Ani DiFranco Rick James Brian McKnight The Goo Goo Dolls Janice Mitchell

 

2005 BUFFALO MUSIC HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
 

Venetta Fields

BMHOF Class of 2005

 

Venetta Fields is an American singer best known as a session musician for leading rock and pop acts of the 1970s including Pink Floyd, Barbara Streisand, The Rolling Stones and many, many others. Since 1982 she has lived in Australia.

 

Born in Buffalo, New York, into a religious family, Fields' early musical training came through regular gospel performances at church, and also inspiration from US singer Aretha Franklin. Her singing career officially began with The Templaires, a group she formed with members of her church, followed by The Corinthian Gospel Singers. In late 1961 Ike and Tina Turner Revue were playing in Buffalo and Fields heard there was an opening for a new member of Tina's backing vocalists The Ikettes. With a successful audition Fields joined immediately. In addition to backing Tina in performance and on recordings, Venetta recorded on many singles by The Ikettes (including "Peaches and Cream") and was given some solo songs on live recordings. Ike moved his base to Los Angeles and in 1966 Venetta left the revue, along with fellow Ikettes Jessie Smith and Robbie Montgomery. The trio signed to Mirwood Records and they became The Mirettes from 1966-1970. Ike hired some new Ikettes.

 

From about 1969, along with fellow vocalists Clydie King and Sherlie Matthews, Fields quickly became one of the most sought-after backing singers in the US, working with artists including Diana Ross, Steely Dan, Joe Cocker, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, The Supremes, Neil Diamond, Bob Seger, Tim Buckley, Paul Butterfield, Leonard Cohen and also with Aretha Franklin; her mentor and inspiration. Notable performances during this time included the Dark Side of the Moon Tour with Pink Floyd, and recording the Rolling Stones' album Exile on Main St.

 

In about 1971 Venetta, Clydie and Sherlie formed The Blackberries, with Sherlie as producer/songwriter as well as vocalist. In 1972 Steve Marriott asked them to record and tour with UK hard rock band Humble Pie, and produced an unreleased Blackberries LP with Humble Pie as the backing band. The Blackberries and Humble Pie parted company in 1973.

 

Fields and King appeared as Barbara Streisand's backing singers (The Oreos) in the 1976 film A Star is Born.

 

Following a tour to Australia in the late 1970s with Boz Scaggs, Fields decided to relocate permanently in 1982. In the years that followed, she continued to work with US artists when they toured Australia including George Benson, Dionne Warwick, Barbara Streisand, Thelma Houston and Randy Crawford, and also with leading Australian artists, including Richard Clapton, Australian Crawl, Jimmy Barnes, James Morrison and, most famously, with John Farnham. Fields formed a new group in Melbourne in mid '80s, Venetta's Taxi, which performed regularly as backing for local and touring artists.

 

It was in Australia that Fields made her theatre debut; starring as Alice in Big River. Receiving rave reviews for this performance, she soon became increasingly involved in music theatre. Productions in which Fields has appeared to date include Blues in the Night, Chess (concert version), two plays for the Melbourne Theatre Company - The Crucible and The Racing Demon - and as Ruby in Buddy The Musical (The Buddy Holly Story). During this time she also formed and toured her own show, Gospel Jubilee.

 

Currently residing on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Fields is still active as a singer and songwriter. In 2002, she received the Australian Gospel Singer of the Year award, and recently released her latest album, At Last. Fields is also active as a vocal coach, with several students including 2005 Australian Idol winner Kate DeAraugo.

 

THE BLACKBERRIES & HUMBLE PIE

Venetta was the spark that led to the Blackberries joining Humble Pie. Steve was a huge fan of her deep velvet voice and outstanding vocal ability - and his desire was to go get Venetta when he first thought about adding girl singers to the band.

 

Venetta says "I went to a clairvoyant this particular Monday in 1972, and she told me that on Thursday I would get a phone call that would change my life. On Thursday Dee Anthony, who was Humble Pie's Manager, called from New York, and said that this little tiny man called Steve Marriott had been listening to my work for a very long time, and wanted me to get two other girls and come to London and record their latest album. I was so surprised, because I had never heard of them.

 

We went to London, and were living in an apartment. Later, after we arrived, Steve knocked on the door, we let him in, he walked straight to my chair, fell on his knees and kissed my hand. I was shocked, but blushingly so!

 

We started recording in a few days and found that we got along great with all the boys, and especially Steve. He and I had a very deep loving relationship. I was like his sister. He took very good care of us.

 

The recording went so well he asked us to tour the States with him. That was when I found out how popular they were! I was truly impressed. I had toured with a few artists at that time - but never as popular as this"

 

Venetta was born in Buffalo, New York, where, to come right up to date, in 2005 she gained rightful recognition through her induction into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.

 

But way back then, in her early years, she began singing in church with her mother and with her uncle the Reverend Henry Newkirk. Her initial music career began as a gospel singer - in many local groups as well as church choirs. Probably, the most prominent of these early groups were The Templaires and the Corinthian Gospel Singers.

 

Venetta was a beautician by trade, after high school, although she says "I didn't have the magic in my hands to create styles". By chance, though, while working in a local beauty salon, a DJ came in to put a poster on the window, and left a couple of passes to the Ike and Tina Turner concert playing at the ice rink nearby.

 

He had heard that Ike had a vacancy in the Ikettes, and he was thinking about one of Venetta's friends.

 

The friend was unavailable - so Venetta asked if she could audition instead. Lo and behold, Ike gave her the cab fare home to grab her clothes and join the tour!

 

The ride lasted for five years, from late 1961 until 1966, during which time Venetta was able to nurture her remarkable singing talent, and hone it on the road with one of the best live acts around, as she became an integral part of the Ike and Tina Revue.

"I was an Ikette for five years. It was a rough job, but it was a very good experience. It's just like a school. You go from grade 1 to 2, not from 1 to 8. And when you graduate you have to leave. There is such a thing as staying too long; when you start getting stagnant and stifled by what you're doing. We almost stayed too long"

 

THE IKETTES

Now most people when asked about the Ikettes, would think about them as Ike and Tina's backing group. But these girls recorded a lot of classic material without Ike and Tina - to the extent that hard core soul fans consider them one of the Top 10 RnB groups of all time !

 

The Ikettes started life as The Artettes, who were Robbie Montgomery, Frances Hodges and Sandra Harding, and who were backing Art Lassiter. When, one day, Art failed to turn up to record a song that Ike had written with him in mind, Tina Turner went up to sing with the Artettes, and a whole new sound was born ! The girls were now named the Ikettes - and they had a hit record to nurture.

 

Robbie went away for a spell during pregnancy, but she rejoined the revue, and along with Jessie Smith, and then a year later with Venetta Fields - the line-up settled down and became as stable as it ever would, for a few years.

 

The Ikettes had already, pre-Venetta, recorded a few singles for ATCO, with the aforementioned "I'm Blue" becoming a sizeable hit.

 

However, Venetta's first real recording successes in her career came when The Ikettes signed in 1964 to a six record stint on Modern records , and then released "The Camel Walk" in 1965. There followed a big hit with "Peaches and Cream" and then "I'm So Thankful" later in the year. PP Arnold is rumored to be involved in the latter single - and is certainly on the cover of that year's album along with Venetta and Robbie. Three further singles, including "He's going to be Fine, Fine Fine" didn't do so well.

 

Ike was extremely volatile. He didn't pay them much. They certainly didn't see any royalties. In fact, when "Peaches and cream" was a hit, he sent a different group on the road as The Ikettes and kept Venetta and the originals with his revue !

 

After one too many volatile incidents, Venetta and the other Ikettes left Ike. "Finally, We just left as a group. We thought it would give us more power, and it did"

 

THE IKETTES - FINE FINE FINE

Buying this CD was one of the smartest things I've done recently, and one of the biggest musical surprises I've had in a long long time.

 

The CD basically falls into three categories

- Sixteen tracks from the classic mid sixties period, including all the singles

- Two tracks taken live from the Ike and Tina Revue, one featuring Robbie Montgomery on lead, and one featuring Venetta

- Six studio tracks, featuring Dolores Johnson on one and Venetta featuring lead on five

 

The sixteen tracks have dated well. They are clearly sixties period, but have transcended the years well, and really showcase what a class act the Ikettes were ! The Ikettes are a heady mixture. Take a good straightforward RnB band, and mix with a typical 60's girl group sound - and you've got the base. Add good songs, and some great voices. Then throw in a little pinch of Motown, and a liberal sprinkling of Ray Charles feel, with horns and keyboards, and you're nearly there. Add some 6/8 and other intricate rhythms, with perhaps the odd nod to Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and even the doo wop groups and you get the Ikettes.

 

Their biggest hit "Peaches and Cream" is pure RnB. "He's Going to be Fine Fine Fine" is RNB mixed with catchy pop. The other singles come across well - and their album tracks of the period are good.

 

Secondly - the live material. Robbie Montgomery leading from the front of the Ike and Tina Revue on "I Love the Way You Love" is great - but when Venetta Fields comes up on "The Love of my Man", magic descends - yes it's that good. I can now firmly see where Steve Marriott was coming from - where the idea of the Blackberries joining Humble Pie came from - where his vision of a live Revue was coming from.

 

And what a bonus the five studio tracks are of Venetta leading the Ikettes - absolutely spectacular. There is no doubt that Venetta could have been a successful solo artist - a diva in her own right !

 

In fact, two of these are the two sides of an old 1963 single, You're Still My Baby / I'm Leaving You, released as Venetta Fields with the Ike Turner Band and they are just phenomenal !

 

This CD is a great, great summary of the Ikettes at their peak

 

THE IKETTES - I'M BLUE

This CD, on Krypton label, and allegedly from Italy, must rank as the most amateur looking "official release" CD I've ever seen. The packaging is appalling.

 

However, this is rectified by some very fine music. The 18 tracks pull together most of the early 60's Ikettes material (largely without Venetta) and some late 60's and early 70's material, again without Venetta.

 

Our girl appears here on very few of the tracks. The highlights are the irrepressible Gong Gong song - officially titled "I'm Blue", which is commercial RnB at its best. A hit in 1962

 

"Down Down" is a mid sixties "B" side with spoken verses. But it works well. Very slow, deep voices and organ backing, building up to the introduction of a brass section. Very nice !

 

And "So Fine" comes from 1968, when Venetta had moved on, with great voices over an acoustic guitar riff, and with plenty of "Oh Lordy's", before leading again into a brass section.

 

The real value of this CD is that it complements the above "Fine Fine Fine" CD beautifully - providing the earlier and much later Ikettes material, and staying away from the "Fine Fine Fine" classic period.

 

THE MIRETTES

When she left the Ikettes, Venetta wanted to live in LA. Ike and Tina had moved their base there a couple years previously. This was also the centre of the music industry, and, having now found her musical feet, within a couple of years it allowed her to pursue her wish of becoming a studio session singer.

 

They left the Ike and Tina Revue along with Tina's sister Alline Bullock as Manager and signed to legendary LA soul label Mirwood - who got the headache of Ike refusing to let them use the name Ikettes.

 

They became The Mirettes,(Ike Turner - Ikettes, Mirwood Records - Mirettes ) and they recorded at Mirwood during 1966 and 1967. The basic line-up was Venetta, Jessie Smith and Robbie Montgomery - who, remember, went all the way back to when the group were originally called The Artettes. Delores Johnson joined, and increased credibility, as she was the original Ikettes lead singer.

 

The Mirwood Records name was a shortening of 'Mira Wood', the young daughter of owner and ex Vee Jay Records President Randy Woods. They had their offices on Sunset Strip, and they were to be very influential in the origins of the Blackberries. But more of that later.

 

Meantime, Ike didn't miss a beat - and he released a single on Phil Spector's Phi-Dan label, with a rumored Ikettes line-up of PP Arnold, Brenda Holloway and Patrice Holloway.

 

Over the next few years, there were sporadic releases of singles and albums on Innis Records, Pompeii Records and United Artists under the banner of The Ikettes - but the classic years were now long gone - and more importantly, Venetta and Robbie were now gone.

 

Venetta, as mentioned above, had moved to Mirwood, and The Ikettes now recorded as The Mirettes. And while Motown and Stax are the cornerstone of the soul sound, arguably there's no Northern Soul without Mirwood. It is the label of choice for most Northern Soul fans.

 

Here Venetta rubbed shoulders with singer/songwriter/producer Sherlie Matthews - who was one of the real driving forces at Mirwood. She recorded not only The Mirettes, but a number of the label's other artists, and she produced many soul classics along the way, including several of her own songs.

 

The Mirettes didn't have chart success at Mirwood, despite making some great tracks, such as "He's Alright With Me", "Your Kind Ain't no Good" and the Sherlie Matthews penned and produced "Now that I Found You Baby".

 

The group moved on next to Revue Records and then to Minit Records in 1968, and later to Uni Records and ZEA. A number of singles were released on these labels, with some level of success. "First Love" was released on Revue. Then they had a Top 20 RnB hit and a reasonable pop hit with "In the Midnight Hour". An album of the same name followed.

 

Later the "Help Wanted" 7" was released on Minit Records, before an album called "Whirlpool" on Uni, and a single "Ain't You Trying to Cross Over".

 

The last single, however, on Zea in 1970 was noteworthy, certainly in pointing the way forward.

 

"Ain't My Stuff Good Enough", which was written by Sherlie Matthews, was released - and within a year it would also appear on Clydie King's first solo album - with backing vocals from Venetta and Sherlie!

 

The destiny between these three ladies was slowly but surely forming!

 

THE MIRETTES - SINGLES

Now That I Found You Baby (Mirwood) * * *
Written by Sherlie Matthews, and strangely reminiscent of PP Arnold on Immediate. This is good, but The Mirettes struggle a bit to find the heights of The Ikettes classic material

 

Your Kind Ain't no Good (Mirwood) * * *
nice mid-paced funk track. The girls try to elevate it above the ordinary, but it's a pretty average song

 

Ain't You Trying to Cross Over (Uni) * * *
Nice song, but this single comes across with a thin sound - not particularly well recorded. It is all round pleasant - nice voices and harmonies, around a hook of "Ain't you trying to cross over - before we get to the bridge"
"Say young fellow, let me catch my breath cos we only met a moment ago"

 

Heart Full of Gladness (Uni) * * *
This is a bit of a soul shouter over a (pretty thin) horn riff. Good song
"Funny how a thing like love washes out the pain bleaches out the darker part sweeps it down the drain"

 

Ain't My Stuff Good Enough (ZEA Records) * * * *
Again Sherlie Matthews penned, a few of the Mirettes/Matthews tracks, like this one, feature a quirky kind of intro. This track here is almost a classic single. Not as good as the Clydie King version recorded a year later, but it features a lush full production, with strings and harps, and a great sax with backing vocals break. Deserved to be a hit.

 

The Time and the Season (ZEA Records) * * *
A curious "b" side. A slower song, with good vocals, perhaps spoiled by overproduction, with harps and organ. Then half way through it breaks into the standard Mirwood / northern soul fast paced beat, with additional male vocals, before changing again towards the end.

 

THE MIRETTES ALBUM - IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR

Now you're talking ! This is the real showcase for The Mirettes. The album is a consistent top standard throughout, with little dollops of brilliance throughout.

 

The sound is still a little bit thin - this would be a great project for someone nowadays to remaster and really bring it back to life - as all the basics are there - good songs, good performance....and the bass player here (whoever it is) is absolutely fantastic.

 

The album gets off to a very good start with the single "Take me for a Little While", which is quite poppy, and it's "B" side "The Real Thing", a big production Venetta ballad.

 

"I'm a Whole New Thing" is another "B" side, and it's absolutely great. Up tempo RnB, with fabulous bass playing.

 

"On the Good Ship Lollipo" is just the laziest funky track you'll ever hear, and it really hits the mark, while "Somewhere" from West Side Story closes out Side 1 in classic style.

 

It's tempting to say that Side 2 can't be as good as this - but a very fast "Keep on Running" is an excellent start, with great twin saxophones. "First Love" is another single - a power ballad from Venetta, while "Tweedle Dee" and "To Love Somebody" build up in great style to (possibly) the best track "in the Midnight Hour"

 

Great album

 

The Mirettes had their highs, particularly with the above "in the Midnight Hour" LP, but ultimately they didn't really reach their potential. Lack of interest from their record companies didn't help. Lack of promotion sure didn't help ! And as the Mirettes' career dwindled and wound down, Venetta, was now keen to do pursue session singing as a necessity.

 

She had now begun to move more in that direction. 1970 was a pivotal year, in which Venetta contributed to albums by artists such as Great Jones, Ron Davies and Jackie de Shannon. She really started to make her mark - more often than not, singing with another stalwart of the session singers, Clydie King.

 

The two of them were on their way to becoming the pre-eminent female backing singers for the music establishment.
They would go on to record together with Tim Buckley, Steely Dan, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, The Doors and Dusty Springfield, among many others. Before too long, at the end of 1971 in fact, there was a huge highlight in working on "Exile on Main Street" with the Rolling Stones - an album still considered today to be the Stones' best.

 

Venetta probably first worked with Clydie during the Mirwood years. Sherlie Matthews used to be responsible for contracting the backing singers at Mirwood, and the ones she used most (with herself) were Brenda and Patrice Holloway, Gloria Jones, Clydie King and Venetta.

 

Certainly they were both working out of MINIT records in 1968 - Venetta with The Mirettes, and Clydie releasing solo records.
They both probably also worked together on the "Sisters Love" project at A&M in 1969, although neither of them became permanent members. The A&M archives suggest this.

 

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