Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A hen's tooth?

Bessie Banks was born Bessie White on February 8th 1938 in New Bern, North Carolina.That means it was Bessie Banks birthday yesterday*. And what dropped through my letterbox yesterday? A Bessie Banks 45. A very interesting one, of which more in a minute.

As far as I can tell this is the first time Bessie’s birth date has ever been mentioned on the Internet. It is a fact I could add to Bessie’s Wikipedia page (along with her place of birth, which I have only found one mention of elsewhere). It would be the first time I have ever been a Wiki contributor, but as the author of the Bessie Banks article there has specifically asked for information on her birth date I suppose I really should do it.

How do I know these facts? Because I found it an article I was reading the other day that John Abbey penned about Bessie that appeared in an old (1975) copy of Blues & Soul magazine. The article itself referred back to an even earlier piece written by none other than Deep Soul aficionado Dave Godin in the Rhythm & Soul USA magazine. That provenance is good enough for me.

Why was I reading this article? Because I was trying to find out more information on the record of hers I have just bought.

I’m quite excited about this record. Rather like Bessie’s birth date I can find absolutely no reference to it on the Internet (apart from a few links that all end up in what I think is the same place – a sales listing for, I think, the actual copy of the record which has just dropped through my letterbox).

For someone blessed with such a great voice Bessie Banks unfortunately released very little material. She is probably best known for her original take on the song “Go Now” which was too soon covered by the Moody Blues and ended up establishing the Moody Blues’ career and robbing Bessie of a deserved big hit in the process. Following 1964’s “Go Now” she had a handful of singles issued on a number of different labels sporadically through the 60s and 70s but, incredibly, only on the Private Stock distributed Quality label did she have more than one release and these, in 1976 proved to be her last. Quality 503 was the fantastic double sider “Don’t Worry Baby”/”Try To Leave Me If You Can”. “Try To Leave Me” was itself a re-release, the song originally appearing on the Volt label in 1974/75. This Volt release was current at the time of John Abbey’s B&S article and he, quite rightly, was waxing lyrical about it. He was also looking forward to more material from Bessie now she was on a good, seemingly solid, Soul label like Volt which was, of course, a Stax subsidiary. It was funny (well, sad actually) reading that article with the benefit of hindsight: Stax would soon go bust and Bessie would once more be in search of a new label. That label turned out to be Quality, although the B&S article was written before that happened. It gets more poignant - the article was entitled “Never Can Say Goodbye” but not much more than a year after it was written Bessie Banks would have her final record release.

The article went on to talk about Bessie’s involvement with Clyde Otis’ writing workshop and teaming up with Herman Kelly and Frank Green to write “Try To Leave Me”. That arrangement evidently survived the demise of Stax/Volt because Bessie’s second and final(ever) Quality release credits Kelly/Green on the A side writing credits and Otis on production.

Ah! The second Quality release – 508. Now here’s an interesting thing. Until a couple of weeks ago I had only ever seen demo copies of this release number pictured or referenced, and the demo copy has the same song on both sides – “Baby You Sure Know How To Get To Me”. But what dropped through my letterbox yesterday was an issue copy of Quality 508, with a B side “Do You Really Want To Be Right?”! Written by Otis Smith (the same Otis Smith who had a release on Perception in 1970? the same Otis Smith who founded Beverly Glen Records, and ‘discovered’ Anita Baker?), the song is about a couple finding themselves in the divorce courts, with the woman questioning if it is really finally the end of the road.

There is no mention of this song in Bessie’s discography at the excellent and usually exhaustive Soulfulkindamusic. Furthermore the sleeve notes of Ace Records “Larry Banks’ Soul Family Album” have extensive notes on Bessie but again no mention of the song. Could this just be a lost Bessie Banks side? Rare as a hen’s tooth?      

Bessie Banks – Do You Really Want To Be Right? 1976

Bessie Banks – Baby You Sure Know How To Get To Me 1976

*I am assuming Bessie is still alive, I can certainly find nothing to suggest the contrary and the above mentioned Ace Records CD sleevenotes (released in 2007) talk about Bessie in the present tense.  


Daniel said...

Darcy -

Great post on Bessie Banks - "Do You Really..." is an excellent side that I'd never heard before, so much thanks for that.

But wait! Even more confusion coming from the "Baby" flip side. I almost didn't bother listening to the version you posted, because I thought I already had a copy in my iTunes. But then I did, and it's a completely different cut of the song! Holy crap! The version I have (and I'm sorry to say I don't know where it originated from) grooves a little slower and eschews the horns for a heavier mix of keys and bass. What gives? Any ideas?

Darcy said...

Hi Daniel. I have seen the same comment re the "Baby" versions on a forum site somewhere. I think it's possible the version you have is the one that was released on UK Contempo CS2070 (backed with "Try To Leave Me". Referring back to my old magazine stash the Contempo release was reviewed in the November 1975 issue of Black Music. So it pre-dates the Quality release. It's possible it was a track in the can at Volt that never got released at the time, as "Try" was released on Volt.

Raggedy said...

Great find, Darcy! And I am glad I take the time to read the comments -- because I, too, almost didn't bother to listen to "Baby .." It is definitely the TSOP adapted version of the other one in my i-tune library. I love it.
You all have a wonderful Valentine's Day.

Daniel said...

Hey Darcy - thanks for clearing up the mystery! For what it's worth, the 45cat page says it was an October 75 release:

Keep the awesome tunes coming...

Darcy said...

Hi Daniel,

It was me who added that 45cat entry, prompted by this bit of digging!!

The October release date was a bit of a guess. I put October instead of November as I know that magazines (i.e Black Music) are usually issued 2-3 weeks ahead of their cover date.

Dave Rimmer has also now added the Quality release Bside detail to his soulfulkindamusic BB discog after I mentioned it on soul-source.

Guy Hamilton said...

Amazing coincidence that I came across this today - I just happened to be editing the Wikipedia article on Bessie, which I started five years ago. If you don't get in first, I'll include the info here in that article.

Darcy said...

Wiki away Guy. I have never got into that, although perhaps I should. Re-reading my post just now I see I said as much but didn't follow through then! Strictly speaking I suppose the credit for Bessie's birth date should go to the magazine article - I could dig out details of the actual copy it appeared in.