Obituary: Charlie Foxx

Pierre Perrone
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:34

WHILE BROTHER pairings are commonplace enough in rock and pop groups, sister-brother teams occur less frequently. Inez and Charlie Foxx, whose single "Mockingbird" became a perennial Sixties favourite, were the sibling rhythm 'n' blues duo par excellence, regularly visiting Britain and earning more than a cult following amongst mods and northern soul fanatics.

Born in 1939, Charlie Foxx came from a large family (he had four sisters and two brothers). He first sang at Dudley High School and with the Gospel Tide Choir in his native Greensboro, North Carolina. Tall and handsome, Charlie played football and basketball, and shared with his sister Inez an interest in music. By 1959, they had both graduated and started to compose together, while performing the odd date in local clubs. Inez recorded "A Feeling" for the Brunswick label in 1962 (as Inez Johnson) but only joined forces with Charlie when they moved to New York the following year.

Outside a restaurant, they bumped into Henry "Juggy Murray" Jones, who had set up the Sue R&B imprint, signing artists such as Don Covay, Jimmy McGriff and Ike and Tina Turner. Inez and Charlie Foxx were keen to join the label and told Murray they had a hit song. He invited them to his office near the legendary Brill Building (the New York hit factory where Carole King and Neil Sedaka honed their songwriting skills). Charlie's guitar had a broken string but their "let's-do-the-show-right-here" attitude impressed Murray.

He liked their call-and-response number loosely based around a Bo Diddley shuffle and an old nursery rhyme even more. Charlie started with "Mock", answered by Inez singing "Yeah". Charlie came back with "King", Inez still jiving "Yeah", Charlie sang "Bird", Inez went "Yeah" again and so on and so forth. Within a few minutes, Juggy Murray called the arranger Bert Keyes to set up a session date and offered the brother and sister team a deal with one caveat: he wanted to bill Inez as a solo artist at first.

The pair agreed and "Mockingbird", released on Symbol, a Sue subsidiary, proved an instant smash, crossing over from the rhythm 'n' blues market into the US pop charts and eventually reaching No 7 by September 1963. Elated by his new charges' success, Juggy Murray allowed the Charlie and Inez Foxx moniker to appear on subsequent soundalike singles like "Hi Diddle Diddle", "Ask Me", "Jaybirds", "Hummingbird", "He's the One You Love", and "La De Dah I Love You", none of which matched the success of their first hit.

In Britain, Inez and Charlie Foxx made an immediate impact on the soul scene, but took a while to penetrate the mainstream consciousness. After leasing a few recordings to Decca's London/American label, Juggy struck a licensing deal with Chris Blackwell at Island Records, who had heard "Mockingbird" on the radio in Jamaica. The hip disc jockey and producer Guy Stevens was appointed British label manager for Sue and turned the Foxx single into a club classic.

July 1964 saw Inez and Charlie Foxx promoting their Top 40 single "Hurt By Love" and Mockingbird album on a British tour, backed by the Spencer Davis Group, and then recording "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush". They played the Cavern Club in Liverpool, appeared on television on Ready, Steady Go! and generated a great deal of interest. So successful proved the first trip that they came back a few months later to support the Rolling Stones.

The broadcaster and music entrepreneur Charlie Gillett remembers the duo "as a typical act of the time. I saw them at the 100 Club - Charlie Foxx seemed an Ike Turner-type figure, pulling every string in the book. He looked great too, sharp suit, distinctive pompadour hair, the dude style. They were fine, the classic one-off hit act."

However, Guy Stevens had started to use the Sue UK logo for tracks from other sources by the likes of Elmore James, Larry Williams and Billy Preston. Juggy Murray felt that was a clear breach of their agreement and returned to London/American in late 1965. This switch probably affected the international popularity of the Foxxes, who nevertheless came up with "My Momma Told Me", a fine single, and the album Inez and Charles Foxx.

In 1967, the duo switched to Musicor's soul subsidiary Dynamo for minor hits such as "I Ain't Going for That" and "(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the Days", and Come By Here, a nice album containing stand-out tracks such as "No Stranger To Love", a dramatic cover of Jerry Butler's "I Stand Accused" and "I Love You 1,000 Times" (later adapted by the vocal group the Platters), all issued in Britain on Direction, a CBS budget label. Subsequently, "Baby Give It To Me" and the gritty, self-produced "You Fixed My Heartache" fared less well and the Foxxes disbanded in 1969.

Charlie Foxx subsequently had a hand in Gene Pitney's unusually rootsy "She's a Heartbreaker" as well as several collectable northern soul stompers. His sister married the producer Luther Dixon and, in 1972, recorded Inez in Memphis, before retiring to a quieter life in Los Angeles.

"Mockingbird" eventually entered the UK charts in 1969 when Juggy Murray sold the Sue catalogue to United Artists and Andrew Lauder and Alan Warner decided to re-release the single. It was also the lead track on the second volume of Island Records' 40th anniversary celebration, 1964-1969: Rhythm 'n' Blues Beat, issued a few months ago.

Over the years, this naggingly catchy song has been covered by Aretha Franklin, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Dusty Springfield, Carly Simon (who with James Taylor had a hit with it on both sides of the Atlantic in 1974) and even the Belle Stars, who took "Mockingbird" into the Top 50 in 1982. The numerous versions of "Mockingbird" kept the royalties coming in for the Foxxes.

According to EMI Music Publishing's resident archivist Alan Warner, who compiled the four-CD set The Sue Records Story: the sound of soul,

over the years, the track has appeared in many films and compilations. When Inez and Charlie Foxx were honoured by the Rhythm 'n' Blues Foundation Awards at the Hollywood Palladium in 1995, it was the first time they had appeared on stage together in 26 years - "Mockingbird" brought everybody to their feet. That was a wonderful moment.

Charles Foxx, singer, guitarist and songwriter: born Greensboro, North Carolina 23 October 1939; married (one son); died Mobile, Alabama 18 September 1998.

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