Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Get on Down on Halloween!

The Coasters - Bull Tick Waltz

Tabby Thomas - Hoodoo Party

Happy Halloween to all you guys and ghouls out there! I got beat to the punch for putting Charles Sheffield's "It's Your Voodoo Working" on here, and I had already posted Gene "Bowlegs" Miller's "Frankenstein Walk," so today's short post features two tales of oddball parties that would be just perfect for the occasion. The Coasters' "Bull Tick Waltz" brings a romping, Bobby Darin-esque groove to the depiction of what should be a problematic infestation of insects, and Charles Sheffield's Excello labelmate Tabby Thomas lays down a rhumba-oriented piece of Louisiana swamp blues with "Hoodoo Party." No tricks, just treats here!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Deep Chicago Soul

Jones and Blumenberg - I Forgot To Remember

This week finds your ever-lovin' Stepfather again on time crunches and, accordingly, short posts. Today's selection was a one-off Volt single from 1968 or '69. Jones and Blumenberg, both part of Jerry Butler's songwriting workshop (from which Butler drew material to record at around that time), make for a strong duet over a very strong ballad. It's unfortunate that this record went nowhere. Perhaps had Mel & Tim (whose sound is redolent here) recorded this it could've been a hit, but their tenure with Stax was still three or four years away. At the time of this song's release, that formidable duo was still working with Gene Chandler for Bamboo Records in Chicago - Gene should've called Jerry up!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

YouTube Gospel Time!

Rather than post anything today, I'll point you to YouTube to see these outstanding outstanding gospel, blues and jazz videos that user "Mandy39" has put up. A great deal of the gospel material comes from the seminal "TV Gospel Time" and "Jubilee Showcase" television programs but some come from other sources. Here's some serious "church" from King Louis Narcisse, who is singing "In Jerusalem" with the choir of his San Francisco church. There's some serious "holy ghost" going on in this clip!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Al Bell, Monk Higgins and Bobby Bland!

Bobby Bland - Love To See You Smile

Al Bell found himself at the bottom of the bottom when Stax Records collapsed in 1975. Not only was the label for which he had spent the last ten years working for (and the last three years owning) out of business, he was personally out of money, as he sank everything he could into fighting CBS (whose distribution agreement had basically put a choke hold on the label's finances) and Union Planters Bank (whose machinations, which were very racist-tinged, hastened the label's demise) and trying to keep the label afloat. Once all the smoke cleared, Bell moved to Washington, D.C. and attempted to get back in the record business through a venture called Independence Corporation of America (ICA). ICA was a pretty quixotic enterprise, considering that independent record companies were all but dead and buried by 1977, and the singles that came out on the ICA label on artists such as L.V. Johnson and Vernon Garrett (whose ICA record of "I'm at the Crossroad" will be featured on a future Soul-Blues Saturday post) didn't fare very well. In the '80s Bell would be involved with Motown and in the '90s would finally hit paydirt with his Bellmark concern, with hits by Prince ("The Most Beautiful Girl in the World") and the rap classic "Whoomp (There It Is)."

The lone success that ICA had came from its productions on blues legend Bobby Bland for MCA Records at the end of the '70s. Bland had gone into the decade continuing on ABC-Dunhill the hit streak he had started at Duke in the '60s. By the time MCA took over the ABC labels he had started the transition toward what is now called "soul blues." Bell and Monk Higgins, whose own career in Chicago and L.A. had created lots of great recordings, worked with Bland during this era (Higgins also produced some other ICA recordings; was he a partner in ICA?), leaving behind some very good recordings. Today's selection came from Bland's LP Come Fly With Me and has endured on soul-blues radio to the present day. Bland gives a warm reading to the uplifting song, and the toe-tapping groove and background singers really bring it home.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Mr. Porter's Opus

David Porter:

When You Have To Sneak (You Have To Sneak)

David Porter's legacy in soul music is usually always presented in tandem with Isaac Hayes, with whom he wrote and produced hit after hit for Stax/Volt artists like Sam & Dave and the Soul Children. Porter's tenure with Stax, however, actually began before he and Hayes found their groove and would continue when Isaac became a superstar at the end of the '60s, effectively ending the partnership. After Hayes moved on, Porter released three albums on Enterprise and a handful of singles (one of them a disappointing duet with Isaac on "Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)"), of which only a remake of "Can't See You When I Want To" (which he had recorded in the early days of Stax) had any particular chart action. Porter had found a new songwriting partner in Ronnie Williams, whose gospel piano playing had interested him (the first of today's selections is exemplary of such style).

Porter's 1971 LP Victim of the Joke? An Opera was a concept album built around the story of a love triangle. Porter, Stax engineer Henry Bush, and others recorded little interludes not unlike the skits that populate many albums today to thread together the songs. "When You Have To Sneak" sets up the illicit love affair between Porter and his paramour (Bush's girlfriend). Once the affair is discovered, and Porter receives a beating from Bush and his gang (one of the funnier moments on the album), a cover of The Beatles' "Help!" is only appropriate. Although the album is best known for Porter's funky reading of the Tin Pan Alley standard "The Masquerade Is Over," the former two songs are my favorites. "When You Have To Sneak" features a great gospel sound featuring Williams' piano, and Porter's vocals really convey the weight of the lyrics. "Help!" is given a stomping treatment that seems almost in line with one of Isaac Hayes' blaxploitation film scores, but in a very attractive mid-section, Porter and the background singers take it down and the soul of his rendition shines through. Victim of the Joke? was probably too strange for its time (the cover art, shown above, probably didn't help either) and the album and the two singles pulled from it ("When I Give It Up, I Want It Back" and "The Masquerade Is Over") were commercially unsuccessful. Porter, however, would stay with Stax until its demise (Rob Bowman notes in Soulsville, U.S.A. that in the final days of the label Porter would actually would ask other Stax personnel how much money they needed to survive and give them money), and when Fantasy Records made a stab at resurrecting the label in the late '70s they tapped Porter to run it (despite scoring a big hit with "Holy Ghost" in 1978 and some minor hits thereafter, the label was shuttered as an active concern by 1980 or 1981).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tyrone Says: "He's/She's Just Not Into You!"

Tyrone Davis - Give It Up (Turn It Loose)

Today's post is partial fulfillment of an earlier promise to feature more Tyrone Davis material on this blog. In 1976 Davis parted ways with the Brunswick subsidiary Dakar Records and signed to Columbia, where he scored a few more hits before changing times ended a decade of solid hits, at least as far as R&B audiences were concerned. "Give It Up" was one of his bigger hits on Columbia, although stylistically it didn't stray too far from the sound of his Dakar hits, especially his last #1 hit, "Turning Point," which had come out in Dakar in '76. The springy groove and femme chorus provide great support to Tyrone's advice to those whose lovers were turning away from them.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This Is Soul!

Jean Stanback - The Next Man

I first heard of Jean Stanback via Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures, where Dave, in his usual purple prose, sang the praises of Stanback's "I Still Love You" (Peacock). Stanback's vocals thrilled me on that tune, and when I heard today's selection on The Heart of Southern Soul, Vol. 3, I was equally thrilled. "The Next Man" came out on Swamp Dogg's Mankind label (an Excello subsidiary) and it's pure soul music. The bluesy, churchy ballad is a showcase for Stanback's heavily-gospelized singing, as she catalogues how her present man did her wrong and how her next man will make it right. This tune never lets up the intensity - notice the portion where Jean does a little testifying over a quiet backdrop; at the beginning of the section one of the background singers seems to be so caught up she lets out a "holy ghost" shout!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Funky Invitation

Junior Parker - River's Invitation

Percy Mayfield's "River's Invitation" is one of many of his blues classics that has been recorded by a wide range of artists in several styles. Mayfield himself recorded the song originally on Specialty in the '50s but then hit the R&B charts with a jauntier version of the song on Tangerine in 1962. Several blues and soul acts would revisit the tune throughout the '60s and the early '70s, including Aretha Franklin, Freddie Robinson and Junior Parker. All three of their versions of the song added a degree of funk to the tune's instantly-recognizable instrumental riff, from the Southern soul edge of Aretha's version to the fatback funk of Freddie Robinson's version.

By the time Junior Parker recorded his version of the tune on Capitol, the blues man had begun a period of experimentation that resulted in a lot of great soul and funk-oriented recordings for several labels. His take on "River's Invitation" is a jazzy, funky ramble which somewhat de-emphasizes the darkness of Mayfield's lyrics and focuses more on the good time generated by the groove.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Atmospheric Soul of William Bell!

William Bell - All For The Love Of A Woman

Soul legend William Bell's legacy as an artist is often presented in terms of the two major bookends of his career in the '60s and '70s, the Southern soul masterpiece, "You Don't Miss Your Water," his first hit, and the post-Stax "Trying To Love Two," his only #1 Billboard R&B hit. Fortunately for Stax fans and soul fans in general, the wide range of material he recorded during his long tenure at Stax shows a versatile artist whose sound evolved with fabulous results.

Today's selection was released in 1971 and right away the atmosphere of the record caputres one's attention. The strings and the chorus swirl about and then Bell steps in to explain that for a woman a man is liable to do anything - certainly things that aren't so nice, as his litany of items over the song's hook shows. It's one of my favorite Bell records.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"Get on Down ..." Anniversary Special!

Because of a lot of stuff going lately, I don't think I'm going to have time to put together a podcast for this month - for shame! - but I do want to get one up in time for the blog/podcast's first anniversary (November 3). What I would like to do is create an "Anniversary Special" which would feature reader favorites from the year of "Get on Down ..." posts. Of course, to feature reader favorites means that you have to let me know which tunes you would like to have featured. You can contact me either by commenting or by e-mail and by the end of the month I will have a playlist put together and will do a commemorative show. I would like to have all recommendations end by the end of this week (October 28). I look forward to your suggestions!

Sunday Gospel Time

The Ramada Singers - Stand Still Jordan

Last night I had the honor of being one of the guest DJs for "Rhythm & Booze" at El Myr in Atlanta, and it was great to get to spin again and listen and dance to so many great soul records! I managed to slip in one gospel record, the Meditation Singers' "Don't You Want to Go (Pt. 1)." Today's selection would be a good candidate for "Rhythm & Booze," but unfortunately its condition is just a bit too rough to play out. I picked it up from Kurt Wood, who also was on board for "Rhythm & Booze" last night. "Stand Still Jordan" is a nice piece of gospel soul, featuring a nice rhythm and good group singing. The record came out on Su-Ann, which was part of the HSE Records empire and, accordingly, is pretty collectible (and pricey - I saw a VG copy of this for sale online for $50!). Writing about an HSE record shames me somewhat, as I interviewed Larry Blackwell (owner of the HSE catalogue) in July 2006 but just haven't had time to sit down and craft an article about the label. Maybe gospel fans who read this blog can pester me to get it done!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Koko's Funky Soul

Koko Taylor - Yes It's Good For You

Wrapping up this week of short posts is this piece of funky soul by Koko Taylor. "Yes It's Good For You" finds the Queen of the Blues working it out over a hot groove laid down by the Chess musicians (that must be Maurice White - of eventual Earth, Wind & Fire fame - laying down that drumming that really pushues this record).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Steppin' in 1980!

The L.A. Boppers - Is This The Best (Bop Doo-Wah)

The rush continues here at work, so with little ado I present one of my favorite stepping soul numbers, a Top 30 R&B hit in 1980.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Mystery Song, Revisited!

The Scott Brothers - Welcome Me

I posted today's selection as a "mystery tune" on the blog in March 2006. Brian Phillips identified it some time later as "Welcome Me" by the Scott Brothers and even sent me a link to an online seller of the record. The seller wanted more for it than I was willing to pay, so I continued my search for the 45 elsewhere. At a recent record fair, I was browsing through Kurt Wood's excellent stuff and a doo-wop collector who was combing through with me put a record on the turntable to test it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw "Scott Brothers" - he flipped it over and I saw "Welcome Me." I immediately blurted out that I've been looking for that record and the collector said, "well you can have it." Kurt sold it to me for a good price and I snapped it up. So today I am happy to present it again on the blog, in proper fidelity and without Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson's voiceovers!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Get on Down With Jimmy Reed!

Jimmy Reed - Good Is Catching Up With Me

Today's short post features some more funky blues from Jimmy Reed, whose funky period was discussed in a prior post. Reed is truly not in best form here, but the tune has its moments.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Here I Am ... Back Again!

Quick Post!

Fred Waters - I Wish For a Miracle

Today's selection is the flip of "It's a Little Bit Late," which was featured in a prior post. "I Wish For a Miracle" is a funky thing with a hard-hitting guitar line.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The next two weeks are going to be pretty busy and, therefore, I cannot guarantee that I will be able to do many posts or maintenance on expired links, although I will do my best. Watch this space, though, for an announcement about my forthcoming appearance at "Rhythm & Booze" and for a belated episode of the podcast.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Blues Get Down!

Howlin' Wolf - Dust My Broom (live)

In 1966 Alan Lomax arranged for several of his favorite blues artists to appear in a documentary he shot in front of a small audience at a juke-joint soundstage. This video, now available on DVD as Devil Got My Woman: Blues at Newport, 1966 featured Skip James, Son House, Pearly Brown, Bukka White and Howlin' Wolf, and the film is a treat for blues fans, as the performances run the gamut from Skip James' eerie country blues to Bukka White's infectious guitar boogies (one of which includes some funny dancing by some audience members) to a strong but drunken performance by Son House and a great set by Wolf. It's sort of strange that Wolf is in this video at all, because he was the only electric bluesman of the group, but he obviously knew these guys and interacts with them throughout the film. Wolf's set is a highlight of the film. Wolf and his band are in good form, and Wolf interjects great monologues - including a harangue at Son House, who had been drunkenly interrupting the set - and a lot of clowning around to his solid performances, which included today's selection.

As a blues song, "Dust My Broom" had been around for quite awhile - it was part of the canonical Robert Johnson catalog, and Elmore James had made it his signature tune in the 1950s. Wolf's long-time guitarist Hubert Sumlin works the song's trademark riff while Wolf bellows the lyrics and blows some harmonica. This is a stomping rocker in Wolf's hands, from his short opening monologue to the finale, where Wolf and Sumlin do the final chorus in unison.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

So Says Your Ever-Lovin' ... Rag-Man!

Leon Huff - I Ain't Jivin', I'm Jammin'

When I first moved to Chicago back in 1997 one of the pleasures the city offered me was adult urban radio station WVAZ-FM ("V-103"), especially on the weekends. On Friday night, Jim Raggs (the "Rag-Man") would come on and, with his "Dusty Dance Party," would lay down smokin' soul, funk and disco, mostly from the '70s. Some Friday nights I would get in my car and just drive around the city, with those great sounds and the Rag-Man's patter keeping me company. On Saturdays, legendary DJ Herb Kent would hold court with the "Saturday Morning Wake-Up Club" (where I came this/close to winning a prize by calling in to guess Herb's "mystery guest," that day Ron Banks of the Dramatics), and on Sundays Kent and the Rag-Man would fill out the afternoon, with Kent playing the "dusties" (Kent coined the term for R&B oldies, referring to the dust in the grooves that made older records crackle) and the Rag-Man doing blues.

On this Thursday afternoon, when I am overwhelmed with stress, I would give anything to hear the Rag-Man play some smooth dusties and the like, so I dug up today's selection, as it's along the lines of what would get airplay on V-103. Leon Huff will forever be known as the latter half of Gamble and Huff, the songwriting-producing-record label gurus who provided smash records to a wide array of artists throughout the '60s and '70s, especially in connection with their Philadelphia International label. Although Gamble was the mouthpiece for the duo, penning polemic liner notes for PIR albums and the like, Huff was a very strong piano player and brought a lot to the creative end of things. Although Huff undoubtedly provided piano support to probably a great many PIR hits, he only released two singles and an album, Here to Create Music, on the label as an artist. "I Ain't Jivin'" made some noise when released in 1981, and its churchy, bluesy, swagger tickles my fancy on what has been a crappy day. It's as if Jim Raggs is on V-103, dedicating this piece of sunshine to me, saying, "It's gonna get better my brother - so says your ever-lovin' ... Rag-Man!"

(EDIT, 2:30 PM - Well, maybe the Rag-Man's (imagined) words were just what the doctor ordered: my stressful day has suddenly improved!)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jimmy Soul!

Jimmy Soul - I Can't Hold Out Any Longer

Jimmy Soul (real name James McCleese) will go down in music history as the singer of "If You Wanna Be Happy," a #1 pop hit in 1963. The song (based on the calypso tune "Ugly Woman") was his only major hit and almost as quickly as his fame came, it went, and Soul dropped out of the music biz by 1965 and did not return (he died in the 1980s). Jimmy had a smaller hit in 1962 with "Twistin' Matilda" on the SPQR label, and its flip is today's selection. "I Can't Hold Out Any Longer" reveals that the "Jimmy Soul" stage name had some merit, as Jimmy takes this R&B-turning-the-corner-into-soul ballad and works it out, bringing gospel intensity and a touch of Jackie Wilson to the proceedings.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Curtis Mayfield - I Plan To Stay a Believer

Throughout the '70s there was probably no artist who was as consistently "heavy" as Curtis Mayfield. When Mayfield decided to start a solo career after more than a decade with the Impressions, he took with him the social consciousness vibe that had informed the group's work from 1968 forward and that approach paid dividends, especially with hits like "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go," the Super Fly soundtrack and a righteous stage show, captured on the great album Curtis/Live. Today's selection is drawn from that album, and it finds Curtis and his band laying down a relaxed groove over which Mayfield preaches about getting "off your ass" and doing something to improve the country. It's "dope," and not in the "Freddie's Dead" sense of the word!

Monday, October 09, 2006

All Platinum Donnie!

Donnie Elbert - This Feeling of Losing You

Donnie Elbert's recording career stretched back to 1957, and his thrilling falsetto graced many great recordings, including the Northern Soul classic "A Little Piece of Leather." His rocky tenure at Avco and All Platinum in the early '70s gave him his biggest successes, although the acrimonious relationshipo he had with both labels probably limited his success, which is unfortunate. He signed to All Platinum and hit with an updated version of the Supremes classic "Where Did Our Love Go" but then signed to Avco. Disagreements with the label about the direction of his album - he wanted to do a lot of Motown covers - resulted in his release from Avco, who dumped his album on the cheapo Trip label and left Elbert with no choice but to return to All Platinum. Today's selection was Elbert's first single on All Platinum after his return, and it's a nice one. Over a nice charging groove, Elbert conjures both his own falsetto and, to me, a touch of Al Green. This record, like most subsequent product, was commercially unsuccessful, and Elbert would leave All Platinum in acrimony, claiming to have written "Shame, Shame, Shame," a big hit for Shirley & Co. on Vibration, an All Platinum subsidiary. Elbert's claim failed, and he continued to toil unsuccessfully until the mid-80s.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I Can Travel Now!

The Swanee Quintet - New Walk

Today's "Sunday Gospel Time" feature evokes memories of "TV Gospel Time." On the two tapes I have there are appearances by the Swanee Quintet, Nashboro Records' premiere hard gospel group. Although tenor Johnny Jones' intense singing and awesome falsetto gets the most airtime, the rough-hewn singing of Rev. Reuben Willingham is showcased on the group's performance of "New Walk," which is my favorite Swanees song. "New Walk" starts off with Willingham working out the bluesy call-and-response melody and Jones comes in to tear through the up-tempo finale.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Johnson Power! (Pt. 2)

Syl Johnson (Featuring Syleena Johnson) - Half a Love

Today's post revisits last week's post about Syl Johnson and family. As I mentioned then, after the early '80s Syl shifted his focus to his fish restaurant business and made only sporadic appearances in the studio. By the '90s Syleena, his daughter, had begun to show some serious musical talent as a singer, but Syl, still irritated about the music business, discouraged her making a career of it. Despite his misgivings, Johnson did bring Syleena in the studio for the 1995 album This Time Together by Father and Daughter, whose cover art amuses me highly - Syleena's photo (a school picture?) is pure 1990s fashion, but Syl looks like he's caught in a '70s time warp! This low-budget affair did not make much noise upon release. As the decade continued, however, Syl began a comeback of sorts, recording several good soul-blues albums which included great guest turns by the Hi Rhythm Section, the Two Johnsons Are Better Than One album with his brother Jimmy, and Bridge to a Legacy, from which today's selection is drawn.

"Half a Love" is a nice bluesy soul ballad featuring a good guitar groove from Syl, but the tune is really a showcase for Syleena, whose vocals remind me of Candi Staton or Millie Jackson as she warns the ladies about two-timing men. Syl jumps in for one verse to make it clear that cheating is a two-way street, and his soulful enthusiasm adds some fun to the proceedings (I love the line "check your watches, fellas, 'cause we're living in a different time"). This is a song that would've been a solid smash back in Syl's heyday, in my opinion, and it's one of my favorite soul-blues recordings.

Syleena's desire to break into showbiz was fully realized at the dawn of the 21st century, when her second solo album, Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness resulted in the hit "I Am Your Woman," which got a lot of airplay on adult urban radio. The next album, Chapter 2: The Voice gave her a hit with "Guess What," another message to the menfolk featuring her great voice. A guest turn on Kanye West's hit "All Falls Down" gave her immense exposure in the urban contemporary and pop markets, and her newest album, Chapter 3: The Flesh, is sure to continue her rising career. The "bridge to a legacy" has indeed been crossed!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Dancin' Into the Weekend

The Future Kind - The Devil Is Gonna Get You

Today I wanted to pick something with a "get down" feel to take into the weekend, and this selection from Dave Hamilton's Detroit Funk will suit the bill. The Future Kind's "The Devil Is Gonna Get You" is a fun funky romp built around Sly Stone's "Thank You" riff. At first it almost sounds like either a funky gospel record or something along the lines of Curtis Mayfield's "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go" but then the group starts clowning at the end ("What are you doing here?" "I *knew* she was gonna be here!") and you realize that it's all just a funky good time.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tumblin' Tumblin' Tumblin' Down

James Fry - Tumblin' Down

James Fry (real name Johnny Frierson) and his sister Mary were members of the Drapels, who recorded a couple of 45s for Stax in its earlier years (their "Wondering When My Love Is Coming Home" is a killer sweet soul number) and provided background vocals on records by a few other artists (they sang backups on Rufus Thomas' "Jump Back," to name one recording). The group disbanded after their records met no commercial success. Stax stuck with Mary, rechristening her "Wendy Rene" and recording some great soul records that did not go anywhere (although her "Bar-B-Q" became a Northern Soul anthem). Johnny went over to Hi Records and, as "James Fry", cut a handful of similarly unsuccessful records, including today's selection.

"Tumblin' Down" is a nice piece of simple Southern soul, featuring a slightly strutting groove over which Frierson tells his story of come-uppance. His plaintive reading of the song really captures the feeling of the words, and the Hi musicians rise to the occasion. I like the "tumblin' down" hook at the end of the verses also.

Thanks to Barry "Soul Brother" Fowden for the MP3.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Get on Down With Trini Lopez!

Trini Lopez - Sinner Not a Saint

Mexican-American pop singer Trini Lopez's Latin-flavored renditions of folk and rock songs made him a major record seller throughout the '60s on Frank Sinatra's Reprise label. Lopez's willingness to tackle all sorts of material gave him a little R&B action as well, with his rendition of "If I Had a Hammer" making some noise on its 1963 release. Although the bulk of his recorded legacy came out on Reprise, some top-notch material had been recorded earlier for King Records and for the Bihari brothers in Los Angeles, for whom he cut today's selection. "Sinner Not a Saint" is a romping piece of R&B which had single release on United/Modern and was included on the Crown LP shown above. Over a great groove Lopez tackles the swaggering lyrics with gusto, and the strings romp along in the song's mid-section. I first heard this on the Kent CD For Connoisseurs Only, Vol. 2, a great comp of RPM/Kent/Modern material, but have been frustrated in my attempts to score the 45, due to its high price (the last eBay auction I was in saw the 45 go for $55 or so). Someday, maybe!

P.S.: Speaking of auctions, the FAME record collection mentioned in my post from last Thursday is still up for grabs. Get your bids in, if you have $6,600 to spare!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tuesday Is (Heavy, Funky) Blues Day!

Little Sonny - The Creeper

Blues singer/harmonica player Little Sonny (born Aaron Willis) was one of the most popular Detroit live blues acts as the '60s gave way to the '70s. Being one of the younger acts in town, he embraced soul and funk as part of his repertoire, which allowed him to do his thing when many older blues artists were starting to struggle due to the dwindling black audience for their music. Sonny (who, contrary to some reports, was not nicknamed after Sonny Boy Williamson - he received his nickname from his mother) had recorded for Duke, Excello and his own Speedway label with no success. In 1966 he leased the instrumental two-sider "The Creeper" (not to be confused with the Freddie Robinson record of the same name) b/w "Latin Soul" to Revilot, which was picking up steam with Darrell Banks and the Parliaments. Sonny had three 45 releases on Revilot, none of which caught fire outside of Detroit, and upon the label's demise in 1969 he made his way down to Stax Records, where he found a sympathetic outlet on the Enterprise label. Although his Enterprise tenure (three LPs and a handful of singles) did not make him a household name, it was his most successful, with records like his version of "Wade In The Water" making a little noise and Sonny making an appearance at the 1972 Watts Summer Festival ("Wattstax").

One of the first recordings Sonny did for Enterprise was a remake of "The Creeper" entitled "The Creeper Returns." The original tune had been inspired by a murderous villain from a thriller Sonny had seen, and the slinky, somewhat ominous groove certainly captures that atmosphere. Sonny was not happy with the Revilot release, however, deeming it too heavy-handed and wrongly mixed (a position Rob Bowman supports in his liner notes to the Stax singles box sets). For the Enterprise version, Sonny dispensed with the horn section and lightened up the groove slightly to make the song move more smoothly. Although I admit that "The Creeper Returns" is a great record, I'm actually partial to the original. The drums are indeed very heavy, and the horn chart is pretty ham-fisted, but I think the overall result is one of heavy, sexy slow funk, over which Sonny's harmonica work is more brilliant than in "The Creeper Returns."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Cosby's Cool Breezin'

Bill Cosby - Ursalena

Bill Cosby's '60s and '70s funky 45s and albums have been discussed in prior posts (see this one for information about the Hooray For the Salvation Army Band album, from which today's selection also came), so I'll dispense with any narrative except to say that "Ursalena," which also gained 45 release as the flip of the album's title track, is a groovy piece of West Coast soul, featuring Cos' strained singing of the song's hook and dialogue capturing the tongue-tiededness that a beautiful woman can cause in a man. It's not as all-out comic as many of his other recordings, and stands as a nice piece of soul music as a result. Cos would re-record the song for Paramount in 1973 with support from his long-time musical collaborator, Stu Garner, but the original is far superior.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Checker Gospel Soul!

The Soul Stirrers - Slow Train

When SAR Records closed up shop after the death of Sam Cooke, and after lead singer Jimmy Outler moved on to try his hand at an unsuccessful secular career, the Soul Stirrers moved on to Chess Records and signed up Clefs of Calvary singer James Phelps as their new lead. Phelps didn't stick around very long - by 1965 Phelps was hitting on the R&B charts with "Love Is a Five-Letter Word (Money)" and recording great soul stuff like "La De Da (I'm a Fool in Love)". I'm not sure off hand who replaced Phelps at that point, but the group soldiered on and released fine gospel records for the Checker label.

Today's selection was a cover of the William Bell-Booker T. Jones composition that had been a highlight of the Staple Singers' first Stax LP, Soul Folk In Action. "Slow Train" is a soulful meditatation, and the Stirrers provide very solid singing on the choruses while the lead gives the "People Get Ready"-styled lyrics a great reading.