An amazing 45
“Listen – Barbara Banks – River of Tears – MP3″
I hope all is well on your end.
The record I bring you today is another loooooong time want list item. One that I thought I’d never get a copy of, so when I made the score it was all the more sweet.
I made reference last week (and frequently over the years) to the world of Northern Soul. Though I am a huge fan of the sound (or at least the meat and potatoes of what is considered the sound, since the Northern soulies have often embraced some very odd records), and an admirer of the scene and all the history therein, I am at the end of the day but a lowly outsider.
My knowledge of the Northern Soul canon, while more in depth than some is barely a scratch on the surface of the truly devoted. I have no doubt that the best Northern DJs have hundreds of brilliant records at their disposal that have never heard, and very likely will never hear. It’s pretty much the same with any seriously collected genre. I know many of the great doo-wop and rockabilly records, but to the folks that do the deepest digging the stuff I know is mere piffle.
That said, my exploration of Northern Soul is ongoing, and thanks to the depth of the associated discographies will likely (and happily) continue for some time.
That said, I first came upon Barbara Banks’ brilliant ‘River of Tears’ some years ago, completely unexpectedly.
During the early days of my deep funk digging, the name Keb Darge loomed very large, so when I saw a compilation of rarities compiled by the man, I picked it up immediately. The comp – Beams Presents The Keb Darge Experience – was – I assumed – verily chockablock with deep funk nuggets. Surely there were several killer funk sides including the Third Guitar’s ‘Baby Don’t Cry’, and Herb Johnson Settlement’s ‘Damn F’aint’, but around the half way point of the disc the sound took a rather abrupt change in direction – into Northern Soul (at the time I had no idea then that Keb had started out on the Northern scene) and I was introduced to two records that I would fall in love with immediately. The first was Pat Lewis’ moody masterpiece ‘No One To Love’ (which still eludes my grasp) and today’s selection, Barbara Banks’ ‘River of Tears’.
The first time I ever heard the adjective “storming” in reference to music, it was describing a Northern Soul record (though I can’t recall which). I have used it repeatedly as a descriptor for the relentless dancers beat the propels many of these 45s. ‘River of Tears’ is as storming as they come.
I haven’t been able to track down much information about Barbara Banks. What I do know is that she recorded at least three 45s – for three different labels – in 1965, 1966 and 1967, all in collaboration with writers Gary Knight and Herb Bernstein (who also acted as arranger/producer) and all pulling major coin these days.
Knight and Bernstein were an interesting pair. They composed a couple of brilliant blue-eyed soul 45s, ‘Breakout’ by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and the Northern floor-filler ‘Stranger In My Arms’ by Lynne Randell (an artist featured earlier this year at Iron Leg), and did a lot of work as writers/arrangers/producers for Bob Crewe and the DynoVoice label. Knight also recorded a number of pop 45s under a few different names (and in the duo Dey & Knight) during the 60s.
Barbara Banks appeared to have been something of a “project” for Bernstein and Knight, as they kept doing records with her for three consecutive years.
Banks was a fantastic singer, and is also listed as the co-writer of ‘River of Tears’, the second of her three 45s, from the Fall of 1966. The record itself is an absolute wonder. It opens with the pounding of the snare drum and hi-hat cymbal before Banks comes in (along with interjections by backup singers) before the tune’s signature bass/vibes line comes in, followed by the rest of the band. Like the best Northern sides, the song’s driving beat is complemented by fantastic melody line. The tune changes keys a few times (there’s a great bridge) and the backing chorus of “wooo-wooos” is reminiscent of another classic, the Marvelettes ‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’.
Banks would release one other 45 in 1967, ‘The Night Time Feelin’ for MGM before pretty much dropping off the face of the earth. If anyone knows where she went after that please post the info in a comment, or drop me a line via e-mail.
Though ‘River of Tears’ was not a hit, Bernstein and Knight were savvy enough to know when they had a great song, and they re-did ‘River of Tears’ in 1967 with the Royalettes.
I hope you dig this record as much as I do, and if you want to hear it over a great sound system, I assure you I’ll be spinning it at the next Asbury Park 45 Sessions on Friday October 3rd.