Sunday, March 11, 2007



Only the most gritty of soul singers would qualify to be described as just ‘too darn soulful’. Morris Chestnut, the guy who cut the song of this name, only ever recorded a small number of tracks as a solo singer. However, he has enjoyed an extended career in the music business. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he started out singing in school. He then went into the Services, being posted to Hawaii with the Air Force. After his discharge, he ended up in Los Angeles where he met up with members of doo-wop group, the Vows. His cousin Ralph was a member of the group that had a record released on Markay in 1961, this being produced by George Motola. Via the Vows, Morris got to know Motola, who impressed, signed Morris to his L&M label. Motola cut him (using the Vows on backing vocals) on a song that Morris had written himself, “I Need Somebody” and this was released under the name of James Washington Lee. Musical styles were moving on though and the line-up of the Vows was revised, Morris became a member himself and the group hooked up with Jobete Music’s LA office team. They cut some demos of songs the team had written and these were forwarded onto Detroit to be considered by Motown’s hit acts as future recording material. If these songs were rejected, the LA team had a deal with Motown that allowed them to cut them locally and release them on a LA based label. This arrangement resulted in a Vows 45 being issued in 1964 on the Tamara label. Using the revised name of the Vowels, Morris also fronted an outfit that had a couple of singles released on the Le Bam label.
Motown hadn’t given up all interest in the Vows though and in 1965 they were signed to a deal, cut some tracks and enjoyed a 45 release on the VIP label, “Tell Me” (# 25016 -- May 1965). Promotion of this single was only half-hearted and it sank without a trace. Unfortunately, despite further tracks from the group being submitted, this was to prove to be their only Motown release and so the group moved on. Morris had already teamed up with Roy Haggins, David & Robert Jones to form the Sound Masters. Herman C Allen signed the group to Julet Records and the 45 “Lonely, Lonely” (Julet # 102) was released. Morris’ stay with the group was to be short lived however. Next he teamed up with Jones, Bledsoe & Smith to form the Attractions. The group secured a contract with Bell Records, their first release being “Destination You” (# 659) in January 1967 (also issued on Renfro). Two further 45’s followed later that year, “That Girl Is Mine” (# 674) in June and “Why Shouldn’t A Man Cry” (# 690) in September. Morris must have been extremely busy that year as around April his NS anthem “Too Darn Soulful” was released on Amy (# 981), another of Bell Record’s family of labels. None of these records enjoyed any great measure of commercial success and no more of the group’s releases were to escape on Bell. By 1971, under the revised name of the Hollywood Attractions, they had a last release on the Sugar Shack label.
It would be a while before Morris got to enjoy his next record release. This occurred in 1975, after he had teamed up with ex members of the Marvellos (Loma, WB & Modern) to form Street Corner Symphony. This new group were signed to a deal with Bang Records and working with producers Michael Zager & Jerry Love they cut a number of tracks. The label released 2 singles and the album ‘Harmony Grits’ in 1975/76 and these created enough interest in music circles to secure the group a deal with a major label, ABC Records. ABC sent the group back into the studio late in 1976 and early in 1977 this resulted in the release of their album ‘Little Funk Machine’ (ABC # AB-974). In April 1977, the album was followed by the 45 “Funk Machine”. These recordings were to prove to be Morris’ last. However by this time, UK soul fans had discovered his old solo recording, “Too Darn Soulful”. This had become a top sound due to initial plays at Blackpool Mecca and as a result the single had been bootlegged. To rectify this situation, John Anderson licensed the track and issued it on his Grapevine label in 1976 (# GRP128).
Back in LA, Morris remained blissfully unaware of the popularity of his old cut here in the UK and with the passage of time; he had moved on to lead a gospel outfit. At times this group even included old Vows member Helen Simpson amongst its number. Just over a year ago, Morris was told about the popularity of his old records. He therefore now knows that cuts such as “Too Darn Soulful”, the Vows “Tell Him”, along with the Sound-Masters “Lonely, Lonely” plus the Attractions “Destination You”, “That Girl Is Mine” & “Why Shouldn’t a Man Cry” are highly prized collectors items. Indeed, ten of his old recordings are currently available on CD; his solo outings “Too Darn Soulful” & “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” plus 2 cuts from the Vows (“Tell Me”, “Show Girl”) & the Sound-Masters (“Lonely, Lonely”, “I Want You to Be My Baby”) with 4 in all from the Attractions (“Destination You”, “Why Shouldn’t A Man Cry”, “Find Me”, “New Girl In the Neighborhood”). The continued popularity of his old recordings has finally resulted in Morris being booked to come over here to perform for his many UK fans.
Morris will be one of the live acts appearing at next weekends (16/17/18 March 2007) Prestatyn Soul Weekender to be held in Nth Wales (UK).

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