Thursday, August 31, 2006

It Ain't No Fun to Al, But It's Fun to Me!

Al Green - It Ain't No Fun To Me

Al Green's early Hi 45s are interesting to listen to, as Al and producer Willie Mitchell hadn't worked out the silky soul style that would catapault Green to immense success. These recordings find Al doing a lot of hard soul singing in a brassy tone and the Hi musicians matching his crackling energy. Some of that energy exists in "Tired of Being Alone," but most of his hits afterward were smoother (although that energy always rumbled beneath the surface and peeked through in places). The fact that Hi was not committed to the older Al Green sound can be found with today's selection. "It Ain't No Fun to Me" is a hard-hitting mid-tempo number on which Al adds a little gospel stylings to a blues-based song. Al's singing hard, and the Hi band is borrowing a page or two from Stax in its accompaniment, with great results. It was one of the first Al Green songs I ever heard, as my mother preferred it over the A-side of the 45, which was Al's 1973 hit "Livin' For You," which featured the smoother sound. "It Ain't No Fun" was not included in the Livin' For You LP but eventually was comped on a reissue of Let's Stay Together. It's one of the better non-LP B-sides out there.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - "(You) Got What I Need," from yesterday's post, was the fastest-downloaded song I've put on here so far - 97 downloads in one day. Thank you all for your continued interest in this site; it's gratifying to know that people are enjoying this stuff!)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Shoutin' With Freddie Scott

Freddie Scott - (You) Got What I Need

As a kid, Biz Markie's off-key, overwrought singing on the rap classic "Just a Friend" was funny but strangely soulful: "You ... got what I nee-eed ... but you say he's just a friend, you say he's just a friend - oh bay-bee ..." It wasn't until I was an adult that I heard today's selection, from which Markie created his tune, and I am so glad I heard it, because otherwise Biz would have to be the last word on the topic! (Just for the record, I do think "Just a Friend" is a great record in its own right; a recent remake of the tune by Little Mario, with a guest appearance by Markie, reflects the song's staying power.)

Freddie Scott had hit big for Bert Berns' Shout concern with the 1966 #1 R&B hit "Are You Lonely For Me?" This success was a break in what had been a drought for Scott, who had hit earlier for Colpix but then floundered when that label went under and Columbia Records, who inherited his contract, attempted to pass him off as a pop-oriented balladeer. "Are You Lonely For Me?" brought a funky Southern soul vibe to Scott's work that really showcased his deep vocals. They stuck with the funk but gave it a more uptown flair for today's selection, with great results. "(You) Got What I Need" starts off with the piano riff that Biz Markie built "Just a Friend" out of and then opens up into full orchestration. The background singers are not as churchy as they were on "Are You Lonely For Me?" but they lend strong support right out of the gate. But the tune belongs to Scott, who slings the lyrics over that great rhythm (check out the second verse for a master class on how to sing over a breakbeat) and really captures the spirit of the song. It's a great record, and it ended up being Scott's last big hit.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

When In a Rush, Pick Joe Tex!

Joe Tex - For My Woman

Work is hectic and so all I'll say about today's selection is that if you have a wife or a girlfriend and your love is real, you can feel Joe Tex's testimony on this one. Back to work!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Two Looks At Fontella Bass

Fontella Bass:

Safe and Sound
How Glad I Am

Fontella Bass' 1965 smash "Rescue Me" is part of the canon of immortal soul songs due in part Fontella's full-throttle delivery (one writer referred to her performance as being "Aretha before Aretha" - at that time, Aretha was still doing jazz and pop for Columbia; her meeting with Jerry Wexler was a good year or so away)and the awesome groove laid down by the Chess house band. Naturally, follow-up records were made to ride out the hit's momentum. "Safe and Sound" was the second such tune (the first being "Recovery") and it's pretty good despite its derivative nature. Today's second selection came from Fontella's LP The New Look, her third Checker LP. The New Look was an attempt to show off Bass' versatility as a singer and it features some deep soul and soul and pop covers. Bass' readings of "Our Day Will Come" and "How Glad I Am" are my favorites from that set. Over a sweet, jazzy background, Bass sings in an almost conversational tone, with great results. Despite Bass' mega-hit, her jazz chops were very strong and her marriage to Lester Bowie would lead her further in that direction as the '60s gave way to the '70s.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Soulful Staples

The Staple Singers - Praying Time

The Staple Singers' countryfied harmonies and Pop Staples' reverb-laden guitar put the group on the map in gospel circles in the late '50s with great recordings, mostly on Vee Jay. The teenaged Mavis Staples' contralto was in full flower, as evidenced on the major gospel hit "Uncloudy Day," and their switch to "message songs" for Stax took Mavis and the group to the top of the charts and mainstream success.

Today's selection came from the mid-'60s, when the Staples had moved from the defunct Vee Jay label to Columbia's Epic imprint. The Staples' work during this era is not as celebrated as the Vee Jay sides or the '70s Stax classics, but plenty of good material came out of the relationship with the major, especially the anthem "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)." "Praying Time" smolders along with a bluesy sound and Mavis' testifying after the first couple of verses. The group doesn't get loud, but the intensity of the record is thrilling.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Sorry for the delay in today's post, but Blogger was experiencing some difficulties earlier!)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Call Tyrone!

Tyrone Davis - Mom's Apple Pie

Tyrone Davis' vulnerable voice and tender songs made Davis an R&B heartthrob from the late '60s through the end of the '70s. Like Johnnie Taylor, Davis' main body of work came while signed to an independent label (Dakar, 1968-76), and like Taylor, Davis moved on to Columbia Records, where he had some more big hits before changing times did him in as a major R&B chart force (most notably with the Chicago soul "Give It Up (Turn It Loose)" and the ballad "In the Mood"). From the early '80s through to around 1996, Davis recorded for a wide range of small labels, getting some chart action with records like "Are You Serious" but keeping the chitlin' circuit ablaze with his strong stage show (his band was considered one of the best working bands, a fact to which I can attest; I saw Tyrone in 1998 and they were smokin') and soul-blues records that continued to play up his romantic but rhythmic vocals.

During a sojourn for the Atlanta-based Ichiban label (which gave the world Clarence Carter's "Strokin'") Davis recorded "Mom's Apple Pie," which made significant noise in the soul-blues world upon release in 1991. Davis' paean to a woman who's giving him the run-around is a solid toe-tapper with a sing-along chorus. I used to have a tape of Davis and his band doing this with his band for a WGN special ("Blues Goin' On"; if anyone has a video of any editions - I know of at least two - of this special this please contact me), and it was a highlight of the program.

Like Johnnie Taylor, Davis found his final label, Malaco, to be a perfect fit, and his albums that followed were very strong, featuring great covers of older soul material ("For the Good Times," from 1997, was a great cover of the Al Green song, itself a cover) and the love-man stuff for which he was well known ("Kiss You Where I Miss You," "Call Tyrone," "Sugar Daddy"). His long illness in 2004 made Chicago headlines (after an erroneous news story declared him dead), and his death in 2005 was a sad one in the history of Chicago soul.

I need to do more Tyrone stuff on this blog, as it is of a very high quality and, like Bobby Bland, Davis' material did not have the mainstream impact that many other soul artists had. The best example is "Turning Point," one of Davis' most popular songs. On its 1976 release the record shot straight to #1 on the R&B charts, but it missed the Billboard "Hot 100" entirely!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Just a Touch of Miami Soul!

Charlie Whitehead - Between The Lines

As mentioned in a prior post, Swamp Dogg's productions on Charlie Whitehead, aka Raw Spitt, are worth checking out if you are a fan of Swamp Dogg and of Southern soul. Today's selection was a single on Stone Dogg, a mid-'70s joint venture between Swamp Dogg and Miami record man Henry Stone, who was sitting pretty with quite a few hits by the likes of Clarence Reid and Betty Wright and was on the cusp of immense success with his TK label (more on that in a moment). "Between The Lines" features Swamp's usual good songwriting and Whitehead's strong singing with a nice dash of the Miami soul groove thrown in for good measure, especially with the guitar work (this just has to be Willie "Little Beaver" Hale; the other night I listened to this on headphones for the first time and his busy, single-string playing, isolated to the left stereo track, is outstanding). It's a nice piece of steppin' soul to take into the weekend!

In an interview with Roctober, Swamp Dogg mentioned that when he was working with Stone there was an eager young go-fer in Stone's Hialeah studios named Harry Casey, whom he showed a few things on the piano and what-not. Swamp pointed out that he nearly ended up as that go-fer's valet, as Casey phoneticized his last name to "K.C." and rode the disco wave to immense stardom on TK as the decade progressed!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Shakin' a Leg With Billy Guy

Billy Guy - If You Want to Get Ahead, Shake a Leg

Billy Guy was one of the lead singers for The Coasters, and his sly, instantly recognizable lead graced several of their bigger hits. By the late '60s Guy was working as a solo act, both musically and as a stand-up comic, and The Coasters were about to split into warring "Coasters" groups. I first learned of Guy's solo stuff from a December 2002 episode of "Downtown Soulville" which aired after Guy's death, and it's a pretty interesting body of work, ranging from soul to funk. Today's selection appeared on the show and made its way into my record collection. "If You Wanna Get Ahead, Shake a Leg" was a Verve single, and on it Guy motor-mouths his way through the "go-go-go" lyrics. The end result is a pretty good up-tempo number. The flip, "I'm Sorry About That," tries to be a deep soul ballad, but Guy's vocals lack the gravitas to make it convincing.

Writing this post reminds me that I need to try to get the best Billy Guy 45 I've ever heard - "Lookin' Like a Nut Nut" (featured on the "Downtown Soulville" show), a nice piece of funky soul. Off to eBay I go!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fast, Funky and Fabulous!

Bobby Womack - Lillie Mae

Soul legend Bobby Womack got his start in show biz when Sam Cooke took an interest in the erstwhile gospel group The Womack Brothers, whom he signed to his SAR label. Despite some pretty good gospel sides, Sam and the group decided to take on secular music (to the Womacks' father's chagrin) and, as The Valentinos, yielded dividends right away with the hit "Lookin' For a Love." Bobby was particularly close to Cooke, perhaps too close: when Sam was killed in 1964, Bobby promptly married Sam's widow, Barbara, to the horror of Sam's family, Sam's fans, and R&B disc jockeys. Womack would soon start his solo career, but the fallout from his marriage to his mentor's widow was such that R&B DJs rejected his initial recordings; Womack has interviewed that the DJs were throwing his records in the garbage! The rehabilitation of his career came as a session musician in Memphis and as a songwriter for Wilson Pickett, who took "I Found a True Love," "I'm in Love" and other songs to the top of the charts. The successes Womack had with Pickett gave him momentum to sign to Liberty Records' Minit label and have some of his first solo hits as the '60s came to a close. By the early '70s Womack had major hits for United Artists and continued his hitmaking ways into the early '80s, when "If You Think You're Lonely Now" gave him his final smash hit.

Today's selection was a 1969 Minit single which also appeared on his Fly Me To The Moon LP. "Lillie Mae" is a quick (1:57) and dirty piece of funk that sounds like it was recorded in Memphis at the American studios. The guitar lines crackle with energy, the horns hit hard where they are supposed to, and Womack channels Wilson Pickett in his singing. It's a fun record, and to quote John R, the only thing wrong with it is that it's too short!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

You're Gonna Lose Your Blue Cross Plan!

Sammy Ward - Bread Winner

Today's selection is another foray into the diverse musical styles of the early days of Motown. Although by 1964 Berry Gordy's record empire was picking up serious steam with hits by The Miracles, The Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and others, the label was still dabbling with other styles of music in search of additional hits. "Singin'" Sammy Ward had recorded for Berry Gordy from the earliest days (his "What Makes You Love Him" appears on Episode #9 of the podcast). I find his recordings to be some of the best of the early material, as Ward brought a gospel intensity to the blues he sang. In a perfect word Ward's stuff would appear on comps alongside Bobby Bland and he would get the praise that he would deserve. In this imperfect world, however, we at least have wider access to his material thanks to the Complete Motown Singles series. "Bread Winner" is strictly about the latter half of "romance and finance," as Ward warns his woman what financial disasters will ensue since she's done him wrong. Such lyrics wouldn't work in today's time, but something about "you're gonna lose your Blue Cross plan" rings true in a world of rising health care costs!

Monday, August 21, 2006

B.B. King Is a Soul Man!

B.B. King - Who Are You

As mentioned in my "TSOBB" post from March, blues legend B.B. King entered the '70s receptive to incorporating soul music into his repertoire, an approach that paid immediate dividends with a nice string of hits that lasted throughout the decade. "Who Are You" was a #27 R&B chart hit in 1974. After a groovy opening featuring the tune's catchy bass line and some tinny electric piano, King lays out the song's quirky lyrics with support from a nice male chorus (who also appear on "I'd Like To Live The Love") and good horn charts.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Finally, Episode #10 is online! The theme for this episode is "GET DOWN," so all of the tunes are dance-oriented. The playlist is as follows:

1. Bobby Boseman - Astrological Soul Train
2. Joe Cobb - It's LB Time
3. A.C. Reed - Boogaloo-Tramp
4. Harvey Scales & The Seven Sounds - Get Down
5. The Olympics - The Bounce
6. The Lyrics - The Side Wind
7. Johnny Larand & The Internes - The Eel
8. Alvin Cash - Poppin' Popcorn
9. Little Milton Coca-Cola Ad
10. Jr. Walker & The All-Stars - Do the Boomerang
11. King Coleman - Do The Boogaloo
12. Eddie Kirk - The Hawg (Pt. 1)
13. Jerry-O - Funky Charge
14. Lee Dorsey - Four Corners (Pt. 1)
15. Bernie Hayes - Cool Strut
16. Kool Cigarettes Ad
17. The Fantastic Johnny C - Cool Broadway
18. The Capitols - Zig Zaggin
19. Bobby Miller - Uncle Willie Time
20. Dyke & The Blazers - Funky Bull (Pts. 1 & 2)
21. Lowell Fulsom - Funky Broadway
22. The Johnny Otis Show - Watts Breakaway
23. Judson Moore - Everybody Push and Pull
24. J. Hines & The Fellows - Victory Strut (closing theme)


Friday, August 18, 2006

Just Keep On Struttin'!

The Meters - Chicken Strut

Today's selection is, in addition to being a kick-butt piece of New Orleans funk, a sentimental favorite of mine. I first heard "Chicken Strut" as a small child through my mom's 45s. Of course, as a little tyke I dug the record more for the chicken clucking that appears in the choruses and in the coda than for the groove (although even as a kid I loved the breakdown in the middle), but fortunately as I grew older I came to enjoy this tasty 1970 Josie 45 for the right reasons. I won't go into a discussion about the Meters here; for that you should go to the "Home of the Groove" blog - the link is at the right - for info about the group and many other awesome New Orleans soul and funk luminaries.

I have always been taught that everything happens for a reason. The 45 of "Chicken Strut" I grew up with was originally owned by my mom's ex-boyfriend (his name was written on the label), and I guess it ended up with her after she met my father and married him. I'm glad I got to hear it in those formative years. So Willie Williams, wherever you are, thank you!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mr. Ballard, May I Help You With Something?

Hank Ballard - Butter Your Popcorn

eBay is a great thing for record collectors like me, as I generally don't know many good places to get records (especially here in Atlanta; there were some great places in Chicago to get good vinyl) and am just getting plugged into the record fairs, etc. There are soul records galore there, and the steady stream of packages that come to the mailbox keeps the Stepfather a happy soul man. Every now and then I get pleasantly surprised to get a record for an awesome price. In transit to me now is the 45 of today's selection, in near mint condition, which I was able to get for $3.50! (Now here's hoping that there's no post office mishap like the one from the other week, when my Little Richard gospel 45 got broken by my local mail carrier!)

"Butter Your Popcorn" was one of the records in the James Brown "Popcorn" canon (as discussed in a prior post), and it's a good one. After the female spoken intro, Ballard leaps into the song and rides its lurching groove all the way to the fade. One writer noted that Ballard is so enthusiastic that he's out of tune, which is true, but the soul and pure fun of the tune makes up for Ballard's flawed singing. Come on, children - butter your popcorn!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - The link above now points to an MP3 of the tune.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wednesday Prayer Meeting

The Mighty Sons - Jesus Delivered Daniel

Today is one of those days when a gospel song is what my soul needs for comfort and encouragement. I heard today's selection for the first time on "Soul Brother" Barry Fowden's show and it's a powerful number. I don't know anything about the Mighty Sons, but "Jesus Delivered Daniel" is probably as close as we'll ever get to an Isley Brothers gospel record, and the lyrics are very appropriate today. Jesus, stand by me!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Funky Blues Tuesday

Buddy Conner - Half Way Loving

Today's "Tuesday Is Blues Day" feature is this tasty piece of blues-based funk which saw release on Fantasy's Early Bird label, a subsidiary of the under-heralded Galaxy imprint. Fortunately, the fine folks at Ace Records in the UK have started to dive into the Fantasy/Galaxy catalogue and have put out four great comps of material. (The sale of Fantasy Records, which includes the post-1968 Stax catalogue, to Concord Records may preclude further reissues by Ace of Galaxy and Stax material. Hopefully, Concord will keep the reissue flame alive, either on their own or with a company like Ace or, as the rumor mill has it, pop star and Memphis native Justin Timberlake, who reportedly has designs on buying Stax Records. I emphasize that the latter is only a rumor.)

I don't know anything about Buddy Connor, and the only recordings of his I have heard are today's selection and the Northern Soul-oriented "When You're Alone"; I do know, however, that "Half Way Loving" is a true cooker. Over some hard drums, heavy organ and solid horns, Connor sings the blues with gusto. You can't help but get down to this!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - While my podcast is still in development, check out Halfbreedhalf's "Love Uprising" set, full of nice '70s stuff!)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Inez At Memphis!

Inez Foxx - The Lady, The Doctor, & The Prescription

From 1963's "Mockingbird" through the rest of the '60s, Inez Foxx and her brother Charlie scored a nice string of R&B hits for Sue, Symbol and Dynamo, including the ever-popular "Come By Here" and "(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the Days." By the early '70s Inez was working as a solo act and she eventually made her way to Stax Records, where on the Volt imprint she earned one album release, At Memphis, and a few 45s. She scored minor hits with a cover of "I Had a Talk With My Man" (for which today's selection was the B-side) and "Circuit's Overloaded," a strident funky 45 that has been comped quite a few times, but all in all her Volt recordings marked the beginning of the end of her recording career, as they lacked the sparkling magic (and maybe the rawer production) that made her '60s sides successful.

Inez herself penned "The Lady, The Doctor, & The Prescription," a nice mid-tempo number that builds up steam as she layers on the verses, in which a visit to the doctor results in an interesting diagnosis. By the end of the record the tune is boasting a nice stepper's groove and Foxx's testifying gives it a nice finish.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hold Out!

Rev. "Singing" Sammy Lewis - Hold Out

Sammy Lewis, "The Crown Prince of Gospel Singers," never reached the upper levels of gospel stardom despite great recordings that spanned across the fifties and sixties. Lewis' singing is very redolent of Brother Joe May's "Thunderbolt" style but also includes some nice sermonizing. "Hold Out" was originally released on the Chess-distributed St. Lawrence label and was also included on the Checker LP What Can I Do? Over a pulsing organ rhythm Lewis soulfully moans about the growing malaise he witnesses (this message is true today!) and then he offers his solution. Like "We Need More Love," Lewis' intensity really sells the song.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Soul Blues Saturday: Get On Down With JT!

Johnnie Taylor - You Can't Strike Gold In A Silver Mine

The late Johnnie Taylor and Tyrone Davis reigned from the late '80s until their deaths at the pinnacle of the soul blues circuit. The parallels between the two are very interesting: both ended up on Columbia after long, successful tenures on independent labels; both had initial hits on Columbia but then found themselves alienated by the label as public tastes changed; both had a few final national hits on small labels; and both found their fortunes in the new soul blues market on the Malaco label. Davis and his music will be discussed next week.

Although Johnnie Taylor's move to Columbia in 1975 paid immediate and immense dividends with the platinum single "Disco Lady" (the first single, incidentally, to be certified as such by the RIAA, which had just created the designation), by the end of the '70s he found himself floundering. He switched to the Beverly Glen label (then hot with Bobby Womack's "If You Think You're Lonely Now") and had a few more minor hits before signing with Malaco. Taylor's Malaco recordings struck a major nerve with soul blues fans and Taylor toured continuously on the strength of tunes like "Last Two Dollars," "Big Head Hundreds," "Soul Heaven" (his last soul blues hit), and today's selection.

"You Can't Strike Gold" features a very punchy groove, anchored by a funky guitar lick (although many soul blues records featured synthesizers and drum machines, usually a real guitar would be there) and good background singing. Taylor is in good form, cutting loose with Sam Cooke wails and telling the cautionary tale of the lyrics. It's a shame this song didn't exist in the Stax days, becuase he would've hit with it for sure!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - The podcast will be put up next week - sorry for the delays!)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Black Moses At Wattstax! (Well, Sort Of)

Isaac Hayes - Rolling Down a Mountainside

In August 1972, The Stax Organization (as the label was known at the time) provided gratis to the Watts Summer Festival its entire roster of artists for a day-long concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum (then home of the L.A. Rams) as a goodwill (and marketing) gesture. The event, thereafter referred to often as "the black Woodstock," was filmed for posterity by director Mel Stuart and producer David Wolper, and footage from it, intercut with other performance footage, comedy bits by the then relatively-unknown Richard Pryor (much of the material would later appear on the seminal LP That Nigger's Crazy) and "man-on-the-street" interviews with assorted denizens of Watts (including a pre-"Love Boat" Ted Lange and, pre-"Sanford and Son," the guy who played Aunt Esther's husband, whose name I cannot recall), was released as the 1973 film Wattstax. This great film was for many years commercially unavailable, save for a P-Vine import, and it only made rare appearances on pay movie channels in the US (I taped it off of Cinemax back in 1998). In conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the film, the legal wrangling over the rights to the film, which had prevented its prior release on video (although Columbia Pictures put out the film in 1973, it did not have full ownership to it) was finally put resolved and the film was re-released, followed by a DVD release.

The re-release of the film also brought resolution to a controversy surrounding the original film. At the time of Wattstax Isaac Hayes was a megastar, having delivered the groundbreaking Hot Buttered Soul album in 1969 and riding high with the soundtrack to Shaft, for which he had won an Oscar. Hayes closed out the concert with a set that included the famous "Theme from Shaft" and the ballad "Soulsville" from the soundtrack. All seemed to be well until Wattstax was due to be released. MGM had the rights to the film Shaft and demanded that the songs be removed. As a result, the "Theme to Shaft" portion was shown in abbreviated form (just the intro, over which Jesse Jackson introduces Hayes - "He's a bad, bad - I'm a preacher, I can't say it" - and the closing is played). To replace "Soulsville" it was decided that Isaac would perform his newest single, at the time entitled "God Is On Our Side," so the performance was shot on a soundstage and edited into footage of the audience to close out the film. (The film's re-release restored the original ending, which fortunately was found in the vaults, so the DVD includes "God Is On Our Side" as one of its bonus features.) Stax issued a 45 of the song, now retitled as "Rolling Down a Mountainside," as part of their "Wattstax" marketing strategy (more on that later). "Rolling Down a Mountainside" features the usual orchestral style for which Hayes was famous, but it's Hayes' vocal that really makes the record work. Although inspiring, the words are somewhat trite (think of the "American Idol" winners' first singles), but Hayes puts them over with soul and a warmth that tugs the heartstrings. It's one of my favorite Isaac Hayes records.

It should be noted that there was actually lots of strange stuff that happened during the making of Wattstax and in Stax Records' attempts to use the film for marketing of its records. The concert itself ran too long and several acts, including Johnnie Taylor and The Emotions, had to cancel their sets. Some artists, like Little Milton, had other engagements that day. To compensate for this, the film's producers arranged for Taylor, Milton and the Emotions to appear at a Los Angeles nightclub in order to shoot some footage for the film. Of the three performances, however, only Taylor's was suitable for use in the film (lighting issues marred the other two). Little Milton was subsequently filmed lip-syncing "Walking the Back Streets and Crying," and the resulting "music video" footage is actually a strong point in the film. The Emotions also managed to have a strong showing in the movie, as a later performance of the group, singing "Peace Be Still" at a church, was added.

Editing tricks aside, the film was very well-received when released and Stax attempted to capture the momentum to boost its own record business, an effort that yielded mixed results. "Rolling Down a Mountainside" failed to chart. A double-LP soundtrack, Wattstax - The Living Word, came out and did well, but a second double-LP volume (featuring Stax's second-tier acts and lots of the Richard Pryor material) fared poorly. "Peace Be Still" was issued as the Emotions' next 45, but it was doomed to fail, as gospel DJs wouldn't play it because the Emotions were a popular secular group and R&B DJs were disinclined to play gospel records at all. The Staple Singers fared well when "Oh La De Da," a song used as background music in an early scene of the film, was released with overdubbed applause (they did not perform the song at the Watts Summer Festival at all) as a "Wattstax" 45. Stax tried the same trick with Eddie Floyd's next 45, "Lay Your Loving on Me" (which did not appear in the film at all - it should be noted that Floyd himself only appears in the film for about one minute, as part of a group gospel sing along with William Bell, Frederick Knight and other second-tier acts), but the ploy didn't work. Although Rufus and Carla Thomas both did good sets at the festival and were the only "old guard" Stax acts featured in the film (Rufus' performance of "The Breakdown" and "Do the Funky Chicken" incited the crowd to come out of the stands to dance on the football field, after which Thomas masterfully talked the crowd back into their seats; this whole scene is captured in the film and is considered by some to be a show-stealer), no "Wattstax" marketing was employed for their records, which was unfortunate, especially for Carla, whose career at the label was rapidly winding down (her last 45 came out in 1973).

If you don't have it already, I strongly recommend that you get both the Wattstax DVD and the 3-CD set Music From The Wattstax Festival and Film. The DVD features the original full version of the film (with Isaac's original performances), the full footage of Albert King's performance of "I'll Play the Blues for You" (which appeared in shorter form in the film), and commentary tracks by many parties involved with the film (including Al Bell and Isaac Hayes) and by Stax historian Rob Bowman, who is joined by Chuck D. The CD set, released by Fantasy Records in connection with the film's re-release, features great liner notes by Rob Bowman and includes lots of performances that did not appear in either the film or the two soundtrack LP sets, including lots of the Johnnie Taylor/Emotions/Little Milton club date and performances by second-tier Stax artists who did not appear in the film. These are a must for any soul fan!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

More Spencer Wiggins!

Spencer Wiggins - Feed The Flame

I think that last week's post about Spencer Wiggins deserves a follow-up, as Spencer Wiggins' awesome material is not given the praise it deserves. Today's selection was released as a single on the small Memphis label XL in 1973. "Feed The Flame" is a nice churchy ballad with relatively spare accompaniment, and Spencer's earnest vocals really brings the message home. It's great stuff.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More Soul Souvenirs

Bettye LaVette - Fortune Teller

For today's selection I will return to the excellent CD Souvenirs, the 2000 release of Bettye LaVette's shelved 1972 Atlantic LP Child of the Seventies. (Read my prior post for more info about this album and about LaVette's fabulous comeback story.) "Fortune Teller" further illustrates that some bigwig at Atlantic had rocks in his head to pull the plug on the release of this album, as LaVette takes lyrics that would sound pretty trite in the hands of a lesser singer and spins them into an atmospheric song full of both hope and despair. Brad Shapiro's production further enhances the ambiance of the recording.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Tuesday Is Blues Day!

Slim Harpo - The Music's Hot

From the end of the '50s through the late '60s Slim Harpo was one of Excello Records' top hitmakers, with straight blues like "I'm a King Bee" and "Raining in My Heart" and dancefloor-oriented stuff like "Baby Scratch My Back" (featured in a December post). Most of these classics were recorded at Jay Miller's Crowley, Louisiana studio, but by the late '60s Harpo started recording in Nashville with Music City R&B guru producer Robert Holmes at the helm. Harpo's latter dance records, like "Tip On In" and "Te Ni Ne Ni Nu," came from these sessions, as did a lot of interesting country and country-flavored recordings, including great covers of country tunes like "Mohair Sam" and "Folsom Prison Blues," as well as today's selection. "The Music's Hot," a humorous tale about Harpo trying to evade death in order to keep playing the blues ("St. Peter, I can't go tonight - I got a brand-new, rock-em-sock-em record out"), features a hot-foot rhythm and some nice guitar and harmonica solos. Unfortunately, St. Peter caught up with Harpo in 1970, but fortunately for us blues and soul fans, Harpo's impressive Excello recordings remain. The music's hot, indeed!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Papa Chew!

Tom & Jerrio - Boo-Ga-Loo

James Brown had the Popcorn, Rufus Thomas had the Dog, and Jerry Murray (aka "Jerrio" or "Jerry-O") had the Boogaloo. I will defer to this excellent article to cover the biography and discography of Jerry-O and his productions. Jerry-O's records were almost literally a party spread over both sides of his funky 45s, with Murray playing the part of the emcee/DJ, encouraging listeners to do the boogaloo (or the Twine or the Pearl or whatever dance was featured on the record) and just getting into the groove with interjections of "heeeeeeeey-eyyyyy" and "papa chew!"

Today's selection was the first of the "boogaloo" records Jerry-O would commit to wax throughout the '60s. Joined by Tommy Dark, "Boo-Ga-Loo" was released on the Jerry-O label and was picked up nationally by ABC-Paramount, where it was billed as by "Tom and Jerrio" and it became a big hit in 1965. The duo's "lyrics," if you can call them that, barely refer to that dance at all, as they also encourage people to do the Twine, the Barracuda, and other dances. Fortuantely the awesome instrumental track saves the record from total tomfoolery. (Les McCann would resurrect the tune, absent the vocals, as a soul jazz masterpiece.) The flip of the record, "Boomerang," is the same track, featuring different chants and calls. You can really get down to both sides of this 45!

More "boogaloo" 45s would follow after "Great Googa Mooga," the follow-up to "Boo-Ga-Loo" (on which Jerry-O exhorts, "don't pour no water on me; just let me BURN!"), was released, most notably the Jerry-O solo efforts "Funky Boo-Ga-Loo" and "Karate Boo-Ga-Loo." All of them are good records worth seeking out also.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - I plan to get the new episode of the podcast online sometime this week.)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

More Gos-Pop!

Ernest Franklin - Since Jesus Came Into My Heart

The Checker Records "gos-pop" sound (as Chess A&R man and producer Ralph Bass called it) is in full effect on this great Checker 45 from gospel singer Ernest Franklin, whom I really don't know anything about. Franklin takes the traditional hymn and gives it the gospel treatment with able support from the swinging Chess house band and great background singers (in places the song is redolent of Marvin Gaye's "Pride and Joy").

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Soul Blues Saturday: Dr. C.C.'s Love Building!

Clarence Carter - Love Building

I quoted Red Kelly in the first post of this series to the effect that what I call "soul blues" was, in many cases, nothing but new recordings of Southern soul music. There's lots of truth to that statement, as the latter half of the '70s was not very good to many Southern soul artists. The rise of disco and the increasing corporate takeover of the great soul labels found artists like Johnnie Taylor, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter being pushed by label executives to do disco-oriented material. Although Johnnie Taylor, Joe Tex and Tyrone Davis had some initial success on the dancefloor side of things, all in all their careers as leaders on the R&B charts rapidly was rushing to a close. It's a pity that Joe Tex passed away in 1981, because the emerging soul blues movement would've been perfect for him.

By the beginning of the '80s mainstream R&B was moving away from the MFSB-styled orchestrations and M.G.'s/Mar-Keys rhythm sections to embrace synthesizers and drum machines. In addition to these changes being aesthetically acceptable to R&B radio audiences, they also made recording sessions cheaper, which worked to the advantage of the smaller labels like Malaco, Ichiban, Wilbe, and others that stayed the course with the older sound. Many soul fans on the Internet cast a dismissive eye at these recordings, which I think is truly unfair. To be sure, the sound of real instruments interacting with the singer's voice is a better thing than the sound of an programmed track over which a vocal is layered, but a lot of great music still came out of those projects, and some artists maximized the new technology to their advantage.

Clarence Carter began the '70s at the top of his hitmaking game, scoring a major hit with "Patches" in 1970 on Atlantic. In 1972 Carter, like many of his fellow Atlantic hitmakers, had left the label, whose R&B focus was rapidly shifting to the Spinners and similar acts. His continued affiliation with Rick Hall found his next recordings coming out on FAME, where he would hit with "I'm the Midnight Special" and "Sixty Minute Man." A switch to ABC gave him another hit with "I Got Caught Making Love," but Clarence's bluesy style was quickly fading out of fashion, and Carter began a long nomadic period, where he cut records for Ronn, his own Future Stars and Big C labels, Venture and others before hitting big on Ichiban with the bawdy "Strokin'," which became an instant classic almost wholly by word of mouth (it's subject matter and language kept it off of the radio). During his wanderings, the Venture era found Carter coming closest to a hit. After cutting regrettable singles like "Jimmy's Disco" he delivered the Let's Burn LP, the title track of which made some noise, along with today's selection. Carter became a master of the new electronic sound, and most of his latter recordings find Carter programming all of the music on his records.

Gerri Hershey's interview with Carter in her book Nowhere to Run was conducted during the time this album came out, and she makes note of "Love Building" as being his new record. "Love Building" is a prototype of "Strokin," as Carter mixes boasts about his romantic prowess with lyrics covering his other main subject area, "slippin' around." Although it sounds as if Carter is performing for a live audience, the drum machine and synth grooves are all over the record. Live or no, "Love Building" is a nice piece of get-down and Carter is at his testifyin' best.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Just Do the Frankenstein, Baby!

Gene "Bowlegs" Miller - Frankenstein Walk

The late trumpeter Gene "Bowlegs" Miller fits square in the middle of the Southern Soul "who's who" list, as he worked with all of the big labels (including Stax, Hi, Goldwax, FAME) as a sideman, writer, producer, and occasional recording artist. Outside the studio he was a popular Memphis bandleader and, in such capacity, he discovered Ann Peebles, who would go on to be a major force for Hi Records in the '70s. As a singer, Miller was an adherent to the Rufus Thomas/King Coleman style of performance, in which obvious technical limitations were masked by hard-hitting, good-timing performances, and the world is a better place for having records like "Toddlin'," "What Do You Mean" and today's selection.

"Frankenstein Walk," a 1969 Hi release, starts off with some fun dialogue between Miller (portraying Frankenstein - "I don't know what I'm trying to do! I'm a monster!") and an uncredited female and then Miller settles into the basic dance record lyrics, which he sings with gusto. The Hi band is in top form, and their punchy groove is as much a treat as Miller's fun singing. This tune has been comped on two good CDs, The Legacy of Gene "Bowlegs" Miller (which I think is long out of print) and on the 2006 CD Barnyard Soul. I'm going to buy a copy of this on 45 soon, though - it's a must-have for me!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Chicago Steelers!

The Steelers - I'm Sorry

A few years back I read a column in the Chicago Sun-Times profiling Wes Wells & The Steelers, a Chicago soul group whose recorded output was fairly small and generated only one hit, the Date 45 "Get It From The Bottom" from 1969. The members of the group still reside in Chicago's West Side and at the time of the article had actually recorded a new tune (if I recall, it was encouraging people to go vote in the upcoming Presidential election). Although they never reached the level of fame their talent warranted (probably because they sounded too similar to the Impressions), the Steelers' records are very good and worth checking out. Although "Get It From The Bottom" is still popular among the Northern Soul crowd, the flip, "I'm Sorry," is a favorite of mine also. There's a soft funk groove underneath this sweet ballad, and Wes and the group almost perfectly mirror Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, even down to the switching off of lead vocals in the bridge. As derivative as it sounds on paper, it's heaven to the ears.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Further Kudos to Kent!

Spencer Wiggins - I'm a Poor Man's Son

The '60s recordings of Spencer Wiggins and his brother Percy are outstanding pieces of Southern soul from differing sides of the soul spectrum. Percy, whose "Book of Memories" appears on the "Country Soul Special" episode of the podcast, has a cooler, lighter voice that worked well on ballads and Northern Soul-oriented stuff (like "That's Lovin' You"). Spencer, whose "Love Attack" appeared on Episode #6 of the podcast, has gospel fire through and through, and on ballads like "The Power of a Woman" (a personal fave, along with the FAME 45 "Double Lovin'") such power is breathtaking. Fortunately, his Goldwax sides have been recently reissued by Kent on the great CD The Goldwax Years. Colin Dilnot has the liner notes on his blog, and I refer you to them for information about Spencer and his recordings for the legendary Memphis label.

"I'm a Poor Man's Son" caught my attention right away, with its herky-jerky rhythm (to which I can imagine doing a soulful version of the conga or some type of New Orleans second line stepping), nice horn charts and perky vibraphone accents. Spencer gives the optimistic lyrics the appropriate amount of enthusiasm, and all in all it's a fun song.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Message Music!

Raw Spitt - Who Do They Think They Are

I first heard of Charlie Whitehead a/k/a Raw Spitt via the inclusion of "Songs to Sing" on the first volume of the excellent Kent CD series Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures. I would later learn that Whitehead was a compadre of Jerry Williams, Jr., a/k/a Swamp Dogg, who has appeared on this blog a few times prior. The Williams-Whitehead collaboration resulted in a good decade's worth of fine recordings for Dynamo, Canyon (where the "Raw Spitt" name made its premiere on an eponymous LP), United Artists, Stone Dogg, Island and others. Lots of the material featured Swamp Dogg's usual strong political leanings ("Songs to Sing," today's selection, "Predicament #3," "Call Me Nigger"), but other tunes were fun pieces of '70s funk and soul ("Shaft's Mama" and my favorite, "Between the Lines"). By the end of the '70s Whitehead would fade into obscurity. Fortunately, for those of us who were immediately captivated by his voice on the first Dave Godin CD and had learned about his other work in fits and starts, Kent has released Songs to Sing: The Charlie Whitehead Anthology, which is a total treasure.

Today's selection came from the Canyon LP. Over a nice mid-tempo groove, Whitehead effectively converses about the new racism that followed the Civil Rights Era, with Swamp Dogg lending support in the choruses. There's a strong message here, and Whitehead truly delivers.