Georgiasoul.com feature article: Nathan Bartell
by Brian Poust
The Soul-Po-Tion label has long been a large point of interest in the history of Georgia Rhythm & Blues. Not only was Jesse Boone's Albany based concern among the most prolific in the state, but one that turned out a consistently high caliber collection of 45s. Artists such as Jesse Boone & the Astros, Freddie Wilson and Sarah Simpson are already well-known among soul and funk collectors, and within the last few years another name has risen to the top of the list. That name is Nathan Bartell.
It hasn't been so long since a collector and DJ from Dallas, Texas, Chad "High-C" Burnett of Rehash Media, first exposed Bartell's "Top Going Down, Bottom Going Up" in the "Excavations" section of the Rehash web site in December of 2001. For all intents and purposes, the 45 had been unknown to collectors but caused a quite a stir while everyone who heard it searched for more copies. The 45 remained out of reach until February of 2004 when noted British collector/DJ Ian Wright turned up a copy and began to play the 45, giving it further exposure by way of a radio show featured on the deepfunk.org web site. This exposure eventually set a number of events into motion which led to the 2005 reissue of the 45 on Fryer-Mantis Records out of the UK. Penned by Freddie Wilson, it was his later version of "Top Going Down, Bottom Going Up" on the Soul-O label from Thomasville, GA which had already been well known amongst funk 45 collectors for some time. Naturally, the discovery of the Bartell version was followed by many questions which to date have gone largely unanswered. Unanswered, that is, until now. So, put on your reading glasses and get comfortable as we not only explore the history of this record, but the entire career of Mr. Nathan Bartell.
Hailing from the small farming town of Ashburn, GA (population roughly 4400) noted as the "Peanut Capital of the World", young Nathan Bartell had grown up around music, playing trumpet in the school band and jazz band. After graduating from high school in 1962, Bartell moved to Atlanta where he found and enjoyed a thriving music and night club scene, catching then local acts such as Gladys Knight, The Tams, as well as the many touring acts that came through town and played clubs like The Palladium, The Pink Pussycat, The Casino and The Royal Peacock.
The point at which the story truly begins to take shape was a fateful night in the summer of 1967 at a nightclub on Bankhead Highway near Northside Drive. The house band was doing its thing, but the crowd was thinking about Wilson Pickett's current hit "Funky Broadway" as they kept shouting for the band to perform the song. After some discussion amongst the band, a few of the musicians decided they knew the song well enough to give the people what they wanted, provided somebody knew the lyrics, as their singer did not. Bartell took the stage, and must have done the job right, as he continued performing with bands in clubs all over Atlanta such as The Oasis, and the most important of Atlanta nightclubs, The Royal Peacock.
By April of 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, Bartell was married to a woman who also came from Ashburn. She didn't care much for Atlanta, so the couple moved back home to Ashburn. Music was still boiling in Bartell's blood, however, and it wasn't long before he began singing with a group called Eddie and the Cascades from just up the road in the (even smaller) town of Cordele. Eddie and the Cascades performed in clubs around South Georgia until the band broke up in 1972. Despite the length of the band’s existence, sadly, the opportunity to record never presented itself.
Toward the end of Bartell’s time with Eddie & the Cascades, he met Jesse Boone, whose musical legacy was already well underway. Boone brought Bartell into his studio with members of his own band, The Astros, to record his first Soul-Po-Tion single “Ooh Baby, I Love You”, which was backed with “If I Could Win Your Love”. According to Bartell, the single sold quite well regionally, and Hi Records approached Jesse Boone about releasing the single nationally. Boone declined the offer, hoping to draw more attention to his label and boost the momentum of his Soul-Po-Tion label. While sales were apparently good enough to attract a nationally distributed label, this one is quite possibly his most obscure 45.
Capitalizing on the regional success of “Ooh Baby I Love You”, Bartell toured around the southeast, often with Jesse Boone & the Astros, playing dates in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Carolinas. Touring, as it can certainly do with young musicians, began to take a toll on Bartell’s marriage, which was splitting up by the time he was ready to record his second single. Soul-Po-Tion label mate Freddie Wilson, following his own debut single “What Would It Be Like”, had written a new song, which Jesse Boone listened to with Bartell in mind. “Top Going Up, Bottom Going Down” was a song that fit very well with what Bartell was feeling at the time, so Boone put him in the studio with Soul-Po-Tion’s house band to record Wilson’s composition. Where Freddie Wilson’s style was very much from the mould of James Brown, Bartell gave it a more personal touch. That said, Bartell admits that the single’s flip side “Johnny and John” was basically a blatant attempt to cash in on the success and sound of Johnnie Taylor, particularly through the use of reverb and echo effects.
Playing on the “Top Going Down…” session were O.C. Glaydens (a.k.a. A.C. Raven, a.k.a. O.C. the Wildman) on guitar, Johnny Badden on bass, Bruce Jones on saxophone, and a fella with the last name of Caldwell on drums. Nathan doesn’t remember Mr. Caldwell’s first name, but if he was Boone’s first call drummer for Soul-Po-Tion recording sessions, then this is a man who clearly needs more attention. Even some of the less significant Soul-Po-Tion singles some top shelf drumming.
As Bartell remembers, the Freddie Wilson song was written specifically for Bartell to record. This indeed may be the case, but it is also possible that Freddie Wilson presented the demo to Boone for himself. What exactly happened next is something of a mystery. Either Boone specifically wanted the song to be recorded by Bartell, or Bartell’s 45 came out before Wilson tried to do a polished version beyond his original rough demo recording. No matter how exactly the series of events transpired, Boone clearly did not want the two versions competing for sales against each other, much less on his own record label. Either theory is plausible. Regardless, Nathan Bartell's classic 45 emerged from the small label in Albany showing exponentially more style and musicianship than his debut.
Taking a step back now on the time line, Wilson’s “What Would It Be Like” single saw a second release on the Detroit label Grandville, which led to a short-lived recording deal with Eastbound. For Eastbound, Wilson recorded three songs in 1972 resulting in one single, “Promised Land” b/w “Where Is She” (E 602). The third song, “In Born Soul” remained unreleased until 2004 when BGP issued the song on the “Westbound Funk” compilation as well as a second release within their 45 reissue campaign. That said, there is still a three year gap between the Eastound session and the release of the Bartell 45. So had the demo of “Top Going Down” sat in the can for that long, or did Wilson return to Jesse Boone’s studio in Georgia following poor sales of the “Promised Land” single? The latter seems more likely to the author. Given Boone’s reputed fear of losing his artists to larger labels, it is entirely possible that Wilson felt slighted following a similar circumstances to Bartell’s Hi Records experience, and left for the seemingly greener pastures of Detroit. Until Freddie Wilson can be located and interviewed, this is all speculation, of course.
Back to 1975 now…. While Bartell continued the southeastern club circuit, Jesse Boone was setting up a new record label, Albradella. The label kicked off with a couple of singles from Florida artist Chuck Roberson, but Bartell came back in 1976 with his new band, The Shandells, to record the “Moving On” single, with the b-side, “Sitting Alone”. “Moving On” is a driving up-tempo funky soul dancer, with a deep ballad on the flip featuring Melvin Roberts on lead vocals. One more single was released on the Albradella label in 1979, “That’s My Girl” parts 1 and 2 and "Someone Like You" b/w "Running Through the Night".
For a good part of the early 1980s, The Shandells worked both on their own, and backing other musicians on tour, such as Z.Z. Hill while he toured for his 1982 album “Down Home”. The work with Z.Z. Hill put Bartell in touch with Tommy Cough of Malaco, who Bartell cites as an important mentor and influence in aspects of his career ever since. This influence has had no greater impact than in helping Bartell start up his own label, Eureka Records, an endeavor which he undertook in 1985 and continues to operate today.
Eureka was started when Bartell had approached Jesse Boone with the idea of recording in a new studio rather than Boone’s own studio. Boone was not not keen on releasing recordings on his labels which were not produced in house, which is understandable when you own the studio and the label. So, Bartell and his band went to Sunbelt Sound Studios and began to record songs for an album which was to be titled “Let Me Love You”. It seems that nine songs were cut in 1987 for this project. Unable to take them back to Albradella, Bartell started his own Eureka Records and published his songs under his own Co-Rey Music. Of the nine songs recorded, only four would actually see their eventual release on vinyl, as two 7” singles. But even with the Eureka label off the ground, Bartell did not sever his friendship or business ties with Jesse Boone.
By 1987, the Soul-Po-Tion and Albradella labels were both out of business, for the most part. Boone set up a new but short-lived venture called Vanity Records, which seems to have been for the express purpose of putting together one last project with Nathan Bartell. This is how Bartell’s only R&B album was released. There was, however, one slight problem. Bartell’s name is nowhere on it. Instead, Boone named the artist Timothy Gaye. The exact reason for this is still unknown though Bartell casually dismissed this decision as “one of Jesse’s marketing ploys”. The album is comprised of songs written by Boone, Roshell Anderson, Homer Chambers, a version of Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood” and a track written by Bartell’s brother Keith, who also handles lead vocals on the song “Million Dollar Baby”. The Jesse Boone-penned "If I Ever Fall In Love Again" b/w “Knock On Wood” was released as the only single from the album, which is slightly ironic since “Giving Good Loving” is easily the strongest track on the album.. One last single on the Vanity label followed the album, with Bartell (under his own name again) providing the song “Someone Like You” but sharing space with Chuck Roberson’s “I Feel It Coming” on the flip side.
Bartell continued performing in night clubs, but not traveling as much, when a fateful turn ended his secular music career. Bartell went through a series of seemingly random religious encounters, the death of his 19 year old son who was coming home from his first year of college, and a collapsed lung. In 1991 Bartell was hospitalized with a recurrence of his lung ailment. While in the hospital, Bartell became born again and cites his acceptance of Jesus as what finally healed him for good. During this time, he also endured the death of his youngest son, who died at the age of 17. Bartell prayed to God that if he could make it through all of these events, he would never sing R&B music again. Music was still what Bartell wanted to do with his life, however, and formed a Gospel group called Nathan Bartell & Reality. Crossing the bridge between the traditional Gospel quartet style and a more contemporary sound, Reality has recorded three albums since 1995, and all on his own Eureka label and is still performing at Gospel events in Southern Georgia today.
Nathan Bartell discography:
Ooh Baby, I Love You / If I Could Win Your Love (Soul-Po-Tion 113) 1972
Top Going Down, Bottom Going Up / Jody and John (Soul-Po-Tion 131) 1975
Moving On / Sitting Alone (Albradella 3002) 1976 with The Shandells
That's My Girl / That's My Girl part 2 (Albradella 3018) 1979 with The Shandells
Someone Like You / Running Through the Night (Albradella 3020) 1979 with The Shandells
Let Me Taste Your Love / I Want Your Love (Eureka 1115) 1987
That's What Love's Got To Do With It / A Man's Temptations (Eureka 1116) 1987
If I Ever Fall In Love Again / Knock On Wood (Vanity 101) 1987 as Timothy Gaye
Someone Like You / I Feel It Coming (Vanity 102) 1987 B side by Chuck Roberson
Timothy Gaye - Snake Out of Green Grass (Vanity VA-01) 1987 LP/Cassette
Giving Good Loving / See Me Cry / Snake Out of Green Grass / Knock On Wood / Mystery Lady / If I Ever Fall In Love Again / I Want You Back / Million Dollar Baby
Nathan Bartell & Reality - See My Jesus In Me (Eureka Records 10618) 1995 Cassette only
Jesus In Me / Go To God / Walk With Me / Yes I Love Him / Bridge Over Troubled Waters / He's Right On Time / Nothing Without You / Look Beyond My Faults (Amazing Grace)
Nathan Bartell & Reality - Let 'Em Gossip (Eureka Records 60131) 1999 CD
Lord Will Make A Way Somehow / Need You To Help Me / Let 'Em Gossip / Million Thanks / Where Would I Be / My Testimony / I Am Glad I Found the Lord / I've Been Saved / Too Close / You've Got To Repent
Nathan Bartell & Reality - Which Road (Eureka Records ER-12504) 2004 CD
Which Road / It's About Jesus / Something On the Inside / Pray On / Good Bye Struggles / A Pleasure To Be In His Care / Lilly In the Valley / Thank You For Jesus / I'll Rise In the Name of Jesus / See Jesus In Me
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