Gene Ammons grew up surrounded by music: His father was celebrated boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons:
and his high school produced scores of famous jazz musicians. "I would tell them to get a sound. Practice their sound. That's the most important thing."Gene Ammons, advice to young musiciansNPR.org, February 20, 2008 - When Albert Ayler informed a critic that his music was more about feelings than about notes, he could also have been describing the immense yet undersung legacy of fellow tenor saxophonist Gene "Jug" Ammons.
A Chicago native, Ammons had an ability to infuse originals and standards with preachy yet elegant clouds of sound. His contributions to what became known as "soul jazz" were ignored by critics. But his abilities earned him the respect of jazz and R&B lovers, as well as innovative bandleaders such as Billy Eckstine and Woody Herman, who both had the vision to hire Ammons in the late 1940s.
Some of Ammons' stylistic versatility can undoubtedly be traced to his Chicago home, where he was born on Apr. 14, 1925. There, he heard the piano stylings of his mother, and perhaps most importantly his father, the celebrated boogie-woogie master Albert Ammons. He also learned from the renowned "Captain" Walter Dyett, the musical director of Chicago's DuSable High School. Dyett was instrumental in launching the careers of many other DuSable alumni, including the legendary crooner and pianist Nat "King" Cole and fellow saxophonist Johnny Griffin.
In the early 1940s, Ammons joined the ensemble of trumpeter King Kolax, a stint that allowed him to craft a style out of two key saxophone influences — the blustery Coleman Hawkins, and the more painterly Lester Young. This marriage of aural ideologies was further honed in 1944, when Ammons joined the innovative orchestra of vocalist, trumpeter, and bandleader Billy Eckstine; there, his fluid, rich-toned style was featured on songs such as "Rhythm in a Riff" and "Blowing the Blues Away."
In 1947, Ammons formed his own quintet and also produced his first hit, called "Red Top" after his wife Mildred's nickname. "Red Top" featured the "big beat" and bluesy saxophone that was to define a genre soon christened R&B. Two years later, Ammons joined clarinetist Woody Herman's "Second Herd" ensemble, and was impressively spotlighted on bop-influenced chordal mazes like Shorty Rogers' "More Moon."
The next year found Ammons paired with the fleet-fingered, Charlie Parker-influenced alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt — a musical marriage that proved a hit both artistically and commercially. He also had a number of successful recording dates for Prestige Records during the same decade.
In 1958, Ammons suffered his first career setback when he was arrested and convicted for narcotics possession. He resumed playing at the end of his prison term in 1960, when jazz was in the midst of another sea change. A number of ensembles turned to the Hammond B-3 organ instead of the piano. The rise of unabashedly funky soul-jazz was a natural match for Ammons' driving, bluesy sound, and he was again able to lend his arresting tone to a number of successful projects.
Unfortunately, Ammons' drug problems led to a another arrest and conviction in 1962 — though jazz and blues expert Bob Porter says that Ammons was framed. Luckily, thanks to the savvy of Prestige Records producer Bob Weinstock, the label was able to continue releasing new material. Ammons was released from prison in 1969. From then until his death from bone cancer on Aug. 6, 1974, he continued to make new recordings, including the acclaimed collection The Boss Is Back, as well as equally memorable dates with saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Cannonball Adderley.
In the more than 25 years since his death, Ammons' soulful approach and versatility have continued to touch musicians and fans. The key to his unique influence is found in what Ammons told a journalist in 1961, when asked to offer advice to young musicians: "I would tell them to get a sound. Practice their sound. That's the most important thing."
The history of the Butlers/Raw Soul is dense, but for all of us music nerds, that's normal. It is not totally clear what year the Butlers actually formed but they released their first single in 1963 on Liberty Records. That single was "She Tried To Kiss Me" and another single followed on Guyden entitled "Lovable Girl." After the Guyden single the Butlers took a break not recording another record until the single "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" was released on the Phila label in 1966. The group also backed Charles Earland and Jean Wells on one Phila single ("I Know She Loves Me").
As you might be noticing, the Butlers were doing a fair amount of recording but not achieving much success. The group's recordings sold regionally but never had the promotion to make an impact on the national scene. After the single with Phila, the Butlers moved to the Fairmount label (part of the Cameo-Parkway family) and released a handful of singles, some being reissued singles of the past. The Butlers were with Fairmount for 1966-67 and then moved to Sassy Records. Sassy released the group's greatest single (in my opinion) "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" b/w "If That's What You Wanted." A copy of that 45 sold for just under $500 last summer on eBay. Even though that isn't that much in the world of record collecting--it's still a hefty sum. The Butlers released another single on Sassy ("She's Gone" b/w "Love Is Good") that appears to be even
harder to come by then the "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" single.
The true history become a bit blurred here as the AMG biography states that the Butlers last record was released on C.R.S. in 1974 (". However, between 1971 and that single, Frankie Beverly formed a group called Raw Soul and released a number of singles. Some of the songs recorded by Beverly during this period are "While I'm Alone," "Open Up Your Heart," (both on the Gregor label) and "Color Blind." "Color Blind" was released by the Eldorado label and rerecorded by Maze. Beverly's big break came when Marvin Gaye asked Raw Soul to back him on a tour. Gaye helped Beverly/Raw Soul get a contract at Capitol. Beverly decided to take the group in a different direction, a name change occurred, and Maze was created.
The above isn't the most complete history of Beverly but hopefully someone will know a way to get in touch with the man or his management because a comprehensive pre-Maze history needs to be done on Frankie Beverly (his real name is Howard, by the way). Below you'll find every Frankie Beverly (pre-Maze) song available to me right now ("Color Blind" will be up soon).
If you have a song that is not included below, shoot it over to funkinsoulman (at) yahoo.com and it will go up in the next Frankie Beverly post (later this week--highlighting Maze). Also, if you have any more information please share your knowledge. The Butlers material has been comp-ed sporadically (usually imports) but the entire Maze catalog has been reissued and is available.
Enjoy. "She Kissed Me" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
"I Want To Feel I'm Wanted" (not sure which label or year) "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" (Phila, 1966) "Because Of My Heart" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
"Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" (Sassy, 1967)
"If That's What You Wanted" (Sassy, 1967)
Frankie Beverly is one of those cats that has lasting power. He started in the music business doing a tour with doo wop group the Silhouettes and then formed his own group called the Blenders. The Blenders never recorded a single, Beverly wouldn't appear on wax until forming the Butlers a few years later. Along with Beverly, the Butlers included Jack "Sonny" Nicholson, Joe Collins, John Fitch, and Talmadge Conway.
Beverly would later enjoy great success fronting Maze and Conway would become a
well-known penning Double Exposure's
"Ten Percent" and the Intruders' "Memories Are Here To Stay."
While Maze is a phenomenal group, Beverly's work before that group will always stand out as his best (imo).
The Butlers produced tunes that most Northern Soul fans would kill for and Raw Soul gave the funksters something to pursue. If, by chance, you know of a way to get in touch with Frankie Beverly or his management, please drop me an e-mail. It would be absolutely great to do an interview with him about his pre-Maze work. He's still playing out, most recently doing a New Year's Eve show in Atlanta.