The Major Bill Smith 45s

Matt Brown and his cousin Robert Thomas were Macon, GA natives whose first records appeared on Major Bill Smith’s Fort Worth, Texas based labels Soft and Le Cam, even though they were all cut in Georgia at one Atlanta session at Master Sound Studio. Before I go any further I must mention that this Robert Thomas is not the same singer as Bobby Thomas, who – very confusingly – was another Georgian. Even more baffling, both Thomas’ recorded for Macon record man Bobby Smith.

UNI 55151 D
ue to Major Bill’s eccentric release methods (read – ludicrous, barking mad etc) the cousins’  records were issued as Matt & Robert, Matt Brown or Robert Thomas almost irrespective of who was actually singing on the tracks. As you can see in the discography below, the various permutations and artists credited on one or other of Major Bill’s labels, and the cuts leased out to Uni, break down actually into only 5 songs:-

The soul of a man
Mr Pitiful
A man without a woman
These arms of mine

obby Skel’s (Skelton’s) wonderful ballad ListenThe Soul Of A Man appeared as an instrumental (Matt & Robert on Soft), and CHARAY 87as a vocal (Matt & Robert on Uni and Robert Thomas on Charay). It seems to me that this great deep soul effort is actually a Thomas solo – and what a treat it is too. This fine song was also recorded by Pic & Bill using the same backing track. The guys version of Otis R’s immortal “Mr Pitiful” is a rip roaring exhilarating slab of southern soul. ListenA Man Without A Woman is another church based deep soul ballad of immaculate pedigree – this is actually a Matt Brown solo with a little help from Robert on the chorus. This was also recorded by Pic & Bill.

he Uni 45 brought the previously unissued version of another Otis R classic in ListenThese Arms Of Mine which suits the duet style of the cousins very well indeed. Like most of their tracks this one was put together by Bobby Skel, the very talented guy who was effectively Major Bill’s right hand man in the latter half of the 60s.

alvation is a long time Northern soul favourite and as an instrumental has appeared under a number of names on Charay including Men From Macon, Rita Lee and Cresa Watson, the only vocal released was credited to Robert Thomas.

t is likely that Matt and Robert were the guys who appeared as the “Men From Macon” on two further Major Bill 45s – with the caveat that neither of the guys sings a note on any of the four tracks issued. They are all instrumentals. And the musicians who played on the tracks – included in the discography below for completeness – were Bobby Skel’s band the Red Ryders. Tenor sax player Larry Colson is even name checked on the label of “Soul Of A Man”. This would indicate very strongly that it is Skel’s band behind all of Matt & Robert’s Major Bill Smith recordings.

The Jar-Val 45

way from the madness of Major Bill Smith, Matt and Robert went back to Macon to work with the redoubtable Hamp Swain and Ted Clark. In his long and honourableinvolvement in Macon music, Hamp Swain has been at the heart of most of the key moments in its R & B history. As a musician he played sax and led his own jump blues band, Hamp Swain & the Hamptones, that frequently featured a young Little Richard on piano and vocals as they toured round Georgia and the surrounding states in the early 50s.

SOFT 1035
e was the first black DJ on any local station, working at WIBB from 1954 to 1957, helping to cut James Brown’s epic first session at the station, and playing “Please Please Please” inside out on his show, thus having a key role in breaking the disc. As the host of The Teenage Party, firstly at the Roxy and later at the Douglass Theatres, he watched a young Otis Redding win the talent contest week after week.

amp started Jar-Val – named after his children Jarvis and Valencia - at the end of the 60s, running it through until the mid-70s. “I started it as a vehicle to promote local artists, to give part time singers some exposure”, he explained. “We used local Macon studios like the one Bobby Smith ran for King/Federal, as well as going over to Atlanta to record. If a song looked like it had potential we’d look for outside help”.

ed Clark was a DJ at Macon’s WNEX-AM radio station and was something of a talent agent/manager on the side. He was also contracted as Matt & Robert’s manager. Their southern soul credentials were well established by the time they came to record for Jar-Val. Their one duet for the company is highly sought after – as are both Matt’s solo discs. The top side of their duets is a funky, southern styled, strong cover of Marvin Gaye’s evergreen “Pride And Joy” with the flip being a forthright southern funker “Run For Cover”, penned by Swain.

JAR-VAL 0001
obert Thomas died in a swimming accident in 1971 and this tragedy ended their partnership of course.

The Solo Discs  ~ Matt Brown

att Brown came from a musical Macon, GA family – his father was a member of a local gospel quartet and Matt joined the Morningstar Juniors, a kiddy spin off from his father’s group. So Matt grew up, like so many of his contemporaries singing in church. After he left the Air Force he went back to music, hooking up with Macon music man who was, for one reason or another, in Jacksonville, FL in early 1968. Smith organised a session for Matt two sides from which he leased out to New Jersey label Sew City. Sadly “Funky Soul Train” is pretty non-descript, and “Love Me Just A Little Bit” isn’t a great deal better, being a routine uptempo number, but redeemed slightly by Brown’s gospely vocal and some strong horns.

ack home in Georgia, Brown had a couple of 45s on Hamp Swain’s Jar-Val label that always get the dancers excited. “Everyday I Love You Just A Little More” is a dancer of considerable merit, with the string ensemble giving it an appeal far wider than just a southern soul audience, and the flip, Brown’s cut of David Gates’ staple “Baby I’m A Want You” has a certain charm. “Thank You Baby” is taken at a slightly slower pace but still packs a dance floor punch – and has a much better vocal and horn chart but the dynamic ListenSweet Thing may just be the best cut of them all. These were cut in Atlanta under the aegis of Shurfine label owner Tee Fletcher, who had recorded “Thank You Baby” himself under Wendell Parker a few years earlier (Josie 970). Brown moved to Philly, for a spell in the 70s before returning home. He gigged around a bit locally for a time but never got back into serious music making.

The Solo Disc ~ Robert Thomas

homas was also a member of the Morningstar Juniors, so his church based singing experiences must have been fairly similar to his cousin’s. Like Brown, Thomas got his start in the record business via Macon’s own Bobby Smith, who, with Ted Clark, produced sides on Thomas that they leased out to Venture on the West Coast.  Both sides were written by Thomas and the 45 hasn’t received anything like the attention that the quality of the music deserves. The lively “True Love Is Hard To Find” is a funky little piece of southern soul. But the top side ListenBye Bye Baby is a wonderful deep soul ballad with more than a hint of that other Macon native Otis R in it’s feel. Taken at a dead slow beat the song is a perfect 12/8 construction led by an arpeggio piano and guitar combination, backed by some subdued female singers and excellent horns. Thomas is first rate in that sort of company - I just love those stop-go moments as well.

e could all have done with many more tracks of this calibre from Mr Thomas – but sadly it was not to be.



The soul of a man / Mr Pitiful ~ SOFT 1036 (1969)
Soul of a man / ListenThese arms of mine ~ UNI 55151 (1969)
These arms of mine / Spirit of '76 ~ LE CAM 204
Run for cover / Pride and joy ~ JAR-VAL 0001 (1971?)


Soul of a man / Fire lighter ~ CHARAY 89 (1969?)
Salvation / Black Velvet ~ CHARAY 100 (1971)


Funky soul train / Love me just a little bit ~ SEW CITY 108 (1968/9)
ListenA man without a woman / The soul of a man ~ SOFT 1035 (1969) / LE CAM 357
Every day (I love you just a little bit more) / Baby I’m a want you ~
JAR-VAL 0004 (1973?)
Thank you baby / ListenSweet thing ~ JAR-VAL 0006 (1973/4?)


ListenBye Bye Baby / True love in hard to find ~ VENTURE 617 (1968)
ListenThe soul of a man / Salvation ~ CHARAY 87 (1969)

Notes ~

1. The Matt Brown and the Concepts on Solitaire is a different artist altogether.

2. Bobby Skel's own intepretation of his "The Soul Of A Man" track can be found on SOFT 1005 - it's pretty good.

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