Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Oldies - Stand By Me Father by The Soul Stirrers

Talking about Sam Cooke in yesterday's post reminded me of this incredible slice of music history. You're going to think this is Sam Cooke singing, but it's not. Although Sam was a member of the Soul Stirrers from 1949 to 1957, he left that group before this record was made to launch his solo career. He was replaced briefly by Little Johnny Jones, and then by Johnnie Taylor, who stayed with The Soul Stirrers for a couple of years. The guy singing this song is actually Johnnie Taylor, trying to sound as much like Sam as he could. Sam Cooke had actually done the same thing earlier, emulating the style of R. H. Harris when he took his place as a member of The Soul Stirrers. Only someone with incredible talent could pull this off, which is why these two men could do it so well. Johnnie perfected his instrument as a member of Melodymakers and, before that, with The Five Echoes in 1954. He stayed with the Soul Stirrers until 1963 when he was replaced by Jimmy Otler.

This was also the first record issued on Sam Cooke's independent SAR Records label. But what's most interesting about this song is that it laid the foundation for a song that became a timeless classic. With the help of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, Stand By Me Father was fitted with new lyrics and the melody restyled to create Stand By Me by Ben E. King, which makes this another Original Version of a hit song. This song was still listed as one of the top five gospel records on Billboard's Hot Spiritual Singles in February 1965, six years after its original release.

Here's Stand By Me Father by The Soul Stirrers on Sar 101 from 1959:

Johnnie Taylor was born on 5 May 1934 in Crawfordsville, Arkansas. When he was still a child, his family moved to West Memphis, on the Arkansas side of the river, where he performed in gospel groups. In the 1950's, Johnnie joined the gospel group known as Highway QCs on Chicago's Chance label, a group that had been founded by Sam Cooke. Johnnie became one of the first acts on Sam's SAR label. When Sam died and SAR closed down, Johnnie moved to Stax Records where he became known as The Philosopher Of Soul. Working there with house band Booker T And The MGs, he recorded a number of hits, including the million-selling hit, Who's Making Love. Johnnie Taylor died of a heart attack on 31 May 2000 in Dallas, and is buried in Arkansas beside his mother, Ida Mae Taylor.

I know you want to compare the two songs, so here's Stand By Me by Ben E. King on Atco 6194 from 1961:

Ben E. King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson on 23 September 1938 in Henderson, South Carolina. He moved to New York City in 1947 and became a member of the Moonglows while still attending high school. He joined the Five Crowns in 1957, which evolved into the new Drifters in 1959. He wrote his first song as lead singer for the Drifters, There Goes My Baby.

In May 1960, Ben E. King launched his solo career. Stand By Me was the second record he made as a solo artist. It went to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1961, and circled the globe to reach #27 in England and #23 in Australia about a month later. Strangely, the song never appeared on the R&B charts. Stand By Me is one of those rare records that manage a second life on the pop charts. It went to #10 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart in November 1986 when it was featured in the Rob Reiner film of the same name. It went to #1 in England in February 1987 after being featured in a television commercial for Levi's 501 jeans.

Almost immediately after Stand By Me became a hit, it was "answered" by Damita Jo. Her Answer Song, I'll Be There, became a #12 pop hit in June 1961 and, unlike Stand By Me, did pretty well on the R&B charts, peaking at #15. Her version also got some airplay in Australia, reaching #48 in Sydney, but did not make it on the charts in England.

Here's I'll Be There by Damita Jo on Mercury 71840 from 1961:

Damita Jo was born Damita Jo DeBlanc on 5 August 1930 in Austin, Texas. She sang with her husband's band, Steve Gibson And The Red Caps in the 1950's, but left both the group and the marriage in 1959. In addition to her solo works, Damita also worked with Ray Charles, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton. In 1998, she started touring as a comedian with Redd Foxx. She died in Baltimore on Christmas Day that same year after suffering a respiratory infection.

Have you heard the 2009 Spanglish version of Stand By Me by Prince Royce? I love this version!

But, Prince Royce wasn't the first to record the song with Spanish lyrics. That honor goes to Los Hitters from Tijuana, Mexico, who included their version of the song on a 1966 album.

Here's Ven A Mi by Los Hitters from a Phoenix LP in 1966:

I can't help myself. There is another version of the song that interests collectors of both vinyl records and sports memorabilia. That would be this version, sung by heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay, who changed his name to Muhammad Ali when he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, the same year he made this record. His version stalled at #106 on Billboard's Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart, but did slightly better on Cashbox, peaking at #94. If you find a copy of this with a picture sleeve, it's worth about $150 today.

Here's Stand By Me by Cassius Clay on Columbia 43007 from 1964:

I'll leave you with one of my all-time favorite songs, I Believe In You (You Believe In Me) by Johnnie Taylor on Stax 0161 from 1973:

You'll hear at least a dozen more versions of Stand By Me on MusicMaster Oldies.


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