Further Reflections On Shine, Part 1
This is the first of a two-part post featuring Alvin ‘Shine’ Robinson. He’s been my subject two times before here (2005 and 2007); and I’ve wanted to do something else on him for way too long. What got me back into it was a tidbit of a scoop I got from Willie West during a recent interview I did with him that should appear on the sleeve of his second 45 for Timmion Records out of Finland. He told me that Rhino will be releasing a new compilation that will include Willie’s own Toussaint-produced “Said To Myself”, and something by Robinson, I’d guess from his one Atco 45, or maybe even an unreleased track. I look forward to finding out.
Inspired by that news, I’ve been poking around the web for any new information on this fine singer/guitarist called Shine, who shuffled off the mortal coil back in 1989 when in his early 50s; but I didn’t find much. So I came back to Red Kelly’s well-done 2008 career overview, which I recommend you refer to as needed (and be sure to look at the Joe Jones Cash Box ad!). In it, Red laments the fact that Shine has never gotten the attention or respect many of us fans think he deserves. His substantial, baritone voice had a genuine, gritty soulfulness to it that could have and should have connected with a lot more listeners, had the breaks gone his way. Of the many idiosyncratic, rough but righteous vocalists who have come out of New Orleans, Shine was certainly one of the most expressive, and always a pleasure to hear.
Probably his biggest and most obvious influence as a performer was Ray Charles; and it cropped up to varying degrees on some of his records. He also has been likened vocally to Chris Kenner; but Shine had better range and control, and didn’t give the impression, at least on record, of perpetual inebriation. Despite the similarities to those others, Shine did have an identifiable sound of his own, though, he didn’t have a chance to fully develop it on record, since he never got to make that many.
His career as a recording artist spanned the 1960s, but was on-again/off-again, beginning in 1961 with a brief run on Imperial. After those sessions, done in New Orleans, he cut all his other sides later on the East or West coasts, although he often recorded with at least some hometown arrangers, producers, and musicians, and managed to keep elements of local flavor in his performances. The high point of his career came mid-decade in New York when he was making singles for labels owned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Yet, there were only five releases total then, and only one of those, his first, had even modest success. It was a subdued, heart-felt cover of Kenner’s “Something You Got”. The best side of the bunch, though, was his brilliant rendition of Leiber and Stoller’s “Down Home Girl” (Red Bird 10-010), written as a funky and humorous New Orleans grinder and arranged to suit by Joe Jones (who billed himself as ‘The Funk Man’). Its lack of sales was and is a really puzzling result for such a cool record. Of course, the Rolling Stones famously covered the tune a year later, and effectively buried Shine’s version. Had he stayed on his home turf down South to record, might he have had more luck, possibly getting to work with Toussaint or Bo? Hard to say, since things didn’t work out that way; but those could have been some potent combinations.
After his stint with Tiger, Red Bird, and Blue Cat, Shine only had a few more 45s issued for other labels. He spent much of his time in the music business, playing the supporting role of a sideman on sessions and in bands, and is perhaps most well-known for his work with Dr. John. Many of his singles (there were no albums) are known today only to collectors, hardcore fans, you music blog lurkers, and YouTube voyeurs. Besides the original vinyl, some of Shine’s re-issued catalog has at various times been available on compilations, or for download. If you don’t have any, seek them out. I’ll be focusing here on a few of the lesser heard sides he made before and after his time with Leiber and Stoller. So, let’s try to shed a bit more light on Shine.
“I’m Leaving You Today” (G. R. Davis, Jr - H. S. Jones)
Al Robinson. Imperial 5727, 1961
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
With this strong A-side performance, Shine, as Al Robinson, began his recording career. The Ray Charles influence evident in his delivery was certainly supported and encouraged by the punchy arrangement (maybe by Wardell Quezergue, maybe producer Dave Bartholomew) and big horn section. His voice was mixed way out in front, at least on this audition copy; and, interestingly, the instrumentation other than the horns seems to have been just bass and drums, with Smokey Johnson likely playing the syncopated shuffle groove with stop time elements. The relative sparseness of the backing track highlights Shine’s ability to carry the melody with assurance and a casual ease; which is even more impressive for being his debut session as lead vocalist.
Both this and the bluesy B-side ballad,”Pain In My Heart”, that he again steered boldly straight down Ray Charles Boulevard, were co-written by fellow guitarist George Davis and H(erbert) S. Jones, who had some kind of business (and/or family?) relationship with Joe Jones, recording artist, promoter, composer, producer, and bandleader. Shine was working in Jones’ band; and it was probably his boss who got him the shot at recording for Bartholomew, Imperial’s production mainstay in New Orleans, who had been successfully working with, among other greats, mega-seller Fats Domino since the late1940s. At the time, Bartholomew was also recording a host of other local artists such as Frankie Ford, Earl King, Huey Smith and the Clowns, and Snooks Eaglin; most of whom had hits for other labels in the 1950s; but, as good as some of the new sides were, Imperial’s glory days were behind it.
Even with the big guns backing him and propelled by the bounce of Johnson’s hybrid popeye rhythm, which was becoming so popular in the city, “I’m Leaving You Today" did not catch on, its sound perhaps a bit too old school for the new musical times in the Crescent City, with Allen Toussaint leading the charge to unseat Bartholomew as a hit-making songwriting and production powerhouse.
Imperial issued two more Charles-y singles from Shine’s sessions, neither of which fared any better commercially: “I Wanna Know” / “Wake Up (and Face Reality)” (#5762) also from 1961, and “Oh Red” / “The Blues” (#5824 - which also appeared on Post) in 1962. The label was on it’s way out, not promoting its product effectively (if at all), and would soon be sold off to Liberty Records by owner Lew Chudd. Back in the late 1980s, a number of Shine’s unissued recordings for Bartholomew turned up on the Charly LP compilation, Shine On. Here’s one of the more upbeat numbers.
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
No songwriting credit appears for this song on the LP; but it sounds like something from Bartholomew; but, like "Oh Red", it also reminds me a bit of Chris Kenner’s 1957 Imperial classic, “Sick and Tired”. That is likely what they were going for. By the way, I think Bartholomew was part of the duo singing backup, as well. John Broven’s notes on the album cover credit Smokey Johnson with the second-line, parade-inspired drumming here - and I can roll with that.
Working with a fairly simple tune and arrangement with a strong New Orleans feel, Shine dug in with enthusiasm. This would have been a good track for release and seems like it could have been commercially competitive at the time; but it wasn’t to be.
In 1964, Shine left for New York City along with a couple of vocal groups, once of which was the female trio that would soon become the Dixie Cups, manger/promoter Joe Jones and the rest of the band. Jones had made a previous trip up and approached famed songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were branching out into production and their own labels, about recording his artists. When they heard the demo tapes, they jumped at the chance, signed them, and hired the band to back them up, and Jones to do production and promotion. It was essentially a transplanted New Orleans operation. Quite a few of the songs used on the Dixie Cups sessions that were not by Leiber and Stoller’s team of writers were Earl King compositions. James Black was the session drumer, at least for a while, until he moved into the far more challenging jazz world; and Wardell Quezergue was brought up to do some arranging. The Dixie Cups had a number of substantial hits for Red Bird, including the #1 “Chapel Of Love”, plus a couple of albums; but Shine, as discussed, did not fare nearly as well in the marketplace; and, by 1965, his luck had run out. For more details on his records of the period, check out Larry Grogan’s discussion at Funky 16 Corners, and you can hear a few more of them at the links below*.
When by 1965/1966 no new record deal was forthcoming, Jones, still Shine’s manager and producer, took it upon himself to get material together and cut another single on the singer, pretty much continuing the sound he had developed for Leiber and Stoller. The result was issued as a one-off single on the very short-lived Joe Jones Records.
”Whatever You Had You Aint’ Got It No More” (Joe Jones - Marylin Jones)
Alvin Robinson, Joe Jones 1, 1966
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
Despite the merits of the performance Shine pulled off here, the song was “Something You Got” in slow-motion with a variant melody and re-written lyrics, turning it into a kiss-off. The horn lines weren’t even changed. That he managed to make the rehashed words and warmed-over arrangement riveting says all that needs to be said about the talent of Shine Robinson.
“You Brought My Heart Right Down to My Knees” (Joe Jones - Carl Hogan)
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
The B-side was musically a much brighter picture and a fresh change of pace - up to mid-tempo, at least - and elicited another worthy vocal from Shine in which he went up into his falsetto several times to great effect, including on the attention-grabbing intro. The popeye style groove was straight out of the New Orleans playbook, with the unknown drummer giving it an authentic stuttering syncopation and bounce, leading me to believe he was recruited from back home, might even have been Smokey Johnson.
Of course, I am assuming this was all done in NYC, since the label displayed Jones’ business address there; and I have no evidence otherwise. Jones was probably hoping to get some label with national distribution to pick this single up; but when that didn't happen, Shine's career went cold(er) for a few years.
Anyway, this song has a great feel and gives such a fine ride, still enjoyable after repeated plays. It's one of those endorphin-producing B-side finds that keeps us digging for rare, obscure records in search the next hit in the alternate universes of our dreams....
Next time, I’ll get to Shine’s one other major label record, a winner that again nobody heard, and speculate on how he got to make it. Then I’ll finish off with another track from his work with Harold Batiste and Mac Rebennack out in California at the end of the 60s.
*More Shine via YouTube:
"I'm Gonna Put Some Hurt On You"