Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tell Us How Long!

The Angels of Joy - Mr. President

I don't know much about today's selection other than its appearance on the Kent CD Slow and Moody, Black and Bluesy ... it's a great piece of gospel soul whose message is as timely today as it was when recorded. At a time when we are mired in an awful war, rising fuel costs and so much uncertainty, "so many minds are troubled" is the truth, not just a lyric.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Get on Board the Soul Train!

The Soul Train Gang - Soul Train Theme

In 1975, Don Cornelius decided to use his clout from his hit "Soul Train" show to get into the record business. Cornelius and partner Dick Griffey started the Soul Train label and formed the Soul Train Gang vocal group as their first act. (The name "Soul Train Gang" originally applied to the dancers on the show; they were renamed the "Soul Train Dancers.") Although "Soul Train '75" (which replaced "TSOP" as show's theme song) and some other songs made a little noise upon release, neither the group nor the label (which had also signed the Whispers and released one LP on Shalimar, a group formed around some "Soul Train" dancers) really took off, and by the end of the '70s Don Cornelius abandoned the venture. Dick Griffey renamed the label Solar (Sound of Los Angeles Records) and that label became an '80s hit machine, hitting big with Shalimar and the Whispers (maybe Don should've stayed around longer?), Lakeside and others.

Today's selection was the 1976 successor to "Soul Train '75" as the show's theme song. The mostly-instrumental track is a Philly disco romp featuring a solid rhythm, strong horn charts, and good ensemble singing by the group. It's one of my favorite non-"TSOP" theme songs to the show (along with "Hot Potato," the original theme). Get on, get on, get on, get on board!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Not-So-Super Taylor

Johnnie Taylor - Don't You Fool With My Soul (Pt. 1)

In Rob Bowman's liner notes to The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles, Vol. 3: 1972-1975, he discusses how Johnnie Taylor had started to chafe at producer Don Davis' production style. Davis, a veteran of Detroit labels such as Thelma, Revilot and Groovesville, had been brought to Stax by Al Bell to give the label a more northern feel. Davis was an adherent to the Motown assembly-line method of production: he would pre-record tracks and then have the vocalist work within the parameters of said tracks. This method did not make Davis a popular person among many Stax artists, especially the "old guard" artists from the earlier days of the label, when sessions were done with "head" arrangements and recorded live on the studio floor. Although Taylor was not from the "old guard," per se, and although Davis' style had racked up an amazing string of hits for the soul legend, Taylor wanted to do things his way.

I won't say that "Don't You Fool With My Soul," which was penned by Taylor and Sam Cooke associate J.W. Alexander and produced by Taylor, is a horrible recording, but it is definately a mark below anything Taylor had recorded for Stax, whether produced by Don Davis or anyone else on the Stax staff. The groove is attractive, but Taylor's lyrics and vocals are very unfocused. I think Taylor was trying to go for a James Brown type of thing, but only JB could really pull off a meandering, chanted vocal. When the single, unsurprisingly, was a total flop (it was his first single since 1968's "Who's Making Love" to not make the charts), Taylor returned to Davis, who gave Taylor a #1 R&B hit with the very next single, "I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)."

I'm putting the song here today, though, because despite its failings, it's a nice piece of funky soul and sometimes the lesser recordings are worth checking out. Were it a recording by someone else, it might be considered to be a decent, if not spectacular, recording. Considering that it is a Johnnie Taylor record, though, it serves as an object lesson of what happens when a star doesn't stick with a proven winning formula. One last point: in fairness to Don Davis, it must be noted that Johnnie Taylor often was wary of various projects sent his way: he called "Who's Making Love" a "boogedy boogedy" song and only recorded it after Davis threatened to let Sam & Dave record it instead (now *that* would have been an awesome thing!), and he really didn't like the way "Disco Lady" sounded and thought that the first single from the Eargasm album should've been something else!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Little Richard Is a Soul Man!

Little Richard - Try Some of Mine

Little Richard will forever be known as one of the figures present at the birth of rock and roll (even if they don't consider him the "creator, the originator," as he prefers to say) with his electrifying classics such as "Tutti Frutti," "Slippin' and Slidin'" and others. At the peak of his '50s fame, however, Richard got religion and walked away from his career for a few years, save for gospel recordings, some of which retained his rock and roll stylings (the Mercury recording "He Got What He Wanted (But He Lost What He Had)" comes to mind). Within a few years, however, Richard was back in the saddle, hitting with "Bama Lama Bama Loo" for his old label, Specialty, but by that time label owner Art Rupe was ready to get out of the record business.

For the rest of the '60s Richard had a nomadic recording career, revisiting his '50s sides but also taking on another angle: Little Richard as soul singer. The Don Covay-penned "I Don't Know What You Got (But It's Got Me)" was a Southern Soul ballad that hit big in the waning days of the Vee Jay label, and Richard waxed the Northern Soul classics "I Don't Want to Discuss It," "Poor Dog (Can't Wag His Own Tail)" and "A Little Bit of Something" for OKeh. Recordings for Modern, Kent and Brunswick further demonstrate his ability to handle soul material. Today's selection was a Brunswick release and finds Richard working it out over a great groove launched by a good, churchy guitar intro.

By the 1970s, the rock and roll revival movement cemented Richard as a public figure for all time, with his swamp soul-rock album The Rill Thing (Reprise) leading the way. Although Richard would abandon show biz a few more times in the name of God and would later stop cutting contemporary material (although he had a surprise hit in 1986 with the retro "Great Gosh A'Mighty" from the soundtrack of Down and Out in Beverly Hills, in which he appeared), 2006 finds Little Richard still doing oldies shows and bringing his flamboyant personality to the public. It's unfortunate, though, that his great soul sides of the '60s and early '70s aren't as well-known, because they present a great facet to the amazing talent that is Little Richard.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Mr. Big Stuff," Revisited

Lyn Collins - Mr. Big Stuff

One of these days I'm going to do a post or a mini-podcast of some sort about Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff" and the rash of covers and answer records the 1971 smash engendered, ranging from male retorts ("I'm Mr. Big Stuff" by Jimmy Hicks and the then-unissued "Sister Hot Pants" by Freddie Robinson) to further female sass ("I'm Too Tough (For Mr. Big Stuff)" by Vicki Anderson). But in advance of that, here's today's selection.

This version of "Mr. Big Stuff" comes from the late Lyn Collins, then the featured femme vocalist in the James Brown Revue. Collins worked with Brown from 1971 to around 1976 and hit big with the sampler favorite "Think (About It)," which provided the foundation for the hip-hop classic "It Takes Two" by Rob Base and D.J. E-Z Rock. Although Collins stated in interviews that she would've preferred to do more singing and less shouting on her People recordings for JB (since most of her songs followed the JB formula), she could give up the funk as well as anyone else on the scene at the time. "Mr. Big Stuff" was one of her later People recordings, from either 1975 or 1976. Over a much lighter and faster groove than the original Collins adroitly handles the classic lyrics, but then, where the original would be heading into the fade, the band shifts gears and puts down a totally different groove, over which Lyn brings her diva fire to great ad-libs ("if you want to keep me, you gotta hustle ... if you want to keep me, you gotta get a job") to take it all home.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Funky Coasters!

The Coasters - Soul Pad

The Coasters, with songs and production support from the legendary songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller, are known to anyone who knows anything about music or the 1950s due to their comic gems "Charlie Brown," "Yakkety Yak," "Along Came Jones" and so many others. Although their glory years were behind them by the time the group recorded today's selection, the alchemy between the group and Leiber and Stoller was still there. "Soul Pad" was released as a Date single in 1967 and reissued as a King single in 1972 (during the short period that Leiber and Stoller owned the label). "Soul Pad" adds a touch of '60s funk to the sly comedy and vocal style that was the foundation of the Coasters' classic Atco recordings. There aren't many places where "jazz and funk" and "Thelonius Monk" are thrown together for a rhyme, but, unsurprisingly, it's here. It should be noted that the Date single is a double-sided treasure, because its flip is the excellent funk reading of "Down Home Girl," in which Leiber and Stoller's new lyrics (the song had formerly been recorded by New Orleans legend Alvin Robinson) bring even more comedy. ("Down Home Girl" was also reissued, but as a separate single.) It's even funkier than "Soul Pad"; I'll have to post it another time.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ain't Gonna Bump With Joe Tex

Joe Tex - Leaving You Dinner

After Joe Tex struck paydirt in 1972 with "I Gotcha," he abruptly shifted gears and took a break from showbiz to travel across the country as a minister for the Nation of Islam. (For some reason, Joe Tex as a preacher isn't a very surprising thing, considering his sermonettes that graced so many of his hits.) Within a few years, however, Tex was back in the studio and he found himself enjoying a disco hit in 1977 with "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)," one of several "anti-disco" disco songs Tex would record between 1977 and 1980. Although "Bump" was a good record (certainly better than attempts many other older soul artists - such as Tex's rival James Brown - made at disco records), the entire Bumps and Bruises LP doesn't stay in a disco rut, featuring instead rollicking tunes like "We Held On," the humorous "I Mess Up Everything I Get My Hands On" and today's selection, a nice Southern ballad with an interesting lyric. At a time when disco ruled the airwaves and "Soul Train" (on which Tex appeared, actually bumping with a "big fat woman"), "Leaving You Dinner" had zero chance of single release, but it's one of my favorite later-'70s Joe Tex songs.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The HSE That Hoyt Built

The Dailey Singers - Come This Far By Faith

As promised earlier, today's post is about the HSE gospel record label. HSE, based in South Carolina at one point and then Nashville at another, stood for "Hoyt Sullivan Enterprises"; the namesake thereof ran a Southern beauty products concern in addition to this primarily-gospel record label. (In my aircheck collection I have a tape of WLAC's John R doing an advertisement for a "scalp conditioner" that Sullivan manufactured.) The HSE label was decidedly a mark below the majors of the time such as Peacock, Savoy, Nashboro, recording for the most part small-time gospel groups such as Nashville's Bethlehem Gospel Singers (whose "My Bible Is Right" LP was the first gospel album I ever heard) and the Gerald Sisters and groups whose glory years had faded (both the CBS Trumpeteers nad the Soul Stirrers ended up on HSE in the later '70s). The only group whose career blossomed from HSE, to my knowledge, is Willie Banks and The Messengers, whose gospel career goes on strong today. HSE gospel recordings are highly-prized by record collectors for their DYI feel and often brilliant (if technically sloppy) recordings. Today's selection, for example, is full of Holy Ghost fire, but also occasionally off-kilter accompaniment and a lead singer whose frothy testifying threatens to run the tune off the rails. There's truly no "show or fashion" going on here; just hard female gospel singing.

Unfortunately there's not a lot of info online about the HSE label. Kevin Nutt often plays HSE material on his "Sinner's Crossroads" radio show (see link on the right), but in my correspondence with him he didn't have a lot of additional info. If anyone knows anything about Hoyt Sullivan or his label I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, I'll keep looking for those green-and-black 45s and LPs!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

He Who Hesitates Is Singing a Jimmy Holiday Song

Jimmy Holiday - Everybody Needs Somebody

Soul singer-songwriter Jimmy Holiday was featured in one of the very first posts on this blog. Today's selection is yet another one of his excellent ballads, featuring his hesitant, emotion-laden vocals. Something about his voice always gets to me.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Johnson 3+1 - Testify

Occasionally I hear songs that leave me scratching my head and stating "it's a wonder they didn't get sued" because the songs are nothing but reworking of other tunes. These songs, naturally, fall short of being cover versions because they have new titles and claim different songwriting credits and are just different enough to not be the real thing. Several songs immediately come to mind: "Ruby Dean" by Bobby Womack (later recorded by Joe Hicks), which took on the Kenny Rogers song "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town"; "I Could Never Be Happy" by The Emotions, which liberally borrowed from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," as done by Diana Ross; "The Ballad of Mr. Pitiful" by Charlie Whitehead, which does an awesome job working around the Otis Redding classic; and today's selection, which took Archie Bell & The Drells' 1968 mega-hit "Tighten Up," added some crowd noise and new lyrics and got busy.

This MP3 came from Barry "Soul Brother" Fowden, who also has a great page about the Venture label, on which the song was recorded. (Barry, if you want me to remove this file please let me know. It's just too hot of a groove for me to sit on!) While you're reading the article, check out his entire Soul Cellar website, which has lots of good material about many artists (especially Phillip Mitchell) and is the home of his awesome radio show, which he does more frequently (and better) than I do!

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Bobby "Blue" Bland - Little Boy Blue

When I lived in Chicago I would spend many late Saturday nights tuned to WVON to hear "The All-Night Blues Man" himself, Pervis Spann, play blues and soul-blues as if it were still 1965, with Spann talking over records and taking phone calls. Almost all of the callers were older black people, some sounding either sleep-deprived or intoxicated, and all asking for some Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis or, as they would say invariably as one word, "Bobbybluebland."

It is this pool of older black people that have kept Bobby Bland going on steadily into his sixth decade as a performer. Although in his heyday Bland was second only to B.B. King as a blues star and R&B hitmaker, strangely he was never able to capture the white audience the way B.B. did. I think there are several reasons for this, but three immediately come to mind: (1) Bland was strictly a vocalist, so the blues-rock crowd, attuned almost totally to blues guitarists, ignored him; (2) his "blues" had more than a small dollop of R&B and soul in them - so much so that a British critic considered his landmark LP Two Steps From the Blues to be "a million steps" instead; and (3) Bland projected a "grown folk" approach in his vocal style and song choices that didn't translate well to "the kids," who were instead digging the Motown sound.

Despite the lack of crossover success, however, Bland was "The MAN" in the "chitlin' circuit," where he was known for both his sweet-and-rough vocal stylings (on one hand he could project vulnerability in tender moments but then he would cut loose with a gargling shout that was known as "the squall," which Bland borrowed from C.L. Franklin's sermons) and his top-notch stage presentation (his band, led by trumpeter and arranger Joe Scott, was one of the best on the "chitlin' circuit," and Bland himself was known for his sharp wardrobe and such lady-killer antics as spreading a white hankie on the stage floor before kneeling down on it to belt out a song - he couldn't get his suit dirty, you see). Even today, he remains a major draw among black audiences, although his audience has aged along with him. I saw Bobby at the Chicago Blues Festival in the late 1990s and more black people were present than usual at the Festival to see him. Bland had them in the palm of his hand and the ladies still hollered when he did "the squall" (although "the squall" has, in later years, is so phlegmy it sounds like he's clearing his throat).

"Little Boy Blue" was released on Duke in 1958 and, despite that early vintage, has a very strong soul sound. Bland adroitly sells the story of a remorseful lover and "takes it to church" in the very strong finale. It's an awesome song, and it's one of my favorite Bland tunes.

(By the way, the name of this blog and my podcast is actually inspired by the title of one of Bland's 1970s LPs for ABC, Get on Down With Bobby Bland. With that in mind, I plan to post more Bobby Bland stuff soon!)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Stax's Detroit Soul

Barbara Lewis - Just the Way You Are Today

Barbara Lewis is best known for her teenage soul classics "Hello Stranger" and "Baby I'm Yours," to name two. After Lewis' association with Atlantic Records ended she and long-time producer Ollie MacLaughlin hooked up with Stax Records to release her only LP for the Enterprise label, The Many Grooves of Barbara Lewis. Today's selection was the first of two singles pulled from the LP. Despite it being a great song with great vocals by Lewis and a sterling arrangement, both the single and, subsequently, the album failed to sell and Lewis decided to retire from professional singing. I read somewhere that she's considering making a comeback. Let's hope she does!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Whole Lot of Soul!

I am going to be going to Chicago tomorrow for the Easter weekend and will not be back until Wednesday, so here is a ZIP file of material that I will keep on my main server (so no expiring links) until I get back, a little "easter basket," if you will, from your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul. Now for the details:

1. The Gerald Sisters, "At the Gate I Know" - I had planned to post Madame Edna Gallmon Cooke's "The Hammer Rings," a haunting song about the Crucifixion, to commemorate Good Friday, but unfortunately I accidentally deleted the file from my Online File Folder page (d'oh!) ... in its stead I present this cover of Cooke's "At the Gate," as sung by the Gerald Sisters, a group I know nothing about. The record came out on HSE, a label which deserves a fuller write-up, so next "gospel Sunday" I'll talk about the label and its interesting recordings.

2. Robert Parker, "Let's Go Baby (Where the Action Is)" - New Orleans soul legend Robert Parker will forever be known for his 1966 smash hit "Barefootin'," and for good reason - it's probably one of the best New Orleans soul dance tunes ever recorded. This was the flip to that classic NOLA single. (See Larry Grogan's Funky 16 Corners article for more information about Parker and his great recordings).

3. B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland, "I Like to Live the Love" (live)

These two blues legends have known each other since the early '50s, where B.B. was quickly making a name for himself in Memphis and nationally and Bobby, who served for a time as King's valet and hung out with other Memphis hepcats like Junior Parker and Roscoe Gordon, was making his first recordings. Both men were top draws on the "chitlin' circuit" and, when ABC bought Duke Records in 1973 it was a cinch that the two would record together. Two live album releases came out of the venture, with "I Like to Live the Love" closing out the Together for the First Time ... Live LP. Being that the song was an R&B hit for King, he handles most of the vocal chores, but Bobby lends nice support and does a great job getting the audience involved.

4. Jerry Butler, "Only the Strong Survive" - The Chicago soul legend / Cook County Commissioner needs no intro here, and this song, one of his most famous recordings, needs no write-up. Just get on down with the Chicago-meets-Philadelphia sound!

5. Joseph Henry, "I Feel Right" - See my post about retro-funk hero Joseph Henry for info about the artist and the whole "deep funk" movement. Although this song is a newer recording, the spirit of the funky 45 is there!

6. The Spinners, "The Rubberband Man" (album version) - Neither the group nor this song (especially with its use in ads for Staples stores) needs any write-up. Here's the album version of "Rubberband Man," which features Phillippe Wynne's inspired vocals over a solid slab of get-down Philly soul. "How much of this stuff does he think we can stand?" is a very appropriate lyric. It's almost too much soul to stand.

See you next week!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Soldier's Goodbye

William Bell - Soldier's Goodbye

William Bell, although one of the first star acts on Stax Records, has often been overlooked in the history of that label and in the history of soul music. Bell's warm and sometimes erudite stylings made his records as comfortable as an old friend. From the country soul masterpiece "You Don't Miss Your Water" to the Northern Soul staple "Happy" to the recently-sampled "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" to the disco-era smash "Trying to Love Two," and from his involvement with the rare soul staple Peachtree Records to his current Wilbe concern, Bell has had a long history in the business and has graced the world with many great recordings. Today's selection was the flip of "Never Like This Before" and is one of two great Stax 45s themed around Bell's own military service, the other being the swinging "Marching Off to War." "Soldier's Goodbye" is an intense ballad featuring very attractive guitar work by Steve Cropper and good horn charts by the Mar-Keys. You know you're in for a great recording from the opening guitar note.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

(201) 569-5170

Solomon Burke - I'll Never Stop Loving You (Never Ever Song)

The amazing comeback of Solomon Burke with his 2002 album Don't Give Up on Me is almost just another facet to his storied life and career. From his days as "Solomon the Wonder Boy Preacher" through his Atlantic hits of the '60s and lots of interesting records to his ministry, business enterprises, and 21 children and over 60 grandchildren, Burke is truly one of the soul survivors, whose grandiose storytelling (see this Roctober interview for a sample of Burke's style) and immense talent is worth experiencing. I saw Burke in concert in 2003 and I will simply say it was the best soul concert I've ever attended. Burke's comeback success has also spurred other comebacks by other equally-underestimated soul greats: Howard Tate's first album in 30+ years, Rediscovered, came out in 2003; Bettye LaVette's hit album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise came out in 2005 (Joe Henry, who produced Solomon's comeback album, was responsible for Bettye's smash); and Candi Staton has just released His Hands, her first secular recording in over twenty years, which is clearly cut from the Don't Give Up on Me / I've Got My Own Hell to Raise cloth.

By the time Solomon recorded today's selection, Burke's association with Atlantic was long ended and Burke had jumped from Bell to MGM to ABC to the rapidly-declining Chess Records, for whom he provided a few minor hits in the label's final days. At Chess Burke redefined his sound, moving away from the country soul he had revisited in the early '70s to emulate Barry White's bedroom soul (he even availed himself of Gene Page, White's arranger). "I'll Never Stop Loving You" was one of Burke's final singles for Chess, owned at the time by Joe and Sylvia Robinson's All Platinum concern. The song leans more toward Johnny Watson than Barry White, but Burke (who is multi-tracked singing all parts) delivers a heartfelt lyric and wrings every drop of pleading out of his "never ever" closing. It's an interesting recording.

PS - As noted in the Roctober article, Burke's spoken intro included the telephone number of All Plantinum Records, although it may be a bit of storytelling by Burke to say that the label was deluged with phone calls as a result of the recording, considering that the single was commercially unsuccessful!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Mad Lad Rappin'

E. Rodney Jones & Willie Henderson - The Whole Thing

The power of R&B disc jockeys of the '60s cannot be underestimated. The popularity of stations such as Chicago's WVON, Philadelphia's WHAT, New Orleans' WYLD, San Francisco's KSOL and others rivaled that of pop stations at a time when black artists were not immediate mainstream successes, as they are now. The disc jockeys, with their on-air (and on-top-of-the-record) patter and clout in "breaking" hit records, also had lots of impact in the music business as record promoters, nightclub owners, and, occasionally, as recording artists. Most 45s featuring these DJs would generally consist of instrumentals on which the DJ would do patter or recitations and are interesting artifacts of that era.

The late E. Rodney Jones may have been the most prolifcally-recorded of the great R&B DJs. "The Mad Lad," as he was known, held forth daily in the afternoons for Chicago's R&B powerhouse WVON, projecting an air of cool like his fellow 'VON jock Herb Kent. Jones' syrupy voice was featured on quite a few funky 45s for labels including Tuff (where he cut the Northern Soul classic "R&B Time"), Twinight, Westbound and Brunswick. "The Whole Thing" was the flip side to Willie Henderson's "Loose Booty" on Brunswick. Here Jones half-sings and raps his way through a description of a soul food party, making good use of the Alka-Seltzer jingle "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" and creating a fun funky 45 in the process.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It's Gonna Rain!

The Sensational Nightingales - It's Gonna Rain Again

The Sensational Nightingales' glory years of the 1950s found the legendary gospel group being one of the hardest-driving groups in the business, with Rev. Julius "June" Cheeks tearing down churches (and wrecking his own voice) in the process. By the early '60s Cheeks left the group to seek his fortunes elsewhere, but the group perservered, eventually becoming one of the longest-tenured acts in the business. By the early 1970s the Nightingales had changed their approach under lead singer Charles Johnson and producer Ira Tucker to feature a calmer, cooler sound. "It's Gonna Rain Again," from 1974, features a very conversational lead vocal despite the song's subject matter (the Great Flood and God's promise of "fire next time"), nice background work and a nice, bluesy guitar line. It's a great song.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

There's a World of Excitement on Cadet! (Pt. 2)

The Soulful Strings - The Voices Inside

As a follow-up to last week's post about the Cadet label I present today's selection, which came from the Soulful Strings' String Fever album. This cover of Donny Hathaway's classic grooves with that unmistakable Chess/Cadet funk and Richard Evans' arrangement is great. Dig Jeff Carp's harmonica work.

Friday, April 07, 2006

James Brown's (Not a Man's Man's Man's) World

James Brown:
World (Pt. 1) b/w (Pt. 2)

James Brown's immense catalogue of recordings for King and Polydor has almost been completely reissued as either straight album reissues or compilations over the years. Thanks to James Brown's Funky People, Vol. 3 we've been able to hear the alternate "rock" version of "Talking Loud and Saying Nothing," which was withdrawn almost immediately upon release and copies of which get frequent action on eBay, and on comps such as Motherlode unissued material has seen the light of day. Strangely, today's selection, an actual King single and a half in 1969 or 1970 (Part Two was the flip to the later single "I Cried," hence the "and a half" designation), gets very little attention. "World" is a plea for peace and harmony, and stands out from Brown's other singles from the period due to it's dramatic arrangement and more mainstream-sounding groove. It's an earnest performance from Brown and the single deserves more attention than it generally gets. There's footage in the autobiographical documentary Soul Survivor of a "music video" for the song, depicting James trying to plead his case to a group of stone-faced, angry-looking people, which really makes the song's point even stronger.

EDIT (4/10/06, 11:15 AM) - "World (Pt. 1)" was an R&B Top Ten hit in 1969, and "I Cried" b/w "World (Pt. 2)" came out in 1971.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sweet Soul Music, Whispers-Style

The Whispers - Needle in a Haystack

Although it wasn't until the '80s that the Whispers really made their greatest mark on the R&B charts, the group, anchored by the Scott twins, made their debut on Dore in 1964 and stayed with that label for most of the decade before getting their first tastes of hit action at Soul Clock and Janus. "Needle in a Haystack" is one of their Dore recordings, and I think it should've been right up there with a lot of the East Coast soul hits of the late '60s. The song is the total opposite of the driving Velvelettes song of the same name, featuring a very nice mid-tempo groove and great singing by the group. The arrangement also features two nice double-time sections that add a little excitement to things.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Get on Down With Darondo!

Darondo - True

One of the major differences between the classic soul era and now is how much easier it was in those days to get a record released. Any urban area of some size would at least one record label and anyone who had the money to finance a recording session could make a record. When you couple this with the fact that R&B disc jockeys in those days had much larger discretion in what they played, a song could be recorded and be popular locally, although the record would not become nationally recognized.

California singer/guitarist William Darondo Pulliam was one of the figures of soul obscurity who fits within this profile. Already a man about town with a Rolls-Royce, flashy clothes, and some dubious connections (legend had it he consorted with the likes of Fillmore Slim), Darondo recorded three 45s in the early '70s (released under the name Darondo, Darondo Pulliam, and the misspelled "Dorando" and getting him enough local publicity to get him gigs opening for artists such as James Brown) and then never recorded anything else. Between then and 2005 he was a world traveler, massage therapist and 1980s cable access TV personality. When Gilles Peterson chose Darondo's "Didn't I" for his "Digs America" compilation, interest was renewed in the singer, leading to the Ubiquity Records release of Let My People Go, a comp featuring Darondo's three 45s and three unreleased demos that Darondo himself recorded new parts for. (The Ubiquity link above tells Darondo's story and includes both samples from the CD and video clips from Darondo's cable access shows, "Darondo's Penthouse" and "Doze Comedy Videos," which are funny both for their jokes and for their low production values.)

Like Roshell Anderson, Darondo's singing is very challenging to the listener. One iTunes reviewer described his vocals as "Al Green with a hangover." It's clear that Green's style is emulated here (and I detect a touch of Ron Isley also), but Darondo's no Al Green, and his falsetto mewling is sometimes jarring. (The title track of the CD, on which Darondo kept his falsetto under moderate control, is his strongest vocal performance.) When my wife first heard "True," she made me quit playing it after about a minute or so, claiming Darondo's vocals ruined the song. Hopefully readers of this blog won't think the same. "True," one of the three unreleased recordings, catches your attention right away with the groove, which starts with a great guitar lick onto which the drums and then bass follow before settling into a Hi Records kind of thing. Darondo and the background singers present an attractive melody, shifting seriously into Al Green mode about three-quarters of the way into the recording. Due to Darondo's vocal limitations (or lack of respect for them) the song isn't the best it could be, but it's a great example of how DYI classic soul could be. Truthfully, I would prefer Darondo any day over some of the completely-manufactured, focus group-tested, overly-marketed stuff that's released now.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tuesday Is Blues Day!

Percy Mayfield - Walking on a Tightrope

In my earlier post about Percy Mayfield I discussed his soul-blues sides for Tangerine, RCA and Atlantic but made the big mistake of not mentioning his one-off LP for Brunswick. Walking on a Tightrope sits nicely alongside Percy's two Tangerine LPs as a mix of swinging blues and soul but has the added attraction of featuring the Chicago soul production of Carl Davis. The title track, today's selection, finds Mayfield discussing his oh-so-personal relationship with the blues over a slightly funky groove and strong horns.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Number Six!

Episode #6 of "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul!" is now available! This episode is a little more Northern Soul oriented than usual, but it's got a bit of everything in there. Enjoy!

1. The Morrocco Muzik Makers, "Pig Knuckles"
2. Mary Wells, "You Lost the Sweetest Boy"
3. Billy Watkins, "Love Line"
4. Rufus Thomas, "I Think I Made a Boo Boo"
5. Spencer Wiggins, "Love Attack"
6. Jimmy Robins, "That Someone Don't Know It"
7. Aretha Franklin, Coca-Cola Ad
8. Linda Jones, "What've I Done (To Make You Mad)"
9. The Soul Commanders, "Just a Little More Love"
10. Joe Simon, "No Sad Songs"
11. The Chandlers, "Fading Day"
12. Esther Phillips, "Mo Jo Hannah"
13. Kenny Gamble & The Romeos, "Ain't It Baby"
14. Ann Robinson, "You Did It"
15. Otis Redding, Coca-Cola Ad
16. The Vibrations, "Love In Them There Hills"
17. Bo Diddley, "I'm High Again"
18. J.C. Davis, "Sweet Sweet Love"
19. Junior Parker, "Worried Life Blues"
20. The Dapps, "A Woman, A Lover, A Friend"
21. Ann Mason, "You Can't Love Me (In the Midnight Hour)"
22. Beverly Shaffer, "Where Will You Be Boy?"
23. The Lafayette Leake Trio, "After Hours" (closing theme)

Sunday Gospel Time

The Spirit of Memphis - Sinner Make a Change

As I mentioned in my first post featuring the Spirit of Memphis, the intersection of soul and gospel is always interesting to hear in the classic gospel sides of the '50s and '60s. Today's selection starts with a slow, bluesy verse but then launches into a rambling groove with strong singing and hard gospel call and response at the end.

NOTE: I plan to record Episode #6 of the "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul!" podcast at some point today (I'm working on the playlist)!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

There's a World of Excitement on Cadet!

Eddie Fisher - The Third Cup

In the mid-sixties Argo Records in England forced Chess Records to rename its jazz and R&B subsidiary of the same name. After choosing the name "Cadet" the label went about giving the brand name bite, creating the "There's a World of Excitement on Cadet" motto and aggressively marketing it. The inner sleeve to the Soulful Strings LP In Concert reflects this: "THE IMAGE OF CADET - A child is born and he is given a name. And it is by this name that he is thereafter known, the excellent of his present - the promise of the future ... [t]here is great pride in naming ... [i]t makes a man an entity, and to the things he creates an manufactures, it brings true identity." Pretty heavy stuff for a label whose main principal, Leonard Chess, was known for his crudeness (session material included on the Sonny Boy Williamson Bummer Road LP finds Chess in a cursing match with Williamson over the title "Little Village")!

The Cadet jazz catalogue of the late sixties and early seventies lived up to the "World of Excitement" moniker. With releases from Ramsey Lewis (with and without the Trio), Lou Donaldson, Dorothy Ashby, Jack McDuff, Kenny Burrell, Odell Brown & The Organ-Izers and many others, and utilizing the talents of arrangers Richard Evans and Charles Stepney, Cadet (and Marshall Chess' progressive Cadet Concept label, which gave the world the Rotary Connection) featured lots of adventurous material, ranging from the soul jazz of Lewis, Donaldson and McDuff to some pretty far-out stuff by artists like Dorothy Ashby (a harpist whose Richard Evans-supervised sessions included trippy recordings like "Soul Vibrations") and today's featured artist, Eddie Fisher.

"The Third Cup" is a langorous but very trippy guitar masterpiece from the Eddie Fisher & The Next Hundred Years album. In Chicago this song has endured as a "slow jam" among the "stepping" scene. (For non-Chicagoans, "stepping" is a very polished type of couples dancing based on the "bop," a slower version of the jitterbug. Good steppers incorporate some pretty fancy footwork and a strong sense of style into their dancing. R. Kelly's "Step in the Name of Love" was directed at this crowd and is a good example of the type of tempo and groove that steppers dance to.) Get lost in Fisher's sound here ... it's pretty engrossing.