Extra! Extra! A first at Parka Avenue headquarters! We have a special guest contributor to the blog, Mister Ben Shulman of Papa Bill Records. Ben is not only my good friend and DJ partner but he's also a Soul savant. Whenever I have a question about 60s Soul, I phone up my breathing Soul encyclopedia and he rarely lets me down.
So when he told me about this conversation he had with Soul singer Hermon Hitson, I begged him to share the story with the Parka Avenue readers. Ben is actually this passionate about music. If he wants to know more about a song, he'll just find the singer and phone him up. As simple as that.
I turn it over to you my friend.
Well, I just had an interesting phone conversation!
Just recently I discovered this incredible 45 out of Atlanta, Georgia called Georgia Grind by a group called Hermon (Hitson) and The Rockin' Tonics. I was immediately blown away by the pure and raw energy of this record that I decided I needed to know more about it.
After some perusing, I discovered that Hermon was still around and living down in Atlanta. I did a little research and ended with Hermon on the phone. We talked for about an hour.
This man is definitely an unsung hero of soul / r&b. He told me he was 19 when he made the record and that he got signed to Royal Records because he was discovered by Arthur Conley's manager. Hermon also happens to be the cousin of Dave Prater, of Sam & Dave (Stax Records). Hermon then went on to tell me that after making two 45s with Royal Records in Atlanta his band got hired to back up the singers at live shows.
Hermon and his band played for the likes of Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Joe Tex and Major Lance (just to name a few, take a second to think about how incredible this is). This blew me away, but believe it or not, this story gets better. Hermon told me that in '65 he became close with an up-and-coming guitar player called Jimi Hendrix, whom he played with and actually recorded with! Hermon spoke fondly of Hendrix, reminiscing about how the two would make $15/week and feel like millionaires.
I couldn't believe that I was talking to a guy who had the opportunity to play with all these legends. He also told me about his friendship with James Brown and that when this Georgia Grind record came out, people thought it was a James Brown tune. He also spoke highly of Marvin Gaye. He went on to tell me the story of how he met David Ruffin (of The Temptations) at an illegal underground gambling club in Detroit and they became good friends!
Last but not least, he reminisced about recording some tracks for Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label. Hermon claims his band were the first musicians Mayfield recorded in his own studio.
I'm still trying to comprehend all of this. Isn't it amazing what a little bit of research can do for you? Imagine if I had never looked into this record? Glad I did! Hermon is still playing with a band to this day and never gave up the music. Wish there was some way I could get this guy into a studio again! This guy is a LEGEND.