Tami Lynn's Unlikely Hit Had A Funky Flip
I've been too busy to post for a while with, among other things, research for an investigation over at Red Kelly's Soul Detective into some circumstances that came to light after a post I did here last year. Since it really turned out not to have much to do with New Orleans, as interesting as it is, I turned it over to Red and anyone else who wants to try to solve some music business mysteries. We are pursuing leads there now. Check it out.
It's been several months since I've featured a female artist here - and that's too long. As I have pointed out before, there have been far fewer women than men on the Crescent City music scene; but, they were there and deserve representation. So, I'll play some catch-up in the next few posts.
"The Boy Next Door" (Lastie - Brown)
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"I'm Gonna Run Away From You" (Bert Berns)
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Produced by prolific songwriter and hit-maker Bert Berns in New York City, and originally issued in the US on ATCO (#6342) in 1965, this single was not a success for Tami Lynn at the time. But in 1971, a British producer, John Abbey, re-discovered it and was responsible for releasing the record in Great Britain on the Mojo label, part of the Polydor group. Due to enthusiastic response on the Northern Soul scene, the A-side, "I'm Gonna Run Away From You", became a hit, staying on the charts for over a year, and making the experienced but unknown jazz singer a sudden pop star in that country.
Lynn started life as Gloria Brown in the Gert Town area of New Orleans in 1942; and her immersion in vocal music began with singing gospel in her early teens. In high school she was involved with the school choir and sang lead in the musical, Showboat. Her first professional singing came about by sheer coincidence, when studio musician and jazz saxophonist 'Red' Tyler was playing with his band at the Joy Tavern very near where she lived. Tyler's vocalist was a no-show one night; so the club owner suggested that his neighbor's daughter could sing. Hearing some promise in the quickly recruited, nervous youngster,Tyler had her sing with the band regularly; and she could soon hold her own in front of an audience, doing top quality material.
Tyler became one of a group of the city's finest African-American session players, led by Harold Battiste, who started their own record label, A.F.O. (All For One), in 1961. The group, who also gigged around town as the A.F. O. Executives doing jazz originals and standards, began playing regularly at the Joy Tavern with Gloria, now Tami (or Tammy) Lynn, on vocals. Battiste signed Lynn to the label in short order and issued her first recording, "Baby" (penned by Tyler) b/w "Where Can I Go". With Tami as featured vocalist, the Executives did some traveling and cut an A.F.O. LP, A Compendium, in 1963; but the label crashed shortly thereafter due to a bad national distribution deal with Sue Records, In the wake of that, Tami and the band moved to Los Angeles, looking for better opportunities. But LA was not conducive to jazz singing; and, in 1964, Lynn moved on to New York City for a few years, where she got a few bookings at the famed Birdland and recorded the one-off pop 45 we are featuring today.
Working with Berns, one of the hottest record men of the day, Tami sang his "I'm Going to Run Away From You" with a voice that sounded remarkably mature for a young woman in her early 20s. I think the song was perhaps designed for a younger sounding voice; but Lynn comfortably makes it her own. Pure pop that it is, "I'm Gonna Run Away From You" has the highly commercial and somewhat generic sound of many such records of the day - as a matter of fact, certain musical phrases in the backing track remind me a lot of Lou Christie's smash, "Lightnin' Strikes", from that same year; but Berns' magic touch seemed to have misfired, as Tami's single passed virtually unnoticed at the time. Personally, the B-side, "The Boy Next Door", written by Lynn (as Gloria Brown) and Melvin Lastie of the Executives, is more up the HOTG alley. I had heard of it, but had never heard it until I got the single a few months back. I don't know who is playing on that NYC sesson; but it is a real New Orleans-influenced proto-funk gem.
Tami never could get a foothold in the Big Apple, though; and by 1967 or so, she had filtered back to the West Coast, re-uniting with Battiste, who was working on numerous projects: commercials, recording sessions for Sonny and Cher, Dr. John's first few ATCO albums, and producing/arranging for numerous artists singed to the Pulsar label, including the up and coming King Floyd. Battiste got Tami work as a backing vocalist on many of those sessions.
In 1971, she went to Atlantic's production facilities at Criteria Studios in Miami to sing backup on Dr. John's The Sun, Moon & Herbs project. As fate would have it, this would be a very eventful year for the chanteuse. Atlantic's Jerry Wexler, who was familiar with Tami because he loved her fiery, double-time version of "Mojo Hanna" from the A.F. O. Executives LP, asked her while she was there to record a new version of the tune, which was released that year as a single on Cotillion. But, despite it's cookin' funkiness and her intense delivery, the record did not go anywhere. Meanwhile in England, John Abbey on a hunch decided to re-issue the "I'm Gonna Run Away From You" single; and, as mentioned, it was a run-away success. He came to the States and took Tami to Malaco Studios in Jackson, MS, where, with the help of Wardell Quezergue, he had her record a number of tracks that ranged from funky soul to overblown soul/pop (with a hint of country!). As a result of her popularity in the UK, Atlantic decided to release an LP to capitalize on it; but, instead of doing it up right, they cobbled it together, using the Malaco sessions to which they added "I'm Gonna Run Away From You" and both sides of the "Mojo Hanna" single cut earlier with Wexler. Since her UK hit was outdated and virtually unknown in the US, and the newer material didn't appeal to those in England who had bought the Mojo single, the LP, Love Is Here And Now You're Gone, released in 1972 on Cotillion, totally missed any target audience and crashed. After over 30 years in limbo, the album was re-issued on CD several years ago and is worth picking up.
Late in 1971, Tami contributed backing vocals for the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street album; and, because of it's massive popularity, that remains her best known work in the US, over a long career that continues to this day. Her only other album is the 1992 CD, Tamiya Lynn, an enjoyable excursion into jazzy soul/funk, featuring all original material that generally hits more than it misses.