The Checkmates

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1

- Billy Carden -- vocals 

- Baron Conklin -- guitar

- Dave Mack -- keyboards 

- John McCurdy -- trumpet 

- Jon Mueller -- tenor sax

- George Outlaw -- drums

- Roddy Porter -- bass 

- Sammy Winston -- tenor sax



- none known





Genre: soul

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Meet the Checkmates

Company: Justice

Catalog: JLP 149

Year: 1967

Country/State: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2860

Price: $350.00


Genre: soul

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Meet the Checkmates

Company: Justice

Catalog: JLP 149

Year: 1967

Country/State: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Grade (cover/record): --/VG+

Comments: no cover

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2861

Price: $150.00


Cost: $182.50


If you're looking at this item you're either lost, bored out of your mind, or on of a handful of pop who are fans of Justice's unique low tech sound. 


back cover of LP


Like most groups in this Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based label's catalog there doesn't seem to be much in the way of biographical information on The Checkmates out there.  Like most Justice releases the barebones liner notes don't tell you much about the group other than they apparently had not been together very long before recording 1967's "Meet the Checkmates".  Oh, the back panel group photo shows the band to have been a rather dork-ish collection of white guys who were about three years behind popular dressing styles (to say nothing about musical styles).  In terms of content, most of the twelve tracks were competent if uninspired covers of popular soul and pop hits.  Actually anyone into beach music was liable to find this quite enjoyable.  Downing a couple of cold beers certainly helps.  Singer Billy Carden had a lounge-ish voice that was actually well suited to much of the material.  The rest of the band (including the three piece horn section of John McCurdy, Jon Mueller, and Sammy Winston) were never less than competent, though seldom truly exciting.  The one band original 'Half a Man' happened to be the standout track, though their cover of Curtis Mayfield's 'Gypsy Woman' wasn't bad.  Credit producer Calvin Newton for surprisingly good sound.  (Kudos for the catchy, if  cheesy cover art - though I've always wondered why it shows the band's name as the singular 'Checkmate'.)  


"Meet the Checkmates" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Comin' Home (instrumental)   (Ben Tucker - Bob Donough) - 2:35   rating: *** stars

Showcasing the band's horn section, the leadoff tune 'Comin' Home' had a nice enough soul-jazz vibe - imagine The Young Holt Trio with horns and you'd have a feel for their niche.

2.) It's Not Unusual   (Gordon Mills - Les Reed)  - 3:21    rating: *** stars

Their cover of the Tom Jones hit 'It's Not Unusual' wasn't half band.  Musically it didn't stray far from the original tune, but for such a young kid (I'm guessing he was still in his teens), Billy Carden turned in quite a compelling performance.    

3.) Gypsy Woman  (Curtis Mayfield) - 2:10    rating: *** stars

Mind, you their cover of 'Gypsy Woman' wasn't going to make you forget the original (Carden didn't sound particularly comfortable using a falsetto), but give them credit for having good tastes in term of their covers - Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.   

4.) You Don't Know Like I Know   (Isaac Hayes - David Porter) - 2:08    rating: ** stars

' You Don't Know Like I Know' was another cover demonstrated their tastes in classic soul, though there was no way you'd pick this version over the Sam and Dave hit ...  

5.) My Girl   (Smokey Robinson - Ronald White) - 2:54    rating: ** stars

Surprisingly accomplished for such a young outfit, but go for The Temptations version of 'My Girl '.     rating: ** stars

6.) Laugh It Off   (Ray Whitley) - 2:12    rating: *** stars

I originally passed 'Laugh It Off' as a forgettable slice of MOR pop, but the refrain and George Outlaw's frenetic drumming gave the song and extra kick.  


(side 2)
1.) Half a Man - 2:27    rating: *** stars

The lone original and one of two standout performances, 'Half a Man' had a likeable blue-eyed soul vibe, though Carden sounded like he was pushing a bit too hard and the horns were irritating this time around.   

2.) I've Been Hurt   (Ray Whitley)  - 2:15    rating: ** stars

I never liked the Bill Deal and the Rhondells version and I can't say I like their cover of 'I've Been Hurt'.   Again, Outlaw's drumming provided the standout performance (great name for a drummer).  

3.) Try My Love Again   (Robert Moore) - 1:35    rating: ** stars

Geez, how many folks ever heard the Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces original version of 'Try My Love Again' ?   Shame it wasn't many since their version shred this lame-a** cover.   

4.) Hot Cha (instrumental)   (Willie Woods)  - 3:31    rating: ** stars

A cover of Jr. Walker and the All Stars' 'Hot 'Cha' was the album's second instrumental.  Probably not a surprise, tenor sax players Mueller and Winston got the spotlight on this on.   

5.) That's Enough  Raven Wildroot) - 2:21    rating: *** stars 

The blue-eyed soul-tinged 'That's Enough' was another one that kind of grew on me after awhile.  This on had some nice backing vocals.  

6.) Kidnapper (with Heat Wave) - 3:25    rating: *** stars

The album's other highlight, 'Kidnapper (with Heat Wave)' had a nifty beach music melody and some hysterical lyrics that were seemingly inspired by mid-1960s television programs.  The unexpected transition into 'Heatwave' was both extremely short and unnecessary.   


No, it isn't an essential Justice release, but it isn't half bad.