Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shirlean Williams & The Tempo's Band

Shirlean Williams & the Tempo's Band

Elvitrue 673

36543 – This is A Song
36544 - Ease It To Me

The Fabulous Tempo’s, a group from Fayetteville,
featured Nolla--Mainor, second from the left,
and Shirlean Williams, third from--the left.
Image courtesy of Jason Perlmutter.

Jason Perlmutter :
The story of Fayetteville group The Fabulous Tempo’s would emerge despite a slightly rocky introductory telephone conversation. In September 2003, I contacted Shirlean Williams, the vocalist on an obscure but great 45 rpm record by “Shirlean Williams & The Tempo’s Band”. She said she didn’t sing “rock” anymore – she was now involved in the church and making gospel music – and I should be really talking to the band’s owner. This would be Fayetteville’s Nolla Mainor, whom I immediately telephoned.

At the beginning of our conversation, I expressed my love for and my desire to learn more about “the Shirlean Williams record”. This was a mistake. Nolla was upset and declared, “That’s my record! That’s not Shirlean’s record. She messed it up! I brought her up, but she was overconfident and didn’t rehearse and then sang herself hoarse trying to make the record.” I admitted my error, and we proceeded, more cordially. I learned about Nolla’s history in the local music scene, which dated back to the mid- ‘60s, with her first bands, the Soul Rockers and the Be-Boppers.

Hearing Nolla Mainor reminisce in 2003 meant hearing from a fiercely proud woman. And justifiably so: Nolla is a self-educated musician who may well have been the only female band leader in ‘60s and ‘70s North Carolina. After disco, her commitment to music didn’t wane; she successfully adapted by becoming a club deejay known to fans as “Queenie” and/or “Queen Bee”. Now, vintage equipment, consisting of large PA speakers and amps, two turntables, a mixer and microphones, occupies a good chunk of her living room. The blue- and black-colored release of “This Is A Song” and “Ease It To Me”, by Shirlean Williams & The Tempo’s Band, hangs on the wall, overlooking the equipment.

The Fabulous Tempo’s quietly handed out free copies of this, their only release, to dance contest winners at local gigs. There were no lucky breaks, and the record – only pressed in a quantity of 250 copies – would be forgotten. This wasn’t an issue of quality, even though the origin of the killer B-side is a little sketchy. Set this track into motion and within seconds you’ll instinctively be singing, “Without love, where would you be now / Without love-ove-ove-oo/Where would you be now.” But you’ll quickly realize your error as the Doobie Brothers’ indelible “Long Train Running” riff morphs into Nolla’s own rhythmic, sexual Fayetteville funk, with pulsing drums and congas, twangy guitar and punchy Hammond. This isn’t really a song so much as a funky vamp on top of which Nolla and her drummer make their way through an innuendo-shaded dialogue:

Nolla: Hey man, whatcha doing over there?
Drummer: Trying to get this girl to ease it to me.
Nolla: You know all you need to do man?
Drummer: Tell me about it.
Nolla: All you need to do is blow your horn.
Drummer: Blow my horn?
Nolla: Yeah, blow your horn.

Midway through this exchange, the words and music break for a thumping drum and conga solo that ensures that this is much more special than a rock ‘n’ roll rip. Coincidentally, earlier in her career in ’67 or so, Nolla seems to have lifted a few bars from “Open The Door To Your Heart”, by Detroit soul legend Darrell Banks, for her funky instrumental “Reach Down And Get It,” recorded by the Soul Rockers.
JASON PERLMUTTER has been researching N.C. soul groups and plans to one day write a book on the subject.

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