The Show Goes On: Modern-soul masterpiece by the Patterson Twins gets reissued by Miles Away
by Dan Dodds
In a red compact ’60s Mercedes, the kind with the logo on the hubcaps, it took twin brothers Estus and Lester Patterson around three and half hours to make the drive up to Memphis, Tennessee, from their digs in Magee, a little town outside of Jackson, Mississippi. They pulled up into the parking lot on the hallowed ground of Stax Records, got out, and walked with purpose to the old movie theater entrance on E. McLemore Ave. As an up-and-coming R&B act—known to the folks back home as the Soul Twins—they were in Memphis to pitch their services as singers, hoping to fill the void left by platinum recording duo Sam & Dave after they had switched to Atlantic Records. The twins hadn’t been there long when Stax legend Rufus Thomas followed them into the building. The self-styled “Funkiest Man Alive”—who had enjoyed hits with “Walking the Dog” and “Do the Funky Chicken”—looked somewhat pissed.
“So, who in the heyyell is parking in my spot!?” he growled.
Estus remembers looking at his brother somewhat uneasily.
“I was like, ‘Err, excuse me, let me run out here and move my car.’ And when I got out, I noticed there was a big sign that said RUFUS THOMAS!”
Both Estus and his brother chuckle together in unison. “Man, we got a kick out of that because Rufus was very hot [on the charts] back in the day, and there I was right in his spot, trying to get a job, but that was it, he was like bang!”
On speaker phone from Lester’s house in Jackson, the twins are reminiscing about the days just prior to when they made their ’78 debut LP, Let Me Be Your Lover, the sought-after deep modern-soul treasure—originally released by the obscure Commercial Records out of Mississippi—that has now been given the remaster treatment by iconic U.K. label Acid Jazz (via their imprint Miles Away).
“Man, there’s lots of days, if I go back, that we can reminisce about,” Estus—who splits his time between Mississippi and California—says, speaking in an ever-so-slightly higher tone than the concentrated Mississippian brogue of his brother Lester; between them they cover different notes from the same tenor voice.
“Al Green’s producer Willie Mitchell cut one of our songs too… Uh, what was the name of that song, brother?”
“‘Soul City,’” Lester replies.
“That’s right, ‘Soul City,’” Estus agrees, remembering “Come On Everybody Get with the Beat Let Me Take You to Soul City U.S.A.” (to give it its full title in all its glory). “That song came out on Henry Hines’s Big Beat Records,” a small label out of Greenville, Mississippi, not to be confused with the indie rock label of the same name. “We cut at the Hi Records studios sev’ral, sev’ral times. Willie Mitchell got to know us real good,” says Lester, who lingers on the word real.
“We would just go from studio to studio in that compact Mercedes,” says Estus—the twins taking turns to answer like they switch off on lead vocals.
“We cut our first big-little record at Muscle Shoals,” adds Lester. “Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We would go wherever we felt they were making good music. And Muscle Shoals had good writers, good people.”
“We ran across George Jackson, the guy that wrote ‘One Bad Apple’ for the Osmonds,” says Estus. It was Southern soul genius George Jackson—writer/performer of, among others, the brilliant “Aretha, Sing One for Me,” “Walking the City Streets,” and “Don’t Count Me Out”—who contributed the composition “Back in Love Again” to the fellas (now renamed the Patterson Twins), a 45 that when it was released via the Nashville-based King Records, immediately garnered local attention.
“‘Back in Love Again’ took off,” says Lester. “That’s what got us the deal with Commercial Records—got us in the position to do a whole album.”
“It was going really well in the South on jukebox, y’see,” Estus interjects.
“Yeah, it was real good on the jukebox; that’s how we got their attention,” adds Lester. “George Linden Webber was the guy who referred us to Commercial Records. He liked what we was doin’ as a duo, and they signed us on.”
After the title track, the second song they worked on for the Let Me Be Your Lover album was the modern-soul monster and first single “Gonna Find a True Love,” a supercharged cover of an obscure Motown release.
“Oh my God that was a good song,” says Estus. “It was [co]written by one of the guys from Bottom & Co. [Johnny Helms] out of Nashville—group member Sanchez Harley was the producer on that.”
Says Lester: “We kicked it around for a day or so.”
“We was listening to it and said, ‘Hmmm, this sounds good…that’s us, that’s us!’” adds Estus.
Lester: “It rub off on ya.”
“It rub off on ya,” Estus repeats. “So, it took us three or four days to learn the lyrics. Sanchez and the guys [Bottom & Co.], they were some good artists, very good producers. We kept in contact for a few years, but I don’t even know if they’re still around anymore.”
Sanchez Harley would produce four songs in all on Let Me Be Your Lover: the rousing Lou Rawls–in-a-cravat-style title track; the covetous, deep soul of “He’s a Loser”; the aforementioned “Gonna Find a True Love”; and the sweet-soul killer “How Long Must the Show Go On.” The team of Stanley Bell and Troy Shondell predominantly handled the funkier numbers: “A Good Thing,” “Funk Machine,” and a Shondell-only composition deceptively called “Disco Dream”—misleading in that despite the title conjuring some kind of spacey disco setup (a nightclub scene from Buck Rogers perhaps), it’s actually more of a midnight blues akin to two-part harmony specialists Bob & Earl or Mel & Tim.
“We were into that old stuff, those old singers we patterned after; who was that singing at the time, Lester?”
“Tyrone Davis, the Sim Twins on Sar Records, Sam & Dave…” Lester responds.
“…and Mel & Teeyim!” they both say in unison.
Estus adds: “Sam Cooke and the Sim Twins was a little bit before our time, but we did get influenced by his music. His early music, we weren’t active at that time, but we were just learning and beginning.”
They both count their grandmother Eulah Thompson as their main influence growing up. Eulah took the twins at five years old after their parents tragically died in a car accident.
“As the days go by, [the memory] gets a little obscured,” says Lester.
“I remember my mother, but afterwards our grandmother did such a good job in raising us, and [people] couldn’t help but know who she was,” Estus adds.
“She had a beauty shop where she would do peoples’ hair in the neighborhood,” says Lester. “And we would sit around and sing little songs—some we made up too. They would give us nickel and dimes,” he laughs. “Nickel and dimes was good money!”
Estus and Lester have always remained close, at nineteen years old they even married twin girls. Something that outsiders would sometimes find confusing, if not the twins themselves.
“No, the animal instinct kicked in,” Lester explains. “The cow know the calf!”
The wives would accompany their husbands on the chitlin circuit, rarely showing any sign of jealousy while other women would get excited and worked up by their performances.
“Ah man, they were out there too, shaking a tail feather!” Estus laughs. “Shakin’ a tail feather!” echoes Lester.
Despite the turbulence and racial tensions across the South, the Patterson Twins say they rarely encountered problems while touring on the circuit.
Says Estus: “We didn’t have a problem like that because we was raised in the South, so we understood the pros and cons of what not to do and what to do. We didn’t have that problem at all.”
The “do’s” included having an all-White band, with the Patterson Twins the only two Black members performing out front. The “don’ts” meant being careful who you mixed with after the show.
Says Estus: “The club owner would say, ‘Don’t you get too friendly with the girls.’”
“If you did, then you don’t get to come back,” adds Lester. “So you don’t get too friendly with the girls—the White girls is what I’m saying… I can break it to you.”
It was a hard day’s night, the fellas having to skimp on regular comforts to earn some decent bread.
“Man…” Estus laughs. “You didn’t get nothin’ else but the door. They didn’t guarantee you no money; you just got whatever came through the door whether it be fifty cents or one dollar. That’s all you got, split between you and the band. To make it, you’d have to stay in low-end hotels where you spend [all night] looking at the roof waiting for it to come down on you.”
Says Estus: “You made a living; you could buy suits. It kept you eating and reaching up. The chitlin was an experience and the price you had to pay.”
“As our fanbase grew,” Lester adds, “we got more and more people wanting to see us perform, and we could demand more money to come back.”
While touring the album Let Me Be Your Lover, which song, I ask them, always got the best reaction?
“How Long Must the Show Go On.” They both say this together, synchronized and without hesitation, leading them into an impromptu performance.
“How long must the show go onnnn / How long must we pretend…there’s nothing wrong!”
They sing in perfect harmony. It’s a brief moment of magic that pauses the interview, stopping time.
Says Estus: “We just enjoyed what the audience wanted us to sing—“Let Me Be Your Lover” and “Gonna Find a True Love” always went down well too.”
Unfortunately, the mainstream success enjoyed by a Sam & Dave or Bob & Earl project would elude the twins. The Let Me Be Your Lover album’s prospects likely not helped by the modest setup of their Commercial Records home.
“We didn’t get no response from the U.S. on that really,” says Estus. “But it was amazing. I mean, after I’d heard what we had come up with and had the finished product, it made my heart feel good because I knew we had something.”
It was a different story across both the Atlantic and the Pacific, with Let Me Be Your Lover achieving legendary status in the U.K. and Japan, setting rare-groove/modern-soul punters back a tidy 500 quid or more for a vinyl copy. That is, it did until Miles Away/Acid Jazz licensed the album for an official re-release.
“They’re good people; they believe in us,” says Estus. “We appreciate the kindness and sincerity and hope that we can continue our career.”
They no longer possess the ’60s compact Mercedes to hit the road in, with Estus— who now lives and works in Palmdale, California—clocking up air miles traveling between the West Coast and Jackson.
“Wherever we are wanted to support [the re-release of] this record we are willing to travel,” says Estus. “Have gun, will travel!” he laughs.
“No, no guns!” says Lester. “You mention guns and people get nervous. Have voices will travel, how ’bout that?”
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