TRACKING THE BIG Q FACTOR, PT 4b: Mainly Malaco's In-House Labels
After another long pause for various causes, including festing for most of April (at least on the weekends), and lately some technical difficulties, I’m back to this continual work in progress (or regression) masquerading as a blog for the sake of some free webspace. Once again, I’ll be focusing on producer/arranger Wardell ‘Big Q’ Quezergue, a host of singers and musicians under his guidance, and the grooved black plastic, circular fruits of their labor at the Malaco recording studio in Jackson, MS during the early 1970s. But, this time, most of the records I’ll be featuring appeared on Malaco’s own labels, though there are some significant exceptions that came out under other imprints.
Should you need or want to backtrack in this series, which covers only a select portion of Big Q’s massive record-making enterprises, links to prior posts are provided below. For some reason, after he passed away last year, I started with certain records he worked on in the late 1960s. As usual around here, I didn’t have a master plan in mind. This post should more or less wrap up the three to four year Malaco period that came after. Eventually, I’ll go farther back into Wardell’s early days in the business, and explore his post-Malaco records somewhere down the line, too. But to keep this from becoming all Quezergue all the time, I will be moving on to some other obsessively nerdy topics and groovin’ tracks again soon.
Part 1 - Trying to Make the Barons Rule
Part 2 - The Unemployed & the Barons
Part 3 - More on the Malaco School Bus Sessions & Beyond
Part 4a - More Multi-Label Malaco Sessions
Malaco’s namesake record label got its start several years before Big Q sought refuge from the temporarily moribund recording scene in New Orleans and came to work at the studio some 200 miles to the north. The operation derived its name from Malaco Attractions, a successful rock and soul concert promotion business in Jackson run by Mitch Malouf and Tommy Couch (the “Mal”and “Co”). Fascinated by all aspects of the music business, the young partners opened their studio venture on the side with a friend, ‘Wolf’ Stevenson, in 1967, having plenty of good intentions but little experience with the technical demands of getting such an operation up and running. They took a learn-as-you-go approach; and, with some sheer luck, good ears for talent, and plenty of naive enthusiasm, they persevered. The first single they put out was Malaco Records 901 in 1968, two tracks by Cosey Corley and the Blue Gardenia Show Band, “Warm Loving Man”, a soulful nugget sung by Corley’s wife, Carolyn Faye, and “Got To Get Myself Together”. The 45 received some favorable regional response and led to a less well-received follow-up “It’s All Over” / “I Love You”.(#902), soon thereafter.
Having one of the few viable studios in the area, Malaco managed to attract some promising young songwriters, budding producers and session musicians into the fold and began to record a number of other local and regional artists; but the partners soon realized that they did not have the resources to effectively market and distribute their own records. So, they let the label slide and worked as a production company, developing material and talent, recording various artists, then leasing the sessions to viable outside record companies with distribution clout who could release and promote the records (at least that was how it was supposed to work). Though still new at the game, they had some initial success placing their masters; but hits were not forthcoming, and keeping the doors open became a concern.The studio stayed afloat by cutting advertising jingles; and Malouf and Couch helped the cash flow by continutng to book concerts. Then, one day, Quezergue and his partner, Elijah Walker, came knocking with a mutually beneficial proposal to join forces, as detailed in earlier posts.
Wardell had years of experience in the business, a track record of producing and arranging hits, plus a team of on-call songwriters and a stable of of willing and able singers who Walker promoted and managed under the banner of Skyline Productions. With the New Orleans recording scene in dire straights, Malaco’s suitable studio set-up, capable in-house band, and Couch’s connections with outside labels seemed to be just what Big Q required to get a quality product to market. Yet, once the deal was struck and the sessions had started, Couch struggled to place any of the first batch of singles. Seeing the greatest promise in Floyd’s record, the Malaco partners activated a new label, Chimneyville, in 1970 to get it released and, they hoped, onto the airwaves, which quickly took place. “Groove Me” was the side that got hot in a hurry on New Orleans radio, so much so that Atlantic Records, after first snubbing Floyd's single, suddenly saw the light and signed on to handle the distribution, and promoted the song into a national R&B chart-topper. Their agreement with Malaco also included an option to lease and/or distribute any other projects produced at the studio they thought might be hits; but time would show that making some short-term money off of Floyd's streak was their main concern.
With the positive outlook and cash-flow generated by “Groove Me” and Floyd’s immediate follow-ups, the production wheels were well-greased. Things soon got busier around the studio, with Big Q regularly cutting tracks on a steady stream of primarily hometown artists. One of them, arriving soon after those first sessions for a chance at record-making roulette, was a high quality vocalist named C. P. Love.
A popular live performer whose strong suit is deep soul, New Orleans native Carrollton Pierre Love has been a woefully under-recorded vocalist for the majority of his career, which began around 1960 when he was a just a teenager. You can see his discography, and hear some selections from it on Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven web page devoted to the singer.
As he told Jeff Hannusch in the Soul of New Orleans, Love’s first chance to make a record didn’t materialize until about 1968, when, at one of his gigs with a popular local band called the Invaders, he met Elijah Walker, a music business hustler with many hats who got the group some additional work and then approached Love about cutting a single. The singer was agreeable, and the result was “You Call the Shots” b/w “Plenty of Room For More”, released on the tiny King Walk label (#569) owned by Earl King and Walker. Though the King penned A-side was a great debut performance for Love, the record quickly sank, in no small part due to the abysmal state of the record business in New Orleans at the time. King Walk soon dissolved, after just one other release.
Walker then got Love studio work singing on budget-priced knock-offs of current hit records, keeping the singer on the line while setting up Pelican Productions with Wardell. As previously discussed, when the partners lined up Malaco for their new base of operations, Love, then about 25 years old, was on the short list for their first multi-artist sessions there in the spring of 1970; but he graciously convinced them to give King Floyd a chance to record in his place. That wound up paying off exceedingly well for everybody except C. P. Love He did finally get another session slot later that year or early the next, and cut quite a few tracks, but only two saw the light of day on a Chimneyville single.
C. P. Love, Chimneyville 438, 1970
Penned by Wardell’s chief writer, Joe Broussard, this stately ballad and tasteful arrangement showed off Love’s voice to excellent effect. His strong, distinctively soulful tenor had just the right mix of purity and grit, and the latter timbre is well-displayed when he takes the song to church for some testifying on the ride-out. While he did a fine job on the more uptempo flip side, “Never Been In Love Before”, composed by his friend, King Floyd, Love couldn’t overcome the song’s hackneyed lyrics and structure, making it a B-side not to remember.
On the face of it, Love’s performance on “I Found All These Things” should have effectively sold the record and upped his profile. According to Hannusch, the song found promising support in New Orleans and several other sectors of the southern soul market. But, for unexplained reasons, Love was unable to go on a planned tour with Memphis soulman James Carr to generate more of a buzz; and the song failed to break out any further on its own. Also working against the record’s prospects was Atlantic’s indifference to promoting most of the releases it was nominally distributing for Malaco at the time, except Floyd's.
At least the in-demand Floyd, who owed a debt to Love for getting him his shot with Big Q, provided some pay-back and took the singer out on tour with him later. They were on the road for almost a year, but the exposure did nothing to resuscitate “I Found All These Things”. In fact, Love returned to find his prospects for another release had greatly diminished. Atlantic/Cotillion soon pulled the plug on their distribution deal with Malaco, once Floyd’s hot streak in the charts cooled down; and Tommy Couch had continuing trouble placing all Wardel's completed sessions in the pipeline. Once the producer had his falling out with the recalcitrant Floyd, and Stax dropped his other hitmaker, Jean Knight; Wardell retreated home to work at the newly-opened Sea-Saint Studio.
A vocalist of C. P. Love’s caliber certainly deserved another chance to work with Big Q’s promising production team, but it wasn’t in the cards. The window of opportunity for New Orleans artists at Malaco was not open long enough for all trying to get through it.
Meanwhile on Chimneyville, King Floyd’s output continued even after Wardell departed, until the singer and label finally called it quits a few years later. The studio band had well-learned how to make records Big Q style, and just continued to do so. Other than the two Barrons Ltd. singles, discussed several posts back, and Love’s record, none of Big Q’s other productions appeared on the label. Instead, a number were issued on the Malaco imprint, which had been reactivated in 1971 for a project that did not even involve Wardell.
Although the pace of his sessions was brisk in 1970-71, Malaco’s own in-house producers managed to slip in a few of their own, including making a fine record on itinerant Gulf Coast soul man, Mighty Sam McLain, that featured his promising take on the slow-burner, “Mr. & Mrs. Untrue”. But Atlantic predictably passed on it. Tommy Couch could find no other takers, because Rick Hall at Fame Records in Muscle Shoals quickly released a version of the song by Candi Staton which charted, cutting off interest in McLain’s version. So Couch went to Plan B (or M, actually), deciding to put it out on Malaco Records instead. It was just the label’s third single (#1011 - starting a new numbering scheme). However, the rub continued to be that Malaco could not afford a big promotional push to get McLain’s record noticed. As a result, it didn’t get very far out the door.
Having the Malaco label available again, Couch began to issue a number of Wardell’s productions on it, for lack of a better alternative. These were singles which had also failed to initially attract outside distribution or leasing deals. The concept seems to have been similar to what Big Q and Walker already had been forced to do themselves with Pelican and their other micro-labels discussed in the last post, releasing limited-edition singles just to get the records into the hands of radio DJs and maybe a few regional sellers in hope of getting some action stirred up that might encourage a larger company to sign on for distribution and promotion and take them farther. But that fall-back business model proved to be less than dependable. Very few singles on Pelican or Malaco got distributed or leased by other companies between 1970 and 1975, and none of those were hits. As the decade progressed, lack of response for its releases was turning Malaco into the lost soul company.
Despite the spectre of creating a limbo for soul records (nothing to dance about), Couch had to put his own productions and records coming through the Big Q operation somewhere. So the Malaco catalog slowly grew, and everybody hoped for the best.
Henry Lee ‘Hank’ Sample, III, was a New Orleans-based vocalist who Quezergue and Walker brought to the Malaco studio for several sessions during the high-traffic first year of their operation. Not only was Sample a DJ on WBOK-AM, at least in the 1960s, he also had run a local record shop where he played a part in some of the city’s music business history a few years earlier by helping to break Robert Parker’s big 1966 hit, “Barefootin’”. Wardell had produced and arranged the song for Nola Records the year before; but the label-owners hesitated to release it with Parker’s vocal. Certain it was a hit waiting to happen, Sample arranged to sell a limited run of copies at his shop to test its appeal, and quickly moved them all. That was enough to convince Nola to send out promo copies to the radio stations. Subsequent break-out airplay and enthusiastic listeners’ response started the song’s climb high up the national charts.
Later in the decade, Sample was associated with members of a vocal group, the Jades, who recorded one single, “Lucky Fellow” b/w “And Now”, produced/arranged by Wardell, and released on the Mode label (#503). I had read that Sample sang with the group; but the daughter of one of the members (Arthur Stewwart) has stated in the comments that he was not in the Jades. The lead singer on those two sides was Norbet Porter. The top side was a great soul-pop dancer, but the record went down the hole, that is, the smoking crater where the busy local record business had once been. Although Wardell seems to have been in charge of most of the Mode sessions, Sir Shambling notes that Sample himself produced one record, Mode 504, “You’re Using Me” / “Can’t Stay Away” by the Fabulettes, and likely had a financial interest in the label. As I related before in the series when discussing the Barons, Ulis Gaines, a partner in Nola and co-owner of Gatur with Willie Tee, has been identified as the principal owner of Mode. If Sample did have a piece of the action, it was likely kept under wraps due to his working for a radio station; yet, the connection did not seem to have benefitted any of the Mode releases, none of which were commercially successful.
After Mode closed down in fairly short order, the Jades did some other session work for the Scram label with Eddie Bo producing, but nothing was issued; and the group broke up by the end of the decade. At the same time, Sample became a part of Elijah Walker’s stable of singers alligned with Pelican Productions, which put him on track for his sessions at Malaco. Meahwhile, several members of the Jades, including Alvin Turner and Arthur Stewart, went on to form another vocal group, the Enticers, also managed by Walker. But more about them a bit later.
Right now, let’s hear the A-side of the first record Hank Sample cut on his own, which Tommy Couch succeeded in placing with an outside company, albeit the smallish Jay-Walking, an offshoot of the Soulville label based in Harrisburg, PA.
Hank Sample, Jay-Walking 006, 1971
Another shot on the mainstream pop side of soul for Sample, this swinging, mid-tempo groover, written by King Floyd, is definitely easy on the ear thanks to the effective singing and Big Q’s deftly rhythmic arrangement. Like Floyd, Sample had a limited vocal range, but worked well within it. Both singers, too, had the ability to lock their vocals into the groove on numbers like this, for the good of the tune, and make the process seem effortless.
Something that is only slightly evident on this track but much more pronounced on the B-side ballad, “You’re Being Unfair To Me” (hear it at Sir Shambling's), is Sample’s similarity at times to Joe Tex in vocal timbre and phrasing, which was surely no coincidence, considering Tex’s popularity.
While Jay-Walking lacked much clout, they were at least able put the record out in the large Philadelphia/New York market nearby, where such a song had a better chance of getting noticed; although, ultimately, this spin of the wheel was not a winner.
Even so, Sample got another chance, this time on the company’s own label, coming right after Mighty Sam McLain’s single.
Hank Sample, Malaco 1012, 1971
I consider this to be one of Wardell’s best down-tempo arrangements while at Malaco - dramatically dynamic, exquisitely layered, and superbly played. There wasn’t really much going on melodically on the minor key song, written by Big Q and the cream of his writing team; but that suited Sample’s range limitations. Still, he had to really invest a lot of emotion into his delivery of the simple lyrics to make his voice a meaningful match for the top-notch musical accompaniment. He succeeded; but that may be hard to discern from my worn copy of the 45. I suggest you seek out a good digitally re-mastered copy* to really appreciate Sample’s nuanced performance.
.He handled flip side with aplomb, as well.
“Got To Find The Nerve” (J. Broussard, A. Savoy, H. Sample, E. Small)
It’s definitely a B-side worth picking up on, both for Sample’s sincere, gritty vocal and Wardell’s relaxed arrangement, which dispensed with the more contrived hybrid funk hesitations he regularly imposed on Stroud and bassist Vernie Robbins for many other poly-rhythmic productions. Instead, he allowed them to provide a more natural bounce and flow to the groove, a copacetic combination sure to inspire repeat spins.
As noted, issuing these distinctive songs on a Malaco single meant more or less sealing their fate to endure a lengthy suspended animation until eventual discovery by latter day collectors and other retro-music fans. Sample recorded again after Malaco, but his other attempts fared no better. As Sir Shambling points out, there were two more releases on Senator Jones’ Superdome and J.B.’s labels respectively in 1973 and 1975, before the singing DJ faded from the scene for good.
CLEMMON SMITH: A REAL RARITY ON BIG Q (the label)
Before getting into the other in-house Malaco releases involving Wardell, I am backtracking to a 45, quite beat-up and scarce, that I stumbled upon just after I did the prior post covering Pelican and other micro-labels set up by Quezergue & Walker while at Malaco. Since it was too late to fit it in there, I saved it for this time.
This single came out on the very limited-edition Big Q imprint (#1001), active only during the first few years the partners operated at Malaco. The only other known release on Big Q , Joe Wilson’s “You Need Me” / ”Other Side Of Your Mind” (#1002), was leased and re-issued by Avco in 1973. The artist on 1001, Clemmon Smith, only rang a bell with me due to a funky obscurity he did for Instant records in the early 1970s that I have on a 2001 CD comp (Voodoo Soul: Deep and Dirty New Orleans Funk). I had been unaware of his prior records and association with Wardell until this record turned up.
Fortunately, Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven had already done a feature on Smith which includes the singer’s scant discography and audio of several tunes. I suggest that you definitely check that out, as Smith was another little-known artist who deserved more studio time, releases, and attention than he got. The few records he did have are well worth hearing, including the two cut prior to recording for Big Q, both likely issued in 1967 and showing him as Clemon Smith. One was on Lionel Worthy’s Eight Ball label (#1563), and the other on Joe Banashak’s Alon (#9037 - in its final days, after Allen Toussaint was long gone). It probably goes without saying at this point, but neither single got any action.
The two ballads Sir Shamblng has available from those singles show Smith singing in a smooth soul style; but the tracks he recorded for Biq Q reveal his a grittier side.
Clemmon Smith, Big Q 1001, ca 1970
On this fairly straightforward piece of mid-tempo southern soul, Wardell gave the arrangement a relaxed yet rhythmic groove with a smooth flow accentuated by a tastefully used string section. Smith had just enough gritty husk in his voice keep things interesting, not too sweet and refined, and delivered the lyrical goods with sincerity and conviction, sealing the deal.
“Life Ain’t Worth Living” (Wardell Quezergue & Albert Savoy)
Here’s an example of Wardell borrowing ideas from other members of his writing team and recycling some of his own. This song owes a lot musically to “Mr. Big Stuff”, recorded by Jean Knight at Malaco earlier that year, though not released until 1971, as discussed earlier in the series. Punchy and funky, the groove appropriated the same spunky bounce found on Knight’s track; but the weak point here is the lyrics, which don’t offer nearly as clever a concept. Smith’s strong vocal had plenty of potential attitude that the words just couldn’t match, a central flaw that made the number no more than flip side filler; but it's still fun to listen to.
It’s easy to agree with Sir Shambling that “I Want to Thank You Baby” was worthy of radio play and deserved at least a shot at the national charts; but for whatever reasons, the Big Q label release gambit worked only later for Joe Wilson’s masterful single. As I said, Smith moved over to Instant around 1973, cutting the engaging, two-part groover “Are You Sleeping Brotherman” (shown as “Brother Man, Sister Ann” on several compilations, which is not it’s legal title, according to BMI). It was his last known release.
New Orleans-based vocalist, songwriter and harmonica player Elliott Small first recorded for Wardell Quezergue as a young man in the mid-1960s, making the single “I’m A Devil” / “Hate to See You Go” for A.B.S. (Always Better Sound #108 - with his first name misspelled), a short-lived label in which Big Q had an interest. The top side, written by the singer and Joe Broussard, who had a long working relationship with the producer, is a pumping dancer that has become a cult favorite among collectors for it's odd lyrics, harmonica solo, and rarity.
After joining the songwriting team that worked for Pelican Productions out of Broussard’s house in New Orleans, Small eventually also got the nod to record with Wardell at Malaco, joining a long line of other singers looking for a hit. Though he would have two releases on the house label, surprisingly, only one of them was cut at the Jackson studio.
Elliot Small, Malaco 1014, 1971
As should be getting obvious by now, this is another example of Wardell’s patented funky semi-automation, fully engaged. He manufactured such grooves using the lean, clean rhythm section machine of drummer James Stroud, bassist Vernie Robbins, and guitarist Jerry Puckett, to punch out push-pull rhythmic substructures to his exact specifications. Often, those would be variations on the “Groove Me” template; and some songs of that ilk worked better than others. I’d put “Cherry” in the better category, as Wardell laid some welcome change-ups into the sequence, including a driving bridge that builds to a peak, then drops off at one point to a short, stuttering interlude before the regularly repeating syncopations begin again. There’s also an unexpected larger instrumental section later in the song that takes the beat in another direction before the final bridge kicks in. It was well-thought-out and cleverly crafted to set booties in motion while moving the arrangement beyond the realm of one central groove.
Small’s melodic talents weren’t particularly required on this one; so he sang it in King Floyd fashion, using his voice as one more rhythmic element, dancing inside, outside and around the beats. The lyrics from Maria Tynes and Broussard picked a tree-full of fairly funny, semi-salacious double entendres, plus various other fruity metaphors and plays on words, which may have been a bit too ripe for radio back then.
“Separation” (Elliot Small)
Meanwhile, over in Flipsville, Small’s own “Separation” provided him more melody to work with as he bemoaned some rather specific repercussions of relationship breakups and double-dealing. It becomes a rather preachy rant, sort of a singing sociology lesson, conducted over chord changes reminiscent of Van Morrison’s “Gloria” [as performed by Them, natch]. Nonetheless, Wardell’s arrangement lent excellent musical support, from its well-paced snare and percussion backbeat and broken-beat kick drumming to the flowing strings and reinforcing horn fills, all working to mitigate Small’s overwrought rapping.
As you’ll note, the single’s label editor left off a “t” on Small’s first name, twice - not that it mattered. Once again, the Malaco Records syndrome was at work; and the release took its place in the static limbo line.
Small’s next recording date came a few years later, after Big Q had returned to New Orleans and was working at Sansu Enterprises’ new Sea-Saint Studio on his own projects plus some contract arrangement work. Taking on production of the session himself, Small had Wardell arrange a flat out funk number that the two had co-written with guitarist Teddy Royal, a frequent but often uncredited Quezergue collaborator during the period.
But when it came to marketing the master, Small went back to Malaco to see if they could assist. The company was suddenly hot again after Dorothy Moore’s take on “Misty Blue”, released on Malaco 1029, became a substantial smash in 1975, saving the studio from financial ruin and shifting perception of the label 180 degrees, from dead record zone to successful hit generator. Still on good terms with Big Q (who did the string arrangement on “Misty Blue”) and his crew, Tommy Couch decided to release Small’s session as a two-parter on Malaco, hoping it might take advantage of the newfound momentum.
Elliott Small, Malaco 1031, 1975
I first featured this tune back in 2007. along with some commentary, most of which I’ve summarized above. I’ll just add this snippet from that post:
[Small] and Wardell may have been trying to revive the kind of feel that had been successful earlier for King Floyd at Malaco when he was working with Big Q. . . . In fact, Small even affected some of Floyd's vocal mannerisms on the song; but nobody sprang for his funkified children's chant, no matter how danceable it was.
Suffice it to say, “E-Ni-Me-Ni” was no “Misty Blue” by any measure; and its failure to get noticed, even with all the favorable attention coming Malaco’s way, marked the end of the studio’s involvement with New Orleans-related productions from there on out.
As far as I can tell, there were only two other releases featuring New Orleans artists on the Malaco label. The singles, by Joe Johnson and Richard Caiton, appeared successively in 1973 and 1974, neither leaving much of a trace, although Johnson’s did get re-issued nationally.
What little I know about Joe Johnson, who was originally from Independence, in east-central Louisiana just north of Hammond, comes mainly from Sir Shambling’s online feature and discography on him, and from John Broven’s essential book, South to Louisiana, which briefly mentions the singer. His music career began in the Louisiana swamp blues scene of the mid-1960s; and he first recorded for legendary producer Jay ‘J. D.’ Miller, who ran a studio in Crowley, located in the southwest region of the state.
For about a decade, beginning in the mid-1950s, Miller recorded and helped develop the careers of area black blues artists such as Lightning Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown, and Slim Harpo, successfully leasing their sessions to the Excello label run by Ernie Young in Nashville, TN. Johnson’s initial single for Miller came in 1966 and was issued on the relatively new Abet imprint (#9417), an Excello subsidiary. But, the record was a non-starter; and the timing was bad all around. Miller’s distribution deal dissolved the next year, when Young sold Excello along with his other label holdings, and the new owners quickly moved to sign Slim Harpo, Miller’s best-selling artist, to a direct contract.
Johnson cut one more record for Miller, backed by Guitar Grady and his band, which came out on the producer’s own, one-off Cry label around 1968; but it also failed to flourish. After that, Johnson and Grady could be found performing regularly in Gretna, on the Westbank, right across the river from New Orleans. Around 1970, the singer recorded a 45 for Crown, a Gretna-based micro-label; and, as Sir Shambling notes, he also had a release on the mysterious Jo-El label about the same time.
Along the way, the singer came into association with promoter, booking agent, and manager Elijah Walker, which is how he got one of the later recording slots at Malaco, while Big Q was still running sessions there.
Joe Johnson, Malaco 1019, 1973
Johnson’s blues roots are nowhere to be found on his Malaco tracks. This top side is simply soul-pop, effectively arranged by Wardell with a swinging spring to the groove - mid-tempo, but still about a mover. As for the vocal, there is nothing truly memorable about it, but it's nicely done and displays an easy confidence. As Sir Shambling points out, Johnson did a more distinctive job on the B-side ballad, “The Blind Man”, a satisfying serving of smooth, southern soul emoting that you can hear at Deep Soul Heaven.
Probably due just to favorable timing, this limited-run Malaco single was one of the few in those years that got re-issued nationally, coming out that same year on the GSF label (#6909) based in New York City. Tommy Couch placed it as part of a package deal in which GSF also released singles by Dorothy Moore (#6908), Chuck Brooks (#6912), and Billy Cee (#6913), who were Malaco in-house artists at the time; but only Moore’s funky jewel, “Cry Like A Baby”, got into the charts, just barely.
After Johnson’s shot with Big Q and Malaco/GSF fell short, he recorded just a few more times, putting a single out on Tee, another tiny Gretna label, in 1977. Then, a decade or so later; he had at least one quite decent release on Milton Batiste’s Syla imprint; but neither involved Big Q or brought Johnson any significant recognition.
RICHARD CAITON: TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
I first heard the top side of songwriter and falsetto specialist Richard Caiton’s lone Malaco single on the label’s 1999 CD box set, The Last Soul Company; but Rob Bowman’s generally informative notes barely mention him. At that point, the singer was hard to trace; but ever since, information on him has been accumulating, along with an appreciable fanbase, especially in the UK.
Prized in Northern Soul circles, several of Caiton’s singles can be expensive to obtain. All were fairly limited run releases, as commercial success for the most part eluded him. Contributing to his obscurity is the fact that Caiton consistently pursued his vocal and songwriting talents as a sideline and rarely performed live. Preferring the security of a regular paycheck to provide for his family, he made his living as an educator and administrator, knowing recording opportunities were infrequent and rarely lucrative.
Caiton made his first record when he was just 19 via a connection to famed producer Dave Bartholomew, who thought he showed some promise and cut a session on him in 1964. The songs were both Bartholomew compositions, though not his best stuff:: “You Look Like A Flower”, a 1950s style throwback ballad with weak lyrics, and “Listen To The Drums”, which didn’t have much going for it other than a heavy beat (hence the title), probably supplied by Smokey Johnson (coincidentally, a neighbor of Caiton’s back then). Though the singer sounded somewhat green on both tracks, Bartholomew’s legendary reputation probably helped get them released as a single by GNP Crescendo (#327) that year; but, not surprisingly, it flopped.
A few years later, Caiton began recording for Up-Tight, yet another local micro-label, working with saxophonist and arranger Eddie Williams.“Without Your Love”, from his first single for Up-Tight (#101), received some encouraging airplay on New Orleans soul stations in 1966; and his next release on the label in 1968 did even better, featuring the singer’s own socially-conscious composition, “Take A Hold Brother & Sister” (#151), which had heavy local sales but didn’t breakout to other markets. I first heard that one in 2002 on the Funky Delicacies/ Tuff City CD compilation, Funky Funky New Orleans 2, and later lucked into a copy of the 45, which remains to date my only Caiton on vinyl, though not for lack for trying.
Two more singles followed on the label, featuring A-sides “I Like To Get Near You” (numbered 151 again - not that it made any difference) and “Reflections” (#?), but neither fared well. Caiton seems to have been Up-Tight’s only artist; and i’m sure the recording budget was limited, though virtually all of the sides managed to have string sections. From what I’ve heard of his performances, the playing, and arrangements, all seem to be of fairly high quality, but Up-Tight had no way to compete with the mainstream artists that Caiton wanted to run with. I heard him say in a recent interview* that at least some of the label’s sessions were cut in Houston, likely due to the financial demise of Cosimo’s studio. In any case, all became moot by 1970 when Up-Tight went under, as had so many other small imprints around town in that period.
Not long thereafter, Caiton began his association with Elijah Walker, Big Q, and their Pelican Productions team, first as a writer. One of the songs he collaborated on with Joe Broussard and Maria Tynes, the strong dancer, “Send Him Back”, was recorded at Malaco in 1972 by a new female vocal group, the Pointer Sisters, brought in by Atlantic Records to cut a single with Wardell producing and arranging. The other side, “Destination No More Heartaches”, was written by other members of team. Promising at it was, the Atlantic release (#2893) did not take off, and the Pointer girls soon parted ways with the company and signed with Blue Thumb, where they had their first big hit covering a tune from another New Orleans songwriter, Allen Toussaint.
Caiton’s vocal abilities insured that he got a session slot at the studio in Jackson. The resulting Malaco single (#1020) contained two of his own compositions, “Superman”, the top side, with “I’m Gonna Love You More” on the back, but came about so late in the Quezergue epoch at the studio that it’s likely the producer/arranger was officially gone by the time the record was released in 1974. As the singer has acknowledged, his intent all along was to make records for the mainstream soul market, where he got his inspiration; and these tracks reveal that Big Q was just the creative enabler he needed to get that sound.
The minor-key, mid-tempo “Superman”, had a jazzy feel and showed an obvious debt to Curtis Mayfield’s vocal and songwriting style of the era, but was probably the wrong song to lead off with, when on other side was such a effective soul-pop mover. Big Q’s arrangement on “I’m Gonna Love You More” fused the breezy flow of Caiton’s chord progression and his effortlessly melodic, seamless high tenor/falsetto, here reminiscent of the Stylicstics or Delphonics, with an unstoppable syncopated groove, subtle yet highly rhythmic. In a few years, this would probably have been considered disco by many, but it’s not nearly as formulaic.
As was the pattern at the time, there was no taker willing to deliver these tunes to the masses, so Caiton’s single ended up languishing under the in-house brand, awaiting its trans-Atlantic revival decades in the future. For the fellow vinyl-deprived, both sides are included on the 2003 Grapevine CD, Reflections, a well-done, selective overview of Caiton’s recorded work with revealing notes and many of his released and unreleased tracks. Various sites have downloads of at least some of his tunes, as well.
Caiton only made a few more 45s, which he self-produced later in the decade. One of them came out on his own Caiburt imprint around 1975. Following that, he hired Big Q to do the arrangements for a 1978 single recorded at Sea-Saint and released on Senator Jones’ J.B.’s label (#131) to get it a better shot at radio play. The top side was a more decidedly disco “Where Is The Love”, with a very commercial sound in tune with the times; but, ultimately, Jones’ operation didn’t have the clout to get the record where it needed to go. Caiton pretty much retired from the music business after that; but some 30 years on, his singles are still sought after by a growing number of those in the know. With the re-issue of his work by Grapevine, a new crop of soul fans have joined the old to create a demand for his music that might just revive his career. He recently performed in the UK; and we can only hope he’ll do the same at home one day soon and get some props and appreciation for all the music he made while standing in the shadows.
*[I recently discovered an archived interview Mr. Caiton did with UK radio host Dave Thorley earlier this year that lets you hear some of the story from the man himself. Check it out.]
As mentioned in the segment on Hank Sample above, following the breakup of his late 1960s vocal trio, the Jades, with Alvin Turner and Arthur Stewart, Sample went solo and a new group, the Enticers, was started by his former partners. They all became affilated with Walker and Quezergue's Skyline and Pelican operations and would cut two singles apiece at Malaco.
A five piece outfit, the Enticers had obvious similarities to the Barons, but with a tighter, more polished sound, at least on their best tracks. According to the notes by John Ridley (a/k/a Sir Shambling) to the 2004 Gravevine CD comp, Strung Out: The Malaco Sessions, the other members of the Enticers were Gerald Alexander, Wilson Porter, and Johnny Carr. They got their initial session with Big Q fairly early on; and Atlantic picked it up directly for release by Cotillion. An auspicious start for the first single by a new group.
The Enticers, Cotillion 44125, 1971
Maybe it was the choice of this song for the A-side that enticed Atlantic to take a chance, something they regularly refrained from doing during their strained relationship of convenience with Malaco. Wardell and the group took on a cover version of “Don’t Make Me A Story Teller”, originally recorded by Detroit soul singer and writer Steve Mancha (actual name, Clyde Wilson), which had an R&B chart run in 1967. I’m sure the song’s track record somehow assured the company that a re-make might have the right stuff.
The versions are a contrast in approaches. On the original, Mancha’s eminently soulful vocal and the strong rhythm track had a more raw and up-front sound, with prominent drums and bass injecting serious pelvic movement into the mid-tempo pace. Wardell’s uptown, more sophisticated arrangement smoothed-out the rough edges and straightened out the beat, giving the groove more of a glide over which the Enticers wove their highly effective vocal. blend. As good as it sounds, the song did not have the desired effect on radio airplay and was nowhere near as successful as Mancha’s version. Essentially, it tanked, a miscalculation by the producer(s) trying to successfully introduce the group, however impressive their massed harmonies might be.
In my less than weighty opinion, as with Richard Caiton’s Malaco single, a stronger first-impression showcase for the Enticers would seem to have been available by simply turning the record over to play the other side.
“Calling For Your Love” (R. Williams, J. Broussard, C. Washington)
While lyrically this song doesn’t really stand up to “Storyteller”, Big Q’s main songwriting team did a bang-up job on the nuts and bolts construction, offering up a tune in the Motown mode that was all he needed to create an infectious, dance-inducing, rhythmic powerhouse of an arrangement, chock full of hooks. It just seems flawlessly designed to be heard again and again and flip the impulse-buying switch in a million youthful brains. Hell, I feel like running out and buying a few more copies myself - looks like geezers too are not immune to its appeal.
The Enticers’ five voices had less to do here, since the lead carried most of the load with an agile, syncopated delivery that added another layer of interactive fun to the polyrythmic spree. Too bad this B-side remained undiscovered. Had some Djs picked up on it, the group’s fate could have been quite different.
Their second record, which Cotillion also took on, was released the next year. Not nearly as strong as the first, seriously flawed actually, it ended up being their last.
The Enticers, Cotillion 44156, 1972
On first listen, the stock sound effects - breaking glass, door knocking and sirens - during the instrumental intro suggest things are getting cheesy, unless it might be an intentional comedy record. Nope. Instead, it’s a superficial, predictable message song to a theif about how his criminal ways are uncool, and, by the way, explained by being a drug addict. That was a cliche even then. Not only that, Big Q’s arrangement employs with unintended irony a blatant appropriation of the Temptations’ style, with voices in various registers each taking a line. Not that you’d actually confuse these guys with those guys.You might recall that he took the Temps route earlier with the Barons, too. But that was at least closer to the mark.
The biggest problem, clear from the outset, is that the group’s formerly righteous blend of voices is missing in action, and where is that strong tenor who sang lead on the prior record? It definitely sounds as if the Enticers had some personnel changes between records;.and maybe lost a member, too. I have no documentation on this, just ears. Knowing Wardell’s vocalists were all thoroughly coached on songs parts and arrangement prior to recording, the loss of the group’s sound might be best explained by some less adept singers having come in as replacements. That combined with this second-rate song from a writer who for sure had many better to offer, would have made any competent disk jockey or program director stop the song in mid-preview and say, “Next”.
Still, despite the flaws, I dig the playing on the track, at least. Espetially the tasty acoustic guitar work, probably by rhythm section regular, Jerry Puckett.
The flip side, “God Bless Tomorrow”, written by the other Savoy twin, Albert, is not his best either, a middle of the road ballad bogged down by a mid-song recitation by the bass vocalist. Again, the singing is merely adequate - the group’s enticing luster nowhere to be found. It’s little wonder that this less than adequate record marked the end of the line for the group’s recording career.
On the strength of their first record alone, the Enticers can be added to the list of artists for whom Big Q fashioned worthy, mainstream-oriented productions while at Malaco, joining others such as the Barons, Denise Keeble, C. L. Blast, Hank Sample, and Richard Caiton. All of them deserved more of a shot at that market than they got. The quality of his work aptly demonstrates that Wardell and most of those vocalists could have made more sweet music together and potentially big(er) bucks had they been plying their trade in one of the major recording hubs working for big(er) labels, instead of at an impressive but struggling, small studio/production company Jackson, MS.
[Geek alert: One last note about the Enticers singles. Both labels show Walker as producer, a nominal designation, as previously discussed; but instead of following that with “for Malaco Productions” as on other records where he is named, “for Skyline Productions” is shown. It is the same for Wardell’s arranger credit on the later 45. I think these are the only mentions of Skyline on any of the records the two were involved with at Malaco. My only guess as to why Skyline replaces Malaco would be that Walker got Cotillion to take the Enticers directly, without Tommy Couch setting up the deal. If anything makes better sense, feel free to let me know.]
Before finally closing this segment out, I want to mention two other notable singles Big Q oversaw at Malaco that were placed with the Atlantic group, both of which I have done posts on in the past.
One was issued directly by Cotillion in 1971 on soul queen Irma Thomas, combining the lush ballad, “Full Time Woman”, and a funk nugget, “She’s Taken My Part”. I featured the latter song way back in 2005, and you can read my musings on the record there.
The other was an Atlantic release by Johnny Adams from the same year, featuring the equally funky “More Than One Way” b/w “You Got Your Kind Of Life To Lead” that also failed to connect with the public. My original post on the top side of that record was done back in 2008 as part of a feature on the late songwriter, Larry Hamilton (who also co-wrote Irma’s B-side). Both Thomas and Adams could have benefitted from a longer, more productive working relationship with Big Q at Malaco; but when neither of their singles charted, further access was denied. Adams was taken elsewhere to cut a few more sides for Atlantic; and Cotillion simply cut Irma loose.
In the long view of Wardell’s Malaco experience, there were some early successes and, surely, almost continual disappointment, purely in terms of the lack commercial rewards for most of his productions, there being far more misses than hits. Much of that could well have been attributable to Malaco’s inability to hold up their end of the bargain completely and get all the songs coming down the Big Q production line off to market. But, there were some mistakes in judgement, ungreased DJ palms, and a fickle public to consider, too.
As for his team’s musical scorecard, though, without question the good to great tracks far outweighed the merely average, or few not so good. If Wardell had been working in or even near the music business big leagues, such a track record might have merited him equal footing with greats like Jerry Ragavoy, Curtis Mayfield, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Gamble & Huff, Quincy Jones, Arif Mardin, and so many others. But he chose to stay close to home and created a rich legacy of music that you often have to do some digging to find. But it’s there.
Hope I’ve at least gotten the ground broken for those of you who are somewhat new to the Q and want to do more exploring; and maybe I've helped fill in a few gaps or found a new connection or two for you longer term fans of the man and his many musical modes, As I see it, that's the best way to honor his legacy.
With any luck, there will be more to hear and say down the road. . . .