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In England EMI launched the Invictus and Hot Wax labels and

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In England EMI launched the Invictus and Hot Wax labels and Powered By Docstoc
					               Give Me Just A Little More Time / In Session


The story goes that upon hearing “It Will Stand” written by General Norman
Johnson and performed by him with his group The Showmen that Brian
Holland was determined to get Johnson signed to the new Invictus label. The
label created by Brian Holland alongside brother Eddie and friend Lamont
Dozier, collectively the formidable team of Holland Dozier Holland.
The Chairmen Of The Board were, on one hand, an attempt to fill the gap left
by The Four Tops for HDH upon the Golden trio‟s departure from Motown,
while on the other a brand new attempt at revolutionising the tradition of Soul
vocal groups. The lead vocalist on this track, General Norman Johnson, was
far less aggressive in style than The Tops‟ Levi Stubbs and I, with untrained
ears back in 1970 could not equate the two singers. Strangely enough it was
only upon purchasing The Four Tops 1972 album “Nature Planned It” in 1997
and listening to the track, “You Got To Forget Him Darling” that I heard the
similarity. That said, this was a time when The Four Tops were still suffering
from post-HDH blues and were obviously trying their best to find a winning
formula. Hence Levi Stubbs even resorting to the, by now, legendary
telephone ringing effect of Johnson, “Brrrrrrrrr”, on “Give Me Just A Littler
More Time”. As well as fronting the Chairmen Johnson was soon to become
one of Invictus‟ most prolific writers and producers working alongside Greg
Perry.
“He was the heartbeat of the company.”
                                                                Danny Woods
Prior to this Johnson had fronted The Showmen, a five piece vocal group from
Norfolk, Virginia for 10 years before becoming a Board member. The
Showmen are best remembered for the aforementioned Minit hit of 1960, “It
Will Stand” although other tracks such as “Our Love W ill Grow” remain
popular on the British Northern Soul Scene. While with Minit the group were
only finding their feet and it was when they moved to Swan that Johnson
began to diversify his talents to better effect although The Showmen‟s
recordings of this period were criticised for being a pale imitation of what The
Temptations were doing at the same time.
“I think the problem was in the production not the vocal. I would have
preferred to have produced the sessions myself, I think now. The
problem was in that the track was not correct, but, you know, they
weren’t successful records. The producers in those days all aimed at the
Motown sound because it was successful and Richard Barratt, the
producer, was no exception.”

                                                      General Johnson
After the closure of Swan Records The Showmen never recorded again with
Johnson.
The first time the Chairmen Of The Board met each other was in 1969 at a
band rehearsal on Hamilton Street, Detroit.
“Well, I’d heard both Eddie [Custis] and Danny [Woods] before but
Harrison…we knew that Holland Dozier Holland were trying to create a
group made up of four individuals and Harrison was from left
field……We didn’t even understand Harrison!”
                                                          General Johnson
Prior to this there had been a selection of prospective Chairmen, selected
under the scrutiny of Jeffrey Bowen, a Motown employee who would figure
again in the Chairmen Of The Board‟s later history. None of these had won
through to the final heats. General Johnson was the first with Danny Woods
and Eddie Custis sandwiched in the middle. Harrison Kennedy from Canada
was the last member to join the board, and with his unfamiliar accent, he
would be an unwilling spokesperson for the group. People would want to hear
him talk but his College background (Harrison was majoring in English) would
often lead to misunderstandings.
“ I remember one time, we were all just sitting around and, you know we
were all from very different backgrounds, so, we all started to tell jokes
to try and relax. I had been studying Chaucer and so began to tell the
Miller’s Tale. I got to the end of the story, which is a very funny story
and looked across at the guys. They weren’t amused. “
                                                         Harrison Kennedy
Jeffrey Bowen was given the responsibility to search for the members of
HDH‟s diverse new group. Johnson suggested Danny Woods to Bowen after
seeing him perform in Detroit and HDH came across Harrison by accident.
The fourth member was Eddie Custis who had previously recorded “How
Long Will It Last/Let Me Live” on Parkway in 1961. Custis left the Chairmen
after the second album.
“Eddie sang all the ballads, “Didn’t We“, ”Twelfth Of Never” which were
part of the group concept, each member doing a different thing but
when we came to England he would get slow clapped. At first we
thought, “Wow! They really dig this!” but then realised what was
happening. That threw Eddie over the edge, he couldn’t handle it. I’ll tell
you a funny story. One time we toured England Danny had the mumps
and couldn’t make it. So the three of us are ready to go out on stage and
Eddie refuses. For half an hour Harrison went on and played the
harmonica, it was crazy, man! It got to the point where we didn’t know
where Eddie was at times so he had to go.”
                                                          General Johnson


Between times nearly two and a half years had passed during which time
Johnson had been locked away living in Lamont Dozier‟s Detroit home
concentrating on writing material for the group. The people at Invictus kept
saying that the Chairmen Of The Board were on the way and that they would
be worth waiting for. The group was originally to be named The Gentlemen
and was to break away from the traditional R&B groups where one vocalist
would stand out front while the other members would stand behind performing
intricate dance routines. The Chairmen were, however, condemned on their
first British tour for this break away from tradition. As one member left the
stage another came on, so rather than a group performance there were four
individual performances. Again, though, right from the very beginning they
were publicised as four individuals and even with the departure of Eddie
Custis, after “In Session”, the group had no reason to become a more
formalised unit.
In England EMI launched the Invictus and Hot Wax labels and whether
intentionally or not gave Invictus the same cataloguing numbers beginning
with 501, “Give Me Just A Little More Time” by Chairmen Of The Board, as it
had done for Tamla Motown in 1965. “Band Of Gold” stood at Number One
Nationally whilst the Number Two position belonged to Chairmen Of The
Board with the original version of “Give Me Just A Little More Time”. The
album that followed contained a variety of tracks shared out fairly equally
amongst the four Board members. Johnson establishing the style with the first
and second singles, the title track and “You‟ve Got Me Dangling On A String”.
General Johnson had begged for “Patches” to be the follow up but HDH
insisted that they had a better choice. Interestingly, if you sing the melody to
“You‟ve Got Me Dangling On A String” then the chorus to “Patches” they are
one and the same. Danny Woods stormed his way through such wonderful
uptempo tracks as “Tricked & Trapped” and “Since The Days Of Pigtails And
Fairytales”. Harrison Kennedy‟s gruff yet fragile vocal did justice to The
Beatles “Come Together” and Dave Mason‟s “Feelin‟ Alright?” while Eddie
Custis pushed the Chairmen into a totally opposite direction with his re-
workings of “My Way” and “Didn‟t We”. Although Johnson had contributed
some of the material the album‟s originals (as opposed to covers) were the
responsibility of Ronald Dunbar and Edith Wayne or rather Holland Dozier
Holland. HDH were still not able to use their own names because of the
continued legal battle between themselves and their former boss Berry Gordy
Jr.
The second Chairmen album, “In Session”, with its bluesy stomper and latest
single, “Chairman Of The Board” sung by Harrison Kennedy opening the
proceedings, showed more variety than their first set but also highlighted why
Eddie Custis was about to leave the Boardroom. His handling of Simon &
Garfunkel‟s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Johnny Mathis‟s “Twelfth Of
Never” were perfect vocalisations and no doubt would see Custis served well
on the Vegas circuit but this was Detroit and the Chairmen were a far more
progressive outfit than Custis could cope with.
The organisation‟s first five major releases had all made the grade with the
British record buying public despite the fact that only Freda Payne and the
Chairmen had charted and all had been penned by the team of „Dunbar and
Wayne‟. The one exception being “Somebody‟s Been Sleeping” by 100 Proof
Aged In Soul, written by Johnson alongside Greg Perry and lyricist Angelo
Bond. Blues And Soul‟s Most Promising Act for 1971 category placed the
Chairmen Of The Board in Gold position with the group being voted 9th top
group and General Johnson 29th top male vocalist. One has to remember the
deluge of new acts appearing continuously in the American Soul genre alone.
It is worth, therefore, remembering that Johnson was not 29 th in a field of 30!
The third Chairmen single continued the Johnson led sing along Pop slanted
slabs of Soul associated with the group with “Everything‟s Tuesday” becoming
Tony Blackburn‟s record of the week on Radio One and even had Tony daring
to play the single twice in a row on his breakfast show! All of this was before
the re-structuring took place. For their fourth release Danny Woods took over
the lead and the funkier “Pay To The Piper”, although a solid release, failed to
reach the same heights as its three predecessors. “Pay T o The Piper” was co-
written by Ronald Dunbar and Angelo Bond alongside the emerging team of
General Johnson and Greg Perry, soon to become Invictus‟ most prolific
writers and producers. When speaking about Greg Perry General Johnson
remarked,

“We grew together, we knew what each other was thinking.”


 “Pay To The Piper” showed that the group was still popular in the UK as the
Chairmen Of The Board arrived in Europe for a British tour. In America their
new single was “Hanging On To A Memory” from the “In Session “ set, this
time with Harrison Kennedy up front. After a lack of response the record was
flipped making “Tricked And Trapped” sung by Danny Woods and lifted from
their debut set the „A‟ side. This latest single had been issued against the
group‟s wishes as they felt that they had a potential Number One record just
around the corner in “Elmore James”. Nothing to do with the legendary
Bluesman, “Elmore James” trod similar territory to another of Johnson‟s
greatest and most prized compositions, “Patches”. “Patches” had first made
an appearance on the first Chairmen set and then again “In Session”; as well
as this the song had given an international hit to Clarence Carter on Rick
Hall‟s Fame label distributed through Atlantic Records in 1970. At first the
inclusion of the track on both Chairmen long players looked like yet another
example of Invictus padding out albums but after Johnson‟s departure from
Invictus to Arista the track re-surfaced on his one and only album for the label,
the self-titled “General Johnson”. Certainly it was a creation to be proud of
having earned Johnson and Ronald Dunbar a Grammy Award.
Here then for the first time on British CD are the complete minutes of the first
two Chairmen Of The Board meetings. Two fairly different albums in feel and
what the production of “In Session” lacked in polish compared to the first set
it made up for in innovation with “Hanging On To A Memory” and the closing
track, “Children Of Today” showing the direction that the Chairmen Of The
Board would begin to take in their future Board Meetings.




Howard Priestley, November 1998
Extracts taken from “Love Factory” the history of Holland Dozier Holland

				
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