Remembered by Tony Rounce.
At the end of last week, a 99-year-old man died.
Quinton Claunch’s passing didn’t make the Friday lunchtime news, nor did it cause national networks to scrap their scheduled programming for the rest of the day, and broadcast hour after hour of tributes to his achievements.
Although it should have done.
News of Quinton’s death may have flown ‘under the radar’ - but as soon as it was announced, word quickly spread among a sad soul community that he had gone, and the subsequent tributes across soul’s social media have been many, and glowing.
Quinton Mavis Claunch accomplished a great deal in his 99 years, almost 80 of which were spent as a musician, songwriter, producer and record company owner. Although he was always indelibly associated with Memphis in all those capacities, Quinton got his professional start in Muscle Shoals with country band the Blue Seal Pals. He quickly formed a songwriting partnership with fellow group member Bill Cantrell that lasted until the end of the 1950s, and that gave the world such hillbilly classics as Bud Deckelman’s ‘Daydreamin’’ and Carl Perkins’ ‘Sure To Fall’ – the latter one of many Sun recordings on which Quinton played during the early 1950s as a regular member of label boss Sam Phillips’ pool of musicians.
In 1957 Quinton and Cantrell were also involved in the incorporation of another legendary Memphis imprint, Hi Records, but by the end of the decade Quinton had sold his share. He took a five-year break from full-time record production in 1959, but still encouraged – and produced tracks by – local talents such as Jeb Stuart and O.B. McClinton, which he either licensed out or issued on his own small Bingo label.
The arrival on his doorstep of songwriter Roosevelt Jamison in 1964 brought Quinton back to full-time music production with a bang. Jamison had two pals in tow that he was trying to get on record. They had both been turned down by Stax – at that time, the biggest game in town – but Jamison believed in them. Their names were Overton Vertis Wright and James Carr. Quinton agreed to produce both for a new label he had recently started called Goldwax.
As the decade progressed, Quinton and his business partner Doc Russell added many other significant names to the Goldwax roster. He signed the Ovations, nurtured the songwriting talents of George Jackson and Dan Greer, added Spencer Wiggins to his honour roll of southern soul icons and so many more besides. Although the Goldwax imprint will always be associated with Memphis, Quinton recorded his artists both there – at studios all over the city – and in Muscle Shoals, at locations owned by his old friends Rick Hall (FAME) and Quin Ivy (Quinvy).
Without question, the pinnacle of Quinton’s production career was James Carr’s ‘Dark End Of The Street’ in early 1967. Few would dispute that it’s one of the greatest pieces of music ever to be committed to tape. If it had been the only record Quinton produced, it would be enough to make his name as celebrated as those of the men who wrote the song – Chips Moman and Dan Penn – and the one who sang it.
Goldwax shut up shop in 1970, but Quinton continued to produce independently, if infrequently. In the 1990s he started a new company called Music Garden, releasing two albums of new recordings by his former flagship artist, the troubled James Carr, who many believed would never make another record. Ace licensed the albums for release in the UK. A friendship grew from these licenses, and as the 20th century drew to a close, Ace was delighted to purchase Quinton’s Goldwax catalogue and begin an extensive series of CD reissues of this incredibly important inventory.
Over the next 20 years or so, Ace maintained close personal and professional ties with Quinton, visiting him on assorted A&R trips to Memphis and always having first refusal on the new recordings he was still producing in his 90s. The album he cut in Muscle Shoals on soul hero Willie Hightower when Quinton was 95 years old was as good as anything he produced 50 years earlier. You got the impression that Quinton would go on producing great records forever.
99 is a great age to live to, and all deaths are sad, but we will always have a wealth of wonderful recordings to remember Quinton Claunch by, and they will sound as great in another 99 years as they do today. Those of us at Ace who knew him are especially proud to have done so. Our condolences are offered with the utmost sincerity.