I am thrilled to get back to business with Get on Down ... after a too-long hiatus! Honestly, between a lack of time and some personal doldrums I was about to toss in the towel on the blog, but I've found some new inspiration, my energy is rebuilding and I am ready to get back to sharing this great music! Let's start with an aircheck, shall we?
Today's feature is an awesome 37 minutes from February 24, 1975 from Rev. Alvin (aka "Ugly Al") Dixon on Montgomery, Alabama's WAPX. The aircheck is sheer fun, as discussed later, but research about the man proved to be quite interesting.
I was able to find out more online about Dixon that many other soul jocks, because in 1969 he became the national president of the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers, an organization of black disc jockeys and television personalities, after serving as a regional president. Dixon headed NATRA for two years before forming a splinter group, Broadcast and Musical Arts, whose "BAMA" acronym reflected the sentiment of its members that the concerns of southern disc jockeys were not taken seriously by the northern jocks in NATRA. (See this Jet article from 1972 about the split, archived at Google Books.) I'm not sure what happened to BAMA, but I know that Dixon became a minister in the early '80s and later founded the Montgomery-Tuskeegee Times newspaper.
It is clear that Dixon considered himself a "race man" first and foremost. An opinion piece he wrote for a Billboard Magazine's "World of Soul" feature in 1970 pulls no punches:
Soul music has been adulterated, castigated, renovated, analyzed, televised, utilized, used, abused, confused, directed, reflected, selected, collected, protected, affected, taken and foresaken ... [t]he destiny of soul music depends upon the Black broadcaster ... who is black enough to continue to program the real Black soul music and restore the music formats, the jazz that ethnic-appeal station owners and managers have systematically taken from the ears of Black people. (Emphasis in the original; read the entire article at Google Books and scroll through to see the entire issue, which is very fascinating.)
And here's Al commenting on why he started a newspaper:
Starting the newspaper developed out of a need for a source of information for us by us, written by black folks, controlled by black folks, seeing what the interest of black folks and doing it from a first hand perspective because I am black.
The politics of Al Dixon, however, are nowhere to be seen in this funny aircheck. Dixon holds court over some fine soul and funk from Al Green, Barry White, Bobby Byrd, Willie Hutch and others, spinning solid patter for the platters. "Here's my namesake, his name is Al, too," Dixon says as Al Green's "L-O-V-E" begins. "Oh, I don't know whether they call him 'ugly' or not ... he's one of the Green boys ... well, he may be Jolly Green Giant's brother! Or cousin or something." That's just a taste of the fun on this aircheck - his discussion later in the aircheck about being a "cocky disc jockey" and how WAPX dominates the competition is fantastic.
Monday, December 14, 2009
I am thrilled to get back to business with Get on Down ... after a too-long hiatus! Honestly, between a lack of time and some personal doldrums I was about to toss in the towel on the blog, but I've found some new inspiration, my energy is rebuilding and I am ready to get back to sharing this great music! Let's start with an aircheck, shall we?
Monday, August 24, 2009
1. "Don't Know Why" - Smokey Robinson
Motown's poet laureate is certainly not a person who's out of place on Get on Down ..., and his new CD, Time Flies When You're Having Fun (Robso), a celebration of Robinson's 50 years in the business, shows that Smokey can still craft fine songs. Interestingly, though, the first track from the CD to get attention is a cover. Norah Jones' hit "Don't Know Why" gets a delightfully jazzy, "after hours" reading by Robinson, and it really works. The rest of the CD features a decidedly "quiet storm" bent, but Smokey's in good form, and guest turns by Joss Stone, Carlos Santana and Inda.Arie are also good.
2. "Don't Be Sheep (On Friday Night)" - Audible Mainframe
Hip-hop doesn't get much attention on this blog, but I do enjoy it, and I particularly enjoy stuff that's outside of the mainstream sounds that flow, unfortunately sometimes noxiously, from urban radio. I've found that hip-hop bands tend to be much more palatable, and the band Audible Mainframe's new CD, Transients, which is out tomorrow, is a great mixture of thoughtful, intelligent rap and fantastic music. The rock guitar-lead "Don't Be Sheep" is really doing it for me these days. The groove rushes along, and the catchy chorus will stick with you. It's a great slab of "get on down" that stands out on the album.
I'll try to do another "Promo Day" feature later in the week. But for now, dig these two!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The parade of WVON "Good Guys" continues with today's "Soul on the Air" feature, and of all the "Good Guys," I have received more than a few requests for today's subject, Bill "Butterball" Crane. Although Bill Crane was not the only "Butterball" plying his trade on R&B radio in the '60s and '70s - there was a Butterball in Philadelphia, and a "Butterball Jr." in Detroit, to name two - he's the only one for whom I've found any airchecks.
Bill Crane grew up in Chicago's Ida B. Wells housing projects, where he cultivated a love of radio and electronics. Crane parlayed this interest into a radio career, and after a stint at Chicago's ill-fated WYNR he joined the WVON stable and local fame followed. I don't know much about his post-WVON career except that at the dawn of the twenty-first century he was a senior engineer for WGN radio, and I found a post on Soulful Detroit stating that he is alive and well. Hopefully I will be able to get more information after this post!
On to the aircheck itself. Today's feature finds Butterball holding court on August 25, 1967. In addition to Butterball's patter and the records, there's a lot of good stuff, ranging from the usual commercials of the era to an "On the Scene With Geraldine" segment ("On the Scene" featured ladies' fashion and homemaking advice by Bernadine C. Washington, one of the station's two female "Good Guys" - the other was Sunday gospel host Isabel Joseph Johnson) and a news break focused on the Democratic primaries in Jackson, Mississippi, in which black voters were expected to make an impact with their relatively-new freedom to vote. All of that good stuff, however, is just icing on the cake, as Butterball's slick and funny patter really shines among the great soul records that fill the aircheck. Dig Butterball's intro to Linda Jones' "Hypnotized," his plea to the engineer to allow him to play "O-O I Love You" by the Dells twice in a row, his comment about his "raggedy" "natural" hairdo during a Billy Stewart record and his shouting over King Curtis' "Memphis Soul Stew" that kicks off the second part of the aircheck. "Who's that ringing my telephone? Who's calling me?" he bellows. "Mr. Chess [either Leonard or Phil, Chess Records and WVON owners] says I can't have no company, y'all!" Although Herb Kent makes it clear in his memoirs that such a rule wasn't always followed (he mentions that sometimes he and other jocks would pay the engineer to set up long uninterrupted sets so that the jocks could, ahem, entertain), it tickles me every time I hear it. Near the end of the aircheck, Butterball hands off to E. Rodney Jones, and the first few minutes of his show close out the aircheck.
One last note about the various "Butterballs": Crane and at least one of the other "Butterballs" also were part of the parade of soul DJs who tried their hand at making soul records. Our Butterball's Lock two-parter "Steppin' Tall" is a funk favorite, but even bigger among funk fans is a "Butterball" (from where, I don't know) whose "Butterballs" is a seriously-slamming, hard-hitting, piece of funk that features some of the strongest proto-rap I've heard on any 45 by a soul jock. Both tunes are very good, though, and I will try to feature them on the blog at some point. But for now, get on down with the Butterball of WVON!
Monday, July 27, 2009
Bobby Jones - Talkin' 'Bout Jones
Today's selection is from Bobby Jones, who I mentioned oh-so-briefly in a post from some time back featuring the Expo 45 "No Messin' Around" by Jones and Pauline Chivers (Shivers). As I noted then, Jones never broke into the big time on a national level, but "Talkin' 'Bout Jones" made a lot of noise in Chicago in '68 or thereabouts. "Jones" has a tasty Chicago soul groove over which Bobby lays down "no brags, just facts" about how great a lover he is - with touches of Clarence Carter in his voice - while a femme chorus chirps supportingly. It's a nice dancer, and I understand that the backing track also fueled Chris Campbell's USA 45 "You Gotta Pay Your Dues." Not sure which came first, but I'm sure the Campbell record also made good use of the groove. But this post isn't about Campbell - we're talkin' 'bout Jones!
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
After quite a hiatus, the "Get on Down ..." podcast is back, and joining the Stepfather of Soul is the Electro-Phonic Brian Phillips. The show was fun to do, despite having to address the recent passing of Koko Taylor and Michael Jackson. Here is the playlist:
1. Eloise Laws - You Made Me an Offer I Can't Refuse
2. Jimmy Hughes - Which Side of the Door
3. Mitty Collier - I Can't Lose
4. Tender Joe Richardson - The Choo Choo
5. Sir Arthur - Louie, Louie
6. Carla Thomas - Sweet Sensation
7. Darrow Fletcher - My Young Misery
8. Vernon & Jewell - Just To Hold My Hand
9. Koko Taylor - Egg or the Hen
10. Top Hat & Little Jeff - Mississippi Bump
11. The O'Jays - That's Alright
12. The Olympics - Girl, You're My Kind of People
13. Jean Battle - When a Woman Loves a Man
14. The Ovations - Mr. River
15. Little Johnny Taylor & Ted Taylor - Cry It Out Baby
16. Theron & Darrell - I Was Made To Love Her
17. Ricky Allen - Can I Come Back Home
18. Van Preston & The Night Rockers - Who Done It
19. Otis Redding - Scratch My Back
20. The Jackson 5 - Big Boy
Thursday, June 25, 2009
The Jacksons - Enjoy Yourself
Wow ... where does one begin in writing a post eulogizing the King of Pop, Michael Jackson? I suppose I should take a page from my James Brown posts from a couple of years ago. With that in mind, let me talk a moment about MJ and then I'll talk about the first Michael Jackson-related record I ever heard.
As a child of the '70s and '80s, Michael Jackson was iconic. We had a copy of Thriller, and the title track was such a favorite that my brother and I would "perform" the song, with my brother singing and me doing the Vincent Price part at the end. (I was dared at a work social to do it, but I can't remember all of it now.) So many of his songs were favorites of mine, and to watch him perform was completely electrifying. Of course, like everyone else I was aware of all the scandal that surrounded him, and joined many "Lord help that man" conversations that put more emphasis on his man-child eccentricities than his talent. But to say I was shocked to hear that Michael was dead is an understatement. As soon as I heard the news I called my wife, and I told her that his passing was our generation's version of Elvis' passing (my mother can tell you exactly where she was and who she was with when she learned that Presley was dead). I know the blogosphere will have plenty of memorials to Jackson in due time, and they will all be truly deserved.
Now, on to some music. My mother's copy of the 45 of "Enjoy Yourself" by The Jacksons got a lot of spins when I was growing up. The funky groover from 1976 kicked off the post-Motown era for Michael and his family members (the Jackson Five had left Motown - and brother Jermaine, who was married to Berry Gordy's daughter - in the middle of the '70s, and Gordy retained the rights to the group's name; they added a few of the younger siblings and kept on going). "Enjoy Yourself" was a Gamble-Huff composition and production that was released on a joint Epic/Philadelphia International label, and it rocketed up the charts upon release. It's easy to see why, because from the funky guitar intro to the bumping groove to Michael's invitation to the girl "sitting over there, staring into space" to get up and boogie, it's a solid record. Of course, Michael would stay with Epic for nearly two decades, and would turn the music world upside down in the '80s. What a way to start, though!
RIP Michael Jackson. Although the last two decades weren't the kindest to you, your singing, dancing, music videos and overall talent will forever enshrine you as part of the legacy of total entertainers like Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Brown. Thank you for making the world a better place with your music.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Chuck Jackson - Pet Names
Chuck Jackson's legacy in the annals of R&B history are linked to his great records for Wand, where uptown arrangements and Chuck's fiery baritone made for fine alchemy. When Jackson and Wand boss Florence Greenberg fell out by the end of the '60s, he moved over to Motown and recorded for a few years. Although Chuck's recordings on Motown and then V.I.P. (can you say, "demotion"?) are not bad at all, the Motown sound just didn't create the same kind of magic that he'd enjoyed earlier. Today's selection was Jackson's final V.I.P. 45 from 1971. Smokey Robinson wrote and produced "Pet Names," which joined Jackson's string of non-hits for the label. Probably the song was too sweet and maybe even somewhat corny at a time when the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were laying down substantially heavier material (maybe this would've been a better Jackson Five side). There's something about it, though, that I do like, so I invite you to listen and to judge for yourself.
Friday, June 19, 2009
We're not through with Sir Lattimore Brown!
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Laura Izibor - From My Heart to Yours
A few weeks ago I was introduced to the new R&B singer Laura Izibor, whose "From My Heart to Yours," today's selection, is making quite a bit of news in R&B circles. This past Friday I had the pleasure of attending a concert by Izibor in Atlanta in anticipation of her album, Let the Truth Be Told (Atlantic), which will be released this Tuesday. Vintage soul fans, look out - Laura's got the goods to join Mmes. Winehouse, Duffy, and Stone in the pantheon of newer singers who appreciate the sounds of classic R&B and bring refreshment to the wrecked shoals of contemporary R&B - no Autotune here!
Izibor is a native of Ireland, a fact that she joked about at the show ("Do you guys know where I'm from? Did you know there are black people in Ireland?" she playfully asked), and I'm glad to say that not only "The Commitments" bring the sounds of soul from the Emerald Isle. Laura, backed by a top-notch band, ran through her album, which in parts summons forth the sounds of '70s soul and funk with just a few touches to give it a modern R&B flavor. I've pre-ordered the album and I'm already deeming it a classic. (It doesn't hurt matters that the album art is redolent of the Atlantic LPs of the '60s!) If you'd like to sample the album, you can go to VH-1's website, where the whole thing is steamable! Check this out right away!
"From My Heart to Yours" features a nice bouncy groove and Izibor's fine vocals and piano playing. When she performed it in Atlanta the crowd ate it up, and I think you will too. There are tunes on the album that I think will please the discerning soul fan even more. I recommend it heartily! Get on down, Laura!
(EDITOR'S NOTE - I'm hoping to get a new podcast up one of these days; please bear with me!)
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Koko Taylor - That's Why I'm Crying
I have learned that the "Queen of the Blues," Cora "Koko" Taylor, has passed away at the age of 80. Throughout her long career, Taylor was a fixture in Chicago, recording for Checker and Alligator and at one point owning a blues club. It was at this club, the Celebrity Lounge, that I had the pleasure of meeting Taylor back in 1999. My wife and I dropped in one Saturday night to see Roy Hytower perform. While Hytower put on his goodtimey show, Taylor came in donning a glittering jacket and sat quietly at the bar. When Hytower finished singing he announced her presence and she received a hearty round of applause from the crowd. When my wife and I got up to go home later in the evening, Taylor took our hands and sincerely thanked us for coming to the club. I will never forget the warmth and kindness she showed us that night.
Although I'm partial to Taylor's Checker sides, especially sock soul-slanted tunes like "Fire" and "Separate or Integrate," her Alligator material is of high quality and today's selection comes from her first Alligator LP. "That's Why I'm Crying" finds Taylor toning down the shouting style from some of my favorite Checker sides, instead laying down some smoldering vocals while the band, featuring Mighty Joe Young on guitar, lays down a slinky minor-key blues.
RIP Koko. There is no one who will be able to "pitch a wang dang doodle" like you.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
James Brown - The Man in the Glass (Pt. 1)
I was inspired to do a James Brown post today after having seen a set of great JB videos on YouTube this weekend. One contributor has added some great stuff, including a medley of "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" and "Soul Power," performed by James (in an awesome outfit, I must add) and Bobby Byrd on a soundstage, and a guest spot by James on "Dinah's Place," where James, backed by the show's house band (led by Fred Wesley), tears through "Get on the Good Foot." Get over to YouTube and do a search for this stuff; you'll be glad you did.
Today's selection was the fruit of the Soul on Top sessions, in which JB recorded a mix of standards, show tunes, a few new songs and remakes of some of his hits backed by jazz drummer Louis Bellson's big band, conducted by Oliver Nelson. Although the concept sounds somewhat baffling on paper, and the 1970 LP did not sell well at the time, the truth is that the material is actually very good. James' vocals are powerful, the song selection is strong and the band actually grooves nicely. Fortunately for soul fans, the LP has had a CD reissue on Verve. "The Man in the Glass," credited to Brown's long-time associate Bud Hobgood, was part of the album and a portion of an alternate version, which is featured here, was also included on Brown's 1970 LP It's a New Day So Let a Man Come In. "Man in the Glass" fits right in with tunes like "World" and "I'm Not Demanding" (which was also included on It's a New Day and was scheduled for two 45 releases, both of which were scrapped). On all three songs, Brown does some serious emoting about serious topics in dramatic arrangements that were unlike a lot of what JB was doing at the time. The "man in the mirror" lyrics of today's selection are powerful and even thought-provoking. Dig them!
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Lattimore Brown - Little Bag of Tricks
My man Red Kelly has posted his chronicles of Sir Lattimore Brown's return to the stage and related events over at The B-Side. I wanted to wait until Red had told his tale, because I knew he would have some awesome stuff to share. He's got the story, great pics, outstanding video and more, so go check it out. But come on back to read my account, okay? Okay.
[Awaiting your return.]
When Red informed me that he had managed to put together Lattimore's performance at the Banks Street Bar in New Orleans, I knew I just had to be there. Since the Jazz Fest was also going on, and since neither me nor my wife had ever been to New Orleans, we decided to make a mini-vacation of the trip.
We went to the Jazz Fest on Sunday, April 26, and after a long, exasperating walk from the final streetcar stop to the fairgrounds, we encamped at the Blues Tent, arriving just in time for the New Orleans R&B Revue. Eddie Bo was supposed to be part of the Revue, had he lived, and his absence was noted by Deacon John Moore, who did a set and served as the bandleader and emcee of the program. I won't go into a full concert review here, but the show was quite enjoyable. Wanda Rouzan (of the Rouzan Sisters, of "Men of War" fame) lit up the stage with a good-timey set of songs, including a version of "Mama (He Treats Your Daughter Mean)." Al Johnson, who was profiled in the Times-Picayune that weekend as the recipient of a home in "Musicians Village," a development designed to provide housing for New Orleans msusicians affected by Hurricane Katrina, did a quick set capped off with his Mardi Gras perennial, "Carnival Time." (I didn't get any pictures of the crowd, but once "Carnival Time" started out came the umbrellas and handkerchiefs among the crowd!) Robert Parker, who I had been most interested in seeing, came out and did a perfunctory, if not exactly electrifying, set of blues and his classics "Where the Action Is" and "Barefootin'." Allen Toussaint was the headliner, and he did a fine set which featured "Here Comes the Girls" (which was slightly marred by the inability of Deacon John's drummer to accurately combine the military and funk elements of the tune) and a great extended take on "Yes We Can."
After the Revue, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings took to the stage and gave up the funk as only they know how. The crowd was full of people who were not familiar with the high-octane show, but Sharon made converts of them all. (Their set also kept the Jazz Fest security busy, as they had to continually shoo dancing people out of the aisles!
After the festivities ended, it was time to get to the mission at hand: Red had invited us to join him and Lattimore for dinner at Mother's, a no-frills New Orleans landmark known for its po' boys. Joining us for dinner was filmmaker Chase Thompson, who has documented the entire Lattimore Brown story, WWOZ personality Allan "Alski" Laskey, and graphic designer Paul Pollman and his wife, Honey. Lattimore was a bit tired, so he stayed fairly quiet, but the conversation buzzing around the table was as good as Mother's food!
Lattimore, Red, Chase and me; Alski and Paul.
The next day, my wife and I decided to do some sightseeing, but we managed to hear Lattimore's appearance on WWOZ. Although, as Red noted, Lattimore's singing of "It's a Sad Sad World" didn't exactly "click," I was very excited by Lattimore's storytelling and promotion of his show ("we're gonna do like Koko Taylor and pitch a wang dang doodle," he proclaimed several times), and when he sang "I Know I'm Gonna Miss You" (Red, who sang the Roscoe Shelton part?) it was very nice. After sightseeing and a trip to Louisiana Music Factory for some record digging, I hustled over to the Banks Street Bar for the rehearsal.
Red has chronicled the rehearsal, so I won't go into a lot of detail. In addition to meeting Wraquel and Wanda, I got to meet Cies from the Just Moving On gospel website and blog, and we had a great conversation. When Lattimore took to the stage at around five-thirty, I saw a fire in his eyes that thrilled my soul. Although the Banks Street Bar stage at that time of day is not exactly the most thrilling sight, to watch Lattimore work the stage made the place feel like the Apollo Theater! (I put up a video a few days ago from the rehearsal.) I left for dinner knowing that the evening was going to be special.
Red has adequately described what went down that night at the actual show. Like Red, I did not get to take any pictures, since I was working the door. Yes, the show had moments that were great, some not-so-great, and some that were somewhat cringeworthy, but all in all it was clear that Lattimore Brown had made a triumphant return, and everyone from Jazz Fest visitors to WFMU deejays to music journalists had witnessed it.
I didn't have time to stay in New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp and the second weekend of the Jazz Fest, although I would've loved to, so I was as upset as I was pleased to get a text message from Red the next say saying that Lattimore was going to be appearing at the Stomp with Wiley & The Checkmates, and then to get a text message two days later saying that Lattimore had "tore it up"! Wow!
When the Lattimore Brown story first appeared on Red's blog and on mine, the phrase "this ain't nothing but God" captured the spirit of what had happened. I am glad to report that the phrase is equally meaningful after the New Orleans weekend: Lattimore met his daughter after nearly forty-one years (and to think that she found out about him via the internet, just like the kind nurse did when she contacted me so long ago); Lattimore made a triumphant return to the stage (and a debut in the New York Times); Red, Cies and I, brothers-in-arms online, got to meet each other in person for the first time, and we got along as if we hung out regularly; and I got the see how my relatively insignificant act of writing about Lattimore on my blog served as a catalyst for all of this. I am still on a "high" from it all.
I must take a moment to give major "props" to Red Kelly, whose hard work in finding Lattimore, chronicling his story and getting Lattimore back on stage proves that God is truly with him. I have a feeling that, although the New Orleans weekend makes for a great closing to a "movie-ready" story, that more is yet to come - the Man Upstairs has a "bag of tricks" of His own!
Monday, May 11, 2009
Gloria Taylor - You Got to Pay the Price
Al Kent's Detroit soul instrumental "You Got to Pay the Price" is a staple record among the Northern Soul crowd, and is one of the easier 45s to acquire out of the "Northern Soul Top 500." The Ric-Tic single is a sho' 'nuff floater good for winding down an all-nighter, with Dennis Coffey's guitar riffs pleasantly riding the shuffling groove. Although I had figured that the track was intended to back a vocalist, I didn't hear vocal versions of the song until many years after I had heard the Kent record.
The Supremes did a version of the song that I suppose came about after Berry Gordy bought out Ed Wingate and acquired the Golden World/Ric-Tic/Wingate labels. Their fine reading of the song, however, went unreleased until it was included in one of the Cellarful of Motown compilations. Gloria Taylor, known among soul fans for her reading of J.J. Barnes' "Poor Unfortunate Me" and for the two-parter "Grounded," among others, did a version of the song that was released on Glo-Whiz and on Leland Rogers' Silver Fox concern that did merit release, although it didn't go anywhere. Taylors' vocals show a fine melody that really works with the famous groove.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Theron & Darrell - I Was Made to Love Her
Once again the fine folks at Numero have hit one out of the park with their Eccentric Soul series. The newest disc, Eccentric Soul: Smart's Palace features the soul sounds of Wichita, Kansas, as recorded by Dick Smart, whose Solo and other labels augmented his entertainment empire, whose roots lay in the Smart's Palace club, where he and his brothers had a high-powered act (the comp's striking cover art is a picture of one of the Smarts doing a handstand while performing). The CD features a variety of great tracks from the Smart Brothers and others, and quite a few sides have a delightful roughness about them that really lends atmosphere to the material.
Today's selection is a good example of this. Theron Gafford and Darrell Buckner had a band that filled in at Smart's Palace whenever the Smart Brothers were away, and the duo's 1970 Solo 45 "I Was Made to Love Her" did very well locally, but like so many other artists featured in the Eccentric Soul series, not much else followed. That's a shame, though, because despite the roughness of the production, Theron and Darrell really bring home the bacon with this strutting piece of sweet soul. The duo alternate between trading off lines and singing harmony parts, and the whole thing really works. I particularly love the "to be mine" part later in the song, especially near the end, where they drop off to give the band a rough but funky vamp. The whole CD is outstanding, but this tune alone makes the price worthwhile.
(EDITOR'S NOTE - I did not know until today that Numero has a blog; it's very entertaining, and some great stories about the development of the CD are there. I will add it, along with several other fine blogs I've been introduced to lately, to the blogroll pretty soon.)
Sunday, May 03, 2009
I'm waiting to coordinate posting with Red before I do the full account of the Lattimore Brown weekend, so bear with me. I'll do some regular posts in the meantime!
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
There's a lot to tell - the "this ain't nothing but God!" continues - and when I get a minute to sort out pictures, co-ordinate postings with Red Kelly (who did an outstanding job getting things organized), and write, I'll give my account of the weekend and that Monday, which also included one day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Hip Drop III, the DJ-laden pre-party for the Ponderosa Stomp. Until then, here's a picture of Sir Lattimore, Red, documentarian Chase Thompson and yours truly enjoying dinner at the legendary Mother's Restaurant in New Orleans the night before the show.
BREAKING NEWS - For those of you who are attending the Ponderosa Stomp, Lattimore will be performing TONIGHT as a guest of Wiley & The Checkmates! So just like that, Lattimore will have been part of two gigs!
Friday, April 24, 2009
The time has come, friends - on Monday, at Banks Street Bar in New Orleans, Sir Lattimore Brown will make his return to the stage after a 35-year absence, backed by the awesome Wiley & The Checkmates! Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul will be there, and I can't begin to tell you how excited I am to meet the man whose unlikely rediscovery and amazing life story came out of a kind nurse who Googled this blog. It'll also be awesome to meet my fellow soul blogger and Guardian honoree Red Kelly! It's going to be a soulful night, for sure, with Lattimore and Wiley putting it down on stage and WWOZ's Alski working it out on the "ones and twos"!
If you haven't already, get to Red's info page at Soul Detective to get more info about the show and the Banks Street Bar. If you're going to be in NOLA for Jazz Fest or for the Ponderosa Stomp (which I wish I had the time and money to attend as well), if you can spare the Monday night, come out and support Lattimore on this spectacular occasion! If you do, please drop by and say "hi!"
I'm off to New Orleans, with camera in tow - hopefully I'll have great pictures and stories to share on my return!
Monday, April 20, 2009
Bobby Taylor - Blackmail
Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers, an interracial act signed to Motown in the late '60s, is probably best known for three things: their 1968 hit "Does Your Mama Know About Me," that frontman Taylor (not Diana Ross, as is often reported) "discovered" the Jackson Five (WVON jock Pervis Spann has disagreed with this narrative, though, claiming that his initial promotional efforts with the group paved the way to their success), and that guitarist Tommy Chong would later find fame with "Cheech" Marin as the stoner comedy act "Cheech & Chong." Taylor stuck with the label after the group disbanded and recorded a handful of sides that were released on V.I.P. Today's selection, a Gloria Jones-Pam Sawyer composition (Jones was billed on the label under her pseudonym, "LaVerne Ware"), was a 1970 single. Although the dandy, shuffling flip, "Oh, I've Been Bless'd," has found more favor among the rare soul set, Taylor steps up to the plate on "Blackmail" and effectively captures the anger, fear and confusion that the song's lyrics and surging arrangement portray. "I hardly touched that evil girl; to lose my bride-to-be would surely end my world," Taylor sings. What a predicament!
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Vernon Guy - Anything - To Make It With You
Vernon Guy's most successful work was as a member of the Chicago soul group The Sharpees, who, despite some nice harder-hitting sides on One-Derful! and Midas, never broke through to the big time. (On the Bill Kenner aircheck featured in the "Soul on the Air" series, "The Sock" is played.) Prior to his involvement with The Sharpees, Guy was part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue along with future fellow Sharpee Stacey Johnson, and Guy had two single releases, including today's selection, with Ike Turner at the helm (Johnson, for his part, had two Ike Turner-related releases as well). "Anything - To Make It With You," a 1963 Sonja single, is a very atmospheric number, featuring a sweet vocal by Guy and a light rhumba tinge in the verses, followed by a chunky shuffle in the choruses not unlike the groove that graced a lot of Ike & Tina sides in those days. It's a cool breeze that sticks with the listener longer than it would initially appear.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Bo Diddley - Stop the Pusher
The late Bo Diddley's '70s recordings for Chess did not escalate the rock-n-roll pioneer to the levels of fame he enjoyed back in the '50s; to be frank, they were not well-received at the time, as was the case for most of Chess Records' experiments in "modernizing" the sound of their older stars. Fortunately for us soul fans, Bo was better at "giving up the funk" than Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf were, and now albums like Black Gladiator, Another Dimension and Big Bad Bo, from which today's selection comes, are viewed as funky masterpieces.
The funky "Stop the Pusher" features a bumping groove accompanied by good horn work. Bo, for his part, does a great job with the anti-drug lyrics. "The only way to hurt the pusher is don't buy - and the pusher will die," Bo intones, with some nice background help (overdubs maybe?) on the last part of the line. In the coda, Bo encourages his 1974 audience to check out his new sound: he encourages anyone wanting to feel good to seek him out, declaring "I'm a different kind of pusher - I push soul!" Amen to that!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Mel Brown - Eighteen Pounds of Unclean Chitlins
Right around the time that I was about to put together Episode #33 of the podcast, the news came along that Eddie Bo had died, followed with news of Ted Jarrett's passing. Right before I recorded the show I learned that guitarist Mel Brown had died, and to honor him I put "W-2 Withholding" in the playlist. I've given an overview of Brown's history previously. Today's selection is one of the more eccentric tunes in Brown's catalogue. "Eighteen Pounds of Unclean Chitlins" is eleven-plus minutes of Brown working it out over a shape-shifting groove that is at times funky (I would imagine the title ties into a phrase like "funkier than ...") but at other times sparse and ominous. It's probably not everyone's taste, but then, neither are chitterlings, so sample this one and hopefully enjoy it.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Johnny Otis - She's All Right
R&B singer/songwriter/bandleader/disc jockey/TV host/health food impresario/minister/etc., etc. Johnny Otis' long career covers so many bases, ranging from his '40s and '50s work with his impressive orchestra and vocalists, to his discovery and/or development of artists like Little Esther Phillips and Etta James to hits like "Willie and the Hand Jive" and '60s soul sides for Kent, which by that time featured his son Shuggie, a guitar prodigy whose '70s solo recordings have achieved cult status and whose "Strawberry Letter 23" topped the charts when covered by the Brothers Johnson late rin the decade. Not too bad for a Greek-American (born John Veliotes) who was black in all ways but in skin tone!
In the midst of all this activity on a wide range of labels, Otis stopped by King Records to record a handful of sides in 1961 and 1962. At the time of his sojourn with the label, the Kelly Brothers, certainly no strangers to this blog, were on Federal as a gospel act, just a year or two away from secular success as "The King Pins" with "It Won't Be This Way (Always)." One of their gospel sides was the Soul Stirrers-sounding "He's Alright," a swinging thing from 1961, and Otis took a page from the Ray Charles playbook and tweaked the song to make it the secular "She's All Right" in 1962. I'm not sure if the Kelly Brothers were providing the fine backup vocals here, but the fine gospel background fits Otis' relaxed but soulful lead vocal nicely.
Friday, April 03, 2009
There's nothing better than a Friday full of good news!
For those of you who have followed the accounts by Red Kelly and myself with respect to rediscovered soul man Sir Lattimore Brown (see the sidebar links if you haven't), there's big news: on April 27, Brown will be taking to the stage (after 35 years' absence) at the Banks Street Bar in New Orleans! Head on over to Red's The B-Side blog for details from Red about the show, at which Lattimore will be backed by Wiley & The Checkmates, and Lattimore's present situation. Red's also re-upped his "I'm Not Through" Lattimore podcast.
I'm working on travel plans now! I hope to see you there!
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
What was going to be simply a show dedicated to the Adair County High School Academic Team, of which your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul is an alumnus, and its coach, "Get on Down ..." listener Brett Reliford, ended up being a memorial to Eddie Bo, Ted Jarrett and Mel Brown as well. There's plenty of "get down" in here, though, and some Wylie Dixon for Mr. Reliford! Here's the playlist:
1. Eddie Bo - Hook & Sling (Pts. 1 & 2)
2. Betty Wright - I'm Gonna Hate Myself in the Morning
3. Larry Birdsong - Digging Your Potatoes
4. Buddy Ace - Jump Up and Shout
5. The Explosions - Garden of Four Trees
6. James Brown "Take Him to the Man" PSA
7. "Save the Children" Radio Ad
8. Danny Hernandez & The Ones - One Little Teardrop
9. Eddie Bo - That Certain Someone
10. Freddie & The Kinfolk - Last Take
11. Wylie Dixon - When Will It End
12. Pauline & Bobby - No Messin' Around
13. Mel Brown - W-2 Withholding
14. Etta James - Miss Pitiful
15. Aretha Franklin Coca-Cola Radio Ad
16. The Avons - Tell Me Baby (Who Would I Be)
17. Shirley Walton - The One You Can't Have (All By Yourself)
18. Tennison Stephens - Where Would You Be
19. Koko Taylor - Separate or Integrate
20. Clea Bradford - My Love's a Monster
21. Gordon Staples & The String Thing - Get Down
22. Freddie Waters - It's a Little Bit Late
23. Skip Easterling - The Grass Looks Greener
24. The Tempo Rhythms - Oriental Soul
Monday, March 23, 2009
Gene Allison - I Understand (alternate take)
The parade to "soul heaven" continues, unfortunately, with the passing of Nashville R&B impresario Ted Jarrett. As a longtime champion of Nashville soul on this blog, I've featured Jarrett compositions, productions and releases on some of his labels. I suppose in my next podcast, which I intend to put together at some point this week, I'll have to get some Nashville in there to go with the New Orleans.
One of Jarrett's biggest successes was with Gene Allison, who hit big with "You Can Make It If You Try." Like Allison's contemporaries Earl Gaines and Larry Birdsong, Gene stuck around with Jarrett for quite some time. The fine Southern soul ballad "I Understand" was released as a Ref-O-Ree single in 1969. Today's selection is an alternate take of the tune, which was included on the The Ref-O-Ree Records Story.
Hopefully this will be the last RIP post, at least for awhile!
Saturday, March 21, 2009
The Explosions - Hip Drop (Pts. 1 & 2)
The bad part about having a vintage soul blog is that multiple times throughout the year I have to report the passing of yet another fine artist. New Orleans singer/pianist/songwriter/producer/label owner Eddie Bo has passed away at age 79. Bo's long career cut across R&B, soul and funk, and it's the latter category for which he's probably best known, thanks to his 1969 hit "Hook and Sling" and scads of other gems that are highly-favored by funk fans. A quick survey of my links section will give you a taste of "Hook and Sling," "Check the Bucket" and others, but I'll feature the femme funk classic "Hip Drop," which he wrote and produced for the Explosions for the tiny Gold Cup label. Everything about this record is right: the singalong line "Hip Drop, come on and Hip Drop," to Juanita Brooks' strong lead vocal, to some nice drum breaks, to the goofy interjections (by Eddie maybe?) of "I tried the Hip Drop and I liked it!" and "Mr. Whipple - he can do the Hip Drop, too!" It's just a funky good time that is one of my favorite Bo productions.
RIP Eddie Bo. Your contributions to New Orleans music and to funk were immense and are apprciated among the rare soul community.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
It Ain't No Use
Ha Ha (Laughing Song)
Today's selections make up one of the 45s that I heard growing up that helped shape my appreciation for vintage soul music. My mother would play both sides of Z.Z. Hill's Mankind single "It Ain't No Use" b/w "Ha Ha (Laughing Song)" and I loved it, even though I didn't quite understand the seriousness of the lyrics. I don't know why I failed to mention the 45 in my 2007 Vinyl Record Day post, but I suppose it's better late than never to feature it, right?
Red Kelly has an excellent biography of the late soul blues superstar on The B-Side, so I'll just get to the music. The 45 was one of several successful singles pulled from The Brand New Z.Z. Hill, a Swamp Dogg-produced (he wrote or co-wrote many of the songs - including today's selections - as well) soul "opera" of sorts. Today's selections constituted the first two "scenes" of "Act I." On "It Ain't No Use," we meet Z.Z. and his new woman as they return to his pad for some drinks and romance. As the bluesy groove shuffles along, Hill is working on his mack, offering to make a drink ("put a little ice in it ... make some Kool Aid") and anticiping a good time ("heeeeeeeey, mama, girl that's out of sight!" he hollers as she makes her move). But before any "getting on" starts, the proceedings are interrupted by a knock on the door by his ex-flame, Ethel, whose initial tough posturing ("open this damn door, I wanna talk to you") quickly fades into a tearful plea for forgiveness. Hill's not hearing it, though, so he launches into the song, whose blunt lyrics were lost on me as a child (I was still hung up on the "Kool Aid" part). "Ha Ha" continues the withering dismissal, albeit with a funky groove this time. In the dramatic portion, Hill sends his unfortunate guest home and further expands on how Ethel mistreated him to the point that folks were laughing at him ("it's got so good now, they just kind of walk up and giggle in my face," he asserts). The lyrics to "Ha Ha" aren't as sharp as those in "It Ain't No Use," but the groove romps along and there's a great horn vamp before the final verse.
Oh, in case you want to know what happens in the rest of the album - Ethel eventually is forgiven and they get married at the end! How about that?
Friday, March 13, 2009
Bohannon - Stop and Go
Back in the fall I featured '70s groovemaster Hamilton Bohannon on the blog, and another one of his groove-heavy tunes will grace the blog today. "Stop and Go" was the title track of his 1973 Dakar debut and, as I noted in the prior post, it's easy to get caught up in the hypnotic groove Bohannon gets going. Although it's not as catchy as "South African Man," listening to it is a great way to move into a weekend. Get on down, y'all! TGIF!
Thursday, March 05, 2009
I hadn't planned to do a "Soul on the Air" feature so close to the installment featuring KCOH's Gladys "Gee Gee" Hill from a couple of weeks back, but I have just learned from Mary Mitchell's column in The Chicago Sun-Times that Richard Pegue (rhymes with "McGee"), one of the latter-day WVON "Good Guys" and Chicago soul musician, arranger and record label owner, has passed away at the age of 65. Pegue joined the WVON line-up at the end of the '60s, and with his cool style and sharp wit, the "Dubber Ruckie" fit right in with the station's style. I'll defer to Pegue's Best Music of Your Life website bio page for a chronology of his radio career. I remember that when I moved to Chicago in 1997 he was doing his thing on WGCI-AM (the former WVON, at 1390 on the dial), which would eventually turn into a full-time gospel station (although during the early gospel days, Pegue got to keep a late-night soul show). Afterwards he could be heard both on the revived WVON (when 'VON moved to 1390 in the mid-'70s, Pervis Spann acquired rights to the 1450 frequency, where he ran WXOL until 'VON changed its calls to WGCI and Spann snapped up the legendary calls), holding down Spann's all-night slot a few nights a month, and on Kennedy-King College's WKKC-FM, all programs of which I always enjoyed.
I'll stop writing a biography of Pegue here and refer you to this excellent 2004 episode of WHPK's Sitting in the Park in which host Bob Abrahamian interviews Pegue and features lots of his productions. (If you haven't been to the show's website, do go and enjoy interviews with many of the greats of Chicago soul!) I certainly enjoyed listening to Pegue when I lived in Chicago and enjoy records he had a hand in. May he rest in peace.
Today's selection is from June 9, 1975. Pegue plays a nice mixture of hits of the day and some soul from a few years earlier while laying down some nice cool patter and singing along with songs as they fade out. As Herb Kent mentioned in his excellent new autobiography, The Cool Gent: The Nine Lives of Radio Legend Herb Kent, which I heartily recommend to any R&B fan, radio fan or Herb Kent fan, by this time WVON had lost its ratings dominance due to the rise of FM radio and the "less talk, more music" trend in broadcasting (a trend that some of the "Good Guys" weren't able or willing to adapt to), but several, including Kent, Pegue and Cecil Hale (many thanks to the good Dr. Hale for recently commenting on an earlier "Soul on the Air" feature to answer a commenter's question) went along with the flow and kept the soul going for a few more years, as demonstrated here.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Vi Campbell - Seven Doors
I think I've stated on this blog before, and I know lots of soul fans agree with me on this, but I really hope that somehow there can be a definitive Duke/Peacock/Back Beat/Sure Shot soul comp released at some point. I am continually pleased to hear more and more fine soul and funk sides from those labels, but to know there's more out there keeps me longing for more than the ABCs of Soul CDs of the '90s which covered only the biggest hits. (There is a CD called The Northern Soul of Texas which covers quite a bit of material, but I'm not sure as to its legitimacy.) When there are records out there like today's selection, why must we fans suffer?
The 1966 Peacock single "Seven Doors" is a swinging shuffler with a Bobby Bland-styled groove over which Vi Campbell, about whom I know absolutely nothing, strongly delivers her accusations and predicts her revenge. (The Bobby Bland flavor is no accident, as Bland's bandleader and arranger Joe Scott had a hand in the record.) As far as I can tell, this was her only 45, but what a recording!
Friday, February 27, 2009
Alvin Cash - Twine Time (funk version)
TGIF, so says your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul, and to ring in the weekend is Chicago's dance master Alvin Cash, who is no stranger to this blog by post or by podcast. By the '70s, Cash floated from label to label, laying down slabs of funk punctuated by his chants and calls, and this release on the Memphis-based XL label was part of that sojourn. His remake of "Twine Time," the record that kicked off his hitmaking career, successfully updated the Chicago soul groove for the funk era, but kept the flavor of the original, even down to the "ooh aah" opening, although Cash punctures it with one of his trademark "oooooooooooooooooowwwweeeee" shouts. "Ooo wee" is right, though, because it's a nice piece of get down. Have a great weekend everybody!
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Frankie Karl & The Dreams - I'm So Glad
Today I'm needing something mellow instead of a "get down," so some doo-wop flavored soul fits the bill nicely. I'll defer to Colin Dilnot's obituary of Frankie Karl at In Dangerous Rhythm for more details about Frankie Karl and his 1968 throwback hit "Don't Be Afraid (Do As I Say)," recorded with the mixed group The Dreams. "I'm So Glad" is the flip of that 45, and it is similarly smooth and doo-wop tinged. This is the type of song that should close out a DJ set or a podcast, especially in the former case if there are a lot of couples dancing. Maybe someday I'll try that out to see if my theory works!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
B.B. King - Just Can't Please You
The late Jimmy "Preacher" Robins' "I Can't Please You" is one of my favorite Chicago soul records, and I hastily posted it some time ago on the blog when I didn't have time to do a fuller write-up. That's a shame, because at the time I learned that, although Robert Pruter's Chicago Soul made it sound like Robins fell off the end of the world after "I Can't Please You" made noise, the truth is that Robins continued to record and, by the time he died on Christmas Eve 2007, he had established quite a CV in New York as "The King of Harlem Soul," an all-around entertainer (including acting credits), and as a businessman (in addition to musical enterprises, he owned a limousine service).
The neat thing about the classic soul era was that cover versions of lots of tunes abounded, which demonstrate the strength of the songs. B.B. King, no stranger to cutting soul-slanted sides by 1972, did a version of "I Can't Please You" (now entitled "Just Can't Please You") for his Guess Who LP. The bouncy blues feel King gives the tune is light years away from the darker, heavier groove of the original, but King's vocals do the song justice and Lucille gets some tasty licks in there. It's a nice toe tapper that, although not as good as the original, still brings home the goods for the listener.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Wiley & The Checkmates - Ode to Billie Joe / Hip Hug-Her
Wiley & The Checkmates were featured on the blog last summer, so I'll just discuss today's feature, a track from the group's Rabbit Factory CD We Call It Soul. To mix the pop classic "Ode to Billie Joe" with the Stax classic instro "Hip Hug-Her" was a brilliant choice, and the group really does a good job with it. The Bobbie Gentry hit is already soulful and danceable, but the arrangement takes it to the next level.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Buster Brown - John Henry
Time to break the "only on Wednesday" slump I've been in, and why not do a "Thursday Is Blues Day" to accomplish that?
Blues singer and harmonica player Buster Brown (birth name Wayman Glasco) has been featured on this blog before. "John Henry" was Brown's second Fire single. The band rambles along on this one while Brown sings about the "steel drivin' man" of folklore, breaking after a few verses to do some of his trademark whooping and harmonica playing. It's a nice piece of danceable R&B that, although not enough to make the title of his Fire LP New King of the Blues a fitting moniker, is worth a listen.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Freda Allyne - Money, And All Your Love
The new Kent CD J & S Harlem Soul, a comp featuring releases on Zell Sanders' J&S and affiliate labels, is getting quite a few plays at the Stepfather's house since it arrived in the mail this weekend. The CD gravitates towards harder-hitting soul and R&B and some of the more obscure Sanders productions, as exemplified by today's selection. Freda Allyne's "Money, And All Your Love" was a 1963 J&S single featuring a piano-driven proto-funk groove punctuated by horn riffs, over which Allyne describes how she has everything going her way save for the title subjects. This is a solid cooker, and I would love to have a vinyl copy of it, that is, if I could overcome the relative scarcity and steep price of the 45!
The arrangement is credited to a Cliff Drivers, who the liner notes state had an instrumental release on the label in 1959. Is this the same person as Cliff Driver, the musical director for Daptone gospel group Naomi Davis and the Gospel Queens?
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Today's "Soul on the Air" segment features the late Gladys "Gee Gee" Hill from Houston's KCOH. The station, the first black-oriented radio station in Texas, started in 1953 as a "sunup to sundown" broadcaster and is still on the air today, bringing a mixture of talk, R&B, zydeco, gospel and more from the 1430 spot on the dial, twenty-four hours a day. Hill was one of a handful of female DJs to make a mark in the history of classic R&B radio (Detroit's Martha Jean "The Queen" and Chicago's Merry Dee and Yvonne Daniels are the only ones to spring to mind immediately), and is the only one for whom I have been able to locate any airchecks (it's hard enough to find R&B airchecks, much less those featuring female jocks). I haven't been able to find out much information about Hill, but I do know that she was well-regarded in Houston and is notable for helping break Archie Bell & The Drells' classic "Tighten Up": the tune was initially released on fellow KCOH jock (and co-owner) Skipper Lee Frazier's Ovide label, but Frazier was plugging the flip, "Dog Eat Dog," until Hill convinced him that the other side was the hit. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
This aircheck finds Hill doing her thing in 1970, playing a wide range of blues, jazz and soul, ranging from The Glass House to Albert King to the Merced Blue Notes. Near the twenty-minute mark, there's a sports news break featuring a pinch-hitting Lee Dickerson, whose somewhat stumbling reading of the news finds him correcting a report he'd made earlier and smoothly setting up a Schlitz beer commercial in the middle.
(EDITOR'S NOTE - Thanks to blogger Daddy's Girl, who commented on the last Soul on the Air feature. I look forward to her blog, "My Dad, Ed Cook" and hope to communicate with her soon about her dad and WVON!)
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Carla Thomas - (Your Love Is A) Life Saver
Interestingly enough, the last time I did a Carla Thomas post on this blog was a Wednesday, and one that didn't find me in the best of moods, so I suppose it's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would sasy, that Carla Thomas graces another Wednesday post. Today's feature is a Bettye Crutcher composition that did not see the light of day until Fantasy released the Carla comp Hidden Gems back in the '90s. I really can't see what kept "(Your Love Is A) Life Saver" from getting a "stax-o-wax" 45 release, as it is a solid piece of get-down on which Thomas brings a mix of toughness and vulnerability to her vocal and Booker T. & The M.G.'s lay down a hard-hitting groove featuring some nice guitar and bass interplay and then a great funky breakdown in which Steve Cropper lays down drawling licks to complement Al Jackson's drum work. Get on down, Carla!
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Lenny Williams - Feeling Blue
Although Fantasy Records' Galaxy imprint did not set the R&B charts ablaze during its run in the '60s and early '70s, a few major hits did emerge on acts like Rodger Collins, Little Johnny Taylor, Bobby Rush and Bill Coday, and definitely fine records were released that have pleased soul fans to the present day. Today's selection is from Lenny Williams, who would go on to have significant success in the '70s both with Tower of Power and then as a solo act. Williams started out in Oakland and was one of Galaxy's homegrown acts when he covered Fantasy labelmate Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Feeling Blue." The Forgarty tune features a Stax-slanted groove, although surprisingly toned down for the Williams record (in my opinion, the CCR record sounds almost as if the band crashed 926 East McLemore one night and cut the track), but Lenny rides it for all it's worth.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The new Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul! podcast is now online, and it honors our new President, Barack Obama, and it also features 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Womack. Here's the playlist:
1. The Soul Stirrers - My Loved Ones Are Waiting for Me (Waiting and Watching)
2. Betty Adams - Make It Real (Ride On)
3. The Detroit Executives - Cool Off
4. Big Bill Collins - H&A Restaurant Radio Ad
5. Mrs. Odell Knox & The Famous South Land Singers - I Have a Dream
6. Bobby Womack - Love, the Time Is Now
7. Jean Wells - Try Me and See
8. B. B. Brown - I Weep
9. Moses Dillard & The Tex-Town Display - Are You For Real
10. The Triumphs - Walkin' the Duck
11. Jo Ann Garrett & The Dells - You Can't Come In (Big Bad Wolf)
12. Bobby Womack - What You Gonna Do (When Your Love Is Gone)
13. Al Green & The Soul Mates - I'll Be Good to You
14. Big Bill Collins - City Bar-B-Q Radio Ad
15. The Coasters - Talkin' 'Bout a Woman (aka She Can)
16. Lou Courtney - I Can Always Tell
17. James Barnes & The Agents - Good & Funky
18. Bill Thomas & The Fendells - Southern Fried Chicken (Pts. 1 & 2)
19. Louis Chachere - The Hen (Pt. 1)
20. Darrell Banks - I'm the One Who Loves You
21. Bobby Womack - Baby I Can't Stand It
22. The Meditation Singers - A Change Is Gonna Come
23. James Brown - Funky President (People It's Bad)
Friday, January 23, 2009
Gladys Knight & The Pips - The End of Our Road
I suppose I really shouldn't have the ambivalence I feel about Motown. The contributions of the label to the fabric of American music are legion, and the material released on the Motown, Tamla, Gordy, Soul and other labels is very good and, as the Complete Motown Singles series of boxed sets has demonstrated, more diverse than the standard "oldies" radio station would lead one to believe. I suppose it's a battle any anorak faces: how do you dive deep into the rare and obscure yet embrace the "common" stuff?
That philosophical issue will have to be resolved another day. I have been remiss in not joining the celebration of Motown Records' 50th anniversary, and so today I'll feature something that sort of bridges both sides of the problem. By 1968, Gladys Knight and the Pips had been with Motown awhile, and they had scored a major hit on the Soul label with their version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," which topped the Billboard R&B charts for six weeks. (Marvin's version would come later in the year and would be a sit at #1 even longer on its route to music immortality. Truth be told, I like Gladys and the Pips' version better.) "The End of Our Road" clearly went back to the "Grapevine" well in its feel, but to me the tune represents what I like best about a lot of Motown stuff: the groove is hot, full of that funky drumming and churchy tambourine; Gladys' vocals are full of gospel fire, and the Pips provide their usual top-notch backings. You can't just sit still with it, as was the case of a lot of uptempo Motown stuff, and I'm comfy with it being my "Motown 50" post, despite my Motown conundrum.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
MFSB - Philadelphia Freedom
Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul has just returned from Washington, D.C. and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th President. Quite a few media outlets, including blogs, have pointed out the euphoria that gripped the city and how the very diverse crowd coexisted in a spirit of "love and unity" to the extent that one blogger called it "Woodstock without the mud." From my firm's D.C. office I was able to watch the swearing-in ceremonies on TV and then see the parade pass right by the window, although the President and First Lady ended their short walk outside of their limousine just short of where our building was located (darn)! Anyway, in the midst of all of the fun, I overheard a few Philadelphia soul classics (especially McFadden & Whitehead's anthemic "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now"), and so the Philly sound has been stuck in my head. Just a few minutes ago, in an "a-ha" moment, I realized that today's selection fits nicely in line with the excitement and national pride that made for a great time in D.C.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote "Philadelphia Freedom" in honor of tennis legend Billie Jean King and her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms. Gene Page, then hot with his arrangements for Barry White, gave a helping hand with the string arrangement, and the Muscle Shoals Horns contributed the horn charts. The soulful, patriotic-sounding single, credited to the "Elton John Band," shot to #1 on the pop charts in 1975. (Being a 1974 baby, "Philadelphia Freedom" is actually one of the very first songs I remember hearing as a child.) It's probably not surprising that since the future Sir Elton cribbed a page from the Philly soul playbook for the song that some soul cover versions would emerge. I've heard several, with Esther Phillips' Kudu reading being one of my favorites, but for today I'm going with MFSB's instrumental take of the tune, which was a hit for them that year. The already-danceable tune is geared even more for the disco dancefloor in MFSB's collective hands, but the uplifting spirit of the tune rings through all the same.
(EDITOR'S NOTE) - Hopefully, this weekend I can get around to posting ...
Friday, January 16, 2009
Bobby Womack - Point of No Return
Congratulations are in order for legendary soul singer/songwriter Bobby Womack, who has been named as one of the 2009 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From his early associations with Sam Cooke (first as a member of gospel's The Womack Brothers and then as one of The Valentinos) to his streak of songwriting successes for Wilson Pickett in the '60s, to his major successes as a solo artist in the '70s, Womack is truly deserving of the honor. (It should be noted that Spooner Oldham, Southern soul songwriter, will also be inducted, under the "sideman" category;
Bobby Womack would directly take on country music with his 1976 LP B.W. Goes C.W., the commercial failure of which closed out his tenure with United Artists Records, but "Point of No Return," from 1974's Lookin' For a Love Again, is a fine country song given a great reading by Womack, who does a great job building up the song's intensity as he expresses mounting frustration, from the introductory accusation, "baby, if the cake ain't missing, how'd that icing get all over you?" onwards. Congrats Bobby!
(CORRECTION SECTION - As the commenter below noted, I got my songwriters mixed up re: "Dark End of the Street." The songs the commenter correctly names as Oldham compositions are all very good.)
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Ollie & The Nightingales - A Smile Can't Hide (A Broken Heart)
The Ace/Kent setup in the UK has been rolling out lots of great stuff lately, and their new boxed set Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story 1961-1977 continues the trend. Over three CDs, Southern soul chestnuts and absolute rarities sit side by side. Naturally, Memphis soul is highly represented, and Stax sides make up a good number of tracks. A treat from the Stax stable in the set is today's selection.
William Bell released "A Smile Can't Hide (A Broken Heart)" as the B-side to his version of the Albert King classic "Born Under a Bad Sign." Ollie & The Nightingales cut a version as well that languished in the can but is now available on Take Me To The River. The mid-tempo groove gives the group plenty of room to do its gospel harmonizing and for Ollie Nightingale to bring his piercing lead vocals. The unearthing of this side makes me wonder if anyone plans to release their "Heartaches Mountain," which I have not heard, which was released only on the Stax various artists double LP Soul Explosion, several tracks of which have still not seen CD reissue. One can only hope!
Friday, January 09, 2009
Little Willie John - I Had a Dream (Take 7)
Today's post features a track from the outstanding Kent CD Nineteen Sixty Six: The David Axelrod and HB Barnum Sessions, a set of recordings the '50s R&B legend made for Capitol in the title year while out on (a losing) appeal from his 1964 murder conviction. The recordings were made, King Records (his previous label) blocked their release, John lost his appeal and then died in prison in 1968. The material never received a proper release (a low-fi and possibly bootlegged release of some of the stuff made it out, but that was it) until Kent put it out, alternate takes and all, in 2008. It's a serious treat for soul fans, because John's in fine voice and the dynamic duo of David Axelrod (producer) and H.B. Barnum (arranger), who were crafting a hit sound for Lou Rawls around that time, really put together some solid sounds behind him that capture a bit of jazz, a bit of blues, and the soul sound.
The funky blues "I Had a Dream," not to be confused with the Hayes-Porter composition of the same name that was Johnnie Taylor's Stax debut, opens with some sinister-sounding electric piano before opening up into a nice strutting groove with good horn charts, over which John's cool vocals really cook.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Rufus Thomas - Today I Started Loving You Again (live)
Today's "Tuesday Is Blues Day" feature is from Rufus Thomas' 1998 Ecko CD Rufus Live!, which was recorded in Atlanta in 1996. Performing as part of a Memphis soul package for the Summer Olympics, Rufus' set finds the World's Oldest Teenager mastering the crowd with the same ease he managed the infamous Wattstax audience in 1972. The CD is somewhat difficult to find these days, but it's worth purchasing, as Thomas lays down a little soul and blues, walks the dog and does the funky chicken as only he could.
As fun as the uptempo things are on the CD, however, Rufus' 18 minutes-plus take on the country classic "Today I Started Loving You Today" is nothing short of a tour de force. After acknowledging Nashville as the home of country music and name-checking a few country singers (including, interestingly, Jerry Lee Lewis, who, although indeed a hit country act from the late '60s onward, would seem to be linked more to Memphis and rock'n'roll), Thomas distinguishes himself from that crew, declaring that they sing country "country" but he sings country with soul (dig the neat change in the piano background in the introduction at that point) and then gets to work on the meat of the song. After a couple of verses, however, Rufus engages in a lengthy monologue that ranges from what a man would like from his woman when he comes home from work to the power of love to clowning with some female audience members, switching from being serious to being silly but keeping the soul quotient very high and showing how the old soul masters could spin a captivating web around an audience and then work their magic in monologues. (Listen to this and then listen to similar portions of Solomon Burke's Soul Alive album and you'll get my point.)
Monday, January 05, 2009
If I Had My Wings
I Work For God
For the first time in awhile, albeit on Monday (internet connection issues prevented yesterday's post from getting off the ground), "Sunday Gospel Time" makes an appearance on the blog with this nifty two-sider. I don't know (and couldn't find) anything about the Virginia State Ensemble, but I do know that these two sides were released as a Weis single, and I know that Weis was one of the handful of small labels (such as Warren, Front Page, Arch and Dig) that Stax distributed in the early '70s. Future Spinners lead singer John Edwards had a release on the label, and tunes like Bobby Holley's "Moving Dancer" and "Soultown" by The Forevers have become funky 45 faves.
"If I Had My Wings" is a rambling, organ-led number based on the spiritual "I Got Shoes," and the male lead enthusiastically engages the chorus in call-and-response. This record is this/close to being suitable to play for dancers as well as church folk. As nice as it is, however, the flip, "I Work For God," is an outstanding ballad featuring solid singing by the chorus and a fine vocal by the female lead. I really wish I knew more about this group!
Friday, January 02, 2009
Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces - Reaching Out
My New Year's resolution for 2009 is to bring the activity level of this blog back to what it used to be. I want to "get on down" as much as I can! So Happy New Year to all of you, dear readers, and let's get down to cases!
I've written about the Muscle Shoals combo Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces before, so I'll just note that "Reaching Out" is an appealing tune that shifts between Southern soul balladry on the choruses and a rushed groove in the verses before closing out up-tempo. Although the tempo shifts make the song unfit for dancing, it's a nice number with a nice spirit to it.