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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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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El Corols Band and Show

Johnny Freeman, "Little" Yvonne Wooten, Tiny Barge, and Brenda Brown, left to right at Haines Point in Washington, DC in 2012.

Chick Chick – The El Corols Band and Show

While fans of the late 1960s Western series The Guns of Will Sonnett loved Walter Brennan’s bold catchphrase “No brag, just fact,” only 18 year-old trumpet player Tiny Barge (pictured second from right) of the El Corols Band and Show thought it would make a great chorus for a song.

Formed by several junior high school students in 1958, the El Corols Band and Show played covers of popular songs in clubs and private events around Washington DC and performed with The Temptations at The Howard Theatre, Dionne Warwick at the Shore Hotel, and The Supremes at Carr’s Beach of the Chitlin’ Circuit.

After rehearsing for weeks in a barbershop on H St. NE in 1968 the El Corols Band and Show walked in Aadvark Studios in Silver Spring, MD and cut two songs—the Guns of Will Sonnett inspired “Chick Chick” and “You Gotta Be An Angel” co-written by Tiny Barge and future Motown songsmith Fangette Willett. The band released the 45 on Tiny Records and Rouser Records and radio stations WOOK and WOL helped popularize “Chick Chick” in the DC area.

Over 20 years members of the El Corols Band and Show included Johnny Freeman on trombone (left); Robert Freeman on trumpet; Robert Battle on drums; Milton Grant on bass; Charles Robinson and Dewy Holloway on baritone saxophone; Carter Jefferson, Ron Holloway and Linwood Newbold on saxophone; Eddie Hicks and Gregory “Guitar Greg” Gaskins on guitar; Frank Delany on congas, Tiny Barge, Donald Tillery, and “Sir” Joe Quarterman on trumpet; Karissa Freeman on keyboards, Little Wimpy Johnson, Sydney “El Sid” Peoples, and Jimi “Senor” Smoot on vocals; and the El Coroletts—“Little” Yvonne Glover (second from left), Brenda Brown (right), Renada Dowd, and Arlene Williams. Other band members were Bobby Allen, Edward Freeman, and Earl Brown.

Though the El Corols Band and Show eventually disbanded in the 1970s, they inspired many musicians in Washington, DC and served as a springboard for several members including Elvis’ band mate Guitar Greg, Carter Jefferson, Donald Tillery of The Soul Searchers, Tiny Barge, and “Sir” Joe Quarterman.

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You can purchase “Chick Chick” here.

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Mark Greene

Not On the Outside – The Moments

Growing up in a musical family in Anacostia, Mark Greene first began to train his falsetto voice by mimicking birds. He joined his first group, The Congressionals, as a teenager, recording a single, “I’m Going to Leave This Town,” which was never released. When Greene was in his early 20s the original formation of Washington, DC based group The Moments—Eric Olfus, John Morgan, and Richard Gross—and producers the Mizell Brothers and Freddie Perren, met with Greene at a recording studio on Vermont Avenue NW and recruited him as their new lead vocalist. Together they traveled to New Jersey to record with Sylvia and Joe Robinson on All Platinum Records (which later became Sugar Hill Records) and recorded the single “Not On The Outside” with lead vocals by Greene. The 45 reached #13 on the Billboard US R&B charts in 1968 and #58 on US pop charts. That same year The Moments also performed at the Apollo Theater, sharing the stage with Michael and Marlon Jackson, Sam & Dave, Clarence Carter, The Unifics, and Margie Hendricks.

Sylvia Robinson shuffled The Moments before the release of their debut LP. Gross, Olfus, and Greene left, though Green stayed on the label as a solo artist, and New Jersey natives William Brown and Al Goodman came in as replacements to sing with John Morgan. Greene released two singles, “My Confession of Love” and “I’m So Lost,” as a solo artist on All Platinum but eventually cut ties with the recording company over a contract dispute. Greene, Gross, and Olfus received credit on The Moment’s 1968 Stang Records LP, “Not on the Outside, But on the Inside, Strong!” which went gold. The latter incarnation of The Moments ultimately changed their name to Ray, Goodman, and Brown when they moved to Polydor Records.

In 1971 Greene and the other former original members of The Moments, Gross and Olfus, recorded three singles together—“Which Way” “How Do You Move a Mountain,” and “Anyone Can”—on the Memphis, Tennessee Stax-Volt label as The Leaders. A majority of the records were stolen off of the shipping truck and the singles ultimately fizzled.

Greene continued to perform as a solo artist and as a featured vocalist with the Washington area group The Exceptions and also also briefly joined Ray, Goodman, and Brown after Harry Ray passed away in 1992. Greene, a multi-instrumentalist, began writing his own material and released a slew of solo jazz, pop, R&B, and reggae material on his own record label, Fajr Records. He was also solicited by the Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Platters.

Greene retrieved the trademark for The Moments name at the top of the millennium and released the CDs “Unspoken Moments” and “Revealing Moments” under the group’s moniker with members of The Exceptions and “Urban Legacy” as The Moments featuring Mark Greene. In 2009 The Moments’ 1968 song “Love on a Two Way Street” was sampled on the #1 hit “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys.

“My purpose is to utilize the talent I have,” says Greene. “My writing abilities and my skills as a singer to maybe enhance society and help…those who have an ear and eye for moral and message music. That’s where I’m at now.”

You can purchase Mark Greene’s work as a solo artist and with The Moments here and here.

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Al Johnson

Court Of Love – The Unifics

Al Johnson moved from Newport News, Virginia to Washington, DC in 1965 to study architecture at Howard University. He quickly found himself in over his head and as a self taught vocalist and pianist, gravitated toward music. Johnson formed a vocal group called Al and The Vikings with childhood friend Tom Fauntleroy and three other Howard students, which manager Guy Draper later changed to The Unique Five. Eventually the five dropped to four and they became The Unifics.

In 1967 The Unifics recorded “Court of Love” in New York City with a local studio band and with arrangement by renowned singer-songwriter and musician Donny Hathaway. Written by Draper, “Court of Love” reached #25 as a single on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also appeared on their LP “Sitting In At The Court Of Love,” released on Kapp Records, a subsidiary of MCA.  In 1968 The Unifics also recorded and released “The Beginning of My End,” which reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Based on the strength of those releases and other recordings The Unifics toured across the country East of the Mississippi River from 1968-1972, showcasing Johnson’s passionate vocals and the group’s distinctive choreography. During that time, Johnson began writing his own material including their final single, “Dawn of a New Day (In My Life).” When The Unifics broke up over tension related to not having signed with a record label, Johnson was ready to embark on a solo recording career. Johnson recorded three solo albums, “Peaceful (1978),” “Back For More (1980),” and “My Heart is an Open Book (1999),” and produced music for artists such as Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, and Positive Change.

In 2004 Johnson reunited with Fauntleroy and recruited two new members to The Unifics, releasing “Unifics Return.” Johnson sadly passed away in October 2013 at 65.

Will Smith, Faith Evans, Flesh-N-Bone, and Big Remo have sampled The Unifics and Al Johnson.

You can purchase The Unifics‘ music here.

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William DeVaughn

Be Thankful For What You Got – William DeVaughn

William DeVaughn learned to play the piano from watching musicians at the East Capitol Recreation Center in Southeast Washington, DC. Influenced by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, DeVaughn started a trio called the Dacrons with Steve Wade and Leon MacManus. Shortly after the group broke up, he answered an ad in Billboard Magazine from a Philadelphia based record label looking for talent. He brought 10 songs with him that he had written including “Be Thankful for What You Got,” which producer Frank Fiorvanti loved and Devaughn recorded for $900 with house band MSFB. With lyrics like “You may not have a car at all, but remember brothers and sisters, you can still stand tall,” the song had a strongly positive message. The song reached #1 on the R&B charts and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the spring of 1974. DeVaughn took a leave of absence from his government job and toured the country on the strength of the single and album with the same title. Despite his success, DeVaughn stayed humble, continuing to ride public transportation while in Washington.

After DeVaughn returned from touring he worked at Harmony Hut, a record store in Iverson Mall, learning another side of the music industry. He went back to his government job in 1979, but the legacy of “Be Thankful” endured, being covered by acts ranging from Massive Attack to Yo La Tango to Bunny Clarke and sampled more than a dozen times by artists such as Ludacris, Ice Cube, De La Soul, and N.W.A.

DeVaughn says that aside from recording, his main focus today is helping newer artists learn about the business side of the music industry to avoid the many possible pitfalls. He also continues to perform and record positive music and released the album “Time Will Stand Still” on his label Mighty Two Diamond Records in 2008.

“I want the whole family sitting down and listening to (my) music and there’s nothing that’s really negative,” says DeVaughn. “You can learn something that you can apply to your life.”

Be thankful for what you got

You can purchase William DeVaughn‘s music here.

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