Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Spanky Wilson LIVE! Betty Davis Documentary! Spider Rondinelli Tribute!

We've posted about Spanky Wilson a few times since the piece we published back in October of 2011. If you're still not familiar with her, or it isn't fresh in your mind, then we suggest that you go back and give it a read.

Spanky started her career here in Pittsburgh, in the 1950's, playing tiny clubs in neighborhoods like Homewood and the Hill District. At age seventy-six she has performed all over the world, she's legendary among record collectors and, while she never quite scored that 'big hit record', she has achieved nothing short of a worldwide underground cult status.

Spanky's been residing here in Pittsburgh for the past five years, but by this time next year she will be living back in Los Angeles. We urge Pittsburgh residents to check out her live show while she's still with us. Why procrastinate? Check her out THIS FRIDAY, September 18th at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville. She's assembled a great group of musicians, playing as 'The All-Stars', comprised of Max Leake (keys), Paul Thompson (bass), Thomas Wendt (drums) and Lou Stellute (sax).  Here is a little teaser for Friday's gig ...

alternate link for clip: http://tinyurl.com/pw6eg4g
This event was organized by the TITLE TOWN Soul & Funk Dance Party and it's being marketed as the TITLE TOWN 'Dance & Show.' Doors open at 9 pm. There will be two full one-hour sets, 9:30-10:30 pm and 11 pm-12 am, with TITLE TOWN DJ's playing forty-fives through out the night. Stick around and dance afterward. The party will likely go until 2 am. Advance tickets are available at Showclix.com.

We'd also like to take this opportunity to mention a few other local artists and upcoming events. Betty Davis, born in North Carolina, is another Pittsburgh-bred soul sister who is still residing locally. The one-time wife of Jazz great Miles Davis wrote songs for The Chambers Brothers and recorded with the likes of Larry Graham and Greg Errico of Sly & The Family Stone. She disappeared from the limelight in the late 1970's and she's been living in seclusion in Homestead ever since.


An international group of filmmakers, Native Voice Films, has recently convinced her to tell her story. They are working on a documentary titled NASTY GAL - The Many Lives of Funk Queen Betty Davis. Their IndieGogo campaign just launched this week and we urge you to check it out. If all goes well there will be a city-wide celebration of Ms. Davis next summer, which will be included in the film.

90.5 FM WESA's Saturday night DJ, Bob Studebaker, is organizing an overdue tribute to percussionist Spider Rondinelli on Sunday, October 18th at James Street Gastropub & Speak Easy. It's called SpiderFest and it will be upstairs in the ballroom. You can make reservations by calling 412-904-3335. Check it out on Facebook here. That's Spider in the photograph above, seated in front of Edgar Wills (bass) and vocalist Sonji Clay. Sonji Clay was the first wife of boxing great Muhammad Ali and, while she is from Chicago, she started her singing career here in Pittsburgh. Edgar Willis is a hometown Jazz hero who was the musical arranger for Ray Charles. In addition he played with The Johnny Otis Show, as well as with Doc Severinsen in The Tonight Show band. Spider Rondinelli is a fixture in the local Jazz community and he recorded with the likes of Deuces Wild and The Frank Cunimondo Trio.

We're tickled black & gold over here with all of this tribute that's being paid to some of Pittsburgh's local musical luminaries, especially while they're still here with us. We hope that you'll support some of these great efforts!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Last Weekend for the Mozelle Thompson Album Art Retrospective

Tomorrow, Saturday, November 29th, is Small Business Saturday, so come out to support the Garfield business district and stop by Most Wanted Fine Art for The Album Art of Mozelle Thompson; LP Illustrations 1953-1969.

Gallery hours at Most Wanted Fine Art are 12-6 pm and there will be live painting by Darrell Kinsell in addition to live music (2-4 pm) featuring Jacquea May (vocals), Carlos Pena (guitar), Miles Jackson (bass) and the one-and-only Charles ‘Poogie’ Bell (drums). 

Everything at Most Wanted Fine Art is FREE. Other businesses participating in Small Business Saturday include VerdeRobin’s NestVolutoPeople’s Indian RestaurantModern FormationsPho MinhDaily BreadRefresh PGHThat’s Sharp, and Mostly Mod/ARTica.

Bring proof of purchase from any of the participating businesses and we’ll give you a FREE super-limited edition alternate poster for the show featuring Mozelle Thompson’s 1970 Jesse Owens illustration. This is the image that appeared on the first edition of the Jesse Owens autobiography and a small quantity of this alternate poster was whipped up by local comic book artists Frank Santoro (Pompeii, Cold Heat) with assistance by Jim Rugg (Street Angel, Afrodisiac). First come first served. Limited quantity is available while supplies last. 

Your last opportunity to see the Mozelle Thompson show is Sunday, November 30th, 12-6 pm. RSVP for the Facebook event here

We're still raffling off the first edition of Ernest Tidyman's novel Shaft with the Mozelle Thompson dust cover illustration, so make sure you keep signing in to let us know you were there! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Special Promotions For The Mozelle Thompson Retrospective at Most Wanted Fine Art

I DIG PGH is happy to co-present The Album Art of Mozelle Thompson; LP Illustrations 1953-1969 at Most Wanted Fine Art. Mozelle Thompson was a Pittsburgher and a pioneering African American visual artist who contributed to the history of album cover illustration. 

To commemorate this occasion we are producing a very special, limited I DIG PGH print edition. It contains four pages of information about Thompson's life and career. It includes twenty plus images and a two-page discography of albums and EP's illustrated by the artist. There are only six opportunities to see this exhibition (11/7, 11/8, 11/9, 11/16, 11/23 & 11/30). The publication will be available exclusively at Most Wanted Fine Art on these dates. There will be a limited number of copies available each of the days, so early arrival is recommended.

We need YOU to come out and support this effort in order to demonstrate further need for documentation and preservation of Mozelle Thompson's work. Please sign the guest book so we can keep track of attendance. Leave your contact information and you will be entered in a raffle for an original 1970 first edition of Ernest Tidyman's novel Shaft, which features a Mozelle Thompson illustration on the dustcover. That's right, before Gordon Parks, Richard Roundtree or Isaac Hayes had anything to do with the popular 1970's film franchise, the one image associated with the John Shaft character was an illustration by MOZELLE THOMPSON! 

This exhibition debuts on Friday, November 7th (6-11 PM) for the First Friday Unblurred gallery crawl. The official opening reception is Saturday, November 8th (12-6 PM). Live music will be provided by Roger Barbour of the Basic Sounds of Pittsburgh. This will be a very special performance as Roger will be performing with original Basic Sounds' members Steve Jackson and Sonny Childs, in addition to Mark Strickland, Vince Taglieri and vocalist Barbara Ray. Refreshments will be provided by The Allegheny Wine Mixer.

Regular weekly gallery hours are Sundays 12-6 PM from Sunday, November 9th until Sunday, November 30th. RSVP for the Facebook event here and let us know you're coming! Stay tuned for more information about special events happening in correlation with this project. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Album Art of Mozelle Thompson; LP Illustrations 1953-1969

We apologize for the hiatus, but we are finally back and as usual we're about to celebrate some highly neglected Pittsburgh history. We're bringing you another I DIG PGH sponsored event in November 2014 at Most Wanted Fine Art in Garfield. It's a retrospective of album covers illustrated by Pittsburgh's own Mozelle Thompson.

Mozelle Thompson (1926-1969) was a child prodigy and a prolific illustrator of album covers, in addition to books and magazines, from 1953-1969. He was a pioneering African American artist and this is a first-of-it's-kind retrospective of his work, focussing specifically on his album cover illustrations. The exhibition will include approximately one hundred unique record cover illustrations plus additional book and magazine illustrations.

The show will be up in time for November's Unblurred First Friday Gallery Crawl - Friday, November 7th, and the OFFICIAL OPENING RECEPTION is Saturday, November 8th from 12-6 PM.

Stop by on Saturday, November 8th for live music featuring Roger Barbour of the Basic Sounds of Pittsburgh and refreshments courtesy of The Allegheny Wine Mixer

Facebook users can RSVP for the exhibition here.

This project supported in part by a Seed Award from The Sprout Fund.

This is an Artist Residency project of Most Wanted Fine Art with support from the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation and additional donations from The Allegheny Wine Mixer, Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery and IKEA. Stay tuned for more information about this event. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Velma Carey: Unsung Singer from the Golden Age of Pittsburgh Television

Enjoying a good record is one thing, but did you ever think of a record as more than a format for music? Miriam-Webster dictionary defines the term record as “a thing constituting a piece of evidence about the past.” We're not saying that you can't just kick back and simply enjoy a record, but records are indeed just what their name implies. The records that we’re about to discuss are not actual records, but acetates. Acetates are essentially records, but they’re generally produced in very small quantities and only intended for a finite number of plays. We're going to use the terms interchangeably. Way back in the day, in this case the 1940’s, people would cut acetates and, if they dug the recordings upon playback, perhaps they would make an actual record. While out digging for records on a cold Pittsburgh day, because that’s what we do here at I DIG PGH, we stumbled across a stack of acetates by a woman from Rankin, PA named Velma Carey. We don’t know of too many recording artists from Rankin, so this was a really exciting find.

The recordings were very interesting in the respect that ... a) Like we said, they were from Rankin. b) Many of them were dated (1942-1953) and included all sorts of additional information. And c) Some of the acetates were transcriptions of live performances from local and national television and radio. Search engines initially produced little to no information about Velma Carey. As we dug deeper and deeper a very interesting story came together. These recordings documented Carey’s development from an aspiring vocalist to a professional singer and local television celebrity. Although her name has been lost to obscurity, she could very likely have been the first African American woman to make regular appearances on Pittsburgh television.

One of the acetates is marked “first record made”, but we’re pretty certain this is not the earliest of the recordings. We’ll save that for later and instead start with a record that was made at Fillion Studios on June 1st, 1942. Ferdinand Fillion was a classically trained violinist and composer born in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He was the founder of the Pittsburgh Civic String Orchestra and he served as the president of various local organizations including the Musicians Club and the Pittsburgh Drama League. He arrived in Pittsburgh in 1925 and established Fillion Studios. They had several locations and employed a staff of forty or more instructors specializing in all aspects of music, drama and dance. Carey, who recorded as Velma Woodbury, probably studied there when this recording was made. We determined that she was approximately twenty-five years old at the time. The record features a modern classical composition, “Come Love With Me” by Vito Carnevali, an eighteenth century Haydn canzonet “My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair” and a spiritual that most readers should be familiar with “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.”

Velma Carey made her first radio appearance on Sunday, December 26th, 1943. There was a corresponding mention of her in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the following day. The Post-Gazette owned radio station WWSW. Carey appeared on their Sunday afternoon program, Victory Varieties. She was a contestant performing for a $100 grand prize. According to the article she was a twenty-six-year-old war wife, who had a six-year-old son, and she was employed as an elevator operator at the Union Switch & Signal in Swissvale. Her husband, Kingsley Carey, was enlisted during WWII, but he was home on furlough and present in the third row of the Nixon Theater where she dedicated Schubert’s “Ave Maria” to him. Audience members voted by ballot and Velma Carey was announced as the first place winner in the Tuesday, December 28th issue of the Post-Gazette.

The next recording is dated May 7th, 1944. One side is “Miss You”, which was a hit for Rudy Vallee in the mid-1920’s. The flip is a Hedgerow & Meadow/Walter Warner composition. The team of writers collaborated on popular love songs, also from the 1920’s. Maybe we’re just a little bit too romantic over here at I DIG PGH, but we imagine Velma Carey continuing to dedicate these selections to her husband Kingsley who was likely still serving in WWII at the time the recordings were made.  

Velma Carey performed at The Irene Kauffman Settlement Music School’s 1945 recital. She was likely receiving musical instruction there also. The Irene Kauffman Settlement was founded late in the 19th century. Initially, the organization was formed to help the children of Jewish immigrants. They were based in the Hill District. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kauffman donated a building for the organization in 1911. It was located at 1835 Center Avenue and it is now a part of the Hill House Association. Once they acquired this building they offered a wide variety of programs to immigrants of all ethnicities and provided space, which was utilized by different social, religious and political groups. There’s just one more recording made in the 1940’s, which is an acetate dated November 9th, 1947. It’s the first of several transcription records where Carey is singing live on the radio. Unfortunately it’s largely unlistenable because of condition and there’s no information pertaining to which radio station it was broadcasted on.

We have no information or recordings from those last years of the 1940’s, but there’s an important historical development we can use to fill this gap. Pittsburgh’s first television station, WDTV owned by the DuMont Television Network, began airing early in January of 1949. WDTV would eventually be acquired by Westinghouse (owners of KDKA radio) in 1954 and become KDKA the TV station, as we know it today, in 1955. Carey was mentioned in, Post-Gazette music and drama critic, Harold V. Cohen’s Drama Desk column on July 14th, 1951. Cohen wrote “Velma Carey, a finalist at the Schenley Theater in the recent ‘Star Discovery’ contest and a regular Wednesday afternoon guest star on WDTV’s ‘Variety Resort’ leaves in a day or so for Montreal and Toronto to combine business with pleasure. She’ll meet theatrical contacts there to line up some future Canadian bookings.“ So we don’t exactly know when Carey’s television career began, but we do know that she was already making regular TV appearances on WDTV as early as July of 1951. Pittsburgh television was less than thirty years old at this point.

WDTV aired the first televised Children’s Hospital fundraiser on Sunday, December 9th, 1951. Station Manager Harold C. Lund was also the head organizer of the Old Newsboys’ Fund, who organized the event. Carey performed along with a who’s who of Pittsburgh’s original TV celebrities. This pantheon of local names included the likes of Joe Negri, Johnny Costa, Rege Cordic, Bob Caldwell and many more. Carey was prominently featured in a Post-Gazette article leading up to the event. That's her pictured in the top right of the above image. The following Saturday she was mentioned again in the Pittsburgh Press for her participation with a similar Children’s Hospital benefit, also organized by the Old Newsboys' Fund, this time being broadcast on KDKA radio. 

There’s documentation of Carey performing locally in 1952 and continuing to appear on local TV and radio. She’s mentioned in various issues of the Post-Gazette that year for engagements at the Famous Door, which was a venue located on Frankstown Avenue in Larimer, and at The Blue Ridge on Sawmill Run Blvd. Her next recording is a radio transcription made by Westinghouse Radio Station, Inc on November 18th, which means that the recordings would have been broadcast on (Westinghouse-owned station) KDKA. The record features two children’s songs penned by the songwriting team, Jewel Frank and Hiram Hirsh. Hirsh was better known as a lawyer and Republican Party politician. In 1952 he was the Western Pennsylvania chairman of the GOP. His most notable accomplishment was introducing voting machines to Allegheny County in the 1930’s.

So far we’ve talked about an entire decade of Velma Carey’s life. The recordings made up to this point honestly aren’t the most impressive, but they do get progressively better and her story is inspiring. We’ve traced her beginnings as a twenty-five-year-old wife and mother who aspired to be an entertainer. She was receiving classical training much later in life than most performers do. A decade later she’s a bit of a local celebrity appearing regularly on Pittsburgh television.

Carey’s story gets more interesting in1953. Enter Esther Middleman, who meets Velma Carey while she’s working as a tea hostess by day at the original Saks Fifth Avenue location in downtown Pittsburgh. Middleman explains all of this on the first of the next three records that we’ll discuss. They're live radio transcriptions from Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, which were made by Rockhill Radio, Inc. in New York City. Arthur Godfrey, already an established radio personality, was a huge player in the early days of television. This was just one of his programs and it ran from 1946-1958. Episodes began airing live simultaneously on radio and TV in 1948. The show was broadcast on WCBS, which was located in the CBS Studio Building on 52nd Street in New York City. Middleman got Carey booked on the program where she received her first national exposure on Monday March 2nd, 1953.

Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts was a show that launched the careers of Pat Boone, The McGuire Sisters, Johnny Nash and Patsy Cline just to name a few. Comedians such as Lenny Bruce, Don Knotts and Jonathan Winters all appeared on the program. Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly were actually rejected. Carey performed “Stormy Weather”, a tune that was written in 1933 and recorded the prior year by Billie Holiday. She received a thunderous applause from the audience and appeared on the show again the following Thursday, March 5th. The Thursday appearance is on the second acetate featuring Carey performing Gershwin’s “Summertime” from the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. There’s a third acetate as well from Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, but there’s no label on the record. It’s likely from the same week. Carey performs “You Made Me Love You.”

There are other acetates, but for the most part they have no information on them. The one we mentioned earlier, marked “first record made”, features Carey accompanied by Herman Middleman on piano. This is probably not the first record that she made, but more likely from the early Fifties assuming that Herman Middleman is a relation of Esther Middleman. Carey sings “Hallelujah!”, the title track from the 1929 MGM film. The other side of the acetate features Glenn Miller’s 1942 hit “That Old Black Magic.” Another acetate, which is probably our favorite, is titled “You Told Me.” It features Carey singing R&B accompanied by piano with group vocal backings. It’s more than likely from the mid-Fifties, or later, and it’s a complete departure from all of her other recordings, which largely showcase her classical background and her affinity for popular theatrical tunes. Her vocal style doesn’t translate to R&B all that naturally, but it’s a very interesting recording. It's also the only one of the acetates that plays at 45 rpm rather than 78 rpm, which further implies that it's from the mid to late 1950's. That's when the 45 rpm format, introduced in 1949, began to gain popularity.

Carey performed throughout the Fifties and was consistently referred to in print as “one of Pittsburgh’s favorite TV songstresses.” She had a lead singing role in What’s The Rush?, which was a long-running musical that opened at The Pittsburgh Play House on April 13th, 1956. This was an early work by composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Lee Adams who were responsible for the 1960 hit musical Bye Bye Birdie. On June 24th,1958 Harold V. Cohen writes “Singer Velma Carey is coming along all right after three major operations but the doctor has advised her not to take any bookings until fall.” Carey did return in the fall for an engagement at Ronnie’s in Millvale that November. We’ve only found two references to Velma Carey from the 1960’s, the latter being a 1965 NAACP benefit at the Hilton Hotel, which was a Jazz gig. She was the featured vocalist along with musicians Jon Walton (tenor saxophone), Carl Arter (piano), Tom Sewell (bass). According to the article 1,500 reservations had been made for this event. Velma Carey would have been 48 years old at that time.

In 1984 Carey, then residing in Braddock Hills, wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Press, as did many other readers, opposed to the demotion of Westinghouse principal Richard Wallace. This was an incident that caused a protest on the part of residents in Homewood that year. She expresses her social concern again in a 1993 Post-Gazette article about a potential community park and wildlife sanctuary that many Braddock Hills residents were opposed to. Velma Carey’s obituary appeared in the Post-Gazette in July of 2004. She lived to be 84 years old. There was no reference to her twenty-plus year career as a singer, or that she arguably may have been one of the first, if not the first, African American women on Pittsburgh television, or her national appearances on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. It only said that she was survived by her husband and son, her five grandchildren and “a host of” great grandchildren. Perhaps she wanted to ease into obscurity because her family life was more important than all of those aforementioned accomplishments. In any event we thought that her story was pretty awesome and there should be some tribute paid to her. 

Ninety-five-year-old WWII veteran, Kingsley Carey, had a tribute paid to him last year. He was honored by the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania at Carnegie Music Hall in October of 2012. We believe that he’s still out there somewhere, but we're having a hard time getting a hold of him. If anybody reading this is in touch with him tell him that we made him a Velma Carey CD.

If you'd like to hear some of Velma Carey's recordings visit the I DIG PGH YouTube channel. I DIG PGH is also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Photo courtesy of Johnny Daye. (L-R) Otis Redding, Johnny Daye & Steve Cropper
I DIG PGH is back from a six month hiatus and here to tell you about the short recording career, and subsequent hiatus, of a local artist named Johnny Daye. Johnny recorded six singles between 1965 and late ‘67. He hit the road at the age of fifteen, with the help of late great manager-extraordinaire Joe Rock, to become one of the most promising blue-eyed soul artists of his generation. Along the way he attracted the attention of the King of Soul, Otis Redding, who brought him to Memphis to record for Stax Records. He released two records for Stax, both produced by Booker T & the MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Cropper is quoted "The kid was dynamite. Otis really wanted to do a lot with him. Had Otis lived he probably would have." Daye didn’t record for forty years after Redding’s death. Very little has been documented about his career or his whereabouts since. We hope readers will enjoy excerpts from our recent conversations with him. Although Johnny Daye's days as an entertainer were short lived, as you will read, they were quite memorable.

Born Johnny DiBucci, his singing career began in the early sixties in Brushton, a southern section of Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood. He was in the eighth grade and his first group was The Five Italians, or The Itals for short. They formed on the playground at recess. “We sung around the neighborhood in Larimer. We hung out at Winslow School and we eventually became popular. Local gangsters would make us sing while they were having card games.” The group's first manager was Ralph Fischetti who bought them outfits and Beatles wigs. They hired a drummer for their first job at a school dance where they made two dollars an hour.

“We got word that the Skyliners were performing at Penn Theater (now Heinz Hall).” The Skyliners, who still perform, are Pittsburgh Doo Wop legends who were managed by Joe Rock. They’re regarded as ‘Rock and Roll’ pioneers for integrating Black R&B style vocals with lush string arrangements, a popular music innovation at the time. “Ralph said ‘If Joe Rock hears you you’re going to be a star.’” The Itals met Rock and auditioned for him that night at Penn Theater. The following Monday they were recording at Gateway Records, which was located in downtown Pittsburgh above National Record Mart. “It was an amazing experience to hear myself recorded on tape. You think you know what you sound like, but you don’t really know until you hear yourself recorded. I said to myself ‘I want to make a career out of this.’ I wanted to practice every day.”

The Itals eventually broke up and DiBucci continued as a solo artist under Joe Rock’s management. His voice was much more mature than your typical teenager’s. “Part of it was the type of music that I sang and the people that I emulated. I practiced and I was around those types of people. I learned so many R&B licks when I was younger. Those were big licks in those days. That in itself kind of explains it.” DiBucci sites the likes of Joe Tex and blues singer Johnny Taylor as influences, but it was Jimmy Beaumont of the Skyliners who he credits as his main inspiration. “Until this day if I could sing like any body it would be Jimmy Beaumont. I became who I was because of him. I was R&B (pre) funk and they (The Skyliners) were Doo Wop. Very polished Doo Wop, but Doo Wop none the less. He (Beaumont) played at the Las Vegas Club on Route 51. I was fifteen years old and Joe would take me there to watch him sing. He said ‘Johnny, sing a song. Talk to my guys. They know everything.’ I said ‘How about “Maybe The Last Time” by James Brown?’ So I’d sing it and then Jimmy would say ‘Go ahead, do another one.’ He allowed me to be around on many occasions. I used to go into the studio and watch him record. Jimmy can chew gum and make you cry. That’s how good he is. He’s so professional and such a master.”

DiBucci and Rock made frequent trips to New York visiting record label offices on Tin Pan Alley. One cold fall afternoon they found themselves short on cash and unable to pay their hotel bill. “They locked up our clothes and my guitar. I was only fifteen. I was practically crying. We saw this guy Frankie Day who was Bobby Rydell’s manager. He looked like a crisp $1,000 bill, his suit and his shoes. You could tell his hat was a Stetson. Joe knew him and we started talking. He reached in his pocket and pulled out three or four thousand dollars and kept sticking money in my hand.” Frankie Day eventually plays more of a role in Johnny’s career, getting him signed to the Philadelphia-based Cameo-Parkway label. DiBucci explains that he required a name with a less ethnic ring to it in those days, so he adopted Frankie Day’s surname, in appreciation for his help, and added an “E” to the end of it.

"I'll Keep on Loving You" b/w "One of These Days"
(1965 Blue Star Records, 45-B-230)

It was here in Pittsburgh that DiBucci, who we’ll now refer to as Johnny Daye, recorded his first record for Nick Cenci’s Blue Star label. Blue Star released the Vogues’ debut single “You’re The One” which became a huge national hit. “Nick Cenci was nice to me. He taught me a lot about how things were done. I don’t think we made enough money to cover the session, but I got experience.” The A-side of Daye’s first record was “I’ll Keep On Loving You.” It was penned by Joe Rock and Johnny Jack who wrote the Skyliners’ hit "Comes Love.” “I lip synched on the Clark Race Show, who was on KDKA. I did Terry Lee’s Come Alive show. I did Teen Times on Channel 9 from Stubenville, OH. We got that here in Pittsburgh. I was big in West Virginia. I’d play Weirton, Wheeling and Fairmont. I did the Weirton Community Center and the police had to escort me out of there. There were hundreds of girls going crazy and I wound up cornered in the basement.” The B-side of his recording debut was a Marvin Gaye cover, “One of These Days.” Daye recalls the excitement of meeting Marvin Gaye, perhaps another influence on his stage name, on one of his visits to New York and says “I never possessed the amazing talent of Marvin Gaye or Jackie Wilson. I was young and I could sing and dance a little bit.”

"A Lot of Progress" b/w "You're on Top"
(1966 Parkway Records, 119)

Shortly after the Blue Star single, Frankie Day signed Johnny with Parkway Records who released his sophomore set of tunes, “A Lot of Progress” backed with “You’re on Top.” Daye says “I hate that record (referring to the B-side). I could have done such a great job, but they wanted something kind of like James Brown. It wasn’t until I got to Stax that I was able to do what I wanted. I don’t think they (Parkway Records) liked me. When I was there ‘The Sound of Philly’ was Dee Dee Sharp, Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell. The Philly soul music at that time wasn’t what it turned out to be. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff eventually changed the sound of it. ‘A Lot of Progress’ is a great song. Burt Keys arranged that. Bernard Purdie played on both sides. He’s one of the greatest drummers of all time. He put all these signs up with his picture that said ‘Pretty Boy Purdie.’” The Parkway single failed to chart and Daye, still under the management of Joe Rock, decided to leave the label. He speaks in appreciation of Frankie Day again “He continued with his generosity and he let me out of the contract.”

"Marry Me" b/w "Give Me Back My Ring" (1966 Jomada, M-600)
"Good Time" b/w "I've Got Soul" (1966 Jomada,M-603)

Daye quickly auditioned for Johnny Nash who signed him to his Jomada imprint. Refer back to the I DIG PGH feature on Gene Ludwig who also recorded for Johnny Nash and incidentally had a similar Bernard Purdie story. “He (Nash) had just signed the Cowsills. His wife was Cissy, but her real name was Margaret and that’s where the Jomada label comes from. Johnny, Margaret and his manager Danny.” The first Johnny Daye release on Jomada was “Marry Me” backed with “Give Me Back My Ring.” It was one of Daye’s more successful singles in the Pittsburgh market. A second single was released on Jomada, “Good Time” along with “I’ve Got Soul” on the flip. Nash’s wife Margaret penned the B-side while Daye recalls that “Good Time” was purchased from Berry Gordy. “Johnny (Nash) visited Motown shopping for a track and they sold it to him. It was intended for Gloria Gaynor. Gloria didn’t come off on it, so I recorded it instead. Johnny Nash and the bass singer from The Drifters are backing me on that track.”

“Johnny Nash hooked me up with the Bobby Bland Revue. I did seven days straight with them. I made very little money but I had a nice reception.” Another memorable performance that Daye speaks of is his debut at the Apollo Theater in 1965. “This was during the Civil Rights Movement. There was rioting going on in Harlem and I was the only white person on the show. I was the only white person in that building (with the exception of his parents who flew in from Pittsburgh). James Brown was in the audience wearing a great big white coat and he called me over after my performance. I was so nervous. He complimented me and told me I did well. I could hit the stage like James Brown, but I was a cheap imitation and that bothers me to this day. I was pushed in that direction. I was a good dancer and singer, but I couldn’t hold a candle to him. Jackie Wilson complimented me back stage that night too. He said ‘Next time take that tie off and mess your hair up a little bit.’ James Brown was Mr. Dynamite. Jackie was Mr. Excitement. He was the black Elvis Presley. The crowd exploded when he came out.”

It was also here in Pittsburgh where Daye was discovered by Otis Redding. “Brother Matt (WAMO celebrity DJ) hosted a show at Penn Theater with Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. He (Pickett) didn’t show up, so they asked me to do it. We did three songs. I hadn’t met Otis yet. We went on and I was busting my ass. I had on a silver suit and silver shoes with a bow tie. I was dancing and chirping and I looked to my left, fifteen feet away, and there was Otis Redding slapping his knees laughing. I was nervous. I thought he hated me. Then he blew me a kiss and watched the rest of my show. Afterward he said ‘Why don’t you come to Memphis and make records with me? Give me your number.’ A month later I was at home and my mom said ‘You have a phone call. It’s someone named Otis Redding.’” Redding invited Daye to a NARA Convention in Atlanta, the National Association of Radio Announcers. “We went back to Otis’ house in Macon, GA after. Everybody was there ... Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Jackson, James Brown. They were all hanging out drinking and Otis said ‘Somebody give Johnny a glass of milk.’"

“I left home and I worked the Chittlin Circuit with Otis. Wherever he went I went. There was another guy with us named Arthur Conley. He was a great kid. Stax was still a movie theater with a studio in it. The secretary would buzz us in. I watched a lot of great songs get cut there. Dave (Prater, of Sam & Dave) sold Oldsmobiles. He was the kindest person. He always said ‘Damn, you’re good.’ I was intimidated, but they take all that away from you. They were all so gracious and kind. Understand that at that time we weren’t allowed to stay in the same hotel or eat together. We’d walk a few blocks to this black woman’s home where we’d eat instead of restaurants. We spent a lot of money there.” Daye estimates spending at least six months traveling back and forth to record in Memphis. During this time his manager Joe Rock co-wrote “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” with Redding and his wife Zelma. “I was sitting there watching all of this with so much talent around me.”

"What'll I Do for Satisfaction" b/w "I Need Somebody"
(1967 Stax Records, 238)

Daye’s first release on Stax was “What’ll I Do For Satisfaction” backed with “I Need Somebody.” The B-side is his personal favorite of the dozen songs in his discography. “Stax’ house band was Booker T and the MG’s. Al Jackson was always busy during my sessions, so we used Carl Cunningham who was with the Bar-Kays. He came up with that beat for ‘What’ll I Do For Satisfaction.’ He was sixteen. He played on all my Stax sides. We went in one day to do the first record and we went to a James Brown show that night. We did two songs at a time.”

Things were looking promising for Johnny Daye, but they took a turn for the worse on December 10th, 1967.  “We had a gig in Cleveland and I wanted to come back to Pittsburgh since I was only two hours away from home. They (Redding and his band, The Bar-kays) flew that day and the plane crashed. I wasn’t booked on the gig. Rarely did I ever fly in that plane. I think it was only two weeks old.” Otis Redding was only twenty-six years old when he died. The crash also took the lives of the original Bar-Kays line up, including Carl Cunningham, with the exception of trumpet player Ben Cauley. Cauley, the lone survivor of the crash, still resides in Memphis. Daye was still signed to Stax after Redding’s death. He recalls being in Memphis six months later when Martin Luther King was killed. “We were staying at Steve Cropper’s house and we felt like we were imposing, so we went to the Travel Lodge. It wasn’t far from the Lorrain Motel. We were eating at Earl’s Hot Biscuits when that went down.”

"Stay Baby Stay" b/w "I Love Love"
(1968 Stax Records, STA-0004)

Daye’s second release on Stax was “Stay Baby Stay.” He considers it to be the best song that he ever recorded. At this point the label was under new ownership and no longer distributed by Atlantic Records. Al Bell became the president of the company, which was now distributed by the Paramount Pictures Corporation. This change is indicated by the switch from the classic powder blue label to the yellow label with the finger-snapping logo. “Joe (Rock) and I collaborated on ‘Stay Baby Stay.’ I wrote the melody on guitar.” Daye laughingly admits, “The three-chord progression I used was used in 10,000 other songs. I would sing some covers in the studio and he (Al Bell) would say ‘That’s good. We’re going to keep that, but where’s the “Johnny Nash” Johnny Day?’ If you listen carefully to ‘Stay Baby Stay’ I challenge you to do some of those licks I did as a 19 year old. At the end of the song there’s a half step modulation. There was a cue with the organ. It took me eight or nine takes before we got it. Steve (Cropper) stopped and showed me the note on the guitar. Booker took it to New York and put the strings and The Sweet Inspirations on it. I’d never even met them.” Daye recalls Isaac Hayes entering the studio as they were recording the B-side “I Love Love.” “Isaac went over and started playing that piano that you hear. He wasn’t even on the date. He still had his coat on. Keep in mind this wasn’t the same Isaac Hayes that we know today. This is when he was part of the song writing team with David Porter (pre-Hot Buttered Soul).”

“Stay Baby Stay” was Daye’s last record. “When Otis died my career died. The mood was gone and nobody wanted to come to work anymore. I didn’t sing again for five years. I was at odds with Joe Rock. Joe did a lot for me, but he was more interested in being (Elvis Presley manager) Colonel Parker than he was interested in me being Elvis Presley. Otis loved me. He thought I was going to be a big money maker for him. I was so discouraged. I had nobody.” Joe Rock, who passed away in April of 2000, signed another group of blue-eyed soul artists, The Jaggerz, to Kenny Gamble’s label that same year. The Jaggerz are perhaps best-known for their 1970 hit “The Rapper” but in 1968 they were label mates with the likes of Billy Paul and The Intruders on Gamble Records. “They’d do The Temptations and The O’Jays. They’d do it all just perfect. There was a time when Jimmie Ross would double on bass and trombone. They were incredibly talented. Billy Maybray was the most soulful cat. He was a great drummer as well as a vocalist. It was light years beyond what I could do. That wasn’t what I was selling. I was a decent looking kid who could sing and dance. They put a silk suit on me and that’s what I was selling.”

Daye attempted to continue performing in the seventies. “I have a whole California history that nobody even knows about. I rented an apartment and lived out there. While I was there I got a call from Steve Cropper. He asked me if I wanted to record some stuff, so we went to Leon Russell’s. Leon played piano. He was a real sweet, kind person. We went over there for four days and recorded. Music changed in the late sixties. You started with the British Invasion and nobody wanted to hear R&B anymore. I remember I was singing one night in 1973 or ’74. People were requesting Chicago songs. Chicago was good and rich in their sound. It’s good music, but it’s not me. I felt passé. I never sang again after that night. I still have songs in the can that never came out with Stax and Johnny Nash. I did ‘I Keep Forgetting’ by Chuck Jackson and it came out really good. We did it at Scepter Studios.” 

A twenty-year chunk of Daye’s recording hiatus was spent selling cars at P&W BMW on Baum Boulevard here in Pittsburgh. In 1993 Janet Jackson covered “What’ll I Do for Satisfaction.” It appeared as “What’ll I Do” on her fifth studio album, Janet. Unfortunately this is the only one of Johnny’s four Stax sides that he received no songwriting credit for. Hence he’s entitled to no publishing money. When asked to comment he simply replies “I think she did a nice job. It’s actually very similar.” Johnny Daye finally recorded again in 2007. He’s featured on two tracks from long-time friend Robert Peckman’s debut CD, Stirrin’ Up Bees. It was done here in Pittsburgh at Jeff Ingersoll’s Mojo Boneyard Recording Studio. Peckman is a local veteran musician and an original member of the Skyliners. He was also managed by Joe Rock and he played with Daye on many occasions during the sixties. Two of Peckman’s numerous projects over the years include Simon and the Piemen, released locally in Pittsburgh in the mid-sixties, and Mike & Ike, who released a record on the Philadelphia-based Arctic label. Daye received songwriting credits on each of the group’s lone singles, but he admits to having little involvement. “I never had anything to do with those songs aside from sitting around the studio goofing off. Joe Rock wrote them and included my name on them. I was just there. I looked up to Pecky. He smoked a pipe and I started smoking a pipe too because I wanted to be like him.”

Daye rubbed elbows with an impressive roster of artists and celebrities in his day, but it’s his blue-eyed soul contemporaries here in Pittsburgh that he really credits for inspiration. He refers to the local guys who came out of the same scene, many of whom are still performing. “The greatest performers that we have in Pittsburgh are Jimmie Ross of The Jaggerz. He has very unique vocal stylings and tones. He’s the epitome of what I think a singer should be. He released a Jaggerz album in the nineties and I couldn’t stop listening to it. Then of course B.E. Taylor and Billy Price. Who’s to say who’s better? I fall in love with B.E. every time I hear him. I always admired Billy Price. He’s a hard act to follow. Frank Czuri of Pure Gold (who was a later member of the Jaggerz as well) is my age. We went to Penn Hills High School at the same time. I have to give Jimmy Beaumont credit too. He was my idol from day one. I have much respect for him. There was always competition and at times there was no love lost, but I love those guys and I want them to know that.”

Daye admits to “getting the bug to put a band together and do something” on occasion, but most of his time is spent with his family, his wife Tina and their young daughters, Marchella and Gianna. “I don’t really hang out in clubs because I grew up in clubs, but I’m curious to see what the reaction would be. I can’t dance like I used to. I don’t have the stamina to do what I did then. I put on a few pounds, but I’m still in pretty good shape. I’d love to get a call from Steve Cropper to go out and do a Stax show.” Perhaps Johnny Daye will find his way back to the stage one of these days, but for now he seems content just knowing that he was a part of musical history. We thank him for the opportunity to speak with him and wish the best for him and his family. Selections from his discography can be heard on The Complete Stax-Volt Soul Singles, Vol. 2: 1968-1971 and The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968. Visit I DIG PGH on YouTube to hear Johnny Daye's complete discography.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Spanky Wilson, She's Always Spankin' Brand New to Somebody

Spanky Wilson has fans all across the globe, but she’s still getting acquainted with audiences here at home in Pittsburgh. She was away for a long time, but  she’s back now and performing monthly at Andy’s Wine Bar at the Fairmont Hotel. One night she was taking a break between sets when she was stopped by a young musician in the audience. “He said ‘Maybe you can explain something to me. Where are you from?’ And I said ‘I’m from Pittsburgh.’ And he said ‘But where have you been? I’ve never heard of you before.’ And I said ‘Well, I’ve sang in about forty-four different countries. I’ve been around, what can I say?’ If I could of just taken a snap shot of his face, he was like ‘Where did you come from?’"

“Since I’m living here, I’d just like for people here to be aware. Sometimes I feel like I’m the new girl on the scene. I can’t really blame them because they don’t know what I’ve done or where I’ve been. I don’t know. I told somebody the other night ‘Just google me baby. I’m online, you’ll see.’ Then they can see what I’ve done and who I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with some of the best people in jazz music practically. I mean from the masters. I’ve been with my own group, or with other groups.” Spanky’s particularly proud of working with saxophonist, trumpeter and band leader Benny Carter. “We went to Brazil and we spent three weeks in Japan with the Benny Carter All Stars. Benny Carter is one of the father’s of jazz.”

Spanky returned to Pittsburgh via Los Angeles in 2010. She laid low for the better part of a year before easing back into performing. Since then she’s been befriended by jazz master Roger Humphries who plays drums for her on most gigs. Earlier this year Humphries brought her to North Carolina to perform with him. “I met a woman on the plane. You know how I talk to everybody. She was like ‘Have you been singing long?’ And I said ‘All my life. I’m from Pittsburgh. My first gig was with Stanley Turrentine.’ I could never remember the name of the place. All I could remember is you had to go down this flight of stairs and it was real dark. I described the place to her and she told me the name. I should have wrote that shit down! It was on Fulton Street downtown where the Civic Arena is. That was the black area in town. When they tore all that down to build the Civic Arena and they re-did downtown that’s when they tore it down. That’s when Stanley and Tommy (Turrentine) were playing together, that’s before they left town. Tommy went with Ray Charles and Stanley went to New York. That was my first gig. That had to be in 1957 because my daughter Angie was born in ‘58. I worked on Friday and Saturday. It was a weekend gig.”

Wilson was born in Philadelphia, but she was raised here in Pittsburgh on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District. “Wylie Avenue ended at Fulton Street. I lived just at the top of the hill where the church was. There was a Catholic church and a school, but that’s gone now. The church is still there. I actually sang all through grade school, but I was always afraid to sing in front of the public. I’d started hanging out with musicians even at a young age because I married very young. So all the musicians and my friends knew that I sang and the word got around. So guys started calling me and I’d go and sit in. I didn’t know but three songs, but I’d go and sing those three songs all the time. When the guys realized that I could sing I got my first gig with Stanley Turrentine. And that was from some musicians who knew me. I think I was 17. I got a job with him for two nights and after that I got jobs around town with different guys, Cecil Brooks. I don’t remember all of their names, but I remember working with these guys. Joe Westray hired me to play at his club. I worked with Jerry Betters on a regular basis. I auditioned for Jimmy McGiff at the Hurricane. He was looking for a singer and the cats around town told him that he should hear me. So I went down there and got the job and everything else is history. That was my first time on the road, six weeks.”

“The tour ended in California. We worked our way across the country. From New Jersey to Omaha and Oklahoma City. I don’t remember where else, but the last week of the gig was in California. We worked at Shelly’s Manne-Hole in Hollywood. And then we worked at a club in the black area, but I can’t remember the name of that. There was a trumpet player in there who came to hear Jimmy. And he heard me and he went and told H. B. (Barnum) that he had to hear me. We were there Thursday, Friday and Saturday I think. H.B. came and heard me and I went down and auditioned for him at his office. He said that he wanted to record me and then I came home for three or four months because I didn’t believe him. Because everybody warned me ‘Don’t believe nothing that they say in California.’ So I said ‘Sure. Oh yeah, okay.’ Sure enough three or four months later he called me to come out and record.”

Mothers Records & The Snarf Company

“The Last Day of Summer” b/w “Love is Like an Old Man” (1969, 1300)
“Little Things Mean A Lot” b/w “If I Could” (1970, M-1308)
“You” b/w “Love Land” (1970, 1310)

Spankin’ Brand New (1969, MLPM-69)
Spanky, Doin’ It (1970, MLPM-71)
Let It Be (1971, MLPM-75)

Pittsburgh-based disc jockey, William “Bill” Powell of WAMO writes of Spanky Wilson’s television appearances on Johnny Carson, Red Skelton and Woody Woodberry in the liner notes for her sought after sophomore LP, Doin’ It. In addition, she also performed on an episode of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark, which aired in the summer of 1970. If you get a chance to see it there’s a black man with an afro wearing a tuxedo in the audience. Spanky showed me the video the first time I visited her home. She laughed to herself saying ”Oh, Paul Mooney was so crazy.” I moved a little closer to the television squinting and realized that it was in fact a young, pre-Chappelle Show (and probably pre-Richard Pryor) Paul Mooney. “We were all starting out at the same time. He picked me up from the airport. He worked for H.B. Barnum doing different things. I didn’t know anybody and he wanted to be a comedian at the time. We were good friends. This was in 1968. We were good friends at the beginning, but then we would just see each other here and there throughout our careers.”

H. B. Barnum did some recording of his own as an artist, but he’s largely known for his arrangements and the work that he did with producer David Axelrod for Capitol Records. At the same time he was running a label called Mother’s Records & the Snarf Company. The label was owned by Jay Ward Productions who were the creators of the hit cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle. Keith Scott is the author of The Moose That Roared, which is a book about Jay Ward, and he writes that Mama Cass Elliot’s sister, Leah Cohen, was supposed to be in charge of the label. Other than Scott’s mention in the book it appears that H.B. Barnum was in charge.

Spanky was only supposed to be in California for six weeks, but six weeks quickly turned into three or four months. “I would sing backgrounds on whoever H.B. produced. Whoever he recorded. I did backgrounds on Letta Mbulu, O.C. Smith, Lou Rawls … anybody he recorded I did background on.” The first Spanky Wilson single released was “The Last Day of Summer.” “I just started singing it on the gig (recently at the Fairmont). When I sang it the other night, when I got through, Roger (Humphries) said ‘Spanky, Is that your tune?’ Because he’d never heard it. And I said ‘Yeah Howlett Smith wrote that and I recorded it.’ He said ‘Oh my god, that’s beautiful.’ In California they tell me every time you play you should sing it. I’m known more in California than I am here. Just like Nancy Wilson’s song is ‘Guess Who I Saw Today.” Because that’s the one that made her really. They say every time you do a show you should sing ‘The Last Day of Summer.’ That’s what everybody, at least out in California, knows me from.” Howlette Smith wrote all of the eleven compositions on the first Spanky Wilson album, Spankin’ Brand New. The only composition that he’s credited for on her second album, Spanky, Doin’ It, is “You.” This was released as the lead single from the album and it's become one of Spanky’s most popular and sought after recordings. Spanky, Doin’It and her third album, Let It Be, both lean more toward covers of popular hits that were current at the time. “I only made one record a year and I was only with H.B. for three years. Then I split. I recorded the first one in the fall of ‘68 and it was released in the winter of ‘69. Then I recorded Spanky Doin’ It in ‘70 and Let It Be in late ‘70 or ‘71. When I went to Brazil to do the music festival the record that was out at the time was Let it Be. We were playing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and all that. That was done in ‘71. It was like that, but by ‘72 I was gone.”

While Spanky Wilson didn’t become a huge multi-million selling artist, she definitely did better than the rest of her label mates on the Mother's Records imprint. I showed her a handful of singles from other Mother’s artists who drifted deep into obscurity over the decades. The first of which was Gene Diamond. “I forgot about Gene Diamond. I didn’t know him very well. I would see him in H.B.’s office from time to time and he worked around Los Angeles. I knew him, but we were never really good friends. Not like Paul Mooney.” Another artist, who recorded a bit in addition to Mother’s was Terry Thornton. “Terry Thornton had been with H.B., but she was no longer with the label when I started. I think she did a 45 for him. I heard her once and I said ‘Wow, where is she?’ I loved her right away. She was a very strong singer. But I didn’t meet her until I’d been recording for about three years. She would go back and forth from New York to Los Angeles. I met her once and then I didn’t see her again until we were in Paris with the big band. And we really got to talk then." The fellow Mother’s artist who Spanky was closest to was Karen Hernandez “She was a very good friend. She used to write all my charts. She used to watch my children. Her children were younger than mine because my children were already older when we moved out there. We lived close to each other right outside of Los Angeles. We didn’t work together much, but she’d write all of my charts. That’s how she made money, writing charts. She’s a pianist. Honey, she’s bad! ‘I Heard it Thru the Grapevine.’ I think thats the only thing she recorded. Just the one single. She was very talented. She should’ve gotten more well known than she is because she was a very strong pianist. Like a Dorothy Donegan kind of a chick.” Some of the other artists who Barnum signed to Mother’s were Sharon Cash and child artist Little Gary Ferguson. Cash recorded an album for the label that featured a memorable interpretation of “Fever.” It was released as a single and incidentally wound up being sampled for Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale LP. “Sharon Cash I didn’t really know. She came after. I didn’t know Little Gary Ferguson either. He must have came after me. The label didn’t go long after I left.”

Kelly's Heroes OST
(1970 MGM, 1-SE-23-ST)

As Spanky mentioned, she split after the three LP's on Mother's. But before she left, a funny thing happened on the way to her next recording contract. “I had just finished Let It Be and H.B. called and said there was this guy and this film. The music had been done in French originally. The theme had been sung by a French person. I’d never heard it. But he wanted to do an English version of the theme song. It was a beautiful song called ‘Living For You.’ I sang it for years afterwards.” The guy that she’s speaking about was Lalo Schifrin and the film was Kelly’s Heroes, which has become a classic bit of Hollywood cinematography. The original French title of the song was “Si Tu Me Dis.” It’s featured in the film, but neither the English version nor the original French version, which is credited to Monique Aldebert, was included on the original version of the soundtrack. The French version did make it to a later CD repackage. But anyhow … “When we were in the studio recording for that they were doing some other work for the album. They had one scene were the guys were marching and all of these guys were supposed to be whistling. So they had a couple of guys in the studio and they were overdubbing them to make a whole battallion or something. So they asked me if I could whistle and I said yeah. So I ended up whistling a part with these other two guys and they overdubbed it and overdubbed it. So I’m whistling on the record. I see the film on TV all the time. I’m whistling on there, but that’s about it.”

Eastbound & Westbound Records

"Home" b/w "Shake Your Head" (1974 Eastbound, E-627)
"I Think I'm Gonna Cry" b/w "Non-stop Flight"
(1975 Westbound, WT-5012)


Houston Person The Real Thing

(1973 Eastbound, 2EB-9010)

Specialty of the House (1975 Westbound, W-207)

It was still 1971 and Spanky wound up in Detroit working at Cornelius Watts’ Club Mozambique. “Everybody used to work at that club.” It was there where she first met fellow Pittsburgher, Eddie Jefferson. She credits Jefferson with teaching her vocalese, in addition to befriending her and helping her to get work. Watts had a connection with Westbound Records, perhaps best known for releasing the bulk of Funkadelic’s catalog. In 1973 a live recording date at Club Mozambique led by Houston Person was released on Westbound’s Eastbound subsidiary and titled, The Real Thing. Spanky is featured on “Until It’s Time For You To Go” which features Person (tenor sax), Robert Lowe (guitar), Sonny Phillips (organ) and Hank Brown (drums). The following year Eastbound released a single by Spanky, which was “Home” written again by her regular collaborators, Lennoy Ruffin and Howlett Smith. The flip side was “Shake Your Head.” A year later, in 1975, Westbound Records released Spanky’s fourth studio album, Specialty of the House. “Home” was included on the album while “Shake Your Head” remained exclusive to the single. Another single, “I Think I’m Gonna Cry” was released to support the album.

Spanky’s relationship with Westbound/Eastbound was another ephemeral one. “It was just like with H.B. It was the same thing. It was never nationwide, it was never across the country. Before I went with Westbound, there was a guy from Atlantic Records who wanted to talk to me about being on Atlantic. The owner of the club, who happened to be in love with me, he wanted to keep me coming to Detroit all the time, so I never knew the guy was there to see me until after I signed with Westbound Records. I’d spoke to him that night, but I never knew until years later when I ran into him in another town. I tell people how I looked back then got in my way more than it helped. Everybody who was in a position to help me, who were primarily men at that time, they wanted to do something for me, but they were like ‘What are you going to do for me?’ You know what I’m talking about. I was like ‘I sing for a living.' But I mean it was more of a hindrance. After the last recording we fell out. It was because they were doing bullshit promotions. It was here and there and wherever they had a friend. That kind of shit. They had the nerve to send me a bill and say that I owed them however many thousands of dollars for the recording. I wrote ‘Hey, take this and shove it.’ I mailed it back to them and I said ‘Sue me’ and I haven’t heard back from them since. I wasn’t even getting on the radio everywhere. I never heard from them again and they never sued me either.”
Various reissues & compilations

Split single w/ Etta James "You" b/w "Out On The Streets Again" (2000 Fabulous Records, ?)
"You" b/w "Sunshine of Your Love" (2003 BGP/Ace Records)
single w/ Alvin Cash "Kissing My Love" b/w "Stone Thing"
(2003 BGP/Ace)

Albums/Full-length CD's
Various artists - Living in the Streets (1999 BGP, CDBGPD 130)

Various artists - Living in the Streets 2 (2001 BGP, CDBGPD 140)
Various artists - Living in the Streets 3 - Busting Out of the Ghetto (2002 BGP, CDBGPD 151)
Spanky Wilson The Westbound Years
(2007 Ace Records,

Various artists - Super Cool California Soul 2
(2007 Luv N' Haight/Ubiquity, LHLP053)*
* the only one that is actually available on vinyl

Spanky spent the next ten years living and working mostly in Los Angeles. In 1985 she relocated to Paris, France where she would eventually re-marry. She spent the next fifteen years performing across France in addition to Germany and Spain, and other parts of the world. In the year 2000 she released a CD with The Philippe Milanta Trio titled Things Are Getting Better. It was also around this time that reissues of her older material started to surface in the UK. “H.B. sold all of the rights to whatever I recorded with him to Ace Records. And then when Westbound went out of business they sold their library to them (Ace) also. As far as I understand H.B.’s agreement is just for Europe. They have all of the rights. What Westbound’s deal was, I don’t know, but they have their library too. I didn’t even know that it had been done until Will (Holland also known as Quantic) told me. Ace Records released three volumes of compilations titled Living in the Streets. They’re compilations of sixties and seventies soul and funk tracks by various artists and each volume features a Spanky Wilson tune. In addition to the compilations there are also a series of 45 singles that they released featuring various selections from the compilations. A majority of the singles feature Spanky’s songs as well. She's never received any compensation for any of these releases.

A new generation of listeners was now familiar with Spanky through the compilations and an interest in her catalog began to spread through England and parts of Europe. Will Holland is a British DJ slash musician/producer. He performs as Quantic and sometimes with his group The Quantic Soul Orchestra. He’d learned of Spanky through the compilations and he was determined to locate her where abouts. “They had a wanted poster out that a friend of my husband’s saw. It was in England or somewhere. Like ‘Have You Seen Her.’ It was like a flier. I have a copy of it. It was black and white and I’m almost unrecognizable. So wherever they were at, he told Will ‘I know her. She lives in Paris.’ He called Philippe first and asked if he could give him my number, because by this time I’m back in LA. So Philippe called me and I said yeah. So the guy went back and gave Will the number and he called me. They only knew me by compilations. I was glad that they knew me at all. Will said ‘Spanky, are you kidding? We play that (“Sunshine of Your Love” or “You”) and the people can’t get enough. We have to play it over and over again.’ I said ‘Well, how did you get "Kissing My Love"? Where did y’all get that from?’ He said it was on a compilation and I said ‘A compilation from where? And who? Was it Westbound?’ He said ‘No, from Ace.'" Holland explained that Ace was a UK label that specialized in reissuing older material. When she contacted Ace Records they explained that they had a contract with H.B. Barnum. "I said what kind of contract. I thought to myself after all these years this he’s still making money off me … I said 'Well what about me? I’m the artist.' And he said 'You’d have to talk to H.B. about that.'" Spanky really has no legal rights to her recordings. They're still being licensed out even here in America where she's appeared on compilations as recently as 2007.

Tru Thoughts, Ltd. w/ Quantic


Quantic "Don't Mess With a Hungry Man" 12"
Tru Thoughts, Ltd., TRU064)
Spanky Wilson & The Quantic Soul Orchestra "I'm Thankful (Pt. 1)"
b/w "Don't Joke With a Hungry Man (Pt. 3)"
(2006 Tru Thoughts, Ltd., TRU7108)
Quantic feat. Spanky Wilson split w/ DJ Aeon "When You're Through"
b/w "Funky Furious" (2008 Freestyle,

Quantic Mishaps Happening (2004 Tru Thoughts, Ltd., TRULP062)
Spanky Wilson & The Quantic Soul Orchestra I'm Thankful

 (2006 Tru Thoughts, Ltd., TRULP109)

Quantic Soul Orchestra and Spanky Wilson Live In Paris DVD
2008 Tru Thoughts, Ltd.,TRUDVD147)

In 2004 Spanky appeared on Quantic’s Mishaps Happening LP and by the end of 2006 they released I’m Thankful by Spanky Wilson & the Quantic Soul Orchestra. “I did a big tour with them. We did like four weeks of one-nighters. I did the guest spot with them, singing ‘Don’t Joke With a Hungry Man.’ That was the first recording. I did two sides with Will on his album and everybody liked that so much, that’s when we decided to do one of my own with songs that he’d written. So when we did the one that he wrote for me and with the excitement of the first two singles, that’s when we ended up doing the tour in Europe. Shit, I damn near killed myself. We did one-nighters for close to … It was two nights short of four weeks. Every night we were somewhere. I’d never did one-nighters in my life. I was excited. I had no idea. Especially when you’re my age. You do this when you’re thirty years old. I survived it. I enjoyed it so much."

After the European tour Spanky returned to LA where she continued to perform. I suppose it was circa 2008 when The Pittsburgh Jazz Society booked her at the Omni William Penn Hotel. It was her first Pittsburgh gig since she initially left in 1967 and this is when our paths first crossed. She’s survived a show business career full of the usual ups and downs and a rough ride in a recording industry that was less than kind to her. She’s achieved a cult-like status amongst the record collectors of the world with a few of her key recordings becoming quite valuable. She says that the attention makes her feel good although ten, or even just five, percent of the money that her records trade for would make her feel even better. 

“I wouldn’t give up a day of it, because I just love to sing. And I’m just happy that I’m still singing and I still have what it takes. People say they’re so excited because I sing songs nobody else sings. That’s jazz standards. People tend to forget about those, but you never can forget the masters. Bravo if you write your own music. That’s very good, but at the same time don’t ever forget about who inspired you to do this music. Work it in, both your music and their music. Don’t forget about them.” Singing is what Spanky’s been doing all along. She's still inspired and now that she’s back in Pittsburgh this is where she’s going to be Doin’ It at. Don't miss her monthly appearances at Andy’s Wine Bar at the Fairmont Hotel. This month she'll be there Friday, October 7th. 

Visit Andy’s Wine Bar online at: www.andyswinebar.com or email info@andyswinebar.com for more information. Send inquiries about booking Spanky Wilson  to: spankywilsonjazz@yahoo.com. And make sure you stop by the debut Pgh Vinyl Convention this Saturday, October 8th where Spanky will be making a special appearance from 12-1 PM. 

Visit I DIG PGH on YouTube, www.youtube.com/idigpgh, and check out some classic recordings by Pittsburgh's own Spanky Wilson!