Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Get on Down With Al Green!

Al Green - Beware (extended mix)
Warning - large file! (17 MB)

I had mentioned yesterday that I hoped to have the show online today, but that didn't come to pass due to some other events happening last night. Bear with me; I hope to have it up tonight or tomorrow.

"Beware" was an album track on from Living For You, and is pretty long there (8 minutes or so). Basically, it's a jam session between Al and the Hi Rhythm Section, who as usual provide a churchy yet driving backdrop framed by a cautionary tale in the lyrics. I think it's a great jam and is good to see just how hot the Hi band was at the time. When I listen to it I allow myself to be enveloped by the velvet soul they lay down. This further-extended mix (15 minutes!) of the tune appeared on the 1988 rarities CD Love Ritual. Just put it on and get on down with Al Green. The Stepfather of Soul just isn't ready yet!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Professor, What's Another Word For "Pirate Treasure"?

Willie Henderson - Loose Booty

Willie Henderson was a producer/arranger/conductor for the Chicago soul powerhouse Brunswick/Dakar in the late '60s and early '70s, producing Tyrone Davis' first hits and working on many other songs for other artists. On a few occasions, Henderson and the Brunswick house band recorded funky instrumentals and novelties, hitting the R&B charts initially with 1970's "Funky Chicken." He recorded two albums for Brunswick, "Funky Chicken" (under the name "Willie Henderson and The Soul Explosions") and 1974's "The Dance Master." The latter album had several tasty tracks, including the title track (of which I am not sure if it is the same tune that would be a hit for Henderson on the Playboy label) and today's selection.

Henderson was no great singer, to be sure, but on "Loose Booty" the good-time dance lyrics are met with his enthusiastic singing and some very good chick chorus work. Any deficiencies in the vocals are overcome by the song's great chugging groove. The Beastie Boys made use of the humorous intro, the beginning of which is the subject line of this post.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Chicago Soul Fill-In

I had hoped to get the show up today but didn't get around to it ... so as a late submission here's the great Chicago soul classic "I Can't Please You" by Jimmy Robins. I'll forego my usual write-ups for this, save to say this song is my theme song, especially when me and the Missus have had a quarrel!

Jimmy Robins - I Can't Please You

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sweet Gospel Sunday

Spirit of Memphis Quartet - Lost in Sin

The influence of gospel on soul music is well-documented, but it is always a treasure to me to find songs that so strongly demonstrate the connections between the two. Today's selection features the Spirit of Memphis, whose most famous lead was Wilmer "Little Axe" Broadnax, who in death revealed a dramatic secret: the sweetest-singing gospel male lead was actually a cross-dressing woman! The lead on this recording, however, belongs to Joe Hinton, who later had a major R&B hit with "Funny." "Lost in Sin" features a strong doo-wop sound and some tasty guitar work.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Jimmy Reed's Gone Funky

Jimmy Reed - Over The Hump

Blues legend Jimmy Reed's simple yet infectious boogie rhythm, tooting harmonica and lazy drawl propelled him into immense crossover success with his Vee Jay recordings (1953-1965). After Vee Jay folded, Reed recorded for other labels, including ABC's BluesWay imprint, with significantly diminished success. One reason for Reed's decline was his own alcoholism - even on Reed's hits he sounded pretty drunk - and the other was a pretty poor choice of material, as the latter recordings found the labels experimenting with different styles or production styles (some producers would stack as many as six guitars in the mix).

From all of the post-1965 mess, however, Reed cut several funky blues under the direction of Al Smith. Although Reed's delivery was often sloppy and his harmonica playing somewhat slobbery, the tunes are, at the least, interesting. "Over the Hump" features a groove derived from Sly & The Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" and pretty sharp lyrics.

Friday, November 25, 2005

So Sexy 70s

Sylvia - Pillow Talk

Of all the great sexy hit soul records of the 1970s, probably today's selection and Donna Summers' disco debut "Love to Love You Baby" were the two most orgiastic. Sylvia Robinson (nee Vanderpool) was half of the R&B duet Mickey & Sylvia in the '50s ("Love Is Strange") and by 1973 had spent five years at the helm of All Platinum records, which she owned with her husband Joe. All Plantinum's low-fi East Coast sound brought them hits by the Moments and Linda Jones, and Sylvia herself scored a #1 R&B hit with "Pillow Talk." The song has a nice galloping groove, but the bedroom strings and Sylvia's come-ons and cooing were pretty heavy stuff for 1973!

Sylvia would continue to have hits on All Platinum for herself and others, and would start the '80s as one of the first rap label owners with Sugar Hill Records. A recent Vanity Fair article covered that part of her story and is worth seeking out.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mary Lou Williams - Praise the Lord

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving! Today's post is from Mary Lou Williams, one of the greatest women in jazz history. From her days as the pianist in Andy Kirk's Twelve Clouds of Joy to her later career as a lecturer on jazz, Williams was a groundbreaker and innovator. This stomping piece features a great use of the "Killer Joe"-type groove. Enjoy!

By the way - the playlist for the second show is now complete. In a few days look out for it here!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Funky Funky Pigmeat

Pigmeat Markham & The B.Y. - Who Got The Number

African-American comedian Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham's vaudeville sketches in "chitlin' circuit" venues were legendary among black people by the time Markham shot into the mainstream on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" with his "Here Come The Judge" routine. Chess Records had been putting out albums of his material since the early '60s, but the sudden surge in Markham's popularity pushed the label to take a new approach with him.

A cottage industry of "Judge"-themed soul 45s popped up after the routine became popular. Motown's Shorty Long was first out of the gate with "Here Comes The Judge" in 1968. Chess Records, not one to miss out on a chance for a hit, recorded Pigmeat on a funky 45 of the same name, scoring a hit in the process. Although Larry Grogan's article on the "Judge" 45s rightly describes Markham's delivery as sounding "like a dumptruck rolling down the side of a rock quarry," it worked, and Chess released several 45s featuring Pigmeat delivering lines in a proto-rap style over hot grooves from the Chess house band. All of them are worth hearing, and today's selection, a sketch about a numbers game, is my favorite of them all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TCB, Dave Hamilton Style

Dave Hamilton - The Deacons

In the immense shadow of Motown Records and its large talent pool labored smaller-scale record companies and other artists. As noted at Soulful, at one point there were as many as 400 labels operating in Detroit.

Dave Hamilton, like quite a few other figures in the Detroit soul story, had a connection to the Motown behemoth. Hamilton, a multi-instrumentalist, had been a session guitarist at Motown in its early days, where he also recorded a highly-prized LP for the label's short-lived Workshop Jazz subsidiary. In the mid-to-late '60s and into the '70s Hamilton ran several small labels (Topper, Temple, TCB, Demoristic), writing and producing for O.C. Tolbert, Northern Soul legends Tobi Lark and Little Ann, and others. He also recorded several instrumentals, including the unreleased "Soul Suite" album, which has just been released on the Kent CD "Detroit City Grooves." Today's selection was released as a TCB single in 1970. It's one of my favorite soul instrumentals. Enjoy!

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Challenge Still Exists!

The Staple Singers - The Challenge

The Staple Singers' hit period at Stax began, according to label honcho Al Bell, with Bell's visit to a hospitalized Jesse Jackson. Jackson and Bell had known the Staples family from their gospel days and Bell had signed them to the label in 1968 with little commercial success. Jackson admonished Bell to stop focusing so much on "that bald-headed rascal" (Isaac Hayes, whose mega-hit albums were pouring lots of money into Stax's coffers) and to pay more attention to "Mavis 'n 'em." Bell began producing the Staple Singers himself, started recording them in Muscle Shoals and, from 1970 to 1974 the Staple Singers and their "message music" racked up an impressive string of pop and R&B hits, including two #1 R&B hits, "I'll Take You There" and "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)," the former hitting #1 on the pop charts as well.

The Staples' success during that period unfairly overshadows their 1968 to 1970 Stax recordings. Steve Cropper produced them at the time, and the selection of songs they recorded maintained the "protest song" vein the group had been in since their mid-'60s recordings. The Randy Stewart-composed "The Challenge" finds the group throwing down the gauntlet to a technology-obsessed world: if you are so good at fixing things and healing people, why not heal the hatred? The message still rings true today.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Gospel According to James Carr

James Carr & The Jubilee Hummingbirds - My Soul Is Satisfied

I don't think the name James Carr is unknown to readers of this blog so I won't go into much detail about him. The latest Ace/Kent CD "My Soul Is Satisfied: The Rest of James Carr" features just about everything in their holdings for the legendary deep soul singer, including some gospel recordings he made in the '80s, of which today's selection is one. Carr's wonderful baritone caresses the pretty-standard gospel lyrics on this uptempo number.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Whispers In Philadelphia

The Whispers - A Mother For My Children

The Whispers are probably best known nowadays for their early '80s hits, such as "And The Beat Goes On"; the group, however, started out in 1964 and started their commercial ascent in the mid-1970s, when they plugged into with the burgeoning '70s Philly soul scene on the Janus LP "Bingo" (1974), from which today's selection comes. The Bunny Sigler/Norman Harris/Allen Felder tune kicks off with a great groove not dissimilar to the ones coming out of the Philadelphia International stable at the time (I have learned that Gamble and Huff were involved with the album, so no wonder!), and the lyrics put a twist on the broken home story often told in soul songs: here the male protagonist is stuck with the children when his woman leaves. All in all, though, the sadness of the lyrics are overcome by the chugging groove and the great group singing.

(For more info about the Whispers' work in the early '70s check out the three great posts on Soul Shower.)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sweet Chicago Soul

Walter Jackson - It's an Uphill Climb to the Bottom

I didn't intend to do two posts today, but while having lunch at Jocks & Jills a few moments ago this song came on (I don't know why, but the Jocks & Jills restaurant/sports bar on 10th and Peachtree always has old soul/disco/funk playing when I'm in there having lunch). Unfortunately I was sitting next to a guy who kept wanting to talk college football while the song was playing, so I knew I had to come back to the office and listen to it, and then to post it here.

Walter Jackson fancied himself a pop balladeer rather than an R&B singer, and producer Carl Davis wisely let Jackson, within limitations, indulge that approach. The wonderful result was that Walter Jackson's '60s OKeh sides are lush, sophisticated works with lots of emotion, warmth and soul. The latter of those qualities were best shown in this selection, which was Jackson's biggest hit of the '60s. This ballad of love lost and hope for new love is a continual favorite of mine, and I'm glad I heard it over lunch today.

The Strange World of Southern Soul

Roshell Anderson - Know What You're Doing When You Leave

I first heard of Roshell Anderson on the first volume of "The Heart of Southern Soul" (Ace/AVI), which included both parts of his Excello single "Snake Out of Green Grass." Anderson's highly-idiosyncratic vocals made for a very interesting recording: he at turns sounded like Garland Green or Labi Siffre, going high and then low, with phrasings often against the beat. This style carried over into a pair of minor hits in 1973 on the Sunburst label, "Grapevine Will Lie Sometimes" and today's selection.

I think that most listeners will either really like this tune or dislike it. Anderson's got soul to spare, to be sure, and the lyrics are rock-solid. But his ranging (and occasionally rangy) voice is a shock to the system if you're unfamiliar with it. I don't remember much about him beyond the fact that his name is Mike Anderson, and that under that name he has been a Southern newsman. According to AMG Music guide, he has recorded more recently for Ichiban. Any information is welcomed.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Gene Chandler, Live!

Gene Chandler - Rainbow '65 (Pts. 1 & 2)

One of the elements of gospel music that shaped soul music was the intensity of live performances. The reputation of many gospel groups rested on their ability to "wreck" a church by arousing the emotions of their audiences, especially females. Some of the greatest soul albums find their stars having the same effect on a secular audience. James Brown's famous 1962 album "Live at the Apollo" is one of the best in this regard, and so is Gene Chandler's 1965 album for Constellation, "Live at the Regal."

"Rainbow '65," the live version of his 1963 hit by the same name, was the breakout hit from the album. The intense, Curtis Mayfield-penned ballad is taken to a new level here, as Chandler overcomes the somewhat out-of-tune band to spin a seductive web to capture the screaming girls. Chandler repeats words and phrases, holds falsetto notes, shifts dynamics, and worries every note of song's lyrics to create just under six minutes of pure soul energy.

Arthur Kempner, in his book "Boogaloo," compares this one performance to the live version of "Bring It On Home To Me" from Sam Cooke's "Live at Harlem Square" album and determines Chandler to out-soul Cooke by a wide margin. He does concede that Chandler probably had a home-town advantage at the Regal Theater(unfortunately, on this MP3 there's a skip in the intro by WVON disc jockey Pervis Spann which points out that Chandler was a local boy made good), but I think Kempner's comparison is accurate. Cooke's album is very good, but Sam was not a "house wrecker," whether as a member of the Soul Stirrers or as a solo act. When you listen to "Rainbow '65," however, you can imagine Chandler being down on one knee, tie pulled down, sweating - just being totally soulful.

Chandler is unfortunately only known to most people for "Duke of Earl," but his entire '60s output for Vee Jay, Constellation, Checker and Brunswick presents the work of a Chicago soul master, with "Rainbow '65" leading the way.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

JT's Fabulous Flip

Johnnie Taylor - Love Depression

One of the great things about 45s is the fun of trying out the flip side. It's a gamble at times, because sometimes the flip isn't very good but then again it may be great (the history of rock and R&B contains many stories of supposed B-sides that ended up being the hit; "The Horse" and "Can I Change My Mind" come to mind right away). When I was a kid, my mother played two records' flip sides and it wasn't until older that I learned that the other side was the hit. The first was "The Country Walk" by The Village Soul Choir (see my post below; "The Cat Walk" was the hit side). Today's selection was the other. The driving "Love Depression" was the flip of Johnnie Taylor's #1 R&B hit "I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)." It wasn't until I was in college that I even *heard* "I Believe In You" (which is probably my overall favorite JT song), and I heard on a CD!

"Love Depression" was a non-LP B-side, as it did not appear on the 1973 album "Taylored in Silk," which included the A-side. The song has since been included on the CD reissue of "Super Taylor." The song is more "down-home" than many of Taylor's Stax sides of the time, featuring an attractive guitar hook and a righteous message that is still applicable today. Cheers for the B-side!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Southern Soul Tuesday

Kip Anderson - Letter From My Darling

I meant to play something appropriate for Veterans Day but, in the euphoria that was "Friday Fiesta" I overlooked it. Hopefully today's selection will remedy that.

Kip Anderson's intense vocals graced a number of 45s for Vee Jay, Tomorrow, Checker, ABC and Excello. Among soul collectors all of his releases are prized, with "I Went Off and Cried" (Excello) being the best-recognized (the song's ad-libbed line "say it one more time for the brokenhearted" was used as the title of Barney Hoskyn's excellent book on Southern Soul). That song, as well as today's selection and several others, are showcased in Volumes 1 and 2 of the Ace/AVI "The Heart of Southern Soul" series (all three cover the Southern Soul end of the Excello/A-Bet catalogue and are worth purchasing; I think all of them are out of print, but at Dusty Groove America sometimes Vol. 1 or 2 is on sale).

"Letter From My Darling" is one of those songs that grabs the listener right away with it's strong gospel feel. Kip adds to the atmosphere with his piano playing and monologue. The song proper builds up nicely and by the end, Kip's strong vocal and the horns leave you feeling pretty drained.

For more information about this rare Southern Soul legend, click here for a great story on Kip and also make sure to check out Kip's website for information about more recent projects.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Don't You Feel Wealthy Already?

Frank Wilson - Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)

This weekend I skimmed through the exhaustive Northern Soul documentary, "The Strange World of Northern Soul." I have enjoyed (but have also been amazed and baffled) by Northern Soul for several years now, and the documentary paints a great picture of the scene and its mix of soul fandom, record collector elitism, and class identity. My favorite portions of the documentary come when '60s soul artists speak about how surprised they were to find that records of theirs which were commercial failures at the time of their release are prized possessions in the NS scene and how, although their own brushes with fame were very short, in England they are revered.

Today's selection, were it not for the fact that most Northern Soul is now available on CD from Ace/Kent Records, Goldmine Records, or other import labels, would be almost impossible to own. Frank Wilson had a great career as a songwriter and producer for Motown. "Do I Love You" was to be his first single as an artist for the label but Berry Gordy talked him into focusing on songwriting rather than performing. As a result, the release was withdrawn and promo copies of the record were destroyed, save for a couple of copies. One such copy has been sold for 15,000 pounds (around $23,000 at the current exchange rate)! It's a great tune, though, and were I rich enough I'd say it was worth every penny.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


The Kindly Shepherds - Lend Me a Hand

Chess Records, like most other R&B independents of its time, had a gospel catalogue. The majority of gospel releases came out on Checker, although Rev. C. L. Franklin's sermons had their own series on Chess itself. The mid-'60s Checker gospel releases often featured what Chess A&R man Ralph Bass referred to as a "gos-pop" sound. The Chess studio band was in full-swing by this time, and on many records they played and provided very soulful backing to groups such as The Meditation Singers (from where Laura Lee made her debut), The Soul Stirrers and others. One great LP from that era was "Sunday Gospel Open House" (Checker), a compilation of tracks from various gospel artists. Today's selection is taken from that album and is exemplary of the "gos-pop" approach, as the Kindly Shepherds spread their message over a driving Northern Soul groove.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Southern Soul of Aware

John Edwards - Careful Man

John Edwards' greatest fame came as the long-time lead singer of The Spinners following the departure of Phillippe Wynne (Edwards' vocals graced the group's last mega-hit, "Working My Way Back To You / Forgive Me Girl"). Prior to that time, however, Edwards' country funk vocals graced some excellent recordings on labels such as Weis and the notorious Atlanta label, Aware Records (I'll defer to Brian Poust's excellent "Georgia Soul" blog to discuss the very interesting story of Aware and its owner, Michael Thevis).

Today's track was his biggest solo hit and is, strangely enough, least indicative of his vocal talents. "Careful Man" is mainly a monologue about fidelity and jealousy. The song was written by Jimmy Lewis, whose metier was straight-talking songs about relationships (at this time, Lewis was working for Michael Thevis as a writer and an artist (on Thevis' Hotlanta label); in a later post I'll discuss his outstanding work from that period). Edwards acquits himself well with the song, though, getting the band involved toward the end for some gold old-fashioned dozens playing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday Fiesta!

I am so excited at how well this blog and the show have been received! Thank you all for checking this little exercise out and for making me excited about blogging and podcasting! iTunes has not put up the show yet, but hopefully they will soon.

To celebrate this week's great debut I will try to post several tunes!

Post #1:
Jimmy Holiday - I've Been Done Wrong

Jimmy Holiday (like Jimmy Lewis and Jimmy McCracklin) made his mark more as a songwriter than as a performer, co-writing Jackie DeShannon's hit "Put a Little Love In Your Heart" and penning songs for Ray Charles and others. His trembling, sometimes hesitant delivery earned him hits with "How Can I Forget" and "Baby I Love You" (later a hit for Little Milton). Although he was best in ballads such as "Baby I Love You," "The Turning Point" and "Everybody Needs Help," he could lay down some good Northern Soul tracks like "The New Breed," "I'm Gonna Live While I Can" and today's selection, "I've Been Done Wrong." I love how the sadness of Holiday's words and vocals are off-set by the stomping beat ("That Beatin' Rhythm," as one Northern Soul classic called it) and some of the hardest brass charts I've heard on any Northern Soul recording. Enjoy! I'll post another track later.

Post #2:
The Famous Flames
Nobody Knows But My Baby And Me b/w Who Am I

Generally, the name "The Famous Flames" is always preceded by "James Brown and"; to my knowledge they only released this one single on King in 1970 (James Brown produced a later 45 by "The Flames"; are they the same group?), although individual recordings by the group's members came out in the '60s and early '70s, with Famous Flames founder Bobby Byrd having the most (and the only hits).

Both sides of the sole King 45, both of them ballads, are presented here. Truthfully, I'm not sure who's the lead singer on these songs (I've heard the name Johnny Terry bandied about for at least one side; and if Bobby Byrd was still with the group at the time - which I doubt - the lead vocals are clearly not his). "Nobody Knows" is, admittedly, a pastiche of soul cliches built around the songs "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen" and "People Get Ready." Although the song, accordingly, has no real focus, the gospel-filled intensity of the performance is breathtaking, and when the lead singer takes a moaning chorus, the soul comes shining through. "Who Am I" is a considerably better song and, although the group is reduced to "oohs" and "aahs" in the bridge, the lead singer evokes the spirit of Sam Cooke to great effect.

One more posting will follow.

Post #3:
The Falcons & Band - I Found a Love

This song is not rare at all, so I'll keep the details very short. What do you need to know besides the fact that the Falcons at this time included Sir Mack Rice and Eddie Floyd, and that the powerful lead vocal comes from Wilson Pickett? And that the "Band" is the Ohio Untouchables, lead by the superb guitarist Robert Ward, which eventually became the Ohio Players? Not much, I think! There's soul to spare on this one!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sweet Surrender

Ollie Nightingale - Sweet Surrender

Ollie Nightingale's intense, crying tenor among my favorite male soul voices. Ollie Hoskins started out as the lead singer of the gospel group the Dixie Nightingales, whose recordings for Nashboro and then the short-lived Stax gospel subsidiary Chalice are very good (the Chalice material is available on the Specialty CD "Free at Last" or on the UK Stax (Ace-distributed) "Disturb My Soul"). By 1968 the group had decided to try their hand at soul music. The re-christened Ollie & The Nightingales hit their first time out with "I Got A Sure Thing." The group recorded an eponymous LP, but further success was not forthcoming. Hoskins decided to leave the group in 1970, taking on the name "Ollie Nightingale." (The Nightingales stuck together for another two years, with Tommy Tate bringing a huskier, although equally intense, lead to the last couple of Stax 45s; after the group broke up, two members joined the Ovations.)

(Editor's Note - I plan to post Dixie Nightingales / Ollie & The Nightingales / The Nightingales material in future posts.)

"Sweet Surrender" was the title track of Ollie's album for Pride Records (from 1972, I think). The entire album is extremely good, and it's unfortunate that it was not commercially successful. "Surrender" features a gorgeous melody and use of strings, and Ollie's voice is captivating.

Nightingale never hit the "big time," although he released sporadic albums into the 1990s (where soul blues tunes like "I'll Drink Your Bath Water" finally gave him a little publicity). If I recall correctly, Nightingale passed away in 1998.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

RSS for the Podcast

At this time I don't know if iTunes has accepted the podcast premiere of "Get on Down With The Stepfather of Soul!" I was waiting to post the RSS link because I'm not sure if I wrote it correctly (iTunes' posting the podcast would confirm it works); I'll post it here, though, for any of you who use other podcast systems to try. Let me know if it doesn't work.

A Sentimental Favorite

The Village Soul Choir:
The Cat Walk b/w The Country Walk

I am always very interested in how those of us rare soul fans who did not actually grow up contemporaneously with the music we admire came into enjoying the music. I came into old soul music generally througy my mother, who had quite a few 45s that she would play for us on our old stereo when she wasn't listening to the contemporary Top 40 and country stations. I was immediately entranced by those little vinyl platters: admiring the artwork (i.e., the seated figure on Invictus 45s or the "snapping fingers" Stax logo), reading all of the info on the records, and just watching them spin around and around as the great sounds came from the stereo speakers. Through my mother's 45s I heard my first blues music (Slim Harpo's "Baby Scratch My Back" b/w "I'm Gonna Miss You (Like the Devil)," which I must post sometime in the near future), my first James Brown ("Hot Pants") and today's two-fer, which was probably my first taste of funk.

The Village Soul Choir was organized and produced by Sir Charles Matthews. I haven't found much info on them but I gather that the group had revolving personnel and recorded between 1969 and the early 70s, releasing one album ("Soul Sesame Street," which has just been reissued; the group's take on "Rubber Duckie" and other tunes inspired by the children's show are very interesting) and a slew of singles, mainly for Abbott Records. The slinky, sinewy and somewhat sinister "Cat Walk" was the group's only hit record and was included on "Soul Sesame Street" album. As a child, though, I preferred the more up-tempo "Country Walk" on the flip side, with its rambling groove and its story of a country boy whose experiences up North are terrible enough to lead him back to the rural life. So, in 1983, my nine-year-old self, backed up by my seven-year-old brother, would sing the song on the bus all the time (of course, not really knowing all of the words) when most of the other kids were digging "Thriller" (to be fair, we liked "Thriller" too, and would sing it also - my brother would do the Michael Jackson stuff and I would do Vincent Price's rap)!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Groovin' With The Soulful Strings

The Soulful Strings - I Wish It Would Rain

One of my rules of record collecting is that if the record bears the Chess/Checker/Argo/Cadet/Cadet Concept label, it may be worth checking out. I became acquainted with the Cadet albums by The Soulful Strings by following the above rule.

The Soulful Strings was the brainchild of Chess Records arranger and producer Richard Evans (see Larry Grogan's excellent article on Evans; while you are at it, check out the whole Funky 16 Corners website and then check out its corresponding blog). Although on paper The Soulful Strings sounds like a kitschy project, Evans did a great job using strings in conjunction with the Chess rhythm section (anchored on many recordings by Phil Upchurch on guitar and Lenny Druss on flute) to create albums that were a pleasant mix of AOR, jazz, soul and, on occasion, funk.

Today's selection comes from their "live" album "In Concert." Evans' arrangement of "I Wish It Would Rain" is nothing short of exquisite. Starting out with a steady throbbing bassline, handclaps and percussion follow and then Upchurch's funky guitar work increases the tension until the strings come in to start the song proper. The melody is carried by Upchurch, Druss and a vibraphonist whose name I can't recall since I don't have the album in front of me. It's a cooker and my second-favorite Soulful Strings piece (my favorite is the jazzy, bluesy "The Stepper" from the "Another Exposure" album, which I'll mention in a later post).

Monday, November 07, 2005

Willie Hightower and the (Rick) Hall of FAME

Willie Hightower - Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Some time ago I got to see a 1970 Swedish(?) documentary about the legendary FAME studio. It's a great slice-of-life film, in which Rick Hall and several members of the Fame Gang (the incarnation of which recorded the "Solid Gold From Muscle Shoals" album) are interviewed.

This cover of Joe South's classic song was being recorded at the time the documentary was made, and therefore the documentary is a priceless peek at how the classic soul records were made. It's clear that Rick Hall's production style was very hands-on. In one scene that I really like Hall is talking to the horn section about what he's looking for from them. He starts off by calling the song a "heavy" piece and then saying that the horns should stay away from high notes ("because people will think it's a dance record," he said). Harrison Calloway and the rest of the horn players cooked up a nice, baritone sax and trombone-bent chart that I think is one of my favorites. (I love old soul records in part because of the great horn charts they often had.)

The documentary is great fun and this song is a great addition to the list of great soul covers of rock songs(unfortunately, despite Hall's stated intention in the film, it did not overtake South's original, instead settling as a Top 30 R&B hit).

One more note about the documentary. There's a scene where producer Sonny Limbo talked about a forthcoming Bobbie Gentry session that Hall was to produce. He hoped to pitch Etta James' classic "I'd Rather Go Blind" (which was recorded at Fame) but, knowing that Gentry was more pop-oriented, he recorded a more poppier version. The documentary shows a small portion of the run-through of the demo. At the time the lead vocal and accompaniment had been recorded (strangely enough, the trumpet line that appears on the recording is extremely similar to the horn chart used in "Walk a Mile"); we are treated to seeing the background vocals overdubbed. To my knowledge, Gentry did not record the song, so that little piece of demo is my personal Holy Grail.

Episode #1 Is Almost a Podcast!

The companion to this blog is the podcast of the same name. I have recorded and uploaded Episode #1. Now I'm going to write the RSS feed and submit it to iTunes and hopefully it will be distributed widely! It's 55 minutes of soul, with the following playlist:

1. The Emanons, "Look In The Want Ads" (opening)
2. Betty Harris, "Mean Man"
3. Jackie Moore, "Here I Am"
4. Carla Thomas, Coca-Cola Ad
5. King Coleman, "The Boo Boo Song (pt. 1)"
6. Big Maybelle, "96 Tears"
7. Howlin' Wolf, "Pop It To Me"
8. Tyrone Davis, "I'm Running a Losing Race"
9. Harold Burrage, "Things Ain't What They Used To Be"
10. Little Milton, Coca-Cola Ad
11. Joe Perkins, "I'm Not Gonna Leave"
12. Koko Taylor, "Good Advice"
13. The Olympics, "Baby Do The Philly Dog"
14. The Marvellos, "Why Do You Want To Hurt The One That Loves You"
15. Carla Thomas, "Separation"
16. Jerry Butler, "Lost"
17. Jimmy Hughes, "Lock Me Up"
18. LaVern Baker, "Wrapped, Tied and Tangled"
19. Les Cooper & The Soul Rockers, "Do The Boston Monkey"
20. Senator Jones, "Let Yourself Go"
21. Stanley Winston, "No More Ghettos in America"
22. The Lafayette Leake Trio, "After Hours" (closing theme)

For those of you who may not use iTunes or other podcast subscribers I have provided a link to the show's MP3 file. Warning - it's a big file (about 73 MB). Once I have the RSS feed prepared I will give you the link for it. Enjoy!

"Get On Down With The Stepfather Of Soul" Episode #1 (This file will be available for 90 days.)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

OK, Finally Here's the First Post (I Hope)!

Here's some soul to test this bad boy out ...

Lovin' Machine - Rodge Martin

I first heard of Rodge Martin through videos from the 1966 soul TV show "The Beat." His performance of this song on one episode remains my favorite moment from the entire run of the series (which are available in DVD format from Bear Family Records). As energetic as the record "Lovin' Machine" is, Rodge's live rendition of the tune is almost a definition of '60s soul all in itself. Rodge is in a black suit with the tie pulled down, bouncing like a rubber ball while tearing through the lyrics. At one point he does a dance he calls the "Rodge Martin strut" and, as the show's house band tears into the ad-lib portion of the tune Rodge lets out some screams that sound halfway between Bobby Bland's squall and a turkey gobble (lol). According to the liner notes for the DVD of the "The Beat", Rodge died of a heart attack in 1967 or '68 (I don't have the notes handy); it's too bad he didn't get the chance to break out of the minor leagues because he surely had soul to spare.