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East 4th Street Studio, and the Fabulous Plaids (The Tempests Story pt 13)

E. Mark Windle 18 October 2021

After The Tempests split and members went their separate ways, Van Coble was determined to continue in the industry. With an interest in sound engineering and electronics he toyed with the idea of setting up a recording studio. Before long, Van brought two other business partners into the fold: long time friend Nat Speir, and singer Bob Meyer, who had teamed previously for Behold and You Got To Tell Me, released on Lawn, a subsidiary of Philadelphia’s Swan Records.

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Van signed the lease on a building on East 4th Street in downtown Charlotte in 1970:

“It was originally a booking agency office before I got it. A two-story brick building, with an office downstairs and the studio above it. I designed and finished the studio myself. The control room was around four hundred square feet and the studio three times the size. Nat, Bob and I put a lot of thought into naming it. After a meeting of adequate beer consumption, we came up with the name of….. THE STUDIO! We had a six-channel mixer, custom designed and built for us by Don Strawn (the chief sound engineer at Arthur Smith’s Studio), a four track 1/2″ Ampex recorder and a two track Revox recorder. Most of the recording done was of songs written by us, plus clients who paid our demo fees at $30.00 per hour. Of course, that was 1970 prices. We recorded demos for The Delacardos and Lil Al and the Maxidynes among others. As far as recordings which made it to vinyl are concerned, Nat and I produced Do What You Want To Do by 100% Pure Poison, which saw release on, guess… Poison Records. These guys were essentially The Delacardo band members: Ronnie Grier on bass, Luther Maxwell on tenor sax, Chip Butler on trombone, Mat Ferguson on guitar and flugelhorn, and Chubby Jackson on drums. They had previously also been part of Arthur Conley’s band and were a different group to the one by the same name who did You Keep Coming Back for EMI. We pressed five hundred copies of the Poison 45. Lee Webber’s Your Love So Good and Big House On The Farm was also recorded there and placed on Excello records by Nelson Lemmond and me. Nelson put out Move to The Country by Vann (yours truly) on Mother Cleo Records. Does Your Mother Know was rehearsed and recorded at Arthur Smith’s Studio and Nelson placed this with the 440 Plus label, a subsidiary of Monument Records.”

“While Bob Meyer was recording at American Sound in Memphis under the supervision of producers Mike Cauley and Chips Moman, we got to work in our studio in Charlotte” remembers Nat. “Van was writing some great original material, and we recorded with the very talented Bobby Donaldson on guitar, and Riviera drummer Bobby Speir. However, without the money to upgrade, things just moved slower and slower. Sadly, the studio on East 4th Street didn’t survive”.

“The end of The Studio finally came when I was transferred to Winter Park, Florida by the company I worked for,” continues Van. “Nelson’s father allowed us to move the equipment out to his old farmhouse – that’s where Lee Webber’s Big House On The Farm came from. Bob sold the studio equipment for me around ’73 or ’74. Nelson, Bob and Nat were such good friends to me I’ll never forget this experience in that part of life. Those were good times.”

Van returned to education, obtaining a degree in electronics and worked for the largest electronics supply company and sound contractor in the south east. As a loyal employee for over forty years Van rose from service technician to senior sales manager of the sound and communications division. The profession allowed him to stay active in music and recording, playing gigs on weekends. Over subsequent years, Van continued to work with Nelson Lemmond and Nat Speir on various projects. In the late 1980’s Van built Hideaway Productions recording studio in Midland, NC and created JoVan label and production outfit. Hazel Martin, who had remained a close friend throughout, would eventually return to the studio and collaborate with Van on a CD project.

After The Holidays group had split, Nelson Lemmond finished college and moved to Cary, North Carolina. For a couple of years he worked as a claims adjuster for an insurance company, covering the eastern part of the state. The work was enjoyable, but he was unhappy with the internal company politics enough to move on. After a number of fruitful sales jobs in screen printing, Lemmond and Associates was created in 1974, selling point-of-purchase advertising. By 1977 the company was doing a significant amount of work for the major tobacco company R.J. Reynolds, manufacturer of Camel cigarettes:

“They wanted some large signs for advertising purposes across the state. They brought in seventeen companies – we ended up getting the order, thinking it may be maybe 2,000-3,000 signs. Well in the end we stopped after 20,000. We did really well out of that deal. Put us on the map big time. For a long time we were the largest company in the U.S. doing this kind of thing.”

In a way the creation and running of the company became a substitute for music, although Nelson still found time for pursuing related activities. During that transitional time Coble and Lemmond produced artists Lee Webber and The Sandlewood Candle.

“Nat Speir and I wrote some songs for the country market” says Nelson. “We were dealing with one particular label in the late 1970s. We called over there and were told the husband and wife were killed. I called a friend on a newspaper in Nashville. He told me they had gotten in a wife swapping group. Their son had found out and shot them both.”

Nat Speir also remembers this period: “I was doing disco and beach music sessions for local artists and writing songs for a few independent Nashville labels at the time. Nelson and I made several trips to Nashville and Muscle Shoals to visit producers and labels. We had some success. Nelson is a fine drummer and a writer. He wrote lyrics with me, and his business skills picked up through his advertising company allowed him to handle our promotion. After completing a round of mailings, we went to Nashville in his Mercedes diesel to pitch our songs. During this time, many Nashville and New York artists recorded our compositions, mainly a mix of pop and country: Only the Name’s Been Changed, What’s Mine is Yours, and You Don’t Love Here Anymore. I recall once listening on the phone as a Nashville record producer played one of our songs as it was being recorded. He was producing Loretta Lynn’s younger sister, Peggy Sue, doing Only the Name’s Been Changed. I could immediately recognize Loretta Lynn on back-up vocals.”

The beach music revival lead to a regional mini industry in the Carolinas. The success of Mike Branch and General Johnson’s Surfside label encouraged others to follow, including “Dr” Chris Beachley. Beachley had long served the Charlotte community with his shop Wax Museum specialising in 1950s and 1960s R&B. He launched the magazine It Will Stand in 1978 in response to customers asking him for details of the next Shag dance contests and shows. Within a couple of years he was joined by ‘Fessa John Hook to help with editing and publishing duties. Hook was another beach music fan and DJ (and, in more recent times, an author on the subject). The fanzine provided readers with information and histories on old and new acts, details of new releases and events, and beach music charts. The Tempests even featured in one issue, the article later being reprinted in Greg Haynes’ mammoth biographical collection Heeey Baby Days of Beach Music. On the back of the success of the It Will Stand magazine and increasing interest in Carolina beach music, Beachley also tried to launch a record label of the same name to feature current beach music acts.

As it turned out a sole act was represented on the It Will Stand label; The Fabulous Plaids, including Ken Carpenter and some other members of the original Plaids.

‘Ninety-day Tempest’ Ellison Honeycutt joined the new Plaids line up:

“I’ve known Nelson Lemmond since the very early 1960s when I first saw him playing with The Plaids.  He had the ability to really push the band on Bobby Bland material like Turn On Your Love Light, and from those years, I can’t recall anyone else that could play the single stroke shuffle as quickly, and as driving as he could. Ken Carpenter probably raised about fifty teenagers over the years in The Plaids and taught them how to act like grown men.  Nelson was no exception.  I think he was fifteen when he first started playing with them. I’ve always thought the new band releases on the It Will Stand label was Nelson’s way of thanking Ken Carpenter for raising him right, and to make a seriously good contribution to promoting the talent from in and around Charlotte. I joined Ken and The Plaids in 1977 when I retired from the full-time road gig I had with The Fairlanes from Nashville.  Six wonderful years of most weeks in the year, six nights a week, working in a BAR.  Retired when I was thirty.  Tired, sore, and ready to settle down a bit. Anyway, Ken called me one day. We had known each other since the early ‘60s. I just folded into the band, and we continued to promote soul music anywhere and everywhere we could.  We had a lead vocalist in Michael Wayne Deese who had helped share Hazel’s singing duties with The Tempests those years before. He had a pretty unique voice. Sang like Wilson Pickett, Joe Cocker and Otis Redding all wrapped up in one voice.  Needless to say, we played through the years, and continued to work everywhere we could find.  Sometime in the early 1980s, beach music became a bit of a preferred genre again – it ebbs and flows – and our little band was suddenly big news.  Hell, we’d played all that stuff when it was first popular, so it was sort of welded into our souls.  And frankly, most of the younger musicians didn’t catch on then – too much synthesized-pop around at that time. The Plaids’ popularity continued to rise, and in comes Nelson with the notion that we should be on record, to showcase the vocal talent and musicianship that we had.  We had never lost touch with Nelson anyway. I have always been happy that he found the time to follow some of his dreams as well, and as I said, I think in some way wanted to repay Ken to some degree for showing him how to be a generous, honest man.  Nelson told me once that Ken Carpenter was the only man on this earth that he would let hold his wallet.”

Two sessions were arranged at Reflection Sound to record Hank Ballard’s Sexy Ways and It Won’t Be This Way Always for the first single, and the second, Do It backed with a version of the Four Tops’ Ask The Lonely.

Courtesy of Bob McNair

“Michael Deese sang his ass off on Ask The Lonely. The 45s were well received and made it into the Top Ten Beach Music charts. This gave us a tremendous boost that enabled us to gain a sponsor. That helped  us to upgrade our appearance, equipment, and mode of transportation.  We had the pleasure of appearing on the first ever Beach Music Awards Show, re-appeared the following year, and then again when it moved to Charlotte for a while. Probably the best thing that happened from the first recording was that we got a lot of attention. Nelson took that to heart and scheduled a rather large showcase of our band plus a few more local artists and musicians. We had a reunion of sorts that highlighted Hank Ballard, Robert John, and the Nat Spier Orchestra (actually The Plaids and Nat plus another sax player).  Robert John took a liking to us, and we all decided that at the second Beach Music awards, he would attend and do a set with us at the VIP Party. It was awesome.  It was said that the only reason he didn’t get a standing ovation after he sang Sad Eyes was that all the women were stuck to their seats.  As Bobby Pedrick (his real name), John had recorded several shag hits in the ‘70’s, so there was mutual admiration. We almost went to NYC to work with him; however he had some management issues at the time. That took care of that. None of this would have happened though without Nelson.  Ken and I continued to run that band up until around 2000. We still have a reunion every ten years or so and stock up on oxygen tanks.  To this day, Ken Carpenter is my best friend. He just turned eighty years old but can still work his way around a guitar neck and plays when he feels like it.”

The Plaids performed for several music events in the southeast. Political rallies, Park Center shows, nightclubs, corporations, radio, TV, festivals, Springfest, Myrtle Beach Pavilion, and the Beach Music Awards through the early to mid-1980s. They also had later recordings which featured on local and regional radio, some of which remain on beach radio station play lists. Like most long running bands in the south, The Plaids underwent numerous personnel changes, but stayed firmly within the musical circle of Charlotte and the Carolinas for around forty years. Their last formal engagement was at the Taste of Charlotte Festival in 2002.

Copyright E. Mark Windle 2021. Modified excerpt from The Tempests: A Carolina Soul Story by E. Mark Windle, available via Blurb and A Nickel And A Nail.

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