In a continued effort to give Greensboro some praise, we are posting this gospel offering from the Alston Singers, released in 1971 on Walter Grady’s Cobra label. With their uptempo testimony “I’m Holding On” clocking in at just over two minutes, this group from nearby Burlington would go on to curse Grady’s name in unison with many of their secular labelmates. No confirmations as to whether the Lord’s name was taken in vain.
Greensboro, North Carolina’s long-lived Mighty Majors band ranks as one of the state’s best-remembered R&B outfits of all time, and we’re happy to tell of their origins with assistance from their founder, leader, bass guitar player, and sometimes producer George D. Bishop, III. Bishop is a native of Asheville, North Carolina who excelled at sports and served as student body president at the mountain town’s last African-American high school, Steven Lee. Outside of school, Bishop held down the bass in the Original Tams Orchestra of Brevard, North Carolina, who played behind the likes of Bo Diddley, Curtis Mayfield, and Gladys Knight. Upon his arrival on a music scholarship at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro in 1964, the eager teenager was asked to provide the backing at his class’s freshman talent show, for which he brought together fellow music majors. Their performance a success, and with encouragement to continue gigging, Bishop went for an obvious choice in name—the Majors—and began offering their services to national touring acts—their ability to read music meant they could learn the hits quickly—and Bishop also transcribed tunes for local producers and songwriters who needed to prepare lead sheets for copyright registration, including a young Walter Grady. Bishop graduated from A&T in 1968, but the band continued to play on high-profile gigs, and on one in Shelby, North Carolina that year, local promoter Ray Caviness dubbed them the “Mighty Majors”, and the lengthened handle stuck around. Below we’ve got audio, images, and commentary on all their recordings as the (Mighty) Majors and the Third Membrane, plus one as the Party Brothers. The latter, from their days backing up Jamo Thomas, might be their first, and it’s a funky nod to the college where their story began. party_brothers_-_ats_party.mp3
Gate City Records
In the early 1970s, Bishop founded his own Gate City label. Possibly the only release, this Crescent-City Sound Studio-recorded rarity showcases the Majors at their funkiest. Note the hand-stamped artist name; I have another copy that doesn’t have it! majors_-_rap_rap_rap.mp3
Sounds Like Chicago
Around the same time as the Gate City effort, Bishop calculated that a shift in style might help reach new markets. Crafting what he looks back on as “a gay, uptempo, happy sound” in the form of “My Little Heart Starts Thumpin”—certainly influenced by famous pop/rock act Chicago—and pairing it with a strange, randomly-concocted name “Third Membrane”, Bishop co-produced with Jimmy Cheek the first of several releases by different artists for the local imprint House of Big Brother. We are aware of only one other ‘70s-era 45 on the label, by the Roy Roberts Experience. Check the drum break at about 1:38. third_membrane_-_my_little_heart_starts_thumpin.mp3
The aforementioned Kevan Tynes provides the falsetto on this lovely mid-‘70s track cut at Harry Deal’s Galaxie III Studios in Taylorsville, North Carolina (an earlier version was made at Bishop’s own Reel Time Studio, but it is unclear whether it was ever pressed) and released by Homer David Smith, owner of the Bandit label in Asheville. Richard Butler, later of Gaston, the flagship act of the Chocolate Cholly’s label, alternates with his gorgeous tenor. Many consider the result to be the Majors’ finest hour. mighty_majors_-_you_can_never_go_back_(to_a_love_thats_lost).mp3
“Our Own Music City” debuts today, gracing the cover of Greensboro’s most affordable weekly, Go Triad. If you live in the area, you can acquire a tangible copy at one of hundreds of baskets scattered throughout the Piedmont (Harris-Teeter is a good place to start…What up, Matthews!). If you’d rather read it now, the newfangled way, click here. Here at Carolina Soul, we will continue posting gems from the Gate City all week long, and we invite you to do the same; if you’ve got photos, flyers, or just fond memories, feel free to chime in at any point.
Joining the discussion of Greensboro, subject of Kirby’s great forthcoming Go Triad article, and perhaps the most prolific of Carolina soul cities, I’ll start off with a short post, just a little taste of more to come: Audio below of some synth-soul that shouts out the Greensboro City Teen Depot. Anyone ever hang out there in the ‘80s?
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.