© 2018 Todd Baptista e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The second week of June always brings personal memories of the mighty Spaniels, the powerhouse R&B vocal group of the 1950s, to the forefront of my mind. That’s because their key voices, lead singer and principal songwriter Thornton James “Pookie” Hudson (1934-2007) and resonant bass, Gerald D. “Bounce” Gregory (1934-1999), who anchored the group’s bluesy harmony, were born a day part, June 11 and 10, respectively. While the Spaniels’ classic Vee Jay sides, recorded over a seven-year association with the company from 1953-1960 are well-documented, Hudson and the group’s subsequent recordings, made for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Lloyd Price, are less acclaimed but indeed worthy of examining.
Price, whose own hits spanned the dawn of rock’n’roll (“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” in 1952) to then-recent pop successes on ABC-Paramount (“Stagger Lee”, “Personality”) was truly an innovator in the music business. Long before artists owning record labels and music publishing companies were the norm, Price and his business partner, Harold Logan, had established KRC Records with a third party and cultivated their own Lloyd and Logan Music Publishing firm. “In 1958, nobody had ever done that before,” Price told interviewer Larry Katz. “In 1956, when I did my first record company, no artist, black or white, had ever done that. Logan was older than I was. I was just a kid. I instantly took a liking to him. In West Virginia, he was a dance promoter. He loved to skate and bowl. I didn’t look at him as just a promoter. I’d work for a percentage and he’d always have the money right. So when I got drafted in the service, I started corresponding with him. He would say to me, man, you’ve got to watch this. Watch yourself, do this (and) do that. When I came out of the service I went to see him. I asked him to come in the business with me, and he said no. He never wanted to be more than he was…a hustler. So from his hustling experience, just sitting and talking and riding with him, it kind of rubbed off and I was able to apply his wisdom to what I was doing.”
“I liked Pookie,” Lloyd Price told interviewer David Booth in 1986. “I thought he was so soulful with that nice little soft voice he had.” So when Hudson’s time at Vee Jay came to an end, Lloyd and Logan decided to record him and brokered a deal to release the recordings on Neptune Records, a firm started by Donald Shaw out of a Newark, New Jersey record shop in 1958, eventually relocating to 1650 Broadway in New York City. An affiliation existed between Neptune, Zell Sanders’ J&S Records and her daughter Johnnie Richardson’s Dice label. Advertising and marketing for the three imprints, under the umbrella J&S and Neptune Distributors, was a unified effort.
By this point, Gerald Gregory had left the Spaniels. “Gerald and I broke up in Philadelphia,” Hudson recalled some 30 years after the fact. “I always loved Sonny Til and Sonny called me and asked me if I could get a group together,” recalled Gregory. “I told him to meet me in Philadelphia and he did.” Gerald and Sonny organized a new Orioles group that recorded for Charlie Parker Records in 1962. The Spaniels now consisted of Pookie Hudson, Billy Carey, Andrew Magruder, and Robert “Pete” Simmons, who sang bass and played guitar.
Hudson wrote one side of the group’s July, 1961 release for Neptune, “Meek Man”, which was published by Lloyd and Logan Music. An uptempo, string-laden version of the often-recorded Brown Dots’ chestnut, “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” was chosen for the reverse side. Road manager, Ricky Burton, sang bass. “Robert Simmons, who played the guitar was singing the bass,” explained Hudson. “The road manager inserted some bass parts but he never really sang with us, he was just in on the session. He did the bass parts. When we got on stage, ‘Pete’ Simmons did the bass.”
The Spaniels’ next single, “Turn Out The Lights”/”John Brown”, also recorded for Price and Logan, appeared on the Parkway label in April of 1962. “All that was Lloyd Price,” Hudson confirmed. “He recorded it. He just leased it to Parkway. He had (a relationship with) Neptune at the time and he leased ‘Turn Out The Lights’ to Parkway.” Credited to “Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels”, the single featured the Neptune voices minus the road manager’s “because it didn’t call for a bass part.” Both sides were collaborations between Price and Logan and were published by their newly-minted Prigan Music partnership.
Price told interviewer Katz that the lopsided financial arrangements between record companies and artists drove him, in partnership with Logan, to publishing, production and management. “I never thought it was right, for example, if you create one of the fastest airplanes in the world, and you take your design to someone to help you get it to the public, and they tell you, ‘we’re going to give you 2% and take 98 %. ABC (Paramount) wanted me to break up the Lloyd and Logan relationship. They offered me a lot of money to dump Logan and I just would not do that because of principle and that caused (the ABC) relationship to end.” Undeterred, the pair were on their way to establishing a new label, Double-L, by the end of 1962 with distribution aided by Al Bennett’s California-based Liberty Records.
Discouraged by the failure of the two Price-Logan singles, the Spaniels dissolved and Hudson moved to Philadelphia. In need of a helping hand, Pookie reached out to Price and became the first artist signed by his friend to Double-L. With only $7, Hudson decided to journey to New York in December of 1962 to launch his career with Double-L.
“I was destitute then,” Hudson admitted. “I was staying in Philadelphia and I was going to record for Lloyd anyway, so I caught the bus out of Philadelphia and went up to New York without an appointment. When I got to New York, I called Lloyd and they had all gone on Christmas vacation! So here I am in New York with $7. You can’t get in or out for $7 and I didn’t know anybody. It was about the week before Christmas. And I slept in Central Park, man. A newspaper kept me warm. I slept on the benches. I’d walk from there to Union Station and change clothes. I’d go in the locker room down there and wash up and it would cost me a quarter for the locker. And I’d walk from there to 125th Street to see if I could run into anybody I knew. I truly had better times. But I had the faith that it was going to work out, so I held onto it.”
When the Double-L team returned from vacation Hudson was rewarded with a recording session, and presumably a place to sleep. Initially intended as a solo recording, the session became a group effort. “Jealous Heart”, a song Hudson had written, was recorded. “Lloyd hired Richard Barrett to do the session,” Hudson remembered. “Richard, at the time, was managing the Imperials and he had them around so he had them do the background. Plus, we ended up doing ‘I Know, I Know’ which Sammy Strain wrote. We did ‘Three Steps From The Truth’ which was never released. We did it at the same session as ‘I Know, I Know’.”
The Imperials, who had split from Little Anthony in 1961, consisted of tenors George Kerr and Sammy Strain, second tenor Ernest Wright and baritone-bass Clarence Collins. Later in 1963, Kerr left and the remaining three reunited with Anthony.
Veteran trumpeter, arranger, and producer Sammy Lowe (1918-1993) was brought in by arranged the songs and conducted theband. A charter member of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, the Birmingham-born Lowe spent 22 years arranging and composing for Erskine Hawkins’ big band. He had also worked with artists including Cab Calloway, Lucky Millinder, Laura “I’ve Got A Right To Cry” Washington, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Sy Oliver. Based in Teaneck, New Jersey, Lowe orchestrated the Platters’ “My Prayer” in 1956, and arranged dozens of hits through the 1960s and early 1970s including “Sad Mood” for Sam Cooke, James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”, The Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, “You Can Have Her”, for Roy Hamilton, Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk”, and the Moments’ “Sexy Mama”. Fellow trumpeter Al Hirt called Lowe “the best arranger in the business”.
“I Know, I Know”, backed with “Jealous Heart”, was issued by Double-L in the spring of 1963 credited to “Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels”. The Imperials’ tight, soulful harmony provided the perfect backdrop for Hudson’s stirring lead. “I Know, I Know” got lots of airplay and sold well in a number of markets. On May 25, it reached #96 during a one-week stay on Billboard’s Hot 100.
“The killer part about that (was) after we did ‘I Know, I Know’, they sent me to Pittsburgh to do a hop for some disc jockey,” remembered Hudson. “They didn’t give me any money. They put me on a plane. They thought the disc jockey was going to give me money. The disc jockey thought they gave me some money. Now they got this hotel they put me up in downtown. I never could understand why they got it for the week. They got me in this hotel and it’s got a kitchen, it’s got pots and pans and dishes and everything and I had no money. I didn’t know the disc jockey so I couldn’t call him. Lloyd Price had gone on vacation again. And here I am in Pittsburgh and I didn’t know a soul. I just walked the street and I drank water for a whole week, man, until they came back and sent me some money. The whole week I was in this hotel and had nothing to eat.”
In the fall, another single, “Miracles”/“(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” appeared on Double-L credited to “Pookie Hudson”. “For Sentimental Reasons” was the same version that Neptune issued in 1961. “Miracles” was recorded at the Neptune session with Spaniels Hudson, Carey, Magruder, and Simmons. Double-L’s roster included Hudson, Price, Roy Tyson, and Wilson Pickett, the former Falcons lead singer who had recently gone solo. Pickett’s first three charts hits, including “If You Need Me”, were issued by Double-L as was Price’s 1963 smash “Misty”. “I was offered a deal to (bypass) Wilson Pickett in favor of Solomon Burke and I refused,” Price told Katz. Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler had rejected Pickett’s demo of the song, purchased the publishing rights, and gave the song to Burke to record, resulting in a #2 R&B hit. “We were the best of friends,” Burke told Pickett biographer Kurt B. Reighley. “I was furious when Wexler rejected Pickett. When The Magnificent Montague started spinning Pickett’s original version, Wexler rushed out (my cover version). I would go to the radio stations and say, ‘Hi, I’m Solomon Burke, and I’m here promoting the new record ‘If You Need Me’ by Wilson Pickett.”
In 1964, Al Bennett sold Liberty and Double-L lost its distributor. “That sort of washed us out,” Price told interviewer Booth. “We had no other place to take our artists and at that time the record business was going through a lot of changes. The Beatles were on the rise, Motown was on the rise. We realized that competition was getting steep so we said, ‘Hey, we can’t do this’.” One additional song written by Strain and recorded by Hudson and the Imperials, “Fairy Tales”, with Barrett producing, was leased by Hudson, Simmons, and John Prowse for their North American label in 1970. Credited to the Spaniels, the record began selling well in the Washington, D.C. market. It was reissued on Calla Records, a Morris Levy enterprise, and hit the national charts, peaking at #45 on Billboard’s R&B chart.
Harold Logan didn’t live to see this final Hudson chart triumph. In May of 1969, at age 45, he was murdered in an unsolved gangland-style killing at a nightclub he and Price owned. In later years, Price excelled as a boxing promoter with Don King, New York townhouse building investor, published author, and also established and managed Lloyd Price Icon Food Brands. At 85, he lives in Westchester County, New York, and occasionally still performs.