Sometimes it is amazing how little trace an artist can leave. Despite nearly two dozen singles there are virtually no biographical details on record for Washington band leader (or possibly Philadelphian) Chet Ivey. Memphis singer Barbara Brown managed to score a Pop Top 100 hit in the US and yet the length of her biography is the handful of lines by Rob Bowman in his sleeve note for the first Stax/Volt box set. Yet she was a singer whose output over a ten year period for a variety of labels was astounding. Other than the three Stax A-sides these recordings have never been reissued.
Three of Barbara Brown’s singles appeared in the early 70s on the Sounds Of Memphis label, and it was in our dogged attempt to track this label down that we realised that Barbara with her family group the Browns had recorded for Gene Lucchesi, Charles Chalmers and Stan Kessler who were also responsible for the XL label (which gave the world Sam The Sham and Woolly Bully). They recorded tracks and then leased them out to whichever national label that they could. So Barbara’s brilliant singles appeared on Atco, Cadet and Tower as well as the XL and Sounds Of Memphis labels, but they all came from one source. The tapes were sitting in the storage vault owned by Linda Lucchesi (Gene’s daughter) and as Alec Palao and I sifted through them we realised that not only were they in pristine condition but that there was also a bunch of stunning unreleased tracks, such as the amazing Gonna Start A War, originally slated as a Cadet single that never materialised and that is now kicking up a storm wherever it is played.
When we got the tapes down to the legendary Ardent studio to make copies we were astounded by their uniformly high quality. Barbara’s voice – trained in church – is as good as it gets in soul music; the songs are the work of craftsmen; and the productions whether they are by Charles Chalmers (on the early cuts) or Dan Greer are sparkling. When we realised that there were enough cuts for a CD we were ecstatic. This month sees the culmination of that work with the release of CAN’T FIND NO HAPPINESS, packed with some great images from the extensive Sounds Of Memphis archive. The music stands up alongside the finest pieces of Memphis soul in your collection. Barbara Brown can take her place alongside your Otis and James Carr records. This CD really is that good.
By Dean Rudland