Girls groups have a special place in the soul world. Early 60s and pre-Motown girls like the Shirelles set the pace. But the crossover period from R&B to soul via pop in the late 50s and early60s had a huge impact on what was to become the dominant black music style of the next seven years. This is reflected in the early recordings of groups like the Vandellas and the Supremes...and the recordings of groups like Gigi and the Charmaines.
Gigi and the Charmaines’ brief and only Billboard chart appearance at #117 in 1961 doesn’t reflect the trio’s great solo work on six different labels, nor does it take into account their work backing Lonnie Mack (the CD includes his Baby What’s Wrong, Oh I Apologize and Say Something Nice To Me) or their singing behind artists that included Little Willie John, James Brown, Bobby Freeman, Conway Twitty, Gary U.S. Bonds and Hawkshaw Hawkins at the King Records’ studio. These acheivements made them Cincinnati’s top girl group. Gigi Griffin, nee Marian Jackson, the Charmaines lead singer, helps to tell the story of the group in Mick Patrick’s informative sleevenotes. How, for instance, they won a recording contract with Fraternity Records on a local televised talent show. The CD includes the group’s debut 1960 Fraternity 45 from late 1960 Rockin’ Old Man backed with If You Were Mine, for which Gigi wrote the lyrics. More 45s, including What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am), which topped a rival version from Erma Franklin in the summer of 1961, followed and they worked on local dance party shows “...just like Bandstand, but local” including the one hosted by Nick Clooney ‘that’s George Clooney’s dad!’ Gigi said.
The mystery of how one 45 was released on Hollywood-based Dot label is explained and also the story of how the girls moved to and recorded in Canada. The CD includes their swampy version of Rockin’ Pneumomia And The Boogie Woogie Flu, a fabby, dangerous sounding and sexy take on Ike Turner’s song I Idolise You plus the original version of On The Wagon, a song later recorded by the pre-fame Ronettes. Gigi tells how her future husband Herman Griffin got them a contract with the mighty Columbia label via a demo of her song, later to become a Northern Soul favourite, Eternally.
In Gigi’s own words: “Being with Columbia Records was a really big deal. We were so excited you would not believe it.” The CD includes all the group’s Columbia and Date Detroit-cut killer singles that feature the talents of Herman Griffin, Don Davis, Leon Ware, Mike Terry, Dale Warren and Tommy Wright including Guilty, Girl Crazy and Poor Unfortunate Me, a song co-written and previously recorded by J.J. Barnes and a previously unreleased track I Don’t Wanna Lose Him which is currently making big noises in the Northern Soul world. But the girls were not all about uptempo dancers. If You Ever is a great soulful ballad, Don’t Take Away Your Love is lovely girl group pop and Where Is The Boy Tonight is great bottom-heavy, classic girly, teen angst stuff. Two versions of GI Joe are included, plus Gigi’s sister Jerri Jackson (who replaced Dee Watkins in the group) and her duet with Kenny Smith, All The Time and an unissued track from Carl Edmonson where the girls do their best Raelettes impression. So the story of the talented Gigi and the Charmaines unfolds. Over half of these tracks are new to CD, including three previously unissued titles.
Gigi still sings with a friend, Carmen, as a duo. They have recorded two albums of standards and Christmas songs and perform “in nursing homes and retirement centres, wherever there are seniors that need to be uplifted; we go there and sing for them. We also do country clubs, private parties, weddings, things like that. I don’t really regard it as work.”.
By Simon White