Joe Simon was without a doubt Sound Stage 7’s greatest national success. Joe Simon (b. 1943) was Louisiana born though moved to California with his family as a child. He came from a church background, and sang with the Golden West Gospel Singers as a teenager, this group undergoing a name change to try the secular market. As The Golden Tones they had a couple of 45s on Hush label, but the label owners wanted to push Simon as an artist in his own right. His first solo efforts on Hush for the secular market came between 1960 and 1962. These were perhaps primitive arrangements but undeniably infectious early R&B numbers. The flute led “I See Your Face” (Hush 107) has been popular with R&B and northern soul collectors across Europe in recent years, having appeared on the Ace Records / Kent CD “Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities” (CD KEND 192). After a couple of releases for other labels, including another collectible track “Just Like Yesterday” (Irral 778; Dot 16570) he signed to Vee-Jay. This may have been his original intended stopping place; a major label with good distribution outlets and two sizeable hits via “My Adorable One” and “Let’s Do It Over”. However fate intervened, and Simon was left high and dry contractually when Vee-Jay folded in 1965.
However, it wasn’t long before Joe Simon came to the attention of John Richbourg. Between Simon’s arrival at Sound Stage 7 in 1966 and his final recording for the label in 1970, seventeen singles were released. Most of his recordings for Sound Stage 7 during this time were recorded in Memphis at Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio, including “Long Hot Summer” (Sound Stage 7 45-2564) and “The Girl’s Alright With Me” (Sound Stage 7 45-2589). A number of these tracks were either written by Allen Orange, or by Dann Penn who had arrived from FAME.
Whilst the rationale to employ Stax and American Sound Studio musicians to produce R&B records was logical, local musicians were also employed for some recordings, including Bob Wilson, recently arrived from his work in Detroit for Ric Tic, and the King Casuals (minus Jimi Hendrix who had already moved on). Through time Richbourg grew weary of the repeated 200 mile trek for him and his artists. Gradually he would look toward utilising the skill mix and recording facilities he had on his doorstep. Arranger Bergen White was approached by Richbourg in 1968: “Until then I was doing some solo ‘sound-a-like’ stuff and was still with Ronnie and the Daytonas. Plus singing with the Marijohn Singers doing session work and the syndicated Grand Ole Opry shows, and had also started filling in with The Jordanaires. Fred Foster at Monument recommended me to him. J.R. had been working in Memphis because of the musicians that were there - but was tiring of the trips when Fred made the suggestion to call me”.
Bergen White came to the label in 1968. At first Memphis musicians were still used, evidenced by the label credits listing of Bergen White and the American Studio Group on the raw funk laden sound of Margie Hendrix “Don’t Destroy Me” (Sound Stage 7 SS7-2624). “Yeah, that was when John was still cutting his tracks in Memphis then I was adding horns here in Nashville. The American Studio Group were the Memphis Boys - Reggie Young (guitarist), Bobby Wood and Bobby Emmons (keyboards), Gene Chrisman (drummer), Johnny Christopher (guitar), Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech (bass guitar). But eventually John got tired off cutting records there. I hired David Briggs, Wayne Moss, Mac Gayden, Charlie McCoy, Kenny Buttrey, Charlie Daniels and five horns and off we went. J.R. never went back to Memphis. Plus, a lot of those musicians in Memphis ended up moving to Nashville anyway.”
Joe Simon’s million seller “Chokin’ Kind” (Sound Stage 7 SS7-2628), arranged by Bergen White, came at the very end of the label’s lifespan, reaching #1 in the R&B charts and was a high climber in the US Pop charts. “We recorded it at Scotty Moore’s Music City Recorders studio, later called 19th Avenue and taken over by Larry Rogers. An interesting note --Wayne Moss, acclaimed guitar player actually played bass on the track. Can't really recall why, other than he just wanted to. To me that bass intro lick was the signature of the track. I over-dubbed the horns the next day. I didn’t have any idea it would be that big a recording, though I think John might have thought so.”
1970 saw the final two releases for Joe Simon on the label: the rousing country-soul sound of “I Got A Whole Lotta Of Lovin’” (Sound Stage 7 SS7-2664) and the mid-tempo “When” (Sound Stage 7 SS7-2667). Joe Simon may have exited the label through default, as Fred Foster would ultimately close it down, but it was at least on a positive note: “When”, penned by Bob Wilson and Mac Gayden, and arranged by Bergen White, reached #27 (Billboard R&B Charts). Simon’s career continued to blossom into the 1970s and beyond with the Spring label and further hits, and eventually returned to the church where he now resides as “Bishop” Joe Simon.
Jackey Beavers (a.k.a. Robert Lewis Beavers; b. 1937, d. 2008) was a loyal artist and songwriter for Sound Stage 7. Before his Nashville activities, Beavers made his mark on the Michigan scene performing with Johnny Bristol as duo Johnny and Jackey on Anna and Tri-Phi in the early 1960s. Recording on more than half a dozen other labels in Detroit, Chicago and the south, he gave the northern soul scene classics such as his rarity “I Need My Baby” / “A Love That Never Grows Cold” (Revilot RV 208). In more recent years another rare Detroit recording, The Camaros “We’re Not Too Young” (Dar-Char AR 1151) has come to light, co-written and produced by Jackey Beavers. This 45 brought about a resurgence of interest in other versions, including those by Karen Stribling (Jaber JB 7117). His first appearance for Sound Stage 7 was in 1969 with “Hey Girl (I Can’t Stand To See You Go ) / “Hold On” (Sound Stage 7 SS7-2649), although this was technically a reissue / re-mix of a release the previous year (Jaber JB 7114). He went on to make a few other recordings, and wrote for Joe Simon and Ella Washington.
In the early 1970s Beavers picked up from where Allen Orange left off, and was made a formal member of J.R. Enterprises. In this time he produced yet another version of the Camaros / Karen Stribling song, this time an up-tempo group vocal take by The Continental Showstoppers (Seventy 7 77-107), and released further solo recordings on Seventy 7 until late 1974. Beavers also produced projects on Willie Hobbs and Brief Encounter. Eventually he became a Baptist Minister, recorded gospel, and was heavily involved in politics, as well as business and charity related causes within the black community.
After Joe Simon, Sam Baker (b. 1941) was among John Richbourg’s busiest artists, even if he didn’t achieve the same commercial success. Baker was from Jackson, Mississippi. The story goes that ex-Dominoes / Drifters lead Clyde McPhatter encouraged him to take up a career in performing. Early output was primarily that of blues orientated songs. Nashville activities in the early to mid-1960s were managed by Bill Hoss Allen under the Rogana artists banner, with three releases appearing on Allen’s own labels Hermitage and Athens. One of these, “Best Of Luck To You (Athens 213) was shared with another of Allen’s artists Earl Gaines and would later become an important career breaker for him. Allen also leased out Baker’s recordings to labels in Chicago and Miami. By 1965 Richbourg had taken Sam Baker under his wing, and provided him with a contract that ran until near the label’s closure. His Sound Stage 7 releases are of interest to collectors from the northern soul scene, through up-tempo songs like “I’m Number One” (Sound Stage 7 2590). His last for the label, “It’s all over” (Sound Stage 7 2636), released in July 1969, provided an infectious crossover spin on the original version by Joe Simon (Hush 106). In all, Baker made around twenty 45s, most of these for Sound Stage 7. Baker would spend nearly two years touring in the US and Europe with the Sam and Dave Revue. Indeed some of his releases also received foreign distribution via Monument, who were already releasing 45s and LPs in Europe and the Far East. The blues track “Why Does A Woman Treat A Man So Bad” (Hollywood 8317) appeared in 1968, but this was the first release of recordings made earlier in the decade when Baker was with Hoss Allen - most likely a desperate cash-in attempt toward the end of Sam Bakers’ Nashville stint, before he moved back to his home town of Jackson. Richbourg later re-released some of Baker’s earlier material on his own labels, but that was essentially that, apart from a late seventies LP release of re-issued Sam Baker tracks in the US and Japan.
Modified chapter excerpt from "House of Broken Hearts" by E. Mark Windle. Available to order in the new book section. Copyright 2017, 2018.