Music Banter

Go Back   Music Banter > The Music Forums > Rock & Metal > Rock N Roll, Classic Rock & 60s Rock
Register Blogging Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read
Welcome to Music Banter Forum! Make sure to register - it's free and very quick! You have to register before you can post and participate in our discussions with over 70,000 other registered members. After you create your free account, you will be able to customize many options, you will have the full access to over 1,100,000 posts.

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 08-23-2014, 06:08 PM   #1 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default The History of Fortune Records

Devora Brown was trying to break into the songwriting business since the early 40s. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Devora and her husband, Jack, tried their luck pitching her songs in New York’s Tin Pan Alley but no one there was receptive. With the help of notables as Louis Jordan and Lionel Hampton, the Browns landed in Detroit, which was a musical Mecca at that time, where they decided to found a publishing company that would publish Devora’s songs which were based on R&B. With the help of Devora’s brother, the three of them formed Trianon Publishing.


Janice, Devora and Jack Brown.

Next, Devora and Jack needed to find musicians to record Devora’s songs. They rented studio time at Vogue Records which had state-of-the-art facilities and met up with a bandleader named Artie Fields. Jack walked around the studio looking at the equipment and asking a lot of questions to the engineers about microphones, tape recorders, mixing boards and what not. He did this because Trianon wanted their own studio and if they got one, Jack, an accountant by trade, would be the producer/engineer and he needed as much knowledge as he could get because he had zero experience in the recording business.

With Fields and his 16-piece orchestra, a handful of singers, a few cheap mikes and a Magnacard tape machine, Trianon founded their own label. Fields joked with Devora that her songs would make them a fortune so they decided to call the label Fortune Records. The year was 1947. Their first release, cataloged as Fortune 101, were two of Devora’s songs, "Jane (Sweet As Summer Rain)" b/w "Texas Tess Down Texas Way" sung by Russ Titus and backed by Fields’ orchestra. This single was recorded at United Sound Studio near Wayne State on 2nd Avenue. The record sold well enough that the Browns moved the operation out of their home and into an office on 11629 Linwood.

Jack kept the recording setup simple partly because he didn’t have the expertise or budget to get too creative and partly because he knew from his talks with more experienced engineers that a sparse setup would give the records a more visceral impact. Often only a single microphone or two would be used to capture all the voices and this would go directly to the final tape whether it was mono or stereo. The same with the instruments. Jack would simply monitor the gain and volume levels to make sure nothing was being recorded too low or too hot. By recording with a single mike going directly to the tape (instead of passing through a mixing console which adds noise) the signals were very up close and vibrant—dripping with emotion. What Fortune recordings lacked in pizzazz they made up for with warmth. This was at a time when ultra-slick production values were still a ways off. Fortune’s production values were perfect for that time.


Artie Fields.

For all intents and purposes, Fortune ceased to be a competitive force in the music business after 1966. By that time, slick production values had improved enough that the cruder methods of Fortune simply sounded obsolete.

Fortune became a reissue business more than anything. Today, there a push to reissue the old recordings on CD. I have bought the few that have so far been reissued but more are in the planning.


Very early in its career, Fortune Records is believed by some to have been located briefly in the spot now occupied by the cleaners shop at 11839 12th Street.


Fortune was also believed to have operated from the suite to the right of the bookstore located at 12005 12th Street.


Fortune Records’ final home at 3942 3rd Street where the Browns moved their operation in 1955. Jack and Devora’s son, Sheldon, purchased an Ampex 350 tape machine—much nicer than the Magnacard. The first to record on it was their daughter, Janice, who composed a piece of her own. A mere 18’ x 40’, Fortune Records consisted of a record store in the front that sold the latest national hits as well as carrying Fortune’s latest recordings. Distribution of Fortune Records was limited almost entirely to this store. In the back was the studio and cutting lathe where Fortune did all its recordings. The place had no soundproofing other than egg cartons pasted to the walls by Jack to serve as baffles. The studio was so primitive that it actually had a dirt floor! This photo was taken in 1995, the last year that the business was in operation. The building had changed very little in all those years.
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 06:12 PM   #2 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default


Shortly before being demolished in September 2001, with it went one of the greatest musical institutions in the world. Hi-Q and Strate 8 were Fortune’s two subsidiary labels. Over the years, Fortune, Hi-Q and Strate 8 released over 400 singles and quite a number of full albums. Their repertoire consisted of everything from doo-wop to blues to soul to rockabilly to country and even polkas.

The shame of Detroit is that it has fallen so badly that its musical heritage has vanished. Paradise Valley is gone. Hastings Street is just another rundown inner city road—none of the old clubs remain—even their ruined hulks were demolished years ago (much of that area is now under the Detroit Medical Center). The Gotham Hotel is gone. No one remembers King Porter or Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams or McKinney’s Cotton-Pickers (under Don Redman became one of the world’s first jazz big bands). Even more recent singers as Nolan Strong and Spyder Turner, both Fortune recording artists, elicit blank stares. One of the greatest jazz guitarists ever--Kenny Burrell--was also a Fortune artist. What audiences these great black entertainers have today are mainly white, mainly European. Blacks have largely tossed them aside. Among kids today, it’s all rap and hip-hop, rap and hip-hop, rap and f-ucking hip-hop. And when was the last time Detroit produced a major black rapper? Never, that’s when. Who can blame Berry Gordy for pulling up stakes? Had he not done so, Motown would have gone the way Fortune did—into obscurity.

So let us pay homage to the originals and the people who gave us a medium by which we can still hear them. Maybe, just maybe, a dying ember will spark a new fire. Thank you, Fortune.

“Fortune Records is the great secret record company in the history of Detroit rock ‘n’ roll. They’re the missing piece in the Detroit rock ‘n’ roll historical equation. Any discussion... without mentioning them is totally inaccurate and incomplete.” –Cub Koda
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 06:57 PM   #3 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default



Formed in 1950 out of Detroit’s Central High School by Nolan Strong (main tenor) and his friend, Bob “Chico” Edwards (guitar), the Diablos also consisted of Juan Guitierriez (2nd tenor), Willie Hunter (baritone) and Quentin Eubanks (bass). They recorded a demo for Fortune when its office was still located on Linwood just across the street from Central High but later admitted to the Browns that they had no money to pay for it and had done it just so they could hear themselves on record and were sorry for their deception. Devora Brown then signed them to a recording contract where they quickly became the pride and joy of Fortune Records.



In 1954, Juan Guitierriez was replaced by Nolan’s brother, Jimmy. Eubanks was replaced with George Scott in 1959 but sometimes alternated bass duties with J.W. Johnson. By 1960, Chico Edwards had left the band but would work with Nolan again in 1972. The band released 20 singles from ’54 to ’64. Songs as "The Wind" (1954), written by the Diablos and "Mind Over Matter" (1962), written by Devora, became number 1 regional hits.


NOLAN STRONG - MIND OVER MATTER - YouTube
"Mind Over Matter" which was also covered in '62 by the Temptations under the name The Pirates on the Mel-O-Dy label.


DIABLOS- THE WIND - YouTube
"The Wind," perhaps the most beautiful and etheric doo-wop song ever written, has been covered by a few artists since then including Laura Nyro on her album, Gonna Take a Miracle, where she performs all the vocals. Nolan was offered a contract by Motown but turned it down but seemed to regret it later as his limited Fortune contract kept him from nationwide success that he no doubt would have achieved at Motown. Nolan Strong was influenced by the voice of Clyde McPhatter of the Drifters and was, in turn, a heavy influence on Smokey Robinson. All the original members of the Diablos are deceased. In 2008, the Diablos were elected to the Doo Wop Hall of Fame.


Nolan Strong’s gravestone at Westlawn Cemetery just outside Detroit—about 75 feet from Jackie Wilson’s gravestone.
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 06:59 PM   #4 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default



John Lee Hooker, one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, was born in Mississippi in 1917 and learned the guitar from his stepfather, William Moore, whom Hooker would credit as his primary influence throughout his life. Hooker ran away to Memphis as a boy but was caught and returned home. He promptly ran away to Memphis a short time later at age 15 and never saw his mother or stepfather again (according to one source; according to another, he maintained contact and had a good relationship with them). He drifted around working odd jobs until he ended up in Detroit by 1943. Five years later, he cut a demo in a recording booth where the storeowner brought him to the attention of Bernie Besman of Sensation Records which featured such artists as Todd Rhodes and Wild Bill Moore—both influential jazz and blues musicians. Moore later became part of the Motown house band. Hooker had a national hit in 1948 called "Boogie Chillen."

Hooker played in clubs all over Detroit and especially along the Detroit entertainment center on Hastings Street in Paradise Valley and was a regular at Henry’s Swing Club and the Harlem Inn. He proceeded to record for any label that offered him a contract. To avoid legal wrangling, he often recorded under aliases as Texas Slim, John Lee Cooker, John Lee Booker, etc. He had a haunting, mesmerizing sound where he recorded with just a guitar and his stomping foot. When he signed with Fortune in 1952, he called himself Sir John Lee Hooker, recording some fine sides for the label with his protégé Eddie Kirkland. He left Detroit in 1970 for California. He has played with a great number of blues masters and rock bands as the Animals and Canned Heat. He died in 2001 at the age of 83.
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 07:05 PM   #5 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default



Eddie Kirkland is a guitarist and harpist who started off playing on the King label but recorded with Fortune both as 2nd guitarist to John Lee Hooker, whom he met while performing at a house party after work at the Ford River Rouge Plant, and also as a solo artist (’58-’61). Kirkland has also played with notables as Muddy Waters and the rock band Foghat (who, like virtually all British rockers from the 60s and 70s, were really blues musicians). Born in 1923, Eddie still plays in Detroit and drives himself around the country to his various gigs at the age of 85. He also tours Europe quite a bit and still records. I had the privilege of seeing him onstage in 2005 during the Gratiot Cruise where he did his own set and then came out and played harp for Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf’s lead guitarist). Even in his 80s, Kirkland is a bear of a man with a commanding stage presence.


Eddie Kirkland - Train Done Gone - YouTube
"Train Done Gone."

[Postscript: At the time I wrote this entry, Kirkland was still alive. He was killed in a car wreck in 2011. Hubert Sumlin died the same year.]
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 07:11 PM   #6 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default



Bobo Jenkins was a great blues guitarist who signed with Fortune in the 50s. Born in Alabama in 1916, the son of a sharecropper who died when Bobo was just a year old, Bobo was raised by his mother and his uncle but he argued constantly with the latter and received much physical abuse for it. Finally, at 12, Bobo told his mother he was leaving. She told him he’d be back as soon as he got hungry. “I’m already hungry and I ain’t left yet,” he said. Bobo went to Memphis. At 14, he married a 13-year-old girl. It was the first of 10 marriages. “Some of ‘em I loved,” he said, “Others I married just to get out of the cold; you’ve got to do it all when you’re hoboin’.”

Bobo worked odd jobs wherever he could find them and ended up in the Mississippi Delta region but the degrading conditions of Jim Crow were intolerable. Bobo wouldn’t kowtow to whites and demanded to be paid for any work he did for them and never backed down in an argument. Not surprisingly, he literally fled from Mississippi. “I have had to strangle bloodhounds who were chasing me through the woods. When they opened their mouths you could see where they’d had their teeth filled with gold, their masters thought that much of them, because they were so good at tracking down black people.” World War II had begun so Bobo joined the Army. Upon his release in 1944, Bobo vowed he would never again live in the South and decided either to go to Chicago or Detroit. September 1, he came to Detroit.

Bobo was a good mechanic and went to work for Chrysler where he would spend the next 26 years. He met John Lee Hooker at the Harlem Inn where a musician promptly stole his girl. Bobo didn’t play. “John Lee told me to get his guitar and go to playin’ it.” Bobo bought a guitar the next day at a pawnshop even though he couldn’t play a lick. The pawnshop owner asked to hear Bobo play but Bobo declined. “I couldn’t even tune it,” Bobo remembered. “So, this fella, Albert Witherspoon, tuned it for me and started me off to playin’ it. I said I’m goin’ to get this guitar and I’m goin’ pay somebody back. I started playin’ the guitar and have paid many of them back. (laughs) I took many a fella’s girl.”

Bobo was friends with Eddie Kirkland whom he had known before he started playing. He told Eddie he was going to learn but Eddie didn’t buy it. But after getting his guitar, Bobo stuck with it and frequently called Eddie over to his house for pointers. “He learned how to walk the bass from what I showed him,” said Kirkland, “but Bobo always did have the music in him, he just started playin’ at an older age.”

Bobo landed a contract with Chess Records in Chicago with Hooker’s help. Later, he started recording for Fortune. His “Democrat Blues” had made him something of a star in the blues circuit. He played with stars as Jimmy Reed, Mahalia Jackson, Illinois Jacquet, Lionel Hampton and Louis Jordan in various clubs in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Mt. Clemens. His house was always home to various bluesmen including harp legend Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller)—a personal friend of the legendary Robert Johnson—who was living in Detroit at that time.

Bobo single-handedly kept Detroit’s blues scene alive and received some help from WDET when they hired Bobo to play on a program called Blues After Hours from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. Sunday mornings. The show was hosted by Bobo’s friend known only as the Famous Coachman. Bobo continued to play, record and tour and went to Europe in 1982. He fell ill, however, and returned to the States after only one show. His illness slowly progressed resulting in his death two years later at age 69. Blues After Hours ended its run in 1997.


BOBO JENKINS - 10 BELOW ZERO - FORTUNE - YouTube
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 07:26 PM   #7 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default



Nathaniel Mayer was born in Detroit in 1944. He signed with Fortune Records in 1960. He scored a hit under the name Nathaniel Mayer & the Fabulous Twilights in 1962 with "Village of Love" co-written with Devora Brown. The song found a national audience due to the single being leased out to United Artists for distribution—something for which the Browns claimed they were ripped off.

His next single "Leave Me Alone" sold well regionally but did not hit the national charts. His last release on Fortune was "I Want Affection (Not the House of Correction)" in 1966 which also failed to chart nationally. After that, Mayer split from Fortune and virtually dropped out of sight for the next 14 years although he remained in the Detroit area. He released a single in 1980 but then fell silent again until 2002 when his 1968 recording "I Don’t Want No Bald-Headed Woman Telling Me What To Do" was released.

Interest was rekindled in Mayer who then released an album in 2004, "I Just Want To Be Held," on Fat Possum Records out of Mississippi. He began doing live shows again and garnered a new audience who did not realize his raspy, coarse voice had changed completely from his Fortune days. Mayer used it to his advantage. He released another album in 2007, Why Don’t You Give It To Me?

A few years back in an Eastpointe record store (I was just there today, in fact), I noticed Nathaniel's autograph on one of the wooden record bins. I mentioned to the proprietor how cool it was to see Nathaniel's autograph there. He made a face and told me that the trouble was that every time you saw Nathaniel "and his posse coming" you had to hide everything that wasn't nailed down or it left with them.

Mayer fell ill a short time later and remained in the hospital for months but died in 2008 at age 64. "Village of Love," "Leave Me Alone" and another single, "I Had a Dream," have all been covered by newer bands. So his influence lives on.


Nathaniel Mayer - "Village Of Love" - YouTube
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 07:35 PM   #8 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default



Detroit’s premier white soul band formed in 1964 and signed with Fortune as the Flaming Embers—after a popular downtown restaurant. Drummer/lead singer Jerry Plunk and keyboardist Bill Ellis were from Tennessee and raised on country music but Plunk loved blues and idolized John Lee Hooker which convinced him to approach the Browns at the store and pitch his band whom they promptly signed (he said he saw Hooker there a few times and was filled with awe).

Bassist Mike Jackson and guitarist Joe Sladich are native Detroiters. All had been in previous bands. Jackson had also been a member of the Reflections ("Just like Romeo and Juliet"). The Embers cut two singles at Fortune, all four songs written by Plunk—"You Can Count On Me" b/w "Gone, Gone, Gone" (actually recorded and produced at Specialty and distributed by Fortune) and "Woe Is Me" b/w "Rain Go Away" (recorded at Specialty but produced at Fortune and with vocals by Ray Kimble). Both singles were locally successful.

The Embers sought out wider distribution and eventually left Fortune although Plunk still recalls those days quite fondly. The band went to the Ric-Tic label and released six singles including "Hey Mama" written by George Clinton but the label folded.

By 1968, the band landed a contract with Hot Wax, Holland-Dozier-Holland’s label and changed their name to Flaming Ember (note the singular). In 1969, their single "Mind, Body and Soul" was released which was a significant nationwide hit and an enormous hit in the Detroit area (I absolutely loved it, my older brother had the single and a musician I know who told me he also had it and literally played the grooves off it and had to buy another). Flaming Ember had two follow-up hits—"Westbound #9" and "I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper." After that, their success died and the band broke up in 1972. Plunk now lives in Tennessee but loves to talk about his Detroit days. Jackson is still active in the Detroit music scene.

Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 08:03 PM   #9 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default

Andre Williams came to Detroit from his native Alabama in the mid-50s, signed with Fortune and landed a gig as lead singer for the 5 Dollars--a band that got its start singing on Gratiot street corners although they were billed under various other names.



In 1955, he had a solo hit, "Bacon Fat" (co-written with Devora Brown), which Fortune sold to Epic for national distribution. The song was a fair success. It would be Fortune’s biggest selling single until Nathaniel Mayer overtook him in 1962 with "Village of Love." Williams was, by far, the most colorful of the Fortune artists and the most versatile. His next single, "Jail Bait," was fairly successful. By 1960, Williams signed with Motown and wrote songs for Stevie Wonder and Ike & Tina Turner. He also supervised the recordings of the Contours and managed the career of Edwin Starr. By 1966, he was recording again releasing a few singles. In the 70s, he wrote songs for Parliament and Funkadelic.




Andre Williams "Bacon Fat" (1956) - YouTube

By the 80s, Williams was strung out on drugs and living in abject poverty to the point where he was seen on the streets of Chicago begging for money. Yet, by 1996, he was back in the saddle with an album called Mr. Rhythm—his stage moniker. The music was good but too outdated for younger fans. So two years later, Williams released Silky which was said to be the sleaziest sleaze rock album ever. This garnered him a new audience. One reviewer pronounced Silky to be “noise-spattered, stripped-down, roots-punk assault, and the results are flat-out nuts.” From personal experience: if you don't have it--GIT IT!!!! Yet, the following year, he released a country album recorded with the Sadies called Red Dirt.

In 2000, Williams released The Black Godfather which became his new stage moniker. The album, recorded with the Dirtbombs, was loud, sleazy, fuzzy, punky and funky all at once. A true gem for those with the stomach for it. Williams converted to Judaism the following year and fell silent until 2006 with the release of Aphrodesiac, a return to soul but with helpings of jazz, early 60s R&B, and 70s blaxploitation movie-type themes. It was praised by critics. His last release was Can You Deal With It recorded with the New Orleans Hellhounds (really called Morning 40 Federation). A true hard-hitting and hard-living rocknroll pioneer, Andre Williams is still alive, still recording and still touring. He is greatly loved in Europe, especially Holland, and tours there frequently. One of his best live numbers is "Pussy Stank But So Do Marijuana"--a real audience-rouser.


The Black Godfather.


Andre Williams - Only Black Man In South Dakota - YouTube
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-2014, 08:42 PM   #10 (permalink)
Account Disabled
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 895
Default



In rural Kentucky, Betty Jack Davis and Mary Frances Penick, the daughters of impoverished dirt farmers, loved to sing together having been greatly influenced by the Carter Family. Mary decided Penick was not a good show business name like Davis was and so they called themselves the Davis Sisters even though they weren’t related. Mary wanted a very distinctive name and so called herself Skeeter. The Davis Sisters sang at whatever events they could get hired at in the Lexington area. Eventually, they came to the attention of radio promoters and were invited to perform on the air all over the Midwest. One program called The Red Apple Club (another source states that the program was called Barnyard Frolics) had the girls perform. The program was on Detroit’s WJR. Somehow, the Browns heard them and signed them to Fortune and got them into a studio. The Davis Sisters recorded their "Jealous Love" single in 1952 which country fans loved giving Fortune its first big national hit. An album of the same name followed and then another called Hits with the Davis Sisters after RCA picked them up in 1953 and produced another hit, "I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know," before Betty Jack was killed in a car accident near Cincinnati that same year.

Skeeter was also in the car with Betty Jack and was seriously injured but survived. After two long years of recuperating and dealing with the death of her partner, Skeeter Davis resumed her recording career but as a solo act. She would go on to become one of the biggest female names in country music and is considered on par with Patsy Cline, whom she preceded. Staying with RCA, she recorded some 30 albums with them, some of them produced by Chet Atkins who played guitar for her. She joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1959. That same year she married WSM DJ Ralph Emery but the marriage lasted only five years and left bad blood between them. She was regarded as something of an eccentric and free spirit to most country fans. When the Byrds performed at the Opry in 1968, she was the only one in the crowd to applaud them enthusiastically. When she criticized the police from the stage at Opryland during a 1973 performance, she was suspended from the show for 15 months.

Her career with RCA ended in 1974 and Davis recorded only sporadically after that. In the early 80s, she recorded an album with NRBQ called She Sings, They Play that was surprisingly successful. She married the bassist in 1983. Shortly after, she reconciled with the Grand Ole Opry and began performing at Opryland again and as well as touring overseas. But when her parents died, Davis fell apart. She was then diagnosed with cancer in 1988. She divorced in 1996 and died in 2004. But she left behind an amazing career littered with Grammys and other awards. She blazed the trail for women as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and others. She was also made a permanent member of the Grand Ole Opry. She is a true country music legend. But few people know that she got her start from an obscure little independent Detroit label.


Davis Sisters - "Jealous Love" - Fortune Records - 1952 - YouTube
Written by Devora Brown.
Lord Larehip is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Similar Threads



© 2003-2020 Advameg, Inc.