“By the time I was in my teens, I was sneaking out to cafes, juke joints, and dances on Saturday nights. Blues man Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland gave me my first opportunity to sing with a band…”
“The amplified sound of the guitar, bass, drums and piano with the horn section blasting away made the tiny nightclub atmosphere infectious. I remember a hot sticky night and my body dripped with sweat. I gave it my all and it was an intimate, hypnotic and totally exhausting experience”.
She joined the Ikettes in 1961, and wound up in New York a few years later, working in a songwriting trio with Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson. The team split up in the mid-sixties, with Nick and Val going to Motown and Jo arriving in Chicago.
Her first songwriting success in Chicago was “Casanova (Your Playing Days are Over)” for Ruby Andrews in 1967 (a HUGE record here in Chicago that year). By then married to Mel Collins, the two ventured into a record label that almost exclusively featured her compositions, Giant Records, as well as the offshoots Gamma and Globe.
A number of releases on Giant also featured Jo Armstead’s sassy soprano vocals, including “I’ve Been Turned On” and “There’s Not Too Many More Left Like Him” [below].
Many of her compositions were recorded featuring a trademark rollicking, melodic, string-laden stepper groove that has aged quite well. Most arrangements were collaborative efforts between Armstead and Detroit’s own Mike Terry.
During her time in Chicago, she also wrote or co-wrote hits for Carl Carlton (“Drop By my Place”, and “Two Timer [above]), Garland Green (“Jealous Kinda Fella” [click here for more on Mr. Green]), and herself (“Stone Cold Lover”). But, by 1969, her marriage was on the skids and she was bound for New York again. But, during her time in Chicago, she was indeed a giant among men. Jive on…