When legends perform there is revelry in the communion. Thelma Jones is an unlikely star, a relatively unknown LA based vocalist who once recorded for Barry Records when the labels attempted to mine the success fields of Motown. The underground friction of a rare soul show invested her with a special power. As she took the stage, mystical and well beyond middle age, the attractive and physically fit Ms Jones was visibly moved by the crowd and its thunderous applause.
"It's been 50 years, but here I am," she said softly into the well mixed sound at Sonia in Cambridge, the recent resurrection of the legendary TT The Bears. "Who here remembers the Sugar Shack?"
The Sugar Shack was Boston's first and only downtown soul club, run by Rudy Guarino and Jerry Maffeo, presenting national acts on the R&B charts of the 60s and 70s. Jackie Wilson, Al Green, James Brown were among the hundreds who performed there.
For a moment, Boston's soul scene was playing its most subversive card: an unknown singer had become a legend and her relatively unknown records had become a set of sought after classics. She spoke of Aretha Franklin's support that she received as a newcomer to the late 60s soul scene and in the next breath reminded the audience that while Aretha had a big hit with "The House That Jack Built," it was she who had recorded it first. All in good fun, credit where credit is due.
A rousing rendition of Mr Fixit soon followed and Thelma exited stage left to thunderous applause, happily finding firm soul footing in Boston.
Willie Hightower had been watching from the wings. He arrived onstage knowing, but not quite believing that he too was a legend.
Photo by KP McGoff
"Hello Baltimore," the Alabama based singer shouted, a bit excited in the heat of the moment. The audience laughed it off and Willie launched into a defining tribute to the essence of southern soul. Echoes of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Johnnie Taylor, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd and Sam & Dave permeated Sonia as Willie gave Boston a lesson in lost talent. His voice was true grit and the audience's response was Hell, yeah.
DOB would be remiss without paying tribute to the man who put this historic show together. Eli "Paperboy" Reed is a talented deep soul and gospel singer with local roots in Brookline. In Chicago he fell under the spell of soul/gospel singer Mitty Collier (I Had A Talk With My Man Last Night on Chess Records) who urged him to follow his dream, taking the young Reed to church in the process.
Following her urgings to the letter, Reed, now based in Brooklyn, has become an international sensation, wowing his home and away audiences. The well rehearsed backing band, fronted by Reed, opened the entire show with a Boston soul tune few knew, but well appreciated by the wide age ranging audience. Frank Lynch's "Young Girl" is a later 60s soul prototype tune. Produced locally by Skippy White, the song was finding firm footing in the R&B world of 1967 when Lynch met an untimely and controversial demise. Eli Reed has reported on the tragic event. We post his words here unedited:
"Young Girl was on its way to taking off before fate intervened. On a Friday night, Frank Lynch was playing with Herschel Dwellingham and his band at the famous Boston club, Paul's Mall.
At this time Lynch was living with his Aunt who he had recently moved in with after living with Herschel and his wife for almost 2 years. After the gig Herschel was driving Frank home and said that he was acting "funny" and kept talking about death and about how he knew he was going to die. That night, Lynch got into an argument with his Aunt which escalated into a physical fight. A neighbor called the police who, in the process of arresting Frank broke his arm. He was taken, along with another prisoner, to Mass. General Hospital and an armed police officer was stationed there to guard both prisoners. Apparently Frank was still in an odd state because when he came out of the bathroom he started waving a towel at the police officer in a threatening manner. The other prisoner, decided to join in and they both advanced toward the officer. The cop shot Frank 3 times in the head at close range, killing him instantly. After that night, there was an uproar in Boston's black community. Frank Lynch's family sued the city of Boston along with the Boston Police force but their case was unsuccessful. Boston was still a very racially divided city in 1968 and no one was surprised by the verdict."
Many in the audience were undoubtedly hearing the song for the first time and Eli "Paperboy" Reed did not disappoint with his presentation. The song, the band, and all the singers gave those of us lucky to attend a night to remember. And it was all in tribute to local music journalist Noah Schaffer whose tireless reporting keeps everyone well informed about real music being presented nationwide. Happy birthday Noah! Shout out to Easy Ed who kept the audience dancing before and between the sets. Easy Ed, an easy going local DJ can also be heard on WMFO in Medford. http://www.easy-ed.net/