Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Soul Six / Scotty Todd

The Soul Six story is a little unorthodox for an investigation of the history behind soul recordings. This band did some time in the studio but never actually made it to vinyl. The Soul Six will almost certainly be unknown to even the most experienced rare soul collector over in the UK or Europe. These guys were popular locally, however, and if you were a Wilmington resident or were going to gigs in North Carolina and Virginia between 1966 and 1969 you are very likely to have heard of this band. I stumbled across The Soul Six in the course of research for this project and promised to tell their story, not only for history’s sake, but because it typifies what many beach and garage bands where about; teenage kids having fun whilst making great music; and even if they didn’t make it big time, at least there was the opportunity to brush with some big name stars.

Whilst following up leads for information in an earlier chapter, Chuck Shipton from The Generation informed the author of another Wilmington band he used to play with called Brass Park, in the seventies. Chuck knew Tim Newell, a band member from The Soul Six, the precursor to Brass Park and put us in touch. Members at various points of its history were Stacy Jackson (guitar), Tim Newell (drums), John Jordan (bass), Herbie Parham (keyboards), Jack Kelly (trumpet), Frank Lane (saxophone) and two other sax players at various points, Eddie Blair (who also played keyboards) and Wayne Sigmon (on baritone saxophone). Vocalists included Lacy Newton (1966), Kenny Stokes (1967), Cleon ‘Pop’ Fredlaw (1967-1968), Scotty Todd (1968) and Mack Simpson (1969). Tim sent this piece on the band’s history:

“The Soul Six were formed in 1966 when a group called The Four Dimensions added horn players and a black singer to begin playing soul and R&B. The members were aged 15 to 18 years at the time the band was formed. The six-piece band name was always The Soul Six featuring the current vocalist, i.e. the seventh member. In the early years we played for high school dances, college fraternity parties, and music clubs in the Carolinas covering Motown, the music of Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Augusta and what was being played on the juke boxes at the Carolina and Virginia beaches. The original vocalist Lacy Newton was an incredible black singer known for his amazing performance of James Brown’s “Please, Please, Please”, including the dance moves and cape routine. When Newton was drafted into the Army in late 1966 he was replaced with Kenny Stokes, another black singer who always nailed Billy Stewart’s hit version of “Summertime”. A year later Stokes was replaced with Cleon “Pop” Fredlaw with his powerful, melodic voice and broad song repertoire. In the summer of ’67 the band was booked to play the entire summer on a large fishing boat at Carolina Beach, NC that ran moonlight cruises in the evenings. The Soul Six played every night that it was not raining, sometimes as many as four or five cruises a night. After that summer the band was really tight. In early 1968 we signed with Bowmar Productions in Wilson, NC, as the booking agency and the venues began to expand."

"In the summer of ’68 the band was booked to back the blue-eyed soul singer Scotty Todd" Tim went on. "We toured the Carolinas and Virginia that summer and disbanded in the fall when several band members left for colleges in different cities. Later that fall the band reformed at East Carolina University with original members Tim Newell, Jack Kelly, and Frank Lane plus new members Eddie Blair, Wayne Sigmon, and Mack Simpson. We were picked up by the Charlotte, NC booking agency Hit Attractions and played mostly college events, fraternity parties, music clubs, and music showcases that included well known R&B headliners of the day. We opened for Jackie Wilson at an R&B showcase in Charlotte and backed several well known R&B singers at clubs and concerts including Major Lance, James and Bobby Purify, Arthur Conley, Spyder Turner and others. In the summer of ’69 The Soul Six were booked as the house band at the Ocean Plaza Ballroom at Carolina Beach, NC for the entire summer season."

So, what of their recording history? As a solo artist, Scotty Todd delivered quality double sider (Philips 40459) with arguably one of the best versions of the perennial “Ain’t No Big Thing” and a take of The Magnificent Men’s “Cry With Me Baby”. This was a year before he played with the band. The Soul Six recorded several studio demo-tracks with Kenny Stokes, Cleon Fredlaw, and Scotty Todd which received limited radio air play. The band themselves never signed with a record label. However, Jack Kelly the trumpet player, archived much of the bands stuff including at least one master tape. Tim and Jack sent the author some sound files taken from the tape, which clearly demonstrated a well structured band, with a competent rhythm, horn section and vocals. Tracks included a range of popular soul covers including Chuck Jackson’s “I Don’t Want to Cry” and The Temptations' “Don’t Look Back." Possibly that of most interest to northern soul fans is a classy guitar and horn driven, mid to up-tempo rendition of Little Anthony and the Imperial’s DCP ballad “Reputation”, with Scotty Todd on lead vocals. The Soul Six’s take was a unique one, done with a Carolina 'feel' – the downside was that the original tape had perished over the years and only under a minute of this track was left intact.

An article appeared in local newspaper in 2011, where Cleon Fredlaw, now a housekeeper at Cape Fear Memorial Hospital, was located by a reporter running a local news article on the band. The result was that Jack was put in contact again with Cleon for the first time in more than 40 years and Cleon was presented with a copy of the demo tape. His children were completely unaware he sang in a soul band when he was younger. 

So what happened to The Soul Six? “In the late fall of ’69 The Soul Six became attracted to the jazz-rock sounds coming from bands like Chicago Transit Authority and Blood, Sweat & Tears” says Tim. “The repertoire changed to focus on this new music and the band reformed under the name Brass Park. That band continued to play until late 1971. Members of The Soul Six reconnected in the fall of 2010 to play for a high school reunion party at Wrightsville Beach, NC. The band is scheduled to play again for another reunion event in the fall of 2013. Although most members pursued careers other than music, most are still playing.”

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.

References and resources

Chuck Shipton. Personal coms. June 2012.

Tim Newell. Personal coms. June 2012.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Ron Moody and the Centaurs

The Centaurs were originally formed in 1964, by neighbourhood friends who attended Brookland Junior High, Richmond, VA. Members were Ron Moody (lead vocals), Gerry Spicer (drums), Donald Wright (bass), Wayne Gary (guitar) and Steve Buckingham (guitar). A horn section was added later which became part of their trademark. The band were signed to Columbia in 1969 for the release “If I Haven’t Got a Dime” backed with a version of Jimmy Holiday’s uptempo “New Breed”, a northern soul and mod favourite. 

“Our musical influences were all the soul greats....Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Impressions, Ray Charles, Temptations, Four Tops, Miracles, anything on Motown, Sam and Dave, anything on Stax/Volt, Billy Stewart, and soul on Atlantic – the Drifters, Solomon Burke and others” says Ron. “Both tunes had been in our live repertoire and were always crowd pleasers. “New Breed” was actually our choice for the A side, but “Dime” took off in the US. The Centaurs played all over south east US. We were still in high school and college for much of that period, so extensive travel was somewhat limited to the southern region, particularly Virginia and the Carolinas. Our first public appearance was as an opening act for Bill Deal and the Rhondels at college in Richmond, VA on January 15, 1965. We played every type of venue available, from outside festivals, big halls, private country club shows, high school proms, to college fraternity parties....and everything in between! We played with many of the area and regional bands of the day and opened for national acts including the Drifters, Jackie Wilson, the Impressions, Billy Stewart, and Percy Sledge. Most of our beach venues were Virginia locations like the Peppermint Beach Club, the Rogues Gallery and Peabody's Warehouse. In addition to Columbia, we were also signed to MGM / South Records (through Bill Lowery Music, Atlanta) and ABC / Dunhill as Ron Moody and the New Dixie Line.” 

An interview with Ron on Mike Dugo’s website provided some insight into the Centaurs’ early days and the recording of the Columbia single:

“The first voice I remember that had an impact on me was Elvis. My cousin, who was a few years older than I, was a huge fan and that's how I learned about him. I would save up my allowance money and buy the old EP 45s with two songs on each side. I have been a lifelong Elvis fan ever since. The band was formed during the height of the British Invasion in 1964. Our first gig was a private party and they passed the hat! We made $14.00 and put it towards band cards. We played parties, sock hops, school events, fashion shows - anywhere they would hire us! We played many teen-oriented functions, but one particular teen club was the Chamberlayne Teen Club in Richmond. It was the prestige gig for kids our age!”

“Gene Pitney originally recorded “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” as a ballad. There was a Carolina band called Bob Collins and The Fabulous Five who had reworked the song into more of a shuffle. We took that concept, changed it still more and added horns. By now we had a full blown horn section: sax, two trumpets and trombone. We picked the old obscure Jimmy Holiday tune called “The New Breed” for the B-side, borrowed $600 and found a studio outside of Baltimore. We drove up on a Sunday in March of 1969 and cut the two sides. The engineer was a young George Massenberg, who subsequently went on to worldwide fame as an engineer, audio equipment designer and producer. I remember being pretty much intimidated since this was my first attempt at recording under true professional circumstances. We were pleased with the results and proceeded home having no idea as to how the effort would be received. At that point, we were doing cover material and rearranging it. That was the extent of our creative efforts. Later I became very interested in the craft of song writing and it is one of my passions today.”

Whilst there were no further vinyl releases under the name Ron Moody and The Centaurs, there are several live recordings and demos, and a single on ABC as Ron Moody and The New Dixie Line, recorded in 1973. 

“There is always a faction that wants to move ahead and one that does not. By the ‘70s, several of us had realized that we needed to broaden our horizons” says Ron. “This was the era of Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse, etc. and we needed a new direction. We became Centaur, and changed our image. Shortly after, several of us moved to Atlanta to pursue our dream under the tutelage of music publisher Bill Lowery.  The original band was together from 1964 to 1971. I moved back from Atlanta in the mid-70s and in 1980, the second incarnation of Ron Moody and The Centaurs began. This band performed until September of 2001. I spent the next few years concentrating on song writing for other people, then in 2004, I decided to put the band back together again.”

Ron himself has spent 35 years in sales and marketing with ABC/Dunhill, Polygram, and Universal. He also continues with his song writing and has produced material for several beach and soul acts including Paul Craver, the Holiday Band and Archie Bell. Ron Moody and the Centaurs continue to tour today. 

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.


Mike Dugo. Personal coms. 6 June 2012. Permission obtained to use interview excerpt obtained from
Ron Moody. Personal coms. June and August 2012.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Spontanes

The Spontanes from Gastonia, NC ran initially from 1960 to 1968, with a couple of subtle band title changes at various points to include lead singers Joe Ray Dowell and Harley Hogg. In one form or another they have continued to perform pretty much ever since. The group had more than forty members during its history, including about twenty during their 1960s recording period. They played across the south east including Spartanburg SC, Charlotte and Greensboro NC, and at various college venues including the University of Georgia campus in the late 60s. The Spontanes went on to record for Eclipse, Beaver and Deck in the seventies and eighties, although these are perhaps of lesser interest to rare soul collectors.

The Spontanes put out two 45s and an LP in the 1960s. Their first single, the self-penned mid tempo “Share My Name” was recorded in 1965 and released on the Casino label (4-4797). James Bates took lead vocals, possibly accompanied in parts by Joe Ray Dowell, who provided lead vocals for the ballad flip. Joe Dowell left the band temporarily between 1965 and 1968 to record as The Five Jays with his brother and three others, with “Hey, Hey Girl” (Chant 515) for Bill Haney’s label in Atlanta.

The LP release “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 booking agency in Charlotte. Tracks included “Ain’t No Big Thing”, “Summertime”, “I’m on the Outside Looking In”, “Reach Out”, “My Girl”, “Thank You John”, “Share My Name”, “Raise Your Hand”, “39-21-46”, “Everything’s Going to Work Out”, “Get Ready” and “Midnight Hour”. Again James Bates and now also Ronnie Owenby provided vocals on this work.

Their second 45 “Where Did I Go Wrong” (UA 50269), was produced by their manager Claude Bailey, around 1967 or 1968. Band members at this time included James Bates (vocals), possibly his brother Jay Dee (guitar), Ronnie Bailey (drums), Bill Stewart (saxophone), Ronnie Owenby (vocals, guitar) Terry Ransome (trumpet) and Ronnie Gittens (keyboards, trumpet). The track was also written by Bates, in his mid twenties by this time, and is a fine example of the kind of mid 60s beach horn-led mid tempo dancer. Bates stayed with the first version of the band until 1969 when he joined The Rivieras, probably at the time Ray Dowell came back into the fold to head up The Spontanes.  

“We were doing fraternity parties and high school dances at the time and came across James” says Nat Speir of the Rivieras. “He was extremely soulful. Nobody could do James Brown better. James Bates is in this area still, playing a lot of golf and doing a regular gig with the same partner for years.” 

Bates, now in his 70s, reported in the Gaston Gazette that his right to “Where Did I Go Wrong” was sold to an undisclosed New York company by their band manager some years ago. This only came to light in 2011 when organising a reunion and DVD recording in Gaston County of the “Original Spontanes” and other local R&B bands from the 1960s. Bates was inducted into the Carolina Beach Music Hall of Fame in 2011. The group still appears as The Original Spontanes today. Joe Dowell is now deceased.

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.


Nat Speir. Personal coms. August 2012.
Pete McKnight. Personal coms. September 2012. 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs

Maurice Williams was originally from Lancaster, SC. His group involvement was a long one since the early 50s, commencing with the Royal Charms, Junior Harmonizers and the Gladiolas. The Gladiolas hit pay dirt in 1957 with “Little Darlin’ ” on Excello when the group went to Nashville. 

The most important milestone for Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs was “Stay” released in 1960 on Al Silver’s New York Herald Records. “Stay” went straight to No.1. It became a huge early beach music hit and is now recognised as a doo-wop classic, having since been covered by The Four Seasons, Jackson Browne and others. Decades later the original was given a further lease of life via the Dirty Dancing movie soundtrack. Another couple of Herald releases followed in the early sixties but didn’t climb the charts. Maurice and the group then went with New Orlean’s Marshall Sehorn to produce “May I”. This also became a local radio and beach hit, if not a national one. 

Marshall Sehorn was a student at North Carolina State University before working for Bobby Robinson as the southern promotion man for Fire and Fury labels from the late 1950s onwards.  When these labels folded Sehorn and partner Allen Toussaint founded the Sansu, Deesu and Tou-Sea labels and the Sea-Saint Recording Studios in New Orleans, between 1963 and 1966. Sehorn and Toussaint released Williams on their Deesu label, producing a few fine northern soul winners in the mid sixties with the group and as a solo artist; “Being Without You” (Deesu 302), “Don’t Ever Leave Me” (Deesu 309) and “How to Pick a Winner” (Deesu 311). Another northern track on yet another related label from around this time was “Return” (Sea-horn 503), a sparse recording that sounds much earlier than its release date (circa 1964). Gladys Knight and the Pips appear on backing. The flip, “My Baby’s Gone” is a dramatic beat ballad and is an admirable demonstration of Williams’ vocal quality. A later release, given the big city soul production treatment, was “Nobody Knows” on Scepter (SCE 12113). This was yet another Sehorn production, perhaps currently under the rare soul radar but well suited to the northern scene. A second track which was destined for a Scepter release, but which never actually materialised, was the mid tempo “Look My Way”. Nat Speir, co-founder of The Rivieras, is pretty sure he remembers playing baritone sax on this one, recorded at Arthur Smith’s Studios in Charlotte around 1966 or 1967. Whilst it still sounds unfinished, “Look my way” was eventually pressed in the UK more than 20 years later via the various artists compilation LP “Soul Cities” (Kent 089) and on the Kent CD “Living the Nightlife” (CDKEND 104).  The Zodiacs managed to release a couple of their own LPs in the sixties, namely “Stay” on Herald in 1960/61 and a live LP recorded at Myrtle Beach in 1965. Nat Speir described his and Bob Meyer’s musical involvement with Maurice Williams:

“Maurice and The Zodiacs covered the typical territory of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida and parts of Kentucky. As an adult Maurice always lived in Charlotte. I played baritone sax and guitar with the Zodiacs in the early to mid sixties, and did some sessions with him in Charlotte and New York. Maurice and I got together several times to write songs, though I don't think anything came of that. Bob (Meyer) and I worked on the side with Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs. We went with Maurice to New York to record possible follow-ups for "Stay". Bob sang three songs written by Maurice, and I played sax. Recording in New York at Beltone Studios, in the same room in which Ray Charles, The Drifters and many others recorded, was a once in a lifetime thrill for a 17 year old white boy. We rehearsed above Small's Paradise in Harlem, and rubbed elbows with the likes of Gladys Knight and King Curtis. Horace Ott was to be the arranger, and Jimi Hendrix was the rhythm guitarist added to beef-up the bass. He was an unknown at that time. One never knows about these things, but nothing came of all this work. Maurice worked a lot with Marshall Sehorn. Sehorn was from a family of real estate professionals who came from the Charlotte area - although that would be hard to see if you met him. He was a character but to me he was a nice guy who was careful with money.”

Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs (of varied line ups) continued to perform on the beach music oldies circuit throughout the seventies and eighties. He still lives in Charlotte, NC today. On the back of the popularity of Dirty Dancing (which provided another eight million in sales of “Stay”) he is still actively touring the south east states, and has had recent appearances on Pittsburg PBS TV specials.

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.


Nat Speir. Personal coms. July 2012.
Rick Simmons. Carolina Beach Music: the Classic Years. Published by The History Press, Charlston, SC. ISBN 978.1.60949.214.4
Ted Hall. Personal coms. October 2012. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Chashers

The Chashers’ “Without My Girl” is one of the more obscure releases and not that well known even among rare soul collectors, partly due to the record being one of the more recent discoveries on the northern scene. The track may have been first played in the UK at the Middleton all-nighters by DJs Carl Willingham and Phil Shields.

By the time “Without My Girl” came out in late 1968, The Chashers had evolved from a merger of earlier bands.  The two writers, Lamar (aka Tom) Collins, lead singer and Roy Thompson, guitar, were members of The Avalons, originally from Toccoa, GA. In 2009 Sam Camp, an ex-Avalon, posted the following tribute in Chris Bishop’s Garage Hangover website, telling the story of Lamar’s journey from his geographical and musical roots:

“The first time I met Lamar Collins was in 1963 at Bell’s Drive Inn in Toccoa, Georgia. I was a curb hop there at the time and just happened to walk to his car to take his order. Lamar asked was I the guy that played saxophone and I shyly replied yes. I was barely 14 years old and Lamar was in his very early 20s. We started a conversation about music and the rest is history. After several months of rehearsing, we started sounding like a real rock and roll band and called ourselves The Avalons. I recall our first gig at the Elks Club in Toccoa where we had to stretch 33 songs into four sets, but all went well. They wanted us to come back. We began playing regularly in north east Georgia and South Carolina. Lamar Collins and Jimmy Sipes could give The Righteous Brothers a run for their money singing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling."

"The Avalons gained popularity as the house band at a local teen club called the Chicken Shack, located in Seneca, South Carolina" Sam continued. "It was not uncommon to pack a thousand fans in on a Saturday night where our records and pictures were sold. I remember our opening song, an instrumental of “You Can’t Sit Down”, by The Dovells on which I played the sax. As its title suggests, it's an amazing dance number that would heat up any dance floor. This was our signature song and always got the crowd going. They would start to scream the minute we began to play. During the band’s popularity, we opened for several other acts including such names as The Swinging Medallions, Billy Joe Royal, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Keith, and The Impressions. Lamar was the lead singer of the band. He was very popular among the ladies with his blond hair, blues eyes, and strong tenor voice. He was endowed with a gift that enabled him to sing straight to your heart and make you remember that feeling the next day. Without question, Lamar was the driving force of the band and well respected among his fellow musicians. You can see him in the picture inside the Chicken Shack playing his red Gibson bass guitar. Lamar loved to perform. Folks that came to the Chicken Shack in the late sixties will remember this setting. The Avalons’ “Come Back Little Girl” was No.1 at WHYZ radio station in Greenville, SC. The group brushed closely to fame, but due to conflicts of interest, they split in 1968. After a period of time, everyone went their separate ways. Soon after, Lamar and Roy Thompson collaborated and put their heart and soul into the Uncle release.”

Which brings the story neatly to the formation of The Chashers. Sam Camp informed me that Roy Thompson wrote most of the material back then. Roy still lives in Sam’s hometown in Toccoa, Georgia, and the pair had met in 2011 for a jam session. Roy was tracked down and provided this information:

“The members of The Chashers were Lamar Collins (lead vocal), James Knox (vocal), Bobby Tucker (keyboards), Terry Cole (drums), Doug Goolsby (trumpet), Rich Crider (trumpet), Bill Thompson (my brother, guitar) and me on bass guitar. We didn’t have a manager and were no relation to the Burlington Chasers. The band name “Chashers” was not a typo – we didn’t want to use someone else’s name. We played a few frat parties, the Chicken Shack in SC and did a gig at Lemans apts. in Atlanta too. “Without My Girl” was co-written by Lamar and me and was taped at the Mark V studio in Greenville, SC about 1967. We had 500 copies of the record cut. The band lasted for a little over a year. It was a fun time for me even though it was hard to keep a band that size together.”

Roy’s report of the line up was further confirmed by Rick Crider. This contradicts Greg Haynes original report in the Heeey Baby Days resource, of a band profile which may have actually represented the earlier (unrelated) “Chasers” group from 1961 through to 1967, before The Chasher’s recorded the Uncle 45. 

“Without My Girl” is a blue eyed mid to up tempo soul number with a prominent B-3 Hammond organ and horns that give it a heavy beach production, in many respects perhaps similar to The Tempests’ cuts on Smash. The Mark V Recording Studio was founded by the country and pop songwriter and producer  Joe Huffman, and like the Arthur Smith Studios had another long running history, at least into the early 1980s. Southern gospel groups used the studios a lot, as did Kip Anderson who was later to record on Chicago’s Checker label. For northern soul fans, one of the most notable bands to record here was The Nomads, a local Greenville band, with their classic “Somethin’s Bad” (Mo Groove 78240). Recording time at Mark V was relatively expensive for a local band (about $500 for a demo tape in 1971, according to the Marshall Tucker Band who sessioned there) but many groups came here for the excellent quality production finishing.

No label discography of Uncle appears to exist. Chris Bishop feels if it was a garage or rockabilly label, he would likely have known about it. Rich Crider commented that the logo was Lamar’s stage cane with a snake on it, suggesting this is likely to be a one off label release. This was to be The Chashers only record release. A final word, again from Sam Camp’s tribute post in Garage Hangover: 

“Lamar was a star that shone from Toccoa, Georgia. He was loved and respected by many for his musical abilities, but those who knew him closely could tell you what a kind and gentle heart he possessed as well. It was this that shone through in his character. Lamar was responsible for getting me started in my music career and I still play today. During the years I knew him, the man ate, slept and lived for his music. He inspired a surprising number of us to continue in the gift of music God had placed in each of our souls, and for that I will always be grateful. Lamar passed away in 1975 of a brain tumour. To say that I miss him would be an understatement. I think of him often and can testify of many others who do the same.”

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.


Chris Bishop. Personal coms. May 2012. Permission obtained to quote from website.
Jeanette Bleckley. Personal coms. June 2012.
Rick Crider. Personal coms. May 2012.
Roy Thompson. Personal coms. (via Sam Camp) July 2012. 
Sam Camp. Personal coms. May to August 2012. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Raven Records: Gene and the Team Beats, The Lost Soul and The Soulmasters.

Situated in the south central heart of Virginia on the Dan River, Danville sits near the Blue Ridge Mountains about 200 miles from the coast. Since the early 1960s Danville has remained a small city with just under 50,000 residents. Primary local employers at that time were tobacco and textiles manufacturers. A quarter of the Danville population were African-American then, though black and white residents kept to themselves. Prior to the Civil Rights Act, segregation was very much in force in municipal buildings, eateries and other public facilities of Danville and 1960-1963 was a particularly busy and dangerous time politically. Civil rights demonstrations sparked off by the Greensboro Woolworths sit-in resulted in a number of violent riots over the summer of ’63, where police and hired garbage workers used clubs and fire hoses on the crowds. Martin Luther King Jnr. and associated organisations came to Danville to speak to the masses and assist the arrested but were unable to quell the violence. 

That was pretty much Danville pre-1964. Just like other towns and cities, even after desegregation, residual negative attitudes and hatred undeniably existed within some sections of the community. Doug Hyler from the integrated Soulmasters who recorded for Danville’s Raven label commented: “Being in a band that was mixed didn't make you popular with the older generation of the day. But if there are any praises they should go to our families who supported the endeavour. I remember my grandfather being confronted in a grocery store due to my interests. It was a different time.” 

The passing of the Civil Rights Act did indirectly but rapidly make race music more accessible to local white youth in these isolated semi-rural communities after this point. White teenage bands from Danville and surrounding areas wanted to pick up on the Motown and R&B sounds coming through the bigger broadcasting stations, play this material locally and by the coast, and in some cases would recruit a black lead vocal or two to provide them with that ‘authentic’ soul sound. Similarly, many record producers and labels who were a primarily white audience, would now turn their hand to this potential market opportunity.

In the mid to late 1960’s, Frank Koger owned the tiny House of Sound recording studio on Old Piney Forest Road and ran the Piedmont and Raven record labels. The Raven label is perhaps best known in rare soul circles for The Lost Soul’s “A Secret of Mine” (a Stafford classic) and “I’m Gonna Hurt You”, and also The Soulmasters “I’ll Be Waiting”. Koger’s standard deal was $50 for 50 records or $250 for 500 records, often with the band given some and the rest distributed by Koger to radio stations. This could point towards the reason for the level of rarity of many of the Raven releases – perhaps a maximum of between 50 and 500 records were pressed? To date no comprehensive label discography exists, although sixties soul collector George Gell attempted to start one in the pre-internet days, and reports that there were dozens of  Raven releases, though primarily country and folk. Frank recorded a variety of genres such as gospel, country, bluegrass and soul from Virginia and the Carolinas. 

Gene Rumley from Martinsville, VA was the saxophone player and vocalist for Gene and the Team Beats. They performed from 1959 to 1968 throughout the Carolinas and Virginia, at fraternity parties at Virginia University and for one summer in the mid-1960s were the house band at the Peppermint Beach Club in Virginia Beach. The Team Beats played with Otis Redding, the Kelly Brothers, Freddie Cannon, Joe Simon, William Bell and others. After an initial unremarkable and poorly mixed uptempo release on Leatherwood, they recorded two for Raven, the mid tempo harmony laden “I Wanta Be Your Baby” (Raven 45-2006) and “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me” (Raven HOS45-2011), a very different up-tempo version of the Wallace Brothers release on Sims. “I Wanta Be Your Baby” was actually recorded at Copeland Studios in Greensboro NC rather than Koger’s place but released on his label. Band members were Gene, Charles Hairston (on lead vocals: the only black member and whom Gene found in Martinsville), Lonnie Woodhall (guitar and backing vocals) and Carl Barrow (bass). Rickie Fox was their substitute drummer whilst their regular Mickey Walker was drafted to Vietnam, and played on both Raven records.

Eventually, Charles Hairston moved on to other things. Another record was planned with a new lead singer to replace Hairston and was part recorded. However The Team Beats disbanded after further military drafting in 1968. Gene Rumley became a very successful businessman and entrepeneuring skills speaker, winning e-business Champion of the Year in 2008. He also has humanitarian interests and runs an international charity which provides aid and assistance to orphans, street children and victims of human trafficking. After The Team Beats, Charles Hairston continued to play in a variety of bands until his death in 2009. Rickie moved on to play with the Soulmasters in the late sixties, and still plays today.

There were at least three bands in the mid sixties called the Lost Soul, or Lost Souls, from Cleveland, New Jersey and West Virginia. The specific band under scrutiny here are The Lost Soul from the Bluefield West Virgina area, on the border of VA and West Virginia. They were responsible for two records on Raven: “A Secret of Mine” (HOS-45-2018) - a Gary Rushbrook spin when it eventually hit the UK soul scene in the early eighties - and perhaps the lesser known “I’m Gonna Hurt You” (HOS-45-2032), both rare and very suited to the northern scene.

The waters are a little muddied regarding the dates of these releases. Originally thought to be from 1965, it appears that the band actually recorded “A Secret of Mine” early 1967. They even lip-synched it on a local NC TV teen dance show around the same time. The track was written by Steve Calfee and Randy Conlee  who played guitar and organ in the band, a basic production by all accounts but featuring a memorable bass riff and drums. “I'm Gonna Hurt You” was recorded at a seperate session in the same year and is another fine example of blue eyed soul which would stand strong alongside similar material from established acts of the time, such as The Embers.

The Soulmasters were another Raven band, well known in rare soul circles for their "I'll Be Waiting Here". The initial set-up included Doug Hyler (saxophone) and Wayne Womble (keyboards) from North Carolina around 1966. They underwent a temporary name change to The Sensational Soulmasters after joining forces with black vocalists John Irby and Jerry Wilson from The New Breed, followed by further mergers with individuals from other bands from the Danville area, including Gene and the Team Beats, The Kondors, The Continentals and The Majors. Irby and Wilson became the band's front men. The Soulmasters obtained their musical inspiration from listening to black radio stations such as WILA from Danville and Nashville’s WLAC. They played all over the south east, primarily at frat parties and dances at the Pavillion on Myrtle Beach, SC, the Coke Plant, the 360 Drive-In and at Martinsville. Their young age prevented them playing many clubs. This was also still the early days of desegregation; the band did not entirely avoid racial tension from both sides. One advantage however of an integrated band was that they could play ‘black venues’ as well as white ones, and The Sensational Soulmasters became a popular in both. Around 1967 they reverted back to the title of The Soulmasters and went off to record at the House of Sound. Wayne Womble recalled a little of the studio:

“The studio was built in a house on Piney Forest Road. It was not elaborate by any means, just a carpeted area of an old house with a petition for the drums. It also housed an upright piano. The control room was in a separate room that had a glass window looking into the studio. Very basic and only the capacity to record two tracks. The instruments were recorded in the studio and the horn section recorded in a separate room. The combined recordings were laid onto one track. John and Jerry on vocals were recorded on the other track in another room.”

They recorded their only single, “I’ll Be Waiting Here” and the flip over a two day period. “I’ll Be Waiting”, with John Irby on lead vocal was clearly influenced by Chuck Jackson’s Wand classic “I Don’t Want to Cry”. According to their bass player, 500 records were pressed for $200, paid for by a local DJ and promoter. An error at the pressing plant meant that both sides of the 45 were made at the wrong speed and with suboptimal recording quality. The speed fault on listening is not necessarily immediately apparent but does result in “I’ll Be Waiting Here” being a slightly more manic up tempo soul dancer than was intended! Nevertheless the record did get some local airplay and even made the Top10 briefly on WLAC. Wayne has since digitally edited both sides of the 45 to the correct speed and also enhanced the recording. Wayne and Doug Hyler also report that the band later re-recorded both songs:  

“The Soulmasters re-recorded "I'll Be Waiting Here" and "You Took Away The Sunshine" sometime in 1969 at a studio in Raleigh, NC” says Wayne. “I was out of the band at this time and don't know exactly how many songs they recorded at the session. Jerry Wilson gave the original master tape to Eddie Floyd in hopes that he could help The Soulmasters further their career. This was a big mistake in that there were no other copies of this recording. The Soulmasters never heard back from Eddie Floyd and the tapes were lost forever.” 

Doug Hyler, whilst not on the actual re-recording of  “I’ll Be Waiting” was at the session where it was done. He mentioned several songs were recorded, including Otis Redding material. Doug also reported it was years later before Jerry would confess that he gave the tapes away.

By the late sixties The Soulmasters had grown into a very popular twelve piece band, and had played with The Tams, Percy Sledge, Rufus Thomas and Sam and Dave. Luck thereafter though seemed to be against them. Plans were made to tour further afield, including a stint at the Apollo Amateur Night in New York in 1968, but this was cancelled after the shooting of Martin Luther King. They were also unable to go on a month long European tour with Arthur Conley, as many of them were still at high school and their parents refused to support the offer. The group disbanded in 1970. 

As discussed elsewhere The Greater Experience may also have had a connection with Koger. Colony Sound Productions, credited on the Colony 13 label, were responsible for another release known to have come from another of Koger’s labels. Greater Experience member Roger Scruggs reports “Don’t Forget to Remember” as being released in 1970. This was also the year that Koger moved to Nashville to pursue a country career and when the House of Sound was demolished. Colony Sound Productions may have been some kind of short-lived transitionary name perhaps? Unfortunately Koger is untraceable these days to ask.

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.

References and resources

Jack Garrett. The History of Raven Records. Showcase Magazine, 4 January 2012. Available at
Jack Garrett. Gene and the Team Beats. From:
Andy Patterson and Dave Strickland. Personal coms. September 2012. Permission obtained to use information from
Doug Hyler. Personal coms. October 2012.
George Gell. Personal coms. September 2012.
Tom Mathewson. Personal coms. October 2012. Permission obtained for reproduction of photographs of The Soulmasters.
Wayne Womble. Personal coms. September, October 2012. Permission obtained to use material at:

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Embers

The Embers were formed in Raleigh, NC in 1958 by Bobby Tomlinson (drums) and Jackie Gore (vocals, guitar). They mainly played frat parties and Raleigh clubs. The Embers are one of the longest running beach music bands and (perhaps along with The Tams) they likely one of the most widely known, both within and outside the region. 

In the late fifties until around 1963/1964 they toured and recorded as The Swinging Embers, before the name change. The Embers had a very prolific recording career for both singles and albums. However UK soul collectors are likely to be most interested in their recording career between 1964 and 1969 for JCP, eEe, Bell and Atlantic. In addition to Bobby and Jackie, members during this phase have included Dave Norket (keyboards until 1964, then Martin Durwood, Doug Harrison, Rick Whitfield or Mark Hammer for the remainder of the decade), Frank Reich (saxophone until 1969, then Don Holloway), Johnny Hopkins (trumpet), John Thompson (bass, vocals) and Blair Ellis (vocals). The band who recorded as The Embers on the northern soul rarity “You Can Lump It” for Act IV was unrelated; a temporary name change for The Seminoles from Detroit.

The Embers’ “First Time” (JCP 1034) was likely released around 1964. JCP was set up by Jimmy Capps, who had been a Raleigh radio announcer / DJ since the late forties for WTPF, and his radio station engineer Larry Gardner, with the aim to promote local bands in the area. JCP had its own studio in the basement of an old movie theatre in Raleigh. Nearly sixty releases appeared on the label, including Frankie and the Damon’s “Man From Soul” (JCP 1057) which will be familiar to some UK scene collectors. Leader Frankie Presnell’s father knew The Embers’ parents well; Frankie and the Damons even played at The Embers Club, despite being under age. 

“First Time” was initially played out in the UK by Guy Hennigan (covered up as Mill Evans and the Esquires) at Tony’s New Empress Ballroom in Blackburn, Lancashire, in the mid to late eighties. It even got an airing on national radio when Guy was interviewed on DJ Janice Long’s BBC Radio 1 show. At that time there was only a handful of known copies on the UK. More have surfaced since, but it remains a very hard find these days, on either side of the Atlantic.

In 1965 their parents bought a nightclub and opened it as the Embers Club in Raleigh. “Back in the 60s, I would take dates to the Embers Club, before we were old enough to get in" says beach fan Bob McNair. "It was about 45 minutes from my hometown of Sanford. As long as you were dressed nicely with a date, behaved yourself and had the cover charge, they weren’t too concerned about your age and would let you in.  As I remember the club was in an old converted warehouse with a railroad loading dock on the side. We got to see some fantastic bands live and consume some adult malt beverages!  Numerous soul and R&B artists shared the stage with The Embers at their club.....Jackie Wilson, Little Anthony, Billy Stewart, Fats Domino, The Drifters, The Clovers and many more.” Three years later another club was opened in Atlantic Beach NC, where The Embers opened for the Rolling Stones. In the seventies the Embers Club in Raleigh relocated to an upmarket night club elsewhere in the city, and finally to the Hilton Hotel near NC State University in 1975."

Chicago soul releases were extremely popular with teenagers and bands of the south east in the mid sixties. The Impressions and Okeh artists such as The Artistics and Major Lance, in fact just about anything related to Curtis Mayfield either in a song writing, production or artistic capacity, featured heavily on jukeboxes on the beaches and inland waterways of the Carolinas, and  within live band playlists. Chicago influences are certainly very clear when The Embers' LP recordings are considered.  No surprise too then that The Embers would provide us with a very competent Impressions-like group version of “It Ain’t Necessary”. This track was originally Mamie Galore’s third release, and only hit, for the Windy City’s St. Lawrence label, with Jerry Butler in the writing credits. The female version is a northern soul classic in its own right. The Embers take on “It Ain’t Necessary” was first released on JCP (1054) in 1966, one of the last releases in the label discography, and also gained a national release the following year (Bell 644).

Next up was “Just Crazy ‘Bout You Baby”, released twice in 1967 on eEe (Embers Entertainment Enterprises), with different flips: the first with “We’ve Come a Long Way Together” (eEe 0069) and the second with “Aware of Love” (eEe 0070). “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby” was played out in the UK by Gary Rushbrook in the very early eighties, toward the closure of Wigan Casino.  Much more recently, The Embers take on Jerry Butler’s “Aware of Love” has also received plays on the northern scene.  

By now The Embers were clearly making some headway in getting noticed outside of the south east, reflected in the fact that their last two releases of the decade were picked up by major labels. “Far Away Places” (MGM 14167) is a curious spin on an old 1940s standard, using a bass riff and rhythm influenced by Archie Bell and the Drells’ “Tighten Up”.  According to Bobby Tomlinson in Rick Simmons’ Carolina Beach Music, Bob Crewe facilitated The Embers signing to MGM after hearing a demo tape of the song. The musicians on “Far Away Places” (and presumably on its flip also) were MGM’s own staff from New York, and The Embers laid the vocals. The record received airplay in 1969 but its promotion was cut short when Bob Crewe was fired from MGM, hence the relative rarity for a release on such a major label, for both demo copies and issues. “Far Away Places” became a permanent feature in the bands’ live repertoire which helped cement it as a classic for beach music lovers in the US. Whilst this side is very unlikely to hold any interest for northern soul collectors, the flip “Watch Out Girl” is an established northern soul classic. It was known to be played by Colin Curtis at the Blackpool Mecca around 1975, though Soul Sam or Pep may have been first to break it.

“Where Did I Go Wrong”, by Jackie Gore and probably their most up tempo affair, was released in April 1969 for Atlantic (45-2627). It received plays in Summer 1969 via radio station Channel 85 WKIX which served the college and university dominated areas of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. On the other side of the Atlantic on the northern scene, this was played again at the Blackpool Mecca though it may well have had its first UK airing via the Catacombs in Wolverhampton  in the early 1970s.

The Embers released three LPs in the 1960s on local Raleigh, NC labels; JCP and eEe. The first LP “The Embers Roll Eleven” (JCP) was released in 1963.  This was a live LP (recorded at North Carolina State University’s Erdahl Cloyd Student Union). Tracks included a number of Curtis Mayfield / Impressions, Major Lance and Motown covers and a version of Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' beach classic “Stay”. The other two studio based LPs again showcased competent standard soul covers but also provided a couple of tracks of particular interest for the rare soul collector. “Just for the Birds” (JCP) in 1964 offered further covers of Little Anthony, The Drifters and an LP only version of The Impressions' “Little Young Lover”. The last LP of the decade was “Burn You a New One” (eEe) in 1967. This featured tracks such as “Ain’t No Big Thing”, more Little Anthony and the Imperials covers (“Hurt So Bad” and “Reputation”), and undoubtedly the best track on the LP:  a version of Jerry Butler’s “Aware of Love”, which as discussed was also released as a 45 on eEe. 

“The Embers were my favourite regional beach music throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s” says Bob McNair. “They are still performing today with only one original member left, the drummer, Bobby Tomlinson. He is over 72 years old and still going strong. I’ve seen them countless times over the past 50 years.  In the late 60s I attended Campbell College. One of my classmates, Johnny Hopkins, joined The Embers in 1967 as their trumpet player.  Johnny and I and some of his buddies from Raleigh were all day students and got to be friends in our business administration classes.  We still remain casual acquaintances when we see each other.  Johnny played full time with The Embers for over 35 years and now plays with the beach band North Tower.”

Jackie Gore left The Embers in 1994 and now sings with The Legends of Beach. 

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.


Bob McNair. Personal coms. June 2012.
Guy Hennigan. Personal coms. September 2012.
LP track listing source:
Soulsource website discussion forum. Thread at
Rick Simmons. Carolina Beach Music: the Classic Years. Published by The History Press, Charlston, SC. ISBN 978.1.60949.214.4