In spite of all that I have written in these pages about my various Southern sojourns over the years, I actually dislike travel… it was never fun, and I have traveled very little in my life just for the hell of it. My swings through the Southeast were all the result of being “possessed” and were made bearable by the fact that I had somewhere to go back to – call it “home”, if you will. It’s a dislike that gets stronger as I age, for I feel that I have spent too much of my life away from “home” attending various schools (from the age of 14) or working on various research projects. One of the benefits, though, of traveling into geographical fringes is that one can often find items of interest long unavailable in the densely populated centers of the world. In the SE, for example, I found lots of interesting used guitars in pawn-shops, as well as some very desirable used book stores – that was how I found my copy of Johnny Otis’ LISTEN TO THE LAMBS, just to mention one. That took place after Bastin and I had gathered the many 78s and 45s in the early stages of our voyaging, when I was more or less on my own for a decade. Earlier, I remember being in Honolulu in 1961 (on my way home from my first trip to Oz) and being able to locate all sorts of jazz LPs that had long disappeared from the NYC area stores. Vanguards produced by John Hammond (Vic Dickenson, or Ruby Braff), a Jimmie Lunceford on Decca – so many of those tantalizing references in John S. Wilson’s books on recorded jazz were amazingly available to me there.
In Wellington near the end of 2001 I had an analogous experience, for New Zealand certainly is within the geographical fringes of the world! Now, of course, we’re talking CDs, but the principal remains the same. In a store called Slow Boat Records was a box set that I had had designs on for some time, one that had gone out-of-print by the time I approached the good folks at Red Lick. So it was with great surprise and joy that I found a new copy of the four-disc set from EMI of stuff on the Sue labels from NYC. And its collation of great 60s R’n’B-to-soul has set off a number of reactions in this grey boy’s gray matter – and not because I found three more!
First off, it’s amazing how good a producer Henry Jones was (for a Black NYC real-estate operator). Right from the git-go in 1956 with Bobby Hendricks’ “Itchy Twitchy Feeling”, the man p/k/a “Juggy Murray” made hits. We all have to start somewhere in this business and work our way through it, but he seems to have just jumped in with both feet and no experience and just DONE it. Granted such box sets are prime examples of catalogue cherry picking, but so much of what Juggy Murray released on his various labels was good, and much of it sold well, albeit solely to the African-American market. This was NOT the stuff you’d hear much on WABC or WINS in the New York area – it was for Motown, not Sue, to crack the White/AM radio- barrier a bit later. Murray also brought in other producers and purchased master from others, but he was responsible for the bulk of the label’s productions. He was the one with whom the buck stopped!
Starting off with doo-wop and rock & roll, Juggy moved easily into Black pop, soul, and even early funk. Some of his soul productions veered more towards the Stax model (Eddie & Ernie), while others toward the more mainstream example of Motown (Baby Washington). There was also a strong (and expected) New York flavor to many singles (The Soul Sisters, or Derek Martin): one of my theories about Murray’s success was that he used top NYC session players, as had Atlantic earlier… guys who could handle anything well and professionally. While his labels covered all sorts of African-American musical possibilities, including jazz, and did well, there was no gospel! It would not have been for lack of possible performers in the genre, for the New York Area was and is rife with notable gospel artists, quartets, and choirs. Doing the production most of the time and using his instincts (and probably those of the NYC backing musicians), Juggy’s hands-on approach prefigured that of Motown later in Detroit. His output was staggeringly varied and of impressive quality, a truly NYC success story, but mainly a Black one. A more commercially successful Bobby Robinson, if you will. I’m glad that someone has done the needed documentation on the label, although box producer and booklet-writer Alan Warner is a bit vague on why it all folded up after 1966. The booklet itself is jam-packed, but difficult to read… better understood when listening to the CDs than read on its own. A great find, though, on the musical level.
Another level of appreciation of this set for me is along the lines of Marcel Proust and LA RERCHERCHE DUY TEMPS PERDU. You know, the massive multi-volume novel written by something of a nut case in a cork-lined room in Paris… that one! Well, I had to read SWANN’S WAY as a part of my tertiary education, so I know all there is to know about “madeleines” and this set resonates for me in a fashion similar to the damn biscuit did for old Marcel. Juggy’s time-frame was 1957 to 1966, a period that overlapped most of my higher education (except Penn and folklore). During those years I was living in New Jersey and was partially addicted to WNJR-AM in Newark and WWRL-AM in New York City (O&S 29). I now realize, from listening to this series of CDs, that Murray had a good conduit going with the regional radio stations and so much here is a strong part of the sound-track of my life at that time. The Soul Sisters, Baby Washington, Inez & Charlie Foxx, Jimmy McGriff, Ike & Tina… the list goes on. I even managed to see/hear some of these folks at The Apollo Theatre. Now, I was a blues and jazz purist back then, so I purchased almost none of the singles (regrettably), but it made for some really great radio. Now that I can better appreciate the music, this box is a godsend.
Also well-demonstrated by this box is the continuing genius of Ike Turner both as a producer and a song-writer, as well as a musician… without Juggy Murray and Sue Records, the Ike Turner saga would probably be very different. Obviously, the seminal Ike and Tina sides that were produced for Sue get top billing here… with his eclectic touch, they are not blues, or R’n’B, or soul, or pop, or rock & roll, but a variable mixture of all of the above, but one that is definitively Black. These records are the beginning of something really big and they hold up extremely well over time. But that wasn’t all. Included in the set are sides by Eloise Carter, Jimmy & Jean, Tommy Hodges, and Jackie Brenston that Ike also was responsible for… he was good. The Brenston cuts, “You Ain’t The One” and “I Wanna Marry You”, along with the much earlier “Rocket 88” on Chess show what Turner could do with a journeyman performer – Jackie’s best work, without a doubt. Ike’s pianism is all over the place, not to mention his guitar – “The New Breed”, or “Prancing” are great introductions into Whammy World! And judging from his most recent CDs, Ike could still cut it… a remarkable career.
Finally, 20:20 hindsight and the tabloids make the Ike & Tina sides for Sue terribly foreshadowing and reflective of their relationship as it has been presented to us in print and on the screen. Consider just these song titles in the order they are presented on the set: “A Fool For You”; “I Idolize You”; “I’m Jealous”; “Poor Fool”; “You Should’a Treated Me Better”; “Worried & Hurtin’ Inside”. All these tunes are written by Ike for Tina to sing, and all point the finger towards the abusive (on many levels) male. The chorus from their first Sue hit, “A Fool In Love”, sung by the Ikettes with Tina’s shouts overlapping, is enough to make my point:
You just a fool
you know you’re in love.
You got to face it,
to (be) living this way.
You say he’s good;
you know he’s been bad.
Sometimes you’re happy
and sometimes you’re sad.
You know you love him,
you can’t understand
Why he treats you like he do
when he’s such a good man.
Spooky, what? Read the books. In a sense it’s all there, maybe in advance. There’s at least a Master’s thesis if not a doctoral dissertation there for someone into the psychological analysis of song lyrics… especially if looked at from a feminist perspective! I’m not the lad, though… poetics makes my head hurt and I cannot describe what semiotics does to my general well-being in a family magazine such as this.
It may seem a bit far from the starting-point of this piece, but these are some of the things that have come to mind from listening to the box set (The Sue Records Story on EMI 7234 8 28093 2 6). It is a well-executed treasure trove of Black music from NYC spread over a decade, a collection that stands up against any other similar record label collection. Juggy Murray was a genius and this collection shows us how much of a one – he was Berry Gordy before Berry Gordy and the proof is right here, in the grooves, where it always is!
Peter B. Lowry