A couple of award-winning documentary filmmakers and an avid art collector & philanthropist have teamed up to produce a very charming documentary about the first black-owned record production company in Florida: Deep City Records. Deep City operated in Miami from about 1964 to 1968. It was founded by two friends who first got the idea to make records when they were college mates at Florida A&M. Willie Clarke was the creative; Johnny Pearsall was the entrepreneur. They enlisted the multi-talented Clarence Reid and the three of them set the course for Miami’s special contribution to the soul music landscape of the 1960s.
Deep City recorded local musicians, many of them native Miamians culled from the churches of Liberty City and the night clubs of Overtown, while others were transplants from Jacksonville, Georgia, Arkansas, and other far away places. The record label released songs by Helene Smith, Betty Wright, Them Two, Frank Williams & the Rocketeers, Freda Gray, and Johnny Killens & The Dynamites, to name a few. Local R&B legend Little Beaver played guitar on some of Deep City’s deepest cuts.
The film, titled Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound, had its world premiere last night at the SXSW [South by Southwest] Festival in Austin, Texas.
Next stop on the festival circuit is Miami where this Friday, March 14th, the movie will have its Florida debut at the Miami International Film Festival (8:30 PM, Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center). Tickets for the film can be purchased here.
Long Play Miami is honored to be among the first to receive a copy of the movie’s trailer, and, with the filmmakers’ permission, shares it here for all music and film fans to enjoy.
Read the previous Long Play Miami post on the making of the film from January 2013.
A few weeks ago Little Beaver agreed to let me take some photos of him for this site. This was our second meeting.
During our first meeting back in December, when I asked if I could invite my friend Joe to photograph our interview, he refused. Next time, he promised.
So when he agreed, he was simply honoring his word.
I headed to his home in Opa-locka on a Friday afternoon in January with my wife’s Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, a swivel desk lamp with a 60 watt light bulb, and an extension cord.
In his living room I set up the lamp on his coffee table, connected it to a nearby socket, and swivel-aimed the light towards him while he sat down on his bar stool.
Do you want me to wear my Little Beaver glasses?
Before I could say yes, he was already reaching for a pair of shades folded on top of the bar.
And so began the first-ever Long Play Miami photo shoot.
I then asked him if he could get his guitar.
You mean, Katie Pearl?
I thought you’d want me to.
I’ll be right back.
Little Beaver strummed the guitar for a bit. And then, the strumming flowed into a familiar tune as he began playing his famous guitar track from the 1971 Betty Wright classic, Clean Up Woman.
After he put away his guitar, I sat down on the couch and we talked for awhile, about mundane things like the weather (“I was a little nippy this morning… 39 degrees.”) to far less mundane things like whether he’d ever play in public again (“You know, when you don’t play, you get rusty…”).
Then he remembered something he wanted to show me. He left the room for a minute and returned with a photograph that was mailed to him by his friend Lawrence Watson from Forrest City, Arkansas, where he grew up.
I was maybe 15-16 yrs old.
[That was] Some juke… some little hole in the wall. See the snare drum sitting on the chair?
We were ‘wood-sheddin.’
(That’s Watson on the far left with the bass guitar and of course, that’s Beaver – with the shades.)
As the daylight began to fade, I asked if I could take a couple of photos of him outside. This idea didn’t seem to sit well. There was a moment of hesitation in the way he remained on the bar stool.
But then he just said yes and we walked out the front door.
In the late afternoon sun, Little Beaver stood in the space between the corner of the façade and a half-shuttered window. Occasionally he’d look to either side of him. He wanted to make sure none of the neighbors were watching.
Because, as he has told me before,…
Willie “Little Beaver” Hale doesn’t like ‘all that fuss.’
Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami
Last week, after posting my story about Willie “Little Beaver” Hale, I noticed that there were several readers that found their way to this site not from Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit but rather from an obscure four-lettered website – www.iorr.org. It turns out that this is the official website for the Rolling Stones Fan Club; the acronym “iorr” stands for It’s Only Rock-n-Roll.
I like it, I like it, yes I do.
A little more digging brought me to the site’s fan forum where one inquisitive Stones fan, under the heading Willie Hale – Little Beaver – almost a Stone? had posted that he once read that Little Beaver had been approached to join the Rolling Stones after guitarist Mick Taylor left the band in the 70s. The fan closed with, “Does anybody know anything about this?”
A few years back on the same fan club site, there was this exchange about Little Beaver’s iconic guitar playing on the 1971 Betty Wright hit song ‘Clean Up Woman.’
Rolling Stones Fan 1: “I always thought that the Stones studied the way the two guitars work together on Wright’s hit. There are two interlocking guitar parts on that record that are fun to play. I might be wrong, but I think one of the parts was played by Little Beaver who was supposedly considered for the M. Taylor slot.”
Rolling Stones Fan 2: “You’re right about Little Beaver playing on Clean Up Woman… Great Miami funk… I also heard he was considered to replace Mick Taylor.”
Over the course of the more than 5 hours, over two days, that I spent with the legendary Miami guitarist at his home in Opa-locka, this topic never came up. I did my fair share of prep work for the interview. Did I miss something this big?
I called Beaver the other night and asked him about it.
No, he said, he was never actually approached to join the English rock band but, …
There was a concert or a tour and I did hear that it was a toss-up between me and Stevie Wonder performing with them.
Was it a concert or a tour? I asked.
I think it was a tour.
Let’s pause for a second and reflect on this.
In the summer of 1972, the Rolling Stones, upon release of their album Exile on Main Street, embarked on a tour across the U.S. and Canada. The opening act night after night? Stevie Wonder.
Wonder, then 21 years old, was just hitting his stride with the release of his LP, Talking Book, which contained the classic hit ‘Superstition.’ On the tour, he would join the Stones on stage during their encores on songs like ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ and ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.’
Willie Clarke, a producer and composer who oversaw the production of ‘Clean Up Woman’ as well as many of Little Beaver’s R&B records at TK said he didn’t have much recollection of the Stones/Beaver story but he said it wouldn’t surprise him that Beaver received consideration.
Beaver won guitarist of the year around that time so he was very popular.
The Stones 1972 American Tour remains one of the most famous concert events in music history and the subject of countless published works including documentaries and photography books. The tour is credited with elevating the band to the very top of the rock-n-roll world.
And Stevie Wonder? With the wider visibility and exposure to a rock audience gained during the tour, his career flourished, cementing him as one of the most celebrated musicians of our time.
Here’s Little Beaver again:
The fact that it was between me and Stevie Wonder… Man, just to be in the company with Stevie Wonder, that’s all I need.
That was great to me.
Stevie Wonder & the Stones, 1972:
Copyright © 2014 Long Play Miami
46 years ago this month, Miami-made soul music was hitting its stride. It was the year before the scene would break nationally with a couple of big hits in 1968 from local teen sensations Betty Wright and Della Humphrey. Here are 5 very solid tracks all recorded in Miami that debuted in May 1967, a sample of what was just around the corner for Miami Soul.
Sweet Sweet Lovin’ – Paul Kelly
Released on the Philips label, this song became a local hit by July 1967. Paul Kelly was a Miami-born vocalist who enjoyed an extensive career well through the 1980s. His biggest hit was Stealing in the Name of the Lord, which reportedly created a stir among some black communities because it exposed the hypocrisies of some church leaders. But controversy sells; the song reached #14 on Billboard’s R&B chart in July 1970. Three years earlier, Kelly released the song featured here, Sweet Sweet Lovin’. There was no controversy about this very upbeat song, which was produced by Buddy Killen, a music producer from Alabama who made his bones in country music but also had slightly comparable success with R&B hits.
Girl I Got News For You – Benny Latimore
Benny Latimore is a keyboardist from Charleston, TN who moved to Miami and became an integral part of Henry Stone’s TK Records as a session musician and singer-songwriter. He had 2 national hit records of his own in the mid 1970s with Let’s Straighten It Out (#1 in R&B, #31 in Top 40) and Something ‘Bout Cha (#7 in R&B). Girl I Got News For You, issued on one of Stone’s first R&B record labels (Dade), was released in May 1967. One month later, this catchy, pre-disco track was one of the top songs jamming on local soul stations, and probably would have been a bigger hit if it had been (re)released during TK’s impressive disco run a few years later.
Willie “Little Beaver” Hale moved to Miami as a teenager from Forrest City, AR. He joined the Miami nightclub band, Frank Williams & the Rocketeers as lead guitarist in 1964 and later recorded a few tracks as a solo artist including this one, which was released on Octavia Records. Beaver later joined up with Henry Stone’s TK Records and had five hit songs including the 1974 Party Down which reached #2 on Billboard’s R&B chart. He is considered the grand master of Miami Soul guitarists and is most revered for, among many of his musical accomplishments, playing all three guitar tracks on Betty Wright’s exceptional gold record Clean Up Woman (1971).
I Love You Baby – The Moovers
The Moovers recorded their first 2 songs, including this one, with Deep City Records, Miami’s first black-owned independent label which was run by partners Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall. The Moovers later changed their name to The Prolifics and released the song If Only I Could Fly in December 1968. They later recorded under the band name Living Proof in the 1970s. The song featured here was written and arranged by Willie Clarke, Johnny Pearsall, and Arnold Albury. The song has a Delfonics’ flavor to it (and incidentally would have been suitable for the soundtrack of Tarantino’s 1997 film, Jackie Brown). Favorite lyric? “With you, I’m a king, without you, I’m not a dog-gone thing.”
True Love Don’t Grow on Trees – Helene Smith
Widely considered among people in the know as Miami’s first queen of soul, Helene Smith recorded more than 20 songs between 1966 and 1969, mostly with the aforementioned Deep City, and then a couple with Phil-LA-of Soul out of Philadelphia, after Deep City’s partners split in 1968. Smith released True Love Don’t Grow on Trees in May 1967, a modest hit. But her big break would come three months later with A Woman Will Do Wrong, which reached #20 on Billboard’s R&B and #128 on the crossover pop singles charts. Today, she is a public school teacher in Miami-Dade County.
Copyright © 2013 Long Play Miami
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