Brother Joe May - When The Lord Gets Ready (Nashboro 657)
When The Lord Gets Ready
Ernie Young operated a jukebox route in the Nashville area in the 1940's, and when the records came out of the juke joints, he sold them in his 'record mart' on 3rd Avenue North. Randy Wood (who would later go on to form Dot Records) owned 'the world's largest mail-order phonograph record shop' in Gallatin, Tennessee. His store was the sponsor of 'Randy's Record Highlights' the immensely popular 'boogie-woogie' show hosted by Gene Nobles on WLAC. Ernie wanted in on the action.
When John R returned from World War II in 1946, he became the voice behind 'Ernie's Record Parade', a nightly show that feaured the latest in Blues and R&B. On Sunday nights, the program was strictly 'spiritual', and focused on Gospel. Young's small store was soon inundated with mail-orders, and he realized that the demand for Gospel records by John's mostly black, mostly Southern audience far outweighed the supply on hand. He decided to start his own label to meet that demand in 1951.
That label, Nashboro, was in the unique position of being able to promote its records on the air almost immediately. The first sides were actually recorded late at night in the WLAC studios with John R acting as the producer. Eventually, Ernie set up a primitive studio in the attic of his shop, and set about recording local talent like The Skylarks and The Silvertone Jubilee Singers. He hired the Reverend Doctor Morgan Babb, the leader of The Radio Four, to act as his community liaison and A&R man, and the label was on its way.
Young would start a subsidiary label named Excello in 1952 (for more on the Excello story, please check out the good ol' B side). The first five releases on Excello were Gospel as well, but Young soon used the label exclusively for R&B and Blues.
As time went on, Nashboro established itself as one of the leaders in the Gospel field, especially in the South. WLAC's 50,000 watts, as well as John R's great 'shtick', helped see to that. When labels like Specialty began concentrating on rock & roll in the late fifties, Nashboro was positioned to pick up some of the pieces. Such was the case with today's selection.
Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith was an evangelical 'anointed singer' whose spirit-filled solos at Thomas Dorsey's annual Gospel Conventions in the 1930s paved the way for Gospel as we know it today. She has been compared with Bessie Smith (Dorsey said she was better!), and was the acknowledged inspiration for vocalists from Mahalia Jackson to O.V. Wright. Although she was the 'mentor' for many an aspiring singer in those days, her favorite by far was Brother Joe May, a man she would christen "The Thunderbolt Of The Middle West".
May grew up singing Gospel as a member of The Church Of God in Mississippi, but moved to East St. Louis in 1941 to find work. He soon became a disciple of the amazing Mother Smith, and sang with her every chance he got. Before long, Smith was taking him with her to the Gospel Conventions and he began to make a name for himself. When Pilgrim Traveler J.W. Alexander saw him perform at the 1949 convention he was blown away, and recommended him to Art Rupe at Specialty Records.
His first single for the label, Dorsey's Search Me Lord, would become a million-seller, and May was able to 'quit his day job' to become one of the premier voices in post-war Gospel music. His high energy delivery and powerful voice had people calling him 'the male Mahalia', but in reality he was the creation of Mother Smith, carrying her 'holy ghost' style forward to a new generation. He became one of the top-selling artists for Specialty, and appeared in the 'package shows' organized by the record company. One such performance is captured in the live recording of the famous 1955 Shrine Auditorium Summer Festival Of Gospel Music. Alongside Sam Cooke's Soul Stirrers, Dorothy Love Coates, and Alexander's Pilgrim Travelers, Brother Joe is at the top of his game.
Just like the Blind Boys before him, May saw the handwriting on the wall and, refusing to 'cross-over' he left Specialty for Nashboro in 1958. In many ways, this only solidified his reputation with his southern Gospel audience, and The Thunderbolt Of The Middle West became even more popular down south (I'm sure having his new records broadcast on WLAC didn't hurt either). Today's featured selection was his third release for Nashboro, and is just plain awesome. Check out that voice, huh? "...Tell the government, get ready too. Tell everybody - The Internal Revenue" Just amazing.
Now, as I'm sure you've noticed, this is essentially the same song (with better lyrics) as the one the Rolling Stones covered as You Gotta Move on Sticky Fingers in 1971. They list Mississippi Fred McDowell as the composer, but the earliest recorded version I can find by him is from a 1964 album called Amazing Grace on which he collaborates with The Hunter's Chapel Singers on some Gospel standards. Although it's not unusual in the Gospel field to claim the songwriting and publishing on songs that have already entered the 'public domain' (witness the fact that Stan Lewis is listed as the composer of Just A Closer Walk in our last post!), I just wonder if Brother Joe actually wrote this one himself. It rocks.
Brother Joe would go on to tour Europe, and star on Broadway opposite Marion Williams in Black Nativity (a role later filled by Alex Bradford). Despite declining health, he continued to tour extensively. On July 14, 1972, the Thunderbolt was struck down by a massive stroke on his way to a performance in Thomasville, Georgia. Mother Willie Mae said, "I never thought I'd be saying goodbye to my child... He was my Joe baby, and he knew how to stir me, no doubt about it."
When the Lord gets ready...