Dec 19, 2013
About ten years ago, my abiding passion for Eddie Hinton’s album Letters From Mississippi led me to a brief but entertaining correspondence with its producer, John D. Wyker, who died last week at his home in Alabama.
I miss him already, and I never even met the guy.
The Hinton album is great, maybe the definitive white soul album. Hinton once said he just wanted to make music black people would like because black music was what he liked. Hinton sounded like a more desperate Otis Redding and deserves an entire book of his own, but that will have to wait until another day. Anyway, Eddie’s white soul masterpiece is just one part of Johnny Wyker’s legacy.
Like Hinton, John D. Wyker was a southern boy, born in Decatur, Alabama in 1945.
In the mid-60s he co-wrote one of the great songs ‘Let Love Come Between Us’, which he recorded first with his own group The Rubber Band and achieved a minor hit. It’s a lovely summery piece of southern pop. (Hear it here.) Soon after, it was covered by James and Bobby Purify, the soul duo who at their peak were second only to Sam and Dave, and their recording of ‘Let Love Come Between Us’ is fantastic. Listen to it: And the song was later covered by numerous other artists. Delbert McClinton did a version. So did Bjork.
Wyker liked boats. He even lived on one for a while, hence the name of his next band, Sailcat, who in the early 70s recorded the memorable Motorcycle Mama for Elektra – a concept album about motorbikes.
He had a Zelig-like ability to be where the action was. He was apparently the first person to hear ‘Me and Bobby McGee’. Kristofferson, a good friend, had just finished the song and played it to Wyker to see what he thought.
And his friendship with Eddie Hinton lasted for many years. The pair became close when both were hanging around the Muscle Shoals studios in the 60s, Eddie playing guitar on sessions for Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and others, Wyker doing whatever he could. They both played – along with the entire Allman Brothers Band – on Johnny Jenkins’ great Muscle Shoals-centred album Ton-Ton Macoute.
When Eddie fell on hard times – living in doss houses or on the street – Wyker’s belief in his talents didn’t waver. Eventually he produced Eddie’s comeback masterpiece, which I first heard on vinyl some time in the 80s. About 10 years ago, afraid I was going to wear out the record and not knowing if I’d be able to replace it as it was long out of print, I went looking for a copy on CD. Somehow my search led me to the e-address of John D Wyker. He couldn’t have been friendlier.
My first reply from him read:
Dear Nick !
It's great to hear from you ! And yes you are a long way from Bama-Lama Land ~
The CD of LETTERS has been remixed and mastered from the original multi tracks with the current technology we have today which is much better than what we had back in 1985.
All other versions of LETTERS that I leased to other companies made their product from the same basic 2 track mix dowm....a few years ago we decided to go back and dig up the original 8 track masters...this is a much better sounding recording ...with better organ parts on 2 songs and it features 2 bonus songs.This is the masterpiece version !
Please let me know if you get this....I have been havin' problems with my PC and I think I may have already sent you a reply.
The disc he sent me was in a handmade cardboard cover rather than a jewel case, as he only wanted to use biodegradable materials. It was imprinted with his personal stamp, which proclaimed: WILD WATER-SKI WEEKEND, MIGHTY FIELD OF VISION, AUDIO & VIDEO, JOHNNY WYKER, MADE IN ALABAMA. The CD itself is, of course, non-biodegradable, but that’s fine: I only hope it lasts forever.
After Hinton’s death in 1995 at just 51, Wyker continued to make his own music and plans, though from the few bits and pieces that made it to You Tube it seemed his processes were wild and loose. Here's one:
I exchanged a few more emails with JDW, though our correspondence was as disjointed as his life appears to have been. At one point he wrote: “I saw a website about a company located in New Zee that makes resonator guitars....do you know about them.? I might have to get you to pick me a good one out and I'll send you the $.”
I assumed he was thinking of Steve Evans, the great Northland luthier, but after that initial enquiry JD and I lost contact. More trouble with the PC, I guess.
Like all his emails, that last one bore his distinctive signature:
Your friend in Bama-Lama Land ~!
John D. Wyker
The death of John D. Wyker has received some attention, though not enough. There is, however, a good obit here: http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/31781e4766dc4f53b3cd041a4a016f68/AL--Obit-Johnny-Wyker