Saturday, September 30, 2006

Soul Blues Saturday: Johnson Power!

Syl and Jimmy Johnson - Oprah

Soul legend Syl Johnson's Chicago and Memphis recordings of the '60s and '70s for Twinight and Hi are well-known among soul fans. The soul and blues career of his brother Jimmy is not as well-known, but "The Bar Room Preacher," as he is known, rose from playing for The Deacons (who hit with an instrumental version of Syl's "Come On Sock It To Me") to recording strong if unheralded blues albums for Delmark and other labels. Whereas Jimmy has kept a steady presence in the music business, a somewhat-disgruntled Syl got out of the business in the early '80s to concentrate on running restaurants, choosing instead to make sporadic live appearances (I saw him in 1999 in Chicago, where he gave a great show) and occasional album releases. One such album was Two Johnsons Are Better Than One, a collaboration with Jimmy, which included today's featured selection.

"Oprah" is a fun tribute to the media phenom Oprah Winfrey. Syl handles the vocals and Jimmy provides instrumental support. The accompaniment is, to be honest, nothing special, but the background singing works with Syl's enthusiastic vocals to make a fitting tribute to Ms. Winfrey.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Soulin' With Brother Ray

Ray Charles - Sweet Young Thing Like You

Although Ray Charles is often considered to be one of the architects of soul music, with his gospel-turned-R&B recordings of the '50s setting the template for the genre, his legacy rests very little on his actual '60s soul recordings. In all fairness, Ray didn't like to be stuck in any genre, as he was clearly enamored with interpreting interesting songs, be they country, pop, jazz, soul or otherwise, and it can be argued that every song Ray sang was filled with his soulfulness. Fortunately for us soul fans, though, Ray actually recorded great straight-up soul material, drawing from the songwriting pens of Jimmy Holiday, Jimmy Lewis, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson and others to provide some great 45s and, in the case of Jimmy Lewis, the great Doing His Thing LP, perhaps the only true '60s soul album in his immense discography.

Today's selection was a 1968 ABC/Tangerine single penned by "Big" Dee Irwin, who recorded some great soul stuff on his own throughout the '60s and '70s. (Ray also addressed Erwin's "Your Love Is So Doggone Good" on the flip of his hit "Feel So Bad".) "Sweet Young Thing Like You" is very stylish, featuring Ray's big band to full effect and an arrangement which makes good use of turnaround riffs. The groove is interesting, also, switching tempo and feel from a very light funk to up-tempo soul within the verses. Ray's vocals are alternately declamatory and sweet, and he effectively works the lyrics to their emotional conclusion. It's a nice groove to ride into the weekend with!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

More on FAME, or, Anyone Wanna Give The Stepfather $6,600?

Clarence Carter - Tell Daddy

This morning I was looking at my daily eBay search results and I found an interesting auction: someone in the UK is selling their collection of almost every (78 out of 80) FAME label 45. This is a pretty interesting collection, featuring everything from early soul classics like Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away" through to Northern Soul records (most notably "Keep on Talking" by both James Barnett and Phillip Mitchell) through to Southern soul smashes and early '70s grooviness. The opening bid is around $6,600, which I'm sure somebody will make - unfortunately it won't be me! I guess I'll just have to settle for enjoying the FAME recordings I've heard and the handful of FAME 45s I own!

Clarence Carter has appeared in this blog and on the podcasts several times so I'll dispense with any storytelling. "Tell Daddy" was a pre-Atlantic FAME single, but is better known as "Tell Mama," as recorded by Etta James on Cadet during her sojourn to Muscle Shoals to work with Rick Hall, and the strength of Carter's recordings for FAME (then distributed by Atco) provided the stepping stone for Carter's records to appear on Atlantic, although Rick Hall and the FAME personnel still ran things. At the end of the record Carter entreats his subject to "tell me ... what you gotta have." Well, Daddy - I mean, Clarence - how about $6,600 to bid on records with?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Get on Down With The Bar-Kays!

The Bar-Kays - Don't Do That

Today I'm in one of those moods where something with a bit of a stomp to it seems appropriate. Today's selection is the flip to the Bar-Kays' single "Give Everybody Some," and it fits the bill just fine. Dig the nice bass and drum breakdown toward the end. Back to more appropriate posting tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Candi Does Mavis

Candi Staton - Do It In The Name Of Love

Southern soul and gospel legend Candi Staton recently recorded the excellent album His Hands, her first secular album in over a decade. Prompting the release of this welcomed album was the success of the Honest Jon's compilation of her best FAME sides, which is a must for any soul fan who doesn't have qualms about buying a CD whose legal status is dubious (Rick Hall has refused outside companies to do any compilations of any FAME material at this time and the status of ownership of some of the masters - due to the various distribution deals the FAME label had during its existence - is a complex situation). As is the case with any comp, there's always those songs that are not included for whatever reason, and today's selection is one of them.

"Do It In The Name Of Love" was released in 1973, near the end of the label's run. In 1974 Staton would move on to Warner Brothers, where a few more Rick Hall productions would hit the charts before 1976's disco smash "Young Hearts Run Free." It appears that Hall and the Fame musicians were looking over their shoulder at the smashes that the Staple Singers were having, as the arrangement of the song and Candi's vocal are derived from the Staples' 1971 hit "Respect Yourself" (notice the drumming during the verses and Candi's Mavis Staples-styled moaning; FAME wasn't alone in noticing the Staples - over at Hi Records, Ann Peebles' "Fill This World With Love" borrowed the drumming and vocal style from "Respect Yourself" as well). Fortunately, the song rises well above being a knockoff Staples record to be a great example of how good Southern soul was being made at a time when such a style was about to perish.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Soul Antidote

The Ponderosa Twins Plus One - You Send Me

I'm in such a frazzled and rushed state at work today that I don't have time to say much except that a smooth piece of sweet soul like this is a great antidote for a rushed person. For those of you not so rushed, savor this East Coast soul classic. Back to work for me!

Sunday, September 24, 2006


The Mighty Clouds of Joy - Jesus Lead Us Safely

The Mighty Clouds of Joy were founded in the 1950s by Joe Ligon and Johnny Martin and made their recording debut in 1960 for Peacock Records. Their solid singing, great showmanship and willingness to take new approaches gave the group tremendous longevity and even some R&B chart action, most notably with the disco-era hit "Mighty High" (which I need to post soon!) Outside of the '70s hits the group and the R&B world didn't cross paths regularly, save for one case.

David Walker, one of the co-leads of the group, is better known to vintage soul fans as Bunker Hill, whose "Hide and Go Seek" and other recordings made with rock and roller Link Wray are great pieces of gospel-bent R&B. My understanding is that after his R&B recordings were made, he returned to the Mighty Clouds for a short while but then disappears from discographies. "Jesus Lead Us Safely" was the flip of "Ain't Got Long Here" (the group's awesome version of "Steal Away to Jesus") and features Walker on lead. Although this is a pretty straight uptempo gospel record, it really works. Walker's lead goes from simple reading of the song's single verse to motormouthing ad-libs built around the phrase "why don't you let the man lead you," which is highly reminiscent of the Bunker Hill records "Hide and Go Seek" and "You Can't Make Me Doubt My Baby." Also of note is the bass singer, whose versatile "booms" and "mooms" add to the recording.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Send for the King!

Solomon Burke - Send For Me

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, Solomon Burke's remarkable comeback story, which began with the awesome Don't Give Up On Me, begins a new chapter with the release of Nashville (Shout Factory), on which Solomon returns to his country soul roots with a set of country songs and duets with luminaries such as Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. The early reviews are very positive, and I look forward to buying it and hearing it. Solomon's website features clips from the album and on initial hearing it sounds like it's going to be a smash!

Although Don't Give Up On Me is considered to be his comeback album, Burke had been recording quality material all along. Although Burke had not received any chart action after the demise of Chess Records in the mid-'70s, he had recorded some outstanding Southern soul for Swamp Dogg in the late '70s (the song "Sidewalks, Fences and Walls" should've been a hit, but Infinity Records closed up shop not long after its release), delivered the live set "Soul Alive!" to tremendous acclaim (one monologue, "The Women of Today," which I will have to feature in another post, got some airplay in the South), recorded some good gospel albums for Savoy, and recorded lots of good soul-blues stuff on several labels. Today's selection came from The Commitment, a 2001 album focusing on love and relationships, with a theme of making the way to the altar (one track of the album was an actual wedding ceremony - performed for any couples who may be listening?) "Send For Me" is a soulful, gospel-bent ballad that shows Solomon at his romantic, roaring best. The churchy groove and background vocals give tremendous support as Solomon spins a seductive web that borrows from his early-'60s hit "Cry to Me" and features some great ad-libs. By the next year, Burke would record Don't Give Up On Me, and, well, the rest is history.

An interesting post script to The Commitment can be found on Red Kelly's "The B-Side" blog: Burke performed his wedding, albeit in an unorthodox way. Read the amazing story, and if you haven't already, check out his great blog!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Limber Up and Get Down!

Simtec Simmons & Band - Limber Up

The intertwining careers of Chicago soulsters Wylie Dixon and Simtec Simmons have left behind an interesting set of singles on the artists separately and as a duo. Their work as "Simtec & Wylie," reminiscent of a funkier take on Sam & Dave, was the most prolific and successful, with releases on Toddlin' Town, Shama and Mister Chand (where they hit with "Gotta Get Over The Hump" in 1971). Prior to their recording as a duo, they had worked together as the Tea Boxes Revue, a setup where Simmons and his band, the Tea Boxes, backed Wylie and other artists. During this period Simmons recorded several instrumentals for the tiny Maurci label, starting out with "Tea Box," which may be one of the first Chicago soul records to feature a drum machine! It is conceivable that said drum machine is making an appearance on today's selection, a later single on Maurci. "Limber Up" is a nice instrumental romp that makes good use of a snippet of the "Bonanza" theme to create a surging groove that really works. After no hits followed "Gotta Get Over the Hump" (although some of the records, such as "Put Up or Shut Up" and "Bootleggin'" are popular among rare groove fans), the duo split up in 1973. Fortunately their great solo and duet recordings preserve their great Chicago groove.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Podcast Download Opinions Needed

I have learned that some listeners have had problems downloading the podcast using iTunes or direct download from the site, and I find that I have problems with it myself. I contacted (my file storage / bandwidth provider) to see if there were any problems. I was told that everything was fine on their end, and they suggested that our ISPs may be terminating the transfers in response to long download times for large files. I don't know enough about computers to argue with that, so I pose these questions to you:

1. Do you have problems downloading the podcasts?

2. Would you prefer that I break the podcasts into two files? I think that if I do that the problem will be mitigated, as most people report that they can download about half of the podcast before the download stalls out or the connection with the server is reset.

Your opinions (or for those of you more computer and internet-savvy, confirmation of GoDaddy's diagnosis of the problem) are very welcome.

More Birmingham Love!

Little Lois Barber - Specify

A couple of weeks ago I gushed forth with praise for John Ciba's excellent new Birmingham soul compilation CD, and its tracks are still getting heavy rotation on my iPod and stereo. I have come to the conclusion that today's selection, were it the only tune on the CD, would warrant the entire CD's purchase price. It is very unfortunate that nothing is known about Lois Barber (Ciba's research and interviews with key Sounds of Birmingham figures came up empty, though not for a lack of trying), because her performance of "Specify" is absolutely electrifying. With her awesome vocals, the great background singing, and the churchy piano that stands out in the arrangement, the song is breathtakingly beautiful. I strongly reiterate that if you have not purchased this fine CD yet, find a retailer where it is available and get your hands on it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Nothing Can Stop The Toronados! (Or the Stepfather!)

The T.S.U. Toronados - Nothing Can Stop Me

Today's post is dedicated to all of you wonderful people who have commented and sent e-mails in support of the "Get on Down ..." enterprise over the last two days. You guys turned a frown upside down and rekindled the fire in my (unfortunately, ample) belly to keep on keeping on! The defiant optimism of the Curtis Mayfield composition "Nothing Can Stop Me," presented on this blog earlier in the original Gene Chandler version, seems appropriate, and I have an awesome version of the tune to post today!

The T.S.U. Toronados were a Houston band whose place in soul history was cemented by their playing the backgrounds for the 1968 Archie Bell & The Drells smash "Tighten Up." Fortunately for us soul fans, they also recorded on their own and had great releases on Ovide, Atlantic and Volt. I recommend you read Greg Tormo's article at Solid Hit Soul to get more info about the group and their recordings. We are also fortunate that the folks at Funky Delicacies have reissued their work on several CDs over the last few years. From the CD One Flight Too Many comes the group's excellent rendition of "Nothing Can Stop Me." As much as I love the Chandler original, I must say that this version smokes: the horns are fuller, the groove keeps the swinging feel of the original but gives it a more modern touch, the vocals are spot-on and the arrangement manages to interpolate Sly & The Family Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime" into the mix and make it work.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stepping It Up With The Charmels!

The Charmels - Lovin' Feeling

One of the things about the classic soul era that continually amazes me is that so much great material by very talented people was released to no commercial success. Of course, to be fair, there was a lot of competition out there, both in terms of the larger players (Motown, Atlantic, Chess, Stax, etc.) and scads of local concerns, all jockeying for position on the nation's soul (and pop, if they were lucky - or if they were Motown) radio stations, where the disc jockeys wielded the power to make or break the records. Naturally the larger players had a better shot than smaller concerns, but even they released lots of good stuff that just didn't take off.

The Charmels started out on Sound Stage 7 as the Dixiebelles before recording for Volt as the Tonettes for two releases and as the Charmels for four more. Although they were a very competent group (their "Loving Material," featured in a prior podcast, is a personal favorite), none of their recordings took off and they were released from the label in 1968. Today's selection was their swan song, and what a nice one it was. "Lovin' Feeling" is a Hayes-Porter production of the smash pop and R&B hit "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" by the Righteous Brothers. They decided to transform the song from an intense ballad into a mid-tempo groover, and the arrangement is very nice. The tune opens with a decidedly Motown-ish feel, but as the song unfolds the Memphis groove rings loud and clear. Probably this stylistic shift was too much for an audience that had devoured the Righteous Brothers record, so unfortunately the Charmels' hitless streak included this fine but final single.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Thanks to all of you who showed such support in response to yesterday's post. Tomorrow's selection will be dedicated to each of you, and will serve as this blog's anthem as I soldier on - "Nothing Can Stop Me"!)

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Note re Comments

I am very disappointed to note that for the second time in the last couple of months, my announcement that a new show is online has been followed by comments by an anonymous commenter who chooses not to merely comment that he doesn't like the voiceovers, but to be rude and, this time, completely vulgar. For this reason, I can only allow comments from Blogspot members, and I may change the podcast availability or the podcast format altogether. I do not spend money on bandwidth and spend time working on the show for anonymous commenters to hurl insults at me.

A note further about the voiceovers. I know that some like them and some do not. However, I have posted almost daily for the last ten months and counting, and none of them have voiceovers. The podcast is an indulgence of mine, my chance to play "radio show" with the music I love to share. I did the voiceovers because I had fun doing them, but now I'm not so sure if they are fun any more. If I decide to do them in the future, and you do not like such voiceovers, please do not listen to the podcasts.

For those of you who have been supportive of this enterprise, thank you for your kindness and your understanding. You are truly appreciated. I'm sorry if this post has a negative tone, but it's very disheartening to get the message I recieved.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Episode #11 Is Online!

The new episode of the podcast is now available here and will soon be available on iTunes! The playlist is as follows:

1. The Ambassadors - (I've Got To Find) Happiness
2. Nat Phillips - I'm Sorry I Hurt You
3. Charlene & The Soul Serenaders - Love Changes
4. The Brilliant Korners - Three Lonely Guys
5. Eugene Jefferson - A Pretty Girl Dressed In Brown
6. Gene Chandler - Fool For You
7. Fontella Bass Coca-Cola Ad
8. Jackie Wilson - I Still Love You
9. The Interpreters - Pretty Little Thing
10. The Mohawks - The Champ
11. Robert Ward - Fear No Evil
12. The Marvelettes - Here I Am Baby
13. Jimmy Holiday - Baby Boy's In Love With You
14. John W. Anderson Presents KaSandra - Don't Pat Me On The Back And Call Me Brother
15. Rufus Thomas - So Hard To Get Along With
16. Blinky - The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game
17. E. Rodney Jones, Staple Singers Record Ad
18. Larry Birdsong - I'd Like To Try One More Time
19. Spencer Wiggins - Double Lovin'
20. The Meditation Singers - Don't You Want To Go (Pt. 1)
21. Jimmy "Preacher" Ellis - I'm Gonna Do It Myself
22. Earl Gaines - I'm The One You Need
23. Dave "Baby" Cortez - Belly Rub (Pt. 1) (closing theme)

Dave Hamilton Week: The Gospel According to O.C.

O.C. Tolbert - Give It To Glory

Dave Hamilton Week here at "Get on Down ..." concludes with some "Sunday gospel time" from O.C. Tolbert, who was featured earlier in the week. Toward the end of Dave Hamilton's foray in the record business Tolbert, who by this time had found God and got into gospel music (although I use this term loosely - his vocals showed tremendous gospel experience on his soul sides). "Give It To Glory" appeared on Volume 2 of Detroit Dancers and, despite its late vintage, is very good. The song starts with some noodling by Dave and the musicians before a glissando synthesizer lick brings the groove all together. Tolbert does his thing with gusto and, despite a very strange moment in the second verse (was there a master tape problem which Ace decided to ignore in including the song on the comp?) the whole thing cooks, from the aforementioned introduction through Tolbert's recitation of Psalm 23 to the call-and-response finale.

Although Dave Hamilton week concludes with today's post, I will surely feature other Dave Hamilton material on occasion in future posts and, as Ace uncovers more goodies fom Hamilton's tapes I will present neat stuff from there also. Kudos to Ace/Kent/BGP for doing such a great job so far in bringing this obscure figure of Detroit soul to the light.

Look out here later today for the podcast!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday / Dave Hamilton Week: Look Up and Smile!

Chicago Pete - Look Up and Smile

Dave Hamilton stayed in the recording business up into the 1980s, and his latter releases on labels such as Landy Bug continued to present some fine soul and funk on O.C. Tolbert and others. Today's selection appeared on Volume 3 of the Detroit Dancers series. Over a buoyant soul-blues beat, Pete delivers the song's warming lyrics with a confidence and smoothness that is only hampered by a bit too much echo. Look up and smile, folks!

Look out later today for the new podcast, and tomorrow we'll conclude the Dave Hamilton series.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dave Hamilton Week: Funky Permutations

The Ebonettes - Just a Mistake (aka Side By Side)

The fact that Dave Hamilton's master tapes were far from efficiently organized, and the fact that Dave was willing to try out multiple versions of songs built around certain rhythm tracks, has caused the Ace compilers to feature certain songs multiple times on the Detroit Dancers series and other compilations featuring Hamilton's recordings. Sometimes it's a matter of finding "finished" masters of songs that appeared on earlier volumes (James Lately's "Love, Friends and Money" on Volume 3 of Detroit Dancers features strings and a quicker tempo than the version appearing on Volume 1) or finding versions of the song by other artists (Little Ann takes on "Sweep It Out In The Shed" on Volume 3). Then sometimes it's just a case of Hamilton experimenting, like in the case of "Ain't It a Groove" from Wednesday's post and today's selection.

"Just a Mistake," also titled "Side By Side," was recorded in alternate versions by the Ebonettes (apparently a completely unknown group) and the Barrino Brothers, with either party providing back up on the other recording. Although the Barrino Brothers' version of this tune, which appears on Volume 2 of Detroit Dancers, is probably the best-realized version of the song, as the group (who would go on to have some fame on Invictus after their tenure on Hamilton's TCB label) provides solid leads and background vocals for the song's interesting lyrics, I prefer the Ebonettes' version which appeared on Volume 1. I particularly like how the lead singer trades lines with an uncredited male vocalist, who I think probably was one of the Barrino Brothers, and that the background vocals, although buried somewhat in the mix, are very nice. The backing track cooks nicely also, featuring nice horn work and a good funky groove. Another Ebonettes take of the song appears on Volume 3, but it's the weakest of the three featured so far - although the different background vocals demonstrate how "Side By Side" is a good alternate title, the whole performance comes off just wrong to me, from some of the notes the girls sing to the stilted delivery the lead singer gives the lyrics. Fortunately the featured version was the first one I heard! It's great femme funk.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - If all goes well this weekend, in addition to two more "Dave Hamilton Week" posts I will record and upload Episode #11 of the podcast!)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dave Hamilton Week: Tolbert!

O.C. Tolbert:

You Got Me Turned Around
I'm Shooting High (I Reach For The Sky)

Arthur "O.C." Tolbert crossed paths with Dave Hamilton several times in the '60s, '70s and '80s, in addition to sojourns with Jack Taylor's labels. Although his recorded output well exceeded Little Ann's, it is similarly unfortunate that his impact in the history of soul wasn't what his talent warranted. Tolbert's vocals have a hint of David Ruffin but also raw gospel, and his recorded output, spanning from soul to funk to gospel, is very impressive. Today I'll focus on two Northern Soul-oriented tracks that appeared on the Detroit Dancers series. "You Got Me Turned Around" started life as "Sweep It Out In The Shed," a tune that Hamilton recorded on Priscilla Page and Little Ann. Tolbert's version featured a horn section and new lyrics, and Tolbert's anguished vocal captured the theme of the song very well. "You Got Me Turned Around" was actually leased out to Palmer Records in New York. "I'm Shooting High" is a tasty piece of mid-tempo soul, featuring strings and a male chorus to buoy Tolbert's reading of the optimistic lyrics. All of the Tolbert tracks that appear on the Hamilton comps are worth checking out, and I'll feature Tolbert again on Sunday to show off some of his gospel stuff. It's worth noting that Tolbert recorded two 45s worth seeking out independent of the material reissued by Ace: "Hard Times" (not related to the Curtis Mayfield composition) was a late '60s record billed to "Rev. O.C. Tolbert and the Blues Congregation" (foreshadowing his own turn to religion in the 1980s, maybe?) and it's a great funky 45; "Message to Black Women" b/w "That's All She Wrote" was released under the pseudonym "King Diamond" and it couples another good up-tempo number with a great bluesy tune that appears, in re-recorded form, on Dave Hamilton's Detroit Dancers, Vol. 2.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dave Hamilton Week: Dave Hamilton's Groove

Dave Hamilton:

Going to the Moon
Ain't It a Groove

As mentioned at the beginning of the series, in addition to his session work and his record labels, Dave was a recording artist in his own right. Dave was a multi-instrumentalist but featured his guitar and vibes most often (it is noted on one of the Dave Hamilton comps that Hamilton liked to play the vibes with six sticks instead of the customary two or four, which explains the full vibes sound that appears on a lot of his recordings on himself and others). As noted in Ace Records blurb for Detroit City Grooves, Hamilton even recorded and mastered a whole album's worth of material as a solo artist, but beyond the two-part funky 45 "Pisces Pace," he left it all on the shelf. "Soul Suite," as the album would have been titled, featured a style Dean Rudland called "acid lounge-funk," which is somewhat appropriate. There's a lot of wah-wah guitar in these recordings, as well as those vibes and occasional harmonica, all layered over pretty smooth backdrops. Listening to the material is akin to listening to a great lost blaxploitation movie soundtrack full of mellow cuts, although some tunes, like "Brother Ratt," have "car-chase scene" written all over them!

Beat Gone Public's Detroit City Grooves comped "Soul Suite" along with several other Hamilton instrumentals. One of the other instrumentals, "The Deacons" (which was released as a TCB single in 1970), has appeared on the blog already. One track that was not included on Detroit City Grooves saw the light of day on the Dave Hamilton's Detroit Funk and is further indicative of his style. "Going to the Moon" is built around the jazzy lick that opens the tune and an organ-based silky groove that is very nice. I first heard "Ain't It a Groove" on the Kent CD Even Mo' Mod Jazz and fell in love with it right away. Alternate versions of this tune have appeared on other comps as "Groove" and as "Cracklin' Bread" (both feature Dave wah-wah-ing away over the rhythm track), but "Ain't It a Groove" is a far superior recording. In three choruses, Hamilton works the catchy melody, starting with the basic theme, doing it in a bright upper register, and then giving it the Wes Montgomery treatment. It truly kicks butt, and it almost was the official theme song of the podcast!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dave Hamilton Week: Little Ann's Detroit Soul

Little Ann:

Who Are You Trying to Fool
Deep Shadows
The Smile on Your Face

In a perfect world, Ann Bridgeforth would've been a major player in the story of Detroit soul and perhaps in the story of soul music itself. Unfortunately, like so many mysterious figures in this immense story, she did not. Her entire released output consisted of one side of a Ric-Tic single, the funky "Going Down a One-Way Street" (see this Soulful Detroit article about Ann and her one record). Bridgeforth recorded a handful of sides for Dave Hamilton in the mid-to-late '60s, and her marvelous voice and Hamilton's atmospheric backings made for phenomenal recordings. Any hope for any releases beyond the Ric-Tic single vanished when she, along with Hamilton associate Rony Darrell, moved to Canada to make a go of building a performing career there. With no artist to promote the records, Hamilton shelved the remaining material.

Fortunately, what could have been an open-and-shut story did not end there. An acetate of "What Should I Do" managed to wind up in Northern Soul circles in the UK (covered up as "When He's Not Around" by "Rose Valentine") and made a lot of noise in that scene. Some time later, Ace began its relationship with Dave Hamilton and learned the truth of that recording (which they promptly issued as a Town single, along with today's selection "Who Are You Trying to Fool"), and the revelation that there was unreleased material gave Ann her belated shot at renown.

All three of today's selections came from the first two volumes of the Kent Dave Hamilton's Detroit Dancers series. "Who Are You Trying To Fool" is a top-notch Northern Soul cut, featuring some nice sax work and Ann's strong singing. When reissued with "What Should I Do" it became a Northern Soul anthem in its own right, and for good reason. "Deep Shadows" is a slower number that is full of atmosphere. Ann's vocals are framed nicely by the background singers and the hushed accompaniment. My favorite of the lot, however, is "The Smile on Your Face." This recording seems to be the most unfinished of the three, with its over-recorded vibes and snare brushwork, but the sweet mid-tempo number features gorgeous lyrics and a "whisper to a scream" build-up by Ann. This beautiful song was accidentally included on Dave Hamilton's Detroit Dancers, Volume 3 but I'm sticking with the version on the second volume here, as the tune comes to a close and Ann is caught on tape saying, "That got me going!" It got me going, too, Ann! Bravo!

The reissue of all of this excellent material resulted in Ann getting a gig in the UK to perform for her appreciative Northern Soul fans. Although she was initially overwhelmed by the reception she received (after all, she had long been out of the music business and, like many artists who find themselves lionized by the Northern Soul crowd, she was totally unaware that her recordings had an audience overseas), all reports state that Ann gave a wonderful performance. Unfortunately, Bridgeforth would pass away in 2003, but fortunately she had the opportunity to know how enriched soul fans are to have her recordings around after so many years.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Dave Hamilton Week: Gimme Some Sugar!

"Sugar" Billy Garner:

I Got Some (Pt. 1)
Brand New Girl

Dave Hamilton made his first appearance on the blog last year, and I've decided to feature the outstanding works of this session musician / recording artist / record label owner this week. When the intrepid soul detectives at Ace Records located Hamilton and purchased his masters, they discovered a treasure trove of Detroit soul and funk that was truly recorded "in the shadows of Motown" (Hamilton was a session musician at Hitsville, U.S.A. in Motown's early days, recording a highly-collectible LP for the Workshop Jazz subsidiary during his tenure there). Fortunately for us soul fans, they shared some of it right away with the excellent Dave Hamilton's Detroit Dancers comp. As Ady Croasdell and company continued to trawl through the tapes, however, it became clear that Hamilton's output - albeit poorly organized on the tapes - was prolific enough to sustain several compilations (to date, two additional Detroit Dancers discs have come out, along with Detroit City Grooves, which is a compilation of his solo instrumental recordings, and Dave Hamilton's Detroit Funk) and to provide tracks for several other comps (including Even Mo' Mod Jazz and the Super Funk series), and there's even more to come!

As noted in the liner notes to Dave Hamilton's Detroit Funk, not much is known about Billy Garner, whose "Super Duper Love" was covered by teen British soul chanteuse Joss Stone on her hit Soul Sessions album. "I Got Some," a New Day 45, is well-known to rare funk fans, in no small part due to its inclusion in DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's classic Brainfreeze. Garner's soulful singing and the slinky groove Hamilton puts down captures the sexiness of the song to good effect. "Brand New Girl" had not seen the light of day until the Ace guys got a hold of it. The impact on them was so great that they put it out as a Beat Gone Public single and included it on one of the Super Funk discs (a single edit of the song has been recently located by the Ace guys and appears on the Detroit Funk comp, but the full version is better and is included here). The single immediately became a dancefloor sensation, and for good reason. This is the real funk, with Garner channeling James Brown in his performance and Hamilton and the band laying out a fast and furious groove (dig how the stop-time sections hit like a brick, and check out Hamilton's guitar solo). It's one of the injustices of the soul record world that this one didn't come out. It's lightning in a bottle and I cannot imagine that it would not make significant noise on early '70s radio. But fortunately we can enjoy it today!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

9/11/06 - Thoughts and Meditations

I think every American remembers where they were and what they were doing when the fateful events of 9/11 unfolded. I had started my day as per usual, taking the #108 bus to 95th Street and taking the "L" to downtown Chicago and going to work at Metal Management, Inc. When I entered the office, however, things were different. One of the company's vice presidents, who kept a TV in his room, had a room full of people watching the breaking news. Rumors were flying thick: did the terrorists intend to hit the Supreme Court? Would they come to Chicago to hit the Sears Tower? By 10:00 AM our office was closed, as were a great many of the offices in downtown Chicago, and I rode home on a packed train full of nervous people. For the rest of the day, the harrowing images played on TV to hammer home the horrific acts that had taken place. My wife called from school (she's a teacher), and she was in tears. The faculty knew that it had happened but had been explicitly told not to tell the kids (the administration felt that the kids should find out from their parents), so she had to keep all of that emotion inside. It was a crazy day.

The weekend after 9/11 I traveled to Kentucky for a wedding. On the way back into Chicago I listened to Herb Kent on the radio and the legendary DJ and his guests were talking about what had happened and playing very inspirational music. To close the show he played the song that had been his closing theme in his '60s heyday, the gospel song "Open Our Eyes" by the Gospel Clefs. The song's meditation on human frailty despite God's immense blessings was strongly appropriate, and on this eve of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, it seems even more so, as so many things have gone the wrong way.

The Gospel Clefs - Open Our Eyes

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Get on Down With Jimmy Lewis!

Jimmy Lewis:

No Chicken Wings

Wife #1, Wife #2

My discussion of Jimmy Lewis and his career appeared in an earlier post, and I'll refer you to it. As mentioned there, Lewis' career as a performing artist was at its most prolific when he started his Miss Butch label in the 1990s. Through 2004, Lewis released a nice series of albums which stuck to his "barber shop philosopher" style of songwriting and his Ray Charles-meets-Sam Cooke vocal style. Sometimes he covered older recordings such as "String Bean" and "Still Wanna Be Black" (an unreleased Hotlanta recording which served as the title track of Kent's first CD of Lewis reissues), but mainly featured a mixture of novelties (like today's selection "No Chicken Wings"), love songs and cheating songs, and songs about the "real world" issues people face (like "Wife #1, Wife #2"). These tunes were well-received by soul-blues fans and got good airplay on soul-blues radio. There used to be an aircheck online of Millie Jackson on Dallas radio, playing "That Baby Ain't Black Enough" (a song along the lines of Swamp Dogg's "Mama's Baby, Daddy's Maybe") and then remarking about how Lewis could write a song about anything ("I dropped my biscuit," Jackson jokingly sang). Lewis' death in 2005 took from us one of soul's greatest songwriters.

"No Chicken Wings" came from his Never Met a Woman I Didn't Like CD and features Lewis working a double-entendre about fried chicken to its full effect. The tune is total novelty (I can't help but think if Joe Tex were alive, he'd do this song in a heartbeat), and you know you're in trouble from the spoken intro: "I ain't seen this many fine women at one time since they closed down the welfare office!" "Wife #1, Wife #2," from his second-to-last CD Soup Bone is a more serious tune. Over a nice background (featuring a boxing referee's "break it up" as a sample), Lewis discusses the difficulties of having a blended family. It's the sho' 'nuff truth, and he gives it his usual warmth and wisdom.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Maskman's Lament?

Maskman & The Agents - Yaw'll

The "Maskman," Harmon Bethea, and his story have been covered in a prior post, and his various recordings are worth checking out, as they cover a nice range of soul and funk material. Today's selection was the flip to "One Eye Open," which appeared on the "Rhythm & Booze" special. It's an attractive tune, with nice support by the group and the band, but Bethea's delivery of the lyrics shows that he can't take them seriously, so he overplays it, turning what would be a competent soul song into something more akin to its comic A-side.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

George Clinton + Dave Hamilton = Sweet Soul Music

The Parliaments - I Can Feel the Ice Melting

I've been wanting to feature today's selection for awhile now, but reading the premiere issue of the rare soul fanzine There's That Beat! prompted me to get it posted. If you have not read or heard of this new magazine, do check out the website today. It's the official magazine of the Hitsville USA Soul Club, and it's a treat to read. One of the highlights of the magazine was an article about the Revilot label. LeBaron Taylor, Don Davis and George White owned Solid Hitbound Productions (under which the Groovesville and Solid Hit labels also existed) and their contributions to the soul world are immense, especially in relation to the Northern Soul crowd. I recommend that you get a copy of the magazine right away, as in addition to this graet article, there's a feature on the Carnival label and another about Jackie Wilson which may be of interest.

George Clinton and the Parliaments figure into the Revilot story both as artists and on the production side of things (Clinton was a co-producer of Darrell Banks' immortal "Open the Door to Your Heart," among other records for the Solid Hitbound labels). The Parliaments (some years away from being transformed into the "psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadooloop" Parliament / Funkadelic ("P-Funk"), from which Clinton would score major success, especially in the second half of the '70s) made a bit of noise with their Revilot debut, "(I Wanna) Testify", which accordingly is probably the easiest Revilot 45 to get a copy of today. (The honor of the toughest Revilot single to get a copy of goes to Jackey Beavers' "I Need My Baby," which is part of the Northern Soul "essentials" list.) "Testify" would be recorded by several other artists, most notably Johnnie Taylor, who would score a bigger hit with it than the Parliaments' original. I'm partial, however, to the Revilot 45's flip. "I Can Feel The Ice Melting" is a sweet, strolling fillet of soul, featuring tight group singing and a nice backing track that features no horns but puts the bass, piano and vibes right up front. (I learned from the magazine that the vibes came from Detroit soul session musician / recording artist / label owner Dave Hamilton, whose excellent recordings and productions have been the focus of some great reissues by the Ace label. Look out next week for a series of posts featuring Hamilton's recordings and productions.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Administrative Note from The Stepfather

First of all, I am proud to say that yesterday's post became the first post to generate 100 file downloads within one day! I thank all of you for being so enthusiastic about the music I put up here and I am glad that you are stopping by regularly to sample my wares! Administratively that's problematic, though, because it increases the amount of link maintenance I must do every day. I am tempted to just put the files on my server space (as I do with the podcasts - more on that below) and dropping Go Daddy Online File Folder. My main fear there, however, is that my bandwidth will evaporate if I do daily posts. I am going to have to mull over how to make this system work more efficiently. For the time being, though, please be aware that if you try to get the file connected to a daily post and the link has expired, please be patient. I review the status of the links every morning (maybe as late as the afternoon on weekends), so if a link is expired I will generally put it back up. So if you can't get the file today, try again tomorrow!

Speaking of the server, I got notice this morning that the iTunes link for the podcast wasn't working and I found that for some reason iTunes can't pick up the file for the podcast, so I'm trying to re-upload it. But for some reason my FTP server is really not cooperating and it's not faring so well. Your patience is requested and appreciated. Hopefully this will be fixed at some point today.

Competition Ain't Nothin'

Little Milton Campbell - Somebody's Changin' My Sweet Baby's Mind

The late Milton Campbell, aka "Little Milton," should probably be given fuller coverage in a "Soul-Blues Saturday" post, as he may have been one of the very first artists who could truly bear the "soul-blues" mantle. Campbell launched his recording career in the early '50s as a blues man for Sun Records but didn't come into his own as a hitmaker until he started recording for Chess Records in the mid-'60s. Although Milton was a top-rate guitarist, his growling, Bobby Bland-inspired vocals were of interest to the label, and once he hit #1 in 1965 with "We're Gonna Make It," his guitar was all but retired on his Checker recordings. Fortunately for Milton, his vocals were a strong draw, and he had a nice string of soul hits for the label. Milton left the label in 1971 - Leonard Chess had died and Milton felt lost in the shuffle as GRT, owners of the label, were beginning the process of running the label into the ground - to sign with Stax, where he would bring back his guitar work (listen to the classics "That's What Love Will Make You Do" and "Walking The Back Streets And Crying" to hear his style in its awesome glory) yet keep astraddle the blues and soul line, a stylistic choice he would maintain throughout the rest of his career.

Today's selection was a hit at the tail end of Milton's Checker tenure. "Somebody's Changin'" had also been recorded and released by Johnny Sayles for Brunswick, but Milton's version (strangely credited in Milton's full name) smothered the excellent Sayles record and broke into the R&B Top 30 in 1970. According to the liner notes to Chicago Cool Breezin', a West Side compilation of Brunswick/Dakar/Chi-Sound material, Sayles was upset by both the fact that the song was a Tyrone Davis reject (it had been written by the writers of "Can I Change My Mind?") and that Brunswick did not adequately promote his product. His gripe is fair, as I think Sayles' version is better. Milton's version, however, is also very good, featuring an attractive rhythm and strings, over which Milton really sells the song.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Minit of Funky Blues!

Jimmy McCracklin - Pretty Little Sweet Thing

Jimmy McCracklin has appeared on this blog before, and I refer you to the prior post for more information about this blues and soul master. "Pretty Little Sweet Thing" was a Minit release and was coupled with the dancer "A&I" on the 45. The tune works a rambling bluesy groove for the verses and a funky one for the choruses, an effect that works very well. McCracklin's bluesy voice is supported well by a good chorus and the whole thing cooks nicely.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Jimmy, Peggy and Bill

Peggy Scott-Adams - Bill

The late Jimmy Lewis was known more for his songs (which were recorded by a wide range of artists, most notably Ray Charles) than his recordings during soul's classic era, despite great records on 4-J, Tangerine, Minit, Buddah, Volt, Hotlanta and other labels. Jimmy started the Miss Butch label in the early '90s and released records on himself and others in the soul-blues idiom, hitting big among the blues crowd with several recordings (which will be featured in next week's "Soul-Blues Saturday" post) and really scoring big with today's selection.

Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson had several hits for SSS International in the late '60s, but after that act disbanded she faded into obscurity. When she hooked up with Jimmy Lewis to cut the album Help Yourself she was known in her hometown mainly for singing at funerals. The album was a smash, as far as soul-blues records go, making the Billboard blues chart. (Has Billboard discontinued this chart? I looked at a recent issue and didn't see it in there.) The record sold mainly on the strength of "Bill," which also garnered single release. Jimmy's love-triangle-with-a-twist (in that regard not unlike Swmap Dogg's "Did I Come Back Too Soon?") presents the story with the directness Lewis was known for, and Peggy's vocals put over the surprise and shock that one would expect in such a story. I remember seeing the music video on MTV2 when I was in college (the first time I had heard the song, actually) and immediately rushing out to find the cassette single. This is a tune that grabs you right away and is an example of how "real soul" is not absent in soul-blues recordings: although the subject matter may have prevented anyone from recording a song like it in the '60s, it's not too much a stretch to imagine it being done in those days!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Love Stories: The Birmingham Sound

Roscoe Robinson - Let Me Be Myself

Little Lois Barber - Thank You Baby

Today's post is an amalgam of several love stories. Yesterday I received my copy of the new Rabbit Factory CD The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill, Vol. 1, and it is truly a great CD. All praise must be given to John Ciba for doing an excellent job with this comp. In reading the liner notes and listening to the CD, the "love story" theme jumped to the front of my mind.

Neal Hemphill, a plumber with a love of music (not to mention an earlier gospel singing career), opened his first studio in the basement of the offices of his plumbing business. A man with an open heart and an open mind, as the liner notes state, he was willing to give a wide range of musicians and songwriters the chance to present their material and record. In so doing, he ended up giving Frederick Knight, Sam Dees and others a start in the business. Hemphill also had a love for gadgetry and experimentation, which he applied to his quest for a "Birmingham sound," even if that meant "playing" a vacuum cleaner or, in the case of Frederick Knight's 1972 Stax smash "I've Been Lonely For So Long," hitting a drum stool with a two-by-four! Although Hemphill's national success was fairly limited (the Frederick Knight Stax material was the most successful), the music that came out of the studio, whose personnel included Knight, Dees and Roscoe Robinson, was top-notch and the love that Hemphill and all of the musicians had is very apparent.

John Ciba's love for soul music and this particular story is evident in the CD, his first compilation release. Like the fine folks at Numero, Ciba's intense research and respect for the material resulted in a fantastic CD. The liner notes, which are a mixture of narrative and interviews with key players in the Hemphill story (unfortunately, Neal passed away in 1985; I can't help but think he'd be thrilled by this project), are very informative and really give the reader a great picture of the creative "family" atmosphere that existed at the studio. Ciba's track selection is fantastic. The set leans more in a '70s direction and is mostly mid- to up-tempo material, and there's really not a dud in the set. There's lots of strong and thrilling material: unreleased tracks from Roscoe Robinson (including one of today's selections), Sam Dees material heretofore unreleased on CD, unreleased Frederick Knight stuff, and interesting funk and soul tunes that show off the loose, fun and sometimes eccentric style that Hemphill pushed his musicians to have (one track, by "Butterbean" Flippo, is a loosey-goosey country funk stomp, and today's other selection features some oddball percussion).

With all of the love I've mentioned so far, I should also say that I'm feeling the love also, as I love this CD. I've listened to it about seven times already and it's one of the best comps I've heard in a long time (I'm already eager for Volume 2 to come out). I know I don't generally do CD reviews here, but if you have an interest in soul music, this is a gem worth buying. It's yet another testament of how much good music was coming out at that time, and from so many small players in the business, whose love made all the magic. Take a listen to these two tunes, go buy the CD (it's available online at Dusty Groove and Amazon and other places) and I'm sure you'll love it, too.

P.S.: It's also good to see Ciba give a shout-out in the acknowledgments to Georgia Soul expert Brian Poust; hopefully someday Brian will be able to do a compilation like this, so that his love will shine also!