artists crossing over into pop. Still, their unique approach got them national touring gigs and an appearance on the Tonight show in New York.
After the ABC deal went cold, the twins, still teenagers, signed with Epic and recorded two singles in Los Angeles, where Chaisson enlisted hometown expatriates such as Harold Battitste, who arranged the tunes, and various musicians, including John Boudreaux on drums, and likely Rebennack as well, for the 1967 sessions. Mac wrote both sides of the first single, "Poor Boy" backed with "Give It Up", and co-wrote with Jessie Hill both on the second, "What Is Love?" and "Love Without End, Amen". A funky mover, "Poor Boy" is my personal fave of a good lot, with a fantastic groove by Boudreaux, nice horns, and well-phrased, rhythmic singing by Tyrone and Jerome, who could sound a bit like the Everly Brothers at times - a stone soul act they were not. That the flip side, "Give It Up", sounds like a Monkees track should not be surprising, considering the time and place of these recordings, and the fact the Mac actually played on some Monkees sessions, which had many of the best studio pros in LA on them. This is the kind of music from the L.A. production lines that was getting on the radio; but for whatever reason, perhaps the same problem that met their ABC efforts, the Aubry Twins weren't getting spins.
Their second Epic single fared no better than the first, despite having the great uptempo raver on it, "Love Without End, Amen", one of many worthy Rebennack and Hill collaborations. If you're a label reader (I encourage it, of course), you'll note on the photo of "Poor Boy" that the twins' name is misspelled, as it frequently was, and that the producer credit is to Charles Greene and Brian Stone. I don't know how they came into the picture, as they managed Sonny and Cher and Buffalo Springfield in those days; but Chaisson and Rebennack were directly involved in putting together the music on the Epic project. Greene and Stone may have helped make the deal. Of course, Greene later became Dr. John's manager, with rather disasterous results.
The next year, Chaisson produced what would be his last session with the brothers, "When the Lights Go Out" b/w "I Can't See Nobody" (a move into soul territory), that was released by MGM and also failed to chart. Joining him to work on the New Orleans recording were two great guitarists, George Davis and another of Chaisson's artists, Deacon John Moore. Up until Katrina, the Aubrys were still gigging around New Orleans; and I hope they still are. All their work for Stanley Chaisson can be found on the Night Train ttwo volume CD set, The Best Of Chase Records, with excellent notes by Michael Hurtt, from which I gleaned much of this information. The compilation is a revealing look into the mostly pop side of the New Orleans music scene at a time when the R&B influence had faded and funk was just beginning to emerge as a distinct genre.
"Cry, Cry, Cry" (Sweetwyne)
Al Robinson, Pulsar (unreleased), 1969
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Shine had a husky voice. . . but was a real singer, not a shucker like me. He had one of them rare voices that showed him to be a singer's singer in his own gut-bucket bluesy way. - Dr. John, Under A Hoodoo Moon
Two years after the Aubrey Twins session and the Gris Gris album, Harold Battiste, who had a production deal with Pulsar Records, recruited Alvin 'Shine' Robinson to record for the new label, a subsidiary of Mercury. This was probably at Mac's urging, since Robinson was a friend, member of his touring band, and one of his longtime collaborators. Mac, as noted, dug his voice, which was soulfully rough and could sound remarkably like Ray Charles at times. Rebennack had earlier worked for Mercury out in L.A., writing and producing for Junior Parker, and doing sessions on his homeboys, Jessie Hill, King Floyd, and Robinson. For more information on Shine, a way under-rated New Orleans artist. I refer you to my January 5, 2005 post on him in the archives, Red Kelly's well-done appreciation at the B-Side, and Larry Grogan's overview of his Tiger, Redbird and Blue Cat recordings at Funky 16 Corners
Shine's association with Pulsar was short-lived. As Battiste recalled in the notes to the Gumbo Stew CD series that features ten tracks from those sessions, "I found out that the company was bogus after I signed with them and I kept the tapes." There were two singles released on Al Robinson before Battiste ducked out, "Sho' Bout To Drive Me Wild"* (written by Robinson, Rebennack, Jessie Hill and King Floyd - hear it at the B-Side) b/w "Empty Talk", and "Give Her Up" paired with "Soulful Woman". A number of other tracks were left in the can; and it is from those that I pull "Cry, Cry Cry", a cooking little number with some fine push/pull/slip/side drumming (Paul Humphries played on at least some of the tracks, and maybe Boudreaux on others), and a great jazzy, quasi-Latin arrangement from Battiste. In all likelihood, that's Mac on the organ solo, at least, and probably Shine himself on one of the guitars. It's a sin and a shame that this one never got a chance to be heard back in the day - but props to Ace Records in the UK for including it, and Robinson's other L.A. work with Battiste, on Gumbo Stew.
Shine was one of the participants on Gris Gris and an integral part of Dr. John's touring band on guitar and backing vocals up until his death in 1989. I've heard most all of his recordings from the early 1960s Imperial cuts up until the Pulsar sides, which ended his solo recording career; and there's not a bad one among them. Mac Rebennack obviously had excellent taste in singers and friends. Harold Battiste echoed Dr. John, when he summed Shine up thusly:
Shine was a sweetheart, he was just too good. He just had this distinctive, soulful voice that was instantly recognizable.
* "Sho' Bout" was also well-covered on the otherwise flawed Dr. John collaboration with Michael Bloomfield and John Hammond, Jr., Triumvirate, I featured it on March 1, 2005; and it can be found in the archives.