A primer ’60s soul playlist for Chips Moman and the Memphis Boys

As hip ghetto physician Dr. John Carpenter, “Change of Habit” served as Elvis Presley’s Hollywood swan song in 1969.
As hip ghetto physician Dr. John Carpenter, “Change of Habit” served as Elvis Presley’s Hollywood swan song in 1969.
As hip ghetto physician Dr. John Carpenter, “Change of Habit” served as Elvis Presley’s Hollywood swan song issued on November 19, 1969, tying up loose ends of a contract with NBC that previously resulted in the iconic “‘68 Comeback Special.” Director William A. Graham persuaded Elvis to comb his hair differently and remove all the grease products he normally preferred in fashioning his quintessential pompadour. Two months before this candid was captured in April at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, Elvis had knocked 32 songs out of the park at American Sound Studios with Chips Moman and the Memphis Boys. Lead single “In the Ghetto” b/w “Any Day Now,” released that same month, rose to No. 3 on Billboard, Elvis’s first Top Ten since “Crying in the Chapel” an agonizing four years earlier. Image Credit: Elvis Presley Enterprises / Universal Pictures

Seven years of research, writing, and editing generated Roben Jones’s 409-page paperback debut, Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios. It is the ultimate profile of the soulful septet —studio co-owner-producer-engineer Chips Moman, guitarist Reggie Young, bassists Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech, pianist Bobby Wood, organist Bobby Emmons, drummer Gene Chrisman — who transformed Elvis Presley’s dire chart predicament as well as untold others. Until the twenty-tens the Memphis Boys received scant acknowledgement compared to their session contemporaries for fashioning the sonic landscape. We’re talking about an eye-opening 122 Billboard Top Ten hits in the late ‘60s, not counting their second wind in Nashville as a tight country ensemble playing and penning material for Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings. As a teaser for an exclusive 5,000-word interview — i.e. “Straight Shooter Roben Jones Rights an Unjustly Neglected Memphis Music Saga” — she distills the best of the Memphis Boys as cut at 827 Thomas Street.

The Roben Jones Interview, Part One

If you could sequence a 12-song playlist representing the ultimate Chips Moman and the Memphis Boys as captured at American Sound Studios, what would you choose?

Unsurprisingly, it proved impossible for me to strictly adhere to your parameters. Here you go:

  1. The Dark End of the Street” — James Carr [No. 77 POP, No. 10 R&B December 1966, You Got My Mind Messed Up; written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn; produced by Quinton Claunch and Rudolph Russell]
  2. Neon Rainbow” — The Box Tops [No. 24 POP October 1967, The Letter / Neon Rainbow; written by Wayne Carson Thompson; produced by Penn]
  3. I Shall Be Released” — The Box Tops [No. 67 POP April 1969, Dimensions; written by Bob Dylan; produced by Moman and Tommy Cogbill]
  4. [You Keep Me] Hangin’ On” — Joe Simon [No. 25 POP, No. 11 R&B March 1968, No Sad Songs; written by Ira Allen and Buddy Mize; produced by John Richbourg]
  5. The Old Man at the Fair” — Ronnie Milsap [Raiders frontman Mark Lindsay dropped the first released version in May 1969 as the B-side of his debut solo 45, “First Hymn from Grand Terrace.” Jimmy Webb authored both songs. Apparently Milsap’s summer 1968 version produced by Moman was left in the archives until a mid-’70s Scepter Records compilation triggered by his country hit-making on RCA].
  6. I’ve Been Down This Road Before” — B. J. Thomas [B-side of “Hooked on a Feeling” October 1968, On My Way; written by Mark James and Spooner Oldham; produced by Moman]
  7. Watching the Trains Go By” — Steve Alaimo [A-side only October 1968, written and produced by Penn and Oldham]
  8. The Merrilee Rush album [i.e. Angel of the Morning, No. 196 POP October 1968; produced by Moman and Cogbill]
  9. Your Loving Eyes Are Blind” — Merrilee Rush [A-side only March 1969; written by James, Glen Spreen, and Thompson; produced by Cogbill and Moman]
  10. Dusty in Memphis — Dusty Springfield [No. 99 POP January 1969; produced by Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin, and Tom Dowd; “Just a Little Lovin’”, “Son of a Preacher Man,” and “The Windmills of Your Mind” are essential]
  11. The complete Elvis Presley sessions [32 masters tracked in January and February 1969 including “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” “Kentucky Rain,” From Elvis in Memphis, and From Memphis to Vegas / From Vegas to Memphis; produced by Moman with Felton Jarvis]
  12. Arthur Alexander [Warner Bros., did not chart, February 1972; produced by Cogbill; contains the original version of Presley’s “Burning Love”]
Image for post
Image for post
The book cover of Roben Jones’ “Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios,” a detailed history of an unsung recording studio and its lasting impact on music, issued on February 19, 2010. The candid dates from soul singer Oscar Toney, Jr.’s session for his highest charting single, “For Your Precious Love” [No. 23 POP, No. 4 R&B, April 1967]. Left to right are American co-owner Don Crews, guitarist Reggie Young, bassist Tommy Cogbill, drummer Gene Chrisman, Toney, his producer Papa Don Schroeder, studio co-owner and engineer Chips Moman, and pianist Bobby Emmons. Image Credit: The Papa Don Schroeder Collection / Courtesy of Erick Crews / University Press of Mississippi / Amazon

Don’t go anywhere yet! “Straight Shooter Roben Jones Rights an Unjustly Neglected Memphis Music Saga” is the second chapter of the trilogy. Tap the link below.

© Jeremy Roberts, 2019. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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