Sunday, March 18, 2007

Original Five Blind Boys - Lord, Lord You've Been So Good To Me (Peacock 1824)


Lord, Lord You've Been So Good To Me

In 1947, R.H. Harris, the famed leader of The Soul Stirrers, was instrumental in forming the 'National Quartet Association Of America', a group dedicated to promoting the 'quartet style' of Gospel music by organizing and training teenaged singing groups in their own image and likeness. There were chapters in seven states, like the 'Quartet Union Of Indiana' in Gary, home to a young Roscoe Robinson. Roscoe was recruited as a member of a group of kids that called themselves Joiner's Five Trumpets that were being groomed to represent the style for their particular city. They would perform in programs set up by the Association that featured the best of these young singing groups in 'battle of the bands' type competitions. This not only helped to promote the organization, but inspired the participants to give their all to try and 'cut' the groups from rival cities.

It was at one such program that he met Sam Cooke in 1949. Cooke was a member of The Highway QCs, a group that hung around the main office of the Quartet Association in Chicago, and were undeniably the best of the bunch. "The first time I heard Sam, he was shouting with the pretty voice..." Roscoe has said, "So I come up to him and started talking to him and he said, 'Well, man, I like your singing.' I said, 'I just can't sing like you!' He said, 'Man, you ought to come over to Chicago sometime.' And from then on I started coming over, and I rehearsed with them and stayed at Sam's house. His mama would cook for everyone!"

As Cooke moved on to replace Harris in The Soul Stirrers, Robinson would become one of the most seasoned travellers on the 'Gospel Highway'. During the 1950s, the 'golden age' of Quartet Gospel, Roscoe would sing with The Southern Sons, The Silver Quintette, The Royal Quartet, The Kelly Brothers, The Norfolk Singers, The Fairfield Four, The Gospel Jays and The Paramount Singers... talk about a veteran! Small wonder, then, that when the legendary Archie Brownlee took sick he hand-picked Robinson to be his successor in the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi.

When Brownlee died of pneumonia in February of 1960, Roscoe began sharing lead vocal duties with Wilmer 'Little Ax' Broadnax, formerly of the Spirit Of Memphis Quartet. The incredible record you're listening to now (the flip of the traditional hymn "Sending Up My Timber"), features Robinson's mighty voice just ripping it up, y'all! Archie would have been proud.

Shortly after Archie's death, The Blind Boys' contract with Peacock expired. They asked proprietor Don Robey for a new car before they agreed to re-sign with the label. With Brownlee dead, Robey probably had no intention of signing them anyway, and used it as an excuse to send them on their way. Robinson used his Chicago connections to secure a deal with Leonard Chess, who was only too happy to buy them the car. they recorded an album for Checker called "I'll Go", and did just that, going right back out on the road. When they came through Houston, Robey came to see them. "Chess has a lot of money," he said, "why don't you tell them you're still under contract to me, and we'll sue them for big bucks!" (a typical Don Robey story). He had a pre-dated contract all ready, and everyone signed it but Roscoe and Shorty Abrams, who refused to be a part of something they knew was wrong.

They were thrown out of the group. As the lawsuit progressed, the word on the street was that Roscoe had 'sold out' to the white man (Chess) and turned his back on his own kind (Robey). Nothing could have been further from the truth. He and Shorty formed their own group, The Blind Boys Of Ohio, but despite a rousing release on Constellation, promoters refused to book them. It was at this point that Roscoe decided he had no choice but to 'cross-over' (for more on that part of the story, please visit The B Side)...

By 1972, frustrated with a perennial lack of promotion on the part of the record companies, and a public that seemed increasingly indifferent to his music, Roscoe decided to return to the Lord. As he told David Cole a few years back, “I decided to go back into singing Gospel, mainly because nothing was happening with the R&B, and I felt that by me going back into the Gospel field that I could get more work, which I did. My heart was more into Gospel than into R&B anyway.” The resulting album (Jewel LPS 0066), He Still Lives In Me, showed that Robinson remained at the top of his game. It has recently been re-issued on the sublime P-Vine Japanese release Heavenly Soul Music. Say Amen, somebody!

His next stop would be with T.K. Records subsidiary Gospel Roots, where he would work with the legendary Ralph Bass to produce the long out of print "Time To Live" in 1977. A track from the album, Jesus Is Enough (a sanctified version of Roscoe's biggest hit), can be heard over at Sir Shambling's Deep Soul Heaven as part of the excellent Soul Of Gospel page put together by Gospel afficianados Karl Tsigdinos & John Glassburner.

In 1979, Robinson became a member of The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama. It's unclear whether this was before or after the return of prodigal son Clarence Fountain (who was recording for Jewel at the same time as Roscoe). In any event, they were both aboard for the great 1982 album I'm A Soldier In The Army Of The Lord, which Roscoe co-produced with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. It was re-released on CD in 2004. Roscoe still performs with 'The Boys' occasionally today.

As MCA began re-issuing much of the Chess catalog in the mid-eighties, the album Roscoe and the Blind Boys Of Mississippi had recorded for Checker in 1960 was released on audio cassette as Soon I'll Be Done. At around the same time, he began working as a producer for the Malaco owned Savoy label, which would release an album on him called High On Jesus, which remains, sadly, out of print. Interestingly, cassettes seemed to be the medium of choice for Gospel music during this period, and if you check out the Gospel Catalogue at Malaco, much of it is still only available in that format.

Happily for us, archivist Opal Nations has put together Roscoe's early quartet recordings, along with the original Peacock and Checker material he recorded with the 'Boys' on a Pewburner CDR - PB 658 Roscoe Robinson (1950-1964). Go ahead and buy one.

Robinson himself has re-activated his Gerri label, and released an excellent album called The Gospel Stroll in 2005. In addition to the almost 'hip-hop' flava of the title track, he joins together with old friend Clarence Fountain for the amazing I Am Pressing On. Pressing on indeed, these two men are among the last living links to the 'golden age' of Quartet Gospel.

We should all bow down before them.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roscoe Robinson is truly one of the world's greatest singers.We congratulate this American Gospel Quartet Convention Hall Of Famer.Mr. Robinson is the only indivisual to be inducted with two quartet groups(The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi and The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama.

Roscoe Robinson can also be seen on the historic "Legends" video,produced by Malaco Records.

On behalf of The American Gospel Quartet Convention we salute Mr. Roscoe Robinson.

Shine On,
George W. Stewart

5:58 PM  
Blogger el viaje said...

Do you know what album/CD by Sister Lucille Pope & the Pearly Gates has the song "I Got a New Home Over In Zion"?

2:53 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Hello there-

I have four albums, five CDs and a cassette by Sister Lucille, and 'I got A New Home Over In Zion' isn't on any of them... perhaps my man Cies over at Just Moving On can help you out...

Thanks.

8:50 AM  
Blogger brightboyz said...

Hallelu.Our Father;Save a seat of me;Lord remember me;Old ship of Zion;Lord you been good to me;In the hands of the Lord;I once owned a 8 track with all these five blind boys of Alabama studio recorded songs,in the early 80's,and would love to have again,this masterpiece spiritual album;I believe,that this album,was a greatest hits collection,I'm not sure.There's nothing like it.If there are any retailers out there that sells it in cd, holler at the brightboyz!tommyhargrove77@yahoo.com.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Hey Bright Boy -

That must have been some killer eight track!

There is an excellent LP discography page on the Alabama 'Boys' by my good pal Cies over on Just Moving On. Maybe that will help you track down that long lost recording!

Thanks, and Good Luck!

12:58 PM  
Blogger brightboyz said...

RED KELLY:THANKS FOR THE SUPER REPLY.I CHECKED OUT THE WEB THAT YOU SUGGESTED,BUT THEY DIDN'T HAVE,THIS WELL ORCHESTRATED KILLER ALBUM THAT I'M LOOKING FOR-WHICH I NOW BELIEVE, WAS PUT TOGETHER, BY EITHER A PIRATE,OR A BOOTLEGGER.THE AUTHETIC,BLIND BOY SONGS ON IT,WERE:OUR FATHER;SAVE A SEAT FOR ME;SENDING UP MY TIMBER;LORD YOU BEEN GOOD TO ME;OLD SHIP OF ZION;LORD REMEMBER ME;HALLELU,HALLELU,HALLELU;IN THE HANDS OF THE LORD.ALL THE SONGS,WERE STUDIO RECORDED,AND THE IN THE HANDS OF THE LORD SONG,WAS LED,BY A NEW MEMBER OF THE GROUP,AFTER ARCHIE BROWNLEE PASSED.HE DID A VERY FINE JOB WITH THE SONG.THIS IS THE ALBUM,THAT I'M SEEKING,THAT I ONCE HAD ON 8 TRACK,IN THE EARLY 80'S - AND THE BRIGHTBOYZ,WANT IT BAD,IT'S superspiritual,HIGHQUALITY stuff,BECAUSE IT'S A DEVILKILLER.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Boy:

OK... it appears to me, now, with the inclusion of 'Sending Up My Timber', that the 8 Track in question was by the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi - and the vocalist is, of course, none other than Roscoe Robinson! I know it gets confusing, as the Mississippi group (which was originally called the Jackson Harmoneers) are sometimes called 'The Original Five Blind Boys' (Peacock) or just 'The Five Blind Boys' (Chess) with no reference to their state of origin. As far as I know, ever since the Alabama group changed their name from the Happy Land Singers, to 'The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama' they've always included the State...

Anyway, if Archie Brownlee was on the tape, it had to be from the Peacock era, as he died before the move to Chess...

I just found this listing on the Both Sides Now Album Discographies Page:

PEACOCK PLP-139 - Best Of Five Blind Boys - Our Father/Old Ship of Zion/Mother Don't Worry/Somewhere Listening for My Name/Song of Praise/Save a Seat for Me/There's No Need to Cry/Lord, Lord, You've Been So Good to Me/Father I Stretch My Hands to Thee/Lord Remember Me/In the Hands of the Lord

...it's close, except for 'Sending Up My Timber' which Roscoe maintains that he actually wrote.

There was also a 1973 Best Of The Blind Boys, Vol. 2 - MCA 28044

...but I'm unsure of the track listing

Hope that helps.

7:30 AM  
Blogger brightboyz said...

Red:That's it!! The peacock plp - 139 page! All I need now, is to find this brightboy on cd; the other website that you sent, only sells whatever blindboy album that album is,on LP.

8:10 AM  

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