I dare say we all have lengthy lists of our favourite vinyl albums which we would like to see reissued on CD. I’m no exception. Sitting near the top of my list for as long as I can remember have been the two Kayvette albums by the Facts Of Life: “Sometimes” and “A Matter Of Fact”. So imagine my delight when Tony Rounce told me of the plan to reissue them, and that Ace were adding in non-album tracks to round out the 2 CD package..
There have been very few mixed soul groups to rival Stax’s Soul Children but, in the Facts Of Life, they met their match. Of course, they were mentored by Millie Jackson, herself a revered act by soul aficionados. It was Millie who brought together Jean Davis, Keith Williams and Chuck Carter and introduced them to her regular producer of the time, Brad Shapiro. Each member came with a pedigree. Millie had known Keith and Chuck when they were all living in Brooklyn, New York, each an aspiring singer. Keith had gone on to pay his dues as a member of groups such as the Velours, Little Anthony & the Imperials and the Flamingos, while Chuck Carter had solo record deals from Brunswick and Bedford in the latter half of the 60s. The younger Jean Davis had been in the revue which had been put together by her hit-making brother, Tyrone Davis. When their mutual friend, Millie, started her long line of Spring label hits, each approached her for help in getting a deal and it was her idea that the three voices would gel.
Initially, the trio was dubbed the Gospel Truth and, under that name, theirs was the second release on Brad Shapiro’s newly-launched Kayvette label, the gritty Frederick Knight composition, ‘Uphill Peace Of Mind’. Millie Jackson told Tony Rounce: “The soul stations would not play it. They looked at the name of the group and the title of the song and thought, no way, it’s gospel.” Once the group’s name changed to the Facts Of Life they were on their way. The songwriting team of Homer Banks and Carl Hampton came up with the cheating song, ‘Caught In The Act (Of Gettin’ It On)’. Featuring superb interplay between Jean and Keith, it became the first single under the Facts Of Life name and instantly peaked at #13 R&B on Billboard. To follow up, Millie, always aware of the country music catalogue, alighted on ‘Sometimes’, a Bill Anderson song that he and Mary Lou Turner had taken into the country charts a little over a year earlier. It proved an ever bigger success, #3 R&B, and crossed over to pop. An album followed.
Further hit singles failed to materialise, perhaps owing to the wrong choice of A-sides and problems with distribution. Nevertheless, a second album, “A Matter Of Fact”, every bit as good as the first, was issued. Although the best 45 released from the album - a worthy reworking of the Larry Santos vehicle ‘We Can’t Hide It Anymore’ - failed to get higher than #97 R&B on Cashbox the set climbed to #54 on the Billboard R&B album chart. It opened with what I think is the group’s masterpiece, ‘Did He Make Love To You’. On album, it’s a near six-minute piece of theatre, with Keith Williams as the ex-boyfriend asking Jean if she had been with ‘another man’. An argument ensues before the voice of Millie steps in to add her two-pennyworth, both spoken and in song. Jean takes umbrage and, marvellously, as the song climaxes, refers to Millie as a ‘Parakeet friend’. The new Ace release includes the two-part single version, which differs by having Jean providing Millie’s interjections as well. The only theory for the song not being a monster must be that the group had, by that stage, all but stopped working together. So, the career of the Facts Of Life was but a brief one but, as can be witnessed here, the soul world was the richer for it.
By David Cole
Editor: In The Basement magazine