Charles Drain was born in Eupora, Mississippi back in 1939. He began singing at the age of eight and formed his first group a couple of years later.
After moving to St Louis, he secured work singing back-up vocals before joining the "Tabs" as their lead singer. The group back then consisted of Charles Drain, Sonny Robertson (1st tenor), John Hopkins (2nd tenor) & Lionel Stokes (baritone). All the guys were childhood buddies though a couple of additional members (Tuman Hughes & Leroy Terry) had dropped out down the years. Sonny Robertson had started out in gospel groups as a teenager and had sung in male gospel quartets back in St Louis with the likes of Mel & Tim. Although not actually a member of the group, Charles’ brother William (Billy) was influential in their development. Billy schooled the group, helping them develop their singing skills plus he wrote songs especially for them. The group were signed by Vee Jay in 1962 and they enjoyed two 45 releases. Their first single was issued in December 1961 and this coupled “Dance All By Myself” (written by Ollie Jones) with “Dance Party” (written by Charles Drain himself).
The Tabs courtesy of "Doowop - Groups and Discography" http://www.blogg.org...rs-1310328.html
Their 2nd 45 also featured a song that Charles had written; “Mash Them Taters” (c/w “But You're My Baby”) and this escaped in June 1962. They got to tour, playing shows with the Miracles, Flip Wilson, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and the Isley Brothers at venues such as the Apollo, the Uptown in Philly, the Howard in D.C. & the Regal in Chicago. For their show at the Apollo, they were backed up by a group of musicians that included Phillip Upchurch (guitar) and King Curtis (sax). Next, the group were signed to a deal by New York based Wand Records. Their initial outing for the label was “Two Stupid Feet” (written by Wand's Luther Dixon) which was backed with a Billy Drain song “The Wallop” (Wand 130; February 1963). Reggie Obrecht, who had earlier worked with Leiber & Stoller on tracks by the Drifters, was responsible for the arrangements on the tunes. This single got some radio airplay and so Wand got behind it's release and placed some ads in US music magazines. By April, “Two Stupid Feet” was popular enough to land the group a big theatre gig in Philadelphia and this was followed by a number of other theatre bookings on the east coast circuit. Another 45 came out that July; “Take My Love Along With You (William Drain) / I'm With You” (Ed Townshend, Alvin Stewart) but this didn't do as well. The group had cut a number of other tracks for Wand (“The Big Show”, “The Landlord” and “Laughing To Keep From Crying”) but these failed to make it out of the tape vaults and so their career began to drift.
While Charles had been away from St Louis performing with the Tabs, his brother Billy had teamed up with Freeman Bosley and he did some work for Bosley's Teek label. Billy wrote some new songs and cut them on acts such as Billy James, the Ascots and the Petites (who included Barbara Carr in their line-up). Some of Billy's songs (written in conjunction with Reggie Obrecht) were also used on Scepter / Wand artists. “You Upset My Soul” was cut by Maxine Brown plus Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford in 1963 and “Put Yourself In My Place” by Azie Mortimer, Maxine Brown, Dionne Warwick & Big Maybelle. Around the mid 60's, Charles decided that his future career prospects would be improved if he went solo and he soon followed that route. Still working in conjunction with brother Billy, Charles cut “Stop And Think About It” which was written & produced by Billy. Backed with “So Glad”, this was issued on Top Track (part of L-G Record Company of 4200 Missouri Avenue, East St Louis). Billy utilised local female group the Petites to back up Charles on his Top Track recordings, the ladies (Barbara Carr, Pat & Dorothy Ewing) giving a good account of themselves. The 45 did little at that time but it has gone on to be a highly collectable single that commands a high price with collectors. Charles continued to lay down tracks, some of these being cut under the supervision of Oliver Sain and brother Billy. When shopped around, two were picked up by Chess Records and released in June 1967 (“She's Gone / Here I Am”; both songs being written by Charles). He must have traveled up to Chicago to help promote his new 45 as in August he was appearing at clubs on the city's south side. One such venue being The Club (formerly the Club De Lisa) on South State Street (where the likes of Alvin Cash & the Crawlers, Otis Clay & Josephine Taylor were also regular performers). While in Chicago, Charles found himself singing backing vocals in local studios in support of artists signed to labels based in the city. But his solo releases again dried up and by the 1970's, Charles was back in St Louis trying to once again resurrect his music career. "¨"¨A new studio (CMC) had been built in St Louis and Kent Washburn had been appointed to run it and cut locally based acts. The first acts he worked with included the Hypnotics (who included ex Voice Masters member James Thompson in their line-up) and Marcus Kelly and Westmoreland Co. Phil Westmoreland was the leader of Westmoreland Company and he already had some studio experience as he had worked with the likes of Oliver Sain plus Charles and William Drain (the team writing some songs together). Work commenced At CMC and a major label deal set up for the Hypnotics. Another local who Kent Washburn recruited was Michael (Love)Smith. Born in St Louis, Michael initially led, sang lead & wrote for the family based group the Smith Brothers> The group's first single was released on the Gold Future label, the house label for the St Louis based Gold Future studios. Later in 1970, the group hooked up with the Isley Brothers and had a 45 released on the brother’s T Neck label . Under the revised name of Smith Connection, they were signed to H-D-H's Music Merchant label in 1972. But Michael wasn't making enough to support his family and so he jumped at the chance to join the CMC team. However the studio needed to be busier, so Kent Washburn and Michael (Love) Smith let it be known that they were holding auditions to find other singers to record. It came as no surprise that Charles was one of the first to learn of this and turn up at the studio to try out. Kent & Michael were suitably impressed and he was quickly signed up. The auditions also resulted in the Love Set being signed to a contract. Kent (with Michael L Smith) immediately started work on tracks for Charles Drain and the Love Set which it was agreed would be released by RCA. "¨
Unfortunately just at that time, things were going sour for CMC. There were other studios in St Louis and these were still cutting tracks. CMC Studio was the best & most modern studio in town but unfortunately this made it the most expensive to run. The studio wasn't making money and the parent company's Board of Directors and shareholders forced its closure. Kent found himself out of a job but he was allowed to keep the rights to all the masters and artists that had been cut in the studio as his severance pay. But he had to find a new work base in St Louis, so he checked out what the other three local studios had to offer. Kent made use of the facilities at Professional Artists studio (owned by Parvin Tramell), Gold Future Studio (owned by Russ Lewis) and Technisonic Studios. He made a deal with Parvin to use Professional Artists studio to cut rhythm tracks. Working with Bill Olszewski, the pair would shuttle back and forth between Professional Artists and Gold Future depending on what they were doing and the budget that was available to them. They took on some outside projects cutting other artists for releases on local labels, but working with Charles Drain was their main task. The acoustics at both Technisonic & Professional Artists were far from perfect so Kent cut some lead / backing vocals (+ strings & horns) on Charles Drain in RCA Studios in New York. One of the outside projects that Kent had taken on was with Jamal Trice. Trice had taken the master tapes produced by Kent, headed off to LA and had landed himself a deal with Motown.
Impressed by what she heard on the tapes, Gwen Gordy approached Kent and also offered him a deal with Motown. After meeting with Gwen, Kent decided that working for the mighty Motown gave him & his family much more security, so he signed with the company. His Motown contract was prepared and the fine points were settled with RCA to enable him to conclude the work required on Charles Drain’s album. With the last string and horn session on the Charles Drain cuts finished in RCA’s LA studio (this was the only LA based horn session that Kent would ever actually play on himself), Kent completed work on the album in St Louis (on his own) and turned the project in to RCA. Kent was allocated new Motown group Hi Inergy to work with, but back in St Louis Charles Drain found himself without the services of the producer of his new recordings.
RCA having licensed Charles' St Louis cut tracks, they set about releasing them. First to hit the shops was the 45 “Is This Really Love / Only You” (PB 10186 — January 75). "Is This Really Love" had been written by Michael Lovesmith and produced by Michael in conjunction with Kent Washburn). Despite “Is This Really Love” being a great uptempo cut that should have sold really well, RCA didn't promote it correctly and it slipped between the cracks. Charles would have to wait almost a year before his next release came out. This, another 45, coupled “Lifetime Guarantee Of Love (a Ray Dahrouge song) and “Just As Long” (10521 — early 76). After that, RCA started pushing out Charles' releases at a hectic rate. His 9 track strong album, 'Dependable' (APL-1414), soon followed, as did his final RCA 45. “I'm Gonna Stay / What Good Is A Love Song” (10594) effectively ending his RCA career in March 76. Due to their quality, some of his cuts had also escaped outside of the USA. In the UK, “Is This Really Love” made it out on a 45 in October 1976. His final US RCA 45, “I'm Gonna Stay,”has gone on to become a favorite with soul fans around the globe. Also after his “What You Don't Know” was included on the Various Artist US RCA album 'Disco Express Vol.2' in November 76, this was also released in Argentina.
Back in LA,, Kent got to use some of the best studio musicians (Ray Parker, Paul Jackson, Ray Edwards, Ollie Brown, etc) on his work with Hi Inergy. Kent's initial Motown contract had been signed in early summer 1976 and had only been for a 12 month period. By July 1977, just as he was ready to submit the Hi Inergy album for release, the contract expired. He received a letter sent out by Motown’s A&R Department stating that his contract wasn’t to be renewed, so Kent flew back to St Louis to see if he could resurrect his career back there. Still believing that he had submitted some great tracks to Motown, Kent just teamed up again with Charles Drain and they started work on four new songs. After having seen how good the likes of Syl Rivers, Ray Parker, Ollie Brown and Ray Edwards had been on the Hi Inergy tracks, Kent was keen to use the ‘Motown Boys’ again. So he got them involved with three of the tracks that Charles cut; “A Little Bit of You” (written by Ray Parker), “Who’s Gonna Love You” (written by Gloria and Richard Jones) and "You're In My Dreams". One finished track from Charles remained spare from the RCA deal, this being "I Could Stay All Night" which had been recorded in St Louis at about the same time as his tracks that RCA had put out. Kent's new work with Charles was progressing well and some weeks had passed since he had arrived back in St Louis. Then a call came in from Gwendolyn Fuller (Gwen Gordy’s close colleague). She said that Berry Gordy himself had heard the tracks Kent had laid down on Hi Inergy and was mightly impressed with them. When he had been told that Kent’s contract had been terminated, he had immediately issued instructions that matters be put right. So Kent was reinstated at Motown and he flew back to LA. This action though resulted in the new Charles Drain tracks being left incomplete. Kent's Hi Inergy tracks enjoyed instant commercial success (the group's 1st 45 “You Can't Turn Me Off” going to No. 2 on the US Soul charts). Following that, Kent entered into a working arrangement with the group that lasted for another two years.
But in 1979, Kent Washburn quit his position with Motown and looked around for a new challenge. He still had the master tapes for some tracks he had cut in St Louis in the mid 1970’s that remained unissued and these would provide him with one opportunity. Almost immediately he met Tony Hart, the man behind the Hartsong Corporation that ran Spirit Records (a contemporary Christian rock label). The pair hooked up and Kent took the post of Vice President / General Manager of Spirit Records. The Hartsong Corporation had been set up in part to exploit a tax loophole. The Corporation produced and acquired masters that were then sold to investors to allow them to take advantage of tax credit rules. As long as records were pressed up and distributed, the product could be ‘sold on’ to investors who could then claim back more than they had paid as a tax write-off. Kent made the 'unused masters' cut in St Louis available and these were released on his re-activated Emkay label. A small number of each release was pressed up. These were ‘distributed’ as required under the tax laws but all that really happened was a few copies were sent to local DJ’s and industry people. Some copies were also passed along to the investors with the remaining stock going straight into a warehouse. So the public remained totally oblivious to the existence of these new Emkay records. In all there were 12 releases on the Emkay label in 1979; 10 No. 45’s + 2 No. LPs. One of the 45's (EM1008) featured Charles Drain's “I Could Stay All Night” (the song again being penned by Michael ‘Love’ Smith) which was coupled with a Westmoreland Co. instrumental (“Don't Suprise Yourself”). This action was taken as Kent only had one ‘finished’ track by Charles Drain that hadn’t already been released by RCA. No hope existed of any of the Emkay 45's resurrecting the careers of the artists involved and so Charles never got the chance to benefit from the release of the single.
Things soon got worse however for the Hartsong Corporation. The company’s main funding came via the 'tax break' investments but the lawyer involved was getting a bit too creative in his tax write-off claims and Hartsong soon had major problems with the US government. The lawyer flew to Canada to try and es
ape the consequences of his actions, but he was eventually rounded up and spent time in prison. Hartsong collapsed though and Kent had to move on, this time he embarked on a number of gospel projects in LA.
Charles Drain was still 'out of the action' back in St Louis. Most St louis based soul acts left the city to make it big recording wise. Many went to Chicago or Memphis, but by the 1980's even this course of action was proving less successful. In any case, Charles was now in his 40's and the prospect of moving again in an attempt to further his music career wasn't a realistic prospect. He managed to stay connected locally and this resulted in his final record release. He cut some tracks that were put out by the St Louis based Professors' 50 / 50 label. This was run by Mitch Wadley (who wrote Charles' song & produced the track). “When You Say You Love Me” was a great deep soul cut which demonstrated that vocally Charles still had it. That was to be his last fling at reaching the wider record buying public and with Charles now being in his mid 40's, he drifted off the scene. About ten years later, Charles passed away in St Louis (March 1995) at the relatively young age of 55. He certainly had made his mark on the music business but with a bit more luck, he could have been up there with the most succcessful male soul singers. He was certainly equiped with the vocal talent to have enjoyed more fame and this fact was demonstrated when his RCA outing “Is This Really Love” was included on the Soul Brother Records CD 'the Wants List 3’ in 2007.