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The Tempests (pt. 8): Touring, Boston’s Sugar Shack, and the LP release

E. Mark Windle 19 August 2021

Touring was relentless. In between it all, the Premier Talent Agency pushed The Tempests through a couple of multi-artist events, at The Mariners Festival, a USO show at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Then it was onto another at Trenton, New Jersey where a local promoter took all the money and nobody was paid. The dates also included an afternoon show backing Spyder Turner at University of Georgia, then with a planned Motown duet appearance the same night. Headliners Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell had brought their own rhythm section, with The Tempests’ horn section backing them up. They were part of a sound check rehearsal which Tammi Terrell did show for – Tammi was complaining of a severe migraine that night, and that seemed not that unusual as she had suffered constant headaches since childhood. Within a year of the University of Georgia concert she was diagnosed with the brain tumour which would tragically prove fatal at just twenty-four years of age.

Another TV appearance came by way of the Kirby Scott Show at Baltimore, before settling for a while at the famous Sugar Shack nightclub in Boston. The venue is remembered now as a major venue where touring R&B acts of the 1960s and 1970s honed their skills, discipline and stamina to prepare for long periods of touring. Owner Rudy Guarino was older than many of the acts but was a big R&B fan. The Tempests were initially contracted for a week, but the boys impressed Guarino enough to extend their tenure to a month.

The Sugar Shack’s outward physical appearance was deceptive. In its position on Boylston Place near the Boston Commons park, the building was tucked away down a minor street with a plain façade, obscured for the most part by the adjacent theatre marquee. Inside, there was a lobby and bar, a “Show and Dance” area with tables, dance floor and stage; a partitioned space which could be opened for bigger events; and a dressing room with lockers for the performers. Jackie Wilson, James Brown, and blue-eyed soul singers such as Wayne Cochran and The Magnificent Men would rub shoulders. The neighbourhood was associated with prostitution, drug dealing and associated violence particularly in the next decade – but it was also the place to be in Boston where blacks and whites could enjoy R&B in each other’s company.

Rudy Guarino with James Brown at the Sugar Shack. Photo courtesy of Susanna Richter / Guarino family.

“Rudy told me Wilson Pickett had been at the Sugar Shack a few weeks earlier and had talked him into paying cash after the second show” says Van. “He still had two more shows to go but sneaked out through the back. Rudy was pretty upset about that. Even though you knew Rudy was in charge, he was a nice guy. Always helpful with practical local problems. Like when the speaker in my rig suffered water damage… we discovered it when we had arrived there and were unpacking. Must have happened in transit. Rudy suggested where to take it for repair. When we handed it in the guy at the shop he told us it would take five days to be ready. By the time Nelson and I had even got back to the Sugar Shack there was a call waiting for us to collect it that day. We soon realised Rudy was more than the boss. He had a lot of respect throughout Boston.”

“We followed Wayne Cochrane and the C.C. Riders on stage. Tommy Hunt came into the club a lot too. I think he had a couple of hits with Atlantic Records at the time. Whilst we were there, Rudy extended the club hours 8pm to 2am. I don’t know for sure but maybe Wayne’s and our popularity had some influence on this. When we told Rudy we couldn’t play six hours solid, he understood and agreed we could bring in another band to open for us and play a couple of hours before we came on.”

Perhaps surprisingly for a racially mixed band of the period, the members generally managed to avoid confrontation when on the road. “The only time we had an issue was in West Chester” remembers Nelson. “Someone approached Hazel and made some pretty nasty comments. Rick White took the guy and raised him four inches off the floor and that was that.  I usually roomed with Hazel. We became very close, he was always a gentleman and that’s the highest compliment you can give to a Southerner!”

Van comments: “We even shared rooms with Hazel in deep Alabama. There was some respect. At the end of the day there was a bunch of us, and a lot of us were big, fit guys. I played football and could take care of myself. Nelson was taller than me. Rick White was selected for a professional Canadian football team. Yeh, you sure did come across some sorry-ass rednecks. But nobody was gonna mess with us. Even at the Blue Mist B-B-Q joint on Highway 49 at 3am in the morning!”

While The Tempests were playing a two-week stint around Ohio State University in Columbus, a photo shoot at Mirror Lake on campus for the impending LP cover was arranged by a photographer from Playboy magazine. The members would be lined up in powder blue tuxedos with bow ties, Hazel in yellow; all reflected in the lake. The most striking visual aspect of the cover to a purchaser is the sheer size of the group. Sleeve notes were provided by Ron Oberman, originally with the Washington Star as a staff reporter and pop music columnist, before moving to Mercury’s publicity department. The November 1967 issue of Billboard Magazine heralded the debut release of the new Smash LP entitled Would You Believe, with official release early 1968. Most of the studio recordings under the Smash contract to date were included.

“Regarding promotion, Smash ran adverts for the LP in the Hit Parade magazine. and other national music mags – like full page ads in Billboard and Cash Box. And don’t forget, we were still getting a lot of help locally from Jack Gayle, the programme director at Big Ways. When we were on the road between gigs we would stop at big and small radio stations to promote our singles and the LP. What was sort of amazing to us at first was how welcome we were at that time. And we had to do a lot of the promotion ourselves. Smash didn’t have an active A&R man in the South at that time that I was aware of.”

The third single Long Live Our Love / In The Cold Light Of Day appeared in April 1968, on the back of the LP release. Both sides were more orchestrated than the group’s usual horns-and-R&B approach and included a further horn player by the name of Eddie Grimes. Nelson had first met him in 1964 as a student at the University of North Carolina. Eddie had been called up to serve in the armed forces but had moved to Charlotte on discharge in 1968 and performed several times in the band. Long Live Our Love was being plugged by Big Ways and Billboard magazine in July 1968, beating Gladys Knight, James Brown and Cliff Nobles to the number one spot on the station’s Fabulous Forty charts. The flipside ballad In the Cold Light of Day was from the pen of Scott English and Larry Weiss, known more for Bend Me Shape Me and a host of other songs associated with certain US and UK bands of the time. Dramatic elements of Righteous Brothers style balladry were present; the arrangement was done by The Tempests, but strings added in New York. A kettle drum effect was achieved by using a mallet on the four time. “We didn’t have the real thing but it came out real nice”, remembers Van.

Whilst the Smash releases were doing the rounds, Nelson Lemmond decided to marry his steady girlfriend, Kaye. The boys were never that happy about the sartorial choices for performances (“those goddamn cheap, ill-fitting grey suits”) but a move to striped pants came in handy for Nelson to wear at the wedding. A road trip to Florida was planned for the honeymoon. “We put a bale of hay in the back of the car, and a whole fish on the carburettor. Nelson was getting concerned where the smell was coming from. He didn’t find it for about a week. We didn’t realise it’d take that long to get ripe!”

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