‘…and they lived happily ever afterwards’ isn’t a conclusion to the Wikipedia entry for any of the great jazz musicians of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that I have ever seen. OK we are not visiting the land of fairy tales here anyway but you will probably be well aware of numerous stars who died at an early age, often in sad circumstances. In the case of Freddie Roach, it seems to be a case of moving from the USA to Europe and staying far away from the limelight. The few short biographies that I have seen tend to end along the lines of ‘…he moved to France, after which he was not heard from again.’ A little bit more digging discloses that he spent a few years in Paris and Bob Blumenthal’s notes written when taking ‘a new look at Ike Quebec’s Heavy Soul session for the RVG Edition records the year of his death as 1980. The notes to So Blue so Funky, a Blue Note Hammond organ compilation album released in 1991, even state that Freddie enjoyed a second career as a movie actor but I haven’t been able to trace anything about this yet.
It’s sad that his career is now thought of as little more than a footnote. I like the way Freddie plays the Hammond although many reviewers feel obliged to damn him with faint praise. I’m not quite alone in my appreciation. There is another, perhaps unexpected, fellow enthusiast in Freddie’s army. The oftentimes acerbic Leonard Feather described him as ‘…one of those rare organists whose taste and techniques are capable of keeping pace with one another’. Well done Leonard!
I first heard Freddie Roach playing a track entitled Brown Sugar (same title but different from the one recorded by the Rolling Stones) on So Blue, So Funky. Born into a musical family, Freddie started with tentative steps at the age of 8 when he started to play church organ. Although he gained a place at the Newark Conservatory of Music, he left after one term to play professionally, eventually jamming and playing solo at Newark’s Club 83, before being engaged by Ike Quebec to play on the two late 1961 sessions which resulted in Heavy Soul and It Might as Well be Spring. After that, he was signed by Blue Note and recorded five LP’s as leader before releasing a further three albums on Prestige.
Although we will return to the Blue Note sessions in due course, it is his first Prestige set The Soul Book that I’m starting with. This album came my way almost by default. I had successfully bid on ebay for his better known Blue Note recordings Mo Greens Please. Postage and packing from the USA starts off from a steep entry level of about $16 but the additional charge for one or two additional LPs is then miniscule. The seller also had a copy of this album which was going for a song, so I added that on the off chance that it would be good. It was (and that was made all the sweeter by subsequently seeing a copy in a West End record store priced at over ten times what I paid)!
Without further ado, here’s a track from YouTube courtesy of groove addict, One Track Mind, which opens the second side of the album
Freddie wrote his own sleeve notes for at least three of his albums including Brown Sugar and Mo Greens Please (although Blue Note regular Nat Hentoff penned those for the Good Move set). He says: “One Track Mind is dedicated to those who like to dance. It is geared for soulful shufflin’.” There’s great support from Buddy Terry on tenor sax and guitarist Vinnie Corrao. Although I hit a blank with Freddie Roach’s own biography, a brief internet search indicated that Buddy Terry was active and was still playing as one of the Newark Jazz Elders in 2009, while Vinnie Corrao is also still gigging. Jackie Mills, the drummer had a long and varied career before finally passing away in March 2010.
The most extraordinary track closes side 2. Entitled The Bees, In the words of Freddie Roach “…so named because of the resemblance to the flight of the hive. And The Bees buzzing off in their search for the sweet honey.” There’s a blistering R&B sax solo, although it gets a bit ragged towards its conclusion. Meanwhile, Tenderly is a great fast paced stretch-out for the whole band and a potential set closer that would demand an encore. It is a track that calls on soloists to get up and show what they can do and saxophonist Buddy Terry certainly did it here.
The Soul Book is well worth tracking down. If anyone out there knows anything more about Freddie Roach’s life and career, the floor is yours. There’s lots of space for comments.
The band etc:- Freddie Roach (Hammond organ); Edlin (Buddy) Terry (tenor sax); Vinnie Corrao (guitar); Jackie Mills (drums). Recorded 13 -28 June 1966. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Cal Lampley. Sleeve Notes: Freddie Roach. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Cover Design: Don Schlitten. Issued as Prestige RE 7490.