wax Poetics

Greg Perry

One for the Road

Released 1975
record label Casablanca Records
Written by Maggie Stein

<i>One for the Road</i>
One for the Road

One for the Road is a vinyl unicorn. One might be lucky enough to capture this sophisticated and satisfying Greg Perry masterpiece on wax as it leaps across a fairy-dusted, floralized meadow full of frolicking records. However, mythical status is in the eye of the record snagger and holder, and this Casablanca sleeper is not written up here to report that this is an elusive or pricey album. This Perry project nabs high praise because this ’70s Detroit dilettante and magnifying-glassed liner-note reader-slash-soul scholar is a lazy human being. 

As a booster of full albums in general, this LP is a treasure as it’s a record that allows a lounging listener the glorious freedom to drop the needle at the start of side A and stay reclined for the entire first half. This means motion is necessary only when it’s time to flip to the B-side, after which one can confidently return to restful repose on the settee for that secondary section’s entirety. There are no squonky throwaways, noodling tangents, or lame overly earnest bits that demand a jump-up action to get the needle off the player immediately and violently, as some uneven and downright upsetting albums elicit in my selectively soundtracked household. 

The ten tunes on the album tell one detailed story full of mistaken moves made with what seems like good intention. Perry’s lyrical perspective is engagingly honest and delivered smoothly. A listener can easily get on board with supporting him as he explains his side of the action in a relationship that ultimately doesn’t end with a backlit beach walking into the sunset scene. Perhaps, the story ends without the neat wrap-up because the songwriter or protagonist believed his own hype too much. Even coming to that conclusion, I can’t think Perry a cad, I still wish he was my uncle, he would be beloved. Point being, I’m not upset with the machismo subtext of the songs here and that surprised me. Perry’s ability to share intimate details of a romantic bust is at times charming, beguiling, and painfully real, and it makes the record a distinctly engaging long player even though the drama of the story told ends on a rough note.

The plot twist is that Perry was actually flexing his songwriting skills here in the service of fiction—in reality, he was married for decades to singer Edna Wright of the stellar Motor City female funk group Honey Cone. They began a working relationship in the early 1970s and were together until her death in 2020, so clearly these two could teach us a few things about keeping a relationship strong throughout all of its crazy highs and twisty lows.

I came to this album after doing a close read on the gritty funk of Honey Cone, when all signs pointed this crazy completist record collector to Perry’s solo work. Though Honey Cone worked with a stable of stallions from Motor City during their career, Perry seemed to bring out a heavy groove and a riled up heat when collaborating with this brassy girl gang. He worked with them as writer and producer on their hits “Want Ads,” “Stick Up,” and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show,” and launched his career off the success of those tunes.

The musical marriage of Perry and Wright resulted in stellar work together as they took turns producing for each other’s solo projects, and their union is a monumental phenomenon to be noted and celebrated.

Perry and Wright are so heavily connected in the web of ’70s music that it’s fun to actually picture Wright and Perry’s wedding party back in the day. One could easily assume it would be packed full of icons from the funk and soul world. Surely this event would have called for an ace reception and a raucous dance party following the ceremony. To help reveal both Perry and Wright’s thrilling family and music industry pedigree, I have imagined several of the table groupings that could have been arranged at their wedding celebration party:

The Very Perry Table: Perry’s immediate family could have gathered together here, and at the head of the table would certainly be uncle Robert Bateman, an integral singer, writer and producer from Detroit who notably worked at Motown and gave Perry and his five brothers their start in the industry. Perry’s Brother Jeff might fight for attention too, as he was a hungry hustler himself at the time. He would later be responsible for Chicago stepper hits like “Love’s Gonna Last” and “Mr. Fix It” under the fancified spelling of Jeffree when he made his major solo album in 1979. In this fever dream sequence, Perry siblings Dennis, Zachory, and Leonard would hold their own at this table too.

Treat Me Wright Table: Wright, née Sandy Wynn, would have her kin gather here with her sister holding serious court. Her sibling, who went by Darlene Love professionally, would probably sparkle from within and be decked out to the heavens at this event as her star was rising around the time of this marriage. One might speculate she could have shocked some guests by bringing an odd Caucasian friend with strangely frizzy hair who blabbed non-stop about his “wall of sound” music concept. The girls’ father, Bishop J. W. Wright, was a pastor at King’s Holiness Chapel in Los Angeles, and after officiating the ceremony, he could relax at this table as well. Members of early gospel act the Cogics, of which Wright and Love were members, would certainly stop by to pay respects to Papa and Darlene.

Band of Gold Table: Members of the many seminal soul acts Perry and Wright were involved with over the years could fill an impressively large table. He would want friends from Chairmen of the Board (General Johnson probably made a toast!), 100 Proof Aged in Soul, Glass House, and other Hot Wax and Invictus acts there on the big day. Edna would surely include old pals from her days with the Blossoms and Ray Charles’s Raelettes as guests. Freda Payne would certainly be present in this pretend scenario since both members of the happy couple worked with her in Detroit.

Table of Invited Invictus: The Monday following this wedding would be very quiet at record labels Invictus and Hot Wax, as all of the staff would most likely have been out late quaffing beverages at the nuptials. Label heads and honchos Brian and Edward Holland along with their longtime partner Lamont Dozier would happily celebrate this union, probably trying to take credit for introducing the happy couple as Perry was on their superstar startup staff when the trio left Motown to form their own music organizations, and Honey Cone was one of the first acts to release records on their label Hot Wax.

Chicago Connection Table: Interestingly, Honey Cone actually contained two power couples! Member Shelly Clark has been married to Verdine White of Earth Wind and Fire since 1980, and the two are apparently still co-conspirators in life. White would be seated here to bring together all of the bride and groom’s Illinois ilk. Perry apparently turned down the chance to be a member of Rotary Connection during his days as a staff writer for Chess Records, so label people and musical luminaries from the Windy City might have shown up. 

Sadly, despite my extensive research, evidence of an actual wedding party has remained elusive. They could have eloped, but I like to hope it went in a different direction. But epic night of revelry or not, listeners can reap the benefits of their harmonious connection throughout myriad records released from the H-D-H Invictus Hot Wax camp and the ripples beyond. Start with One for the Road and move to Perry’s 1977 album Smokin’, then get sweet on Honey Cone.