That's How Strong My
What follows is an oft-told tale... a story of unlikely heroes and
strange bedfellows. It's a tale that's been told by many before me and,
I'm sure, will continue to be told after I'm gone. The power of the
story lies, perhaps, in the promise of ordinary people doing
extrordinary things, in a whole that somehow exceeds the sum of its
parts... in the exalted possibility of 'art' happening when you least
expect it. That, my friends, is The Goldwax
Quinton Claunch came up out of Mississippi, but the radio lured him
to Muscle Shoals. By the mid-forties, he had founded a down home country
outfit that broadcast on WLAY, the Blue Seal Pals. After the addition of
'Washboard' Bill Cantrell in 1946, they were able to step up to
the more powerful WJOI in Florence, and actually created their own
network of stations that carried their broadcasts, which were sponsored
by the Blue Seal Flour Company. Now heard all over the South, they soon
became a household name. Clear channel WSM in Nashville, the home of the
Grand Ole Opry, signed them on to host their popular Saturday morning
show 'Sun-Up Serenade', and things were hoppin'! The Pals just busted
'em up, selling out houses throughout the South, as they toured with
folks like Rod Brasfield and Minnie Pearl. By the early fifties, however, as the nature of radio
began to change, they were less in demand, and the group went their
Cantrell gravitated to Memphis, where former WLAY dee-jay Sam Phillips had
opened a 'recording service' that soon evolved into the Sun Studio. The two former 'Pals'
found work as studio musicians at Sun, backing star-crossed rockabilly
Feathers, among others. They were there for what many would call the
dawn of rock and roll, as guys like Elvis and Carl Perkins took
the place of Howlin'
Wolf and Ike Turner at the
could carve out a little piece of magic on their own, Claunch and
Cantrell joined forces with another 'singing cowboy' turned Sun
rockabilly bad boy, Ray Harris.
Together they approached local record man Joe
Cuoghi about starting their own label. Cuoghi brought together a few
other investors, and agreed to give the former Phillips' employees
creative control. As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, a record by Carl
McVoy would become the first release on their brand new Hi label in
1957. The B side of that record, Tootsie, was written by Claunch and Cantrell.
everybody else involved, Quinton Claunch had a 'day job' as well, as an
itinerant hardware supplies salesman. Just as things at Hi started
looking good, with the Bill Black Combo's Smokie - Part Two
bringing in some cash, something happened. In Sweet Soul
Music, Peter Guralnick says that Claunch left Hi in 1959 for 'a
number of cogent reasons'. According to a Black
Cat Rockabilly web page; "Quinton Claunch was forced out of the Hi
partnership after cutting a Bill Black soundalike band for another
label. Carl McVoy bought Claunch's share for $7000, which he earned on
the next Bill Black record, for which he brought an old Hammond organ to
the studio." (which, I imagine, is the one that's still there). In any
event, by 1960, Claunch was selling hardware full time.
Guralnick goes on
to say that Quinton had become friends with Rick Hall after The
Fairlanes recorded for Hi in the late fifties (although there were
never any records by them released on the label), and that Hall wanted
him to become partners with him when he opened FAME down in his old
stomping grounds of Muscle Shoals. Claunch turned him down, and watched
as both his operation, and one that had opened in another old movie
theater around the corner from his old Hi digs, began to take off. He
was itching to get back in to the business. Entering into a loose
partnership with a local pharmacist named Rudolph ('Doc')
Russell, he took an R&B vocal group called The Lyrics down to
see Rick Hall and recorded Goldwax' first release, Darling,
in 1964. Although a moderate local hit, Claunch maintains that it was
stepped on by his former partners at Hi, as he made the mistake of using
the same distributor they did, London Records.
At this point, please allow me to quote from a post I wrote about O.V. Wright back in March of 2006 (an oft-told tale,
was a hard working lab tech who ran a walk-in Blood Bank in downtown
Memphis for the University Hospital. His first love was music, however,
and he worked as a manager and promoter of local Gospel acts on the
side. The door of the Blood Bank was always open, and singers would drop
by to rehearse in the relative quiet of the back room. O.V.'s group, The
Harmony Echoes, did so often, and before long the two men hit it off.
They began writing songs together, sharing their dream of 'crossing
over' and making it big as so many others were doing at the time...
Jamison, meanwhile, had made a demo tape of some of the songs he had
written, with O.V. Wright and another member of The Harmony Echoes, one
James Carr, handling
the vocals. He had taken the tape to Jim Stewart
over at Stax, but he didn't show much interest, claiming it was 'too
Gospel'. As legend has it, Jamison's next move was to show up on Quinton
Claunch's doorstep in the middle of the night with the tape in his
Whether it was just a tape Jamison had with him or, as Claunch is
quoted as saying in Say It One Time For The Broken Hearted - "...I heard a knock on
my door at about ten o'clock one night, and found Roosevelt Jamison,
James Carr, and O.V. Wright standing there. They had this little
portable recorder, so we sat right down here on this floor and listened
to some tapes. Both of them just knocked me out..." - it remains a
shining moment that lives on in all of our imaginations.
selection we have here today (yes, it was released as a B side, as
Claunch apparently thought Jamison's There Goes My Used To Be had more commercial potential),
is the result of that night on Quinton's living room floor, and
represents so much. This confluence of Gospel and Country, of very black
and very white... this touchstone, if you will, of a whole genre that
was to follow, just slays me. Here on his first 'secular' release,
O.V.'s fully formed vocals (earned through his many years of singing in
the Church) go right through you.
A couple of questions I have about this monumental record remain
unanswered... Guralnick reports that Claunch "took O.V. into the
studio'"... what studio? I'm guessing FAME, but I'm not sure.
It'd be great to identify that cool guitarist... and who, pray
tell, were 'The Keys'?
Guralnick goes on
to say; "The record, distributed by Vee-Jay this time out, was a hit,
eclipsing even the version by Otis Redding, which was
recorded about the same time (late 1964) despite Stax's purported lack
Well, as you may know, Billboard did not publish an R&B chart from
11/30/63 to 1/23/65, an idea that just didn't make sense. It is exactly
that period which was home to so many seminal and influential 'race'
records, like the one we have here today. In Whitburn's Top R&B Singles, he says that he has done research "to
determine which R&B titles would have crossed over to an R&B singles
chart." He reports the Otis version at #18 R&B on 1/30/65 (a week after
Billboard re-instituted the chart). The O.V. Wright original is nowhere
to be found. Which version was the bigger hit?
As the story goes,
threatened to sue Goldwax, claiming that he already had Wright under
contract from his days with The Sunset Travelers.
His reputation certainly preceded him, and Claunch and Russell were
happy to settle out of court, retaining their rights to O.V.'s lone
Goldwax release. As our man over at the awesome Testify reported recently, however:
"Speaking to Tim
Perlich for Soul Survivor magazine in 1988 Roosevelt Jamison said:
"Y'know, personally, I doubt that any such contract between O.V. and Don
Robey ever existed. If there was, I never saw it. That was only part of
the reason why O.V. left Goldwax though. O.V. had an engagement to do a
show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for some local D.J. named Dickie Doo,
but Quinton Claunch refused to give us the money for gas to get there.
Ricky Sanders, Earl Forrest and I went with O.V. and did the show
anyway, but after that incident O.V. went straight to Texas."
An arrangement that, after all, didn't turn out too bad.
(...this article first appeared on The B Side in September of