Date Of Induction: 01 November 2014 Category: Male Vocalist
Edwin Starr’s name will always reverberate wherever soul music is discussed. His story is a typical one of talent v circumstance and although he made a good living from his vocal skills he will always be remembered in his homeland for the one song that, in 1970, pushed him into the national spotlight, Edwin Starr — “War b/w He Who Picks A Rose” — Gordy 7101. But as any self respecting fan can tell you, there was so much more to the man’s career than this one song.
Edwin Starr was born in Nashville, as Charles Edwin Hatcher on 21 January in 1942. His father, a serviceman, was constantly on the move, but the family finally settled in Cleveland, Ohio when Charles was three years old which is where the young future soul icon first developed his interest in music. Having attended Cunard Junior High School it was as a student at the city’s East Tech High School, that Charles became a member of his first group, The Futuretones. As Philadelphia cornered the market in the 'bird' group names, so it seems that Cleveland groups had a penchant for the 'tones'' in their names and The Futuretones group name being derived from an existing local group. The Metronomes that had already established itself and looked like it may gain national recognition when they secured a recording contract with the Reserve label owned by local entrepreneurs Sandy Beck and Henry George. Unfortunately The Metronomes would struggle to get past a couple of releases but their lead vocalist was a certain Mr Sonny Turner, who of course went on to become the voice of The Platters on their Popcorn Wylie-Tony Hester penned classics. Another 'tones' group of the day that was blazing a musical trail from Cleveland was the multiracial outfit, Dave and The Sharptones.
The Futuretones set about rehearsing and eventually put an act together that gained them winners trophies in local competitions leading to employment on the local Cleveland club circuit. The group were self sufficient in hat many of the groups of the day were harmonisers whereas The Futuretones comprised their own musical team consisting of Russell Evans (guitar), Gus Hawkins (sax), Pinhead (trumpet), Julius Robertson (bass), and Brownie (drummer). (1) The group improved with every performance, winning a number of competitions against their rivals and once they had High School graduation behind them in 1956, were keen to develop their musical careers playing all the local hotspots of the day with such fantastic sounding names as The Chatterbox, The Lucky Strike and The Majestic Hotel, which was the location that future Temptations, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams would develop their friendship alongside that other future Northern Soul icon, Kell Osborne.
Having won numerous talent competitions and gained something of a following, the young aspiring group were invited to perform on the area’s premier TV talent show, The Gene Carroll Talent Show that aired on WEWS on Sundays and would eventually reach the milestone of 25 years of continuous shows. The group secured a recording deal around the same time and a solitary single, The Futuretones — “Roll On b/w I Know” — Tress TR1 is the groups only vinyl legacy. The top side is a rock n roll outing with the customary guitar solos and to be honest sounds like a hundred other songs from the same time. The flip however is a doo wop inspired ballad on which the young Charles and the rest of the group get a chance to highlight their combined vocal talents.
Uncle Sam now required Charles to do his duty and for the next two years Charles untilised his singing ability to entertain his fellow troops, both at home and in Europe where he US military still deployed a large military force in what was then West Germany. In his discharge in 1962 looked to resume his singing aspirations with The Futuretones but on realising the impetus had dwindled, cut his losses and accepted a position with Bill Doggett’s show band, a position he stuck with for the next couple of years. Eventually feeling that he needed to kickstart his solo career he moved on but not before being advised by Don Briggs, Bill Dogett’s manager that he should undergo a name change. Briggs was convinced he young vocalist had it in him to become a star and suggested a play on that theme. With Charles utilising his middle name his alter ego of Mr Edwin Starr was born. His introduction to Ed Wingate, the Detroit businessman who also owned Golden World studios came via one of his last appearances with Bill Dogget’s outfit, an appearance at the legendary 20 Grand in Detroit. In the audience that night was Lebaron Taylor, local DJ and musical impresario who was struck by the vocalists and arranged a session at Golden World. Whilst singing with Doggett’s band, Mr Hatcher had laid the foundations of a song that took advantage of the popular spy themes of the era and it was this song that they selected to be his first solo release on Wingate’s Ric-Tic label. Little did they realise that the song would capture the imagination of a group of fans in UK and become one of the 45s that started a whole musical movement known as.... Northern Soul.
The opening salvo of Edwin Starr — “Agent 00 Soul b/w Instrumental” — Ric Tic 103, delivered by Motown’s moonlighting Funk Brothers is nothing short of monumental. The deep rich bass sets the beat whilst the horns and vibes draw you in. The backing voices atmospheric, single phrased sentence, “Agent Double O Soul”, paves the way for a tinkling piano to introduce the man himself who, once he's let you know that he, “digs rock n roll music”, delivers one of the all time great soul performances of Detroit’s mid sixties golden era. Co-written by LeBaron Taylor under his nom de plume of B Sharpley, it’s a great example of the sound that Taylor would eventually develop alongside his musical partner Don Davis with their Solid Hitbound Productions. The release became an instant local smash and eventually climbed the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at #21 whilst it nestled at a very respectable #8 on the RnB equivalent. All this despite having to be reissued as ‘Double-0-Soul’ due to some DJs not being able to work out the correct pronunciation of the title! Following this initial success, Ric Tic, Taylor and Edwin Starr seduced the record buying public with a series of releases that helped Wingate’s company develop enough chart action for Berry Gordy to look over his shoulder with a certain amount of trepidation.
The next release, Edwin Starr — “Backstreet b/w Instrumental” — Ric Tic 107 continued the developing Solid Hitbound sound with another Starr/Taylor penned uptempo outing full of crashing drum fills, angelic backing singers, burping sax interlopes and, right in the centre, is Mr Hatcher’s unique impassioned, expressive vocal, displaying what made him what he was as he chastises the staid folks who live on Main Street and his preference for the more fun loving folks on the backstreet! Although not matching the success of the first outing, it nevertheless just missed out on a Top 30 RnB slot, stalling at #33. If proof were needed that Starr, (and Wingate’s Ric Tic logo), were here to stay, it came with the next release.
Edwin Starr — “Stop Her On Sight, (SOS) b/w I Have Faith In You” — Ric Tic 109, it could be argued is the pinnacle of his Ric Tic period. All his releases feature a fanastic hook be it the embedded in the music or in the lyrics and this performance probably highlights that characteristic more than any other with its distinctive piano riff mimicking the emergency mayday morse-code of Save Our Souls. As fantastic as this top of the range dancer is with its uptempo, heavy drum and bass line, wonderfully aggressive sax and atmospheric backing of ‘doo doo doo do dos’ accompanying Edwin’s magnificently hot blooded presentation of his lament over his losing his ‘baby’ is, for many the flip is actually Edwin’s all time greatest performance. In fact, it’s a product of the amalgamation of the era's premier music makers and each one of them proving to be, at that moment in time, right at the top of their game.
From the menacing, rumbling piano , that diminishes as the powerful drum and string combo announce the opening “I Have Faith In You Baby” which is delivered by a note perfect angelic set of backing singers, the song simply oozes quality right out of its musical starting blocks. Edwin’s story of blind devotion to his girl, despite the warnings from those around him, is told in just about as an impassioned, heartfelt way as it ever could be. Although a second version of the song appeared a little later on the flip of Doni Burdick — “Bari Track b/w I Have Faith In You” — Sound Impression Records 6808 and even accepting that Mr Burdick did indeed do it credible justice, it pales against the maestros original. When fans of Detroit’s soulful musical landscape gather together, inevitably the songs that get the heads nodding in appreciation are songs like this. Timeless, great musicianship, great production, fantastic song sung by a fantastic singer. The attribute of real musical excellence is when it all sounds so effortless... never has the adage, 'form is temporary but class is permanent', been so pertinent than when appreciating the performance on his particular 45. The ‘SOS’ side dragged Edwin back into the Hot 100, delivering a Top 50 spot (#48) alongside a #9 on the RnB chart. Probably more significant to UK fans is that it put him on the Top 40 radio playlists when it peaked at #35. Mr Starr had a 1966 hit in UK and he headed there to make the most of it. Back in Detroit though you could hear Edwin's vocal tribute to local WKNR radio DJ, Scott Regan "Scotts on Swingers, on the Radio, Scotts on Swingers, on the Radio!" a version he'd recorded over the SOS backing track. Regan was an influential radio broadcaster who would later host 'Motown Mondays' at a local night hot spot :The Roostertail and I guess a little mutual backscratching wouldn't go amiss eh?
As well as touring UK that year, Edwin Starr enjoyed a significant boost back home too, having been involved in three other successful chart breaking singles. In March that year a white group from Livonia Michigan, under the guidance of John Rhys-Eddins, (co writer of Tobi Legends — “Time Will Pass You By” — Mala 591), had recorded and released one of Edwin’s songs and The Shades Of Blue — Oh How Happy b/w Little Orphan Boy - Impact 1007 and had rocketed up the Hot 100 to #12. Mr Starr now had a smash a songwriter too. In addition to this, Ric Tic released his next single, Edwin Starr — “Headline News b/w Harlem” - Ric Tic 114, which also saw him Hot 100 chart-bound, albeit a lowly #84 and #35 RnB. To round of a cool hat-trick of 1966 hits, Golden World released a song by a Detroit group named The Holidays that Edwin had overdubbed vocal on, and The Holidays — I’ll Be Loving You Forever b/w Making Up Time — GW 36, hit the #63 Pop spot whilst climbing to very respectable #7 RnB, delivering Edwin’s highest RnB success to date. The end of 1966 saw the release of Edwin Starr — “Girls Are Getting Prettier b/w It’s My Turn Now” — Ric Tic 118 and, two catalogue numbers later, as 1967 dawned his fantastic, and much sought after double sider, Edwin Starr — “My Kind Of Woman b/w You’re My Mellow” - Ric Tic 120, was made available.
Edwin’s Starr’s own star was on the rise, a successful singer and songwriter with a developing fan base and part of a record label hat was helping establish Detroit as he go to place for soul music. As he returned to the US and took up an engagement at New York’s famed Apollo Theatre little could he have suspected that that success was about to snatch the rug from under him. Berry Gordy’s house band that were responsible for laying down the tracks that formed his company’s “The Sound Of Young America” were undertaking covert sessions outside of Motown on West Grand Boulevard and that included the majority of the output eminating from Golden World studios. Gordy’s decision to stifle any competition meant that when he made an offer, which was accepted, to Ed Wingate, his biggest rival, Golden World, its masters and artist roster as well as the studio were transferred to Motown.
For the next couple of years Edwin’s wrangles with Motown would stifle his contribution o his output somewhat. A victim of Gordy’s existing A&R stable, Edwin found himself having to compete with the established and chart topping act and in the melee was seen simply another singer. I guess in a way Edwin could have been luckier than some even despite this as none of the artists that were absorbed by Motown from Golden World except Edwin had any real success. Although unhappy at being shunted to a rival company, Edwin set out his musical stall, relying on his strongest asset, his deep rich and soulful voice. His first releases for his new label Gordy, saw him teamed with different producers including Norman Whitfield who had Edwin record a couple of his own penned songs that gained a release back to back with Edwin Starr — “I Want My Baby Back b/w Gonna Keep On Trying ‘Til I Win Your Love” — Gordy 7066.
In 1967 however, with the company’s promotion efforts concentrated on their Big Five (Temptations, Four Tops, Supremes, Mavin Gaye and Stevie Wonder), Edwin’s outings kinda got lost in the musical shuffle resulting in his next couple of releases also missing out on any chart success. 1968 looked like it may well be just as bleak in terms of he Hot 100 as, Edwin Starr — “I’m The Man For You Baby b/w My Weakness Is You” — Gordy 7071, also failed to obtain any national sales. That didn’t stop fans a continent away from discovering the fantastic Whitfield produced dancer on the flip though, a great uptempo tale of unbridled love set over the Funk Brothers metronome like track that put Edwin and The Motown Sound in real harmony for the first time. His Soul Master LP (Gordy #931), a mix of his old Ric Tic outings sprinkled with a few Motown recorded songs appeared on record store shelves but that too could impact any chart of note.
Despite Edwin’s poor showing chart wise, (his next outing, an up-tempo raucus version of Smokey’s classic, “Way Over There”, also bombed), he needed have worried. Just round the corner was a chance to display his raw talent and well as his song-writing skills. Observed by the folks at Motown performing a self penned song on the TV show broadcast from the famed 20 Grand lounge, they asked him to record it. Paired with Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, the production duo recommended a slight change to the intro to the song which, much to Edwin’s chagrin, of course gave them a co-writers credit. Edwin Starr — “25 Miles b/w Love Is The Destination” — Gordy 7083, put Edwin right back in the spotlight via a #6 placing on both the Hot 100 and the Billboard RnB chart. It also hit the Top 40 playlists in UK when it was released on the Tamla Motown label. A somewhat funkier style to Edwin’s earlier waxings, it highlights his evolving sound that would set him up as an individualistic performer at last within the Motown empire.
His later single Edwin Starr — “Time b/w Running Back and Forth” — Gordy 7097, would consolidate his reputation once more with Northern Soul fans, the A side delivering an up-tempo dancer that rammed dance-floors in the mid seventies whilst the flip, a wonderfully haunting mid tempo performance sat unannounced for more than a decade or so until ‘rediscovered’ by the DJ masses.
Looming over the horizon now was the song that would propel him into international recognition. Nestled on the Norman Whitfield produced Temptations LP “ Psychedelic Shack” (Gordy LP # 947), was a song that became a counter culture anthem of the times once Mr Starr had grabbed it by its musical horns, wrestled it to ground, beat it to death and breathed an incredible new zest of life into it. The 1970 release of Edwin Starr — “War b/w He Who Picks A Rose” — Gordy 7101, saw Edwin dominate the proceedings with a series of commanding ‘War...Uh!’ and powerful “Good God Y’all!”s as he poured soulful scorn on the futility of war. Powerful stuff indeed and rumour has it, that due to the US involvement in Vietnam the song was seen as too controversial to risk it as a single with The Temptations and so The Temptations loss was Edwin and ours’ gain and in addition to topping the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Chart he went on to win a Gammy Award for his outstanding performance. Edwin continued his career at Motown throughout the early 70s and his releases regularly skirted the lower echelons of the charts but without repeating his earlier success and despite a move to Gordy’s sister labels and the obvious quality of outings like the flip to, Edwin Starr — “You’ve Got My Soul On Fire b/w Love, The Lonely People’s Prayer” - Motown 1276, he felt his future lay away from Detroit. Reported to have given up any claims to royalty debts owed to him in order to leave the company, he looked around for new opportunities.
As his loyal fan base was over 3000 miles away in UK, he made the decision to trek to England and try his luck there. Detroit’s loss was UK’s gain and Edwin Starr continued a love affair with his UK fans that stretched back to the sixties when he’d appeared at fledgling Northern Soul clubs like The Twisted Wheel in Manchester. Although he had some further recording success with “Contact” and “Happy Radio” being picked up for plays on the Northern circuit, his real forte was in bringing the 60s sound of Detroit via his Ric Tic and Gordy Records to life on stage. He made regular live appearances throughout UK, both as a soloist and often teaming up with other past Motown or soul stars to create he heady days of 60s soul. A consummate professional, his stage presence was a great asset to him in UK and his humble off-stage personality and fan friendly demeanour man that he became a much loved and essential part of what became one of the most enduring music genres of all time. Fully embraced as, ‘one of our own’, Charles Edwin Hatcher sadly passed away 2nd April 2003 having suffered a sudden heart attack in his adopted town of Bramcote in Nottinghamshire.
From Detroit’s Solid Hitbound legend to UK Northern soul boy, Edwin Starr’s soulful journey began in Ohio, passed through the Motor City and came to rest in Nottinghamshire, England. His legacy is one of atmospheric, superbly delivered performances that have stood the test of time and still remain on lists of peoples all time favourite records and so, we ar proud to have Mr Charles Edwin Hatcher aka Edwin Starr as an inaugural Inductee in our Northern Soul Hall Of Fame.
Pete Swift & Dave Moore 01 November 2014
Notes and References:
(1) John Smith’s bio of Edwin Starr www.edwinstarr.info
I Know b/w Roll On — Tress 1-2
Agent Double 00 Soul b/w Instrumental — Ric Tic 103
Backstreet b/w Instrumental — Ric Tic 107
Stop Her On Sight (SOS) b/w I Have Faith In You — Ric Tic 109
Scotts On Swingers b/w Same Tic Tic 109X (Promo Only)
Headline News b/w Harlem — Ric Tic 114
It’s My Turn Now b/w Girls Are Getting Prettier — Ric Tic 118
You're My Mellow b/w/ My Kind Of Woman Ric Tic 120
Gonna Keep On Tryin' Til I Win Your Love b/w I Want My Baby Back — Gordy 7066
I Am The Man For You Baby b/w My Weakness Is You — Gordy 7071
Way Over There b/w If My Heart Could Tell The Story — Gordy 7078
Twenty-Five Miles b/w Love Is The Destination — Gordy 7083
I'm Still A Struggling Man / Pretty Little Angel — Gordy 7087
Time b/w Running Back And Forth — Gordy 7097
War b/w He Who Picks A Rose — Gordy 7101
Stop The War Now b/w Gonna Keep On Tryin' Til I Win Your Love — Gordy 7104
Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On b/w Cloud Nine — Gordy 7107
Take Me Clear From Here b/w Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today) — Soul 35096
Who Is The Leader Of The People b/w Don't Tell Me I'm Crazy — Soul 35100
There You Go (Vocal) b/w/ There You Go (Instrumental) — Soul 35103
You've Got My Soul On Fire b/w Love (The Lonely People's Prayer) — Motown 1276
Ain't It Hell Up In Harlem b/w Don't It Feel Good To Be Free — Motown 1284
Big Papa b/w Like We Used To Do — Motown 1300
Who's Right Or Wrong b/w Lonely Rainy Days In San Diego — Motown 1326
I'll Love You Forever b/w Makin' Up Time — Golden World 36
Edwin Starr & Blinky
Oh How Happy b/w/ Ooh Baby Baby — Gordy 7090