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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,230

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This is the grave of Homer Banks.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1941, Banks grew up in the city and inhaled the incredible mix of music popular in that amazing city. Not surprisingly, he grew up in the church and that’s what initially framed his music. In 1957, he formed a gospel group called The Soul Consolidators and they were popular among southern Black audiences, touring across the region. He did this for a few years and then he was drafted.

Banks was a private and went to Vietnam, as one can see from his gravestone, but he missed most of the war and was back in Memphis by 1964. There, he signed a contract with Genie Records, which was a small label but one which had someone who was about to become an all-time Memphis legend: Isaac Hayes. Hayes and Banks got to know each other and they both ended up on Stax when that become the dominant label of Memphis soul. Hayes had the huge career and Banks did not. But Estelle Axton liked Banks and his taste. Axton was the musical coordinator of the musicians working in the studio because she ran the popular record shop out front. That meant she heard everything coming through and could introduce the musicians to the new stuff from around the nation. Axton respected Banks enough to hire him to work in the record shop, which was a real assignment given the importance of that store to the entire Stax label. Banks later talked about just how important his three years in the record shop were for his future career. He stated that it was “a great education because I found the pulse of the public, what they could turn on to and off to.”

Banks recorded some for Stax and had some minor hits over the next few years, songs that were more popular in England and in northern cities than they were in the South, for whatever reason. He couldn’t get a full contract from Stax though. The contract side of the operation didn’t believe in him enough. But it did believe in his songwriting and that was for good reason. He was a very good songwriter. One of his early hits, “A Lot of Love,” was reworked by the Spencer Davis Group to make “Gimme Some Lovin,” a huge hit in 1966. Banks worked hard on his songwriting. He wrote quite a few of the early secular songs The Staple Singers did when they moved away from gospel. That includes “If You’re Ready.” He wrote a bunch of stuff for Sam & Dave too.

By 1968, Banks pretty much admitted that songwriting rather than recording was going to be his place in the industry. He formed a new songwriting partnership with Bettye Crutcher and Raymond Jackson. They called themselves “We Three” and they delivered a lot of the great songs of the late 60s and early 70s. Johnnie Taylor recorded their “Who’s Making Love,” which hit #1 on the R&B charts and was one of the biggest hits Stax ever had.

Now, my favorite recording of a Banks song that I know, and to be fair, there are many that I don’t know, is Millie Jackson’s version of “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right).” This is the lead song in her astounding 1974 album Caught Up, one of the greatest soul albums ever recorded. She wasn’t the first to do the song–Luther Ingram had already had a huge hit off of it and The Emotions are who first recorded it. But Jackson got a couple of Grammy nominations for her recording of the song, which meant that Banks did too.

Banks’ success began to dwindle by the late 70s. Stax folded but he was a big enough deal that A&M immediately hired him and other Stax writers. But he struggled to come up with new hits. The music was changing a lot by the late 70s for one thing. He and Carl Hampton recorded an album in 1977 but it didn’t do too much. Banks and disco were not going to get along. He was a ballad guy fundamentally and the music turned sharply away from the great ballads of the soul era. There were some minor hits in the 80s, but nothing too much.

Alas, Banks died of cancer in 2003, only 61 years old.

Let’s listen to some of Banks’ songs, even as they were recorded by others:

Homer Banks is buried in West Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery, Memphis, Tennessee.

If you would like this series to visit other great songwriters, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Somewhat outrageously, Banks is not a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, but if you want this series to visit songwriters who are in the HOF, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Leonard Cohen is in Montreal, which I think we all want me to visit. Or at least I do (I actually think I am going to go up there this winter around the time of my birthday and if you think I won’t be visiting Cohen’s grave you are very wrong). In the U.S., Mitchell Parish, who wrote “Stardust,” “Stars Fell on Alabama,” and “Mood Indigo,” among 2,000 other songs, is in Elmont, New York and Leo Robin, who wrote or co-wrote “Thanks for the Memory” the score for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and “Blue Hawaii,” is in Culver City, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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