Ecko Records

The studio and office of Ecko in the basement of one storey office building in a surrounding of also one storey buildings for exhibitions, car dealers, small offices, typical of smaller through routes in American cities. We had agreed to meet with Ecko’s owner John Ward and co-workers Raymond Moore and Larry Chambers. It turned out to be a pleasant afternoon with an unexpected bonus, the legendary Morris J Williams suddenly turned up.


Entrance to Ecko Records 

English version of article in the Swedish blues magazine Jefferson 157 (2008). By Anders Lillsunde 

The studio and office of Ecko in the basement of one storey office building in a surrounding of also one storey buildings for exhibitions, car dealers, small offices, typical of smaller through routes in American cities. We had agreed to meet with Ecko’s owner John Ward and co-workers Raymond Moore and Larry Chambers. It turned out to be a pleasant afternoon with an unexpected bonus, the legendary Morris J Williams suddenly turned up.

Not without pride the Ecko staff tells us that Disco Duck was recorded in 1976 in their studio at North Hollywood for Stax founder Estelle Axton’s Fretone label. Disco Duck became when licensed to RSO Records the last number 1 pop hit to come out of Memphis.  The profits from the hit song did help Bobby Manuel to finance the completion of the studio.  A little while after that the Stax co-founder Jim Stewart came into a partnership with Bobby and it turned out to be the last studio Jim Stewart was involved in. And in 1995 Ecko Records bought the studio. 

John Ward is characterized by equal parts of idealism and business. He stepped into blues music through old delta blues and the legend Son Thomas. When an older Stax Legend, Ollie Nightingale didn’t get his record released, John started Ecko. The road is still the same. The old war horses, those who never gave up, have had a new career at Ecko, artists like Lee Shot Williams, Barbara Carr, Bill Coday and Denise Lasalle, but also song writers like Raymond Moore, writer/producer Morris J Williams and writer/marketing genius Larry Chambers are found at Ecko, all with a back ground in soul of the 60’s. But one must not take Ecko for another nostalgic trip.  Ecko is at the edge and one of the most important records companies within southern soul, a term for the traditional African American music of the southern states with roots in blues, gospel and R&B. Once R&B contained everything from James Brown to Howling Wolf, before we started to fragmentize the music by categories. Southern Soul shall be seen in the same way, even though the number of terms may vary with the listeners ear; blues, soul, soul blues or R&B.  

The cds from Ecko are among the best productions within this field. The latest Donnie Ray cd is a true pleasure to listen to on good stereo equipment. It’s possible to distinguish an Ecko record from most other companies. The sound is crystal clear, even for the highest frequencies.  On the southern soul market you have to get your records played at the clubs but most of all on the radio. The single principle is important. But Ecko still releases each cd with many strong songs, where other companies concentrate on the radio song with the rest as only fillers.  The southern soul records have therefore some shaky reputation.

It was agreed with John Ward to get an interview with the legendary song writer Raymond Moore, who already wrote songs for Wilson Pickett. Raymond together with John himself is behind most of Ecko’s hit records. When we arrived at Ecko we were met by Larry Chambers as Raymond and John hadn’t arrived yet.  When Morris J Williams suddenly turned up I had to get a firm grip of the chair not to fall off.  I had to forget all my planning and take the moments as they came. Morris is involved in much that is recorded in Memphis today. He had a start in Chicago with Johnny Moore and Jack Daniels, who wrote songs and produced for the legendary Four Brothers and Bright Star labels, before moving on to Mercury and its subsidiary Blue Rock, where Junior Wells had his last hit. Then they went on to Brunswick and Dakar, two legendary labels with gangster owners.   

Morris J Williams and Raymond Moore

Morris J Williams and Raymond Moore

My career started in the 1960s at Mercury Records.  Mercury had some successful artists, such as Jerry Butler and Fontella Bass. By the late 1960s, I switched labels and signed with Brunswick Records.  At that time, Brunswick’s recording artists included Jackie Wilson, Tyrone Davis, The Chi-Lites, Major Lance, Barbara Acklin and Otis Clay.   Around 1971 I moved to Memphis from Chicago and started working with Willie Mitchell, London/Hi records and Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson and his daughter Syleena. I also headed a vocal group from Chicago at that time. I stayed until the late 70’s. Then I moved to Los Angeles and worked with Rick James.  After the Los Angeles riots I came back to Memphis and started working with Ecko Records.

Did you write for Jackie Wilson?
No.  I learned from Jackie Wilson. To me, I was not very good.  So I would sit on the side line and learn.  Jackie Wilson was one of the greatest artists I ever saw perform.  He was a real nice guy. I was a writer then.

When I got out of high school, I went straight into music. When I was eighteen years old, Johnny Moore took me under his wing.  Moore  was from Mississippi and moved to Chicago in the late 50’s. He was my best friend. I keep his picture on the wall. Johnnie Moore wrote “Turn Back the Hands of Time” for Tyrone Davis and he wrote for Jackie Wilson. Moore will be always remembered as the best of all times.

I saw Jack Daniels a couple of weeks ago. I still stay in contact with him. He’s alive and kicking. He is a big distributor for Jack Daniels whiskey.   He is still in the music but doing a lot of country music now. Those were the best times of my life, in Chicago with them. Since I was eighteen years old, every turn in life has been because of Johnny Moore.

I do pop, r&b and blues, I have songs ready for artists all over the country. I did songs for Syl Johnson and his daughter, Syleena.  I did her first record, “Baby I’m So Confused”. Then she became a hit and R Kelly took over.

I saw Michael Jackson when he was 9 years old.

Is it the same Johnny Moore who was involved in the Four Brothers label?
Yes, it’s the same guy. You remember that one? I can’t believe it. I haven’t heard the name in 40 years.  I spent 4 whole weeks with him in Chicago. We wrote 50 new songs. He was ready to go to Europe to promote his reissue album. He went to church the day before he went on the plane. There he passed on . The CD is on Grapewine Records

Your back ground is in Chicago soul
I’m in that book Chicago Soul by Robert Pruter.  People from everywhere were there, in Chicago.  The sound got entangled. It’s right there in between Motown and the Memphis sound. Chicago was a jazzy town.

Was there any difference writing for jazzy soul singers from Chicago compared to the basic Memphis sound.
It’s more soulful here. It’s more of a gospel blues. The gospel type feeling. Chicago was more jazzy up town, like Motown. When I got to Memphis, I got the raw soul. It was easy to feel it. I was born in St. Louis. But I like the Chicago sound.

There are only three sounds; The Memphis Sound, The Motown Sound, And Chicago as a mixture of both sounds.  There were so many from Memphis living in Chicago and they took the sound with them. Philadelphia was very big, but it was nothing but a souped up Memphis sound. Everything I heard from Philadelphia, I heard in Memphis in its original form. The top was Motown, but the bottom, the bass, was Memphis. Motown was soulful pop

Chicago was never that soulful to me, Lou Rawls, Gene Chandler, Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield, they were the Chicago sound.

Outside Ecko Records

Outside Ecko Records

I was in my 20’s when I got started. I’m 68 right now. I first started out writing poems.  I used to love to write poems back at school. An old friend of mine, David Porter, we came together writing for Carla Thomas and her dad. Larry Chambers and I became friends at about this time.  Larry and I went to Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  We did pretty well down there and started writing for Fame Records.

How many of you older writers from the 60’s are still out there? You must be one of the very few.
I’m not sure. I don’t think David Porter is doing anything right now. I haven’t heard from him in a long time.

Larry Chambers – I have talked to him. He is trying to do something on the other side of the R&B stuff. George Jackson is still around. Frank O Johnson doesn’t do that much writing anymore. I guess you could put Raymond in the dinosaur category. But there is not that many around. They have passed on. Some of them got burned out.

Larry – The market is totally different. Look at Smokey Robinson and Lionel Richie. Lionel Richie had to come out and get to the young writers and do the new R&B stuff to get a hit record. Prior to that 3 years ago he did an album of his old writing in traditional style that sold very few copies.

Smokey Robinson is one of the greatest writers of all times, he couldn’t   sell. His old style of writing did not appeal, so he didn’t have  the 13 -34 market and he didn’t have the 35 and up market. We love his lyrics but they did not appeal to the market of today. He had to do the same that Lionel Riche did. He had to go to the studio with some of these young fellows and do the music they are doing. Which is the same music, but lyrically the content is not as strong and written in that same structure he did back then. It’s the changing of the market. In 10 years it may change back again.

What is the difference between now and then?
We are doing songs today that you couldn’t do 30 -40 years ago. You couldn’t even play them. But you can play them now.

You have been in the business for so long, how is it possible to write songs that appeal to people through 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and the 00’?
It is my desire to write songs. You know when you write a bad song that doesn’t do anything. You have to be able to regroup and say “I got to do something that the people like”

I have lots of young men calling me, ask me how do this. You can record but trying to get on the market that is something else. The radio stations get hundreds of CDs every week. A new artist really has to have something different from what other artists have already out there.

Disc jockeys pick songs they like, not what you like. You want to  make sure that you get as many A-songs on a cd as possible. Because any song they like will be played to the public. When you mail out to different radio stations, every program director has a favorite pick. If they pick different songs on the cd, you have a stronger chance of really moving it. It’s not easy for a new artist to break in if they do not have something special.

Where do you get all the ideas from, you must have a great imagination?
That’s part of it. I get ideas out of what I think adult people would like. I go from there

But isn’t it hard to come up with clever lyric?
Sometimes the ideas don’t call for strong lyrics. But I used to come up with something pretty well.

Sometimes seeing people going through different changes, gives me ideas, especially cheating. I get ideas from what they say. Those types of songs you can do well, because they are more factual. People buy records they can relate to.

Why are the nostalgic songs so popular today, like Mississippi Woman and Saturday Night Fish Fry?
I’m looking at music this way. Nothing is really new, it revolves. Ideas that were around 20 or 30 years ago are coming back. That’s why you get songs that came out long time ago, but in different versions of something like that.  It’s nothing really the music that’s new, it’s the timing that brings it around again and again. What appeals to someone you can take and write in so many different ways and get so many artists to record in so many different ways

The artists recording these songs are older, do they appeal to an older audience?
People like Denise Lasalle and Otis Clay they kept some of the younger audience. It depends on the song. That’s the way music is. No one really knows how’s it gonna be, until it has happened.

To me it’s not about their style as what they are looking for, give them what they want. When John says we are going to write for Denise LaSalle, I know she is a tough type of a woman, and strong lyric type of woman. And I try to come up with something like that for her. Two-three years ago I did “You Should Have Kept It In The Bedroom” and it hit all right. 

Sheba Potts-Wright is not that hard lyric type of a person. She wants to sing about love. I try to write songs like that for her. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t.

Would it be possible today to get big artists like Johnnie Taylor  or Al Green?
I would be hard, I believe because of the way the things are. It takes a lot of money, I believe, to create an artist and get him known or heard. I don’t think a company is willing to spend that kind of money.  If Al Green was trying to hit today, he wouldn’t had made it, but he came along at the right time and that made him a super star. It would be hard to make another Al Green or Johnnie Taylor or Sam Cooke because the way music is. I have heard some of the companies have tried and they fell on their face. The music is so categorized.  It’s almost impossible to get a big act going. When Al Green came along back in the 60’s that was mostly good music and good songs. If you had a good artist and a good song it was straight to the top.  Today you are blues singer, you are this or you are that. 

Larry was born 1/18/47 in Memphis,Tn. As a Child his Dad would take him and his brother down on Beale Street. At that time he was 4 or 5 years old. His Dad played Harmonica and his cousin played Guitar. Larry loved to listen to all the musicians that played the Clubs. This was the spark that light the fire in him. By the age of 9 or 10 he was writing poems and love letters for his friends and himself  and other kids in school. He learned to write songs by listening to records by Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and other Artists at that time. At the age of 17 he met Raymond Moore who had written songs with David Porter a Stax writer. Raymond and Larry began writing together. They joined Homer Banks and began writing for The Shamettes, Sam the Sham’s back ground singers. They recorded a 45rpm in 1965 titled ”You’re Welcome Back”. In 1968 Raymond and Larry met Earl Cage who was looking for writers. He took Raymond, George Jackson and Larry to Rick Hall of Fame Records. They wrote ”Man and A Half” for Wilson Pickett that year.  They also wrote for Clarence Carter, Candi Stanton and other artists on the Fame Label. Larry has Co-written songs for Bobby Bland, Johnnie Taylor, The Staple Singers and many other artists. In the late 70’s he began engineering at Studios around Memphis and in 1984 his Friend Wade Wheeler and he started their own label called Soul-Out Records. They recorded Morris Williams (using the moniker Magic Morris), their first artist and Larry worked promotion for their label until they folded in 1987. In 1995, John Ward called Larry to work with him on his new Ecko Records Label. John had just recorded Ollie Nightingale’s ”I’ll Drink Your Bathwater Baby” CD. Larry promoted Ollie, Barbara Carr, Bill Coday, Charles Wilson and Chuck Roberson for the label in the United States and overseas in the late 90’s.Presently he is promoting  O.B. Buchana, David Brinston, Ms Jody, Donnie Ray, Sheba Potts Wright, Carl Sims, Mystery Man, Sweet Angel, and Denise LaSalle for Ecko Records.

New marketing channels
“It’s totally different than it was 10-15 years ago. The market has totally changed. You have to use new market strategies, primarily computers, downloading, mail order. We lost so many mom and pop stores. Basically catalogue is picking up some of that as well as down loading. But nothing compares to 10-15 years ago when things were working pretty well and you could sell a bunch of records. Things have totally changed. The market is off at least 60% fr what it was 10 years ago. We are holding on. Our strategy is volume. We are putting out anywhere between 10 to 12 cds per year. 1 or 2 cds a year ain’t getting it done”

Juke Boxes
“Now, there are electronic jukeboxes, which are not like it used to be. They prerecord the majority of the music, a lot of them don’t use cd’s anymore. It’s prerecorded, or they have the music that we call piped.

“On “Mississippi Woman” by Denise LaSalle, we did do a single that was mailed to the radio stations as well as to the club jocks and the juke box vendors we still have. They get smaller and smaller as the years go by. That song was preplanned to be marketed as a single. The destination market was primarily Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, and from there to the other southern states. And then we began to market up north.

In our market today, with all the competition that we have out there right now and with the way program directors and music directors do their music, it’s a good thing to do a single, because if you put 10 to 12 songs on a cd, they never get played. Back in the 60’s and 70’s you could get 4  – 5 singles off one album and the album stayed out here  2 – 3 years. With the amount of artists and the limitation of airplay, you got to come out there with a single and it’s got to be strong. Strategy and marketing has changed a little bit, but not totally”

Larry Chambers and Anders Lillsunde in the Ecko control room

Larry Chambers and Anders Lillsunde in the studio


Problems with the single and cd format
“I would say they don’t go through the full cd anymore. The majority of the companies are not going to take the time to go through and do 5 or 6 singles off the cd. And most of all dealing with the radio where radio is right now, the program director doesn’t even go that far into each song. If you get 3 singles you can consider that remarkable.

We (Ecko) have a tradition.  We are not going to ask you for $15.98 for one song. We want the cd itself to have 8 or 9 good songs that you want to go buy. You hear this song in a club and you heard another additional song off that cd. Then you hear that there is more than one song on that cd that you like. Now you are interested in going to buy. If it’s just one song, you are not going to get $15.98. We have a lot of that in our market, that’s why we get a lot of bad reviews. Basically we don’t get that many bad reviews, because we give you more than one song. Of 10 songs on a cd at least 7 we classify as A-sides and not as B-sides. But you’re always gonna have B-sides, because not every song comes up to that same level. We try to have more A than B in order to ask for your money. We give you what you want, not what we want you to have.  Here at Ecko we will give you s many A songs as possible. When we cut a cd and we feel a song is not appropriate in line with the other A-songs, we leave it off the cd. We maybe come back and put in on another cd as a B-song”

Changed appeal
“The people that love this music are still around. But they are not able to hear the music because of the changes in radio.  We have lost lots of stations down through the years, primarily in our major markets.   But since the major companies have been moving in, lots of them are taking us (Soul/Blues programming) out.  We do not fit the format or they changed the format. There was no room for soul blues music. Right now we do have a lot of internet radio, which is a great help to get our music out across the country. But it is nothing like being right there in your own home town where you could pick up the phone and talk to the DJ. You know the old radio. We don’t have that in a lot of our major markets anymore. And for some of our markets we do have, they have consultants from another state programming the radio for states they don’t live in or know very much about.  That itself hurts the programming of the music we are putting out there. The DJ may not even know anything about the music or understand the music. He is not in a position to play what he wants. That’s a part of our downfall also.

Sometimes you have to go with what you got. We are doing the same thing we were doing 15 years ago. The course has changed, but we are still in the same car”

Listener categories
“Major radio stations are still with hiphop, rap and R&B. It’s difficult for us to get into that market because of the format. Their format is basically demographic wise from 13 to 34. Our market is primarily from 35 and up. We call it adult music. Lyrically, we wouldn’t be doing it, if there wasn’t a market for it. We call it “going up to the line but not crossing over the line”. We give them what they want. Unless we have a song that fits the R&B hip-hop market, it puts us in a position where we are not going to get into that market. We do have several markets where we might give it a try. Presently we are not thinking about that market. That market is not open to us. We have older and more mature artists.

They are more concerned about a 19 – 21 year old artist singing to a 13 year old, than about a 62 year old artist singing to a 13 year old. When it comes down to the right song, you could be 76 and appeal to 13 years old and up. Now and then something like that happens, but not all the time.

Sir Charles Jones hit that market years ago with that “Is Anybody Lonely”. He brought the demographics down. He got that 13 – 17 year old market, which was a help for all of us in the soul blues market. Behind that it gave us Sheba-Potts Wright. Her first cd release also gave us part of that younger market and got us played on the other type of  stations.  The right song – , it happened to pick up that demographic. We wish we could do that with every cd, but it’s not gonna work.

We are gonna stay where we are. But if we got something that we feel is on that border line and had an opportunity to be played on that R&B, we would give our best shot. But primarily go after that market, no! We prefer to have a song in that market played by public demand. We can’t afford to go after that market.

R. Kelly is important, but what he is doing is nothing totally new to Raymond and myself music wise. He has the appeal demographically of that 13 and up market. He is into stepping, Chicago stepping, and he is doing a lot of that stepping dancing. He has that groove. I must give him credit, he understands the market and he knows what sells. He can pick up the 35 and up if he has the right lyrical content. He is smart to do that, I must give him credit”

The beat
“Believe it or not, in the last 8 -10 years the market has become more danceable than it once was. It’s reflecting back in time.  The 60’s and early 70’s were dancing periods prior to the disco era coming in. During the disco era, dancing was really coming in. Then it slacked off during the 80’ and 90’s but dancing is still number 1. When we cut a cd now we may have 2 -3 slow songs. The song that’s going to get the market is either a mid tempo or dance tune. The club DJ’s play the fast up tempo tune, that’s what they have to do to get people to buy drinks. If the up tempo tune hits in the clubs, the radio is definitively going to play it. Slow tunes are not as popular as they used to be but dance songs in the soul blues market are still on the top.

The old dance tunes like Sweet Soul Music was 112 – 118 BPM (beats per minute). During the last 6 or 7 years swing and stepping (dance types)  slowed it down a little bit to 105 to 110 BPM. That’s what people are dancing to at the clubs. You give them what they want. They are not jumping like that anymore (60’s)”

Blues, R&B and Southern Soul
“When we think of blues, we think of Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Howling Wolf. Tyrone Davis never classified himself as a blues singer, nor did Johnnie Taylor. They were R&B. Beginning back in the 50’s with Stagger Lee and songs like that it was R&B music. Rhythm and Blues is not necessarily hard core blues.  We look at it totally different from how somebody else would look at it. We don’t do old original blues. We do R&B music starting in 50’s up till today. It’s just a matter of playing on words. Some people look at what we are doing as being blues. Some 10 years ago our music was given another name, it was called Southern Soul. I think that originated from Stan Lewis. He was the first I ever heard using that word. R&B today they basically give that to the young folks. What they are doing is R&B. and they call what we are doing today as Southern Soul. But there is no difference.  They are doing nothing different from what Raymond and I did back in 1965. They are only using more electronics. Cord wise and structure wise it’s still the same. The people and writers like us give the music the name, not necessarily the artist or the PD’s or MD’s at the radio stations” .

John Ward in his officeJOHN WARD
“We have been recording basically the same type of music. We have had a few new artists since then. Ms. Jody is one. She has really turned out to be a good artist.  She’s doing pretty well breaking into the southern soul market. She was a new artist when she came along. She came up here recording in the studio.  We rent the studio out some times but we don’t do a lot of that. However, people still do want to record. That’s how we found Ms. Jody.  She came with some other people in this field. She was recording her own cd, and came up here to record some of it. She kind of hung around and wanted to be on the label.  She was really persistent. I listened to the record, but was not interested in it. I didn’t feel it was that strong commercially. We finally decided to go ahead and do it. She has really turned out to be a good artist. She is really versatile and can do a lot of styles

I would say the market is more competitive today. There are a lot of people putting out records who are trying to break into the market and want to be in the market. I wouldn’t say the music is any better, the music is probably worse over all. I get calls all the time from people who want to have their records out. We have never done too much of that. They are not commercially done. That is part of our expertise; we know how to write songs and come up with the product and do a commercial record. We can do it all from the beginning to the end. We know what it takes.

One of the main things we look for in an artist is that they are working artists basically, that they are in the field out there working. That’s what I tell a lot of them. Everybody wants to have a record, everybody wants to be on the radio, but everybody doesn’t want to put in the work to have a career. If an artist doesn’t persist in following a career path, there is not much you can do with a record after a certain point. I consider any one working, performing and with a name in the field, as an artist.  If I come across a good unknown artist, of course I would be interested, but they are hard to find.

The artists just come. They find out about us.  Ever since we began with Ollie Nightingale, “I Drink Your Bath Water Baby,” a lot of the older people started calling just as they found out there was another label. Like Lee Shot, Bill Coday, Chuck Roberson. Rufus Thomas, he just called one day and came over.

I don’t know if Southern soul could cross over to a white market. Southern Soul basically is to me a traditional type of music and it’s always going to be tied to the culture. As far as any crossover happening from that type of a field to a wider audience, it could. Crazy things happen. A lot of people are pushing for that, they write about it, they read about it and keep talking about it, but I don’t know. I’m not looking for that, really

It has be a little bit closer to R&B to happen.  But you have to be careful, that’s always a slippery type of slope. Too far to the R&B and you lose the traditional folks, too far to the blues you are not getting into the R&B charts. The traditional market is going to remain, regardless. That is what the southern soul market is to me more than anything else, a traditional market. It is like traditional gospel music, it’s not really going to change.

It’s really about the people going out to the clubs. That’s really who the music is appealing to. If you go out the clubs in the south anywhere, you are not going to see people in their 50’s or 60’s. There are people in the 20’s and 30’s out there listening to the music in the clubs. Hip hop is really kids’ music.  Teenagers, who are too young to go out clubbing, are at home listening to hip hop.  There are lots of clubs where they don’t allow people under 25 in, because they don’t want that type of crowd. If you are in that age bracket (over 25), what contemporary music can you listen to?   There isn’t much. There is adult type of R&B, but that’s not really played in the clubs as much.”



Ecko Records discography
John Ward (swedish)
Barbara Carr (swedish)
O.B. Buchana (swedish)
Sheba Potts-Wright (swedish)
Denise LaSalle (swedish)


Ecko Records

Anders Lillsunde / Jefferson #157

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