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Goldwax Records: A History Of '60s Memphis Soul

Quinton Claunch had an impressive music-business career behind him when he and Rudolph "Doc" Russell started Goldwax Records in 1963. Claunch had enjoyed a career as a country songwriter and guitarist, played rhythm guitar on some of Carl Perkins' first hits, been a talent scout for Sun and Hi Records, and written "White Silver Sands," a national Top 10 hit for Bill Black's Combo in 1960. He ran into Doc Russell at a recording session for rockabilly singer Charlie Feathers, and Russell mentioned that he'd like to invest in a record label. Claunch took his $600 and got to work.

"Darling," by The Lyrics, was unlike anything anyone in Memphis was doing — an odd combination of doo-wop and James Brown — and, predictably enough, it wasn't a hit. It made just enough noise locally, however, to bring a young hematologist, Roosevelt Jamison, to his door one night at midnight. Jamison had a small tape recorder, a tape and two members of a local gospel group who'd been moonlighting some secular material Jamison had written, and which he'd recorded. One of them was named Overton Vertis Wright, who sang "That's How Strong My Love Is."

Unfortunately, this wasn't the break Claunch or Jamison was looking for: Don Robey, of Duke/Peacock Records in Houston, unearthed a contract O.V. Wright had signed as a member of another gospel group, and took him away. Wright went on to make many great records, but not for Goldwax.

No, it was the other singer, James Carr, who would put Goldwax on the map.

It took a couple of tries, but "You've Got My Mind Messed Up" confirmed everyone's faith in Carr, who, in the next couple of years, would produce a string of soul masterpieces, including "Love Attack," "Pouring Water on a Drowning Man," "Dark End of the Street" and "Life Turned Her That Way." Saying that a James Carr B-side was better than most Memphis soul singers' A-sides isn't putting anyone else down. He really was that good.


Claunch had an ear for great voices, that's for sure. Louis Williams and the Ovations were one of those groups that could barely sell a record, although they did very well on the road and had small regional hits. It's hard to say for sure, but it could be that Williams' greatest asset, "I Believe I'll Go Back Home," was also his biggest problem.

Granted, "I Believe I'll Go Back Home" is an extreme example: The writers Goldwax got to come up with the Ovations' second single apparently figured that cloning a Sam Cooke song would get them the hit they needed, when in fact the real problem was finding a way for Louis Williams to use his Sam Cooke sound in a way Cooke wouldn't have. The group continued for years, and left behind dozens of wonderful recordings, both for Goldwax and other labels.

The other great voice Goldwax had was Spencer Wiggins, who was performing at the Flamingo Lounge with a combo that included Isaac Hayes on organ. Claunch heard the possibilities and got him some material from good writers, and a string of soul classics resulted.

Problems began for the label around 1968. Claunch and Doc Russell began to fall out, and a few records were leased to other labels because of what Claunch called "cash-flow problems." Goldwax's last record was, believe it or not, James Carr singing "Row Row Row Your Boat." Goldwax closed its doors in 1970, and Memphis barely noticed.

Three volumes of The Complete Goldwax Singles are out now.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ed Ward is the rock-and-roll historian on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.