Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Secret agents double-E soul

Eddie & Ernie – who? If the name is unfamiliar, and, moreover, you hail from the UK and are of a certain age, the chances are a lesser known 70s comedy double act would spring to mind; perhaps one that had never broken out of the working men’s club circuit. After all, we had the sublime Morecambe & Wise (Eric & Ernie) and the ridiculous(ly unfunny) Little & Large (Syd & Eddie) back then. So were Eddie & Ernie some desperate whippersnappers trying to follow in those comedy giants (well, at least Eric & Ernie were) footsteps? Or perhaps, after Eric Morecambe’s tragically early death, did Ernie Wise suggest to Eddie Large that Syd was a wet blanket, and wasn’t it time he ditched him in favour of working with a more accomplished straight man?

Of course you would be way off beam if any of those thoughts ran through your mind. Because, in fact, Eddie & Ernie can probably lay claim to being one of soul music’s best kept secrets. William Edgar Campbell and Ernest Johnson formed as a duo in the early 60s and their first release was credited as Ernie & Eddie. During the remainder of the 60s and into early 70s they released around 20 singles on various labels, most notably Eastern and Revue. Some of the releases were the same sides released on different labels. For example “Time Waits For No One”, their only real hit in its Eastern incarnation, had three separate releases, as did “Found A Love, Where It's At / Self Service”. They also released a few singles as solo artists and recorded as The New Bloods and The Sliding Doors in that time. Most of their output can truly be held up as classic examples of high quality soul music. Eddie & Ernie’s voices were beautifully matched, and their strongest songs came over as an effortlessly perfect mix of sweet and deep soul styles, boasting understated but catchy arrangements. Furthermore they seemed equally at home with both uptempo and slow numbers.

It was only a few years ago that I first became aware of their existence. I’m a bit vague now on the exact circumstances. I think I just stumbled across one of their singles whilst trawling eBay one evening (as you do) – Eddie & Ernie? that’s a vaguely amusing name, cue thoughts of Morecambe & Wise etc (see above), let’s find out a bit more about them, you know how it goes I’m sure.

I think it was subsequent to this that I learnt that the late great DJ John Peel had no less than three Eddie & Ernie singles in his now much talked about “special box”. Only two other acts had greater representation in that box – Charlie Feathers with five singles, and The White Stripes/Jack White with no less than twelve singles nestling in the hallowed collection, which must surely have been the result of a then current fixation of Peel’s. It’s funny, many people think that Peel was purely a champion for everything independent, alternative and "out there" at the outer edges of rock music, but of course his love of music extended much wider and he clearly loved and played plenty of soul music, much of it of the deep variety, and lots of reggae too. In fact, of 142 records in the “special box”, by my reckoning there were no less than 17 out and out soul/r&b records in there, which is a sizeable percentage. Eddie & Ernie’s “I’m Gonna Always Love You” (the B side of “Outcast”) was one of those records and it was actually played on UK television – it was one of those “yes!” moments for me - featured in a program about the box broadcast a year or so ago (if memory serves me correctly it was played over footage of Peel’s wedding to Shiela “The Pig” – was it actually played at their wedding, or was it chosen simply as an appropriate record for that point in the program? – can’t remember). How did Peel first come across Eddie & Ernie, I wonder? Were they a recent discovery for him also, or had he been in on the secret for a long time? The latter I suspect. I seem to remember reading somewhere that he was a lover of deep southern soul and was acquainted with John Anderson at the legendary Soul Bowl record outlet, certainly they both resided in East Anglia, and probably that’s where he picked up a lot of his soul singles.

Finally, in recent years, the secret that was Eddie & Ernie is getting out of the bag. First the late Dave Godin featured a number of their tracks on his Deep Soul Treasures series of CD’s, and then in 2002, together with the folks at Ace Records, finally issued a CD made up entirely of their material including some previously unreleased. You can read more about how that CD finally came to be issued here and buy “Lost Friends” here.

I’m featuring here three Eddie & Ernie singles I’ve picked up recently, two of which happen to correspond (not the same copies you understand!) to ones that were found in John Peel’s box.

I’m glad I’m in on the secret, you get in on it too.

Eddie & Ernie – I’m Going For Myself 1965
Eddie & Ernie – Outcast 1965
Eddie & Ernie – Time Waits For No One 1964

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