June 13 – 26, 1968
The visit to Chicago was quite successful even if took some time to get to know the city. I made the mistake to arrive too close to the weekend and didn’t have the opportunity to meet the right people to tell me what was happening. A couple of days were wasted when I ran around and never really found what I was looking for.
There were many artists from Chicago that I really wanted to meet and see in action. At least they recorded in Chicago but maybe lived elsewhere. I didn’t know. The last couple of years a few great LPs had been released on the English President label.
McKinley Mitchell and Alvin Cash had solo albums and then there was the collection with artists like Otis Clay, Johnny Sayles, Willie Parker, the Five Du-tones and last but not least Harold Burrage. There had been similar collections from the Chess/Checker labels but this was the hard gospel based soul I liked best.
Of course I liked artists like Jerry Butler, whom I already had seen at the Apollo, or Betty Everett, Gene Chandler, Dee Clark and Major Lance, but my biggest favourite was still McKinley Mitchell. I had seen Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Rush, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy at the American Folk Blues Festivals. I had most records released in Europe with these artists. But many of them had obviously passed their peaks while many of the soul artists were at the height of their powers. And I wanted to see them.
Thursday, June 13
It was a rainy day in New York but the sun shone in Chicago when I left the plane. I had befriended Jim from Memphis on the plane. He had ridden for a while with the Hells Angels. The rate at the YMCA was $4 per night. It was too expensive for me and I started looking in the back streets. Jim tagged along, but I started to understand that he was not a great follower of Martin Luther King. He would only detain me in my research. On a parallel street to South Michigan Avenue lay The New Leonard (544 State Street) with the moderate price of $11.25 per week. It was integrated and most of their patrons were black. Jim left without a word when he realized this.
Signs on the walls said that it was forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages in the rooms, or have other visitors than the legal wife. In fact not unreasonable demands as the original rooms were divided into half with masonite walls thus making the rooms totally lacking sound protection. The pendant lamp was just a naked light bulb lit by a string.
My next door neighbour, however seemed to be constantly drunk and the paper basket in the communal toilet and shower-room was always filled with empty bottles of classic port-wine and muscatel brands like Hunts White Port. I started to use that too and my favourite was Georgia Peach Wine. Sometimes I had to step over a one-legged war veteran from WWII or Korea who had passed out during his washing routine. His crutches and false teeth were on the floor.
A communal closet had a one flame gas stove for cooking. It lacked cooking utensils so once I put a can of pork and beans on it. When I came back after the shower it was missing. I cursed the dishonest patrons but eventually saw the exploded tin on the floor. The wall was full of beans and tomato sauce but it was not easy to spot among old stains already there …
The staff was very friendly and helpful. I especially remember the clerk in the reception. He had his larynx removed and talked with the help of a vibrator held on his Adam’s apple. Foreign tourists were rare here.
I checked the surroundings. Houses in the neighbourhood were run down despite the closeness to the city center. The Lexington hotel at (South) Michigan Avenue nearby, had been Al Capone’s headquarter.
Friday, June 14
It was time to get to work. My goal was to understand the whole picture of the soul music scene in Chicago by visiting clubs, record companies, recording studios and radio stations and meet artists, DJs and industry officials. My first stop was Chess Records at 2120 South Michigan Avenue. This address, which also was a title of a Rolling Stones’ instrumental had stuck in my mind. But Chess had moved, with no forwarding address posted at the door. I walked by Vee Jay’s closed doors at number 1449. They had been bankrupt since a couple of years and the premises had later been taken over by Dakar. Impulse had Gabor Szabo albums in their windows. A couple of ethnic companies were selling polka music. In the window of Bunky Records at 1421 were the cover of the Esquires’ first album. Constellation Records had previously been a tenant there. (When I later met the Esquires, their bass-singer Mill Edwards/Evans told me that he was currently living at 627 East 87th in Chicago. I found Chess’ new address and One-derful! Records in the yellow pages.)
I started feeling disappointed and lost and asked people for help. They recommended a visit to the Regal theater and to the entertainment district at the North Side of Chicago.
First I checked the North side and found the Happy Medium (901 N. Rush). The Younger Brothers’ name in big letters was on their marque. I had heard a fast, harmonica instrumental with them in Sweden. At other establishments I found nothing of interest.
I went to 47th Street and to 4719 S. Parkway and The Regal Theater. It was a pretty rough neighbourhood and had visible signs from the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King three months earlier. It was in the afternoon. Children in dirty and raggedy clothes were playing outside.
I went directly inside when I saw the names on the marque:
Stevie Wonder/Archie Bell and the Drells/Jive Five/Detroit Emeralds/Jean Wells/Maurice and Mac/Shelley Fisher/Soul Crusaders Orchestra.
The ticket price was around $2. The big room looked pretty worn down. I remember it as slightly smaller than the Apollo, but wider. Their chairs were more narrow and space for legs was less.
I took a seat to the left in the fifth or sixth row. The stage was pretty high up and my eyes almost at the same level sitting so close to it.
Shelley Fisher opened and he sang two numbers on the first show: “On A Clear Day” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” At the second show he also did Lou Rawls classic about the tough life in Chicago, “Dead End Street,” and also had the opportunity to dance a little.
I was not so impressed as his background was jazz and more for fans of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. But he didn’t reach the heights of his inspirations. I later found a couple of records by him on VeeJay which were not very memorable either for a soul fan.
Maurice and Mac were next. They were Chicago’s answer to Sam & Dave. They had based their performance on them and Mac was a good enough dancer to almost fill the role. Maurice was a little hoarse that day and didn’t really get a chance to show what a fantastic singer he is. Which everybody who has heard the Radiants recordings can hear. (But I was not yet aware of that both came from that group.) Their You Left The Water Running was much heard on the radio then.
Jean Wells was at the second stop of her Chitlin’ Circuit tour. Her performance was pretty identical to what she had done at the Apollo the week before (Try Me And See and Have A Little Mercy). Here she also did Giving Up that Gladys Knight and the Pips made early in their career. Jean’s interpretation of this outstanding number confirmed my impression that she was one of the very best soul singers in USA. I saw this rather short singer on three occasions but I never took the chance to interview her.
Shout Magazine in England later published an article that I wrote with Tony Cummings that had some biographical data; She was born in West Palm Beach, Florida on August 1, 1942. After the obligatory learning period in different church choirs she debuted on record in Philadelphia 1959. (Many of my favourite soul singers happen to be from Georgia and Florida.)
The Detroit Emeralds were a great group with four fine male singers that had not gotten so much big stage practice yet.
First they did “Day tripper” and “Ode to Billy Joe” and then they asked the audience: “What time is it?!” Before the audience had a chance to answer they themselves did: “Showtime!”
“Showtime” was a great song that referred to Wilson Pickett, James Brown and Otis Redding and their recording successes. They recorded for Ric Tic, one of Detroit’s best soul companies. When I started buying their records I never found “Showtime” despite the fact that it had entered Billboard’s Hot 100 in March of 1968.
The Jive Five had accompanied Jean Wells from the Apollo theater and they again showed what a great group they were. Eugene Pitt sang lead on “Cry Like A Baby” and “Sugar (Don’t Take Away My Candy)” and the group member with a shaved head (not so common then) sang lead on “No More Tears” which had been added since the Apollo show and was just as good as their other Musicor recordings; their record company then.
Archie Bell and the Drells never showed up. Their manager (Skipper Lee) later explained that it was a false group and that he had stopped them.
Now the curtain was closed. It was time for Stevie Wonder! (It was at this stage that he recorded “Fingertips” five years earlier.)
When the curtain was pulled aside he was sitting at his electric piano. He was one of the best Motown artists and his recordings were always of top quality.
First he sang and played “Shoo-Be-Doo—Be-Doo-Da-Day” and one about “The Life of Jimmy Brown.” He then stood up and did the best song of the show: “I Was Made To Love Her.” The excitement also mounted when he probably unintentionally almost tripped and fell over an electric cord. Stevie had brought his own musical director who also assisted him on stage. They walked to the drum set and Stevie did “My Baby.” His drumming was much appreciated and he was taken back to the piano and did a number I think was called “Soul Talk” where he played chromatic harmonica just like Toots Thielemans.
He closed the show doing ‘Uptight’ standing up behind the piano. Musically it had been quite satisfying but he was not a great performer and he was unable to connect with the audience like Ray Charles. He simply didn’t seem comfortable on stage. I was slightly disappointed and he didn’t do any better at the second show. I had probably seen the very first performances of this week at the Regal Theatre. Jean Wells and the Jive Five came directly from the Apollo where a new week also started on the Friday afternoon. The others had probably rehearsed the show yesterday and today. In fact the Soul Crusaders Orchestra seemed a bit tired.
My lasting impression was that the Apollo shows were slightly better. They focused more on the small details trying to make everything perfect. I guess the Regal show improved as the days passed. (The owners later went bankrupt and the Regal was closed in 1968 and the building was torn down in 1973.)
Saturday, June 15
I went to Chess Records new address at 320 East 21st St. It was closed on weekends but the reception was manned and there were a couple of people in the foyer. I was not able to get their attention and was only answered very briefly so I left.
I had found good soul music on station WVON at 3350 S. Kedze. It was my next stop but I got lost and never found it. I had also noted that the Ter-Mar studios where Chess recorded were at 2030 S. Calumet. But I never came there either. Instead I more or less wandered around aimlessly and found nothing of interest.
What to do tonight? I was again following a recommendation by someone in the street to go to the North Side. I found a club with a Louis Prima inspired trumpeter. His gift to musical history might have been playing on two trumpets simultaneously but it felt like a wasted day. Where were all soul artists?
On my way home on S. Michigan Avenue, near my hotel, there was a jazz club. The door was open but the orchestra had taken a break. I walked in and was almost immediately approached by a woman selling sex. So I left.
Sunday, June 16
Rather aimlessly I went out early looking for a black church. But the people standing outside seemed very well-adjusted and middle class and for some reason I did not feel welcome or comfortable and I left.
I later found myself at an outdoor concert at South Parkway. It was not good enough for me to take any notes. At night I went to The Club (5523 State St).
I had seen a poster on the town and made an association to Little Milton singing “Welcome To The Club” (original by Lee Shot Williams). It was a jazz club with a small cocktail drinking clientele. The revue had a jazz combo, a couple of pretty sophisticated vocalists, a comedian and a couple of dancers. The night was hosted by the conferencier from the Regal Theatre and we talked a little.
With audience sounds and ice cubes in drinks it was as close I got that summer to Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd” (or to similar music by the Young Holt Trio).
I was not happy with this day either.
Monday, June 17
During my Sunday walk I had seen a poster about a gospel concert where The Mighty Voices of The Tabernacle and Professor Charles Taylor & The Taylor Singers were the major attractions. It took place at Dunbar Vocational High School on 2900 South Parkway. Barbara Acklin and Bobby Rush had studied there before.
The school was located in a well-to-do district and the audience seemed affluent too. They was quite well dressed and many wore fur coats in the middle of summer.
Before the first part of the evening Father Hayes welcomed the audience and the artists and read from the bible. This was the first annual Pentecostal Musical there. Then Bob Weaver from radio station WBEE took over.
The Voices of the Cosmopolitan were first. This forty-member choir resided in Father Hayes church. Their lead soloist Cynthia Price sang like Aretha Franklin. She was quite good and if desired could be a fine soul singer.
Delois Barrett Campbell & Barrett Sisters followed. They sounded fine and reminded me of the Soul Sisters that had records out on English Sue Records and a following there.
Professor Taylor sang and played the piano. Behind him stood a small group of female singers. And when the holy spirit filled him he rose up and danced – not unlike James Brown. A fine performance.
The Mighty Voices of the Tabernacle from Detroit closed the first part of the show. Their leader and conductor (Charles Prey?) also danced around on stage.
After a short break all artists did another set. But at the very end it was announced that a surprise guest was there. Charles Hayes walked forward to the end of the stage and pointed at a woman. It was Mahalia Jackson! Charles pretended that he was as surprised as we to see her there and after a little persuasion Mahalia walked on stage.
When she started singing it was like an electric current had hit the audience and a hurricane hit the building. People rose up, clapped their hands and screamed.
My next seat neighbour, a conservatively dressed young man in his best suit and in my own age raised his hands in what looked like a black power salute. He rose up and started running but tripped on my feet and fell to the floor. Then followed what seemed like a grand mal epileptic fit. I was worried. Two to three nurses were now running around helping people in the stalls. But I saw none in the balcony where I sat. Mahalia sang two or three numbers and finally my neighbour came through. He sat up with a smile on his face. He was certainly not a case for the medical sciences. He had been hit with a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit. And all the commotion and all the people who fell out in ecstasy had only increased this excitement. This was my first ever gospel concert or should I say school concert. The world’s greatest gospel singer is there and sings. In fact the best female singer in all categories of the 20th century!
My luck had turned. I was on the right track.
Tuesday, June 18
The radio worked well all summer. Whenever hearing something worthwhile on the radio I wrote down the name of the artist and song and passed judgement in my 8 graded scale. The radio was always on when I was in my hotel room whether I corrected and rewrote my interviews or ate.
WVON was the station I listened to most. And WGRT, which had slightly better music.
These songs, that I heard in Chicago, were worth buying. My special favourites of these new discoveries have a *.
“Working On A Groovy Thing” – Patti Drew “Save Your Love” – Bobby Bland “What Is This” – Bobby Womack (*) “Slip Away” – Clarence Carter “Grazing In The Grass” – Hugh Masakela “Love Makes A Woman” – Barbara Acklin “Security” – Etta James (*) “Paying The Cost To Be The Boss” – BB King “There Was A Time” – James Brown “Dark End Of The Street” – Little Milton (*)“(You Keep Me) Hangin On” – Joe Simon “Tuff Enough” – Junior Wells“Never Give You Up” – Jerry Butler “Turn On Your Love Light” – Bill Blacks Combo “I’m Getting Along Alright” – Raelets “Here Comes The Judge” – Pigmeat Markham “I Know I Can” – Esquires “You’re Losing Me” – Barbara Lynn “Satisfy My Soul” – John Brown “I’m Sorry” – Delfonics “Here I Am Baby” – Marvelettes “Soul Picnic” – Fifth Dimension “He Don’t Really Love You” – Delfonics “Got To Have Money” – Bobby Welch “Save Your Love” – Solomon Burke “I Wanna Know” – Jimmy Soul Clark“River Of Tears” – Gene Chandler “It Should Have Been Me” – Gladys Knight & The Pips“Tell Me The Truth” – Billy Stewart “Stay in My Corner” – The Dells “The Woman I Love” – BB King “My Kind Of Woman” – Jimmy McCracklin “Yours Until Tomorrow” – Vivian Reed “Two Can Make a Couple” – Johnny Kirk & Lily-Ann “Working On A Groovy Thing” – Miss Danny Bruce
Every tenth song on the radio was by James Brown. Aretha Franklin was very often heard too. There was a lot of Tamla Motown material and light weight soul. The deep, heavy, hard gospel styled soul was more of an exception. At every soul station you could hear songs not heard else where. In Chicago but not in other cities I heard for example John Brown, Bobby Welch, Johnny Kirk & Lily Ann and Miss Danny Bruce.
Today I went directly to One-derful! at 1827 S. Michigan Avenue. The office was a couple of kilometers from my hotel. Present there was Eddie Silvers, their musical leader, and after a while the owner George Leaner showed up. They seemed happy to see me and asked what had brought me there. I told them about the profound impact the records on their labels One-derfull! and Mar-v-lus and M-Pac had made on me.
My own favourites were McKinley Mitchell, of course, and Harold Burrage, plus Otis Clay, the great Johnny Sayles and Willie Parker’s fantastic You Got Your Finger In My Eye etc. The blues recordings from Chicago in the mid-60s didn’t have the same intensity as these artists.
Betty Everett, a great Vee Jay star, had done very well with Your Love Is Important To Me on George’s company.
Alvin Cash and the Crawlers (or Registers) with Twine Time and Alvin’s Boogaloo were just as good as – or even better – than Booker T. and the MGs.
One-derful!’s office and studio were on the first floor and below, on the ground floor were United Record Distributors office and warehouse. It was run by Ernie Leaner, George’s brother.
Eddie Silvers showed me around. Their studio laid empty. It seemed no new recordings were planned.
One-derful! became my headquarters in Chicago. George Leaner was always welcoming and liked to talk about black music and culture, even if my language skills were not always on the level that I could follow. In fact the staff was so nice that I didn’t bother to go back to Chess, where both Johnny Sayles and McKinley Mitchell had tried their luck after One-derful!.
When I told George about Mahalia Jackson he said that she’s a very unhappy woman.
But at my first visit I wanted to know where I could see all these fantastic artists live. In fact all others singing in the same style.
Harold Burrage was dead. His heart had been weak. His recordings of “Got To Find A Way” and “Master Key” had made a big impression on me. McKinley didn’t work much anymore but I got his phone-number and address. I also got the number to Willie Parker.
Otis Clay was not in town. George sounded sad when he told me that he had lost him to Cotillion records, a subsidiary to Atlantic Records. His first recording, Sir Douglas Quintet’s She’s About A Mover, was getting airplay in the southern states during my continued travels.
Billy “The Kid” Emerson only appeared at very small clubs. It was difficult to find out where he was, said George.
Sometimes there were a drop of bitterness or sarcasm in his voice when George talked about the music business. He had stopped going to clubs.
McKinley had been the biggest club draw in Chicago for a short while. Then the fans flocked where ever he appeared. George was born into show business. Artists like Billie Holiday stayed in the Leaner home while on tour.
He promised to try to get Alvin Cash and McKinley Mitchell to the office so I could interview them.
George also recommended me to see his former right hand – a woman in her 30s – who had opened her own business in the same block. She was getting ready to meet people in the business to launch her own record company and artist Bobby King.
High Chaparral and the Scott Brothers Revue
That night I went to High Chaparral. One of three recommended soul clubs. It was a very big place and could probably hold 1000 (seated and standing) customers. First I entered a room with tables and a big bar and then a staircase led to the dance floor. There tables were located around a square stage which looked like a boxing ring without ropes. This was the place that Bobby Bland used to appear at, and Sam & Dave and even James Brown before they got too big.
Not many people were there. Only the tables directly around the stage were occupied.
The Scott Brothers started the evening with Alvin Cash’s Keep On Dancing and Cliff Noble’s The Horse, and Moaning And Groaning.
During The Horse the Go Go Dancers Vickie & Joy shook their hips energetically. Then Scott sister Irene Scott did Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” and continued with Aretha’s sister Erma’s “Piece Of My Heart” plus “After Loving You” and “Knock On Wood.” The Scott Brothers did a medley called “Got To Get A Groove” that gave Vickie & Joy plenty of room. They were also called the two T-s and one was skinny and the other chubby. They didn’t stand still in one place but walked back and forth along the sides of the square stage swinging their hips keeping time with the music.
The comedian Manuel Arrington gave the musicians a chance to rest during a comic interlude before he presented the members of the Revue as the “Doctors of Soul.”
Then it was time for James Bennett, who like so many others that summer was an able James Brown imitator. But he declared that he was more comfortable with slow numbers.
Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man”Walter Jackson’s “Speak Her Name”James Brown’s “Lickin’ Stick”Lou Rawls’ “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing”James Brown’s “There Was A Time”
The six members of the Scott Brothers deserve credit for a job well done this evening.
It had been enjoyable but without any extraordinary experiences.
Wednesday, June 19
I tried to get hold of Willie Parker on the phone (815-723-6553) mornings and afternoons, but he never answered. Perhaps he was at work in Joliet, Illinois where he lived. I went back to One-derful! and interviewed Eddie Silvers and had a long talk with George Leaner.
Eddie Silvers was born in Kansas City 1928. He was a reed man playing saxophone and flute. He was married to Mary Brown born 1941 and one of the earliest members of the Ikettes. They had met when Eddie was playing with Ike Turner. But first he started with Big Joe Turner and then (1954-1956) was with Paul Williams and 1956-1959 with Fats Domino.
In 1959 he joined the Upsetters, Little Richards former backing group which continued on their own after Richard had quit show business. Then followed Ike Turner’s Kings Of Rhythm during the time Ike & Tina had a giant hit with It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.
Later Eddie worked with Bill Doggett, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. He can be seen in the films The Big Beat and The Girl Can’t Help It.
He had also worked with Little Johnny “Part Time Love” Taylor and was arranger and musician at Duke/Peacock Records. For example on a session with the blind singer Clarence Carter, probably when he was a member of the duo Clarence and Calvin.
Nowadays he used to play with Mighty Joe Young during weekends.
During his time with One-derful!/Mar-V-Lus Eddie worked as an arranger for Alvin Cash and Otis Clay and others.
He was also a song writer. He especially mentioned the song Big Boy that he had arranged and written for the group The Jackson Five. I had never heard about them at this time. “It was their very first record,” Eddie said. “A group of young boys and the lead singer looks like eight years.” (Later, I have always thought that Eddie was talking about “I’m A Big Boy Now” which the Jackson Five recorded a little later for Steeltown. But an article in Washington post by Aaron Cohen in 2014 announces that the original Big Boy had been found in the One-derful! vaults. Wikipedia says that Ed Silvers is the composer.)
Eddie also mentioned that many of his contemporary musicians had thought that they needed drugs like Charlie Parker to be outstanding. I also wrote down the names of Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley and Brother Jack McDuff. I guess that he had also played with them, or that they were among his favourite musicians.
I told him about the poor reception I had received at Chess Records. He suggested I contact Marshall Chess, the son of the Chess brothers or Ralph Bass there.
I always used to asked everybody I met about James Brown and Ike and Tina Turner. Ed simply said that Ike was a mean character. While George Leaner added that James Brown probably was much older than everybody thought. He was supposed to have appeared in a circus as a child as early as 1928. Now he was in his mid forties.
Eddie also wrote down names of recommended clubs to visit:
Bonanza Club (7640 Halstead)
Checkmate (at 55th and Calumet)
The Place (619 east 63rd ), where the Mustangs resided
High Chaparral (7740 Stoney Island and busses 63-77)
Blue Flame (809 E. Oakwood)
Packin’ Room (71st east of Jeffery)
On the West side, which is a rougher part of Chicago: Mama Blues, Papa Blues, Silvios, Cheetah (4800 N. 900 W), Mr Fox.
One of One-derful!’s talent scouts, a man of circa 35 years, checked the list and made a couple of additions.
But when Eddie and George discussed whether there were any good shows in town they settled with Sarah Vaughn. The week after there was an evening with Billy Eckstine that they mentioned.
Later I knocked on George’s door. He didn’t seem to have much to do these days. He appeared to have lost interest in the music business. But he remarked, without being patronizing that my own interest bordered on religion. Which also was a nice way to say that I was a fanatic.
His own family had been active in the music business since the early 1900s.
He knew a bit about Swedish Jazz, which he held in high esteem, and he mentioned baritone sax player Lars Gullin’s name.
George preferred the big picture rather than getting involved in the details. It was surprising that he’d rather talk about black music’s place in society in general than about his time as an assistant to Lester Melrose for example. His favourite word in these discourses was “ethnic.”
But I understood that he had known Big Maceo and nowadays his son. But he never talked about Little Walter and the other blues artists that he and his brother Ernie had recorded for Parkway in 1950.
He was quite frank when he talked about his own artists.
He seemed sincerely sorry to have lost Otis Clay. He felt that McKinley Mitchell was limited as a singer as he had no timing.
“Wonder Boy?!”- I will never forget his distorted facial expression and his sad and sarcastic laughter when he mentioned his name. I could understand that Wonder Boy had not fulfilled the promise George had had. That the picture “Wonder Boy” had of himself was not materialized in real life. Perhaps his facial expression also meant that he felt that Tyrone was too self-centered. It was evident that George felt that his stake on Davis had been wasted.
Still not long after this conversation Tyrone “Wonder Boy” Davis became a national sensation and the biggest soul star in Chicago on the Dakar label.
He had great expectations on The Sharpees (“I’m So Tired Of Being Lonely”). It was a very good vocal group that could have been the equals of the Temptations. But they fought among themselves and eventually he got tired of them.
He also felt that that Alvin Cash group should be named the Registers and not the Crawlers. George also talked about the promotional tours he had made to the south to sell their soul artists recordings.
Alvin Cash and McKinley had been contacted but they had not yet been at the office.
In the evening I went to the Bonanza Club which was located on 7640 So. Halstead. It was exciting to travel this way with the elevated train. It screeched its way on a wooden platform which from time to time felt unsteady. With every stop the number of black people increased. Imposing wooden apartment houses stood down yonder. They seemed to be created for musical house parties. I had a romantic view on life there. It must be a symphony of sensual pleasures with music, sex, liquor, drugs, gambling – every forbidden vice in fact. I daydreamed about it while the train slowly moved forward.
Outside the Bonanza a friendly guy introduced me to Pat. He said that he was working as a PR-man and talent scout for One-derful! records. (George didn’t confirm or deny Pat’s claim afterwards. They obviously knew each other.)
Pat was something of a jack of all trades at the Bonanza but he was kept in a rather short leach by the club manager Mr Edward.
The club was owned by Rudy Howard. I asked Pat about McKinley Mitchell and Pat answered that he was at the High Chaparral and that he himself was going there later. I think the Bonanza was closed that night since the whole staff was going to High Chaparral. It was still daylight outside so I walked through pretty empty quarters. I always tried to look efficient and walk fast under those circumstances and not giving anyone the impulse to rob me. During third and fourth grade I had trained track running with classmate and later Olympic gold medal winner Anders Gärderud (1976; 3000 meter steeplechase) so I thought optimistically that I could run away from any perpetrator.
There was music coming out from the open windows. But most often it was Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have A Dream.”
Almost at my goal I walked through some rather disorderly business blocks. Suddenly a police car drove up by my side and I was asked what I was doing there. I tried to explain and the policeman said “Take a taxi, these are dangerous streets to walk around all alone.” I waited until the police car was out of sight and then continued on foot the last stretch of a highway-like road out to Stony Island Ave. It was dark outside now but the road was lit by good street lights.
At High Chaparral I was welcomed with open arms and a couple of free drinks. Pat introduced me to the Scott Brothers, Reggie Soul, James Bennett and Joan, Bonanza’s very attractive cocktail waitress.
Unfortunately, McKinley Mitchell was not there but I believe that Pat wanted me to get acquainted with the Scott Brothers, using McKinley as bait. The same thing happened again, especially in New Orleans. Manuel Arrington was the MC and comedian also this night and he introduced me from stage when the show was about to begin. I rose up and got a little sparse applause.
The Scott Brothers Orchestra were:
Howard Scott (bass and vocal), Walter Scott (guitar), John Jackson (tenor sax), Bill McFarland (trombone), George Robinson (trumpet), Ira Gates (drums).
Howard told me that the orchestra could be heard on such outstanding recordings as Otis Clay’s “Don’t Pass Me By” and Alvin Cash’s “The Barracuda” and also their latest release. They had worked with Monk Higgins and can be heard on many of his productions and have accompanied Tyrone “Wonder Boy” Davis.
They had produced Reggie Soul’s “My World Of Ecstasy” on Capri Records.
They were contracted to Mercury but planned to leave in a month when the contract expired.
In all there were ten brothers in the Scott family and all sing and play.
During this night’s set with the Scott Brothers Revue Irene Scott sang Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You” and James Bennett did Wilson Pickett’s “You’re Looking Good” and James Brown’s “I Got The Feeling.”
I also met the owner of High Chaparral who was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and a shell necklace and his friend Thurman Cooper who was working at the local union – the Chicago Federation of Musicians. Pat gave me some addresses and tips about what to do. He also suggested that I should film the weekend show at the Bonanza. But I said that I could not afford it.
After the show I accompanied James Bennett and his girlfriend to the local train station. Both were very well behaved and sympathetic youngsters in my own age. James was waiting to record his first record on the Capri label with the Scott Brothers.
I never saw his name on a record label afterwards. (Unless he was for example managing LeJam Records in Jackson Mississippi.)
James was soft spoken and quiet and perhaps better suited to be behind the stage than a touring artist.
My budget didn’t allow any taxi travel and I was often sitting at stations waiting for the morning train. There were no trains in the middle of the night. But the night air was cool and refreshing and I was so excited after these Chicago concerts that sleep was impossible anyway.
Thursday, June 20
In the morning I went to the local grocery store to buy food. Among products on a shelf lay a small pile of 45-records with the Upsetters on the Little Star label. Eddie Silvers had told me about his time with the group so I naturally bought one (Valley Of Tears / Freedom Ride). Later playing it, I was surprised to hear Little Richard singing on it.
I continued to call Willie Parker, but he never answered.
Pat had given me the address to WGRT (221 North La Salle, 5th floor) and also written the names of five disc jockeys. Eddie Morrison, Mr Vee, Daddo Daley, Bob or Mr Tucker and Lon Dyson, whose names I marked – perhaps after I met him.
Pat signed his introductory note with: “Tell them Pat from the Bonanza sent you.”
The radio station WGRT was located on the fifth floor in a modern office building in the center of town.
Lyn Dyson was very welcoming, but surprised that I was so interested in the careers of obscure Chicago artists. He seemed both well educated and in good shape physically.
Outside the Bonanza this night, I bumped into the energetic and skinny leader of the Scott Brothers, Howard Scott. He brought me to a record shop nearby and borrowed the gramophone and played a couple of new records that he had produced. It was Fred Johnson’s “Don’t Leave Me” on Shi Lush. Which was a fine Johnny Sayles styled effort. Reggie Soul’s My World Of Ecstacy (Capri 11712) was a more mediocre try in the pop soul genre. I was given copies of both records.
My stay in Chicago circled around the Bonanza, Checkmate and High Chaparral Clubs. In the middle were the Scott Brothers Orchestra. They had the reputation of being Chicago’s top soul band. I think that this reputation was well deserved.
To me they represent the local soul band with large ambitions. They try hard to get a regional reputation and then win success on the national scene.
First and foremost it was about creating a solid stage show and engage good singers and instrumental soloists. And to enlarge the orchestra with more instruments and to launch the singers on their own record labels Shi Lush and Capri. And to work as studio musicians for other artists. And to write their own songs and get hit records.
Howard Scott had written songs like “Got To Get Over” / “I Resign” / “Do You Know What Love Is” / “Teardrops for Syl Johnson” and “Ain’t That Good Enough” for Ira Gates. He had also produced “Ode To A Soul Man” and “I Take Those Skinny Legs” for Syl Johnson.
His Orchestra had appeared in all possible places in Chicago and accompanied Maurice and Mac, Johnny Sayles, Liz Lands, Syl Johnson, Otis Clay, Alvin Cash, Chi-Lites, Bobby Johns, Junior Wells, Garland Green, and others. His Orchestra was good enough to appear at the High Chaparral, Chicago’s biggest soul club, even if it was on days when few people were out.
Tonight Johnny Sayles was going to appear at the Bonanza accompanied by the Scott Brothers Orchestra. The club was located on the corner of 76th Street and Halstead. From the entrance followed a rather wide corridor; where the toilets were, to a large square sized room for patrons. The stage was at the opposite side (to the left) as was the small dressing room. And to the right was the bar.
The club was usually half full and you could sit in the bar and talk without getting too disturbed.
The clubs in the USA were air-conditioned and well ventilated in contrast to English rock-clubs and Swedish very smoky cellar clubs.
The Bonanza club manager mostly stayed in his office. We didn’t have much contact. But I got in free and got a free drink every now and then.
I arrived early as usual and sat and talked with Pat when Joan asked me if I wanted to play a free record on the juke box. I chose my favourite “Looking For A Fox” with Clarence Carter, and without any hidden intentions whatsoever. But I noticed a young man sitting at the bar. He didn’t look happy and he was Joan’s boy friend!
I was saved from making any more mistakes by the arrival of Syl Johnson. His name had been repeatedly mentioned the last days, by for example Howard Scott. But I had not heard any of his records. I don’t think any had been released in Europe so far.
Syl Johnson (6843 South Aberdeen) was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1938 but his family soon moved to Memphis where he stayed until he was 12 years old. Then he came to the south side of Chicago and studied at Drake Grammar School and Wendell Phillips High School. He learned how to play guitar and in 1956 felt proficient enough to back musicians like Eddie Boyd, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells and others, on stage.
In 1958, while appearing with Junior Wells, he started singing. The next year he got a contract with Federal Records where he stayed for 6 years and recorded circa 10 sides/records. This included several fine songs like “Teardrops” / “I Got Love” / “Please, Please, Please” and my own favourite “I Resign.” There Syl delivers a perfect and very exciting tenor falsetto.
He started his own band, first only a four-man rhythm section which in 1965 had grown into a nine-piece band. They performed at The Club and other venues.
Then he came to One-derful! Records and later to St. Lawrence, a Chess subsidiary, where he recorded “Do You Know What Love Is” / “Things Ain’t Right” and “The Love I Found In You.” Then followed Twilight Records (later renamed Twinight) and his so far biggest hit “Sock It To Me” which became a million seller and immortalized this catch phrase. The follow up Different Strokes, another popular phrase, also did extremely well.
He toured all over USA and a couple of weeks later I met him in Memphis where he appeared at the Paradise Club.
Leroy Joyce, a friend of Johnny Sayles from the days when they were in the Five Du-Tones was also at the Bonanza. He lived at 1425 S. Trumbull (Ph: 762-0736). I continued my research and Leroy told me that the group which was formed in 1963 consisted of the following members: Johnny Sayles, Leroy Joyce, Willie Guest, Andrew Butler, Frank McCurrey. All took turns to sing lead. One-derful! gave them a contract and the first record was The Flee.
The next one Cool Bird launched the bird-dance. Leroy claimed that it was the first “bird” recording. Perhaps it was recorded before “The Bird Is The Word” by the Rivingtons which entered the charts at the same time. Leroy also said that he had the reputation of being the fastest bird dancer in the country. Their follow up “Shake a Tail Feather” entered the national charts in 1963 and has since become a classic.
In 1964 the Five Du-Tones toured Europe with the Harlem Globetrotters; a virtuoso basket ball team that featured gifted ball clowns. The group used to perform during the intermissions. The tour included the major cities in England, Germany and France. They also toured a lot in USA. But their follow ups sold poorly and in 1966 the group broke up and Johnny Sayles continued on his own.
Now, there were plans to start all over again because of the renewed interest in “Shake A Tail Feather,” Leroy said.
At the time it was included in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and Ray Charles brought it back in the first Blues Brothers movie (1980). The Bird had also reached England and I was taught the basics there in the summer of 1963. Sometimes in a party mood late at night I might even try to demonstrate it to others, and now I was talking to the fastest Bird dancer in the world. Amazing!”
Musically, The Five Du Tones sounded like other great groups such as the Contours (Do You Love Me) and the Rivingtons (Papa Ooh Mau Mau).
The interview was almost finished when Leroy brought my attention to a short and perhaps even a little stout man with a fine pompadour and a briefcase in his hand who sat on a bar stool a short distance away. It was McKinley Mitchell or Mac, which his friends called him. I only had time to rush towards him, shake his hand and ask him not to leave when the Scott Brothers started playing.
Irene Scott sang her Aretha Franklin inspired set (“Ain’t No Way,” “Baby I Love You,” “After Loving You,” “Knock On Wood”) – songs that I had previously heard with her. Then the Scott Brothers did Gotta Get A Groove while James Bennett did a couple of songs I hadn’t heard him do before like: “In The Midnight Hour” (Wilson Pickett), “Open The Door To Your Heart” (Darrell Banks) and “Something Is Wrong With My Baby” (Sam & Dave). On a couple of James Brown numbers he imitated the master’s dance style.
This was a shortened version of the Scott Brother’s Revue and now it was time for the head attraction Johnny Sayles.
Johnny Sayles was a superb singer. A truly great screamer who in fact even equaled the master of gospel-soul shouting Wilson Pickett himself. He really had the audience in his hand. I understood that he had a very good reputation in Chicago’s south side soul clubs.
I have never before or later been in the proximity of so many truly great soul singers (The only exception was when I, the year before, entered the Stax Volt tour bus for autographs and got signatures from Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Eddie Floyd. Arthur Conley was on the outside. I saw him dancing and disappear round the corner of the Konserthuset …)
Johnny Sayles invited Syl Johnson on stage and he delivered Sock It To Me. It was the first time I heard this fine number. In fact it was so good that he almost outshone Johnny Sayles. Johnny put his arms around Syl and filled in the refrain.
This was part of Sayles repertoire this night:
“Raise Your Hand” (Eddie Floyd), “You Keep Me Hanging On” (Joe Simon), “You’re Looking Good” (Wilson Pickett), “Try A Little Tenderness” (Otis Redding). Plus “Lillie Mae,” his latest on Chess. The Scott Brothers were in top form too. The six members sounded almost as much as the ten-man orchestra led by Chuck-a-Luck Charles that had backed Sam & Dave on their second visit to Stockholm in the fall of 1967.
Johnny Sayles was born in Dallas, Texas on February 9, 1937. Rather early the family moved to St. Louis. From his seventh year he sang with the Tranquil Baptist Choir. He sang with Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm before Tina came in the picture. Since then he has toured and worked with Albert King, Freddie King, The Falcons (when they included Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd), Alvin Cash, Little Milton, the Fifth Dimension, Miles Davis etc. He also sang on “Shake A Tail Feather” with the Five Du Tones.
Shortly after he moved to Chicago. In 1964 he was the first artist on the newly formed Mar-V-Lus – “They created that label for me.” He recorded “Don’t Turn Your Back On Me” and “Got You On My Mind.” In 1966 he came to St Lawrence, the Chess subsidiary, and in November 1966 recorded his greatest hit so far “Never Let Me Go.” Then followed Minit Records (1967) and “Deep Down In My Heart” and “Anything For You.” Then he came back to Chess with “I Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” and his latest “Lillie Mae.” Both were produced by Monk Higgins.
Johnny has toured all over USA and appeared at the leading theaters and Soul clubs. He came to Alaska in 1964. He was booked for six months, but had to stay in two years (1964-65) as the public didn’t want to let him go. Then he was back in Chicago again. He was often booked together with Freddie King.
At the back of the Bonanza room, music business people occupied two tables. I talked to a couple of DJs working at small soul stations. There were also record company people playing in the mid or lower divisions, like Bill Tyson. Robert Taylor was affiliated with Al-Teen Records at 8208 Stony Island Ave. We talked about So Much Love that he had recorded on that label.
Buddy Scott was one of the ten brothers in the Scott family. He led the group Buddy Scott & The Rib Tips which was the house band at the Pepper’s Lounge. (I somehow misunderstood that he was a drummer with the band. I visited Pepper’s lounge briefly and maybe he was sitting behind the drums then, but according to current info he played the guitar). He told me that Junior Wells appeared at Peppers occasionally. I was given promos of their latest record that also Bill Tyson was involved with.
One of the topics of conversation was that Little Willie John had recently died. He had been incarcerated at the Walla Walla prison after killing a man in a bar room brawl. He was only thirty years old. The people round the table were saddened. I understood that John was greatly admired by other singers. That he could handle any singing challenge. James Brown made a tribute LP to Willie – “A Few Nice Things.”
I only had one record by John in my collection, but before leaving USA I bought his original of “Fever.” This song had been a big hit for Peggy Lee in Europe in the late 50s. With Willie John’s passing perhaps the best black singer alongside Jackie Wilson was gone. Someone else remarked that Jackie Wilson had been shot by a jealous girlfriend. The bullet was still lodged close to his spine.
When I later discussed this evening with George Leaner he said that those small radio stations had such a weak signal that they could only be heard one block away…
I felt that it had been a very successful night. Artists started coming who obviously wanted to talk to me. That was a big surprise, and extremely flattering as I admired some of them tremendously.
McKinley promised to come to the One-derful! office the next day. I really wanted to talk more to him and take some pictures.
It was also evident that his career had hit the bottom then. He talked about illness and marital problems and bad luck in general. He was certainly not a tough guy. In fact he seemed quite soft and sensitive.
What did he have in his briefcase? I was never told but I think it must have been a record contract and that he wanted me to sign him.
Johnny Sayles seemed more carefree and to be able to handle most of life’s problems.
Syl seemed more contemplative and reflected about his career. He was thirty years old and he felt that it was old in his profession as a soul singer. He had no illusions that his success would last forever. Despite his two successes in the last year he knew how fast the public forgets.
Johnny Sayles asked me if I wanted a lift to my hotel. He and a friend had gone by car from Gary, Indiana. This light blue coupé with an open top was not new or even last year’s model. Syl’s car, that he later drove to Memphis with, was better.
With his friend behind the wheel and Johnny in the front seat and me in the back seat I was soon back at my hotel while they continued to Gary. Johnny lived at 7557 So. Wentworth there and his Club, the M.C. Lounge, was at 1501 Adams. Johnny also handed me his phone number: 846-7164.
It had been a great night!
This is what McKinley Mitchell (9322 S. Emerald) said when we met at the One-derful! office.
He was born in Jackson, Mississippi on December 25, 1938. (George thought that the right date was more like 1933 while Wikipedia now gives 1934.) The family stayed there for 16-18 years when they moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and in 1960 came to Chicago. He started to sing gospel in the early 1950s; first with the Hearts of Harmony and then with the Mitchellaires, from Philadelphia, PA. In New York (1956) this group recorded “This Old World Is Passing Away” with McKinley singing lead. In 1957 he crossed over to R&B and started singing with the Tiny Button Quintet.
In 1958 he came to Chicago for the first time and started appearing in local clubs like the Cheetah. In 1961 he got a contract with One-Derful!. His first recording “The Town I Love In” became a major hit. Many minor hits followed and he mentioned “A Bit Of Soul,” “It’s Spring” (“the only song I have not written myself”, he said), “All Over Sudden,” “You’re Never Gonna Break My Heart,” “Darling That’s What You Said,” “Watch Over me,” and “He’s Ready.”
Monk Higgins arranged and produced his One-derful! recordings. In 1967 he recorded “Playboy” for Chess, but was now back on One-derful!.
He’s married and has two daughters twelve and nine years old.
George Leaner said that McKinley for a while had been the top drawing local artist in Chicago. He used to be followed by a long tail of fans.
He had appeared on all the major R&B theaters: Apollo, Regal, Uptown, Howard (Washington), Royal (Baltimore) and clubs like the Royal Peacock in Atlanta. And been on TV-shows hosted by Dick Clark, Jim Lounsbury and Lloyd Shafton. But right now his popularity had waned considerably. He was deeply disturbed over it, but seemed to lack strength to get back.
Today he would have received the clinical diagnosis of depression and received medical treatment with for example Prozac. He had a sinus(?) operation one and a half years ago and had not been able to sing for a long time. He was still troubled with headaches. It had forced him to cut performances short and walk off stage, and he had gotten the reputation of being a drug addict. The vibrato he used while singing had probably aggravated the sinus problem.
That’s what he told me and I also understood that his marriage was in trouble. He felt misunderstood and there were constant battles at home. His wife seemed to have gotten tired of him. Maybe he had neglected her when he was on top.
McKinley was a first generation soul singer. He had a unique singing style, with a very heavy vibrato combined with a slightly vicious tone of voice. This was quite different from other soul singers like Wilson Pickett or James Brown who dominated the scene then.
Even politically he was out of touch. “Don’t talk about Black Power – Give me Green Power instead!” he said, meaning green dollar bills.
The come back at One-derful! for this great soul singer never happened.
This night I went to the Checkmate, another leading soul club at 55th and Calumet. It was oblong in contrast to the square Bonanza. I think they could house a similar number of attendants. I also recall that the stage was in the middle but it’s hard to tell now as the place was packed. In retrospect I think they had fuller houses at the Checkmate. Their manager was nice but had a rather cynical attitude towards the music business. I also met a strange man who said that he was a detective and talked much about black power and that he had special connections among the Black Panthers. But more likely, he was just a talkative alcoholic.
The comedian tonight was Manuel Arrington whom I had already had seen at the High Chaparral. Then he had portrayed a urinal scene and what can happen there with size comparisons and after-drip. Tonight he imitated Aretha Franklin and it was more fun. In the 1970s he often opened up for Tyrone Davis.
The mission of the comedian was also to present the artist and his show and give them a well deserved break and like a Master Of Ceremonies keep everything together.
The comical qualities in nightclubs were usually low. I never saw the next Lenny Bruce, Eddie Murphy, Redd Foxx or Moms Mabley. It was mostly simple sex jokes and perhaps some statements about racial relations.
The artists of the evening were Ruby Andrews and Garland Green and they were backed by the Exciters Orchestra, who were considered to be equal to the Scott Brothers. In the intermission I talked to both singers. First Garland said that he needed permission from his manager and that he was forbidden to talk. This was unusual. Otherwise all artists wanted to talk.
Ruby Andrews (5229 Greenwood Ave) was a very charming, kind and nice looking woman. She was born in the south side of Chicago on the March 12, 1947. She still lived there. (It is not uncommon that an artist forgets their roots. Ruby was in fact born in the (deep) south – in Mississippi before moving to Chicago.) First she sang solo in St John’s Baptist Junior Choir. In 1960 she started singing R&B and appeared at local school dances. She was popular enough to get a recording contract already in 1963 and she became a professional artist. But the company folded before any recordings were made (According to the discography there was one issue in 1965 under her birth name Ruby Stackhouse.) In 1967 she came in contact with Ric Williams and his Zodiac label (7447 Linder Ave, Skokie Ill.) which was distributed by Summit distributors. The first record Casanova in June 1967 became a big hit selling 25,000 copies per week before she stopped counting. Then followed “Hey Boy” / “I let Him Take Me” / “Kinda Love I Need” / “Just Loving You” (her latest.) All sold well enough, but not as much as Casanova. Ruby neatly texted these titles to make sure that they were spelled right in an article. She also recorded the fine “Just Don’t Believe It.”
She also wrote down three numbers she was going to sing tonight: Knock On Wood, Yours Until Tomorrow and Casanova.
Her songs are composed by the Brothers Of Soul who have had a hit of their own with I Guess That Don’t Make Me A Loser.
Ruby was still unmarried but she confided that it was going to change when she became rich. Did she tell the truth? From where came the Andrews name?
She had toured all over USA and also appeared in the theaters Apollo, Regal, Uptown, Howard etc. and been on TV-shows in Philadelphia and Cleveland. She was hoping to come to Europe soon. Right now she was appearing in all of the clubs in Chicago, usually backed by the Exciters. (Their solo guitarist was an albino. Rumours said there were two albinos in the group but I only saw one.) This six-man group took their name in Chicago in 1961, but they came from Washington (There is no connection with the Exciters vocal group that recorded “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”) They used bongo drums on stage which was rather unusual then.
Ruby who had both a deep and large voice sang that night:
“Baby I Love You,” “Knock On Wood,” “Respect,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Piece Of My Heart,” “Just Don’t Believe It,” “Your Until Tomorrow,” and of course “Casanova.”
It was a good show, but it was difficult to make any notes in a standing, rather packed crowd. I had never heard Ruby before on record but she made a sympathetic impression both on and off stage without belonging to the very top of her game. I don’t think her “Casanova” had been released in Europe then.
The Exciters set consisted of numbers like “Tell Her I’m Not Home” (Chuck Jackson), “Respect” (Aretha Franklin) and “Try A Little Tenderness” (Otis Redding).
Garland Green was another new name for me. He was born in Mississippi in 1942 and came to Chicago in 1960. Down in the delta he had been influenced by blues and soul singers like BB King and Little Milton. They are still his favourites as is Chuck Jackson. He sang lead in the gospel group Leland Aires and started working at The Place. His latest record was “Girl I Love You” – a Jerry Butler inspired song. He recorded for Revue Records – a subsidiary for Universal. This night he sang songs like:
“Hold On I’m Coming” (Sam & Dave), “Dock Of The Bay” (Otis Redding), “I Don’t Want To Cry” (Chuck Jackson), “A Man Needs A Woman,” which was sung in the best possible deep soul manner of James Carr. “If I Had A Hammer” had been transformed into a medley and included “Amen” and his hit “Girl I Love You.”
Garland sang in a heavy, bluesy, deep soul style close to Otis Redding and James Carr.
Next year he had a massive hit with “Jealous Kind of Fella.”
Upon leaving the Checkmate at closing time and following the stream of people I got next to a young man and his very pretty girlfriend. He was a little shorter than myself (I am 176 cm). He looked at me for a while and then introduced himself as Alvin Cash. I had already gotten his phone number and we decided to get together as soon as possible. But this didn’t happen unfortunately.
Saturday, June 22
I was invited to dinner at the Leaners. I think George’s wife was a classically trained opera singer. They lived in a fairly large house in Chicago’s south side with a nice garden in peaceful surroundings. There were both very nice neighbourhoods and run down slum districts in Chicago, almost side by side. After a fine meal, in fact the only hot meal I had in Chicago, because of my tight budget, the Leaner couple offered to drive me around to interesting parts of Chicago. I suggested the west parts where the riots had taken place.
Several blocks were burned down and areas as large as football fields were in ruins. There were several policemen in the streets – one was carrying a shotgun. But we cruised safely around in George’s Cadillac. These types of neighbourhoods had not yet been shown in countless detective TV series to follow.
Later George confided in me that his wife had rather shown me the Opera House and other landmark buildings of Chicago. But he felt that it was good that I had seen the misery instead.
Leaving the Leaners I managed to take the wrong train twice and being late the Bonanza was full of people when I arrived. I guess there were about 250-300 people there. Artists appearing tonight were Maurice & Mac, Liz Lands and The Jackson Five. I have forgotten the backing group as I came too late.
Liz Lands was very light skinned. She had a unique voice, a combination of Uma Sumac and Nancy Wilson with an enormous vocal range plus jazz and soul feeling. Tonight she did “Since I Lost My Baby” / “I Almost Lost My Mind” (Ivory Joe Hunter) / “Summertime” and also a couple of her own hits in a sophisticated soul style far from Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner but still appealing.
She was born in New York in 1938. She started singing in church as soon as she could walk. Already at five years of age she was a professional. In the early 1950s she had two gospel 78s out on the Mercury label: “Come In The Room” and “Somebody Bigger Than You” and I and continued her gospel career until she was nineteen years old.
In 1958 she married the comedian Tommy Brown who became her manager. He was the MC and comic at the Bonanza tonight. Newly wed they formed the T&L label (= Tommy & Liz) and she had hits like “Don’t Shut Me Out” and “Let It Be Me.” They sold well all over the USA, said Liz. Flops were “Echo In The Back Ground” and “Keep Me.” Mercury later released a Liz Lands LP with jazzy songs that could be found in cut out LP shops in Stockholm. She had appeared all over America from Alaska to Florida and even in Bermuda. She had sung in Carnegie Hall and been a regular TV guest at for example Joe Bostic’s show. She had recorded Midnight Johnny on Motown. She was also chosen for the B-side of “I Have A Dream (We Shall Overcome)” of Martin Luther King Jr’s spoken record: on a Gordy 45. It was probably available in most African American homes.
Liz had many favourites like Jesse Belvin, Mel Carter, O.C. Smith and Billie Holiday, but she emphasized that she was not influenced by anyone.
While we were talking she wanted me to smell the glass of water (“no alcohol!”) she was holding in her hand. Maybe she had been accused in the Negro Press of drinking too much?
She was a very good friend of Aretha Franklin and maybe there had been articles about her being Aretha’s drinking companion during Aretha’s marital problems?
During intermissions Tommy Brown walked around and sold Liz T&L records and his own comedy album.
I had already seen Maurice and Mac at the Regal eight days before. Now they did three Sam and Dave numbers in a row:
“Hold On I’m Coming,” “I Thank You” and “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.”
And Aretha’s “Baby I Love You.”
And last but not least their own current hit recording of Billy Young’s “You Left The Water Running.”
Maurice and Mac were quite good but it was a bit disappointing to hear them do so many Sam and Dave songs and see them being so influenced by them in their stage act too. But in American soul clubs it was the current hits by the stars that mattered. So at best an artist could do their current recording and their old hits. But then they had to rely on other people’s material.
Maurice was Maurice MacAllister and he was born on April 23, 1937. Mac was Green MacLauren. He was born in the deep south on the January 11, 1940 and moved to Chicago four years later.
They had met as children twenty years ago when Mac was eight years old – first in the Mount Calvary Youth Choir that had recorded Since My Heart Has Been Changed on Savoy. Maurice also had spent time in The Greatest Harvest Church Choir. (He might be on their recording of Steal Away, a Negro spiritual.)
In 1960 they formed the group the Radiants with Wallace Sampson, Elzie Butler and Jerome Brooks. In 1962 they got a contract with Chess Records. Their first release Father Knows Best, which sounds like early Miracles, sold well. Then followed three more 45s including Shy Guy before Mac was drafted into the army. At the same time Elzie and Jerome departed the group. Maurice McAllister and Wallace was left and together with Leonard Caster they formed the “new” Radiants and recorded their biggest hit, the great Impressions inspired Voice Your Choice, one of the best ever soul group pop songs outside the Motown sphere.
Caster was in fact Leonard Caston Jr. and he was the son of Baby Doo Caston Sr. who played piano and sang in the Big Three Trio with Willie Dixon in the 1940s. In 1966 Mac was free again and he and Maurice quickly formed the duo and got a contract with Chess. The company had had limited success with another duo before; The Knight Brothers. Maurice and Mac’s first record was So Much Love that Ben E. King had recorded earlier and then followed You Left The Water Running. The follow up Why Don’t You Try Me was already released (Maurice called the song “Try Me Tonight”). Rick Hall produced them in Muscle Shoals.
They had been touring outside of Chicago and even in the southern states. Mac said that Maurice was his foremost musical inspiration. Both stated that the Radiants were inspired by the Impressions. But right now it was all about Sam & Dave and apart from the three Sam & Dave songs they sang tonight, they also did “You Don’t Know Like I Know.”
I interviewed all artists in the dressing room and not in the bar as before, as it was too crowded outside. First I was talking to Mac and then Maurice entered the room and took over.
While standing with my back towards the door a crowd of youngsters had entered. They sat at the short end of the room on a bench and stayed there while I was talking to Liz Lands and M&M, with my back to the boys.
This group had made quite an impression before. Their act mostly consisted of James Brown numbers and their lead singer did every James Brown move to perfection.
Among the songs they did were:
“I Got The Feeling” (James Brown), “Security” (Otis Redding). “Tobacco Road.”
I think that they also did a Temptations number – probably “My Girl.”
The Eddie Silvers’ composition “Big Boy” closed the show. Michael was incredibly apt in imitating James Brown.
I guess the Bonanza and other nightclubs had an age limit of 18 or 21 years to enter. The young and single women going to the clubs were of my age but many had one or two young kids at home. Very few had traveled around or even left their home town except to visit relatives. University studies were not common. Our lives didn’t have much in common and there was plenty of room for misunderstandings.
The young women, who made up the largest portion of the crowd, went crazy seeing Michael and rushed to the stage. He looked like six years old. My first conclusion was that the group reminded them of their children at home and they started missing them after a few drinks.
But afterwards, I also realized that they were far more experienced and had seen many more groups to compare with than I. They saw immediately that this was not an ordinary boy band but a future superstar. Because it was the only time this summer I saw anybody rushing to the stage and threw coins or dollar bills at the performers or the lead singer.
My only boy-band comparison was Donny Osmond and the Osmond Brothers that I had seen on the Andy Williams TV-show.
In retrospect I also wonder what had happened if I had rented that film camera and been the first to film a performance with the Jackson Five? Maybe I hadn’t even filmed them and concentrated completely on Maurice and Mac and Liz Lands. Because I didn’t interview any members of the Jackson Five. Their career was too short. What can you ask a baby like Michael? What his favourite games and sweets were? I do recall that an older man entered the room briefly. It must have been Joseph, their father. No introductions were made. But he’s the one I should have interviewed, of course. I remember that he looked at me rather sharply when he entered.
The disappointment of the evening was McKinley Mitchell. He was recognized from stage and invited to sing. He did “A Cottage For Sale.” Perhaps as a tribute to Little Willie John, who had recorded it, and to Billy Eckstine who was appearing elsewhere in Chicago that weekend. But McKinley’s lack of timing really ruined this song. His voice was not suited to jazzy ballads. I really hoped to see him do something more suited to his style.
We were mingling in the back of the Bonanza room and McKinley introduced me to soul blues singer Little Oscar. In the crowd around us was a leopard clad women in a very short skirt who knew Oscar and pronounced Oscar’s name like “Ozzkar” in a very sexy way.
Sunday, June 23
Every year many churches had a special program and invited gospel artists and groups to perform. It was this type of church concert I was looking for. Posters were advertising the event and outside visitors were welcome. A regular church service seemed more private and it was difficult to find out if they had any gospel artists there.
I really didn’t know what type of church I was looking for. Above the entrance there were words like Baptist – Church of God in Christ – Pentecostal – Holiness Temple – Methodist etc. I had no idea where the best music was and I never met or asked a gospel DJ for information and help. There was at least one gospel DJ at every soul station and there were a lot of gospel played there in the mornings (and sometimes in the afternoon).
On the Swedish radio in the 1950s Professor Johnson & his Gospel Singers recording of “(Gimme That) Old Time Religion” was heard often. It must have been a strong European seller. Later in the 1950s Mahalia Jackson was also featured. In fact a couple of her records were in the family’s record collection. And when Vee Jay became bankrupt their LP catalogue found its way to Sweden. I bought one with the Swan Silvertones. I had also bought James Cleveland’s album “Peace Be Still” and last but not least an album with Archie Brownlee and the Blind Boys of Mississippi. But I knew very little about gospel music.
This Sunday afternoon I visited the Evening Star Baptist Church at 4235 Cottage Groove. I think I saw the poster in the record shop me and Howard Scott visited, or in the street nearby. The show started at 3:30 in the afternoon and I arrived in good time. In the door was an old man with a can of Coca Cola in his hand. He welcomed me with “Were you not walking in these quarters about a week ago?” His voice sounded like Leadbelly’s. He was the priest there and after a short sermon he went around and encouraged and inspired the gospel groups with an Amen! every once in a while, with tears streaming down his face.
I was the only white person there. I sat down to the left in the middle of the church which had a capacity of perhaps 300 persons and now was half full. I was discreet and didn’t take any notes. Now, I only remember Harmonizing Four’s name from the poster.
First there were two fine male groups with circa five members each and a guitarist.
Then came a group with older members (in their early forties). I think it was the Harmonizing Four. The lead singer had lost a couple of front teeth in the upper jaw. The climax came when he led the members in a church walk down the aisle. They were walking in a line singing “When the gates of heaven are open I’ll come walking!” and made dramatic gestures and fell on their knees while singing. They sang without microphones and the guitarist was still on stage (I guess his cord was not long enough to follow). But it was no problem to hear them as I sat only a few feet away. The atmosphere was very intense and people fell out screaming in the pews. And I guess I was not far from fainting myself.
In Sweden the Bureau of Health would have stopped the show long ago. It was simply too exciting and maybe even dangerous for faint heart and nervous systems. Here a nurse just fanned people bringing them a little breath of fresh, cold air.
Next group was led by a very handsome young man whose intensity had a great effect on the younger women. And after him a light skinned male leading a six-member group. He was sweating and screaming. A couple of women were shaking and screaming in the benches and the singer also came in ecstasy. Singing, screaming, preaching and speaking with tongues he continued for at least fifteen minutes. A man nearby lay fainted for several minutes. They had overdrawn the allotted time schedule. But he continued encouraged by the old priest. Finally the guitarist and drummer started packing up their instruments…
It was difficult to get gospel singers to stop singing when the holy spirit hit them.
Last was a female group and they also managed to electrify the audience.
It had been an extremely intense afternoon. My nervous system was overloaded. I could not go to a soul club that night, or visit the theater in the center of Chicago that had advertised “An evening with Billy Eckstine.” Or to the Regal Theatre that had a new program this week. At the bus stop near the church a female churchgoer in my own age asked me if I had enjoyed the service. I could only answer “yes” and then we took the same bus from there.
The two gospel concerts this week had given me food for thought. I had my eight grade scale for concerts and recorded music. Now I had to add nine and ten for a concert from where I was carried out unconscious because it was simply too exciting.
The African American music experience is not focused on youth and high strung and emotionally impressionable teenagers who scream and faint when they see their idols.
This was ordinary middle aged people of both sexes who might have tough working and social conditions. They didn’t use drugs or alcohol. Once a week they recharged the batteries in church. They called it the Holy Ghost/Spirit and we in the west talked about delusion and self hypnosis. But this type of experiences and background had brought forward some of the most exciting artists in the world. (Archie Brownlee, James Brown, Tina Turner and many others; perhaps even Elmore James.)
Monday, June 24
In the afternoon I went to 1507 S. Michigan Ave – The address of All State Distributors and their boss Howard Bedno. I had been given the address by Syl Johnson and All State carried some small labels like Twinight. But it was closed.
I continued walking happily unknowing that Bedno had been a partner in Cobra Records with Eli Toscano.
In the evening I went to Pepper’s Lounge (503 East 43rd) which lay circa 30 minutes walk from the Bonanza. It was around 7:30 in the evening. There were many prostitutes and other (questionable) people in the streets here. It was rough. The door to the club was open and I looked in. I saw a low platform for the musicians at the other end. The room was smaller than the other clubs I had visited. Buddy Scott was standing next to the stage. A few nights ago he had given me his latest single with Buddy Scott & The Rib Tips.
This was Junior Wells’ home stage. His James Brown inspired recording of “Up In Heah” had been released in Sweden with a picture cover. I liked that recording. His Blue Rock recording of “You’re Tuff Enough” was probably selling well then too. Junior and his longtime friend Buddy Guy had made youthful impressions at the 1965-1966 American Folk Blues Festivals.
Junior was not due to appear tonight so I continued to the Bonanza and their Blue Monday night. Little Oscar had given me a little leaflet about the event and said that this was the only gig of importance that he’s had for months.
Oscar sat in the bar and we “reconnected.”
Little Nolan started the proceedings and sang backed by the King Edwards band: “Keep Me Hanging On.”
Next was either “Say Thank You” (Joe Tex) or “I Thank You” (Sam & Dave).
An unknown song was probably called Egg and/or the Hen.
He was pretty good. He was dressed in a JB Lenoir like outfit – tiger striped or leopard-like…
There was never time for an interview. (I have since been told that he and King Edward are brothers and that he played bass with Lonnie Brooks.)
McKinley was here again. He was going to make an unannounced performance. He asked me if there were any special songs I’d like to hear and I mentioned my favourites from his English President LP. “No problem” he said. “But I have not performed “I Found An Angel” for years and I know that King Edward can’t play it.” “I Found An Angel” is perhaps more like a pop R&B tune than a soul ballad. But it’s great nevertheless.
I don’t know if he could read my mind but he must have understood that I was not impressed with his performance of “A Cottage For Sale” last week. Now he was going to set things right.
But first it was time for the fine guitarist King Edward and his orchestra backing Little Oscar, who did a couple of BB King numbers and then his fantastic soul blues Suicide Blues and his latest recording which was not near as good. Oscar was a good artist but his performance faded in comparison with what was to come.
Little Oscar Strickland (628 East 39th St) was born in Carol, Illinois in 1937. The family moved to Chicago but then back to (Greenwood) Mississippi in 1947 where they visited and stayed with relatives. Then they traveled via St. Louis until they finally were back in Chicago in 1951. Growing up he alternated between gospel and R&B. But in 1954 he stopped singing gospel and started working in the Chicago clubs. It was a slow start and it took him 13 years to get a local hit with “Suicide Blues” / “Empty Bottles” on Palos Records which was leased and distributed by the Leaner Brothers. The recorded version was one class better than his stage version was that night. It’s a first class soul blues – a knockout song, really. Now he was waiting for his second record (produced by Double H) “Two Foot Drag” / “Got To Make A Change” on Toddlin Town to be released on the 28th of June.
Oscar showed me his recording contract to prove that he was telling the truth.
While Oscar was singing McKinley disappeared to change clothes.
In the intermission I interviewed King Edward (or King Edwards as I called him then).
He was very dark skinned and born in Rayner, Louisiana in 1937. In 1955 he started backing traveling musicians like Big Joe Turner, Roscoe Gordon, Clifton Chenier, Jimmy Wilson and Freddy King. In 1959 he moved to Seattle and in 1962 to Chicago. He had been guitarist in Bobby Bland’s road band. In Chicago he had been a studio musician for One-derful! and also accompanied McKinley Mitchell, Otis Clay, Little Oscar and Tyrone “Wonder Boy” Davis. His latest record was “A Change Is Gonna Come” / “Knock On Wood” on the Discount label, a Bill Tyson company.
On stage Edward did fine instrumental versions of Willie Mitchell’s big hit “Soul Serenade” and his latest record “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke) and “Knock On Wood” (Eddie Floyd). When Edward heard that I was on my way to Memphis he recommended a visit to the Blue Velvet Club and Handy on Beale Street with its seventeen-piece band.
Then McKinley entered the stage. He stood still during his performance. The only thing moving was one hand keeping the beat against his trousers. He was pumping out one great song after the other. His voice was perfect. There was no doubt who had been the king of the Chicago Clubs and in my opinion he still was.
In the middle of the performance a strange older women came into the room. She was dressed in tails and a bowler hat and had a cane that she pointed towards McKinley from time to time. I thought that she was part of the Blue Monday show but she was probably only a confused fan of McKinley.
It was a small crowd at the Bonanza tonight, no more than 50 people including staff, orchestra and vocalists.
According to my notes, McKinley sang:
“Evil Woman” (blues), “You Know I’ve Tried,” “Let Me Love You Again,” “Along The Navaho Trail,” “A Cottage For Sale” (which also tonight was his weakest number), “A Bit Of Soul,” “I’ve Been Wrong So Long” (Bobby Bland) plus also longer or shorter versions of songs from the A-side of his President LP (UK) during his hour long set:
“The Town I Live In,” “All Of A Sudden,” “Darling That’s What You Said,” “Hand Full Of Sorrows,” “A Bit Of Soul,” “Tell It Like It Is,” “It’s Spring.” He also did “Running To The End Of The Rainbow” which I didn’t then recognize but which must have been an early version of his later hit recording “The End of A Rainbow” on the Chimneyville/Malaco label some ten years later.
An extremely satisfying night and an 8+ concert and the best I had seen in Chicago along with Johnny Sayles and “Harmonizing Four.”
Only a few months ago I had been sitting in my small one-room student apartment and listened to this album. Now the record had been exchanged to a live artist who was kind enough to sing my favourite songs.
There were very few people in the audience and he turned towards me all the time. It was like he was appearing in my small flat. He had a fine soul blues band behind him that were capable of recreating the hard soul sound that characterized Chicago – not streamlined and slick but very emotionally satisfying.
McKinley once said that he thought he could measure up to Bobby Bland – I could only agree. He belongs to the top ten soul male singers and can be compared to Otis Redding, James Carr or OV Wright. He is one of the really great unknown soul singers like Geater Davis or Lee Moses.
Tuesday, June 25
I went to George Leaner to say goodbye and thank him and tell him about my latest experiences in Chicago. We walked around in the building and ended up in the bottom floor where his brother Ernie and United Record Distributors was. There was also a young relative to George (or Ernie) who sat and listened to Alvin Cash on a tape recorder. It didn’t sound that special. It was the same James Brown funky beat that everybody had at the time.
(It might have been “Keep On Dancing” or its follow up on Ernie and his son Tony’s new record company Toddlin’ Town. Scott Brothers were the backing group.) It was strange that Tony (?) was sitting in a closet in the United Distributors warehouse and not in the empty One-derful! studios upstairs. Was there a rift between the brothers; or was George fed up with this type of soul music?
I had not met Ernie or been in his warehouse before. He seemed to be more of an aggressive music business executive that the quieter, peaceful, philosophical and sometimes ironic George. But I guess the brothers were different – as in most families.
The lead singer of the Redemption Harmonizers dropped by to pick up a few promotional copies of their latest 45 on the Halo label, One-derful!’s gospel subsidiary. He autographed a copy for me. “He’s a good singer,” George confided. “I’m trying to talk him into recording soul material in the future.”
Ernie followed George upstairs and there the two brother wrote me a list of important record business personalities I must meet on my round trip this summer.
Later Ed Cook, a well known radio DJ and personality from WVON dropped by. An animated discussion about opportunities for black people followed. Ed also promised to do a portrait about the brothers in the local Afro-American newspaper The Chicago Defender.
The discussion drifted into the Curtom Agency (8541 S. Stoney Island Blvd; near the High Chaparral) owned by Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Thomas – the manager of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. With veneration they said that Eddie Thomas’ father was none other than Big Maceo himself. (He recorded the classic Boogie Woogie “Chicago Breakdown” in 1945.)
George Leaner had a good reputation in Chicago. Otis Clay said that he looked up to him like a father. I was lucky to have met him!
Then I went to the Checkmate again. Holly Maxwell was appearing tonight. She was the beautiful woman with a blond Afro hair style who had been among the crowd at the Checkmate last Friday.
Holly Maxwell was born on the October 17, 1945 (Sorry, I never dared to ask for a phone number or address). She started studying classical music at the age of nine. And got the education to be a piano teacher and also sang opera. She (graduated) finished this schooling and had appeared in a couple of operas with an all black cast. But on the September 18, 1963 she quit the classical music. She was afraid to lose her slim figure and become fat like other classical singers she had seen.
If Ruby Andrews seemed like the girl next door, Holly did everything to make an impression. Looks were important. She was married to her hairdresser and he had made her white wig. Her mother was a dress designer and both made Holly look good or even sensational on stage.
“I always try to be friendly, but still keep a distance to the public,” she said. Probably quite necessary with her good looks.
Not until 1963 had she started listening to R&B and gospel. Soul was her kind of music now.
In 1965 Constellation contracted her and she recorded “(Happiness Will Cost You) One Thin Dime” / “Only When You’re Lonely.” When Constellation folded she moved to Golden World (1966) where she had her greatest hit Philly Barracuda and later she recorded “Don’t Say You Love Me Until You Do.”
But Golden World also folded.
Holly also wrote songs but don’t feel they suit her style. Recently she had met a very famous German violinist who was so impressed with her singing that he wanted to work with her. This have already been told in the tabloid press, said Holly, but she didn’t want to tell me his name.
Tonight she sang the following songs backed by her regular group The Jaguars:
“Yesterday, Love Slips Away,” “Since I fell For You,” “Ain’t No Way,” “On A Clear Day,” “Misty,” “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” “Ode To Billy Joe,” “What Now My Love” (where she also added a few lines from the French original “Et Maintenant”).
I must say that Holly brought life to these rather worn-out songs. It was a bit surprising that an ex-opera singer could put so much soul into what she did. Her best performances were Aretha’s “Ain’t No Way” and “Baby Baby Baby”. She was nice and in fact a good singer even if she spent so much time on her good looks.
Holly also recommended that I contact Howard Bedno (All State Distributors) who took part in her career.
When I later heard some of the records she had cut around this time I think she only rarely succeeds. I think her strength is her stage performance.
While Holly was a new name to me I had heard about Lonnie Brooks (4633 S. Drexel) before. He was in the audience, and a nice young man who seemed fit and alert.
He was born in Louisiana in 1943 and moved to Port Arthur, Texas circa 1953 and to Chicago in 1956-7. Early on he started singing and playing the guitar. He got the nickname Guitar Junior.
He had never sung in church, but had backed artists like Jimmy Reed, BB King, Junior Wells, Otis Clay (1965), and McKinley Mitchell. In fact he had sat in on most Chicago blues and R&B stars performances.
His first recordings were on Goldband in 1958-59 and he had a huge hit with Family Rules that sold ½ million copies. Even The Crawl / Now You Know sold well. In 1960-62 he recorded for Mercury, still under the name Guitar Jr. All Of My Life / Through The Days and Through The Nights / Love Me Love Me / The Horse (not the Cliff Nobles’ hit).
Then he had a car accident and had to rest for a year. He did two more records for Mercury in circa 1964: “The Train” / “My Girl” / “Figure Head Woman.” In 1965 he came to All State distributors and their Pillow label where he recorded “My Girl” / “Figure Head Woman.” “The Trai,” from 1965, that he wrote, sold 200,000 copies. (Or was it the same Mercury Recordings that were re-released?)
In 1967 he came to Chess. “Let It All hang Out,” that he recorded in November 1967, sold well. While “Good Soul Lovin’” on the Cherry label didn’t sell. He might have recorded more, but this is what he remembered on his night off. He was in a good mood. He had lots of gigs and did well.
Wednesday, June 26
The airline ticket had burned a big hole in my pocket and budget. Simple mathematics had shown that eating out was impossible. Most clubs in Chicago had a $1 fee at the door. Then followed the obligatory drink at $1. If you couldn’t sip on it all night, one more drink was another dollar. My daily budget was $8.50 and included hotel, local travel, food, drink and clubs. Taxi was not possible. It was bus, tube and train but mostly walking.
I always chose the cheapest room in the cheapest hotel. The food was bread and canned food with pork and beans or ham and tap water with plenty of chlorine, to it. It was OK as long I didn’t have to sacrifice the soul-clubs and entertainment.
Next stop was Memphis.
In April 1984 I got a letter from Robert Pruter, author of the book Chicago Soul. (This is a translation of my Swedish translation):
He wrote: “I know about your articles in the Blues & Soul Magazine (1968). For some artists this was the first ever written about them and there were no other information available. I have always thought that it was great that someone as early as 1968 reported about Chicago artists like Syl Johnson, Johnny Sayles, Maurice & Mac etc. You were a pioneer cutting out paths in the wilderness while I was a latter settler who asphalted those paths.”
It was very kind of Robert to write like this. I have also realized that perhaps I was the only one who made this kind of field trip from town to town visiting clubs and talked to record business people. I have tried to write as much as possible about what I saw and experienced at the clubs that I still can remember and can find in my diary.
My stay in Chicago had been very pleasant. The weather was like in Stockholm during summer. It was warm enough during the days and the nights were refreshing. I cannot remember a single situation when I felt threatened. The war in Vietnam was distant. I only saw a one-legged visitor at the Bonanza who used to dance to the jukebox.
I avoided the west side and kept to the south side. The blocks around the Bonanza and Checkmate were pretty calm. Even if there were so many great artists in Chicago most seemed to lack faith in the future. Many were disappointed how their careers evolved. It was a big city but still only a local market. It was difficult to move on. If you were stuck in Chicago you had to work small clubs the rest of your life there.
Perhaps that is why my arrival was caused so much attention. Some artists like Little Oscar and McKinley Mitchell even brought their recording contracts just in case I was there to sign them…?
The record companies were in a crisis. The era of the pop soul artists like Major Lance, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, Dee Clark, Betty Everett was over. The hard soul companies like One-derful! were soon closing down and Chess sent their best soul artists, like Etta James, to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record. My favourites among the more obscure Chess/Checker artists like Sonny Warner, Tony Clarke, Mitty Collier, James Phelps and Cash McCall didn’t make much noise.
The biggest Chicago soul hit that summer must have been “Stay In My Corner” with The Dells.