Friday, December 28, 2007

Soul On The Air #3: George Vennette, 1968



As promised, here is the third installment of my "Soul On The Air" series of vintage R&B radio airchecks. (The prior two installments appear in the links section.) With New Year's Eve rapidly approaching, I thought that a seasonally-appropriate aircheck would be great. As I write this, I now realize that today's featured aircheck is not only seasonally appropriate, it's also from TODAY'S DATE, 39 years ago!

WYLD-AM (940 on the dial) was one of New Orleans' two R&B radio powerhouses of the '60s and early '70s (the other was WBOK, an aircheck of which - interestingly enough, from the same date as today's feature - will be featured at another time). By the mid-'70s the station switched its contemporary R&B format to its FM frequency and, after a couple of decades as an adult urban contemporary station, became a gospel station ("WYLD for Jesus" is the station's motto). That's really all I know about the station, and I know absolutely nothing about George Vennette, whose entertaining patter and fine selections make this 45-minute slice of December 28, 1968 a real treat.

As always, there's the mix of hits we all know and love, presented in their original context (Johnnie Taylor's "Who's Making Love" starts things off with a bang, and his "Take Care of Your Homework" is played shortly thereafter), and then lesser-known stuff. I first heard James Brown's "Believers Shall Enjoy" and "Little Groove Maker Me" from this aircheck, along with Jackie Moore's "Here I Am," and it's fun to hear a live version of Otis Redding's "Can't Turn You Loose" and Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life" getting great voiceover treatment by Vennette. It's also neat to hear about the big New Year's record hop that's about to happen at the I.L.A. Auditorium (am I hearing this correctly?) - George's enthusiasm about the show is infectious and it makes me want to jump into a time machine and go to the show myself! Of all the fun on this aircheck, however, the biggest treat comes at the end. After playing Joe Tex's "That's Your Baby," George picks up the phone and starts to chat with Joe Tex himself. Unfortunately the aircheck ends before the interview concludes, but check out the "skinny legs" story that Vennette and Tex get into right before the cut-off point.

I will be traveling this weekend and will have limited internet access, so this post will be the last of 2007. I want to take this moment to thank all of you for making 2007 a big year for "Get on Down ..." and I look forward to socking more soul power to you in the new year. I wish for nothing less than the very best for all of you in 2008! God bless you all.

(POSTSCRIPT - I'd like to welcome the lovely and knowledgeable edie2k2, aka "Ms. Old School," to the blogosphere! Her brand new blog is now in the links section.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Funky Hot Mess?


James Brown, Bobby Byrd and Hank Ballard - Funky Side of Town

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of James Brown, and it is sad to hear news reports from Monday and yesterday reminding us that so much drama still surrounds the administration of his estate, adding yet another negative shadow to the immense shadow that threatened to choke out Brown's mainstream legacy during the final decades of his life. But today I choose to leave that mess behind and examine a different kind of "mess."



What I think is neat about a lot of JB's records from around 1969 through to the end of his hitmaking era is that a lot of tunes he recorded were nothing but little jam sessions where the band would get a groove going and then James would strike up little conversations or joke around with various band members. To list them all would be too time-consuming, but tunes like "Ain't It Funky Now," "Make It Funky," and "Escape-Ism" come to mind right away. Today's selection falls within that category, and it was part of JB's 1972 Polydor LP Get on the Good Foot, whose title track was a #1 hit for him that year. "Funky Side of Town" finds JB, long-time right-hand man Bobby Byrd and Hank Ballard (whose JB-produced "From the Love Side" was giving him an increasingly-rare taste of chart success) ad-libbing around with the phrase "let's go to the funky side of town," giving "shout-outs" to various musicians (the usual soul suspects plus Johnny Cash and others!) and joking around with each other (at one point JB announces, "ladies and gentlemen, we bring you now the man that sings 'Hot Pants - I'm Coming,' Hank Ballard," in a dig at Byrd, who had hit with the record). In my opinion, this tune is a hot mess, but it's a funky hot mess. Only James Brown could pull off funky hot mess like this, and I'll let it stand as a quirky anniversary tribute to the man.

A quick postscript - although I say in this post that "Funky Side of Town" is a hot mess, the ultimate "hot mess" in the entire James Brown discography also appears on Get on the Good Foot. In the "Recitation by Hank Ballard," Hank comes forth with a mixture of a spoken-word advertisement for the LP and a testimony of how JB had resurrected his career. Although JB-produced testimonials to James Brown had been recorded before, beginning with Florence Farmer's "Living Legend," there's something disturbing about Hank's "recitation" that puts it at the bottom of my JB list.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Just in Time For Christmas!



Episode #24 is now online! This episode is a bit mellower than usual, but there's some good funky soul and Ike Turner-related material in here! From my home to yours, I wish you all a very happy holiday season. I'll be back with my usual features after Christmas. Here's the playlist:

1. Roscoe Robinson - Ooh, Baby I Love You
2. Luther Ingram - Since You Don't Want Me
3. Larry Banks - Ooh It Hurts Me
4. The Ikettes - Don't Feel Sorry for Me
5. Etta James - My Mother-in-Law
6. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Swept for You Baby
7. Ike & Tina Turner - It Sho' Ain't Me
8. Carla Thomas & Jerry Butler - Coca-Cola Radio Ad
9. Moses & Joshua Dillard - My Elusive Dreams
10. Lucille Brown & Billy Clark - Both Eyes Open
11. Betty Harris - 12 Red Roses
12. Little Richard - She's Together
13. The Kelly Brothers - Not Enough Action
14. Eddie & Ernie - Woman, What Do You Be Doing
15. Renaldo Domino - Let Me Come Within
16. Otis Redding "Stay in School" PSA
17. Ronnie Mitchell - Soul Meeting
18. The Superlatives - I Don't Know How (To Say I Love You) Don't Walk Away
19. The Whispers - Needle in a Haystack
20. The Brothers of Soul - A Lifetime
21. The Charmels - As Long as I've Got You
22. The Meditation Singers - Blue Christmas
23. Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm - Nuttin' Up

(NOTE - Encoding problems hindered both the original mono and stereo mixes of this podcast, but I put the stereo mix online anyway. After listening to it a few times, I realized it would be much better for me to re-record the podcast and attempt to encode it again rather than subject you, my friends, to a podcast that was wretched to listen to in some portions. I recommend that anyone who downloaded the podcast via RSS feed delete the prior copy of the program and get the new mix, which is only available in mono. My apologies for any difficulties this may have caused.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jump Back!

Rufus Thomas:


Jump Back '75 (Pt. 1)


Jump Back '75 (Pt. 2)

I suppose it was only fitting that the man who helped get Stax Records off the ground was also the one to be there to see the label fade into the sunset. Rufus and Carla Thomas' local hit "Cause I Love You" made folks (especially Atlantic's Jerry Wexler) take notice of the fledgling Satellite label back in 1960, and today's selection was Rufus' final 45 for Stax and the second-to-last 45 on the label before it was shuttered in bankruptcy in early 1976.

The funky two-parter "Jump Back '75" was a remake of Rufus' 1964 hit "Jump Back," and Rufus delivers the song's nursery rhyme lyrics with his usual aplomb while a background group (which seems to include Carla, whose own solo career at Stax had run its course by 1973) provides call-and-response support (the Drapels had those honors on the original). Part Two continues the groove and features a couple of fun stop-time breaks. When the comp The Funkiest Man came out a few years ago, another Rufus remake, "Memphis Train '75," was included. I take it that had Stax not gone out of business, that fine record would've been released, but at least Thomas took 1975 (and Stax) out with a great groove on "Jump Back."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - The podcast should be up either tonight or tomorrow morning.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's "Get Down Time," So Who Do You Call? Jr. Walker!


Jr. Walker & The All-Stars - Gimme That Beat (Pt. 1)

GLORYHALLELUJAHANDHOTPASTRAMI, your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul is so glad to have completed exams and to be only one semester away from finishing law school! Considering my ebullient mood, I hope it's okay with you, kind reader, that I feature something I can "get down" to today!

Jr. Walker's "Gimme That Beat" failed to catch fire when it was released in 1973, reaching only #50 on the R&B charts and just "bubbling under" the Hot 100 at #101. To be fair, by that time, Jr.'s commercial streak was on the way out and "Gimme That Beat" isn't the strongest tune out there, lyrics-wise. But I don't think anyone with any "boogie" in their body could sit still while the groove on "Gimme That Beat" pumped along and Jr. shouted the "dance-and-party" lyrics with his trademark gusto. "Look at Mary, boy, she's walkin' that penguin walk while the disc jockey's sittin' there spinnin' them records and talking that crazy talk," Jr. wails. That sounds like one hell of a party, Jr. - I want to be there! I've got a reason to celebrate!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Look out for a new episode of the podcast, which I hope to record sometime between now and Friday. And late next week, "Soul on the Air" returns with a New Year's Eve treat.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another Italian Pickett Moment, in Audio and Video!


Wilson Pickett - Un'avventura

Soul songs recorded by American soulsters in Italian have been featured twice on "Get on Down ..." already, first with a post featuring "Deborah" that was part of my tribute to Wilson Pickett after the legend's death in 2006, and then on Episode 20 of the podcast, when the Electro-Phonic Brian Phillips played Stevie Wonders "No Sono Un Angelo" ("I'm Wondering").

Today's selection showcases Pickett's other Italian record. "Un'avventura" is a surging soul mover, again showing off Pickett's versatility. As in "Deborah," both Italian and English lyrics are used, but in either case Pickett really sells the song (I mean, that famous scream has the same impact regardless of the language, no?) As a bonus, here's a YouTube clip of Pickett performing the tune live!


Monday, December 17, 2007

The Contours' Soulful Swan Song


The Contours - Your Love Grows More Precious Every Day

There is probably no spoken word intro in all of rock 'n' roll history that works as much magic as "You broke my heart 'cause I couldn't dance; you didn't even want me around. But now I'm back ... to let you know ... I can really shake 'em down." With those words the Contours set the pop and R&B charts ablaze with their Gordy single "Do You Love Me." Over the next few years, the group would cut lots of great material, most bearing a dance record or humorous slant, but the fact that the group also held its own as a soul vocal group was buried by the immense success of "Do You Love Me," which is still frequently heard on oldies radio (and immortalized in the Dirty Dancing soundtrack).

By 1967, the Contours were drifting about at Motown, and today's selection was the B-side of their final Gordy single. By this time, the group was recording straight-up soul stuff, but I suppose at a time when the Four Tops and the Temptations delivering serious goods for the company, there wasn't a whole lot of room for the group. It probably didn't help much that Dennis Edwards' lead on "Your Love Grows More Precious Every Day" has more than a touch of the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs sound to it. Speaking of Edwards, by the next year he would be taking David Ruffin's place in the Temptations, so perhaps the Contours' fate was sealed anyway!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More Great Gospel From The Q.C.'s!


The Highway Q.C.'s - Lord, I'll Go

Spencer Taylor and the Highway Q.C.'s were featured in a post awhile ago, and I'll defer to it for details about the group. "Lord, I'll Go" is one of the many great up-tempo tunes the group waxed during their tenure with Vee-Jay. Over a great rambling rhythm, the group provides outstanding support to Taylor, whose intense vocal really sells the song.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Darondo Time!


Darondo - Packin' Up

This post will be short and sweet, as your ever-lovin' is feeling a bit under the weather. I've covered Darondo in prior posts (here's the initial post), so I'll just say that "Packin' Up" (from the EP Legs, released after the awesome comp Let My People Go) is a nice piece of eccentric funk featuring Darondo's weird hybrid of Al Green and Ron Isley vocal technique.




(EDITOR'S NOTE - Tomorrow night is "Rhythm & Booze" at El Myr Burrito Lounge in Atlanta, from 10 PM until "last call" - make sure to come out to hear lots of great soul/funk/blues/jazz/gospel 45s, to get your dance on, and to get some Christmas cheer from the Tim and the "R&B" DJs!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

News and Views!

Today's post is a "news and views" feature. Dig the following:

1. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul joined forces with Brian Phillips to record the newest installment of The Electro-Phonic Sound of Brian Phillips, returning the favor of his appearance on Episode #20 of the "Get on Down ..." podcast. Well, the Electro-Phonic Sound episode is now online at Rockin' Radio - click "Now Playing" and stream Brian's show from there. As always, Brian and I had a lot of fun listening to records, picking tunes to play, and doing the show. There's a lot of good stuff in this show, ranging from Southern soul to Northern soul to organ jazz to Latin soul to 78 RPM R&B. Instead of featuring a tune for today's post, I'll encourage you to check out this show!

2. Vee-Jay Limited Partnership is working in partnership with The Orchard to release its catalogue via online retailers! As the world of soul and R&B reissues continues to grow, online retailing is the wave of the future, and it may very well be the key to getting some of the more obscure material released (it counters the problem of not being able to justify a print run of CDs), so for Vee-Jay to take this approach is a mighty move indeed!

Below are four recent releases that I really think you should check out. Clicking any of the pictures will lead you to the product info page at The Orchard.




I wish Vee-Jay and The Orchard much success in this project, and hope others will follow their lead!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Get On Down With Big Al, Country Style!


Big Al Downing - Cornbread Row



The multifaceted singer/pianist Big Al Downing has appeared on this blog before, and I'll defer to my initial post about him for more details about the soul/country/country soul giant. Today's selection was a Silver Fox single which has been comped on Action Speaks Louder Than Words, one of several great compilations that have been released over the last couple of years featuring SSS International and its affiliated labels. "Cornbread Row" clearly straddles the line between country and soul, as Al tells his story over a mid-tempo groove featuring some twangy guitar. It's Big Al at his best, and it's a fun one!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Soul On The Air #2: Bill Kenner, 1966



Today's post is the second of a new series I'm doing called "Soul On The Air," dedicated to the R&B jocks of the classic soul era. Last week, I kicked off the series with an April 1970 WVON aircheck from Radio Hall of Famer Herb Kent. Thanks to all of you who provided feedback, either on the blog or via email, and I'm glad to have you aboard for what I think is going to be a very fun series.

Today's feature covers another of Chicago's R&B stations. WBEE (1570 AM, licensed to south suburban Harvey, Illinois) was one of WVON's top competitors when 'VON started in 1963, but by 1968 the station, unable to keep up with 'VON's popularity, would switch to a jazz format, which it kept (save for Sunday brokered-time gospel programming and a very short-lived attempt at a financial news format in the late '90s) until 2003, when the station was sold and changed into a gospel station (a country FM station in New York state now holds the WBEE call letters). From 1955 to 1960, Herb Kent was at the station, but during the soul era the top jock at 'BEE was Merri Dee, "The Honey Bee," whose 1966-68 stint at the station was the start of a legacy career in Chicago media (Dee hosted talk shows on TV stations WCIU and WSNS before joining WGN in 1972 as a news anchor, staff announcer, host of various specials and, for many years, the emcee of the daily Illinois Lottery drawings; she is still with WGN today, as a community liaison for the station).

The WBEE aircheck featured today came from the afternoon of September 8, 1966. I don't know anything about Bill Kenner, but his more energetic style stands as a nice antithesis to the laid-back style shown in the Herb Kent aircheck. Kenner's got some great wordplay going on (check out the opening of this aircheck and his outro for J.J. Jackson's "But It's Alright"), and there's lots of neat stuff in this aircheck: the Olympics' "Baby Do The Philly Dog," Koko Taylor's "Good Advice" and Billy Butler's "Right Track" are played on this aircheck (this was where I heard those three tunes for the first time); the news break features Strom Thurmond's filibuster of a 1966 civil rights bill, the mass murderer Charles Whitman, and the election of a minister who opposed Martin Luther King's urban housing crusade as the head of the National Baptist Convention; and a WBEE station ID includes a nice recording of "We Shall Overcome" (does anyone know which version of the song this is?) Also dig Kenner taking phone requests on the "Bee Line" segment ("You're 17, and he's 18, and he's your baby? Oh, he's your boyfriend ... gotcha covered, queen bee.")

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Gospel Time!


The Weeks Sisters - What Will It Be Like

Today's post (which I think marks the first time in the history of this blog that strictly gospel is featured in two posts in a row - the Ryan Shaw posts included gospel tunes also) is a return to the great catalogue of Hoyt Sullivan recordings. The Weeks Sisters recorded three LPs and a handful of 45s for HSE, both as a standalone act and as support to Rev. J.T. Bell. Unfortunately, like a great many of the minor-league acts that populated labels like Sullivan's there's not much info out there except for the outstanding aural evidence of their artistry. I picked up this slightly-scratchy 45 recently at the Atlanta Record Fair and it has been getting heavy rotation on the iPod these days. "What Will It Be Like" finds the group pondering the afterlife over a nice loping rhythm. The song's simplistic structure is somewhat misleading to the new listner, however, because by the end of the record the lead singer's ad-libs build subtly in intensity; by the time she's asking "will I know you, Jesus?" you'll be caught up in the song's power.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Thank God It's (Funky Gospel) Friday!


The Horace Family - God Will Dry My Weeping Eyes

Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul is totally out of gas today, having had a long week and a very tough Bankruptcy exam last night. Thank God it's Friday! Today's post is a follow-up to the "Funky Gospel Friday" post I did a month ago featuring Numero's Good God! comp. The Horace Family's "God Will Dry My Weeping Eyes" is a solid sender on so many levels: the groove is a slinky piece of sultry mid-'70s funk (dig that slow, bumping groove), the lyrics are very powerful (covering both personal and political concerns), and the group singing is outstanding. I can only wish that the walls weren't so rigid between gospel and R&B radio, because this could have easily challenged the Pointer Sisters or any similar femme group of the era. Or, alternatively, I can imagine the Staple Singers doing this and blowing the roof off the charts! It's fortunate, however, that this tune is available for us all to enjoy on CD!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Funky Down Easy With The Boogie Man!


Jerry McCain - Funky Down Easy

Blues singer/harmonica man Jerry "Boogie" McCain has appeared once before on this blog, and he makes a long-overdue second appearance with today's selection. McCain's very interesting story is covered in this great Blues World profile, and I encourage you take some time to read this lengthy piece, which touches not only on the ups and downs of McCain's career but also stories of several blues-related record companies, from Excello to Ichiban.

I bought a copy of McCain's Royal American 45 "Welfare Cadillac Blues" b/w "Funky Down Easy" at the Atlanta Record Fair a few weeks ago after hearing "Funky Down Easy" on a portable phonograph at the event. As noted in the Blues World article, "Welfare Cadillac Blues" was a swipe at the right-wing country hit "Welfare Cadillac," which had been recently recorded by Guy Drake and then covered by Travis Bell. Considering that the Drake record came out on Royal American also, I suppose that the label owners didn't quite "get" the satire McCain intended, or maybe they didn't care. At any rate, the flip is anything but satire. "Funky Down Easy" borrows Little Walter's "Mellow Down Easy" for its title and chorus but uses its funky soul groove to provide a foundation for McCain to name-check a lot of big names in soul at the time and to just sling some nice "dance record" lyrics. I was planning to save this one for the next edition of the podcast, but this is just too good to sit on for a few weeks.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Crazy Cosbyness


Bill Cosby - Ursalina

I've covered various funky 45 sounds from Bill Cosby on this blog on multiple occasions, and today's post is a follow-up to the post I did some time ago featuring the Cos' "Ursalena," a beathead favorite. As I mentioned in the prior post, the Cos re-recorded the song in 1973 for Paramount, and that alternately-spelled version is featured today. I still stand on what I said in the prior post about the Warner Brothers recording being the superior one, but further spins of the Paramount 45 has illuminated the fact that the re-make is worth more than a listen or two. The West Coast funk of the Warner record is replaced with a jazz-funk groove, and the lyrical references of the original are absent. Instead of presenting the story of the tongue-tied suitor of the song's subject, the Paramount version finds Cos and Stu Gardner using the song's eccentric hook as a springboard for improvisational vocalese - these two guys are just hooting and hollering about, with Gardner's gospelly wails playing against Cosby's chanting. At any rate, the groove slips and slides along, and there are some nice jazz and funk breaks in there to spice it up a bit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tuesday Is Blues Day!


Etta James - W.O.M.A.N.

I want to thank those of you who have provided feedback on the "Soul On The Air" series' inaugural post from yesterday. I've decided that I will archive this feature, so if you miss it you can always listen later!

Today's post will be short and sweet, because I know that readers of this blog are very familiar with Etta James. "W.O.M.A.N." is one of her '70s Chess sides, so it's got a very polished sound, but James' vocals are awesome as usual, and she really makes it work.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Soul On The Air Premiere: Herb Kent, 1970

In my recent post featuring Paul Flagg I asked whether anyone would be interested in features on this blog for some of the great soul disc jockeys. I got some very enthusiastic feedback, so today will begin a semi-regular feature called "Soul on the Air," in which I'll provide streams of some of the airchecks in my collection. Let me give a few words of introduction to the series and then I'll roll out the first featured disc jockey.

Introduction

What Is An Aircheck?

For those who are not familiar with the concept, an "aircheck" is a recording of a radio broadcast, more particularly of a DJ performing on a radio station (as opposed to a transcription of a "radio show" a la The Green Hornet or Lum 'n' Abner). Some airchecks were recorded by the jocks themselves, for personal and/or professional reasons (in the latter case, the airchecks were used for critique and improvement or as demos for DJs when seeking other jobs in markets where they were not heard), but a great many were recorded by radio fans of the time. I'm sure some were recorded by fans of the various disc jockeys or radio stations (some of more well-known airchecks involve erratic behavior by certain jocks or radio station format changes), but for those of us of my generation and older, taping off the radio was the only way to get certain songs (for example, in my rural town there weren't any record stores), so I'm sure some recording was done for that purpose. Airchecks are either scoped (commercials and music are excised, leaving only the DJ patter) or unscoped (unedited).

Online Aircheck Resources

Whatever the reason airchecks were generated, there are thousands of hours of material in the hand of collectors, disc jockeys and other entities, and a thriving internet community exists for these recordings. The leading online resource for hearing vintage airchecks is Reel Radio's Reel Top 40 Radio Repository, which features airchecks from a very broad range of disc jockeys, including the famous "Boss Jocks" of KHJ, the Los Angeles Top 40 giant of the '60s, notables such as David Letterman (broadcasting as a college student in Muncie, Indiana), Wink Martindale (who was a star jock at LA's KFWB), and Rod Roddy (on the air as a controversial talk show host in Dallas in the late '60s), to name a few, and scores of other talents, from both well-known (Chicago's WCFL, New York's WABC, etc.) and obscure stations and even early episodes of America's Top 40. The site now requires membership for full access to the materials, but there's lots that can be heard there if you are a fan of classic '60s and '70s radio, it's a must-see and must-hear site. WFMU's now-defunct "Aircheck" program covered lots of interesting and unusual material, and the archived shows are still available at WFMU's website. A search on the internet will reveal scads of other sites dedicated to the preservation, trading and selling of airchecks (two well-known commercially-available aircheck CDs are a comp of material from madcap Memphis rock-n-roll impresario Dewey Phillips and Philly soul jock Sonny Hopson).

A Note About This Series

As I mentioned in the Paul Flagg post, it is unfortunate that out of all of the airchecks that are in the hands of collectors, R&B stuff is pretty scarce. I've been able to acquire some material from various collectors, and it is from my collection that I'll be doing the series. All of the airchecks are unscoped, so in addition to hearing lots of great soul music in its original context, you'll hear commercials, DJ patter, the news, and other features. You'll hear national hits that you'll easily recognize, but also lots of regional stuff. Since this stuff came exclusively from AM radio and then dubs of dubs, the audio quality won't be sterling, but I think the soul will ring right on through. As much as I can, I'll provide info about the DJ, the radio station, and some of the tunes featured. At this point I don't know how long I'll keep the streams available, so don't sleep on these! Finally, I would really appreciate your feedback on these; I want this project to be one where ideas are exchanged and good fun is had by all. OK, after all that introductory verbiage, I guess I should get started with the feature!

Soul on the Air: Herb Kent,
WVON, Cicero, IL, April 1970



Of all the legendary R&B radio stations of the '60s, Chicago's WVON (1450 AM) was easily one of the most prominent. Chess Records principals Leonard and Phil Chess bought WHFC, a suburban brokered-time ethnic station (brokered-time stations sold timeslots to various performers, who then solicited their own advertising; some ethnic stations and religious stations still follow this format today), in 1963. Christening it the "Voice of the Negro," the Chess brothers found their 1,000-watt station quickly becoming one of the top stations in the market ('VON literally dominated its R&B competitors and ranked alongside Top 40 stations WLS and WCFL at the top of the ratings). Crucial to the station's success were the "Good Guys," the team of jocks and other personalities who kept music, news and community service programming going around the clock. Changing times in radio spelled the end of 'VON as a major force (as was the case with many of the AM giants of the prior decades) by the mid-'70s, but the station is around today as the black talk-oriented "Voice of the Nation." Do take a look at the history at WVON's website and read Nadine Cohodas' Spinning The Blues Into Gold, Robert Pruter's Chicago Soul and Pervis Spann's The 40-Year Spann of WVON for more info about the station's history and its transition into its current format.

Of WVON's Good Guys (which at one time included future "Soul Train" host and producer Don Cornelius), Herb Kent, "The Kool Gent," was the most popular. Kent handled the night slot, and his smooth style (he was known, among other things, for not talking over the records like most R&B jocks of the day did) and wicked wit made him a smash success. Kent, a Radio Hall of Fame inductee, is still on the air on Chicago's WVAZ-FM, doing two weekend shows and making appearances at various "steppers" dances. I'll defer to WVAZ's Herb Kent page for more biographical details about Kent and for info about Kent's forthcoming memoirs.

This aircheck came from April 1970. After a quick jingle plays, Kent launches into Bobby Womack's "More Than I Can Stand," after which he sets forth his (fabricated) vital statistics and asserts his greatness as a jock. There's a lot of good stuff in this aircheck, including Brook Benton's version of "My Way," an O.C. Smith Coca-Cola commercial, Tyrone Davis' "Turn Back The Hands of Time" (then one of the top R&B hits in the country), George Perkins' "Crying in the Streets," Azie Mortimer's "You Can't Take It Away," Stanley Winston's "No More Ghettos In America" (the "WVON Traffic Stopper"), the Viceroy cigarette ad I've used on a podcast before, and, strangely, John Lennon's "Instant Karma" (Kent didn't mind bending genres if he liked certain songs!) There's also a great commercial from Pervis Spann for one of the many package shows he put on ("the hottest thing ... since the Chicago Fire," Spann exhorts) featuring Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, O.V. Wright and Jesse Anderson! (What a show!) There's so much I could say about this aircheck, but I'll cut it short to prevent this post from being insanely long. Enjoy the show, and don't forget to leave feedback!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

King James' Version


James Cleveland - The Love of God

The late Reverend James Cleveland's gruff yet crooning vocals and innovative arrangements made him a significant figure in the evolution of gospel in the '60s and early '70s. Cleveland had been in gospel almost since the genre's literal beginning, making his performing debut as a child soprano(!) at Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church, whose music minister at the time was no less than Thomas A. Dorsey. Once his voice changed he switched to being a pianist, songwriter and arranger, working with luminaries such as Robert Martin and then Albertina Walker and the Caravans and becoming widely known in gospel circles for his influenced songs and arrangements. By the early '60s Cleveland began a solo career in earnest, and over the next three decades he marked the gospel landscape with his songs, his choral projects (he started the Gospel Singers Workshop Convention and founded the Southern California Community Choir, who appeared on Aretha Franklin's classic LP Amazing Grace and in the famous movie The Blues Brothers), and his continuing innovation, including the use of jazz, pop and soul elements and orchestrations in his later works.

"The Love of God" had been a hit for the Johnnie Taylor-led Soul Stirrers in their final years on Specialty, but Cleveland's take on the record from 1960 or 1961 gave him his first solo hit. The lightly-swinging rhythm of the Soul Stirrers version is replaced by a stately arrangement featuring almost over-recorded background vocals by the Voices of the Tabernacle, and Cleveland's version effectively moves from a meditative whisper to a growling roar and back again, with the background voices being this/close to being a little over-the-top (I think the soprano is saying "the love of good" in several places) but somehow framing Cleveland's vocals nicely. It moved me when I first heard a skipping copy of the record as a child (via a tape our pastor made for my parents), and it still moves me today.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Daptone, Everywhere!


Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - How Long Do I Have To Wait For You (Ticklah Remix)

As I have discussed many times on this blog, I'm a big fan of the retro soul and funk label Daptone Records, and I am delighted to see that 2007 has been a major year for the label and its acts. Interest in Daptone's genuine sounds has dramatically increased the public profile of all parties involved: the Dap-Kings provided backing support to Amy Winehouse for her Back To Black album; the studios themselves were used by quite a few outside acts, who sought to capture some of its analog magic; Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings have been making quite a splash in the media, with "Tell Me" from their new album, 100 Days, 100 Nights, making its way into the soundtrack of ABC's hit series "Private Practice" and Jones getting a role in the forthcoming film The Great Debaters, directed by and starring Denzel Washington, to name just a couple of things; Jay-Z has sampled the Menahan Street Band's Denham 45, "Make the Road By Walking" on his hit "Roc Boys"; and now even the corporate world has taken notice.



Toyota has created a series of interesting CDs and 12-inchers as a promotion for its Scion line of automobiles which features DJs working their magic remixing many different types of music. Although these recordings are not commercially available, they are given away in Toyota dealerships and at Toyota events. For Volume 19 of the series, Scion A/V (the in-house label overseeing these projects) have hooked up with Daptone for the two-disc set Daptone Records Remixed. I'll defer to this press release for more info about the project. Disc one of the set are the remixes themselves, and disc two features the Daptone originals.

For today's selection, I've selected the Ticklah remix of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' "How Long Do I Have To Wait For You," the original version of which (from Naturally, the group's second album) I featured way back in January 2006. The tune is put on a reggae beat that really works, and it's a fun way to move into the weekend!

(Thanks to World's Fair for forwarding me a copy of Daptone Records Remixed.)