Hey Folks! Welcome to my first liner note entry from my archive of liners written for CD reissues! Hope you enjoy this one I've posted here, one of many I've done for SOUL MUSIC RECORDS regarding the brothers TAVARES! Read and enjoy!
Released in late 1973, CHECK IT OUT marked the album debut of the brothers TAVARES on Capitol Records. The siblings - Ralph, Pooch, Tiny, Butch and Chubby - had a few singles released via the label in the mid-late 1960’s, when they were known as Chubby and the Turnpikes. Upon their return to Capitol in the early 1970’s - shortly after the company had established their Black Music Division under Larkin Arnold - Tavares hit the ground running with the single, “Check It Out” b/w “The Judgment Day”. Produced by Robert “Boogie” Bowles, the 45 hit the Top 5 on the R&B charts, #30/Pop in the fall of 1973. When it came time to produce the album, Capitol opted to hire hit maker Johnny Bristol to work with Tavares on that effort, a decision that Bowles actually approved of. The result was at Top 20 R&B long-player for the quintet.
To recap the “inside story”, paraphrasing their 1966 Turnpikes single (!), Ralph, Perry (Tiny), Arthur (Pooch), Antone (Chubby) and Feliciano (Butch) - along with their eldest brothers John and Victor - all grew up in New England, listening to American doo-wop as well as the folk music of their Cape Verde heritage. By 1963, Chubby, Pooch, Butch and Tiny formed Chubby and the Turnpikes (Ralph was serving his country in the US Army during this time) and started performing soul tunes in the Massachusetts area. After he earned an honorable discharge, Ralph joined them and they took off for New York City to audition for record labels in 1966. “Juggy Murray had the Sue/Crackerjack labels,” explained Tiny Tavares in a 2012 phone interview. “We cut ‘Nothing But Promises’ and ‘I Know The Inside Story’ first for his company. Then, Capitol Records showed interest in those sides after hearing them from Juggy and released them nationally.”
It was during their Turnpikes years the brothers met a Southern gentleman who was studying at the prestigious Berklee Music School in Boston, guitarist Robert “Boogie” Bowles. “I met Tavares while playing gigs within the Boston and New Bedford area, which helped pay for my schooling,” Robert explained in a 2014 telephone interview from his home in Nevada. “This was during their Chubby and the Turnpikes tenure. The group played regularly at a nightclub owned by football player Jim Nance of the New England Patriots. A few months later, Jerry Butler came to Boston for a gig but needed a guitarist, so I was hired for the gig. Jerry liked my work and offered me a spot in his touring band, which included keyboardist Sonny Burke. So, I left Berklee and Boston to move to Chicago, where Jerry was based”.
While Bowles moved to the chilly Windy City, Tavares embarked on a tour in the warmth of the Bahamas in the late 1960’s. It was during this time the group dropped the Turnpikes moniker for the family name. In 1973, Brian Panella - a former record promotion man - became Tavares manager and came to the group with a proposition. “Brian told us that Capitol had established a Black Music Division and placed company attorney Larkin Arnold in charge,” said Chubby in a 2012 conversation. “They were looking for acts and Brian felt it was a good idea to submit a demo.”
Bowles picks it up here, from a 2015 interview - “After six and half years with Jerry Butler, I started getting ambitious!! I wanted to do more writing and producing. So I wrote three songs - ‘The Judgment Day’, ’I’m In Love’ and ’What Can I Do’ - and then reached out to Ralph Tavares to see if they were interested. At that time, the group were performing in the Bahamas and, according to Ralph, they were so frustrated with having these gigs all over the place and no record deal, the brothers were ready to quit the music business! So, I asked Ralph to send me a tape from one of their live gigs and I would not only send them my three songs, I also offered to fly them into Memphis to record at Mark XVI - a sixteen-track studio Jerry had acquired from Isaac Hayes. When I received the tape Ralph had sent, the one song that stood out was ‘Check It Out’. I loved the way they did the tune and decided to write an arrangement for the song. I called Ralph to tell him that the brothers may have a smash with this one. It was also in this conversation that Ralph informed me that the brothers changed their name from Chubby and the Turnpikes to Tavares.”
Composed by Billy Osborne (brother of Jeffrey) with the late Floyd Butler of the Friends of Distinction, “Check It Out” was featured on the Friends’ 1970 album, “Whatever”, as an uptempo tune. Tavares took a different route and turned it into a ballad, which the Friends’ leader, Harry Elston, and his partner Floyd (who died in 1990) admired and liked. “We dug what Tavares did with ‘Check It Out’,” said Elston in a 2013 interview. “Our label, RCA, wanted the Friends to stick with this uptempo bag for our tunes, even though our 1969 hit ,‘Going In Circles’, was a million-seller AND a ballad!! We were glad Tavares made ‘Check It Out’ a hit as a slow song, which worked.”
(What also should be noted is the Billy Osborne, co-author of “Check It Out”, was an old acquaintance of the brothers Tavares, who knew him from their years in Providence, Rhode Island - this according to a brilliant article authored by Rick Bellaire for the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Archive. The Friends’ RCA single had left the “e” off of Billy’s last name, so the group had no idea that was their hometown friend, until Billy showed up at the album’s release party to congratulate them!)
After agreeing to record together, Tavares and Bowles met up in Memphis - where the latter was surprised to see that Chubby wasn‘t there. Bowles - “I asked the brothers ‘where‘s Chubby?’ and Ralph explained that he was in the hospital, recovering from an injury!! So, they brought their older brother, Victor, with them to record. I had Winton Felder on bass, Sonny Burke on keyboards, the late Al Jackson on drum (of Booker T. and the MG’s fame) and myself on guitar as the rhythm section. So, we went in to cut ‘Check It Out’, and Victor nailed the lead vocal on the first take!! He sounded brilliant and the brothers’ harmonies were flawless. As a safety precaution, we cut a second take and Victor REALLY sang his heart out on that one!! I looked over to my engineer, Steve Stepanian, and said, ‘Dear God, we have a hit!‘ We cut the songs at Mark XVI in Memphis, sweetened the tunes at Universal Recording in Chicago - Bruce Swedien engineered that session. Then I mixed/mastered the tracks back at Mark XVI with Stepanian”
The one song from their session that resonates for Bowles to this day is “The Judgment Day”, which was released as the b-side of “Check It Out”. “The inspiration for ‘The Judgment Day’ came from my upbringing in the church,” said Bowles. “My dad, mom and family played and sung Gospel music - ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, ‘In The Garden’ were two songs we loved. So, being a spiritual person, that part of me still remains to this day. So, when it came time to write songs for Tavares, ‘The Judgment Day’ was one of them. Looking back, I realized the tune wasn’t really what the industry would consider to be a ‘commercial’ song. But at that time, it was special for Tavares and myself.”
Soon after ‘Check It Out’ was released as a single, the record climbed quickly up the soul and pop charts, peaking at #5 on Billboard’s R&B listings and #30/Pop. The success of the record earned Tavares a guest shot on Soul Train, American Bandstand and the Tonight Show. By this time, Chubby was back in the group, while Victor left Tavares and relocated to the south. Capitol wanted an album right away and Tavares were ready to have Bowles man the boards for that effort. However, the Boogie man himself felt the timing wasn’t right for him to produce a full-length record. Bowles - “Tavares wanted me to produce their debut album, but I advised them to go with whomever Capitol wanted to hire for the project. Frankly, I just wasn’t ready to produce an album because I was in the process of relocating from Chicago to LA with the hopes of starting a production company. But I didn’t have enough songs written and you know the music biz phrase, ‘it all begins with the song.‘ So, I advised Tavares to go with whomever Capitol wanted to produce their album and the label’s choice was Johnny Bristol, who had a bunch of songs to his avail, being a longtime composer, producer and artist, dating back to his years in Detroit. He was a seasoned music man , whereas I was just getting my act together. Capitol recognized that, so hiring Johnny to produce Tavares’ debut album was the right move.”
The late Johnny Bristol was the producer/artist on the go at the time. He began his career under the wing of Harvey Fuqua via the Tri-Phi/Harvey labels in Detroit, moved with his mentor to Motown, composed and produced smashes for Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Your Precious Love”), Junior Walker and the All-Stars (“What Does It Take To Win Your Love”) as well as Diana Ross and the Supremes (“Someday, We’ll Be Together” - which he cut years prior with Jackey Beavers on Tri-Phi). By 1972, Johnny became an in-house producer for Columbia Records - working with Boz Scaggs and Buddy Miles. However, when Columbia frowned on the idea of him recording solo works, Johnny left the label. "They turned me down, man, they turned me down!" Mr. Bristol exclaimed to John Abbey in an August 1974 interview for Blues & Soul magazine.. "You see, they had first right of refusal because I was signed to them as a producer and any project that I involved myself with had to be offered to CBS first". No worries, for Johnny'signed with MGM, had the monster hit with “Hang On In There, Baby” (top ten pop/soul smash) and started his own production company.
Hired by Larkin Arnold, Capitol's Black Music chief, Johnny got right to work with Tavares for the album sessions, which took place in the West Coast. Bristol assembled an excellent cadre of musicians to record with Tavares. James Gadson (drums), Bobbye Hall (percussion), Mike Melvoin and Joe Sample on keyboards, guitarists Dean Parks, Melvin “Wah-Wah” Ragin, David T. Walker as well as Funk Brother supreme, bassist James Jamerson. For the arrangements, studio vet H.B. Barnum was brought in to handle the charts.
As far as the song selection, tunes came from a few Bristol-led collaborations, such as the gentle ballad“Strangers In Dark Corners”, which Johnny recorded four years later for the brilliant and underrated Atlantic album, “Bristol’s Crème” and the mid-tempo “That’s The Sound That Lonely Makes” (Bristol had called one of his most favorite songs he‘d composed.). In addition, Johnny co-wrote the uptempo “Wish You Were Here With Me, Mary”, “I’ll Never Say Never Again” - a short and sweet mellow track, and “Let’s Make The Best Of What We Got”. The late Billy Preston wrote and first recorded “Little Girl” for his second Apple Records album from 1970, “Encouraging Words”. For the CHECK IT OUT album, arranger H.B. Barnum stayed true to the Gospel feel of Billy’s original, yet allowed Tavares to stretch out vocally on their version, thus making this ballad a six-minute epic. Rounding out Tavares‘ Capitol debut are “If That’s The Way You Want It” and “Mama’s Little Girl” - written from the pens of Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who’d later work with the quintet on their albums, “Hardcore Poetry” (1974) and “In The City” (1975) as producers and composers.
The CHECK IT OUT album peaked at #20 on Billboard's R&B LP Chart, while the second single, "That's The Sound That Lonely Makes", went to #10 on the soul singles listings.
As far as Tavares’ connection with Robert “Boogie” Bowles, after the latter resettled in Los Angeles, the two parties reunited in 1976, when former Jerry Butler colleague and Motown producer Freddie Perren manned the boards for their “Sky High”, “Love Storm” and “Future Bound” albums (Bowles, along with Sonny Burke, played on the sessions for these releases). “I had moved to LA in 1974 with the goal of setting up a production company there,” said Bowles. “However, I soon realized that I just didn’t have the drive to write songs on a consistent level. After landing a couple of producing gigs for folks such as Brenda Lee Eager (of Jerry Butler’s “Ain’t Understanding Mellow” fame), I get a phone call from Freddie Perren, who was hired by Capitol to produce Tavares’ ‘Sky High’ album. He said that the brothers really want me to play on the session and his contractor is going to call me to set up the date. So, after the contractor did contact me, I hauled my amp and guitar to Paragon Studios and laid down my guitar track for ‘Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel’. After it was over, Freddie came up and said, ‘man, you’ve got a rhythm feel I like very much! We’re gonna be working together again!’ And so, we did - for the next five years and many hits!”
Through the 1970’s and into the earl 1980’s, Tavares became a powerhouse vocal group with the right songs, arrangements, production and chops to deliver fine work, which they were able to do effortlessly through their eight year tenure with Capitol Records (1973-1981). With folks such as Bowles, Bristol, Perren as well as , Bobby Martin (1979’s “Madam Butterfly), Bobby Columby (“Supercharged”, 1980) and Benjamin Wright (“Love Uprising”,1981), Tavares had excellent “ship captains” who helped steer the group towards many levels of success. And that journey started with this album.
Check it out!!
February 28, 2015
New York City
February 28, 2015
New York City
Telephone interviews with ROBERT “BOOGIE” BOWLES (November, 2014 and February, 2015), CHUBBY TAVARES (April, 2012) and TINY TAVARES (April, 2012).
A SOULFUL CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT “BOOGIE” BOWLES (December, 2013) and A SOULFUL CONVERSATION WITH HARRY ELSTON OF THE FRIENDS OF DISTINCTION (August, 2013). Radio interview podcast series produced and conducted by Kevin Goins (www.mixcloud.com/musicmankevin).
Blues & Soul Magazine interview with Johnny Bristol, August 1974.
Thanks to Robert “Boogie” Bowles, Harry Elston, Chubby Tavares, Tiny Tavares and David Nathan for their cooperation.
Hope you enjoy these notes as it was an honor to have written them! If you like what you have read and want to see more, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, best regards!
Kevin Goins - KevGo