After moving to Newark, New Jersey, Harrison wandered by the headquarters of Savoy Records
one fortuitous day and was snapped up by producer Fred Mendelsohn. Harrison recorded several sessions for Savoy
, beginning with a catchy cover of Terry Fell's country tune "Don't Drop It." Top New York sessioneers -- arranger Leroy Kirkland, saxist Buddy Lucas and guitarists Mickey Baker
and Kenny Burrell
-- backed Harrison on his 1954-1956 Savoy
output, but hits weren't forthcoming.
That changed instantly when Harrison waxed his driving "Kansas City" for Harlem entrepreneur Bobby Robinson in 1959. With a barbed-wire guitar solo by Wild Jimmy Spruill igniting Harrison's no-frills piano and clenched vocal, "Kansas City" paced both the R&B and pop charts soon after its issue on Fury Records
(not bad for a $40 session). Only one minor problem: Harrison was still technically under contract to Savoy
(though label head Herman Lubinsky had literally run him out of his office some years earlier!), leading to all sorts of legal wrangles that finally went Robinson's way. Momentum for any Fury
follow-ups had been fatally blunted in the interim, despite fine attempts with "Cheatin' Baby," the sequel "Goodbye Kansas City," and the original "Let's Stick Together."
Harrison bounced from Neptune
to Doc to Constellation
to Port to Vest with little in the way of tangible rewards before unexpectedly making a comeback in 1969 with his infectious "Let's Work Together" for Juggy Murray's Sue
imprint. The two-part single proved a popular cover item -- Canned Heat
revived it shortly thereafter, and Bryan Ferry
chimed in with his treatment later on. Alas, it was an isolated happenstance -- apart from "My Heart Is Yours," a bottom-end chart entry on SSS International in 1971, no more hits were in Wilbert's future. But Harrison soldiered on, sometimes as a one-man band, for years to come. ~ Bill Dahl, Rovi