A Conversation Between Rusty & His Manager Bob “Rob” Bell

 

 

Bob:

My son Andrew called last night and during our conversation I mentioned we had gone to see Jimmie Vaughan in Santa Cruz, and what a great show it was. He said he had seen a rock steady show in Misquamicut, RI the other day at The Windjammer – a great beach club that Roomful of Blues used to play when I was with them. The band was Soul Shot – do you know them? Andrew was saying that rock steady is getting pretty popular on the east coast.

Rusty:

Yeah Soul Shot is a top notch band in Rhode Island who have backed many a Jamaican legend, notably Alton Ellis but I’ve also seen YouTube footage of them backing Ernie Smith as well. They sound fantastic. Great band indeed! 

Bob:  

I was playing an old Studio One LP last night (‘Rock Steady’ SOL 9000 -a UK issue from 1967 or so. Think Island put it out. First cut is by Bop and the Belltones. Who were they ? Song is ‘Smile Like An Angel’ …. it’s got some very tasty guitar on it. Is that Hux? Unfortunately the cover is missing, not that there would have been much info on it anyway! Other cuts on the first side are ‘Baby Baby’ by The Heptones, ‘Stop Them’ and ‘Tell It To Me’ by The Freedom Singers, ‘Run Come’ by Ken Parker (one of my all time favorite singers) and ‘You Not The One’ by The Soul Boy.

Rusty:

Yeah Bob, I have that record and there’s some really top notch Studio One Rock Steady on there. I am in contact with one of the members of Bop and the Beltones. His name is Keith Mitchell. He’s a real nice gentleman and seems to be really sharp when it comes to his remembrances at Studio One and he did confirm that it was Hux playing that spectacular lead and pick guitar on “Smile Like An Angel”. I played it for Hux one day and he got a real big kick out of hearing that again. Of course you can’t go wrong with anything by the Heptones and Ken Parker but I seem to remember a nice Slim Smith track on that LP as well but can’t recall the title right now. Not sure who the Soul Boy is but as we know it’s so typical in the record industry back in the day to give performers pseudonyms and Coxsone was no exception. He used to bill the great Noel “Scully” Simms as Zoot Simms and Mr. Foundation, etc… and then of course there was records he would release that could be Studio One stable singers in any combination, like Larry Marshall with Alton or Alton with Scully and Peter Austin from The Clarendonians, etc… 

Bob:

The other side is ‘Do It Right’ by the Clarendonians, ‘You Don’t Care’ Slim Smith & The Gaylads (love Slim Smith too), ‘Come Along’ The Bassies, ‘You Made Me Sore’ the Lyrics, ‘Emily’ by The Gaylads and ‘Keep Walking’ by Slim Smith. It’s a pretty nice compilation, tho sadly my copy is a little battered. It was amongst a batch of coverless LPs that I salvaged from Trojan Records’ Music House in the late 60’s. Guess they would have been thrown away had I not grabbed them. Also in the pile were two or three Jackie Edward Island LPs, a smattering of Sue LPs and I can’t remember what else. I had given them to my sister, and brought them back here after she died last year.

Rusty:

Oh ok, I see you mention the Slim Smith cuts here. that’s an all time classic but I do have to say that I rate Slim’s output for Bunny Lee much higher than anything he did at Studio One and for me to say that is almost sacrilege as I am a total Studio One fanatic! What were the three Jackie Edwards LP’s you found?

Bob:

They are ‘The Most of ‘Wilfred’ Jackie Edwards, his first UK album (Island ILP 906), ‘The Best of Jackie Edwards’ (Island LP ILP 936) and ‘Jackie Edwards – By Demand’ (Island LP ILP 940). All without sleeves unfortunately, but the vinyl is in reasonable shape however. I already have the ‘The Best of Jackie Edwards’ so the sleeveless copy is yours if you want it. I always liked Jackie. He never really achieved the success he deserved. It’s hard to tell why ….   probably simply because the market for balladeers was diminishing in the sixties. I do know that Chris Blackwell persevered mightily with him, so it definitely wasn’t for the lack of trying. Do you have any of the things he did for Trojan in the late sixties / early seventies? I think Dandy produced some things on him. I love ‘One More Week’ from ILP 906 … great piano. Do you know who that was? And the next cut, ‘Your Eyes Are Dreaming’ …. did he recut this with Dandy? It rings a bell somewhere … Or did Dandy cut it himself? It’s interesting to hear those early sixties production values … those pizzicato strings on many of the tunes. Buddy Holly sure started something! Remember ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’? Just finished listening to the last cut on side one ‘Whenever There’s Moonlight’ … right towards the end of the song his voice raises several dbs … whoever mastered this was asleep!

Sounds like Ernest Ranglin on ‘All My Days’ … ‘We’re Gonna Love’ is great  early JA R & B … Ernest again?

Moving on to ILP 936, it’s hard to find a naff cut. The Clarence Henry ‘Ain’t Got No Home’ is really well done. Sounds like it was made in the UK … love to know who the musicians were. Any idea? ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ is such a great song … Jackie sings it beautifully. Where he really was successful was in his writing … ‘Come on Home’ was a bit hit for Wayne Fontana in the UK … no idea if it did anything in the US however. And of course he wrote two big hits for the Spencer Davis Group, with Stevie Winwood singing lead. ‘Keep On Running’ and ‘Somebody Help Me’ must have made him some pretty serious dough. Nice to hear ‘My Desire’ again after all these years … Jackie and Millie. Is Millie still performing? I seem to recall she did something for Island around the time I last worked for them, in early 1980. ‘Hush’ and ‘He’ll Have To Go’ were initially on Blackwell’s short lived Aladdin label … I remember seeing piles of these 45’s when I worked at Island’s Cambridge Road office in Kilburn, London in 1965. Denny Cordell produced ‘Hush’ tho I have seen Blackwell listed as the producer also. I suspect Cordell was the real one … I do know he was used quite often back in those days. He went on to produce The Moody Blues and many big time names. He started Shelter Records with Leon Russell, and later worked with Island again with Melissa Etheridge and others. He was around 21 when he did the Jackie stuff. He died in 1995 of lymphoma. He was 51. ‘Since I Met You Baby’ … where would soft tunes have been without Ivory Joe Hunter? Do you have much stuff by Jackie & Millie? I’d very much like to hear more of them. Guess that is Ernest Ranglin again on guitar. And then on to ‘Royal Telephone’ …. Island’s 12th LP was Jackie’s gospel LP, ‘Stand Up For Jesus’ (ILP 912). When I was working in Island’s stores in Cambridge Road I don’t recall ever pulling a copy of that LP for an order. It had a rather dreadful black cover with a very unflattering photo of Jackie. Wish I had grabbed a copy now. I bet it’s hard to find these days. Our good pal Opal Louis Nations tells me that the song dates to around 1923, but that Jackie probably got it from a variation recorded by the Selah Jubilee Singers in 1939.

The ‘By Demand’ LP is pretty beat up … I’m playing side one right now. ‘I Feel So Bad’ has no composer credits, but I’m sure Jackie wrote it. It’s not the Chuck Willis song. ‘I Who Have Nothing’ is wonderful …. great dynamics.   ‘Think Twice’ is, I believe’ a Brook Benton tune? I see one of the writers is Otis. Is that Clyde Otis who co-wrote many songs with Benton? Unfortunately the other side is too beat to play … scratches everywhere.

Jackie cut his own versions of the tunes he wrote for Spencer Davis. They came out on Island in the 60’s. I’m really not sure just when he lived in the UK …. certainly he was around when I was with Island in 1965 and 1966, and then again from 1968 thru 1972. Other than that, I have no idea ….. I had always thought that the UK was his main base of operations during the 60’s and early 70’s but I may be wrong.

Rusty:

That seems about right. If you look at his recorded output and see that he missed the Ska and Rock Steady eras, not to mention the beginning of Reggae. It’s a shame as his voice on some sweet Rock Steady would’ve been perfect.

Bob:

The people I remember from that mid sixties period coming by Island’s Cambridge Road offices were Jackie, Owen Gray, calypsonian Young Growler, Melodisc owner Emil Shallit. Laurel Aitken may have been around a time or two, but as he was mainly cutting for Melodisc at that time, I just might be imagining this. Of course, I was just a callow 18 year old youth, and knew next to nothing about Jamaican music back then. Most of the time I was downstairs in the stores pulling orders or putting away deliveries, or just wandering up and down the aisles looking at Rio, Carnival, Hala Gala and Black Swan releases. And wondering just who the hell were these strangely named artists.

Rusty:

That early era of JA music was so fantastic with a lot of variety in the music ….. Mento, Calypso, Boogie Shuffles, etc….. especially the Laurel Aitken stuff.

Bob:

Amongst the releases on Black Swan were a smattering of American R & B releases …. ‘Cherry Pie’ by Marvin and Johnny (from Modern Records) and ‘Gee’ by Joe and Ann (from Ace Records). Blackwell released several US recordings on Island during the 60’s. Others I recall are ‘Off to School’ by Wilbert Harrison (WI 031), a cut by Earl Bostic … forget which number … ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ by Shirley & Lee. and ‘Surely I Love You’ (sic) by Roscoe Gordon. The latter should have been ‘Shirley I Love You’, I think. The last two were WI 256 and WI 257, tho I forget which was which. American R & B actually rescued island during the mid sixties. They were having a bad time financially in 1966 and two American release kind of saved their ass. First up was ‘Barefootin” by Robert Parker  (WI 266) and then ‘Shotgun Wedding’ by Roy C (WI 273). Both records made the UK Top 30 and put some dough back in the company’s coffers. ‘Shotgun Wedding’ might make for a good rock steady …..

Rusty:

You’ve mentioned some crucial R&B classics. That music really helped shape JA music. I always wondered about that Rosco Gordon title. That was originally on Vee Jay which I think is some of his best material. Alton Ellis had a massive hit in JA with a cover of one of Roscoe’s Vee Jay sides “Let Him Try”. It’s a Studio One Rock Steady classic! I always loved “Shotgun Wedding”. That could indeed make a nice Rock Steady cover. As a matter of fact, I think a JA artist did cover it. I’ll have to research that.

Bob:

Can you remember, after all these years, which JA recording first caught your ear? And if so, just what it was that made you sit up and take notice? What was it about the Jamaican approach to music that made you go back and listen again and again? The ‘mystery’ of the lyrics, the rhythm  … what was it?

Rusty:

Well, in the mid 90’s I was sharing a house with my good friend Bob Welsh and he had all that classic Beverly’s material by Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker. Upon hearing those classics by those two artists, I was completely hooked. I also remember him playing me The Wailers covering an Impressions song that they cut for Coxsone called “I Made A Mistake” and that had a huge impact on me. But Alton Ellis was the voice that totally turned my life upside down, especially his first version of “Willow Tree” that he did at Treasure Isle. Not too long after that, I got to see Alton perform live for the first time and my course in life and musical journey was forever derailed!

Bob:

I know that for me, back in 1965, after ten years of listening to American Rock n Roll / Rhythm And Blues, I found Ska to be madly exuberant, lyrically rather incomprehensible at first, and musically quite odd. Why? I suppose because of where the emphasis on the beat was. And also the mixture of ‘modern’ jazzy horn playing with a dance tempo … up until that point, I had considered jazz to be either main stream – and thus danceable – or ‘modern’ (ie bop) and therefore perhaps too cerebral to dance to. So Ska was both and eye and ear opener. Plus I loved all those mad ‘Heeck! Heeck!’ shouts and all those scrapers, rattles and ass jaw bone sounds.

Rusty:

Yep, it’s all rockin’ music and if one can’t feel all of these styles, then surely they must have holes in their souls.

Rob:

Interesting thing for me was that I came to JA music from R & B and could hear in it echoes of that style …. back in the 60’s I didn’t care so much for soul, but it was Rock Steady and Reggae that got me listening to soul. So I went full circle, so to speak. I know you have always dug Alton Ellis. Can you put your finger on just what it was about his voice and style that caught your ear?

Rusty:

That’s funny cause for me it was my love of Soul music that led me to Jamaican music which is really just Carib Soul to me. I can definitely put my finger on what it was about Alton’s voice that first caught my ear. It was the aching delivery and the vulnerability in his voice that really grabbed me at first. He wasn’t afraid to cry and channel 100% romanticism in his performances. He also had so much subtlety and dynamics in his singing. His vibrato was wicked. He had it all and could be sweet one moment and then instantly get gritty, much like Marvin Gaye.

 

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