Saturday, 15 July 2017

Flamingos # 6: Plan For Love

Plan For Love is an interesting performance in the context of the Flamingos' other work at this time, although it's not hard to see why this bluesy number wasn't a success when released.

Recorded around August 1953 it is, unusually, a Johnny Carter lead. It's also distinctive because two falsettos are heard during much of the song. Sollie McElroy's is the main one, I believe, with Carter joining him as other duties permit. It's an interesting and unusual effect, although the combination of the two voices is less pleasing,  to my ears, than Carter's solo decoration on so many other sides.

The vocal arrangement for the remaining Flamingos is pretty standard fare for R&B vocal groups of the time: it's well executed (of course) but it doesn't exactly look forward to the development of a newer form in the way that Golden Teardrops, recorded at the same session, does.

The instrumental backing is fairly spare, intimate: Louis Carpenter's piano, a prominent bass (a double bass?) "probably" played by McKinley Easton and, appropriately lower in the mix but a welcome addition, the warm, slightly muffled-sounding electric guitar of Lefty Bates providing  varied commentary and rhythmic support behind Carter's lead; when an unidentified trumpeter pops up to signal the big finish it's a bit of a surprise for what has been essentially a chamber piece.

Johnny Carter's exaggerated crying, sounding almost like laughter, may put the listener in mind of Clyde McPhatter doing the same thing during the Dominoes' morbid The Bells, recorded in 1952. It's possible that this was a standard device by then and not specifically inspired by that source, but Carter's voice as lead does sound fairly close to McPhatter's high tenor. In fact,  "doubletracked" falsetto effect apart, this could almost pass for a Dominoes recording. Unlike the Charles Gonzales songs, which have a kind of inbuilt wink, this number, written by Carter himself (though drawing on stock blues phrases), is all pain, no humour - ideal for McPhatter to inhabit with his brand of agonising.

Iinteresting to speculate on why Carter sang lead on this occasion rather than McElroy. Because it was his song and he insisted? Could it have been for his greater similarity to McPhatter - assuming they were consciously intending to create a Dominoes-style record? Or could it be that McElroy excused himself after deciding that an old-style blues wouldn't do him or the group any favours? In modern terms - and I don't mean the Bihari brothers - it doesn't seem to advance the Flamingos brand: impassioned is not really what they are about.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this recording, and I can imagine the song going down a storm at live performances, a special vehicle for Carter. But it also has to said there is very little which is original about it. Robert Pruter writing of another Chance side, Hurry Home Baby, says it was "an imitation Ravens number that made nobody forget about the Ravens"; I emphasise that Plan For Love is very well worth hearing, but replace "Ravens" with "Dominoes" and the same remark could well be made in this case.


More can be found about the life and career of William "Lefty" Bates, who backed many doo wop groups, in a dedicated discography linked to below. The photograph above, taken from that source, shows him backing the Orioles, "probably recording for Vee Jay circa 1956"; he also worked with the El Dorados and the Moroccos, the group which Sollie McElroy went on to join.

As can be seen, the discography is credited to several people but as far as I can make out it was Dan Kochakian who visited him in later years (2003) and provides the introductory note to the piece - apologies if I've got that wrong. Here's a brief snippet:
Lefty bragged to me that he "was naturally lefthanded”. The guitar "was upside down, but it didn't bother me at all. I did it and I did it well” ... 'Ena', which Lefty recorded for Apex [in 1959], was named after "my old girlfriend”. Mr. Bates said that he had a good reputation. "They all wanted me whenever they wanted to do a session. They called Lefty. 'Get Lefty Bates'. That's what they would say.”

Other posts in this series here.

Doowop: the Chicago Scene by Robert Pruter
Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page on the Flamingos
The Chance Label (website) - Robert Pruter, Armin Buttner and Robert L Campbell
Lefty Bates Discography Part One - Dave Penny, Robert L Campbell, Daniel
Gugolz and Dan Kochakian

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