Friday, June 30, 2006

Eight Months!

Next week will find this blog entering its eighth month of existence. I've had so much fun presenting some of the best vintage, rare soul/blues/funk/jazz/gospel, and I look forward to continuing to do so. I've been able to post almost every day, which I am actually surprised about. I've been trying to put off doing any kind of fundraiser for this site, but now is the time (what's a better time for gifts than an anniversary?) There is now a PayPal button on the blog. If you would be interested in making a donation for the web server upkeep, etc., for this site (I use file storage and webhosting from for the files that appear here) I would surely appreciate it. As a token of appreciation I will send a ZIP file of tracks from any past episode of the podcast of the donor's choice. Thanks in advance!

The move has occurred and now I'm unpacking - look out for a new episode of the podcast within a week!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

NSFW (Language Warning) - Think Twice!

Jackie Wilson & LaVern Baker - Think Twice ("Version X")

(EDITOR'S NOTE - I have the internet now in my new place, but a snafu by the moving company has our official move delayed until this afternoon. Rather than sit in an apartment full of boxes we have come to the new place to cool our heels. I decided to do a post today, but due to my need to swear at people for their incompetence I picked a selection that has the saltiest language of anything I'll probably ever post on the blog. This is not safe for work and is not for anyone who may be offended by strong language and adult themes.)

One of the greatest things about the CD era is that lots of unreleased and pretty difficult-to-find material is now available for fans of any kind of music, as record companies have mined the vaults of many of the great and not-so-well-known labels to create label retrospectives, provide bonus tracks for artist compilations, and the like. Today's selection has appreared on some Jackie Wilson comps. The issued version of "Think Twice" was an R&B hit for Wilson and '50s R&B legend LaVern Baker, whose '60s stint at Brunswick unfortunately did not return her to the heights she had enjoyed with Atlantic in the prior decade. This unissued "Version X" finds Wilson and Baker exchanging X-rated lines that cover everything from basic insults to drug use to sexual practices. Although such dirty tomfoolery has appeared on various compilations, what makes "Version X" work is that when Baker and Wilson aren't cracking each other up with their lines, they actually sing the song with the full extent of their talent (check out Wilson's singing of the line "bye bye ho" at the end of the second verse). It's a trip.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tuesday Is Blues Day!

Ironing Board Sam - I've Been Used

Today's selection is the b-side of "Non Support," which was profiled in an earlier post. This is the bare-bones, low-down, sho'-nuff blues here, as Sam's intense singing is matched by a smoldering rhythm by the band.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - I will be moving the rest of this week and, although the internet is supposed to be turned on at the new place tomorrow, I will not be posting on Thursday and I am uncertain about tomorrow or Friday. I hope to be back to my usual posting schedule on Saturday.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Funky Soul Monday!

Bobby Newsome - Jody, Come Back and Get Your Shoes

Some time ago Yoni Neeman at The Soul of the Net did a trivia section on his website about answer songs and dedicated a portion to songs about "Jody," the metaphorical cuckolder of blues and soul infamy (in relation to answers to Johnnie Taylor's "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone"), and today's selection was one of the several listed. Johnnie Taylor had the biggest hits of all the "Jody" songs with "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone" and "Standing In for Jody." The former song made it all the way to #1 on the R&B charts in 1971, one of several chart toppers Stax Records would have that year (if I recall correctly, Rufus Thomas' "(Do The) Push and Pull" had been #1 the week before). Bobby Newsome's "Jody, Come Back and Get Your Shoes" was an answer record to the Taylor hit and features a stomping, stripped down funk groove and military-chant background vocals (a nod to "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone"). It's my favorite "Jody" record.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Gospel Reinvention

The Gospelaires of Dayton, Ohio - Moving Up

The Bethlehem Gospel Singers - Let's Talk About Jesus

Gospel music often is a genre made up of interchangable parts. Many gospel songs used similar chord changes, many of them used a plethora of throwaway gospel phrases ("I stepped into the water / the water was cold / it chilled my body / but not my soul," for instance) and wholesale use of lyrics from "Amazing Grace" and "I Love the Lord He Heard My Cry," to name two songs, was very common. (I've always been of the impression that if a gospel singer is improvising and runs out of stuff, they can always go to "Amazing Grace"!) It was also inevitable that gospel artists would also rework other gospel songs to fit their purposes.

The Gospelaires of Dayton, Ohio appear on the "TV Gospel Time" tapes I have, and their performances on the show are electrifying examples of '60s gospel at its hard-singing best. "Moving Up" was one of their great Peacock singles. After dispensing with the opening chorus and sole verse, the rest of the tune features great ad-libs by the lead singer and fine riffing by the group. The Bethlehem Gospel Singers, whose HSE recordings have appeared on this blog before, took the melody and structure of "Moving Up" and crafted "Let's Talk About Jesus" (not to be mistaken for the Bells of Joy classic) for the My Bible Is Right LP. The group puts a nice tambourine-laden groove on the song and lead singer (and "songwriter") James MacLean does a great job with his ad-libs, which go a lot further than those on "Moving Up."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Get on Down With Bobby Bland: From Texas to Jackson, and a Legacy

Bobby "Blue" Bland: Farther On Up the Road and God Bless the Child That's Got His Own

Al "TNT" Braggs - Drip Drip Goes The Tears

Little Milton - More and More

We are fortunate that blues legends like Bobby Bland and B.B. King are still around and are still going into the studio. Although the effects of time are very evident on both men's latter work, the recordings are still pretty high quality and, in Bland's case, keep the flame going among his long-time fans. To close out this week's series, here is "Farther On Up the Road," one of Bland's very first major hits from 1957. This is swaggering Texas blues at its best; with this song Bland kicked off a string of hits trumpeting a hurt man's revenge fantasy. Bland's style was still a little rough around the edges but the tune is great. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Bland's great reading of "God Bless the Child" from his 1995 Malaco album Sad Street. Bland, like many of his contemporaries, found his hitmaking streak cooling significantly by the end of the '70s. Although he got some R&B chart action out of 1985's "Members Only," Bland faded from mainstream R&B and became a charter artist in the "soul blues" idiom (I need to write about this odd duck genre in a future post), finding a sympathetic label in Malaco. "God Bless the Child" has a "Me and Mrs. Jones" groove that works very well, and Bland's world-weary reading of the song is very soulful. It's my favorite latter-day Bobby Bland recording.

We are also fortunate that Bland influenced several other artists of the '50s and '60s. Two that come immediately to mind is Bland's labelmate Al "TNT" Braggs and the blues/soul blues legend Little Milton. Braggs, whose biggest success came as the writer of "Share Your Love With Me," of which hit versions were recorded by Bland himself and by Aretha Franklin, recorded for Peacock in the early '60s and performed with Bobby Bland's revue (he appears in Charles Keil's account of a Bland show in Urban Blues). "Drip Drip Goes the Tears" shows obvious Bland influence, especially in the arrangement. Little Milton Campbell should not need any write up, as his magnificent career spanned from '50s recordings for Sun through to his death in 2005. Milton's growling voice was inspired by Bland and Milton's early recordings were all but Bland imitations. By the time Milton hooked up with Chess in the '60s he found his own voice (although songs like "Blind Man" went back to the Bobby Bland bag) and recorded some great soul-based recordings, including today's selection "More and More," which would be covered by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Get on Down With Bobby Bland: Northern Soul Star!

Bobby "Blue" Bland - These Hands (Small But Mighty)

This mid-tempo mover is one of two Bland tunes that have made their mark in the Northern Soul scene, the other being the excellent tune "Shoes." I'm partial to "These Hands," though, for its lyrics and nice arrangement. Anyone who has ever been in love with anyone knows the sentiment of lyrics.

Tomorrow I plan to conclude this series with another Bland tune and a couple of tunes by artists inspired by Bland.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Get on Down With Bobby Bland: It's a Sad Feeling ...

Bobby "Blue" Bland - Sad Feeling

This is one of the Chicago-recorded sides Bobby did in the mid-'60s, and it's a serious sender. From the sinister bass heartbeat that begins the tune and the horn opening, you know that Bobby's got something on his mind. Then two neat things happen: an uncredited bass singer does some call-and-response with Bobby on the first verse, and at the end of said verse, the horns hit like a brick and a female vocalist (also uncredited) comes in to give support. Bobby is in top form on this one, but the arrangement is really the star of the show. I remember that the first time I heard this one I played it about 15 times in a row. I think you might want to, also.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Get on Down With Bobby Bland: Swing Out!

Bobby "Blue" Bland - Dust Got In Daddy's Eyes

A major component of the magic that graced Bobby Bland's numerous hits of the '60s was the soulful yet jazzy stylings of Bland's band, which was led by Joe Scott (who was also the band's principal arranger and was probably Bland's uncredited record producer) and included guitarist Wayne Bennett and future J.B.'s drummer John "Jabo" Starks. The band's mix of jazzy horn charts, strong rhythm and Bennett's deft guitar work (especially on slow blues like "Stormy Monday") was phenomenal, and they worked with Bland in the studio and on live dates until the late '60s, when Bland's drinking became too much of a burden (fortuantely, Bland would overcome the bottle in the '70s). A great depiction of the band and Bland's stage show appears in Charles Keil's Urban Blues, a book I heartily recommend.

The 1965 hit "Dust Got In Daddy's Eyes" is a great example of the Joe Scott sound. Over a strong shuffle groove the horns lay down great riffs while Bland explores the "man ain't supposed to cry" lyric. The "sepia Sinatra" moniker often used for Bland seems very appropriate here. It's a great tune.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Get on Down With Bobby Bland: Smooth and Lowdown

Bobby "Blue" Bland - Do What You Set Out To Do

Bobby Bland, "the sepia Sinatra," as he was sometimes called, was as comfortable doing relaxed, soft ballads as he was stronger stuff. He could take a song like "You're the One (That I Adore)" and melt a woman's heart, but could rebuke the same woman with a song like "Cry, Cry, Cry." Today's selection finds him being both sweet and rough, to great effect. "Do What You Set Out To Do" starts with a simple bass riff and strings, over which Bland sets the scene: here's a man who knows his woman is going to break his heart and has resigned himself to the fact. After the intial chorus, the groove shifts to one of lowdown blues, as Bobby tells the story in stronger tones. The bass and strings come back to close it out, and Bobby slides back into the gentle bag. It's one of my favorite ballads of Bland's.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Get on Down With Bobby Bland: Shaka-Boom-Boom-Boom!

Bobby "Blue" Bland - Keep On Loving Me (You'll See The Change)

Today's selection had a history before and after Bobby Bland had a release of it in 1970. Producer Don Davis and his Groovesville production concern had worked with the song on Steve Mancha as well as in duet form with Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor. In the waning days of Stax Records, the duet would be revisited as the label, desperate to put out a Johnnie Taylor single (Taylor had abandoned the sinking ship to sign with Columbia, for whom he would soon deliver "Disco Lady"), erased Carla Thomas' vocals and reissued the song (Taylor can be heard saying something along the lines of "sing it Carla," but it didn't matter, as the single didn't thrive). Bland's version features a good groove, nice background singing (hence the "shaka-boom-boom-boom" above) and Bland's great delivery.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sunday Gospel Time

Rev. Julius Cheeks - Somebody Left on That Morning Train

Gospel singer Rev. Julius Cheeks was one of the hardest-singing of the hard gospel singers. His screaming delivery was an influence on the late Wilson Pickett, and his recordings with the Sensational Nightingales of the 1950s are important to the "golden age" of gospel music. By the early '60s Cheeks had split with the Nightingales and formed a new group, the Knights, with whom he recorded for a large part of the decade. By that time, however, years of being the hardest-singing man in gospel had taken its toll. Cheeks' voice was extremely ravaged, to the extent that most of his recordings with the Knights and beyond found Cheeks serving more as a narrator than as a lead singer, doing monologues and setting up choruses for the group to sing. This effect was very effective, especially on the maudlin 1970 classic "Just Crying," but successive efforts found Cheeks' voice in continued decline. Today's selection was the title track from Cheeks' final LP from 1980 (Cheeks died in 1981). "Somebody Left on That Morning Train" revisits his hit with the Nightingales, "Morning Train." Cheeks' voice is awful here, to be brutally honest, but there's something about how Cheeks puts all of his soul into it that makes the song work.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Get on Down With Bobby Bland: A '70s Transition

Bobby "Blue" Bland:

Lover With a Reputation

Up and Down World

Although never as well-known as his contemporary B.B. King (as discussed in this post), Bobby "Blue" Bland's remarkable career has produced an outstanding body of work in the blues, soul and "soul-blues" fields that is now in its sixth decade. Bland has always been a favorite of mine, and today's post will kick off a week's worth of posts featuring Bland and artists influenced by him (tomorrow, however, will be a usual "Sunday Gospel Time" post, as unfortunately Bland never did a gospel album, without the world is much poorer).

Although the Don Robey's Peacock/Duke/Back Beat enterprise was based in Houston (Duke Records had been started in Memphis but Robey took it over in the early fifties), Bobby Bland's Duke recordings, particularly those of the mid-to-late '60s and early '70s, were recorded in other places, including Chicago, Memphis and Detroit, and those recordings brought some variety to Bland's soulful blues bag. 1970's "Lover With a Reputation" was recorded in Memphis with Willie Mitchell and the Hi musicians and it's a cooker. Over a strong groove Bland roars and soars while a femme chorus gives strong support.

In 1973 Don Robey sold his labels to ABC, who cancelled the Duke imprint and transferred Bland to the Dunhill subsidiary. Bland's first Dunhill LP, His California Album, successfully brought Bland into the '70s and the new approach by producer Steve Barri delivered the hit "This Time I'm Gone For Good." Another cut from the LP, "Up and Down World," garnered single release as the flip to Bland's cover of "Goin' Down Slow." Over a rollicking, southern soul-styled groove, Bland revisits the "revenge" territory from his '50s and '60s hits, warning his wrong-doing woman that "what goes around comes around."

Friday, June 16, 2006

It's Not Eccentric. It's Awesome.

Helene Smith - I Am Controlled By Your Love

Since the last time I mentioned the awesome Numero Group reissue label on this blog, two more volumes of the Eccentric Soul series have been released, focusing on Miami's Deep City label, the veritable prototype for Henry Stone's Alston/TK empire of the '70s (Willie Clarke, Paul Kelly, Clarence Reid and Betty Wright all were all involved), and Detroit's Big Mack label. The folks at Numero are doing an outstanding job with these compilations, and if you are a fan of soul music you really need to get your hands on every volume of the series.

Today's selection comes from the Deep City CD. Helene Smith's controlled yet immensely soulful reading of "I Am Controlled By Your Love" is one of those songs that stops one dead in their tracks on the first hearing. The sterling arrangement, great backup vocals and Smith's voice form a potent brew of soul that very few soul ballads I've heard are able to duplicate. Just listen to it. Then buy the CD.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Black-Tie Soul

Tuxedo - Please Don't Leave

This is one of those songs and artists I don't know much about, except that it was released on Hi in 1975 and was co-written by Willie Mitchell (who did not produce it). At any rate, it's a top-notch soul ballad, featuring a very sparse and clean sound and a pleasant begging male lead vocal and female backup support. This is "church," pure and simple. This great tune was comped on Kent's In Perfect Harmony CD.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Sissies Are Doin' It!

The Village Soul Choir:

The Sissy Football (Pt. 1) b/w (Pt. 2)

Sometimes in record collecting and soul fandom you run across records which, although funky and awesome, are just weird. Whether it's the ominous but drunken-sounding "Gonna Put My Foot Down" by Bill Parker (recently comped on the great BGP CD Southern Funkin') or Johnnie Taylor's "Don't You Fool With My Soul" (discussed in a prior post), I can't help but attempt to dance and scratch my head at the same time when listening to them!

Today's selection fits in that category. The Village Soul Choir appeared in one of the very first posts on this blog. As I continue to hear more of their recordings I realize that "The Cat Walk" b/w "The Country Walk" were probably the most orthodox 45 put out by the group: "Life Is a Puzzle" has an awesome groove but the lead singer's squawking and shouting is unsettling; the Soul Sesame Street album is strange in its very concept; and a later recording, "The Switch," credited to "The Village Choir," features a very sexy opening and then switches gears to be a scatting sing-along kind of thing. Today's selection takes the lead singer from "Life Is a Puzzle" and the groove from "The Country Walk" (literally; it sounds like the backing track was recycled) to create this strange dance record. I know that the Sissy (or Cissy) and the Football were soul dances of the late '60s and early '70s, and perhaps this record is attempting to combine the two. But the lyrics of Part One appear to use "sissy" as a reference to homosexuals ("if you see one of them sissies out there, you holler 'owwww'," the lead singer says at one point). It's not clear if the tone is approving or not, as at the end of the choruses the singer exhorts, "the sissies are doin' it!" Add to the mix strange background singing (the song ultimately turns into a call-and-response among the singers and an interpolation of the nursery rhyme "Little Sally Walker") and you have one weird single. The flip is almost as strange, although the lyrics abandon the "sissy" theme and attempt to fit within the normal boundaries of dance records, even down to the ubiquitous "put your hands on your hips and let your backbone slip" lyric. (EDITOR'S SIDE NOTE - I can't help but wonder how many soul/funk dance records found a way to include that line. Comment with any songs you can think of that have that lyric and I'll do the same.)

(TOTALLY UNRELATED EDITOR'S NOTE - I am trying to find an MP3 and/or copy of the 45 of "I've Gotta Face the World" by the Bobbettes; I have it on an aircheck tape and love it, but want a clean copy. Any help would be welcomed!)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Laura Lee!

Laura Lee - I Need It Just as Bad as You

Laura Lee's husky vocals brought a touch of sensuality but also toughness to her recordings, whether as a member of the gospel group the Meditation Singers, as a Southern soul chanteuse for Chess under the production auspices of Rick Hall, or as an empowered soul sista on her Hot Wax/Invictus sides. Soul expert and writer Colin Dilnot's excellent Laura Lee site features the singer's biography and an interview and is worth checking out (take a look at all of his blogs to see what Colin is up to!) and I will defer to it for details about Lee's life and recordings. Today's selection continues the strong woman theme, with Lee getting what's hers after her man is out in the street. A very strong message from a very strong singer.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's Groovin' Time!

Otis Redding - Groovin' Time

Otis Redding's death in December 1967 and the end of Stax Records' distribution arrangement wiht Atlantic Records the following spring was a double whammy for the Memphis label. The label lost one of its biggest stars in that fateful plane crash and Atlantic walked away with almost all of the label's masters (which label head Jim Stewart had inadvertently signed over in 1965). Stax's loss turned out to be a big gain for Atlantic, which released erstwhile-unissued Otis Redding material on Atco through 1970, scoring several hits in the process. Today's selection came from the Atco album Love Man. Stax didn't delve into the funkier side of things very often in those days (a few notable exceptions being the Mar-Keys' "Grab This Thing," the Bar-Kays' material, Otis & Carla's "Tramp," and Rufus Thomas' "Sophisticated Sissy"), but it's indeed "Groovin' Time" on this recording, as Al Jackson's creative drumming adds punch to Otis' intense - but otherwise uninspired - vocal.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

TV Gospel Time!

The Blind Boys of Alabama - Too Close

The Blind Boys of Alabama are probably the most ubiquitous gospel group in the United States, appearing at gospel events, on secular programs, and recording frequently, both on their own and as guest artists for others, winning scads of Grammys along the way. Not bad for a group that's been around more than sixty years!

Today's selection goes back some ways, being lifted from the group's appearance on the short-lived but influential TV Gospel Time show from the '60s. I first learned of this program from two compilation video tapes that I won on eBay. I have since learned that the show was syndicated nationally and featured all of the great names of gospel. The surviving footage is invaluable, as it easily is the only recorded video of many of the greatest names of gospel music made during gospel's "golden age." The most well-known footage from the show (which is also on the compilations I have) is that of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the famous guitar-slinging gospel singer, doing "Down By The Riverside" and laying down some mean guitar work. The Blind Boys' appearance was also part of that episode, and this powerful performance of Alex Bradford's "Too Close" joins Tharpe's performance as one of the strongest I've seen from the series. Over the group's razor-sharp harmony Clarence Fountain attacks the song like a man possessed, and his call-and-response screams with the group cut like a sword. At some point I seriously need to transfer these videos over to digital format and put some on YouTube or here on the blog. This stuff is too hot for me not to share!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Gimme Some Leg!

Darondo - Legs

Today's post is, partially, a correction to my earlier post about the cult R&B singer/guitarist Darondo. At the time I said that I thought "Let My People Go" was his best performance, but there's something about "Legs" that brings me to say it's the best. Maybe it's the chunky funk. Maybe it's Darondo's vocal, which borders on insanity. Whatever it is, I like it.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Joe Simon's Nashville Funk!

Joe Simon - Moon Walk (Pts. 1 & 2)

As I stated in an earlier post, Joe Simon's initial contribution to soul music was as a master of country soul with hits such as "The Chokin' Kind" and "(You Keep Me) Hangin' On" for the Sound Stage 7 label. Simon made some stylistic shifts upon signing to Spring in 1971, adding Philly soul ("Power of Love," "Drowning in the Sea of Love") and disco ("Get Down, Get Down (Get on the Floor)") to the menu. Simon's soul legend is mainly based on the bookends of his country soul and disco successes, but some interesting records were made in between.

The 1970 hit "Moon Walk" was a piece of off-center funk with a decidedly country flavor (check out the slide guitar that appears late in the recording). The "moon walk" Simon's talking about is not the dance that would become Michael Jackson's signature (the precedent to MJ's dance would be the Camel Walk, a '60s dance referred to - and masterfully performed by - James Brown in "There Was a Time") but rather something that emulated Neil Armstrong's historic (and at the time, recent) "giant leap for mankind." To my knowledge, the dance never really took off, but the great groove and Simon's vocals gave the song the push it needed to be a hit. The groove proved to be good enough for former James Brown bandleader Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis to revisit for an instrumental version a few years later, also released on Sound Stage 7.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Get on Down With the Georgia Podcast Network!

I am proud to announce that "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul!" is now an affiliate of the Georgia Podcast Network! Thanks to Amber and the GAPN crew for honoring me with an invitation! Check out the site; there are lots of good podcasts there on many topics!

More Chicago Get Down!

Pigmeat Markham - Pig's Popcorn

I'll refer to my earlier post about the black comedian Pigmeat Markham and his funky 45s of the late '60s. Today's selection finds Markham getting involved with the Popcorn dance craze. "Pig's Popcorn," the flip of "Who Got the Number," has one of the hardest-hitting grooves I've ever heard on a Chess funky 45, and Pigmeat's bellowing vocal rides the groove all the way out! Hot stuff, I tell you ... dig that organ work in the middle, and Pig's singing about adult movies(!) in the last verse!

(NOTE: I just realized that, except for the Billy Preston track, every selection this week has been a Chicago soul recording. That wasn't intended, but hey -- I guess it goes to show just how awesome Chicago soul music was!)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Here We Go Now ... FREEZE!

Alvin Cash & The Registers - The Philly Freeze

Chicago soul legend Alvin Cash was one of the luckiest R&B hitmakers there was. Cash (born Alvin Welch) and his sibling dance group, The Crawlers, were known for their awesome dance moves, but somehow Cash ended up with a string of hits for Mar-V-Lus and Toddlin' Town, as well as recordings for Sound Stage 7, Brunswick and others that would stretch into the late '70s. Cash was not really a singer; instead, he would do dance calls and chant little lines over funky instrumental tracks (not unlike the funky 45s made by R&B disc jockeys like E. Rodney Jones and Bernie Hayes). Fortunately for Cash those instrumental tracks were very good, so Cash would hit big with "Twine Time" and then appear throughout the '60s on the R&B charts with funky 45s like today's selection and "Keep on Dancin'." (Although the Crawlers were given billing on "Twine Time" and several early Cash 45s, they actually did not perform on any records; they would continue dancing under the name "Little Step Brothers." Cash's band, The Nightliters, would assume the "Crawlers" and "Registers" names.)

Robert Pruter correctly states in the book Chicago Soul that although Cash was not a singer, he was an important figure in the realm of R&B dance music. "The Philly Freeze" was the most popular of records popularizing the Freeze, a fad dance where dancers would dance in any manner until told to "freeze," at which point they would stop in whatever position they were in until the tune resumed. Neither the dance nor the song's concept was new, as the seminal "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" from 1929 found Clarence "Pinetop" Smith telling listeners "don't you move a peg" when he said "stop," and artists like Dr. Isaiah Ross and Ray Charles would do songs incorporating that concept in the 1950s. Whether the dance/song was new, however, does not take away from this fun piece of soul, with Cash and a chick chorus working it out over a driving groove.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

RIP Billy Preston

I have learned that R&B/pop organist/vocalist Billy Preston has died at age 59 after a long illness. Preston will forever be known in rock history for his work with the Beatles (where he was referred to as the "Fifth Beatle"), especially on the hit "Get Back," and with the Rolling Stones. His instrumental and vocal hits of the '70s found Preston ranging from wonky R&B instrumentals such as "Outa-Space" (featured here, a #1 R&B hit from 1973) and "Space Race" (another hit from '73, also known as the "halftime" song from American Bandstand, for which Preston also performed the theme in the early '70s; in case your memory isn't jogged by the reference alone, the "halftime" song was the part of the show where Dick Clark sat in the bleachers with the audience, who swayed along to the song while Dick told viewers what to expect in the second half of the show) to rollicking vocal numbers like "Will It Go Round In Circles" and "Nothing From Nothing" to love ballads such as "With You I'm Born Again" and "You Are So Beautiful." Although the '80s, '90s and the twenty-first century were not as kind to Billy, with medical and legal setbacks scattered throughout, Preston's sideman pedigree and recordings show an artist of unlimited creativity and technical skill. May he rest in peace.

Smooth Tuesday

Walter Jackson - Funny (Not Much)

This is Chicago soul legend Walter Jackson's second appearance on this blog (the first being in November 2005). As mentioned then, Jackson's R&B-meets-pop-balladeer approach served him well, creating some of the most sophisticated soul to come out of the '60s (with his OKeh sides) and the late '70s (with hits such as "Feelings" on Chi-Sound). Jackson's 1964 hit "Funny (Not Much)" was described by its singer as one of those songs that makes a listener go "hmmm." Listen to the well-crafted lyrics and you'll agree.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Two-Voice Gospel

Johnnie Morisette - I Know It Was Your Love

"Two-Voice" Johnnie Morisette was an associate of Sam Cooke's who, when he was not busy being a pimp, was a great blues-bent singer known for being able to leap into falsetto when needed. As an artist for Sam's SAR concern he hit with "Meet Me At The Twistin' Place" (later recorded by Sam as "Meet Me At Mary's Place"), which featured some pretty inspired ad libs ("Uncle Remus will be there!"). When SAR folded after Sam's death, Morisette recorded sporadically for several labels in styles ranging from blues to funk. Today's selection was a 1970 single for Checker in which Morisette takes the spiritual "I Know It Was The Blood" and turns it into an appreciation for the song's subject. In addition to Morisette's good singing (he moves into "Two Voice" mode by the end), the song features a good jazzy-funk groove from the Chess house band, which lays low until well into the third chorus, at which time they open up. It's a great tune.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Let's Go Way Back For A Friday Get Down!

Kid King's Combo - Banana Split

Today's selection goes back a little further than normal for this blog, but it's a nice cooker and deserving of a profile. Lee Arthur "Kid" King and his band were the house band at Nashville's New Era club and the group provided accompaniment on the early sessions for Nashboro Records' blues and R&B subisidiary, Excello. The group also recorded for the label. The rhumba-flavored "Banana Split," released in 1953, was the first national hit for the label, breaking into the R&B Top 10 that year. This cheerful instrumental features great piano work from Edward "Skippy" Brooks (whose long tenure as a Nashville session musician included a stint as pianist for the house band on the obscure 1966 R&B TV show "The Beat!!!!"), King's infectious drumming, and fine sax solos from Freddie Young. Get on down with the Nashville sound!

(NOTE: I will be out of town this weekend, so posts will resume on Monday. Have a great weekend!)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sweet Soul Appreciation

The Moments & The Whatnauts - Girls (Pt. 1)

The early-to-mid '70s was probably the glory years of sweet East Coast soul. The Stylistics, particularly due to Russell Thompkins' falsetto, embedded "Betcha By Golly, Wow" and similar songs permanently in the brains of listeners nationwide, and half of today's featured grouping, the Moments, did their share with hits such as the immortal "Love on a Two-Way Street" and "Look At Me (I'm In Love)." Although less successful than the Moments, the Whatnauts also recorded in that vein, but they may be better-known today for their funkier work, which has been sampled by discerning DJs and rappers for some time ("Why Can't People Be Colors Too," with it's great extended breakdown, comes to mind).

The Moments and the Whatnauts recorded for All Platinum's Stang subsidiary, and in 1975 they joined forces on the Top 30 R&B hit "Girls." The song is a lip-smacking admiration of the fairer sex (and greedy lust after the same), and it features an engaging early disco groove. Also featured is the notorious low-fi sound that plagued most of All Platinum's product. Joe and Sylvia Robinson's Englewood, New Jersey studios were, to be polite, a few steps behind the cutting edge of studio technology; like most soul studios of that era, though, the "magic" was sufficient enough to allow the Robinsons to release hit records (to the Robinsons' advantage, the studio was large enough to allow full string sections to record, which may have something to do with said "magic"). Outside of the hokey intro ("Hey, Whatnauts, what's happenin'?" "The Moments! What it is, brothers?"), the beginning of the first verse, and lines between verses, the song is performed by both groups together, although the Moments seem to dominate the track. The lyrics are fun and the song moves along nicely. A French version of the record was also recorded, which I understand is just as good.

I only have one quibble with the song: is it just me, or does the first note of each chorus sound out of tune?