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A soul music evergreen who's been in the music business since her late teens working as a backing vocalist, solo singer, songwriter, and record and publishing company owner, you name it she's done it.
On October 8, 1944, was born Joshie 'Jo' Armstead; a soul music evergreen who's been in the music business since her late teens working as a backing vocalist, solo singer, songwriter, and record and publishing company owner, you name it she's done it.
The talented, driven woman has the drive of the energizer bunny on steroids. Born Josephine "Joshie" Armstead in Yazoo City, MS, October 8, 1944, she leaped from the deep south to become a member of the Ikettes in 1961 (at 17) and appeared on their dope-beat "I'm Blue (The Gong, Gong Song)" in 1962 with Delores Johnson aka Flora Williams and Eloise Hester, and a young Tina Turner wailing in the background. Salt-N-Pepa later revised the song into the mammoth hit "Shoop."
Leaving the Ikettes, she started hanging around Wand/Scepter Records where she befriended Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson and formed a songwriting team. She also found more work than she could handle in New York as a backing vocalist on more sessions than she probably remembers.
Simpson/Ashford/Armstead supplied material to Wand/Scepter's artists, including both sides of Ronnie Milsap's pre-country hits: "Never Had It So Good" b/w "Let's Go Get Stoned," the latter of which came out before Ray Charles' hit version. They wrote for Maxine Brown, Chuck Jackson, the Shirelles, and more, including artists outside of New York such as the Radiants. Aretha Franklin benefited from the threesome's creativity by waxing "Cry Like a Baby" for Columbia Records. Candy & the Kisses and a host of others recorded their songs as well.
The prolific team was showing signs of splitting; it didn't help when Armstead began recording with producer Ed Townsend under the pseudonym Deena Johnson cutting the singles "The Breaking Point" (1965) and "I'm a Sad Girl" (1967) on Wild Deuce and Simpson Records, respectively. A duet "There's Gonna Be a Showdown," with Ricky Davis also dropped on Simpson. By 1967, Ashford & Simpson had signed with Motown Records and began a string of hits for Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell and others. Ashford & Simpson's association with Tammi Terrell was natural; they all knew each other from Wand/Scepter.
For reasons unknown, the team broke up and Armstead ended up in Chicago where she married Mel Collins. The couple formed publishing companies and the labels Gamma and Giant Records and cut some sterling soul on them and other Chi-town based labels, including Garland Green's big hit "Jealous Kind of Fella," John Edwards, Syl Johnson, and Ruby Andrews' charter "Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over)." Armstead recorded for both labels and a little noise with "I Feel an Urge Coming On," "A Stone Good Lover" (her best), and "I've Been Turned On." She co-wrote "Jealous Kinda of Fella" (1969) and watched it soar to number 20 on the pop charts, but reportedly the label never got paid. The Gamma/Giant tracks can be found on A Stone Good Lover: A Golden Classic Edition, on Collectables Records.
She divorced Collins and returned to New York, where she continued her various entrepreneurships. Her session work credits include working on albums by David Bromberg, Nina Simone, George Jackson, Archie Shepp, Bob Dylan, Quincy Jones, B.B. King, Max Romeo, and many others. A stint with the Stax subsidiary Gospel Truth produced the single "I've Got the Vibes" b/w "Give a Little Loving"; her final chart record was "Stumblin' Blocks, Steppin' Stones" on Truth Records. The talented one also did voice work on the Do the Circulation episode of Schoolhouse Rock, and had nearly 150 songs registered with BMI.
She started Prairie Rose Records in the early '90s and released "In the Right Place," but it sunk for lack of exposure.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
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