Spooner Oldham


Band members                             Related acts

- Dewey Lyndon "Spooner" Oldham -- vocals, keyboards

 

  supporting musicians:

- Richard Bennett -- guitar

- Emory Gordy Jr. -- bass

- Dennis St. John -- drums, percussion  

 

 

- Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham

- Spooner and the Spoons

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  Pot Luck

Company: Family

Catalog: FPS-2703

Year: 1972

Country/State: Center Star, Alabama

Grade (cover/record): VG/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 4190

Price: $80.00

Cost: $1.00

 

So why would this obscurity be so expensive?  Well, seemingly because it is so obscure ...  as far as I know it only recently saw CD reissue on the Korean Big Pink Music label (paired with Oldham's "Spare Change" album) and as far as I can tell, you're looking at the only copy readily available on the web right now.

It probably isn't a major surprise that today Spooner Oldham's best know for his work as a writer - much of it with Dan Penn.  Lesser known is his work as a studio musician and the fact that he's recorded a handful of intriguing solos studio efforts l. Oldham started his professional musical career in the mid 1960s while attending the University of North Alabama.  Already a gifted keyboard player, he started playing sessions at Rick Hall's Muscle Shoals Fame Studios. Within a matter of months Oldham had dropped out of college and become Fame's in-house keyboard player.  In 1967 Oldham went to work for Chips Moman's Memphis-based American Studios where he started his long-standing collaboration with Dan Penn, enjoying a truly amazing string of hits with the cream of mid-1960s pop and soul artists (The Box Tops, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, James and Bobby Purify, Percy Sledge, etc. etc.).  The late 1960s saw Oldham head for Southern California where he focused on sessions work.  


Signed to a contract by Gulf + Western's short-lived Family Records subsidiary, 1973 saw Oldham release his first solo album.  Produced by Ed Cobb, "Pot Luck" sported one of the year's ugliest covers, but about half of the songs made up for that lapse in marketing taste.  First a quick warning.  Anyone familiar with Oldham's catalog will understand why he's known for his writing and keyboards - his gruff voice managed to make Kris Kristofferson sound truly polished (in contrast, songwriting partner Dan Penn had a far more commercial voice).  Still, if you could get over Oldham's raw voice, tales of  life's woes and darker sides such as "The Lord Loves a Rolling Stone", "Life's Little Package of Puzzles" and "Easy Listening") had a rugged and odd charm to them.  There was no way this was going to appeal to the rank and file of collectors and there are still times when I struggle to get through the collection, but the investment of time and patience does yield some charming results.  a  personal "best of" package with Oldham covering some of his better known compositions ("Kentucky Grass" and "Cry Like a Baby").  Again, it certainly wasn't very commercial, but the album's quirky factor made it easy to see why the album's become highly sought after by collectors. 

 

"Pot Luck" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) The Lord Loves a Rolling Stone   (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn) - 

As mentioned above, from a technical standpoint Oldham's voice was certainly an acquired taste - rough, waivery, and  borderline in tune.  Those limitations were fully displayed on the opening ballad 'The Lord Loves a Rolling Stone'.  The funny thing was that in spite of those flaws, the song was actually quite good, aptly displaying Oldham's southern Gospel roots.   rating: *** stars

2.) 1980   (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn) - 

'1980' was a country-blues ballad that was kicked along by a weird combination of harmonica, Oldham's keyboards and some truly strange synthesizers.  The problem with this one was that it simply never kicked into gear ...   rating: ** stars

3.) Life's Little Package of Puzzles   (Spooner Oldham) -

A fairly mainstream country ballad, 'Life's Little Package of Puzzles' was pleasant but ultimately too cute and too country for my tastes.   rating: ** stars

4.) Julie Brown's Forest   (Spooner Oldham) -

Kicked along by a horn arrangement (and the cheesiest 'wind' sounds you've ever heard on an album),  'Julie Brown's Forest' was probably the album's most commercial blues number.  Courtesy of Richard Bennett it certainly sported one of the album's best guitar solos.   rating: *** stars

5.) Easy Listening   (Spooner Oldham - Freddy Weller) -   

A lame country ballad, 'Easy Listening' was sunk by some painfully flat vocals and an equally uninspired melody.   Not a good way to end side one ...   rating: * star

 

(side 2)
1.) Profile Medley:

   i.) When a Man Loves a Woman (instrumental)   (B. Eldridge - G. Stewart) - 

   ii.) I Never Loved a Man (instrumental)   (R. Shannon) - 

   iii.) Kentucky Grass (instrumental)   (Spooner Oldham - Emory Gordy Jr.) - 

   iv.) Cry Like a Baby (instrumental)   (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn) - 

   v.) Respect (instrumental)   (Otis Redding)

   vi.) The New World (instrumental)   (arranged by Spooner Oldham - Emory Gordy Jr.) -  

   vii.) My Friend  (Spooner Oldham - Donnie Fritts) - 

Side two started with an extended, seven part medley showcasing Oldham reprising what were apparently some of his favorite tunes.  The first six segments were instrumentals with 'My Friend' being the lone vocal.  There wasn't anything wrong with the performances and it was easy to see why Oldham was an in-demand keyboard player, though the whole affair had kind of a strange lounge act vibe to it.  I'm not going to comment on all seven segments - enough to say that most of them included horn arrangements with Bennett turning in some nice electric sitar and fuzz guitar on The Box Top's 'Cry Like a Baby' segment of the medley'.    rating: ** stars

2.) Will the Circle Be Unbroken   (traditional - arranged by Spooner Oldham) - 

Oldham's cover of the traditional 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' was certainly heartfelt.  Can't say much more about it than that ...    rating: ** stars

 

 

 

For anyone interested, Oldham's recording catalog also includes a couple of pre-LP singles:

 

  credited to Spooner and the Spoons

- 1965's 'Hey, Do You Wanna Marry b/w "Wish You Didn't Have To Go" (Fame catalog number 6405)

 

  credited to Spooner's Crowd

- 1966's 'Two In the Morning' b/w 'I'll Be Your Baby' (Cadet catalog number 5533)

 

  credited to Spooner Oldham

- 1968's "My Goodness" b/w "It's Love" (Atlantic catalog number 45-2564)

 

 

There's also an excellent 1998 in-concert set with Dan Penn.

 


 


Genre: rock

Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  Spare Change

Company: AVI

Catalog: AVI-6120

Year: 1982

Country/State: Center Star, Alabama

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1582

Price: $80.00

 

I had no idea this LP existed until I stumbled across a copy in a dollar bin at a local record store (showing my age here).  How Spooner Oldham managed to get an album released on Seymour Heller, Ed Cobb and Ray Harris' American Variety International (AVI) Records, a label best known for their throwaway disco catalog, is a complete mystery.  Even stranger, "Spare Change" featured several tracks that were on his earlier "Pot Luck" album.  '1980', 'Julie Brown's Forest', 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken', and 'Short Stories I, II & III' (which was simply a re-titled version of the earlier 'Profile Medley'), were all repeats".  Tat left xx "new" tunes - the instrumentals 'Spare Change', 'Knock Yourself Out', 'Blue Gypsy', and 'A Woman Left Lonely'.   Best I can do is speculate that AVI  somehow bought rights to Oldham's demos from Artie Ripp's Family label.   Someone out there will know the story.  Anyone, this collection suffered from the same issues as "Pot Luck".   Oldham may have been an extremely talented songwriter and keyboard player, but he simply wasn't much of a singer.  Add the fact that many of these tunes sounded like raw demos that may have been intended to market tunes to other singers, and you had an album with limited appeal.

 

"Spare Change" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) 1980   (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn) - 3:03

'1980' was a country-blues ballad that was kicked along by a weird combination of harmonica, Oldham's keyboards and some truly strange synthesizers.  The problem with this one was that it highlight Oldham's croak-of-a-voice and the tune simply never kicked into gear ...   rating: ** stars

2.) Spare Change (instrumental)  (Spooner Oldham) - 2:26

Judging by the cheesy synthesizer, there's simply no way the instrumental title track was recorded in 1980.  To my ears it sounded like a vintage late-'60s/early-'70s sound.   That said, the tune was actually pretty good - imagine a blue-eyed soul version of Switched On Bach.  rating: **** stars

3.) Knock Yourself Out  (instrumental) (Spooner Oldham) - 1:50

Another nicely arranged instrumental slice of '60s Memphis soul.  Would have sounded right at home on an Otis Redding album.   rating: **** stars

4.) Julie Brown's Forest (instrumental)  (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn) - 2:34

One of the tunes repackaged from the "Pot Luck" album, Kicked along by a horn arrangement (and the cheesiest 'wind' sounds you've ever heard on an album).  Having listed closely, I think the wind songs were actually Oldham trying to whistle.  'Julie Brown's Forest' was probably the album's most commercial blues number.  Courtesy of Richard Bennett it certainly sported one of the album's best guitar solos.   rating: *** stars

5.) Blue Gypsy  (Spooner Oldham) - 1:40

'The breezy ballad Blue Gypsy' certainly had a pretty melody - one of the best on the album.   It would have been even better without the incessant triangle.   To his credit, Oldham's raspy voice didn't sound half bad on this one.   rating: *** stars

6.) A Woman Left Lonely (instrumental)  (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn) - 3:02

'A Woman Left Lonely' is one of Oldham's best known tunes.  Janis Joplin, Charlie Rich, and countless others have covered it.  Here it's presented as a fully arranged instrumental.   You wonder if Oldham's vocal was purposely stripped off.  rating: *** stars

 

(side 1)

1.) Will the Circle Be Unbroken   (traditional - arranged by Spooner Oldham) - 3:46

Oldham's cover of the traditional 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' was certainly heartfelt.  Can't say much more about it than that ...   rating: ** stars

2.) Short Stories I, II & III (instrumental medley) (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn) - 10:59

On the "Pot Luck" album this one was titled 'Profile Medley'.  It was an extended, seven part medley showcasing Oldham reprising what were apparently some of his favorite tunes.  The first six segments were instrumentals with 'My Friend' being the lone vocal.  There wasn't anything wrong with the performances and it was easy to see why Oldham was an in-demand keyboard player, though the whole affair had kind of a strange lounge act vibe to it.  I'm not going to comment on all seven segments - enough to say that most of them included horn arrangements with Bennett turning in some nice electric sitar and fuzz guitar on The Box Top's 'Cry Like a Baby' segment of the medley'.   The seven tunes were:

   i.) When a Man Loves a Woman (instrumental)   (B. Eldridge - G. Stewart) - 

   ii.) I Never Loved a Man (instrumental)   (R. Shannon) - 

   iii.) Kentucky Grass (instrumental)   (Spooner Oldham - Emory Gordy Jr.) - 

   iv.) Cry Like a Baby (instrumental)   (Spooner Oldham - Dan Penn) - 

   v.) Respect (instrumental)   (Otis Redding)

   vi.) The New World (instrumental)   (arranged by Spooner Oldham - Emory Gordy Jr.) -  

   vii.) My Friend  (Spooner Oldham - Donnie Fritts) - 

   rating: ** stars

 

 

 

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