Despite its overwhelming country music association Nashville has a large black population and produced great music sourced from and aimed at this largely unheralded group.
Local songwriter Ted Jarrett was one of the driving forces in the 50s and carried on working through the next three decades. On this CD R&B based act Lucille Mathis sings his gritty mover ‘I’m Not You Regular Woman’. Ted had his own labels but the city’s main black music imprint was Ernie Young’s Excello which had been issuing R&B since the early 50s, many with Ted’s involvement.
Ted studied at the city’s noted black university Fisk, where the younger Bob Holmes gained high distinctions. Bob was a master arranger and though his first successes were with the raw blues of Slim Harpo, he brought a sophisticated orchestrated soul sound to most of his work. Ted worked with Bob on several releases for Excello and the pair would later run Ref-O-Ree together. Bob’s main acts were the girl group the Avons, male trio the Hytones (also later solos by member Freddie Waters) and Peggy Gaines, along with occasional projects on Freddie North, Jimmy Church and others.
In 1967 Excello launched a more uptown soul subsidiary, Abet. The first release was the Hytones ‘Bigger And Better’ a perennial Northern Soul favourite that fetches up to £500. It was written by Bob Holmes, as was the exquisite ‘Since I Met You Baby’ by the Avons and ‘I’ve Got To Hold Back’, which carries a more mainstream soul sound than Freddie North is usually associated with. Bob and Ted also worked with Detroiter Roger Hatcher whose ‘Sweetest Girl In The World’ is a mid tempo masterpiece with a terrific arrangement. Bob said if they were trying to emulate anyone in the mid 60s it was Detroit more than the nearby Memphis sound.
Fellow Nashville producer Jerry Crutchfield managed Memphis singer Percy Wiggins and produced him in the Music City on ‘That’s Loving You’, a catchy number with a fast, bouncing rhythm, one the dancers on the Northern Soul scene adopted a decade after its Abet release.
The fascinating thing about many of these artists is that they can be seen appearing on the TV show The Beat produced by Hoss Allen out of Nashville and now available on DVD. Hoss had his own Rogana Productions and cut Frank Howard, who regularly appeared on the show with his group the Commanders, on the pretty mid-tempo love song ‘Judy’.
A more Southern soul sound came from the acts that were on the Sims or Whit labels or those who migrated to Excello from those labels after they folded. The Kelly Brothers’ ‘Crying Days Are Over’, Bobby Powell’s ‘Childhood Days’ and the Wallace Brothers’ ‘Thanks A Lot’ are examples. Marva Whitney and Shirley Brown are better known for their work with other imprints but these overlooked sides are excellent too. Abet continued well into the 70s and embraced the disco era, though still staying soulful. The Skip Mahoney, Jerry Washington and Bits ‘N’ Pieces tracks represent that period.
There is a wonderful previously unreleased beat ballad by Freddie North and other musical debutants include the haunting ‘I Would If I Could’ by the Avons.
Inevitably some wonderful sides have only surfaced over the last few decades, those by Johnny Truitt and Bennie Shaw, in particular, are why we collect this fabulous music.