Knowing The Barons By The Company They Kept
[Revised and updated 10/14/2011]
I first became aware of the Barons, a New Orleans male vocal group (a rare commodity on the city's recording scene in the mid to late 1960s), only when Funky Delicacies/Tuff City released a compilation CD on them around 1996. It was a revelation; and I immediately started adding the tracks to my radio show playlists, and began searching for copies of their singles, too. At first, I didn't dig the Barons as much for their vocal abilities as for the producers/arrangers they worked with and the many groovin' rhythm tracks they sang over; but that's not to say they weren't fine singers. As their recordings reveal, they had outstanding versatility, and gave each song their all.
This three song feature includes one track they recorded with Eddie Bo, and two from their later association with Wardell Quezergue; but before we get into those, I want to give their career some context.
Not to be confused with several other outfits with the same name who recorded around the country in the 1950s and 1960s, the Barons, based in the Crescent City, formed in 1963 or early 1964 and included James Youngblood, Lloyd Shepard, who sang the falsetto leads, and the Savoy twins, Albert and Alvin. They were fortunate to get some early breaks, including their first shot at recording, with co-billing even, provided by the always enterprising Eddie Bo, who had them back him on the first single for his new Blue Jay label in 1964. The next year the group gave vocal support to Mike Watson on a single for the short-lived (only three know issues) Etah imprint, and followed that with their own promising, but instantly obscure debut 45 on the label.
Soon thereafter, the Barons were signed to Lynn’s Productions, a multi-state operation which included artist management, booking, publishing and numerous related record labels, with its nexus in Greenville, MS. The principals, Lynn Williams and Henry R. 'Reggie' Hines, also had a New Orleans branch that Hines had set up with bandleader/producer Al White. Among the other local acts they had at the time were Eddie Powers, Earl Stanley, and the Queenettes, a female vocal group. White took the Barons out on the road with his band, the Hi-Liters, playing frat parties, proms, clubs and pretty much any other paying gig around the South. In 1966, Folkways Records issued Roots: Rhythm and Blues, a compilation LP produced by Hines and White and tracked at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans, which featured a number of artists on Lynn’s roster and included three cuts by the Barons.
Despite that early exposure, they did not attract a significant local following until parting ways with Lynn's and coming under the guidance of Quezergue in 1968. That happened when the group came to the attention of hustler, promoter and occasional recording artist, Senator Jones. who was starting Shagg, one of the several small and often short-term labels he would run in New Orleans over the next decade or more. "Kid Stuff", from their first 45 for Jones, also the initial release on Shagg, was arranged and produced by Quezergue and became a local hit, increasing their bookings around the area. But Shagg soon went under as a result of the financial meltdown of its distributor, Dover Records; so, Quezergue likely steered the Barons to another small start-up label in town, Mode, where he handled the recording of their next two singles. But neither one of those stirred any interest, even though the second of them was leased to the New York-based Shout label for national distribution.
In 1970, Quezergue took a legendary busload of New Orleans vocalists, including the Barons, up to Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi to record. Out of those sessions, the Barons had two singles released, one of which is discussed below. By then, the group had changed personnel, losing original members, the Savoy brothers, who left to concentrate on songwriting for Quezergue's production operation. As noted in the comments to this post, Karl Matthews came on board for the Malaco sessions and stayed with the group for a later record on Super Dome, also discussed below, and at least one more on John Fred's Sugarcane label out of Baton Rouge. Even though the Barons effectively disbanded after that, I have found evidence of four other singles from the late 1970s or early 1980s credited to the group, one on Traci Borges' Sunshine Movement label (hear it at the In Dangerous Rhythm link below) and three on Gamma, a New Orleans label owned by David Perkins, who was a part of the group at the time [see the comments for more details]. Both Quezergue and James Youngblood are shown as co-writers on some of those sides.
*The (New Orleans) Barons Vinyl Discography
"Gotta Have More"/"Come To Me" - Eddie Bo with the Barons - Blue Jay 154 - 1964
"I Dig Your Kind"/"Love Is A Losing Game" - Mike Watson - Etah 100 - ca 1965 (backing vocals)
"Clap Your Little Hands"/"I've Got A Feeling" - The Barons - Etah 102 - ca 1965
"Until The End", I Can Jerk All Night", "There's A Dream For You" - The Barons on the compilation LP, Roots: Rhythm and Blues, Folkways RBF 20, 1966
"Kid Stuff"/"As Sure As You're Born" - The Barons - Shagg 711 - 1968
"Are You Here To Stay"/"Love Is So Real" - The Barons - Mode 507 - 1969
"No More Baby Love"/"Society Don't Let Us Down" - The Barons - Mode 508 - 1969
"No More Baby Love"/"Society Don't Let Us Down" - The Barons - Shout 242 - 1969
"Making It Better"/Symphony Of Gratitude" - The Barons Ltd - Chimneyville 436 - 1970
"Love Power"/"Gypsy Read Your Cards For Me" - The Barons Ltd - Chimneyville 440 - 1971
"Some Kind of Fool"/"I'm So Lonely" - The Barrons (sic) - Super Dome 501 - ca 1973
"Some Kind of Fool"/"I'm So Lonely" - The Barrons (sic) - Alithia 6049 - 1973
"Got You Under My Skin"/"No More Tears" - The Barrons - Sugarcane 002 - 1975
"Stay As Sweet As You Are" (unreleased Sugarcane production by John Fred)
"Keep The Music Coming"/Same (Instrumental) - The Barons - Gamma 711 - early 1980s
"Lonely Afternoon, Part 1"/Part 2 - The Barons - Gamma 117 - early 1980s
"That's How Love Is"/"We Should Be Together" - The Barons - Gamma 1150 - early 1980s
"There's More Out There"/Same (Instrumental) - The Barons - Sunshine Movement 105 - 1980s (Thanks to Colin at In Dangerous Rhythm for this one - you can currently hear it there)
"Gotta Have More" (D. Johnson - E. Bocage - T. Terry)
Eddie Bo With the Barons, Blue Jay 154, 1964
I don't think I'm venturing out on too thin a limb when I say this side is one of the best records Eddie Bo ever made. It leads off with a nice little organ figure, and the drums drop a fascinatingly quirky and syncopated pattern that continues under the verses. It can't be classified as funk, but is certainly not your standard issue soul groove either. Smokey Johnson comes to mind as capable of such a groove; but I have found no mention of the session players. In any event, Bo's arrangement throughout is dynamic and masterful.
Admittedly, Eddie may not have been the consummate soul or pop singer; but the way he half sings/half talks his lyrics is just right, and ever so hip. His enthusiasm, punctuated by those squeals, is infectious, and his interplay with the Barons helps make the track a real stand-out performance. Everybody on the cut is way into it. They absolutely nail the thing. I loved "Gotta Have More" the first time I heard it on the Barons CD comp, and never get tired of it. I really lucked up finding a mint copy of the 45 I could afford along the way.
As I noted earlier, this was the first known release on Bo's Blue Jay label, which only lasted until 1965, issuing a total of five singles: four on Bo and one on Tommy Ridgley, all top quality work, with "Our Love (Will Never Falter)" being another forgotten classic. Bo only used the Barons on #154; and the single's lack of any significant commercial success was likely the reason.
Other than "Gotta Have More", I don't know that any of the Blue Jay sides are currently available on comps; but there might be a few that can be downloaded somewhere. For more information on Eddie Bo's work, don't forget to visit the superb discography at soulgeneration.
"Gypsy Read Your Cards For Me" (Maria Tynes, Wardell Quezergue, Joe Broussard)
The Barons, Ltd, Chimneyville 440, 1970
As I said, the Barons were among the New Orleans singers that producer, arranger, and composer Quezergue took to Jackson, MS in 1970 to record at the recently opened Malaco Studios. The others were King Floyd, Jean Knight, Joe Wilson, and Bonnie and Sheila, a duo. Each artist/group recorded vocals for two sides at the vocal sessions, Quezergue having cut the backing tracks the previous week with the studio band, who would become the in-house regulars at Malaco: James Stroud on drums, Jerry Puckett, guitar, and Vernie Robbins, bass. Wardell played organ on the tracks; and, as I recall, the horn players were from his own own New Orleans band.
Backed financially by a businessman of questionable repute, Elijah Walker, Big Q had sought out Malaco due to the closure of the main recording facility at home, Cosimo Matassa's Jazz City Studio. Matassa has gone bankrupt running Dover Records, a distributorship for many small, local labels, after which the IRS seized all of his assets for unpaid taxes. In many ways it was a fortuitous move for Big Q's production operation, as Floyd and Knight scored their substantial hits there, "Groove Me" and Mr. Big Stuff" respectively, leading him to work very productively with Malaco over the next few years.
Perhaps to distinguish the Barons from other groups bearing that name, they were shown as the Barons, Ltd. when recording for Malaco. The songs they did at that first session, "Making It Better" and "Symphony Of Gratitude", became their initial single (#436), which came out right behind Floyd's "Groove Me" on Chimneyville, Malaco's fledgling in-house label. When that record didn't move, Quezergue tried again, doing a second session on the Barons, resulting in two sides, "Gypsy Read Your Cards For Me" b/w "Love Power", that appeared on their final release for the label later in 1970. Though both records were worthy efforts by all concerned, Floyd's success seems to have completely overshadowed them; and the label's national distributor, Atlantic/Cotillion, never got behind either record.
While "Love Power", from the second single, is a linear, driving, nearly one chord funk vamp (which we'll hear at a later date), the flip side, "Gypsy Read Your Cards For Me", has more of an ambitious, old school structure and arrangement. Adding a unique feel to this tune is the well-executed, just this side of cheesy Spanish-tinged intro/bridge that somewhat miraculously resolves into the funky groove of the verses with that fine pumping, staggered bass line. I think Quezergue really pulled a rabbit out of his hat on this track, showing off his studio expertise to excellent effect in creating an engaging, effective showcase for the vocalists.
As always, he came into the studio totally prepared, with the entire arrangement planned out just before the date to make it fresh. For the instrumental tracks, recorded first, he taught the band their parts and directed their playing to insure they had his intricate rhythmic constructions locked in. Then, before the vocalists came in, they were completely rehearsed on the ins and outs of each tune. No time was wasted in the studio experimenting, creating parts or doing "head" arrangements on the fly. As some who were there have said:
With all of those records, Wardell had every lick in his head before he came to the studio; every part, every nuance. He'd give you a little leeway, but not much — he knew the patterns he wanted the musicians to play and the accents; even the drum licks. And he rehearsed the vocalists as meticulously as he did the tracks. He didn't leave anything to chance. - Wolf Stephenson, co-founder of Malaco, in Mix, 11-1-2002
Wardell was a professor. Even before you got to the studio, you were rehearsed for the studio.That meant that your timing [was down], you were pronouncing the words correctly and [he] made sure that your expression and acting of the song was done properly. . . If he said it was good, clock it. It was good. He was a very unique person. It would be like a genius at work. He was amazing. He's low key, but he's amazing. - James Youngblood of the Barons, from Malaco Records: The Last Soul Company, CD box set.
A highly efficient approach for sure, under the direction of a brilliant, gifted gentleman; yet, it obviously took the great talents of all to reproduce what he had in his head and create appealing final products that had the potential not only to be hits, but sometimes absolute classics.
"Some Kind Of Fool" (JB, CW, RW, RK)
The Barrons, Super Dome 501, ca 1973
The dates of some Barons' records are hard to nail down; but I think this Super Dome single came after the Chimneyville records tanked, based on dates I could dig up for a few other singles on this Senator Jones label. By accident or intent, the record is credited to The Barrons, which makes it tricky to search for online. That extra 'r' spelling was continued when the single was leased to the Alithia label to try to generate some more national action. As far as I can tell, neither side made any impact at all locally or farther afield. Jones' right hand man, Raymond Jones (a/k/a Ray J) is credited as arranger; and the producers are mysteriously dubbed Dollars & Cents. Still, I have a strong feeling that Quezergue was involved at some level. For one thing, the principal songwriter on the track was Joe Broussard, who was an important part of Quezergue's production team, which, in essence, operated out of Broussard's home in New Orleans. Of course, the writers credits on this 45 are ridiculous, just initials - don't think I've ever seen that before. I had to go to the BMI database to pull out the names: Joseph Broussard, Carrol Washington, Ralph Williams, and Richard Caiton (RK?). Also, I think this multi-layered arrangement is just too intricate and funky not to have the Big Q touch, credited or not.
And, hoo boy, the highly percussive "Some Kind Of Fool" has got da fonk in spades (some pun intended) from bottom to top, starting with pounding congas and push-pull drum action. Bass and guitar notes percolate off each other, while the horns are inserted for rhythmic emphasis. The only straightly played instrument is the piano, well back in the mix. As with many Senator Jones thinly-financed sessions, the audio quality is a bit off and the band somewhat ragged, probably because not enough time was allowed to get things totally right. But they are good enough for a cookin' track. The players are unknown, as is the venue. If it was too early to have been cut at the new Sea-Saint Studios, it possibly could have been done in Baton Rouge. Lots of questions remain on this one. I'll keep digging to see if I can uncover any more. But, of course, you need know nothing at all about it to be a fool for this groove.