The Soul Of The Memphis Boys.

Label: Kent Soul.

Somewhat belatedly, the Memphis Boys are starting to receive the recognition that they deserve. After all, they were one of the top studio groups of the sixties. They were the house band at Chips Moman’s American Studios and are up there with the studio groups at FAME in Muscle Shoals, and Stax and Hi Records in Memphis.  

During the sixties, the Memphis Boys accompanied the great and good of music, and can be heard on recordings by everyone from Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Womack to James Carr, Arthur Conley, Ben E. King and Dusty Springfield. These are just a few of the artists that the Memphis Boys accompanied at Chips Moman’s American Studios.

These artists also feature on The Soul Of The Memphis Boys. It’s a new twenty-four track compilation that was recently released by Kent Soul. This new compilation is a reminder of a remarkable house band who were akin to a hit making machine. However, they were originally two sets of session players.

One set of session musicians were based at the Royal Studio, where they worked for Willie Mitchell at Hi Records. The other band were based at the Phillips Studio which was home to Stan Kesler, and was where  the recordings for Sun took place. Chips Moman decided to combine the two bands in 1967. Little did he know the success the Memphis Boys would have.

Bobby Wood remembers: “We didn’t know until we moved to Nashville just what a legacy the 827 Thomas Street Band would leave behind. In just four-and-a-half years, there were 122 chart records in four different charts: pop, R&B, country and jazz.” This hit making machine feature on The Soul Of The Memphis Boys.

Opening the compilation is This Is Soul by King Curtis and The Kingpins. This was Curtis Ousley composition was produced by Tom Down and Tommy Cogbill. It featured on the  B-Side of (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay when it was released as a single on Atco in 1968. Sadly, this a sultry, soulful hidden gem didn’t feature on the 1968 album Sweet Soul. However, it’s the perfect way to open The Soul Of The Memphis Boys.

When Bobby Marchan recorded a single with Buddy Killen in May 1967, the song they recorded was Rockin’ Pneumonia. This meant that Someone To Take Your Place was left to languish on the B-Side when it was released in 1967. It features a masterful performance from The Memphis Boys who provide the perfect backdrop for a vocal that’s full of emotion on a track that epitomises everything that’s good about Southern Soul.

Chips Moman produced Broadway Walk for Bobby Womack. It was released on the Minit label in 1967 but failed to find an audience. To rub salt into the wound the song didn’t feature on his debut album Fly Me To The Moon. It was the one that got away for Bobby Womack.

By 1967, Jerry Lee Lewis was signed to Smash Records, and hadn’t enjoyed a hit single since 1964. He had worked wit various producers, and in May 1967 recorded Soul My Way with Jerry Kennedy and The Memphis Boys. One of the highlights of the album Holdin’ On which features an impassioned and soulful vocal from man who will forever be known as The Killer. 

In 1968, James Carr entered the studio with producers Quinton M. Claunch and Rudolph V. Russell to record What Can I Call My Own. It features a vocal full of despair and bristling with emotion from one of the greatest Southern Soul singers.

Tom Dowd travelled to Memphis with Arthur Conley  to produced People Sure Act Funny. On the B-Side was a song they had written,Burning Fire for Arthur Conley. While the single was a minor hit, one can only wonder what would’ve happened had Burning Fire been released as a single? It features a soul-baring vocal from Arthur Conley and a peerless performance from the Memphis Boys.

Solomon Burke had signed to Atlantic Records in 1961, and seven  years later, when he recorded Ivory Joe Hunter’s Since I Met You Baby enlisted the help of the Memphis Boys. They were joined by producer Tom Dowd as Solomon Burke recorded a languid cover the features a rueful vocal and an effortless vocal from one of the giants of soul.

Joe Tex recorded a cover of Willie Nelson’s Funny How Time Slips Away for his Soul Country album. It was released by Atlantic Records in 1968 and features a rueful vocal from Joe Tex who breaths new meaning into the lyrics.

He Called Me Baby was released as a single by Ella Washington on Sound Stage in 1968. She transforms this country standard with the help of the Memphis Boys gives it a soulful makeover. Reggie Young’s glistening guitar and braying horns combine with a soul-baring vocal to create the definitive version of this song. It deserved to fare better than thirty-eight in the US R&B charts.

So Much Love was written by Goffin and King and in 1968 was covered by Dusty Springfield on her album Dusty In Memphis. It was produced by Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Martin and is one of the highlights of what was the finest album of Dusty Springfield’s career.

In February 1969, Elvis Presley returns to Memphis to record Kentucky Rain with producer Chips Moman. Backed by the Memphis Boys he delivers an impassioned vocal on this stunning slice of blue-eyed soul that reached number sixteen on the US Billboard 100.

Arthur Alexander signed to Warner Bros. in 1971, and in 1972 released it his eponymous album. It was produced by Tommy Cogbill, and featured Rainbow Road, a Donnie Fritts and Dan Penn composition. It’s tailor-made for Arthur Alexander, and he delivers a breathtakingly beautiful and captivating cover of this ballad. This is the perfect way to close The Soul Of The Memphis Boys.

The twenty-four tracks on The Soul Of The Memphis Boy feature the great and good of music are a reminder of one of the greatest studio bands of the late-sixties and early seventies. Between 1967 and 1972, the Memphis Boys worked with the great and good of music. Everyone from Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Womack to James Carr, Arthur Conley, Arthur Alexander and Dusty Springfield travelled to American Studios and worked with the Memphis Boys. 

They were often asked to help kickstart or rejuvenate ailing or failing careers. Sometimes, they helped an artist reinvent themselves musically. Other times, it was a case of ensuring an artist stayed relevant in what was a hugely competitive musical marketplace. The Memphis Boys were able to do this and much more.

The key to the Memphis Boys’ success was their talent and versatility. They were able to seamlessly switch between disparate genres, often on the same album. That was one reason why for five years, they were a hit making machine and one of America’s top house bands. They were up there with Motown’s Funk Brothers, and the studio groups at FAME in Muscle Shoals and Stax and Hi Records in Memphis. The Memphis Boys could hold their own against the best. Proof, if any was needed, is the music on The Soul Of The Memphis Boys, which is a tantalising taste of the legendary studio band’s rich musical legacy.

The Soul Of The Memphis Boys. 

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