In Pursuit of Bo-Consciousness - Part 6
Greets. Just three records this time, and a lot of back-fill. One of the records is on an archived previous post. So, you'll have to hit the link back to it to hear the audio and read the other Bo connection to it that I did not get into this time. I plan to cut off my detailed retrospective on the late Mr. Bocage's early career at 1966 or so. Other than the one Seven B issue this time, I won't be getting into that label or what lies beyond in the near future. I'm just going to do one more post on a few records Bo produced and/or wrote in 1966-67 that weren't on Seven B. Then I'll be off on other circuitous digressions. But, there will be more, less involved Bo posts at some point in the future, no doubt. By the way, if you are still around, thanks for hanging with me!
BACK TO BEING A HIRED HAND A Quick Stop At Nola
While his brief first fling running his own labels wound down without financial rewards, Eddie Bo continued working on projects for other labels, as the opportunities arose. In 1964, as discussed in Part 4, he had been involved with a Johnny Adams single for Gone and wrote the A-side of Tommy Ridgley's great Johen 45. Also that year, he connected with a new label in town, Nola Records, started by Ulis Gaines, Clinton Scott, Beryl 'Whurley Burley' Eugene, as well as producer/arranger Wardell Quezergue, who had worked on the Johen record. Just getting the operation off the ground and looking for good material to release, they enlisted Bo, who quickly cut two of his own tunes for them.
"You Are Going to Be Somebody's Fool, Too" (D. Burmah, D. Johnson, E. Bocage) Eddie Bo. Nola 704, 1964
"A Heap See (But A Few Know)" (D. Burmah, D. Johnson, E. Bocage)
It was an interesting, split-personality type record for Bo, with the A-side seeming to go for rather mainstream soul-pop, while the flip was blues. Effectively arranged by Quezergue, neither had an overt New Orleans sound. But, at least with the mid-tempo "Somebody's Fool", closer attention to the drumming reveals some subtle New Orleans funkification was going on; and I suspect that Quezergue's go-to drummer of the period, Smokey Johnson, was the reason why the beats were so tastefully messed with. Note also the syncopated guitar chops layered in, while Bo played a double-time, repetitive figure on the piano under it all. It took me a couple of listens to realize what attracted me to this otherwise fairly straightforward and clichéd song format was the way Quezergue could so artfully imbue his productions with polyrhythmic counterpoint.
The lyrics of "You Are Going to Be Somebody's Fool, Too" (the title alone taking up two lines on the record label- see my note below about this*) were nothing to write home about; but I do like Bo's go-for-it performance. This kind of number was not usually his strong suit, but he definitely sold it. Unfortunately, all the positives of the song were virtually undone by the ramrod straight backing singers, who sound like they were on loan from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Out of their element, to say the least, they definitely contributed to this one being a no-sale, continuing Bo's chick chorus curse (see Part 5).
Meanwhile, for the B-side, Bo and Quezergue thankfully managed to ditch the women and come up with a big, horn-driven, uptown blues arrangement for the oddly worded "A Heap See (But A Few Know)", which aspired for the sound of one of Bobby Bland's incendiary outings on Duke Records over in Houston; but, while the track is mostly well-played (the guitar noodling is a bit distracting), the song as a whole didn't quite get the cigar lit. It cracks me up to hear Bo repeatedly attempt to deliver that awkward mouthful and a half of a chorus, "A heap see, but a (very) few know". Instead of a blues lament, it sounds like something Tonto might have said to the Lone Ranger in that phony Native-American-speak that 1950s TV offered up. Also not helping to suspend my disbelief are Eddie's repeated yelps of "ow" as the song draws to a close, suggesting not psychic pain but maybe that Quezergue was whipping him with a microphone cable or something. Don't get me wrong. I LIKE it when Bo gets goofy and goes over the top. To me some of his best stuff has an element of the unexpected, the ridiculous, or at least the humorous, to it. I get the feeling that many of his sessions were highly entertaining places to be. Nevertheless, heap few bought record, kemosabe.
At more or less the same time that he cut his own record for Nola, Bo contributed to a project on a new female singer, Betty Taylor, which resulted in the label's next issue (#705), "I'm Going Home" b/w "You're A Winner", both co-penned by Bo. I did a post on "I'm Going Home" back in 2005, before I knew much of anything about the 45 or the singer, and later updated it as more details came to light. You can read it and still hear the audio at the link provided. I'll summarize by saying that Betty Taylor seems to have been an alias for Marie DuBarry, who recorded again a little later for Cosimo Matassa's White Cliffs label under her own name, and then, as Marie Boubarere, cut live versions of "I'm Going Home" b/w "I Know" (see my post from 2008), released by Nola as a single (#731) in 1967. Why Ms DuBarry required aliases I don't know. Also still unknown is how involved Bo was with that first record. Interestingly, Quezergue's name does not appear on #705, as it does on most of the Nola releases to indicate he was the arranger and/or producer. So, for all I know, besides writing the tunes, Bo might have done the arrangements or even had a hand in discovering the singer. Other than her name(s) and three item discography, very little is known about her. Leaving unanswered questions in his wake (as usual), Eddie moved on.
[A note on the songwriting credits: D. Burmah (which I have seen on other credits spelled "Burmak") does not appear in the BMI database. The third name on the BMI registration for both songs was Larry McKinley, a popular local DJ in New Orleans in those days, who had his hands in various record companies around town. So, Burmah or Burmak was an alias, allowing him to get cut-in on the potential royalties without being overt about it. As pointed out before around here, such arrangements were common practice all over the music business nationwide to encourage airplay by influential DJs.]
*The registered title in BMI is "You're Gonna Be Somebody's Fool, Too" - a bit more compact; but I have seen copies of this record with a much shorter variant title for this side (including a promo copy), "Everybody's Somebody's Fool". That phrase is what the background vocalists were singing, while Eddie delivered the line shown as the title on my copy of the record. I have no idea why this happened; but did. So, if you are ever searching for this record online, my advice is to try both versions of the title.
Getting His Chops Up and Going to Work For Joe Banashak
I have discussed the story of Bo's contributions to the making of "Pass The Hatchet" before. They were significant, even though it was not his production, his arrangement, or his song. His added exclamatory vocalizing gave the offbeat instrumental a more dominant personality. In the story of Bo's recording career, though, it was an important happenstance that Joe Banashak asked him to make additions to the record, because that led directly to his going to work for the label owner. Because there are still some misperceptions floating around surrounding the Roger & the Gypsies 45, which was the second release (#7001) on Banashak's new Seven B venture, and since it kicked off the next phase of Bo's adventures in recording, I think's it's worth revisiting the circumstances.
I started a new label, Seven B, that stood for seven Banashaks, in 1966. Originally it was going to be a label on which I issued masters that I had bought. . . . I got a master from Earl Stanley's group, "Pass The Hatchet", that did real well locally. I was listening to this thing at Cosimo's Studio and Eddie Bo was around and offered to help me out with it. Eddie Bo did all the shouting and clapping [?] on the record; that was overdubbed. - Joe Banashak to Jeff Hannusch in I Hear You Knockin'
I thought it was a joke ‘cause we were just making it up in the studio. Li’l Joe came up with the beat, Nicky Bodine came up with the bass riff, Art Sir Van played the piano, Hector Nieves played the maracas, Roger played a little rhythm guitar. We just put it together and recorded it on the spot. - Earl Stanley to Michael Hurtt in the Offbeat feature "Hidden Charms".
As Banashak has stated, and Stanley (Oropeza) verified in that Offbeat interview, Earl and his band, the Stereos, arranged and cut "Pass the Hatchet", based around a guitar riff and title supplied by Roger Leon. It took about half and hour to bring it into being at their little production studio, Thunder Recording. Stanley then invented a band name to slap on it, Roger & the Gypsies, and took the tape of the hypnotic, strip-club-rock instrumental to Banashak, who agreed to lease it. This must have been at some point in 1965. Thinking the tune needed something extra to make it stand out, Banashak then enlisted Bo's help; and his off-the-wall, verbally riffing on the title, overdub session ensued. The record came out towards 1966 and did great in and around New Orleans, getting up to #1, but did not break out nationally. Of course, it has since become not only a cult classic, but a latter day commercial bonanza for Stanley, who said that he spent less time putting the song together and recording it than anything he ever worked on. An, of course, at the time, they had no idea that Bo would be a participant.
Seemingly very soon after assisting with "Pass The Hatchet", Bo began working pretty much full time on projects for Banashak's stable of labels. One of the reasons Eddie got hired in 1965 was that Banashak had just lost the services of his main studio mojo-man, Allen Toussaint, who had been working for him as producer, arranger, writer, and master of artist development since 1959. Toussaint had a magic touch in the studio and either created or helped birth many hits on numerous artists for Banashak's Minit and Instant labels up until 1963, when he went into the service for two years. Still under contract with Bananshak, Toussaint left a lot of material to be released in his absence, and even started a group at the base in Houston, the Stokes, who recorded mainly instrumentals for the Alon imprint; but he no longer had a day to day involvement in recording and writing.
Also during that period, Banashak had a serious financial setback when his record distributorship business went under; and that nearly shut down his music production and label operations, too. Though Banashak recovered, the dynamic had markedly changed by the time Toussaint returned; and most of the strong vocalists he had worked with previously were long gone. Sensing the stagnation, Toussaint jumped ship in 1965, going into partnership on a new production company with Marshall Sehorn, who was developing Lee Dorsey as a national artist and needed Toussaint's talents. The move forced Banashak to seek new blood in the business; and Bo was available to become not only part of the production team, but a recording artist, as well. If Bo's first job for Joe Banashak was pimping "Pass The Hatchet", he soon cooked up another project directly related to it, creating a spin-off single, as it were, featuring - in disguise - the legendary, problematic Chris Kenner on lead vocal.
Joe Banashak had first signed Kenner, a great songwriter and limited singer with a serious drinking problem, to the new Instant label in 1961. Working under Toussaint's direction, Kenner quickly had hits with two of his own songs, "I Like It Like That" and "Something You Got", before cooling off commercially. In 1962, after recording another original, "Land of 1,000 Dances", which went nowhere, Kenner and Banashak parted ways. Prone to blowing any money he got, the always cash-strapped Kenner then approached hit-master Fats Domino about recording "Land", which the rotund one agreed to do if the songwriter signed over 50% of the songwriter royalties. In return, Kenner got a small cash advance. To get more, Kenner also offered up several other of his songs to Domino in a similar deal. Fats soon cut "Land" and "Something You Got" for ABC to little avail. But, his name on some of Kenner's songs seemed to spark new interest in them.
In 1963, Kenner's Instant version of "Land" began getting airplay in several parts of the country; and Atlantic Records came to Banashak and made a deal to distribute an LP featuring the song and other Kenner material to cash in on it's popularity. The song rose only into the lower Hot 100 before stalling out; but it would not be long until Chris' tunes were getting covered by other artists, too. The cash from Atlantic helped to save Banashak's foundering record labels; and Kenner came back into the fold in early in 1965, briefly working with Toussiant again on some sides that Banashak leased to Uptown, a California label; but they did not get noticed.
By that time, though, Toussaint was on the way out; and Bo came on board to try something else with Kenner.
If A Record Gets Released Without Promotion, Does Anybody Hear It? (An old music business koan)
"Timber - Part I" (Johnson-Bocage-Menelik)
'Candy' Phillips, Atlantic 2290, 1965 **
(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)
"Timber - Part II"
(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)
Well, spreadin' 'round the world like a wild disease,
everywhere you look, they're choppin' down trees,
hollerin', TImber! Chop it up, baby.
Fans of "Pass The Hatchet" or even casual listeners should immediately recognize the lyrical similarities in what Kenner is singing here and what Eddie Bo spouted over the Roger & the Gypsies track about chopping and trees falling, not to mention the two times he actually yelled "timber". Though there was little musical similarity between the songs, it is obvious that Bo lyrically crafted a take-off on "Hatchet", creating a song about a new dance where everybody was swinging (hopefully) imaginary axes at equally non-existent trees (Bo may have been a carpenter; but BOTH songs are about lumberjacking!). In the music business, I guess, the question is not why, but why not. My take is that Bo didn't get any cut of the writers' credit for what he came up with on "Pass The Hatchet"; so, he decided to recycle his ideas into a song he might be able to cash in on.
I've wondered about the use of Chris Kenner, when Eddie could have done a better job vocally himself; and what was up with calling Chris "'Candy' Phillips" (though that last name has some obvious appeal). Further, how did Atlantic wind up releasing it? It did not appear first on any of Banashak's labels.
The answer to a couple of these burning inquiries probably has a lot to do with the fact that Banashak had additional dealings with Atlantic in 1965. They were in a receptive mood because their Land Of 1,000 Dances LP (SD-8117) continued to have sales interest incited by Cannibal and the Headhunters' cover version having made the song a hot, if decidedly altered, property. Atlantic would get another boost in '66 (as would Mr. Domino), when Wilson Pickett had a smash hit with it, as well. With that going on, Banashak coaxed them to issue "Timber" as part of a deal to pick up an Alon single (#9024) by Benny Spellman that Toussaint had written and produced, "The Word Game" (it used a recycled Stokes track) b/w "I Feel Good", issued as Atlantic 2291.
As to why Chris Kenner sang, I suspect Banashak used the session as a test to see if Bo could work with Chris, who was pretty much perpetually inebriated and not the most focused or reliable of performers. The alias? I'm stumped (so sorry). Maybe Atlantic wasn't interested in a new Kenner release at that time, with the LP still out in the marketplace. Other ideas, or even facts, are welcomed.
Whatever those reason may have been, "Timber", which would have come out** probably around the same time as "Hatchet" or just behind it, seems to have been set up to fail by Atlantic along with the Spellman single - just allowed to fall silently in the forest without any promotional support - probably meant to be tax write-offs for an operation that was growing more corporate by the day and had bigger trees to chop.
While it musically lacked the loopy, low-fi, gonzo spirit of "Hatchet", "Timber"' had an appealing simplicity and groove. Bo used that New Orleans popeye-style saunter that had been around since early in the decade, but punched it up by adding the thrust of his background grunts on the 2 of each bar (on the latter part of "Hatchet" he had put them on the 1). I wouldn't go as far as to call either song proto-funk, as some have - but there were tendencies in that direction. Meanwhile, the lyrics of "Timber" start out seeming to be going eco-a-go-go, but, soon enough, the pro-chopping message is clear cut (forgive me). Still, the despite the conceptual absurdity of doing a dance about deforesting the planet, "Timber" is actually a fun record and easily induces movement (an effective work-out number that no Zen-master could resist). On Part II, the non-vocal side, Bo delivered a fine organ solo mixed in with some cool sax work that made things even better. Still, no one danced, because no one heard; but perhaps a wave of axe wielding mayhem was averted.
Over the next year, Bo worked with Kenner again, as well as others, for Instant, and did some effective and successful producing and writing for Skip Easterling, too. Next time, we'll take a look at and listen to some of that. **[Note: In Larry Grogan's 2005 Eddie Bo Archives at his old pre-blog webzine, Funky 16 Corners, he dated "Timber" as 1967, not saying how that date was derived. For a good while, I accepted it without questioning. When I finally scored my copy of the single and checked the Atlantic matrix numbers (8936/8937), they put the actual recording date around mid-1965, where The R&B Indies Atlantic discography also places it. For context, Wilson Pickett recorded "In the Midnight Hour" in May, 1965; and the issue number of that 1965 single was #2289 (matrix numbers 8930/8931), placing it just prior to "Timber". That changed my whole view of the sequence of events. Finally, in further geekitude, I'll point out that despite what the writers' credits say on "Timber", BMI shows the "third writer" (the first two are Eddie Bo, of course) as Gus Lewis, a local DJ, rather than Menelik, an African king and predecessor to Hailie Selassie!!!!!! As with Larry McKinley on Bo's Nola 45 credits, Lewis' inclusion as a recipient of possible royalties was surely an inducement for radio play; and use of Menelik's name was surely meant to be Bo's humorous way to hide it.]