Tag Archives: Tom Tom Washington

Reclaimed Soul Episode 037: Otis Clay’s Truth Is…

otisclayOn this installment of Reclaimed Soul (my radio show), we’re be graced by Chicago vocalist Otis Clay. We listen to some favorite deep records from his 50+ year career that spans Gospel, Soul, and Blues.

We also hear about the father figures in Otis Clay’s career, and about why he decided to start his own record label. He even talks about how it felt to find out that he’s “big in Japan” (among other places).

Plus, we’ll sample his newest album, “Truth Is” which was produced and arranged by Chicago Soul heavyweight Tom Tom Washington (Tom Tom also contributed to this interview).

for more on Reclaimed Soul, visit: vocaloreclaimedsoul.tumblr.com

 


La Cade: The little hair care company that made some big waves.

La Cade Products was another of many Chicago-based black hair care firms (that I detail here) during the late 60s through the 1970s. Though not as well-known as Supreme Products (who created Duke and Raveen) or Johnson Products (who created Soft Sheen, Afro Sheen, and Ultra Sheen), La Cade left behind scant but fascinating evidence of its existence.

First off, it left some pretty great advertisements starting around 1972 (my favorite is above, from a 1974 issue of Ebony Magazine). How’s that for swagger? There’s a sort of street romantic and cinematic appeal to the image used. They also came up with some clever product names: one of which got them in legal trouble… but we’ll dig into that later in this post.

Most notably, to me (and probably, many Darkjive readers, as well) is that sometime around 1974 La Cade decided to put together a small recording division, based at their Corporate Headquarters (2411 South Michigan in Chicago). They recorded no less than two artists on two singles: both of which are as gritty and charismatic as the ad above.

The first is “Beginning of the Void” backed by “Love Me Too” by Danny Hunt (who sounds to me very much like a young Stevie Wonder on his records). I actually love this record. Very soulful, with a stone cold groove, the lyrics are remarkably socially aware and include:

Just another ghetto child

never see his Daddy smile

He’s in the beginning of his void

The following year, Hunt released a beast of a cut arranged by the iconic Tom Tom Washington and released on Dynamite Records (another tiny Chicago-based imprint). Last time I checked, Danny Hunt was alive and well in the Chicago-area singing Gospel music.

The other record I have found is by Walter “Butterball” Davis, titled “Baby (Wacha Doin to me)” backed by “Girl Stop Begging”. He had also put out a record called “Nobody Cares for a Junkie” on Butterball Records… it’s deep. Really deep. But, Back to “Girl Stop Begging”: the cut is a bluesy-funky little gem penned by Davis himself.

Both records suffered from lack of promotion and distribution and stalled out. It was about this time that La Cade trademarked a product name that I think is very seventies and cool: “The Last Tangle”, presumably inspired by the controversial 1972 film “Last Tango in Paris”. In the film (which was Rated X at the time), Marlon Brando’s middle-aged character has a torrid affair with a soon to be married young Parisian woman with scandalous results. Oh yes, these folks had some swagger.

Not long after La Cade’s foray into the Record Business, they were embroiled in a legal battle with one Roux Laboratories over a product name. The Laboratories were initially contesting La Cade’s claim to copyright the term “Mink” as in La Cade’s product “Ultra Mink”. Roux Laboratories apparently had a hair product called “White Minx” and stated that the product names were too close for comfort. The case took a turn when Roux Laboratories’ counsel stated:

MR. SULLIVAN: I would like to renew my running objection that the only question involved here is the applicant’s right to use the descriptive term “ultra.”
We do not object to its use of the term “Mink,” which has been disclaimed by applicant. Neither have we objected to the use of others using the term “Mink,” but we are objecting to the use of the descriptive term “ultra” which we had adopted and used as part of the “ultra White Minx” trademark but using “ultra” merely in its descriptive connotation, and that is the whole substance of this opposition.
ROUX LABORATORIES, INC. v. LA CADE PRODUCTS CO. 558 F.2d 33 (1977)

Ultimately, Roux Laboratories’ counsel dropped the complaint, but not without costing La Cade a lot of money in legal fees. By 1977, the firm had stopped advertising in Ebony Magazine, had stopped releasing records, and the trail goes otherwise cold. But, in a few short years, La Cade surely left behind some waves: both soundwaves and hair waves. Jive on!


Tom Tom 84 goes Hollywood.

Tom Tom Washington (pictured at left) is basically my hero. He’s also a very humble and cool individual to be around.

As a Chicagoan and a music lover, his distinctive Horn and String Arrangements are like home to me.

Tom Tom came up in Chicago’s Ida B. Wells Projects and studied music under the tutelage of James Mack (an awe-inspiring arranger in his own right). He wound up arranging dozens of records for Chicago Music Heavyweights such as Earth, Wind, & Fire, The Emotions, Tyrone Davis, Deniece Williams (who is from Gary, IN), The Staple Singers, Ramsey Lewis, Leroy Hutson, The Chi-Lites, Otis Leavill, Betty Everett, Jerry Butler, Loleatta Holloway, and many, many, more.

In my cratedigging, I actually look for his name on a record as a mark of excellence.  I call it looking for a “Tom Tom”. I have at least a couple of hundred cuts he’s had a hand in (under the names Tom Tom, Tom Tom 74, Tom Tom 75, Tom Tom 84, Tom Tom Washington, and a few other aliases).

Tom Tom Washington also branched out and worked with artists from all over the world, including Phil Collins and The Whispers. The Whispers are a Los Angeles-based group, and in 1978, he did arrangements for an album called “Headlights”. I know this because I recently found a 45rpm single taken from the album. I’m not usually a fan of the Whispers, but it’s a beast, featuring the top cut, called “Olivia (Lost and Turned Out)” (which is about exactly what you think it’s about), and the B-Side called “Try and Make it Better”,  which is bangin’. The tunes’ arrangements capture the distinctive sound that Tom Tom made classic on hits by Earth, Wind, & Fire and The Emotions. It’s amazing. But why wouldn’t it be? It’s a “Tom Tom”.


Imaginations: good stuff!

The Imaginations were a mid-seventies Chicago-based vocal group that rose out of the ashes of Brighter Side of Darkness (best known for “Love Jones”, their story can be found here).  In 1974-1975 they put out a flurry of singles and one album, “Good Stuff”.  I originally bought the album because I had to hear “Love Jones ’75″ (which didn’t disappoint) and because a number of very strong local songwriters and arrangers were involved (Maurice Commander/Jerline Shelton, Tom Tom Washington, Benjamin Wright, Clarence Johnson, etc.). The album features a bit too much filler for my taste, but some pretty fresh cuts, as well… Including this sweet, upbeat stepper, “Sweet Mona”. Jive on!


Betty Everett: there’ll come a time

It was last summer. I was privileged enough to hear the iconic (and prolific) arranger Tom Tom Washington play a few chords of  the tune “There’ll Come a Time” on a piano stationed at a Recording Studio on 80th and Stony Island, where in the vacant lot next door they grew cabbage.

It was electric, especially because Betty Everett’s “There’ll Come a Time” (released in 1969 on Uni Records) was one of the first Chicago Soul albums I ever owned. It was also exciting because Tom Tom Washington arranged some of my favorite cuts on the album (we both agreed on our favorite: “1900 Yesterday” (below), sort of an off-kilter swinging 60s dance cut).

On the album, Betty’s sassy-yet-classy salty mezzo-soprano voice was perfectly augmented by swirling strings, staccato horns, shuffling doo-wop background vocals, and rollicking piano. Featuring compositions by Eugene Record (of the Chi-Lites), Curtis Mayfield, and Eddie Sullivan (of the Classic Sullivans), the album serves as a snapshot of Chicago Soul at the time.

Above, listen to Betty Everett’s classic “There’ll Come  Time”. You can hear the cut “1900 Yesterday”, by clicking the “continue reading” icon below… Jive on!

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I Just Want to Be Loved: Lee Charles breaks it all the way down.

Wow. What a little stunner. I played this 1973 cut during my second set at Morseland this past Thursday. Such a quality Chicago cut.  Arranged by the mighty, mighty Tom Tom Washington (who later worked with the likes of Earth, Wind, & Fire), this was co-written by Lee Charles with Lowrell Simon [from the group The Lost Generation (famous for the hit "Sly, Slick, & Wicked"), and, later, Lowrell (famous for "Mellow, Mellow, Right On")].
Lee Charles also wrote songs for Jerry Butler’s famous Workshop in the early 70′S. Beautiful early appearance of some spacey Moog sounds and some solid truth.


Windy City: Hey it’s (not) over.

First off, I LOVE this record.  A little back story: “Hey, It’s Over” by Windy City is a record that came out in 1974 on local Innovation II records, later issued on Warner Bros.  Produced by Willie “Mr. Brunswick”* Henderson and Arranged by James “The Soul Educator” Mack*, it has a great shuffly, brassy, breezy sound that fits the group’s name perfectly.  And, the jangly guitar and crisp high-hat make me smile.  Not on Windy City’s only album (pictured below [and also recommended]), it’s pretty rare.

I bought the record in an online auction lot with about a hundred other 45s five years ago, spending what wound up to be about a dollar per record.  At the time I was a college student, and for me it was a BIG investment.  The records were not packed very well, and so my b-side (“If by Chance”) has an annoying click on it. 

I went online to see if I could find a replacement and I got quite a shock.  Apparently the record got hot recently (probably in Europe), because today “Hey It’s Over” alone is selling for the price I paid for the whole lot.  One of the few times in which a very rare record is also very well produced.

Antiques Roadshow, here I come!

*Willie Henderson produced dozens of spectacular sides for Brunswick Records; While James Mack not only arranged beautifully himself, he taught a whole generation of the city’s best arrangers (including Tom Tom Washington).


Baby Be Mine: Johnny Williams’ Record Row Gold

streetAbove, enjoy DuSable High School’s own Johnny Williams with Baby Be Mine, a classically Chicago-styled mid-tempo shuffler.  A delicious record, it was recorded at Brunswick Records here in Chicago (1449 South Michigan Avenue, to be exact) for their Subsidiary label, Bashie.  Get a whif of those cheering flutes on the tail end.  A beast.  Pictured at left, Brunswick Records, 1967-late 70s.

Brunswick was originally based in New York, but moved operations to Chicago in the mid ’60s to take advantage of a hotbed of talent that was nationally recognized.  Brunswick’s Jackie Wilson (on lifetime contract to the label) immediately found success working with the Chicago operation, hitting with the 1966 classic “Whispers (Getting Louder)”. 

The label that ultimately brought us the Chi-Lites, Tyrone Davis, Barbara Acklin, and more also enlisted some of the best producers/arrangers in the city: Sonny Sanders, Carl Davis, Willie Henderson, Tom Tom Washington, and later Leo Graham and James Mack (who taught Tom Tom and Willie Henderson at Crane Junior College).  What they created was a sound that was a perfect hybrid of blues and soul.  Just like the very best of Chicago.


Love is a Merry-Go-Round: Ginji James and “that thing”

ginji_james-love_is_a_merry_go_roundI wanted to share this record with you….because I love it.  From the 1971 (Chicago born-and-bred) album, “Love is a Merry-Go-Round”: it’s Ginji James with “Love Had Come to Stay”.  It’s sitting-in-the-park music from Brunswick Records (recorded on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago).  Sitting-in-the-Park music is that music you hear in your head when you’re feeling all moody and contemplative… like no matter how sunny the day there’s a little bit of your heart stuck on that thing.  Another example of this is “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites (also from Brunswick).  The lyrics of that song is where I got the name for this genre:

One month ago today
I was happy as a lark
But now I go for walks
To the movies – maybe to the park

And have a seat on the same old bench
To watch the children play (huh)
You know, tomorrow is their future
But to me, just another day

They all gather around me
They seem to know my name
We laugh, tell a few jokes
But it still doesn’t ease my pain….


according to Dusty Groove:

One of our favorswingite Chicago soul sessions of all time — and the only album ever cut by Texas-bred singer Ginji James! Ginji’s got a style that’s both sweet and deep — which makes her a perfect fit for the sweeping, loping arrangements of the record — very much in the best Brunswick Chi-soul style of the time — and carried off perfectly by a team of studio talents that includes Carl Davis, Eugene Record, Willie Henderson, and Tom Tom! Ginji’s vocals are really wonderful — every bit as great as that of labelmates like Barbara Acklin or The Chi-Lites — and the whole set sparkles with a warmth that’s pretty darn hard to find, even in the best soul albums from the time!

From my very own album to you….



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