Remembering The Mighty Hannibal 1939-2014

Hannibal performing at a record hop, with WAOK's Burke Johnson, ca. 1966.

Hannibal performing at a record hop, with WAOK’s Burke Johnson, ca. 1966.

Thursday, January 30th, 4:30 pm. Routinely checking Facebook, my stomach made an uncomfortable twisting motion and I felt my cheeks go numb as I read an update from Norton Records’ Billy Miller stating something that I honestly never thought I’d actually have to face. The Mighty Hannibal was gone.

I am not interested in writing any kind of an official obituary, eulogy or summary of the man’s life and career. You’ve read that already. Frankly, I’ve been struggling with how or even if I should deal with this publicly on the Georgia Soul blog. Ultimately, I believe that Hannibal’s passing deserves to be acknowledged on the web site whether I can truly do the man justice or not. It’s not just fodder for social media for me. It’s real. It hurts.

Hannibal and I had our ups and downs. Many people who knew him could tell you the same. James Shaw pulled no punches, went after everything that he wanted – sometimes to extremes – and didn’t cut any slack.

You’ve probably already read accounts from multiple people who received daily phone calls from Hannibal. It’s possible that you’ve read that if he had to leave more than a couple of voice messages, his tone would change from “It’s Hannibal. Give me a call when you get a chance” to a more passive-aggressive “Please give me a call back when you can” and then his infamous “Am I on your totem pole” line. On a couple of occasions, I’m sorry to say that I heard worse from him.

Hannibal had a sharp sense of humor as well, and I loved hearing that laugh of his when he became too tickled to contain himself. I can’t describe the sound, but it’s forever burned into my brain, and I’m a better man for it. A number of years ago, I was in Rabun County, Georgia in some road-side vegetable stand when Hannibal called. When I told him where I was, he laughed so hard and told me “Well you just have a good time up there. Ain’t no way you’d ever see no brother up in the mountains!” I looked over at the African-American couple picking out cucumbers a few feet away from me, smiled and told him that one day I’d have to bring him up there with me.

We spoke on the phone countless times, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly. I wasn’t unique though. This is just what Hannibal did as an elderly man who spent his youth as a hustler. His mind was still as active as ever, his body was slowing down, his eyesight gone. Hannibal loved staying on people’s radar but he also loved keeping his mind as sharp as he could, so he let his fingers do the walking and cycled through a list of contacts that spanned the last 50 years of his life. I wasn’t always able to keep pace. Once, the first time we ever had a falling out, I told Hannibal that I was talking to him more than I talk to my own mother. This was unfair, and he didn’t react to it well. But in time, I apologized, he forgave me and that was that.

Last summer, Hannibal was in Atlanta to record a new song, a cover version of Lattimore’s “Let’s Straighten It Out”. Hannibal was excited, as he always was when he had a new project on the horizon. He called, and asked if I would put it up on my blog. He had somebody email me the mp3. I slacked, Hannibal got angry with me and we finally had a rather terse phone conversation in early December, the last time I ever received a phone call from him. I always figured that he never held a grudge against me before, and that in time, we’d figure out our differences and go back to complaining about who was winning Grammy awards, how his plans to move back to Atlanta were progressing, how many tens of thousands of dollars and what kind of guns Michael Thevis kept in his desk at the Sound Pit, and what that next movie would be to feature one of his songs. Oh, and could I write something on my web site about that for him? Time ran out on Thursday.

Part of me hopes that I can be as hard-nosed, cantankerous, insightful and focused in my old age as he was. Mostly though, I just want to somehow adopt his carefree laugh and hope to know half as much about the world as he did. As long as I’ve researched soul music, as many singers and musicians as I’ve met over the years, everyone – every last person – could tell you any number of stories about Hannibal. Mention his name to anyone who knew him and more often than not you’d get a good laugh and a head shake out of that person before they’d launch into their favorite tale about the man. He was infectious and he was loved.

The man had a way of living life like I’ve never encountered in anyone else I’ve ever met, and I’m so very grateful for having known him. Those records will never get old.

Much too late to earn Hannibal’s forgiveness, I’m finally getting around to posting his version of “Let’s Straighten It Out”, his final recording, and yeah. I’m really going to miss those phone calls, even as difficult as they could be sometimes.

Listen to “Let’s Straighten It Out” (2013).

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The Mighty Hannibal pops up in the new Tarantino movie?

The title of this post is slightly misleading, I admit, though it’s not an out-and-out lie. In Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” (opening on Christmas Day and already buzzing hard in the world of film awards) you’ll hear a new track from John Legend called “Who Did That To You”. Hear John Legend’s song here.

Fans of Atlanta’s The Mighty Hannibal will very likely recognize the backing track as a loop from Hannibal’s “The Right To Love You”.

It seems like it wasn’t even so long ago that Hannibal was rubbing elbows with the likes of Elton John and Leon Russell after they reworked “Hynm No. 5″ for their song “There’s No Tomorrow” in 2010. For the 73 year old Mighty Hannibal, this new song could do a lot to keep his music out there for new fans, and hopefully some nice royalty checks dropping into his mailbox in 2013!

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Help Eula Cooper save her home in Texas

Eula Cooper is in danger of losing her home, which is a story that has become all too common in this country. Eula and her husband have suffered set backs while they continue to make better lives for themselves. Eula is pursuing a degree to help her chances of being hired into a better job while she struggles to make ends meet. Please visit Eula’s web page, read more about her situation, and consider making a contribution to help her and her husband remain in their home.

Click here to visit Eula Cooper's web page

Click here to visit Eula Cooper’s web page

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Robert & The Excitements, And Your Detective Hat

Robert & The Excitements

Give Me One More Chance
Sittin’ In the Dark

For better or worse, the word ‘ungoogleable’ has fairly well entrenched itself into the jargon of record diggers over the past couple of years, and as Internet search engines continue to make our world smaller by the day, this blog entry serves to take two more Atlanta-bred 45s out of that category. The only real problem, however, is that there’s not much to learn from today’s post – at least not yet.

Robert Joinner and The Excitements

Beyond the simple fact that we know they exist, very little is presently known about how two 45s by Robert and the Excitements came to be.  It is known that in the 1982/’83 time frame, one Robert Joiner was behind these two projects, and it is also known that they have a rather unique sound, especially for their day. Both 45s exhibit something of a 70s throwback soul sound, and both also feature some wild, almost psychedelic guitar playing. The songs linked above make up the 45 pictured at the top of the page, and the songs of the other are “Groove With the Music” b/w “Bump To the Beat”, pictured here.

This seemingly home made recording is exactly the kind of thing that exemplifies why the Georgia Soul blog exists, and if Robert Joiner or anyone else who was involved with The Excitements happens upon this blog entry, we’d love to hear stories about the band, and how these two 45s came into being.

‘Ungoogleable’ no more!

 

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Atlanta’s Air Force: Next stop? O’Hare!

Tom Gross and the Varsity

Sports cash-in novelty records are nothing new. They’re usually not very good and therefore not really worthy of comment here. The song featured today is arguably out of place here since it’s not even a soul record. However, since I’ve featured records related to the Atlanta Falcons on this blog before (twice!), I thought it would only be fair to give equal time to the Atlanta Hawks, who knocked the Orlando Magic out of the NBA playoffs last night with a tense 84-81 game six at “The Highlight Factory” (Philips Arena).

The Hawks will move on to face the Chicago Bulls in round two of the playoffs. The Bulls, who had an impressive dynasty with Michael Jordan and company in the 90s, have no less than their own Greatest Hits compilations available. That’s for somebody else to cover though.

The Georgia Soul blog would like to congratulate the Hawks and will cheer them through another great playoff series.

*And speaking of the Falcons, congratulations to Julio Jones, who was the 2011 first round draft pick of the Falcons last night. I really hope that Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith made the right decision, as the trade they made with the Cleveland Browns to get him seems brutal.

Posted in Atlanta | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Getting familiar

Alright! I’m making the leap, finally, from Blogger to WordPress. The Georgia Soul blog will now be incorporated into the georgiasoul.com domain, making everything tidy and easier to navigate. At this time, the old posts remain at blogger, but the plan is to get them over here as we’re able.

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Billy Byrd "Lost In the Crowd"

Billy Byrd “Lost In the Crowd” (Scream)

Note: Avid readers of the blog know that I generally place a nice label scan and post an mp3 of the featured song for each blog entry. There’s a transition going on with the computers at home right now which prevents me from doing this for today’s blog entry. However, there are Youtube videos posted at the bottom of the entry for your enjoyment.

There’s an old saying in the record collecting world that rarity is not always an indication of quality. Today’s 45, Billy Byrd’s only recording for the Scream label, is something of a “holy grail” among collectors and exudes quality of the highest order. It almost never turns up for sale, and when it does, there is plenty of competition for it’s purchase by international Funk and Soul DJs. When you hear either today’s featured side “Lost In the Crowd” or the flip “Silly Kind of Love”, it doesn’t take long to figure out why.

Like so many rare 45s, not much is known of the artist. Over the years, I’ve spoken with one of the song writers, the studio engineer and the label owner about this record, and nobody really remembers much at all about Billy Byrd, the man. From what I’ve gathered, Billy seems to have been a quiet guy who lived near Calvin Arnold and Herb Lance’s four track Atlanta Sound Studio on Memorial Drive, where the single was recorded. He would occasionally walk from his home through an empty lot and across a parking lot to the studio and hang out there when other musicians gathered.

Louis Creel is the songwriter for the single’s A-side, “Lost In the Crowd”, and in a 2009 phone conversation remembered that the song was written specifically for Billy, since he was known around nearby nightclubs, but was something of a loner and stuck mostly to himself. Calvin Arnold remembers that Billy once told him he had been a member of the Five Du-Tones, the St. Louis group who first recorded the hit R&B song “Shake A Tail Feather”. However, a quick check of the Five Du-Tones line up reveals no Billy Bird, perhaps making Billy’s claim to this band a tall tale at best.

The 45 credits a band called Black Cloud backing Billy. By all accounts, there doesn’t seem to have actually been a functioning band by that name in Atlanta, and the likely scenario is that Black Cloud was just a somewhat arbitrary name given to otherwise anonymous studio musicians working at Atlanta Sound Studio with Calvin Arnold at the time. While the exact musicians aren’t concretely known, it has been suggested that Richard Marks played guitar, and Steveo Milner played drums. Other musicians might have been JD Mars and Charles Terrell. Tommy Stewart remembers these musicians as regular session players between 1973 and 1975, before the studio moved from Memorial Drive to the upgraded 16 track studio on Campbellton Road. Tommy himself was a regular keyboard player and arranger at the studio from 1972 through 1976 but does not remember playing on the Billy Byrd session.

As little as we know now about Billy around the making of his 45, we know even less about what happened to him after. There is a later 45 by an artist named Billy Byrd on the Communication label from Chicago, “I Can’t Make It without You” b/w “Can You Feel It” (Communication 7303-32), though there is not enough evidence right now to definitively connect this to the Scream 45.

Those who need this 45 in their lives, but can’t wait for an original to turn up, can quite easily purchase the reissue from the Jazzman label by following this link.

Special thanks to Bob Abrahamian for information about the Communication label 45.

Posted in Atlanta, Billy Byrd, Calvin Arnold, Tommy Stewart | 1 Comment

Atlanta Will Be Rockin’

We’re now in mid-December, entering week 15 of the 2010 NFL season, and the excitement of the playoffs are in the air. The Atlanta Falcons, at 11-2, boast the best record in the NFC and have a great opportunity to secure the coveted “dome field” advantage throughout the playoffs. The Falcons last reached the playoffs as a Wild Card team following the 2008 season, when they traveled to Arizona and were soundly defeated by the eventual NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals. This season’s Falcons squad seems more mature and disciplined team than 2008, and they are poised for a deep run into the playoffs. Many feel they could make it all the way to that big February game in Dallas. It’s too early for that kind of talk, but with the playoffs looming, it’s time to get Atlanta rockin’!

James Brown, almost as an afterthought, joined forces in 1987 with members of the Atlanta Falcons, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, and his own Livin’ In America Band to record “Atlanta Will Be Rockin'”. The story of this record turns out to be much more interesting than I had originally thought it might be. The Falcons finished their 1987 season with a 3-12 record, last place in the NFC West, and had a September 27 game with division rival New Orleans Saints canceled due to an NFL player strike. In all likelihood, nobody was thinking about the playoffs, or even much of a rockin’ Fulton County Stadium once the season was underway. By the time a brief redemption for the Falcons came by drafting “Neon” Deion Sanders (a 2010 Falcons Ring of Honor inductee), who started lighting up Falcons games in 1989, this song was probably well-forgotten and stood no chance of being revived to excite the city about its home team. It could be argued that this is James Browns least-remembered recordings!

“Atlanta Will Be Rockin’” was partially written by Buddy Causey, an Alabama-born singer who lived for 10 years in Atlanta, and had a handful nice blue-eyed soul 45s on the Quinvy and Capitol labels during the 70s. The other songwriter listed is one Jacque Daughtry, the wife of Dean Daughtry, keyboard player of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Jacque was also a former cancer patient, whom James Brown had coincidentally visited some ten years earlier while she was in the hospital receiving treatment as a teenager.

Georgia-born journalist and author Stanley Booth’s 1991 book, Rhythm Oil, details the story of this 45 quite well. The blog-friendly short version is that Daughtry wrote the song and had been planning the song as a charity project with the Atlanta Falcons but, not unlike the Falcons offense driving to the end zone during that era, the project had stalled. Daughtry then thought to contact James Brown, who agreed to sing her song, and a recording session in Augusta followed at Studio South, with Greg Archilla and James Brown producing. Buddy Causey remembered in a recent phone interview that the song was intended to be the theme song for the Atlanta Falcons, even before James Brown was brought into the project. Buddy and Dean Daughtry were friends who wrote a lot of music together, and Dean played from time to time in Buddy’s band at the time, Buddy Causey and the Handsome White Boys. The original rhythm track and vocals with members of the Atlanta Falcons team was recorded at Southern Tracks Studio, downtown Atlanta with Dave Pensado and Dean Daughtry producing the session. The tapes were then taken to Augusta for overdubs of James Brown’s vocals, the arrangement augmented by members of James’ band.

The record received it’s release at the Falcons first home game of the 1987 season, September 20, 1987, with the Georgia Alliance for Children as the beneficiary of proceeds from sales of the record. James Brown and his band performed the song live at halftime, and the Falcons secured one of their only three victories that day, defeating the Washington Redskins, 21-20. Perhaps James Brown should have performed at Fulton County Stadium more often?

Bringing us back up to 2010 and those hopeful playoff games played at the Georgia Dome, I’d like to make a humble suggestion to any executives in the Falcons front office (since I know they all read my blog, ha!). You want to see Atlanta rockin’ in January? Falcons wins will certainly do it, but bringing the Georgia Power Tour (please?) to the Dome for a halftime show will blow the roof off the sucka! [no offense to any Minnesota Vikings fans reading this -ed.]

Since we’re also in the holiday season, please take a moment on December 25th to remember James Brown, who will have died four years ago on that day.

Related post: Fly High Falcons

Posted in Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Buddy Causey, James Brown | 1 Comment

Tribute To A King

December 10, 1967 is a date that soul music fans know all too well. The day may not be as universally remembered as December 8, 1980, or August 16, 1977, though it absolutely should be, and I contend that Otis Redding is every bit as important to the popular music landscape as John Lennon or Elvis Presley. It is not my intention to slight the importance of those artists, only to call greater attention to Otis Redding, and for that matter, The Bar-Kays.

When the Georgia Music Hall of Fame showed their impressive exhibit on Otis Redding, one of the things which I just couldn’t stop looking at was a collection pictures from Otis’s funeral on December 18, 1967. The photographs were taken by Atlanta photographer Count Jackson and used in a memorial program printed by WAOK-AM and an Atlanta record distributor, Gwen Kessler. You can view the program in web form here.

We all know how amazing Otis Redding’s records are, and 43 years on, we know how influential Otis Redding was to soul music, and in particular, southern soul singers. Spend a few minutes today to look at these pictures, and reflect on the people in those pictures. Look at Oscar Toney Jr.’s face, or Sam and Dave’s, or Joe Simon’s, or the usually jovial Rufus Thomas’s. Otis Redding’s death was a huge blow for Black music. This was a man who was reaching out and giving back to the community unlike any of his peers. Singers like Arthur Conley, Billy Young, Oscar Mack and Oscar Toney, Jr. (just to name a few), directly benefited from Otis Redding’s success.

Not too long ago, I was talking on the phone with The Mighty Hannibal, and Otis’s funeral came up. I mentioned the web site where the photos appear, which immediately exited him. Hannibal hasn’t seen the old program in decades, but perfectly described details from a handful of the photographs over the phone as I scrolled through the web site, double-checking what he was telling me. Hannibal mentioned that this was one of the only times during this era he was seen in public without his trademark turban on his head, which he left at home out of respect for Otis.

So today, remember Otis Redding, and if you aren’t familiar with it already, learn about the Big “O” Youth Educational Foundation.

Posted in Count Jackson, Hero, Macon, Mighty Hannibal, Otis Redding | Leave a comment

The Ravenettes "Talk About Soul"

It’s the time of year when schools are about to give their students some freedom for a couple of weeks between fall and spring classes, and there’s one particular school which I’ve been thinking about lately. Booker T. Washington High School has continually popped up in my research of Georgia Soul music, time and time again. Among the school’s graduates, I have been able to identify The Pips, The Fabulous Denos, The Mighty Hannibal, Eula Cooper, Tee Fletcher, Dwight Franklin and the subject of today’s entry, The Ravenettes. Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with Shirlene King, who shared some of her memories of the group.

Shirlene, Willie Mae, Linda and Gwendolyn were all friends at Booker T. Washington High and in the graduating class of 1965. Influenced by the popular groups of the day, the gals formed their own singing group, The Ravenettes. Linda’s father served as the group’s manager, and got them into a talent at the Royal Peacock. Zilla Mays was the host of the talent show, and it was broadcast on WAOK, where Zilla Mays was one of the more popular DJs.

Zilla Mays liked The Ravenettes, and introduced them to Bill Moon, who had a studio in Marietta and a close relationship with Hank Moore, the saxophone player and band leader for Hank Ballard & the Midnighters. While the Midnighters were from Detroit, they were constantly on the road and spent a fair amount of time in Atlanta to the point where they had a standing hotel room at the Royal Hotel through the help of Gorgeous George. Judging by ads in back issues of the Atlanta Daily World, one could come away with the thought that the Midnighters were actually from Atlanta.

Bill Moon had already released a 45 by Hank Moore, and employed him to put together a band to record with The Ravenettes. In 1965, The Ravenettes debut 45 was released. “Misery” b/w “Too Young To Know” didn’t sell well enough to get the group known outside of Atlanta, but did receive airplay on WAOK and WERD. Bill Moon’s studio was likely not up to the highest standards of the day, and while the songs aren’t bad, the quality of the recording is sub-standard, even for the era.

Wendell Parker heard enough of this 45 to understand that the gals had a lot of talent, and he brought them into the superior Master Sound studio in 1966 to record their second 45 for his Shurfine label. With St. John & the Cardinals as the backing band, “Talk About Soul” b/w “Since Youv’e Been Gone” was released on Shurfine, and licensed to Josie Records, with whom Parker had a close relationship, for national distribution in December, 1966. This 45 certainly sounded better and received better distribution and airplay, but didn’t sell enough to be considered a hit.

The Ravenettes pushed forward for a little while longer, but real life soon caught up with them. Gwendolyn made the decision to leave the group to go to college, and Linda left the group to marry Gwendolyn’s brother. Willie Mae and Shirlene made attempts to continue on as a duo, though they never again recorded together. They did manage an appearance on local TV personality Don Barber’s variety show, on which they performed their version of The Olympics’ hit “Good Lovin’”. Without much wind in their sails, Willie Mae and Shirlene put The Ravenettes to sleep in 1969.

Following The Ravenettes, Shirlene continued singing as a solo act in local night clubs, and toured four roughly a year and a half as a backup singer for James Brown. Brown also employed Shirlene as a singer and dancer on his short lived answer to “Soul Train”, which he called “Future Shock”, taped in the studios that would become TBS.

In 1976, Shirlene made her long awaited return to the recording studio with the Reflection of Truth Band for her “Super Stuff” 45 for the HoMark label, which Marshall Mauldin ran out of the back of an electronics shop in Collier Heights. This 45 has previously been featured on the Georgia Soul blog.

These days, Shirlene works for a Christian Missionary and splits her time between Atlanta and her mission work, primarily in Florida. She recorded a self-produced gospel album in 1987, about which I haven’t yet been able to collect any information, whatsoever.

Posted in Atlanta, Shirlene King, Shurfine, The Ravenettes | 1 Comment