Sights and sounds to accompany our feature story by Don Harrison
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“Church Street Sally” by Jimmy Moore
Vocalist Jimmy Moore recorded several times for Frank Guida over the years. This electrifying b-side on the S.P.Q.R. label has become one of the Norfolk Sound's most collectible artifacts, the tale of a seductive Church Street siren that ends with Moore's memorably impassioned pleas of lust.
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“Raining Teardrops” by Rockmasters
Singer Joe Webster was the voice behind many songs for Frank Guida's labels over the years— with the Wild Ones, the Anglos and here with the Rockmasters—and also cut some memorable sides for Noah Biggs' Shiptown label. This atmospheric ballad may be his finest recorded achievement as well as the prettiest song to ever come out of the Norfolk Sound studio.
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“Workin’ For My Baby” by Lenis Guess
This Guida/Guess collaboration was a huge regional hit in 1966. It was no less than an R&B song sung by a soul singer backed up by a white garage band. Several other Norfolk Sound singers tried out the tune, from Bonds to Bill Deal and the Rhondels, but the original version is the keeper.
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“Can’t Nobody Love Me” by The Soul Duo
Shiptown's most successful recordings were by the Soul Duo, which paired Joe Webster and Ida Sands in a fiesty duet format that played upon the same fight-and-love dynamic that Stax-Volt's Otis Redding and Carla Thomas made famous in Memphis. This 1968 cut is one of the most infectious songs to come out of Norfolk, complete with an almost Sitar-like guitar sound and a groove that never quits.
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“Why Should I Dance” by The Sheiks
The Sheiks were the first band that Frank Guida discovered in Norfolk, originally named the Five Pearls. He even got them briefly signed to Atlantic Records in the late '50s. The quintet cut this chugging philosophy lesson of love in 1962.
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“If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul
Frank Guida fell in love with calypso music when he was stationed in the West Indies during World War II. He and co-writer Joe Royster collaborated on numerous rewrites of calypso classics, like this tune, based on the song "Ugly Woman" originally recorded by the legendary Rafael De Leon, aka Roaring Lion. The hepped-up Jimmy Soul version hit the top of the Billboard Top 100 in 1963.
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“Rescue Me” by Ida Sands
Situated across from Frank Guida's record store on Church Street, Noah Biggs, a former manager of General Johnson and the Showmen, started the Shiptown record label with his girlfriend, singer Ida Sands. A pint-size belter and wildly popular with local crowds, Sands recorded numerous standout songs for Shiptown, including this kinetic and raw raveup that featured the work of her backing group, the Idets.
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“Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds
Frank Guida's Legrand label went to No. 1 with this stompin' slab of party noise. It was based on an earlier instrumental, "A Night With Daddy G," cut with saxophonist/ bandleader Gene "Daddy G" Barge. Much imitated, you can hear this song's influence in everything from Dion's "Runaround Sue" to "Aretha Franklin's "Don't Play That Song."
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“I Wanna Holler but the Town’s Too Small” by Gary U.S. Bonds
Years after the Norfolk Sound's heyday had passed, unreleased songs began to trickle out that were every bit as interesting as the hits. This exhilarating cut, with jungle drums, melodic horns and a lyric that slyly touches upon Norfolk's small town status, almost sounds modern today.
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“Church Street in the Summertime” by Jimmy Soul
Jimmy Soul, aka James McCleese, was another local singer that Frank Guida groomed to national chart success. This 1963 b-side sings the praises of hanging out in downtown Norfolk and features a great interlude where Jimmy is introduced (by Guida, naturally) to the whole Norfolk Sound gang.
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“Just Ask Me” by Lenis Guess
Singer/writer/producer Lenis Guess became Frank Guida's longest-running collaborator, and a prolific figure in Norfolk's R&B and soul scene in the '60s and '70s. On the frenetic, horn-blasting "Just Ask Me," Guess is backed up by the popular showband, Charlie McClendon and the Magnificents. In recent years, this song has been revived and celebrated by the U.K.'s "Northern Soul" DJs.
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“Hands Off” by The Azaleas
In a nod to Motown’s success, Frank Guida signed up girl groups (aka the Supremes) to his roster. The most memorable were the Azaleas, led by Sarah Wooten and Lily Russell and named after Norfolk's official flower. Their “Hands Off," on the Romulus label, stills jumps out of the speakers with a fierce growl.
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“I’ve Got a Whole Lot to be Thankful For” by Wilson Williams
Singer/guitarist Wilson Williams, who would later go on to sing with the Platters, waxed this stark and beautiful ballad for Noah Biggs' How Big label in 1969. Williams cites local vocalist Garland Owens, who cut some memorable songs for Frank Guida, as his primary influence and mentor.
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“Funky Virginia” by Sir Guy
Bandleader Sir Guy made the Commonwealth sound like the coolest place on earth with this infectious late-60s classic that extols the music, the girls and the nightspots of Virginia. The song was waxed for the DPG label, which was originally started by producer Lenis Guess, businessman George Perkins and singer Kenneth Deal.
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“New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds
Music producer Frank Guida assembled a local all-star band of R&B players, the Church Street Five, in 1959. He paired them with a young doo-wop singer named Gary Anderson (later U.S. Bonds) that he discovered crooning on a street corner. They waxed a blasting tune, “New Orleans” (Legrand 1003), that would top out on the Billboard Top 100 at No. 6 in 1960.
Watch Put Me Down Easy: The Charlie McLendon Story, a documentary about the man and his band The Magnificents.