Autobiographical letter written by James Hamilton to Blues & Soul magazine (#356, May 18-31 1982)

Dr. Soul writes…

The more informed of you will be familiar with the great letter writers of our time: Mark Twain, Alistair Cooke, Dr Johnson, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Root, etc. Although not quite in this illustrious company (yet), soul music personality/deejay/writer James Hamilton recently dropped B&S editor Bob Killbourn a letter . . .

You recently expressed doubt at my claim to be ‘Doctor Soul’ in regard to the ’60s soul night I’m currently doing on Tuesdays at Le Beat Route. This was a nickname by which I was widely known back then at the time, and, without meaning to seem too egotistical, it strikes me that you might be interested to know what I was up to in the days before our paths first started to cross.

I began DJing exactly nineteen years ago this month [May 1963] at Esmerelda’s Barn in Knightsbridge (owned by the Kray Twins!), playing early Motown (on Oriole), James Brown (Parlophone), Little Eva and the like. During this period I was rapidly self educating myself with a frighteningly detailed knowledge of soul music, so that when I went to work in New York in 1964 (as a talent scout for the music side of Beatles merchandising agents, Seltaeb Inc). I was able to hold my own in, on reflection, a horribly precocious way with all the soul stars, DJs and music business people I encountered.

In fact a party trick of Seltaeb’s president was to trot me out as soon as we encountered anyone in the record business, snap his fingers, and then let me deliver a short accurate spiel all about whoever it was we were facing. I cringe at the memory! I also wish I had the same passionate interest now as I did then. It was reported back to me that I was evidently the talk of a black DJ convention in Miami that summer (“Hey, who is this white English kid who spends all his time in Harlem and knows more about soul than we do?”!).

During this halcyon era I socialised with the likes of Sam Cooke, James Brown, the Miracles, James Baldwin and so many more, caught all the shows at the Apollo in Harlem and generally hung out around the black life. At the weekends I was DJing out on Long Island at a club called Mitty’s General Store in Water Mill, near Southampton, introducing black American dance music to upper crust white Americans.

The discotheque concept was still brand new in the States at that time (the previous year they’d been playing Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra), and, as probably the first English disco DJ over there, I and the club attracted quite a bit of media attention.

My first involvement with Record Mirror occurred when, backstage at a Murray The K stage show in Brooklyn, I secured the first personal interview by an English paper with Diana Ross. (We actually were merely chatting for a couple of hours, during which she told me “Where Did Our Love Go” had just hit the UK charts, so afterwards I wrote it up and sent it off.) I also, amongst other material, sent a record called “Go Now” by Bessie Banks over to the Seltaeb partners left back home in England, who were managing the newly formed Moody Blues.

It was Moodies co-manager Tony Secunda (of later Move/T. Rex notoriety) who, on my return, nicknamed me ‘Doctor Soul’ — which stuck with me for the rest of the ’60s. Tony got me to DJ at a Monday gig he was promoting in South West London (one of the resident groups was the Cheynes, with Mick Fleetwood and Peter Bardens) early in ’65, before I spent the rest of that year running a publishing company for Animals manager Mike Jeffery.

Jimmy James & The Vagabonds and their late manager Peter Meaden (fresh from letting the High Numbers become The Who) introduced me to The Scene in Ham Yard, Soho, and it was at The Scene that I then did most of the all-nighter sessions every Friday/Saturday, through the summer of 1965 until the club’s closure in early ’66. Jerry Wexler himself used to send me all the Atlantic-distributed promos every week from the States, the club had such a reputation. This was after Guy Stevens had left, but it was still one of the leading Mod venues. On the odd occasion that the police raided the place, the floor would get suddenly crunchy underfoot!

Jimmy & The Vagabonds especially, and many other groups too, used to come to me for material to record or use in their stage acts, and there were numerous other associations and items of nostalgic interest with which I could carry on.

In 1966 I compiled an album for Sue Island which was actually called “Doctor Soul“, and a couple of years later I compiled a gospel album for Island as well, while quite a few liner notes on other labels’ LPs carried my nickname too. Once I’d started writing the ‘America Awakes’ US singles reviews in Record Mirror from January 1969, a little later a separate column of import reviews then carried my pseudonym ‘The Doctor’ in an attempt to fool some of the people into believing this came actually from the States.

Paradoxically, as I became so professionally involved in writing about the music, and inundated with records, I ended up by remembering less. There was just too much vinyl, man!

So, while I make no real claim to being ‘Doctor Soul’ now as regards the modern scene (after all, these days I’m ‘Megamix The Mighty Chopper’!), I hope you can see that way back when, maybe there was something in it. However, I haven’t written all this for publication to boost my ego or anything — just to fill in a few gaps so you know where I’m coming from.

3 thoughts on “Autobiographical letter written by James Hamilton to Blues & Soul magazine (#356, May 18-31 1982)”

  1. My thanks to Greg Wilson for sending me a scan of this letter, which provides some invaluable biographical background detail.

    James’s interview with Diana Ross was incorporated into a news story that was published in the October 3rd 1964 edition of Record Mirror, but it wasn’t actually her first interview with the paper: a telephone interview with all three Supremes by staff writer Peter Jones was printed in the September 18th edition, when “Where Did Our Love Go” was in its third week in the UK singles chart (rising from 18 to 9, and later peaking at 3).

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  2. The publishing company which James ran for Mike Jeffery was probably Slamina Music, which – like Beatles/Seltaeb – is Animals spelled backwards.

    While at Seltaeb, James was responsible for cutting some one-sided 10″ acetates, featuring a jobbing New York singer-songwriter called Dick Glass (later signed by 20th Century Fox), who later claimed that he became employed by Seltaeb as a staff songwriter (not that any of his compositions came to further light). Sung by Glass, who accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, two of the tracks were self-compositions – “You Turn Me On” and “Down On Your Knees” – while another was a radically rewritten version of the Reverend Gary Davis tune “Cocaine Blues”, featuring surprisingly explicit references not only to cocaine, but also to amphetamines, marijuana and mescaline. Having spent 18 years researching their provenance, which was far from easy, I sold finally these acetates via Omega Auctions in 2018.

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  3. This is a fascinating autobiographical record of James’s early career. Glad you found it and have now recorded it for posterity here. So much personal information like this gets lost in the mists of time. An important link in the story of how soul music became established in the UK.

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