GRITS AND GRAVY-THE BEST OF THE FAME GANG.

GRITS AND GRAVY-THE BEST OF THE FAME GANG.

Back in the sixties, many soul and R&B labels had their own house band. One of the earliest examples in the sixties, were the Funk Brothers, Motown’s house band. They provided Motown’s trademark sound. Motown however, weren’t alone.

As the seventies dawned, HI Records was about to become one of Southern Soul’s leading labels. Their secret weapons were the Hi Rhythm Section and the Memphis Horns. They graced many a Hi Records release, and helped transform Al Green and Anne Peebles’ fortunes. Meanwhile, in Philly, M.F.S.B. were the session players the Mighty Three called upon. 

The Might Three consisted of Thom Bell, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. They would become Philly’s most successful producers. Thom Bell used M.F.S.B. on his recordings with The Deltonics, The Detroit Spinners and The Stylistics. By 1971, Gamble and Huff had founded Philadelphia International Records. Right through to 1975, the original lineup of M.F.S.B. would provide the backdrop to Gamble and Huff’s recording of Billy Paul, The O’Jays, The Three Degrees and Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes. M.F.S.B. played an important part in the success of Philadelphia International Records. That was the case with house bands across America.

On the West Coast, the legendary Wrecking Crew were Los Angeles’ go-to band for many producers. Unlike many of the bands who toiled in the soul factories like Motown, the Wrecking Crew were truly versatile. They played on everything from film and television soundtracks, to pop, psychedelia and rock, right through to soul and R&B recordings. The Wrecking Crew accompanied everyone from Phil Spector and Frank Zappa, right through to The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Leonard Cohen and The Association. Their versatility meant their services were always in demand. What also helped, was that the Wrecking Crew could improvise. Their off-the-cuff additions often transformed a recording. However, in Memphis, The Fame Gang were also able to transform a recording.

By the late sixties, Rick Hall’s Fame Records was enjoying one of the most successful periods in its history. This wasn’t just because of the records Fame Records were releasing. No. Fame Studios was often where the great and good headed to record singles or albums. However, the attraction wasn’t just the Fame Studio’s facilities, or Rick Hall’s skills as producer. Instead, it was The Fame Gang, Fame Records’ house band. 

Just like many labels, The Fame Gang’s lineup gradually evolved. Musicians came and went. By the late sixties, three separate lineups of The Fame Gang had passed through Fame Records’ doors. 

The Fame Gang story began in the early sixties. That’s when The Fame Gang Mk. 1 made their recording debut. Their lineup featured Terry Thompson, Jerry Harrigan, David Briggs and Norbert Putnam. They were responsible for Fame Records’ nascent soul sound. However, like many house bands, The Fame Gang’s lineup began to evolve.

Musicians came and went. Gradually, some of the most talented musicians in Muscle Shoals gravitated to Fame Records. This included Roger Dawkins, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Spooner Oldham and Junior Lowe. For five years, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 played on Fame Records’ releases. They also played on numerous other releases. 

Many record companies sent their artists to Muscle Shoals, because of The Fame Gang Mk. 2 and of course, producer, Rick Hall. This included Atlantic Records, who sent Aretha Franklin to Muscle Shoals. With the help of The Fame Gang Mk. 2, Aretha Franklin recorded I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You. It was the album that transformed Aretha Franklin’s career and fortune. Suddenly, she was on her way to becoming the Queen of Soul. As for The Fame Gang Mk. 2, they were busier than ever.

Suddenly, artists were making their way to Muscle Shoals, looking to have their fortunes transformed. Often The Fame Gang Mk. 2 worked their magic. So, it’s not surprising that people would try to lure The Fame Gang Mk. 2 away from Muscle Shoals.

Eventually, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 were lured away from Muscle Shoals in early 1969. Their destination was Nashville, the home of country music. In Nashville, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 showcased their versatility, and unlike some soul house bands, showed they weren’t one trick ponies.

While The Fame Gang Mk. 2 were keen to show they were versatile musicians, capable of seamlessly switching between musical genres, Rick Hall wasn’t a happy man. Rick complained to friends that he had spent years nurturing The Fame Gang Mk. 2. He played an important part in their success. Without him, he fumed, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 wouldn’t have reached the same heights. However, little did he know The Fame Gang Mk. 3 would be even better than The Fame Gang Mk. 2.

With The Fame Gang Mk. 2 having headed to Nashville, Rick Hall needed a new band. Gradually, the new band took shape. Soon, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 were picking up where they left off. Many thought that filling The Fame Gang Mk. 2’s shoes wasn’t going to be easy. Rick Hall smiled knowingly. He had watched and heard The Fame Gang Mk. 3, as they evolved. They would prove to were the greatest lineup of The Fame Gang. They feature on some of the recordings on Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang, which was recently released by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records.

Ace Records’ Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang is a twenty-five track compilation. Essentially, it traces the development of The Fame Gang’s lineup. There were three separate lineups of the The Fame Gang. Each lineup featured some legendary musicians. They played their part in the sound and success of many Fame Records’ release, and numerous records recorded at Fame Studios. So, it made sense for The Fame Gang to release their own records.

Sadly, The Fame Gang’s recording career was all too brief. They released just a handful of singles, and one album. That represents this legendary house band’s output. The Best Of The Fame Gang feature’s seven tracks that have released before. However, the other eighteen tracks have never been released before. They’re a reminder of one of the hottest house bands, as they deliver their potent and smoking fusion of soul and funk. The Fame Gang’s story began in 1965.

That’s when a little known single Wish You Didn’t Have To Go, was released by Spooner and The Spoons. It was released on Fame Records in 1965. The single passed most people buy. Those that heard Wish You Didn’t Have To Go wondered at the identity of Spooner and The Spoons. Those in the know, realised that Spooner and The Spoons were Fame Records’ house band. That was all that was heard of what became The Fame Gang until 1968.

The Fame Gang Mk. 2 made their recording debut in 1968, when they released Spooky as a single on Atlantic Records. Spooky doesn’t feature on The Best Of The Fame Gang. Indeed, only seven of the twenty-five tracks on Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang have been released before. These tracks showcase The Fame Gang Mk. 3.

As The Fame Gang Mk. 3 took shape, people realised that this latest lineup of the Fame Records’ house band was the best. Playing a huge part in its success was The Fame Gang Mk. 3’s  rhythm section. 

Drummer Freeman Brown laid down the loose, fatback beats. Meanwhile, Jesse Boyce proved a versatile and inventive bassist. Guitarist Junior Lowe added some of his trademark, crystalline, soulful licks. Keyboardist Mickey Buckins was the final piece of the jogsaw. Together, they provided The Fame Gang Mk. 3’s heartbeat. Augmenting The Fame Gang Mk. 3’s rhythm section, were a quartet of horn players. 

This was a new addition. Never before had a horn section been a feature of The Fame Gang. Instead, horns, if required, were overdubbed later. However, the horn section weren’t a permanent fixture at Fame Studios. Instead, they were brought onboard as and when, they were needed. 

Manning the board was Mickey Buckins, another legend of Muscle Shoals’ music. He sprinkled some magic on the sessions, adding colour and texture. With his help, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 became Rick Hall’s secret weapon, accompanying not just those on Fame Records’ roster, but increasingly, the great and good of music. In 1968, Rick Hall signed The Fame Gang Mk. 3 to Fame Records’ roster. They can be heard on The Best Of The Fame Gang.

The earliest recording on The Best Of The Fame Gang, was released in 1969. This was The Fame Gang’s single Soul Feud, a blistering fusion of soul, funk and blues. Searing guitar licks and stabs of blazing horns grab your attention. From there, The Fame Gang Mk. 3’s rhythm section get funky, adding a wah-wah guitar and blistering horns. A bluesy harmonica proves the finishing touch to a truly smoking The Fame Gang Mk. 3. On the flip side of Soul Feud, Grits And Gravy is a driving slice of funk. The version on The Best Of The Fame Gang, is an extended version. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blaxpoloitation soundtrack. Nor would it sound out of place if it been released in 1973. Rick Hall had caught a break with his latest lineup of The Fame Gang.

Later in 1969, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 released what would be their one, and only, album, Solid Gold From Muscle Shoals. It featured fifteen tracks, including many cover versions. They were recorded at Fame Recording Studios 603 East Avalon Ave. Muscle Shoals. This included The Isley Brothers’ It’s Your Thing, Isaac Hayers and David Porter’s Your Good Thing and Curtis Mayfield’s Choice Of Colors. Sometimes, on Choice Of Colors, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 take the track in the direction of jazz. This is perfect, as it allows The Fame Gang Mk. 3 to showcase their versatility, switching between the soulfulness of It’s Your Thing and Choice Of Colors, to the heavy duty, futuristic funk of It’s Your Thing. Despite the quality of music on Solid Gold From Muscle Shoals, the album didn’t sell well. It didn’t look as if The Fame Gang were going to become stars in their own right.

As the seventies dawned, The Fame Gang released another single, Twangin’ My Thang. It was penned by Travis Wammack, and features The Fame Gang fusing funk and soul. There’s even a nod to Sly and The Family. However, this isn’t the only version of Twangin’ My Thang on The Best Of The Fame Gang. The closing track is an alternate take of Twangin’ My Thang. On the flip side of Twangin’ My Thang, was Turn My Chicken Loose. It’s a novelty slice of uber funky music. This brought to an end The Fame Gang’s recording career.

Sadly, The Fame Gang’s discography numbers just one album, and a trio of singles. However, for forty-five years, another seventeen tracks have lain unloved in the Fame Records’ vaults. They feature The Fame Gang fusing funk and soul seamlessly. It’s a joy to behold, and will appeal to anyone who likes their music funky or soulful.

Among the unissued tracks are covers of Syl Stone’s Stand and the Jimi Hendrix classic Hey Joe. That’s not all. The Fame Gang rework the blues classic Smokestack Lightning. Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island is also given an makeover. Elements of funk, soul and jazz are combined by The Fame Gang. They’re just a few of the highlights. Other highlights included the slow, languid Shoalin’ and Muscle Soul, a fusion of jazz and funk. Twenty Five Miles, which Johnny Bristol cowrote with Harvey Fuqua, Edwin Hatcher and Bert Russell takes on new meaning. That’s thanks to The Fame Gang’s talent and versatility. 

Throughout Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang, which was recently released by BGP, an imprint of Ace Records, The Fame Gang Mk. 3 never miss a beat. They take familiar tracks in a new direction. This they were able to do effortlessly. Each of the members of The Fame Gang Mk. 3 seemed to know exactly what the others were going to do next. They also knew how to give a track a new twist. 

This they do throughout Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang. They’re an inventive and versatile group of musicians. That’s why many regard The Fame Gang Mk. 3 as the  greatest lineup of Fame Records’ legendary house band.   However, The Fame Gang Mk. 2 enjoyed huge success, and were seen as the go-to band for many of artists. That would be the case with The Fame Gang Mk. 3. So, choosing the best lineup of The Fame Gang isn’t easy.

What it’s possible to say, is that they were one of the greatest house bands in soul music. That’s apparent when you listen to Grits and Gravy-The Best Of The Fame Gang, which features The Fame Gang Mk. 3, which Rick Hall regards as Fame Records finest house band. Coming from such a legendary producer, that’s high praise indeed.

GRITS AND GRAVY-THE BEST OF THE FAME GANG.

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