The unique crying voice of Roger Hatcher has long been treasured by soul fans. His 45s are eagerly sought after by connoisseurs, but they're notable not just for their quality but for their scarcity. In a career spanning three decades, Hatcher has had only a handful of singles issued and one album of dubious origin, but has scored some notable triumphs including the cheating classic "I Got Caught" and the Northern favourite "Sweetest Girl In The World".
Roger was born on 29th September 1946 in Birmingham, AL and learnt his musical craft in the usual way for a man of his generation, through his local church choir. His family was a very musical one, with one brother Will going on to a professional career recording for a variety of labels including Columbia, Wand, Cotillion and Excello, and another brother Roosevelt becoming a professional jazz man. Roger is proud to claim the famous Motown hit maker Edwin Starr, whose real name is Charles Hatcher, as a cousin as well.
The family moved to Detroit in the 50s, where both Roger and Will got their start in secular music. His first releases in 1964, now really rare, were as Little Rodger Hatcher for Del-La and Dottys, a small local label owned by Clifford Marshall. "Get A Hold Of Yourself" and “Party Over Yonder” are typically pounding Motor City tracks that have had some dance plays, but the best track was the plaintive deep ballad I Need You, no wonder it featured on both of these 45s. Hatcher’s tenor vocal, on which he sounds really young, floats above a fine arrangement of horns (love the baritone) and a busy pianist. This really ought to be better known.
After this start there was a break of almost five years before he had a further release on the streets. In an interview with the late lamented Souled Out magazine Roger described how this came about. "I started talking to Nashboro. They heard the records I had out as Little Rodger Hatcher and they liked it and signed me up. It was supposed to hove been a three year contract and I should have cut an album but somehow I missed the plane. We cut the LP and they got mad and stormed out". The one 45 that did emerge from this mess coupled the uptown mid-pace toe tapper "Sweetest Girl In The World" with a super big city ballad "I'm Gonna Dedicate My Song To You". These tracks were cut in Nashville with arranger Bob Holmes, who was to feature heavily in his career, but their heavy orchestration and rhythm sound much more like Chicago recordings which has no doubt helped the top side's longevity as a UK dance favourite.
Holmes was also involved in Roger's next singles. The beautiful romantic ballad I Dedicate My Life To You in the classic country 12/8 tempo, is a pretty close relation to the Excello song, but the better production and arrangement features one of his most impressive heartfelt vocals. This came out in 1972 as a result of Roger's involvement with Don Davis who was Stax's main creative talent at the time. Although this cut was a songwriting collaboration with Holmes, the vast bulk of his output was both written and produced by Hatcher himself, showing his mastery of the music making process. The flip "Gonna Make Love To Somebody's Old Lady" is a mid pace number obviously aimed at the cheating market being developed by Johnnie Taylor among others, featuring some rather dated wah-wah guitar.
When this 45 failed to chart, Hatcher went back to Nashville and cut his enduring deep masterpiece Caught Making Love. In a production laden with strings, horns - even a harp - he bemoans his fate when an absent husband returns unexpectedly. Hatcher released it in 1973 on his own Black Soul label, but the strength of the song and his vocal were such that Columbia picked it up for national distribution. According to Hatcher things then went badly wrong for him "...it got banned for a line in the song. Clarence Carter recorded it and left the line out and his version went to No.1 in Los Angeles and he had the hit". But to be fair to Dr. C.C., his version is a quality one and his lengthy rendition of the song, a mainstay of his live act for many years, emphasised the humour inherent in Hatcher's tale, to great effect. Hatcher also wrote and produced the excellent Sugar Taylor 45 on Black Soul.
Hatcher continued to record in Nashville with Holmes. We Gonna Make It is another deep gem which came out on industry veteran Bob Shad's Brown Dog Label, gaining a UK release on Mint in '75. The flip, "High Blood Pressure" is a funky little opus, unusual for Hatcher's repertoire. Around these 45s Hatcher must have cut several more tracks in Nashville as well because in 1977 an LP appeared on the New York Guiness label, entitled "R & Better" under Hatcher's name. This album, which contains two cuts clearly not featuring him, is now an extremely rare collector's piece featuring several excellent modem soul tracks. All My Love Belongs To You is a beauty of a waltz time ballad which comes strongly through. Maybe even better is the Southern groover "Your Love Is A Masterpiece" driven by lively bass and drums and featuring a well arranged horn section. The album sleeve gives no information on the tracks, and Hatcher himself has denied all knowledge of it. Most mysterious.
Roger persevered with his own productions and formed a new label, Super Bad, for his output: In 1978 he cut and maybe released "That's When I'll Stop Loving You" in Cleveland, Ohio - his home for many years, but it was almost eight years later that further Super Bad discs appeared. These were the results of a series of recordings back in Alabama during the early '80s. The first of them from '87 coupled the slow cheating song "I Want Your Love" with the lively synth laden "Let Your Love Shine On Me", a recut of one of his Guiness tracks.
The second release was in a different league though. Super Bad 112 in 1991 featured the slow tuneful Stormy Love Affair and a Birmingham recut of "That's When I'll Stop Loving You" on the reverse. This wonderful arpeggio led number is among his very finest works. The shimmering synths over the simple rhythm track make a perfect vehicle for Roger's impassioned vocal. The disc became an instant indie classic when it came out. During this period Hatcher, now based on the West Coast, was also involved in writing and producing for aspiring acts, notably girl group Black Pepper on whom he cut the risque "You Keep Running Out Of Gas" for yet another new logo Golden Wax.
Although the Super Bad releases mentioned that LPs would follow, sadly they didn't but the Expansion UK CD featured several unissued cuts from this period, of which "Heaven Is Missing An Angel", another of those ballads he does so well, is amongst the best with its lovely melodic hook line. But the similarly constructed "I Cried Like A Baby' featuring some tasteful organ fills on timeless chord changes is almost as good. Hatcher rarely moved above a light mid pace during the 80s, but the tricky guitar/electric piano combination and excellent vocal dynamics on "Sugar Daddy" might commend it to more adventurous DJs on the crossover circuit. And the sensual swayer "Gonna Rock You Like A Baby" is a perfect late night sound, particularly if the lyric suits a private occasion!
Unfortunately so far Roger Hatcher's career has not matched his talent. Isolated single releases have not been enough to sustain his name in the public mind in the USA and whatever the reason - bad luck, difficult relationships with company executives - his writing and singing have deserved better fate. But despite the reverses of thirty years he is still out there trying, making high quality soul music well into the 90s.
You can find a discography of Roger Hatcher here.
But note that the first 45 listed should be "Get A Hold Of Yourself" / "I Need You" ~ DEL-LA 103.
Note ~ You can find "Sweetest Girl In The World" on the Kent UK CD "Uptown Down South", and "I Dedicate My Life To You" on the appropriate volume of the Complete Stax/Volt Singles box set.