Thursday, February 5, 2009
The Spontaneous Joe Ray Dowell
1965 Spontanes Joe Ray Dowell kneeling 3rd from left
Joe Ray & Spontanes Jay Ray Dowell "framed"
We have been listening more intently to “Bill Haney’s “Atlanta Hot Soul” CD as released by Kent in 1998 and found the first of what we think will be several connections to the Hey Baby Days. For anyone who likes the up-tempo sounds of R&B, the party music that many call Beach Music, the CD has some gems. ‘Stepping Stone (I Use Love)” by Joe Graham is a catchy number that would have been perfect for the parties of the 60s. Another song that caught our ear was “So Much Love” by the Five Jays with vocals by Joe Dowell.
One of the better party bands of the late 60s was the Spontanes of Gastonia, North Carolina. You could find them often on the UGA campus back then with their very talented lead singer Joe Dowell. The late Ron Gittens writes about those years when he was a member of The Spontanes in the book.
For a brief period of time, the band was called Joe Ray and the Spontanes. Several years ago, a relative of Joe Ray Dowell contacted us about any recordings that might be available with Joe Dowell. I referred them to Ripete Records. Three of their cuts licensed by Ripete are included in the Hey Baby Days of Beach Music Series:
1. Share My Name (Disk Two) The Spontanes
2. Don’t You Care About Love (Disk Seven) Joe Ray & Spontanes
3. 123/Uptight (Disk Eight) Joe Ray & Spontanes
It understandable why several of the early recordings of the Spontanes such as “Share My Name” are popular with Northern Soul enthusiasts. Written by band guitarist, James Bates, it was recorded in 1965 by the band and we note in the band directory for the Spontanes that James Bates sang lead on this effort. The flip side “Please Don’t Break My Heart,” was also written by Bates but with Dowell providing the lead vocals.
The earliest photo of the band that included Joe Ray Dowell was identified as circa 1963. The band started around 1960. He is also shown in the 1965 photo above. He apparently left the band sometime after that photo was taken but returned around 1968. His first stint in the band was omitted from the directory of the band but we will soon correct that omission.
Where was Joe Ray Dowell during those two or three years that he was not with the Spontanes? The Military? After all, this was near the height of the Vietnam era. Then again, he may have been on a musical sabbatical in 1966 and 1967, maybe even doing gigs under another name, such as the Five Jays. It is very hard to be certain but after listening to the voice of Joe Ray Dowell on several of the Spontanes records that compose the Hey Baby Days of Beach Music series listed above and then listening to “So Much Love” by The Five Jays with vocals by Joe Dowell, we have concluded that the voices are one in the same. Liner notes that are included with “Bill Haney’s Atlanta Soul Brotherhood” are excellent but a bit vague as it relates to the Joe Dowell and the Five Jays.
The following is a short excerpt from an interview conducted by Rod Dearlove (RD) with Bill Haney (BH) that appears in “Voices of the Shadows” Magazine.”
BH: “ The Five Jays were just a traveling band and until this day, I don’t know where they’re at.”
RD: “I’m glad you touched on that, ‘cause the Five Jays… it’s not mock-Motown, but quite up-tempo. How did that come about? Did they just come to town?”
BH They came to town and somebody told me how good they were and you should go see them. So I went to listen to ‘em and that afternoon, sat in the hotel room where they were staying. I had just written a song… it had a very commercial sound at that time and we did that all with studio musicians. Joe Dowell was the lead singer and he had a brother in it too. Can’t think of his name. As a stage act, they were very good.”
The guess from this vantage point is that Bill Haney went to the club in Atlanta and saw a blue-eyed soul band from the Hey Baby Days that were traveling out of the Carolinas. He just happens to have a song that fit the very good stage act, which ironically was a hallmark of the Spontanes traveling the circuit in the late 60s. As a teaser, when the recording begins, you may think that Bill Haney had intended the song for Willie Tee.
There is still not much known about The Five Jays who recorded for Bill Haney in Atlanta in 1967 but I am sure that fans of the Spontanes may be able to add something since shortly thereafter, Joe Ray Dowell was back on stage with the Spontanes.
Update: we assumed that the Five Jays made their recording at the studio in Atlanta referenced in the CD booklet, "the Feathers." I did not remember a studio in Atlanta in the 60s called "The Feathers." If it were a studio where soul music was being recorded , we should have known about it and investigated in greater detail. We have come to the conclusion that the studio was actually Lefevres which was located in the Chattahoochee Industrial District of NW Atlanta about six miles where I am sitting right now.
Lefevres = The Feathers The may be a case of the Queen's English versus Southern