JACK ASHFORD-JUST PRODUCTIONS.

JACK ASHFORD-JUST PRODUCTIONS.

By 1966, Jack Ashford was a familiar face in Detroit’s music jazz scene. The Philly born musician had been a member of Marvin Gaye’s touring band before he became a Funk Brother. 

Through meeting the Motown musicians, Jack decided to base himself in Detroit. Soon, he became part of Motown’s legendary studio band The Funk Brothers. Jack’s trademark tambourine sound became a staple of Motown recordings. However, Jack was more than a tambourine player. He studied arrangers, engineers and producer and soon, was able to learn from them. Jack was also a talented songwriter. Essentially, Jack Ashford was a musical all-rounder, which made him perfect for Pied Piper Productions. His partner would be Mike Terry.

Mike Terry played baritone saxophone first in Popcorn Wylie’s Mohawks, then with Joe Hunter’s band. Like many musicians, he gravitated to Motown, which is the sixties, was one of the most successful labels. He was part of the touring and studio bands, and his trademark sound features on numerous Motown recordings. Despite being on Motown’s payroll, Mike, like other musicians, including Jack Ashford, felt the fees they were paid weren’t enough. So the pair left Motown.

Having left Motown, Jack and Mike briefly worked for Ed Wingate’s Golden World label. Mike with George Clinton and Sidney Barnes, formed the Geo-Si-Mik songwriting and production partnership. At the same time, Jack and Mike formed a songwriting and production partnership. One of their songs, Lonely One, for The San Reno Strings album on Ric-Tic came to the attention of Sheldon “Shelley” Haines. He realized this was a partnership to watch.

He was right. Jack and Mike head to Jack’s hometown Philly, to produce I Can’t Change for The Sensations with Yvonne Baker. This was their first production, which was released on the Junior label. Later in 1965, the pair produced Joe Douglas for the Playhouse label. With Bobby Martin penning the B-Side, this was a single that was has made in Philly written all over it. Ironically, it wasn’t in Philly that Jack made his name as a producer. 

Instead, it was in Detroit, where with Mike Terry they formed Pied Piper Productions. The pair founded their production vehicle in 1966. For their recordings, Pied Piper Productions borrowed members of The Funk Brothers. Similarly, some of Motown’s top arrangers would work on recordings by Willie Kendrick, Lorraine Chandler, Mikki Farrow, Tony Hester, Nancy Wilcox, Rose Batiste and September Jones. Despite this all-star backing band, the Pied Pier Productions didn’t enjoy the commercial success they deserved. This would have important ramifications for Pied Piper Productions.

By 1967, Pied Piper Productions had closed its doors for the final time. After the company ceased trading, Mike Terry continued to work for many other labels. His sound was constantly in demand. There was it seemed, no shortage of work for Mike Terry. It was the same for Jack Ashford and Shelley Haims.

Both Jack Ashford and Shelley Haims worked at a number of Detroit’s smaller labels. This he did, using his latest production vehicle Just Productions. It was kept busy, with Jack Ashford produced singles at Awake, Buddha, Jay-Walking, Premium Stuff, Sepia 1, Sepia 2, Soul Disc, Soul Dimension and Triple B. This included for artists like Eddie Parker, Al Gardner, Billy Sha-Rae, The Smith Brothers, Softouch, The Four Sonics, Lee Rogers and Sandra Richardson. Tracks by these artists feature on Jack Ashford-Just Productions, which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. These tracks were released between 1968 and 1977. That’s apart from six previously unreleased tracks. They’re a reminder a truly talented producer as his carer took shape.

Opening Jack Ashford-Just Productions is the first of three singles from Eddie Parker’s solo career, I’m Gone. This was one of Just Productions’ earliest releases. Jack had discovered Eddie Parker, and realising he had potential. The only problem was, money was tight. This time round, Jack didn’t have any financial backers for Just Productions. With money tight, Jack had to think on his feet.

Jack who had previously written songs with Lorraine Chandler, had brought her into Just Productions. She proved invaluable in all aspects of the business. This included helping Jack rework a track they had written for The Hesitations. That’s What Love Is became I’m Gone. Eddie Parker’s despairing vocal recorded using the backing track to That’s What Love Is. I’m Gone was then released by the Aware label, and would become a favourite on the Northern Soul scene during the seventies. By then, Jack and Eddie were still working together.

In 1975, Eddie Parker released Body Chains as a single on Prodigal. It was penned by Wanda Crawford, Lorraine Chandler and Jack. He arranged and produced Body Chains which features a soul-baring vocal from Eddie. That’s the case with the unreleased version on Jack Ashford-Just Productions. The third single from Eddie’s solo career is But If You Must Go, another Jack Ashford and Lorraine Chandler composition, When it was released in 1976, it was on the MAM Miko label. Featuring a vocal that’s outpouring of emotion and hurt, it’s the best of the three singles.

Sweet As Honey is another song from the Jack Ashford and Lorraine Chandler songwriting partnership. It was recorded by Al Gardner, and released on Jack Ashford’s Sepia 2 label in 1969. Soulful with gospel-tinged harmonies, Sweet As Honey was the perfect vehicle for Al Gardner’s talents. Sadly, the single failed commercially, but later became a favourite on the Northern Soul scene. Tucked away on the B-Side of Sweet As Honey, was I Can’t Stand It. It’s a heart-wrenching ballad produced by Lorraine Chandler, that shows another side to Al Gardner.

In 1968, The Four Sonics Plus One recorded the Jack Ashford and Andrew Terry penned Tell Me You’re Mine. It was arranged by Jack, while Lorraine Chandler took charge of production. She’s responsible for a soulful stomper which has made in Detroit written all over it. Later in 1969, The Four Sonics released Blue Velvet as a single on the Triple B label. Hidden away n the flip-side, was Where Are You, which. It was written by Jack and Lorraine Chandler with Johnny Dixon. Where Are You was produced by Lorraine, and becomes a quite beautiful, uptempo slice of sweet soul from The Four Sonics.  

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, Just Productions was still going strong. Sandra Richardson was just the latest artist hoping that Just Productions could transform her fortunes. She had been signed to Buddah Records earlier in the seventies, but commercial success eluded her. She was hoping her luck would change when Stay Here With Me was released on Inter-Soul in 1974. It was penned by Lorraine Chandler and George Rountree. Jack Ashford arranged and produced this fusion of soul and funk. At the heart of this irresistible and melodic song, is Sandra’s needy, hopeful vocal. She brings the lyrics to life, delivering them as if she’s lived them. That’s the case with the two unreleased tracks from Sandra Richardson. 

Despair fills Sandra Richardson’s vocal during The Ring; while Deserted Garden is a beautiful ballad penned by Jack and George Rountree. Sadly, commercial success continued to elude Sandra Richardson, and her recording career was over by the mid-eighties. 

The Smith Brothers only ever released one single, There Can Be A Better Way, which featured Payback’s A Drag on the B-Side. The single was released on Soul Dimension in 1974. By then, Jack and Lorraine Chandler had formed a songwriting partnership with George Rountree. They penned There Can Be A Better Way, an irresistible, soulful stroller. It was produced by Jack and Lorraine. So was Payback’s A Drag, which has a slightly tougher, funkier sound. However, both songs are a reminder of a talented group who could’ve reached greater heights.

Jack Ashford wasn’t just an arranger, producer, musician and songwriter. He was also an occasional artist. He released I’ll Fly To Your Open Arms in 1977. It’s another song from the pen of Jack and George Rountree. Soulful, sultry and dance-floor friendly, I’ll Fly To Your Open Arms sees Jack Ashford head in the direction of disco. However, Jack’s other contribution is quite different.

Two years previously, in 1975, Jack Ashford and The Sound Of New Detroit released Do The Choo-Choo (Part 1) as a single. It was released on the Blaze label, a short-lived subsidiary of Prodigal. At the same time, Do The Choo-Choo (Part 1 & 2) were recorded, so was an uber funky, but soulful vocal version. It’s never been released before, and makes its debut on Jack Ashford-Just Productions.

In 1975, Softouch released After You Give Your All (What Else Is There To Give) as a single on the Prodigal label. It was penned by Jack with Sandra Richardson and George Rountree. Jack produced what was Softouch’s only release for Prodigal. It’s like a melodic musical express train as funk and soul melt into one. No wonder Fantasy Records signed Softouch in 1978. Sadly, commercial success eluded Alicia Ingram, Candice Ghant, Opal Jones and Paula Denson.

My last choice from Jack Ashford-Just Productions is Ray Gant and Arabian Knights’ Don’t Leave Me Baby. It was penned and produced by Jack and Lorraine Chandler. Don’t Leave Me Baby was released on the Jay-Walking label, and features a needy, heart wrenching vocal from Ray. It’s delivered against a slow, dramatic arrangement. The result is another song that would find favour among the Northern Soul scene.

Jack Ashford-Just Productions picks up where the story left off on Pied Piper Follow Your Soul. Just like Jack Ashford-Just Productions, it was released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Records. The Just Productions years tell the next chapter in the Jack Ashford story, and covers the period between 1968 and 1977. 

During this period, the Detroit music scene was no longer as vibrant. Motown had moved to L.A, in 1972. This left a huge void in the Detroit music scene. However, by then, Jack Ashford was mainly working with Detroit’s smaller labels. He discovered new and up-and-coming artists, wrote and produced songs for then. Eddie Parker was a case in point.

When Jack Ashford met Eddie Parker, he spotted his potential. so with Lorraine Chandler, cowrote I’m Gone and then produced it. I’m Gone song was then shopped to labels, and ended up being released on the Aware label. Just Productions was a one stop musical shop, where Jack worked with some of Detroit’s most talented arrangers, musicians, producers and songwriters. They feature on Jack Ashford-Just Productions accompanying Eddie Parker, Al Gardner, Billy Sha-Rae, The Smith Brothers, Softouch, The Four Sonics, Lee Rogers and Sandra Richardson. Sadly, commercial success eluded many of these artists.

It wasn’t that soul was no longer as popular. Far from it. Philly, Jack Ashford’s hometown, was the soul capital of America. The Mighty Three, Thom Bell, Gamble and Huff were responsible for producing some of the most successful Philly Soul. This included The Delfonics, Detroit Spinners and The Stylistics, to The O’Jays, Three Degrees and Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes Philly Soul. Jack Ashford must have looked on ruefully and enviously. Detroit’s soul scene was in the doldrums, while his hometown was the soul capital of America. Worse was to come.

From 1975 to July 12th 1979, disco was the musical flavour of the month. Suddenly, soul was yesterday’s music. It didn’t matter how good the soul music Just Productions was releasing, commercial success continued to elude their releases. However, these releases would eventually find an appreciative audience.

Nearly forty years later, and Jack Ashford is getting the recognition that he so richly deserves. This includes his work with Pied Piper Productions and Just Productions. In both cases, Jack Ashford worked with some of Detroit’s most talented musicians, arrangers, producers and songwriters, and was responsible for music that’s variously beautiful, dramatic, melodic and memorable. It’s also soulful, funky and dance-floor friendly. 

That’s why many of the songs on Jack Ashford-Just Productions have found an audience within the UK’s Northern Soul scene. They’re favourites of DJs and dancers. However, these songs are also appreciated and loved by discerning connoisseurs of soul. They’ll welcome the release of Jack Ashford-Just Productions, which documents the next chapter in the long and illustrious career of Jack Ashford.

JACK ASHFORD-JUST PRODUCTIONS.

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