washington dc soul

Curtis Pope

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Curtis Pope, trumpeter for the Midnight Movers, poses for a portrait in 2014 at Union Station in Washington, DC.

Follow The Wind – Midnight Movers Unltd.

Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers, Sam & Dave, and Gene Chandler share three things in common, they are some of the biggest names in soul music, they all had number one hits on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and at one time they have all featured Curtis Pope on trumpet.

The horn player from North Carolina joined “The Duke of Earl” Gene Chandler’s band in 1965, where he met DC musicians Charles “Skip” Pitts (guitar), bass player Ernest Xavier Smith (bass), Elbert “Woody” Woodson (drums), and Chicago saxophone player and bandleader George Paco Patterson. He soon relocated to Washington, DC because it was a convenient base for traveling to gigs.

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Pope helped arrange Chandler’s hit, “I Fooled You This Time,” in 1966 and shortly after the band left Chandler for the late Stax/Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett. The band eventually renamed themselves the Midnight Movers after Pickett’s 1968 hit “I’m A Midnight Mover.”

“Wilson was halfway out of church,” says Pope. “He did the gospel thing very well. You know, the scream…We stayed with Pickett for a long time.”

The Midnight Movers were the touring band for Pickett from 1966 through 1969. During that time members of the band recorded a 45, “Pickin’ and Chippin’/Sweet Darlin’,” on Chicago’s Bunky label as Skip & Ernest. The Midnight Movers left Pickett in 1969 when they had a falling out with the legendary singer.

The band re-emerged as in demand studio musicians in New York City, recording with The Isley Brothers and Sam and Dave. The Midnight Movers were the musicians on the former’s enduring 1969 smash hit, “It’s Your Thing,” and “Freedom.”

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In 1970 the Midnight Movers released their debut LP, “Do It In The Road,” on Elephant V Ltd. Guitarist Pitts left in 1971 to join Isaac Hayes’s band. Pitts’ work can be heard as the signature opening wah-wah guitar on Haye’s #1 hit “Theme From ‘Shaft’.” The guitarist passed away in 2012.

The band released a few singles after their debut album, including 1972’s “Put Your Mind In Your Pocket” on Renee Records.

In 1974, the Midnight Movers, Unltd. released their sophomore LP, “Follow The Wind,” on Buddah Records with new members Bernard Wills, and Raymond Patterson on guitar and Blake Hinds on bass. The title track received a small amount of airplay but the LP went largely unnoticed and the Midnight Movers went on hiatus shortly after. The song “Lost For Words” has since been sampled by John Legend, Wiz Khalifa, and Talib Kweli.

While things were quiet with the Midnight Movers, Pope briefly joined Washington DC’s arguably biggest act, The Soul Searchers, and in 1979 he toured with The Blackbyrds.

In 1982 Pope reconnected with Pickett and the Midnight Movers became the star’s touring band once again, this time with all new members except for Pope. Every now and again other original members would return to tour with the band. The later generation of Midnight Movers stayed with Pickett for more than 15 years.

Pope continues to perform corporate events and weddings with a new crop of Midnight Movers and is currently recording new music.

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Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Elvans Road LTD.

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Mike Dean, Tyrone Thomas, Elliot Adams, Michael Jones, Claude Hodges, Freddie Ross, Keith Holmes, and Buddy Green (l-r) on Elvans Rd. SE.
Can I – Elvans Road LTD.

Marshall Hall was an amusement park in Charles County, Maryland that Washingtonians traveled to by ship every summer from the early 1900s through 1980. The ship, later known as the Wilson Line, featured live performances including Elvis Presley’s only show in the District. In the 1970s the Wilson Line was a venue for national acts such as Funkadelic and local bands including The Matadors.

The Matadors were a band from Southeast DC, primarily from Anacostia High School and Ballou High School. They played popular music at churches, military bases, and non-commissioned officer clubs, and later the Wilson Line, The Panorama Room, and the Washington Coliseum with groups including The Young Senators, EU, Distance, Trouble Funk, and Leadhead. The Matadors played a variety of genres including songs by Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and James Brown.

Unfortunately for group there was already a funk band from St. Louis, IL called Bull & The Matadors so they changed their name to Elvans Road LTD. after the location of their band house. In 1976 Elvans Road LTD.—Michael Zakee Jones, Tyrone Thomas, Roosevelt Smith, Mike Dean, Paul Wilkerson, and Vernon Cooper—recorded two tracks at American Star Recording Studios in Merrifield, VA: the instrumental “Summer-Free-Fo-All” and “Can I,” written by keyboardist Smith with vocals by Thomas. The record was produced by future go-go icon Maxx Kidd on his Cherry Blossom Records Inc. and arranged by Al Johnson.

“Summer-Free-Fo-All” received minor airplay on WOL but it wasn’t enough for Elvans Road LTD. to gain traction. Ultimately the group split up after several members left to perform with Leadhead.

Michael Zakee Jones continued in music, eventually joining Symba, which scored a Billboard Hot R&B charts hit with “Hey You” in 1981, written by the former Elvans Road LTD. member. Currently Jones performs with Jimi Smooth & Hit Time, which also features Jimi Smoot from The El Corols Band & Show and George “Jackie” Lee from Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

The Soul Searchers

The Soul Searchers
John Buchanan, Lloyd Pinchback, Bennie Braxton, Lino Druitt, Donald Tillery, and Kenneth Scoggins (l-r) at The Panorama Room.

Blow Your Whistle – The Soul Searchers

Jazz flutist Loyd Pinchback had been to the Chase’s Lounge many times before but he’d never heard a band as tight as this. The Los Latinos, who were performing that evening, featured a guitarist named Chuck Brown. Pinchback was able to secure a spot with the band that night and along with Brown and bassist John Euell, splintered off to form The Soul Searchers. Starting with performances at backyard barbecues, The Soul Searchers’ musicianship quickly led to regular spots at the Ebony Inn, the Red Carpet Lounge, and Model’s Extraordinaire.

 
Inspired by the big sound of Baltimore’s Tommy Vann & The Professionals and And The Echos, The Soul Searchers added new members to their rhythm section. In 1972 they recorded their debut LP “We The People” at Track Studios in Silver Spring, Maryland and released it on Sussex Records.

The lineup was:

Chuck Brown – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Lloyd Pichback – Flute, Saxophone, Vocals
John Euell – Bass, Vocals
John Buchanan – Trombone, Piano
Lino Druitt – Percussion
Hilton Felton – Organ
Kenneth Scoggins – Drums, Percussion
Donald Tillery – Trumpet, Vocals

The album’s title track was inspired by The Chambers Brothers “Love, Peace, and Happiness” and elements of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and “On The Corner.” The success of “We The People” let to a spot on the Soul Train Tour alongside acts like Bobby Womack, The Dramatics, and The Moments.

After the release of their debut LP The Soul Searchers were considered to be the top band in DC along with The Young Senators. Playing four times a week to crowds at go-gos–including The Burgundy Room, The Panorama Room, the Masonic Temple, and Northwest Gardens–The Soul Searchers began to extend their songs with instrumental breaks in order to keep people on the dance floor. Their percussion-heavy extension of Grover Washington’s “Mr. Magic” along with Chuck Brown’s call and response with the crowd was a predecessor for what later became known as go-go music. According to Pinchback’s book, “The Soul Searchers: 1968-1978,” some of the other bands performing in the area at the time were Aggression, Black Heat, Scacy & The Sound Service, Lead Head, Brute, Father’s Children, Ashanti, Spectrum Ltd., and New Breed.

In 1973 The Soul Searchers returned to the studio to record “Salt of The Earth,” also on Sussex Records, this time with Bennie Braxton on organ. Recorded at American Star Recording Studio in Falls Church, VA the 1974 LP contained regional hits “Blow Your Whistle,”  “If It Ain’t Funky” and “Ashley’s Roachclip,” one of the most sampled tracks in history. Scoggins’ drum break from “Ashley’s Roachclip” can be heard on Milli Vanilli’s infamous smash hit “Girl You Know It’s True.”

Due to the emergence of DJs, gigs began to slow down for The Soul Searchers shortly after the release of “Salt of The Earth. In 1976 they recorded “Bustin’ Loose ” at Arrest Recording Studios in N.W. DC, which Brown wrote lyrics to in response to his frustration with the group’s stagnation, but the record was never released.

In 1978 Chuck Brown and The Soul Searchers re-recorded “Bustin’ Loose” with nearly all new members with the exception of Brown, Tillery, and Buchanan for the LP of the same name on Source Records. The single reached #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, launching the band to national fame.

Chuck Brown went on to be recognized as the “Godfather of Go-Go,” inspiring such bands as Experience Unlimited (EU), Rare Essence, and Trouble Funk. He sadly passed away in 2012, drawing an overwhelming expression of emotion from all corners of Washington, DC. Pinchback and Buchanan currently perform with the go-go band Proper Utensils. Tillery performs with the band Truth Groove and was recently interviewed for WAMU’s Metro Connection.

You can purchase Chuck Brown’s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

In Memory: Terry Huff

The first time I heard Terry Huff and Special Delivery‘s album “The Lonely One” I was astonished by the unparalleled pitch of Huff’s falsetto voice. It was beautiful. I read more about Huff in Ted Scheinman’s excellent 2010 piece, “Terry Huff’s Lost Soul,” and got his contact info from the author. We met at Huff’s daughter’s house and and he was game for the shoot, even when neighbors informed us we were standing in poison ivy. When I left he sang a bit of a new song he was working on and his voice sounded as good as ever.

I knew Huff had cancer and was saddened to learn about his death a few months later. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to meet him. His voice was undoubtedly one of a kind and “I Destroyed Your Love” is one of my top 10 favorite songs of all time.

This post is in memory of Terry Huff.

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I Destroyed Your Love Part 1 – Terry Huff & Special Delivery

Terry Huff started singing on Capitol Hill street corners with his brother Andy and friends from the neighborhood as a teenager. Discovered by John “Johnny Boy” Katsouros, Andy and The Marglows recorded four singles on Liberty Records—“Superman Lover,” “Just One Look,” “I’ll Get By” and “Symphony” in 1963.

Huff became a DC police officer in 1969 but in 1973 quit the force and delved into songwriting. He met George Parker, Reginald Ross, and Chet Fortune of DC vocal group Act One through a friend. In 1975 they released the single “I Destroyed Your Love” on Mainstream Records under the name Special Delivery and Huff’s limitless falsetto helped propel the record around the country.

Terry Huff and Special Delivery released the LP “The Lonely One” on Mainstream Records in 1976, which featured many of the songs Huff wrote after leaving the police force including “I Destroyed Your Love,” “Where There’s A Will (There’s A Way),” and the title track. The late Al Johnson arranged and conducted the record and Huff sang lead on all of the songs while Parker, Ross, and Fortune performed background vocals. Unfortunately Terry Huff and Special Delivery split up prior to the record’s release. Huff and his brothers Andrew and Jimmy, who sang background on “The Lonely One,” tried to secure a new deal with Philly International Records but were unable to due to legal complications.

Huff was seldom heard from thereafter. In 2010 writer Ted Scheinman, who lived near Huff, wrote “Terry Huff’s Lost Soul,” a cover story about Huff for the Washington City Paper, shining a spotlight on the DC soul legend once again while revealing that he had been homeless and had cancer. Despite his illness Huff planned a return to music and secretly performed at Open Mic Night at the Channel Inn’s “Engine Room.”

Huff sadly passed away in December 2012 at age 65 before he could attempt a comeback. In January 2013 a concert featuring Peaches & Herb, Skip Mahoney and The Casuals, Al Johnson, The Winstons, The Choice Four, and Special Delivery helped raise money for his funeral. You can purchase Terry Huff and Special Delivery‘s music here.

Most of the content for this article is from Ted Scheinman’s City Paper cover story.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

The Jewels

The Jewels

Opportunity – The Jewels

From 1959 to 1966 rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley—The Originator—had a house on Rhode Island Avenue NE Washington, DC where several groups rehearsed and recorded. Some of the acts who frequented the house were Marvin Gaye’s group The Marquees, Billy Stewart, Motown’s The Spinners, and The Impalas.

Originally called The Renaults, The Impalas—Sandra Bears, Margie Clark, Grace Ruffin (pictured left to right), and Carrie Mingo—got their start in Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School’s glee club and performed at nursing homes, military hospitals, talent shows, and military bases.

The Impalas were introduced to Diddley through Ruffin’s brother Paul, who was also a musician. They recorded their first record, “I Need You So Much”/”For The Love Of Mike” at the rock and roll legend’s house, which was released on Checker Records. Manager/producer Bob Lee suggested The Impalas change their name to The Four Jewels and their second record, 1962’s “Loaded with Goodies”/”Dapper Dan” on Lee’s Start Records was a local hit.

That same year The Four Jewels traveled to Chicago with Lee to record “Time For Love”/”That’s What They Put Erasers On Pencils For” on Checker Records and sang backing vocals on Ruffin’s cousin Billy Stewart’s “Reap What You Sow.” In 1963 fellow Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School alumnus Martha Harvin replaced Mingo and the next year they dropped “Four” from their name and recorded “Opportunity”/”Gotta Find A Way” on Carole King’s Dimension Records, which reached #64 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Opportunity” led to better gigs and soon The Jewels performed at The Apollo Theater. James Brown, who was in attendance, was impressed by what he saw and asked the quartet if they would join him on tour. The Jewels performed on The Godfather of Soul’s traveling review across the nation at venues as large as Madison Square Garden and recorded the Brown produced “Papa Left Mama Holding The Bag”/”This is My Story” on Dynamite Records and sang background vocals on his single “Don’t Be A Drop-Out” in 1966.

“(Brown) was very demanding but he didn’t ask any more of you then what he gave,” says Bears. “He was the hardest working man in show business. He gave his all. I’ve seen him perform sick to the point when he came of the stage the ambulance was right there to take him to the hospital.”

After a little over a year The Jewels—with the exception of Martha Harvin—decided to return home. The three singers ended up in government jobs—Ruffin worked for The United States Postal Service, Clark worked at the U.S. Department of Interior, and Bears worked at the DC Department of Parks and Recreation. Harvin changed her name to Martha High and stayed on with Brown as a vocalist for more than 30 years.

In 1985 the original Four Jewels re-recorded their singles for their first LP, “Loaded With Goodies.” The Jewels received a Washington Area Music Association Wammies award in 2000 and performed with New Orleans’ The Dixie Cups at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2013.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

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.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Alonzo Hart

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Mix It Up – The Stridells

Walking through the hallways of Alonzo Hart’s Eastern Senior High School in the 1960s was similar to roaming around an audition for American Idol today. Three part harmonies grew louder at the turn of each corner coming form the likes of The Love Tones, The Deacons, Jerry Cummings of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and The Stridells—Hart, Reginald Marsh, Charles Blagmon, and Wardelle “Twin” Everett. The Stridells became a familiar presence to fans of the Showmobile, an orchestra-backed musical lineup that would travel from park to park, and were soon joined by two new members, Wardell “Twin” Everett and Larry Scott.

“We didn’t get into any trouble, we just sang,” says Hart. “If you gave us a light post and somewhere to sing that’s where you would find us.”

Producers Maxx Kidd and Bob Morgan discovered The Stridells at the Showmobile. Kidd and Morgan wrote “Mix It Up” and “I Remember Christmas” for the group, which they recorded at the Hit Factory in New York City over a period of 23 hours and 14 minutes. The 1969 Yvette Records release “Mix It Up” with Johnny Graham on lead vocals became a regional hit, helped by a second pressing on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records.

“Before we recorded this song if we went to a party in someone’s neighborhood we might have to fight our way out,” says Hart. “After we put the recording out everyone was cool with us.”

The Stridells released a second 45, “The Power To Dream“/”Stick-Em-Up Kind Of Lovin” on Morgan Records in 1969, but the response was less enthusiastic. The group began to disagree about heading in a doo-wop or funk direction and they broke up in 1972. Marsh released several LPs as Osiris; Blagmon helped start The Choice Four; Scott and Graham began another group; and as was his destiny all along, Hart became a fifth generation pastor.

“I would just love to run into my boys,” says Hart. “Just to see them, even if we just sat down and break bread that would be worthwhile. I’m going to keep looking for them.”

Mmm, mmm, mmm.
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