Wednesday, 23 May 2018


There's not a street that you can walk
You've got to watch just who you're talkin' to
They're out to get 'ya
Can't turn your back on a smiling face
Next thing you know, there ain't no trace of you
And this I bet 'ya
Some people lose and some folks win
It's a matter of what they do

Are you man enough?
Big and bad enough
Are you gonna let 'em shoot you down
When the evil flies and your brother cries
Are you gonna stay around?
Someone needs a friend
Just around the bend
Don't you think you should be there?
Are you man enough
when the going's rough?
Is it in your heart to care?

There's no pretending it goes away
With every step that you take you pay your dues
And I ain't lyin'
You got to struggle to see the light
Somebody's lookin' to steal your right to choose
And they don't stop tryin'
It's like a jungle outside the door
And it's keepin' you so confused

Are you man enough?
Big and bad enough
Are you gonna let 'em shoot you down?
When the evil flies and your brother cries
Are you gonna stay around?

Gotta keep your eye on the passers-by
Better watch your step
Cause you never know when the knife will go
And they ain't missed yet
The strong survive, they stay alive
They're always cool
But they never teach you that in school

Are you man enough?
Big and bad enough
Are you gonna let 'em shoot you down?
When the evil flies and your brother cries
Are you gonna stay around?
Someone needs a friend
Just around the bend
Don't you think you should be there?
Are you man enough
when the going's rough?
Is it in your heart to care?

Are you man enough?
Big and bad enough?
Are you gonna let 'em shoot you down?

[from the lyrics of "Are You Man Enough"]

One of Motown's most consistent hitmakers and its longest lived lineup (over four decades), the Four Tops were the most stable vocal groups to emerge from the label in the '60s, charting with scores of upbeat love songs featuring Levi Stubbs' rough hewn lead vocals.

The Four Tops were a product of Detroit's North End: Levi Stubbs and Abdul "Duke" Fakir sang together in a group while attending Pershing High School. Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Lawrence Payton were boyhood friends and attended Northern High together in Detroit too. At the insistence of their friends, they performed at a local birthday party and decided to remain together christening themselves The Four Aims.

Roquel "Billy" Davis, who was Lawrence Payton's cousin and sometimes sang with the group as the fifth Aim, sent a demo tape to Chess Records in Chicago. They were sent bus tickets and invited to audition.

It seems that Chess was more interested in Davis' writing skill than the group. However Davis' persistence ended up with them being signed to Chess Records. In 1956 they changed their name to Four Tops to avoid confusion with the The Ames Brothers, another well-estabilished vocal group.

Over the next seven years, the Tops endured unsuccessful tenures at Chess, Red Top, Riverside Records and Columbia Records. Without any hit records to their name, they toured frequently, developing a polished stage presence and an experienced supper club act. In 1963, Berry Gordy, Jr., who had worked with Roquel Davis as a songwriter in the late '50s, convinced the Tops to join the roster of his growing Motown record company.

Gordy had them record "Breaking Through" for his experimental Workshop Jazz subsidiary. Later that year they were finally directed toward contemporary soul. Under the wing of Motown's top production and recording team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, the Four Tops were launched with "Baby I Need Your Loving", which went to #11 in 1964.

Over the next eight years The Four Tops appeared on the charts almost thirty times, and Levi Stubbs became an international star and an influence on singers from the '60s to the present time.

After scoring their first #1 hit, the often-recorded and revived "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" in June 1965, the Four Tops began a long series of successful hit singles. Among the first wave of these hits were the Top 10 "It's the Same Old Song", "Something About You", "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)", and "Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever".

Like many other Motown acts, the Four Tops became popular in major nightclubs around the world. In 1967 they had hits with "Bernadette", "7-Rooms of Gloom" and "You Keep Running Away". By now, the Tops were the most successful male Motown act in the U.K. ( the United States, they were second to The Temptations...), and began experimenting with more mainstream pop hits.

They scored hits with their versions of Bobby Darin's "If I Were a Carpenter" and The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renée". These singles and the original "I'm In a Different World" were their last hits produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland, who left Motown in 1967.

Without Holland-Dozier-Holland, the quality of the Four Tops' output began to decline, and hits became less frequent. The group worked with a wide array of Motown producers during the late 1960s, including Ivy Hunter, Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, Norman Whitfield and Johnny Bristol, without significant chart success.

Their first major hit in a long time came in the form of 1970's "It's All In the Game", produced by Frank Wilson. Wilson and the Tops began working on a number of innovative tracks and albums together, echoing Whitfield's psychedelic soul work with The Temptations.

"Live & In Concert" original inner sleeve

In 1970, with its well thought out originals and expertly considered covers, their "Still Waters Run Deep" LP was of the earliest Soul concept albums. It also served as an inspiration for Marvin Gaye's 1971 classic album "What's Going On", whose title track was co-written by "Obie" Benson.

In addition to their own albums, the Tops were paired with The Supremes for a series of three albums: "The Magnificent Seven" was released in 1970, "The Return of the Magnificent Seven" and "Dynamite!" followed in 1971. While the albums themselves did not do well on the charts, "The Magnificent Seven" featured a Top 20 version of Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep - Mountain High", produced by Ashford & Simpson.

In early 1972 the Four Tops recorded "Nature Planned It" with producer Frank Wilson, it was their last Motown album for more than twenty years. This release was the subject of a previous post on Stereo Candies, just have a look here if you're interested.

During that year, Motown started relocating to Los Angeles and all its artists had to move as well. Many of the older acts opted to stay in Detroit, including The Funk Brothers backing band and the Four Tops. The Tops departed Motown for ABC-Dunhill, where they were assigned to songwriters-producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.

Moving to another label rejuvenated the group's career and when "Keeper of the Castle" was released as a single in October 1972 and it became their first Pop Top 10 hit since "Bernadette" in 1967, with "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" also entering the Top 10 in a short time.

Four Tops as they appear on the back cover of "Live & In Concert"...

Following the success of the "Keeper of the Castle" LP (...enjoy it here...), in 1973 the Four Tops returned to the ABC Recording Studios under the supervision of Steve Barri with the same team of musicians, arrangers and producers, to work on their 19th full-lenght studio album entitled "Main Street People".

The album (...available here courtesy of yours truly...) was released by ABC-Dunhill in September 1973. Just like their previous effort, it was produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who were also responsible for writing about half of the tracks.

"Are You Man Enough", the theme song to the movie "Shaft In Africa", turned out to be the first of three hit singles to emerge from "Main Street People"; it reached #2 on the American R&B chart and #15 on the American Billboard chart. The infectious "Sweet Understanding Love", which would be the group's last Top 40 Pop Hit for ABC, and the equally catchy follow-up "I Just Can't Get You Out of My Mind" both had a feel remarkably similar to some of the Tops' work for Motown.

In late 1973 / early 1974 the group was busy at the ABC Recording Studios again working on their third album for the label. "Meeting of the Minds" was finally released by ABC-Dunhill in a colourful and slightly psychedelic cover in April 1974; it was the Tops' third consecutive album produced by Steve Barri, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.

"Meeting of the Minds" (...available here...), was the last true Soul album recorded by the Four Tops before the advent of the Disco era. The album spawned two singles in the U.S.: "One Chain Don't Make No Prison" reached the R&B Top 10 in early May peaking at #3, while the midtempo "Midnight Flower" peaked at #5 in the Billboard R&B Chart during autumn. A third single, "The Well Is Dry", was released in the U.K. only, to coincide with a British tour.

Cashing on the late success of the "Midnight Flower" single, a live album was released in October 1974: the aptly titled "Live & In Concert is the subject of this post.

"Live & In Concerts" contains the following tracks:

01. Intro and Countdown (0:33)
02. Are You Man Enough (3:14)
03. Love Ain't Easy To Come By (3:23)
04. Medley: Love Music / Reach Out (I'll Be There) / Standing in the Shadows of Love (4:23)
05. Midnight Flower (3:39)
06. Baby I Need Your Loving (4:38)
07. Keeper of the Castle (2:53)
08. I Am Your Man (9:32)
09. Ain't No Woman (Like the One I Got) (3:07)
10. One Chain Don't Make No Prison (3:10)
11. I Can't Help Myself (3:11)

All tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in May 2018 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with complete artwork reconstruction and printable PDF files.

Before burning this album on CD-R using the provided CUE file you must convert the original FLAC audio file to WAV format using an appropriate software. Please have a look here if you need some help.

As usual, please have a look at the comments for the download link.

"Live & In Concert" was released by ABC-Dunhill sometime around October 1974 with catalogue number DSD-50188. At the time of this writing, it is the only mid-'70s Four Tops album that has received a CD release.

I must admit that in the first place it almost escaped me that such re-issue omits the introduction by Jay Butler, the brief instrumental piece that follows and a great rendition of "Love Ain't Easy To Come By".

In addition to that, the tracklist has been reworked in a different order which doesn't flow as naturally as the original... But the real reason why I decided to remaster this album is because the audio on the CD sounds a little bit muffled, and the stereo image is narrower when compared to the original album...

The CD was released in 1995, and even if it appears to be sourced from the original masters I guess that they used too much de-noise on it, or maybe the analog-to-digital conversion had not been optimal for some reason, who knows... Today I am not surprised anymore by big record labels' lack of care and ridiculous process/quality control.

Here's the credits and personnel list of the album as they appear on the back cover:

Produced by Steve Barri, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter
Arranged and conducted by Gil Askey

Sound engineer: Phil Kaye
Assistant engineers: Roger Nichols, Jim Lockert, Reggie Dozier

Musicians include:

Drums: Ed Greene
Bass: Wilton Felder
Guitars: Ben Benay, Dean Parks
Keyboards: Michael Omartian, Clifford Carter
Congas: King Errison
Vibes and percussion: Gene Estes

Horns: Jerome Richardson, Ernie Watts, Sahib Shihab, Marion Childers, Julius Brooks, Herman Riley, Charles Loper, George Bohanon, Maurice Spears, Eugene Young

Introduction by Jay Butler

Special thanks to the following people for their assistance: Marv Helfer, Ellen Mousari, Roy Minkus, Lloyd Stark, Arleen Schesel, Julie Barri

Photography: Ron Slenzak
Design: Tim Bryant

The original liner notes don't give away any information about when and where the album was recorded, but I guess that the tracks were selected among the best takes recorded at various concerts during the previous months...

The following short review of the album was included in the 12th October 1974 issue of Billboard:

«Super set from one of the most popular groups of the past decade, including a group of stunning live performances of some of their greatest hits, both from the older days and some of the more current ones. Backed by a superb big band, the members trade off lead vocals as skillfully as they do on record, and this is one live LP that is more than simply a greatest hits. It really does capture the excitement of a live show.»

Following the introduction by Jay Butler, a long-time Detroit broadcaster, and a short instrumental "Countdown" composed by Gil Askey, the Tops aptly begin their concert with "Are You Man Enough", a funky track with Shaft-style wah-wah guitars. Well, this should come as no surprise since it originally served as the theme song for the movie "Shaft In Africa"... The original studio version was released as a single in May 1973, and it's quite strange to read in the interview at the bottom of this post that Levi Stubbs didn't want to release such an amazing track...

As mentioned before, "Love Ain't Easy To Come By" was not included in the 1995 CD re-issue of this album and since it is one of the best cuts I can't help to wonder why... The original version, which also featured strings, was included just a few months earlier on "Meeting of the Minds", the latest Four Tops studio album at the time when "Live & In Concert" was released.

In 1974, the vastness of the Tops' repertoire would surely have deserved the release of a double live album, but we are going to have to make do with a single LP and this is the reason why we are served an old trick called 'medley'. "Love Music", taken from the more recent "Keeper of the Castle" album is effectively fused together with two of their most successful hits of the '60s, "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love", which are both rejuvenated with a faster tempo, funky elements and assorted percussion.

Coming closer to the end of Side A, the Tops introduce with sincere enthusiasm their «latest recording» and perform a stellar version of "Midnight Flower". Composed by McKinley Jackson and Reggie Dozier, this is probably the group's most well known track from this period and it was their newest single when "Live & In Concert" was released.

The task of closing the first part of the album is excellently accomplished by "Baby I Need Your Loving", which had been the Four Tops' debut single back in July 1964. This is one of those immortal songs that I could never get tired of.

Side B opens with "Keeper of the Castle", the title track from the first album released in November 1972 at the begininng of their ABC-Dunhill tenure. The song is a strong social commentary on a man's role in a relationship, and the original version was also successfully released as a single peaking at number 10 on the U.S. Pop Chart and number 7 on the R&B Charts. This live rendition is just a little bit less polished than the studio version and in my opinion this adds to its appeal.

A veeeeeeery long version of "I Am Your Man" follows. This mellow slow number is culled from "Nature Planned It", the last album the Four Tops released on Motown in 1972. Composed by Ashford & Simpson, the song has been also previously released on Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers' self-titled album in 1968. This live version is quite peculiar because in its ten minutes duration Stubbs adds an interesting soliloquy that describes the vicissitude of a man who... Well, I won't spoil it here, you should listen for yourself!

"Ain't No Woman (Like the One I Got)" rivals the original recording included on the "Keeper of the Castle" album, and it's one of the shiniest gems in this precious trove. I am not stuck in the past, but you can't even imagine how dearly I'd like that songs like this were still produced today...

"One Chain Don't Make No Prison" is performed in an abridged version which omits most of its distinctive guitar parts and, althought being well executed, it is somewhat disappointing, but not enough to ruin the global valutation of this album, which is fairly high as far as I am concerned.

The LP ends with "I Can't Help Myself", one of the Tops' most well-known hits. The song was written by Motown's main production team Holland–Dozier–Holland and was the group's first #1 single on the R&B charts in June 1965.

The following clips offer a preview of the remastered album, enjoy "Are You Man Enough", "Love Ain't Easy To Come By", "Midnight Flower", "Keeper of the Castle", "I Am Your Man", "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" and "I Can't Help Myself"!

The following interview was conducted by John E. Abbey with Levi Stubbs in Stockton-on-Tees, United Kingdom, sometime in November 1974 during a Four Tops European tour. Levi discusses some of the then recent Tops releases and their situation at ABC-Dunhill... The interview was published on issue #150 of Blues & Soul magazine in December 1974.

The Four Tops, circa 1974-75

The recent European tour by the Four Tops, their first in quite a while, gave us ample opportunity to discover what the fantastic four have been up to of late. It really isn't enough just to see their name climbing the American charts every three months with an almost monotonous regularity, because there has always been a unique sort of vitality within this group that has kept them at the top for far longer than they would have dared to hope for almost twenty-one years ago, when they began their life together as the Four Aims in their native Detroit.

However, for almost an exact half of their existence, they were unknown outside of their home town and by the time they signed with the home town family-style Motown company in 1964, they had become as we know them today, the Four Tops.

What is it that keeps four guys together through infinite bad times as well as good for that long? And how many people stop to consider how long twenty-one years is and during that time, there has been no change in the group's line-up?

How many people do you have working in your office/factory who have been with the company for that amount of time, for example?

«I guess it does have to be some kind of record,» the group's distinctive lead singer, Levi Stubbs, told me from the hotel suite that the group was staying in at romantic Stockton-on-Tees, where the foursome played to capacity crowds at the local but sumptious Fiesta Club for a full week. «It is a kind tribute to each of the four of us as people and, do you know, there has never been a time during that span that one of us has seriously considered packing it in or going solo. Sure, I've considered going solo but I know that in my heart I'll always be a Top and that my future lies with the other three.»

This prompted me to ask Levi what the thinking was behind the recent release of two singles by Lawrence Payton as a solo artist on Dunhill.

«Well, it's easy,» he half laughed, «Lawrence both produced and conceived those tracks on our last album, "Meeting of the Minds", and they really are in a completely different direction from the one that the group is heading in, so we really didn't mind the company releasing them under his name.»

What would have happened if either of the records had 'stuck' and given Larry a hit?

«Oh, he'd have stayed in the group but we would have had to add the song to our regular repertoire with Lawrence taking over the solo,» Levi put forward the suggestion. «There have been times when I have thought of doing a record on my own and the group discussed it and that was the decision that we worked out at the time.»

In all truth and honesty, the album of "Meeting of the Minds" has not been one of the Tops high spots in a star-studded decade and I was impressed to hear Levi being honest enough to concede the point.

«It's not our best, I'll agree,» he admitted, «but then we had to work with new producers and we felt obliged to give them a fair crack of the whip and allow them to get across what they felt they wanted. But there are some tracks on there that I do like, especially the one that has been released here in England, "The Well Is Dry". And, of course, I like "Midnight Flower" and then there's "Right On Brother". But we are very honest about what we do and what we record and we try to be sincere with people about our opinions.»

Since the Tops switched from Motown to ABC-Dunhill, they have been firstly very successful and then, of late, slightly less. Are they satisfied with their situation now at Dunhill?

«The thing that we all like so much is the freedom that is allowed to us»" Levi quickly stressed. «It has allowed us to get involved in production and song publishing and into other aspects of the business that have always bypassed us. It has given us the insight to get more involved in the business end of it all so that we are no longer just singers or performers. It's a kind of protection for the future, you might say. As we are today, we can go on for another five or six years but then we will have to think about our future and everything we are learning now will stand us in good stead.»

During their two years plus at Dunhill, they have won two Gold Discs - for their first release, "Keeper of the Castle", and for "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I Got)". And we understand that "Are You Man Enough" is about to turn Gold and give them a third plaque for their wall. And yet Levi freely admits that he never wanted "Are You Man Enough" to even be released.

«Well, I'll stress that this is only my personal opinion,» he underlined, «I felt we had far better in the can, but the company felt that because it was from the movie, "Shaft In Africa", and because the movie was about to be shown nationwide, it would have to be now or never so they went with it. Sure, it was a big hit but I'll always maintain that there was even better in the can waiting for release.»

Now, following the relatively poor showing of the "Meeting of the Minds" LP generally, the group is waiting for a while until they start work on their next album.

«I guess you could say we are having to look for a new concept before we start recording again,» Levi admitted. «It will probably be into the new year before we are ready but we'll be trying for our best and biggest album of all time when we do.»

And taking note of the promises that the Four Tops have kept in the past, I for one would bank my money on that being another promise that they keep.

The Four Tops, circa 1974-75

More information about "Live & In Concert" and the Four Tops is available here:

If you have any other useful information about this post or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

Saturday, 28 April 2018


As promised just a few months ago, here comes what could possibly be one of the last posts in the long series that I dedicated to Dick Jensen since October 2011. Well, I must admit that I am contemplating the idea of gathering together all his singles, so there may still be room for one more big post dedicated to him here on Stereo Candies sometime soon.

Oh, and I have not yet completely resigned myself to live without a copy of Jensen's "True Spirit of Aloha", a religious album (...vinyl? ...cassette? Who knows....) that was released in 1985, after he became a born again evangelical Christian minister. This release is mentioned at least on a couple of Hawaiian websites and could easily be seen as the Holy Grail for all Jensen's die-hard fans, namely Me, Myself and I.

If you happen to have any information about such release and, who knows, even a copy for sale then I would love to hear from you, really!

A short biography of Jensen follows; for more details about his career up till the early '70s please have a look at this other post of mine: "Dick Jensen - An Entertainer Without a Hit Record (Part 1, 1942-1972)".

A rare early/mid '80s picture of Dick Jensen, sorry for the awful quality!

Jensen was a live musical performer of the Rhythm and Blues, Soul, and Gospel genres. A native Hawaiian athletic song stylist and a prime mover of nightclub shows inspired by Little Richard, whose "white hot soul" electrified audiences with his belting voice and imposing physical performances.

Jensen earned the sobriquet "The Giant" because of his tall stature, but he had a talent to match that nickname. His signature on-stage style incorporated strenuous dance moves similar to those of Jackie Wilson; he was noted for his glide - a proto-Moonwalk - well before Michael Jackson made it fashionable; just have a look at this clip on YouTube.

Jensen's music career began in 1959 and during the next fifteen years he moved back and forth between the Continental U.S. and Hawaii several times. He soon established himself as a singer in the Islands and in 1965 he got a contract with Loma Records.

During the late '60s / early '70 he often performed at several hotels and casinos and guested on many TV shows. His first album, entitled "White Hot Soul" (...available here...) was released in late 1969.

His potential as a national mainstream recording artist resulted in a contract with Philadelphia International, one of the top Soul music labels of the early 1970s. His "Dick Jensen" album was released in early 1973, but unfortunately sales were low and Jensen's tenure with the legendary label was very short...

Jensen returned to Honolulu around 1974 or 1975 and quickly re-estabilished himself as a local showroom star with engagements at the Hula Hut and at the Empire Room on the Oceania Floating Restaurant; the latter was jammed night after night for eight years.

"Giant of Hawaii", Jensen's third album (...available here...), was produced and arranged by Don Costa for his Don Costa Productions Inc. The record was released by Jensen himself in mid/late 1976 on a personal label created on purpose, the evocative Record Club of Honolulu.

In 1978 Jensen had a small part in a TV movie entitled "The Islander". I desperately tried to find a copy of this movie or at least more information about it, but all I could come up with is this short synopsis.

During 1979 Jensen worked on a new album with Bartolome 'Bart' Bascone, a veteran Island musician, conductor, composer and arranger best known for his novelty song "Who Is the Lolo (Who Stole My Pakalolo)", which Don Ho recorded and made a radio hit in 1977. "The Writer" (...available here...) was probably released the same year on Giant Records, another one-off label created by Jensen himself.

During the early '80s Jensen appeared on The Mike Douglas Show when it was broadcast from Hawaii, and guested on a few episodes of Magnum P.I.

Around the same time, a new single appeared out of the blue on, ehm, Bluewater Records, and - as you already guessed - "Honolulu Girls / On the Beach" is the subject of this post

Here's the track list for this 7" single:

01. Honolulu Girls (3:18)
02. On the Beach (3:04)

Both tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in April 2018 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with scans of the original item.

Please have a look at the comments for the download link.

"Honolulu Girls / On the Beach" was released on Bluewater Records with catalogue number BW 1040 sometime in the early '80s. Unfortunately only very few information about this Hawaiian label run by legendary Tom Moffatt is available on the Internet.

My copy comes in a simple white paper sleeve and I guess this is how it was originally released. Date of publication is not written anywhere on the center labels, neither there are hints about it in the run-out grooves... Anyway, according to Discogs, other Bluewater singles with a lower catalogue number were released in 1980 and 1981, so I guess that a 1982-84 release date is correct.

Both tracks on the record were produced by Frank Day. No other credit is available, but I suppose that they were written by Jensen himself, or at least the lyrics seems to suit his style and suggest that he has to be credited for them.

The songs share a very similar musical structure and include extended saxophone solos. Unfortunately, like many other music recorded in the '80s, they seem quite dated now and they don't share the same freshness of other material recorded by Jensen during the previous decade.

Anyway, once again they showcase common themes of the life on the Islands and are a testament to the author's positive personality and attitude.

The following clips offer a complete preview of the remastered single, enjoy "Honolulu Girls" and "On the Beach"!

More information about Dick Jensen is available here:

I'm currently compiling a Dick Jensen biography, the first part of this work-in-progress covers the period 1942-1972 and is available here.

I'm also trying to compile a Dick Jensen exhaustive discography, my work-in-progress is available here.

Last but not least, I'm also trying to build a collection of Dick Jensen pictures and memorabilia, my work-in-progress is available here.

All my posts dedicated to Dick Jensen on this blog are available here.

If you have other useful information about this post, or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

Thursday, 29 March 2018


«SPECIAL NOTE TO THE CONSUMER AND RECORD REVIEWER: this album contains recordings by VINNIE BELL, at this writing New York's busiest studio guitar player. It is designed to show-case Vinnie's electronic genius and his musicianship. The album is based on the contemporary, popular, instrumental approach to recording. This is not a JAZZ recording.»

[from the back cover notes of "Whistle Stop"]

It's high time for another chapter in our series of posts that celebrate leading American session guitarist and pioneer of electronic effects Vincent 'Vinnie' Bell.

One of the two or three greatest guitar geeks of the Space Age Pop era, Vinnie Bell will go down in musical history as the inventor of the 'water guitar sound' that was a big fad in instrumental recordings during the '60s.

Used most prominently on Ferrante and Teicher's 1969 Top Ten cover of the theme to "Midnight Cowboy", and on his own rendition of the "'Airport' Love Theme" in 1970, the effect became one of the most-copied technique among guitarists until the wah-wah pedal became standard equipment in the '70s. Among the other essential records that feature his trademark sound, we should at least mention Dick Hyman / Mary Mayo's "Moon Gas", released in 1963 and available here on Stereo Candies..

Born in Brooklyn in 1935, Bell started to learn to play the mandolin when he was four years old according to the old method: solfeggio and a good swat for every mistake. Then, at eight years of age came the switch to guitar, and at the ripe maturity of twelve years the start of his professional career.

Trained by teachers like Carmen Mastren, who taught him the rhythm guitar, and Tony Mottola, who taught him the basic all-around fundamentals and made him his protégé, Bell also studied under Everett Barksdale and Mickey Baker.

Long before any company commercially produced guitar effects pedals, Vinnie Bell was tinkering and inventing with his own electronic custom effects pedals for his guitars. He constantly invented new effects using fuzz distortion and wah-wah pedals, before anyone else had them. This gave him an edge over most other guitarists in the '60s recording world, and producers loved to bring him on their sessions to get his unique guitar effects.

Bell soon became an in-demand session guitarist. The list of artists who benefited from his work is huge and includes Louis Armstrong, Simon and Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, Donovan, The Mamas & The Papas, The Four Seasons, The Lovin' Spoonful, Bobby Darin and many more...

For a detailed biography of Vinnie Bell, I suggest that you read the post I dedicated to his debut album a while ago.

My copy of "Whistle Stop" comes with an original Verve company inner sleeve, yippee!!!

"Whistle Stop" contains the following tracks:

01. Moonglow (2:02)
02. Night Train (2:41)
03. Fever (2:29)
04. Dawn (2:09)
05. Bellzouki (2:12)
06. What'd I Say (2:57)
07. Last Stop (1:39)
08. Trainman's Blues (2:23)
09. Shindig (2:06)
10. Whistle Stop (2:13)
11. Memphis (2:18)
12. I Have But One Heart (1:59)
13. The End of the Line (1:47)
14. Tramp Song (2:07)

All tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in March 2018 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with complete artwork reconstruction and printable PDF files.

Please have a look at the comments for the download link.

Here's the complete credits and personnel list of the album:

Vincent Bell: guitars and effects
Everett Barksdale: bass
Paul Griffin: electric piano, electric organ
Al Gorgoni: rhythm guitar
Gary Chester / Buddy Saltzman: drums

Arranged by Claus Ogerman and Charles Calello, except "Bellzouki", "Trainman's Blues" and "Whistle Stop" arranged by Vincent Bell.

Director of engineering: Val Valentin

Liner notes: Warner Fredericks

Cover photograph: Todd Webb

Produced by Creed Taylor.

Vincent Bell, circa 1964

Probably recorded sometime during the last months of the previous year, "Whistle Stop" was released by Verve with catalogue number V6-8574 (stereo) and V-8574 (mono) around January or February 1964.

The album cover features a picture by famous American photographer Todd Weeb, which depicts a small train station in Domingo, some sixty kilometers south-west of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Luckily, there is a road just near the rails, and Google Maps can help to give a more precise idea of where the picture was taken. Of course at least 55 years has passed, the small station is not there anymore, but I think I have recognized the old water tower...

Both the album title and its cover clearly imply that this work is focused on the railroad, and at least five of the tracks also explicitly refer to trains, trainmen, stops, stations and lines. A nice theme, I would say, and one that also vaguely inspired Bell on his previous solo effort.

Anyway, curiously enough the author's name is spelled as Vinny Bell on the front cover, spine and center labels, but he is referred to with the more usual Vinnie Bell on the back cover and in the liner notes... The same liner notes identifies this as Bell's «first recording as a soloist», which is not the case since his debut album was released no less than three years earlier, in late 1960.

In the page dedicated to the album on the super cool Spage Age Pop website, the reviewer points out how apparently the label was trying to «distance itself from its own artist» by including on the back cover the "Special note to the consumer and record reviewer" that you can read in full at the beginning of this post, warning them that «this is not a Jazz recording»... I can't help but agree with him, also when he writes that «Whistle Stop is, arguably, Bell's best album by far.»

In November 1963, "Whistle Stop" was preceded by a 7" release credited to Vinny Bell and The Bell Men. This included the title track on Side A and "Shindig" on the flipside. In Italy the songs were switched and the record was given the picture cover that you can see below. In Australia the songs included on the single were "Moonglow" and, once again, "Shindig". On such occasion they were credited to Vinnie Bell; pictures of this release are also available below.

In Italy the "Whistle Stop / Shindig" single was released in a picture sleeve and sides were switched...

...while the public in Australia was offered a "Moonglow / Shindig" single

The following is a slightly edited version of the liner notes written by Warner Fredericks that are printed on the back cover of "Whistle Stop":

«Better open the window and get ready to toss out every idea you’ve ever had about what a guitar should sound like. Because from the moment the stylus touches the first groove of the record inside this sleeve every guitar you’ve ever heard will become part of the past tense of your life. Vinnie Bell’s new recording as a soloist, composer, leader, arranger is a straight-off blast into the future of guitar music.

Look at the line-up of tunes: "Night Train", "Memphis", "What’d I Say", "Bellzouki", "Dawn", "Trainman’s Blues", "Shindig", "Fever", "Last Stop", "Moonglow", and the title tune - "Whistle Stop". Every one of them is dressed up in sounds you’ve never heard before - sounds no one has ever heard before on record. Sure you’ve heard train sounds - but who ever heard a trombone moan come out of a guitar? Listen to the moving bass line on "Moonglow". Or, who ever dreamed of making a violin come singing out of a guitar - or a French Horn, or cello, or pipe organ, or a baritone sax?

Vinnie Bell - he’s the dreamer behind this fantastic array of new sounds that come roaring, sighing, singing out of an instrument that once used to hang around in the background of folk songs and blues. Vinnie, a superb musician and a natural born inventor, got the idea a few years ago that there was a terrific, rockin’ orchestra hidden inside the curved frame of his guitar. He was determined to pry every instrumental sound loose he could discover - or invent.

Remember when Paul Anka took off with “Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine”? - a gold-mine of an LP. The guitar was Vinnie’s, the same guitar you will hear on "I Have But One Heart". He could bill himself like an old-time private detective, “The Eye That Never Sleeps”... He’s too busy - playing, composing, inventing.

Recently, he counted down the Top Fifty singles in the best-seller charts and discovered to his happy amazement that he had played guitar on thirty-two of the recordings! He averages close to twenty recording sessions a week in the New York studios; single dates, LP dates, TV commercials, radio commercials, movies, network TV shows... And he is a consultant for Danelectro in the engineering and development of new guitars, amplifiers and guitar attachments - both acoustical and electronic. "Bellzouki" is named after a patented device of Vinnie’s that he based on the terrific Greek bouzoukee sound. (Remember the sound track of Never On Sunday? That was a bouzoukee.)

Vinnie is originally a Brooklyn boy, born just about a mile from Coney Island. He’s a family man (“When I get to see them”) with a son and two daughters, all under 9. Married ten years, he and his wife went together for 9 years before they decided to take the final step. Vinnie’s training was informal - “But, with some really good teachers,” he says, “Tony Mottola and Carmen Mastron. Tony taught me the basic all-around fundamentals, and Carmen taught me rhythm guitar. Then, fellows like Everett Barksdale and Mickey Baker taught me a lot more later on. They’ve got something special.”

Incidentally, Everett Barksdale plays on this date and helps Vinnie make his debut as a combo leader on records. Barksdale plays bass guitar and gives the album a terrific drive. He sounds like he’s playing a bass fiddle - but most of the time it’s a Danelectro bass guitar that Vinnie helped research and develop. The other players in Vinnie’s group are: Paul Griffin, electric piano and electric organ; Al Gorgoni, rhythm guitar; Gary Chester or Buddy Saltzman on drums. Vinnie arranged three of the tunes and the others were scored by Claus Ogerman and Charlie Calello, both outstanding arrangers.

Vinnie has adapted, modified, invented, experimented, dreamed... Sometimes people are likely to think that a guy so obsessed with perfection is a little out of this world - a little touched. Vinnie’s certainly way out in a world of his own - a world of vibrant, exciting, rocking new sounds. And indeed he is touched - with genius.

Side A starts with "Moonglow", a popular song written by Will Hudson and Irving Mills with lyrics by Eddie DeLange. There is an abyss between the first version of the song recorded by Joe Venuti in 1933 and Bell's version, but the original melody is still quite recognizable. As I already wrote, this tune was released as a single in Australia.

On "Night Train" Bell emulates a variety of train sounds with his guitar, a trick that he already applied to "Sentimental Journey" on his debut album, but in a completely different way. This song was written by Jimmy Forrest with added lyrics by Lewis C. Simpkins and Oscar Washington. compared to Bell's rendition, the original version recorded by Jimmy Forrest in 1952 is much slower and creates a completely different atmosphere. James Brown also recorded his own version of the song in 1961, turning it into a Funky number with different lyrics.

"Fever" was written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell. The song was first recorded in 1956 by American R&B singer Little Willie John, and topped the Billboard R&B chart when it was released as a single in April the same year. Bell aptly takes the original vocal line and builds his soloing on it with a lot of expressiveness. His trademark water guitar sound is scattered all over the track and it takes the lead along with an heavy reverb during a break halfway through the song, making it one of the best cuts on the album.

Well, I tried my best but I couldn't find any relevant information about "Dawn" a song written by one Robert Robinson... It's a real pity because this is probably the most scintillating track on "Whistle Stop" and I would have been curious to learn something more about it and listen to the original version... Maybe someone in the know could shed some light about it? Thank you!
Anyway, once again I agree with the reviewer at Space Age Pop: «"Dawn" stands out in its compact intensity. It starts revved up and keeps the pedal to the metal right to the last note. Bell's fuzzed-out tone is pretty remarkable to hear, given that it's just 1964. It's the kind of track that blows the dust out of the speakers and leaves compilation makers wondering how to possibly follow it up.»

The album proceeds with "Bellzouki", the first of three compositions co-written by Bell himself with Wandra Merrell Brown that appear on the record. As per title, the song makes good use of the Bellzouki, an electric 12-string guitar that Bell had invented and perfectioned for Danelectro just months early. Bell's creation was inspired by the Bouzouki, a Greek string instrument, and I easily guess that this is one of its very first appearances on a record.

"What'd I Say" was written by Ray Charles, who also recorded it in 1959. Bell's version is pretty tight just like the original, and although it doesn't introduce new elements we can still appreciate the precision of his mighty touch.

First side finish with "Last Stop", the shortest number on the album. This instrumental was written by Phil Ramone and Cathryn Williams, and having being copyrighted just in December 1963 I believe that it is an original piece of music created on purpose for the inclusion on this LP. Bell's guitar introduces the track with its imitation of a steam whistle and then proceeds solidly to the end, making this a favourite of mine.

Side B opens with "Trainman's Blues", another instrumental written by the Bell-Merrell duo. As the title clearly implies, this is a Blues number augmented by Bell's tremolo and distortion effects. At times I feel like he's about to dive into a devastating solo along the lines of the one played by Marty McFly / Michael J. Fox in one of the best scenes of "Back To the Future", but instead he always manage to keep the train on the track, just to use a metaphor which suits both the song and the album.

"Shindig" is an instrumental written by Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch and brought to success in 1963 by their band, The Shadows. Bell adds a touch of his water guitar sound, but his version - althought being more powerful, in my opinion - remains mostly faithful to the original.

"Whistle Stop" is the third number written by Bell and Wandra Merrell Brown, this time also aided by Phil Ramone. It would be interesting to know the name of the anonymous whistler who gives this distinctive touch to a rather simple bluesy track... Since Bell had often collaborated with Dick Hyman - who is also well-known for his whistling ability - I wouldn't be surprised if it was really him, but of course this is just mere speculation... As I already wrote, apart from being choosen as the album's title, this cut was also released as a single. This was not a wise choice in my opinion, and the album has stronger tracks that could have served that purpose better.

"Memphis" is a famous song written by Chuck Berry, which was first released in 1959. Somehow Bell's version differs from the original and I must admit that I was not able to recognize it at first listen. The chord progression seems to be the same but the distinctive vocal line is completely absent and is not replaced by any instrument, making it difficult to draw a connection with the original composition, at least for me.

"I Have But One Heart" is a popular song composed by Johnny Farrow and Marty Symes. The song is an adaptation of a traditional Neapolitan song entitled "O Marenariello", and was first recorded by Vic Damone in 1947. Bell brings the song back to its original Southern Italy context by aptly playing most of it on a mandolin and using a very clean and gentle guitar sound.

"The End of the Line" is another short instrumental written by the Ramone-Williams duo, and I assume from its copyright date that, once again, this is an original number created for the album. Bell's guitar is at its best and this track - although not sharing any striking similarities - somehow reminds me of Perrey and Kingsley's "Swan's Splashdown" from "The In Sound from Way Out!", a 1966 album that also features an unaccredited Vinnie Bell on guitar, uhm...

"Tramp Song" brings the album to an end. The original version of this track is entitled "Tramp-Melodie" and comes from the original soundtrack written by German composer Martin Böttcher for the 1963 movie "Der Schatz im Silbersee" (The Treasure of the Silver Lake). It may seem an odd choice, but the orchestral movements of the original are faithfully reconstructed by Bell on his guitar, making it a perfect closure.

The following clips offer a preview of the remastered album: enjoy "Moonglow", "Night Train", "Fever", "Dawn", "Bellzouki", "Shindig", "Whistle Stop" and "The End of the Line"!

More information about Vinnie Bell and "Whistle Stop" is available here:

If you have other useful information about this post, or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018


Ying Hua, best known by her stage name of Sakura Teng, was born in Muar, state of Johor, Malaysia, in May 1948. She grew up there, where she received her education in Chinese and English, but has always been mistaken for a Singaporean as she had been living in the republic until the mid '80s.

During her years in school, Sakura won many singing competitions as well as many public speaking awards. Despite being a top student, and having decided to become a singer, at the tender age of sixteen she quit school and moved to Singapore.

Her music career began in 1965, when she was just seventeen, at the now defunct New World, an amusement park located in the central area of Singapore.

On her path to fame, Sakura was lucky enough to meet Su Yin (舒雲), a.k.a. Henry Foo, a Singaporean singer, songwriter and lyricist, who was also the A&R manager for the Chinese section at Columbia / EMI.

He immediately recognized her potential, and in 1966 she was signed by the label. Her first 7" EP was an instant hit: it sold 25,000 copies and became the first in a very long series of successful releases which lasted until the early '80s.

Interestingly, her stage name is actually a literal translation of her Chinese name, which means 'cherry blossom' in Mandarin. Apparently she was given the nickname when she started singing Japanese numbers in Chinese during her early stage performances.

One side of the original inner sleeve shows many EMI Records goodies by local artists...

Sakura recorded many fabulous Mandarin covers of popular English songs and she was part of the pioneers who launched the Rock Movement in Singapore. Along with Rita Chao, with whom she joined forces on many recordings during the late '60s, they were both known as 'A Go-Go Queens of the Sixties'.

Sakura and Rita began performing as a double act in 1967, as both singers were doing well and EMI felt that pairing them would give both their careers a boost. Together they toured Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan, building a fan base at each port of call.

On stage, Chao usually played the part of the impish naif, while Sakura was the more mature half of the duo. They split up in the mid '70s but are still fondly remembered.

...the other side shows only international artists, with the exception of The Quests and The Surfers

During her heyday in the '60s and '70s, Sakura cut more than fifty records and she also came to be known as the 'Yodelling Singer' for her vocal 'trademark'.

She still is one of the most popular female Mandarin singers, and during her career she also recorded songs in many other languages including English, Japanese, Cantonese and Malay.

In 1985 Sakura relocated to the U.S.; since then she has quit recording but she kept on performing live until 2013, when she definitively retired at the age of 65.

Sakura and The Quests in session as they appear on the back cover of the album

"Sakura Goes Boom Boom With The Quests" includes the following tracks:

01. 檸檬樹 (Lemon Tree) (3:03)
02. 我愛牛郞 (I Love Cowboy) (2:57)
03. 我要輕輕地告訴你 (Aku Kechewa) (3:23)
04. 什麼道理 (Stupid Cupid) (2:52)
05. 牧童之歌 (I Don't Care If Tomorrow Never Comes) (2:53)
06. 做一對小夫妻 (I Need You) (3:10)
07. 真友愛 (Michelle) (2:37)
08. 心事放不下 (Morning Town Ride) (2:33)
09. 歡樂今宵 (2:12)
10. 隔壁的姞埌 (Boom Boom) (3:33)
11. 可愛的春天 (My Bonnie) (3:00)
12. 提醒你 (Like I Do) (2:20)

All tracks were remastered in February 2018 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with complete artwork reconstruction and printable PDF files.

Please have a look at the comments section for the download link.

Preceded by three singles - all available here on Stereo Candies - Sakura's debut album was released sometime in early 1967 by Columbia / EMI in Singapore with catalogue number 33 ESX 602.

The front cover features a colourful and slightly psychedelic background drawing with dominant yellow and pink tones, with a superimposed picture of Sakura wearing a gold and black suit with impressively large sleeves... Of course I know the old proverb that says you can't judge a book by its cover, but even if I didn't know anything about this release I am sure I couldn't help but falling in love with it at first sight.

As the title clearly says, on this album Sakura is accompanied by The Quests, a legendary Singaporean group which was very active during the mid-late '60s, both as a backing unit - most notably for Sakura herself and Rita Chao - and as performers in their own right with a very long series of singles and four full-lenght albums.

Interestingly enough, the bottom part of the back cover includes a Max Factor ad: "Sakura also goes Bazaaz with Max Factor". I'm not sure about what 'bazaaz' means but I suppose it is used as a sort of magic word. A quick search led me to this page where I found an original Max Factor ad taken from a late '60s magazine - the one you can see above - which uses the same lettering chosen for the title of the album, as written on the front cover, and also features similar background drawings.

It never occurred to me that somehow the cover design of this album could be tied to a large international promotional campaign, but I easily guess that this is exactly what happened. This is another reason why I love doing these write-ups: there's always something else to be learned about a record, or more tiny details to discover, even after I had it in my shelves for years.

As a last note, according to Discogs the copy in my possession is not a first edition, it is a reprint made sometime after the EMI record factory in Singapore was established in June 1967. This second edition is easily identifiable from the black center labels, while the first has green labels which are also marked as "Made in Austrialia".

Side 1 opens with "檸檬樹 (Lemon Tree)", a Mandarin cover of a Folk tune written by Will Holt in the late '50s. The song has been recorded by many artists, including Peter, Paul and Mary (...available here...) and The Kingston Trio ( The most successful version was recorded by Trini Lopez in 1965.

"我愛牛郞 (I Love Cowboy)", entitled "我愛牛郞 (Cowboy Sweetheart)" on a previous EP, is a Mandarin cover of "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart", a Country and Western song written and first recorded in 1935 by Rubye Blevins, who performed as Patsy Montana. You can listen to the original version here.

"我要輕輕地告訴你 (Aku Kechewa)" is a slow number written by Syed Ahmad Vinton, who played drums with The Antartics. The song was originally recorded with Malay lyrics in 1966 by Eddie Ahmad, with accompaniment provided by The Antartics themselves. The version recorded by Sakura has Mandarin lyrics and halfway through the song it offers a great solo by The Quests' lead guitarist Reggie Verghese.

"什麼道理 (Stupid Cupid)" is one of the wildest pieces included on the album. The song was written by Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka, and became a hit for Connie Francis in 1958. Verghese adds tons of distortion to his guitar sound, turning the original number into one of Sakura's best covers. Here's the original version for your reference.

Another picture of Sakura and The Quests in session

"牧童之歌 (I Don't Care If Tomorrow Never Comes)" is another Mandarin version of a famous song written and originally performed by American Country singer-songwriter Hank Williams; you can listen to the original version by clicking here. Back in 1966, this was Sakura's first published song to feature her trademark yodelling.

I am sorry but I can't tell you much about "做一對小夫妻 (I Need You)", the last track on the first side... Its simple title doesn't help, and the only related result I could find is this hilarious clip on YouTube; it seems that the song is the same... In his book "Beyond the Tea Dance", Joseph C. Pereira asserts that this is a cover of a Beatles track written by George Harrison... Maybe he's right, but I can't find any similarity at all between these two songs: anyone can help about this?

Side B starts with "真友愛 (Michelle)", a cover of the classic Beatles tune... Do you really need a link to the original version of this song?!? C'mon...

"心事放不下 (Morning Town Ride)" was originally a lullaby written and performed by Malvina Reynolds in 1957. The song was further popularized by The Seekers, who recorded it for the first time in 1964 bringing it to the charts in late 1966. Here's a link to their version.

Sakura in session

"歡樂今宵" is supposed to be an original composition which should translate with "Happy Tonight", but I wasn't able to find any information about it, maybe someone out there can share some?

"隔壁的姞埌 (Boom Boom)" is a Mandarin cover of a song written by American Blues singer and guitarist John Lee Hooker, who recorded it in 1961. Musically, it is another wild piece that uses fuzz distortion in the same vein of "Stupid Cupid".

Approaching its end, the album includes two of the oldest recordings made by Sakura with The Quests that originally appeared on her debut EP back in 1966, where the accompanying band was mysteriously credited as Sounds Anonymous...

"可愛的春天 (My Bonnie)" is a traditional Scottish folk song which was also recorded by Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers - an alias for The Beatles! - in 1961 (...the original version is available here).

"提醒你 (Like I Do)"is a song written by Richard Manning based on a segment from "La danza delle ore" by Amilcare Ponchielli. This tune was first released and brought to success by Nancy Sinatra in the U.S. during early 1962 (...available here) and by Maureen Evans in the U.K. (

The following clips offer a preview of the remastered album, enjoy "檸檬樹 (Lemon Tree)", "我愛牛郞 (I Love Cowboy)", "什麼道理 (Stupid Cupid)", "牧童之歌 (I Don't Care If Tomorrow Never Comes)", "做一對小夫妻 (I Need You)", "隔壁的姞埌 (Boom Boom)", "可愛的春天 (My Bonnie)" and "提醒你 (Like I Do)"!

More information about Sakura is available here:

As usual, I'm still struggling to find somebody who can help me with translations:

if you can translate from Chinese to English please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com
or leave a comment in the box below, thank you so much!

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