Monday, May 26, 2014

The Story - 'Hey Jack Don't Hijack My Plane'

Even by conservative estimates the city of Memphis has produced literally thousands of rock bands and aspiring young recording artists. Fact is, several fine books and box sets have documented many interesting stories to support these musicians in their quest for fame. Yet, this story evolves around a series of events while focusing on the significance of a individual single recording released in 1969. Supported by the events to follow, this song was well before it's time. Allow me to explain.

To bring us up to date let us acknowledge that we are now well into the 21st Century and seemingly the airways are still not completely safe as commercial aircraft continue to be hijacked worldwide. It's no secret today that Federal Air Marshall's continue to fly aboard some jet liners as a deterrent to prevent in-flight hijacking which generally results in unpredictable catastrophes. Yet, if we look back into the history of commercial aircraft we will notice this phenomenon has been around for decades. Which bring us to the actual theme of this story and the significance of this single recording.

As the story begins, it was sometime back in the mid-1960's when my good friend and associate known as 'The Razz' got permission to borrow his mother's car to attend a teen dance. That was a pretty big deal back then as we were not of age to purchase our own vehicles and relied upon family members for transportation. Razz had organized this trip with another friend named Jimmy Hart. The three of us were planning to attend a youth function held at The Parkway Village Community Center located in a neighboring East Memphis suburb. While in route Razz described the band playing at the center as being, 'a very together' band. That was an endearing term at the time and popular saying meaning the band was groovy or cool. Anyway, the name of the band performing that evening was The Village Sound. Their name was coined from their residential suburb known as Parkway Village. So, our curiosity was keen as Jimmy Hart and Razz, who were also musicians, were eager to scout this band while seeking any tips that might benefit their band, The Gentrys. Yet, our journey to see the band was as mere observers or maybe even a secret spy mission to see what the fuss was all about. While walking up the steps to the community center The Village Sound were performing one of our favorite songs. It was a popular tune originally done by The Zombies and definitely not a easy song to duplicate. By that I mean their harmonies were extremely well balanced while singing right on pitch as the rhythm section was very complimentary and unusually tight for such young musicians. The Village Sound were a six piece band as all members wore different outfits and dressed to kill. "Awesome outfits!" was the first thing to come out of my mouth as I stood there in amazement. At the time, I was the road manager for The Gentrys yet despite my background of being only a music novice I sensed something very good happening here. As we continued standing on the side of the stage and soaking it all in, I couldn't help but focus my attention to the lead vocalist of the band, Pat Taylor. Naturally being the front man in the band he stood-out while having the talent and good looks of a superstar. Despite a band of six members it appeared all were extremely professional with no apparent flaws. It didn't take long for us to convert our interest from a mere observers to being completely in awe.

The Village Sound - (L-R) Greg Redding, Pat Taylor, Steve Spear, Danny Thompson, Taft Laster, Richie Simpson.

As the next few months passed The Village Sound would continue to grow and develop with new band personnel. Their gigs were coming-in steady while being booked by another standout in the band, keyboardist Greg Redding's mother, Dot Redding. After a series of local recordings which produced several mediocre singles, a new manager named Seymour Rosenberg entered into the operative and changed the band's dynamics. Rosenberg, who was also an attorney, had influential contacts and took the band to the next level when he arraigned to have the next recording session produced by noted local producer, Steve Cropper. Naturally with Cropper's affiliation with STAX Records and Rosenberg's circle of influence, STAX owner Jim Stewart became interested as he aspired to develop a new pop music label with the abundance of available talent in Memphis. At that time a new record label called HIP Records was created as to capture the band's momentum while establishing a new artistic direction for additional revenue streams. That was completion of the final piece of the puzzle as STAX was set to distribute the single with HIP being an affiliated label. About that very same time and unaware of those behind-the-scene advancements, I came onboard at STAX Records as their local promotion manager. Plus, simultaneously, the city had become a major music hub appearing on the national scene with the local media supporting these regional entries. The recordings for The Village Sound began promptly at Ardent Recording Studio and from that memorable session came a catchy song written about a troublesome phenomenon taking place during that era, the high jacking of commercial aircraft. The song's unique title was, "Hey Jack" (Don't Hijack My Plane) and just happen to be co-written by local DJ favorite, Jon Scott. And guess what? Magically, somehow the song began getting immediate airplay from radio WMC-FM 100. Hmm...imagine that. This critical airplay came from a station growing in rapid popularity and held record-buying influence with Mid-South listeners. Suddenly phones began to ring as the band's bookings increased while the support of local radio personalities shinned. Not to mention the song's record producer, Steve Cropper also came out looking pretty darn good. Plus, it brought attention to soul label STAX Records which was also branching out into the pop music market. Amazingly all those contributing forces just happened to come together simultaneously as having the right people involved might have had something to these developments.


The Village Sound at Ardent Recording Studio - Back: Danny Thompson, Steve Spear, Greg Redding. Front: Manager Seymour  Rosenberg, STAX producer Steve Cropper.


Key participants also included WMC-FM 100 Disk Jockey Jon Scott and STAX Records local promotion manager Phillip Rauls.

The Village Sound's regional success peaked sometimes later as the band disbanded in 1970 when popular music evolved into different genres. Or, was the band's break-up because of STAX's inability to globally market their pop music roster during a time of distribution chaos? Whatever the case, the band's experience of recording and playing with major headliners during that cycle propelled several members to further their careers to even greater successes. In addition, the producer of the song plus several media participants would also go on to achieve business distinction. In looking back, it appears that all parties involved in this project landed on their feet with respected careers. "Hey Jack Don't Hijack My Plane" by The Village Sound was a very timely record and helped usher-in a magical era for Memphis Music.

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