Sounds Visual Radio
Sounds Visual Radio
Episode 143: Charlie Chalmers

Charlie Chalmers is a saxophonist, session musician, backup singer, songwriter and producer who has written several hit songs for many recording artists, and has also arranged and performed on many Grammy-winning recordings. Seven of those recordings are in the Grammy Hall of Fame: Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”; Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” “Chain of Fools” and “Natural Woman”; Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”; and Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” and “Land of a Thousand Dances.”

Like many musicians, Charlie Chalmers began playing music in his high school marching band. The musical skills he honed served him well, as he became a hit arranger & sax player on recording sessions at a very young age in Memphis, Tennessee. By age 19, Charlie had worked on the road with Jerry Lee Lewis. He also worked extensively with Charlie Rich, and was starting to become well respected around Memphis as a funky sax player. Charlie’s soulful playing came to the attention of (Elvis’ bass player), Bill Black, of the “Bill Black Combo”. Bill called Chalmers for a session one day & it turned out well, so he called him back again. The word soon got around & before long every studio in Memphis was calling Charlie to play sax on their recordings. 

Not long after working with Bill Black, Willie Mitchell, who was also a HI recording artist, asked Charlie to play sax on some of his recordings. Charlie played lead sax on Willie’s biggest instrumental hit, “Soul Serenade”. Willie then called Charlie to work regularly on his productions, not only as a saxophone player, but also as an arranger, and back up singer.

How Charlie became a studio backup singer is an interesting little story. One day Willie Mitchell asked Charlie to come in & play sax, for a new artist he was producing. After they finished doing the horns, Willie asked Charlie about some girls to sing back up vocals on the session, so Charlie called Sandra & Donna Rhodes to come over & do the session. The girls came in & after they sang for a while, Willie looked over at Charlie and said: “The sound just ain’t fat enough…. get out there, and sing with them, and see if that will beef it up some.” Charlie did as Willie requested & that magic blend started to happen. “WOW, what a sound”, Willie screamed from the control room. Well, history was made that day! “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green was the song they were singing on & it became a monster hit. That was only the beginning for Charlie as a back up singer & the group called Rhodes, Chalmers, & Rhodes. They became legendary, singing together on countless hit recordings, for many years to come. CharlieSandra & Donna sang with Al Green on his latest album, “I Can’t Stop”, produced by Willie Mitchell, for Blue Note Records, (2003)

Memphis wasn’t the only major recording scene happening for Charlie. Before recording with Al Green, Charlie was asked to go to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to play sax on a Wilson Pickett recording date for Atlantic Records. “Land Of A Thousand Dances” &” Mustang Sally” were 2 of the songs he recorded with Pickett that week, and it was then that Charlie met Jerry Wexler, & Tom DowdCharlie, and these two top record producers would make many great recordings together as time went on.

Some of those great recordings were made with Aretha Franklin, produced by Wexler and Dowd for the Atlantic label. Charlie did horn arrangements and played sax on most of Aretha’s hits: “I Ain’t Never Loved A Man”, “Respect”, “Do Right Woman”, “Chain of Fools” “Dr. Feel Good”, & “See Saw”, are some of those GREAT recordings.

Rick Hall of Fame Recording also greatly influenced Charlie’s career. Rick produced many hits in Muscle Shoals, Alabama & Charlie worked closely with him, on artists such as: Etta James, Clarence Carter, (The Osmonds, Donnie & Marie), Paul Anka, Doby Gray,  Mac Davis, Andy Williams, Wayne Newton, to name a few. Rick also produced an album on Charlie. “Sax And The Single Girl” that is still selling around the world, and is available on Chess Records. After Rhodes, Chalmers, & Rhodes sang on the “Having My Baby” album, Paul Anka asked if they would do, a few live dates with him in Las Vegas. Those “few” live dates turned in to three years at Caesar’s Palace.  Knowing he still had to keep his clients happy, Charlie located a studio, in Las Vegas, where he could bring in clients to record. One of Chalmers great memories is singing back up on a Frank Sinatra session. Paul Anka told Sinatra he should use Rhodes, Chalmers, & Rhodesto sing back up on a new album he was going to record. Frank took Paul’s advice & was very happy with the outcome.

After working for several years in Vegas, Charlie & the girlswere calledtoMiami. While in Miami, they recorded with Andy Gibb, The Bee Gees, Fire Fall, Harry Chapin, John Meloncamp, K.C. & The Sunshine Band, and others. The Miami scene kept them busy for several more years.

In 1989 Mel Tillis asked Charlie to work with him at his new theatre in Branson, Missouri. After two years with Mel, Charlie decided to build his recording studio in Branson.  It has been a great success, and this is where you can find Charlie today, Producing & Recording at his studio, over looking beautiful “Table Rock Lake”. 

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