Sunday, 3 March 2013

Memphis Boys- The Story of American Studios

Ace Records is a label dedicated to reissuing the lost and long forgotten over a wide range of genres, not only does it release obscure music it does so with great respect and passion for the music, providing extensive liner notes and photographs. One of their recent releases is The Memphis Boys-The Story of American Studios, it's basically a soundtrack to a book of the same name. The book is a fascinating biography of American studios which was operated by producer Chips Moman from 1964 until 1972. Elvis cut his landmark From Elvis in Memphis album there in 1969, the previous year Dusty Springfield recorded the brilliant Dusty in Memphis album. The studio also featured a group of musicians who for me are without peer, they weren't studio musicians who just played charts they were an integral part of the creative process of each record. Tommy Cogbill doesn't receive a lot of mention when it comes to bass players but he sits alongside James Jamerson as one of the most significant bass players in modern music. Cogbill had the knack of being an anchor while playing these fluid sonorous riffs, that would carry the song off into the ether. Case in point is his work on Dusty Springfields Son Of A Preacher Man which is featured on the cd, especially as the song fades out Tommy goes into workout mode. Another integral member was drummer Gene Chrisman who had begun his career on the road with Jerry Lee Lewis, Chrisman had a crisp sound but when required he could lay down a mean syncopated R&B groove. He stood up to the challenge on King Curtis's classic Memphis Soul Stew, in which he combined with Cogbill on the bass to create a real barnstorming groove.

Guitarist Reggie Young was enormously influential amongst budding guitar players in the late 60's early 70's, he wasn't a front and center guitarist he was an ensemble player who would fire off these amazing short riffs. His chicken scratch guitar work on Joe Tex's Skinny Legs and All was mush imitated in the late 60's. His playing on Wilson Pickett's I'm In Love demonstrates his soulful playing and soft picking style. Young was a veteran by the time he joined American studios, he had been on the road with the Bill Black combo before a stint in the army took him off the road. He was studio guitarist at Hi studios in Memphis and also worked in Nashville. Even though it's not on this album his guitar playing on the Joe Simon classic My Adorable One is unbelievable. Mike Leech was bass player and string arranger, as Tommy Cogbill spent more time producing Mike took over most of the bass playing duties, he was also a terrific arranger. I e-mailed him a couple of years ago and he was an absolute gentleman, he too spent some time with Bill Black and was a session player at Hi studios in the early 60's. Pianist Bobby Wood cut some records in the early 60's with Narvel Felts, these sessions were recorded for Roland Janes and I think were done in Memphis. Keyboard player Bobby Emmons gave each record he played on a real gospel feel, it was that ingredient that made them such an amazing southern soul ensemble.

The story also features one of my heroes Dan Penn who left Rick Hall's FAME operation to work for Chips in 1966. One of his first production roles was The Letter by local group The Box Tops, Moman didn't like the fadeout which featured the sound of a jet airplane but the song was a massive worldwide hit. Penn and keyboard player Spooner Oldham who followed Penn over from FAME wrote some amazing records in their three years at American. Same Cooke's brother L.C does a cover of their Let's Do It Over but unfortunately it's not as good as Joe Simon's original. Nine Pound Steel which Dan wrote with Wayne Carson Thompson is slow burning southern soul at it's best and there was no better singer than Joe Simon at delivering that style. Angel of The Morning by Merrilee Rush provided Tommy Cogbill with probably his greatest moment as producer, it's a beautiful song with some deft acoustic picking by Reggie Young. Bobby Womack spent a lot of time at American studios working with Wilson Pickett and Joe Tex and also recording some of his own material for the Minit label. More Than I Can Stand highlights his intense vocals against a soulful groove that is mellow but builds with the intensity of Womack's singing.

Elvis momentarily resurrected his career with his From Elvis In Memphis album, his cover of the Hank Snow C&W classic I'm Movin On is given a funky re-arrangement by Dan Penn, once again prominent is the bass playing of Tommy Cogbill whose bass surges in between the verses, the rest of the band then drive it home, with some characteristic funky licks from Reggie Young. The glory days of American studios started to fade after Elvis left the building, there were still some landmark sessions including Neil Diamond recording Sweet Caroline in 1969. In 1972 Chips moved the operation to Atlanta Georgia, the core group moved up to Nashville to become revered session players in Music City. The book and the album reflect the amazing creativity and music that came out of American sound, a unique blend of blues, soul, gospel and C&W, this album is a must have as is the book.

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