This particular article evolved when I was attempting to catalogue some of my records and realised that I had, over the years, collected quite a number on the label. I scanned the labels for info, and found lots of references to Joe Evans and started wondering just who Joe was and how he came to be on so many records of the same label. The odds were that Joe was the owner of the label or at least one of main players and so I asked around.
The Manhattans who were one of the main artists on the label were well known in soul circles and so it was a safe bet that there had been material reissued and so it proved to be. I found that Ady Croasdale of Kent/Ace records had released a CD of Carnival Records and so I contacted him to see if I could maybe use his material to help in this article. In true Kent/Ace tradition, anything that gets the work of these artists out in the public forum and can help "push" the music along to ears that have maybe not heard it yet, and in doing so help the artists financially, Ady was pleased to offer his assistance.
Another guy who provided me with prompt info and help amongst the label scans etc was Steve Edgar, a fellow member of The Hitsville Soul Club. My thanks to both of them. And so.....as is usual with Hitsville, the music plays centre stage in this article, please click on any records you see, as they will all play.
Joe Evans was a pre war baby born into a hardworking family in the panhandle of Florida. His musical beginnings involved him learning to play the alto saxaphone, at which he became adept and found jobs playing in and around the Pensacola area with a number of local bands. Through his cousin Bobby Johnson, a trumpeter who had already made the move to New York to explore the opportunities there, Joe developed a thirst for a musicians life and made the move too. During this immediate pre-war era, New York was the Jazz capital of the world and Joe found himself replacing the legendary Charlie Parker in The Cam Williams Band, playing Ryan's Rendevouz in Long Island. He was the ripe old age of 23.
The following few years appear to have been an informative time for young Joe as he plied his trade with more than a few notable bands and jazz artists. Amongst his resume ,he could claim to have played with The Hot Lips Page Orchestra and even managed a reunion with the great Charlie Parker, when Joe played 1st Alto to Charlies 3rd in Jay McShann's band. He eventually got to play with his boyhood idols Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong, toured all over the United States and even made a number of appearances in Europe.
In addition to these gigs, Joe was a sought after musician and played a number of the better venues around at the time, including the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem where he performed behind the emerging RnB stars of the day including Jackie Wilson, Ruth Brown and Clyde MacPhatter. Times were good for young Joe.
It's at this stage of Joe's life that there entered a guy who would influence The Carnival Story in a big way. Clarence Johnson, nicknamed "Jack Rags", was a trombonist who played the same gigs as Joe. "Jack" had already experienced the ups and downs of the record industry first hand, having had a sole writing credit on a successful "swing" hit "Jersey Bounce" and with his partner Danny Robinson, (brother of Fire and Fury label owner Bobby Robinson), had operated Everlast Records, which readers may know as the label that charted the National Hot 100 with "The Charts - Desiree."
Jack had seen where the money was and understood how the business worked. Joe, using good money from his live sessions, formed a partnership with Jack and they embarked on Cee-Jay Records.
As the 50's turned to the 60's, Jack and Joe released records by a number of artists with limited success. In 1961 they came across the James Family. Betty James was a blues singer from Baltimore, Maryland who was ably supported by her husband on guitar and her son on bass. They got the group studio time, hired a session drummer with instructions to play the sticks as much as the skins and the session produced "Betty James - Im A Little Mixed Up - Cee&Jay 583." The single went on to local sucess and demand for it became such that Chess Records made an offer that the pair accepted. Joe and Jack were a success! They had also seen the national sales of their record go higher and the rewards go to a bigger company....a valuable lesson was learned.
Jack played mentor to his friend Joe and groomed him as his right hand man. Joe attended all the DJ conventions where the record companies got "pluggers," DJ's and distributors together for sociable business. Joe also took on the mantle of National Promotional Director of Ray Charles' fledgling Tangerine Records.
It was whilst working at Tangerine that Joe found himself in Georgia "plugging" a record by Uncle Ray, when the lady DJ that was on played him a recently produced acetate by a local group called The Pips entitled "Every Beat Of My Heart." Joe duly played it to Ray who dismissed it. Back in New York however, a more astute Bobby Robinson picked the song up courtesy of Joe and released the song on his Fury label. It reached #15 in the National RnB Chart and VeeJay saw it soar to #1 on their re release of the master which they purchased.
When Joe again approached Ray with a dance record he believed could become a hit ,Ray once again proved to be uninterested and Joe realised his record making ambitions would have to be nurtured elsewhere. Back in New York, his mentor and friend Jack Rags sadly passed away and his widow decided she had no interest in carrying on with Cee-Jay Records, which left Joe with no other outlet for his record making that had become an integral part of his life.
Joe now needed to make a living and he found himself once again touring with the differing bands around the country. Detroit was a major "happening" city at this time, notable not only for it's jazz and RnB scenes, but also for the fledgling company operated by a certain Berry Gordy. Joe knew a class outfit bandwise when he heard it and it wasn't long before he found himself as part of Choker Cambell's Band, supporting the likes of Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Martha and The Vandellas, The Temptations and Stevie on The Motown Revues, that were spreading the Detroit Sound as "The Sound Of Young America," around the clubs and dancehalls of the era.
The Birth Of Carnival
Joe was now ideally placed to put all his experience of his ventures to good use and having had a reasonably successful partnership with Jack, decided to repeat the relationship. Joe hooked up with with another NY based musician and bandleader Paul Williams, who had been Joe's boss previously.
Although Cee Jay records was now a memory, Joe and Jack had been working with three girls from Trenton, New Jersey called The Tren-Teens. Joe still felt responsiblities to the group and so the new partnership arranged two songs for their fledgling group. All that was required now was a new name for their label. As Joe walked the route to lower Manhattan to register the label, he spotted a billboard sign advertising a musical show, which he decided would make a great name for his record label. So in 1962 Carnival Records of 605 W.156th St, NYC, (Paul Williams' apartment), issued their first record "The Tren-Teens - Your Ya Ya is Gone b/w My Baby's Gone - Carnival 501."
The first few records on the label by The Tren - Teens, Delores Brown and a great local vocalist called Barbara Brown, are really pre-soul in style with a blues or jazzy feel to them. This was partly due to Paul Williams' influence in production and his musical leanings.That was however, all about to change.
Paul Williams' live sessions and his thriving Booking Agency were sapping his time and he found himself unable to devote the required time to the fledgling record business. That, together with Joe's Motown influences and the fact that they hadn't made a cent, led to an amicable seperation which left Joe in sole charge of the label. Joe registered the the label at his home 350 Chadwick Avenue, Newark, New Jersey. He changed the publishing arm of the company to SANAVAN, a mixture of his surname and his wife Anne's Christian name. The name of Chadwick Records will reappear later in Joe's story. With the involvement of Joe's sister Louise Fleming, Carnival Records was now a fully fledged family company.
Barbara Brown at this juncture decided to quit and as a way of softening the blow, introduced Joe to an upcoming group that would change the course of the labels fortunes. The group in question were a group of young kids who auditioned for Joe at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem with covers of hits from the day and a number of their own compositions. Joe was impressed with the guys, sorted them a contract and sent them away to get them checked out. They did, and returned immediately to Joe with enthusiasm. Joe signed the teenagers there and then and Carnival Records had under contract The Manhattans.
The Manhattans would provide the label with a number of great sides that saw both critical and financial success, reaching the RnB charts both locally and in some cases Nationally. On these pages you will be able to hear some of the group's work and judge for yourself. Simply click on the records to hear them. The first couple of records the group made were under the productiion of Paul, and although good records, they were still in the early style and fell short of the breakthrough to any chart success.
Joe now decided to get the group to tape all the songs they had written, and as he sorted through them he came across one that he thought would give the group an extra edge. He changed the line ups vocal contribution round that made "Blue Lovett" the bass singer to actually sing a high lead on the song. "Manhattans - I Wanna Be - CAR 507" would be their biggest hit and probably the most well known to Northern Soul fans. A great up-tempo 'bouncy-type' of number that the dance-floors appreciate.
The record picked up airplay and Joe was advised to take it to a major. Having been rejected by these very same people Joe was determined to be the beneficiary of any success.as the record picked up momentum in Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh, he pressed up two batches in short succession and eventually Columbia Products gave Joe the much needed credit line which meant they could press up in batches of 25000.
Joe's previous experiences in the business stood him in good stead this time round, as he hawked the record around to the DJs who already new him it eventually broke out onto the national chart reaching #12 RnB and soared to #68 on the Billboard Pop Charts. Carnival Records were on their way.
The next few records are all by the group and although the group produced records all through the Carnival Labels history these are some of my favorites. You can hear their superb vocal talents, well matched with the usual slightly heavy bass, the prominent guitar licks and "brassy" sound that Joe slowly developed for the group. "That New Girl b/w Can I? - CA517." By the time this record was released the group have a firm grasp on what their strenghths are. Ably led by Joe's production, the writing talents of the group are now shining through. The A side is a great midtempo, almost beat ballad song, that allows the group to fully harmonize, whilst the trademark guitar and full brassy sound are in evidence once again.
"Baby I Need You b/w TEACH ME (The Philly Dog) - CAR 514" is a very similar disc. The A side being once again a guitar laden mid-tempo outing that I don't think has had much turntable exposure. Maybe The Manhattans records are little too "sweet" sounding for the Northern crowd. Once again a completely different style on the flip as one can only assume that Joe saw an opportunity to maybe cash in on the dance craze records of the era.
"I Betcha Couldn't Love Me b/w Sweet Little Girl CAR 522" With Blue Lovett and George Smith taking a main role in the writing of the songs it's clear that Blue was a lover of mid-tempo melodic composition. This is his best song on the label for me. Probably every collector has one of these but when was the last time you dug it out and really listened to it? The customary guitar lick, the heavy bass line, great vocal harmonies, and a midtempo beat played out by a great steady drum/tambourine combo. Great stuff!
"Baby I'm Sorry b/w When we're made as one CAR 529" We now come to what is for me the best Manhattans record on the label. Almost a beat ballad, and available for just a few bucks, this is about as good as this type of soul gets. Written by group member George Smith, the ever present guitar is there in opening bars, soon joined by a full blown percussion, bass and string section! Together with the guys lush harmonies, the record becomes what Joe obviously heard in his head. A complete record in every way. You kinda feel that Joe's comments after the track was laid down was "That's a rap Guys!"
As we leave The Manhattans,and move on, you can only admire the top quality soul music that uses Joes talents, builds on his Detroit/Motown influence and once blended with the guys vocal and writing skills produced a set of records that will be cherished by collectors for a while yet I think. Great stuff indeed.
The foundations for Joe's Carnival Records were now sound and Joe started to look round for acts to expand his company's A&R. He didn't need to cast his net too far when Blue Lovett introduced his cousin Phil Terrell Flood to him. Phil, an native of Wilmington North Carolina, was living in Jersey City and impressed Joe with his not just his light falsetto voice but also his suave good looks and his elegant choreography.
Phil's early claims to fame were that he had already sung as part of the Manhattans before their careers really took offf and that his backing band in his early sixties days were a group called Kool and The Flames who would later emerge as Kool and The Gang and go on to huge success in the Seventies.
Joe and Blue worked on material for Phil and the first 45 issued on him by the label was "Im Just A Young Boy b/w Ill Erase You From My Heart CAR." A rather nice dancer that has been ovelooked by the Northern Soul officianados up to now. Most collectors will know this record but it hasn't really had the turntable action it really deserves. The A side, that you can hear here, is a typical Carnival "sound" I would presume that the great voices in the background are in fact The Manhattans and they compliment both the tempo and Phil's voice perfectly.
Perhaps the best known of Phil's records is the fantastic "Don't You Run Away b/w Love Has Passed Me By." A slightly more upbeat tempo this time with a great hook in the repeated "Love has passed me by" lyric. Phil recorded two more tracks but they were never released because Joe was concentrating on the Manhattans. Phil was committed to his education and a teaching career and it was at this time that his career in this field was also taking off. He was offered a good post and accepted. It was a difficult choice, but Phil chose a career in teaching and now holds a post as an administrator in New Jersey and has no regrets.
The next part of the Carnival "family" to step up were a quartet of young ladies known as The Lovettes. The group were already friends of Blue Lovett and it was he who once again brought them to the Carnival set up. They were originally named The Tiaras and were made up of Lois Joyner, Lily Hammond, Lorraine Robinson and Margie Godbolt. Northern Soul fans may have already heard the group as they had previously recorded a track for MGM as "The Pets - What Kind Of Girl Does He Think I Am b/w Nobody Knows How Much I Love You - MGM 13324." A good taster of what was to come from the girls, the record is a good enough midtempo outing that has received some plays over the years. The 45 was obviously lost in the big company production line which led to Blue spotting the girls and inviting them to Carnival and Joe's set up. At this juncture it's best to explain that The girls as The Pets were not, strangely enough, the same group as The Pets who recorded on Carnival.
Confused? Don't worry it will all become clear as we continue on Joe's journey with his record label and the artists he worked with.
Blue now set about writing some songs for the girls and they adopted the name of The Lovettes as a tribute to him. The first outing they had on Carnival was the storming 100 mph stormer "Little Miss Soul b/w Lonely Girl - CAR 518." Described by Ady on the Kent CD as an "everything but the kitchen sink production," it's a true girlie stomper that was a huge hit on the Northern Scene but only gained a modicum of success at local level in the States.
The second release from The Lovettes is an oustanding midtempo song once again written by Blue and produced by Joe. I Need A Guy b/w I'm Afraid To Say I Love You - CAR530 is possibly my favorite 45 on the label and is a complete contrast to their previous outing. Both sides are stupendous examples of mid sixties "Motown" influenced soul that once you hear, you tend to play them again and again. The A side is the dancer and what a mid-tempo dancer it is too. The introduction of vibes and strong guitar and drum work throughout the track are perfect qualities that lovers of this type of "sound" find irresistible.
The flip to this 45 is a sort of downtempo shuffling paced almost ballad like. All the trademarks of Joe's steering hand, production wise, are evident and from listening to the record a thousand times, it's obvious that all concerned were at the height of their game. The girls recorded one other track for Carnival Ill Be Waiting which is a ballad song but was never released.
We have already mentioned The Pets and now would seem an appropriate time to look at their contribution to the label. The Pets were in fact the proteges of a certain group that would go on the achieve legendary status on the Northern Soul Scene and beyond. This group was The Parliaments and The Pets even included the sister of one The Parliaments members, Calvin Simon.
By the early sixties George Clinton had begun writing songs for the JoBeTe (Motown's Publishing Company), New York office, which was controlled by Raynoma Gordy, Berry's first wife. It was whilst working here that George would eventually hook up with Sidney Barnes and Mike Terry with whom he wrote and produced a fantastic string of clasic Northern Soul records for Detroit artists liike The Debonaires, JJ Barnes, Pat Lewis as well as his own group.
By '64, the Parliaments were still in Newark and had two independent productions on Marton Records, "Roy Handy - Accidental Love" and "Tamala Lewis - You Wont Say Nothing." It was around this time that that George also took his production of "The Pets - I Say Yeah" to Joe, and Joe must have been impressed as it appears as "The Pets - I Say Yeah /b/w West Side Party - Car 511."
A point of note is that Joe's name appears on the writing credits alongside Clinton, Thomas, and Haskins all members of The Parliaments although JoBeTe kept the publishing. West Side Party is credited to Joe and "Parlar Productions". Both the Marton 45's were also Parlar Productions, so it would appear that Joe had some involvment with discs. This song is also alledgedly featuring Tamala Lewis as a guest lead vocal. At this time she was George Clinton's girlfriend so it would be quite feasable. And so ... yet another Detroit connection in the world of Northern Soul. It never ceases to amaze how the lives of a lot of the artists that we all cherish had intertwining lives.
As we filled the dancefloors of the North Of England in the early 70's who ever thought that these artists had all met each other, had played important parts in each others lives, both musically and in other aspects of everyday life. Fantastic stuff indeed!
Back to the story ... The first totally independent record issued was "Leon and The Metronomes - Buy Me This Record b/w I'll Catch You On The Rebound - CAR 515." Although both records are similar in style, mid-tempo sort of happy tunes neither caught the imagination of the record buying public and 3 decades later achieved some plays on the Northern Soul Scene. A point of note is that Leon was in fact Leon Stewart who produced some sides for BlackJack Records. Blue Lovett was again responsible for introducing Leon to the label.
At this point it is probably worth explaining how George Clinton's group became part of the story. Here goes ...
The Parliaments are renowned for their Detroit recordings but are originally from Newark, New Jersey. George Clinton formed the group in 1955 and they we based out of a barber shop on Springfield Avenue, Newark. Originally a Doo Wop outfit, in the sixties George soon had the group poised to take advantage of the "new soul music" like the Motown sound coming out of Detroit.
By this time Joe had approximately 20 releases all at a steady rate of release and was concerned that some of the records may be being overlooked by pluggers and DJ's due to the Manhattans successes. He therefore took a leaf out of Berry Gordy's book and created another label to push his artists on. This was a tried and tested ploy at the time as it could be viewed as favoritism if too many records on one label were being played by the radio stations.
And so was born Chadwick Records. The name was taken from Joe and Annie's address at 350 Chadwick Ave, Newark. NJ. In '66 the label issued it's first 45 "The Metrics - Wishes b/w I found you - CH 101." The group were also local talent and they, like Phil Terrell, opted to leave the music business and persue other careers, hence this is their only outing on the label.
The next release on the Chadwick label is a personal favorite of mine. "The Topics - Hey Girl (Where are you going) b/w If Love Comes Knocking - CH102." This is a double sided classic to rival any other. Both sides were written by group members Vaughan Curtis and Ronald McCoy, the other members of the group being Wesley Adams and Gerald Jones (Originally). The group hailed from the Bronx and had previously had two demos cut for Chess records that never saw a release. The group were originally called The Uniteds and Joe, who was impressed by the songwriting talents of Ronnie McCoy picked a new name and Ronnie, Vaughan and Wesley and formed the new group. With Joe's encouragement the guys focused on their harmonies and just got better and better. Ronnie's songriting talents were such that Joe had him write songs for another, similar sounding outfit he was working with at the time, namely, Lee Williams and The Cymbals. The Topics backing musicians were a group called The Third Guitar and featured Cliff Nobles on guitar, who went on to achieve success in his own right and actually has a number of sought after 45's as a solo artist on JV Records and Atlantic. In August '67 Wesley Adams was called up for Army service and was replaced by Robert Lewis, who had sung with The Orchids on Columbia Records. This line up recorded three tracks under Lou Courtney at Musicor Studios in NY, although none of these cuts ever made it to vinyl.
In 1969 The Topics split up but two years later Ronnie and Vaughan reformed the group with Ronnie's wife and a singer called Robert Radclffe. They recorded a couple more songs, notably the H-D Records outing "All Good Things Must Come To An End" which made the Blues and Soul Hot 100 in '72 and "Booking Up Baby - Mercury."
The group toured England in the late sixties but were duped by unscrupulous promoters into appearing as The Fabulous Impresssions. At least this unsavoury part of their career eventually led to them reappearing in UK in 1969 under their real guise.
Another group that Joe had at Carnival were Lee Williams and The Cymbals. I don't think it's by coincidence that a lot of Joe's A&R were of a similar nature. This group made half a dozen noteworthy 45's on the label and here are three that showcase their talents. All three are quality soul records and should be available for just a few bucks.
"I Love You More b/w Ill Be Gone CAR 521" throws up two wonderfully melodic ballads built on the signature drum and guitar that the label is famous for. The B-side "Ill Be Gone" just shades it for me. Really fantastic stuff.
"Its Everything About You (That I Love) b/w Please Say it Isnt So CAR 537." This B Side dancer has received recent plays on the Northern Soul Scene in recent times and rightly so. The other side is the same song released on CAR 532.
"Love Is Breaking Out All Over b/w Til You Come Back To Me - CAR 540." The final one of the trio is again a dancer b/w a ballad. The brass parts on the A side is a departure from the usual guitar and provides the song with a good foil for the groups vocal harmonies. Three great records from a group that has always been underated in my view. Enjoy!
A couple of "strange" records now. Not so much strange in the musical sense but strange that one of them is a one off with a group that later became more famous as a sweet soul group and the second one because the record is somewhat of a quandry.
"The Turner Brothers - My Love Is Yours To-night - CAR 535" although similar to Joes' work around this time isn't a Lovett/Bivins/Evans written song. The song is very similar sounding to much of the Manhattans output on the label but the group are a totally different package musically. This may explain why they only released the one 45 with the label. The Turner Brothers are still on the circuit apperaing at locations like the House of Blues.
Every label has it's little idiosyncracies that either drive collectors crazy or become the reason for collecting in the first place ... Carnival is no different. The next 45 is Carnival's "blip" in an otherwise perfect string of releases. "The Carnival Kings - Feeling Good - CAR 550" is not quite what it seems. The record is catalogued as "The Pretenders - I Call It Love b/w Feelin' Good." The actual 45 is a double sider as shown to the left with differing label designs back to back of the same song, which is in fact an instrumental version of "The Manhattans - All I need is your love" released on CAR 526. That's that cleared up then!
Well almost, because the red and white label side actually does play "The Manhattans - I call it love" a slow ballad song that is really good! The instrumental "Feelin' Good" one can anly assume was used to showcase the musical talents of Joe's session guys, or maybe it was a complete oversight? If that was the case then why The Carnival Kings? Ah, the quandries of the vinyl collecting world eh?
A Tribute To Carnival
It would be impossible to leave the Carnival Records tribute without the velveteen tones of the labels mainstay artists songs soothing the eardrums. Therefore we complete this feature in true Hitsville fashion, with the music and the artists who made it taking centre stage. In the case of Carnival Records I'm sure Joe wouldn't mind if we called upon The Manhattans to do this this time around.
I've selected two tracks that I feel showcase both their talents as a group and Joe's vision for the sound of his label. One is also written by Blue Lovett who played such a critical role in the development of the label. There a couple of CDs of thier work that I can recommend to collectors, both are pictured here and can be found at most outlets.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS & THANKS
It really is impossible to do these features for the site alone, and it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to thank a few people for their assistance with this one. It never ceases to amaze me how other fans are willing to share their time, information, records, pictures and recollections in order to create tributes to the artists and music we all love, therefore ...
Many thanks to Steve Edgar and Mike Umholtz, a couple of "Hitsvill-ers" since we started, for their continuing help and especially in this case the scan of the Jimmy Jules 45 and the Phil Terrell records.
Many Thanks go to Ady Croasdale at Kent/Ace in UK. Much of the info contained in this feature was researched by him and his cohorts. When I approached him with a view to using some of his liner notes of the CDs he produced on Joe's labels, his immediate answer was ... "Sure Dave, use what you want." Ady believes in getting the artists product to as many ears as possible in the fervent hope that some will buy it and put some long overdue money in the artists pockets. Without Ady's help this feature would not have come to fruition. The CD's that Kent produced about 'The Carnival' label are shown below and I'm sure they can still be bought through Kent/Ace at www.acerecords.co.uk and other numerous music outlets. To hear the Carnival sound in it's full glory if you're not a vinyl addict, these CDs are a must.