When Argo Records crowned Etta James The Queen of Soul on the cover of a 1964 LP, Aretha Franklin hadn’t yet staked claim to that title. Revisiting that album today, Etta’s status as royalty still seems unassailable. Thankfully, we have that opportunity thanks to Kent Records via its new expansion of Queen of Soul with fourteen bonus tracks added to the original LP’s ten songs. Plus, Kent has delivered a new release from one of the undisputed kings of soul: Clarence Carter. The Fame Singles Volume 1: 1966-1970 includes his career-making “Slip Away,” but that’s just one of the 24 soulful tracks you’ll find here.
When Etta James passed away earlier this year at the age of 73, it truly marked the end of an era. The woman born Jamesetta Hawkins channeled her demons into passionate blues, soul and jazz over a career lasting nearly 60 years. James charted two dozen singles during a remarkable 16-year reign at Chess (Argo’s parent label) between 1960 and 1976, and immortalized the standards “At Last” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Kent’s reissue follows similar expansions of 1967’s Call My Name and 1971’s Losers Weepers from the label, and is a handy reminder of why nobody would have challenged James’ soul supremacy in 1964.
Most of Queen of Soul was recorded in Chess’ home base of Chicago, though some tracks originated in sessions held in both New York and Nashville. Billy Davis was the primary producer, and some of the recordings dated back to 1962. In his personal sleeve note, Garth Cartwright speculates that “perhaps the rise of the Motown and Stax sounds had made [James] appear old-fashioned or she was so out of control that DJs and the public were shying away from her.” Whatever the reason, though, the music on Queen of Soul has aged incredibly well. Chess had encouraged her to pursue the sophisticated, adult vein of “At Last,” but no matter what the repertoire, James’ fiery delivery couldn’t be tamped down. A couple of tracks were written or co-written by Ed Townsend, the one-time “For Your Love” crooner who later co-wrote “Let’s Get It On” with Marvin Gaye. The New York sound is present on Townsend’s “Bobby is His Name,” with James emoting over swirling strings and throbbing brass. James paid homage to another soul queen, the one and only Soul Queen of New Orleans, with her cover of Irma Thomas’ “I Wish Someone Would Care.” James is downright saucy on Clint (“You’re No Good”) Ballard’s “That Man Belongs Here with Me,” and when she offers “Flight 101,” it might as well have been a lesson in Soul 101! “Loving You More Every Day” is a slice of barroom blues; James just can’t be contained as she questions, “What are doing to me?” to her man. “Mellow Fellow” is anything but, with James wailing to a stomping beat.
The bonus tracks are drawn from a variety of sources including singles and CD compilations. These tracks were recorded between late 1962 and 1965; three songs (including a take on Gene Autry’s “Be Honest with Me”) hailed from Nashville in November 1962, as did the album’s “I Worry About You.” The bonus tracks also include collaborations with arranger Riley Hampton and a stab at Jule Styne and Bob Hilliard’s standard “How Do You Speak to an Angel” from the 1953 Broadway musical Hazel Flagg. Billy Davis’ percolating “Pay Back” is another “should-have-been-a-hit,” with James ready to pay back what her guy is dishing out! With its dramatic pauses, Bert Keyes’ arrangement is an unusual one, too. Then there’s a near-definitive reading of another classic blues standard, “Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be),” and even a fun spin on the girl group sound with 1963’s “Two Sides (To Every Story).” Kent’s CD includes a full-color booklet with numerous label scans as well as Cartwright’s notes.
Kent is also tackling the Clarence Carter catalogue, and we’ve got plenty about that after the jump! Plus: track listings with discography, and pre-order links for both titles!
One of Montgomery, Alabama’s favorite sons, Clarence Carter, prospered from an early age in his home state. Carter was educated at the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega, graduated with a music degree from Alabama State College in 1960, and within five years found himself in Muscle Shoals at producer Rick Hall’s Fame Studios. When Carter arrived at Fame, he had already recorded for the small Fairlane and Duke labels as a duo act with a fellow blind student from his college days, Calvin Scott. Clarence and Calvin’s “Step by Step” didn’t burn up the charts, but it was good enough to secure national distribution from Atlantic Records. But fate intervened before Clarence and Calvin could go any further. In Dean Rudland’s notes to Kent’s new Fame Singles compilation, Rick Hall recalls: “Clarence called me back and said, ‘I’ve got bad news for you mister. Calvin can’t play; he’s no longer part of the thing. His wife shot him and he’s still got a bullet in his head. But I’d like to continue working with you.” Hall took some convincing, but the waiting game paid off. By 1966, Fame had entered into a distribution agreement with Atlantic Records, also the home of another southern institution, Stax Records.
Carter’s solo debut, “Tell Daddy,” kicks off the new anthology. It reached No. 35 on the American R&B chart, but it would do even better the next year when it was recorded as “Tell Mama” by…Etta James! Though Carter wrote or co-wrote most of his own material, he took advantage of the Fame “house team” of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham for their “She Ain’t Gonna Do Right,” and even welcomed Duane Allman on guitar in one of his earliest sessions at Fame. Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler was so pleased with Carter’s work that he suggested the singer be transferred to the Atlantic label, proper. His second single on Atlantic proved to contain his biggest hit when DJs began to flip “Funky Fever” over to play “Slip Away.” With that No. 2 R&B/No. 6 Pop hit, Clarence Carter was officially on his way. Even more delicious (and certainly more salacious!) is 1968’s “Back Door Santa,” a Christmas classic of a different color!
Clarence Carter’s The Fame Singles Volume One follows such other Ace /Kent releases from the Fame vaults including solo titles from Candi Staton and George Jackson as well as the Hall of Fame rarities anthology and the definitive Fame Studios Story box set. An upcoming second volume will cover the period between 1970 and 1973 in which Carter continued to cross over into the pop market. The CD also marks the very first time that these songs have been remastered from Fame’s original master tapes; Nick Robbins has handled the mastering, and they are presented in their original mono mixes. The Fame Singles is available now, as is Etta James’ Queen of Soul. Both titles can be ordered below!
Etta James, Queen of Soul (Argo LPS-4040, 1964 – reissued Kent CDKEND 377, 2012)
- Bobby is His Name
- I Wish Someone Would Care
- That Man Belongs Back Here with Me
- Somewhere Out
- Breaking Point
- Flight 101
- Loving You More Every Day
- Do Right
- I Worry About You
- Mellow Fellow
- You Got Me Where You Want Me (Rec. 1962, Chess CD 088112291-2, 2000)
- Only Time Will Tell (Cadet single 5526, 1965)
- Pushover (Argo single 5437, 1963)
- You Can’t Talk to a Fool (Rec. 1965, Chess CD MCD 09354, 1997)
- Would It Make Any Difference to You (Argo single 5430, 1963)
- Stop the Wedding (Argo single 5418, 1962)
- How Do You Speak to an Angel (Argo LP 4018/single 5430, 1963)
- Be Honest with Me (Argo single 5445, 1963)
- Pay Back (Argo single 5445, 1963)
- Lover Man (Oh, Where Can You Be) (Rec. 1965, Chess CD MCD 09354, 1997)
- Two Sides (To Every Story) (Argo single 5452, 1963)
- Tomorrow Night (Rec. 1965, Chess CD MCD 09354, 1997)
- I Can’t Hold It In Anymore (Argo single 5437, 1963)
Clarence Carter, The Fame Singles Volume 1: 1966-1970 (Kent CDKEND 376, 2012)
- Tell Daddy (Fame 1010-A, 1966)
- I Stayed Away Too Long (Fame 1010-B, 1966)
- Thread the Needle (Fame 1013-A, 1966)
- Don’t Make My Baby Cry (Fame 1013-B, 1966)
- She Ain’t Gonna Do Right (Fame 1016-A, 1967)
- The Road of Love (Fame 1016-B, 1967)
- Looking For a Fox (Atlantic 2461-A, 1967)
- I Can’t See Myself (Crying About You) (Atlantic 2461-B, 1967)
- Funky Fever (Atlantic 2508-A, 1967)
- Slip Away (Atlantic 2508-B, 1967)
- Too Weak to Fight (Atlantic 2569-A, 1968)
- Let Me Comfort You (Atlantic 2569-B, 1968)
- Back Door Santa (Atlantic 2576-A, 1968)
- That Old Time Feeling (Atlantic 2576-B, 1968)
- Snatching It Back (Atlantic 2605-A, 1969)
- Making Love (At the Dark End of the Street) (Atlantic 2605-B, 1969)
- The Feeling is Right (Atlantic 2642-A, 1969)
- You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure (Atlantic 2642-B, 1969)
- Doin’ Our Thing (Atlantic 2660-A, 1969)
- I Smell a Rat (Atlantic 2660-B, 1969)
- Take It Off Him and Put It On Me (Atlantic 2702-A, 1970)
- The Few Troubles I’ve Had (Atlantic 2702-B, 1970)
- I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone (Atlantic 2726-A, 1970)
- Devil Woman (Atlantic 2726-B, 1970)