Although he is best known as a New Orleans artist, Alex Spearman’s first recordings were made in California. While he was in the navy in 1956 his ship docked in LA and he won a talent contest organized by the great Johnny Otis. Otis took him into the studio and, not knowing his real name, called him “Sailor Boy” on the couple of Dig 45s that he released. “Country Boy” is a decent blues ballad on which Spearman’s confident power house vocal belies the fact that this was his first session. The two part “What Have I Done Wrong” is the more famous of the singles and no wonder as it is a lively easy snapping blues of considerable quality.
By the 60s Spearman was in the Crescent City starting a lengthy recording career under his real name. The rare Rip 45 is a fine double sider. I Can’t Cry is a lovely early soul ballad full of New Orleans goodies like the big horn section, pumping piano and a bluesy set of chord changes as well as a high octane vocal from Alex. This just gets my vote over the similarly paced “Answer The Phone”.
The even rarer Dover 45 is a fine piece of good time New Orleans R & B. Dover was one of the companies owned by Cosimo Matassa whose studios in the city had a virtual monopoly of the recording scene for the 50s and most of the 60s. The label says that it is "A Lynn's production" so I presume that Reginald Hines from Greenville, MS paid for the session. Hines, whose other 45s on his own labels like Odex, Little Lynn and Big Beat feature on so many pages on this site, often used to record his material at Cosimo's in the Crescent City.
Spearman's biggest seller turned out to be Down The Aisle which was more of a doo wop ballad than anything I’d say but Alex’s rather hoarse vocals had enough gospel aspects to keep us soul fans happy, especially towards the run out groove. The Choctaw and White Cliffs 45s share the same rhythm track and cooing background chorus, but the former has added strings and horns . Ordinarily you’d say that the initial appearance of the track must have been on the tiny Choctaw imprint, but in view of the “sweetening” I’m not so sure. Anyway that's the cut you can listen to. Certainly it got a slightly wider distribution via White Cliffs but sadly never really broke out of the immediate locality.
Spearman’s second White Cliffs 45 raised the bar considerably however. You’ll Never Find Another Man Like Me is high quality Crescent City deep soul. Alex’s heartfelt preaching over a dead slow chugging beat really hits home.
I really like Spearman’s only release on Allen Orange’s short lived Satin imprint. On Our Wedding Day reprises the theme of his big seller but places it in a splendid blues ballad setting. Love that guitar and the fat horns. The nonsense flip has got a good few fans as well.
Interestingly his Volume 45 features the name of cult southern hero Don Varner as co-writer/producer and may well have been cut a the same sessions that produced Brenda Varner’s fine 45 for the same label. Both sides of Spearman’s effort are strong southern soul with the funky “(Baby) Don’t Take your Love From Me” just taking the honours thanks to some sterling vocals and an irresistible thumping bass line. I’m surprised this hasn’t been picked up by the dance crowd.
The Rosemont single brings him back to those deep ballads that he sang so well with “What Goes On In The Dark” fitting the bill to a T. By this time this sort of heavyweight soul was becoming less common in New Orleans but this really is a fine example of a dying art. Great heartfelt singing over a classic 12/8 arrangement.
Spearman sadly didn’t reach those heights again in his 80s and 90s recordings despite a re-run of his most famous number. He was still active in the Crescent City music scene up until the millennium, working as a DJ. I hope this page will bring about a revival of interest in this fine overlooked singer.
UPDATE ~ Peter Hoogers has written to add Rosemont 2040 to the discography and more importantly to say that there is an earlier version of Rosemont 304 which has a different cut of What Goes On In The Dark As you can hear this is another really good take of this deep soul piece - maybe even better than the later one. Peter has very kindly also sent a picture of the 45 which is now shown below as well as the soundclip. I'm very grateful to him for his efforts.
NEW UPDATE ~ My great friend Greg Burgess has sent the wonderful picture of Alex Spearman as a DJ at New Orelans community radio station WWOZ. Isn't that great? My profuse thanks to Greg as always.
As SAILOR BOY
Country home / country boogie ~ DIG 116 (1956)
What have I done wrong / Pt 2 ~ DIG 126 (1956)
As ALEX SPEARMAN
I can't cry / Answer the phone ~ RIP 575 (1963/4)
Please baby please / What in the world ~ DOVER 4104 (1963/4)
I'll whip it on you / Down the aisle ~ CHOCTAW 102 / WHITE CLIFFS 217 (1965)
You'll never find another man like me / Stranded in the desert ~ WHITE CLIFFS 232 (1966)
On our wedding day / Mama-ka-toko-laka-poo-poo-yay ~ SATIN 102 (1968)
Take good care of the children / (Baby) don't take your love from me ~ VOLUME 131 (1970)
That's the way love is / What goes on in the dark will come to the light ~ ROSEMONT 304 (1970s)
All the love you got / Stairway to nowhere ~ ROSEMONT 2027 (1970s)
That's the way love is / Stairway to nowhere ~ ROSEMONT 2040
Down the aisle / Once a heart has been broken ~ KOLAB (1980s)
Note ~ All the Sailor Boy tracks can be found on the Ace UK CD "Dig These Blues".