Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jean genies #1

I hinted that posts would increase in frequency recently. Evidently not! I’m going to be out of town on business again a fair bit over the next few weeks, and when I’m not I’m anticipating some scorching summer weather (well, you can dream, can’t you?) will divert my attention away from the computer!

My last true Soul post here featured a great single by Jean Plum. The subject of that post was, indirectly, femme soul singers by the name of Betty(e) and Jean qualified as she was actually born Bettye Jean Plummer. Miss Plum(mer) has acted as a sort of Betty – Jean axis hereabouts as I launch into a mini series of posts featuring soul sisters by the name of Jean. This mini series will alternate with my “Tapping My Feet” feature for the next few posts.

Jean Wells is yet another example of a fine singer that, I would suggest, is completely unknown outside soul circles. In lists and ebay auctions I’ve seen her name crop up on a number of different record labels. After a bit of research I can now count 10 US labels in all. I have tried to trace her career through these various releases, but I have to say I’m still vague on many details.

Her recording career would appear to have started on the small Philly labels Quaker Town and Phila around 1965. She had travelled to Philadelphia from her native Florida in search of club work. By 1966 Jean may have upped sticks to New York. In any event she had a single released on the Eastern label (her “If You've Ever Loved Somebody “ / “Hello Baby, Goodbye, Too” immediately followed a string of superb Eddie & Ernie sides) and in 1967 Nate McCalla signed her to his New York based Calla label. There she would have some US R&B chart action through a number of 45 releases. It was rare for small independent labels to release albums but Calla managed a handful in the late 60s and in 1968 World Here Comes Jean Wells! was one of that handful, sporting some fantastic psychedelic cover art. The album was essentially a collection of her singles releases, many of which had a strong Southern tinge and included some great Deep style ballads such as “Sit Down And Cry” and “Have A Little Mercy”. Jean is possibly best known (in Northern soul circles at least) for her storming “With My Love And What You’ve Got” and she seemed equally at home singing Deep style ballads or up tempo movers. “Keep Your Mouth Shut (And Your Eyes Open)” was another example of a mover. That would appear to represent her last Calla outing. It also appeared on the tiny Volare label, I’m guessing after she split with Calla. After that (again, I think) Jean had one release on another New York label Law-Ton.

Her next label was Canyon. Jerry Williams aka SwampDogg worked at Calla as an engineer/producer and recording artist. Reincarnated as SwampDogg he was also at Canyon records and it’s a fair bet that’s how Jean Wells ended up releasing a single on that imprint - “He Aint Doing Bad” / “Somebody’s Been Loving You”. This is the single you can hear here. A great double-sided slab of funkiness, both penned by Jean. The chances are Jean would have released more on Canyon, but like so many of the smaller labels in the early 70s it went bust.

That was just about it for Jean’s “golden age”. There was a single on ABC and then she resurfaced briefly in 1979 back on a Philly based label TEC and then again in 1981 when there was another album release “Number One” (you can buy an autographed copy on Gemm at the moment!). The TEC release was on 12”. I haven’t heard it but it’s a fair bet it was disco flavoured. As for the album “Number One” again I haven’t heard it – disco biased again? Or gospel perhaps - I think that Jean, as many of the great soul singers did, moved back into the Gospel arena – and possibly well before her TEC outing - so it’s possible it was a Gospel album.

The Ace released CD “Soul On Soul” gathers together the bulk of her best output, including both sides of her Canyon single. I’m looking for it at a reasonable price. You can join me in the hunt if you like.

Jean Wells – He Ain’t Doing Bad (mp3)
Jean Wells – Somebody’s Been Lovin’ You (mp3) 1970


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! :D

Anonymous said...

I thought I recognised that voice. I'd only heard her on With My Love And What You’ve Got which I got on an old Northern comp. I loved the driving pounding drums on that. Great singer - thank you for sharing on the interwebbs, it's the only way people with lots of red print on their bank statement like me can get hold of soul goodness!