We’ve already filled you in on Ace’s recent anthology collecting works by Philly soul maestro Thom Bell; now we’re looking to the American South with another release!
Way back in 2012, Ace Records collected the multifaceted sounds of Chips Moman and Don Crews’ American Studios on Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios. The 24-song tribute collection featured such visitors to Memphis as Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett, B.J. Thomas, and Solomon Burke as well as Elvis Presley, one of the city’s most famous denizens. Now, the label has returned to the milieu of that anthology with The Soul of The Memphis Boys, compiling another two dozen sides from American circa 1967-1972. While the late Chips Moman only produced a handful of tracks on the set, his imprimatur is felt on all of them.
As the title indicates, The Soul of The Memphis Boys passes over American pop favorites like Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” or B.J. Thomas’ “Hooked on a Feeling” in favor of the studio’s more R&B-flavored outings. No matter the genre, though, the cast of characters was largely the same. Producer and studio proprietor Moman crafted his sound with musicians including Reggie Young (guitar) – the subject of Ace’s excellent 2019 overview Session Guitar Star – plus Tommy Cogbill (guitar/bass), Bobby Emmons, Bobby Wood, and Spooner Oldham (keyboards), Mike Leech (bass), and Gene Chrisman (drums) – one of popular music’s great rhythm sections.
Saxophone great King Curtis opens the set with his scorching “This Is Soul” – but that title is apt to describe any of the 24 selections. Attesting to the versatility of Moman and his crew, the compilers John Broven and Red Kelly have drawn upon both torrid ballads and uptempo floor-fillers alike. In the former category is James and Bobby Purify’s slow-burning “I Don’t Want to Have to Wait,” Bobby Marchan’s “Someone to Take Your Place,” Lee Jones and The Sounds of Soul’s “On the Other Side,”
How was Oscar Toney, Jr.’s “Ain’t That True Love” relegated to B-side status? Reggie Young brought his best Beatle George licks to this taut number, while the background trio consisted of Melba Moore, Ellie Greenwich, and Doris Troy.
Among the most atypical cuts here is Roscoe Shelton’s “There’s a Heartbreak Somewhere” which hardly sounds like the year of its release, 1967. Instead, it’s a stirring if deliberate slice of gospel, complete with choir. Gospel singer Sam Hutchins headlines the 1968 track “I Can Make You Happy,” one of his few solo tracks and one that reveals a distinctive, rich voice. (Hutchins later became lead singer of The Masqueraders.) Roy Hamilton – a veteran talent who brought pure soul to pop in the days before “soul music” was an accepted term – gives his everything on the haunting 100 Years, a little-known film tune from the Paramount picture Riot.
While one pleasure in an Ace anthology is always hearing lesser-known tracks from artists who never made it to superstardom, this set has its share of heavy hitters. Bobby Womack growls the funky “Broadway Walk,” a co-write with the team of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and Darryl Carter. Chips Moman produced the brassy track which recalls Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway” and quotes James Brown’s “I Got You.” (Womack appears here as sideman, too, including on Roscoe Robinson’s pulsating “How Many Times Must I Knock.” He plays lead while Reggie Young covers the rhythm guitar.) Rock and roll survivor Jerry Lee Lewis earnestly warbles – but likely doesn’t tickle the ivories on – “Holdin’ On,” culled from his Soul My Way LP and produced by Jerry Kennedy. When Lewis and Kennedy decided shortly after this 1967 release to embrace full-tilt country, Lewis would experience a renaissance.
“Sweet Soul Music” man Arthur Conley showcases a very different side of his voice on the impassioned “Burning Fire,” co-written and produced by Atlantic Records’ Tom Dowd. Solomon Burke, the King of Rock and Soul, offers a Dowd-produced remake of Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby,” bringing his own stamp to it via his signature spoken-word rap. Also from the Atlantic stable, Ben E. King’s “It Ain’t Fair” proves that the New York uptown soul legend was just as comfortable in the grittier, less plush milieu of the Memphis Boys. King recorded the original version of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “So Much Love,” heard here in Dusty Springfield’s wrenching take from Dusty in Memphis on which she was backed not only by the Memphis Boys but by The Sweet Inspirations and Arif Mardin’s dramatic strings. Like Dusty Springfield, Darlene Love has always exuded soul regardless of the genre in which she’s singing. She persuasively leads The Blossoms’ rare Bell single “Don’t Take Your Love,” an exemplar of orchestral southern soul. Ella Washington transformed Harlan Howard’s country tune “He Called Me Baby” into quintessential southern soul: deep, moving, and from the gut with tight licks from the Memphis Boys and a forceful horn arrangement by Bergen White.
The biggest hit here is The Box Tops’ “Cry Like a Baby,” a Penn/Oldham stomper sung by Alex Chilton at his grittiest. Reggie Young contributed the indelible electric sitar part on this No. 2 Pop smash which is presented in its original mono single mix. Almost as familiar is Elvis Presley’s majestic “Kentucky Rain.” The King poured his heart into the song co-authored by Eddie Rabbit; future superstar Ronnie Milsap played piano on Moman’s production. Like “Cry Like a Baby,” it’s offered in its mono 45 mix.
A 28-page booklet has track-by-track annotations and an essay from compilation co-producer Red Kelly, who put this set together with John Broven. Nick Robbins has superbly mastered all tracks. While The Memphis Boys couldn’t help but play with soul, this set has two dozen of the gang’s finest moments. It’s available now at the links below.
- This Is Soul – King Curtis and The Kingpins (Atco 6562, 1968) (*)
- I Don’t Want to Have to Wait – James and Bobby Purify (Bell 685, 1967)
- Ain’t That True Love – Oscar Toney, Jr. (Bell 672, 1967)
- Someone to Take Your Place – Bobby Marchan (Cameo 489, 1967) (*)
- There’s a Heartbreak Somewhere – Roscoe Shelton (Soundstage 7 2587, 1967) (*)
- Broadway Walk – Bobby Womack (Minit 32030, 1967) (*)
- Holdin’ On – Jerry Lee Lewis (Smash 2103, 1967)
- What Can I Call My Own – James Carr (Vivid Sound LP VG 3006, 1977) (*)
- Cry Like a Baby – The Box Tops (Mala 593, 1968) (*)
- On the Other Side – Lee Jones and The Sounds of Soul (Amy 11,008, 1968) (*)
- I Can Make You Happy – Sam Hutchins (Mala 599, 1968) (*)
- Burning Fire – Arthur Conley (Atco 6588, 1968)
- Since I Met You Baby – Solomon Burke (Atlantic LP SD 8185, 1968)
- Funny How Time Slips Away – Joe Tex (Atlantic LP SD 8187, 1968)
- It Ain’t Fair – Ben E. King (Atco 6637, 1968) (*)
- Comin’ to Bring You Some Soul – Sam Baker (Soundstage 7 2613, 1968) (*)
- How Many Times Must I Knock – Roscoe Robinson (Soundstage 7 2618, 1968)
- He Called Me Baby – Ella Washington (Soundstage 7 2621, 1968)
- Every Day I Have to Cry Some – Lattimore Brown (Soundstage 7 2616, 1968)
- So Much Love – Dusty Springfield (Atlantic 2673, 1969)
- One Hundred Years – Roy Hamilton (AGP 113, 1969)
- Kentucky Rain – Elvis Presley (RCA Victor 47-9791, 1970) (*)
- Don’t Take Your Love – The Blossoms (Bell 857, 1970)
- Rainbow Road – Arthur Alexander (Warner Bros. LP BS 2592, 1972)
Stereo except (*) mono