Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Mysterious Joe S. Maxey

As much as I know about the records in my collection, there a bunch of sides that I know little or nothing about. The world of old 45s is filled with enigmas, whether it’s different groups or labels with the same name, or just one-off 45s with no associated history at all. Every once in a while though, you come across a 45 where the deeper you dig, the more curious things get. This is one of those times. A couple of years back some cats in the UK released a comp called ‘Heavy On The Hammond’. Naturally, as a first class Hammond junkie I had to take a look and see if there were any new sounds to be investigated. There were a lot of familiar tracks, and unfamiliar tracks by familiar artists, but one particular number set my Spidey sense a-tingle. The artist was someone named ‘Joe S. Maxey’ and the tune was “Right On (The Cream)”. I’d never heard of the artist or the tune before, and so I set out on safari. The usually reliable Google turned up a discography for Lu Pine records (the original label of release), but little else. For the next few months I watched set-sale lists, on-line dealers and record shows, but turned up absolutely nothing. Then one day, scanning E-Bay for Hammond grooves I saw a copy of a Joe S. Maxey 45 on the Action label. Action was a UK label in the late 60’s/early 70’s that specialized in UK issues of mostly obscure (but very cool) US R&B and soul records, including sides by Betty Harris and Eddie Bo. I put my bid in, and despite some competition, won the record. So, a few weeks go by, and the package arrives at my doorstep. I eagerly unwrapped the record, placed it on the GP3 was immediately beset by confusion. This was because I had heard this record before, but not by any Joe S. Maxey. It took me a few minutes (and a run through my Hammond crates) before I deduced that the music I was hearing already resided in my collection, under the guise of a Packers 45: Hole In The Wall b/w Go Head On. Now this was curious. I spent 15 or 20 minutes flipping one 45 off the turntable and the other one on, to make absolutely sure that I wasn’t hearing a remake, but rather the same exact track (which it was). I was simultaneously pissed off (because I didn’t have a new groove to savor) and intrigued (because I now needed to figure out what the deal was). Was this a pressing mistake? If not, who was the legitimate artist, the Packers or Joe S. Maxey? I made some inquiries and discovered that Maxey’s Lu Pine 45 also included the Packers tracks. I eventually bagged a copy of the Lu Pine 45, credited to ‘Joe S. Maxey: Little 14 Year Old and His 15 Piece Orchestra the City Flames’. The tracks were ‘Right On (the Cream)’ and ‘May The Best Man Win’. The tracks on the Action 45 were ‘Sign of the Crab’ and ‘May The Best Man Win’. Despite the title change, ‘Right On (the Cream)’ and ‘Sign Of The Crab’ were in fact the same track. Both Maxey 45s credit the authorship (and production) of both tunes to someone named Cholly Williams. I now had more information, and was strangely enough, more confused. That was, until I read Rob Bowman’s excellent history of the Stax label, ‘Soulville U.S.A: The Story of STAX Records’. I already knew that the Packers (at one time or another in their existence) were led by Packy Axton, saxophonist for the Markeys, and co-author of their hit ‘Last Night’. He was also the son of Stax co-owner Estelle Axton. Bowman, in addition to laying out a comprehensive study of the Stax label, also managed to touch upon Packy Axton’s checkered history. Now, let me preface the following revelation by saying that I had always assumed that ‘Hole In The Wall’, which was credited (on the Packers 45) to Cropper, Jones, Jackson and Nathan, was a cover of a Booker T. & The MGs tune. I was incorrect, but more on that later. Bowman wrote that in 1965, following West Coast appearances by the Stax revue, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Al Jackson (of the MGs) and Packy Axton remained in Los Angeles. Jones, Cropper and Jackson stayed behind to play on a Bobby Darin recording session. Following the session, Jones, Cropper, Jackson and Axton were called into the studio by L.A. disc jockey the Magnificent Montague to record a demo session. Bowman says that Montague was looking to work something up that could compete with Ramsey Lewis’s hit ‘The In Crowd’. The group (with Jones on piano) was joined by Leon Haywood on organ and Earl Grant on bass. The jam they worked up in the studio became ‘Hole In The Wall’ (the ‘Nathan’ in the credits was the Magnificent Montague’s alias, allowing him to grab some of the publishing action). That was where the involvement of Jones, Cropper and Jackson ended. Axton stayed behind and with Haywood, recorded a second track ‘Go Head On’, which was credited to Haywood, Paxton (sic) and Nathan. These tunes were release on the Pure Soul Music label as by the Packers, which became a #5 R&B hit and a Top 50 Pop hit. According to Bowman, aside from being paid for the demo session, Cropper, Jones and Jackson never saw a dime from the record (though for some reason Stax artists the Bar-Kays later covered ‘Hole In The Wall’), and suggests that Axton’s involvement may have been prearranged by his mother. Packy Axton had a long history of wild (alcohol fueled) behavior, and aside from the Markeys hadn’t had mushc success as a performer. The people Bowman interviewed suggested not only that Axton’s involvement in the sessions may have been a foregone conclusion, but also that there were suspicions that Estelle Axton had in fact been a financial backer of the Pure Soul Music label. Packy Axton (along with conga player Johnny Keyes) went on to make other 45s as the Packers (for a variety of labels including Imperial, MK2, HBR, Soul Baby, Tangerine though it seems likely that Axton does not appear on some of these records) the Pac-Keys and LH & The Memphis Sounds (on the Hollywood label), and the Martinis (on the BAR and USA labels). The bottom line is that the music heard on all three 45s were recorded in L.A. by the group described above. So where does Joe S. Maxey come in? I’d always heard that the Lu Pine label was based in Detroit, and released a number of 45s by Detroit-based artists like the Falcons, Eddie Floyd, and the Primettes. However, a look at a Lu Pine discography shows that there were at least three different numbering schemes for their 45s, and the Joe S. Maxey 45 bears a Las Vegas address. This is not to suggest that Lu Pine was not originally based in Detroit, but rather that it seems there may be a few different time periods in play for their releases (and a change in location). The big mystery, is how did Lu Pine get their hands on the masters for the Packers sessions, and what would possess them to release a song that had already been a hit under a different name? It’s possible (even likely) that they thought they could make a quick buck with what was essentially an illegitimate release (though why they concocted “Joe S. Maxey the little 14 year old with the 15 piece orchestra the City Flames” is anyone’s guess) That leads us to yet another question, how did the Maxey record get issued in the UK? The Packers 45 had also been a hit in the UK, seeing release on both the Pye and Soul City labels. The kinds of things that were issued on Action suggest to me that the people running the show knew the music. The Action 45 was not released until 1972, so I suppose it’s possible that the Packers 45 was a distant memory, but why was the title of ‘Right On (the Cream)’ changed to ‘Sign of the Crab’ (a zodiac reference for a more psychedelic time, perhaps?)? Interestingly enough, the run off grooves of the Packers 45 and the Action 45 both have song titles scratched into the wax in similar handwriting. The Packers sides list ‘Hole In The Wall’ as ‘Hole In The Wall’ and ‘Go Head On’ as ‘Make It Baby’. The Maxey 45 on Action lists the ‘Hole In The Wall Side’ (now ‘Sign of the Crab’ as ‘Doin It Well’ and the “May The Best Man Win’ side as ‘Do The Porky’ (the Lu Pine 45 bears no such marks). The only other difference that I’ve been able to find is that the Packers version of ‘Hole In The Wall’ has a fade out that lasts a few seconds longer than the other 45s (none of the durations listed on any of the 45s match up). So what’s the lesson here? The independent record business in the 1960’s was riddled with shady dealings, and it’s entirely likely that the Pure Soul Music masters were transferred “legitimately” (as opposed to stolen) to whoever was running Lu Pine after 1965. Who leased the masters to Action is a complete mystery? The bottom line is that someone, either at Action, or the folks that released "Heavy On The Hammond' should have known better. The big question – at least for me – is, was there ever really a guy named ‘Joe S. Maxey’? The world may never know. If anyone has anything to contribute I’d be happy to hear from you. NOTE: The MP3’s I’ve included are pulled from the Maxey 45 on Action (the cleanest of the three 45s).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two theories regarding the Action release. First, "Porky" is the nickname of legendary British mastering engineer George Peckham, who is known for inserting some variation of his moniker in the runoff groove of one side of a record along with cryptic or humorous comments on one or both sides. "Do the Porky" and "Doin It Well" are in all likelihood his handiwork (in which case the similarity of the handwriting on the Packers disc would of course be a mere coincidence). Second, might "Sign of the Crab" simply be a garbled rendering of "Right On (The Cream)", as if the text intended to go on the labels was dictated to a typesetter over the phone or something?

1/04/2006 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yeah, the people behind Action almost certainly did know what was going on here. The label was owned by John Abbey, one of the biggest soul enthusiasts in sixties Britain. He also founded the still active fortnightly magazine Blues & Soul back in 1966, and is nowadays in Atlanta running the great Ichiban label, which has put out many contemporary roots soul releases over the past twenty years.

1/04/2006 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

whoever it is, it's freakin' amazing, man!
that like ramsey lewis piano WITH da funky organ... "c'mon brother, c'mon... we want some soul heah!"

I'm likin' this!

1/04/2006 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

I just love this story, Larry. Great job of investigation. The record business can be a snake pit, a maze, a who-done-it, a bad trip and a soul revelation - all at the same time. I've treasured my beat up Packers record on Pure Soul; and learning more about it just makes me more glad it's around. I wouldn't doubt that Mrs. Axton had a hand in Pure Soul somehow. I think she was still under a non-compete agreement with Stax at this time, so she would have had to do it very quietly.

And goodnight, Joe S. Maxey, whoever and wherever you are.

1/05/2006 02:30:00 AM  
Blogger guapo said...

oh yeah!

1/05/2006 07:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what darin recordings are the booker t guys involved on?

1/05/2006 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't know if I'm the first to point this out but Funky 16 Corners gets a mention in this week's issue of the LA Weekly:


1/06/2006 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

I hadn't seen that yet! Thanks very much!!

1/06/2006 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger monkeyfunk said...

Great post Larry, big fan of Packy Axton since reading about him in Robert Gordon's It Came From Memphis...and furthermore, there's a terrific version of the same tune, again on the Action label, entitled "Hideout", by The Hideaways..I love these little eddys in music..Regards, Hugo

1/09/2006 06:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hideout sounds like a part 2. There's an interesting version of hole in the wall by the T bones. There's an added xylophone/ vibraphone part that mimics the piano part in the packers version.
I downloaded off of Audio galaxy many moons ago. I found that if i saw a 45 on ebay of interest, someone, somewhere had already downloaded a recording of it on audio galaxy. My learning curve went way up. Sadly I don't know the label, and I think it's US based (not Gary Farr and the T Bones fame). I have a copy on mp3 if anyone's interested.

1/10/2006 12:39:00 AM  

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