Monday, 7 October 2013

Novas Nine

Members of this Mooresville, NC group were Gary Brown (vocals), Brian Mann (keyboards), Robert (Bob) Mann (saxophone), Bobby Nantz (trumpet and vocals), Kenny Readling (trumpet and vocals), Sammy Ingram (guitar), Chris Cooke (bass guitar), Lee Suther (drums) and Brett Goodnough (saxophone). Eddie Reynolds (drums), Charlie Snuggs (guitar), Bill Baker (drums) and Billy Harbinson (trumpet) were also members but did not appear on their only release. The band was created from a couple of earlier local bands including The Firebirds, and ran from around 1967 to 1969. 

Both sides of the 1968/69 release are worthy yet contrasting northern tracks. “Why Listen” is a melodic mid tempo piece, almost in the sweet crossover vein but retaining a distinct beach feel, with horns and organ. The 100 mph manic flip “Pain”, with Gary Brown on vocals, suits the northern dancers, and was a big hit for Novas Nine. At one point the group were televised performing “Pain” on WBTV's Jack Kilgore Dance Show in Charlotte. This track was also covered in 1969 by the Minnesota band Michael’s Mystics on Charlie and in 1970 on Metromedia (as the Mystics, popular at Wigan Casino all-nighters), then by Grass Roots in the same year. Yet another version by Flint on Beast (B-1000) is a current dance floor favourite in many UK soul venues at the time of writing. 

The initial local release on Heritage is hard to find, and largely unknown to collectors in the UK and Europe. Chris Cooke reports that only 500 copies were pressed on this label, costing the band $500 at the time. That said, this was the version played on local Charlotte radio, which ultimately lead to the ABC picking it up for national release after further mixing. 

Whilst Brian Mann was the writer of both sides, at under 18 years of age he was too young at the time to own copyright. His father Bob Mann appears on the writing credits on the ABC release (ABC 11127). Novas Nine members Chris Cooke and Brian Mann shed some light on the band formation and the somewhat bitter relationship with ABC:

CC: The beginnings of Novas Nine started as a neighbourhood band called The Firebirds, about 1965. We were an instrumental band, like The Ventures. I played guitar. Brian’s brother Robert was on bass. It eventually morphed into Novas Nine, with the addition of a few more members added from another group from our hometown of Mooresville. Mooresville these days is best known as the home of NASCAR, but back then it was just a small town.

BM: Most of the band members were neighbours. I had just started college and when I came home I heard the band the Novas, whom my brother and neighbours were in. They had three back up singers. I suggested that they added me as a keyboard player. Some other guys were fired. A month later I wrote the two songs and we recorded them at Arthur Smith's Studio in Charlotte, NC. “Pain” was the second song I had ever written and took me about 30 minutes. The first local release was a deal the band made with Arthur Smith to cut 500 custom label Heritage 45s. The drummer took the acetate to Big Way’s, the number one radio station in Charlotte. Two of the DJ's, Jack Gale and Long John Silver, liked “Pain”. It was their pick hit of the week and made it to number 4 on their charts. They had contacts. We had three record contract offers. We chose ABC Paramount.  The only difference between the acetate which was recorded at Arthur Smith Studio in Charlotte(recorded on a 4 track Ampex 1" tape) and the ABC version was the editing and mastering. The 4 track original was sent to ABC, who obviously got their publisher, PAMCO Music and the ABC studios in New York to master the project. They cut out three bars of the instrumental bridge and that was that.

CC: We were young naive kids and missed things in the contract. Our first quarter royalties were $28,000 at 4 cents per the math! But we had a minus nett of $187. They said we owed them for all promotional expenses and printing.

BM:  Signing was a huge mistake. They stole the song from us and gave it to ABC Dunhill's Grass Roots.  The whole deal was to screw nine green behind the ears musicians from Mooresville, NC, and give it to Grass Roots, who sold 800,000 on their "Lovin' Things" album and countless millions overseas. We were fucked. At that time, ABC/Dunhill was a hot record division, and was signing acts like Grass Roots, Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Cold Blood and others. “Pain” became a world wide hit for Grass Roots. Our band got shit out of the song and I was screwed out of thousands of dollars of royalities. Our original tape which was procured by ABC Paramount's publisher PAMCO Music was probably sent to Universal, when they were bought out.

During the band's existence Novas Nine did have some hectic live gig work. They were popular all over North Carolina, South Carolina including Myrtle Beach, Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee, playing numerous colleges and clubs including their regular venue the Cellar in Charlotte, NC.

Chris Cooke explained the band eventually fell apart due to family, college and other personal commitments and generally went different ways. Chris, Brian and some of the other members are still involved to different extents in music today. Gary Brown also continues in the music business. His resume includes singer in beach bands such as The Catalinas, Bill Deal and the Rhondels, The Original Men of Distinction and most recently, The Holiday Band. Sammy Ingram became a Professor of Graphic Arts at Clemson. Bob Nantz went on to play with The Catalinas. Chris Cook is in Statesville NC. Robert Mann is in the nuclear power business. Sadly Kenny Readling committed suicide in 1969. The last the band heard of Brett, he had moved to Greece in 1969.

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013


Chris Cooke. Personal coms. June and August 2012.
Brian Mann. Personal coms. June and August 2012.

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