There’s a new band coming to town, but for many of the shaggers heading to Ocean Drive for the annual Spring Safari, these will be happily familiar faces.
The Virginia Beach All Stars are none other than brothers in soul Steve Bassett and Ammon Tharp with their rockin’ compadres Donald Quisenberry, Randy Moss and Cornell Jones.
For any new kids on the block, here’s a quick rundown on who these guys are.
Steve Bassett is a legendary blue-eyed soul singer. He has worked with top national and international acts, and had a hugely successful career as a jingles singer.
The late John Hammond, Sr., longtime record producer for CBS, who has been given credit for discovering Billie Holliday, Bill Basie, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and countless others said, “[Steve Bassett] is a singer’s singer and he communicates with his audience in a soulful front porch manner that crosses markets and generations and leaves his listener feeling like he has sung to them alone.”
Bassett has written tunes with Clifford Curry and played around Nashville with T. Graham Brown, Leroy Pernell and Gary Nicholson. He has folks like Duane Eddy, Jimmy Hall, Delbert McClinton, Tony Joe White and Donnie Fritts doing vocals on his CDs.
During the late nineties he spent a year touring the U.S. with Delbert and still considers him a pal.
In a telephone interview last week, Steve told me about his career, including that early encounter with the iconic executive.
“I was about 30 when I met Mr. Hammond. He had left his job with Columbia, and I went to his office in Manhattan to audition for him.I sat at the piano, sang two or three songs and looked up at him. He said, ‘I’ve never heard a white man sing like that.’”
Hammond took him the next day to a showcase at the Bottom Line featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan. He also introduced him to former Atlantic recording exec Jerry Wexler.
The rest is history.
Hammond signed Bassett to Columbia records. When Reese Wynan left Stevie Ray Vaughan to play with Delbert McClinton, Bassett joined SRV and Double Trouble on their Texas Flood Tour (1983).
The association also lead to Steve Bassett, his 1984 CD release on Columbia Records, which was produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Credits also include senior producer John Hammond, Sr.
“They picked me at a time when R&B was waning,” remembers Steve. “My record was released on the same day as Cindi Lauper’s.”
The lack of enthusiasm for the disc may have had something to do with the company’s promotion guy who apparently wanted a little more reason to promote the record, and when it wasn’t forthcoming, the record never went anywhere.
Steve went on to say, “A year later though, he was busted and sent to prison.”
Payback’s the pits, ain’t it?
Bassett had a studio band called The Mystic Soul Bubbas that initially included Roger Hawkins and David Hood (the Muscle Shoals rhythm section) along with Randy McCormick and Jim Horn. The band since evolved into a sizzling seven-piece classic, soul, boogie and blues group.
Steve figures he’s written some 150 tunes total, about 30 of them with Rick Darnell, probably best known for “The Thrill Is Gone,” made famous by B.B. King and Lucille. On his website, Bassett says, “Rick took me to the land of real blues writing. We laughed our way through many adventures together, and had the chance to cut some of the 30 songs we wrote together on Party In A Box and You Don’t Know Me.”
One of his best known tunes in the beach music market is undoubtedly “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” written with Robbin Thompson in 1976 and the unofficial Va. state song.
Ammon Tharp has been a driving force in blue-eyed soul music since 1960 when he and Bill Deal formed the first incarnation of the Rhondels in Norfolk, Va. Before opting to leave the road behind them, the group played N.Y.’s Madison Square Garden with Deep Purple, Neil Young & Crazy Horse and Crazy Elephant.
Subsequent groups include Fat Ammons Band, Sheiks of Shag, Original Rhondels (during the late nineties), and The Mystic Soul Bubbas.
About Ammon Tharp, Steve Bassett says, “Working with Ammon … it’s pure funky pleasure … he’s a southern soul backbeat drummer who knows how to keep the floor full.”
They first crossed paths in Virginia Beach, when Bassett heard Bill Deal and the Rhondels for the first time. Over 30 years later, they’d meet again, this time at Ocean Drive, finally playing together at a show on Brown’s Island, Va.
When the Virginia Beach All Stars come to North Myrtle Beach for S.O.S., they’ll be supporting their new CD, Saturday Night on the KHP label. According to Steve Bassett, when he and Ammon wanted to reach out to the shag market again, they immediately thought of Keith Houston, owner of KHP Records and Band of Oz. The new CD features a version of “I Wanna Dance With You” (Steve Bassett-Rick Darnell) with shared vocals by Steve and Ammon. Other tracks include “Trust Me” (Steve Bassett-Rick Darnell/ 1994); “Somebody Got To Do It” (Steve Bassett/2001); and “Sweet Virginia Breeze” (Steve Bassett/Robbin Thompson/1978).
The Virginia Beach All Stars boast more formidable talent. Bassist Donald Quisenberry played with Bill Deal and the Rhondels from 1963 to 1977. He was also part of Fat Ammons Band from 1978 to 2002 and later, the next version of Fat Ammons Band, FAB.
Randy Moss on guitar spent six years with Steve Bassett’s Virginia Breeze Band and also played with The Mystic Soul Bubbas.
Gospel singer Cornell Jones has been singing with Bassett since 1990 and has also been with The Joker’s Wild, a version of the Drifters (1975-1977) and The Mystic Soul Bubbas.
They’ll be at the Spanish Galleon on Saturday, April 9, 7 p.m.; Sunday, April 10, 5 p.m. opening for the Band of Oz; and Monday April 11 at 6:30 p.m.