Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford

TrackSingle
I Need Your LovingFire 508
Tell MeFire 508
I'm Coming Home To StayFire 513
Just Like A Fool (I Keep Hurtin')ABC-Paramount 45-10503
Bitter With The SweetJubilee 5484
I'm In Such MiseryJubilee 5493
My Baby Likes To BoogalooTru-Glo-Town 1002 / 501
I Wanta Know Where Did Our Love GoTru-Glo-Town 1001 / 501
There Ain't Gonna Be No LovingMr. G 824
ForeverMaster 5 9103

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Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford photo 1

DON GARDNER & DEE DEE FORD:

ANATOMY OF A ONE HIT WONDER #13

Artists who flickered briefly then disappeared.

One Hit Wonders, the media called them. Part of the fascination of fifties and sixties music.

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

At its time of release – summer ’62 – there was absolutely nothing that could have prepared UK record listeners & buyers for I Need Your Loving. Starting with an a cappella melismatic scream from Mr. Gardner, then storming along to a thunderous beat with some call & response going on a la Ray and the Raelettes, and the temptress Dee Dee Ford declaring in suitably roused and sensual tones, “I need your lovin’ every day”, at intervals. Chuck in a false ending at about one minute 45. The record seemed to come from a different universe.

There were few you could compare it to. What’d I Say would be the first to come to mind but after that, what? Maybe Richie Barrett’s Some Other Guy, released a few months earlier. But that was about it. Hindsight might slot this record in with a few Sue UK releases but they were at least eighteen months down the line. It was also evocative of the sort of long fadeouts that we often got on soul dance records which started to appear circa ’63/’64. A later comparison in fact would have been Solomon Burke’s summer ’64 release Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, from which, amazingly, Mr Gardner seemed to quote, just before that false ending (or did King Sol quote from this one?).

With the wondrous web at our disposal these days, it wouldn’t take a music detective long to discover that the long fade analogy was spot on. I Need Your Loving was actually part of a longer song written by Don Gardner and then worked up with Dee Dee in a club environment, into something of at least twice the normal length. Fire Records owner and hands-on producer, Bobby Robinson, sensed that that long fade was really something special in its own right, so he chopped off the front end and, eureka, we had the single. The false ending, incidentally, was also a recognised technique used by certain R&B and soul performers in a live environment. James Brown was the master.

In terms of success, the record rocketed up to the #4 spot in the R&B Chart and then, wonder of wonders, achieved a #20 position in the US Pop Chart. It did nothing on this side of the pond other than pick up cult interest.

Before leaving the record, it’s worth flipping it to have a listen to the B-side, Tell Me. Dee Dee steps up to the mike – she also penned the song – and delivers a beseeching early soul ballad which is taken in, surprise, surprise, waltz time.

Tell me that you love me
Tell me you won’t let me go

The only copy on YouTube comes complete with oodles of authentic surface noise. And the uploader comments “super soulful self-penned scintillator. Solid”. Took the words right out of my mouth.

Neither Don nor Dee Dee were known in the UK when I Need Your Loving came out. They weren’t known in the US either outside of the Philadelphia chitlin’ circuit. And after their fifteen minutes of fame, memories faded rapidly. These days there’s hardly anyone who remembers them, apart from yours truly and a few like-minded souls. But in his early days, Don had a brush with someone who was to achieve lasting fame. The first band he put together, the Sonotones, contained a certain Jimmy Smith, initially on piano and subsequently organ. Don himself sat behind a drum kit and vocalised. For an example of the Gardner/Smith sound take a listen to Sonotone Bounce from ’54. If you can see the small print, clock the writers.

The other side of that disc, actually the A-side, featured Don on vocal on a song from a recent Broadway musical, How Do You Speak To An Angel (that’s the song not the musical). I warn you, this might come as something of a shock to the system. Although it has that plummy sounding Hammond imparting hints of gospel, this was essentially lounge cum showtime, though very capably performed.

After Smith left the Sonotones, he was replaced with another future Hammond hero, Richard “Groove” Holmes who, in turn, disappeared off to a recording career in 1960. He was replaced by a lady originally from Minden, Louisiana, named Wrecia Holloway, but with a stage name of Dee Dee Ford. It transpired that Wrecia/Dee Dee had a pretty good voice which allowed Don to provide a more varied stage show.

When the band played Smalls Paradise, in Harlem, N.Y.C., that stage show was seen by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup who was then under contract to one of Bobby Robinson’s labels. He was so impressed that he introduced Don and Dee Dee to Robinson, and a record contract and that single followed.

Unfortunately for Robinson and the duo, their attempt at a repeat of I Need Your Loving with soundalike Don’t You Worry, flopped. It got to a measly #66 in the Hot 100 and that was the end of hit records for Don and Dee Dee (though Don did manage an R&B placing in 1973 – about which, see later).

They made more records together and separately. Dee Dee wrote a rather splendid song for Bettye LaVette, Let Me Down Easy, which was a minor hit in ’65. She then left the music industry but died in New Orleans in 1972.

Don Gardner continued, but after that flurry in the seventies, at a lower level as a jazz musician though he may have retired now.

Which quick scamper through the duo’s career brings me to the music itself. And this is where it gets complicated. The minimal discography in 45cat didn’t help, in that it didn’t include certain discs that get mentioned in biogs. However Soulful Kinda Music delivered. It revealed a lot of plastic with Don Gardner’s name on it both before and after I Need Your Loving.

I counted fourteen singles prior to I Need Your Loving but very very few of these were available on YouTube or Spotify. It’s worth checking out one that I found on Spotify though. Going Down To Big Mary’s from 1954 shows Don in transition from jazz/lounge to R&B. The band are perfectly comfortable with the material which is jump blues in format. but Don performs with overly precise diction quite unlike the typical blues shouter of the period. There I’ve Said It Again from ’58, which is on Youtube, is another of the oldies/standards which he seemed partial towards, and does have faint hints of late night blues/soul (or is it just my imagination?).

The duo didn’t spend long at Fire – three singles only to be precise, plus an LP. I’m partial to the flipside of the second single, I’m Coming Home To Stay which has Don emoting above Dee Dee’s organ on a Charles-ish ballad. To be fair to Don, he doesn’t make any attempt to copy those highly idiosyncratic Brother Ray tones. Dee Dee does a more than passable emulation of a one gal Raelettes on the chorus though.

Mention of Raymond reminds me that there’s a pretty decent answer disc to his I Gotta Woman within the album tracks. You guessed the title: I Got A Man. This one’s from Dee Dee only but the pair (and/or Bobby Robinson) stretch the fade out to five minutes in length, in an obvious attempt to find another Need Your Loving part 2. This one’s not on YouTube otherwise I’d have given you the clip.

A frequent comment made by critics of Don and Dee Dee is to liken them to Ike and Tina Turner, and, judging by that album it would seem to have some validity, if missing some of the anarchy of early Tina and the Turner band. In Don though, the pair did have a real vocalist unlike Mr Turner who, even non-soul fans must have twigged by now, was leader of the band, not a vocalist.

Following Fire, Don Gardner appeared on a bewildering variety of labels i.e. followed a not dissimilar career path to the pre-Need Your Loving timeframe, and once again some of those tracks just aren’t available (other than on the physical 45s themselves). The mid to late sixties was pretty fruitful for him in terms of very good to excellent records even if none did anything much in terms of sales, though there was an Indian Summer surge of interest from the UK Northern Soul scene.

He was at Jubilee from ’64 to ’65 and I’ve singled out Bitter With the Sweet, and I’m In Such Misery as selections. The former was a ballad sung in duet with a lady who sounded remarkably like Dee Dee, and was the sort of thing that sometimes gets labelled deep soul. Apologies for the black screen; the uploader didn’t provide an image(s).

I’m In Such Misery was more of a chugger. Don’s in solo depression mode on this one but some call-and-response ladies try and cheer him up every now and again.

He appeared at Tru-Glo-Town (a label name to conjure with) in 1966/67, and that period yielded a double sided stormer: My Baby Likes To Boogaloo c/w I Wanta Know Where Did Our Love Go. The A-side is a fairly conventional dance disc but everything is ramped up beyond the usual level. A truly vicious guitar opens proceedings and continues to play a prominent role.

I Wanta Know Where Did Our Love Go starts out like a conventional, strings drenched big ballad, with a sub-Spectoresque production, but Don’s flights of soaring agony make it anything but conventional. There were big productions on both sides of this single but they differed massively in style.

1967’s Ain’t Gonna Let You Get Me Down also from the Tru-Glo-Town period, was a forceful jumper somewhere on the cusp between soul and funk – there are strings somewhere in the backdrop but they’re used intelligently. Very nearly made the cut.

With There Ain’t Gonna Be No Loving from ’69, we’re definitely into funk, Philly funk in fact, and a considerable stylistic switch for Don (but handled with aplomb I must add). The producer was Bobby Martin just starting out as a producer in his own right, in addition to being performer and session man. He would go on to be one of the lynchpins of Philadelphia Soul.

In the early to mid seventies, Don collaborated with Baby Washington on several singles, once again under the auspices of Bobby Martin. One of them, Forever, a late cover of a Marvelettes B-side, gave them an R&B Chart showing. It’s one that I’d normally declare as too saccharin for my taste buds but it’s grown on me. There’s a Comment below the YouTube upload, “Motown meets Philly”. Summarises it well.

I think that’s a good stage at which to leave Don.

Unless I’m very much mistaken, there was only one single made by Dee Dee Ford solo after the split: Just Like A Fool (I Keep Hurtin’) c/w Shoo Fly Pie on the ABC Paramount label in 1963. The A-side was in line with early/mid-sixties girl group sounds and, in my view, could well have been a hit given sufficient promotion.

I can’t leave Dee Dee without at least a mention of her solitary disc from the pre-Need Your Loving days. Good Morning Blues was actually a Christmas record which was released in December 1959. Perhaps owing a little to those Charles Brown Christmas forays but it’s still a delightful record in its own right. I was sorely tempted to add this one to the list.

There’s always the hope, when kicking off the research into a One Hit Wonder, that maybe, with this artist, there really will be a record you dig out that actually surpasses the hit in terms of entertainment/musical ability/potential importance or any one of those sort of nouns. It didn’t quite happen here but I discovered lots of great records en route to reaching that conclusion. Both Don and Dee Dee are/were very good singers and musicians, and maybe just didn’t have the breaks that they deserved.

That just about wraps it up but for one thing, the full version of that song. It’s OK, pretty good in fact, but I reckon that Bobby Robinson’s decision to excise Part 1 was a stroke of genius.

 

FOOTNOTES
(with help from Merric Davidson)

Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford photo 2

1. The British (Stateside) release of I Need Your Loving has the full “Loving” i.e. no apostrophe, while different cuts of the US Fire release show the word ending with a “g” or an apostrophe. As a consequence it’s common to see references with one or the other spelling.

2. The song is credited to D. Gardner, B. Robinson on the Fire release but the Robinson name gets dropped by Stateside. This would tend to confirm it as having been written by Gardner but with Bobby Robinson having played the usual label owner trick from those days of adding his name in order to receive song writing royalties if the record sold well.

3. Bobby Robinson initially ran a record shop in New York and then founded a number of record labels. Among the latter were Fury (founded in 1957) and Fire (1959). He focussed on R&B and blues on these labels with artists like Buster Brown, Elmore James, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Wilbert Harrison. Robinson also gained a reputation as a strong producer: Gladys Knight and the Pips’ original Every Beat Of My Heart was a Robinson production.

4. Dee Dee Ford’s real name is variously reported as Wrecia Holloway or Wrecial Holloway. I’ve stuck with the former but haven’t seen full confirmation anywhere of the correct spelling.

5. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup was a Mississippi born blues singer and guitarist who was born way back in the first decade of the last century. Although a good performer in his own right, he would have remained highly obscure had it not been for a certain Elvis Presley choosing his song, That’s All Right, to cover as his first single. Elvis went on to cover Arthur’s My Baby Left Me and So Glad You’re Mine.

6. I mentioned an album of the Don and Dee Dee Fire output. The set is entitled Absolutely The Best and it’s on Spotify. That source also has an album called The Story Of Don Gardner on which the contents start after the Fire period and continue onwards. It doesn’t relate very closely to my selections but I guess that’s a matter of taste.

7. Bettye LaVette states in the forum here that “Dee Dee Ford wrote Let Me Down Easy about the trumpet player in the band, over whom she was in the midst of having a nervous breakdown, which started her decline”. We, that is to say Merric and I, haven’t found out any more about the events that led to Dee Dee’s death.

8. I was curious about the title Bitter With The Sweet, so plopped those words into YouTube. While I didn’t find another song that even got close to the Don Gardner number, I did discover masses of different numbers which used those words in the title; enough even to make a Toppermost on the title alone! Artists ranged through Carole King, Diana Ross, Billy Eckstine and Muddy Waters, and those were just the artists you would have heard of. One I very much liked though, came from a lady called Little Gigi, and it was from roughly the same timeframe as Don’s record (1964).

9. Justine Washington, using her stage name of Baby Washington, is a soul singer who was born in South Carolina in 1940. Her profile is low due to the fact she never achieved crossover success in the US in spite of a series of very good to excellent singles. She did achieve a measure of cult interest in this country in the mid sixties due to releases on the Sue UK label, and Dusty Springfield is reported to have stated that she, Baby, was her all-time favourite singer. Ms Washington shouldn’t be confused with the similarly named Jeanette Washington, a funk singer. That situation hasn’t been helped by some of Ms Washington’s singles being credited to Jeanette (Baby) Washington.

10. I mention “split” in the text. I should add that Don and Dee Dee got back together briefly in ’64 and toured Sweden. A live LP was issued at the time: The Don Gardner And Dee Dee Ford Quintet In Sweden. Some tracks from this can be found on The Story Of Don Gardner. Several were covers.

11. Charles Brown was a Los Angeles based blues singer pianist who achieved a measure of fame in the late forties and fifties with soft paced numbers with gentle vocals. Among his hits was Merry Christmas Baby in 1947, and it was but one of a number of seasonal songs he recorded

12. The Don and Dee Dee record Don’t You Worry / I’m Coming Home To Stay was the first release on Dave Godin’s Soul City UK label. Dave Godin was, of course, the first person to coin the term ‘Northern Soul’.

13. I Need Your Loving appeared on the first album from Otis Redding and the first album from a certain Welsh “I knew Elvis when he was in shorts” Wonder.

14. Don Gardner was friendly with Curtis Mayfield. He was his road manager for years after he (Don) retired from regular performance. He also got into the construction business and helped remodel the Mayfield residence.

15. I was fascinated with the way in which the Gardner voice changed from a lounge cum showtime style to a much more raw gospel/soul sound. So much so that you’d hardly realise it was the same man. My initial assumption was that Don had learned the later style from peers and records. That was incredibly naive of me. The brief interview here makes it clear that it was the early style that was “put on”.

16. I mentioned that Dee Dee Ford was born in Minden, Louisiana. I’ve been reminded of the fact that an existing Toppermost subject, Percy Mayfield (see Toppermost #630), was also born there, as were Gene Austin (see Toppermost #50) and James Burton.

17. I shook hands with Jimmy Smith in the Camden Jazz Café on what might have been Jimmy’s last visit to London before he died. (That’s what’s known as a gratuitous footnote.)

18. Merric has requested I point out, and I’m happy to agree, that there are a couple of good value CDs available in addition to the ones I mentioned earlier: The Very Best Of Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford: 26 Original Classics (including all of the 1962 LP) and I Need Your Lovin’ (Bear Family Records).

 

Tracks 1-3 on this toppermost are by Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford, track 4 by Dee Dee Ford, tracks 5-9 by Don Gardner, track 10 by Don Gardner & Baby Washington

 

ONE HIT WONDERS ON TOPPERMOST
#1 Jody Reynolds
#2 James Ray
#3 Richie Barrett
#4 Mickey & Sylvia
#5 Scott McKenzie
#6 Blue
#7 Chris Kenner
#8 Dawn Penn
#9 Shep and the Limelites
#10 The Poni-Tails
#11 The La’s
#12 Thomas Wayne
#13 Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford

 

Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford discography at Soulful Kinda Music

Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford discography at Discogs

Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is available as an ebook and is described by one reviewer as ‘probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across’. “RocknRoll” contains further reflections on One Hit Wonders in its 1,000+ pages. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX.

TopperPost #640

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