A number of events have conspired to prevent an earlier publication of earshot 15 as planned.
My sincere apologies to any readers that may have found the lengthy wait an irritation. The Tony Middleton Sessions feature is designed to run over the next three or four issues and will cover his entire body of recorded solo work. I would like to thank Tony and his manager Phyllis Cortese for supplying me with the scans that made this publication possible. While I’m at it, thanks also to Chris Radcliffe of Black Patch Productions and Linda and Lou Johnson for their contributions too. Hopefully earshot 16 will arrive within the next three or four months. In the meantime there are planned additions to the Drifters, Impressions and Artists pages though the World Cup may slow me down a little.
the tony middleton sessions 1
It’s long past about time that Tony Middleton got due recognition for the wonderful music that he’s made since 1953 and I find it amazing that he is still yet to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. More than 50 years later in 2009 Tony was nominated for the MAC Jazz Vocalist of the Year and has been once again this year. The success of his New York appearances is still running at an all time high. During his long and varied career he has come close to stardom on many occasions. Tony spent 5 years singing lead with the Willows but as early as 1956 he made his first stab as a solo with ‘I’m On My Way’/ ‘Lover, Lover’ for Morty Craft’s Saxony Label, which he cut in December 1955. Over the following years Middleton recorded a series of superb singles on a number of different labels beginning with Craft, who also produced and took a writing credit on the Willows biggest hit - the Do Wop classic ‘Church Bells May Ring’ and produced their following session in May 1958. Saxony was a small New York label owned by Craft (who also went on to found several others including Selma, Speed, 7 Arts and Warwick) that only issued five releases between 1955-56. When I spoke to Tony he didn’t remember cutting this now very rare track that disappeared without a trace shortly after it’s release and is a sought after item by his many fans and rarities collectors. In addition to his own recordings, Tonys’ silky baritone was in constant studio demand and during his time at the Brill Building he cut demos for Elvis, who liked his version of ‘Big Hunk O’ Love’ so much that he kept it for his own collection. 'Colonel' Parker sent Tony a major telegram stating "If you ever put ‘Big Hunk O' Love' out, we'll either sue you or take you to court". Tony also sang on ‘A House Is Not A Home’ for Tony Bennett, ‘Blues For A Four String Guitar’ for Lou Rawls among many others. Syd Wych who began working with Tony and the Willows in 1957, collaborated on ‘A Big Hunk Of Love’ with Aaron Schroeder, who himself co-wrote several hits for Presley in the late ‘50s.
Though Middleton would continue to be associated with the Willows his first serious solo attempt was the self penned ‘Count Your Blessings/ I Just Want Somebody’ that launched Herb Abramson’s Triumph label in late ’58. Abramson had founded the very successful Atlantic Records with Ahmet Ertegun ten years earlier but after his return from the services found he had been usurped by Jerry Wexler and then struggled to regain his position in the company who eventually bought him out. ‘Count Your Blessings’ was a promising intro for Tony and featured King Curtis’ sax with the Dave Rhodes Orchestra. But though this upbeat single sold very well in New York and on the East Coast it didn’t take off nationally and made no impression on the charts. Middleton’s follow up ‘Blackjack/ The Universe’ had even greater commercial promise and was flagged by Cash Box as their “Record of the Week” when it was issued in mid 1959. The song examines the downside of gambling with a storyline in the ‘Stagger Lee’ tradition with a rockin’ backbeat while flipside ‘The Universe’ is a big ballad much in the ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ - ‘Ebb Tide’ mould. Once again this records success was limited to the New York area but raised Tony’s profile significantly and he signed to star in a nine month European theatre production of ‘Free & Easy’ that was first performed in Amsterdam and then in Paris. The music and lyrics were written by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer and the show was produced by Stanley Chase with musical direction by Quincy Jones. Tonys’ role was taken over by Sammy Davis Jr. when it returned to Broadway in 1960. While still connected to Triumph, Tony linked up with poet Jack Hammer who later cut ‘Concrete Desert’ for his Rebellion album on which he sang and spoke poems from the Beat Generation. A year earlier Hammer had written ‘Earth Cousins’ a novelty single that was designed to duplicate the success of Buchanan & Goodmans’ big hit ‘The Flying Saucer’ (Luniverse 1956 and their follow ups). Using pretty much the same format Hammer spoke the announcer voice himself, dropping in lines taken from hits of the time like ‘Wear My Ring (Around Your Neck)’, ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ etc re-recorded by Tony (as opposed to using the original record clips like Buchanan & Goodman had - that caused litigation).
In 1960 Tony cut a single for Big Top that was written and produced by songwriter Otis Blackwell and beautifully arranged by Stanley Applebaum, who was currently having great success on the charts with the Drifters. ‘Sweet Baby Of Mine’ was an easy on the ear mid tempo ballad but with ‘Unchained Melody’ the Zaret/ North classic, much recorded by other balladeers, they tried a fresh approach. By the end of the year Tony had a new single out on another new label – Alto Records owned by Thomas Robinson who chose the soulful ballad ‘Untouchable’ written by & produced by Danny Small (pen name Darshan) as his first release. 'Untouchable' was doing well on the charts, then it got picked up by Sarah Vaughan, who covered it. Tony still includes this beautiful song in his program today. The following year Roulette issued ‘I’m Gonna Try Love’ a memorable song co- written and produced by the famous arranger Henry Glover. This stylish ballad has a timeless quality given the Middleton touch and should have really become a standard. The uptempo ‘Is It This, Or It That’ is an entertaining plea to a lady who just can’t make up her mind. One day in mid 1961 Tony got a call from and old friend Bert Keyes who had set up a session for the Crests when lead singer Johnny Maestro suddenly left the group. So at Bert’s invitation Tony joined JT Carter, Talmoudge Gough, Harold Torres and Patricia Van Dross (Luther’s sister) for just one session at which they cut ‘Little Miracles/ Baby I Gotta Know’ (Co-Ed 561). These two leads have previously been credited to James Ancum, who became the Crests new lead, but in fact were sung by Tony.
When Leiber & Stoller were still producing for Atlantic Records in 1962 they were also turning out hits for a number of other labels including United Artists. So fate brought these two great talents together for one session that yielded a fresh new version of ‘Memories Are Made Of This’ (Dean Martin’s first big hit from 1955) handled with the usual Middleton pizzazz. For me the flipside ‘Drifting’ is a soul classic with the producers unmistakable Latin flavour. Mike Stoller’s great arrangement married to Tony’s faultless vocal puts this right up there with ‘On The Horizon’ and ‘Oh My Love’. Due to Northern Soul interest this fine track was reissued in the UK by Stardust in the mid ‘70s. In May 1962 Tony reconnected with Sid Wych and Danny Small to record one of his highlight tracks ‘My Home Town’. A great Small arrangement and a strong Wych production play Middleton’s superb vocal against Benny Green’s punctuating trombone riffs to marvelous effect. Flipside ‘Please Take Me’ is yet another perfect Danny Small ballad (he also wrote the wonderful ‘Without Love’). This record was right on the button and should have propelled Middleton into the charts of the time. But it did not and so as he promised in the last few bars of ‘My Home Town’ he was leaving to find somewhere that might show a greater appreciation for his artistic talents. The next two years he spent living and working in Paris, France.
Over the following three or four issues of earshot the Tony Middleton Sessions will be published. My sincere thanks to Tony and his manager Phyllis Cortese for providing helpful info and scans that made this sessionography possible. (peter burns)
jimmy radcliffe – gone but not forgotten
I first became aware of Jimmy Radcliffe when I heard his great recording of ‘There Goes The Forgotten Man’ in 1962. Here he was singing about the forgotten man like he’d been around forever and I still couldn’t find out much about him at all. I had located a copy of his first single ‘Twist Calypso’ but it proved to be a bit of a disappointment to me. There wasn’t much written about him at that time and the closest he came to having a hit was ‘Long After Tonight Is All Over’ a couple of years later. This song was originally intended for Gene Pitney but Jimmy’s demo was so good that Musicor issued his version. These two singles alone made him a star in my book but alas, great as he was, his records did not create enough of a following to break him as a major singer to the rest of the world. Slowly I became aware just what a good songwriter he was too, though at first he didn’t seem to be recording his own songs but those of Bacharach & David, Gordon & Newman etc – ‘Moment Of Weakness’ was about the best of his so far recorded. As the ‘60s rolled on I began to notice his name in brackets of other singers records by Walter Jackson, Clyde McPhatter, Jackie Wilson, Adam Wade, Johnny Nash etc. In the UK Jimmy’s singles with the exception of ‘Long After Tonight Is All Over’ were not released so the later issues on Aurora, Shout, UA and RCA did not get any airtime and fans had to find the US copies. Unlike many of his contemporaries Radcliffe had no album issued and as a performer he gradually faded from view.
James Radcliffe was born on 18 November 1936 in Harlem, New York. He did his early singing in a church choir at All Souls Episcopal Church. While doing his national service in the US Air Force Jimmy performed with a quintet called the Fascinators and as a soloist. When serving in Germany he appeared on the Armed Forces TV Network (1957) that also featured Elvis Presley the following year. After demob he was ready to make singing his career and tried out for some street corner groups before recording a number of demos of his own songs to get some airtime. Radio play brought him to the attention of Aaron Schroeder, co-owner of Musicor Records who offered him a songwriting contract with January Music and he was on his way. Three years later he made his first single ‘Twist Calypso’ (co-written with Phil Stern) and several of the songs that he wrote for other artists began to get some positive reaction - Tammy Montgomery (later Tammi Terrell) ‘This Time Tomorrow’ (Checker ’64), Gene McDaniels ‘There Goes The Forgotten Man’ (Liberty LP), Garnet Mimms & Gaynors ‘Tell Him’ (Talley-Ho ’61). Clyde McPhatter recorded his career best album Songs Of The Big City (Mercury ‘64) that contained 5 Radcliffe songs - ‘Deep In The Heart Of Harlem’ also cut by Johnny Nash (Groove ’63), Walter Jackson (OKeh ’67), ‘My Block’ also cut by the Drifters but unissued and by the 5 Pennies (Chiffons), ‘A Suburban Town’, ‘Three Rooms With Running Water’ also cut by Cliff Bennett (Parlaphone ’65), Audrey Freeman (Musicor ’64 - Prod JR), HB Barnam (Imperial ’64), Johnny Nash (unissued) and ‘Coney Island’. McPhatter also cut another of his songs ‘Soul’ that wasn’t issued in the US. Carl Spencer co-wrote most of these songs and together he and Jimmy cut a single as the B.R.A.T.T.S. (‘Secret Weapon/ Jealous Kinda Woman’) for VJ subsidiary Tollie in 1964.
Unfortunately Radcliffe’s recordings did not make any impact on the US charts. In February 1965 ‘Long After Tonight Is All Over’ did chart in the UK (on Stateside) where it reached #40 Pop, however this was his only chart success. But it did bring Jimmy to the UK in February 1965 on a promotional tour where he also made TV appearances. By this time he had left Musicor and his next single ‘My Ship Is Comin’ In’ written by Joey Brooks was issued by Aurora and again did better in the UK but was a much bigger hit for the Walker Brothers. Bert Berns who had produced Jimmy’s ‘Through A Long And Sleepless Night’ and ‘Moment Of Weakness’ singles signed him to his Shout label in 1966 and released ‘Lucky Old Sun/ So Deep’, a Scott/ Radcliffe/ Gold production arranged by Bert De Coteaux but sadly there were no further issues before Berns tragic early death. Clearly as a songwriter Radcliffe was getting far more success. He co-wrote most of his songs, with Phil Stern, Carl Spencer, Otis Blackwell, and Joey Brooks but formed a longer partnership with Buddy Scott and they wrote more than 50 songs together.
After ‘Breakaway/ Breakaway Part 2’ with the Steve Karmen Big Band (UA /68) and ‘Funky Bottom Congregation/ Lay A Little Lovin' On Me’ (RCA /69) failed to chart Radcliffe stuck with the songwriting and production but continued to cut many demos – not only of his own songs.
It was his demo of ‘It’s Not Unusual’ that Tom Jones received. Similarly the ‘Show Me Sunshine’ demo went to Ray Charles and ‘This Diamond Ring’ (A Kooper/ B Brass/ I Levine) was cut with the Drifters in mind but when they turned it down it later became a #1 hit for Gary Lewis & the Playboys in 1965. He did a lot of session work and appeared in the background of many a hit record working with the Sweet Inspirations, the Drifters and many more. Radcliffe moved into TV and radio advertising, where he wrote and performed jingles. His voice appeared on over 200 TV and radio commercials for many big clients including Pontiac and McDonalds earning him the moniker ‘King of the Jingle’. He produced and wrote with Carolyn Franklin on her first two RCA albums (Baby Dynamite /69, Chain Reaction /70) and one of their songs ‘Pullin’’ made it onto sister Aretha Franklin’s Spirit In The Dark album.
Things began to go wrong for Jimmy in 1972 when he was working on some songs destined for his first solo album with co-producer Al Kooper, he became very ill and had to abandon the project - then he was hospitalized with kidney problems. The hospital couldn’t save one of his kidneys and from then on he required daily sessions on a dialysis machine. Things went from bad to worse when he suffered a stroke and lost the sight in his left eye. Despite these considerable difficulties Jimmy began work on Carolyn’s third album Darling I’d Rather in 1973. His second kidney gave out and he was now constantly on the dialysis machine and desperate for a transplant. He had to pass on the project but Carolyn and RCA were back unhappy with the albums progress and he was hired once again. Radcliffe completed one side of the album before he was rushed to hospital and on 21 July 1973 he died aged just 36. Recently and nearly 40 years later, I’m happy to say things are beginning to make a change for the better as far as the release of his records go, due mainly to the efforts of his son Christopher at Black Patch Productions. The first compilation of his songs Where There's Smoke, There's Fire was issued in 2007 on Media Creature Music and contained 16 Radcliffe tracks, 12 of them previously unreleased. (See discography for track listing)
My following reviews are on the CD Baby and Amazon (US websites) - Jimmy Radcliffe never scored a hit record or cut an album but he did make a series of great singles – ‘Long After Tonight Is All Over’ was perhaps the best known. At last a CD has been issued featuring some his wonderful songs and now it’s clear to see just how great a singer/ songwriter he was. Though the record buying public might have been slow catching on to Jimmy’s creative talents other singers were quick to recognise and cover his songs like The Walker Brothers, Walter Jackson, Gene McDaniels, Clyde McPhatter and too many others to mention. ‘There Goes The Forgotten Man’ has always been a personal favourite and ‘Deep In The Heart of Harlem’ is a sociological ballad classic. I hadn’t heard ‘Where There’s Smoke…’ ‘Sunshine, Hope & Love’, ‘The Greater Love’ or ‘Stand Up’ before but they quickly grew on me. I for one am hoping there are many more unissued Radcliffe masterpieces that added to the nine previously released vinyl tracks plus the two Bert Berns productions ‘So Deep’ and ‘Lucky Old Sun’ would make another fine companion album to this one. Jimmy Radcliffe deserves latter day recognition for such a fine body of work. It was tragic to lose such a great talent so early; his superb music should be made available for all to hear. This is the place to start.
The second CD issued in November 2009 Super Baby Cakes on UK Shout features seven Radcliffe tracks and thirteen other great tracks that Jimmy co-wrote and/ or produced.
(See discography for track listing)
Seven more rare but worthy gems have finally been unearthed by Black Patch productions and released by Shout UK as Super Baby Cakes – Jimmy Radcliffe & Friends. This is the second in a series of CD compilations featuring the singing/ writing and production talents of the late great Jimmy Radcliffe, one of the best but virtually forgotten vocalists/ songwriters of his era. The album begins with ‘Soulville’ a powerfully delivered medium tempo eulogy to an imaginary but nevertheless desirable destination. Jackie Wilson cut the best-known version of this song that was featured on his best-selling Higher & Higher album in late ’67. ‘More Than Ever Before’ was written and produced for Aretha Franklin’s sister Carolyn in ’69 and appeared on her Baby Dynamite album. Jimmy’s insistent cut has the keener edge and should have seen the light of day many years ago. ‘Things Are Changing’ is an altogether mellower ballad with a folk/ rock flavour that was originally issued by Billy & Wolfe on Coral (/67) and ‘If It Wasn’t For Love’ continues that kind of groove, this song was recorded by Mr. Jimmy Bee on 20th Century (/67) and Jay Jordan for Verve (/68), both fairly rare records that had no commercial impact. The great bluesy ballad ‘Love Put The Tears In My Eyes’ is an album highlight, listening to it now it’s surprising that this powerful plea has not been recorded by many other singers and still remains an obscure song today. Of the two versions of ‘It’s Not Enough’ – Radcliffe’s is the strongest vocally but long forgotten group Silent Glo, similar in some ways to the (Young) Rascals, add an up backbeat that could have taken them somewhere had it been issued at the time. Barbara Jean English, who sings on four tracks here, was one of Jimmy’s friends and she worked with him at January Music making many demos with and for him. Barbara who had sung with the Fashions and the Clickettes scored a solo medium R&B hit single in September ’73 with ‘You Need Somebody To Love (While You’re Looking For Someone To Love)’ on Alitha Records. Her silky tones feature best here on ‘If I Speak About Bobby’, ‘Taste Sour Don’t It’ and ‘Your Reputation’. Pat Lundy who had several hits in the mid ‘70s was songwriter Buddy Scott’s girlfriend and cut several demos for the Radcliffe/ Scott team including ‘Could That Someone Be You’ and the excellent ‘I Want It Clearly Understood’. This fine 20-track compilation contains further interesting tracks by the Relatives, Money Clips and album highlights from Irene Reid (‘As Late As The Hour Maybe’) and ‘Take A Look In The Mirror’ by Diamond Neval (I can hear how that might have been intended for the likes of the Drifters). I understand there are more superb Radcliffe recordings coming, so don’t miss the opportunity to hear the redux of Jimmy’s long overdue musical legacy.
Chris (who is writing a book about his father) informs me that the next Jimmy Radcliffe disc is in the works. It's a Country-Blues-Soul kind of package that features Scott/ Radcliffe songs from their Ray Charles period and will also include a few covers including a previously un-issued song from 2010 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Otis Blackwell. Behind him Jimmy left a great legacy of over 285 songs and a less spectacular discography of just eight solo singles that hardly reflected his unique vocal ability. He was and still is a much under appreciated singer considering just how exceptional a vocalist he was. Here’s hoping that the recent and future CD releases of his back catalogue continue and bring him the long overdue recognition that he deserves. (peter burns)
Earshot 15 continues - CLICK TO READ MORE >>