Thursday, December 9, 2010
Our friends over at Plut records have out done themselves this time. On this two sided monster, not only do you get the the previously unreleased "A Taste Of Your Love" by the Symbolics (with backing from Shake), but also the impossibly rare "Stone Spanada" by Stone Love (originally released on the Lofton label). Both tracks were recorded in the 70's at Brockington & Guess Studio on 35th Street in Norfolk. The first few orders get the limited red vinyl versions!
Listen to some sound samples below!
Shipping for the 45 is $3.00 US and $6.00 world
Saturday, October 23, 2010
By the mid 60's, as the U.S. dramatically ramped up its involvement in the Vietnam Conflict, Philadelphia native U.S. Navy Seaman E3 Raymond Thomas Jones, was assigned to duty in Norfolk, VA. In February of 1967, Jones's ship, the USS Barney, was deployed to the combat zone off the coast of Vietnam. The ship would return to Norfolk seven months later.
Like many black sailors stationed in Hampton Roads, Ray found himself drawn to Church Street, the nucleus of African American nightlife in a still heavily segregated Southern city. He spent much of his precious off-duty time taking in live shows at legendary spots like The Eureka Lodge, The Enterprise, and The Plaza Hotel. This vibrant scene had a lasting impact on him.
Ray was just starting a family when he came to Norfolk. In a lot of ways the new life he and his wife Vennel had embarked upon seemed a world away from the North Philly neighborhood where they both grew up. With Ray at sea for as long as nine months at a time, and not much of a support system in place for navy families at the time, the young marriage was under strain. One day Ray came home to an empty apartment to find that Vennel had left him, taking their son Ray Jr. with her. As the split stretched on, Ray was moved to write about the situation, forming what would become the lyrics to his first song. "Cause You're Coming Home" tells the story of heartbreak and separation, but also hope, reconciliation and his wife's eventual return. While back home in Philadelphia visiting family, Ray showed the song to his brother Paul, himself an established bassist who had recorded and toured extensively with Freda Payne, Bo Diddley, Garnet Mimms, Jean Wells, The Coasters and The Platters among others. Paul helped Ray with the arrangement, got some musicians together, and booked time at the legendary Virtue Recording Studio on Broad Street. The resulting 1969 recording captures a young Ray Jones delivering a touchingly personal ballad. The tape would remain safely tucked away and unreleased for the next six years.
Ray T. Jones "Cause You're Coming Home"
Jones's military duty continued throughout the seventies. While serving as First Class Fire Control Technician on the Destroyer USS C.V. Ricketts, he facilitated classes and seminars for fellow personnel regarding race relations. In addition, Ray started singing in the ship's band. The racially integrated group performed at a number of USO functions throughout Europe with a repertoire that ran the gamut from R&B to Rock to Country & Western and everything in between. Ray was becoming a fan of all these types of music, and was incorporating different elements of them into his own emerging style. He was particularly enamored with the story telling nature of Country music. An idea started to form. Why not take his favorite parts of the Country sound and combine them with his Soul roots? The band began working with the "Country Soul" concept.
Back on Church Street, at the corner of East Brambleton, Queen's Lounge was probably the hottest club in town. Norfolk heavyweights The House Rockers were packing them in as the resident band upstairs at Queen's Top Side. In addition to the nightly House Rockers gigs, amateur nights were put on by the club. Adventurous souls would give it their best shot fronting the band and braving the usually merciless audience. After being back in town for a while on shore duty, Ray Jones decided to take the stage, no doubt bolstered by his Navy buddies. He put his USO experience to work, and won the crowd over. It probably didn't hurt that he had packed the place with his fellow servicemen ahead of time.
It took a few more strong showings from Ray to convince the club owner to grant him his own 30 minute slot for a set of popular R&B covers backed by the House Rockers. In order to capitalize on the opportunity, Ray sought out his neighbor, former House Rockers front man Sebastian Williams. He paid Williams $50 out of his own pocket to make a guest appearance during his set. Ray started promoting the show and creating a buzz. Sure enough, on the night of the gig Sebastian showed up at Queen's dressed to the nines. "Ladies and Gentlemen... Sebastian Williams!!!", Ray announced as his special guest stepped up to the microphone. The band launched into a smoking version of Wilson Pickett's "634-5789", and Sebastian proceeded to blow the roof off the place. When he was done with his one song, Seb mater-of-factly turned and exited into the Church Street night. Probably the best $50 Ray ever spent!
Word got around, not only about Sebastian's exploits, but the up and coming Ray T. Jones. Noah Biggs of Shiptown Records took Ray under his wing, acting as a mentor and manager. As much as his naval duties would allow, Ray began doing shows around the region at venues including the Moton Theatre in Newport News, supporting the likes of Barbara Stant and General Johnson.
With guidance and encouragement from Mr. Biggs and even a little coaching from the legendary Frank Guida, Jones decided to start his own label. In 1975, Ray used his connection with bassist Maurice Glass to enlist the mighty 35th Street Gang (AKA: Raw Soul) to back him on a recording date at Lenis Guess Studio. The first single from the self-produced session, "That Norfolk Sound" was paired with his earlier recording of "Cause You're Coming Home" and released on the newly launched Wee-Too. Ray decided to use his family's Philadelphia address on the label.
Ray T. Jones "That Norfolk Sound"
"That Norfolk Sound" is a gritty ode to the sometimes seedy, always exciting Church Street scene. Jones deftly fuses his diverse influences into a unique mixture of sustained psychedelic fuzz and folky acoustic guitar anchored by a stripped down funk rhythm section. Ray's delicate, almost mournful vocal takes us on a tour through a darker side of the seaport city, down Granby Street and even to a rowdy Country/Western bar to see "fists flying in the night". "Come on down to Norfolk and get some ghetto in your life".
"Are We Ready? Are We Together?" The follow up single came in '76. "Beat The Knees" is probably the record Ray Jones is best known for. It was born out of a vamp that Ray and the 35th Street Gang came up with on the spot in the studio. The hard hitting drums of Grover "Groove" Everett and Maurice Glass's beefy bass line lay the foundation for this deadly groove. Irresistible Fender Rhodes keyboard adds a whole other dimension of hip. The guy named Leroy that Ray raps about was actually a shipmate who was quite the ladies' man. You can use your imagination as to what "beating those knees" signifies. Turns out, last Ray heard, "do-it-do-it man" Leroy had become a man of the church, a preacher. These days he's hitting his knees to pray.
Ray T. Jones "Beat The Knees"
The flipside, "Take Me Back To Norfolk Town", with it's twangy slide guitar and tale of longing, sees Ray's vision of Country Soul fully realized. The song is simultaneously a love letter to his woman and the city he calls home. Out at sea, the sailor "left a lot of love, a lot heartache in Norfolk town". Not only does he miss his family, he craves "the smell and the taste of Virginia ham / the taste, the flavor of fresh steamed clams!" "There's no place like that Norfolk town."
Ray T. Jones "Take Me Back To Norfolk Town"
With two records under his belt, Jones approached Norfolk's WAVY with a proposal for a half hour TV special showcasing his Country Soul music. In December of '76 the project was green-lighted. That winter an outdoor show was filmed on a makeshift stage in a lot right next to the old Bishop Grace House of Prayer (AKA: Sweet Daddy G's) at the corner of Princess Anne and Church Street. The show, entitled "That Norfolk Sound", featured live footage of Ray Jones along with Navy bandmates Jerry Potter, Ron Morin (guitar), Mike Terlouw(Keyboards), Robin White (bass), Art Swimp (drums) and Dennis Eaves. The finished program also included interview footage and aired locally on Channel 10 in the Summer of 1977.
Ray had plans to follow this up with a full length LP entitled (what else) "That Norfolk Sound". He shopped the idea around and even struck an informal distribution agreement with Frank Guida, but a deployment to the Mediterranean put the project on hold. In the ensuing years, Ray's military service and growing family took priority over an entertainment career, although he never really fully gave up on his music. In fact, in the later part of the eighties Ray made a little bit of a comeback, re-releasing "Take Me Back to Norfolk Town" b/w "Cause You're Coming Home" on a Wee-Too 45.
After hitting the Cash 5 Lotto for $100,000 in 1995, Ray bought a house in Virginia Beach where he currently lives with his wife of 25 years Judy. A proud father of seven and grandfather of 14, Ray is retired from the U.S. Navy after 30 years of service, having risen to the rank of Master Chief.
Right now Ray is preparing to re-release his classic Wee-Too 45's. Also in the works is an album (on vinyl!), "I'm Going Back To Norfolk", which will contain unreleased tracks, including ones he cut with his Navy bandmates back in the 70's. Ray continues to write and record songs as Ray "2 Beers" Jones (a nickname he got in the Navy). These days his sound draws a lot more from the Country side of the Country Soul equation. You can get a sampling of what he's been up to on his myspace page. Ray also plans to eventually release a collection of his recent Country flavored material.
We would like to thank Mr. Jones for his enthusiasm, generosity and all the great stories (way too many to fit into this piece!), as well as the amazing photos and, of course, the music. Stay tuned for news on Ray's upcoming releases. We'll have them for you here at Funky Virginia as soon as they drop.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
This week saw the passing of a Soul icon and one of Virginia's most important recording artists. Norfolk, VA native General Norman Johnson made his first recordings for Atlantic Records at the age of 12 with Doo Wop group The Humdingers. Those songs were never released, but soon manager Noah Biggs got the group signed to Minit Records in New Orleans, and the name was changed to The Showmen. Their first single in 1961, "It Will Stand", was a hit and became a Rock 'N Roll anthem. In 1968, after a string of chart success with The Showmen, Johnson headed to Detroit to work for the Invictus label, forming The Chairmen Of The Board and joining forces with the legendary writing/production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. The Chairmen's debut single in 1970 was an international smash reaching #3 on the Billboard Charts. "Give Me Just A Little More Time" continues to be a radio staple to this day, and The General will always be remembered as its instantly recognizable voice. What few realize is that Mr. Johnson was a prolific song writer whose credits include Freda Payne's "Bring The Boys Home" and Honey Cone's "Want Ads" and "Stick Up", as well as a Grammy Award for writing Clarence Carter's "Patches". He continued to work tirelessly writing, recording, producing and performing for the many decades to follow.
For information on memorial services and how to pay respects, as well as General Johnson in his own words, please visit the official Chairmen Of The Board website. A man whose talent touched millions. General Johnson will be truly missed.
Friday, October 8, 2010
This summer we were were greatly saddened to learn of the death of a true giant in Virginia Soul music. Clarence "Sir Guy" Barron, passed away June 15, 2010 at his home in Aiken, South Carolina.
Mr. Barron got his start in the Berkley section of Norfolk with a group called The Visions. Clarence, better known as Guy, stood out not only because of his amazing voice and dynamic stage moves, but the striking figure cut by his tall, lanky frame and perfectly processed hair. In 1967 Sir Guy went out on his own and made a splash with his first record, "The Frog" b/w "Broke Down And Cried", on Frank Guida's S.P.Q.R. label. A strong regional hit, both sides were redone as "The Frisky Frog" and "I Cried" for George Perkins' D.P.G. imprint. The years that followed brought some genuine masterpieces from "My Sweet Baby" to "Let Home Cross Your Mind" to "I Need You Baby" and, of course, the one Sir Guy remains best known for, "Funky Virginia". An undisputed anthem around these parts, it's been suggested by more than a few that if there were any justice "Funky Virginia" would be the Old Dominion's official song. One thing's for sure, this record still packs dance floors not only here, but around the world, some forty plus years after its release. Surely one of the Commonwealth's finest exports.
Sir Guy will continue to live on in the hearts of friends and loved ones, the memories of those fortunate enough to have seen one of his legendary performances, and, of course, the wonderful, yet all too brief, recorded legacy he left us all. The impact these records have had on us here at "Funky Virginia" is obviously immeasurable. We just hope to do right by the name.
Sir Guy & The Rocking Cavaliers "Funky Virginia"
Sir Guy "I Cried"
Special thanks to our friend Kevin Coombe of D.C. Soul Recordings for the great picture of Sir Guy. Also a big thank you to Ol' Virginia Soul's Brent Hosier for his help with this story and many others.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
It's been some four and a half decades since Barbara Stant's last New York performance. Back then, Barbara was just starting out as part of a teen girl group making the trek to the Big Apple from Norfolk. After a career that includes sharing the stage with the likes of Al Green, Barbara Mason, Joe Simon and the Isley Brothers, June 26th's
Dig Deeper marks the long overdue return of a Soul legend. Ms. Stant will be delivering her classic Shiptown sides including "My Mind Holds On To Yesterday", "Shadow In Your Footsteps" and "I'm Going To Outfit You Baby" with support from the fantastic Solid Set (who did an incredible job behind Lenis Guess a year ago). Needless to say, this will be a very special night. Don't miss this opportunity to witness a rare appearance by one of the absolute greatest singers to ever come out of Virginia!
Friday, April 23, 2010
Flair And The Flat Foots "Hey Boy - Hey Girl" (S.P.Q.R.) / Virginia's Employment Commision "John Fuzz" (New Faces '69)
In any survey of Virginia music it's damn near impossible not to keep coming back to the legacy of Frank Guida. Legrand may have been the most recognizable imprint in Guida's empire due in large part to chart topper Gary U.S. Bonds, but S.P.Q.R. was arguably Frank's most consistent label, with a catalog boasting the bulk of Jimmy Soul's output as well as some of Lenis Guess's most successful outings, not to mention the lone single by Garage Punk legends The Swinging Machine, and Barbara Redd's left field Northern Soul classic "I'll Be All Alone".
But as is the case with the Guida discography by and large, there are quite a few lost treasures awaiting excavation (See: Jimmy "Hot Lungs" Moore). S.P.Q.R 1007 is a particularly interesting number. The A-Side is credited to Floyd & The Flat Foots , the flip to Flair & The Flat Foots. Let's start with the Flair side. Despite its 1967 release, "Hey Boy - Hey Girl" has an early Soul sound that could be at least of '65 or even '64 vintage. Remarkably straight forward in it's approach, "Hey Boy" has that "live-in-the-studio" feel that makes Guida's records so exciting. Nothing too fancy here, just a tight band moving along at a nice clip, sounding like they hit the studio after a late night gig and nailed it in the first take. In this stripped down arrangement, the piano pounds out the rhythm, the guitar keeps pace, stepping out for a nice and concise no frills solo, and the drums...the drums are the basis for all the great Frank Guida productions. They're characteristically huge, with plenty of bottom. The drummer thunders through some crazy rolls that only pick up in intensity as the song progresses.
The lyrics aren't anything ground breaking, just direct and heartfelt. It's the way they're delivered that catches your ear. "Flair" is belting it out, maybe not silky smooth, but raw, honest, immediate and going for it. The back up singers are great too with their "Hey, hey, hey, girl! / Is it Love?" response. A winner from start to finish, this record's got charm to spare.
If "Hey Boy - Hey Girl" is a bit of a throw back for 1967, the "plug" side of this single is down right anachronistic. Floyd & The Flat Foots' "John Fuzz" is rockin' R'n'B that could be straight outta the early 60's. Opening with the theme from "Dragnet", "John Fuzz" lays out the misadventures of a sad sack cop who gets hit in the head with a mustard jar while trying to break up a domestic dispute, slips on a banana peel while walking his beat, and ends up in the hospital with a busted jaw after trying to recover a stolen car. Then in the final verse there's a slight change of heart as the cop's tormentors sort of take pity on the poor underpaid officer, a nice enough guy who never complains, even when he saved that kid stuck in a pipe. "He's alright!", they declare. Gee, thanks!
"John Fuzz" is more in line with the "novelty" tag applied to many of Guida's records. Apparently, Frank must have believed in this odd ball ditty on some level, because he waited another two years to re-release it (not an uncharacteristic move) as the debut of his New Faces '69 label. This time around "Fuzz" was preposterously credited to The Virginia's Employment Commission with the parenthetical tag "Hire Through". Is there any way the actual state agency known as the Virginia Employment Commission signed off on this? Seems unfathomable, but Mr. Guida could be very persuasive, and it was the late 60's.
The flipside of "John Fuzz", "Don't Go To Strangers" appears to be a left over track from the original Flat Foot sessions with Flair taking over lead vocal duties again, this time joined by a small horn section. Though not as fully realized as "Fuzz" and "Hey Boy - Hey Girl", "Strangers" is still a pretty solid ballad. It's not hard to imagine it being a show stopper in a live set. You can almost envision a female version of James Brown falling to her knees, pleading a la "Please, Please, Please" as a the Flat Foots' answer to Danny Ray comes out to drape a cape over her shoulders.
Flair & The Flat Foots "Hey Boy - Hey Girl"
Floyd & The Flat Foots / Virginia's Employment Commission "John Fuzz"
Virginia's Employment Commission "Don't Go To Strangers"
Saturday, March 27, 2010
The first half of the 1970's saw Norfolk record mogul Leroy Little on a bit of a roll. Having just inked a national deal with King Records for his Tri-Us label and it's most successful artist Little Royal, Mr. Little continued to deliver a steady stream of singles on a local level with his Tri-It and Tri-Som imprints. These sister labels lacked the wide spread distribution of Tri-Us, which is a shame because there were a number of outstanding releases between the two that deserved more attention than they received initially.
One interesting example of a Tri-It single that refused to go away quietly is Sebastian's "Living In Depression". It's essentially Little Royal & The Swingmasters' finely honed (and previously released) funk instrumental "Razor Blade" plus overdubbed vocals courtesy of the legendary Sebastian Williams (and Leroy's son Keith at the controls in the studio). "Depression" was released on three different labels in 1975, Tri-It and Pesante out of Norfolk, as well as New York's Brown Dog. Despite these efforts it never achieved the success of the original instrumental version, which held the coveted flipside of Little Royal's biggest commercial success "Jealous".
This brings us to another Swingmasters 45, "Boogie on Down", released a year earlier in 1974 on Guess Records. In this case it would appear that it was the Swingmasters record that added overdubs to a pre-existing track. "I Think I'll Fall In Love" by Willie Brown on Tri-Som, is a killer funky soul tune utilizing the exact same backing track as "Boogie On Down". For all intents and purposes the instrumental B-Side of "I Think I'll Fall In Love" is "Boogie On Down" minus the boisterous band banter and some tastefully placed piano.
In contrast to "Living In Depression", Willie Brown's "I Think I'll Fall in Love" has a more natural flow, no doubt helped by the song's more manageable pace. Despite Sebastain's valiant effort, his vocals on "Depression" almost have the quality of being in competition with the backing track, seeming somewhat rushed in spots, and every now and then even drowned out by the music. "I Think I'll Fall In Love" feels more like a song intended to have lyrics. Interestingly, the Willie Brown record makes no mention of The Swingmasters, not even on the instrumental flip. While "Boogie On Down" credits Leroy Little as the sole songwriter with no mention of Garfield Williams and Leroy Tuna, the team credited with writing "I Think I'll Fall In Love". Was Leroy Tuna a pseudonym for Leroy Little? Yet another interesting mystery to be solved.
Willie Brown cut one more single for Leroy Little, this time on Tri-It. Recorded at Brockington & Guess Studio in Norfolk with backing from the mighty Raw Soul, the top side, "Get Out And Get It", is no doubt as solidly funky as you'd expect, but it's the atmospheric B-Side that's most striking.
"Love That Stranger" does indeed sound like it's from some far off place, perhaps not even of this world. At the center of this unusual arrangement is a cavernous organ sound embellished with shimmering vibraphone effects. Intricate yet soulful jazz guitar drifts in and out as subtly funky drums serve as the anchor. Brown echoes himself on double tracked vocals, including a fragile falsetto that levitates above it all, as he pleads for forgiveness after being away from home too long.
Despite there being no backing band credited on "Love That Stranger", it's a pretty safe bet that Reno Renaldie's cleverly named outfit The Reno Expedition holds that honor. In fact, the Expedition's only single, the instrumental "Ain't Nothing But A Party" (also on Tri-it) almost sounds like a pitched-up run through of "Stranger". Well, at least the organ and drums do, conjuring images of some frenzied shindig at the local roller rink.
Willie Brown "I Think I'll Fall In Love"
Willie Brown "Love That Stranger"
The Reno Expedition "Ain't Nothing But A Party"
***Please check out the Ol' Virginia Soul: Encore! CD for "Living In Depression" as well as Brent Hosier's touching tribute to the late, great Sebastian "Plut" Williams, a true gentleman and a giant of Virginia Soul, loved and missed by many.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
In 1959, a fifteen year old Walter Williams cut a pair of duets with his sister Lola for Richmond's legendary Nu Kat label. The record, "No Mercy" b/w "Broken Heart", was Walter's first as a featured artist, but he had already made a name for himself as leader of Lil Walter's Band, the backing combo credited on most of Nu Kat's early releases.
Five years later, The Walter Williams Show unleashed the super raw two-sider "Hootenanny Stomp" b/w "The Cat" for Turn-Tage, one of a handful of small labels under the auspices of Joe Turnage's Church Hill Records, Richmond's primary black owned record store.
"Lil" Walter Williams remained a fixture on the city's ultra competitive Soul scene, becoming one of its best known band leaders. His band worked extensively with the superb vocal group The Bonnevilles, to the point where they were commonly billed as Lil Walter & The Bonnevilles. The Bonnevilles would go on to record for Now Records in D.C. (sans Lil Walter) backed by fellow Richmonders Zeke & The Soul Setters.
It would be some ten years until Lil Walter's third single saw the light of day. Recorded in 1975 at Alpha Audio, "Funk Train" dramatically illustrates how much things had changed since Walter got his start way back in the 50's. It also shows the development of an artist who was able to adapt and stay very relevant. Despite being a sage veteran at this point, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Walter was still a young man in his early 30's.
The cleverly dubbed "Average Black & White Band" was indeed an integrated outfit but we would argue that these guys were a least a cut above average. "Funk Train" chugs along propelled by some super tight drums (especially the cymbal work!) and Lil Walter's own thunderous bass line. The horn section locks in and keeps everything on point, but it's a white keyboard whiz known simply as "Sweat" who steals the show.
The flip "Everyday Life" offers a nice change of pace with a classy deep ballad. We again refer you to Sir Shambling's wonderful Deep Soul Heaven for a listen.
In an unusual development, "Funk Train" was later renamed "Do The Rope 'Pee' Dope" and white stickers displaying the new title were placed on the labels of remaining copies of the record. One can only assume the change paid homage to Heavyweight Champ Muhammad Ali, who famously employed the "rope-a-dope" strategy in legendary bouts against George Foreman and Joe Frazier in the mid 70's. Whether this move translated into more record sales is anyone's guess.
Special thanks to Brent Hosier for his invaluable information on Lil Walter Williams. Without him this entry wouldn't have been possible. Please check out Brent's outstanding Ol' Virginia Soul Part 1 CD for more information on Mr. Joe Turnage, Turn-Tage Records and much, much more!
Lil Walter and The Average Black & White Band "Funk Train"
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Rising from the ashes of Southside Richmond teen outfit the L'Sabres, a new band clad in black, faces covered in white corpse paint, made their mark on the city's burgeoning rock scene in the mid 60's. The Deadbeats stayed true to their garage roots, but took things in a decidedly more soulful direction. In '66 the lads hit the notoriously low-fi Richmond Sound Stages at 2314 W. Cary Street to bang out their first record, self-released on the Greenedeem label. The top side, "Movin' Out", is a fairly typical blue-eyed take on the Stax/Volt sound of the day, owing more than a passing nod to Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour". The flip, "Hearsin' Around" is a sleazy instrumental just right for midnight creepin', named for the morbid ride The Deadbeats drove to gigs.
The ensuing year and a half after this first release saw the band (many of whose members were still in high school) continue to mature, ditching the stage make up and honing its sound. The Deadbeats cut two more singles, both of which had the same pairing: "No Second Chance" b/w "Why Did You". The first recording of these songs was another characteristically muddy Richmond Sound Stages production with an extremely small press run (possibly 100). Think of it as a rough draft for what was about to come.
In mid '67 the band traveled up to Philadelphia to re-cut both tracks in an real recording studio. The result, released on the Strata label, is a perfectly realized two sided Garage-Soul stomper. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the record from quickly sinking into obscurity during "The Summer of Love".
These days the Strata issue of "No Second Chance" is by far The Deadbeats' most sought after 45, demanding big bucks amongst record aficionados and packing dance floors at Soul nights the world over. Both sides can be found on the awesome Ol' Virginia Soul Part 2 CD, along with plenty more information about one of Richmond's legendary bands.
The Dynamic Deadbeats Band "Movin' Out"
The Dynamic Deadbeats Band "Hearsin' Around"