Jimmy Radcliffe

Jimmy Radcliffe

Though primarily known for his soul recordings Jimmy Radcliffe's talents crossed boundaries far and wide. As a songwriter he crafted material covered by a diverse group of artist in varying styles. Noted recording talents such as The Andrews Sisters, Aretha Franklin, ex-Drifter Clyde McPhatter, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Tom Jones, Matt Monro, Lou Rawls, Etta James, Esther Phillips and Ray Charles are among the many who have covered his melodies. As a vocalist Jimmy's recordings directed Pop, Soul, Blues and Jazz performers as one Of New York's top demo singers ("This Diamond Ring", "Pretty Flamingo"), helped revive a dance craze as a member of 60s pop supergroup The Definitive Rock Chorale, produced by Ellie Greenwich, and inspired the world performing one of the top ten advertising jingles of the 20th Century, the R&B version of McDonalds' "You Deserve A Break Today".

Realizing the importance of the coalition of film and music in 1964 Jimmy began to pursue song placements with the help and support of music publisher Aaron Schroeder. His gospel based melody "Glory To The Lamb" written with Arnold Goland and David Mook, fit into the Anthony Perkin's film "The Fool Killer" that was shot in 1961 but due to contractual reasons didn't get released until 1965. The following year he collaborated with German Orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert on "But Not Today" as one of the main themes for the film "A Man Could Get Killed" the other theme is the now famous "Strangers In The Night" (Kaempfert-Snyder-Singleton). When Aaron Schroeder got the gig as the Music Director for Hanna-Barbera Production's "The Banana Splits" Television show, that ran from September 7, 1968 to September 5, 1970, he chose songs from his staff of writers that included Gene Pitney, Barry White, Al Kooper, Tony Powers and Mr. Radcliffe. Another Hanna-Barbera Productions that Jimmy wrote, produced and provided vocals for was The "Harlem Globetrotters" animated television show that ran from September 12, 1970 to September 2, 1972. Globetrotters Music Supervisor Don Kirshner and Producer Wally Gold asked Jimmy to write a number of songs performed in the show and he provided the vocals for three of The tracks from the non-album singles issued on the Kirshner Label. Over the years Jimmy's songs have been featured in the films "Se7en" (Brad Pitt & Morgan Freeman), "U-Turn" (Sean Penn & Jennifer Lopez), "The Tenants" (Dylan McDermott & Snoop Dogg), and "Something New" (Sanaa Lathan & Simon Baker).

Jimmy Radcliffe's impressive vocal abilities earned him the distinction of being "The Soul Of The Brill Building Sound" as a much in demand demo singer among the New York songwriting elite. During the sixties and early seventies he recorded the first, "demo", versions of soon to be hits, "This Diamond Ring" and "Pretty Flamingo", by the likes of Al Kooper, Mark Barkan, Burt Bacharach, Ellie Greenwich, Tony Powers Leiber & Stoller, Scott English and others. His recording of the Joey Brooks song "Feels Like Lovin'" was used in the 1967 Radley Metzger sexploitation film "Carmen Baby". Hit Jingle writer-composer, Steve Karmen, called upon Jimmy's vocals for two songs in the 1970 Allen Funt film "What Do You Say To A Naked Lady" and the 1971 Gerald Potterton Live Action-Animated film "Tiki Tiki" contained two of Radcliffe's power-house recordings too.

Like so many from the pre-soul music era Jimmy began singing in his church's choir before venturing into secular music while serving a mid-'50s stint in the Air Force, where he formed the Fascinators and also performed solo. The highlight of his military warbling was an appearance on the armed forces network in Germany. When his duties ended in 1958, he returned to New York and sang in street corner groups that occasionally played neighborhood venues. In 1960 some demos he cut and persuaded a local DJ to play caught the ears of a Musicor Records' executive, Aaron Schroeder, who signed him to a songwriting contract with its publishing arm, January Music. He didn't release a record, however, until two years later; instead, he cut demos used to demonstrate songs to artists like the Drifters.

Musicor issued "Twist Calypso" b/w "Don't Look My Way" in 1962, Radcliffe co-wrote both sides with Phil Sterns, a long-running collaborator. It was followed by "(There Goes) the Forgotten Man" (1962), which Gene McDaniels later cut, and "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" (1963). The first three singles showed promise but did little. Radcliffe's original rendition of Hal David and Burt Bacharach's "Long After Tonight Is All Over" (1964) sold better and got Radcliffe recognized, especially in the United Kingdom where it charted on Stateside Records in February of 1965. An Interesting little known piece of history is Jimmy also released "One By One" bw/ "Monkey Jazz" a pop-jazz record under the nom-de-plume The Mixture on the Fontana Label in the UK and "Secret Weapon (The British Are Coming) b/w/ "Jealous Kind Of Woman" as a member of the B.R.A.T.T.S. on the Tollie Imprint in the States.

Switching Labels Radcliffe's next single, the original "My Ship Is Comin' In," appeared on Musicor Offshoot Aurora Records and again got more run in the U.K. than the U.S.A. Walter Jackson redid it, but the Walker Brothers enjoyed the most successful version, taking the Joey Brooks' song to number three pop in 1965. Producing himself this time, Bert Bern's, Shout Records issued "Lucky Old Sun" b/w "So Deep," by Radcliffe in 1966; but nothing else surfaced until 1968 when "Breakaway Parts 1 & 2," credited to the Steve Karman Big Band featuring Jimmy Radcliffe, kicked out on United Artists Records. Jimmy did however lend his brand of soul to "Variations On A Theme Called Hanky Panky" a release from Pop Super-group The Definitive Rock Chorale on Philips Records and as counter-lead vocal on "I'm In The Mood" from The Daily News on Parrot in 1968.

A final Jimmy Radcliffe single, "Funky Bottom Congregation" b/w "Lay A Little Lovin' On Me" (1969), bore RCA's logo.

Jimmy Radcliffe is also noted for being the first African-American singer, songwriter, producer of Television and Radio Commercial Jingles for the Black and Mainstream consumer markets, getting his start in 1965. Jimmy provided the memorable vocals on the released version of "Breakaway", Jingle writer Steve Karmen's first hit advertising campaign, the R&B version of Gavin & Woloshin's "You Deserve A Break Today" for McDonald's and the Tom Anthony, written and produced, 1971 Clio Award winner "Polaroid Gives It To You Now" for Polaroid Cameras.

As a record producer his credits range from producing the original demo of "It's My Party" (vocal by Barbara Jean English), collaborating with legendary producer John Hammond at Columbia Records and co-producing with Aretha Franklin "Black Pride" the main theme to Jesse Jackson's S.C.L.C. Black Expo '71' in New York City.

Jimmy Radcliffe was also a first class musician and arranger: he played vibes, drums, piano, bass and guitar and was an avid craftsman who designed both furniture and clothing. Besides a few early releases on Musicor Records in Italian he studied and spoke French.

Sadly before he received the kind of public recognition that was freely lavished on him from those in the know of his music industry peers, Jimmy Radcliffe's brilliant creative light was extinguished by the hazards of an intense work and play lifestyle and medical malpractice. But his music lives on!

By Chris Radcliffe

Leave a comment!