This Stax distaff double-header anthologises two underrated teams of ladies whose voices were utilised behind the scenes at McLemore Avenue as well as in their own right. Both were with the company for a number of years and neither ever had a long-playing vinyl release, which makes this new CD extremely welcome.
“We’re The Soul Girls” features everything released on Volt by Jeanne and the Darlings and the Charmels, as well as eleven tracks that were not issued at the time. Their original 45s are admired by girl group fans, and both the Darlings’ ‘Soul Girl’ and the Charmels’ ‘As Long As I Have You’ are also cherished by collectors of original breakbeats.
The Charmels were at Stax throughout the Atlantic-distributed years. As the Tonettes, theirs were the first voices to be heard on the Volt label when ‘No Tears’ became Volt 101 in early 1962 (#100 was an instrumental by the Triumphs). The Tonettes had a second single a few months later, and recorded enough material to fill four more 45s, but they caught an unexpected break when Nashville label Sound Stage 7 needed a black female group to go out as the Dixiebelles to promote a studio-created Hot 100 hit called ‘Down At Papa Joe’s’. The Tonettes masqueraded as the Dixiebelles until that concept had run its course, and returned to the Volt roster in late 1966 as the Charmels (and, on their final Volt 45, the Charmells). Working with Isaac Hayes and David Porter they rolled out four exemplary 45s over an 18 month period that extended into the early days of the post-Atlantic era.
They also backed up a number of Stax’ solo artists during part of that period, a role they shared with a trio of equally estimable ladies led by Arkansan Jeanne Dolphus – or Jeanne Darling as she was known professionally. Jeanne and her fellow Darlings would quickly become Stax’ equivalent of Motown’s Andantes, lending their vocal backups to an increasing number of sessions featuring solo Stax acts. Unlike the Andantes, who managed just one single in their own name during the years they were with Motown, Jeanne and the Darlings saw six singles issued over a three-year period with Volt. They too started their own career under the supervision of Hayes and Porter, before moving on to work with other great Stax writer-producers, including Don Davis and the celebrated ‘We Three’ trio of Bettye Crutcher, Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson. None of the unissued tracks by either group is inferior, and just about all of them could have been considered for singles.
You might think that there can’t be much left to do with Stax, given how many great CDs have preceded these two on the Ace catalogue. That’s not the case and, even as these two are finding their way into your collections, I’m mining the tape vaults for yet more exciting projects by both familiar and fairly obscure Stax acts. The ‘clicks’ just keep on coming….
By Tony Rounce