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Jan Bradley Interview - Bob Abrahamian 2008


Jan Bradley Interview - Bob Abrahamian 2008 magazine cover

Hi. Today on my radio show I did an interesting interview with legendary Chicago soul singer Jan Bradley. Bradley grew up in the Robins, IL, a South Suburb of Chicago. In high school she began singing lead with a local group called the Passions (a male group who later recorded as the Swinging Hearts). While performing at a talent show, Chicago promoter and owner of the Formal record label Don Talty discovered the group. Don decided to keep Bradley as a solo singer so Bradley left the group to pursue her solo career.

Talty took Bradley to a show at the Regal in order to meet Curtis Mayfield to try to get material to record. Bradley sang for Curtis and they agreed to meet later to go over potential songs; Bradley decided to record "We girls" upon hearing it. Talty recorded "We girls" and tried to shop it around to major labels, even taking Bradley to United Artists in New York. After he was unsuccessful placing the record on a larger label, Talty released the track on his own Formal label in 1962. The track became a local hit in the Midwest, getting both R&B and pop radio play.

Talty released a few more tracks on Bradley on his Formal label without scoring a hit. Bradley again sought out Curtis Mayfield for another track; Mayfield gave her "Mama didn't lie". Talty took Bradley to Missouri where she recorded the record, doing her own backup vocals on overdub (a technique which, although not common in the early 60s, became common on Bradley's 45s). He initially released it on his Formal label where it became a local hit in the Midwest. Chess records picked up the single where it became a national hit. The record had a classic pop-soul feel that typified the Chicago female sound of the early-60s.

Due to a dispute over publishing, Chess refused to release any more Jan Bradley records written by Curtis Mayfield, despite Curtis' writing being the key to Bradley's previous hits. Chess released several follow-up records on Bradley, written by Chess staff writers, but failed to score a hit. During this time, Bradley did release the Mayfield-written "Behind curtains", on the Night Owl record label; the track was backed by the Impressions (and later covered by the Five Stairsteps), but didn't have the promotion to get real radio play.

After being unsuccessful with the Chess writers, Bradley decided to write her own material. Her first self-written single, "I'm over you", became her next hit record on Chess. Inspired by Curtis, Bradley's goal was to become both a recording artist as well as a writer and producer of other artists. Unfortunately, Talty was mostly unsuccessful placing Bradley's material; her songs were recorded by a few Chicago and Ohio artists. She also wrote the excellent "I'm no Romeo", which was recorded by Billy Stewart on a Chess LP but never released on a single. After recording a few more unsuccessful singles for Chess records, she left the label and Talty to go back to school to pursue a career in counseling in the late 60s. She did cut one more single for the Memphis-based Doylen label in the early-70s, but it was not promoted, and Bradley did not continue with music. Bradley currently works as a counselor, but still enjoys singing in church and songwriting.

You can check out my interview on my interviews page at:

http://www.sittinginthepark.com/interviews.html

as a special bonus for my show, Bradley gave me a photo of herself "sitting in the park", taken by Phil Upchurch in 1965:

http://www.sittinginthepark.com/interviews/janbradley-12-28-2008.mp3

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thanks for your interest,

Bob

 

Site note - The above article was originally posted on soul source by the late Bob Abrahamian @boba  back in 2008 as a forum topic. Promoted to an article as felt deserves raised awareness




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A sweet soul singer, but just a bit "lightweight" for my taste. Maybe as she is older she should re record her best tracks if her voice has deepend...just m h o.

I do like this though.

Ed

 

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13 hours ago, Tomangoes said:

A sweet soul singer, but just a bit "lightweight" for my taste. Maybe as she is older she should re record her best tracks if her voice has deepend...just m h o.

I do like this though.

Ed

 

Jan wrote this completely on her own based on trying to copy Curtis Mayfield's style as best she could, because she got her only hit with his song, and she didn't like Talty's songwriting, and Chess had a disagreement with Curtis on producer credits and pay, and told Talty and Jan to not use Mayfield any more.  She did such a great job emulating his style that I wish she'd have written a bunch more like that, as the rest of her Chess material was lousy.  At least she got Mayfield's other songs written for her out on Talty's Formal Records, and "Behind The Curtains" out on Night Owl Records.  Those were all great, having The Impressions backing her.

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8 hours ago, The Yank said:

It looks like as long as the release wasn't on Chess, Jan could work with Curtis - 

 

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Although this was released after "Mama Didn't Lie" in Dec. 1963,I believe it was recorded along with other cuts done with Mayfield, BEFORE "Mama Didn't Lie" became a smash hit, and that was before Chess offered a contract to Jan.   The Night Owl record's cuts were also produced by Talty with Mayfield, BEFORE Chess leased "Mama Didn't Lie".  Her new contract with Chess stated that she couldn't work with Curtis any more.  That didn't prevent Don Talty from leasing cuts he made on her working with Curtis and The Impressions before she signed with Chess.  The Hootenanny(Stacy) release was cut before - so, no possible problem.  The lease to Night Owl (probably owned by Talty, Jan, and Curtis) was, indeed released later than "Mama didn't Lie", but Chess had no claim on it, and couldn't legally prevent the 3 of them from releasing it, because it belonged solely to them, and was recorded BEFORE Chess signed Jan.  Talty had 3 releases on Jan from the recordings with Curtis on his own Formal Records, all before Chess leased "Mama Didn't Lie", after its local success on its Formal Records release, and after she was offered the Chess contract, Talty released the Night Owl record, and leased the Christmas record to Stacy/Hootenanny.  On Hindsight, Talty and Jan should have not had her sign with Chess, and gone with Mayfield and his crew at ABC IF Chess and Mayfield had the falling out before Chess offered her the artist contract, while her Formal record was just being leased by Chess.  I think that was the case, because the disagreement probably came about when Curtis told Chess what cut he wanted for himself out of Chess' ongoing deal with the 3 of them. 

Jan would have been best off by going with Curtis to ABC, where he worked with Johhny Pate as arranger, and sometimes also as producer, and there was a "Curtom" production crew, including The Impressions as back-ups, Curtis on guitar, Curtis, Johnny Jones, Jerry Butler, Billy Butler, and Major Lance as sometimes songwriters.  That group probably would have gotten her more hits than Talty did for Chess, and also more than The Chess writers and arrangers did. 

However, it could be that the disagreement caused by Mayfield's discontent came AFTER Jan and Talty signed, and then Chess gave them an ultimatum that she'd have to quit working with Mayfield, or they would tear up the contract.  They had lots of money and could hire much better lawyers than Talty could.  So, they would be afraid to tear up the contract themselves, for fear of losing a big lawsuit.  Besides, Talty had gotten her an artist contract with a big, successful label, and he had reason to believe that Billy Davis and his production crew could do just as well for her as Mayfield/Pate could do for her at ABC.

But this whole situation just points out how very important the quality of songwriting and production values are to even an excellent singer; and also shows how important having a producer who has a good rapport with the singer, and also knows how to get the most from that singer, and has the singer's best interest at heart (not just for his or her own success).  Such a situation can make the difference between the singer making an entire life's career out of singing, or only doing it for a few years and being forced to get a common "day job".  A couple years later, Jan was out of The Business.

Edited by Robbk
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There must have been problems with Jan's contract. The last sentence in this article (Cashbox Dec. 1963)  makes it sound like  Jan was no longer a Chess artist - 

 

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5 hours ago, The Yank said:

There must have been problems with Jan's contract. The last sentence in this article (Cashbox Dec. 1963)  makes it sound like  Jan was no longer a Chess artist - 

 

Jan-1.jpg

This is the PR announcement by Talty & Jan's publicist.  They were worried about problems with Chess because of the clause in the contract that read "No songs written by Curtis Mayfield will be accepted for production".  I'm sure they still felt safe in getting this released by another label because it was recorded previous to her signing her artist contract with Chess.  They just leased that old Spring 1963 recording to Stacy in November 1963, they didn't have Stacy record it that late in the year.  The same was true of their releasing "Behind The Curtains" on Night Owl.  Jan and Don were safe (probably told to them by their lawyer, who advised they add the contract comment in their press release.  Clearly she was okay contractwise, as Chess released "I'm Over You" soon after "These Tears" flopped, and  several other singles, one-by-one at regular intervals, for 2 years after.  There was no long gap, which could account for her leaving Chess after fulfilling her contract with "These Tears", and then she and Don having a rapprochement with Davis or Phil Chess, and signing a 2nd contract.

Jan apparently had an exclusive artist contract with Chess, which didn't allow her to do any recording for any other record company while she was under contract to Chess.  She didn't, as although the Hootenanny and Night Owl releases occurred while she was under contract to Chess, the recordings were made under the auspices of, and paid for, by different producers, and those owners of those productions had the rights to commercial use of those products, and the right to release new records with those recordings, whenever they wanted to do so.  The add-on in the press release was only to let Chess know that Talty and Jan knew their contract obligations and that they weren't breaking them.  This was because Chess didn't know whether or not those 2 releases were recorded before she signed her contract.  If Billy Davis were to bring up his irritation about the 2 releases, Don could show the recording studio receipt, showing the individual songs.  He had to keep those for his Formal Records' taxes.  Jan Bradley was still a Don Talty (Formal) artist - she was on lease to Chess Records, just like Marv Johnson was a Berry Gordy artist while under contract with UA.

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