Welcome to the fourth in the Pledge Week series of episodes, putting up old bonus episodes posted to my Patreon in an attempt to encourage more subscriptions. If you like this, consider subscribing to the Patreon at http://patreon.com/join/andrewhickey .
This one is about “Shake a Hand” by Faye Adams, a classic of gospel-tinged R&B that influenced Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Paul McCartney among others.
Click the cut to view a transcript of this episode:
Welcome to this week’s Patreon-only bonus podcast. Today, we’re going to have another look backwards, to another song I’ve referenced several times in the main podcast, but never properly talked about. Today we’re going to look at “Shake a Hand” by Faye Adams.
“Shake a Hand” is one of the most important R&B ballads of the early fifties, and one which inspired almost every musician working in the field at the time, but its writer would never live to see exactly how important the song became.
[Excerpt: Faye Adams, “Shake A Hand”]
Joe Morris was a trumpet player who had worked in the forties with a lot of the most important names in jump band music, and in particular he’d spent several years with Lionel Hampton before striking out on his own and forming his own band. His first record as a bandleader was a cover version of “Drinking Wine Spo-De-O-Dee”, with Wynonie Harris singing lead:
[Excerpt: Wynonie Harris, “Drinking Wine Spo-De-O-Dee”]
In the early fifties, Morris had been performing with a female singer, Laurie Tate, and had had a big hit in 1950 with her singing on “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere”:
[Excerpt Joe Morris and Laurie Tate, “Any Time, Any Place, Anywhere”]
But by 1952, Tate was thinking of leaving the group, and Morris was looking for a replacement, and so Herb Abramson at Atlantic introduced him to a singer who had been born Fanny Tuell, but performed under her married name Faye Scruggs.
Scruggs had started out in the gospel field — her father was a gospel singer, and he was supposedly a key figure in the Church of God in Christ, though since almost every article I can find uses that exact wording, which they seem to have copied from her Wikipedia page, and I can find no independent confirmation of the fact, it should be taken with a grain of salt. (That said, Marv Goldberg also uses that wording, and Goldberg knows his stuff and can generally be trusted – I suspect Wikipedia copied it from Goldberg).
Her big break came when Ruth Brown saw her performing in Atlanta, and was so impressed that she got several of her musician friends to go and see this new singer. Count Basie, Billy Eckstein, and Marshall Royal all went to see her, and Royal suggested that she start working with a vocal coach called Phil Moore. Moore was famous for coaching people such as Marilyn Monroe and Dorothy Dandridge, and also released a few records himself, like his bebop Christmas recording “Chinchy Old Scrooge”:
[Excerpt: Phil Moore, “Chinchy Old Scrooge”]
Moore started working with Scruggs, and brought her to the attention of Herb Abramson at Atlantic, who in turn paired her with Joe Morris, who agreed that Scruggs would make a suitable replacement for Tate. Almost immediately, she was in the studio with him — Tate was advertised as performing with him on a tour that ended on December 11 1952, but by December 23 Scruggs was recording with Morris.
At their first session together, Scruggs sang lead on three songs, and duetted with Morris on “That’s What Makes My Baby Fat”:
[Excerpt: Fay Scruggs and Joe Morris, “That’s What Makes My Baby Fat”]
Herb Abramson wanted to push Scruggs as a singer, but unfortunately Abramson was drafted to fight in the Korean War, and the other Atlantic executives seemed much less interested, both in her and in Morris.
Both of them went to Herald Records, and in the transition between labels, Scruggs also changed her name, to Faye Adams. Her first single under the new name was written by Morris, and recorded with Morris’ band and a vocal group called the Five Pennies:
[Excerpt: Faye Adams, “Shake a Hand”]
By this point Phil Moore had become Adams’ manager, and she was being promoted as a star in her own right, not just as Joe Morris’ singer, even though she was still also singing with Morris’ band.
“Shake a Hand” would go on to become a classic, covered by many artists. Even at the time, it had a number of competing versions, including a country one by Red Foley:
[Excerpt: Red Foley, “Shake a Hand”]
As “Shake a Hand” was such a big hit, Atlantic decided to release some tracks they had left over from her earlier sessions with them, under the new name of Faye Adams. Herald records threatened a lawsuit, but the Atlantic tracks had little success anyway, and Adams’ career was unaffected by their release.
She was, though, increasingly dissatisfied working with Joe Morris, even though they had several more hits together, and Adams eventually decided to start working with Bill Doggett instead (yes, this is yet another artist at the dawn of rock and roll who had Bill Doggett performing with them). Doggett and his band accompanied her on stage, and various different musicians worked with her on records. Her commercial success seemed unaffected at first — her third R&B number one came out after she moved on from Morris:
[Excerpt: Faye Adams: “Hurts Me to My Heart”]
But after that, her career slowly declined, each record selling a little less than the one before, and she was eventually dropped by her label.
She had a comeback in the late sixties, and became a gospel artist again, under her new married name, Fannie Jones. According to Wikipedia, she’s still alive aged ninety-six, but Marv Goldberg says on his website that he’s found one source saying she died in 2016, but he can’t find another source to confirm that.
So we don’t know if she’s alive. We do know, sadly, that Joe Morris died all too young. Morris was only thirty-six when he died suddenly, of a brain haemorrhage, in 1958. He didn’t live to see “Shake A Hand” taken up by Lavern Baker, Jackie Wilson, Paul McCartney and more. These days, probably the best known version is the one cut by Elvis Presley towards the end of his life:
[Excerpt: Elvis Presley, “Shake a Hand”]
But still, the definitive version of the song is the one cut by a young woman, known as Faye or Fannie, Scruggs or Adams or Tuell or Jones, the little woman with the big voice who might or might not be alive to this day.