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Beautiful Sounds and Memphis Blues

CHAPTER THREE: The Things We Dream Today...

"So they were vulnerable to takeover," Peters went on. "Leon Russell was looking at buying the studio in a hostile takeover, if need be. He wanted to make a fortune in property and, essentially, he bought ghetto property in Tulsa with money from his early hits. He bought the Church Studio, for instance, and put equipment in it. He was also looking at Beautiful Sounds in Memphis.
"Leon came into Beautiful one day with a group of Shelter people -- four or five of them -- and, man, you could just feel the negative electricity coming off of them. We didn't know at the time what was going on.
"To be honest, twenty-five grand would probably have saved Penn's studio in the long run, whereas 50 grand was needed to save it immediately. That twenty-five grand would have put Cargoe on the radio, and on the radio the tale would have been told. Because by that time, progressive radio was beginning on FM and the rest of the album would have fit that format beautifully, while Feel Alright was the lead on AM.
"You, know, Dan Penn's a beautiful guy. He's one of the best guys in the music business and I think he just badly wanted to save his place. At least, that's my latest working hypothesis."
Penn, in interviews subsequent to the folding of Beautiful Sounds, tells a slightly different story, saying that he traded the mixing board to Chips Moman which allowed him to keep the building, which he then leased to an outfit which did ad jingles. He then moved to Nashville, where he has been since.
"Anyway," Peters went on, "when we got back from L.A., Cargoe picked us up at the airport and asked what had happened. We told them that we had received an offer from a company which offered no money and they were only interested in the single. That we'd gotten three or four offers of small money and that we'd had the offer from Epic. But when we told them we couldn't take it because it wasn't 50 grand, their hopes were dashed. In the car, on the way home, everything was silent. It was just a terrible moment for them."

As if that wasn't bad enough, they soon discovered that the session master tape from Beautiful was out-of-phase.
"The studio engineer," explained Peters, "not the guy who ran the board, but the guy who built the studio, didn't align the heads of the mixdown machine properly. We didn't know that because when you're playing a tape back on the machine you used to mix it, it is in phase with itself. But when you put it on another machine, it can be out-of-phase. It gives you a muddy sound. You don't pick up the highs and it just sounds bad. 
"(The way we found out was) we tried to put the band on Stax Records.  We went over and talked with Jim Stewart, co-owner of Stax at the time.  He said that he would be interested in the group, but he wouldn't be able to use the tape that we had done at Beautiful because it was out-of-phase.
"We didn't know how to fix it. What? Remix the whole album? Well, there was something you could do. You could adjust the heads on the two-track you're on to be in-phase with the tape. Of course, you can only do that once. Had we taken the deal with Epic, that's probably what would have been done.
"I think it would have been great to have been a white group on Stax. It would have been unusual. (Note:  A year later, Stax would release a rock album by a white group: Skin Alley's Two Quid Deal)  Of course, it would have been difficult, because everything feeds into everything. We talked about it with Stewart. Stax distribution was primarily toward the urban stations, which were their own little world, but Stax was expert at distributing to stations that played R&B and soul. We figured out some solutions to that with him, but he said, first, you're going to have to fix that phasing problem.
"You see, all that Stax wanted was for you to hand them the tape. They would pay you for the tape and send it down to Jackson, Mississippi to the record plant down there. They didn't want to mess with re-phasing a tape. I don't even think they knew how to do it."
While all of this was going on, Cargoe kept themselves in the dark, by design.
"I had no idea what was going on," admitted Phillips. "All that mattered to us was that nothing was happening."

Wisley agreed, but elaborated. "It was one of those funny deals where the band members were disengaged, business-wise. We wanted to be into the music and to play. We were the artists and we weren't thinking about handling the business side of it. We thought that the people around us were going to handle that because that's what they did. And I/they thought that if they could make it happen, they'd make a little money out of it, too."
"One thing was certain," said Peters. "Cargoe was helpless without us in that situation because nothing was happening in Memphis. Stax had turned the album down and Ardent was just, as you well know, a small studio operation at that time.
"It happened that part of the band's personality was that they were easily influenced by the people around them at the moment, which in some situations can be good, and that's the way they looked at it. But in some situations, it can be bad, and that's what really happened. They were taking the advice of people they didn't know over that of people they'd worked with for months and even years. That's partially why I gave in. They were listening to people telling them things that I knew would not help them in the music business and I could not change their minds. It was band politics, you know. If you can't keep that under control, you can't keep the band together.
"So the single is dropping off the charts and the guys are arguing and complaining so much to each other, about each other, and I was in the middle of everything, and I finally said I just can't do this anymore. They're off-center and I can't get them back on.
"It was really terrible. There was a time that Tim knocked on my door and asked me to stay with them, he thought they could make me some money, and I said no. I was infuriated and hurt that they weren't giving me credit or listening to what I was saying or stopping the arguing or making forward progress.
"They couldn't get along, which was the reason I stopped managing them in the first place. And the girls made it worse. They always do. They have their own viewpoint of how things should be and they influence the individual musician they're attached to and the musician then changes his relationship toward the other members of the band. A lot of the trouble started with Susan saying this and Sandy saying that and Sharon saying this, you know.
"We had a dart board in the kitchen where we would toss a few darts to pass the time. The more frustration that was felt, the more darts were thrown. By the time we left 1972 Cowden, the whole wall was covered with dart holes. It was chewed to ribbons."

Walker felt the tension as well. Tired of butting his head against the corporate vinyl wall, he decided to pack up and head south.
"By the end of '70," he said, "when I was offered a job in Miami radio, I was ready to go.  The band and Peters remained in Memphis. Ardent owner John Fry had lent us money to buy amps and stuff, so that relationship developed into the Ardent recordings. That was the end of my involvement with Cargoe."
It should be noted here that while Walker exited for Miami, his part in the Cargoe story is treasured.
"We did some remarkable writing and recording," he wrote recently. "I am very proud of what we did accomplish and I will always be grateful to Dan Penn for the doors he opened to me (and thus, the band) on sheer faith. I will always be grateful to Bill, Max, Tim, and Tommy for letting me into the band as a producer. And Jim Peters is among my very best friends, to this day."
Peters stuck around for awhile, but it finally became too uncomfortable. The band met with Fry and Manning at Ardent and agreed to record for the resurgent Ardent label (Fry had released a handful of 45s on that label earlier, but not as seriously as what he would when the Cargoe and Big Star projects were completed).
"By the time they went to Ardent," Peters remembers, "I was no longer managing them.  Those were volatile times.
"I saw Penn sometime later and spent the night at his house, and he asked if I was still Cargoe's manager. I said not really, so he asked who their manager was and I had to say that I didn't think they had one." The subject was dropped. Thus ended Jim Peters' working relationship with Dan Penn, the man who had carried Cargoe not only to Memphis, but to Ardent.
At 1972 Cowden, the tension had reached a critical point. "We had been at Beautiful long enough to see that they weren't going to do anything for us. It is great to have an album (recorded), but if it's not distributed, you're still at square one. You're still just a garage band trying to find gigs."
Those words describe another critical point in the band's existence, toward the end of their attachment to Ardent. But at that time, Ardent had supplied a lifeline and, anyway, there was no other direction available.

All Together Now, One More Time...
"We were all trying to be The Beatles.  That's what we were trying to do with Big Star and, in a very Things We Dream Today singlesimilar way, that's what we were trying to do with Cargoe."
-- Terry Manning, Record Producer, Recording Engineer, Co-owner of Ardent Records (1970-1974), Owner, Lucky Seven Records
By the time Cargoe signed with Ardent, Terry Manning had been a force on the Memphis recording scene for years. He had started at Ardent as a recording engineer and after proving himself on numerous projects, had elevated himself to part-time producer and recording consultant. Among his credits were projects with the Staple Singers, Booker T and the MGs, and Al Green. He worked with Steve Cropper mixing Dock of the Bay shortly after the tragic death of Otis Redding and had his fingers in multiple pieces of the Stax/Volt/Hi R&B pie for which Memphis was known. Between such duties, it was natural that he would take his propensity to play music seriously as well.

"By the sixties and seventies," he said in an interview with Pseu Braun on WFMU-FM, "Memphis was a player's place. Unlike Nashville and Austin, which were known as havens for great lead guitarists, Memphis had every kind of players: great keyboard players, tremendous bass players, all different kinds of guitar players (not the lead guitar as much as a very cool chunky rhythm style). If you were in a band in Memphis at that time, you needed to be able to play. Maybe you weren't the greatest musician in the world, but you knew music.
"We had a group of people hanging around Ardent in those days who were not only players, but who were rebelling against the previous Memphis sound in deciding that the English invasion -- The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Animals, things like that -- were just so cool that we really wanted to be like that. We didn't want to be playing In the Midnight Hour at a club down the street, because everybody was doing that. We wanted to play things like The Yardbirds' I'm a Man. So we all, without knowing it or thinking it, banded together into this power pop thing. We didn't think of it like that at the time. We were just doing what we wanted to do. We were playing the kind of music we wanted to play and we were all trying to be The Beatles. 
"That's where Rock City happened, a band in which I played with Christopher Bell, Jody Stephens, and Thomas Dean Eubanks. We went in and recorded this album. John Fry and I tried to get it to the major labels. We would make trips to L.A. and New York and go see the heads of the labels and the A&R people and take them the tapes we had done. And we weren't getting anywhere. A&M did give a call back. They were interested, but not enough to sign us. We finally said, you know what, we're going to have to do this ourselves. John had had a few things out, some early rockabilly things, a few years before. So we decided to have a rock/pop label called Ardent and we would just put our own groups on our own label. Then we knew we could get it released.
"Of course, by that time, Chris (Bell) had gotten together with Alex Chilton and some more recordings were going on which later became the Big Star recordings, so I shelved the Rock City project. Chris took two or three of the Rock City songs and they recorded a couple of guitar and vocal tracks which they overlaid onto them and actually put them on the Big Star album as Big Star tracks. They became part of Big Star and part of the Big Star lore. And I basically went on to producing other things. 

"(As far as studio and production work), I was engineering a lot of the stuff at Stax Records, such as the Staple Singers. I was co-producer along with a great friend, Al Bell, on many of the Staples Singers records. I did a lot of the engineering and mixing and played some of the parts on things by Booker T and the MGs. A lot of the great things that were around Stax, I engineered, or actually, mixed a lot of things by Al Green, such as Tired of Being Alone and Let's Stay Together. All of that era of things, alongside Willie Mitchell. I got into the pop and rock things later and worked with Led Zeppelin and Joe Cocker, among others. But then, it revolved around Stax, Volt, and Hi.
"I'd had my solo album out and didn't want to go touring or doing much of that. I liked the studio side of it. So I would play occasionally play things on some peoples' records, but mainly stayed in the studio with groups such as Cargoe."
Cargoe's move to Ardent was almost a given at that point. "Ardent owner John Fry had loaned us money to buy amps and stuff," Walker remembered, "so that relationship developed into the Ardent recordings."
Richard Rosebrough remembered Cargoe's first session. "I cut the original Cargoe demo at Ardent -- three songs. And I think two ended up on the album.." A drummer himself, it was not surprising that he ended the note with: "Tim was a favorite drummer of mine."
"We needed more than just one or two groups we could put together from these guys who were hanging around. I happened to hear a local record of Feel Alright by Cargoe. I checked it out, found out that they'd come to Memphis from Tulsa. To be honest, I thought the song was awesome, the group was awesome, the singing was great, but I didn't think the record -- perhaps every producer thinks this, but I thought that record could be produced so much better. So we checked them out and found out that they were free to sign with Ardent and we signed them. Subsequently, we recorded an entire album which actually became the first one released on the Ardent label."
It took the band a year to put the LP together, even though it consisted mainly of the same tracks recorded for Beautiful. But it wasn't exactly the same, according to Peters.
For one thing, the band had a better idea of what they wanted, partially due to the fact that they were recording much of the same material. A close listen to the first side showed a concerted effort to structure the side so that the tracks flowed.

 "I think part of that was Terry and part of it was that we had been playing and trying to refine those same songs in Tulsa before we even got to Beautiful," Phillips explained. "By the time we got to Ardent, two or three years later, I was saying, shit, are we going to have to record this stuff again? I was getting a little burned on it, really. I mean, okay, play it in this same structure. And the more we played it, the more the interludes between songs and how the end of one song went into the beginning of another song and so on. It was that living with this stuff for so long that helped it seem like the side had an order or that there was some kind of plan. It did all fit together. Terry saw it, too, and he was into trying to make the parts fit together into a cohesive album, I think.
"You have to realize that we just came from Beautiful, where it was like this party time, totally loose atmosphere. Ardent was kind of like, you need your shit together to record here. And, do you have a plan. Later, we learned that anything weird we did, anything outside the bulb, Terry was all over it. There was this time we were playing around in the studio with coke bottles filled with water or coke and we were trying to make a riverboat sound by blowing into them three at a time. Well, Terry was all over recording stuff like that. We had no idea he was catching all this other stuff we were doing."
"You know," Wisley added, "the coke bottles, that's the beginning of
I Love You Anyway. We were always doing little harmonies and weird whistles and coke bottle things. At the end of Time where there is this explosion kind of thing, that's a belt. We had really thick belts like the kids were wearing then. We went into the echo chamber and, you know when you pop a belt? That was the boom. That was the explosion."
"When we started at Ardent," Wisley said, "I had no idea that Terry was working with the Staple Singers and had all of this stuff going on around him. He was just a guy, a killer engineer, who enjoyed our stuff. I've since heard stories that when he listened to us when we were performing, his mouth was open. He thought we were unbelievable. He was really just one of our biggest fans, to us."
Pseu Braun, during the WFMU interview, asked about the lyrics, about the references toward the religious side.

"A lot of references in the songs that I wrote did mention the word 'Jesus.' Outside of trying to be The Beatles or The Monkees or the Buffalo Springfield or whoever we thought was great in those days, one of the things we were trying to attain in our songwriting was kind of a search for enlightenment, nirvana. Trying to find the ultimate way or something like that. Back in the old hippie days, it was just a big search for enlightenment. What is the answer? What makes it all work? Why is this good and why is this not good? These days, I probably would not use the words 'Jesus' or 'Lord' or 'God' or anything like that. It would hopefully be a little more complicated than that. But I was seventeen when I wrote those songs and that was close enough to what I was trying to say to get the meaning across."
"In the late sixties," added Wisley, "it happened that we'd been turned on to sitar music and other things and we were probably smoking a little bit. We were out there trying to reach some meaning and touch base. I think that it was kind of subconscious."  
Not all of the tracks were carryovers. Wisley remembers a few new songs. Thousand Peoples Song was new," he said, "and one of my songs was new -- Scenes. And that intro thing, you know, 'This is real...' The intro to Feeling Mighty Poorly. I wrote that on four strings of the guitar when we lived at Cowden.
Rock City and the early tracks by Big Star were laid down at Ardent's original studio on National Avenue. Cargoe's recordings spanned that studio and a new quad studio being built on Madison, where Ardent Studios are today.
"We had to work in between paid studio time and the building of the new studio," the guys remember. "We even had some workers drilling in the studio while we were trying to record. You could hear the drill on one of the tracks."
"The Ardent album was really different," Wisley said. "It wasn't like a studio album. We were more of a live band, so it wasn't like a 'studio' album. And we always kind of wanted to really do that."

"We had a good time at Beautiful Sounds," said Phillips, "but it was pretty non state-of-the-art." (Wisley compared it to somebody's home studio in today's world.) "It was a new studio at the time, but comparing it to Ardent ... I mean, I love Dan Penn all to pieces, but when we moved to Ardent, the fidelity factor increased 200%. Even at the studio on National, John Fry had state-of-the-art equipment and guys who knew how to make it work. Of course, when the studio on Madison was built, I liked that even better."
"It had its own feel," Wisley hedged, "but there was an aura about National. Across the street from National was the Big Star supermarket. You could look out this window and see the Big Star sign. I remember when Big Star came and said they were going to name the band Big Star. We all thought that was so hokey.
"And I remember when Terry brought in this tape and said this is the greatest rock and roll song ever. It wasn't out yet, and it turned out to be Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven. He threw it on and ran it through the monitors there and we said, 'what is this?'"
While Manning worked with Cargoe, John Fry stopped by the Big Star sessions to make sure that everything there was on track. Chris Bell had taken over much of the responsibility for the production, though Fry would get final credit [ed. note: it was Bell's idea to give Fry the credit].

CHAPTER ONE: Living On Tulsa Time...
CHAPTER TWO: Into the Mystic...
CHAPTER FOUR: Delusion and Dissolution...
CHAPTER FIVE: The Painful Look Back and...
CHAPTER SIX: Such Is the Power of Music...

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