"The stone the builders rejected has become
- Mark 12:10
"The stone the builders rejected has become
Like many of you, I was first introduced to Roosevelt Jamison in the pages of Peter Guralnick's seminal Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm & Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. The story of him working with Gospel groups in a back room at the Blood Bank where he worked, of his cutting a few raw demo tapes of songs he had written with a couple of those singers, and knocking on the door of Goldwax owner Quinton Claunch in the middle of the night with those singers (who just happened to be O.V. Wright and James Carr) in tow, and changing the course of history in the process... the tale of this visionary poet who may just have written the greatest Love Song of all time going on to become Carr's manager, confidant and, in many ways, soul-mate, helped me to understand the importance of this man in the history of this music. It is hard to imagine Memphis Soul without him.
When Preston Lauterbach and I started up the O.V. Wright Memorial Fund in 2008, we went out of our way to find Roosevelt and bring him on board with Willie Mitchell and the rest of the crew. Once we finally tracked him down, he agreed to come have breakfast with me and talk things over. As he began to speak of those days, of James Carr showing up on his doorstep broke and hungry, and quite literally out of his mind, he broke down and started to cry at the memory of it. This was the first time I had met him, and I began to truly understand the depth of spirit and emotion that this man, and the music he created, brought to this world of ours. From that moment on, I became his biggest fan.
As part of the festivities in Memphis surrounding the O.V. Wright Memorial Dedication, I had arranged for a luncheon at the Rendezvous that would bring Roosevelt and Quinton Claunch back together, just like the night they had spent on the living room floor listening to those tapes all those years ago. As it turned out, Quinton wasn't feeling up to it, but Roosevelt came and introduced everyone to his wonderful wife Linda, who was kind enough to have made these beautiful keepsake laminated bookmarks for the occasion, emblazoned with the lyrics of Jamison's song of songs... all of us who were lucky enough to be there that day will treasure them forever.
I kept in touch with Roosevelt over the years, and we talked often of those days. Here was a man who had been there and back, and had the stories to prove it. In the summer of 2011, he was diagnosed with Brain Cancer and, although he was weak, he would still answer my call and speak with me from his hospital bed. Miraculously, Roosevelt got up out of that bed, and the cancer seemed to go into remission. That Fall, he would receive a 'Note' on Beale Street, and be honored by the City of Memphis by re-naming the street where he lived 'Roosevelt Jamison Road'. He was finally getting some home-town recognition... but, sadly, the Cancer had returned. When John Broven and I got into town on the Road Trip last August, Roosevelt was the first person I called. He and Linda were kind enough to invite us out to the house and, although things didn't look good at first, with Linda's help we were finally able to make it happen...
...that luncheon with Quinton and Roosevelt we had been angling for all along. It was truly a privilege and an honor to have been able to bring these two historic figures back together one last time.
I will never forget it.
As I drove Roosevelt home from the restaurant that afternoon, somehow I knew it would be the last time I would ever see him... I told him that no matter what happened, he had written a song that will live on forever. Tears filled both of our eyes, as he turned to me and answered, "I know it."
That's How Strong My Love Is
O.V. WRIGHT REMEMBERED
O.V. Wright - Giant Of Southern Soul is, quite simply, the most comprehensive and in-depth article ever written about O.V.'s life and times. It first appeared in Juke Blues Magazine in the Spring of 2000, and has now been made available here, for the first time on the internet, with the gracious permission of the author, Ray Ellis.
Along with some thirty audio tracks, the article appears in two installments:
PART ONE: FROM GOSPEL TO SOUL TO GOSPEL
PART TWO: PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS
Check it out!
WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT
Considered by many to be the greatest soul singer that ever lived, O.V. Wright died tragically in the back of an ambulance on November 16, 1980.
He had been lying in an unmarked grave ever since.
The O.V. Wright Memorial Fund was formed earlier this year, and collected donations from people around the globe who joined together to help place a monument at his final resting place in Memphis.
We were able to raise over $2000, and dedicated the headstone selected by his family on the twenty eighth anniversary of his death - Sunday, November 16th, 2008.
As part of a weekend long tribute to O.V., we put together a series of other events to co-incide with the dedication ceremony, as outlined above.
The concert on November 15th served as the inaugural fundraiser for a new organization called The Soul of Memphis Foundation which, as an outgrowth of the Memorial Fund, will strive to continue the work we've started here together.
Our purpose from the beginning has been to help preserve the legacy of Memphis Soul by honoring the past and doing our part to preserve its rich history for future generations.
The incredible outpouring of love that we received from the soul community down in Memphis let us know that we are on the right track.
Please consider making a donation to this worthy cause.
Together we can do anything!
THAT'S HOW STRONG OUR LOVE IS
OUR WEEKEND IN MEMPHIS
As you may know, the Memorial Fund sponsored a series of events leading up to the dedication of O.V.'s monument on November 16th. Folks flew in from all over the world to be a part of it.
Our kickoff event was a tour of the venerable Royal Studio, the place where O.V. recorded all that soul, where we got to hang out with his producer, the one and only Willie Mitchell. Despite continuing health problems related to the broken ankle he suffered in February, Willie welcomed us with open arms. The tour was led by his grandson Boo, who showed us around the still operating studio, which remains exactly the same as it ever was. Very cool indeed.
Although 88 year old Quinton Claunch was unable to make it, Roosevelt Jamison and his lovely wife Linda were our guests at the Goldwax Rendezvous luncheon the following afternoon. Roosevelt shared his memories of those days at the Blood Bank with O.V. and James Carr, and gave us a taste of his beautiful poetry. The laminated bookmarks Linda made up for everybody are just awesome!
Next up was our after hours tour of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where media director Tim Sampson was kind enough to let us roam around and check everything out. A truly amazing place, even those of us who had been there before found something new and exciting... like the O.V. album they have displayed as part of their Goldwax exhibit. A great time was had by all.
The crowd was buzzing at the Ground Zero as we packed the house for our O.V. Wright Night benefit concert on Saturday night. It seemed like the whole town was on its ear, as both WDIA and WRBO did their best to spread the word that this was definitely the place you wanted to be. It felt like a great big reunion, as members of O.V.'s family connected with people they hadn't seen in years, like the 1956 class O.V. graduated with from Mt. Pisgah High School.
It felt like a reunion up there on stage as well, as Hi Rhythm kicked it off joined by a veteran horn section led by none other than 'Mister Last Night' himself, Floyd Newman. O.V.'s son Overton DeWayne wowed the crowd with Don't Let My Baby Ride, before Hi vocalist Percy Wiggins took over the microphone and brought it on home with songs like The Bottom Line, You're Gonna Make Me Cry and Lost In The Shuffle.
Next up, Otis Clay showed why he's one of the most respected soul singers ever, laying it all out on smoking versions of songs like Blind, Crippled and Crazy and A Nickel and a Nail, then holding the crowd in the palm of his hand during deep numbers like When You Took Your Love From Me. Otis' impassioned vocals gave way to Charles Hodges' incredible solo during Precious, Precious, and together they just brought down the house!
Perhaps the most moving moment of the whole evening, however, was when special guests The Masqueraders took the stage and performed a stirring rendition of The Old Rugged Cross. We had us some Church up in there, folks, let me tell ya. One of the most under-rated vocal groups of all time, these guys can really sing. There wasn't a dry eye in the place!
Otis, Percy and Overton closed out the show harmonizing together on Love and Happiness and I Wanna Testify, with the crowd swaying together as one. As more than one person in the house told me that night, 'it felt like coming home.'
Sunday, November 16th was the 28th anniversary of O.V.'s passing, and we gathered out at the Galilee Memorial Gardens to dedicate his new monument together. With his extended family all around us, this represented the culmination of the Memorial Fund's efforts, as we paid tribute to this great man. The star of the entire weekend was, without any doubt, O.V.'s older sister, Ada, who told us of her enduring love for her 'singing baby' of a brother. It is a love that will live on forever, a love she was willing to share with those of us lucky enough to have been there in that special place with her.
After Ada's son Elder Eric McCreight spoke about 'the stone that the builders rejected', and Reverend Charles Hodges told of how O.V. influenced his own spiritual journey, O.V.'s two sons shared the love they had for their father with us. As Overton DeWayne sang Amazing Grace in a voice eerily reminiscent of his father's, O.V.'s spirit soared there amongst us as we joined him in song...
Special Thanks To:
All of O.V.'s beloved family, The Mitchell family, The Hodges family, The Grimes family, The Wiggins family, Archie Turner, Otis Clay, The Jamisons, The Masqueraders, Floyd Newman, Mickey Gregory, Tommy Lee Williams, Darryl Carter, Quinton Claunch, Tim Sampson, Al Davis, Morgan Freeman, Bill Luckett, Roger Stolle, Don Wilson, Jud Phillips, Hi Records, Chris Kourdevellis, The Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission, The Memphis Convention & Visitor's Bureau, WDIA, WRBO, Bob Mehr, Jesse Drucker, Andria Lisle, Ira Padnos, The Memphis Flyer, Monica Jackson, The Doubletree Memphis Downtown, Pop Tunes, Shangri-La Records, Jared McStay, Eric Hermeyer, Paul Pollman, Hot Graphics, The Mt. Pisgah Alumni Association, Julius Bradley, Chase Thompson, Charles Paige, Coffee Al, and everyone who cared enough to come to the concert or become a member of the team.
THAT'S HOW STRONG OUR LOVE IS
Please click here to view a photo gallery and slideshow of pictures taken by our team members.
Please click here to view some video taken over the course of our tribute weekend, as well as some vintage footage of O.V.
IN THE NEWS
Tribute Weekend Gives Soul Singer O.V. Wright Overdue Recognition - by Bob Mehr in the Commercial Appeal.
Tribute to a Tortured Soul Singer - by Jesse Drucker in the Wall Street Journal.
AT LONG LAST
With a beautiful 16 page booklet featuring liner notes written by team member John Ridley, and an excellent job of digital re-mastering from the original analog tapes, this package is truly a labor of love:
By the time Memphis Unlimited was released in 1973, O. V. Wright had been a star in the ghetto for almost a decade. His searing, uncompromising vocals had featured on 10 R&B hits and his Back Beat label had issued four previous LPs - an excellent run of both artistic and commercial success. But this new album was different from its predecessors. It was the first time that Wright had recorded an LP as an entity, rather than had one released as a collection of tracks already in the can - and the difference is marked. Memphis Unlimited has a coherence that his other LPs lack and has no fillers to detract from the quality.
Wright's long time producer Willie Mitchell was currently the hottest
studio man in the South, fresh from multi million sellers on Al Green,
and the fabled Hi Sound he developed was now a mature and fully
acknowledged musical achievement. Wright himself was at the height of
his formidable vocal powers, scorching on the ballads that were his
trademark, swinging on the dance cuts. That combination makes this album
the most accessible and commercial of all of Wright's Back Beat sets
without any compromises at all to his traditional strengths. It remains
one of the key Southern Soul albums and its re-release here is long
overdue. O. V. Wright - the Boss of Southern Soul at his very
John Ridley - sirshambling.com
Now available at Dusty Groove for only $10.99, this is one purchase you really need to make.
THE O.V. WRIGHT MEMORIAL FUND TEAM:
Raymond Gavin Newe
Vivid Sound UK
Dallas Blues Society
Thomas Hyslop Jr
Blue Soul Records
Cies de Theye
Erik Arne Forsell
Lucky 13 Lounge, London
ARTICLES BY TEAM MEMBERS:
We welcome any and all contributions. Submit yours today!
As you may have noticed, we recently added audio to our site. If you click on any of those little 'play' buttons underneath the label scans on the right, it opens up an audio player that allows you to listen to the rest of the 45s as well.
Check it out!
As always, clicking on any of the singles takes you to a page where you can read what Red Kelly had to say about them.