Northern Soul

Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul

joe_quarterman

(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind – Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul

Sometimes you have to fake it to make it. Joe Quarterman told a white lie to his junior high school music instructor at Shaw Junior High School when he said that he could play trumpet, but thankfully he was a fast learner. Quarterman was still at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School when he joined the El Corols Band and Show as a trumpet player and a recent graduate when he toured with The Magnificent Seven. A budding songwriter, Quarterman had a burning desire to record and perform independently from the group. In 1963 Quarterman released his first of several 45s under the management of Baltimore singing duo Gene and Eddie as Sir Joe and The Maidens—“Pen Pal”/”Jivin Gene” on Lenox Records. Quarterman released several other singles as Sir Joe and Sir Joe and The Maidens but nearly called it quits when some Washington Redskins players stole the members of his new band, Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul, for their short-lived singing group. Quarterman found new members for Free Soul through the help of his brother—Gregory Hammonds on bass, Allen Stewart on drums, George “Jackie” Lee on guitar (pictured with Quarterman from left to right), Charles Steptoe on drums, Karissa Freeman on keyboards, and Leon Rogers on saxophone.

Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul recorded their self-titled debut LP on GSF Records, a subsidiary of ABC Paramount Records in 1973. The bandleader presented a sketch of his idea for the album the cover—the group breaking through all the troubles of America—but instead of commissioning a photo shoot the label printed the original sketch on the cover. The album’s single (I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” reached the Billboard R&B top 100 and the cover ultimately appeared in the book “The Greatest Album Covers Of All Time.” Sir Joe Quaterman & Free Soul later released the singles “Thanks Dad” and “I’m Gonna Get You” on GSF Records and “Get Down Baby,” which also reached the Billboard R&B top 100 and “I’m A Young Man” on Mercury Records, but Quarterman didn’t attain the level of success he was hoping for and attended the University of Maryland to study architecture shortly after.

Encouraged by a renewed interest in their music decades later, Sir Joe Quarterman & Free Soul released the album “They Want Funky Music” in 2003 and toured France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. “(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind” was featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and numerous advertisements and Daptone Records’ Charles Bradley covered “No Time For Dreaming,” an outtake from Quarterman’s GSF Records demo, for his 2011 debut album of the same name. Quarterman continues to perform today and will be releasing a new album, “Alive N’ Well,” on January 15. Guitarist Lee performs with Free Soul and also with Jimi Smooth & Hit Time.

Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul have also reissued their debut LP with b-sides and rare earlier materiel, which you can purchase here.

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Design by Jessica Ellis

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Skull Snaps

skull snaps

It’s A New Day – Skull Snaps

Samm Culley spotted something unusual while watching cars pass under the highway as he often did. It was the tour bus for “Mr. Personality,” singer Lloyd Price.

“One day I’m going to be on that bus,” thought young Culley. It would take a while but eventually his dream would come true.

Culley’s musical career began as a keyboard player for Maryland Eastern Shore act Tiny Tim and the Hits, where he met fellow singers Tom Price and Bill Collier. In 1958 Tiny Tim and The Hits released a 45 on Roulette Records—“Wedding Bells” with the b-side “Doll Baby.”

The trio soon left Tiny Tim to form their own group with singer Irving Waters called The Diplomats. While most young people in Maryland were going out on Saturday nights the quartet practiced singing. The Diplomats—Price, Culley, Waters (pictured left to right), and Collier—performed all over the Eastern Shore and were determined to be the first successful group out of the region. Cully moved to Newark, New Jersey after a brief stint in the army and Price and Waters soon joined him.

The Diplomats recorded their first 45, “Unchained Melody/Card On The Table” on Arock Records in 1963 and performed all over New York City including at The Apollo Theater, but still did not have a big song. That changed in 1964 when they met with Washington, DC producer Van McCoy who turned out their first hit “Here’s A Heart.” The song stayed at #1 in DC for nine weeks and The Diplomats returned to South of the Mason-Dixon line to play at The Howard Theatre. Feeling the strains of the music industry, Price left The Diplomats and Culley and Waters found George Bragg to replace him. Being a drummer, the addition of Bragg helped The Diplomats transition from a singing group to a band. The three performed so well together they never even needed to rehearse. It was during this time that Culley’s childhood dream began to take shape. Lloyd Price came by to see a show and was blown away, predicting that the band would literally make people’s skulls snap.

Now named the Skull Snaps, the trio released their only LP on GSF Records in 1970. The band was unable to continue recording as the Skull Snaps due to legal difficulties for GSF records so they released a 45—“Soul Makossa/On Top Of It”—as All Dyrections. The Skulls Snaps disbanded shortly after; Culley went on to record with an early version of The Fatback Band and eventually produced an album for Lloyd Price.

In 1989 Connecticut rapper Stezo sampled Bragg’s drums from the Skull Snaps’ “It’s A New Day” on “It’s My Turn.” The Skulls Snaps track has since been sampled over 270 times, making it one hip-hop’s most ubiquitous break beats. The group saw their popularity rise again and Culley, Waters, Price, and Bragg reunited to record and tour. Bragg passed away in 2007 but the Skulls Snaps recently recorded a new single with Stezo and were followed by a documentary crew for their soon to be released film, “The Legend of The Skull Snaps.”

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You can purchase The Diplomats music here and the Skull Snaps here.

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Herb Fame

Herb Feemster

(We’ll Be) United – Peaches & Herb

Everybody loves a comeback story. This is how popular soul singer Herb Feemster disappeared from the limelight for seven years and triumphantly returned during the final days of disco.

Herb Feemster joined the navy after high school and took a part-time job at Waxie Maxie’s on 7th and T St. NW following his release. He recorded the song “Rudolph Holiday” as Millie & Billie on one of Waxie Maxie’s two record labels. The single didn’t have any impact but Feemster was successful at attracting the attention of none other than producer Van McCoy, one of many from the music industry who frequented the shop.

In 1966 McCoy introduced Feemster to The Sweethings, a Washington, DC based girl group, and brought them both to New York City to record. Feemster recorded “You’re Messing Up My Mind” and “From The Shadows To The Sun” under the name Herb Fame. At the suggestion of McCoy, Feemster and Sweethings lead singer Francine “Peaches” Barker recorded the pop standard “Let’s Fall In Love” together. Though they had just met, the vocal chemistry between the two was palpable. When the record was released a year later, the world was introduced to Peaches & Herb.

Between 1967 and 1971 Peaches & Herb issued more than a dozen chart-topping singles on Date Records including “Close Your Eyes,” which reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, “For Your Love,” “Love Is Strange,” and “(We’ll Be) United,” and two LPs—“For Your Love” and “Let’s Fall In Love.” They performed across the south and Midwest, at DC’s Howard Theatre and The Cellar Door, and also at the Apollo Theatre for a week.

Judging by their performances and photos Feemster and Barker appeared to be madly in love, but the singer concedes the relationship was purely professional.

“There was no personal thing there,” says Feemster. “We were just two people who wanted to sing.”

Exhaustion from nearly four years of constant recording and touring forced Feemster and Barker to end the act in 1970. He entered the Washington, DC police force, but returned to the music industry in 1977 with a new “Peaches,” Linda Greene. Feemster and Greene recorded seven albums together between 1977 and 1983. It was a new era in music ruled by disco, which Feemster boldly embraced.

“If you’re not confident with anything that you do it will not happen,” he says. “I’ve always been confident in me.”

The duo’s 1978 LP “2 Hot,” produced by Freddie Perren of Motown’s The Corporation, proved that Peaches & Herb was back and more popular than ever. The album’s first single, “Shake Your Groove Thing,” became a disco classic, reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their next song, “Reunited,” went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts.

“All artists record hoping, praying, and wishing that they could do something that will last, become number one, or get a Grammy,” says Feemster. “To have that number one or that top five is a feeling that you just can’t explain.”

Peaches & Herb recorded several more hits with Perren’s MVP Productions on Polydor Records, including “Roller Skatin’ Mate” and “I Pledge My Love” and performed with Bob Hope and Sammy Davis, Jr., but Feemster grew disenchanted with the music business again and Peaches & Herb ended in 1983. He returned to the work force, this time as a deputized security officer at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Feemster released “Colors of Love,” an album with a sixth “Peaches,” Meritxell Negre in 2009 and currently performs with the latest “Peaches,” Wanda Tolson. Francine “Peaches” Barker sadly passed away in 2005.

You can purchase Peaches & Herb‘s music here.

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Jerome Powell

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Mother Said – Jerome Powell

The Soul Injectors weren’t Jerome Powell’s first band to dissolve. The singer from Northeast had been in the game for a while. First there were The Collegians, who played all over DC but never recorded anything. Then there was Jerome and The Good Knights, but that didn’t last long either. Powell was hoping The Personalities would go the distance, but they didn’t have that spark. So when his fourth band The Soul Injectors broke up Powell wasn’t surprised. He learned that the music industry is a gamble. Some bands make it and some don’t.

Jerome Powell had reason to hope things would work out. He came from a musical family and had several recordings under his belt. His first 45 was “Home To Stay/Live and Let Live” written by Thom Bell and Chubby Checker and Freddie Perren and Jerry Butler respectively, and recorded on Cameo-Parkway Records in 1962. Then in 1972 he went to a Silver Spring, Maryland studio with cousin Archie Powell, who had a hit with The Presidents’ “5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love),” and recorded covers of The Ascots‘ “Mother Said” and “It’s Alright,” which were written by the talented close relative.

Jerome Powell was singing solo at a big name hotel when Gene Donati, who was performing with his orchestra in another room, asked him to join them on stage. The chemistry worked and Powell went on to perform with the venerable Gene Donati Orchestra for more than thirty years at The White House, inaugural balls, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, international embassies, major hotels, and political events. Powell sometimes faced prejudice at the performances but he thought about the people who paved the way before him and kept going. Donati passed away in 2004 and business slowed with the orchestra as more events started booking DJs. He ended up taking a part-time security job to help pay the bills, but Jerome Powell still has the wax of those recordings that he made with Jerry Butler,  Chubby Checker and his cousin Archie, who passed away in 2012.

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