House of Broken Hearts by E. Mark Windle

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House of Broken Hearts by E. Mark Windle cover

Regarding what has been pretty much an obsession with 1960s southern soul themes since I started writing some years ago, the latest project was undertaken in an attempt to resolve one nagging omission. A fair chunk of my travels (virtual and otherwise) has been spent researching the Carolinas, Virginia, Louisiana and a wee bit of Texas, to cover beach music, soul influenced garage bands and black vocal groups for It’s Better To Cry and then Rhythm Message. But I was always conscious that one particular southern state was well overdue attention.

Among the most obvious musical centres in Tennessee would be Memphis and Nashville. These cities may be separated by a couple of hundred miles - no distance at all in US terms of course – but both have rich and intriguing musical identities; to the casual observer, for culturally contrasting reasons.

Memphis’ musical heritage is undeniable, and there is no danger of it being eroded by the passage of time. Indeed it is comforting that there is an abundance of literature celebrating all aspects of the Memphis musical tapestry whether it be Beale Street, Sun Records, Stax, Graceland and rock ‘n’ roll, blues or jazz. As a writer looking for an R&B 'angle', I guessed that Stuart Cosgrove would maybe have it covered as his next plan after Detroit ’67 (no doubt adding a political slant to previous reference works by Peter Guralnik and the like).

So then, what of Nashville? Well, much of its soul music history has until recent years been obscured by the city’s accolade as the country music centre of the universe. The Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum proudly stand testament to that. But to say that “Music City” is synonymous with country music is (technically) a contradiction. After all, the term was coined when the Fisk Jubilee Singers came to UK shores to perform their spirituals in the presence of Queen Victoria as part of their university fund raising effort. This would set the scene for future decades of race music, which would only be quashed by eventual dispersion of the local African-American community. Activities to redress the balance from the 1980s onwards include Nashville musician Fred James’ efforts to roll-call blues and soul singers to perform again and in some cases even to recommence recording careers; and a highly praised Night Train exhibition by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, coordinated by museum editor Michael Gray. The CD spin-off from the exhibition was even a Grammy winner. And to this day, the artists from back in the day continue to sing, reminisce and be remembered by others who come to watch them perform regularly in a café off Murfreesboro Pike.

But what does 1960s Nashville have to offer specifically to soul fans from the UK and European underground scenes? Some are no doubt aware of the huge catalogue of Sound Stage 7 and related releases. Enthusiasts of a different genre have long loved the Louisiana swamp blues which found their way onto Ernie Young’s Excello. But to some younger generations or to those on the other side of the pond, Nashville soul music output sometimes appeared a little disconnected from the rest of what was going on in the music industry at the time. Was the R&B ‘thing’ in Nashville was just a bit of luck with record industry leaders finding a brief niche with the national soul explosion?

Truth is, it was there all the time. Everything just came together at the right time for soul music. As the back cover blurb of House of Broken Hearts explains:

“….In the 1960s an exciting, vibrant black music scene thrived on Jefferson Street and in surrounding neighbourhoods. Night clubs, bars and theatres provided a focal point for the development of R&B. Ingredients for success were all in place – home grown talent, venues, charismatic DJs and promoters, entrepreneurial record store owners, independent black owned labels, a radio station making hip soul music accessible to teenagers across the southern states, and TV shows which featured local R&B acts. It was even the time for white artists and musicians to experiment with black music; a crossroads where soul met country music. For a brief period at least, the future seemed bright….”

The purpose of this new book is to celebrate the individuals – not just the singers, but industry players, media drivers and record labels; bringing the spotlight once more back to this era. OK, so it’s written from a northern / rare soul enthusiast’s perspective; you’ll find the stories there of Jimmy Church, Frank Howard and the Commanders, Freddie North, Johnny Jones and the King Casuals, Joe Simon, Jackie Beavers, The Spidells and many more. But I hope you will discover more than a mere collection of biographies. It is story of dreams, exciting times, and harsh reality. Were it not for ill-planned urbanisation decisions as mentioned earlier which displaced the black community - and inevitably much of its musical culture – perhaps Nashville could have forged an R&B legacy comparable to cities of the north.

Music City is long overdue recognition for its role in popularising soul as a genre. The book cements part of this history with some thorough research and a whole lot of help from those veterans who still keep the flame alive. If you’re passing through Nashville, be sure to call by Carol Anne’s Cafe.

House of Broken Hearts is a 180 page paperback with over 100 colour images (label scans, photographs and memorabilia, many of which are made publicly available for the first time). Cover design by Jason Thornton, of Philly Sound fame. Pre-order available now until publication date 1 April 2017. RRP £19.99. Pre-order price £17.99 (10% discount from RRP). All orders will be dispatched on or just before publication.

Blurb and ordering details here...

https://a-nickel-and-a-nail.myshopify.com/collections/books/products/ssss

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a highlight post of this just published news item

House of Broken Hearts by E. Mark Windle

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note the below comments were posted originally under a diff comment system - background changes to the system meant that had to transfer them across by hand

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Kenb  

Posted March 18 · Flag

I got Mark's book delivered today-Sat 18th. And read it. I just couldn't put it down. Fascinating accounts on a much overlooked and overdue subject. I'm not a book critic as such...I just loved it.

Favourite chapter for me is 13.

congratulations, Mark

atb

ken

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Windlesoul  

Posted March 19 (edited) · Flag

 

Thanks for the comments Ken. Chapter 13 - the Paramount Four, Poodles and Southern City Records....

Available from A Nickel And A Nail at https://a-nickel-and-a-nail.myshopify.com/collections/books/products/ssss

 

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note the above comments were posted originally under a diff comment system - background changes to the system meant that had to transfer them across by hand

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CORE STOCK JUST IN AND OFFICIAL RELEASE TODAY !!!  

Featuring the likes of Jimmy Church, The King Casuals, Frank Howard, Freddie North, Paramount 4, Sandra King, the Hytones, Spidells, Exotics, Alpha Zoe Hall, Avons, Peggy Gaines, Neptunes, Herbert Hunter, Earl Gaines, a whole host of Sound Stage 7 artists and the blue eyed soul of Athens Rogues, Berkshire 7, Charlie Romans and Dan Folger

- FOLLOW THE LINK:

https://a-nickel-and-a-nail.myshopify.com/collections/books/products/ssss

Below, Mr Bergen White doing his bit for the book promo! Bergen was the masterful arranger of so many Sound Stage 7 releases and other Nashville related soul sounds, including recordings by Joe Simon, Margie Hendrix, Johnny Bragg, and Ann Sexton to name but a few.

 

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Some of my blog ramblings on writing the House of Broken Hearts, and the connection betweeen the northern scene and Nashville R&B in this link: 

https://a-nickel-and-a-nail.myshopify.com/blogs/news

Also Sandra King ("Leave it up to the boys" for Bell) (now Sandra Stewart) has sent me this, her and her husband doing their bit for the book promo, pictured here in sunny Texas last week

 

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Edited by Windlesoul
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From the blog on A Nickel And A Nail:

 

I’ve been asked a few times now what the rationale was for selecting the particular artists and recordings in House of Broken Hearts. The purpose of the book was not necessarily to be a panacea of Nashville soul history; more a deep dig into the stories of artists and recordings from my world (an underground scene on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic). Even at that though, my immediate guess is that fans of Charlie Romans’ “24 Hour Service” are a different breed - and likely a generation apart – from collectors who would be seeking a copy of the Paramount Four. Of course, there are subgenres-within-subgenres in soul music, some more subtle than others. And then, Nashville itself gives us true diversity; whether pop-soul blue eyed from Hickory, earthy swamp blues and early R&B of Excello, or even the Motown and big production sound that Ted Jarrett and Bob Holmes sometimes tried to emulate with their acts.

It’s all about perspective. As an actual or potential purchaser of this book perhaps the reason you are drawn to this project is, like me, you have some innate sense of curiosity and desire to make a tangible connection to these artists who are “stuff of legend” (as it says on the blurb) - whichever part of the soul scene you relate to. I wanted to convey the extent of Nashville’s output in influencing our underground scene across the decades and through the scene’s evolution, beyond just the part I associate with. But also more broadly, I wanted to capture how the city contributed to the national, even global, popularisation of R&B. In retrospect, I should probably should have written HOBH before the projects I undertook which focused on the Carolinas and Virginia. The power of Nashville’s WLAC radio station with its 50,000 watt broadcasting capability was undeniable in spreading the good word of soul music in the 1960s to every corner of the US. I first learned of the influence WLAC had on young white teenagers from the eastern seaboard when researching beach music origins and soul influenced garage bands. John Richbourg and his pals provided not only easy access R&B for the first time, but also inspired many to start their own bands in high school or college.

I say that one purpose of the book was to make the artists ‘real’. In truth though, a connection between Nashville and fans of our insular northern soul scene was there all the time. Maybe it was just a lack of formal realisation and acknowledgement. Since HOBH was published, a number of readers have commented how they remembered buying Monument releases of Sound Stage 7 45s on the European continent in the late 60s, and UK soul fans who bought from Ernie Young and Randy Woods’ Nashville based mail order set-ups as teenagers. The professional relationship and activities between Garry Cape from Yorkshire and John Richbourg’s label interests would satisfy the continued demand for Nashville soul from within the British northern soul scene, Holland, Japan and elsewhere well into the 70s.

Regarding a writer’s USP, it is also a story of the convergence of talent from two distinct musical genres. On the one hand, the rich cultural heritage from the black community which originated from the early Fisk University days; and also that of Nashville’s talented white country musicians, song writers and producers. Part open mindedness to experiment with the soul phenomenon, part industry looking for the next opportunity. There are many examples of collaboration. Much of the Sound Stage 7 catalogue was arranged and produced by the cream of Memphis and Nashville based musicians. Music Row’s Pete Drake, later associated more with Bob Dylan and Tammy Wynnette, decided a few years earlier to take a risk with some white boys from Georgia (OK, so fame eluded those particular guys but their efforts would be embraced decades later by the northern soul scene). Transferable skills left us with some masterpieces on both ends of the soul spectrum, between the gritty side of R&B and sophisticated, well-orchestrated beat balladry like “Way of the Crowd”.

At the end of the day though, House of Broken Hearts is a celebration of Nashville’s black music history. And there’s still plenty left to be explored and documented. The soul story is be no means finished (a book could be written on the Richbourg / SS7 catalogue alone). But there’s a wider yarn to be spun. Whether referencing spirituals, jazz, gospel or blues, the black community was thriving musically way before the arrival of soul music, and to an extent continues to do so today. Maybe that’s a job for an obsessive fan of those specific genres; one which I and I’m sure others will be eagerly anticipating.

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