Monday, July 31, 2006

Bumpin' In Nashville!

Jackey Beavers - Somebody Help The Beggar Man

Jackey Beavers' "I Need My Baby" is probably one of the best-known Northern Soul songs of all time, and his contributions to the history of Motown are important to that label's history. Overall, though, Beavers' recordings are pretty obscure. Some biographical details are here and I'll defer to them for most of this write-up. Beavers found himself working with John Richbourg at Sound Stage Seven and Richbourg's own Seventy Seven label at the end of the '60s and into the early '70s, where he wrote for several of Richbourg's artists and recorded everything from soul to funk to gospel as a solo artist, none of which was particularly successful (one recording was a remake of "Someday We'll Be Together," which he had written and recorded with Johnny Bristol many years earlier - see this post about the great, but mostly unknown, Jackey & Johnny version). "Somebody Help The Beggar Man" is a solid piece of get-down that was released on Seventy Seven in 1974 (at some point the record also came out on Buddah). Beavers and a male chorus provide some off-kilter and pretty meaningless lyrics, as the bumping proto-disco groove is the star of the record. The flip, the strangely titled "Mr. Bump Man (Lend Me a Hand) (Part II)" keeps the groove alive for another three minutes.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Get On Down With The Gospel Truth!

Clarence Smith - I Don't Know Why Jesus Loves Me (Oh Yes I Love Him)
(Warning: This is a big file - 18MB)

Last week's Sunday gospel post covered Stax's short-lived Chalice label. After Chalice folded, save for the 1969 Volt 45 "Hello Sunshine" b/w "Amazing Grace" by Maceo Woods, Stax stayed out of the gospel business until it established the Gospel Truth imprint in the early '70s. Since Stax was no longer the mom-and-pop operation it was in the Chalice days, R&B industry pros like the legendary promoter Dave Clark (from Duke/Peacock) and Gene Barge (from Chess) were brought in to join the Stax staff with these recordings. The label's biggest successes came via the Rance Allen Group, whose recordings such as "Hot Line to Jesus" and "Just My Imagination (Just My Salvation)" brought gospel into the soulful '70s. When Stax's distribution arrangement with Columbia Records began to go south in 1974, Stax rebranded the label as "Truth Records" and released soul, pop and country recordings along with gospel in an unsuccessful attempt to put out material outside of the distribution agreement (an approach also taken with the heretofore spoken word/political soul Respect label).

Today's selection came from the 1973 Gospel Truth LP Whatever Happened to Love, a Tom Nixon production on Clarence Smith. The album is a virtual "who's who" of the Stax staff at the time: Nixon had produced Rufus Thomas' funk hits and had hit with the Temprees on his own We Produce imprint; singer/songwriter/producer Mack Rice (who had written hits for the Staple Singers and others) wrote some of the material for the album and sang backup along with several other Gospel Truth and We Produce artists; and the Movement (Isaac Hayes' band), along with the South Memphis Horns (whose leader was the former Bar-Kay Ben Cauley), provided accompaniment. Although the LP's funky take on the spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is the best-known cut, as it has made some noise among beat heads, I'm partial to Smith's cover of Andrae Crouch's "I Don't Know Why Jesus Loves Me." At first the song doesn't sound like anything special, as Smith sings the verses pretty plainly, but a majority of the 8-minute track is spent on Smith's personal testimony. As he tells the listener of his own path to God, the strong groove and the "Jesus" refrain from the backup singers spins a hypnotic web, and by the end of the track Smith moves into a falsetto that soars over the groove to cap things off.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Chicago Soul Writer's Block Solutions

Major Lance - Follow The Leader

I apologize for not doing part of the "Soul Blues" series today, but I'm just a little too tired to look stuff up and give a good write-up of my next planned selection for that series. Fortunately, there is always a good solution to any problem, and today that solution is Major Lance.

Major Lance's string of '60s R&B smashes (some of which, most notably "The Monkey Time," did well in the pop market as well) for OKeh would cement the Chicago soul singe in the annals of fame, but many of his subsequent recordings of the later '60s and the '70s for Dakar, Volt, Curtom and other labels are definitely worth checking out. I was hipped to this tasty Dakar 45 by Brian Phillips, who included it on the most recent episode of his "The Electrophonic Sounds" show (click the "Rockin' Radio" link at the right and check out this great show), and while joining Phillips at a recent record fair I was able to score a copy. The Brunswick/Dakar sound is in full flower here, and Lance rides the surging groove well. Thanks Brian!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Writer's Block Friday

Hank Ballard Along With the Dapps - You're So Sexy

For some reason this morning I couldn't settle on a selection for today. I listened to Leon Huff's "I Ain't Jivin, I'm Jammin'," thought about following up on yesterday's Carla Thomas post with "The Honeydripper" by the Van-Dells (another record that Steve Cropper stole with his guitar work), and even considered risking my credibility by posting Shirley Ellis' "The Name Game" (which, although viewed as a novelty record and a staple of mainstream "oldies" radio, is a damn good Northern Soul record), but still was unsatisfied. Finally I settled on today's selection. Of course, it's a top-notch recording also, so it was last but definitely not least.

As I alluded in a prior post, when James Brown started out at King Records in 1956, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters were major hitmakers for the label with their raunchy "Annie" records ("Work With Me Annie," "Annie Had a Baby," "Annie's Aunt Fanny") and other great R&B gems (the original version of "The Twist" would come out two years later, and "Finger Poppin' Time" was still five years away). By the end of the '60s, however, Ballard's fame had waned significantly and, like Bill Doggett, James Brown had stepped in to help out. "You're So Sexy" is a hard-hitting piece of rock-oriented funk, with Ballard fronting the white band The Dapps, whose guitarist, "Fat Eddie" Setser (who was the subject of a James Brown-produced record by James Crawford and who is the "look at Fat Eddie, he's 300 pounds" reference in Charles Spurling's "Let Me Be (A Steppin' Soul)"), drives this record along with a strong rhythm. Ballard is exhibiting the wild looseness that sometimes put him on the wrong side of being in tune (this was particularly evident on the awesome "Butter Your Popcorn"), but it works for this number. The whole thing cooks like nobody's business, but I am particularly fond of the coda, where Hank and the band take the volume down and Hank starts chanting over a "chug-a-lug" groove that Fat Eddie lays down. Great stuff.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Memphis Queen (And a Wild Card)

Carla Thomas - I've Got No Time To Lose

Let's start with a straightforward declaration: Carla Thomas is my favorite female soul singer. Even if Carla hadn't have been instrumental in giving Stax Records, my fave label, its initial successes (by duetting with her father Rufus on "Cause I Love You," the first hit for the erstwhile Satellite label, and then cutting the major hit "Gee Whiz" (which she wrote) as her first solo single), this assessment would remain the same. Carla Thomas' vocals are a study in contradictions, sounding soulful yet erudite, youthful yet mature (I think it was Dave Godin that parsed the way she pronounced the word "sweetheart" as "sweet heart" in order to demonstrate her style; he was right). Whether singing a sweet ballad like "Gee Whiz," sassy fare like Otis & Carla's "Tramp," Hayes-Porter material like "B-A-B-Y," "Dime a Dozen" or my favorite, "Separation," or records featuring "raps" like "Guide Me Well," Carla wore the "Memphis Queen" moniker with style.

On "I've Got No Time To Lose," a 1964 Atlantic single (through 1965, Carla's records came out on Atlantic as part of the distribution agreement Stax and Atlantic had at the time), Carla takes the melody and works her contradictory magic with the help of some churchy backup singing (were the Drapels backing her on this?) and great accompaniment by the Stax regulars. One of the aforementioned "Stax regulars," Steve Cropper, nearly steals the show on this record, as his guitar work is nothing short of exquisite. From the pealing riff that opens the record and pushes the song along to the stinging lines that close out the verses, he darts in and out of the background to take the great ballad to that "next level" that so many great soul records reached.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I'm Loving Me Some Don Covay!

Don Covay - Take This Hurt Off Me

After yesterday's post I realized that I also wanted to feature today's fine selection. After several years of recording on various labels, Don Covay's 1964 hit "Mercy, Mercy" ushered him into his most successful era. "Take This Hurt Off Me" was the follow-up to "Mercy" and naturally borrows from the earlier hit, but it's a very engaging tune with a relaxed groove and good singing from Covay, craggly falsetto overdubs and all. After "Mercy" and "Take This Hurt Off Me" Covay re-signed with Atlantic (who had released his very first solo 45, "Bip Bop Bip," under the name "Pretty Boy" back in 1957) and would stay with the label for the rest of the decade. (It should also be noted that future rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix was one of Don Covay's Goodtimers at the time of the two Rosemart singles!)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gimme Some of Yours ...

Don Covay & The Jefferson Lemon Blues Band - Ice Cream Man (The Gimme Game)

Don Covay and his eccentric recordings have been the subject of a prior post, to which I refer you. For a few years in the late '60s and early '70s Covay fronted the "Jefferson Lemon Blues Band" on recordings for Atlantic and Janus. Although the best-known Jefferson Lemon Blues Band recording was the unusual but awesome Atlantic LP House of Blue Lights, which found Covay mixing some deep-in-the-Delta blues stylings with his more customary soul groove, he also recorded some hard-hitting soul and funk sides, most notably a version of "Sookie Sookie." Today's selection was the flip side of the bluesy Atlantic single "Black Woman." After a stinging blues guitar intro, "Ice Cream Man" starts off with a nice burbling groove over which Covay narrates the song's premise, but then moves into an aggressive climbing groove in which Covay turns a children's game into a not-so-veiled come-on. Despite the innuendos, and the craggly falsetto Covay uses for his overdubbed backgrounds (and what's with the "Popcorn! Ice cream! Candy!" during the mid-song vamp?), the record is a solid piece of get down, and by the time the horns are blasting at the end you shouldn't be able to sit still.

Monday, July 24, 2006

What's a Better Way to Start a Monday?

Warren Lee - Climb the Ladder

Starting off the new week is a nice New Orleans dancer. I refer you to Larry Grogan's Funky 16 Corners article for all of the details about Warren Lee Taylor and his recordings for Ron, Nola, Deesu and other labels. "Climb the Ladder," released on Deesu in 1966, is a bouncy, cheerful dance record featuring fun lyrics by Lee over a nice Allen Toussaint groove. I should also note that the flip, "Ever Since I've Been Loving You," is as equally enjoyable.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Deepest Soul

The Dixie Nightingales - All I Need Is Some Sunshine In My Life

The gospel recordings on the short-lived Stax subsidiary Chalice, set up by Al Bell upon his arrival at the label, are an outstanding alchemy of good gospel singing and the excellent accompaniment provided by Booker T. & The M.G.'s and other Stax musicians, who were clearly at the top of their game at the time.

Today's selection was an unreleased Chalice recording that saw the light of day on one of the Volts of Stax comps and on Disturb My Soul, a compilation of Chalice recordings (released in the US on the Specialty CD Free at Last). Ollie Hoskins and the Dixie Nightingales were a popular Memphis group with a weekly radio broadcast on WDIA. The group had recorded for Nashboro until their departure from the label over their song "The Assassination" (Ernie Young felt that the group's lamentation over JFK's assassination, with no references to God or Jesus, was not a gospel song and refused, therefore, to release it). The song was released on Chalice, starting the Nightingales on a new chapter of their career, which culminated in the group's transformation into the secular group Ollie & The Nightingales ("I Got a Sure Thing") and the establishment of Ollie Hoskins (later "Ollie Nightingale") as one of the most intense male vocalists in soul music. "All I Need Is Some Sunshine in My Life," like "The Assassination," differs from other gospel songs of that time with its dark lyrics (although there is a sense that God will make things right, face it - Ollie's depressed here!) and smoky accompaniment. It's a favorite of mine.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Soul Blues Saturday: From Chicago to Shreveport

Cicero Blake - Dip My Dipper

By the end of the '70s the R&B business has undergone major changes. At the largest level, the demise of most of the main R&B independent labels found many of the more regional-based artists (particularly those whose sounds appealed to Southerners) affiliating with labels like Columbia, which drove them toward disco and other incompatible styles. Only a few stalwart labels stayed the course, albeit operating on a much smaller scale than Stax, Hi, Invictus/Hot Wax, and others had operated. The Jackson, Mississippi label Malaco was at the forefront, and to the very day continues to record soul, blues and gospel in the more traditional styles. Stan Lewis' Jewel/Paula/Ronn setup was another Southern label that kept the flame going.

Today's selection was a Jewel release. Corey "Cicero" Blake was a Chicago soul singer whose talent was never appreciated, as he bounced around several Chicago imprints (Mar-V-Lus, Brainstorm, Brunswick) and others with no hits to show for the great recordings he left behind with them; the Brunswick material is particularly notorious, as it sat on the shelves for over twenty years! In the late '70s he recorded "Dip My Dipper," a salacious blues that became a signature tune. After a small-label release (I have the 45 but it's not with me so I can't recall the label's name), Stan Lewis picked it up for national distribution. The style of the recording is one that what would appear on many future sides. Next week these stylistic elements will be featured and discussed in further detail.

Friday, July 21, 2006

It's "R&B" Time: Second Set Tonight!

Look out tonight for the podcast of the second set! Tomorrow regular posting will resume with the second installment of the "Soul Blues Saturday" series.

(7:00 PM) - The second podcast is now online! See the playlist here!)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It's "R&B" Time: The First Podcast Is Online!

The first of two podcasts re-creating my "Rhythm & Booze" sets is now available from this blog, via RSS feed, or (hopefully by tomorrow) iTunes! The playlist appears in Monday's post. Enjoy!

It's "R&B" Time: I'm From Carolina!

Bird Rollins - Love Man From Carolina

In keeping with the "Rhythm & Booze" as church and school theme, here's a tune that I first heard in a set Brian Poust did some months ago. If I recall, he told me this was a Georgia soul record that gained release on Calla, and that's about all I know. I've learned that it is a popular record on the Northern Soul scene and appears on several Northern Soul comps. It's a nice piece of dancefloor fluff, featuring Rollins' exuberant vocals and some chick chorus call-and-response about 3/4 of the way through. It's fun stuff.

Look out tonight for the first set podcast!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It's "R&B" Time: The "First Set" Podcast!

I will be putting up a podcast of the first "Rhythm & Booze" set tonight, so look out for it! Unfortunately I was not able to record the set as I was spinning it, but thanks to iTunes I will recreate it!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Some technical difficulties and other matters have prevented me from getting the podcast online today. I will put it up tomorrow evening; tomorrow during the daytime I'll put up a regular post.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It's "R&B" Time: Walk on Judge!

The Soul Partners - Walk On Judge

I have been going to "Rhythm & Booze" since the fall, and I have come to conclusion that what makes it so great to me is that it's like going to church and school for soul music. Just hearing that great soul music (and having a few libations) makes me a very happy fellow indeed, but learning of great soul records is even better. Tim Lawrence and all of the other guest DJs (Georgia soul maven Brian Poust, the "Electrophonic" Brian Phillips, Kurt Wood, et al.) have much larger collections and a knowledge base than I, so I never leave "Rhythm & Booze" without a song or two or three scribbled on a piece of paper to seek out.

Today's selection was one of those recordings. I don't recall whether Tim or Brian Poust played it, but the funky instrumental just knocked me out. As noted in this It's Great Shakes post, the tune was originally released on the Columbus-based Holiday label before being picked up by Bell for national distribution. I don't know anything about the group, but I surmise that if the record came from Columbus and eventually was released on Bell, perhaps the "Moss" in the production credits is Columbus disc jockey Bill Moss, who would eventually form the Capsoul label (the subject of the Numero Group's initial Eccentric Soul compilation), and whose "Sock It To 'Em Soul Brother" and "Number One" also earned national release on Bell. Whatever the history of the record is, it's a sure-fire funky jam, featuring a cheerful sound, great guitar work, and a fun-but-too-short breakdown.

Monday, July 17, 2006

It's "R&B" Time: The Playlists, and Bobby Marchan!

"Rhythm & Booze" on Saturday night went very well! Kurt Wood joined me as a guest DJ, and so Kurt, Tim and I put down the soulful sounds! I did two sets. The playlists were as follows:

First Set (now available as Part One of the "Rhythm & Booze" Special):

1. Maskman & The Agents, "One Eye Open"
2. Cliff Nobles & Co., "The Camel"
3. Roy Hytower, "Undertaker"
4. Clarence Carter, "Thread the Needle"
5. Jackie Lee, "Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide"
6. Bobby Moore's Rhythm Aces Featuring Chico, "Go Ahead And Burn"
7. Carla Thomas, "Separation"
8. Jimmy Robins, "I Can't Please You"
9. Roscoe Robinson, "How Much Pressure (Do You Think I Can Stand)"
10. Ironing Board Sam, "Non Support (That's What The Judge Said)"
11. Muddy Waters, "Birdnest On The Ground"
12. Charles Spurling, "Popcorn Charlie"
13. Bobby Newsome, "Jody, Come Back And Get Your Shoes"
14. The Soul Clan, "Soul Meeting"
15. Bobby Marchan, "Shake Your Tambourine"
16. Johnnie Morisette, "I Know It Was Your Love"

Second Set (now available as Part Two of the "Rhythm & Booze" Special):

1. Andre Williams, "Rib Tips (Pt. 1)"
2. Jackie Moore, "Here I Am"
3. Bill Moss, "Sock It To 'Em Soul Brother"
4. The Soul Partners, "Walk On Judge"
5. June Conquest, "What's This I See"
6. The Mad Lads, "No Time Is Better Than Right Now"
7. The Ramrods, "Soul Train (Pt. 1)"
8. Branding Iron, "Right, Tight And Out Of Sight"
9. The Kindly Shepherds, "Jesus Lend Me A Hand"
10. Jimmy Lewis, "Where Was He?"

It was a lot of fun and I'm glad that Tim let me step out of the cyber world to lay out some real-life soul evangelism :) It was also great to meet some new friends who came from Macon to check it all out. There was a crazy lady there, too, who was trying to get too close to me on the dance floor, but that's a different story for another time (haha).

Today's selection was played late in the first set. R&B legend Bobby Marchan laid down a lot of good but under-appreciated dancers in the '60s on Dial, Cameo and Gamble that are worth checking out. "Shake Your Tambourine" was released on Cameo and features a great groove and fun vocals from Marchan.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Jimmy Jones, The Bobbettes, A Tandem Post, and "Rhythm & Booze"!


Jimmy Jones & The Sensationals - Been In The Storm

Although the bass singer was an important part of most male groups in the golden era of gospel, providing rhythmic support and, in the case of singers such as the Dixie Hummigbirds' Willie Bobo, rhythmic virtuosity, very few rose to the level of Jimmy Jones, whose fame initially came as a member of the Harmonizing Four. Jones was able to provide much more than the "boom-de-boom-boom" most bassos provided, stepping up as a lead singer and creating amazing records as a result. Today's selection, a post-Harmonizing Four recording, finds Jones' vocals framed by excellent harmony singing by The Sensationals.

EDITOR'S NOTE - Thanks to the MadPriest for giving me a clean MP3 of this great tune!

SUNDAY NORTHERN SOUL - Face The World With The Bobbettes (And Rob Whatman)!

The Bobbettes - I've Gotta Face The World

Today's post is a first for this blog - it's part of a tandem post with the "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," Rob Whatman. A few weeks ago I put on my "Mystery/Wanted" list The Bobbettes' 1966 RCA single "I've Gotta Face The World." As Rob mentions in his post, he dropped a nice piece of change to get a copy of the 45, and he so graciously shared the MP3 of the single with me. We agreed to do a tandem post to cover both sides of the great record. I will defer to Rob's post for the details about the group. I first heard "I've Gotta Face The World" on a June 1966 aircheck of Johnny Lloyd from WOOK, Washington, D.C. The surging Northern Soul groove, strong singing, and uplifting lyrics caught my attention right away, and I began a quest for the song, which Rob fortunately resolved. Take a listen to it and I think you'll be captivated also. The flip, "Having Fun," has appeared on a few comps and you can hear it on Rob's post.

A Note About "Rhythm & Booze"

Last night's "Rhythm & Booze" was a blast! I thank Tim Lawrence for the opportunity to do my thing and play some great 45s. Kurt Wood was also in town, so we shared guest duties, and as always it was great to hear him spin also. I look forward to joining Tim again in the future. This week's posts will be "Rhythm & Booze" themed, so get ready to get on down!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Rhythm & Booze!

Tonight's the big night ... no post today. Look out for tomorrow's gospel time and then hopefully a week of "Rhythm & Booze"-inspired posts!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Chop It Up, Baby!

Candy Phillips - Timber (Pts. 1 & 2)

Today's selection is part of the wonderful catalogue of R&B, soul and funk created by New Orleans legend Eddie Bo. I recommend that you get on over to the Soul Generation Eddie Bo discography to read about mountain of records Bo recorded on himself and others for a myriad of labels. The pseudonymously-credited "Timber" found "I Like It Like That" and "Land of 1000 Dances" legend Chris Kenner lending some besotted-sounding vocals (just listen to the delivery of the very first line, "spreading 'round the world like a wild disease") to a jerky New Orleans groove with Bo putting some "Chain Gang"-style grunts down for support. I really need to get my hands on a copy of the 45 of this, as it's currently my favorite New Orleans soul record!

"Rhythm & Booze" is one day away!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thursday Gospel Time (?!?)

Dorothy Love Coates - Trouble

I know that usually I post gospel stuff on Sunday, but today, when I'm feeling sick, tired and "sick and tired," this magnificent gospel blues fits like a glove. I'll be back to my usual writing and cheer tomorrow, but for today this song says plenty.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

King's Cool Harmony

The Solars - Here's My Heart

The two King Northern Soul CDs from Kent are worth checking out, as they present a nice range of material from the under-comped King labels. Today's selection was produced by James Brown associate Bud Hobgood and features some great harmony singing and attractive horn charts. This tune appears on the second volume of the series and is a highlight of the disc.

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Larry Blackwell, Sr., who granted me a great interview last night about Hoyt Sullivan and the HSE gospel music label. In a few weeks I will post an article derived from the interview.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Still Gettin' Ready to Get on Down!

The new ad for Saturday night!

Tuesday Is Blues Day!

Junior Parker - Ain't Gon' A Be No Cuttin' Loose

Blues singer/harmonica player Junior Parker started out as one of the legendary Beale Streeters, the loose aggregation of early '50s Memphis talent which included Roscoe Gordon and Bobby Bland. Parker recorded the legendary "Mystery Train" and "Feeling Good" for Sun in the label's early, pre-Elvis-and-rockabilly years. These songs, along with classics recorded for Duke, such as "Driving Wheel," adequately cement Junior's place in blues history. Fortunately for us soul fans, Parker was able to record some great soul-flavored blues for Duke, Mercury, Blue Rock, Capitol and Groove Merchant (for whom he recorded You Don't Have to Be Black to Love the Blues, the notorious cover of which appears here) before his untimely death in 1971. Today's selection was a Blue Rock release. Parker's cover of the Ricky Allen song "Ain't Gon' A Be No Cuttin' Loose" finds Parker's light, swinging singing fitting nicely with the horn-heavy, loping Chicago soul groove. It's a nice toe-tapper and a highlight of the now out-of-print Lost and Found: The Blue Rock Records Story compilation, which is worth seeking out.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Is That Your Final Answer?

Jimmy McCracklin - My Answer

I wrote about Jimmy McCracklin in a December post, so I'll jump right into today's selection. "My Answer" was an R&B hit for McCracklin when released on Imperial in the mid-'60s. Over a very churchy backdrop and a chorus, Jimmy half-talks and half-sings his rejection of a former love's apology in a most soulful manner. After "My Answer" hit, McCracklin joined the list of artists to record an answer record to their own hit (in McCracklin's case, it was the answer to his "Answer," I suppose) with "Come on Home (Where You Belong)," on which he trades the churchy chorus for a horn section and takes back just about everything he said in his original hit. How's that for changing one's mind?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

God Has Smiled On Me!

James Brown and Introducing the Reverend Al Sharpton (With the Gospel Energies):
God Has Smiled On Me (Pt. 1) b/w (Pt. 2)

Today's selection is one of the more unusual items in the James Brown catalog. The ever-controversial minister/civil rights activist/2004 Presidential candidate Al Sharpton had known Brown since the '70s, when he was a friend of James' son, Teddy. When Teddy was killed in a car accident in 1973, Sharpton and JB forged a lifelong friendship (Sharpton states that Brown "adopted" him and encouraged him to emulate him in wearing his hair in a slicked-back pompadour) the endures to the present day. "God Has Smiled On Me" was released on the tiny Royal King label in 1981 and it features James and the Gospel Energies doing the traditional spiritual in the choruses and Sharpton doing a sermonette on the verses. Whether or not you agree with Sharpton's politics, it's a pretty inspiring recording. They "take it to church" and it's worth a listen.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Folk Funk!

Bobby Rush - I Wanna Do the Do

Red Kelly's recent "The B-Side" post featuring the late Z.Z. Hill discussed the modern conundrum regarding the use of the word "blues" to describe music:

"Z.Z.'s brand of music is, I believe, misunderstood by Soul and Blues fans alike. When you say "Blues" in Mississippi it has an entirely different meaning than it does to the Stevie Ray Vaughan crowd, know what I mean? Excellent AM radio station WKXI 1400 in Jackson bills itself as 'all-blues', but that means something entirely different... [t]o me, that is what has become of "Southern Soul"... it's alive and well and living under this assumed name."

I've been wanting to write about this genre for some time, so for the next few Saturdays I will do posts featuring "soul-blues" (the term I will use to differentiate the music from what, say, Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters recorded) in an attempt to figure out what the genre actually consists of. I will examine the schism between "blues" as defined by "the Stevie Ray Vaughan crowd" and by stations like WKXI, and I will present various examples of the genre. Obviously, as a result, some newer recordings will make their way onto the page, but I hope you, the reader, will not be offended. I actually hope to add to the debate which plays out on soul Internet groups about the merits, if any, of the music, with this series. Having said all that, on to today's selection.

The legendary singer/guitarist/harmonica player Bobby Rush is probably the very first soul-blues artist, having crafted a mixture of soul, blues and funk that he called "folk funk." The slinky but strange "Chicken Heads" gave Rush an R&B hit on Galaxy in 1971, but Rush's style was too idiosyncratic to keep Rush atop the charts throughout the the disco-Parliament-and-Earth, Wind & Fire '70s, although he had regional successes on labels such as Jewel (where he recorded "It's Alright," one of my favorites). Although Rush's national profile never reached the heights it did with "Chicken Heads," he persevered and is still doing his thing for appreciative fans today, with a raucous stage show featuring fat-bottomed dancing girls, Rush's good-timing style and Rush's very colorful songs. Rush has also received renewed national attention due to his appearance in the Martin Scorcese documentary The Blues.

It must've appeared strange to everyone involved that Rush would end up on Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International imprint in the twilight of the '70s for the one-off album Rush Hour. Gamble and Huff wisely chose to let Rush work in his "folk funk" style instead of trying to shoehorn him into the Philly groove, and the overall result was very solid. "I Wanna Do the Do" was pulled from the album for single release and it scored Rush a minor R&B hit in 1979. Over a taut rhythm section, Rush borrows the lyrical premise of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" and the chorus of Junior Parker's "Feelin' Good" to create a nice piece of late-'70s funk and drafting the blueprint for the soul-blues explosion of the '80s and '90s.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I'm a Friend of Any Joe Tex Fan!

Joe Tex - Papa's Dream

Yesterday a commenter to a post I did on another blog stated, after he had reviewed my podcast playlists, that "any one who plays Joe Tex is a friend of mine." I responded, "Well, I'm a friend indeed, because I love me some Joe Tex." I have been a fan of the late Joe Tex since I first heard my mother's scratchy copies of "Skinny Legs and All" and the Live and Lively LP. I think what has always drawn me to Tex is the fact that regardless of what he was recording, be it the somewhat pop-sounding early '60s stuff, the Dial southern soul classics, his '70s funk stuff or the late '70s disco recordings (which, as I stated in a prior Tex post, were better than any of his contemporaries' attempts to try their hand at the genre that was all but doing in Southern soul and funk), Tex was always the down-home country philosopher from Texas, prone to see the world with horse sense and good humor. When he wasn't sermonizing about love and relationships or joking about someone's skinny legs or "loose caboose," Tex would often do songs about regular folks doing regular things, with a tone of voice more akin to a front-porch chat than a soul recording.

Today's selection, indicative of this approach, appeared on the 1972 Dial LP Spills The Beans after an earlier single release. On "Papa's Dream" Tex starts off by discussing the hard-luck farmer who couldn't raise a good crop his whole life, but then explains that the farmer's best crop - his children - have done very well. At that point the monologuing Tex is not a soul singer, but rather your next-door neighbor ("She got one of them beautician jobs, making good money fixin' other folks' hair," he proudly claims). And then, to top it off, there's a happy ending for the next crop. All of this, presented atop a nice country-flavored accompaniment (Johnny Cash would give this song a country cover with "Look at Them Beans"). It's a happy song to take into the weekend. A toast to friends! :)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Gettin' Ready to Get on Down!

There's a World of Excitement on Cadet (Pt. 3): Wade In The Water!

Marlena Shaw - Let's Wade In The Water

Please see my earlier post about the Cadet label for background about the great Chess subsidiary. As Cadet acts like Ramsey Lewis and others embraced soul jazz, the label made a practice of releasing the most R&B-flavored of such tracks on 45 with soul radio in mind. The Ramsey Lewis Trio paid the first dividends with this approach with their versions of "The In Crowd" and "Wade In The Water."

Today's selection also fit within the "Cadet-jazz-as-soul-single" approach. Marlena Shaw's tenure with Cadet in the '60s and early '70s was full of very attractive recordings, including her hit vocal version of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy," today's selection, and the beat diggers' favorites "California Soul," "Liberation Conversation" and "Woman of the Ghetto." "Let's Wade In The Water" found Shaw adding vocals to the Ramsey Lewis hit, to good effect. The distinctive Cadet groove is in full force and Shaw's strong vocals push the song along.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Number Nine!

The new episode of the show is now available as a direct download, via RSS feed, or (within a day or so, I hope) iTunes! The playlist is as follows:

1. The Orlons, "Spinnin' Top"
2. Joe Tex, "If Sugar Was As Sweet As You"
3. John Lee Hooker, "She's Mine"
4. Phillip Mitchell, "Keep On Talking"
5. Etta James, "You Got It"
6. James Duncan, "Mr. Goodtime"
7. Carla Thomas Coca-Cola Ad
8. Singin' Sammy Ward, "What Makes You Love Him"
9. Inez & Charlie Foxx, "Come By Here"
10. Maskman & The Agents, "My Wife, My Dog, My Cat"
11. Bo Diddley, "Do The Frog"
12. Robert Parker, "The Hiccup"
13. The Fantastic Johnny C, "Hitch It To The Horse"
14. Carla Thomas & Jerry Butler Coca-Coal Ad
15. The Panic Buttons, "O-Wow" (background music)
16. Azie Mortimer, "You Can't Take It Away"
17. The Persianettes, "It Happens Every Day"
18. Howard Tate, "How Come My Bulldog Don't Bark"
19. Moses & Joshua Dillard, "Get Out Of My Heart"
20. Jackie Ross, "Jerk And Twine"
21. The Hearts, "Don't Let Me Down"
22. The Faithful Wonders, "Ol' John (Behold Thy Mother)"
23. Johnny Adams, "I'm Grateful"
24. Booker T. & The M.G.'s, "Steve's Stroll" (closing theme)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Get on Down With Jimmy Lewis!

Jimmy Lewis - Where Was He?

I've discussed Jimmy Lewis and his work in an earlier post, so I'll dive right into today's selection. "Where Was He?" was the flip to Lewis' excellent 1973 Volt single "Stop Half Loving These Women." Rob Bowman notes in the second Stax-Volt singles box that Don Davis green-lighted the Lewis 45 only to induce the veteran songwriter to write some material for Johnnie Taylor (to my knowledge no Lewis songs came out of that arrangement on Stax, although later Taylor would cover "Stop Half Loving These Women"). It's probably unlikely, then, that Stax put any promotional muscle behind the Lewis single, which was commercially unsuccessful. "Where Was He?" sounds slightly dated for its 1973 release (to me it has more of a 1970 or '71 feel), but like all of Lewis' other work from that era, it's very good. Lewis revisits his usual "romance-and-finance" theme with the help of a femme chorus over a light funk groove.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - I hope to get Episode #9 of the podcast online tomorrow! Happy 4th of July!)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

God's Got It!

Rev. Charlie Jackson:

God's Got It
All Aboard

The 2003 CaseQuarter CD God's Got It: The Legendary Booker and Jackson Singles brought the Baton Rouge preacher/singer/guitarist Rev. Charlie Jackson's 1970s gospel recordings for the New Orleans Booker label and the minister's own Jackson label to the surface and garnered tremendous critical acclaim. Charlie Jackson's strong singing and bluesy guitar work evokes those black country churches of my own youth, where "prosperity gospel" and flashy evangelism had not taken hold. "God's Got It" features a crunchy guitar groove and fantastic call-and-response with the congregation in the coda, and "All Aboard" is a very touching gospel blues. This is the real, down-home, no-pretense gospel. This is "church" in the earnest sense of the word. It's great stuff.

I must note that CaseQuarter producer Kevin Nutt is the host of WFMU's "Sinner's Crossroads" (see link at right), which is appointment listening for me. If you haven't checked it out, you're missing out on an hour of great gospel music spanning from the 1920s through to the present day (although stylistically the newer stuff hearkens back to the '70s styles at the latest).

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Serious Soul!

Bettye LaVette - Souvenirs

Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award winner Bettye LaVette's recent success with the Joe Henry-produced I've Got My Own Hell to Raise is a welcome blessing to all of us soul fans who have known the hard-luck tale of LaVette, who had to wait until her fifth decade as a recording artist and performer to get the praise and renumeration her immense talent deserves. As the news story points out, while many of her contemporaries were striking gold, LaVette bounced from label to label, recording some of the most intense soul to be committed to wax, with no success.

Today's selection is a perfect example. In the early '70s LaVette recorded an entire album, Child of the '70s, for Atlantic, but save for the great single "Your Turn to Cry" b/w "Soul Tambourine," the label (whose commitment to deep soul, at least on an LP level, was pretty much nonexistent by 1972) shelved the rest. It was not until 2000 that the material surfaced, on the French comp Souvenirs. (The Atlantic album has been newly reissued due to LaVette's newfound success; I don't have the details on hand, but it's available at Dusty Groove America and other specialty retailers.) The title track was written by John Prine (who also wrote Swamp Dogg's Vietnam anthem "Sam Stone"), and LaVette wrings every drop of passion out of the very touching lyrics while the band lays down a great country soul backdrop. I saw LaVette in Chicago in 2004 and her performance of this song, seated on the lip of the Oriental Theater's stage, was a total show-stopper.