Archie and the Drells Tightened Up

In 1968 I moved to Houston, TX, where I became Operations Manager of a successful black radio station, KCOH AM. I was still just a kid, around 28 and found that every disc-jockey on the station was a decade or more older than me. One of those jocks was named Skipper Lee Frazier, “The Mountain of Soul.” He was doing afternoon drive and very successful in the ratings. Sometime later he would be my protector the night Martin Luther King was assassinated, an event I’ve related in a James Brown story on The Don Rocks site.

But things were copacetic when one day he brought in a record that he’d produced by a local band, Archie Bell and the Drells, called; “The Tighten Up.” We listened to it and I could tell it would be a hit, but I was concerned about the legality of playing a record owned by one of the disc jockeys on the station he worked on.

Skipper Lee Frazier (For a while we had Go Go Dancers in the window, but had to quit because tied up traffic)

Skip had released it on a small Houston label, Ovid, and I was receiving store reports that it was selling, so I added it. Of course, with the Houston reference at the top: “In Houston we can dance as good as we walk,” it soon became our most requested tune.

About that time Skipper told me that Atlantic Records had picked the record up and would distribute it nationally. It wasn’t long before it was a nationwide hit, but there was one problem. Archie had been drafted and was in Vietnam, he would later be wounded there, and Skip was getting requests for television and concert appearances. Then Archie got leave and went on a 30 day marathon promoting the record and performing.

When he returned to the war Skipper picked another member to be the front man until he came home. But there was another problem, Skip had used a band called The T.S.U. Toronadoes for the instrumental track, and complained of not getting credit, and maybe proper pay, for the record. I don’t think it was ever really settled to their satisfaction, but that’s a very common problem in the recording business. Archie Bell and the Drells second hit was then released, “I Can’t Stop Dancing,” and an album with that name was being produced.

One day Skip asked me to write the liner notes on the backside and I did so happily. I was told that Jerry Wexler at Atlantic didn’t like what I’d written, but Skipper Lee demanded he use my prose. It still exists on the framed record sleeve hanging on my office wall. And Skipper Lee? Oh he did O.K., at one time or another he had a Motel, a Drive In Theater, and finally a popular Funeral Home; he was one of the most successful entrepreneurs that I ever knew in my career.

Tighten Up

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