Harold Lipsius was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the integral role the City of Brotherly Love played in the music business of the 1950s. Even before American Bandstand placed Philadelphia on the teen map, there was a homegrown scene that emphasized group harmony and rhythm and blues. As a record distributor and lawyer who owned a share of a pressing plant, Lipsius realized he could do it all for himself. Though he didn’t aspire to be a creative visionary, and despite his protests that he was “tone deaf,” he had undeniably savvy business instincts. Leasing material from inventive producers around the country, he built an enviable roster of artists in a variety of genres, his family of labels (Jamie, Guyden, Arctic, Phil-LA of Soul, Dionn) surviving well into the late ’60s even as tastes in music morphed at a dizzying pace. Here’s a roundup of some of the most notable releases on his Jamie roster.
The first Jamie Records 45 was released in 1957, but it was guitar instrumentalist Duane Eddy who vaulted the label into national prominence in 1958 with "Movin' and Groovin'" and "Rebel Rouser." He would eventually garner 20 Top 100 hits before leaving in 1962. Label owner Harold Lipsius's business partner, Harry Finfer, discovered Eddy, a Phoenix guitarist produced by Lee Hazlewood. Finfer's habit was to play a record over and over to see if he tired of it. The strangeness of Eddy's catchy, bottom-string melody – reverbed in a 2,000-gallon water tank complete with whoops and hollers – caught his ear, and with Dick Clark's help (reputedly, he held a share in Jamie in those conflict-of-interest times) on Bandstand, created a formula that would be replicated on many albums, all centered on The Twang: Have Twangy Guitar, Will Travel; The Twang's The Thang, and this particular assemblage, which features Duane's greatest hits, including the 1960 movie theme "Because They're Young" that balances Eddy's baritone voicings against soaring, uplifting strings, its own raison d'etre.
The streetcorner sound of voices intertwining found fertile sidewalk in Philadelphia. Lee Andrews and the Hearts, the Castelles and the Capris all set standards for shoo-bopping and impassioned singing; the snap of fingers and the I-minor-6-4-5 chord progression resounding off tiled walls and tunnels, looking for the perfect rebound echo. This collection, despite the relative obscurity of many of the tracks, offers an overview to the many approaches of wopping doo. Some ascend to the heights: Maureen Grey's majestic "Dancing the Strand"; Anthony and the Sophmores' tribute to the foundational cornerstone of group harmony in "Mr. Bassman," quoting many classic ba-dooms; and the Kit Kats' tasty salute to "Puddin' and Tain."
1962 was a year of dance crazes, and the Sherrys shimmied them all, even scoring their own dancefloor hit with "Pop Pop Pop-Pie," honoring the Popeye (assume muscle flex, eat spinach). The group was organized by Joe Cook of Little Joe and the Thrillers ("Peanuts"), who enlisted his daughters, Delphine and Dinell, along with their friend Delores "Honey" Wylie, which made for a winning combination. When Johnny Madara and Dave White, writers of "At The Hop," went looking for a girl-group to chirp their hoped for smash, the Sherrys – in the mode of the similarly local Orlons – were ready, willing and able to wiggle along. The conceptual follow-up album took on the Slop, the Mashed Potatoes, the Stomp, the Bristol Twist, the Fly, and even updated the Cha Cha. What, no Pony?
Savannah Churchill's greatest height of fame came in the 1940s, when she moved from being the chanteuse in the Benny Carter Orchestra to a string of hits that featured her Holiday-esque voice backed by vocal groups like the Four Tunes. Moving to Brooklyn when she was six, Savannah hadn't thought of singing for a living until her husband was killed in an automobile accident. With a reputation as "sex-sational," her voice as much purr as vocalese, she was a regular on the club circuit until 1956, when a man fell onto her from a balcony while she was singing, causing multiple injuries. In 1960 Jamie recorded her reprising many of her hits, including the title song (which dates back to 1947) and "I Want to Be Loved" (1945), along with classic standards like "Summertime." By then she had moved from Billie to Dinah Washington stylizations, and the album is lush, sweet, and exquisitely sung.
Producer Huey P. Meaux discovered the 20 year-old Barbara Lynn, from Beaumont, Texas, playing left-handed electric guitar at a blues club, and sent her to Cosimo Mattasa's studio in New Orleans to record a self-penned poem about a break-up with her boyfriend. "You'll Lose a Good Thing" was leased to Jamie in 1962, and soon she was touring as the Queen of Gulf Coast Soul, an honorific of which this album is an excellent testimonial. Others equally infectious are "You're Gonna Need Me," and the 1964 "Oh! Baby (We Got A Good Thing Going)," which would be covered a year later by the Rolling Stones.
Though their classic-harmony sound was on the verge of obsolescence by 1967, "Dry Your Eyes" became a Top 20 hit for Brenda Payton and original Tabulation Maurice Coates. Discovered singing in a Philadelphia playground by manager Gilda Woods, they filled out the group with two other male singers (Eddie Jackson and Jerry Jones), and recorded for the Jamie-associated Dionn label. Their debut album featured an innovative take on the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," a nod to the Supremes ("Where Did Our Love Go"), and a spirit-cleansing dance in "The Wash," which would, improbably, surface in an Axe Shower Gel commercial decades later. Brenda would go on to make the transition to early-'70s soul when she recorded "Right on the Tip of Your Tongue" with producer Van McCoy, shedding the original Tabulations; but their early work has a purity and winning innocence that balances them perfectly between R&B eras.
One of the more overlooked Nuggetarian groups of the psychedelic Summer of 1967 is the David, hailing from Los Angeles and led by their Farfisa organist and songwriter Warren Hansen; along with guitarist Mark Bird, bassist Chuck Spaeth and drummer Tim Harrison. The sitar-baked opening track, "Another Day, Another Lifetime / I Would Like To Know," garnered airplay on the progressive rock radio stations of the day, and the ambitious and innovative string and horn orchestrations set the group apart from its more garage-oriented brethren. Cuts like "Time M" and "I'm Not Alone" hew closer to fuzz-tone formalities than expansive tracks like "Sweet December," and the bonus cuts on this Jamie reissue, "I Don't Care" and an instrumental "Baby You're A Better Man Than I," show a rawer side than their reputation allows.
With Northern Soul a catchphrase for virtually any R&B with a dance-floor beat from the '60s, it's hard to tell the wheat from the chaff. This selection of rare grooves from a variety of Jamie-umbrella'd labels – Dionn, Arctic, Frantic, and Guyden – bakes a heartier loaf than most, covering a 10 year period from 1963-72, giving insight into a city that was learning from Motown even as it put its own stamp on where it would be heading in the '70s, when the Philly Sound became a destination for lusher-than-thou production in the hands of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The former is represented here with the 1966 "The Joke's On You," leading the Romeos in a well-conceived and arranged track that hints at his nascent talent, as well as the Rotations' "(Put A Dime On) D-9", where he steps behind the console to provide a Miracles-like surround-sound. Another hint of future Philadelphia can be found in the Temptones' "Girl I Love You," which features a young Daryl Hall among its ranks. A scarce Pookie Hudson (of the Spaniels) track, with this greatest of lead singers attempting to move in a new direction ("This Gets To Me"); the Volcanoes' impossible-to-resist "A Lady's Man"; Moses Smith's plea to "The Girl Across The Street," making you yearn along with him; and Sunshine's shoulda-been-a-smash "Leave Me (And See What Happens)," round out this excavation of unfamiliar yet too-familiar butt-twitching obscurities, all ripe for re-discovery.
Producer Jesse James was not above hedging his bets. Johnny Corley was a singer at a local Norristown, Pennsylvania, church when James happened to see him and get him signed to Jamie subsidiary Phil-LA of Soul. In case the A-side of "Boogaloo Down Broadway" didn't fly on the charts, the pair just changed the lyric and used the same backing track for the flip, "Look What Love Can Make You Do." Either way, the Fantastic Johnny C is revealed as a consummate soul-shouter, and his album grants him more depth than his 1967 one-hit wonder status would indicate. Though he stuck close to dance stepping ("Hitch It To The Horse," "Land of a Thousand Dances," "Barefootin'"), cuts like "(She's) Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Shout Bama Lama" take him into Otis Redding territory, and the honeysuckle tone of "Warm And Tender Love" adds an extra strut to his stride.
Irony abounds in the career and subsequent reputation of vocalist Cliff Nobles. Though the instrumental credited to his name, "The Horse," was one of 1968's biggest summer hits (kept from the top slot by Hugh Masakela's similarly without-words "Grazin' In The Grass"), he didn't appear on it. It was originally the b-side of "Love Is All Right," merely the backing track for the a-side, though it showcased the horns of what would become the MFSB, the mainstay section of the Philly Sound. Nobles was also discovered by producer Jesse James singing in a Norristown, Pennsylvania, church (James's modus operandi it would seem). Cliff had recorded a trio of vocal singles for Atlantic before his move to Phil-LA of Soul, and though his name was featured (the rest of the band was Benny Williams on bass, Bobby Tucker on lead guitar, and drummer Tony Soul), he seems to have been left behind when "Cliff Nobles" became known for instrumentals, including four-legged follow-ups like "Horse Fever" and "The Camel." Which must have been frustrating for Cliff, since tracks like "The More I Do for You Baby" and "Burning Desire" are fine warblings in the Sam Cooke mode, and "Judge Baby I'm Back" roughens and toughens his delivery.