E. Mark Windle 14 November 2023.
Continuing the series of quality releases from Mark Bicknell’s Big Man Records, December will be bringing us this quality Carolina double-sider, which is sure to be of interest to rare soul and beach music fans alike. Stalwarts of the Carolina beach music scene, The Embers have enjoyed a prolific performing and recording career for over six decades. Undeniably, their appeal is to a range of audiences and generations; though like other groups of this genre, their 1960s recording output holds particular interest among rare soul collectors – and on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Embers were originally formed in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1958 by high school pals Bobby Tomlinson and Jackie Gore; personnel changes were fluid during the 1960s, though always with the presence of Bobby on drums and Jackie on vocals and guitar. “First time” signified one of the group’s first releases with a soul flavour, appearing on JCP in 1964. As the resident band at their own Embers Club, the venue provided an ideal opportunity to hone skills alongside visiting artists such as Jackie Wilson, Little Anthony, Billy Stewart, The Drifters and others. Inevitably further soul hits followed, including a take on Mamie Galore’s “It Ain’t Necessary”, again for JCP, in 1966. Enough interest was rustled up for a national release the following year via Bell Records.
The focus of this Big Man Records fully licenced release is the infectious “Just Crazy ‘Bout You Baby”, originally recorded on The Embers’ eEe imprint in 1967. Popularised later by DJ Gary Rushbrook during the latter days of Wigan Casino, this track was released twice with different flipsides – one carrying a very competent version of Jerry Butler’s “Aware of Love” (again featured on BMR 1017), which can also be found on their LP “Burn You A New One”.
As the decade closed the group were attracting attention outside the region. Atlantic Records released the up-tempo “Where Did I Go Wrong” in April 1969, but despite the major label status it failed to make much noise. Popularity was largely confined to local North Carolina colleges and frat houses, served by the plugging efforts of Channel 85 WKIX. An entirely different crowd would come to appreciate it a few years later however, when discovered in the UK and played at venues including the Catacombs and Blackpool Mecca.
“Far Away Places” was released in September 1970; a curious spin on a 1940s standard that employed a bass riff and rhythm influenced by “Tighten Up”. The Embers featured on vocals here, while the musicians on the session were from MGM’s in-house team. The song received some airplay but promotion was halted prematurely after their label mentor Bob Crewe left MGM. Regardless, “Far Away Places” has remained a permanent feature in the group’s live repertoire over the years, helping cement the song as a beach music favourite. It’s the flip that stirs the interest of UK soul collectors of course – the dramatic and danceable “Watch Out Girl” is now an undisputed northern soul classic.
Given their longevity, it’s not surprising that there have been further changes in personnel and musical directions over the years. Times and tastes change, but one thing is certain – The Embers’ multiple Carolina Beach Music Awards, induction into the South Carolina Beach Music Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame (2014) and South Carolina Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame are a testament to their enduring legacy, as indeed is this vinyl release.
The Embers’ “Just Crazy ‘Bout You Baby” c/w “Aware of Love” (BMR 1017) is scheduled for release in the first week of December. To pre-order, contact Mark Bicknell at Big Man Records via email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
(Copyright 2023) E. Mark Windle is a freelance writer and biographer, working independently, as a senior writer with Story Terrace (London, UK), and for Sheridan Hill / Real Life Stories LLC (North Carolina, USA). To discuss services for hire please contact Mark at https://windlefreelance.com/contact/