In the early 60s, through the auspices of Choker Campbell, Joe Evans spent seven months living in one of Berry Gordy’s old houses in Detroit. He was playing with the Funk Brothers on recording dates, performing concerts in local auditoriums and touring the country with the first Motown Revue. This experience showed him how successful black music could become and he took the Hitsville set-up as a blueprint for his own Carnival label. Undoubtedly Joe learnt a lot from his Detroit stay and this CD captures most of his Motown moments.
The Manhattans were his “children” whom he nurtured from their inception. When they left Carnival for what they thought was a bigger company (but was merely a revival of the old Deluxe label) it tore the heart out of his dream and his company. Joe Evans’ recent autobiography recalls the tragedy of George “Smitty” Smith’s death from a brain haematoma in 1970; it also reveals that it is Joe playing the flute on the group’s ‘There Goes A Fool’, featured here.
It is the lesser acts that get the most tracks on this CD. Newark schoolteacher Phil Terrell only ever recorded three singles and all were on Carnival. ‘Love Has Passed Me By’ was a huge record for me at the 100 Club in the mid-80s and his other two contributions ‘I’ll Erase You (From My Heart)’ and ‘I’m Just A Young Boy’ are so good they will surely have their day soon. The Pretenders also get a trio of tracks and they start with a storming version of the Manhattans’ biggest 60s hit ‘I Wanna Be (Your Everything)’ before morphing into a classic 70s “modern soul” group with ‘I Call It Love’ (also ex-Manhattans) and the Kent exclusive, previously unreleased (until 1995) shuffler ‘A Broken Heart Cries’.
Phil Terrell was brought to the label by Manhattan Winfred “Blue” Lovett who also attracted Norma Jenkins and the Lovettes to the stable. The Lovettes regularly backed the Manhattans and other artists and could veer from the shimmering and seductive stomping sound of ‘Little Miss Soul’ to the plaintive and pretty ‘I Need A Guy’. Blue was a heck of a song writer, the most “on the fours” influenced of all the Carnival composers and he delivered a catchy, soulful ‘Me, Myself And I’ for Norma Jenkins that really should have launched her career.
More motor city links are revealed on the Pets ‘I Say Yeah’, written by Joe along with the pre-Golden World label Parliaments. They later turned the music world around with their Cosmic funk. Southerner Little Royal later showed his funky side but in 1967 he was all Stax grit and grits, not unlike New Jersey brother Kenneth Ruffin whose ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ a year later also had that brass-laden Memphis groove.
Jimmy Jules was the epitome of the itinerant musician who started out in Louisiana but took in New York, Denver, LA and Colorado Springs, among many other places that offered his cookin’ band some live music action. His self-penned ‘Don’t Let Yourself Go’ was either recorded in NJ or NO or both, depending on whose story you plump for. The main thing is, it’s a fine slab of soul.
The small (two releases) Chadwick label is represented by both its great 1966 dancers from the Metrics with ‘Wishes’ and the Topics with ‘Hey Girl (Where Are You Going)’, while Florida’s Turner Brothers turn up with a song by George Kerr’s oppo Gerald Harris whose ‘My Love Is Yours Tonight’ is a really great record.
Joe Evans remembers being approached by Ace Records in the 90s with a view to re-releasing his catalogue onto CD. He asked director Trevor Churchill whether he was the same guy who used to write to him in the 60s for record release information, and was answered in the affirmative. Knowing Joe as I do now, I’m pretty sure that would have clinched the deal, and deservedly so.
By Ady Croasdell