Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bo Knows Mardi Gras

Eddie Bo - Hook and Sling

I'm working on the new episode of the "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul!" podcast, so I'm late posting this. Eddie Bo's funk masterpieces are a perfect fit for today's Mardi Gras celebrations, and here is his biggest hit, from 1969. Get on down!

Watch for the new podcast tonight!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Get On Down With The Cos!

Bill Cosby - Hooray For The Salvation Army Band

Most people do not know about Bill Cosby's various forays into music. Larry Grogan's "Funky Funky Bill Cosby" article tells the story best, and I'll defer to that article. I agree with all who write about Cos' singing in saying that it's good that he kept his day job and that his music, generally, should be taken in smaller doses. Despite his vocal limitations, however, his funk and soul recordings of the '60s and '70s feature high-caliber musicians and some very engaging and interesting tunes.

Today's selection was the title track of his second musical album for Warner Brothers. "Hooray" is basically a rip-off of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," but it features solid accompaniment by the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band (whose career Cosby helped get off the ground) - note the sassy reading of "Bringing In The Sheaves" the band lays down in the midst of the song - and Cos attempting to give the humorous lyrics a psyched-out treatment. The Hooray For The Salvation Army Band LP is worth hearing in its entirety, as it does features some funky, funny stuff and the rare groove lovers' favorite, "Ursalena." It is my understanding that this album is about to be reissued on CD. It'll be a worthwhile purchase!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Gospel Soul of Motown

The Golden Harmoneers - I Am Bound

Most R&B independent labels had some sort of gospel catalogue. Although labels such as Atlantic and King did not delve into gospel music as much as others, labels such as Chess and Specialty had very strong catalogues and labels such as Peacock and Nashboro made gospel the specialty of their main labels and relegated R&B to subsidiary labels: by the end of the '50s, Peacock put out most of its R&B on Duke; Nashboro, which was founded in 1950, spun off the blues and R&B label Excello in 1951.

Like most other R&B independents, Motown released some gospel records, but Berry Gordy got out of the gospel business fairly early, as his empire became known for "The Sound of Young America." Today's selection is one of the smattering of great Motown gospel recordings that appears on the massive Hip-O Select reissue series The Complete Motown Singles, and it features a great driving rhythm and the rare bass lead vocal.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sweet Treats

The Sweet Inspirations - (Gotta Find) A Brand New Lover

The Sweet Inspirations, Cissy (mother of Whitney) Houston, Estelle Brown, Sylvia Shemwell and Myrna Smith, were equally as (if not more) well-known for singing backup on hits such as Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" than for their solo recordings. "Sweet Inspiration" would end up being their biggest hit, but my favorite of theirs is today's selection, which was released as a two-part Atlantic single in 1969. This Gamble-Huff composition starts very similarly to many of their other Philly productions, but then settles into a very Southern-styled groove as the group "takes it to church" with the refrain "somebody who's gonna care about me" ... it's good soulful stuff. Although Cissy Houston left the group in 1970, they would go on to record more good music into the '70s, most notably with several recordings for Stax. Their recordings are surely worth checking out.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: The Time Is Now!

Bobby Womack - Love, The Time Is Now

Bobby Womack's late-'60s sides for Minit, although not as well-known as his blockbuster hits of the '70s for United Artists, are very good and show Womack's development as a writer and an artist. "Love, The Time Is Now" is a great ballad, with Womack pleading for the change of heart that is necessary for true social equality to occur. The lyrics show a strong belief that things are on the move but also an impatience: "hurry up change, if you're ever gonna come" takes the uplifting message of his mentor, Sam Cooke, and turned it into a demand. It's a powerful recording, and still very timely.

As I close this series of posts, let me say that indeed the time is NOW for this nation and the world to truly live up to its promise and for all people to be free. Our hearts must be in the right place for it to happen. Let's get our hearts right. The time is now.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Pardon Me, Brother

Curtis Mayfield - We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue

Today and tomorrow will wrap up this series; it's been a lot of fun and I hope you've enjoyed the range of material presented. Today's selection was one of Mayfield's earlier solo recordings, and in it Mayfield challenges the early '70s black audience to keep on pushing: "We people who are darker than blue / will we hang around this town and let what others say come true?"

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Another Opposite View

Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

"You will not be able to stay home, brothers.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised."

With that call to arms, writer/singer Gil Scott-Heron's funky masterpiece "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" leapt from the opposite direction of many soul and funk tunes of its era. Although the bass, drum and flute weave a funky web that leaves one's head nodding, the criticisms of race and pop culture cut sharply and by the time he says "women will not care if Dick finally got down with Jane on 'Search for Tomorrow' because black people will be in the streets looking for a brighter day" the militant message is clear. Along with the works by the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron's recordings of the early '70s provides strong glimpses of the darker themes that would eventually inform hip hop.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: We're Gonna Make It!

Little Milton - We're Gonna Make It

Today's selection inadvertently made its way into the soundtrack of the movement. "We're Gonna Make It" was intended to be a song about love and fidelity in a romantic sense ("I got your love and you know you've got mine"), but the song's message of optimism in the face of adversity struck a chord with the larger struggle that was going on. With a lyric like "togetherness brings peace of mind / we can't stay down all the time," how could it not reach out to the movement?

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Everybody Over There - Get on Up!

James Brown - Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved

Today's oh-so-funky selection was one of three message songs James Brown recorded during the "Afro" period. "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" capitalized on the "get on up" call-and-response from "Sex Machine" (even Bobby Byrd is back to lend support) to challenge its listeners to be part of the solution rather than do nothing but still expect recognition. Lyrics aside, though, this tune storms along and the awesome breakdown mid-song is, in my opinion, the greatest JB breakbeat of all time. Fellas! I wan't y'all to hit me! Fellas! Don't miss me!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Soul (Gospel) of the Movement: The Gospel According to Kay Robinson

Kay Robinson - This Old World

Gospel singer Kay Robinson hooked up with James Brown at the end of the '60s and the resulting album ("We Need Time") and 45s from that era, particularly her incendiary funk reading of "The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow," are highly prized among collectors. Today's selection was one of her Brown-produced recordings. This swinging tune features this thought-provoking lyric: "When He made us all in His own image, why should there be / Those who say they worship and adore Him - still they don't like me?"

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Why?

The Staple Singers - Why (Am I Treated So Bad)

The Staple Singers are back on "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul" with today's selection. By the time the group recorded the Pops Staples-penned classic, the group had just signed to Epic and decided to expand beyond the gospel highway via "message songs," a move that would pay massive dividends in the early '70s with their recordings for Stax. "Why" features a very attractive groove, great lead vocals from Pops and strong group singing on the choruses. The chorus reflects both the sadness that segregation created but also the faith and optimism that change would come.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: The Opposite Side

EDITOR'S NOTE - Today's selection includes adult language. Listener discretion is advised.

The Johnny Otis Show - It's Good to Be Free

An avenue that has so far gone unexplored in this month's series has been that of songs displaying criticism/cynicism/disappointment in the progress of the fight for change. By the end of 1968 the civil rights era was entering its final stages: Martin Luther King was killed in April; riots were erupting in urban America; the election of Richard Nixon (aided in part by the successful Southern campaign of George Wallace) established the political might of the "silent majority"; and the non-violence message in the struggle was being challenged by militants. Not surprisingly, the message of soul music began to change all the same.

Today's selection came from the multi-racial Johnny Otis Show, whose black-in-all-ways-but-skin-color leader had been involved in the R&B business since the 1940s. Otis and his group, featuring black vocalist Delmer Evans, jazz saxophonist Preston Love and Otis' guitar prodigy son, Shuggie, were by this time recording for the Kent label. Two colorful albums, "Cold Shot" and "Snatch and the Poontangs" were released on Kent and today's track, unissued at the time, appeared on the reissue of these two albums by Ace Records. In the blues-based "It's Good to Be Free," Delmer contemplates how despite all of the positive things that had happened for black people, there was still so much left to do.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: What Are You Afraid Of?

Lee Jones - What Is It (That You Are Afraid Of)

Today's selection comes from the Kent CD Kris Records - Los Angeles Showcase of Soul, featuring Mel Alexander's labels. Lee Jones' passionate ballad "What Is It" follows the Staple Singers' "When Will We Be Paid" in discussing the contributions of black Americans to the greatness of the Nation, and poses a question that reflected the contradictions of white prejudice of the time: "What is it that you are afraid of / Though you say I'm an inferior man? / Call me lazy, no-good, among other things, / But you try to stop me on every hand." Think about it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Do You Dig It? Stand Up Then!

Bethea The Maskman - Stand Up (Pt. 1)

Harmon Bethea and his groups (mainly the Cap-Tans and the Agents) recorded a range of gospel, R&B, soul and funk from the late '40s to the late '70s. By the mid-'60s Bethea had started wearing a mask as a gimmick and using the nom de disc "Maskman." Maskman & The Agents, as they were often billed (various record labels show varying spellings of the nickname), recorded a wide range of soul and funk platters during that period, including the comic numbers "One Eye Open" and "My Wife, My Dog, My Cat" and the Northern Soul classic "I Wouldn't Come Back." Today's selection was released in 1970 on B.B.C. and again in 1973 on Vigor with Bethea receiving sole billing (that's Maskman's picture on the B.B.C. label), although the Agents appear on the recording and are even mentioned. "Stand Up" is a call for black self-awareness and pride, exhorting its listeners to use their awareness of self to empower them to keep on pushing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Be Black!

Grady Tate - Be Black Baby

"Black is Beautiful" is still the message for today's post. Tate, the legendary jazz drummer, gives up the funk on this one. "There's black pride everywhere" on this single, one of the more sought-after releases on the small Skye label. Get on down with black pride!

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Black Is Beautiful!

Nickie Lee - And Black Is Beautiful

This is another song for which I don't have a story, but I do know that the song was a minor hit for Nickie Lee when released. The label credits suggest that this was a Miami recording. It's a majestic gospel-styled number, with Lee's recitation framed by girl group chorusing.

NOTE: I recorded this from a 45, but didn't realize that my sound card was incorrectly set. The clicks you here came from when I was using the internet during the recording, which unfortuantely was picked up during the recording. My apologies.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Soul (Gospel) of the Movement: A Prayer for Peace

The Dixie Hummingbirds - Our Prayer for Peace

Before the Blind Boys of Alabama became the premiere veteran gospel group in the public sphere, that honor was held by the Dixie Hummingbirds. Their longevity in the business (over 60 years) and the classic recordings featuring leads James Walker and Ira Tucker brought them much acclaim from the gospel and secular worlds, culminating in their joining Paul Simon on "Loves Me Like a Rock" (which they recorded on their own in 1973, scoring an R&B hit). Today's selection is a live version of their '60s meditation on racial equality.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Keep On Brother!

The Fatback Band Featuring Johnny King - Keep on Brother Keep On

Oftentimes the stronger statements of black pride and the struggle for equality came from the funky side of the soul sprectrum. Today's selection came from the fantastic funk group the Fatback Band (later known as Fatback). Although Fatback was never as popular as many other groups, it was long-lasting and the wide swath of recorded material encompases early funk, disco, club funk and, with "King Tim III," rap. "Keep On Brother Keep On" features the vocals of guitarist Johnny King and a righteous message.

Speaking of funk, anyone in the Atlanta area should come out to Octane for the debut of "Sure Shot," a monthly funk and soul showcase featuring Agent45 and T1. Details can be found here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Northern Soul Black Power!

James Coit - Black Power

I must say up front that I don't know anything at all about this artist or this record. I've heard it on a couple of Northern Soul comps, and find the surging groove and shouted lyrics to be Northern Soul at its best.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: We're a Winner!

The Impressions - We're a Winner

Today's selection is very well-known, so I won't say much here except to say that it was deemed controversial enough at the time of its release that Top 40 radio stations such as Chicago's WLS stayed away from it. It was indeed a very strong message, and remains so today.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: JB's Afro Anthem

Hank Ballard - How You Gonna Get Respect (When You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet)

Around the time that James Brown cut the anthemic "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud" he cut off his famous pompadour and grew an Afro. Although, as "Agent 45" Brian Poust pointed out yesterday, he didn't keep that look very long (especially in comparison with other soul artists), it was a very strong symbolic gesture from Soul Brother Number One to adopt the hairstyle. During his Afro period he penned today's selection, which gave renewed chart activity to his King Records labelmate Hank Ballard, whose career, like Bill Doggett's (see the "Honky Tonk Popcorn" post), had waned significantly since 1956, when JB was a newcomer and Ballard was a hit machine.

It is ironic that JB would not retain the Afro after advocating it so strongly in this song; a further irony is that Ballard was backed on this recording by The Dapps, a white soul group from Cincinnati that JB worked with at the time (the 45 of this song was billed to "Hank Ballard Along With The Dapps"). Ironies aside, it's a good recording, with Ballard turning in a great performance over a reconstruction of the "Licking Stick - Licking Stick" groove.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: What's Under the Natural Do?

John KaSandra - (What's Under) The Natural Do

One of the defining images of black culture in the late '60s and into the '70s was the Afro (aka Natural) hairdo. The message of the Afro was clear: black men and women sporting the meticulously-cared-for Afro (which required the use of products such as Johnson Products' famous "Afro Sheen") projected a "black is beautiful" image in stark contrast to the traditional hair straightening practices of black women and the male process, or "conk." From Jesse Jackson to James Brown to Angela Davis, the Afro was a symbol of strength and purpose. It is safe to say, however, that by the end of the '70s the political connotations of the hairstyle had faded, allowing the Afro to join leisure suits and 8-track tapes as a relic of the '70s.

John KaSandra (real name John Anderson) wrote the Bobby Bland hit "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" and recorded a political soul album, "John W. Anderson Presents KaSandra." By 1969 KaSandra was on Stax Records' Respect label, on which he would release several albums and singles. Today' selection, his first Respect single, cautioned black listeners that it would take more than growing an Afro to have empowerment, a message which resonates strongly even today, particularly in light of today's fashion-and-"bling-bling"-conscious black youth.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: When Will We Be Paid?

The Staple Singers - When Will We Be Paid?

The Staple Singers will appear a few times during this series, as their "message songs" naturally touched on issues of racial equality as well as love and fellowship. "When Will We Be Paid" was one of their earlier Stax releases and, although not a big hit at the time, is very timely, even today.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

(Oops) A Link for the Series

Oops ... somehow I accidentally deleted yesterday's post. Here is the link for the Bernie Hayes track.

Bernie Hayes - Tribute to a Black Woman (Pt. 1)

The Soul (Gospel) of the Movement: A Change Is Gonna Come!

The Meditation Singers - A Change Is Gonna Come

It's not a stretch in any sense to acknowledge gospel as being a part of the soundtrack to the Civil Rigths Movement. From spirituals to gospel, African-American sacred music has always, directly or indirectly, been linked to the story of black deliverance, be it from slavery or from segregation. The fact that many civil rights leaders were tied to the church further advanced this notion.

Today's selection is, of course, the biggest contribution to the civil rights soundtrack made by Sam Cooke, whose death in 1964 was felt across both the gospel and soul music worlds. "A Change Is Gonna Come" stands is stark contrast to Cooke's other famous songs. The gospel imagery and strong message made the song instantly anthemic, and I cannot even begin to count how many artists have recorded it (most recently, Leela James included it on her 2005 debut album).

The Meditation Singers are probably better known among soul fans for giving the world Della Reese and Laura Lee, but on recordings for Specialty, Checker and other labels they provided some great gospel music. Their take on the Cooke classic features switch-off lead vocals (Laura Lee's vocals really stand out in this regard) and is very good.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Sock It to 'Em, Soul Brother!

Bill Moss - Sock It to 'Em Soul Brother

I'll forego the fascinating story of Bill Moss, his '70s soul label, Capsoul, and the amazing Numero reissue of Capsoul material, as there's a great NPR piece (and audio interview) covering it. Moss had a minor hit in 1968 with today's selection, a four-on-the-floor funky 45 in which he name-checks several successful black public figures (try not to laugh when he mentions O.J. Simpson) and encourages his audience to go for the gold in the struggle for equality. Moss means business here, from his "Alright, you soul people, I want you to listen to me!" intro to the fade; don't let the chipper "sock it to 'em, soul brother!" choruses lead you to think otherwise.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: This Is My Country!

The Impressions - This Is My Country

Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions will appear several times during this series, as Mayfield's songs touched more frequently on the issues of civil rights more than any other else's during the period. From "Keep on Pushing" forward, the Impressions and then Mayfield as a solo act asked the most probing questions. "This Is My Country," from 1968, asserts the sacrifices blacks made to build the United States and then poses the still-relevant question: "I know you will give consideration / Shall we perish unjust, or live equal as a nation?"

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Soul of the Movement: Say It Loud!

Today is the first day of Black History Month and to commemorate it I'm going to do a series of posts entitled "The Soul of the Movement." As the Civil Rights Movement moved into the 1960s, a new soundtrack arose among the youth of black America. The despair of the blues was replaced with the beat, energy and optimism of soul. Artists such as Curtis Mayfield and James Brown had the biggest commercial success with their straight-talking assessments of black life, but many others contributed also. The songs served many purposes: some encouraged black people to keep on striving for equality; some celebrated black people and black culture; some praised black public figures; some challenged mainstream America to face the racial problems of the times; some challenged black people to be more involved in the movement; some advocated militant approaches to the struggle; some were a mixture of any of the above. Whatever the message, however, the music was a vital part of the culture, and I hope to present the many facets in this month's posts. I dedicate this series to Coretta Scott King, who passed away yesterday at age 78. May she rest in peace.

James Brown - Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud

Today's selection was recorded at a time when James Brown's moniker "Soul Brother Number One" was most appropriate. By 1968 James Brown was a consistent hit-maker and the most successful soul artist in America. Brown's success was evidenced by his ownership of two radio stations, other business enterprises, and a private jet. Brown, ever cognizant of his humble origins, took great pains to be a role model to black youth, stressing education in songs such as "Don't Be a Dropout" and in many public appearances. Brown's televised Boston concert the night of Martin Luther King's assassination perhaps prevented the city from going up in flames. Brown even cut off his famous process and wore an afro from the next several years.

From the "UNHHH ... witcha' bad self" intro of "Say It Loud" it's clear that Brown meant business with the song. "Say It Loud" was both an anthem of black pride and a message to America that black people were tired of the status quo ("we'd rather die on our feet / than keep living on our knees"). Although much sport is made of the fact that the children shouting "I'm black and I'm proud" were mostly white and Asian, the song struck a major nerve with black listeners, turning the famous call-and-response chorus into a black catchphrase and giving James another R&B #1 hit. The sheer strength of the song made it a pop hit also (#10). Such directness, however, made "Say It Loud" Brown's last top ten pop hit until "Living in America" broke through in the '80s. Presented today is the full-length version of the song, in all of its power and funkiness.