Bob Porter – Record Producer
Bob Porter talks about Herbie Mann’s “Push Push” with Duane Allman & “Memphis Underground”
This interview was instigated when I was speaking to Blueswax editor Chip Eagle. I mentioned that three tracks from “Push Push” were part of the brand new Duane Allman “Skydog” compilation. It’s a seven CD box-set with a dynamite hard-bound book. That’s when Chip asked me to get the story from Bob Porter’s words, so here it is.
After listening to Herbie Mann’s smash hit “Memphis Underground” which is the title track from the 1969 album that was produced by Tom Dowd for the Atlantic Recording label.
BW: “Memphis Underground” is very memorable and was popular.
BP: It was huge, and it started on jazz radio when it was still possible to have a hit record in jazz. This was like the National Anthem of its day. It’s one of those tunes that you heard almost anywhere. In those years there still was a stigma about jazz, because pop radio didn’t believe that jazz could produce hits. But FM radio played albums, and this worked for everybody. It had a great groove to it that also has that noisy guitar that Sonny Sharrock played.
BW: Sharrock scared me with his unusual guitar playing.
BP: That was what he was supposed to do.
BW: Herbie liked to experiment?
BP: Mann was a very intelligent guy who started out as a be-bop player, he used to play some tenor too, who was born in Brooklyn. His real name was Herbert Solomon. He started at Bethlehem records. He also dealt with Afro-Cubam music. I think that the inspiration the led him to future concepts came from this era. He was simply a guy that could listen to different kinds of music and instantly understood what made it work. If he liked it enough he would see where he could find a place for himself to fit in.
BW: And he kept himself contemporary.
BP: Yes. There’s one other guy that still does that today. John Scofield. Did you hear the “Piety Street” record he did? It was a wonderful album. Scofield also understands what makes various genres work and finds a place for his guitar playing. I always respected Scofield because of his abilities to adapt. He always makes himself relevant within the context.
BW: And he never sells his soul.
BP: These days you cannot sell your soul anymore, everything is for sale.
BW: I bet the jazz critics were hard on Herbie?
BP: He was regularly criticized.
BW: Look what the critics did to the CTI label, calling it watered down jazz.
BP: No one could touch CTI. From 1970 till 1975 there was no record label on earth like CTI. Creed Taylor won a Billboard trendsetter award, he was astonishing. From 1973-1976 CTI had Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studio fully booked, no other label could get in to book time there, they were exclusive. Rudy told me he couldn’t book my artists to record because of CTI. Creed also had an exclusive with the photographer Pete Turner; those album covers were/are exquisite. But I think that those various exclusivities hurt Creed long-term.
BW: What eventually brought CTI down?
BP: When they had Deodato they had that huge 2001 Space Odyssey hit. Unfortunately they thought it would always be like that forever. What they didn’t calculate was the cost for shipping from the pressing plant to distributors. Even when they were having gold records from others like Grover Washington, Bob James was hot too, the label was on fire, but it wasn’t enough. Independent distribution is a very rough game especially in the seventies.
BW: They put a lot of effort into that label, great sounding LP’s recorded at Van Gelder’s, those gorgeous gatefold LP’s with glossy covers that always stood out.
BP: Absolutely unprecedented.
BW: Speaking of that era. I recently did some research about the powerhouse jazz radio station WRVR, and was disappointed about how little information resides on the internet.
BP: The original WRVR had DJ Ed Beach who was a role model for a lot of DJ’s, Ed was not only funny but he also was accurate. He was obsessed with doing things chronologically and put a lot of context into the music he played on air. He was terrific. When I worked at Prestige Records he wanted to do feature shows on Phil Woods, but Phil’s Prestige albums were out of print at that time. So Ed called me on the phone asking if he could get copies of these out of print LP’s. So we gave them to him to borrow, and he sent them back when he was done. He was an excellent person; I used to get Christmas cards from him.
BW: Before I started to listen to you he was my main source for jazz music.
I loved it when he used to say: What time is it? The time is now.
BP: He was very hip. He had a great theme song Wes Montgomery’s “So Do It!” from Wes’s “Movin’ Along” LP.
BW: I read about his passing.
BP: A few years ago, Beach moved back to Oregon, but was always sending me odds and ends in the mail. He had all kinds of aliases that he would use like Sam Seashore or Ashley Seadrift.
BW: Too funny. As usual we always drift from our main topics because there’s so much I want to learn from you. But getting back to Herbie Mann, what was your role with reissuing “Push Push” featuring Duane Allman in ‘89 that was originally recorded in ‘71 with the top notch NYC session musicians?
BP: This starts in 1984 Dave Nives a record guy, you might not know him but he ended up working for Koch. I got a call one day saying that Atlantic Records was looking for a tune “Rocking at Midnight” by Roy Brown. I told him I’ve got it. So I brought it into Atlantic and they wanted to pay me for it. But I said no give me a catalog and I will take home some records. That was definitely worthwhile for me. That “Rocking at Midnight” track was used for the Honeydrippers with Robert Plant, they didn’t record much but they sold a lot of records. A few years later Ahmet Ertegun was looking to do a project with Roberta Flack doing vintage material, I know they recorded it, but it never came out. They wanted a tune called “Little Greens in the Dark.” I got a call from Noreen Woods who was an Atlantic Records VP. Noreen started out working for Jerry Wexler as a secretary and Ahmet inherited her in the early seventies. Noreen was a very formidable person. When she passed away there were more record industry people at her memorial service than almost anyone you could remember. She was eulogized as the women who kept the secrets. People appreciate people like that. Anyway I brought the track into Atlantic and once again I just asked to pay with records from their catalog. While I’m sitting there I can see a line of sight to Ahmet Ertegun’s office. Ahmet was just coming out of meeting with Marshall Sehorn a New Orleans guy who was Allen Toussaint’s partner at a recording studio. I think they were discussing Jean Knight recording “My Toot Toot” which was a cover that Rockin’ Sidney had done. So I asked Noreen (as I never met Ahmet) if I could meet him because it would be an honor. Ten minutes later Noreen tells me that Ahmet would see me. Ahmet and I talked for three hours. When our lengthy discussion broke up Ahmet told me he wanted me to work for Atlantic to restore the black music catalog. I could not have had a better offer. I worked directly for Ahmet, but I worked at the studio across town, so I didn’t get pestered by any suits. This is January of 1986. My first project is “Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974.” You know the big red box set.
BW: The one that won you a Grammy.
BW: Several years ago I bought that box for a buddy for Christmas.
BP: I hope you got a good price. I think it’s still in print.
BW: They don’t make them like that anymore.
BP: So while I was there the CD thing came along. Atlantic was late getting into the CD market, but that’s what I did with reissues. You know all the old Atlantic acts like Joe Turner, The Clovers, The Drifters, stuff like that. Later on Nesuhi Ertegun came to me wanting to start reissuing jazz on CD. That was okay because it gave me more to do. The record business was a different back then, yet Atlantic still was a powerhouse. So it was around this time that Herbie Mann’s name came up simply because Herbie was still hot. Which brings me to Duane Allman who at that time; there wasn’t a lot of interest in Duane. Especially considering that he’d been already gone some 15 years. But when I was looking around to see which Herbie Mann albums to reissue: “Push Push” seemed to be a good candidate. It was a unique session. Herbie’s working with the New York pros like Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Cornell Dupree and all those guys. But here he’s dropping Duane Allman into this world which is different for Duane. I never discussed this with Herbie, but I suspect Herbie wanted to see if this could work. I also remember this fancy gatefold cover they drew up for “Push Push.”
BW: I remember that LP well, it had crushed velour inside. I also remember when I purchased the vinyl. I knew Duane’s work from the Allman Brothers and Derek and the Dominos. I couldn’t wait to hear what he did with Herbie and was pleasantly surprised how well Duane fit in.
It was nice to see that you added the “Funky Nassau” bonus track for the reissue.
BP: Actually there were a couple more unreleased tracks, but I thought “Funky Nassau” was the one to use.
* After listening to “Funky Nassau.”
BP: You wouldn’t typically hear Duane Allman playing this kind of music.
BW: Duane sitting in with Herbie and the great session players was like a marriage made in heaven.
BP: I think Herbie realized that there was something special about Duane Allman and threw him a challenge to see if he was up to it. And I think he was.
BW: Duane was already challenged somewhat doing those Muscle Shoals sessions?
BP: Yeah but Duane is also up against guitarist David Spinoza here who is no slouch and Cornell Dupree too.
BW: Plus Jerry Jemmott (who interestingly now plays with Gregg Allman,) and Chuck Rainey, Richard Tee, Ralph McDonald, and two Booker T. & the MG’s guys Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson Jr.
BP: It’s the New York crew. You are right, Duck and Al Jackson play on a couple of tunes too. For sure there was two separate sessions, on one of the longer sessions Duck and Jackson played on those two tunes. It’s interesting to note that this is also a bit unusual to have Duck Dunn and Al Jackson playing this style of music like Duane. But Herbie Mann had a gift for doing things like this. You might recall that Herbie made disco records, he also did Japanese record. He was always looking for new things to do. Mann was with Atlantic for more than 25 years. The only other artist that was with Atlantic that long was the Modern Jazz Quartet, but they would be the only other with that lengthy tenure, which was very unusual.
BW: Other than seeing Herbie perform, I also saw him regularly at NY Rangers hockey games. He was like the mayor there shaking hands with everyone and always had on his signature beige raincoat.
BP: Women went crazy for Herbie. I don’t know why.
BW: Joel Dorn told me he was quite the ladies’ man.
BP: I can’t attest to that. He used to tell me he’d checkout the audience and told me that 15 percent of the attendees were really into the music but the other 85 percent wanted to see how I moved. He was a really funny guy and a great interview.
BW: Are you familiar with the offshoot “London Underground” with Mick Taylor and Albert Lee?
BP: Yes, these types of recordings were fairly typical of what Herbie liked to do. I bet if he were still alive he’d record rap music. If you think about Herbie Mann you would know he would try to integrate into all kinds of music scenes.
BW: I have to ask. Are you a Duane Allman fan?
BP: Let me put it this way. I’m sad that he died so young. It would have been interesting to hear where he would have gone. That’s the sad thing about gifted players who died too soon. You try to extrapolate how a deceased musician might have grown, but there’s no answer for that.
BW: Ah but “Push Push” was a nice glimpse of what could have been.
Joel Dorn used to like to do radio fund-drives with me and would ask for pledges for stories about Duane, King Curtis and others. He loved it.
BP: Everyone had good stories about King Curtis.
BW: Give us one.
BP: Okay. Bobby Warner was the chief engineer at Atlantic while I was there; he had to pass judgment on the masters. Before an album was released to the pressing plant he was the last set of ears. He was a great engineer who also cut the Illinois Jacquet big band record with me. In fact that was one of the last sessions at Atlantic studios. He liked to talk about King Curtis who was sort of a mentor to Bobby. So when King Curtis was hanging around Atlantic studios he’d always poke his head into the mix rooms to listen to what it sounded like. But his comments were always the same; a little more bass and a little more snare drum. Curtis is another one you have to think about where he would have gone musically had he lived longer? He was only 37 when he got killed.
BW: Cornell Dupree’s wife told me horrific stories about being there when Curtis was stabbed and how the ambulance never came. He eventually died in a cab when they tried to get him to the hospital.
BP: Oh Jesus. But this was an interesting time for instrumentalist. Curtis was doing similar things like Herbie.
BW; And King Curtis also recorded with Duane Allman. Worthwhile seeking out is Duane and the Brothers covering King Curtis’ “Soul Serenade” live, right after the King Curtis funeral, that version still send shivers up my back, it’s on the Allman Brothers “Dreams” four CD box set.
BP: Yes, and King Curtis was also covering Led Zeppelin tunes too. I suspect that it wouldn’t have been unusual for Herbie and King Curtis would hang out and have a drink somewhere to talk about these things. Both of these guys were intelligent enough to recognize that they wanted to find different and/or younger audiences.
BW: Just before Wexler passed I got to interview Wexler and we talked a bit about Duane and King Curtis as well as when Ray Charles and Aretha recorded together. I had to ask Wexler about the only two times I knew when Aretha and Brother Ray recorded together, as I wanted to know if there were more recordings. Of course there’s that live at the Fillmore West recording of Ray joining Aretha (and the King Curtis band) for “Spirit In the Dark,” but they just unearthed from that Aretha “Rare & Unreleased Recordings” which had one other live tune “Ain’t But the One” with Aretha and Ray. Wexler told me (as far has he knew) there weren’t any others.
BP: I think there was also a Coca Cola commercial with Aretha and Ray.
Porter (as per usual is correct) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBp0Lo2CTD8
BW: I wasn’t aware of the commercial.
You remember the author Michael Lydon? Lydon told he covered the three nights of Aretha at the Fillmore West, and of course opening was King Curtis whose band also backed Aretha. But also on the bill was Tower of Power- wow!
So I guess Wexler also understood how important it was to attempt to reach a younger audience.
BP: That’s right. You remember the NYC DJ Frankie Crocker? Frankie was another very gifted radio guy who came up with the slogan “The Black Experience in Sound.” To a certain extent what guys like King Curtis and Herbie Mann were doing; fit Crocker perfectly. Crocker would mix Earth Wind and Fire with Cannonball Adderley, and Aretha with Gene Ammons, Ramsey Lewis would be in the mix, all of the pop R&B stuff of the day. As a format it just killed. Crocker was absolutely exceptional, but it all came crashing down when disc came along. Because Disco flattening everything.
BW: We are going around the corners of Herbie Mann, but the surrounding stories are always entertaining.
BP: What’s interesting in many respects is that younger jazz musicians today in many ways are expected to have a broad range in playing abilities. Jazz musicians of today come from the Universities now. It wasn’t always like that. It wasn’t till the eighties that musicians tended to be specialists because they did just one type of style. Herbie Mann was exactly the opposite. I know he enjoyed interacting with different players, and if you think about it, it’s a fresh way to bring in inspirations.
BW: I cannot argue your point.
I was at Herbie’s memorial service and in the crowd there was Hank Crawford, Fathead Newman, Les McCann, and on and on. Of course Joel Dorn spoke too.
BP: These were all the players who were around Mann for years and years.
BW: It’s kind of unfortunate but you don’t hear Herbie Mann’s name mentioned or played often enough on the radio anymore.
BP: No. But getting back to my point about younger musicians being expected to play a variety of different styles, you don’t hear many that can actually do it that well.
BW: But this form of music is basically gone.
BP: Look the repertoire was basically R&B tunes of the day. Herbie Mann was associated with that style starting with “Memphis Underground.” Read Herbie’s quote on the “Push Push” liner as I think you and your listeners and the Blueswax readers will enjoy it.
BP: Here you go. “If all the priests, rabbis & ministers had messages that were as believable and honest as the music of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye (and if they could also sing as well!!!) There would be a lot more love and a lot less hate in this world.”
This is really special.
BP: Herbie was sincere about doing what he did. He didn’t and wouldn’t piggyback on anyone.
BW: I’m not aware if there are any good Herbie Mann compilations on Mann?
BP: I don’t know, but if you think about Herbie’s recordings each album he made were very different, and I’m not sure if a Mann anthology would lend itself well as a tribute to his various styles of music.
But you are right about “Push Push” it probably got shunted aside.
BW: I don’t recall hearing “Push Push” on the radio and probably read about it in Rolling Stone Magazine mainly because of the Duane Allman affiliation which was all that I needed to go out and buy a copy in the early seventies.
BP: Let’s play one more from “Push Push”
BW: Okay, I’ll be the DJ for this one, let’s go out with their cover of Brother Ray’s “What’d I Say.” Always a favorite of mine to exit out the door and end my radio shows with.
It’s always a pleasure having you here Bob, let’s do more.
Oh, did you hear the Cosimo Matassa,four CD box set (volume 2) from the UK?
BP: No, but I’m inducting him into the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis next weekend.
BW: I hear from author John Broven that Cosimo is not doing well, and not up for doing interviews, he’s living in an assisted living home
BP: I know he’s not going to be in Memphis his grandson is accepting his award.
BW: Nice. Plus Cosimo also got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year.
BP; I’m also glad Albert King is getting in this year too.
BW; Albert would have been 90 this week.
BP: Albert was something else. I can keep you on the air for at least another hour of Albert King stories.
BW: Sounds like another radio & Blueswax segment Mr. Porter.
BP: Somewhere down the line Bob.
BW: Let’s plan on it soon.
Bob Putignano www.SoundsofBlue.com
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com
Weekly Music Editor at: http://www.WestchesterGuardian.com – NYC area Newspaper Now celebrating 15 + years on the air at WFDU http://wfdu.fm