There I was, mired in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the San Francisco Bay Bridge during Friday evening rush hour, normally a commuter nightmare. On this particular occasion I was perfectly happy, for I was carrying some precious cargo – none other than Leola Jiles and Ella Jamerson of 60s gal soul trio the Apollas. As we crawled along, I surreptitiously slipped a CD of their vintage backing tracks into the stereo system and true to form, it didn’t take long before they were belting out their classics ‘Mr Creator’ and ‘You’re Absolutely Right’. Anyone who is familiar with the Apollas’ catalogue knows just how infectious it is, and when I couldn’t resist adding to the “sugar, sugar” response of ‘Just Can’t Get Enough Of You’, Leola playfully exclaimed, “We’re gonna get you a wig and gown and get you up there with us!” Whilst that might be the invitation of a lifetime for some folks we know, I’m not much of a singer – just perfectly happy to shepherd the group’s recorded legacy into a long-overdue anthology, and in the process hopefully give these remarkable women some well deserved kudos. “Absolutely Right! The Complete Tiger, Loma and Warner Bros Recordings” is just that: the Apollas’ impeccable mid-60s oeuvre collected in one place, with the unexpected bonus of several unissued cuts, including Leola Jiles’ heartbreaking masterpiece ‘I’ve Got So Used To Loving You’.
Cut in New York when they were still technically a gospel group, their first secular recordings were issued on Leiber and Stoller’s Tiger imprint in 1963 under the name the Lovejoys. Moving to Loma and Warner Bros under the expert tutelage of producer Dick Glasser and arrangers Gene Page and H.B. Barnum, between 1965 and 1968 they embarked on a tantalising series of single releases. Discs such as ‘Pretty Red Balloons’ and ‘Sorry Mama’ are now Northern soul standards, but the group’s ballads shine just as brightly.
I can’t tell you what fun it was spending time with Leola and Ella. These women are quite something, both as singers and comediennes. The stories of the Apollas’ illustrious career – touring with the Monkees, backing up Frankie Laine, appearing on virtually every 60s television show of note – kept me in stitches, and I could have written a liner note three times the length and only got a fraction of what they divulged to me in there (one-time Apolla Billie Barnum also kindly shares her memories of the group). Ella and Leola also happened to have kept the most mind-blowing scrapbooks, photographic highlights from which are squeezed into the deluxe booklet.
Our own Ady Croasdell brought the trio of Leola, Ella and Billie to Cleethorpes a few years ago, and I know it much have been a special moment for everyone in attendance. And that personal little Apollas concert I got on the Bay Bridge a few months ago is a memory I will cherish for years to come.
By Alec Palao