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.

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