Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seven Days Too Long, Chuck Wood (1967)

If you'd asked me two weeks ago what Northern Soul refers to, I'd have been pretty confident that it pertained to 60's soul music that came out of Detroit and Chicago.

Nice try, but wrong.  Once again, my frame of reference is proving to be rather narrower than it could be, and because I wasn't living in the UK during the 70's, I am now finding it means, in the words of Monty Python, something completely different.

It's become a bit of a magnificent obsession, or at least one song that typifies Northern Soul - and the artist who sang it - has.  It all began when fellow music buff Wade practically accused me of withholding knowledge of Seven Days Too Long from him.  But I was Not Guilty As Charged, because I had never heard of it either.  When I did hear it, I went crazy over it.  And needed desperately to find out why it was nowhere near any radar screen that I could lay claim to.

This is where it gets obsessional.  The song is everywhere online, but as many people commented in many venues, there was next to nothing about the singer, Chuck Wood.  Who was this "soul howler," as he was referred to?  Why such a dearth of information about someone whose song became #10 on the list of 20 Most Popular Northern Soul Songs?  For a research devotée, that was like laying down the gauntlet.  I had to find out about Chuck Wood and the genesis of Seven Days Too Long.  

I can't say I've completely figured it out.  It's a bit of a tough nut.  But with the help of two friends who also get their jollies doing research, J and Sheila, we've gotten closer to it than I believe anyone else ever has. 

It might be easier to tell the story if I start at the end.   

In the 70's clubgoers in the north of England developed a distinct penchant for American dance music that was soul in origin, but not commercial and definitely not Motown.  The rhythm was fast, the dance style involved "stomping," and the most prized songs were those that were by definition rare.  These clubs developed an all-night culture, and attracted frenzied, often drug-addled patrons by the hundreds. Several venues, most notably one called Wigan's Casino, became the hub for and synonymous with Northern Soul activity.

How the American records were unearthed would probably make a story in itself.  Suffice it to say that Seven Days Too Long met the criteria of non-Motown, non-commercial and rare.

Which leads to the next question - why was it rare?  Seven Days Too Long was a U.S. release on Roulette, a multi-genre label that by all accounts was always struggling to find success.  But somehow, with what promotion I don't know, the week of Sept. 16, 1967, the song was dubbed a "regional breakout" by Billboard magazine (though what region it does not specify), and by the following week it was #130 on the Billboard charts.  The week of Oct. 7, it had ascended to #119, and that's the last we hear of it, or at least the last mention I can find.
So that takes care of the "rare" part of its being a good candidate for Northern Soul; it wasn't commercially successful.  But it still leaves the question of, who in the hell was Chuck Wood?  Here is what I believe I know about him:

  • He was born in Tyler, Texas (the year remains in dispute as far as I'm concerned) but somehow made his way to Los Angeles where he attended Los Angeles City College.  
  • His first records were for Warner Bros.  One exceedingly bizarre one called Paula Bunyan can be heard here
  • We believe that it was customary for singers under contract with WB also to be put under contract as actors, and this appears to be what happened with him. Wood appeared in the Tarzan TV series, in the films Beau Geste and The Sins of Rachel Cade, among many other appearances.
  • He looked like this.  I believe this to be him only by connecting the dots between various comments on blogs that he also performed as Big Chuck Wood (and the Woodchuckers), discography lists I've found, and the knowledge that he was, indeed, an actor and would have needed publicity stills.  
  • He's also probably the Chuck Wood shown here as a singer in an outfit called the Calimbo Steel Band. In fact, an article about him in a 1966 Call and Post says he "performed for former president Eisenhower in Palm Springs, accompanied by a steel band," so it must be right!  His discography certainly suggests that he was not limited in his styles of music by any means.  However, I don't know for certain if the Chuck Wood on all of these songs is just one person. 
  • Is he still alive?  Not clear on that either.  A Tyler Texan named Chuck Wood is dead, but the date of birth just doesn't match up to the other ages that are given in various articles about him - unless he looked decades younger than he really was. 
In any event, I am hoping that more information will somehow be unearthed about Chuck Wood.  Nothing about the song's composers, J.R. Bailey and Vernon Harrell, gives me anything.  Bailey was a former Cadillac; Harrell used to perform with the Coasters. Bailey wrote Everybody Plays the Fool, popularized by the Main Ingredient. Any direct connection they may have had to Wood is unclear, other than that the b-side of Seven Days, Soul Shing-A-Ling, was also written by them.  

And with that, I bring this investigation to a close and move on to some other obsession!


Anonymous said...

This is Just J. This is one of my favorite posts and not just because you mentioned me but because in it, you show your research process. I'll have to redouble my efforts and perhaps we can find out more about the mysterious Mr. Wood.

Wade said...

Ha! That's pretty good sleuthery. From Tyler! I wrote a song about Earl Campbell, who's also from Tyler, and will be driving through there myself at the end of March. I'll keep an eye out for Chuck.

Sheila said...

Now this was teamwork! Great post, Wendy! I await my next assignment.


Holly A Hughes said...

Fantastic song, Wendy, and I'd never have heard it without you. Great work! Don't you just love the little "huhs" he throws in? And the horns are so sweet...

Anonymous said...

". . .but definitely not Motown."

Actually, there are some Motown records that are highly coveted by Northern Soul fans. Probably the most rare is Frank Wilson's 'Do I Love You' (a $15,000 45 the last time I checked - if anyone's lucky enough to find another copy.) Others are R. Dean Taylor's 'There's a Ghost in My House', Barbara Randolph's 'I Got a Feeling' and the somewhat more common 'Just a Little Misunderstanding' by the Contours.

Hilary said...

Just come across this whilst sorting through my colelction of vinyls in an effort to 'downsize'. My copy is on the Big t label, has Soul Shing a Ling on the other side and I got it when I had a Saturday job in a record shop in the late 60's - that was cool!!

Anonymous said...


Steve Hubball said...

Great song, and top work writing about it. Thanks.

wendy said...

Thank you, Steve; it was great fun investigating and writing about it!

David Kelly said...

Seven Days Too Long was a huge hit in Philly debuting on the WIBG Top 99 on July 31, 1967 & peaking on September 11, 1967 at #27

Anonymous said...

AKA J.R.Bailey and Al Wilson of "Help me" (Wand) fame(- NOT The Snake singer).

Len Romano said...

Hi, FYI, your link of what Chuck Wood looks like goes to a picture of Tommy Hunt.

Len Romano said...

Also, here is a link to a photo of J.R. Bailey's 1974 album Just Me 'N You: