You Can’t Outsmart A Woman
The Kell Osborne Story
Kell Osborne (Born in 1939 on the 12th March) was raised by his deeply religious stepfather since the age of two and he wanted Kell to become a minister of the church, something Kell had set his sights on until he came across secular music. Kell had to make a decision to either go into the church or sing, luckily for us he chose the latter but it was something he had to keep from his stepfather and one of the reasons that eventually led to his decision to leave Birmingham as he couldn’t possibly sing the music he wanted to sing in and around Birmingham with his step father in the background.
Around 1955, four childhood friends, Kell Osborne, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and Willy Waller were an unknown quartet in 10th Grade at Olin High School (later Jackson Olin High after the High School principal) in Birmingham, Alabama, who later trimmed to a trio when Willy Waller dropped out.
The trio, like many kids their age had dreams of making it big as singers and Kell upon leaving High School took a job in a local hardware store for six months to save money to get them out of Birmingham, Alabama. Just six months and one day after beginning work at the hardware store, at just 18 years of age and just out of High School, Kell, Paul and Eddie took a Greyhound bus out of Birmingham and headed for Cincinnati. Upon getting off the bus they headed for the King studios but unfortunately for the trio being so early in the day it was closed at the time. It was dark and cold and the three of them deliberated about what to do. They decided that rather than wait for the studios to open they would head onto Cleveland where Willy “Boochie” Waller was now living. Upon arriving in a snowy Cleveland they hooked up again with Willy Waller who put them up at his mother’s house for a few weeks until the trio could sort something out for themselves.
Once in Cleveland Kell took a job at the Majestic Hotel washing dishes, Kell later getting Paul a job along side him and Eddie a job as Bellhop/dishwasher as well. The trio also worked the Majestic in the Rose Room as The Cavaliers (after a religious/gospel group). It was here that they would sing to the major acts that played the Hotel, an audition of sorts hoping that they would impress the acts so much that they would get a recommendation to one of the labels of the acts, unfortunately to no avail. They did however get noticed by the local press who ran an article about them dubbing them the Dishwashing Trio.
The trio was eventually spotted by a local Pimp by the name of Milton C Jenkins who saw potential in them and he approached Kell, Eddie & Paul, telling the boys how much he liked them and that he wanted to take them under his wing and be their manager! After discussing the offer the three of them decided that they had suffered enough, starving & broke they accepted Milton’s proposal and signed a five year contract with Milton who persuaded them to leave Cleveland for Detroit promising better opportunities in Motor City….he also blessed the trio with a new name, The Primes!!! The name came about after lengthy discussion and was chosen because it meant Number One! Milton also kitted out the trio with clothes and suits to make them look the part as well.
Once in Detroit the trio began working the local circuit including the Flame Bar. They rehearsed every day, 12 noon till 3 in the afternoon under instruction from Milton singing music from various genres as he wanted them to be as versatile as possible. Tracks were learnt from various LP’s of the time and some 25 tracks were chosen for the act and rehearsed continuously.
One day Milton came round with three girls he had met at the local High School (just what a pimp was doing at a local High School is anyone’s guess), the three girls were Flo Ballad, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross and they wanted Milton to be their manager and so the Primettes were born and became the Primes sister group. The Primettes couldn’t do harmony, well not very well so they were taught harmony, tunes and routines etc by the Kell, Paul & Eddie on a daily basis and this in turn took the natural talent the girls had and improved upon it. Kell remarked that Flo as well as being very beautiful, was also the better singer of the girls. Of course working close together every day there was every chance of them becoming closer on a personal level and Diana Ross became interested in Kell and Mary in Eddie!
After some six months in Detroit, rehearsing, doing the local circuit yet getting no where with no recording contract in sight, Kell became disenchanted and disappointed and he decided to leave but he decided he wasn’t just going to up and leave Eddie & Paul. Kell wrote to Mr. Jackson, the trio’s old High School principal, who had been very supportive of the boys, and asked about the chances of putting on a performance at their old High, to which Mr. Jackson agreed and proceeded to set up the arrangements. The trio then headed back to Birmingham and where they did the concert which by all accounts was a huge success. However it wasn’t enough for Kell, he phoned both Eddie & Paul and told them both he was leaving for LA, he wished them both the best for their futures and off he went to, this was the latter part of 1959 according to Kell. What happened to Eddie & Paul is history but it didn’t quite work out that way for Kell.
Kell’s first stop was Lester Sill and Lee Hazelwood’s Trey label and a young up and coming producer by the name of Phil Spector. Using a forty piece spiritual voce choir and elements of what later went on to become the wall of sound technique made famous by Phil Spector Kell cut his first solo release, Bells Of St Mary’s b/w That’s Alright Baby. Recorded in Phoenix Arizona, all Kell had to do was lay down his vocals, everything else was all ready done and dusted elsewhere. The record did nothing nationally despite distribution by Atlantic but did hit locally in Baltimore of all places. Bells Of St Mary’s was later recorded by Bobby B Soxx & Blue Jeans (Bobby Sheen). Bobby’s version rocked a little more than Kell’s and was more pop orientated. Kell regrets that the release didn’t hit as he really wanted to sing standards in this vein, the flip the up-tempo rocker That’s Alright Baby wasn’t liked by Kell at all as he didn’t really feel that it was “him”.
Something like ten tracks were laid down at the above session, a session Kell went to with Laryngitis upon which Lester Sill gave Kell a bottle of Castrol (must be some 60’s cure for sore throats?) to get him through the session. So there must be some unreleased material tucked away somewhere?
Lester Sill thought of Kell as being similar to Jackie Wilson and had big ideas for him but Kell’s impatience got the better of him and not wanting to be another Jackie Wilson but a Kell Osborne he was off to seek pastures greener. Kell was introduced to Leon Rene (Googie’s father) of Class Records but the label unfortunately for Kell was in the process of winding up and Kell just caught the tail end of the labels life releasing two singles, Little Chickadee b/w Do You Mind & with it’s quasi reggae beat Would You Laugh b/w Eye Of The Fire.
Next along came what looked like being Kell’s big break, a major in the shape of Capitol where Kell signed a five year contract 1963. But sadly for Kell he was drafted that year and this put an end top any hopers of a future with Capitol.
It was while Kell was serving his time in the forces that Billy Revis, Kell’s close friend and personal manager, put out in 1963 Yaya Yaya b/w Something For The Books, thus keeping Kell’s name out there whilst away doing his bit for his country. Yaya Yaya would later be released as the flip to the Highland rarity Law Against A Heartbreaker, although titled Trouble, Trouble Baby.
It would appear that whilst in the draft Billy also released Something For The Books b/w Lonely Is The Night on Rayco (1965) (recorded prior to Kell doing his draft circa ’63). This release wasn’t under the name of Kell Osborne but Ozzie Osborne, why Kell hasn’t a clue why Billy Revis changed his name to Ozzie and didn’t really take kindly to this but what could he say? Billy was his closest friend and he was still out there so to speak whilst away in the forces so he couldn’t really complain too much. Kell was backed by Bobby Day (who Kell did regular sessions with when available) and the Hollywood Flames on this release although the Hollywood Flames were anyone who was round Bobby’s place at the time, Kell mentions the likes of the members of the Coasters or Tony Williams of the Platters .
After serving his draft, Kell set about trying to establish his career again. He hung about on a daily basis with close friend Billy Revis who kept Kell working on a regular basis, working with the likes of Eloise Hester who later left to go with Ike and Tina Turner. After Eloise Kell, at the request of Billy Revis hooked up with Rosalind Madison (who was Billy’s wife) working the local circuit.
Warner Brothers were looking to get a foot in the thriving R&B scene and this was to be Kell’s next port of call under its Loma subsidiary. Just one release came from this deal, released in November 1965,the up-tempo dancer You Can’t Outsmart A Woman (written by Osborne and Revis) b/w That’s What’s Happening (in the words of Kell, a true story written by himself about married life and what a Guy should do before and after getting married).
Again Kell was discouraged waiting for the next release he asked to be released from WB…in the words of Kell “I was always in a hurry, too big a hurry”.
Many labels were interested in Kell but his close friendship with Billy held Kell back with Billy keeping him away from many good opportunities and interested parties, presumably because the interested parties weren’t interested in Billy Revis? ABC just one major label interested in Kell but not in Revis. Kell finally managed to break from Billy Revis and he finally signed for another major, Mercury but nothing became of this partnership, not one release.
This just about sums up Kell’s recording career, impatient and unable to wait for the right deal or material, always thinking the grass greener elsewhere and his close friendship with Bill Revis probably cost Kell a successful recording career, hopping from label to label with little or no success, a sad testament to a mighty fine and unique vocalist.
Kell did stay in the business working the circuit, “top of the map to the bottom” until around 1995, at which point he was leading the world famous Drifters working for Hollywood International Talents. Due to the work slowing down and not making the kind of money he once was, Kell at this point decided that he needed a regular and stable income and got out of the music business and took to driving buses.
This wasn’t the last of Kell Osborne though, he has recently (2005) completed and album of new material and Universal was interested in some sort of deal, what becomes of this we shall have to see. Also at the time of writing Arthur Wright was working on a cd of Kell’s 60’s output.
The Motown Alumni Association has also contacted Kell in recognition of his part in the early part of the history of the Temptations….if only Kell had stayed with Eddie & Paul in Detroit?
Kell thankfully did leave the Northern Soul scene with some gems though, Quicksand which first became popular during the Stafford era of the mid 80’s and in later years its flip The Lonely Boy Song started getting some turntable action years later.
Another massive spin from the Stafford era is the Highland outing Law Against A Heartbreaker which is one of the rarest records on the Northern Soul scene with just three demo copies known to exist.
The Highland release shares it’s backing with the earlier release on Loma, You Can’t Outsmart A Woman, considerably cheaper yet every bit as good. Covered up as Jimmy Gresham the record simply pounds along gaining pace as it goes on building to a fantastic finish.
Small Things on New Bag has also gained in popularity over the years and again a very rare disc. A clever recording with Kell telling us we should pay compliments to the fairer sex and that the smallest things do matter.
Kell regrettably passed away during the early hours of Monday Morning January 29th 2012. He has left behind a legacy of his life with the music he created. R.I.P. Kell.
Kell Osborne – Trey 3006 (1960)
Bells Of St Mary’s
That’s Alright Baby
Kell Osborne – Cenco 1003 (1961)
Lonely Is The Night
Kell Osborne & Chicks – Class 302 (1962)
Do You Mind (Kell Osborne/Jimmy Thomas) (Jimmy Thomas is Leon Rene)
Kel Osborne – Class 306 (1963)
Would You Laugh (Kel Osborne/Jimmy Thomas)
Eye Of Fire (Jimmy Thomas)
Kell Osborne – Revis 1010 (1963)
Yaya Yaya (Later released on Revis 1224 and Highland as Trouble Trouble Baby)
Something For The Books
Kell Osborne c/w The Rockets – Revis 1224
Trouble Trouble Baby
Kell Osborne – Titanic 5008 (1963)
Lonely Boy Song – Titanic (1963)
Ozzie Osborne – Rayco 512 (1965)
Something For The Books
Lonely Is The Night
Kell Osborne - Loma 2023 (Nov/1965)
You Can’t Outsmart A Woman (Osborne/Revis)
That’s What’s Happening (Osborne)
Kell Osborne – New Bag (subsidiary of Class) 101 (1966)
Small Things (Make A Big Difference) (Osborne/Joanne Vikki)
Nothing From Nothing Leaves Nothing
Kell Osborne – Highland 1182 (1967)
A Law Against A Heartbreaker (Kell Osborne)
Trouble, Trouble Baby (Bill Revis)
Kell & Cherry b/w Kell Osborne’s Band - Glow Hill (196?)
That’s What’s Happening
Kell Osborne & The Primes – NSP 1044 (196?)
A Woman Is Sweet (Osborne)
That’s The Trouble With Love (Osborne)
That’s The Trouble With Love is an 80’s remake of Yaya Yaya (Trouble, Trouble Baby).
1000 of the NSP discs pressed, that was the minimum that could be ordered from Rainbow Record Pressing. The tracks were recorded at NSP Studios in Hollywood, CA along with 4 other tracks that were included in the cassette album released shortly after the 45.
If anyone can help with any more information on the career of Kell, any other release, dates etc it will be more than welcome.
This article wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Steve Propes. The Steve Propes 45s Show has been heard weekly on www.wpmd.org, generally live, on Saturdays, 9 to 11 a.m., PT. (1600 to 1800 GMT), check your local time zones.
Thanks also to the Rare Soul Forum and Soul Source.
Karl “Chalky” White