Eugene “Tiny” Watkins has been described as being from Mississippi, but he is better remembered as arguably the leading singer to have come from Mobile, AL – and indeed described himself as a native of the town on his Aquarian 45. But whereever he was born, and Mobile touches Mississippi, he certainly made his first record there for the Sandy label. Like almost all his tracks, the driving R & B “Rockin’ Satellite” was written by Tiny himself, and he sounds really young on this lo fi recording.
By the end of the 50s his voice was considerably deeper and fuller, maturing into the rich baritone that graced all his subsequent discs. He recorded a couple of 45s for Tim Whitsett’s Rim concern, of which the coupling of the gentle ballad “All At Once” with the lively “Torturing Lover” was the pick, and Whitsett leased it out to Johnny Vincent' Teia label sadly without getting anything other than local sales.
It’s quite clear that Tiny must have spent time singing in church and his next 45 was straight gospel for the Mississippi based Acquarian label. And it is more than possible that he made other religious recordings as well. Back in the secular world however he joined Excello for the most artistically successful period of his career. He benefitted from the higher production values of the studios in Nashville and Muscle Shoals where he recorded for the company, usually under the watchful eye of DJ Hoss Allen.
Tiny’s first Excello release featured the deep soul ballad Soldier’s Sad Story, a weepie from the “Soul Of Vietnam” genre, on which his rich deep vocals were perfect for the doom laden mood. Fine arrangement by sax man Aaron Varnell who loaded the track with a big horn section and a classic southern soul rhythm section. The flip was a re-make of the song “Love Flows Like A River” which had first appeared in embryonic form as the flip of the Sandy 45.
His second Excello release, probably recorded at the same Nashville session as the first one, had a strong beat ballad “Give Me My Flowers” and the bluesy “Way Cross Town” with its “High Heel Sneakers” feel which was perfect for his deep brown tones - love those saxes too. Watkins’ final 45 for Excello was recorded at Fame by Minaret boss Finley Duncan, and although the uptempo “Fine Driving Machine” was ruined by some very unsubtle rock styled lead guitar, the other side Forbidden Fruit might just be his best ever cut. This deep soul ballad is a very fine "cheating" number made better by the presence of the Muscle Shoals A-Team in the background. Tiny sings his heart out here and no mistake – classic southern soul. An unissued Watkins track surfaced on a UK Ace CD over the past few years – and Midnite Tears is a fine piece of Nashville soul all right. Perhaps it was Tiny’s uncertainty on the higher notes that led to this one remaining in the can. Around this time Tiny was busy writing several songs for Al Green’s first LP “Back Up Train”, although how he got involved in that project remains a mystery.
Watkins’ 45 on his own Kick label sounds to me as if it was cut next, but sadly neither track is up to the Excello standard, partly as there’s only a rhythm section behind him, and partly also as the songs aren’t his best. No doubt he was using the 45 as a means to get a larger label interested. Watkins’ sole Goodie Train 45 would seem to be his final release. And although the dancers’ interest in the enjoyable mid paced “Run Run Run” has pushed prices of this disc way up, it’s the tender ballad Cradle Of Love that does it for me. I like the feel of this one a lot – Tiny has throttled back his big voice to suit the mood laid down by the chord changes, well structured rhythm section and big horns. Production was shared between label owner Neal Hemphill and that very interesting individual Cleo Page, who worked a fair bit with Hemphill both in Midfield, AL and also on the West Coast where he recorded some of the deepest blues of the 70s on his own account.
UPDATE ~ I'm delighted to say that Gennie Jackson, Tiny's daughter, has been in touch. She writes:-
"I was happy to read your write up on my father E Tiny Watkins. Its good to know that you are still keeping his music alive in print. Please keep in touch." I will indeed keep in touch - how kind of Gennie to write.
Rockin’ satellite / Love like a river ~ SANDY 1009 (1958)
All at once / Torturing lover ~ RIM 4108 (1962/3) / TEIA 1002 (1963)
Talk talk talk / You can’t take it with you ~ RIM 4112 (193/4)
Blow Gabriel/ Assurance ~ ACQUARIAN 6469 (1965) (as E TINY WATKINS OF MOBILE, ALA)
Love flows like a river / Soldier’s sad story ~ EXCELLO 2287 (1967)
Give me my flowers / Way across town ~ EXCELLO 2299 (1968)
Fine driving machine / Forbidden fruit ~ EXCELLO 2304 (1969)
Words of a dying man / Spell bound mood ~ KICK 42770 (1970?)
Run run run / Cradle of love ~ GOODIE TRAIN 060 (1976)
Note ~ There are a good few Watkins tracks available on CD:-
1. "Give Me My Flowers", "Love Flows Like A River" and "Spell Bound Mood" on "Nashville's Got The Beat".
2. "Words Of A Dying Man" on "The Rogana Story".
3. "Midnite Tears" and "A Soldier's Sad Story" on "The Heart Of Southern Soul Vol 1" from Ace UK, with the second of these tracks also on the same company's "A Soldier's Sad Story".
4. "Forbidden Fruit" and "Way Across Town" on "The Heart Of Southern Soul Vol 2" from Ace UK.