That’s what Larry Joines, the bass guitarist of the Washington, DC-based Just Us Band, exclaimed to the crowd at Jo Jo Restaurant and Bar on U Street in the District a few nights ago, doing his best to appeal to the loyalties of several Tar Heels in the house, including our party of four. Just Us would deliver two sets of memorable hits of the ‘60s and ‘70s like Kool and the Gang’s “Get Down on It,” Rick James’ “Mary Jane,” and a 15-minute James Brown medley, in which inimitable frontman “Lil’”Robert Joines, aka “King Snake,” faked us out at one point by making us think he was about to drop into a JB-worthy split. It’s been a minute since we’d seen so much energy from a band playing grown-folks music (maybe since Family Sircle, who’ll figure into this narrative below), so if you’re in DC on a weekend, check the Jo Jo schedule and see if you might be lucky enough to catch Just Us. And if you can’t make it and can pardon a little distortion, here’s a short video from the JB medley:
In between those two sets, several in our party introduced themselves to Robert, curious about his life story. As it turned out, this energetic showman originally hails from the Charlotte, North Carolina area, counts the Monroe, NC natives “K-Ci” and “JoJo” Hailey of Jodeci as nephews, and is even kin to Fantasia Barrino of High Point, NC. It wasn’t really that surprising to learn that Robert had ties to the Carolinas. We’ve casually been noting for some time the number of Carolina musicians who either made their careers in the District, came south to work the “chitlin’ circuit,” or did a little of both.
Indeed, almost as a footnote to obituaries for the recently passed Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go himself—the man who arguably defined the sound of the District more than anyone else—was the little-known fact that even Brown spent his first eight years in North Carolina (Gaston County to be exact).
Let’s run through a few other examples that have recently sprung to mind. For starters, two groups who worked with DC-based vocalist Clifton Dyson had connections to the Carolinas. In the mid-‘70s, saxophonist Ricco Richardson, with whom Dyson ran Dy-Rich Records, relocated his band the Educators to South Carolina, where they remain active to this day. (We’ve chronicled a bit of that history elsewhere in the pages of Carolina Soul.) Earlier that decade, Dyson recruited three Durham, NC vocalists including Jerome Saunders (now of Family Sircle) to form the Differences with him. Their beautiful 1971 Mon’ca release has been known to turn up in collections of denizens of both Durham and the District, and rumor has it that some of the singers went on to form Special Delivery, a DC-based recording act that worked with Terry Huff.
Two artists that figured heavily in the Durham, NC scene—which we recently studied for the Bull City Soul Revival project—N.C.C.U. and “Big” John Snells—maintained interesting ties to the District. N.C.C.U. were a disco-funk band who achieved their big break under the tutelage of North Carolina Central University visiting professor and trumpet star, Donald Byrd, who worked otherwise as a professor of jazz at Washington’s Howard University. Before helping to launch N.C.C.U.’s recording career, Byrd molded a group of Howard jazz students into the Blackbyrds of “Rock Creek Park” fame. Snells, a gender-bending performer—known locally as “The He, The She, The It” and the most popular live performer out of 1970s Durham not to release his soul act on vinyl—was said to have made extended visits to DC. The District’s more tolerant and sexually open atmosphere gave Snells the freedom to explore his identity and exposed him to stores that supplied his infamous cross-dressing stage outfits.
Taking a step back from music and looking at broader trends, let’s talk about Isabel Wilkerson’s recent book The Warmth of Other Suns, which explores the story of the Great Migration, i.e. the flow of African Americans from the South to parts north in the twentieth century. Focusing on the stories of nine individuals who made this journey, Wilkerson explains how several distinct geographic patterns predominated among the many thousands who migrated during this period of time. Mississipians, for example, often made it to Chicago, with many Texans finding their way to Los Angeles.
Thousands of Carolinians left their homes for Philadelphia and New York—but DC held a particularly strong appeal for Carolinians. Especially in the eyes of African Americans living in the Piedmont or eastern parts of North Carolina, DC was larger than Charlotte and closer than Atlanta. It was the closest truly big city for much of the state. Even though it was known to some as a “sleepy Southern town,” DC was also where Jim Crow segregation began to break down, where a handful of public places, like the Washington Senators’ Griffith Stadium or the city’s public library, admitted both blacks and whites. For many black Carolinians, DC was the first step out of the old Confederacy. By 1960, a constant influx of black Southerners had made Washington the country’s first major city with a black majority. In the 1970s, local radio announcers christened DC the Chocolate City, and George Clinton and Parliament followed suit with a song and album of the same name. Wilkerson tells how even today, older blacks who came to DC from the Carolinas “still wear sequins and bow ties to the annual Charleston Ball in Washington.”
Suffice it to say, whether we’re talking about Chuck Brown, N.C.C.U. or the Just Us Band, soul music in DC and soul music in the Carolinas wouldn’t be the same without each other.
For more on soul out of our nation’s capital, check out Kevin Coombe’s site DC Soul Recordings.
Editor’s note: Joshua Clark Davis is the newest contributor to Carolina Soul. He has researched, spoken and written extensively on the history of the soul-music business. In 2012, he co-curated the exhibit “Soul Souvenirs: Durham’s Musical Memories from the 1960s and 1970s.” His article “For the Records: How African American Consumers and Music Retailers Created Commercial Public Space in the 1960s and 1970s South” (which we profiled here) examines record stores like Snoopy’s in Durham and appeared in the journal Southern Cultures in winter 2011.
You may have noticed that activity at the Carolina Soul blog has slowed down these past several months. One big reason has been our involvement in a new local humanities project focusing on Durham, NC’s rich heritage of soul, funk, and R&B music. Dubbed the Bull City Soul Revival, this collaborative effort has resulted in a concert, a series of discussions, and an exhibit, the latter of which we were a part of. We are pleased to announce that the exhibit opens on Thursday, April 19th at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham; more details are here.
Above is a sneak peak from the exhibit, which is called “Soul Souvenirs: Durham’s Musical Memories from the 1960s and 1970s” and which was co-curated by Joshua Clark Davis and Jason Perlmutter and designed by Lincoln Hancock and Robin Vuchnich. The “Soul Souvenirs” narrative touches upon origins, influences, politics, history, venues and other related businesses, radio and other media, and of course music and musicians. On the walls of the Hayti’s second floor gallery space, we have featured images and history of several Durham performers who may be known to Carolina Soul readers through their great vinyl releases: Nick Allen (who recorded for Walas), the Black Experience Band (who have 45s on Duplex, Microtronics, and Tri Oak), Blue Steam (on the Catamount label out of New Jersey), the Communicators (the headliners on two out of three of the Black Experience Band releases), Duralcha (of “Ghetto Funk” fame), the Modulations (Buddah recording artists), NCCU (United Artists stars), Risse (who cut singles for Chocolate Cholly’s), and Johnny White (the creator of some fine soul on Valle-Dalle). To get a taste of a selection of these songs, and more, check out our new mix at SoundCloud.
In addition to images of the complete recorded output of the artists mentioned above (as well as all other locals known to have cut 45s or LPs), the exhibit also displays numerous vintage advertisements, newspaper clippings, publicity materials, and other memorabilia. We are excited to say that some crucial last-minute additions came in just today from legendary Durham concert promoter Roosevelt Lipscomb. Two are pictured below from shows that Mr. Lipscomb put on at the Durham Civic Center: a flyer for an April 1977 double-bill of Chocolate Funk of Greensboro and Bite, Chew & Spit of Asheville (previously the Innersouls, who cut a great funk 45 on the Plemmons label); and an unused ticket for a fall of ‘74 concert by Millie Jackson, who was joined by the Communicators & Black Experience Band, among other regional talent. Anybody ever heard of the Unity Band or the Tobacco Road Movement?
“Bull City Soul Revival” was made possible by funding from Durham Library Foundation and from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Posted on Wednesday, April 18, 2012
by Jason at 07:14 PM.
Our good friend Joshua Clark Davis has just written an article that has relevance to Carolina Soul. “For the Records: How African American Consumers and Music Retailers Created Commercial Public Space in the 1960s and 1970s South” focuses on the history of black-owned record stores in North Carolina and throughout the South and is a recommended new piece of original research that appears in the current music issue of Southern Cultures. The following excerpt touches on some personalities and establishments of the Triangle region:
“Records is a market that can be used to brighten the future of lots of black people with jobs and higher prestige all over the country,” Jimmy Liggins announced in 1976 to the readers of the Carolina Times, Durham, North Carolina’s most prominent African American newspaper. Liggins, a minor rhythm and blues star of the 1950s, was publicizing his Duplex National Black Gold Record Pool, headquartered in Durham, which sought to “help and assist black people to own and sell the music and talent blacks produce.” With the aid of this “self helping program,” aspiring hit-makers could record and release music that Black Gold sold through mail order and at Liggins’s shop, Snoopy’s Records, in downtown Durham.
Kenny Mann (of the band Liquid Pleasure) vividly recalls his frequent trips to Snoopy’s as a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Liggins “was like a god” to Mann and other young customers who patronized the store. “Everybody knew” Liggins and his two business partners, Henry Bates and Paul Truitt. “These guys, I was listening to them talk about bringing Tyrone Davis and Johnny Taylor and Al Green to town . . . It was fun to go [to their store] because it felt like the place to be; there were girls in there, and I was twelve, thirteen years old.” Not only that, but Mann “never felt the pressure to buy something” like he did in stores in his hometown of Chapel Hill, where white shopkeepers frequently followed young African American shoppers around their businesses, suspecting they might shoplift. “They had a double standard,” Mann remembers. Chapel Hill “really was set up as if they didn’t want to do business with us black people.” In sharp contrast, Liggins envisioned Snoopy’s as “our mall”—a “hang out” where black consumers could buy black music in a record store owned and operated by African Americans. Black-owned record stores like Snoopy’s represented a crucial nexus where African American enterprise, consumer culture, community, and of course, music all met.
Many more local luminaries figure in the article, such as Curtiss “Curt” Moore, who was previously profiled at Carolina Soul here and here. Owner of three Curt’s Records Stores in and around Greensboro from the 1960s through 1980s, Moore is seen below in one of his shops circa 1966.
Wendell, North Carolina resident and vocalist Walter Moreland recently released a CD single that delves into a challenging time in his life. Entitled “Alone,” it’s nominally a pop ballad, something of a new direction for the long-time soul singer and former member of national ‘70s-era recording act Mark IV. More notably, and powerfully, it’s a document of his faith in one day reuniting with his late wife, Cynthia Moreland, who was tragically killed in Raleigh in 2006, just shy of five years ago.
Moreland originally comes from Miami, Florida. He wasn’t very deep into music there; as a teenager, he “would just mess around singing” the doo-wop hits of the day for fun by himself. After high school, Moreland served two years in the army, including one in Korea, and then relocated to New York City, soon joining a singing group known as the New System. The New System were active in the region but apparently did not make any recordings: “We did a lot of practicing. We got uniforms. I don’t think we cut a record when I was with them. We did a lot of little gigs up in the mountains of New York, ski resorts….” Before the members moved in separate directions, the New System reached a high point in the form of some back-up work for Little Anthony & the Imperials.
Along with fellow former New System member Candido “Lucky” Antomattei (baritone), Moreland (first tenor) met up with two Georgia transplants, Lawrence Jones (second tenor) and Jimmy Ponder (lead). The four started a new singing outfit that they named Mark IV. They connected with performer and Alaga Records owner Roy C., who produced their debut single “Honey I Still Love You”:
Roy C. sold the rights for this hit single to Mercury Records, and the new support of a major record company led to many touring opportunities, including four appearances at the Apollo Theater and co-billings with Wilson Pickett, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Stylistics, B.B. King, and nearly even a gig at the famous Copa. While on tour in Raleigh, playing a gig at a club near downtown, Moreland met Cynthia Wilkerson:
We were playing at the Inner City Club in Raleigh here. I don’t know, call it fate. I don’t know why we had to play here. I don’t know why she had to come because she was only like 16. We were playing at the Inner City Club, and we started singing, and there she was…standing right there in front of the stage, standing right there. I saw her, and I said “I got to talk to her,” and I started talking to her…I said “Can I have your phone number”? She said, “I don’t have a phone,” and I said “oh well, there’s another brush off.” And then she said, “But my neighbor has a phone.” And I lit up, I said “Sure, give me that.” That’s how it started. I started calling her. Every time we would go further south like Alabama, when we finished, I would stop here.
Mark IV candid photo with Walter Moreland, second from right.
The pair began dating long distance until Moreland found touring “unbearable,” leading him to quit the group and settle in Zebulon with his soon-to-be wife. Finding employment at Wake Medical Center in Raleigh, where he still works to this day, Moreland also started performing with local soul groups such as Seduction. Later known as Klass, this little-known group would release a 12”-single in 1989. Following is some rare footage of Klass doing the A-side “Body Language” on country singer/broadcaster Slim Short’s “Carolina Today” television program:
From the 1990s until recent times, Moreland was less active on the music scene and more involved with his family, church, and work. Prior to making “Alone,” he did provide the vocals several years ago for an instrumental track made by William Killinger, a physician at Wake Medical Center. The product is some jangly pop called “The Way.” Click on the player below to hear a bit of both “Alone” and “The Way.” Moreland reflected recently on how his life and his singing have changed in the face of tragedy:
When I sing now…if it wasn’t for my wife being killed, I wouldn’t be able to have sung this song. I wouldn’t be more in depth in church. I wouldn’t be going to the temple every week like I’m supposed to. In a way I think God opened my eyes to show me that…because I put Cynthia first. I put her first. He didn’t plan it, but he didn’t stop it. He just made me open my eyes. ‘You’ve got to humble yourself; be more humble. I’m first.’ If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be doing the things that I’m doing now.
Excerpts of “Alone” and “The Way” by Walter Moreland.
Posted on Monday, August 08, 2011
by Jason at 02:38 PM.
While visiting North Carolina rock stalwart Stewart McLamb at his songwriting compound in Black Mountain, NC, I came across a 1969 edition of The Yackety Yak that he had recently purchased at Father and Sons in Raleigh. The Tarheel tome was a beautiful, full-color annual that, through photographs, interviews, and editorials, gave great insight into academic life, race relations, and the political climate of Chapel Hill at this time. Although the Chambers Brothers concert was a marquee event for the Student Union, the photo below was simply used to illustrate nightlife on Fraternity Court. As thousands of bands from across the country frequented the Greek circuit, there is no guarantee that this was a local ensemble. No identifying characteristic accompanies the snap shot, just the word “Hasson” emblazoned across the bass drum. Any guesses?
Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2011
by kirby at 05:59 PM.
The Carolina Soul website serves as a living encyclopedia of soul music made in North and South Carolina. We strive to share Carolinian songs and stories of the last half century, and we invite the input of musicians and fans. We hope you will contact us if you have information on bands or recordings from the region.