By E. Mark Windle
The Tempests were a very popular band from around Charlotte NC, which ran from 1963 to the mid seventies, with frequent personnel changes (up to twenty five members in its history). They were an all white line up except for their lead vocalists. The earliest version named The Tempest Band recorded “Love Have Mercy”on Atlantic, with Mike Williams on vocals. At this time they were under the management of female DJ and entrepreneur Hattie Leeper before Williams went solo to record the Vietnam war deep soul classic “Lonely Soldier” again on Atlantic. The Tempests’ lead vocalists during their later period on Smash included Hazel Martin who joined between 1966 and 1968 and then Otis Smith who recorded one single with them.
A number of their tracks on 45 received plays or are known to the northern scene, particularly “Would You Believe” (Smash S-2094), “What You Gonna Do” (Smash S-2126) and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” (S-2126). The summer 1968 Smash LP “Would You Believe”, however, is the collector's piece, having been released in mono, stereo and a promo format, and was even given a Dutch release by Philips.
Tracks on the LP include “Would You Believe”, “Ain’t No Big Thing”, “Happiness”, “Aint That Enough”, “I Cried For You”, “Someday”, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind”, “I Don’t Want To Lose Her”, “What You Gonna Do”, “You Don’t Know Like I Know” and “You (Are The Star I Wish On)”. Whilst albums don’t usually seek particular attention from the northern soul scene, this one certainly does, not only because of the quality of tracks throughout but also because two tracks of major interest (“Someday” and “I Don’t Want To Lose Her”) were not released on 45 format. In 2012 a previously unseen Mercury acetate of “Someday”, was offered for sale on eBay, causing some discussion regarding its authenticity on the rare soul website Soul Source. The acetate now appears to be confirmed as genuine and resides in a UK collection.
“Someday”, a moody mid tempo dancer - and at that slightly at odds with most of the other songs on the LP — suited the early eighties northern soul scene perfectly when musical appreciation took a slower tempo approach with a craving for beat ballads and mid tempo dancers. “Someday” was played out in the UK by Guy Hennigan at Stafford Top of the World in 1985, covered up as Bobby Paris. Guy had this confession to make:
”Martin Meyler from Crewe for some strange reason gave it to Keb (rather than me!) to cut an acetate of “Someday” from it. Anyway Keb turns up at my flat in Derby on the Friday night before the Stafford all nighter with the cut and as normal over the next 24 hours we did some swaps and sales. One of the trades involved me getting another cut of The Tempests, which I had said to Keb to cover-up as Bobby Paris, and also to play it that night at Top of the World. However, I was on before him that night (we used to switch around). Not only did I play Keb’s copy of the disc....I played it twice. It went massive that night, just off those two plays. Even though Keb played it later in his spot, I got the credit for breaking it. It was very competitive in that period between DJs, and in particular between Keb and I. But I can justify my sharp trick of stealing Dargie's thunder on that one, with the simple fact that it sounded so much better after I'd introduced it! Ha....you know what, he has never really forgiven me to this day!”
“I Don’t Want To Lose Her” was also played out on the northern scene, covered up this time as Cecil Washington. Van Coble, bass player for The Tempests, was located for interview for the book "It's Better to Cry" and talks of the beginnings of the band and the period leading up to their recording contract:
“Mark here goes. I'm not much of a story teller. The band was started by two brothers, Mike and Roger Branch, in the very early 60's. Just a mess around band sorta. The backing of Mike Williams, produced by DJ Hattie Leeper at Arthur Smith’s Studio in Charlotte NC, got them started in shooting for a record contract, but they were told they needed to add some better musicians than the ones that played on these recordings. By 1966, the band line-up was Nelson Lemmond (drums), Roger Branch (guitar), Mike Branch (keyboard), me on bass guitar, Tom Brawley (flute & baritone saxophone), Gerald Schrum (tenor saxophone), Rick White (tenor saxophone), Ronnie Smith and Jim Butt (trumpet). At other points in The Tempests’ life, Ray Alexander, Bill McPhearson and Eddie Grimes all played trumpet. Our influences were The Tams, James Brown, Sam and Dave, most Stax stuff, James and Bobby Purify, Muscle Shoals music etc. By the time we got this line-up working good together the sax player Rick White met up with Dave Joy, from York, SC, who had a friend in Falls Church, VA. He was a manager / record producer named Ted Bodnar. Ted liked our music. We needed a lead singer and Roger's Dad, who was a police officer on the Charlotte force, was asked to see if he could locate a singer named Hazel Walker. He came back with Hazel Martin. A true blessing for us."
“Things were now solidified with our producer Ted Bodnar. We signed contracts individually and started recording first at Edgebrook Studios in DC and the balance of the recording was done at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte. Roger, Mike, Hazel and I wrote most of the songs we recorded, while Jim Butt did the horn arrangements.”
Liner notes by Poker Record’s Dave Flynn and David Timperley on the 2007 reissue of the Smash album referred to the label releases and the bands initial recording success:
“The next step was landing a major record company deal; enter Smash Records — a subsidiary of the mighty Mercury set-up. With that sort of professional clout behind them, this was the ideal opportunity for The Tempests to make a dent in the charts and potentially hit the big time, aided specifically by the nationwide muscle that Mercury boasted. By this point the band extensively featured Hazel Martin. Hazel - who was their fourth singer - had a powerful and distinctive style that enriched the band perfectly and during August 1967 they made an impact with the up tempo “Would You Believe”. It peaked at number 127 in the US Bubbling Under chart. Smash wanted to build on this momentum so an album of the same name quickly followed. Every track featured the winning combination of Mike Branch’s searing organ work, Hazel’s pleading vocal and some totally awesome brass work; everything blazing full on and powering its way high in the mix. Three more 45s followed on the Smash imprint during 1967 and 1968 (MW: “What You Gonna Do”, “Out of My Life” and “In the Cold Light of Day”). Throughout this exciting period, the band performed with many other bands including The Four Tops and The Tams.”
Van Coble continued the story for me:
“During this time we were booking through Hit Attractions’ Harvey Grasty. We played fraternity row parties from Mississippi to Delaware, local clubs like The Cellar, big show and dances at Charlotte's Park Center and the Coliseum, plus USO Shows; we stayed quite busy. In all our travels in the south and southeast we never encountered any racial problems because we were an integrated band, either at motels or restaurants. Go figure, but its true. We were treated well by all. During this time we played so many shows with The Tams we became good friends with Joe Pope, Sleepy, Horace and the guys, shared many a drink with them; they preferred brandy if memory serves me right! The bookings with The Tams were called The Tams and The Temps. The radio stations that broke “Would You Believe” were Big Ways Top Forty Charlotte Station, others from Mississippi and all along the eastern seaboard including WABC in New York City. Our first two 45s were well received on the eastern seaboard and down south but we just couldn't get airplay on the west coast. I guess weak promo guys couldn't get it done. I never saw any numbers on the LP sales, I know I bought some in a department store in Florida for $1.99 each in the early 70s. That's why Nelson Lemmond and myself were really pleased when we found out about Northern Soul, that's great!”
“After the release of “Would You Believe” we signed with the Premier Talent Agency out of New York City for concert and package shows. They ran us ragged. We played so many shows we out ran our money, things were tight, living on cheeseburgers and washing socks and underwear in the bathtub where we were staying. This really took its toll on us. We just wanted to get back down south or home where we could be with our families and go back to like it was before, working a day job and playing locally in the Carolinas.
This is what finally tore the recording group apart. Mike and Roger kept trying to keep the band going by adding new guys and cutting back to a four piece band with a girl singer called Nan Mason. Hazel and I (who had previously co-written “I Don't Want To Lose Her” and “Whatcha Gonna Do” on the LP) joined to create Marco Records for one recording, “Southern Ocean Sunshine” backed with “Out of My Life”. As you’ll guess the ‘Mar’ stood for Martin and the ‘Co’ for Coble (MW: Nat Speir of the Rivieras, and a childhood friend of Van’s, did the horn arrangements for the project. Hazel Martin later went on to play with The Spontanes for eight month period in 1972). Hazel passed away in 2008.”
The Tempests continued to play until they broke up in 1975. Mike continued to contribute to beach scene via Surfside records in 1979 with ex-Showmen / Chairmen of the Board lead singer General Johnson. Mike has since passed away. Roger moved to New Orleans and became a producer and engineer at Sea-Saint studios. He now owns Oak Street Recording Studio in New Orleans. Gerald Schrum died around 2010. Roy Alexander later became arranger of the Motown horn section.
Van continued his career in music:
“After The Tempests I stayed involved in music, teamed up with Nelson Lemmond, Nat Speir and produced several artist for various record labels (no hits though) including Lee Webber on Excello, Sandlewood Candle on 440 plus (a subsiduary of Monument records) and Vann (me) on Mother Cleo Records. During this time I went back to school and got a degree in electronics. I went to work for the largest electronics supply company and sound contractor in the south east. I went from being a service technician to sales manager over the sound and communications division, starting a life long endeavour of over forty years in this business. All this time staying active in music, playing gigs on weekends, putting together my own home studio. I am still recording and producing in my studio. My most financially successful project Nelson, Nat and myself did was for R. J. Reynolds Co. “A Blues Album”. We recorded this at Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans with Allen Tousaint and Marshall Sehorn, Man, it was a blast.”
“We were just a bunch of Good Ol’ Boys that almost made it in music. Thanks for playing our music, it does an old heart good to hear that some where in the world somebody's listening and dancing to the The Tempests.”
The Tempests were inducted into the CAMMY Beach Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Nat Spier (Rivieras), Van Coble (Tempests) and the author. North Carolina 2013.
Copyright E. Mark Windle 2013
"It's Better to Cry" by E. Mark Windle available at Blurb.co.uk or for overseas Blurb.com. Go to the Blurb online bookstore.
Van Coble. Personal coms. August to October 2012.
Guy Hennigan. Personal coms. June 2012.
Roger Branch. Personal coms. June 2012.
Lu Rojas. Personal coms. June 2012.
Dave Flynn. Personal coms. May 2012. Author permission obtained to use sleeve notes from Poker CD reissue of ‘Would you believe’ (Deck CD 100; 2007).
David Timperley. Personal coms. June 2012. Cherry Red Records. Company permission obtained to use sleeve notes from Poker CD reissue of ‘Would you believe’ (Deckcd 100; 2007).