I am pleased to announce that the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame class of 2015 includes one of my favorite regional artists, the late great Jay Spell. Also, Asheville native Warren Haynes will be inducted!
I am honored to have been among those invited to submit a letter on Jay’s behalf while the nomination process was underway.
Here is what I had to offer…
For the consideration of the good folks at The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame:
Jay Spell may not be a household name or a headline grabber, but his contribution to North Carolina music , indeed the music of the world, cannot be overstated.
While I grew up hearing Jay Spell’s work with national artists such as Jimmy Buffett, it was only last year that I learned his story and began to connect the dots. I’m sure other folks will have much to say about his role as a contemporary and friend of Ronnie Milsap, his work with David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Canned Heat… the list goes on. My discovery and admiration jumps back to his early years as a hard-working, young, local musician.
As a journalist, historian and music lover, I was invited to host a show on Asheville Free Media community radio a few years ago. I committed to a project that has been most rewarding: digging up the small local record labels and talent representing North Carolina during the 1960s, primarily the teen garage band scene responsible for hundreds of neglected 45 singles.
Much work had already been done by compilers such as Ken Friedman who started his Tobacco-A-Go-Go series in the early ’80s. I formed a working friendship with Ken and he has been a constant source of lost gems from his collection, many of them never reissued. One day he handed me a homemade CD on which he had written “TAGG Xtras,” being an assortment of some 30 songs he felt had much merit but which had come to hand between volumes in his series and were never used.
Among the stand-out tracks was a tune called “Blue Shoes” by a group I had never heard of before, The News.
Quick to tackle further research on this band, I soon discovered the songwriters Dave Butler and Jay Spell. I was pleased to learn that they had managed to see at least half-a-dozen singles issued either with themselves appearing as the musicians or written for other artists such as soul greats Johnnie Taylor and Kip Anderson, making waves as far up the musical food chain as Stax Records.
Then I heard their earliest collaborations for the first time and those moments will always remain for me personally on par with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The Delmars singles “She’s A Baby” and “If I Had A Girl” might strike some folks as the typical Beatles-inspired teen anthems of their day. What I heard, in comparison to any number of songs recorded about the same time and under similar conditons, were sparks of genius. Here were some teenagers who actually had a grasp on composing solid, hooky rhythms and melodies. When I brought them to the attention of friends and fellow enthusiasts who had never heard them, they are quite scarce records, the consensus was the same. As Ken Friedman replied with excitement, “This Dave Butler stuff is certainly a cut above!”
I fell in love with what I still consider THE greatest North Carolina garage/psychedelic song I’ve ever encountered, “The Boy Who Only Smiles” by Dayv Butler and The News (no, the fancy spelling of “Dave” here is not a typo, just stage glitter). I recommend it to people who are always taken by its maturity, fine craftsmanship and drawing on later British pop influences which were frankly over the heads of most American kids in those days.
This was how Jay Spell was first heard as a professional recording artist by an admittedly limited regional audience. If I knew nothing else about these guys, hearing that one little record would provoke the idea that they were going places. They were… from Fayetteville to Memphis to Hollywood… to the stars!
I hope you will humor me this opportunity to dote on the neglected songwriting talents of my favorite North Carolina duo, Dave Butler and Jay Spell. The well-deserved recognition of Jay Spell by your committee might help me convince my wife that I’m not crazy… or at least not in this case.
host of Riffin’
on Asheville Free Media