J.B. Bingham Jr was born on the 1st of September I945 in Chicago. He was the second eldest child of four raised by Thelma and James Bingham Sr. As a teenager JB cut his teeth singing lead vocals and playing guitar with several neighbourhood groups. One group in particular under the unlikely name of “The Vermacharms” also featured Walter (Simtec ) Simmons, his brother Ronnie Simmons, Mathew Whitfield and JB.
James’s first Guitar was loaned to him by the mother of Tom Jamerson, while Tom was away serving in Vietnam. Upon Tom’s return from the service James had to return the guitar. Tom later played bass guitar for Bettye Everette before eventually becoming her husband.
When James reached the age of 20 his family moved to Los Angeles but after a short time there they decided to return home to Chicago. James though decided to stay and try his luck in the music business. His first job came in 1966 when he signed to Johnny Rivers Soul City label as a staff songwriter and singer.
He worked under the auspice of former Motown West Coast President Mark Gordon. Gordon who by then had left Motown to become an independent producer also managed James. The most successful artists under Gordon’s management was the pop/soul group, The 5th Dimension. Although during his time with Soul City James often toured and performed as one half of a singing duo with fellow Soul City stable mate Willie Hutch, no JB Bingham recordings where ever made. Incidentally it was while at Soul City that James was advised by Johnny Rivers to add the initial B to his name this was a decision influenced by one of hottest recording artists of the time, one B.J. Thomas and so J.B. Bingham he became.JB later moved on joining Marlu Records as a A&R man where he managed a girl group known as” The Voices”. JB along with Jack Brown co-wrote and arranged two songs on the Voices the “Soul Clinic” and An Imitation Of Life” with both songs gained a release on Marlu 1004 under the artist name of The Voices and Thee Counts”. The Voices line up included former Friends Of Distinction lead vocalist Barbara Love, Geneva Crawford and Patrice Brown.
Photo:- Left to Right- J.B.Bingham, Walter (Simtec) Simmons, Mathew Whitfield, Ronnie Simmons (knelling down with bass guitar)
In September 1969 JB formed his own and most successful group the “Five Flights Up”; the groups line up featured former “Voices” member Geneva Crawford, Blanton McFarlin, Carlnetta Kelly, Charles Termell and JB as the lead singer. JB was fortuitously introduced by Harry Elston of “The Friend Of Distinction” to their producer John Florez who had recently produced the “Friends Of Distinction’s million seller “Grazing In The Grass”( RCA 74-0107). Florez by now had left RCA to go as a independent producer and liking what he heard decided to sign the “Five Flights Up” to a production contract and signed them to the Bell distributed T.A. label. In 1970 the Five Flights Up hit pay dirt with their first T.A. release which featured two J.B. Bingham compositions “Do What You Wanna Do” b/w “Black Cat” (T.A, 202). “Do What You Wanna Do” became a hit reaching number 37 on Billboard’s pop single chart. Their follow up release “ After The Feeling Is Gone” B/w “Where Are You Going Girl “ (T.A. 207) peaked at number 89 on Billboard’s pop chart. A third T.A. release followed in 1971 “Like Monday Follows Sunday” b/w “California Girl” (T.A. 212) but this did not achieve the success of the previous two releases.
Five Flights Up
“Day Before Yesterday” b/w “There’s Nothing Wrong (With Loving A Stranger) (Oak 113). A reputed Five Flights Up album project entitled “After The Feeling Is Gone” was planned but believed to have been shelved by the powers that be at Columbia records. John Florez later went on to continue his midas touch producing a string of hits on the 5th Dimension as well as the Hues Corporation. In 1974 JB released his own first solo outing on Warner Brothers records, the John Florez produced “Peek A Boo” b/w “Sunshine” the song was arranged by D’Arneill Pershing, under the management of Steve Binder. It was Steve Binder who was responsible for JB signing with United Artists records. At U.A, JB was produced by both Steve Binder and H.B Barnum.
Binder and Barnum recorded several songs on JB which they offered to United Artists. The powers that be at U.A decided to pick up four of the songs for two 45 releases. The H.B Barnum/ Joyce Clay penned “All Alone By The Telephone” b/w the J.B Bingham penned “Live And You Learn” (U.A-XW816-Y) followed by two Bingham compositions “She’s Gone” b/w “Keep On Walking” (UA-XW872-Y). Both releases never really achieved the sales that they duly deserved, partially due to the fact that around 1976 United Artists had begun to disband their records division and thus never really put the full weight of their promotional machine behind J.B’s output. This was also coupled with the fact that H.B Barnum had also recorded “All Alone By The Telephone” on another West Coast group the “Checkmates” which was released on their rival major Polydor label at virtually the same time. Salvation did eventually arrive for JB releases when some twenty years after their release they where championed by the Dj’s and collectors alike of the UK Modern Soul Scene with “All Alone By The Telephone” now being regarded as a all time classic of this genre.
Following the demise of United Artists, JB briefly return to Warner Brothers as a staff writer.
JB’s writing talent’s eventually led him to become a music and artist reviewer at the” Los Angeles Sentinel”, the west coasts oldest and largest African-American newspaper a position he held for circa fifteen years. JB worked closely with his wife Carolyn who was also employed by the Sentinel as the Entertainment section Editor. James and Carolyn have two children, their daughter Anzantique and their son James Bingham the 3rd an aspiring young singer hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Moving forward to the present JB is still involved in the music business following the formation of his own record label TSOC (The Sound Of Chicago) with his lifelong friend and business partner Charles Lewis in 2012. They are producing new material on a new group called the Voices (no connection at all with the Marlu outfit). J.B also performs his own one man act at several of the more notable steak houses throughout Los Angeles and Pasadena area.
In 2011 we at Soul Junction records contacted JB asking the inevitable question of did he have any unissued material. During the ensuing conversation JB mentioned three unissued tracks that he cut with H.B Barnum and Steve Binder that United Artists hadn’t picked up. So we made contact with the legendary record producer H.B Barnum and struck a deal. The result of which, two of JB Bingham’s previously unissued tracks will at last be gaining a belated 45 release. Have no fear the third unissued track with not remain all alone for two long as it too will be gaining a future release sometime later next year. The first of these previously unissued J.B Bingham tracks will be the excellent upbeat “People On A Ego Trip” backed with the more mid tempo offering She’s On Strike” (SJ525).
Words by David Welding
Acknowledgements to: James Bingham , Carolyn Bingham and H.B. Barnum.
Photograph’s courtesy of James Bingham.
Label Scans courtesy of Steve Guarnori, Andy Whitmore and Francesco Giacobbe