The following article is by contributor Josh Davis, based on recent conversations he and Jason Perlmutter had with Blenders members Hobart “Bill” Sharpe and Ervin Stowe.
The Blenders didn’t even know they had a third record.
Members of the teenage funk band—one of Winston-Salem’s best in the late 1960s and early ‘70s—were proud of their first two records. In 1971, they recorded parts 1 and 2 of “Nothing But a Party” for Greensboro producer Walter Grady’s Cobra Records. A year later the Blenders released a second 45, with the instrumental funk masterpiece “When You Git Through Wit It, Put It Back” on the A-side and “You Got It All, Ain’t No More” on the B-side. That record came out on Grayslak, a label whose name referenced both Grady and his partner Wayman “Slack” Johnson, a popular disk jockey at the Greensboro black-oriented radio station, WEAL.
All four Blenders sides feature horn-driven, up-tempo instrumental funk, sometimes with a little background chatter. You can tell from these records that the group listened carefully to Kool and the Gang’s early albums and also James Brown’s J.B.’s band. Like their musical role models, the Blenders had a huge band, with no fewer than nine instrumentalists: Graham Fletcher on alto saxophone, Brevard Foggie on tenor sax, Michael “Iceman” Douthit on trumpet, Darrell Sharpe on trombone, Hobart “Bill” Sharpe on bass guitar, Ervin Payne on lead guitar, William “Ronnie” Eller on drums, Ervin Stowe on accompanying percussion, and Eugene Bess on organ. J.C. Moore joined the band as a vocalist for its live performances.
Several years after cutting these records, Blenders member Bill Sharpe came across a curious 45 titled “Super Party” by the group the Soul Hustlers, released on Grady’s Linco label. Sharpe was surprised that he had never heard of this local band, and he was shocked to read his own name, “H. Sharpe,” listed as the record’s composer. Once he listened to the 45, he realized he was in fact hearing a song the Blenders had recorded with Grady and possibly cut in the same session as their first two records. The problem was that Grady, as Sharpe and Stowe recount, hadn’t told anyone in the group that he was releasing the song, and he also forgot to tell the Blenders he was renaming them the Soul Hustlers.
The Greensboro entrepreneur may well have played a trick on the Blenders, one that more than a few unsuspecting rookies in the music business have fallen prey to. As the story typically went, a producer had some talented and trusting kids put down a few tracks in a studio. Then he pressed one or two records from that session right away, but told the band that the other songs weren’t good enough for commercial release. The producer would hold the “bad” songs in reserve but release them at a later date under another group’s name, preferably on a different label. Grady added his own strange twist of gratitude to this formula by crediting Sharpe. Eventually, a number of dubious business deals like these earned the Greensboro producer a memorable nickname among local musicians: “Shady Grady.”
The Blenders’ two credited 45s and a live repertoire filled with covers of hits helped them get regular gigs throughout the Carolinas in the early ‘70s. A knack for publicity didn’t hurt, either. One day, the band pulled off an elaborate PR stunt by marching on the Winston-Salem Police station in their full stage attire, looking something like Funkadelic in its early days, as Sharpe recalls. But by 1974, the Blenders felt they had outgrown Winston, and they decided to move and make a name for themselves nationally. They first relocated to Griffin, Georgia, of all places, a small town southwest of Atlanta where they worked as a house band for a club for a several months. From there the band added “Blast” to their name (see header photo), and a string of house gigs took the band to Kansas City, Las Vegas, and even Toronto, but that story will have to wait for another time…
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.
Upon the release of “I’d Like To Touch A Star,” Steven and Sheldon Leder were enamored with soul musicians like Stevie Wonder, but more likely to be mistaken for Steely Dan. Wilson, North Carolina, although a safe distance from the coast, was well-within the event horizon of beach music’s influential reach. So between regional sets by the Embers and treks to see Count Basie in some intracoastal bowling alley, the Leder Brothers kindled a manner of music they felt made dutiful nods to all of their influences. All one-thousand of them.
Oddly, Steven and Sheldon Leder were not even the most famous Leder Brothers in Wilson County when this record (and the corresponding LP, Capitol Hill) materialized. Brothers Leon and Morris Leder got a forty-year head start, opening their own Leder Brothers enterprise in 1934, a department store which still serves the needs of the Tobacco-centric city to this day. Being recent emigrants from Eastern Europe, Leder Brothers catered to all residents, Black, White, or otherwise. Once Steven and Sheldon began demoing songs, scheduling gigs and recording dates, what better name than the reputable Leder Brothers? The name you can trust? Several of Leon’s children maintain the shop, a mom-and-pop (brother-and-sister, rather) stronghold for Wilson County residents seeking anything from Sunday Best suits to tube socks.
Durham, North Carolina’s Family Sircle group plans to release two CD singles ahead of a 14-track full-length in mid-August. The first single, which you can preview below, is entitled “Natural Attraction.” The group will be performing this number and many others in concert at the Alston Avenue Elks Lodge on Saturday, July 2nd (3920 South Alston Ave, Durham, NC). This will only be their third performance since long-time vocalist Edgar Saunders passed away in the fall of 2009.
These sweet soul specialists’ Carolina Soul roots run deep. Edgar Saunders (in the middle on the cover of their 1999 debut, below) sang with several local ‘70s-era acts including Blue Steam (aka Formula 12) and the Modulations. His brothers Stanley Saunders and Jerome Saunders worked with Duralcha and the Differences, respectively, and represent half of their re-vamped vocal line-up (they’re on the left and right in the picture at the top of this entry). Barry Nichols (pictured in the middle, above) and Pierce McKoy (not pictured; worked out-of-state for a spell with national artist Main Ingredient), share the singing duties.
Excerpt of “Natural Attraction” by Family Sircle (2011).
R&B vocalist Shirley Clinton will celebrate the release of her third solo CD “Just Think About It” on Saturday June 25, 2011 at the American Legion Post in Greensboro, North Carolina (3214 McConnell Road; near NC A&T’s Aggie Farm). Opening acts include Betty Jackson, a new solo artist and a sister of Ms. Clinton, and Psychic, a Greensboro-based reggae performer. More details are on Facebook.
A niece of George Clinton, Ms. Clinton’s first record “You Mean the World to Me” came out in 1992; her sophomore effort “So Love” followed 17 years later under the moniker Queenie ToVahn. Preceding her solo career, Ms. Clinton cut her teeth on the 1980s Carolina Soul scene. By the mid-‘80s she was the lead vocalist for the Undertakers Band of Greensboro. Later known as Horizon, this outfit was managed by Curt Moore for a time. The musical leaders of the group were the guitarist brothers Johnny and Allen Woodard and Clinton family friend Lonnie Dodson on keys. (Dodson now tours with the Chairman of the Board.) Before breaking out on her own, Ms. Clinton next joined the Mighty Majors, subject of previous Carolina Soul posts.
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.