What movie could bring a 14 year old Black male living in the segregated South in the very early 60s to the verge of tears? This one! Although I would never admit to crying, I will fess up to getting 'misty eyed'. Ahem cough, cough.
One hot summer afternoon, I decided to go to the movies. Lucky for me I lived within walking distance of 2 of the 4 movie houses that Blacks could go to. One was old, but the other had only been opened for a year or so. The new one had better air conditioning, so my choice was easy. I didn`t care what was playing, I just needed a couple of hours respite from the heat. After my 20 minute walk, I discover that "Imitation Of Life" was playing. I had been wishing for a shoot em up or a horror movie, and this looked like some sappy love story. Oh Noo... I muttered to myself, thinking its too late to turn back now.
Now this was back in da day ...before movies had a starting time. You just walked into the middle of the movie...and stayed till it started over to see what you missed. Well I watched the last 30 mins or so, then stayed through the entire next showing. It was the most powerful, moving movie I had ever seen! I swear when Mahalia Jackson sang, everyone in that movie was in tears. I had never seen anything like it. In fact about week later I went back to see it again. :)
Adolescence has not stopped Sarah Jane from attempting to pass for white: she begins dating a white boy (Troy Donohue), who severely beats her after learning she is black. Some time later, Sarah Jane passes in order to get a job performing at a seedy nightclub, and lies to Annie and tells her she is working at the library. When Annie learns the truth and appears to claim her daughter, Sarah Jane is fired, and Sarah Jane's subsequent dismissal of her mother's care begins taking a physical toll on Annie. Lora returns from her trip to Italy to find that Sarah Jane has run away from home, and has Steve hire a detective to find her. The detective locates Sarah Jane in California, living as a white woman under an assumed name and working as a chorus girl. Annie, becoming weaker and more depressed by the day, flies out to California to see her daughter one last time and say goodbye.
The plot of the 1959 version of Imitation of Life was significantly altered from the original book and the 1934 film version. In the original story, the "Lora" character, Bea Pullman, became famous with the help of her maid Annie's family waffle recipe. As a result, Bea, the white businesswoman, becomes rich, and Annie, her subservient black maid, turns down any and all offers to share any profits. The story was altered so that Lora becomes a Broadway star with her own talents, with Annie assisting her by serving as a nanny for Lora's child. In addition, producer Ross Hunter was cannily aware that these plot changes would enable Lana Turner to model an array of glamorous costumes and real jewels, something that would appeal to the female audience at that time.
Well, I can halfway understand how Sarah Jane would want to live the much easier life of being White. But to disown her own Mama in order to do so? NO WAY IN HELL!
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.