Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Detroit Emeralds

The Detroit Emeralds were yet another successful R & B act that got their musical start as a gospel group. The Tilmon Brothers, born and bred in Little Rock, Arkansas, consisted of real-life brothers Abrim, Ivory, Cleophus and Raymond and, (for a short time), their brother-in-law Sam.

When Abrim and Ivory decided that they wanted to pursue more of a rhythm and blues sound, brothers Cleophus and Raymond opted to continue performing gospel music. At this point, Abrim and Ivory recruited their childhood friend James Mitchell (originally from Perry, Florida), who became their lead vocalist. The group continued on as a trio, bouncing around from Motown Records to Ric-Tic Records (whom Motown eventually bought out.)

In the early '70's, the group (now calling themselves The Emeralds) relocated to Detroit where they became (quite naturally) The Detroit Emeralds. Signed with the brand new Westwood Record Label, they recorded some tracks with Willie Mitchell while on tour in Memphis, Tennessee. Many of the musicians accompanying them on these sessions would later back up Al Green in the recording studio. Soon they were starting to hit The Rhythm And Blues Chart and in 1972 they scored their biggest hit on the pop charts when "Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms)" went all the way to #19 on The Cash Box Chart. (Again, it fared better here in Chicago, where it rose all the way up to #6!)

A year later, things were already starting to fall apart. (At one point, there were actually two versions of The Detroit Emeralds performing on the road!) Once the dust settled, Abe Tilmon continued on with The Detroit Emeralds' name, later hooking up with Chapter 8 as their back-up band. James Mitchell teamed with Marvin Willis and began writing material for his brother's band, The Floaters, while continuing to perform on the road as part of The Detroit Emeralds. (In 1977, The Floaters would score a #2 Pop Hit with "Float On", a song later parodied by Cheech and Chong as "Bloat On" with minor success. Quite honestly, despite its #2 status, you don't hear "Float On" very much on the radio anymore either!)

Using some of their royalty money, the band opened up The Emerald Lounge in Detroit, where they performed (with any variety of revolving band members) for years as the house band. Abe Tilmon passed away in 1982.

Friday, March 27, 2009

And ... On The 8th Day ...

Six years ago we ran a special piece on The 8th Day as part of Frannie's recurring "Forgotten Soul Hits" Series. At the time, we referred to them as "a group of studio musicians from Detroit assembled by the Holland - Dozier - Holland team for their brand new Invictus label."

Their biggest hit, "She's Not Just Another Woman", made it all the way to # 11 on the Billboard Pop Chart in May of 1971. (It reached #8 on The Cash Box Pop Chart and was a #3 Billboard Soul Chart Smash as well.) A follow-up single, "You've Got To Crawl Before You Walk", reached #28 and then they were gone.

We have since learned that "She's Not Just Another Woman" was first recorded back in 1970 by the group 100 Proof Aged In Soul for Holland - Dozier - Holland's Hot Wax label. Apparently, they then took the exact same track from THAT record and released a year later as a single with the name The 8th Day on the label! (100 Proof Aged In Soul had their OWN Forgotten Hit when "Somebody's Been Sleeping" made The Top Ten in 1970.)

Ironically, both groups appeared to maintain separate identities ... and continue to do so in most publications today. According to Joel Whitburn's Book, "Billboard's Top Pop Singles, 1955 - 2006", The 8th Day line-up consisted of Melvin Davis on vocals and drums, Lynn Harter on vocals, Michael Anthony and Bruce Nazarian on guitar, Carole Stallings on electric violin, Anita Sherman on vibes, Jerry Paul on percussion and Tony Newton on bass ... an eight-piece, self-contained unit. (Nazarian went on to become part of Brownsville Station of "Smokin' In The Boys' Room" fame.) Yet if you check the listing for 100 Proof Aged In Soul, you'll find their lead vocalist listed as Clyde Wilson (who ALSO sang lead for The 8th Day under the name Steve Mancha, even though he's not listed in Whitburn's 8th Day entry), Joe Stubbs (Levi's brother ... Levi, of course, was the voice behind Motown's Four Tops, from whence Holland - Dozier - Holland sprang) and Eddie Anderson (aka Eddie Holiday)!

A quick listen to "She's Not Just Another Woman" by both artists reveals that they are, in fact, the exact same track! (Since 100 Proof Aged In Soul hit the charts first, it's unclear as to why anyone felt a name change was necessary ... they could have kept their OWN hit streak going a little bit longer had they just left well enough alone!) And this is not the only track the two bands shared in common ... Andrew Hamilton notes in his "All Music Guide" review that three of the tracks from 100 Proof's debut album appear as the same identical tracks and vocals on The 8th Day's release ... these include "I've Come to Save You," "Too Many Cooks," and "She's Not Just Another Woman". In fact, a Melvin Davis solo release, "I'm Worried," also appears there!

We were curious to get to the bottom of this mystery ... and found THIS information published as part of an interview that Melvin Davis did with Rob Moss in "Soul Search" last year:

According to this interview, Melvin received a call in 1968 from an old friend, Ronnie Dunbar, who had been around the Detroit music scene since the early 1960's. It seemed that the legendary Motown songwriting team of Holland - Dozier - Holland were setting up their own Invictus and Hot Wax record labels, having recently left Motown, and as a staff producer, Dunbar had been working with several local writers, including Steve Mancha, to produce a number of songs intended for future release. Several of the songs were sung by Mancha himself, but the rest were given to Melvin Davis, who was only paid to sing them on an "ad hoc" basis, but was not signed as an artist. Davis told interviewer Rob Moss, “I got paid $100 for each song and thought they were just scratch vocals so that Dunbar could shop the songs around. Then they put one of them out and it takes off.” That song was "She’s Not Just Another Woman”, which was released three years later in 1971. The record was credited to The 8th Day, a group that did not actually exist. It was, in fact, Steve Mancha, who could not be identified because he was already the lead vocalist for another group on the label, 100 Proof Aged in Soul. When the record became a hit on both the R & B and Pop Charts, it became clear that a follow up single and an album was needed. Invictus had recorded enough material with both Melvin Davis and Steve Mancha over those ensuing years so that when an album was subsequently released by The 8th Day, it contained seven songs sung by Davis and two by Mancha ... but there was no band personnel to go out and perform live or undertake promotional duties. Ronnie Dunbar and bassist Tony Newton decided to create a group in a similar mold to Sly and the Family Stone, who were very popular at the time, and began auditioning candidates in California. Davis told Rob Moss: ”They went down to California and auditioned all these people before settling on a line up they were happy with. But it just didn’t work. They were all from different musical backgrounds and didn’t work like I was used to. That tour was a disaster. The album was all different styles too – a couple of my songs but all this other weird stuff. It bombed."

After the disastrous tour, six new members were recruited and, with Newton and Davis, became The 8th Day who recorded a second album and began a tour of the U.S. Neither went well and Melvin Davis eventually quit the group and signed on as a solo artist, writer and producer with the company. When no more hits were forthcoming, Davis quit for good not long afterwards.

Today, Melvin Davis is a highly regarded session player whose resume is QUITE impressive. You can check it all out here: Click here: Melvin Lee Davis

One For Good Measure:
Here's the 100 Proof Aged In Soul hit "Somebody's Been Sleeping" ... certainly THIS one deserves a spin this week!!!

I just got this nice note from chart guru Joel Whitburn after I sent him an advance copy of our 8th Day / 100 Proof Aged In Soul piece:

Hi Kent,
Many thanks for your piece on The 8th Day. I've updated their bio for my upcoming "Top Pop Singles 1955-2008" book. Not only were R&B music fans confused about that group, but I'll bet the artists themselves weren't completely sure who was singing in what group back then!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Five Flights Up

Since we're living on "Soul Patrol" this week, I'm going to do one of my ABSOLUTE favorites. Let's see if anybody out there remembers THIS one!!!

Five Flights Up scored a #29 Pop Hit back in 1970 with "Do What You Wanna Do", a song that just might remind you of some of the music that The Stylistics would be recording a few years later. (Once again, this one did MUCH better here in Chicago, where it went all the way to #6 on The WLS Chart.)

There's not a whole lot of information available about these guys. We know that the track was arranged by Ernie Freeman, whose music career dated back to the early '50's. (Freeman played piano on The Platters' #1 Hit "The Great Pretender" and had a Top 20 Hit with his version of "Raunchy" back in 1957. He was also the pianist on "Bumble Boogie", a rockin' rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight Of The Bumble Bee" released as B. Bumble and the Stingers. (This record also featured Tommy Tedesco on guitar, father of Denny Tedesco who's been marketing that EXCELLENT film documentary profiling The Wrecking Crew!) Freeman went on to work in some capacity (as an arranger, producer or session musician) for The Rat Pack, handling sessions for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. for Reprise Records.

Five Flights Up were a vocal quintet that featured J.B. Bingham on lead vocals, who also wrote their biggest hit. If ANYONE out there can fill any more of the blanks, we'd LOVE to hear from you. This is a GREAT song that'll hopefully spark a memory for some of you ... it should have been a much bigger hit than it was ... and, as such, probably hasn't been featured on the radio since!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Main Ingredient

Since we mentioned The Main Ingredient yesterday ... and their GREAT Track "Just Don't Want To Be Lonely" ... we figured we'd feature that one today ... because, once again, here is yet ANOTHER Top Ten Hit that receives virtually NO oldies airplay anymore.

The Main Ingredient formed in Harlem, New York, as The Poets back in 1964. They first recorded for the Red Bird Record Label in the mid-'60's without any chart success. After a brief stint as The Insiders, they changed their name to The Main Ingredient in 1966 and signed with RCA Records. When founding member Donald McPherson died of leukemia in 1971, he was replaced by Cuba Gooding, father of popular film actor Cuba Gooding, Jr., who won an Academy Award for his role in "Jerry Maguire". (Of course, besides acclaimed roles in movies like "Boyz In The Hood", "A Few Good Men" and "Radio", Jr. ALSO made films like "Boat Trip", "The Fighting Temptations" and "Daddy Day Camp" ... and virtually ANYTHING else to help pay the rent!!!)

While it's Gooding's name that is most often associated with the group ... and deservedly so ... they never really made any kind of an impact on the charts until "Sr." took over the lead vocal duties ... the other founding members ... Luther Simmons and Tony Sylvester ... helped to define their overall sound. (You may not have known that Cuba, Sr. had sung uncredited backgrounds on a few earlier recordings for The Main Ingredient and even filled in on stage on occasion when McPherson first began experiencing health problems. He seemed to be the most likely candidate to join Simmons and Sylvester after McPherson's passing and when he assumed the lead vocalist role, things really began to take off for the trio.)

Their biggest hit, "Everybody Plays The Fool", topped The Pop Chart in Cash Box Magazine in 1972 ... and you still hear this one quite a bit on both the oldies and the soft rock stations ... but "Just Don't Want To Be Lonely" has been ignored by radio for years. (Another Top 40 Pop Hit, "Happiness Is Just Around The Bend" went to #23 in 1974.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ronnie Dyson

Soul and Gospel Singer Ronnie Dyson scored a Top Ten Hit with his version of "Why Can't I Touch You", a song that he ALSO performed in the Off-Broadway Musical "Salvation", in 1970.

Dyson first gained notoriety with a lead role in the Original Broadway Production of "Hair" before pursuing a pop career. (That was Ronnie singing the opening line of "When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars" on the classic "Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In". He later reprised this role in the movie version of the musical.)

He had two other National Top 40 Hits with "I Don't Wanna Cry" (#35, 1970) and "One Man Band" (#20, 1973). The latter was produced by the legendary Thom Bell, one of the guys responsible for "The Sound Of Philadelphia" in the '70's. His "One Man Band" album also included Ronnie's version of "Just Don't Want To Be Lonely", a song that would go on to become a Top Ten Hit for The Main Ingredient the following year.

Dyson later added "film actor" to his resume when he starred in the movie version of "Hair" as well as the comedy "Putney Swope".

Ronnie was born in Washington, D.C. in 1950 but died just forty years later in Philadelphia due to heart failure complicated by chronic lung disease, ironically just a few months after his father passed away. The following year, Ronnie's recording of "Nola" was featured in the Spike Lee film "She's Gotta Have It".

Despite its Top Ten status, "(If You Let Me Make Love To You Then) Why Can't I Touch You?" has been absent from the oldies airwaves for quite some time ... and "One Man Band (Plays All Alone") was a Top 20 Hit in its own right. Today we feature BOTH of these tracks in our little mini-tribute to Ronnie Dyson. (Hopefully a couple of the jocks on the list will see fit to play at least one of these on the radio again, too!)