Inez & Charlie Foxx
While male/female duos were not uncommon in the soul world during the 60s, one of things that set Inez & Charlie Foxx apart from the common herd is the fact that they were a sister and brother act. There were other factors as well, of course, including Inez’ wonderfully expressive voice, their longevity and the sheer quality of much of their recordings. Inez carried on recording into the 70s, easily making the switch from New York R & B to the deepest of Southern soul.
The Foxx family came from Greensboro, North Carolina and Charles was born there on October 23 1939, with Inez making her debut a little later on September 9 1942. As is quite obvious from their vocal approach, they sang together in local churches, and after they left Dudley High School, Charlie tried to get into pro sports as a basketball player or American footballer, while Inez decided on a gospel career, joining the Gospel Tide Chorus. Her talent was spotted by local impresario Charles Fuller who persuaded her to go solo, and who also suggested moving into the secular arena. She journeyed to New York and made her first two records for Brunswick under the name Inez Johnston. Charlie joined her there having failed to make it as an athlete in the early 60s and they resumed their singing and songwriting partnership.
The story goes that they auditioned their first smash hit “Mockingbird” to Sue label boss Juggy Murray on the pavement outside a New York restaurant, but in 1963 publicity departments loved to run tales like these. Whether it’s true or not, Murray certainly put up the money up for the song to be cut and hired veteran arranger Bert Keyes to oversee the session. He put the 45 out on his Symbol subsidiary and watched it race up the charts to #2 R & B and #7 pop eventually selling well over a million copies. The simple repetitive nature of the song showed the nursery rhyme origins that Inez and Charlie had used, but the hookline, and the way Inez soared and swept over Charlie’s more mundane melody gave it a very special charm.
For Inez and Charlie – as well as Juggy Murray – the problem later in1963 was how to follow up a surprise novelty smash. Not surprisingly perhaps they went with another similarly styled and paced “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush” and then with the bouncy “He’s The One You Love” but neither made the top R & B charts. Their next two 45s “Hey Diddle Diddle” and “Ask Me” both just made it into the top 100 R & B placings as 1963 moved into 1964, keeping their names in the public eye. Murray had also issued their debut album, named as was usually the case after the big hit, which was chock full of classic New York R & B.
In addition to tuff uptempo songs like “Searching For My CC” and “Sitting Here” there were inevitable Mockingbird soundalikes such as “Jaybirds” but also one or two more orthodox uptown beat ballads like “Broken hearted Fool” and “I See You My Love” in which Inez does her very best to sound like Dionne Warwick. But the set included a couple of songs that showed just what Inez could do with a heavy ballad. Both the excellent Love Me Today and the similar The Ball Game were showcases for her dramatic and emotional tones, and her wonderful sense of timing. In terms of approach these songs were in the same league as Etta James’ current recordings – and Inez matches her more famous sister singer with some ease.
The quality of their 45s throughout 1964 was very high indeed. Starting with the splendidly hard R & B of “Hurt By Love” which put the duo back in higher reaches of the charts, “La De Da I Love You”, based on the Supremes “Where Did Our Love Go” riff but featuring incomparably better vocals, and finishing with the “High Heel Sneakers” sound of “I Fancy You”, this was music to savour. “I Feel Alright” released in March 1965 continued this rockin’ blues style to good effect, as did the next 45 “I’ve Come To One Conclusion” which featured an excellent trombone solo in the bridge. Their final Symbol 45 was “Hummingbird” which was heavily influenced by the more modern dance sounds coming out of Detroit, but had an interesting Charlie solo “If I Need Anymore” on the flip. As a final throw of the dice Juggy Murray issued a second album “Inez And Charlie Foxx” which overlapped the first set by a couple of tracks as well as including many of the recent 45s. In addition, however, there were a few other tracks worth mentioning like the lively blues of “My Momma Told Me” and the mid tempo “Ask Me”.
In 1966 the duo signed to Musicor, a subsidiary of Scepter/Wand where changing musical tastes were reflected in bigger productions, more in keeping with that label’s uptown heritage. But throughout their stay with the company, Inez’s full throated vocals were still allowed to flourish, and the caliber of the discs remained high. All these factors were present – even if Charlie didn’t appear to be – on their initial 45, the strong “No Stranger To Love” which saw them back into the top 50 R & B charts. Other highlights from this time included an excellent deep soul I Stand Accused on sister label Dynamo, which featured one of Inez’ best ever vocals, and their last big hit together “(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count The Days” which was a very catchy throwback to their earlier nursery rhyme style. Their three LPs for Dynamo, which collected the 45s together with the usual covers of current material, are first rate New York soul.
Particular favourites of mine include the really tough “Baby Give It To Me” and “Baby Take It All” on which Inez really is quite unstoppable – sheer vocal dynamite. From a deep soul point of view You Are The Man is a stone winner that seems to have evaded all the fans. Almost as good was the astonishing two part opus Vaya Con Dias / Fellows In Vietnam. The top side was a version of the 50s pop song done deep soul style featuring another top top quality vocal from Inez and the flip morphs into her own rap about the war in South East. Her preaching here is amongst the very first secular attempt at this sort of music on 45, and a real gem from that sub-genre of soul - Songs of Vietnam. Listening to these ballads you wouldn’t believe they were anything but southern productions thanks to the full horns, classic 12/8 time signature and gospel chords. And above all thanks to Inez’ impassioned wailing. A real precursor to her wonderful Volt recordings from the following decade. This is not surprising as the backing band was Willie Mitchell’s, up in New York on a trip.
Kudos to Charlie for his writing and production duties on all these tracks, but by the end of 1967 he decided that he’d had enough performing leaving Inez to carry on as a solo act. By the end of the decade he was living in Mobile, AL running his own Tee Off label, recording the excellent Chee Chee Scott at Willie Mitchell’s in Memphis.
Even though Inez had another seven Dynamo 45s over the next couple of years, there was only one hit, the excellent big production number “You Shouldn’t Have Set My Soul On Fire” at the start of 1971 – ironically her last record for the label. She journeyed south to Memphis, signing for Stax who placed her on their Volt logo for one memorable album and five superb singles. There is no doubt that her passionate style was well suited to this environment and it seemed that a great talent had come home.
Her initial offering coupled the funky “Watch The Dog” with the bouncy “You Hurt Me For The Last Time” with its insistent hookline. The second featured her first stone masterpiece for Volt in Baby Washington’s brilliant deep ballad The Time which may just contain her best ever performance. The funky “Crossing Over The Bridge” followed, and the fourth release had another pick cut in her exquisite update of Mitty Collier’s classic I Had A Talk With My Man. Her final 45 had the excellent strutting southern funk of “Circuits Overloaded” and the excellent gospel soul of There’s A Hand That’s Reaching Out.
The superb LP “At Memphis” that appeared is still highly regarded, and rightly considered amongst the best to come out of the Tennessee factory in the early 70s. As well as a selection of songs from her 45s it also contained a new high quality cut in her updating of Bettye Lavette’s meisterwork “Let Me Down Easy”.
However, arguably the single most influential event in her time at Memphis, was the saga of “Woman To Woman” which was offered to Inez in 1974 at a recording session. She turned it down, and her loss was Shirley Brown’s million selling gain. Whether it was this disappointment, or Stax’s increasing difficulties, but Inez never cut for them again, and indeed doesn’t seem to have recorded for anyone else either. By 1975 her career was over, suddenly and without any apparent explanation.
But we’re left with a rich legacy of material from over a decade of recording. And this is particularly pleasing in view of the fact that Inez & Charlie’s first release was such a smash – it’s not often in the unforgiving music business that a novelty hit has been parleyed into such a distinguished career. “Mockingbird”, however, remains their best-known song and its enduring popularity is shown in the number of reissues and covers that have appeared over the years. Inez and Charlie hit with it the UK in 1969 for example, and recently Taj Mahal paid affectionate tribute to it by recording it with Etta James as part of his retrospective look at his own youthful influences in “Dancing The Blues”.
Inez Foxx – one of the most underrated of all the female singers of the 60s and 70s.
You can find a good discography here.
Note ~ You can find pretty muc all of Inez & Charlies tracks on CD. There are a great many that include their early Symbol tracks - take your pick. All their Dynamo tracks are on the Ace UK CD "The Dynamic Duo" and all Inez' solo tracks are on the same company's excellent "At Memphis...And More" which includes a couple of previously unissued cuts.
Thanks to my friend John Lias for the excellent suggestion.