April 30, 2007

Having A Double Blast

[UPDATED 3/16/2012]

I think both sides of this obscure single deserve hearing, even though the featured singer is not from New Orleans, and the tracks were not even recorded there. After all, Wardell Quezergue was the producer and arranger.

"Two Time One Is Two" (Frederick Knight - Aaron Varnell)
C. L. Blast, Crestown 1000, ca 1970

"Love Is Good" (Albert Savoy - Wardell Quezergue)
C. L. Blast, Crestown 1000, ca 1970

The surprisingly unheralded soul vocalist C. L. Blast was originally from Birmingham, Alabama, where he came into the world as Clarence Lewis, Jr. By 1954, he was in New York recording for Bobby Robinson's Red Robin label as Clarence 'Junior' Lewis, with one single issued in 1955. In 1960, he cut at least three more singles for Robinson's Fury label, using his given name on one and Little Junior Lewis for the other two. He also did some songwriting and possibly production/engineering work for Robinson's operations in that period. And therein lies the New Orleans link. He shares co-writer credit with Lee Dorsey and Robinson on Lee's first giant Fury hit, "Ya Ya" from 1961. I do not know the extent of their collaboration or exactly why Lewis' name is on the record, as Robinson claims that when he came to town to record Dorsey, he and Lee got together and wrote the song in a New Orleans bar. Interestingly, Lewis also has writing credits on some other major Fury/Fire tunes of the era, including Elmore James' blues classic, "The Sky Is Crying", Buster Brown's "Fannie Mae", and the Don Gardner/Dee Dee Ford raver, "I Need Your Lovin'". Once he separated from Robinson, Lewis recorded for Columbia, Scepter, and MGM during the decade. But his recording career did not make much noise, even though he was blessed with a strong, emotive voice.

Lewis reappeared in 1967 as C. L. Blast on a single released both on Stax and, for some reason, on its subsidiary, Hip, too; but his association with either of the Memphis, TN labels went no further. Those sides appeared on the Stax CD box set reissue series some years back and were my first introduction to the singer. Around 1970, Blast made three records under the direction of Wardell Quezergue. As well as the sides I'm featuring, they were "Everybody Just Don't Know What Love Is" b/w "Got To Find Someone" * on Pelican and "What Can I Do" b/w "I'm In A Daze" ** for United Records. Though all good records, none of them hit pay-dirt; and Blast kept moving through the rest of the Seventies and early Eighties, recording for the Clintone, Juana, Cotillion and Park Place labels, never getting the attention that his rich vocal talents deserved. From looking at his BMI songwriting credits, I believe that later in life he took up gospel music.

I first heard "Two Time One Is Two" and "Love Is Good" on the Funky Delicacies compilation,
Wardell Quezergue's Funky Funky New Orleans and put the single on my seach list. It took some time, but I finally found this near mint siingle, which sounds a bit better than the vinyl source used for that CD. The Crestown imprint seems to have been a one-shot deal, as I can find no other listings for it. At the time, Quezergue and business partner Elijah Walker were calling their operation Pelican Productions, which issued this 45 and ran the associated Pelican label, as well. Pelican released a short list of singles, including the one by Blast mentioned earlier; but no commercial rewards were forthcoming from any of them.

At the time that Blast came to them, Wardell was doing a lot of work at and with Malaco Studio in Jackson, MS, most notably bringing Jean Knight and King Floyd there to record and producing their first smash hits. His main impetus for the change of venue out of New Orleans was the demise of Cosimo Matassa's Jazz City studio and Dover Records distributorship that so many local producers and small labels had depended on. Working in conjunction with Malaco, Wardell and Walker brought many more mostly New Orleans artists to Malaco, especially during the first year or so of the association. I don't know how Blast first got connected with Wardel/Walker; but his career was at loose ends at the time, so the chance to work with a producer of of Big Q's caliber must have seemed promising.

The arrangements on these tracks are not the stripped down hybrid funk of the early Floyd and Knight records. Instead, they are fine examples of Quezergue's other mode of more uptown, orchestrated soul-pop directed at the mainstream market. With the fine musicians Malaco had on hand to bring the arrangments to life and Blast's sure-fire delivery of the vocal goods, it's a mystery why none of the tracks he did at Malaco found their way to a major label and onto the charts.

The fact that this single as well of the others have languished for over 30 years in relative obscurity should in no way imply that they were not damn fine records. But the music business is littered with great tunes, impressive productions, talented artists, and good intentions that went absolutely nowhere for a variety of reasons. Let's just be glad some of them still turn up now and again for our time-shifted enjoyment and appreciation.

* Also available on Wardell Quezergues's Funky Funky New Orleans.
** Available on
Sixty Smokin' Soul Senders

See ya next week, after the next round of festing. . . .


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi there, I search for that rare instrumental version of "love is good" could you help me?


1:50 PM, March 02, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any chance this Clarence Lewis is the same as Clarence "Fats" Lewis who was producer/writer on several of Horace Ott's Falew! releases in the mid 60's?

12:09 PM, November 21, 2012  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Hey, anon. Don't think Clarence 'C.L. Blast' Lewis was ever called "Fats". Don't have any info on him doing anything for Falew,either. His writing credits are listed at BMI under Clarence L. Lewis, if you want to take a look. Also, Sir Shambling has a career overview on Blast at his Deep Soul Heaven site. That's about all I have.

6:25 PM, November 21, 2012  

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