Thursday, 18 September 2008

Maxine Weldon - Right On

Right On
256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from Mainstream MRL-319

Often compared to Marlena Shaw, Maxine Weldon is one of the most under-appreciated female vocalists of our era. Possessing a clear, strong voice with broad range and a theatrical bent to her interpretive skills that highlights the emotional content of her repertoire, all reports indicate she pretty much knocks 'em dead every time she steps on stage. Similar to Marlena, the main criticism tends to be regarding Weldon's choice of material and not the chops with which it's delivered. One of the biggest reasons for the minimal awareness of her work is that the vast majority of it has been done live on stage, and the public's knowledge of her reflects the level of packaged units she has shifted -- a half-dozen albums in 40 years.

In the liner notes, Maxine mentions she was the fourth of six children born to a music teacher in Holdenville, OK. While she was still very young, Mr. Weldon moved his family to Bakersfield, CA. where she grew up immersed in music. Not only was her father putting bread on the table by teaching the subject, she also had an older sister named Ann who started singing professionally as a teenager. Maxine herself worked as a nurse for a while but decided to travel the world instead and while living in Hawaii during the early 60s she was noticed at a local club's talent night who offered
her her first pro gig. She stuck for two-and-a-half years, even sharing billing with Freda Payne for an extended period.

After that it was on to the Far East for three years, where she split her time between Tokyo and Seoul, married a Korean man, then moved back to San Fran and consigned herself once again to the bedpan brigade. That backwards step proved to be too depressing for her so, like most folks in that Summer of Love, she followed her heart and started singing in clubs again during 1967. With her strong voice and ability to connect emotionally with her audiences, it wasn't long before she made a name for herself and soon found easy success in the San Fran scene. At this point she was signed by famous black talent manager David Levy in '68 who had this to say about her in his autobiography:
Maxine is a talented performer who never got the recognition she deserved until much later in life - more than 25 years later...She had a powerful voice with a three-octave range, give or take a couple of notes, and the audiences loved her. I didn't think there was much I could do to further her career then.
- David Levy in
Men, Women and Girl Singers: My Life As A Musician Turned Talent Manager.

Tired of being a big fish in a small bay, she headed for LA in the summer of '69 and had only been on the local circuit for barely a year when Bob Shad brought her into the studio to record this, her debut session. Incidentally, the session also included another strong female musician, legendary bassist Carol Kaye who is pictured below in the studio circa '74 and with Maxine in 2000 alongside "a friend."

Maxine was popular enough to land four shots on The Tonight Show; three in '72 (March 2nd, May 15th & December 8th) and one in '73 (August 3rd). She also made one appearance on an episode of Soul Train (#90) which aired on March 9th of '74 and featured Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and Billy Paul as well. That's it for her listed musical performances on the boob tube but according to IMDB she was a celebrity panelist on the game show Ad Libs briefly in the early 80s and played a bit part as a juror in a couple of episodes of Matlock. Elsewhere I was able to learn that her and her sister Ann had cameos in an episode of the sitcom Sister, Sister in 1994 (another notable guest on that episode was Larry Wilmore, currently a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart).

Although she didn't record many albums, she spent 20
years from the 70s through the 90s gigging and touring extensively but specifics are hard to come by. What I could dig up were a few words on the website of legendary second-generation drummer Billy Moore (who claims Maxine is called the "Black Diva" in Japan) and some press clippings at the personal website of one Ken Johnston, who had a stint as bassist with Rare Earth and apparently backed Maxine in '77 for at least a few shows. In 1979 she joined Nina Simone, Carmen McCrae, Esther Phillips and Morgana King for A Tribute To Billy Holliday: Recorded Live at the Hollywood Bowl where she performed "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "When The Sun Comes Out." From that point onward though, it's slim pickings for sorting out the skinny on her sojourns around the world for a lengthy stretch of time.

Maxine with the Billy Moore Quartet circa '75 at Club Etc. in L.A.
Barry Zwig (g) Billy Moore (d) Tom Canning (k)

Some of Ken's clippings from '77

A darn good reason to pick up an old VHS machine.
Unless some kind soul has already digitised it
and is willing to share, that is...

The trail picks up again when she emerged on Broadway in the mid-90s as a cast member of Black and Blue with Linda Hopkins and Ruth Brown. She's kept a pretty high profile
since, most recently pleasing crowds in Vegas earlier this year with her role in the production Hats! A New Musical For The Rest Of Your Life. In recognition of her contributions over the previous decades, Maxine was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1999.

Hats! 2008

by Steve Huey

One of those endlessly versatile vocalists who eventually earn the tag "song stylist," Maxine Weldon is equally at home singing soul, jazz, or blues, and often blurs the lines between all of them. Weldon cut her first LPs, Right On and Chilly Wind, for Mainstream over 1970-1971; despite an overall soul flavor, she received significant support from members of the Jazz Crusaders, among others. Weldon next turned up on the Monument label with 1974's Some Singin', a Southern-style country-soul outing that nonetheless bore the hallmark of Weldon's innate sophistication. It became her biggest seller, climbing into the Top 50 on the R&B album charts. She followed it in 1975 with Alone on My Own, but concentrated much less on recording in the years to come. Weldon remained active, though, performing regularly over the next several decades. She was a cast member of the Broadway show "Black and Blue", touring with the European production from 1995-1997, and subsequently put together a revue called "Wild Women Blues" with singer Linda Hopkins.

The "Wild Women"
Maxine Weldon, Linda Hopkins, Mortonette Jenkins

Dusty Groove review of Right On
Right on, right on -- as Maxine Weldon gets a hip kind of edge from arranger Artie Butler -- always a welcome addition on any session! The album's Maxine's first, and may well be her best -- thanks to Artie's tight use of soulful backings -- often supported by rolling basslines, socking rhythms, and just the right amount of horns to push the album into outta site territory! There's a pretty large group behind Maxine on most numbers -- including some LA studio jazz and funk talents like Carol Kaye on bass, Victor Feldman on vibes, Joe Sample on piano, and Plas Johnson on tenor and flute. Titles include the great tune "Right On", plus "Johnny One Time", "Grits Ain't Groceries", "It Ain't Me Babe", "Lodi", "Tomorrow On My Mind", and "Make It With You".

Lawrence Knechtel - Piano
Joe Sample - Piano
David Cohen - Guitar
Jerry Cole - Guitar
Tommy Morgan - Harmonica
Paul Humphrey - Drums
Earl C. Palmer - Drums
Carol Kaye - Bass
Joe Osborn - Bass
John Audino - Trumpet & Flugel Horn
Paul Hubinon - Trumpet & Flugel Horn
Plas Johnson - Tenor & Flute
Clifford Solomon - Tenor & Alto Sax
King Errison - Conga
Lew McCreary - Trombone
James Horn - Sax
William Green - Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax, Flute
Gary Coleman - Vibes, Tamborine, Shaker
Victor Feldman - Vibes & Percussion
Anthony Terran - Trumpet
Wilton Felder - Fender Bass

Arranged & Conducted by Artie Butler
Produced by Bobby Shad

1 It Ain't Me Babe
2 Johnny One Time
3 Feeling All Right
4 Right On
5 Grits Ain't Groceries (All Around The World)
6 Like A Rolling Stone
7 Tomorrow On My Mind
8 Lodi
9 Make It With You


1970 Right On

1971 Chilly Wind
at the shad shack

1974 Some Singin'

1975 Alone On My Own
at Funk My Soul + c/o My Jazz World

2000 Call It Love

2003 Wild Women Blues

Apparently she has another CD
called The Singer that was produced recently by Washington I. Rucker but I had zero luck finding concrete recording or release dates. He's the drummer and musical director of the Maxine Weldon and Linda Hopkins Quartet and also played in the touring production of Wild Women Blues.

Rucker and Bellson at their 1998 induction
into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.

Although Right On saw a CD-only reissue last year by P-Vine, it seems to have sold out fairly soon. The original LP shows up often enough on the web and, depending on its condition (and seller's savvy), will fetch anywhere from $15 to $50. While you're looking for a hard copy to call your very own, Soundological serves up this Weldon slice o' soul HERE or HERE.


ish said...

After reading your review I'me ager to hear this. Thanks so much. Downloading now.

cheeba said...

Hope you dig it, ish!

Jur said...

Hi Cheeba,

I had never heard of Maxine Weldon, so many thanks for bringing her to my attention. This really is a wonderful album.

I can understand why she is compared to Marlena Shaw. However, IMHO Maxine has more feeling and soul in her voice. In that rgard she reminds me of Etta James.

"Make it with you" is my favourite track, although "Right on" is also great.

Once again many thanks!

cheeba said...

Hi Jur, always enjoy your insightful feedback! I think you nailed it.

Although I like Marlena well enough, Maxine has a grit that is very similar to Etta's. It really comes out in her cover of CCR's Lodi, too. I think it's because she gravitates more to the bluesy side of things and likes it raw!

Rob said...

Hello Cheeba,
I found your blog today and I think you're doing a great work here. Your careful reviews are fantastic. Very, very interesting. Thank you!
Greetings from Rome

Jur said...

Indeed, she likes it raw! This album grows on you. Now that I've listened to it a second time I find it even better.

boogieman said...

Hi Cheeba,

Thanks for this post. Would qnybody have the LP Etta Jones did as a tribute to Buddy Johnson? I know it's a bit outside the scope of this blog, but it's great vocal jazz.

cheeba said...

Hiya boogieman!

Unfortunately I don't have a copy of Etta's "My Buddy" but if I happen to see it, I'll grab it based on your recommendation!