As promised, we’ve prepared a multi-media posting about the early days of Joe Brown and the Singing Mellerairs–originally known as the Melloaires and later as (The Exciting) Singing Mellerairs or Singing Melleraires–complete with scans of several great pieces of ephemera straight from Mr. Brown himself, and intermingled with choice tidbits from our afternoon interview on January 24, 2010.
In addition to Mellerairs-related stuff, the long-time singer also hooked us up with images of three more local gospel outfits, two of whom made records with David Lee–the Sensational Gates of Shelby, North Carolina and the Gospel I.Q.’s of Grover, North Carolina–and one who did not–the Gospel Melodyaires of Woodruff, South Carolina. Read through to the end of this posting for these images as well as audio of our favorite sides from 45-rpm records that we have collected by each group, none of which were produced by David Lee, and therefore none of which will appear on our forthcoming “Said I Had A Vision” compilation. Consider it web-only bonus material.
Although Mr. Brown and other close family members have stayed for decades near Earl, North Carolina–a border-lying town about half-way between Gaffney and Shelby–Mr. Brown was born in Spartanburg in 1938, where the family lived for a time before relocating to Gaffney and then to Earl and Shelby. Mr. Brown, who also enjoyed basketball and baseball, was a student at Camp High School in 1953 when a man whose name escapes his memory asked him to rehearse with an up-and-coming collection of singers:
“I sang in church, and I can’t think of the guy’s name now. He came by one day, in fact we were living over there on that hill right there. He said ‘how about you come to rehearsal.’ I said ‘nah, I ain’t interested in that.’ He kept on after me, and so I went to rehearsal one Tuesday night, went to rehearsal, I was 15, and I start singing in rehearsal with them, then the next rehearsal, I went back again, then I kind of liked it a little bit. Went back again, I said ‘it sounds pretty good,’ I didn’t think I could sing that well, but I went back again, then I got a song, and then I sang it, and I began to feel the song and everything. Then the first thing you know, I didn’t want to miss, I just wanted to go on and start rehearsing, start rehearsing, and that’s where I started from.”
Also in the mix early on were Robert Byers, brothers Donnie Garnett (bass guitar player) and James Douglas Garnett (guitar player), and brothers June Wallace and P.J. Wallace. Each member can be identified by his first and last initials in the postcards below, which were likely printed in year one or two of the Mellerairs’ lengthy career.
“As we kept singing, we decided that we wanted to do something on our own, we wanted to sing our songs, our style. You know it’s good to sing somebody else’s style, but you can’t get nowhere singing other groups’ songs…most groups around here weren’t singing their own songs…it was good to sing other groups’ songs, but that wasn’t what I wanted.”
Although he had made some home demos with reel-to-reel recorders over the years, it would be nearly two decades after the founding of the Mellerairs that Mr. Brown finally released their first recording. “Sinner Man” and its similarly-themed flip “You Can’t Hide Sinner” are raw and intimate thanks to what was apparently a fly-by-night studio operation run by a Gaffney resident named George Davis. Mr. Davis didn’t offer mastering services, so Mr. Brown mailed a tape containing the two songs to Detroit, possibly Archer Pressing, for lacquers and then for vinyl.
The Mellerairs would make several follow-up records in the late 1970s and 1980s, most of which were in conjunction with David Lee in Shelby. Mr. Brown recalls meeting David Lee at a gig in the 1960s, and describes how they would eventually collaborate:
“Well, he was at our singing once, and he said that ‘you know y’all can sing pretty good.’ He said ‘how about me writing some songs,’ he put them on tape, and I would take the tapes, and we would take them to the rehearsal, and we would listen to them, and we would try to put the music to it, and do everything just like that…he sang the part the best he could sing it, and then I would take the tapes…and I would take them back to my group, and then we would sit down and play them and listen to them and see what music and what key that we could put the songs in that we’re singing…then when we thought we had everything intact, we would take it back to David and let him listen, and if he wasn’t satisfied we’d go back and sing it, and put it in a key. That’s how we got with David.”
Mr. Brown is kneeling on the left in this later photograph. We will tell more of his story in future postings and/or in the liner notes for “Said I Had A Vision”.
Not until our interview with Mr. Brown were we aware that Lee Brown, whose name appears in the production credits of the Sensational Gates’ Impel-label 45, was one of his four brothers (Jake Brown is deceased; Rayford Brown is a great, semi-professional bowler who stays in Shelby; and Louis Brown is in Kings Mountain, North Carolina). Hassie “Lee” Brown passed away on December 27, 2009, and may he rest in peace. A long-time manager of the Gates, he is seen sitting in this 1980s-era shot and was likely involved in the production of the tune that follows.
It is tough to date the group’s two known vinyl releases–the one for Impel and this Greenville Mark V Studio-recorded beauty that is not even on a label–but we suspect it was a follow-up due to its smoother production.
On our recent trip to Cleveland County, we narrowly missed meeting Reverend Billy Houze, one of several Houze brothers who sang and held leadership roles with the Gospel I.Q.’s. We are thankful that Joe Brown has held onto this black-and-white glossy.
Besides cutting two sides with David Lee, the I.Q.’s made at least two 45s and an LP (titled “Trouble In This World”) for Su-Ann Records, one of Hoyt Sullivan’s prolific Greenwood, South Carolina / Nashville concerns.
Coming out of Woodruff, Gentle Johnson’s name does not betray the rough gospel-funk that he and his group laid down on wax in the late 1960s, also at Mark V. A future Paradise of Bachelors pursuit may be to learn more about the Greenville-Spartanburg scene, of which Woodruff was a feeder.