July 29, 2010


[Updated 8/5/2010]

I first paid serious attention to the exceptional Margie Joseph about 25 years ago, after hearing her on a compilation and discovering that she had New Orleans connections, and began collecting her output in various formats. Except for her early work, her records are still fairly easy to come by, not too expensive, and worth seeking out. Collector’s Choice has re-issued all of her Atlantic albums on CD; and much of her work is available to download, too, at various sites.

The female recording artists of her era from the New Orleans area were few and far between; and Margie is certainly among the best of them. While Soul Queen Irma Thomas did not make many records from the late 1960s until the 1980s when she signed with Rounder, Margie was at the height of her career during the 1970s. Merry Clayton was also active around the same period, but had left New Orleans while young and made her way in the music business mostly outside of the hometown sphere. As great a singer as she is, Clayton has been best known as a backing vocalist, and her solo recording career, while notable, has not been as extensive as Margie’s. Though, as we’ll see, Margie did have assistance from some distinctive local talent back when she got her start, much of her professional story, like Clayton's, has taken place apart from the city where she was discovered; and little, if any, of her session work went down on her home turf. Due to the quality and sheer number of her recordings, including some substantial hits, and the fact that she was signed to only well-known, nationally distributed labels throughout her most active years, Margie’s career stands out; and she deserves props for how much she accomplished.

Having grown up in Gautier, Mississippi, near Pascagoula on the Gulf coast, Margie Joseph was a gospel-singing university student in New Orleans with secular aspirations in 1967, when she was recommended to prominent local radio DJ Larry McKinley, who heard the immense potential in her voice and became her manager (and, later, her husband). Getting her some initial recognition performing with jazz great Cannonball Adderly, McKinley soon began grooming Margie for a recording career. Her first sessions took place in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, probably late in 1967; and the results were released by Okeh Records on two singles, “Why Does A Man Have To Lie” / “See Me” (7304) and “A Matter Of Life Or Death” / “Show Me” (7313). But they had little chance of success, since Okeh’s corporate parent, Columbia, was not doing much with the label at the time and would phase it out over the next few years. As my 45s below show, promotional copies were distributed to radio stations; but that is likely as far as any push went.

I chanced upon her Okeh singles online not long ago and grabbed them, having read mentions of their existence. I had never seen or heard either one. At the time, I was researching a post about one of Margie’s earliest 45s for the Volt label, which was to be her next stop; but, since the story began with the Okeh records, I’ve backtracked to include them and tease out a bit more information for the merely curious, or just plain obsessive (you know who you are). So, here’s what the young Ms Joseph was puttin’ down on her true recording debut

“Why Does A Man Have To Lie” (L. Diamond - G. Davis)
Margie Joseph, Okeh 4-7304, 1967
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“See Me” (L. Diamond - G. Davis)
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There is not much documentation about these sessions (at least that I have found); so, it is fortunate that the 45 labels reveal some important details. Even though the sessions took place up North in Alabama, there were definitely some notable New Orleans participants in the creative woodshed. Holding the songwriting credits on all four sides of these two singles was the team of George Davis and Lee Diamond, both of whom have HOTG treatments at the links provided. In 1967 they were in the midst of their greatest success, Aaron Neville’s mega-selling #1 R&B chart hit of their deep soul song (actually Davis wrote most of it), “Tell It Like It Is”, on Davis’ newly established Parlo label. But, as you may recall or can find in the archives, the rapid success of that song also precipitated a chain of events that caused the financial downfall of not only Parlo but pretty much the entire tight-knit New Orleans recording scene. But, that load of trouble had not yet hit the fan.

Beside his broadcasting endeavors, Larry McKinley had been involved with managing and developing artists, concert promotion, as well as behind the scenes interests in various Crescent City recording ventures over the years. Thus, as Margie’s manager, he took co-producer credit on this first single along with Diamond, who likely was more involved in the musical details along with Davis, the designated arranger. It makes sense that McKinley would have given the writers the commercial direction he wanted for Margie’s kickoff, the popular Mid-Southern soul sound flooding onto the airwaves from the studios of Stax in Memphis and Fame in Muscle Shoals at the time; and, to their credit, Davis and Diamond delivered. Seasoned musicians themselves, they got that feel, which was effectively rendered by the session band, likely the legendary rhythm and horn sections at Fame.

Having sung from childhood in school and church, the proving ground for so many great soul singers, Margie performance on the material was strong and confident for a recording neophyte. She was relatively young at this point; but I think she must have been born a few years earlier than the 1950 date sometimes shown, as she states in her website bio that she graduated from Dillard University around the time she began recording. It’s a real shame the Okeh 45s got lost in the corporate business shuffle, especially this one, as both sides were radio-ready and worthy of competing in the Southern-soul marketplace.

One more comment on those label credits, before we move on. You’ll note that Larry Williams was shown as providing A & R supervision. A New Orleans native, whose recording career peaked early with his hits for Specialty in the late 1950s, Williams spent most of his career on the West Coast and was signed to Okeh as an artist and producer in the mid-1960s. Some of his best work for the label was with Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson. Considering his background, it is not surprising that he oversaw these sessions for the company; and it adds just one more hometown element to the inception of Margie’s recording career.

“A Matter Of Life Or Death” (G. Davis - L. Diamond)
Margie Joseph, Okeh 4-7313, 1967-68
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“Show Me” (G. Davis - L. Diamond)
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While the label information is more scant on this second 45, I think we can safely assume that the participants were mainly the same; and likely the sides for both singles were recorded during a few successive sessions. Personally, I don’t think these Davis-Diamond compositions were quite up to the quality of the first two. But they’re pretty good. Not surprisingly, the funky B-side is my preference here, as its gritty groove beats out the rather ordinary tune on top. Margie over-sang “Show Me” at times, trying to put too hard an edge on it - but that was just a bit of vocal immaturity that she would soon outgrow. Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable ride that has just a hint of its New Orleans roots showing.

In her website bio, Margie says that the next single she did was “picked up“ by Volt, a division of Stax, which seems to indicate that, when McKinley got her signed to the Memphis-based hit-making machine, they tested the waters by simply releasing tracks that Margie had already cut. Those sides appeared on her first two Volt 45s in March and October of 1969 and had long been in my sights, because I knew Willie Tee was involved with the project. Margie even suggests that Tee participated in her Okeh sessions, too; although, now that I have the singles, I see no evidence of that in the credits. But he and George Davis were friends and collaborators, and played sessions and gigs together in those days, too. And Tee had a strong Cannonball Adderly connection. So it’s possible that he started working with Margie earlier.

Having not sold well, her first two Volt issues weren’t mass-produced and are scarce now, 40 years on, not to mention pricey, being long coveted by Northern Soul collectors. Earlier this year, at one of my humble vinyl-only haunts, I finally found a cheap, beat-up copy of her second 45 for the label; but the better-known first issue, “One More Chance” / “Never Can You Be” (#4012), still eludes me and my budget.

Since you currently have a chance to hear those first Volt sides via the YouTube links just provided, let’s talk about ‘em a bit. On the labels, Larry McKinley was listed as the sole producer; and even though Tee wrote and most probably arranged both sides of 4012, he was strangely only credited as co-arranger, along with his brother Earl Turbinton, on the B-side. For this single, the production team abandoned the Memphis/Muscle Shoals thing Margie had going on Okeh, and, instead, went for a more uptown, big-band, jazzy soul sound. Cool enough, as far as it went; but the tunes were just a little too grown-up for this young woman still getting her feet wet. She seems somewhat overpowered by the arrangement on the top side, though she really nailed the bluesier B-side. At this stage, the approach was just not a viable commercial direction for her. Ideally, Tee himself could have and should have fronted these tunes at some point and taken them to the bank.

Probably recorded around the same time, the sides that would later that year become Margie’s second Volt single took a different tack, though no more effective in terms getting her onto the airwaves and record players.

“What You Gonna Do”
(Bobby Wommack)
Margie Joseph, Volt 4023, 1969
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“Nobody” (Willie Turbinton)
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On these tunes, the musical feel definitely had a more soul/pop direction, letting Margie loose on two upbeat dancers. The A-side, “What You Gonna Do”, penned by Bobby Womack, was definitely the stronger, hookier number; and Margie sounds more comfortable and on top of it than on Tee’s swinging, but somewhat less engaging “Nobody”. The latter has a great groove; but that strange, jazzoid bridge going on in the middle, while alluring to hipsters, certainly relegated the track to B-side status, as, I'm thinking, did the unappealing male backing singers.

For whatever reason, McKinley used only an alias, “Consoul of New Orleans” (A typo perhaps? His publishing/production company was/is Colsoul), for the producer credit on this single with no mention at all of Tee outside of the writer’s parentheses. Since I first posted this, I have learned from a reader's comments [thanks, Lyle!], that McKinley told Rob Bowman, who wrote the notes to the Complete Stax/Volt Singles, Vol 2 CD box set, that Isaac Hayes actually did the main production work on "What You Gonna Do". Given the sound of it, that seems plausible, meaning that the track may well have been recorded in Memphis down on South McLemore. Willie Tee, and possibly his brother, too, still could have had a hand in producing and arranging "Nobody". It may even have been a track left over from the earlier sessions they worked on. However and wherever things happened, both sides of the single are musically notable for their big, horn-heavy sound and compelling, more complex drumming.

When this single fared no better in the marketplace than the first, Margie was fortunate that Stax/Volt didn’t give up on her; but a course correction was called for. Consulting with the Consoul, they brought in new co-producers, Fred Briggs and his partner, Darryl Carter, who both also had strong songwriting chops, which resulted in an immediate change of outcome.

“Your Sweet Lovin’” (D. Carter - F. Briggs)
Margie Joseph, Volt 4037, 1970
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This top side of Margie’s next single, a low-down burner from Briggs and Carter put right in the funky soul pocket, was a decent sized hit, finally allowing her to connect with radio-listeners and record buyers. Even though she had moved away from the direct influence of New Orleans, she was on a promising new path.

With the new team, she recorded an impressive first album, appropriately titled Margie Joseph Makes A New Impression, with sessions at Stax, utilizing the Bar-Kays, and back in Muscle Shoals. Volt spun off a track from the LP that became her next hit 45, “Stop In The Name Of Love”, a captivating, soulful re-working of the Supremes’ warhorse. Sales of the LP were substantial; but the follow up, Phase II, in 1971 was not as successful. From there, McKinley and Margie made their move in 1972, taking up with Atlantic in a major deal that had Arif Mardin producing her next few albums, with excellent results. She had come a long way in just five years, immersing herself in the commercial mainstream to get there; but, despite some fine work for the Atlantic group, Margie never broke out to be as big a name as the artist she was often compared to, Aretha Franklin. But she can be proud of her achievements; and, if you check around, you’ll find that she is still singing, having come full-circle back to gospel, and sounds as vital and in the groove as ever.

July 11, 2010


It has definitely been too long since I posted something from the late, great Willie Tee. So, to at least make a dent in that deficit, I’m offering up (with, of course, the usual bunch of semi-random factoids, opinions of questionable merit, and digressive musings) some tracks of his from back when the 1970s were just kicking in, then moving on up to that bicentennial year....

A Capitol Idea

“Reach Out For Me” (B. Bacharach - H. David)
Willie Tee, Capitol 2892, 1970
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Bacharach & David? Pop composers extraordinaire, yes, but pretty much the antithesis of soul or funk. How Willie Tee briefly came to be crooning their tune is part of a tale I’ve touched on before, but need to update now that I've heard the results of the music business machinations involved.

As the 1960s wound down, Tee’s modest 1965 hit on Atlantic, “Teasin’ You” (originally released on Nola) and two less successful follow-ups, were history. He had done a few more records for the Nola group of labels and even started his own imprint, Gatur, partnering with his cousin, Ulis Gaines, who also owned a piece of Nola. But both labels were soon sucked under by the financial sinking of their local distributor, Dover Records (a story told many times here). Following that, he had several lean years on the recording front, though he gigged steadily in the French Quarter with his band, the Souls. He also wrote and arranged tracks for Margie Joseph’s first two Volt singles in 1969. Meanwhile, his own career seemed on the verge of a dramatic rebound as his friend in the jazz world, ‘Cannonball’ Adderly, who had long been impressed with his musical and vocal chops, used his clout to get Tee a deal with Capitol Records.

Under the direction of Adderly’s own influential producer at Capitol, David Axelrod, who brought in big-time arranger H. B. Barnum and a host of the best LA musicians, including Earl Palmer, Tee recorded a high-budget, orchestral production LP in 1969, I’m Only A Man, geared, it would appear, to break him nationally as some kind of middle of the road, slightly anachronistic pop artist. Cutting edge it was not. This was at a time when other performers and composers of Tee’s caliber and abilities were increasingly intent on keepin’ it real and starting to get down funky. Thus, I would describe the album as, at best, misconceived, stuffed as it was with overblown arrangements of material that ranged from schlocky (“People” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”-?!?- being the most obvious clunkers) to passable, but passé. Only the first five cuts are diverting enough to keep me awake and would have been much less tolerable back then, had I heard them when I was in my early 20s. Not that Tee did a bad job on any of them - his singing throughout this commercial misadventure was fine. But, why does this LP usually go for well over $100.00 in the collectibles marketplace? More because of its rarity than content, I'm afraid. I don't own it; but an Axelrod devotee burned the tracks to mp3s for me to review, which I greatly appreciate, since I now no longer feel the need to keep bidding on it.

Capitol released two singles off
I’m Only A Man, featuring several of the better cuts. The first (2369), in 1969, had the title track (by Gamble & Huff?) backed with “Walk Tall”, written by Tee’s friend and Adderly’s bandmate, Joe Zawinul; but it didn’t do much business. Next, they tried “Reach Out For Me”, with “Love Of A Married Man” on the flip, an underwhelming Addrisi Brothers concoction that, even with its "bigger must be better"arrangement, was too inconsequential to make the album. Considering the contenders, “Reach Out For Me” may be the best thing on I’m Only A Man; and you can probably gather from this promo 45 side why they wanted to make it a single. Though not really top shelf B & D material, the tune was chock full of pop hooks and had some chart action when done originally by Lou Johnson, followed by Dionne Warwick, both in 1964. I guess those drinking the production koolaid in 1970 thought they might make it rise again. But the opposite occurred; and subsequently the LP's trajectory headed directly to the cut-out bins.

Anyone looking for a shred of the natural soulfulness of Tee’s earlier work, the smooth, hiply casual delivery of his Atlantic sides, or his emotive balladry, or even a hint of the funk that was to come from him, will not find it on
I’m Only A Man. I can’t understand what kind of artist Adderly and Alexrod thought Willie Tee was or should be, or why they did not use more of his own material. “Bring On The Heartaches” was, I think, the lone Tee composition on the LP. In the process of trying to re-invent him, they obscured, if not ignored, his genuine artistry.

Interestingly, I’ve read that during the course of his three year involvement with Capitol, Tee recorded enough instrumental tracks (likely jazz) to fill several albums, using mainly local players such as guitarist George Davis and saxophonist Earl Turbinton, Tee’s brother. To the best of my knowledge, none of that material ever saw release, which certainly multiplies the disappointment of this episode of his career.

So, what did Tee do after that overreaching waste of his talent and potential? Homeboy that he was, he came back and funkified his life.

Gatur Goodness

“Booger Man” (W. Turbinton, E. Charles, D. Charles, L.Clark, L. Pania)
The Gaturs, Gatur 508, 1971
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OK. Tee’s life was certainly already steeped in the origins of funk coming up as a musician in New Orleans; and Smokey Johnson played on his Nola/Atlantic sessions, after all. But with the advent of bands such as the Meters in 1968 and Sam & the Soul Machine soon thereafter on his turf, is it any wonder that he started a funk band? He had probably already been playing some form of it on this club gigs. The vibe seemed to be hanging everywhere in the hot, humid air down there, and was surely a potent antidote to the musical morass he had gotten himself into with Capitol, where he was still technically under contract at this point.

By 1970, Tee had a recording and performing group together in New Orleans named the Gaturs after his previously owned record label, which he was re-starting more or less on the sly with his cousin. Their direction couldn't have been more different than what he had done for Capitol. As I have related before, on one of their gigs that year, the Gaturs played at Tulane University, booked by student and local music junkie Quint 'Cosmic Q' Davis. Also on the bill were the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians; and the two groups wound up jamming together. The synergy of the funk grooves with the Indians’ percussion and chants so blew Davis' mind that he began working on a way to get the sound on record. When that historic first project, a single, “Handa Wanda”, was recorded at Deep South in Baton Rogue later in 1970 (remember, New Orleans was without a recording venue at the time), Tee played keyboards, joined by various other serious local musicians, backing the Indians. During that same period, Tee and the Gaturs also started recording; and it is possible that they, too, used Deep South. Over the next couple of years, the band laid down material for the ten singles released on Gatur before it folded, some billed as the Gaturs (4), some as Willie Tee (6).

From their first Gatur release (#508), both “Cold Bear”, which I have featured previously, and “Booger Man” were group collaborations, probably coming about either as in-studio or bandstand jams. The former is upbeat with more going on musically than this B-side, which isn’t much more than an extended block chord piano vamp with a vaguely Curtis Mayfield funk feel. Taking the pace at a mid-tempo strut, Tee’s excellent drummer, Larry Panna (not “Pania” as the writer credits show), played it simply but perfectly in the pocket, while the other instruments syncopated around the beats. To me, the coolest thing on the track is the intro, just bass and tambourine at first, drawing our attention immediately to the groove from whence all else flows. Other players in this stable core rhythm section besides Tee, who also likely overdubbed the organ part, and Panna were bassist Erving Charles and guitarist Louis ‘Guitar June’ Clark. As many of you know, this single was leased to Atlantic’s Atco imprint, which gave it national distribution, but not much promotion, if any, it would seem, as it quickly faded.

Speaking of not owning certain Willie Tee records, of the four Gaturs 45s, I have only this one in my archives, plus a reproduction of the Atco version re-issued a few years ago, from which I featured “Cold Bear” earlier. So far, I own just one of the Willie Tee 45s on Gatur, as well, which we’ll get to (more or less) shortly. No way can I afford what the dealers are getting for them and have never stumbled onto one out at a garage sale or flea market somewhere, though there’s always hope! Anyway, I’ve heard most of those other sides on the Funky Delicacies CD compilation, Wasted, which is recommended as a low-fi but enjoyably useful reference tool until the real thing comes along via some windfall.

“Sweet Thing” (W. Turbinton)
Willie Lee [sic], Gatur 511, 1971/72
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My copy of this single appears to be a subset of rarity. Both labels have a typo turning Tee into Lee, an error which is not on all of the pressings of #511. Others I’ve seen show Tee’s name correctly. So, this might have come from the first run. Anyway, the 45 was the second of the six on Gatur credited to Willie Tee. ”Sweet Thing” was the B-side, with “Man That I Am” on top, a direct, effectively arranged and sung soul-funk ballad that puts anything on that Capitol album to shame. Upping the ante, both sides were bigger productions than on the Gaturs’ instrumentals, putting strings and horns into the mix.

Though not much lyrically, “Sweet Thing” offered up an energetic, infectious funk groove that had Panna simultaneously breaking up beats and driving the song forward, ably assisted by some intense conga playing, possibly by Alfred ‘Uganda’ Roberts. Tee did a lot of nice, intricate electric piano riffing throughout; but his major contribution to the sweep of the song were the complex, swirling string charts, accented by the horns - attention-grabbing and impressive arranging. Charles’ bass work was, as usual, supple, lively and effective, though he used a strange expression of the second note in the first of each two bar phrase in the verses, delaying it until it almost sounded “wrong” in order to further twist the undulating syncopation of the track.

I wasn’t around New Orleans at this time, to my great regret. So I don’t know if any of the Gatur sides other than “Cold Bear” got onto the local radio much; but obviously sales were not robust, as most, if not all, of the singles are rare. But Tee kept moving and grooving despite the setbacks and indifference, becoming involved again with the Wild Magnolias, acting as writer, arranger, and bandleader (defacto producer, really) on their two highly influential album projects for Barclay. That and some European touring as a result of the albums’ popularity there, carried him up to the point where he got another shot at a major label release, this time with creative control.

Feelin’ It

“I Can Feel It” (Wilson Turbinton)
Willie Tee, from Anticipation, UA, 1976
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Through contacts in the music industry, Tee was able to shop his next project, an album’s worth of new original material more musically sophisticated that what he had done on Gatur. He got a deal for it with UA (formerly United Artists) in 1976. The label allowed him to co-produce the record along with Skip Drinkwater, who was an in-demand jazz and funk producer/arranger for various major labels. Though Tee certainly wasn’t a hit-maker, he was given the nod perhaps because his writing and vocal abilities held such promise. In any event, he and Drinkwater worked well together in realizing Tee’s creative vision; and the results reflected that in all areas except the one most important to the corporate mindset, sales.

Utilizing essentially the same band Tee had on Gatur, rechristened the Gator Rhythm Section, including ‘Uganda’ Roberts on percussion, with the addition of brother Earl Turbinton on alto and soprano saxes, the basic tracking for the album was done at Studio In The Country in Bogalusa, LA (still operating to this day!). Keeping the New Orleans influence strong, Tee had his early AFO mentor, Harold Battiste, arrange the strings and horns, which were probably overdubbed in Hollywood along with some guests: guitarists Lee Ritenour and David T. Walker on several tracks, and percussionist, Victor Feldman.

I have posted several tracks from Anticipation previously here, including lengthy soul-funk twin pillars of the album, the title cut and “Liberty Bell” *, plus “I’d Give It To You”, which also appeared on the sole 45 taken from the album. “I Can Feel It” is another highlight, uptempo feel-good party music in the extreme with a punchy groove and rousing, multi-layered, rhythm-oriented arrangement that should have had the masses heading to dancefloors nationwide, were they not already there doing the Hustle to Van McCoy. Special mention on this outing goes to the brief solo turns by guest bassist Julius Farmer, who gets all over it from that point on out, and Tee on organ, plus the cool breakdown shortly thereafter. Without doubt, the track shows these guys to be a well-oiled machine hitting on all cylinders, and conveys the good energy and positive spirit of the entire project.

You’ve got to wonder what might have happened if Tee had been allowed to make this record, or something close to it, for Capitol back in 1970.
Anticipation itself probably would have had a better response than it did, which was slim to none, had it appeared even a few years earlier, rather than during the dawn of disco. Idle speculation, of course. Life and musical careers often come down to timing, good or bad. At least Willie Tee had one more chance to try to appeal to a national audience by feeling it his way, making something classic to be proud of.

From my friend, Bill Roberts, who did audio engineering work later for Tee and was tight with him for years, I know that, in the last part of his life, Willie fought to reclaim the master tapes of this album from the complex corporate tangle of takeovers that had control of them, locked away in some storage facility. Tee wanted them back so that he could have the album re-mixed, re-mastered, and re-issued for the world to hear fresh and to leave behind as part of his legacy. But, sadly, he could never get to them. Hell, he didn’t even have a vinyl copy anymore, or anything to play one on, if he did. So, Bill asked me to burn my copy of the LP (bought for a buck back in the 80s - I’ve since scored an SS copy, too) to CD for him, which I was honored to do. Thing is, after Katrina, Tee was coming back into his own again, getting recognition on many fronts: teaching at Princeton, performing at the Ponderosa Stomp, gigging again in Europe...). He was so close to finally getting the props he was due. Then he was gone.

* [Note: re-reading the album notes today, I discovered that the backing singer on “Liberty Bell” was none other than the vocalist of the mysterious Baton Rouge group, The Sister and Brothers, Geraldine ‘Sister Geri’ Richard. Learn something new everyday around here.]