Ollie Hoskins was born in 1936 in Batesville, MS but made his name singing gospel in Memphis in the 50s. He was a member of the Wayside Travellers and the Gospel Writers Juniors, who became the Dixie Nightingales. Hoskins' electric tenor voice with his ability to coarsen his tone as a means of emphasis, his mastery of dynamics and projection made him a natural lead vocalist. And he illuminated the recordings the groups made for Pepper, Nashboro and the Stax subsidiary Chalice. By the time most of the Nightingales decided to try their hand at secular music in 1968 Hoskins was the full article as a singer, complete with wonderful control over his phrasing and by now his pitch and expression had a touch of that other Memphis gospel master O V Wright.
The new group named Ollie and the Nightingales consisted of Hoskins, Rochester Neal, Quincy Billups, Bill Davis and Nelson Lesure who was their guitarist, and their first 45 for Stax was a smash. I Got A Sure Thing was the first Ollie Nightingale record that I bought all those years ago and then I loved this mid paced shuffler for the melody, the super xylophone/piano fills (Booker T?) and the great vocals especially Ollie's screaming "Ha Ha Ha"s - and I still do. It deservedly went top 20 R & B. Sadly nothing else they group cut can get anywhere near the standard they set themselves. There were good uptempo tunes like "Don't Make The Good Suffer" and "I've Got A Feeling" and goodish ballads like "Showered With Love" but none of the 45s or tracks on their eponymous LP had the magic of their first release.
In 1970 Hoskins decided to try a solo career leaving the Nightingales so abruptly that Stax called in the wonderful Tommy Tate as an emergency lead. And ironically, it is his unmistakeable tones on the group's second masterpiece "Just A Little Overcome". Meanwhile Hoskins signed with Billy and Jerry Butler's new Fountain Productions outfit who employed the great Gene "Bowlegs" Miller to produce him for their Memphis concern. Over the next couple of years it would not be an exaggeration to say that they made some of the most enduring southern soul not just on Memphis but latterly on Pride, which was basically a MGM subsidiary. All the 45s released were collected on the sublime "Sweet Surrender" LP which is a must have for any self respecting soul fan.
The set is chock full of wonderful songs, brilliant arrangements and musicianship and of course the intense and commanding presence of Ollie Nightingale. Choosing a couple of tracks to include here is a nightmare the standard is so high. But my two favourites are Here I Am Again which comes complete with a short rap, and May The Best Man Win. The former has a slightly altered chord structure from Candi Staton's excellent take on it but - and it is not easy to write this - Ollie's power and passion knocks her cut right out of the park. Check out his screams after the other short rap in the middle of the cut if you have any doubts. "May The Best Man Win" has been recorded several times by soul singers but perhaps the only version that comes anywhere close to Ollie's fierce drive is the late Reuben Bell's - and even his superb "slow burn" intensity comes off second best. Love the church piano and the horns on this cut as well.
Ollie Nightingale didn't have a contract in the middle 70s and his next release wasn't until 1978. The least said about "Disco Granny" the better but the other side of the Pathfinder 45 "I'm In Love" (not the Bobby Womack tune) is a pleasant ballad but the synths are far too intrusive for easy listening. Ollie's Jenny 45s are now really scarce but most have considerable merit, including the fact that the wretched synths are kept low enough in the mix to be tolerable, despite the late recording date. "Cold World Outside" is a fine blues ballad with touches of Geater Davis about the chord changes and a gritty vocal performance from Hoskins. The lengthy beat ballad "Place In My Heart For You" makes really good listening but my favourite of the Jenny sides is All I Feel Is Love. This is, as the title suggests, a really heartfelt ballad with a memorable hookline, with Ollie at his emotional best really getting into the lyric.
Sadly Ollie's brief stay with James Bennett in Jackson, MS suffers from the same problems that all recordings from this source are subject to - low production values and a determindly low-fi arrangements. That said Ollie is on top form on John Ward and Larry Chambers super ballad Give Her More from the "Freedom" set. A decade later and Ollie Signed with John Ward for a rather longer stay with his successful Ecko operation. The four CDs do contain some good songs and Ollie rolled back the years with some electric singing but like so many Ecko sets they can only be recommended to people who can take programmed instruments. I can't. Also I couldn't possible condone such unhygienic practises as "I'll Drink Your Bathwater Baby".
Ollie Hoskins died on October 26 1997 and the world lost a great singer.
As "Ollie & The Nightingales"
I got a sure thing / Girl you have my heart singing ~ STAX 245 (1968)
You're leaving me / Showered with love ~ STAX 0014 (1968)
Don't do what I did / Mellow way to treat your man ~ STAX 0027 (1969)
You'll never do wrong / I've got a feeling ~ STAX 0045 (1969)
Bracing myself for the fall / I'll be your anything ~ STAX 0065 (1970)
As "The Nightingales"
You're moving much too fast / Don't let a good thing die ~ STAX 0076 (1970)
Just a little overcome / I don't want to be like my Daddy ~ STAX 0091 (1971)
Don't do it / I'm with you ~ STAX 0107 (1972)
As "Ollie Nightingale"
It's a sad thing / Standing on your promise ~ MEMPHIS 104 (1971)
I'll take care of you / I don't know why I love you ~ MEMPHIS 105 (1971)
May the best man win / How far am I from New York City ~ PRIDE 1002 (1972)
A good woman at home (is better than two in the street) / Here I am again ~ PRIDE 1021 (1973)
Sweet surrender / Standing on a promise ~ PRIDE 1030 (1973)
I'm in love / Disco Granny ~ PATHFINDER 155 (1978)
Place in my heart for you / All I feel is love ~ JENNY 151 (1980)
Cold world outside / Steel and glass ~ JENNY 152 (1980)
Why you wanna walk away / Come home ~ JENNY 153 (1980)
I can't set you free / Swinging ~ RETTAS 006 (1983)
Stew / Inst ~ TOP KNOTCH 126 (1985) (as THE TOP KNOTCH BAND featuring OLLIE NIGHTINGALE)
I'll drink your bathwater / Ready to party ~ ECKO 1001 (1995)
Booty Scoot / The bull s**t song ~ ECKO 2111 (late 90s)
Ollie & the Nightingales~ STAX 2021 (1969)
Sweet surrender~ PRIDE 0017 (1973)
Troubled in mind~ RETTAS 0001 (1983)
Freedom~ RETTAS 0004 (1985)
I'll drink your bathwater baby~ ECKO 1001 (1995)
Tell me what you want me to do~ ECKO 1005 (1996)
Make it sweet~ ECKO 1011 (1997)
Ollie style ~ ECKO 1019 (1998)
1. Secular recordings only shown.
2. Some copies of Pride 1002 are misspelled as "How Far I Am From New York City".
Special thanks to Jeff Beckamn who took a lot of time & trouble to striaghten out my lazy way of listing Ollie's 45s in the discography. Now sorted out.