Various Artists “Hall Of Fame – Rare & Unissued Gems From The Fame Vaults” (Kent CDKEND 372)
By Pete Nickols
James Barnett ~ You’re So Fine; Jimmy Hughes ~ I Worship The Ground You Walk On; June Conquest ~ I Do; Richard Earl & The Corvettes ~ Blind Can’t See; Big Ben Atkins ~ Tell It Like It Is; Jackie ~ Almost Persuaded; Joe Simon ~ When It Comes To Dancing; George Byrd & The Dominoes ~ It Ain’t No Harm; Prince Phillip ~ Keep On Talking; The Entertainers ~ I Need Someone; Ben & Spence ~ Hand Shakin’; James Gilreath ~ Meet Me Tonight; Clarence Carter ~ Tell Daddy; Ralph ‘Soul’ Jackson ~ You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy; Jimmy Hughes ~ Steal Away ’67 (Part 1); Otis Clay ~ I’m Qualified; Marjorie Ingram ~ In The Heat Of Love; Unknown Male ~ Love Changes A Man; Clarence Carter ~ Too Weak To Fight; Otis Clay ~ Your Helping Hand; O.B. McClinton ~ Two Big Legs And A Short Red Dress; Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces ~ Baby Come Back; Travis Wammack ~ Let’s Do It Over; George Jackson ~ For You.
Whilst there were of course previously unissued tracks included on the Fame Box Set and the George Jackson release, this is UK Kent’s first shot at specifically offering cutting room floor material and other rare items discovered from their extensive search through the archives of this justly famous southern studio.
Therefore, whilst one wouldn’t expect all of the golden eggs to find their way into this first basket, one would certainly expect it to be impressive enough to make us ‘want more’ and, in this respect, it doesn’t disappoint.
The CD opens with James Barnett’s lovely lilting mid-paced version of the old Falcons hit “You’re So Fine”, cut at the same time as his 1966 northern favourite “Keep On Talking”.
The inclusion of Jimmy Hughes’ already reissued Fame single and album track “I Worship The Ground You Walk On” is an admitted error on Kent’s part but it’s still a very fine recording.
The excellent sleeve notes which accompany this CD include a lovely rare pic of June Conquest, whose “I Do” is termed ‘pretty’. Frankly, I find it a bit of a chug-along ‘throwaway’ piece of lightweight pop-soul, albeit this Penn and Oldham song was also covered by the likes of the Vel-Tones, Ben & Spence and white singer-songwriter-producer Steve Alaimo.
An impressive unissued ‘find’ is “Blind Can’t See”, a lovely deep opus featuring a very expressive lead male vocal from the ‘unknown’ Richard Earl, backed up well by his female Corvettes.
Goldwax, Josie and Youngstown all played host to Big Ben Atkins but his unissued Fame track here is a well-enough sung, jaunty-rhythmed slab of soul, complete with a good, though not very Fame-sounding instrumental back-up. Perhaps he brought his own band with him?
The aforementioned June Conquest included “Almost Persuaded” on her lone Fame 45 but this contemporaneous version by Jackie is a bit too teen-slanted for my taste, not just in format but also due to the lead-singer’s distinctly ‘girly’ voice.
Also not very demanding is “When It Comes To Dancing”, a “Twisting The Night Away” soundalike 1964 unissued Vee-Jay recording by the nevertheless always vocally-reliable Joe Simon. Jimmy Hughes also cut a version that same year.
George ‘Juke’ Byrd is remembered by some for his 1969 Pay-Tons and Tangerine-released “I’m Available”. However even better to my ears is his unissued Fame outing featured here, “It Ain’t No Harm”, a mournful, deep and very well-sung piece.
Phillip Mitchell’s Fame-cut version for Smash of Penn and Oldham’s “Keep On Talking” (previously also cut there by James Barnett) has an almost Chicago Soul sound to it.
Next is a very nice purely piano-accompanied demo by the Shoals-based group, The Entertainers, of the melodic Penn-Oldham ballad “I Need Someone”, a song also cut twice more at Fame, firstly by Dan himself for MGM and then by The Wallace Brothers for Jewel.
The aforementioned Ben & Spence appear next with the original of a song cut later at Quinvy by both Don Varner and Jimmy Braswell, namely Fritts, Hinton and Oldham’s appealing bouncy item “Hand Shakin’”. Rick Hall tried to break Ben & Spence after their fellow Pensacola artists James & Bobby Purify had been removed from Fame by Papa Don Shroeder – but, sadly, without success.
Blue-eyed soulman James Gilreath was so much more than his admittedly good hit “Little Band Of Gold” would indicate. He had a typically white southerner’s country approach to soul music and, on the “Fame Studios Story”, I enjoyed his original of Jimmy Hughes’ “Why Not Tonight”. Here he presents a lovely piece of self-penned country-soul on the similarly-titled “Meet Me Tonight”, with its lyrical shades of “Dark End Of The Street”.
Two Clarence Carter early test-workouts of “Tell Daddy” and “Too Weak To Fight” are also included here. Both are well worth your attention and, if anything, the sparser accompaniment only serves to underline Clarence’s wonderfully interpretive way with a good soul lyric.
Ralph ‘Soul’ Jackson is from Phoenix. He is best remembered today perhaps for his Bell ‘dancer’ “Don’t Tear Yourself Down” and his later Birmingham cuts but his strong Fame recording of the mid-paced Penn and Oldham song “You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy” certainly rivals Jimmy Hughes’ version.
Hughes himself was without question at his very best when at Fame and his 1967 remake of his classic 1964 hit “Steal Away” was very impressive. CD-ers will have previously only had access to Part 2 of that ‘outing’ but here they will get the chance to enjoy the superb first Part, already issued on vinyl by Kent.
Otis Clay is without doubt one of THE great soul voices and his 1968 Fame cut of Hall and Quin Ivy’s early side for Hughes, “I’m Qualified”, only saw release some 2 years later on a Cotillion flip-side. It’s a very fine mid-pacer, which, for me, is superior to the earlier original. Clay’s “Your Helping Hand” is described in the sleeve-notes as one of this CD’s highlights but I think this is a tad of an exaggeration. With minimal accompaniment, this is indeed an interesting, gospel-infused slow, waltz-paced slab of soul but, despite Otis’ fine delivery, I consider it too repetitive to be truly outstanding.
Marjorie Ingram was apparently a protégé of George Jackson and his sometime Memphis writing-partner Dan Greer and Kent reckon she was the ‘unknown female’ on their "Fame Studios Story” set. Here we get to hear her very good, driving mid-pacer “In The Heat of Love”. The sleeve-notes say “it’s easy to see why Rick Hall didn’t sign her” but, to me, she’s a singer I would have signed, no question – but then I’ve never run a record company!
A true highpoint of this CD comes from an unknown male vocalist at Track 18, “Love Changes A Man” being a wonderful piece of smoky slow-paced southern soul, quite beautifully sung. The notes suggest the singer was ‘white’ – I’m not so sure - but it matters not – the quality is there for all to hear!
O.B. McClinton’s contribution is vocally a touch too hillbilly for me but the evil lyric is terrific as is the musical accompaniment and one can just see Clarence Carter making a huge success of such a fine sex-related soul-song. Mind you, I reckon the Coasters, back in their prime, could have made an even bigger success of this one, with its occasional humorous bass-lines!
Skip Bobby Moore’s “Baby Come Back”, an over-paced piece of repetitive ‘nothing’ which dancers who are only looking for a certain rhythm might like, but true soul-lovers will surely agree should have remained on the cutting-room floor.
Travis Wammack was a valued country-music-honed member of Rick Hall’s third rhythm section and here he makes a good-enough vocal job of the older Penn and Oldham song “Let’s Do It Over”, though Joe Simon’s fine version isn’t threatened to my ears.
Finally, if you want to hear a real ‘demo’, tune in to George Jackson’s very ‘basic’ cut of his romantic song “For You” (to be recorded by Candi Staton), this piece being placed on tape by George at his own home rather than at the Fame studios.
This CD contains some genuine gems and a lot of historically interesting material. I recommend it to all southern-soul fans and, overall, it’s certainly good enough to make me keenly anticipate the ‘second helping’ Kent is sure to deliver in due course.
Note ~ You can find Pete Nickols' review of Volume 2 of this series here.