A genuine Blue Note mystery from LJC reader Markus S, and his copy of Blue Hour – Stanley Turrentine with The Three Sounds BLP 4057 (1961)
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Stanley Turrentine, tenor saxophone; Gene Harris, piano; Andrew Simpkins. bass; Bill Dowdy, drums; recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, recorded December 16, 1960, released February 1961.
Subject music already posted a few years back, no need to repeat the review. This mystery takes a different turn.
Vinyl 4057 : W63i, dg, P, RVGs
Cohen: 1st edition – W63i, dg, P, RVGs
Note: Side One Track One on label and jacket, Please Send Me Someone To Love (Percy Mayfield)’ You will need to remember this.
The song Please Send Me Someone To Love was written by Percy Mayfield, rhythm-and-blues singer with a smooth vocal style, recorded in 1950 for Art Rupe’s Specialty Records. It was in the R&B chart for 27 weeks and reached the number one position, Mayfield’s biggest R&B hit.
Over the following decade the song was still earning Mayfield royalties through numerous cover versions, notably including Dinah Washington 1951
and crooner-heart-throb, Pat Boone 1957:
More covers followed: The Moonglows 1957, Roy Hamilton 1959, Lloyd Price 1960, each time you get the tune, Percy got the royalties.
Fast forward to February 1961, the commercial release of BLP 4057 Turrentine and The Three Sounds Blue Hour was imminent. Recording session was held in the run up to Christmas, takes selected, Van Gelder mastering, plating and metal parts completed, Keystone typeset and printed the labels, Plastylite had the first batch of several hundred pressing already completed, promos stamped ready for despatch. Just one problem. Turrentine and The Three Sounds had opened the album with a cover version of Mayfield’s Please Send Me Someone to Love.
Cue – Blue Note offices, 47 West 63rd Street, New York, a frosty February morning, and the order of the day, a business update for Alfred Lion. Morning gentlemen.
Lion: Jah, great tune…schvings good…
Quebec: Mayfield’s agent just called. He says our people need to talk to his people, though I don’t think he means “people”, I think he means lawyers.
Lion: Jah, big difference. We can’t afford a deal with Mayfield’s people at this stage. We already paid Rudy for the session and mastering, Reid for the artwork, the type and cover fabrication is done, and Plastylite have started pressing. I heard the lawyers are getting very cute on these plagiarism claims, it’s big money. No way do we go back into the studio for this. Ideas, gentlemen?
Wolff: Alfred, these Blues tunes all sound the same. Three chords. Change the song name, something obscure, composer probably long gone. Register with the composer’s widow, grateful for a few cents, may never need to pay out. We salvage all the spend to date, just print fresh labels and liner notes with the new title and credits, get it out. They’ll never know.
Lion: Genius, Francis! Ike, tell Mayfield’s agent we don’t need a licensing deal. There has been a mistake in the office. Stella in accounts typed the wrong name. Ike, do you have a song credit in mind?
Quebec: Yeah, sure, I think I know just the tune, a thirties tune no-one knows, writers lost in the mists of time. Leave it to me.
Wolff: What about the 400 copies already pressed in the stockroom upstairs, ready to go to disk jockeys and our distributors?
Quebec: We get them shrink-wrapped. There’s new postal auction service Yo’ Bay just catching on. We sell them as sealed records “original, insanely rare, sealed”. Most buyers will never open them, Mayfield’s lawyers will never get wind of it.
Lion: Great! Stella, fetch some coffee and donuts, I’m starving.
Stella: (stops taking minutes) Ok boys, wouldn’t want to make a mistake, usual order, white . . . no sugar?
. . .
A week later. . .
The record sounds exactly the same as it did before, but now looks like this:
Rapid change in printed song title and composer credits, but of course the same recording. Side one track one becomes I want a little Girl, a song written written in 1930 by Billy Moll and Murray Mencher, first recorded on shellac by the popular McKinney’s Cotton Pickers:
The “little girl” of course was not, in modern vernacular, an under-age girl, though I’m not sure many would risk that title today. All subsequent editions and reissues credit Billy Moll and Murray Mencher. A Bill Perkins laid back West Coast cool edition of I Want A Little Girl maintains the Mayfield circumvention
So this is where we end up – this becomes that.
One of these is the “First First Pressing” and the other the “Second First Pressing”. Simple as that, really.
Words are made from just 26 letters, music is made up of just 12 notes, give or take a few octaves, which together yield a practically infinite number of songs, and there is a blurred line between inspiration, imitation, and theft.
In the litigious music industry of the 60s, plagiarism law suits became a heavy industry. People could make money out of selling records, or make money by accusing other artists of stealing their work, plagiarism or copyright theft. Blue Note found a smart way around the Mayfield problem, attributing the song to another genuine composer, printing a fresh batch of labels and liner notes. Who really can tell the difference between one string of blues chord changes and another?
“Hold the line caller, Mr Lion, I have Mr Leadbelly’s agent on line three…”
. . .
Artists: Phineas Newborn Jr. (piano) Ray Brown (bass) Elvin Jones (drums) recorded at Contemporary studios, LA, February 12 & 13, 1969.
Consulting Vinyl Detective LJC says: My thanks to jazz collector Markus S for the mystery. I’m told the biggest problem in the music business is not the music, plenty of that around, it is the business. I made up the story as the most likely explanation, fitted the facts, and may be embellished it a little, might even be true.
If you have any jazz mysteries, send them in. I’ll think about them.