Since my last entry concerning Ed Mendel, I thought it would be appropriate to feature another one of the records he produced and released. In mid-to late 1967, Mendel found a 21 year old postal worker from Phenix City, Alabama named Johnny Barfield, who was also an aspiring musician with his own group. Along with drummer Skip McQuinn and guitarist Frankie Hurst, the group called themselves The Men from S.O.U.L. and had already been gigging locally for a short time before Mendel brought them to a studio owned by Ben Parsons to record their first 45. “Mr. Starlight” was a sparsely arranged ballad written by Bobby Moore, a New Orleans born saxophonist who was stationed at Columbus GA’s Army base, Fort Benning at the time. Moore, of course, fronted The Rhythm Aces who found success with their recordings on Chess/Checker Records.
Originally, the 45 served as the 2nd release on Mendel’s Peggy Sue label (so named for his two daughters). Local sales caught the attention of Shelby Singleton in Nashville, who picked up the single with its flip side, “Soul Butter” for release on his nationally distributed SSS label. Mendel had already delivered success to Singleton in the form of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson, whose debut single “Lover’s Holiday” had already become a hit.
The success of “Mr. Starlight” gave Barfield a lot more work playing parties and night clubs and made him a bit of a local celebrity. However, Johnny never did leave his day job with the Postal Service. Ed Mendel maintained his confidence in the group and did get them back into the studio a few months later in early 1968 to record another single for his Peggy Sue label.
“Since I Left You”, a ballad written by Johnny Barfield, was the intended A side while the flip was another Bobby Moore composition, “We’ve Got That”. Today’s blog entry features the Barfield version, though Bobby Moore & the Rhythm Aces recording of this song can be found on their 1966 album, “Searching For My Love” (Checker 3000). Johnny Barfield remembers that radio was hesitant to play “Since I Left You” due to the song running a little too long compared to other hits of the day; a flaw that Barfield attributes to his wanting to add his own saxophone solo to the track. Lack of radio airplay, of course, contributed to low sales figures and these things in concert led to another disappointment for the group.
From Singleton’s Nashville office, sales figures of the “Mr. Starlight” 45 didn’t come close to matching that of Peggy and Jo Jo. Singleton, then, declined to pick up “Since I Left You” for a national release. To my ears, this was probably a mistake on Singleton’s part as the second single was a much stronger effort featuring better songs than the debut, and would likely have sold more even if not necessarily become a hit. Today, copies of the “Since I Left You” single are not at all easy to turn up. I am assuming that there were 500 copies (or less) from the original press run of the 45.
Without the ability to build on any real success from the second single, the group continued to concentrate on live gigs, and backed a number of singers in and around Columbus. Frankie Hurst left the group in 1968 and was replaced by Jacob “Jake” Dawson, who was brought into the group by Skip McQuinn fresh off of a stint playing with Little Milton. This group continued a busy schedule of live work and by the early 1970s began working with a talent agent in North Carolina who booked them all over the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama. Typically, the group was hired to back touring singers such as Percy Sledge, The Ink Spots, and others.
Barfield had been married throughout his career, and eventually made a decision to return to Phenix City and a more stable life with his job at the Post Office and his family at home. Skip McQuinn and Jake Dawson continued individual paths in the music business. McQuinn became a highly successful and sought after session drummer, producer and recording engineer in Memphis, while Dawson continued plugging away at the blues circuit playing live and recording, as a well respected side man to other blues musicians.
Johnny Barfield, to this day, is still employed with the U.S. Postal Service and is looking forward to his retirement at the end of this year.
Photo credits: (1) 1967 photo by Forrest Hickman and appeared in The Columbus Ledger Nov 18, 1967 (2) 1968 promotional photo, by unknown photographer, courtesy Johnny Barfield.