Soul Rockin’ with Rick Redmon
Reminiscing About the Soul Rockers and the Funky Disposition
Based on an interview with Rick Redmon 4/6/03
Funk collectors long ago zeroed in on the one and only 45 released by the Columbus group Dean Francis and The Soul Rockers, Funky Disposition b/w Tippin’ (Hillside 1007). This was a local release in 1969 that 35 years later has taken on a life of it’s own, immortalized by its appearance alongside other legendary R&B artists James Brown, Hank Ballard, Marvin Gaye and Roy Ayers on the German-released funk CD/LP compilation Funky Disposition – Blackenized (Polydor 516 482-2 9) in 1993.
As the story goes, nearly 25 years after the release of the Soul Rockers’ only record, funk detectives from Germany’s Soulciety record label dialed the U.S. phone number listed on the label of the original Hillside 45 and were stunned when they discovered that the phone number was still in service and answered by none other than Steve Binns, one of the original Soul Rockers. That stroke of luck ultimately resulted in the inclusion of Funky Disposition on the Blackenized release and established the collectability (and value) of the Soul Rockers single, which continues to sporadically show up on Ebay, selling for anywhere from $50-$150.
The Soul Rockers were Dean Francis (keyboards, drums), Terry Wilks (vocals, lead guitar), Steve Binns (trumpet, keyboard, vocals), J. Riley ‘Chip’ Wilson (alto sax), Randy Safford (tenor sax), Jerome ‘Wolfman’ Brazell (bass) and Rick Redmon (tenor sax).
Rick Redmon remembers well how it was in 1969 when the young Soul Rockers were playing around town and having the times of their lives. His recollections form the basis of this story.
When he first met Dean Francis in 1966, Rick Redmon (note that Redmon is misspelled as ‘Redmond’ on the 45 label) was a 9th grader attending Hartley High School in Columbus, Ohio. Dean Francis’s father was John Francis, Columbus’s first African-American City Attorney. Even at that early age, Rick noted that Dean Francis was already known locally as an advanced jazz musician. Rick was introduced to Dean by his friend Chip Wilson.
At Hartley, Rick took band classes and performed in the school band, starting with the trumpet and moving on to the clarinet and finally to the saxophone. Rick’s grandfather, who was a musician and a doorman at the Ft. Hayes Hotel in downtown Columbus, bought Rick his first saxophone, a Martin. His grandfather paid for Rick to take lessons at Musical Arts, at Cleveland Avenue and Long Street.
At the time Rick connected with the Soul Rockers, they were already an established band, having come together in early 1966. For the audition, Rick memorized James Brown’s Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag note for note to nail the audition. This was the only song Rick had perfected at the time, but it was enough to get him started with the Soul Rockers and he managed to learn the rest of the band’s repertoire as he went along. Rick describes the Soul Rockers’ song list at the time as a majority of R&B covers, e.g., the Meters and James Brown, mixed with a sprinkling of rock.
The Soul Rockers expanded their repertoire to include a lot of what Rick calls “ooh baby baby stuff” when they established a working arrangement with a superb vocal group known as the Blenders. Sterling Gill (later a member of the infamous Ohio State Buckeyes Marching Band and now a Columbus attorney) was the connector who booked the two groups at many local venues and frequently played trumpet with the Soul Rockers.
The Blenders were Midge Burgess, Ronnie Burgess, Larry Barkstall, Freddie Morris and one other who Rick remembers only as Dartanion. Freddie Morris was the “main guy” for the Blenders, a dynamic singer who won the local talent night at the Bottoms Up club on East Main Street virtually every time he performed. Rick remembers that all the Blenders were superb vocalists with harmonies that were impeccable – so good that many at the time considered them equal or superior to Columbus vocal harmony counterparts the Four Mints and Chandlers. As far as Rick knows, the Blenders never recorded anything.
For most shows, the Soul Rockers did the first half, then brought on the Blenders for the harmony vocal part of the night. ‘Gorgeous Gary’ (friend Gary Roan from Eastmoor High School) MC’d many of the shows. The Soul Rockers’ playlist reflected the R&B popular soul standards of the times, including the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Archie Bell and The Drells. Rick even remembers the band stepping into rock territory doing rock covers, including Steppenwolf’s The Pusher.
Dean Francis and Steve Binns arranged most of the music, as both could read music fluently. By the time all were seniors in 1969, the Soul Rockers were playing out almost every weekend and even had a few weeknight jobs as school (and parents) permitted. Once they all had cars and were able to transport themselves to gigs, their bookings increased. Chip Whittaker, Chip Wilson and Rick Redmon attended Hartley, while the others attended Columbus East.
The Soul Rockers played many OSU fraternity parties, as well as local clubs and dance halls like Bottoms Up, the Masonic Temple, Veterans Memorial and Valley Dale. There were even some regional out-of-town gigs in places like Buckeye Lake and Mansfield. Rick especially remembers sharing bills with the Five Stairsteps at Valley Dale and Parliament at the Masonic Temple (on Long Street).
During Rick’s freshmen year in 1965-66, the Soul Rockers played a memorable gig at Hartley High School with Ronnie Burgess sitting in on vocals. While singing Wilson Pickett’s Funky Broadway, Ronnie stunned the mostly white urban crowd with an acrobatic performance, complete with a back flip. Rick related that it was one of those “indelible moments that I will always remember” when the crowd rushed to the stage to check out all the commotion as Ronnie and the Soul Rockers introduced the enthusiastic crowd to the world of soul music in the style of James Brown and Wilson Pickett.
The group usually practiced in Dean Francis’s garage, located on Woodland Avenue across from the YMCA. Dean’s father, John, often drove them to gigs until they were old enough to drive themselves. Practices were also held at Steve Binns’ house on Parkwood Avenue and at Randy Safford’s house on Parkwood, south of Greenway Ave. Steve’s father was a professional jazz musician and played the upright bass. His parents bought him a keyboard for Christmas to help out the band.
Rick remembers that both Dean and Steve were always proficient at the piano and that Dean was also a brilliant drummer, somewhat a child prodigy like fellow Columbus musician Skip Anderson (mainstay of Columbus’s legendary Crowd Pleasers and now music director for Luther Vandross). Even as a high schooler, Dean created his musical legacy by creating what became known as “Dean’s beat” for the Columbus East High School Marching Band, a rhythm that became the school marching band’s signature for many years.
As for Funky Disposition, the song was developed and recorded first as a studio song, then later added to the band’s playlist. Rick noted that “Dean’s Beat” was the rhythmic foundation for the tune. The B-Side, Tippin’, was also frequently performed live. Both were recorded at McKenzie Studios on Studer Avenue in a single day in the winter of 1969. Rick does not recall how many copies were pressed. When the records were ready for distribution, he noted that the band’s name had been changed on the label from “The Soul Rockers” to “Dean Francis and The Soul Rockers”, formally establishing Dean as the band’s leader.
The Musicol recording session was organized by Dean Francis. There were no other songs recorded that day. Rick recalls Dean later playing for him a follow-up to Funky Disposition that he had written, but the song was never recorded and never played live by the band. Distribution of the 45 was haphazard, at best, with many being sold or given away at shows. The record did receive some airplay on local radio station WVKO, as DJ’s Bill Moss, Kirk Bishop and Les Brown knew the band members and did their best to support the local talent. Rick believes there may have been some airplay on other Midwest radio stations, but it is not known whether the record ever charted in any other markets.
Rick noted that both cuts were registered with BMI, so it may have been that Dean’s father, John (the attorney), had the foresight to handle this aspect of the recording. How many records were pressed still remains a mystery, but as a local release, it was undoubtedly a relatively small number. It was never picked up by a larger label.
The Soul Rockers also played a part in the success of another Columbus vocal group, the Chandlers. According to Rick, the Soul Rockers did much of the instrumental work on the B-side of the Chandlers first 45, I Need Your Love b/w You’re Love Makes Me Lonely (ColSoul 1152), recorded at Musicol Studios on Oakland Park Avenue in Columbus. Note that this Chandlers single routinely sells for $300-$600 and is listed at #291 in Kev Roberts’ encyclopedia of North Soul music, The Northern Soul Top 500.
The Soul Rockers made one local television appearance on WLW-C’s Dance Party, Columbus’s answer to American Bandstand, with Ronnie Burgess singing. This appearance was not recorded. The exact date of this appearance is not known.
As for photographs of the band, few are known to exist. The photograph of the band that appeared in the liner notes for the Blackenized compilation included a female who Rick identified as Cynthia Weddington, daughter of local physician Dr. Wilbur Weddington. Although Cynthia Weddington was never a member of the band, Rick explained that she was included in the photo for one simple reason: “she was gorgeous”.
After graduation in 1969, it was off to college and other callings for the band members, so the Soul Rockers soon went their separate ways. So where are they now?
Rick Redmon went on to OSU, works and lives in Columbus and continues play music.
Dean Francis headed for Capital University and continues in the music business as a prolific contributor to the Columbus music scene writing, performing and arranging. Dean’s name can be found on writing and performing credits for many of the Capsoul releases, as well as other local recordings including the highly collectable LP by Timeless Legend Synchronized (Pendulum 9999 ) in 1976 and the 45 Never, Never b/w Good Strokes (Owl 101) by Jupiter’s Release in 1976. He spent time in 1979 touring throughout the USA and overseas with the Dayton band, Sun, as their keyboardist. Germany’s Soulciety released two of his funk CD’s, Black As All That (Soulciety 00682) in 1998 and This Groove’s For You (Soulciety 00332) in 1995. This Groove’s For You included a cut that was a shout back the Soul Rockers days titled Got A Funky Disposition. He even did a video for the Ohio Lottery Commission in 1984 that was coupled with the release of a single The Lottery Song (I Had To Play It) (SoulHio 312007), used as the theme song for the Ohio Lottery. In 1973 he wrote the Black rock opera Society Line, which was performed in the Ohio Theater and later he wrote the musical Kids which was performed at Capital University in 1978. Dean still lives in Columbus.
Terry Wilks spent a number of years in the mid-70’s touring with the Capsoul artists and now works at Riverside Hospital in Columbus.
Randy Safford lives in Texas and works in the telecommunications industry.
Chip Wilson once ran the Casbah club on Long Street, which was previously the Burns Funeral Home building owned by his parents. Chip now works in Columbus in the real estate business.
Steve Binns works in Columbus for the State of Ohio.
Jerome Brazell ?
Doug Tracy for ColumbusMusicHistory.com