At age 26, Steve Marriott had really been around the block a few times. In fact, on three separate occasions. Firstly as a child star of stage and screen in London. Secondly, as a major pop star with the Small Faces. And finally, the hard slogs across America were paying off big time, and he had become a successful rock star with Humble Pie.
He could now head to where he really wanted to be.....to his spritual home of black music - gospel, blues, soul, RnB and all points in between. Adding the Blackberries to Humble Pie was arguably the cream at the top of Steve Marriott's musical career. He certainly thought so.
"Working with the Blackberries was great. I thought it was the best period of the band. I was almost a bit overwhelmed by them at times, because they were so good. I really dug it, because I was always into black music"
In many ways, Steve was living out a dream. And in doing so he gave us a multi-cultural cross-Atlantic blend of rock and gospel-tinged soul, the likes of which had never been seen way back in 1973.
Make no mistake - this was groundbreaking !
Also - make no mistake - he went for the best. The Blackberries were comprised of the best studio session singers in the industry - bar none ! truly world class.
Not that anyone else in the Humble Pie band, or around the band was originally that keen. Firstly, forget the artistic merit, it was an expensive plan !
Jerry Shirley remembers "A&M and the Management Company thought it was the wrong thing to do, from the beginning"
Greg Ridley says "I was a bit dubious at the time. I liked the music with a hard edge to it, and I was thinking 'what are the girls gonna do. Are they gonna add or subtract from the band?' But when they came in they were great. Great singers and a great laugh".
Steve had actually been pushing the idea since the Smokin' era, and he was a hard man to keep saying no to. He envisioned them, not as backing singers, but as full members of the group - and he always introduced them onstage as "the new members of Humble Pie"
He also envisioned the live spectacle of a soul revue - like he had seen in his teenage years - with various (black) guest stars filling solo spots - and with the main Humble Pie contingent acting sometimes as a backing band and sometimes as headliner - in fact in the way that Booker T & the MG's used to highlight Stax artists such as Otis Redding.
He also had in his mind the way Venetta Fields used to solo during the Ike and Tina Turner shows - for example on "The Love of My Man" which appears on the live album from 1964. Or the way Clydie King used to duet with Ray Charles during his show, or also take a solo spot - for example she soloed on "ode to Billie Jo" during 1969 tours with Ray Charles.
"I heard Venetta on the live record of the Ike and Tina Revue, doing "I Know You Don't Love Me No More". I knew her name because Tina introduced her. I couldn't believe her voice. It was outrageous. I always remembered the name and the voice".
Steve was ahead of his time. He didn't fully get there - but with the Blackberries onboard he was able to create an English rock equivalent of the above Ray Charles and Ike and Tina shows.
For their part, the Blackberries didn't realise how big this thing was they were getting into, which led to some dropped jaws as they discovered they had sold out venues like Madison Square Gardens.
And for a while everyone lived the rock n roll lifestyle, travelling on private jets and living it up in the best hotels.
When it ended, and (largely for cost reasons) Steve was forced to part company with the Blackberries, the end of Humble Pie was in sight. He bought into the decision of them going their separate ways. In fact, he may have always known in his heart that it wasn't a permanent arrangement - but from that point the group were on a slide from which they never really recovered.
This is an apt place to start the Blackberries story - with their spiritual and vocal leader. Venetta was the spark that led to the Blackberries joining Humble Pie. Steve was a huge fan of her deep velvet voice and outstanding vocal ability - and his desire was to go get Venetta when he first thought about adding girl singers to the band
Ventta says "I went to a clairvoyant this particular Monday in 1972, and she told me that on Thursday I would get a phone call that would change my life. On Thursday Dee Anthony, who was Humble Pie's Manager, called from New York, and said that this little tiny man called Steve Marriott had been listening to my work for a very long time, and wanted me to get two other girls and come to London and record their latest album. I was so surprised, because I had never heard of them.
We went to London, and were living in an apartment. Later, after we arrived, Steve knocked on the door, we let him in, he walked straight to my chair, fell on his knees and kissed my hand. I was shocked, but blushingly so !
We started recording in a few days and found that we got along great with all the boys, and especially Steve. He and I had a very deep loving relationship. I was like his sister. He took very good care of us.
The recording went so well he asked us to tour the States with him. That was when I found out how popular they were !
I was truly impressed. I had toured with a few artists at that time - but never as popular as this"
Venetta was born in Buffalo, New York. To come right up to date, she gained rightful recognition in 2005 through her induction into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. Also her voice coaching of the winner of TV's "Australian Idol" has significantly raised her profile again in Australia.
But way back then, in her early years, she began singing in church with her mother and with her uncle the Reverend Henry Newkirk. Her initial music career began as a gospel singer - in many local groups as well as church choirs. Probably, the most prominent of these early groups were The Templaires and the Corinthian Gospel Singers.
Venetta was a beautician by trade, after high school, although she says "I didn't have the magic in my hands to create styles". By chance, though, while working in a local beauty salon, a DJ came in to put a poster on the window, and left a couple of passes to the Ike and Tina Turner concert playing at the ice rink nearby.
He had heard that Ike had a vacancy in the Ikettes, and he was thinking about one of Venetta's friends.
The friend was unavailable - so Venetta asked if she could audition instead. Lo and behold, Ike gave her the cab fare home to grab her clothes and join the tour !
The ride lasted for five years, from late 1961 until 1966, during which time Venetta was able to nurture her remarkable singing talent, and hone it on the road with one of the best live acts around, as she became an integral part of the Ike and Tina Revue.
"I was an Ikette for five years. It was a rough job, but it was a very good experience. It's just like a school. You go from grade 1 to 2, not from 1 to 8. And when you graduate you have to leave. There is such a thing as staying too long; when you start getting stagnant and stifled by what you're doing. We almost stayed too long"
Now most people, when asked about the Ikettes, would think about them as Ike and Tina's backing group. But these girls recorded a lot of classic material without Ike and Tina - to the extent that hard core soul fans consider them one of the Top 10 RnB groups of all time !
The Ikettes started life as The Artettes, who were Robbie Montgomery, Frances Hodges and Sandra Harding, and who were backing Art Lassiter. When, one day, Art failed to turn up to record a song that Ike had written with him in mind, Tina Turner went up to sing with the Artettes, and a whole new sound was born ! The girls were now named the Ikettes - and they had a hit record to nurture.
Robbie went away for a spell during pregnancy, but she rejoined the revue, and along with Jessie Smith, and then a year later with Venetta Fields - the line-up settled down and became as stable as it ever would, for a few years.
The Ikettes had already, pre-Venetta, recorded a few singles for ATCO, with the aforementioned "I'm Blue" becoming a sizeable hit.
However, Venetta's first real recording successes in her career came when The Ikettes signed in 1964 to a six record stint on Modern records , and then released "The Camel Walk" in 1965. There followed a big hit with "Peaches and Cream" and then "I'm So Thankful" later in the year. PP Arnold is rumoured to be involved in the latter single - and is certainly on the cover of that year's album along with Venetta and Robbie - although Pat herself believes that she joined the Ikettes after Venetta had gone.
Three further singles, including "He's going to be Fine, Fine, Fine" didn't do so well. Ike was extremely volatile. He didn't pay them much. They certainly didn't see any royalties. In fact, when "Peaches and cream" was a hit, he sent a different group on the road as The Ikettes and kept Venetta and the originals with his Revue !
After one too many volatile incidents, Venetta and the other Ikettes left Ike.
"Finally, We just left as a group. We thought it would give us more power, and it did"
THE IKETTES - FINE FINE FINE * * * * *
Buying this CD was one of the smartest things I've done recently, and one of the biggest musical surprises I've had in a long long time.
The CD basically falls into three categories
- Sixteen tracks from the classic mid sixties period, including all the singles
- Two tracks taken live from the Ike and Tina Revue, one featuring Robbie Montgomery on lead, and one featuring Venetta
- Six studio tracks, featuring Dolores Johnson on one and Venetta featuring lead on five
The sixteen tracks have dated well. They are clearly sixties period, but have transcended the years well, and really showcase what a class act the Ikettes were ! The Ikettes are a heady mixture. Take a good straightforward RnB band, and mix with a typical 60's girl group sound - and you've got the base. Add good songs, and some great voices. Then throw in a little pinch of Motown, and a liberal sprinkling of Ray Charles feel, with horns and keyboards, and you're nearly there. Add some 6/8 and other intricate rhythms, with perhaps the odd nod to Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and even the doo wop groups and you get the Ikettes.
Their biggest hit "Peaches and Cream" is pure RnB. "He's Going to be Fine Fine Fine" is RNB mixed with catchy pop. The other singles come across well - and their album tracks of the period are good.
Secondly - the live material. Robbie Montgomery leading from the front of the Ike and Tina Revue on "I Love the Way You Love" is great - but when Venetta Fields comes up on "The Love of my Man", magic descends - yes it's that good. I can now firmly see where Steve Marriott was coming from - where the idea of the Blackberries joining Humble Pie came from - where his vision of a live Revue was coming from.
And what a bonus the five studio tracks are of Venetta leading the Ikettes - absolutely spectacular. There is no doubt that Venetta could have been a successful solo artist - a diva in her own right !
In fact, two of these are the two sides of an old 1963 single, You're Still My Baby / I'm Leaving You, released as Venetta Fields with the Ike Turner Band and they are just phenomenal !
This CD is a great, great summary of the Ikettes at their peak
THE IKETTES - I'M BLUE * * *
This CD, on Krypton label, and allegedly from Italy, must rank as the most amateur looking "official release" CD I've ever seen. The packaging is apalling.
However, this is rectified by some very fine music. The 18 tracks pull together most of the early 60's Ikettes material (largely without Venetta) and some late 60's and early 70's material, again without Venetta.
Our girl apears here on very few of the tracks.
The highlights are the irrepressible Gong Gong song - officially titled "I'm Blue", which is commercial RnB at its best. A hit in 1962.
"Down Down" is a mid sixties "B" side with spoken verses. But it works well. Very slow, deep voices and organ backing, building up to the introduction of a brass section. Very nice !
And "So Fine" comes from 1968, when Venetta had moved on, with great voices over an acoustic guitar riff, and with plenty of "Oh Lordy's", before leading again into a brass section
The real value of this CD is that it complements the above "Fine Fine Fine" CD beautifully - providing the earlier and much later Ikettes material, and staying away from the "Fine Fine Fine" classic period.
When she left the Ikettes, Venetta wanted to live in LA. Ike and Tina had moved their base there a couple years previously. This was also the centre of the music industry, and, having now found her musical feet, within a couple of years it allowed her to pursue her wish of becoming a studio session singer.
They left the Ike and Tina Revue along with Tina's sister Alline Bullock as Manager and signed to legendary LA soul label Mirwood - who got the headache of Ike refusing to let them use the name Ikettes.
They became The Mirettes,(Ike Turner - Ikettes, Mirwood Records - Mirettes ) and they recorded at Mirwood during 1966 and 1967. The basic line-up was Venetta, Jessie Smith and Robbie Montgomery - who, remember, went all the way back to when the group were originally called The Artettes. Delores Johnson joined, and increased credibility, as she was the original Ikettes lead singer.
The Mirwood Records name was a shortening of 'Mira Wood', the young daughter of owner and ex Vee Jay Records President Randy Woods. They had their offices on Sunset Strip, and they were to be very influential in the origins of the Blackberries. But more of that later.
Meantime, Ike didn't miss a beat - and he released a single on Phil Spector's Phi-Dan label, with a rumoured Ikettes line-up of PP Arnold, Brenda Holloway and Patrice Holloway.
over the next few years, there were sporadic releases of singles and albums on Innis Records, Pompeii Records and United Artists under the banner of The Ikettes - but the classic years were now long gone - and more importantly, Venetta and Robbie were now gone.
Venetta, as mentioned above, had moved to Mirwood, and The Ikettes now recorded as The Mirettes. And while Motown and Stax are the cornerstone of the soul sound, arguably there's no Northern Soul without Mirwood. It is the label of choice for most Northern Soul fans.
Here Venetta rubbed shoulders with singer/songwriter/producer Sherlie Matthews - who was one of the real driving forces at Mirwood. She recorded not only The Mirettes, but a number of the label's other artists, and she produced many soul classics along the way, including several of her own songs.
The Mirettes didn't have chart success at Mirwood, despite making some great tracks, such as "He's Alright With Me", "Your Kind Ain't no Good" and the Sherlie Matthews penned and produced "Now that I Found You Baby"
The group moved on next to Revue Records and then to Minit Records in 1968, and later to Uni Records and ZEA. A number of singles were released on these labels, with some level of success. "First Love" was released on Revue. Then they had a Top 20 RnB hit and a reasonable pop hit with "In the Midnight Hour". An album of the same name followed.
Later the "Help Wanted" 7" was released on Minit Records, before an album called "Whirlpool" on Uni, and a single "Ain't You Trying to Cross Over"
The last single, however, on Zea in 1970 was noteworthy, certainly in pointing the way forward.
"Ain't My Stuff Good Enough", which was written by Sherlie Matthews, was released - and within a year it would also appear on Clydie King's first solo album - with backing vocals from Venetta and Sherlie !
The destiny between these three ladies was slowly but surely forming !
THE MIRETTES - SINGLES * * *
Now That I Found You Baby (Mirwood) * * *
Written by Sherlie Matthews, and strangely reminiscent of PP Arnold on Immediate. This is good, but The Mirettes struggle a bit to find the heights of The Ikettes classic material
Your Kind Ain't no Good (Mirwood) * * *
nice mid-paced funk track. The girls try to elevate it above the ordinary, but it's a pretty average song
Ain't You Trying to Cross Over (Uni) * * *
Nice song, but this single comes across with a little bit of a thin sound - not especially well recorded. It is all round pleasant - nice voices and harmonies, around a hook of "Ain't you trying to cross over - before we get to the bridge"
"Say young fellow, let me catch my breath
cos we only met a moment ago"
Heart Full of Gladness (Uni) * * *
This is a bit of a soul shouter over a (pretty thin) horn riff. Good song
"Funny how a thing like love
washes out the pain
bleaches out the darker part
sweeps it down the drain"
Ain't My Stuff Good Enough (ZEA Records) * * * *
Again Sherlie Matthews penned, a few of the Mirettes/Matthews tracks, like this one, feature a quirky kind of intro. This track here is almost a classic single. Not as good as the Clydie King version recorded a year later, but it features a lush full production, with strings and harps, and a great sax with backing vocals break. Deserved to be a hit
The Time and the Season (ZEA Records) * * *
A curious "b" side. A slower song, with good vocals, perhaps spoiled by overproduction, with harps and organ. Then half way through it breaks into the standard Mirwood / northern soul fast paced beat, with additional male vocals, before changing again towards the end.
THE MIRETTES ALBUM - IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR * * * * *
Now you're talking !!
This is the real showcase for The Mirettes. The album is a consistent top standard throughout, with little dollops of brilliance throughout.
The sound is still just a little bit thin - this would be a great project for someone nowadays to remaster and really bring it back to life - as all the basics are there - good songs, good performance....and the bass player here (whoever it is) is absolutely fantastic.
The album gets off to a very good start with the single "Take me for a Little While", which is quite poppy, and it's "B" side "The Real Thing", a big production Venetta ballad.
"I'm a Whole New Thing" is another "B" side, and it's absolutely great. Up tempo RnB, with fabulous bass playing.
"On the Good Ship Lollipo" is just the laziest funky track you'll ever hear, and it really hits the mark, while "Somewhere" from West Side Story closes out Side 1 in classic style.
It's tempting to say that Side 2 can't be as good as this - but a very fast "Keep on Running" is an excellent start, with great twin saxophones. "First Love" is another single - a power ballad from Venetta, while "Tweedle Dee" and "To Love Somebody" build up in great style to (possibly) the best track "in the Midnight Hour"
Great album !
The Mirettes had their highs, particualrly with the above "In the Midnight Hour" LP, but ultimately they didn't really reach their potential. Lack of interest from their record companies didn't help. Lack of promotion sure didn't help ! And as the Mirettes' career dwindled and wound down, Venetta, was now keen to do pursue session singing as a necessity.
She had now begun to move more in that direction. 1970 was a pivotal year, in which Venetta contributed to albums by artists such as Great Jones, Ron Davies and Jackie de Shannon. She really started to make her mark - more often than not, singing with another stalwart of the session singers, Clydie King.
The two of them were on their way to becoming the pre-eminent female backing singers for the music establishment.
They would go on to record together with Tim Buckley, Steely Dan, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, The Doors and Dusty Springfield, among many others. Before too long, at the end of 1971 in fact, there was a huge highlight in working on "Exile on Main Street" with the Rolling Stones - an album still considered today to be the Stones' best.
Venetta probably first worked with Clydie during the Mirwood years. Sherlie Matthews used to be responsible for contracting the backing singers at Mirwood, and the ones she used most (with herself) were Brenda and Patrice Holloway, Gloria Jones, Clydie King and Venetta.
Certainly they were both working out of MINIT records in 1968 - Venetta with The Mirettes, and Clydie releasing solo records.
They both probably also worked together on the "Sisters Love" project at A&M in 1969, although neither of them became permanent members. The A&M archives suggest this.
By this time, Clydie had been working in the music industry a long time.
She released her first solo singles ("Our Romance" and also "I'm Invited to your Party") on the Specialty label 14 years previously, at the age of twelve, in her home town of Dallas.
In fact, by 1971 she had released no fewer than thirteen solo singles, including as Clydie King and the Sweet Things (who appeared on the 1962 TV pilot of "Shindig"), and singles with Mel Carter and with Jimmy Holiday.
If her album liner notes are to be believed, Clydie had sung on 500 albums by this time !!!
(everyone from Dean Martin to The Beatles)
Clydie could do it all. Lead singer or backing vocals. She could sing it loud and raucous or soft and gentle, all with consummate ease - and she had become a benchmark for those trying to get to the top of the music session industry.
Interestingly, in her early church years she met Billy Preston, where they sang together as kids.
Preston was to loom large in her future musical career, playing organ in Ray Charles band at the same time as Clydie, before contributing to and producing Clydie's records.
Meantime, she was already making an almighty splash in Dallas and Houston. When she was only eight years old, legendary TV host Art Linkletter labled her the "next Marian Anderson", after the great black opera singer.
There is at least one single out there, credited to "little" Clydie King !
Quincy Jones became a friend, and fan, in 1962, making one of her singles. In fact, he claims to have been "wiped out" when Clydie and Billy Preston recorded one of his songs for his 1968 soundtrack "The Split".
And, she had become a recognisable face throughout America through appearances on every major TV Variety Show, including Ed Sullivan, Kraft Music Hall, The Smothers Brothers and Red Shelton. She had also appeared on Hollywood Palace with Sammy Davis Jr.
Clydie met up with Sherlie Matthews in the mid sixties, and they worked together on many occasions.
Together, they scored a Top 20 hit in 1965 behind Charlotte (Matheny) O'Hara as "Bonnie and the Treasures", thought of as a classic by soul afficiandos (and by myself!). They also worked together on the 1966 "Peter, Paul and Mary" album.
In fact, Sherlie co-wrote one of Clydie's "B" sides with Jerry Riopole.And the tangled web continues - as Jerry Riopole was responsible for writing and producing some of what is considered Clydie's finest work - sides like "The Thrill is Gone", "My Love Grows Deeper", "Missing my Baby" and "If You were a Man".
In fact, it was after hearing "The Thrill is Gone" that Phil Spector hired him as writer/producer on his Philles label...leading in fact to the above Bonnie & the Treasures single.
....but also ultimately leading to Jerry becoming staff producer at A&M records !
As stated above, Clydie also helped out often at Mirwood with Sherlie and Venetta. "Cigarette Ashes" by Jimmy Conwell is one of the recordings there she is rumoured to appear on
CLYDIE KING - THE EARLY SINGLES * * * * *
To my knowledge, these haven't been licensed and have never been released on CD. Some of them can be bought quite cheaply, but a number of them are very sought after as Northern Soul classics, and therefore fetch several hundred dollars
Here's a sample
Our Romance * * * *
from 1956. It may sound like Happy Days - but is actually a great slice of perfect pop / doo wop from a vocally confident very young Clydie
Ready Willing and Able * * * *
released as "Jimmy Holliday and Clydie King". Both contribute well on this Motown sounding effort....good vocal interplay.........Jimmy sings "Clydie this and that". Clydie sings "Jimmy this and That"
I'll Never Stop Loving You * * * * *
Top drawer single. mid-paced Jimmy Holliday song, produced by Cal Carter. Classic pop vocal from Clydie. Excellent
The Boys in my Life * * * * *
released by Clydie King and the Sweet Things in 1962, this is a classic of its genre, which is girl doo wop group
The Thrill is Gone * * * * *
More Spectoeresque than Spector. Fabulous. 1965 release in Imperial
One of These Good for Crying over You Days * * * * *
Rivals The Thrill is Gone as Clydie's best. Fantastic 1968 release on MINIT. soulful bluesy mixture
Love now Pay Later * * *
The last of Clydie's early run of solo singles - a mid paced release from 1968 on MINIT