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Soul Sister Carolyn Franklin -- "Baby Dynamite" Grows Up

Soul Sister Carolyn Franklin -- "Baby Dynamite" Grows Up image
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Soul Sister Carolyn Franklin


By Steve Holsey

Many residents of the Motor City are already quite familiar with the "famous Franklin family" headed by Rev. C.L. Franklin, the hard-preaching minister at Detroit's New Bethel Baptist Church. Rev. Franklin's children are:

*Aretha Franklin, the internationally-acclaimed 'Queen of Soul' who has had countless hit records over the last ten years, from "Respect" and "Dr. Feelgood" on up to "Mr. DJ" and her latest smash, "Something He Can Feel. "

*Cecil Franklin, a specialist in the business end of the music industry who, as sister Aretha's manager, has reportedly negotiated a new Atlantic Records recording contract of major (million dollar plus) proportions.

*Erma Franklin, who has sung backup for Aretha and recorded and written hit material on her own, most notably "Piece of My Heart," the song that served as a springboard to fame for the legendary Janis Joplin.

*Carolyn Franklin, who has also backed up sister Aretha, recorded and toured extensively, produced records for other artists, studied theater, and written many songs of her own.

Like all the Franklins, Carolyn still calls Detroit home, and, after a brief absence from the stage, has been performing again recently at both the Stage One and Watts' Club Mozambique (Sun, Vol. 4, No. 16). Prompted by rave performance reports of growing dimensions, we asked music critic Steve Holsey to talk to Carolyn about her new activities and her plans for the future. His report follows. -- Ed.

Aretha is not the only one in Detroit's famous Franklin family who is "sparkling" these days. The day we contacted Carolyn Franklin (youngest of the four Franklin children) at her home in northwest Detroit, she had just returned from an important business trip to New York, and she had good news to report from two different sides of her multi-faceted career.

As a recording artist, Carolyn has just signed a new, exclusive, two-year contract with Salsoul Records, the company currently enjoying big disco and radio success with such acts as the Salsoul Orchestra and Double Exposure ("Ten Percent"). As for Carolyn Franklin the producer/songwriter, she has just completed production work on the next album by the Staples Singers.

The Staples Singers, of course, are just coming off their big success with Curtis Mayfield, who produced the smash "Let's Do It Again." Ms. Franklin points out that it was her father, CL. Franklin, who taught "Pop" Staples the show business ropes and was, in fact, responsible for putting the group on the road for the first time back in the 50's, when they were strictly a gospel group.

She says whenever she sees or hears the name "Salsoul," the words "sells soul" come to mind -- and she thinks that's probably a good omen. But she is quick to point out that signing with Salsoul was no hurried undertaking -- it came on the heels of intense and sometimes heated negotiations between the singer, her attorney, and Salsoul executives.

Carolyn has been "burned" before and has no intentions of letting it happen again. She pulls no punches whatsoever when discussing the "code of ethics" of record companies in general. Many firms, she states emphatically, are actually designed to make a big profit by taking advantage of artists in a myriad of ways: some blatant, others subtle and camouflaged by the technical wording of contracts.

Carolyn says that any artist who goes against the grain by not only asking questions but by actually knowing the mechanics of the business can count on being labeled "difficult," all the more so if the artist happens to be a woman. She knows, having acquired extensive knowledge of the industry through her own hard experience as well as that of friends and associates like producer-writer Ivy Joe Hunter, her brother Cecil (who manages Aretha) and accountant Ted Wells. She's also taken college courses in business.

Shortly after her departure from Aretha's backup unit in '69 Carolyn signed with RCA and things went well for awhile. In early '70 her debut album (Baby Dynamite) and single ("The Boxer") sold moderately well, and the next single from the album, "It's True I'm Gonna Miss You," was a solid R&B hit, selling 250,000 copies.

Then things began to go sour. Her producer, Jimmy Radcliff, was fired for some undisclosed reason, and the wrong master (a sloppily-mixed one) of "All I Want to Do Is Be Your Woman" was released as the followup to "It's True." It was a fine song, but in the state it was released was an embarrassment -- and a flop. It was her career, but Carolyn was not consulted regarding what would or would not be released, at least not in that case.

In '71, after the momentum of "It's True" had all but died, a second album, titled Chain Reaction, was released. A single, "Everybody's Talking" (which she performed on )ohnny Carson's "Tonight" show) was a respectable seller, as was the album.

In '72 another Lp, l'd Rather Be Lonely, was released, out of which came a single titled "As Long As You Are There." No hits.

By '73 the rift that had been building between the singer and RCA finally broke open. Among other things, Carolyn felt that she was not receiving the same amount of promotion being given to RCA's white acts. Record action ground to a halt until early this year, when RCA released an album called If You Want Me, which had been recorded long before. "I Can't Help My Feeling So Blue" was the single pulled from it.

A few weeks ago, RCA sent Carolyn a new contract which she describes as not only "an insult" but "the second worst contract" she's ever seen.

Enter Salsoul. The 28-page Salsoul contract -- which has the full approval of both singer and lawyer -- could be the hoped-for turning point in the checkered career of Carolyn Franklin.

Best known to the music-oriented public as a songwriter, Carolyn has written several of her sister Aretha's hits, including "Angel" (the biggest: sales of 900,000), "Ain't No Way," "Without Love" and "Baby Baby Baby." Other artists have recorded her compositions as well, three of them being Esther Phillips ("Too Many Roads"), Hugh Masekela ("Baby Baby Baby") and Nina Simone ("Save Me").

Interestingly, she didn't know about the Simone recording, which was the B-side of "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," until we mentioned it. She was more than a little upset because she couldn't recall being paid for that and asked me for the record number so she could look into the matter immediately!

Last year Carolyn was contracted by Motown to produce a series of recordings on former Spinners lead singer G.C. Cameron, but difficulties of some sort between Cameron and Motown brought the project to an abrupt halt. Nevertheless, she was paid $2,000 for the four tunes she had written up to that point, which she terms "a nice sum of money." She was paid for her time, not the actual songs (she still owns those).

One of these songs, "Smile For Me," will appear on the next David Ruffin album, as will "You Promised Me," which she wrote in collaboration with Val Benson (wife of Four Tops member Renaldo "Obie" Benson). Linda Hopkins is also recording some of her material.

Growing up in a family that was not only famous but, as often as not, on the road as well, was "sort of a drag" according to Carolyn. She was raised largely by housekeepers. Another downer is that when one has the Franklin name people assume that one is rich. Not so. From roughly '66 to '68 Carolyn worked at the post office and found that some people actually resented her, including one supervisor who was extra hard on her because he felt she "didn't need a job." But she did -- like many fathers, CL. Franklin insisted that each of his children "leave the nest" once a certain age was reached -- so she worked at the post office and wrote songs on the side.

As for schooling, Carolyn attended Alger Elementary (two of her school mates were Diana Ross and Mary Wilson), Hutchins Junior High, and both Northwestern and Cass Technical high schools. Upon graduation she packed up and headed for the west coast, attending the University of Southern California and Los Angeles City College, where she majored in music with a minor in business. Back in Detroit, she studied drama at Wayne State.

When asked how she felt about and dealt with being compared to her sister, Carolyn said simply, "People won't let me out of her shadow and I think that's wrong, but it's getting better. We have different sounds and styles. I have to live for myself."

What about Detroit?

"I love Detroit, although most of the pleasant memories are from my childhood. You used to be able to go out any time of day or night. But now the city seems to be going to pot. It has very little to offer artists, creative people, entertainers. I should leave."

But will she leave? Probably not. She blames adults for the destructive actions of Detroit's black youth, lambasting them for their bad influences and their neglect. She may write a song about the situation.

"Kids," she began again, "really want something constructive to do. Right now I'm trying to organize a production company that will work with young artists. If I can organize it, get it going, I will stay in Detroit. I believe things are going to get better." She would like to have her older sister, Erma, preside over the company.

Erma, by the way, is not currently involved in show business but is employed as a legal secretary. Her best-known recording from the '60s are "Piece of My Heart" and "Big Boss Man."

When her contract with Salsoul expires, Carolyn plans on forming her own record company, with distribution handled by one of the majors.