TRACKING THE BIG Q FACTOR, PT 3: More on the Malaco School Bus Sessions & Beyond
Happy New Year, y’all.
Rob Bowman’s extensive notes to the 1999 box set, Malaco Records: The Last Soul Company, revealed a lot to me when it first came out about Wardell Quezergue’s years working out of the company’s Jackson, MS studio, including the exact line-up of vocalists he and his partner, Elijah Walker, brought up from New Orleans on May 17, 1970 to wrap up their first big production project there. That trustworthy account, backed up by Knight’s recollections to Jeff Hannusch in The Soul of New Orleans, have Knight, King Floyd, Bonnie & Sheila, the Barons, and Joe Wilson all tracking vocals on songs which were eventually released on singles by various labels.
Since I covered the Barons’ Malaco sessions in the prior post (just scroll down, if you missed it), this installment focuses on the rest of the slate and examples of records they made at the studio under Big Q’s direction. Most of the contingent took that first trip up in a funky, old, un-air-conditioned school bus that Walker arranged for, an appropriate conveyance in a sense, when you consider the way Wardell schooled singers and musicians for his sessions, and the poly-rhythmic grooves to be found on many of the resulting tracks.
What he presided over during his tenure at Malaco was actually a unique re-allignment of the funk feel, first expressed by his arrangement of King Floyd’s “Groove Me”. Since the song is fairly well-known and easily accessible, I’m not featuring the audio here; but how it came to be, got the Big Q treatment, and became a hit is essential to the story. So find a copy and listen up if you like, as we move along.
Groovin’ With the King
When Floyd composed “Groove Me” a year or two prior to cutting it at Malaco, he was in California working with Harold Battiste, Mac Rebennack, and other New Orleans expatriates on recording and songwriting. He had the song pegged to be funky from the start with the offbeat bass line as its centerpiece; but the tune would have to wait for Wardell to realize its full potential. Floyd almost allowed another artist to record it out West, but balked then the producer of the project wanted to straighten out the groove. Upon returning home, he pitched it to several other vocalists, one of whom, C. P. Love, just happened to be managed by Walker and slated to be a part of the May 17 Malaco sessions. So impressed was Love with Floyd and his songs, “Groove Me” in particular, he offered to let him have his recording slot; and, once Big Q heard Floyd’s material, he readily agreed to the switch. So, the new recruit signed on and was prepped for his performance.
On the day of the sessions, Floyd was one of the few not on the bus. As he told Jeff Hannusch in I Hear You Knockin’, he took his own car up to Jackson; and it broke down along the way, making him so late that he almost missed his chance. Yet, when he finally stepped up to the mike, he got the first number down in just two takes, then nailed “Groove Me” on the first try. Only about a half hour had passed in the studio before he was back on the road for New Orleans to make a shift at work - quick, slick and meant to be.
All along, “Groove Me” was intended as the B-side of his single from the session. The preferred song,”What Our Love Needs”, also written by Floyd, had a more conventional beat and construction, with a smooth soul feel enhanced by Wardell’s evocative orchestration, adding strings and woodwinds to the mix. But, rather than treat “Groove Me” as a throwaway, Big Q channeled the song’s inner moxie, countering the quirky, off-balance rhythmic tensions of the verses with the quick propulsive releases of the choruses, so the music pulsed like some automated soul-funk hybrid under the singer’s assured, imperative delivery. Even though all involved considered it too groove-centric and idiosyncratic for mainstream soul radio, the song would soon prove them wrong.
After all the tracks had been cut, Malaco shopped each artist’s songs to Stax Records in Memphis, which passed on the entire lot, and then to Jerry Wexler at Atlantic, who did likewise. Thanks, but no thanks. As Bowman tells it, the setback took the wind out the the team’s sails, though they were still convinced they had cut some hits. Their first back-up came from a Jackson radio station program director who heard the material and thought Floyd’s songs had the most commercial potential. He encouraged Tommy Couch, co-owner of Malaco, to take a chance and release a single independently.
With no other viable alternative, the studio set up a new label, Chimneyville, and issued Floyd’s record (#435) in August of 1970. When George Vinnett, manager of WYLD, the premier soul station in New Orleans, received some copies soon thereafter, he fatefully gave one to his teenage niece who played it at a party with her friends. They all immediately flipped for the flip side and grooved on it all night long. That enthusiastic, unscientific focus group convinced Vinnett that “Groove Me” could be big, and he began pushing it on the air, much to Floyd’s initial consternation. The singer soon got over it, when the record took off all over town and began to break out regionally.
That’s when Atlantic swooped back into the picture to get a piece of the “Groove Me” action by providing national distribution for Chimneyville through their Cotillion subsidiary, which helped take the record to its #1 R&B, #6 Pop peak. That success, along with “Mr. Big Stuff”, the delayed-release hit for Jean Knight the next year, encouraged Wardell and his writers to pursue numerous other overtly rhythmic projects over the next few years.
Of course, King Floyd had his share of those cuts on subsequent 45s and two albums supervised by Big Q.
“Woman Don’t Go Astray” (King Floyd)
King Floyd, Chimneyville 443, 1972
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Another original by the singer, this song initially appeared on the his eponymous 1971 LP, released by Cotillion to further cash in on the success of not only “Groove Me”, but the #5 R&B, #29 Pop follow-up single, “Baby Let Me Kiss You”, a highly funkified variation on the theme of the prior hit. As for the prospects of “Woman Don’t Go Astray”, George Vinnett once again showed his prescience, lobbying to get the track released on a 45, convinced that it too could do great things. That came to pass in 1972, when the single version became another #5 R&B smash.
Simply constructed with just two alternating sections, the song’s appeal lies in the interplay of each different yet complimentary dance groove. The first is built around another hesitating, ostinato bass riff similar to “Groove Me”, while the other breaks into an upbeat swing feel that affords the tune forward momentum. Wardell’s arrangement avoided getting in the way, and focused on that interaction, staying in the stripped down mode of just drums, bass, guitar and organ, plus smatterings of horns throughout. Meanwhile, Floyd’s reliable tenor locked perfectly into the rhythmic mix.
“Woman Don’t Go Astray” appeared on Floyd’s fifth Chimneyville single and would be the last charting track of his career. Due to its success, the song was also included on his second LP, Think About It. Though he stayed with the label for a few more years and put out other good records, the singer and Wardell parted ways somewhere around 1973, due to the oft-used catchall of “creative differences”. Those in the know have said that Floyd was generally difficult to work with, to the point of becoming irrational at times; and things only got worse when when the hits stopped coming.
“It’s Not What You Say” (Michael Adams, Albert Savory, Wardell Quezergue)
King Floyd, from Think About It, Atco 7023, 1973
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Here’s a great groover from the final days of the collaboration, which only appeared on Think About It, the last Floyd LP to have Big Q’s involvement. Again, Atlantic released it as part of its Chimneyville Series, but on the Atco imprint this time around.
It was a worthy collection that included a few cover tunes for the first time. The perennial “My Girl” was completely re-imagined and extended by Wardell and Floyd into an impressive, multi-part production with two monologues; and there were two Otis Redding-related numbers (nothing wrong with that!), including the title track, which also appeared on a single. With Floyd’s record sales down, Atlantic may have dictated the use of those songs to try (in vain) for wider appeal. Still, each got the distinctive Big Q treatment; and the bulk of the album’s material was sourced once again from his stable of tunesmiths, as well as Floyd and various co-writers.
Penned by Big Q with Michael Adams and Albert Savoy, “It’ s Not What You Say” is one of the most impressive loose-booty tracks Floyd and his producer made together and certainly should have had a spin-off single of its own. Using the same basic Malaco-era instrumentation from the Chimneyville rhythm section and horns, Wardell further textured the mix with some very effective added percussion, upping the funk quotient considerably. It’s another example of his ability to create intricately layered, interactively syncopated synergy among the players and vocalist, engendering a groove that strips away all excuses not to move.
Listening to this track again (and again), I am reminded why Floyd’s performances on funkier material generally seem his most satisfying. He had a pleasant enough voice, but a limited vocal range, which he compensated for by gearing his approach more toward the rhythmic energy in the music. It brings into focus the importance of having a collaborator such as Big Q, who intuitively understood how to bring out a singer’s strengths and minimize any limitations, and whose poly-rhythmic grooves dovetailed perfectly with Floyd’s emphasis on the meter of his delivery. No doubt such support was vital for the singer to attain the success he had in the business, even though he unfortunately did not fully appreciate the fact.
Call it miraculous, or call it destiny, as the singer did in describing to Jeff Hannusch the chain of events that led to his break-out years at Malaco. There’s no doubt in my mind that the King Floyd - Wardell Quezergue musical connection was a beneficent cosmic convergence for all concerned, including those of us still enjoying the results in the here and now.
Jean Knight's Biggest Stuff
Jean Knight, who came into this world as Jean Caliste, connected with Wardell in an equally unplanned and fortuitous manner. Her recording career began about five years earlier in her hometown of New Orleans, when she came to Cosimo’s studio to cut some demos for Henry R. ‘Reggie’ Hines. He and Lynn Williams co-owned Lynn’s Productions, a Mississippi-based talent management and production company which operated several labels up in the Delta. Hines had recently opened a branch operation with bandleader Al White in the Crescent City to find and develop talent. Among the young, local acts on his roster at that time were the Barons, and a female vocal group, the Queenettes (more about them later).
Caliste’s first record resulted from that session, but actually came out thanks to another wheeler-dealer producer and label owner, Huey Meaux, a Texan with Louisiana Cajun roots, who was also at Cosimo’s recording a project on the great Barbara Lynn. When he happened to hear the demo tracks Caliste had done, he was impressed enough to contract to release the tunes, “Doggin’ Around” and “The Man That Left Me”, as a single (#706) on his Jetstream label in 1965. She adopted the stage name, Jean Knight, for the record; and it would stick. Subsequently, she cut two more singles in Texas for Meaux’s Tribe imprint; but he soon lost interest when none of her 45s did well. The recordings did allow the singer to get some club work around New Orleans and environs; but, by the end of the decade, Caliste was putting bread on the table by working as a baker, with musical prospects for Jean Knight looking pretty flat.
Then, as she related to Jeff Hannusch in The Soul Of New Orleans, out of the blue one day while downtown, she was recognized and approached by a stranger, Ralph Williams, who said he was a songwriter for Wardell Quezergue and had some material he would like her to record. Interested, she soon met with Big Q, and got a tape of songs to consider for an upcoming recording date at Malaco. Of those, she immediately was drawn to the concept of “Mr. Big Stuff”, but put off by the fact that it was paced as a ballad! So, she convinced Williams and head-writer Joe Broussard that it needed perking up to allow her to give the vocal some emphatic attitude that captured the spirit of the lyrics; and Wardell kept that in mind when he recorded the backing tracks.
As the story goes, and I’ve no reason to doubt it, he worked out the arrangements for all the songs to be cut at his first big Malaco instrumental tracking session, while in the car on the way from New Orleans to Jackson. No mean feat! What he came up with for “Mr. Big Stuff” was neither funk, New Orleans R&B, nor straight southern soul. Instead, he infused the tune with what might best be described as a hybrid Jamaican rock-steady feel. Whether it was intentional or coincidental remains open to conjecture; but it was still a fairly unusual slant for the US soul-pop mainstream at the time.
Taking the track at mid-tempo, Wardell had James Stroud keep the snare beat in the pocket on the two and four, allowing the kick drum just a touch of an off-beat, while the interacting patterns assigned to the guitar, bass and horns provided uplifting syncopations. The resulting innovative, infectious bounce afforded Knight evocative support for the take-charge attitude she brought to her vocal romp with the litany of put-downs penned by Broussard, Williams, and Carol Washington.
In contrast, the flip side ballad, “Why I Keep Living These Memories”, by Broussard and Michael Adams, provided a real change of pace and mood, showing Knight could be an effective songstress of the deep, as well. Most everyone involved with the sessions immediately thought “Mr. Big Stuff” had strong hit potential; but, as mentioned, circumstances would lead some to second guess that gut feeling.
Once both Stax and Atlantic had initially passed on everything cut at the school bus sessions, Malaco’s Tommy Couch began to question whether “Mr. Big Stuff”, which he considered a novelty number, was even worth trying to push. So, he left Knight’s tracks on the shelf to concentrate on getting the other material released, including setting up Chimneyville to issue the King Floyd single. It was not until early 1971 that Couch’s friend, Tim Whitsett, who worked at Stax and was a fan of “Mr. Big Stuff”, convinced still skeptical higher-ups at the label to reconsider and take a chance on it. The single came out around March, almost a full year after the recording date; and, by May, the song was #1 in the nation R&B, and had crossed over, climbing to #2 Pop. Later that summer, it became one of the biggest sellers Stax ever had, surpassing two million in sales.
Soon after her record went gold, Stax released the Mr. Big Stuff LP pictured above, produced by Big Q at Malaco with material by his staff writers. The album was decent enough, but contained nothing really outstanding beyond the hit. It didn’t even include her follow-up song soon to hit the charts, although the flip side made it in. Even so, the LP with that imposing blimp-daddy portrayed on its cover sold well; but, despite her flash of phenomenal success, Knight’s run at Stax would prove to be all too brief.
“You Think You’re Hot Stuff” (Broussard, Williams, Washington)
Jean Knight, Stax 0105, Sept. 1971
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In age-old record business fashion, Big Q and company tried to keep Knight’s stuff from cooling off by making the next song to be pushed a relative knock-off of the first - not a replica that required a Part 2 designation, but certainly a close enough continuation of the sound and theme that it would be immediately recognized by anyone who had heard “Mr. Big Stuff” more than a few times. They had done similarly with Floyd’s second single.
Often, such ploys can range from lame to simply redundant, but, in this case, the writing of Broussard, Washington and Williams plus Wardell’s arrangement offered up music and a groove that still engaged despite that warmed-over feeling. Though this iteration still has the high-profile bounce, the rhythm track attack is harder-hitting; and Stroud’s drumming nicely slips and slides a bit more to the funky side. The result again gives Knight sturdy, dance-worthy support for the second bout of lyrical trouncing she delivers.
Released in the immediate slip-stream of her prior hit, “You Think You’re Hot Stuff” sold respectably, but reaction was far less intense. It barely got into the R&B top 20 by October of 1971 and went no higher, staying in the charts less than half as long as its predecessor. As for her remaining three singles that Stax released on into 1972, all failed to significantly chart or sell.
“Do Me” (Albert Savoy - Wardell Quezergue)Jean Knight, Stax 0150, November, 1972
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I first featured this tune, which comes from her final Stax single, back in 2006; and it’s certainly worth breaking out again here. I stand by my favorable assessment of the track in that post. Pop that thing! Yes, m’am.
Through no fault of her own, Knight remained an outsider at Stax. During her run, she was under contract with Wardell and company, who provided her with tunes cut exclusively at Malaco. The Memphis label felt her material did not mesh with its sound and direction. So, as she told Hannusch, they attempted to bring her into the fold by offering her good material from their in-house writers that she liked and deemed hit-worthy, but Big Q refused to let her record anything that didn’t come from his production team, no doubt in order to get the publishing royalties involved. So, it became a stand-off. Obviously, Stax wanted more control of Knight’s sound and a cut of the publishing action, too. When they could not get either, they simply refused to release anything else by the singer.
Wardell probably did not relent because he would have been a loser either way. He’d have no publishing income, if Knight did Stax material; and they might lure her away, as well. So he let the deal go under; and, since Malaco seemingly had nowhere else to go with Knight’s recordings, she was through with Big Q by late 1973. Music business power-plays do not go well for those without good options. It was a blow for Big Q’s operation, but much worse for Kinght, whose career never had a chance to fully develop. Stax, on the slide toward bankruptcy, never did sign her; and she bounced from label to label almost yearly throughout the rest of the 1970s, until having two more substantial hits in the 1980s working with producer Isaac Bolden in New Orleans. The last of those was a cover of Rockin’ Sidney’s strong-selling, go-figure novelty nonsense, “My Toot Toot”. In the 1990s, she put out two CDs and continues to perform at festivals and oldies shows up until the present day.
Bonnie & Sheila’s Limited Hang
Of the five acts who recorded sides as a part of these sessions, Bonnie & Sheila are certainly the most obscure. Not only is their record hard to come by these days; but it was elusive at the time of its release. Bonnie told Rob Bowman that she was not sure it was even issued, since she had never seen a copy! Well, Bonnie, if you are still unsure, it was released. I had seen several promo copies, before I chanced upon and bought this stock copy from a UK seller. For those who might be looking for one, note that Sheila’s name is misspelled on the label, making the 45 a bit tricky to search for online.
“You Keep Me Hanging On” (Bonnie Perkins)Bonnie & Shelia [sic], King 6352, 1971
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“I Miss You” (Bonnie Perkins)
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Credited as songwriter on both sides of this King single, Bonnie Perkins also had her full name disclosed in Bowman’s box set notes along with that of her singing partner, Sheila Howard. As he also indicated, this was the only commercial release the duo had.
With these tidbits of information, I was able to do further research leading me to believe that Bonnie had also done some recording in the mid-1960s which resulted in two prior releases. On one of them, she worked with not quite ready for prime-time operator ‘Reggie’ Hines, a connection she had in common with the Barons and Jean Knight (see the above section and/or the prior post for details). Bonnie appears to have been a member of the Queenettes, a female vocal group who like the Barons, were signed by Hines to Lynn’s Productions at the time. Both cut several songs for the 1966 Folkways LP, Roots: Rhythm and Blues, a compilation featuring artists from Lynn’s roster, produced by Hines and Al White at Cosimo’s in New Orleans. I discovered Bonnie’s involvement when I checked her other songwriting credits in the BMI database, and found her listed as co-writer on two of the Queenettes’ three tunes on that album. Also credited on those were Hines, probably just getting his producer’s cut; and three other names: Bernadette Moore, Sylvia Moore, and Veronica Thompson, who I am assuming were other members of the group.
If you are an avid collector and/or have been paying close attention here for the last few years, you might recall that Eddie Bo also recorded a group shown as the Queenetts on one of the few 45s for his under-funded and very short-lived Fun label. If that was the same group, which I think is likely, the resulting, extremely rare single (#304) was probably their first release. Both sides were Bo compositions, “So Lucky In Love” b/w “How Long (Can I Hold MY Tears)”; and, from the performances on clips I’ve heard, there were probably fewer than a four members at that point. The participation of Bonnie or the still mysterious Sheila on those two tracks remains unclear.
But back to the 45 at hand. Both of these unassuming pop sides sound like throwbacks to that earlier era, and rather out of place in comparison to the other material recorded along with theirs. I’m not really sure what Big Q expected to achieve commercially going with Bonnie's songs, or why he would not have asked his writing team to cook up something more current for them to release as a debut.
The tunes obviously benefited greatly from Wardell’s arrangements, especially the top side, “You Keep Me Hanging On”, which he presented in the best possible light as a hooky dancer with a great groove courtesy of the in-house band (later known as the Chimneyville Express) at his disposal. I’ve seen this track described as New Orleans funk in several places; but that’s not really what’s going on here, even though Stroud's drumming, syncopated by Big Q design with tambourine reinforcement, is the saving grace of the track. Rhythmically, it’s another hybrid, with all parts, including the vocals, set up with the producer’s usual emphasis on emphatic rhythmic interaction, and performed with such tight tolerances that, once the initial boom-da-boom beat of the intro locks you in, your attention doesn’t fade until the music does. I particularly like the way he reinforced the chorus by repetition, wrapping the chord progression back around itself to make it build. All in all, the track is no doubt a great pop production, creating something engaging out of modest material at best. But I still think the sound was just about five years too late out of the gate to catch a break in 1971, especially on the funk-heavy King label, which seems not to have paid it much mind at all.
I am assuming that Bonnie was the stronger and more expressive of the voices on these cuts, but I have found no clear back-up for that. It’s easy to speculate on what might have happened had that singer worked solo for Wardell on some more challenging material. For a prime example of what she was capable of, seek out “You’re Not The One For Me”, an unissued Malaco track, ostensibly by the duo but with just one main vocal, that was written by Tommy Ridgley and first came to light on the grapevine compilation, Wardell Quezergue Strung Out: The Malaco Sessions. It’s a soulful stunner of a performance on a nicely constructed soul ballad with a very lush, high-class arrangement by the Master, just miles (and miles) beyond what the King sides had to offer. Why it was not released at the time remains another Bonnie & Sheila question mark.
Instead, as things stood, neither of the singers hung on after their first record received its stealth release, and “You Keep Me Hanging On” quickly became their head-bobbing swan song.
Rediscovering the Soul of Joe Wilson
There were supposed to be two deep soul specialists on the school bus to Malaco in May of 1970; but, as noted earlier, C. P. Love gave up his spot at the sessions so that King Floyd could have a shot with ”Groove Me”. That left Joe Wilson, a very capable vocalist with an expressive style and extremely supple range, who was arguably the best pure singing talent signed by Big Q and Elijah Walker. He could easily ascend into high tenor and falsetto, sounding somewhat similar to the great Ted Taylor when he did.
Despite his gifts, Wilson never gained wide recognition when he was making records, although he has belatedly received his share of well-deserved accolades from collectors and fans who appreciate vintage tracks from the deeper end of the soul spectrum. Several of his earliest sides, cut in the mid-1960s for Cosimo Matassa’s White Cliffs label, are prized for the artistry and emotive intensity of his delivery. In addition, his choice work at Malaco has also become more sought after these days, and somewhat easier to come by.
I don’t own any of Wilson's three fairly rare White Cliffs singles, nor do any of the tracks appear to have been released on comps [A general, well-annotated White Cliffs retrospective is way past due]; but it would surprise me if Big Q were not involved in at least a couple of the productions. As for the singer’s Malaco material, I’ll be covering most of the released sides here; but for a comprehensive overview, Gary Cape’s Soulscape label has compiled virtually every track Wilson did with Wardell at Malaco, including six that were unissued, as part of the 2009 CD, Malaco Soul Brothers Volume 1.
Online, Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven, researched and compiled by John Ridley, one of the true experts in the field, is the go-to site for the basic lowdown on Wilson’s career (and so many others!), including a discography and some tracks to hear. So, for more details, open up a window on that, too.
“Sweetness” (J. Broussard-A.Savoy-J. Wislon)Joe Wilson, Dynamo 147, 1971
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This fine 45 is the result of Joe Wilson’s initial session at Malaco. The impressively sung, deep soul B-side. “When A Man Cries”, written by Joe Broussard, is available at Sir Shambling’s page on Wilson, or can be streamed courtesy of 9thWardJukebox on Youtube. Due to the number of tracks I’m covering, I’m passing this ballad up.
As previously detailed, when Atlantic and Stax expressed no interest in any material by Wardell’s school bus (and one broken down car) artists, Tommy Couch was left with the dilemma of how to get the tracks placed, and came up with various solutions over the next year. For Wilson's record, he presented the tracks to Musicor, a New York City company which made arrangements for a national release on their R&B subsidiary, Dynamo Records. The record came out in the Spring of 1971; with Wardell getting full credit on it as producer and arranger.
An upbeat spash of fairly straight-ahead southern soul written by Broussard, Wilson and Albert Savoy, “Sweetness” has a great, groove suitable for dancing, a somewhat unusual song structure, and a well-executed arrangement with horns and strings. Following the short, catchy instrumental intro, which repeats again mid-song, the body of the song is front-loaded with the bright chorus, which predominates. The verses, such as they are, alternate with it thereafter, marked by a shift into minor chords. Overall, the tune was well-suited to Wilson’s vocal style; and he sang it with surprising conviction, considering that it was pretty lightweight fare; but that’s the way he rolled.
Although Ed Ochs’ Soul Sauce column in Billboard gave “Sweetness” a pick in April of that year, along with dozens of other releases, the song didn’t make much impact on the airwaves. Musicor experienced some business setbacks around that time and had just gone through an ownership shuffle. Unbeknownst to Tommy Couch, the company was about ready to shut down or sell off Dynamo, which would return under new management a few years hence as a disco label. So, the deck was stacked against the record; and any push they gave it was probably perfunctory at best. Interestingly, this single was re-issued on Musicor (#1501) in 1974; but it again made no waves.
Meanwhile, Wardell had recorded more songs with Wilson, including “Let A Broken Heart Come In” and “(Don’t Let Them) Blow Your Mind”, which Couch and company released on their in-house Malaco label (#1010), likely in early 1971, as well. But, with no distribution or money to promote it, the record wasn’t going anywhere, so Couch again went to Musicor for a re-issue. For the resulting single, either he or Dynamo substituted another Wilson track, “Your Love Is Sweet (To The Very Last Drop)”, for the top side, and put “Let A Broken Heart Come In” on the flip. It dropped not long after #147 fizzled.
“Your Love Is Sweet (To The Very Last Drop)" (A.Savory-M.Adams-J. Wilson)Joe Wilson, Dynamo 149, 1971
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With the resounding success of King Floyd’s “Groove Me”, Big Q and his crew were emboldened to give a similar treatment to many sides on the Malaco production line. Rather than seeing the hit record as a fortuitous fluke, they turned its quirky, herky-jerky groove concept into a template to fashion other potential hits for not just Wilson, but a number of artists they would bring to Malaco over the next few years. It’s an oft told music business truism that nobody really knows which song will become a hit, or how it happens. So, as in gambling, people try all sorts of angles looking for a sure thing, facing the unknowns of chance with ritual, superstition, various questionable formulas for winning and dogma about what works. Obviously, just copying what you did before, or what somebody else did, to get the desired result has always been a popular gambit. Never forget the Skinner box.
Thus, we have “Your Love Is Sweet”, one of Wardell’s musical, mostly one-trick wind-up toys. But, as always, it’s a fun trick, and extremely well-done. Getting caught up in the syncopated inner-workings of all the parts provides a few minutes diversion. But, like the the various sweets mentioned in the lyrics, the result is mostly empty calories, soon forgotten as we’re off in search of our next sugar high. The song's kinship to Floyd's hit is likley what attracted Dynamo to it; and it just as easily could have shown up as a filler cut on one of Floyd’s albums. Wilson did a good enough job getting down and becoming one with the groove; but the tune was really not well-suited to favor his vocal gifts.
“Let A Broken Heart Come In” (Quezergue-Savoy)
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Here we find Big Q back working in the upbeat southern soul-pop mode, a better match for Wilson’s smooth moves. It’s an arrangement that had Stroud lay down straight in the pocket snare beats with some customary syncopation mainly in his bass drum footwork, providing deft support both for the ascending/descending progression of the verses and harder drive of the other segments.
Though not a truly great song, it’s certainly good enough that I think it should have remained the single’s A-side, as on Malaco 1010; but, knowing with hindsight the status of Dynamo at that point, such choices ultimately made no difference. The 45 was marked for oblivion. Musicor jettisoned the label soon after this release, giving it the distinction of being the last one of the series.
Wilson’s next and final record through Malaco came about probably late in 1972, when two more tracks produced by Wardell, “You Need Me” and ”The Other Side of Your Mind”, came out on the limited-edition label, Big Q (#1002 - see the label shot of this rare bird at Sir Shambling’s), probably just to get it to some DJs in the New Orleans area and build a buzz for “You Need Me”. Soon thereafter, the single was picked up and re-issued nationally by Avco, another New York-based company, which had recently released two 45s on Dorothy Moore, one of Malaco’s own artists.
“You Need Me” (A. Savoy-W. Quezergue-J. Wilson)
Joe Wilson, Avco 4609, 1973
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As you may have noticed by now, I don’t usually concentrate on ballads here at HOTG; but this track has that rare combination of a slow pace and a good groove. Not to mention that it is a classic Quezergue production and Wilson performance, superbly rendered with a well-recorded, full orchestral treatment, the beauty of which is somewhat impaired by the sonic limitations of what the 45 medium (let alone a flimsy mp3 file) can deliver. But you know it’s all good when the fade seems to come far sooner than its 3:32 running time, and you’re not ready for it to end. If you feel this track, I recommend getting the Soulscape CD, which has an extended version in far higher fidelity. It was a big selling point for me, and I’m not generally a fan of down-tempo sides.
In essence, “You Need Me” no has gimmicks. The lyrics are as simple and straightforward as the structure itself. Musically, it’s all about the many entrancing nuances of the interwoven parts, all built upon the subtly syncopated patterns Wardell had Stroud put down. Wilson took the track entirely in the higher range of his impressively emotive tenor, but never oversang, allowing him the latitude to impart feelings of vulnerability and tenderness that only a first class soul man in total control could deliver.
Without a doubt, this is the song that woke me up to the fact that Joe Wilson is the real deal. Too bad it didn’t affect more people that way back in 1973. As it makes abundantly clear, Wardell’s greatest gift was his ability to artfully provide a production platform for a singer to be at his or her best. He didn’t always reach the near perfection of this production, but he was constantly striving for that goal, and got things right far more often than not.
“The Other Side of Your Mind” (A. Savoy-W. Quezergue)
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
How does one follow an impeccable performance? Few flip sides would stand a chance against “You Need Me”. But we have to take each song on its own terms and decide if the execution matches the intent; and, in this case, I think something a little bit funky and off the wall was a good way to go.
In this case, it seems Big Q was gong for a Staple Singers at Muscle Shoals feel, which is what the Chimneyville Express rhythm and horn sections delivered. It’s a mid-tempo southern soul arrangement with a country-ish sway to the bass, juxtaposed with subtle syncopation in the kick drum and hi-hat push-pulls, tasty guitar licks, Memphis Horns-type fills, plus Wardell’s lower mid-range tonal coloring on electric piano. Nothing wrong with copping a popular sound of the day, when you can pull it off so well. The lyrics are kind of unfocused and offbeat; but Wilson worked with them, applied some grit, and got the job done, although the funky side was not his true forte.
Without a doubt, the Big Q/Avco single was the highpoint of Joe Wilson’s recording career, which lasted a little over two decades, though with some gaps. After “You Need Me” failed to get him the recognition he deserved, he apparently had nothing else released until the 1980s came around, when he again worked with Wardell on several projects. As shown on Sir Shambling’s discography, there was as a one-off single on the BFW label in 1980, and a reprise of “You Need Me” for Maria Tynes’ Ria label in 1987, appearing on a single [which we’ll get to at a later date] and the LP, Come Inside.
For the next installment, I’ll be doing one more Malaco-related post, covering a spate of mainly one-shot singles Wardell produced there for a variety of artists. Hope it won’t be too long. . . .