Originally appeared in 1994 on Ichiban Soul Classics (SCL 2503)
While she never achieved the fame, success or recognition of Aretha Franklin or Roberta Flack, the two women considered the reigning black female divas at Atlantic Records through the ‘70’s, Southern soul sister Margie Joseph established herself as an R&B hitmaker through her work with the label which encompassed an impressive half-a-dozen albums.
Much of that material is excellent so choosing an initial compilation of her Atlantic sides is a daunting task: for this sizzling collection, Ichiban/Soul Classics decided to earmark Margie’s eleven charted Atlantic/Cotillion singles (plus three additional sides issued as singles), never before available as a complete compilation. "The Atlantic Sessions" also marks this glorious music’s compact disc debut and its issue for the first time since its original release in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.
Although New Orleans has been her home for most of her life, Margie was actually born in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Like so many of her musical contemporaries, Margie expressing her musical talents by singing in local church choirs. During her college days at Dillard University in New Orleans, Margie began pursuing a musical career: in 1967, she recorded a couple of songs in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, then rapidly becoming an important center for Southern soul music. She was briefly signed to Okeh Records,
then the R&B arm for Columbia Records but since the company was in the process of folding the Okeh set-up, Margie’s one release for the label ("Why Does A Man Have To Lie") received no attention. Undaunted, Margie signed with Volt Records (the sister label for Memphis-based R&B giant Stax Records) in 1969. Her initial work was produced by New Orleans’ musical legend Willie Tee (Turbinton) but it did only marginally well. It was when Stax executives (and Margie’s husband/manager Larry McKinley, a popular New Orleans radio and t.v. personality) decided to switch producers (to Freddy Briggs) that Margie enjoyed her first taste of chart success with the single "Your Sweet Loving" in the summer of 1970, which was also the year she graduated from college.
Undaunted, Margie signed with Volt Records (the sister label for Memphis-based R&B giant Stax Records) in 1969. Her initial work was produced by New Orleans’ musical legend Willie Tee (Turbinton) but it did only marginally well. It was when Stax executives (and Margie’s husband/manager Larry McKinley, a popular New Orleans radio and t.v. personality) decided to switch producers (to Freddy Briggs) that Margie enjoyed her first taste of chart success with the single "Your Sweet Loving" in the summer of 1970, which was also the year she graduated from college.
Less than a year later, Margie had begun to make her mark with R&B music buyers. A stunning remake of The Supremes’ 1965 hit "Stop! In The Name Of Love" with an engaging opening rap became a Top 40 R&B hit in the spring of 1971 and led to strong sales for the singer’s debut album, "Margie Joseph Makes A New Impression."
A second album entitled "Phase II," featuring another cover of a Supremes’ hit ("My World Is Empty Without You") and released in 1972 did not receive the same attention. As a result, Larry McKinley had complete negotiations with Atlantic executive Jerry Wexler by the spring of ‘72 and Margie was ensconced in the label’s New York studios in June for her first sessions with producer Arif Mardin.
Mardin’s work with Aretha Franklin had prepared him for producing Margie, whose vocal style was frequently compared to that of "Lady Soul." In a comment to Britain’s "Blues & Soul" magazine in 1976, Margie noted, "...people say we sound similar. But I’ve been trying to let people see that we are different, trying to let them see what I can do..."
In an earlier more telling comment, Margie felt that her first self-titled Mardin-produced album "...sounded too much as if the company wanted me to be another Aretha. In fact, the material seemed like just the kind of things Aretha would do." Producer Mardin did indeed use top New York session players like drummer Bernard Purdie, keyboardist Richard Tee, guitarists Cornell Dupree and Hugh McCracken, bassist Jerry Jemmott and percussionist Ralph MacDonald, many of whom had worked with Franklin.
Nonetheless, Margie added her own stamp to the June ‘72 sessions and the first two cuts on this collection—the gorgeous R&B gem Let’s Go Somewhere And Love and a Dolly Parton composition, Touch Your Woman -- are from that first recording date for Atlantic. Further sessions for the album took place in September and yielded a cover of Al Green’s 1971 hit Let’s Stay Together which became Margie’s first hit single for Atlantic in the spring of 1973.
By the summer of that year, Margie was in the studio again with producer Mardin for sessions for her "Sweet Surrender" album. This time, the material was much more varied ranging from the upfront R&B feel of singer/songwriter Paul Kelly’s Come Lay Some Lovin’ On Me (which became a bigger hit for Margie than for its creator, who released his version three months before Atlantic released her single in October ‘73) to a cover of former Beatle Paul McCartney’s pop smash My Love, which had been a hit only a short time before Margie gave it her soulful touch. As it turned out, the track ended up being her biggest ever hit, making the Top 10 on the R&B charts and the Hot 100’s Top 75.
In the same pop-flavored vein, Margie cut an English version of an Italian hit, Words (Are Impossible) for the June ‘74 sessions for her third album entitled "Margie," considered by Joseph connoisseurs to be easily one of her best LPs, in spite of its lack of chart-making material. From that same album come the Robert John composition, the infectious I Can’t Move No Mountains and the truly beautiful Stay Still, one of the few compositions Margie co-wrote for her Atlantic albums, and a mid-sized R&B hit in the fall of 1975.
It was after Margie did a March 1976 gig in Jamaica with vocal group Blue Magic (who’d begun to have their share of hits with tunes like "Sideshow" and "Three Ring Circus") that the idea of doing a duet arose: in June, Margie and the five-man group recorded What’s Come Over Me, a song Blue Magic had included on their 1974 self-titled debut album and used as the "B" side to their Top 40 1973 R&B hit "Look Me Up."
Included in Blue Magic’s "13 Blue Magic Lane" album, the duet proved successful when released as a single towards the end of 1975, giving Margie her second biggest R&B hit and prompting the team to work together at New Jersey’s Latin Casino where they cut an entire ‘live’ album, along with fellow Atlantic artist Major Harris. Plans for an entire Joseph-Blue Magic duet LP never materialized although a couple more studio recordings were made but never released.
By 1976, it was obvious that a change in studio environment was needed: Margie had spent three years recording in New York with producer Arif Mardin with varied results even though the singer had nothing but good things to say about him in mid-‘70’s interviews, claiming "I can’t blame Arif for the failure of those (early) Atlantic albums. It was definitely the company themselves. They just didn’t get behind most of those records."
Switching to Cotillion Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic activated by then Atlantic executive Henry Allen, Margie headed out West to work with the legendary Lamont Dozier (the hitmaking Motown songwriter who had established himself as an artist in the early ‘70’s while creating the Hot Wax and Invictus labels with partners Brian & Eddie Holland). The initial result was the catchy, much underrated Hear The Words, Feel The Feeling, the title track for an entire album that also included the excellent Don’t Turn The Lights Off.
While both sides charted, only "Hear The Words" made the R&B Top 20: Margie didn’t head back to the studio again until 1978, re-negotiating a new deal with the company in mid-‘77 and moving back to the main Atlantic label for her first album under her new contract.
Once again, she traveled to California, this time to work with another former Motown hitmaker, producer/songwriter Johnny Bristol who had become an Atlantic recording artist himself in 1976 (after charting in 1974 with the now-classic "Hang On In There Baby"). The result was the album "Feeling My Way," which contained another two ‘hidden’ gems Come On Back To Me, Lover and I Feel His Love Getting Stronger. Unfortunately, neither single did the trick and what had promised to be a strong label comeback for the talented singer didn’t materialize.
Margie moved to the Philly-based WMOT Records and cut a full album with producer Dexter Wansel but the company went out of business before it could be released. An understandable sense of frustration over her musical career led Margie to take up a teaching career in 1980 but the lure of recording studio tempted her back in 1982 when she recorded "Knockout," an album for an independent Texas-based label.
The title track actually became Margie’s third biggest R&B hit but once more, she ran into problems when the company went out of business. Returning once more to the Atlantic family in 1984, Margie signed with Cotillion Records and cut an LP under the auspices of Narada Michael Walden, who had been enjoying success with other female artists including Phyllis Hyman and Angela Bofill. Working directly with Walden proteges Preston Glass and Randy Jackson, Margie enjoyed one more taste of single success with the dance-flavored Ready For The Night, which also became the title cut for her last Atlantic/Cotillion album.
Four years later, Margie cut one album for Ichiban entitled "Stay" and while she still hasn’t received her due in terms of mainstream success, it’s certainly not for want of trying and not in any way a reflection of her vocal artistry. As this collection shows all too well, Margie Joseph made some truly great records during her on-again, off-again twelve year association with the Atlantic Records group: if there’s any justice, this compilation will help set the record straight and serve as a reminder of Margie’s fine talent.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.