Cargoe is an American band from Tulsa, Oklahoma, originally formed in the late 1960s as Rubbery Cargoe, whose lone studio album, engineered by phonon Terry Manning, was released on Memphis Tennessee’s Ardent Records in 1972. They moved to Memphis in 1970 with the help of Robert W. Walker and Jim Peters to begin their recording career with producer Dan Penn. They later signed with Ardent Records where they recorded alongside Big Star in the original National Street Ardent Studios location, as well as the new studio built on Madison Avenue in 1971.
Keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Bill Phillips and guitarist/bassist/vocalist/songwriter Max Wisley formed the pop/rock quartet Rubbery Cargoe in the mid-1960s. The Tulsa based group went through various incarnations, eventually choosing drummer /vocalist/songwriter Tim Benton and lead guitarist /vocalist/songwriter Tom Richard and later changed the name to Cargoe.
Cargoe epitomized the funky Tulsa sound.
The band that would become Cargoe established major roots in the Tulsa Music scene of the mid to late 1960s. They were Rubbery Cargoe, the psychedelic "house" band of the progressively up-scale teen only night club The Machine. It was there that Cargoe became forever linked with Jim Peters of local AM radio KAKC fame, who was the Sound, Lighting, and Voice of The Machine. As Rubbery Cargoe, they began writing original material, and were the opening act for many major hitmakers of the day, including The Cowsills, and Eric Burdon and the Animals. Rubbery Cargoe was considered one of the premier Tulsa bands, if not THE premier Tulsa band at the time. But things changed. “The Machine” closed, and there were few places that catered to musicians playing original material. Bill began College in Norman and there were weeks and even months when the band would not get together or would not have gigs to play. Things were falling apart fast. It was summer break 1969, and the band were all free for the summer. They somehow got a gig in Colorado Springs at a club that allowed them to do their own material. This turned out to be a turning point for the band. After they returned to Tulsa, Peters organized a recording session at KVOO, where the first Rubbery Cargoe demos were created. Fellow Disc Jockey and close personal friend Robert W. Walker had moved to Memphis, TN where he was Music Director and radio personality for WHBQ. Through Rob’s connection with Dan Penn of The Box Tops fame, he created the opportunity for the band to make their very first record at Penn’s new Beautiful Sounds studio in Memphis. Rob and Jim would co-produce, engineer, and mix, while Beautiful would own the masters and recoup their expenses upon sale or lease of the masters to a record company. Jim and the band moved to Memphis in 1970, living with Rob, while they recorded their Album in 4 days. Later that year they all moved into an old Antebellum house at 1972 Cowden. For all involved, the address had a “magic ring” to it.
Dan Penn and his partner at Beautiful, Eddie Braddock, had significant connections in the record business, so when the album neared completion, Rob and Jim went looking for bidders. Epic Records and Atlantic Records were ready to sign the original Beautiful Sounds album Jim and Rob had produced - firm offers were made - but Penn's business partners wanted to hold out for more advance money. Meanwhile, they put out a single on their own, on Penn's in-house label "Beautiful". The original Feel Allright went to #1 on Memphis radio and started spreading across the South, only to be stymied because Beautiful lacked the national distribution necessary to make it an across-the-board smash. Another major missed opportunity (harbinger of problems that would spill into the years ahead.)
Jim and Rob had Managed the band all the way from Tulsa and into an opportunity few bands ever get the chance to experience. As musicians, the band members were disengaged business-wise. They became disenchanted that nothing was happening and things were falling apart again. Tensions were rising between them all, and the spirit of the adventure was fading. By the end of 1970, Rob was offered a job in Miami radio, and was ready to go. The band and Peters remained in Memphis. Ardent owner John Fry, through Rob and Jim’s introduction, had lent the band money to buy equipment, so that relationship developed into the Ardent recordings. Regrettably, that was the end of Rob and Jim’s involvement with Cargoe.
Often associated with the Power Pop genre given to Ardent Label Mates Big Star, Cargoe projected more of a stylized artistic nuance to their songwriting and performing, with harmonies exhibiting a strong American/Southern Roots cultural influence.
The band recorded their Album CARGOE with Terry Manning producing at, John Fry's Ardent Studios. They scored numerous Billboard and Cashbox Top 100 listings, and reviews from 1970 through 1973, along with major radio play of their first single “Feel Alright” and follow-up “I Love You Anyway”. The band’s studio LP CARGOE was even featured, with Isaac Hayes Shaft, which won an Academy Award/Oscar that year for Best Original Song, in a Special Edition section of Billboard’s June 3, 1972 “The Deck is STAX” promotion.
The band began a west coast tour the summer of 1972, but was caught up in the distribution and bankruptcy label problems at Stax/Volt, who distributed the album and owned the masters. Distribution was sold to Columbia Records who failed to include Cargoe in their catalog, which meant that listeners who heard the hit could not actually buy the record. “Feel Alright” and their debut CARGOE LP fell off the charts instantly.
The same label troubles caused both Cargoe and Big Star to disband within a short time. Big Star went on to become one of the most beloved and influential bands of the entire decade, while Cargoe pretty much disappeared out of the popular memory.
Ardent Records contracts for distribution with Stax/Volt gave Stax ownership of the master tapes. When Stax went bankrupt in the mid-'70s, ownership of the masters eventually wound up in the hands of Fantasy Records Saul Zaentz, and no one's been able to get the tapes for domestic release.
After nearly 40 years of producing and engineering countless hit records including ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, George Thorogood, Celine Dion, Björk, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, Shania Twain, and many others, Terry Manning to this day regards Cargoe as “the great record he helped make that no one ever discovered”.
Their lone album, simply titled CARGOE released in 1972 on Ardent Records but available now only via a pricey Japanese JVC 2003 import, has been unavailable for fans to hear for decades.When Ardent Records was launched in Memphis in 1972, it was Cargoe who label owners/producers/engineers John Fry and Terry Manning thought were going to put Ardent Records on the map.
It was Cargoe who were known as the hottest live band in the Memphis area in 1971-74.
It was Cargoe who scored Ardent Records first big radio hit.
In 2004, when Terry Manning belatedly released an undiscovered live Stereo FM Live in Memphis, Lucky Seven Records, Big Star's Jody Stephens told author/writer Frank Gutch Jr.—not kidding at all—that he almost hated for people to hear this album, and realize that Big Star were not such a good live band after all.
Cargoe's final live performance was on Halloween Night, October 31, 1972, where they opened for the legendary band Poco at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis, Tennessee. The band had planned a follow-up album, but material written back then was never recorded or released until now.
Nearly 40 years later, three of the original members, Keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Bill Phillips, guitarist/bassist/vocalist/songwriter Max Wisley, and drummer/vocalist/songwriter Tim Benton have finally come together with undiscovered Tulsa based producer/engineer/lead guitarist /vocalist/songwriter Steve Thornbrugh, to create the follow-up album that never was.
Maintaining an affinity to the original Cargoe sound and harmonies, this new adventure promises to pick up where they left off in 1972. Recording songs they wrote “in the day” for the follow-up 1972 album, this new venture moves the band back in the spotlight of original Classic core Rock Studio Performances.Exclusive "WFMU Talks with Ardent and Lucky Seven's Terry Manning and Cargoe's Max Wisley & Bill Phillips" Interview.
Bill Phillips: Hammond B3, Rhodes and Grand Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals.
Max Wisley: Hofner Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals.
Steve Thornbrugh: Lead Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals.
Tim Benton: Drums, Percussion, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals.
All members contributed as Writers and Lead VocalistCARGOE - 1972
Cargoe “Live in Memphis” - 2004
Cargoe - Twenty-Ten - 2010