78: “Ooh” b/w “The Kentuckian Song” by Brook Benton. Okeh 7058. Recorded in New York City, 5/26/55 and 6/2/55.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Brook Benton was born in rural South Carolina in 1931. His father was a respected chorale director, and Brook—or rather, at this point in his life, Benjamin Franklin Peay—got his start sing Gospel music. His first excursion to New York City, in 1948, saw him working with groups like The Jerusalem Stars and The Golden Gate Quartet, but to little success. He returned to South Carolina, where he joined a secular singing group called The Sandmen, a group which included former Ink Spot Adriel McDonald. The group gave New York City another shot, and they were signed to Epic Records, though they were soon transferred to Okeh. Both labels were owned by Columbia Records, and the switch to Okeh—which was best known for R&B and Country records—indicates a lack of faith in the group’s pop appeal. Still, In 1955, when the Sandmen’s first records were recorded, a lack of pop appeal should have been taken as a compliment.

What we have here is the last song The Sandmen would ever record. Clue #1 is the simple fact that they are only listed as backing vocalists. Brook Benton is the name in big capitals on the label, and it was his name on the other side of the disc as well, though in that case, The Sandmen weren’t mentioned at all. One week after the session in which “Ooh” was recorded, Okeh’s management had Brook return to the studio to record the theme song to Burt Lancaster’s upcoming film, “The Kentuckian.”

The film song is a touch maudlin to my ears, but “Ooh” is a smooth shot of mid-tempo fun. Brook’s voice is front and center in the mix, and the arrangement of the song is steady and deceptively simple, thanks to a 23 year-old Quincy Jones, who had arranged Big Maybelle’s original version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” just three months before.

Speaking of Quincy Jones, take a close look at the label at the top of the post. An O. Jones gets the writing credit, but I couldn’t find anything about him. Obviously, Jones is just about the most common last name in the English language, but still, one wonders if Quincy wrote the song and there was a just a misprint in the plant.

Anyway, Brook’s solo career had begun, though it would take a while to actually take off. There was a solid performance of “If Only I Had Known” in the Alan Freed vehicle, “Mr. Rock and Roll.” It must have been a great slow dance number.

In 1959, Benton found success with two songs that he’d originally written for Nat “King” Cole. The songs were co-written by Clyde Otis, who was an executive at Mercury. He convinced Benton to keep the songs for himself and to record them for the label. That proved to be a smart move. Here’s Brook performing “It’s Just a Matter of Time” on the Ed Sullivan show; it would peak at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and was #1 for nine weeks on the R&B chart. It would be covered by Randy Travis in 1989. The other song originally meant for Cole was “Endlessly,” which peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1960 saw Benton recording a couple of fun duets with Dinah Washington. Here is the better of the two (in my opinion)—”A Rockin’ Good Way to Fall In Love.” It made it to #1 on the R&B charts.

1963’s “Hotel Happiness” would be Brook’s penultimate Top Ten single. It was #3 in the Hot 100 and #2 in R&B.

Benton’s work over the course of the rest of the decade was less successful, though certainly worthy of a listen. Check out his take on Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Can Take the Place of You.”

He didn’t strike gold again until 1970, with the classic “Rainy Night In Georgia.”

Benton’s next two records failed to chart, however, and by 1972, his recording career was over, though he still performed. In the end, 49 of his songs charted in the Billboard Hot 100. And yet, until finding this 78 in the Archive, I though he was a one hit wonder, known only for what turned out to be his last hit. Now I know better.

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