The Secret History of Texas Music

“Tighten Up” (1968)

Written by: Archie Bell, Billy Butler Recorded by: Archie Bell and the Drells

Houston music in the sixties wasn’t all psychedelia; there was a thriving soul and R&B scene too. One of the city’s prime movers was Skipper Lee Frazier, a DJ on the black-owned soul station KCOH. Frazier also managed bands, including R&B dance band the TSU Tornadoes and vocal group Archie Bell and the Drells. In 1968 Frazier got the Tornadoes to record one of their biggest songs, an ebullient two-chord instrumental with a phenomenally catchy guitar riff, then brought the Drells front man into the studio to add words. “I can’t remember how many times we tried it, over and over again—maybe twenty-five or thirty takes—before Archie said ‘tighten up’ to everything,” Frazier wrote in his autobiography.

As Bell says in the song, the “tighten up” is a dance he and his pals started. But where Bell actually got the words is open to conjecture. Frazier claimed he wrote them. The Tornadoes’ drummer said they came from the trumpeter. And according to Bell, he wrote them himself: “Billy Butler, one of the guys in the [Drells], was dancing in the house one day, and I asked him what he was doing and he said he was doing the tighten up. I said, ‘I’m gonna write a song for that.’ ” Regardless of  who wrote the words, it’s clear that the Tornadoes wrote the music. Yet when the 45 came out, it had only two composers listed: Bell and Butler.

“Tighten Up” eventually went to number one on Billboard’s Hot 100, taking Bell with it. Meanwhile, the Tornadoes soldiered on, bitter but wiser, until 1971, when they disbanded. 

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