August 18, 2010

Some Other Sides of Soulman Charles Brimmer

[UPDATED 3/4/2012]

New Orleans’ own
Charles Brimmer, who will be performing at Ponderosa Stomp #9 this September in his hometown, is best known for the deep soul material that was his primary bread and butter during much of the 15-plus years he spent as a recording artist, from the mid-1960s into the early 1980s. Because of that, I haven’t featured many of his records here, attempting as I do to keep the emphasis on the groove. But, he did occasionally go more for rhythmic, even funky, expressions; and I have previously featured two examples: the totally out of character, two-part, gimmick-gone-wrong laugh-riot, “Kung Fu Man”, recorded for the JB’s label in 1974, and the bouncy, “Just Another Morning”, a 1975 album cut and 45 B-side for the Chelsea label. You can read over those linked posts in the archives as you see fit; but, for a good, quick overview of Brimmer’s career, I recommend Red Kelly’s at the B-Side blog. As well, those of you having Jeff Hannusch’s tome,
The Soul of New Orleans, can, of course, access his chapter on the singer for more details.

Recently, I lucked into one of Brimmer’s more hard-to-get 45s that I had never heard; which turned out to have a great groover on it with excellent credentials. His rare upcoming appearance at the Stomp moved me to gather it up with a few others sides I have on hand and lay them out for consideration, in hopes of offering more of a feel for what else Brimmer could do besides the soulful balladry for which he is rightly revered by fans of deepness. Listening to these convinces me that he was a much more well-rounded artist than I have given him credit for up to this point.

“What’s That You Got” (Dave Bartholomew)Charles Brimmer, Broadmoor 202, 1968
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Damn funky track. It’s right up there with other cutting edge tunes coming out of New Orleans ca 1968, comparable to what Allen Toussaint was having the Meters put down for Lee Dorsey, Betty Harris and the like, for example. I don’t have any documentation for the players on this single; but, since label-owner Dave Bartholomew was involved with the production (with possibly Wardell Quezergue doing some arranging behind the scenes), I’d guess Smokey Johnson, who had a long history with both of them, was mixing it up on the traps.

You won’t find the the B-side,”Memphis Woman”, by one Tommy Ricardo here, because the awkward, amateurish, one dimensional song gave the vocalist nothing of value to work with. In fact, I find it an strange choice for Brimmer, even as a flip. Fortunately, the top side more than makes up for it, with his smooth tenor handling Bartholomew’s simple yet slightly suggestive and oddball lyrics (“makin’ your head pop out”!?) with ease, riding atop the undulating, get-down groove.

But let’s backtrack a bit to see how Brimmer came to be on Broadmoor in the first place, and try to shed a bit more light on his start in the record business. Apparently, a few years earlier, around 1964/1965, while still in high school, Brimmer and his brother, Ivory, cut a single credited to Charles & Ivory, “My Little Baby” / “My Soul’s On Fire”, a mid-tempo tune backed with an upbeat dancer, released on a tiny New York (?) imprint, Geneva N.Y.C. My first knowledge of it was Red Kelly’s mention in his piece on Brimmer; and, while I’ve found no other written documentation about it, I have since seen a label scan and heard the sides. Nothing readily identifies the brothers on the record other than their paired first names; but Mel Lastie is shown as having arranged the horns, giving us another New Orleans connection, at least. Soon thereafter, probably 1967, Charles was signed to a small local label, A.B.S. (Always Better Sounds), run by Camille Incardona (a/k/a Incadon) and the ever-active Quezerque. His first first solo effort, “The Glide” / “I Need You I Do” (#110), was promising, getting some airplay in town and significant, if modest, sales.

For the next single, Incardona contracted with Bartholomew to produce and release it on his new Broadmoor imprint. I would suppose that she took that course because A.B.S. was one of the many companies shut out of the market by the demise the local distributor, Dover Records, due to owner Cosimo Matassa’s bankruptcy. Surely Bartholmew’s legendary reputation and the fact that he had recently released a Broadmoor single of his own (which I have covered previously) and two by Fats Domino, with whom he had such massive earlier success in the 1950s, was an attractive incentive to go with his operation. Things continued to look encouraging, when Brimmer’s first Broadmoor release (#123), “Now She’s Gone, Gone, Gone” /“Black Is Beautiful” (the former written by Brimmer - the latter by Bartholomew), also got a good local response.

As a result of his increasing public profile, Charles got the opportunity to to join the hottest young working band in New Orleans, David Batiste and the Gladiators, gaining valuable performing experience covering the R&B and soul hits of the day. Incardona was also involved with managing artists; and I think she handled Batiste and band, as well. So, the combination would have made financial sense for all.

Three more solo Broadmoor singles followed for Brimmer: #133, which reprised “Black Is Beautiful” backed with “Man Has Landed On The Moon”; #201, “The Feeling Is In My Heart” / “Mr. Teardrops”; and our feature. Of those, “The Feeling Is In My Heart”, a stone smooth groover with a mainstream sound, was his most popular release of the period, getting strong airplay in the area and affording him better bookings; but Charles grew dissatisfied with his recording contract, having been promised an album that A.B.S./Broadmoor never could deliver. As a result, he refused to make any more singles for them. But, the dispute soon became moot, when Bartholomew gave up and shut the label down after less than an dozen releases. New Orleans had become an increasingly unfavorable place to run a record company, with Cosimo’s studio operation (the only adequate one on town) having been seized by the IRS after Dover went out of business.

Even without any new singles out, Brimmer remained a popular entertainer and began singing with another in-demand local soul band, Oliver and the Rocketts,in the early 1970s. After seeing Charles perform, the wheeling-dealing, Senator Jones entered the picture and convinced him to cut another record. Up to that point, Jones had been a guerilla-style record producer, starting micro-labels just to record and release a few 45s on the cheap, then moving on when they didn’t hit. While he continued that approach to some extent for years, he was in the process of starting one that would prove to be much longer-lasting, Hep’ Me.

Jones had Charles record “Afflicted”, an O. V. Wright B-side which had come out about a year earlier (1970). For the back side, Jones used “Your So Called Friends”, a slow-burner, soul monologue piece that Brimmer had written. The single was just the second release on Hep’ Me. Where Senator was running the sessions at the time is unclear; but I suspect he was already going to Baton Rouge, using facilities there until Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans became available a few years later. Not only did Brimmer’s new record do pretty well around the South, but it was his own song that got all the attention, rather than “Afflicted”. Willie Mitchell at Hi Records in Memphis offered to lease it, as they had national distribution, and do an album with him, but Charles was still legally entangled with Incardona/Bartholomew, and the deal did not go down. While he was going through the process of getting out of his previous contract(s), Jones gave him work writing and producing for other artists on his labels, which leads us to Jenmark.

“Acton Speaks Louder Than Words” (Charles Brimmer & Louis Jones)Lonnie Jones, Jenmark 103-A, 1972
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
“You Got To Do Better” (Charles Brimmer & Louis Jones)Lonnie Jones, Jenmark 103-B
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

This record doesn’t turn up too often. As beat-to-crap and appreciably warped as mine is, it miraculously still plays; though, as you can hear, it’s pretty noisy. I got it for three bucks out of an otherwise uninteresting box of cheapies in a shop and am still happy to have it. Copies in better shape get real pricey. For those of you who don’t have the time, budget or obsession for a vinyl artifact, you can find the songs in much better condition on the Tuff City/Funky Delicacies CD comp, Funky Funky New Orleans, Vol 4 (which is what I will source for the webcast stream, later).

You may recall that a few months back I posted another Jenmark single that Brimmer was involved with as co-producer (and likely arranger), Dennis Lee’s groovy “Sunday Afternoon”, which was the release that followed this one. As I noted then, Charles also produced the very first Jenmark 45 (#101), which was also by Lonie [sic] Jones (no relation, I would guess, to the good Senator). I’ve checked my print archives and googled around, but haven’t found out anything more about Lonnie Jones than those two singles. Like Lee, he disappeared. from the annals of music after recording his sides.

Charles Brimmer has recently informed me that his co-writer on these songs, Louis Jones, was in fact, Lonnie Jones. I had assumed Louis and Lonnie were two people and appreciate being set straight. Maybe now I can find out some background on Lonnie for a future update.

While I don’t own #101, I have seen scans and heard clips, enough to tell that both Lonnie Jones records were well-produced and arranged projects; but I find the cuts on this 45 to be superior from the ground up. Obviously, Brimmer had very good instincts for upbeat material, too.

“Action Speaks Louder than Words” came down strongly on the rock side, highlighted by pulsating conga work and a hot lead guitar; but I think the other side should have been on top in terms of Jones’ vocal performance and the overall groove, which was more back in-the-pocket and swingin’. Potentially so radio-friendly and easy to sing along to, “You Got To Do Better” could have been a contender as the A-side on a label with some clout.

But Jenmark certainly had none, with its scant six releases having a very short shelf life. Beside the two singles by Lonnie Jones, and three by Dennis Lee, the only other record on the label was a two-parter by Ray J (Raymond Jones - again with the Jones’!), “Lost Girlfriend” (#105) which joined the others on the bullet train to obscurity. I’m pretty sure Brimmer was involved with the Ray J 45, too, as Raymond Jones happened to be the musical director in his band. Ray would record more in the early 1970s on Hep’ Me, as well as arranging many sessions for Senator Jones’ artists, including Charles’ most successful project, which got so big so fast that out of town clout had to be called in.

After his trainwreck of an ill-conceived record, “Kung Fu Man”, in 1974, which fortunately hardly anybody heard at the time, Brimmer needed a change of luck and to get back into his zone. The chance soon came when Jones enlisted him to cut a single version of Al Green’s 1974 hit, “God Blessed Our Love”, a churchy, romantic ballad which had been burning up the Southern airwaves, but was only available as an LP cut. As Hannusch tells the story, Jones, learning of the need for a 45 version, spirited Charles and his band, who were already doing the song on stage, up to Baton Rouges’ Deep South Studios in 1975 to cut it as the two-part God Bless Our Love”. He then gave an advance copy to a radio station in Slidell, just east of New Orleans, which began playing it immediately, creating a huge overnight buzz about the record in the area. Orders quickly starting coming in for the as yet unpressed 45. Lots of ‘em. But, Jones’ reach had exceeded his grasp - he didn’t have the cash or credit to press-up enough records to meet the growing demand. To avert disaster and, of course, cash in, a local record distributor alerted the Chelsea label in Los Angeles, who heard the ka-ching all the way out there and agreed to lease the single from Jones and get it into the marketplace fast. As a result, “God Bless Our Love” became a huge seller locally and nationally, getting Brimmer loads of radio exposure and allowing him to tour for nearly a year. To this day, it is considered the very definition of deep soul.

Chelsea followed up with at least three more singles on Charles, which sold respectably, and also funded Jones to make two LPs,
Expression of Soul, in 1975, and Charles Brimmer: Soulman, the next year. Here are the funkier cuts from that first album:

“Love Me In Your Own Way” (Charles Brimmer)Charles Brimmer, from Expressions of Soul, Chelsea 508, 1975
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
“The Music Is Funky (Is It Alright)” (Charles Brimmer)
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Also appearing as the B-side of Chelsea 3030, paired with another cut on the LP, “I Stand Accused”, “Love Me In Your Own Way” has a distinct Memphis soul direction to it, thanks to arranger Raymond Jones and writer Brimmer, who seems to have imbued it with an obvious Al Green/Willie Michell influence that dovetails nicely with the source of the hit that spawned the LP. Though the composition could have used some fine tuning, it’s still an effective track that reflects well on the singer’s ability to deliver some grit, grind, and groove along with the smoldering, emotive material that dominates the rest of the album.

I usually shy away from tracks that reference their own funkiness, since outside of James Brown, most of the time having to say your music is funky means it probably isn’t. But “The Music Is Funky (Is It Alright)” manages to escape the trap, although there’s not much going on beyond it’s vamp. From the sound of the vocal chatter here, I’d say this was something Brimmer and band probably did in their stage show - but it’s hard to get the live energy and party atmosphere transported from club to studio intact, which is what guest arranger Clyde Toval attempted to do. So much can get lost without the immediate feedback from an audience. Such is the dilemma of the recording experience in general, when you get right down to it. Studio and stage are two separate worlds that rarely ever converge.

I get the impression that Chelsea rushed this album out to capitalize on the success of the first few singles, leaving not much time to fine tune the production any further. Even so, it represented Brimmer’s talent well enough, and sold respectably. But there is general agreement that his second and final album for Chelsea,
Soulman, was better, though it generated no new hits and sold poorly. With his career lukewarm at best at that point, Charles and Chelsea parted ways.

Stay tuned. I am going to get into some of
Soulman next month, in the run-up to the Stomp. I’m looking forward to seeing Brimmer perform there* and hope the response reinforces for him that his multi-faceted expressions have not been forgotten.

* Willie West, too!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:09 PM, August 20, 2010  
Blogger strandwolf said...

Is the Lil Buck the same guy who recorded for Duke? That was a while back.
He sounds like the guy with a slight lisp that recorded for the Seven B label. You have a fantastic blog. I'll have to plow through the archives; anything on Berna-Dean? Thank you for your site. --Jim

3:36 PM, September 23, 2010  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Hi, Jim. Thanks for the comments and feel free to check the archives - we never close! The Little Buck you refer to who recorded for Seven B, and possibly Duke, was Edwin Ross. His career was brief.

The Lil' Buck whose band is backing up Brimmer and others at the P-Stomp this weekend is Paul Sinegal, who also had a limited recording career as a featured artist, but played a lot as a sideman (guitar) in Southwest Louisiana over the years.

6:52 PM, September 23, 2010  

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