LINER NOTES FOR THE FLYIN’ HIGH CD 09/17/09
With the exception of Dyke and The Blazers “Funky Broadway” and maybe “Linda Lu” by Ray Sharpe (actually from Fort Worth, Texas), most soul music connoisseurs would not even consider that Phoenix, Arizona, had a vibrant R&B scene in the 1950s and 1960s.
But Phoenix actually was a major stop on the busy Southern California to Texas black travel corridor, with many taking a liking to the sunny local weather and setting up shop in the dry desert climate. Agriculture and construction were a major source of jobs in the area and for many it became full-time employment instead of seasonal. By 1953, the local black paper the “Arizona Sun” declared itself “the voice of 60,000 Negros in Arizona”. With this many new residents, a plethora of clubs and bars opened to provide a place to socialize and unwind with music on Friday and Saturday nights . . . Or any time that “the eagle would fly.” On Sunday, the faithful, and those trying to be so, would congregate in the many churches in South Phoenix to hear the word of God and feel the spirit singing the old traditional spirituals with the chorus next to the altar.
Phoenix also was a regular stop on the touring circuit for singers and bands heading to or coming from the West Coast. Most played for just the gas money, a few for a nice guarantee. In addition to the plentiful small clubs and bars along Broadway and Buckeye roads in South Phoenix, the popular Riverside Park, Abel Hall, Madison Square Garden and Calderon’s Ballroom offered a larger stage for the famous and the not so famous national performers to entertain the masses and inspire the locals here. Big stars like James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Roy Milton, Johnny Otis, Etta James…even Elvis sang in Phoenix.
Another reason so much great music was made here is the fact that, in those days, it was very easy to make a record in Phoenix. There was a first class studio, Floyd Ramsey’s Audio Recorders of Arizona on North Seventh Street (where most of the recordings on this CD were created). If you wanted to make a record and save a few bucks, there also was Loy Clingman’s Viv Records Studio, Ray Boley’s Canyon Records, Bill Miller’s Magnatronics, the Von Studio and Frank Porter’s studio. For many, the studio tape was as far as the process would go, with not enough money or interest at the time to place a vinyl order (the 12 unreleased gems on this album will attest to this). If and when you were ready to make records, there was only one option in Arizona: Sidney J. Wakefield Manufacturing. They were nationally known as a top operation, big on quality discs, and they would press a minimum order of 100 records — and that was nice for those low on funds who still sought a measure of fame. Once you had your records in hand, it was off to the juke box operators to get some spins in the bars and then, depending on the style of music, dropping off some copies with a local radio disc jockey who still had some say about the music on the Phoenix airwaves.
Longtime Audio Recorders engineer Jack Miller was at the controls for most of the recordings heard here, and he’s the only direct link to the mysterious Lone Wolf, one of the few country blues performers we have on this set. The Lone Wolf was one Bob Felder of 1411 E. Washington Street, if we can believe the writer’s information on his wonderful recording. Felder was a true one-man band, as Miller recalls, playing the guitar, high hat, bass drum, harmonica and singing at the same time. He dropped by the studio to record three original songs on Aug. 18, 1958, two of which we offer here: both sides of the impossibly rare Felder Records platter “Jumpin’ Baby” and “I Still Love You”. Only two copies of this recording are known to exist.
Around this same time, thanks to the fantastic success of Duane Eddy’s smash hit “Rebel Rouser” recorded at the studio, Audio Recorders purchased a new Ampex 351-2 stereo tape recorder. Miller was eager to try it out and immediately invited The Curtis Gray Combo in for a Sunday spec session. Gray’s experienced group (“composed of the Best Musicians in Town” according to an ad in the “Arizona Sun“) played many local locations including the Elks Club, Zanzibar Club, Prince Hall Club and Calderon’s Ballroom. The line-up on the session featured Gray on organ; Zeke Zoekler and Ronnie Luplow saxes; Joe Griffin on bass and Bob Flager or Benny Steel on drums. The swinging original “Gladys’ Delight” gave the band a chance to really stretch out, Miller an opportunity to test his new “toy,” and all of us a chance to finally appreciate a dazzling early stereo session sitting in the tape vault for over 50 years!
Miller also captured the marvelous unknown blues singer’s “It Hurts Me Too” at a long forgotten live session at a church hall after the scheduled entertainment. As the plates and glasses were being cleaned up, our mystery man asked if he could play the piano on stage and Miller let the tape roll . . . thank goodness. Whoever it was, there was a heavy influence of Charles Brown in the delivery for sure.
While on the subject of our unknown singers on this set, I have no information on David Moore or his soulful, unreleased “I Found Out”, another discovery in the Audio Recorders tape vault. Although only Moore is listed as artist on the tape box, he is backed by a fine group.
According to KCAC disc jockey and record producer Hadley “Who Loves You Madley” Murrell, singer Dumas King “was just hanging around the studio” for his 1964 Ronn Records recording “Wish You’d Come Home.” It was done during a marathon session at Audio Recorders with the backing of Big Boy Pete (Cosey) and The Crusaders.
James C. Arline taught piano in Phoenix in the ’50s and ’60s, according to a listener who called in a couple of years ago to Bob Corritore’s weekly Sunday KJZZ radio show, “Those Lowdown Blues”. It’s not known if the song “J. A. Rock” was recorded in Phoenix, as it came out on the Friendly Records label of Moultrie, Georgia, in April 1958.
Finally, there is “Little Junior” Otis, also known as Bud Spudd, who was the janitor at radio station KRIZ and was brought to the attention of producers and DJs Sonny Knight and Ray Ford by “Big” Mike Lenaburg. The unheralded guitarist Don Cole is featured on “The Mash” from this April 24, 1962, EM Records recording session.
For the spiritual side of this album, we are pleased to share a handful of obscure and very powerful platters from the era. The best known of these sanctified preachers is the Rev. Louis Overstreet who left Louisiana in 1961 for Los Angeles and stopped in Phoenix with his wife and four sons. God told him to stay here and he was soon spreading his self-taught musical gospel day and night while based at his St. Luke’s Powerhouse Church of God in Christ. According to Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records, Rev. Overstreet and his sons would often travel to towns between Phoenix and Tucson on the weekends, to preach and harmonize on the streets. They would set up anywhere where the reverend could draw an audience, using the car battery to power the microphones and amps while playing the guitar. The two forceful songs here, “Rather Fight Than Switch” and “Black But Proud”, are taken from his two Overstreet Records recordings that he financed and promoted in Phoenix in 1969.
In my college days, after returning from my Army service, I vividly remember hanging around B and B Records and Wigs (this must have been a good combination as there were several record and wig stores in Phoenix) on the corner of 16th Street and Broadway. The kind proprietors were Bo and Betty Stewart who actually allowed this opinionated youth behind the counter to check the boxes and bins for new soul biscuits to audition and perhaps purchase for use in my disc jockey business. Most of the local R&B record store owners financed recordings and Bo and Betty were no exception. In 1971, I remember taking my copy of Willie Parker & The Sensational Souls “Leak In This Old Building” out of the box when Bo proudly brought them back from the pressing plant. Parker was a member of the Stewart’s church and sang there every Sunday.
There is really no information on the fantastic Allstar Records track “Cease From Trouble” by one David Bolden. I do know everyone will agree that it is a most powerful, spiritually possessed performance that will demand your attention.
Producer and DJ Michael “Big Mike” Lenaburg financed quite a few recording sessions in the 60s and 70s while promoting his bands on live shows in the area. His first production in 1962 was “The Quarrel” by The Newlyweds and John “Oklahoma Zeke” Lewis was the lead singer of that group. Lewis came to Arizona in 1961 and, according to Lenaburg, he was always really a blues singer. Even his older sister Eloise Delaney, A.K.A. “Queen Bee”, was a blues belter and she performed regularly at the El Morocco Supper Club on Indian School Road. In early 1967, Lenaburg booked Audio Recorders for a session with The Soulsations, featuring Chuy Castro on lead guitar, to provide the blues backing for the humorous Lenaburg song “A Woman 73”. The unreleased cover of Smokey Smothers’ “Give It Back” from that same session was found on a scratchy acetate. I mean hair, teeth . . . and a peg leg . . . what more can a man buy an ungrateful 73 year old woman!? Lewis moved back to Oklahoma 1993 and passed away there in 2001.
Jack Curtis of Phoenix-based Mascot Records recalls a trip to L.A. with producer Jim Musil to shop their new masters. Curtis had a meeting with Herb Newman of ERA Records and he was pushing the song “Yes Your Honor” that he had written. Newman flipped the acetate and told Curtis that he liked “Heartaches And Troubles” better. The song was written by Ritchie Hart, who later became Charlie Gearhart, the founder of Goose Creek Symphony. Both songs are unusual in that they feature strings, a big-time expense for local producers like Curtis. Newman made a deal and released the recording on his Bamboo Records imprint in 1961.
Early in 1962, on the morning of his first session with producer Jim Musil, Duke Draper was trying to find a replacement who could fill-in for him at his gas-station job so that he could get away that evening. However, when it was near time to record, word came back that he had to stay there pumping gas. Musil hastily arranged to get The Versatiles with Tyrone Bean together to sing at his session at Audio Recorders. He only had $25 to pay owner and engineer Floyd Ramsey for a one-hour booking that he did not want to waste.
A week later, the same musicians assembled again, this time with Draper on the organ and vocals, to tape the original songs “Sam the Lamb” and “The Blues”. This group included the popular Dave Phillips on sax and future Miles Davis guitarist Pete Cosey, the leader at the time of Big Boy Pete and the Crusaders. Musil had seen the former Tads member Draper many times when he would sit in with his groups at JEB’s, Rotiers, and various after-hours locations around the Valley. Draper is also remembered for being the first to break out of South Phoenix and find a regular gig in the upscale resort suburb Scottsdale, well beyond the normal clubs where Black musicians felt comfortable playing at the time. As Henry “Mojo” Thompson put it, “Duke went North”.
The most prolific Phoenix black vocal group The Tads, are heard here with “Hey Little Girl”, produced by air-conditioning salesman and musical entrepreneur Frank Porter in 1957. Anchored by leader and songwriter Leroy Fullylove with brother Charles, Emerson Bilton and Robie Robinson who was replaced by Madero White (brother of Carl White of The Sharps and The Rivingtons). The quartet would feature an ever-changing cast of members, including Duke Draper, through the end of 1961 when they disbanded. The group recorded four songs for Porter Records, but all were unreleased. The Tads almost made it big, though, when Loy Clingman sent Fullylove’s demo of his composition “Bumble Bee” to Atlantic in 1960 via Duane Eddy’s manager Al Wilde. Unfortunately, instead of signing The Tads, Atlantic lifted the arrangement, note for note, for LaVern Baker’s very successful recording. She also claimed half of the writer’s credit on the first pressings, although that mistake was later corrected to give Fullylove his proper due…and royalties.
Having overseen thousands of recording sessions over the years, Floyd Ramsey told me that many of the specific events were lost in the haze of time. However, he vividly recalled the Dennis Binder session. Recording and performing veteran Binder was passing through Phoenix with his band and stopped by the studio to record two new original tracks on April 4, 1960. Ramsey fondly recalled the fun of hearing Binder making his “Love Call” for the first time in his studio. “Here comes a girl lookin’ mighty fine . . . I’m going to make my love call and make her mine.” And my favorite line, in the great tradition of male bravado and self-confidence, a classic declaration: “I’m something somebody oughtta see!” The touring band consisted of A.C. Reed on tenor sax, Vincent “Guitar Red” Duling on guitar, Bob Prindell on drums and Binder on piano, bass and vocals. He was signed to the usual Desert Palms writer’s contract for his songs and the files note that the songs were returned to Binder in 1962. The tapes however were kept on the shelf, as it was a spec 3-track session, and Binder never sent the $48 for the studio time and the master tape. Lucky for us as it remained there until Earwig Music tracked it down (thank you, Bob) for inclusion in Binder’s 2007 CD release “Hole In That Jug”.
Of the three singers representing the distaff side of the Phoenix soul scene at the time, the longest working performer is Maxine Johnson, who continues to vocalize to this day. She started her career as a regular on The Lew King Rangers radio and stage shows. Johnson was a seasoned entertainer by the age of seven as you can hear on her precocious live version of “Old Man Mose”. She was in good company with the likes of Wayne and Jerry Newton and many other aspiring local amateur and professional entertainers. The always-hustling King provided the programs and support to his large cast with regular appearances on his variety programs.
Baby Jean Hamilton came to the attention of local producers Buddy Wheeler and Bob Taylor who waxed “Oh Johnny” in January 1963 and then made a deal with the Chicago-based Stacy Records. Taylor already had an “in” with the imprint as the drummer on guitarist Al Casey’s Stacy sides and as a solo performer on the funny “Wowsville” for the same company. Hamilton was the sister of “Small Paul” Hamilton, a fixture on the local scene with his frantic James Brown style performances.
One of the busiest movers and shakers in Phoenix at the time was Jack Curtis, who wrote the entertainment column for The Arizona Republic, operated the Stage 7 and VIP clubs on the weekends and produced for his own Mascot Records label. Curtis remembers driving to South Phoenix to pick up Johnnie Mae Brown for his shows. Her demo track of Lloyd Price’s classic “Have You Ever Had The Blues” features the backing of Curtis’ very popular house band, The Mike Condello Combo.
Playing on five tunes on this set is another unknown Phoenix guitar hero, Jimmy (sometimes Jimmie) Knight. Of all the performers heard here, he was the closest to stardom as a member of Ike and Tina Turner’s Kings of Rhythm Band. In fact, Ike and Tina raised Jimmy as their son according to several sources. Everyone with memories of Knight say that he was the “White Ike,” on stage and off, when he lived here in the early ’60s. Knight’s band here was The Knights of Rhythm, another nod to Ike’s band. Producer Jim Musil says that his real name was Ruven Handle. “Big Pete” Pearson says that Knight would dye his hair black to look more like Ike. Our musical menu begins and ends with his original guitar instro “Flyin’ High Pts. 1 & 2”, released in 1962 on the Top Rock imprint. And indeed, it lives up to the title, with local studio workhorse Mike Metko wailing on the tenor sax. Vocalist Henry “Mojo” Thompson remembers first seeing Knight play at Trotters Inn on Broadway Road early in 1962 and that he told him that “Ike was like my dad.” Once in the early ’60s, when Turner came to Phoenix for a show, Knight and Thompson went to The Caravan Inn on Van Buren where Ike was staying. Knight borrowed the keys to Turner’s new Caddy and the two friends hoped in the car and took off for a spin. A short time later, they were pulled over by the cops and arrested. Knight had an attitude, according to Thompson, so the cops were only too happy to haul the two young men in. A short time later Turner showed up at the police station to get the two released and his car back. Turner claimed that he didn’t know that Knight didn’t have a driver’s license.
In late 1962, Knight and his band made two records for the obscure Phynk label, the best side being Thompson’s raucous vocal workout on “Little Ann”, a track that has graced several bootleg releases over the years. It’s also personal: a musical tribute to Tina Turner, who was given that name by Ike in St. Louis when she joined his band in 1957. Perhaps the most exciting moment on this package is Knight’s searing guitar solo on “Little Ann”, a brilliant brief moment of nitty-gritty string-bending over the intense pounding drums.
Another wonderful discovery in the Audio Recorders tape vault in 1998 was the unreleased five-song, 3-track tape of Knight in a more bluesy setting, this time with L.P. “Big Pete” Pearson on vocals. Why this 1960 session was never released is a mystery to even Pearson, who had forgotten the recording after moving here from Texas in 1957. He returned and brought his family back to the Valley a year later. Pearson was working as a cook and singing in clubs like The Grass Hut on Seventh Avenue near Buckeye Road and the VFW on Jackson at 17th Street aka “The V.” “Jimmy wanted to record with me really bad when I first met him at The Hut,” says Pearson. “He was a really hyper guy who thought that he was Ike. . . . Ike was his idol.” The unknown band compliments the powerful vocal delivery by “Big Pete” on his compositions “Heartaches” and “One More Drink”. He’d brought the songs with him from the Lone Star State where he first sang for several years before heading West. This particular line up of musicians and singer was together for eight months and opened for Ike and Tina at the Calderon Ballroom and traveled to Los Angeles to perform at the Night Life Club and Club 51.
By the mid ’60s, Knight was living on the West Coast and touring full-time with the Turners across the country. In a conversation with Bob Corritore several years ago, Turner said that Knight had passed away some time before. The good news is that you can check out the very cool Mr. Knight for yourself right now on YouTube, playing rhythm guitar with the Ike and Tina Turner band on The Big T.N.T. Show from 1965.
John P. Dixon
CD compiled and produced by John P. Dixon and Bob Corritore.
Tape and disc transfers by Jack Miller, at Jack Miller Productions, using WAVES Restoration software.
CD package art by Tony at amato image Design
Compilation mastered by Dave Shirk, Sonorous Mastering
Artwork and record labels courtesy Arizona Music Archive and John P. Dixon.
Tracks 2, 8, 11, 14, 18, 20, 23 & 25 are from the Arizona Music Archive. Courtesy of John P. Dixon
Track 3 courtesy of Jack Curtis. A Mascot Records Production
Track 5 courtesy of Hadley Murrell. A Soul Setters Production
Track 6 courtesy of Buddy Wheeler. A Double B. Production
Tracks 10 & 26 courtesy of Wild Whirled Music
Tracks 12 & 15 courtesy of Jack Miller
Tracks 13 & 21 courtesy of Jim Musil. A BAT Production
Track 22 courtesy of the Mike Condello Estate
Jeff Freundlich, Dan Nowicki, Mr. Al Perry, Johnny Franklin, Jack Miller, Mama D., Phoenix Federation of Musicians-Local 586, Floyd & Mary Ramsey, Baby Loveman, The Smoking Man, Goldfield Electronics, Susan Strickler, Bob Corritore and Mama’s Little Boy Freddy.
For more vintage Arizona music, please check out the following CD’s:
The Soul Side Of The Street 1964-1972 on Bacchus Archives BA 11103
Eccentric Soul: Mighty Mike Lenaburg on Numero 011
Rev. Louis Overstreet on Arhoolie 442
Interviews with Jack Miller, Henry Thompson, Frank Porter, Loy Clingman, Leroy Fullylove, Jack Curtis, Jim Musil, Hadley Murrell, Big Mike Lenaburg, Maxine Johnson, Floyd Ramsey, Buddy Wheeler, Duke Draper and Leroy Fullylove.
The Arizona Sun newspaper 11/23/53 & 11/25/49.
Rev. Louis Overstreet “Rev. Louis Overstreet” CD Arhoolie 442 1995. Liner notes by Chris Strachwitz.
Dennis Binder “Hole In That Jug” CD Earwig Music 4952 2007. Liner notes by Michael Frank.