Radio Stations, DJs and the 1960s Nashville R&B Scene

E. Mark Windle 1 August 2022.

Music historians will argue over the exact origins of the music industry in Nashville, although any stance depends on the genre under debate, and how far back one is willing to go. The predominance of country music is undeniable, with its roots planted in Celtic and European folk songs and instruments brought to the US by early immigrants. In the 1920s, Nashville’s first radio station WSM cemented the city’s country music status with Grand Ole Opry broadcasts of mountain songs and hillbilly music. These styles would later contribute to what is now known as the ‘third’ generation of country music in the 1950s and 1960s, showcased by the bluegrass of Roy Acuff and associated artists on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Since then, country music has never really looked back.

But although country music has made Nashville what it is today, the African-American influence on musical growth in the city cannot be ignored. Fisk University was a missionary initiative formed to provide education for emancipated African Americans following the Civil War. In 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers took their spiritual songs on a fund raising tour in the name of the university, touring the US and Europe, gaining endorsement from European royalty and helping kick start Nashville’s reputation as a centre for the musical arts. Over the last hundred years Music City has remained an entertainment centre and a rich source of talented musicians and songwriters, recording studios, music publishing houses and shrewd businessmen wanting to get a piece of the action.

Country music and R&B were both heading toward their peak as a national phenomenon around the late 1950s and 1960s, and so should have been in direct competition with each other within Nashville itself. As things turned out, country overshadowed soul music in terms of local commercial success. Demographics and racial suppression were likely contributing factors; the Black community was still in the shackles of Jim Crow laws. African-American business and entertainment communities confined themselves to a couple of specific (though vibrant) areas within the city. Music Row was the white man’s domain. RCA and other major labels saw the opportunity to exploit country music and overnight established offices, staff writers and recording studios in Nashville. Other than a couple of notable exceptions such as Excello and Sound Stage 7, independent soul music label operations were often dwarfed by the activities of the majors.

That said, talent within the Black community was no less abundant, whether for live performances, recorded song, musicianship or industry-related entrepreneurship. Nashville was a central location: an ideal stopping point for R&B and soul artists from the rural areas of the south and the major cities of the north as they worked the chitlin’ circuit. Many of these performers were more than mere passing trade  – national names such James Brown, Etta James, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, major gospel groups and blues guitarists frequently graced the show and dance venues.

The thriving, if segregated, African-American community in Nashville also provided its own home-grown talent. The Bijou Theater along Fourth Avenue North was opened in 1916 by its white owners to showcase blues, jazz and entertainment by black performers. Four decades later R&B took hold along Fourth Avenue North, and on Jefferson Street in the bars, diners and nightclubs where local musicians and visiting artists would earn their keep. These individuals and combos performed at club venues, worked on recording sessions for other artists as well as bands in their own right, and frequently appeared on R&B related music and dance TV shows. As well as local artists, Nashville labels featuring R&B would include artists from other areas of Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida and later the cities of the north. Even blue eyed soul was represented via the activities of singers, songwriters and producers who ventured more than occasionally from their country music roots.

Both radio and TV were primary driving forces for the evolution of and access to soul music in Nashville. WSOK, launched on 14th December 1951, became the first full time radio station to feature an all-Black staff roster who catered for local African-American residents. The station was a short range daytime affair, specifically targeting the Berry Hill area. Morgan ‘Happy Jack’ Babb was the WSOK’s DJ responsible for airing early R&B in among the local news bulletins, commercials and emergency aid calls. Other DJs included Ted Jarrett, who presented the WSOK Talent Show on Saturday mornings, broadcast live from the Bijou Theater, where performers were selected from local auditions to sing in front of a house band. The call-letters changed to WVOL when the station was sold on, but it continued on course with its original service focus.

WLAC (‘W-Life and Casualty’) was without a doubt one of the most influential radio stations in the US to broadcast and popularise R&B. It has a long history, stretching back to 1926 when the studio was based in the office building of Life and Casualty Insurance Company of Tennessee, in downtown Nashville. WLAC’s initial focus on community news expanded to other activities when WSM, a primary competitor, was gaining popularity through broadcasting country music. By the 1940s WLAC had a 50,000 wattage broadcasting capability, enabling twenty-eight states to receive a signal; even reaching parts of Canada and the tip of Southern Florida.

By the 1950s, the intention of WLAC was to serve the relatively untapped market across the major cities of the US and the deep south. Gene Nobles was the first WLAC DJ to cater musically for this market, by programming blues and jazz recordings. The purpose of this was to target a Black audience and attract companies to advertise products such as hair products and even animal stock to this particular community.

As “race music” became re-labelled R&B, WLAC DJs John Richbourg and Bill Allen would run their respective night-time shows, when the broadcasting signal was strongest. Fast talking ‘hip’ voice-overs were employed to promote the advertisers’ products and to introduce the records. The station played a major part in giving white teenagers, particularly in the south, access to R&B. WLAC was to become a key element in the development of the beach music scene in the Carolinas and Virginia. Guitarist Ken Adkins, from North Carolina’s The Tropics who gave the beach music and northern soul scene “Hey You Little Girl”, remembers:

“This is how I got my music education. A great signal, and music accessible nowhere else. From the age of ten until college, WLAC came on at 10pm and stayed on until 3pm. I had a big Zenith floor model radio with a twelve inch speaker in my room, away from other family members. I stayed up and listened …and listened …and listened….”

John Richbourg and Bill Allen were responsible not only for promoting local Nashville R&B talent, but also recording acts from elsewhere in the southern states, as well as Chicago and Detroit. Numerous globally recognised soul artists owe at least part of their initial success to the exposure obtained via the immense broadcasting capabilities of WLAC. (END OF PART ONE)

Copyright E. Mark Windle 2022, 2017. Modified chapter excerpt from the book “House of Broken Hearts: The Soul of 1960s Nashville”. E. Mark Windle is a freelance writer and biographer, working independently, as a senior writer with Story Terrace (London, UK), and as a writer for Sheridan Hill / Real Life Stories LLC (North Carolina, USA). Contact: via this site or emarkwindle@hotmail.com.

Nashville: From Charlie Romans to the Paramount Four

E. Mark Windle 14 December 2021

So, which floats your boat? I’ve been asked a few times now what the rationale was for selecting the particular artists and recordings in House of Broken Hearts: The Soul of 1960s Nashville. The intention of the book was not to be a panacea of Nashville soul music history; more a deep dig into the stories of artists and recordings from my world (basically an underground soul scene on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic). Even at that though, a safe guess is that fans of Charlie Romans’ “Twenty-four Hour Service” are a different breed – and likely a generation apart – from record collectors hunting a copy of the Paramount Four’s “You Don’t Know”. Of course, there are sub-genres within sub-genres of soul music. Nashville record labels give us true diversity; whether pop-soul blue eyed from Hickory, the earthy swamp blues and early R&B of Excello, or even the Motown and big production sound that Ted Jarrett and Bob Holmes sometimes attempted to emulate with their acts.

It’s all about perspective. As an actual or potential purchaser of this book perhaps the reason you are drawn to it is, like me, you have an innate sense of curiosity and desire to make a tangible connection to these artists who are “stuff of legend” (as it says in the blurb) – whichever part of the soul scene you relate to. I wanted to convey the extent of Nashville’s output in influencing our underground scene across the decades and through the scene’s evolution, beyond just the part I associate with. But more broadly, I wanted to capture how the city contributed to the national, even global, popularisation of R&B. In retrospect, I probably should have written House of Broken Hearts before the other projects I undertook which focussed on the Carolinas and Virginia. The power of Nashville’s WLAC radio station with its 50,000 watt broadcasting capability was undeniable in spreading the good word of soul music in the 1960s to every corner of the US. I first learned of the influence WLAC had on young white teenagers from the eastern seaboard when researching beach music origins and soul influenced garage bands. Radio DJ John Richbourg and his pals provided not only easy access R&B for the first time, but also inspired many to start their own bands in high school or college.

I say that one purpose of the book was to make the artists ‘real’, but in truth, the connection between Nashville and fans of our insular northern soul scene was there all the time. Maybe it was just a lack of formal realisation and acknowledgement. Since HOBH was published, a number of readers commented how they remembered buying Monument releases of Sound Stage 7 45s on the European continent in the late 60s, and UK soul fans who bought from Ernie Young and Randy Woods’ Nashville based mail order set-ups as teenagers. The professional collaboration between Yorkshire’s Garry Cape and John Richbourg’s label interests would also satisfy the continued demand for Nashville soul from within the British northern soul scene, Holland, Japan and elsewhere well into the 1970s.

I also tried to convey the convergence of talent from two distinct musical genres. On the one hand, the rich cultural heritage from the black community which originated from the early Fisk University days; and also that of Nashville’s talented white country musicians, song writers and producers. Part open mindedness to experiment with the soul phenomenon, part industry looking for the next opportunity. There are many examples of collaboration. Much of the Sound Stage 7 catalogue was arranged and produced by the cream of Memphis and Nashville based musicians. Music Row’s Pete Drake, later associated more with Bob Dylan and Tammy Wynnette, decided a few years earlier to take a risk with some white boys from Georgia (OK, so fame eluded Athens Rogues but their efforts would be embraced decades later by the northern soul scene). Transferable skills left us with some masterpieces on both ends of the soul spectrum, between the gritty side of R&B and the sophisticated, well-orchestrated beat balladry of Dan Folger’s “Way of the Crowd”.

At the end of the day though, House of Broken Hearts is a celebration of Nashville’s black music history. And there’s still plenty left to be explored and documented. The soul story is be no means finished (a book could be written on the Richbourg / SS7 catalogue alone). But there’s a wider yarn to be spun. Whether referencing spirituals, jazz, gospel or blues, the black community was thriving musically way before the arrival of soul music, and to an extent continues to do so today. Maybe that’s a job for an obsessive fan of those specific genres; one which I and I’m sure others will be eagerly anticipating.

Copyright 2021, 2017. “House of Broken Hearts: The Soul of 1960s Nashville” is available to order exclusively from A Nickel And A Nail. E. Mark Windle is a freelance writer and biographer, working independently, as a senior writer with Story Terrace (London, UK), and as a writer for Sheridan Hill / Real Life Stories LLC (North Carolina, USA). Contact: via this site or emarkwindle@hotmail.com.

What’s in a Name? Musings of a Ghostwriter

E. Mark Windle 9 March 2022

I wear several hats as a freelance writer. Over the years I’ve written music history books and other non-fiction, blogs and commentaries, and contributed to medical and nutrition science texts. There’s a chance if you are immersed in one of these niches that you may have even read some of my stuff. Basically there is a body of work in the public domain which is accessible and identifiable as mine.

Outside of these independent projects I’m also contracted as a ghostwriter with UK and North American biography publishing services. The briefs for these book commissions are equally as diverse. Sometimes the end product is for the client’s private consumption only; other times for publication and sale on online platforms or in brick-and-mortar bookstores. In all these cases, I’m destined never to be connected with these works. At least publicly.

Writers are often motivated by recognition, especially early in their careers. Try finding an individual who denies the thrill and sense of achievement in seeing their name in print for the first time, particularly if the work comes with praise or positive reviews. Recognition and community acceptance (or as Maslow would have it, love and belongingness) are primal needs. There is no shame in that, unless that sense of achievement crosses the boundary from modest self-pride to cheap vanity.

Maybe that’s the reason why some in the industry struggle to comprehend why anyone would actually choose to ghostwrite. Why pour time, effort and skills into a lengthy book project without the opportunity to assert your moral right to be identified with it? Of course, if we are referring to ghostwriting for A-list celebrities, a healthy advance payment and jaw-dropping royalty deal from a major publishing house may help ease the pain. Mind you, that kind of job doesn’t land that often. At least not on my in-tray.

Admittedly, there is a unique and challenging aspect of ghostwriting. The obvious curse is that self-promotion for the purposes of attracting future clients can be tricky. Non-disclosure agreements and ghostwriting contracts mean prospective clients cannot be offered portfolios easily and the opportunity to boast of affiliations with high profile individuals via your website or social media platforms is forfeited. If you are lucky, there are some workarounds. An exclusion clause reserving the right of name-association on a limited and discrete basis might be an option, where prospective clients are permitted to approach former ones as a reference. At the end of the day though, you have been chosen for not only for your skills but also for discretion. Breach the anonymity agreement, and you run the risk of unwelcome contractual or legal consequences. And of course, bang goes the community reputation.

In defending the art of ghostwriting biographies, l should firstly mention that I do this job for a living. It puts food on the table. Through my activities with third party biographical services, they supply the projects. Fortunately, I can opt to take on writing gigs dependent on personal scheduling, and where I and the editor feel I might be a good ‘fit’.

I reckon ten years in the biography game has matured my outlook. I’m genuinely intrigued by how upbringing and life events motivate individuals and guide their choices in life. These things shape and make us who we are. I also write biographies because I inherently love the research-interview-write process, not because it is a route to public recognition or (solely) a money making exercise.

The ghostwriter’s name may not be in bright lights, but a good one will be recognised, both within the writing industry and among clients. Ironically, that’s partly because anonymity is a key to success. Trustworthiness is of paramount importance in the relationship between the writer and the subject. That is true of any client collaboration, but particularly where they have standing or ‘visibility’ in society: perhaps they have celebrity status, are a public figure, a local businessperson, a hero, or even a villain. The client may want to share warts and all; lay his or her cards on the table. They will confide in the writer, offering nuggets of their life story that may never have previously been shared with anyone, including partners, family, or friends, until the writer’s inquiry led them there.

The biographer is in a position of privilege. Not everything on the audio transcripts is intended to appear in print. The writer negotiates with the storyteller what does and doesn’t add value to the story, what themes should drive the narrative for the article or book, and indeed what’s best omitted for legal or awkward personal reasons, while always keeping one eye on the brief. Meeting the client’s expectation that certain information will be held in confidence, or processed appropriately, goes a long way to building the writer’s reputation. Trustworthiness is not only an obligatory part of the non-disclosure agreement. It’s also an investment which secures future work by word-of-mouth recommendation.

A ghostwriter is in a unique position of being the vehicle, or voice, for the interviewee. Some clients’ lives are stuffed full of intriguing, colourful, dramatic, tragic or revealing life events, but have difficulty expressing these through a flowing verbal narrative in a series of interview sessions. Others are more eloquent. But all have a worthy tale to tell, and none less important than the other. In giving out advice (albeit to fiction writers), Raymond Chandler once said: “The challenge is to write about real things magically.” In our genre, the subject is the storyteller, but the biographer is the alchemist. The graft comes first: extracting life events and personal recollections in an accurate, meaningful and reflective way, conducting robust peripheral research, fact-checking and cross-examination. The magic comes when the potion is mixed to provide a unique tale which draws in the reader, has accuracy and relevance, educates, life-affirms, offers life-lessons, delivers optimism, demands empathy, or a combination of these things. The writer’s ultimate responsibility is to present a life story which has a purpose. Regardless of whose name is stamped on it.

Copyright 2021. E. Mark Windle is a freelance writer and biographer, working independently, as a senior writer with Story Terrace (London, UK), and as a writer for Sheridan Hill / Real Life Stories LLC (North Carolina, USA). Contact: via this site or emarkwindle@hotmail.com

Reaching Different Shores: A Subculture Rediscovery (The Tempests pt 14).

E. Mark Windle 5 November 2021

As important life events took over such as careers, raising families, and in many cases later caring for grandchildren, the musical activities of their youth were becoming distant memories for some former Tempests members. A new generation of musicians were stepping in, taking black music into another era. Yet even here, an appreciation for old school remained, demonstrated by points of reference in Hip Hop and other genres, sampling, and updated-covers of classic soul music using new technologies.

Across the Atlantic, the love of R&B from an earlier era remained. It would be safe to comment that, at one point, mainstream America was oblivious to the enduring popularity of old blues and soul in other parts of the globe. The popcorn scene featured an appreciation of a mix of lesser known jazz, blues and soul records. Old R&B and swamp blues singers form the US were being plucked from obscurity and transported to the live blues scene of Scandinavia and Holland. A loyal market for deep soul and southern soul music could also be found in Holland and Japan. For The Tempests, little did they know the music they made would gain a new lease of life through re-discovery by a vibrant underground youth subculture in the UK.

Across the Atlantic, the Would You Believe LP remained virtually unnoticed until early 1983 when certain tracks from it were championed by UK collectors and DJs on the rare soul scene. Traditionally, LPs gain less attention from collectors as a vinyl format compared to 45rpm records. Would You Believe broke the mould in many ways, especially as two of the tracks, Someday and I Don’t Want To Lose Her, were not released on 45rpm format. The LP is still feverishly hunted for and fetches high prices to this day. No original pressing run numbers or sales figures are available, although there is general consensus and certain amount of logic that, being released on a major label, the progressively escalating three figure price tag which the LP commands reflects the consistent demand driven by collectors, rather than rarity as such.

The rhythmic, moody delivery of Someday sets the track out from other tracks on the LP, in terms of stylistic approach. Its pace suited the early 1980s northern soul scene perfectly when the previously often blinkered preference for up-tempo ‘100mph soul’ gave way for acceptance by many for beat ballads and mid-tempo dancers. Someday was first played to the UK dance floor at the Stafford Top of the World all-nighters in 1985.

The story of how the LP was brought to the attention of UK soul fans begins with Crewe record collector Martin Meyler:

“I was a regular at the 100 Club around the same time as the demise of the Wigan Casino all-nighters, and had become quite friendly with a bunch of lads I travelled with to soul music events. DJ Keb Darge was among them. I reckon I have a pretty good ear for music but didn’t have the money for the big 45s at the time. Nobody was really interested in LPs then – they were too bulky to carry around venues for one thing. However for me, they were affordable, and I was acutely aware that there might be other great recordings hidden away on an LP that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day. I knew some of the collectors from Stoke who travelled over to the States for vinyl, and asked them to bring back LPs for me. Some good, some hippie crap. Anyway, I ended up with The Tempests LP, and was astounded by the content and the lead singer’s vocal presence. A few phone calls were made to check things out regarding how well known it was on this side of the Atlantic. Whilst the Smash 45s may have been known among a few collectors, they had never really been played out much at all to my knowledge, and nobody seemed to know the LP, or the Someday track. Maybe it was bypassed as the tempo was just not right for the Casino at the time. All I knew was I was onto a good thing and that Someday really deserved to be played out to a wider audience. As I wasn’t a DJ, I gave the LP to Keb Darge with the intention of giving it some exposure on the northern soul scene.”

Initially, Martin had thought of King Lear and the Shakespeares as a cover-up title, though that didn’t last long. In the case of Someday, Bobby Paris was used as the artist cover-up name, Paris being a blue-eyed soul singer known for a few northern soul classics including the dramatic beat ballad I Walked Away.

Martin Meyler. Photo courtesy of Liz Schmitz.

Legendary DJs Keb Darge and Guy Hennigan are well known for their friendly rivalry on and off the decks. The pair are among the key individuals associated with the phoenix-like rise of the northern soul scene when it was at an ebb, around the time Wigan Casino which was previously the biggest regular soul event in Europe, eventually closed its doors. This period was characterised by the acceptance of more diverse tempos and sub-genres; certainly inclusive of what the scene was previously known for, but also embracing more diverse styles such as latin-soul, contemporary releases and raw early 1960s R&B. Guy recounts how Someday was presented to the wider northern soul scene:

“Martin gave it to Keb to cut an acetate of Someday from it. Keb turned up at my flat in Derby on the Friday night before Stafford all-nighter with the cut. As normal, over the next twenty-four hours we did some swaps and sales. Part of the deal involved me getting another cut of The Tempests. I suggested to Keb to cover up the recording up as Bobby Paris, and to play it that night at the Top of the World. However.…I was on before him that night. We used to switch around on DJ spot timings. Not only did I play Keb’s copy of the disc…I played it twice. It went massive that night, just off those couple of plays. Even though Keb played it later in his spot, I got the credit for breaking it. It was a very competitive period between DJs then, in particular between Keb and I. But I can justify my sharp trick of stealing Dargie’s thunder on that one, with the simple fact it sounded so much better after I’d introduced it! Ha…you know what, he has never really forgiven me to this day!”

Keb Darge and Guy Hennigan. Photo courtesy of Karl White.
Courtesy of Karl White and soulunderground.co.uk

I Don’t Want To Lose Her was also later played on the northern soul scene, covered up as Cecil Washington. The LP remains a popular and in-demand item, fetching ever-increasing prices at auction and on rare soul sales forums. Since its original discovery, white demo copies have also appeared, stereo and mono formats, and a European release.The Dutch manufactured Phillips LP carried the same cover but with a title change to Well-Tempered Soul, and appears to be intended for Dutch, German and possibly a wider European market. The existence of a transatlantic release was unknown to most of the band members. UK based Poker Records would also reissue the LP as a CD format in 2007, tagging on their Smash single releases to the album tracks for completists.

Dutch-manufactured Philips format of the LP, with title change. Courtesy of Jon Downs.
Courtesy of Jon Downs.

In certain rare soul record collecting circles, the existence of a 45-rpm format of Someday is virtually mythological. As the track was never issued as a Smash single, it was hardly surprising the latter-day discovery of an original Mercury acetate by DJ / collector and record dealer Alan Kitchener would create considerable interest within the northern soul community:

“Being an avid follower of the newly discovered 1960s revolution which re-kindled my passion for the soul scene in the early eighties,” says Alan. “The Tempests song Someday summed up the direction of the scene at that time: on hearing Guy and then Keb playing it, and Guy coming clean on the whole story some years later. Guy was correct in that he could really introduce a new record like no one else on the decks.”

Alan Kitchener, DJ, record dealer and label owner. Photo by permission.

“Initially I thought Someday was a strong, pounding tune that was perfect for the dance floor but after a couple of listens you realise it is so much more than that. When the secret was out regarding the true artist and record, I managed to get a copy from a record fair in the USA while on a record hunting trip. I still have the same LP to this day. I did always think to myself ‘If only this came out as a single’ or ‘there must be an acetate somewhere’. Carrying an album around to DJ with was too much of a ball-ache and cutting it to a dub by then seemed a little dirty, so I dreamed on.”

From the collection of Alan Kitchener. Photo by permission.

“Around 2007 or 2008, I bought a few acetates off an individual on eBay. He had purchased an estate from an undisclosed record label owner and producer. I had bought the first of what turned out to be two copies of Dee Dee Warwick’s Worth Every Tear I Cry (DJ Mark ‘Butch’ Dobson grabbing the other one later) on a lovely Mercury 7-inch acetate. A real thing of beauty. I had asked him about any other interesting pieces he may have been listing. A few weeks later after my Dee Dee Warwick acetate had arrived it wasn’t as good condition as he had originally described. After I politely pointed this out, he agreed and said he owed me a favour on anything else I bought. Low and behold a couple of weeks later a lovely Mercury acetate entitled Someday, and on the B side, I Cried For You (also from the LP) appeared in his eBay listings. No artist was credited on the labels but it was pretty obvious who it was on listening. After a quick email conversation it was confirmed. By then the Soul Source online discussion forum curtain twitching had already begun, speculating how much it would go for. I thought it better to seize the chance, so I emailed him reminding him of the favour he owed. He agreed to do a deal on the acetate and remove the eBay listing. It was sold to me for a very fair price and a couple of weeks later it was in my hands. The acetate version has a slightly different intro, and to my ears a much cleaner production. So one happy collector here. I’m not surprised about the longevity of this recording. It had all the qualities of a northern soul classic and has become just that. It’s still filling dance floors to this day, and deservedly so; at the same time a great record in its own right for collectors. Someday is good as any record played on the soul scene in its long history.”

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.

Author collection

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.

The Tempests (pt 12): Insight Talent and Surfside Records

E. Mark Windle. 13 Oct 2021

Mike and Roger Branch formed Insight Talent, a booking and promotional agency in 1974. However, Roger was being tempted by an opportunity to take up a position as Polydor promotional representative for North Carolina. Weighing up the pros and cons, rather than take a risk on a new company with a potentially unpredictable outcome, he decided to go with Polydor. Mike took over control of Insight Talent in partnership with Don Strawn and Paul Scoggins. For several years the company would continue to harvest local singing acts; a process which more than partly contributed to the beach music revival of the late 1970s.

Joe Crayton Clinard Jr. was involved in sponsoring events and printing promotional T-shirts for the agency. Insight Talent Inc. were also responsible for the production of a series of Beach Blast open air rock festivals (and later, a showcase opportunity for beach music bands) held around Charlotte.

Courtesy of Joe Crayton Clinard, jr.

“I knew the family from when Mike and Roger’s mom helped me out with a little mail order for the Rock and Roll T-shirt biz I started. I also worked with Mike when he was our booking agent around the time when Cannonball’s You Keep Telling Me Yes was out. He was the biggest beach music promoter at the time and in the years that followed Beach Blast. I mean, large music outdoor festivals that started the concept in the area. They lasted for years in one form or other. After I got out of music I supported the promotion of Mike’s shows with my retail jeans store group called Cheap Joes.”

The momentum of the beach music revival was in no small way down to the partnership of Mike Branch, singer General Norman Johnson (b. 1941 d. 2010) and their desire to progress beach music beyond merely a retrospective, nostalgic oldies scene. Johnson’s first group The Showmen had minor national success in the early 1960s with It Will Stand on Minit, breaking the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961, and R&B Charts at #40. Their 39-21-46 (Shape) was also a popular east coast regional hit. The Showmen’s releases on Swan in Philadelphia are also well known to record collectors of soul music. Johnson departed from The Showmen in 1968 with a move to Detroit. The Holland-Dozier-Holland song-writing team had recently left Motown, having refused to follow the Gordy empire to the west coast. They immediately set out to find fresh talent for their newly formed Invictus label. With the newly formed group Chairmen of the Board at the helm, the label went from strength to strength. Give Me Just A Little More Time was a million seller by May 1970, reaching number 3 in the Billboard Hot 100. Other hits followed though eventually members of the original group went their own ways. Johnson stayed on with Invictus for a while as a producer and staff writer. Finally business relationships at the label soured and Johnson left in the mid-1970s to work with Arista and Greg Perry.

General Johnson met Mike Branch when he brought a reformed Chairmen Of The Board, now also featuring Danny Woods and Ken Knox, to North Carolina. Ken recollects these early years:

“Growing up in Detroit, music was in the air. I could walk down my street and hear The Temptations being played alongside Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, MC5 and gospel music. In 1974 Danny Woods walked into a club where my band was performing. He liked what I was doing and invited me to come audition for the touring band for Chairmen. I was a bit intimidated because there was General Johnson, Harrison Kennedy, arranger McKinley Jackson and Funkadelic all in the same room. To my surprise I made the cut. Within a couple of years and after a lot of touring we came south on General’s knowledge of the audiences in the Carolinas from his days with The Showmen. I believe Mike Branch reached out to us after seeing us perform in Charlotte and we ended up staying with Insight Talent for the next couple of decades. The company was housed in a little building at 2300 E. Independent Blvd. The Insight Talent Beach Blast festivals included acts such as Chairmen, Archie Bell and The Drells, Bill Pinkney’s Drifters, Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose and local beach music bands. They also later promoted jazz concerts featuring Kenny G. Mike was a very hard worker and was hands on in promoting Chairmen Of The Board in the south-east. He was always last to leave at night from his office and made sure we had the best of everything. We used two studios; early recordings were made at Reflection Sound Studios but Arthur Smith was like our home away from home. Mike set all this up for us there partly because The Tempests had recorded there… and of course the legendary James Brown recorded Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag at Arthur Smith’s place.

Author collection

General Johnson and Mike Branch also struck up a partnership via Surfside Records in 1979. The label also operated from the Insight Talent building. Mike concentrated on the business whilst General Johnson and Ken Knox produced Chairmen of the Board and other artists on the label roster. Jerry Goodman, who since post Smash days had been a representative for Atlantic Records and Warner Brothers, was put on promotions. Given Johnson’s local knowledge and popularity, singing and writing talent, and industry skills picked up along the way, he was also the perfect business partner for Mike. Both were keen on the idea of a label to present new recording artists and original music, revitalizing what was being perceived by many as a ‘tired’ beach music market. Even an attempt by Motown to lure General Johnson to California was resisted and Surfside continued to sell well for the next couple of decades. Artists appearing on the label included General Johnson and the Chairmen, The Band Of Oz, Poor Souls, The Tams, Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose – and even a release by The Tempests featuring a singer called Pat Carpenter. The label quickly found its niche, and Surfside along with other labels was doubtless a major catalyst for the live band beach music scene which still exists to this day in the Carolinas.    

Copyright 2021 E. Mark Windle. Modified excerpt from The Tempests: A Carolina Soul Story available to order from A Nickel And A Nail and Blurb.com

The Tempests (Pt. 10): The Split, and a New Band Forms

E. Mark Windle 23 September 2021

The initial choice of rehearsal venue for The Holidays, the band formed immediately after The Tempests split, was down to bass player Gerry Dionne. As a vice president with American Motor Inns, the largest franchiser of Holiday Inns in the country at that time, Gerry’s father agreed to let them use banquet hall space to rehearse. Like Dave Butler, Gerry had come on the scene when The Tempests were on the cusp of the break up:

“Roger Branch listened to me playing conga with a friend of mine at a performance just prior to the group breaking up. The Tempests had a gig booked, backing up Eddie Floyd at Park Center. Roger wanted me to come to a rehearsal at his family’s home on Central Avenue, so I could get a feel for their brand of R&B, and frankly to see if I could keep up. When I arrived, the band was set-up, and may have already played a tune or two. I sat next to Nelson Lemmond who was voluble, obviously well educated, and seemed to be a corner stone. My bongos and conga were lost in the god-almighty din that the band cranked out in the Branch family basement. I wondered how it was we didn’t attract unwanted attention from the local gendarmes. The answer came when the senior Branch walked in and flashed his badge and service pistol. The Park Center gig came around soon enough. I played until my hands bled that night. This was my idea of fun. Roger paid me twenty-five dollars in cash out of his pocket; my first paying gig. But the next time I came to rehearsal, it was obvious there was something brewing. People were unhappy. Some of the members had thoughts of expanding the band’s repertoire. For Nelson, this was in a more pivotal deep South, down home direction. He wanted to cover artists like Muddy Waters and Bobby Bland.

The writing seemed to be on the wall for the Tempests. Mercury discontinued the Smash label in 1970, recognising a national shift in musical direction.

“Overnight, The Tempests had lost their drummer, bass player, horn player and front man to The Holidays” continues Gerry. “Van started me on a crash course in bass playing so he could switch to lead guitar. It meant having to become proficient on an instrument I had never touched before, in a matter of a few weeks. The guys were generous with me. The first few gigs with me on bass were musical train-wrecks. We played so loudly, however, no one seemed to notice, unless they happened to be members of a rival band. But the audience didn’t seem to notice – Van tried to scream out the bass notes as he played guitar, to mask what I was playing. At 120 decibels, it’s impossible to distinguish between C, D B and E! For about a week, the rest of the band thought I would have to be replaced. And then by the third or fourth gig, I finally got it. It came to me. However, at that point the Branch family had made Hazel Martin an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he went.”

The Holidays, featuring Hazel Martin. Photo courtesy of the Lemmond family.

With a few exceptions, The Holidays kept an R&B focus, and played primarily frat and high school venues, booked by the Char-Mac Ltd agency. David Butler’s young age was a double-edged sword. One Christmas concert at Butler’s high school was promoted via the school paper. He felt the gig might not have been booked had he not been in the band, as their market was primarily an older college student audience:

“I also recall a night club where we played in Richmond, Virginia on the same bill as Billy Joe Royal and The Royal Blue. Their bass player was the only musician I encountered on the road that was younger than me. He downed nearly an entire pitcher of beer after the show in one go. We had problems in some clubs because of my age (parochial liquor laws). Eventually, things started to go downhill. As The Holidays, we never made any recordings. I never did meet the Branch brothers either.”

“We were a pretty good band for a short while” says Gerry. “The Holidays didn’t last long as a performing entity though. It just didn’t seem to have much passion behind its existence. And we never did manage to find a viable vocal replacement for Hazel Martin.”

Shortly after The Holidays disbanded, Dave Butler was approached by the Spontanes, a Gastonia, NC based band who played across the south east. An LP release entitled The Spontanes Play Solid Soul appeared in 1966, on Hit Records, the same label as Gene Barbour and the Cavaliers I Need Love – both products of Ted Hall’s Hit Attractions. The Spontanes’ second 45, Where Did I Go Wrong appeared in 1968. The track was written by lead singer James Bates, in his mid-twenties and was an infectious mid 60s horn-led mid-tempo soulful number typical of the time.

The Spontanes LP “The Spontanes Play Solid Soul” (author collection)

“Yes, we often played Where Did I Go Wrong” says Butler. ”We also backed up a lot of singers like Barbara Wilson, Major Lance and Rufus Thomas. I recall one gig where we were on with General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board. He was annoyed because we performed their hit Give Me Just A Little More Time, prior to their set. During the break between sets, the club owner took time to persuade Johnson to proceed with their performance. In hindsight I can see why he would be upset. I don’t think it was intentional, but we should have omitted that song from our set that night. It was 1970 and we began to evolve our song list from beach music hits to more contemporary music from groups like Chicago. I played with them until I graduated from high school.”

“I went off to get an education” says Butler. “I had grown up in Gastonia where The Spontanes were based. My parents lived less than a mile from Claude Bailey, where we practiced and where we kept our bus. It was all pretty heady stuff for a teenager. But unfortunately with The Spontanes it was another situation similar to The Tempests, in that the original band had broken up and several core members continued with some new blood. I gave up the axe when I went off to college. I got heavily into electronic music after graduation and set up a recording studio in my home in 1977. I’d hoped to produce new age solo instrumental albums but was never able to pull it off. I ran into James Bates about ten to fifteen years ago, playing in a club in Charlotte before I moved to Arizona. We just lost touch.”

To be continued…

The Tempests (pt. 9): Winds of Change

E. Mark Windle 29 August 2021

“We were always messing around” says Nelson Lemmond. “At one point, Ray Alexander had joined us to replace Jim Butt who quit to go to college by late 1968. Ray’s a talented musician; one hell of a trumpet player and had been with The Rivieras before us. In much later years he arranged horns for shows with The Four Tops and The Temptations. He liked to kid around though back in the day. In Baltimore we stopped at a hotel for the night. The next day we were due to go on the Kirby Scott Show on WBAL-TV, a real big deal. We were due to appear on it with The Fantastic Johnny C of Boogaloo Down Broadway fame. Well, Ray hid Hazel’s dentures at the hotel room as a joke. Boy, was Hazel mad! He refused to go on the show. Ted Bodnar had to spend the next day getting Hazel’s dental work sorted, and eventually we went on. Ray didn’t have the balls to admit it was him until some twenty years later.”

Van recalls another night when they played at the prestigious Hotel Roberts, situated on the edge of the Mafia-run red light district later known as the Combat Zone in Boston, Massachusetts. “We were strictly informed to be on our best behaviour. No messing around or there’d be consequences. But Ray was hooked on Screwdrivers at the time – Vodka and O.J. We still had the two-drink rule – you can drink as much as you want after the gig but no more than two during the performance. Ray basically didn’t stick to it; I had to pick him up and carry him through the Combat Zone. Eventually I got him in the elevator then he just… let go. Mess everywhere. I’m thinking I hope to hell nobody sees this!”

“We did countless colleges and frat events from Kentucky to Alabama, and up north too. Bill MacPherson, a Rock Hill, South Carolina native was one of the last horn players to join us. Rick White had recruited him to join the band on the road when we went north east. We played so many shows we ran out of our money. Things became tight pretty quickly. We were living on cheeseburgers and washing socks and underwear in the bathtub where we were staying. The whole experience really took a toll on us. Eventually we just wanted to get back home where we could be with our families and go back to what it was like before, working a day job and playing locally in the Carolinas. This is the sort of thing that finally tore the recording group apart.”

The hectic schedule was not the only factor beginning to turn things sour. “Radio stations that broke Would You Believe included Big Ways Top Forty station and others that stretched between Mississippi and the eastern seaboard, including WABC in New York. But we just couldn’t get any airplay on the west coast. I guess weak promo guys couldn’t get it done there. I never saw any numbers on the LP sales” comments Van.

Problems were also arising between group members. Issues stemmed largely from arguments over financial agreements, publishing rights, and the running of The Tempests.

“Minimum wage in those days was little over a dollar an hour, but I was working hard on the day job, plus making good money in other areas of music before I joined The Tempests” says Van. “I was paid $25 to play behind James Brown and the Famous Flames’ on Prisoner of Love at the Hi-Fi Club. The Darnells club gigs paid on average $80-$100 per week. I thought the world of Louis Gittens. He always looked after me and gave me my first decent paying regular gig of $200 per week in the early sixties. Now, with The Tempests, a lot of negative things were happening. Arguments within the band and the demands of touring. Getting our hands on our money was tricky. We were being paid by check and getting them cashed when you were on the road was difficult. Then there were questions as to how the rest of the money was divided. Premier Talent took their cut of ten percent. The local booking agency in each city got ten percent. Ted Bodnar was also supposed to get his ten percent off the top, but he supported us all the way and never took his share. In fact at one point his mother even cooked and fed us from the family grocery store.”

For a while, the music continued. Ted had the notion of recording a live session on The Tempests, possibly destined for another LP release. A night at the Pour House on Charlotte’s west-side was selected. Van and Nelson reckoned at least twenty or thirty songs were performed that evening in late 1968. Typically, three or four sets of ten songs would feature in the show, including at least two performances of Would You Believe. The sets would be a combination of original and covers of Stax songs, Darrell Banks, Walter Jackson and other material, plus backing guest solo singers on nights where this was required.

Hazel Martin (Courtesy of Van Coble).

To this day, the Pour House unreleased tracks are still unheard and the master-tape, if it still exists, remains untraceable. Another unreleased track was Our Love Will Overcome Everything. Van recollects this was probably one of the best tracks they made. It was a Doc Pomus composition, with The Tempests giving it a fatback R&B beat, Stax style. Female vocals were added to the mix by Ted Bodnar in New York. When asked by Van and Nelson repeatedly about it in later years Ted just replied he couldn’t find the master. “Maybe he would have had trouble with Pomus releasing our version. Who knows”. The song was also covered a few years later by Louis King, though did not appear until 2002 via the Grapevine CD Carolina Soul Survey: The Reflection Sound Story, a compilation of released and unreleased material.

From collection of David Pinches and Brian Pinches

One final 45, Out of My Life, was released in November 1968. The flip, Way To A Man’s Heart did not feature Hazel, but another black singer called Otis Adams on lead vocal. Adams was a relatively unknown local singer and performer from Charlotte and his appearance on the recording reflected the turmoil at the time among personnel in the group. This would be The Tempests’ last vinyl release for Smash / Mercury. Enthusiastic efforts were made to push Out of My Life by local DJ Jack Gales, but Mercury failed to support it fully. The band continued to play various venues throughout the Carolinas, including the Embers Club in Raleigh, the Stingray Club in Newton and the legendary Coachman and Four, Bennettsville, SC. One of their final performances was on Carolina Beach at the Ocean Plaza Ballroom on 11th April 1969, billed with The Embers.

From left: Mike Branch, Jim Butt, Van Coble (photo courtesy of Van Coble).

The boys had finally had enough of heavy touring. Things were combusting internally as a consequence of musical differences, arguments about money, responsibilities to the day job, and for some, new commitments such as starting a family. Due to teaching commitments Gerald Schrum had already ceased touring with The Tempests after the Columbus trip (although he continued to play locally and appear on the majority of their Smash recordings). By early 1969, the band had essentially split in two.

Van, Nelson, Tom and Hazel had pulled out and the Branch brothers went their own way. Sixteen-year old David Butler, who had been playing for a couple of years prior in high school bands, was recruited by the remaining band members: “I got the opportunity to join the boys in the wake of a major break-up. The rest of the band wanted to continue, so they added me on keyboard and Gerry Dionne on bass guitar. Van switched to lead guitar. We also had original members Nelson, Eddie Grimes, Tom Brawley and for a while Hazel Martin. We picked up ex-Plaids Hymie Williams for trumpet. Hymie was the oldest of the group, forty-nine years old at the time as I recall. I just read that he passed away just a few years ago, so he must have reached his mid-90’s. We played in that configuration for about a year. We adopted a new name: The Holidays.

(To be continued…)

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!”

The Tempests (pt.7): The Mercury-Smash Sessions Begin

E. Mark Windle. 2 August 2021

Mercury was a prominent player in the recording industry, owing much of its commercial success to astute activities of the founding fathers in the Chicago R&B and jazz recording industry through the 1940s and 1950s. The label had its ear to the ground and anticipated potential in exploiting the soul music phenomenon. Its subsidiary labels were by no means exclusively R&B orientated, but all carried some relevant artists. Smash, established in 1961, seemed right for The Tempests. Mercury executive Shelby Singleton was instrumental in bringing a southern flavour to the label; much Nashville and Memphis product was featured – country music and rock ‘n’ roll artists of course, but also R&B singers and musicians.

Charlie Edward Fach Jr. had taken over the reins of Smash after Singleton left in 1966. Around that time Fach and Singleton were both Tennessee based and worked primarily with Nashville artists. Their broader reach included dealings with James Brown, his band, and Bobby Byrd’s recordings for the Smash imprint following Brown’s dispute with King Records between 1964 and 1967. The vision held by Fach after Singleton’s departure was to continue to drive Smash more toward an R&B market, whilst still carrying other genres to ensure label stability.

Ted Bodnar took the demos of ten songs to New York and pitched them to Mercury. The label executives were hooked.

“Things were now solidified with our producer. We signed individual contracts with Ted” says Van. “We tidied the recordings we made later, back in Charlotte. We recorded Happiness, Ain’t That Enough, I Cried For You and Someday there. By March ’67 we were at Arthur Smith’s studios recording Would You Believe and You (Are The Star I Wish On).

Would You Believe was selected for a 45-rpm release on Smash Records. A frantic, up-tempo R&B affair, the song featuring a driving vocal by Hazel Martin, proclaiming all he has to offer his girl if she’ll be his. As a first release for the label, Would You Believe was a wise choice to showcase the talent of The Tempests. Original and danceable material, featuring a heavy horn section right from the opening bars, infectious rhythm and yet Hazel’s clear solid and mature vocal tone set them far apart from their peers.

Local Smash representative Jerry Goodman is sometimes linked to the local success of The Tempests, although Van recalls that he didn’t become involved with the band’s activities until further down the line:

“Jerry had become the Smash rep somewhere in the middle of our Smash recording period and wasn’t involved until after Would You Believe. I knew him as a kid as he lived down the street from me when we were younger. We could have had better support; at one point he told Nelson, Rick and me to our faces that he wasn’t going to promote our records. He was more interested in working with Billy Scott.” The Prophets (featuring Billy Scott) would release the beach music classic I Got The Fever for Smash in the spring following The Tempests’ Would You Believe.

The key to the success of Would You Believe in the south east was airplay via DJ Jack Gale and others at Big Ways. “Jack Gale was a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of guy.  We backed up a lot of artists at his functions in and around Charlotte. He supported us by pushing our records,” says Van. Prior to the release of Would You Believe The Tempests had played several shows behind national artists at the Coliseum for Jack Gayle and Big Ways, in between their performances at Park Center and various college frat parties between Mississippi and Virginia. Would You Believe was released in July 1967 and received a lot of radio play from the deep south all the way up the east coast, through Boston and New York, and west to Ohio and Indiana. By August 1967 it reached the top five in the Big Ways singles charts – along with Aretha Franklin’s Baby I Love You, Wilson Pickett’s Funky Broadway and Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher. Minor breakouts also occurred in Philadelphia and San Francisco. The song appeared in the Billboard Bubbling Under charts and almost broke into the national top 100.

Author collection

Under their own steam, they arranged appearances on The Rusty Page Show. Rusty was a previous member of The Catalinas, a DJ and MC at the Park Center shows organised by Ted Hall and Hit Attractions:

“I started my broadcasting career on radio as a high school junior, doing a night time four-hour show, and later became the Morning Drive air personality from 1958 through to the mid ‘60s. The very heart of the developing Rhythm and Blues era. I moved onto television and became the sports director at NBC 6 in Charlotte. On that station I hosted a local dance show, which featured the most popular regional bands. It had such good ratings that Ted Hall and I developed what became a popular syndicated show called The Village Square. It was a weekly, sixty-minute young adult music show featuring national recording artists and the very best of the regional rhythm and blues groups from the mid to late sixties. When Ted booked the national acts for concerts, he booked maybe three or four at a time in southern cities for a tour. They would come to the city and the studio for their interviews and perform their current hit. I would travel with some of the acts to emcee their upcoming concert. That’s how we got the singers and groups on the show. At the same time I was the Master of Ceremonies for concerts performed around Charlotte itself. There were a good number of popular groups around at the time, including those which had recorded mostly original songs that had some regional success. A few made it into the Billboard Top 100. I was the host for most shows at the Coliseum and the Park Center, where The Tempests and The Tams performed together. The Tempests were consistently excellent, with great vocals and a tight band. In my opinion, with Hazel Martin on lead The Tempests were among the best of all the groups from the area, including The Embers and The Catalinas. They quickly got my attention; I became a big fan and got to know Van Coble and Roger Branch very well. I booked them on both the local dance show and The Village Square.”

WSOC-TV’s Kilgo’s Kanteen, a one-hour Saturday noon teen talk and music show, provided The Tempests with a further television performance opportunity. Broadcast by Channel 9 within a 100-mile radius of Charlotte, this was the city’s own American Bandstand and was noted for helping break down racial barriers, being one of the first of its kind to allow African-American students to appear in the studio with the white audience. Several bands and singers were featured each week and were often accompanied by the Kilgo Go-Go dancers.

Spurred on by the overnight success of Would You Believe, the band left Charlotte in the August for Falls Church, Va. A week was spent in Georgetown at a club called The Keg, then on to the Ohio State Fair. Bob Hope, Herb Alpert and also Smash labelmates Gary and the Hornets featured top billing along with The Tempests. Things quietened down for a while, until Ted Bodnar hooked the boys up with Premier Talent out of New York. Hit Attractions, who previously had control of the bookings around Charlotte, were unhappy with the move, effectively cutting them out of the loop financially. The following month Premier booked the Bowery Club in Columbus, Ohio.

“We were playing a gig at the Bowery right off campus at Ohio State University. We had just finished rehearsing. I picked up Roger’s guitar and started playing chords to a song I had been writing. As I put the guitar down Hazel hollered across the room “Don’t stop playing that song man!” Hazel had written some great words and melody to accompany the chords. And so I Don’t Want To Lose Her was born, all in about 45 minutes. What You Gonna Do was also written pretty quickly at a session practice in Roger’s basement at his family’s place.”

“Around this time Ted and Premier Talent wanted us to make Falls Church our base. They said it was closer to the better areas for bookings. We added another singer to the group for a while by way of Michael Wayne Deese. This was to help Hazel cut down on his stage time to make it easier on him. A lot of gigs were five hours a night when you added the sets up. The band would do a set, Wayne would do one, then Hazel, then both together. We did a couple more dates at the University of Delaware and the Anvil Inn at Kennett Square, Pa. Wayne was getting homesick and he left the band after we got to D.C.”

Plans were now afoot to follow their 45-rpm success up with a full LP. Mercury had originally called Ted Bodnar within three weeks of the release of the Would You Believe 45 to say they wanted the band to record and release a full LP, though the band still needed more material to commit to the larger venture.

“The next time we were in the Arthur Smith studio was for a monster session” says Van. “About sixteen hours long or more. There we did I Don’t Want to Lose Her, What You Gonna Do, Ain’t No Big Thing, Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind, anda cover of Sam and Dave’s You Don’t Know Like I Know.”

If You Don’t Know Like I Know  has a raw quality to some ears, this is because it was done in a single take; the band thought it was just a practice run. Ron Smith was paired with Hazel, in fitting soul-duo fashion.

Can’t Get You Out of My Mind / What You Gonna Do was the next single, issued late 1967. Van remembers “We based Can’t Get You Out of My Mind on a dance called The Frantic – wasn’t so much of a dance craze than someone having a seizure – you just couldn’t play fast enough! What You Gonna Do was another fast one. We based that on a Motown or Bob Kuban and the In-Men kinda thing. Hazel could always keep up though. We played them even quicker on stage. What a lot of folks don’t realise is that R&B acts often performed songs more up-tempo than the recorded versions. Just watch live footage of Stax artists and compare to the studio. Faster and ‘looser’ too.”

Within a two-year period, The Tempests had secured a producer and a recording contract, had three studio sessions under their belt, released two 45s, were booked everywhere for live performances, and were now about to release an LP.