Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tribute to the Godfather: Get on Down With Sunday Gospel Time!

Kay Robinson - The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow (Pts. 1 & 2)

In addition to the voluminous discography James Brown generated for himself, his production company would be responsible for a large number of 45s and albums on James Brown Revue members and others for a wide range of labels. (See this great Japanese site for a discography of JB and his productions.) The "A James Brown Production" logo graced recordings ranging from soul and funk to jazz (most notably the Bethlehem recordings of The Dee Felice Trio, which a funky jazz version of "There Was a Time") to comedy (Clay Tyson and Sad Sam) to country (the 1970 Starday LP Here I Am by Ronnie Thompson, then mayor of Macon) to gospel, as shown in today's selection.

Cincinnati gospel singer Kay Robinson had five James Brown-produced 45s and one LP (the highly-collectible We Need Time) released on King and Federal. She recorded the funky two-part "The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow" with the Bootsy-era J.B.'s in 1970. Although the aforementioned discography site shows the record being released as a two-part King 45, I've seen listings elsewhere that suggest that only Part 1 of the tune actually received commercial release, with both parts only appearing as one side of a King promotional 45. Fortunately, when Polydor released the James Brown's Original Funky Divas comp they included the whole thing, and it's a sure cooker. Robinson starts with a piano-backed monologue about the turbulent times ("we've lost so many good men - Dr. King, the Kennedys," she notes) but then the band kicks in and she rips into the song (with backup support from JB, Bobby Byrd, and Fayne Pridgeon), not letting up until the intro is reprised some five minutes later.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tribute to the Godfather: The Last Time

James Brown - Maybe the Last Time

James Brown's public memorial is underway in Augusta, Georgia as I write this. I wish I could be there to pay my respects, but I have a child in tow today, flying solo, so the trip to Augusta was really out of the question. I'm sure many people join me in being there "in spirit."

Today's selection seems appropriate for today's events. In 1964 JB, who was having a tough time with King Records prexy Syd Nathan (having clashed over the Live at the Apollo LP and some other projects), violated his contract and started putting out material on Mercury's Smash label. Nathan flexed his muscle and coerced Brown to toe the line with King, but Smash was allowed to release instrumental material by James and the band for a little while (I think the last Smash recordings came out in '66 or '67). The lone JB vocal 45 on Smash was "Out of Sight" b/w "Maybe the Last Time." "Out of Sight" was the first hint of the new sound JB was about to drop with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," and is a fine piece of R&B. "Maybe the Last Time," however, is a fantastic record that deserved more than to be a B-side. The tune was based on the gospel tune made popular by the Staple Singers (the Rolling Stones would also turn to the tune around that time). James and the Famous Flames give the song a very strong reading, and James conjures up his gospel idol, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi's Archie Brownlee, in his performance.

The tribute to JB will continue into next week, but today I pause to remember the legend as I sit here, so close but yet so far away from Augusta.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Great JB Article

Here's a great piece from The New Yorker about JB from a few years back. It's an interesting portrait of such a complex man.

Tribute to the Godfather: What It Is!

James Brown:

Mind Power
Mind Power (alternate)

James Brown, like most of the funky soul brothers of the early '70s, was called upon to contribute to blaxploitation movie soundtracks as the genre flowered. JB was a natural for this, as he was still putting out hits at an amazing rate, but he showed very little interest in being an auteur a la Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield. His opinion was that he could just string together music he had already done to go alongside the movie's scenes; fortunately Fred Wesley and others impressed upon JB to do a little more work than that, but in the end the soundtracks are hit-and-miss affairs. Although the Black Caesar and Slaughter's Big Rip-Off soundtracks are nowhere in the same league as Isaac Hayes' Shaft or Curtis Mayfield's Superfly, however, they each had their moments: "Down In Out In New York City," "Blind Man Can See It," "The Boss" and "Mama Feelgood" from Black Caesar (the latter sung by Lyn Collins) and "People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul" and "Sexy, Sexy, Sexy" from Slaughter's Big Rip-Off come to mind right away. And then there's the soundtrack that didn't happen.

JB's second-strongest album of his entire discography, The Payback (the legendary Live at the Apollo is, of course, the greatest JB album EVER), was actually planned to be the soundtrack to Hell Up In Harlem, but studio execs, unbelievably, didn't think the music was funky enough to use in the movie! Fortunately, JB didn't shelve the rejected material. Polydor released The Payback in 1974 and the dark, brooding title track shot straight to #1 on the R&B charts and has endured to the present day as a funk anthem and as an immensely-popular source of hip-hop samples. (By the way, the neither the film nor its soundtrack - whose composer I can't recall - fared very well.) The Payback is full of good material, and the improv jam "Mind Power" closed out the album. Over a great groove, James gives a little autobiography and then uses some incoherent talk about ESP, positive thinking and mind power (not unlike his monologue on "Escape-Ism") to create the riff of "what it is, what it is" that drives the tune along. James' vocals are pretty meaningless overall, as this is just a solid slab of funk that doesn't let up for its whole twelve minutes. I first heard this great recording on the now-defunct KoolOut online radio show and find it to be a favorite to the very day.

The 1990s release of the Make It Funky: The Big Payback, 1971-1975 comp from Polydor unearthed a nice treat from the Payback sessions. When James and the band recorded "Mind Power" the tape reel ran out, but engineer Bob Both didn't tell JB. Instead, he stuck another reel on and continued to record. Assumedly, then, the ending of "Mind Power" on the Payback LP was a post-production move, as the captured material that made its way onto the Make It Funky comp finds JB and the band jamming along and having some fun. James admires the "stick player"'s groove ("that's how we started ... man I used to blow a can ... I sure wish I had a comb and some paper, I could play some music now!") and gets Fred Wesley to imitate a Dixieland trombone player, Guy Lombardo and Herb Alpert (!) It's a nice tune all by itself and is a great way to get the great "Mind Power" groove in a smaller dose.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tribute to the Godfather: How About a Little Hand For The Boys In The Band

James Brown - Nose Job
The James Brown Soul Train - Honky Tonk (Pt. 1)

Before I discuss today's picks, I encourage you to rush on over to WFMU's Beware of the Blog, which is currently featuring James Brown material from myriads of blogs (including my own) and scads of great mp3s and video clips.

As great as JB's talent was, recognition must be given to the outstanding bands he fronted in the '60s and '70s. The James Brown Band (later known as the J.B.'s) was Brown's recording and touring band, and at various points the lineup included drummers John "Jabo" Starks and Clyde Stubblefield, trombonist Fred Wesley, saxophonists Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, Maceo Parker, and St. Clair Pinkney, guitarists Phelps "Catfish" Collins and Hearlon "Cheese" Martin, bassist William "Bootsy" Collins and other very talented musicians, who brought the funk (and, in the case of Wesley and Ellis, serious jazz chops) to the table. With such great musicians to work with, Brown could easily craft his magic. Although Brown had pretty notorious fallings-out with various personnel over the years due to his demanding nature, strict discipline and immense ego (especially the 1970 mutiny in which almost all of Brown's band quit and James drafted Bootsy and Catfish Collins and their Cincinnati-based band en masse hours before a concert to create the "Sex Machine"-era J.B.'s), the band provided the groove that made Brown "the first name in the soul game," as Don Cornelius would say. Fortunately, JB recorded his band on lots of awesome 45s and albums for Smash, King, People and Polydor, under his own name and under monikers such as The J.B.'s, Maceo & The Macks, The Last Word, The Believers and The James Brown Soul Train. Quite a few of their records charted, most notably Fred Wesley & The J.B.'s 1974 #1 R&B hit "Doing It To Death," and all of them are worth checking out, as they run the gamut from blues to jazz to Northern Soul to funk to disco.

Today I've selected two great instrumentals which display the '60s and '70s JB instrumental sound. "Nose Job" was actually the backing track to James Brown Revue member Lee Austin's version of the soul classic "Steal Away." This brassy thing has a slight funk groove going on quietly in the background, but the overall feel is very jazzy, reflective of Pee Wee Ellis' tastes during his stint as JB's bandleader. James Brown's 1972 revisiting of the R&B classic "Honky Tonk" billed to the James Brown Soul Train was actually one of several remakes of the classic Brown produced, including a funky remake done by Bill Doggett, who had hit with the song in 1956 - see this earlier post about the song, which was coupled with the funky 45 classic "Honky Tonk Popcorn". It's a fun number whose bluesy shuffle groove is clearly the template for "Doing It To Death."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tribute to the Godfather: N-A-T-U-R-uh-E

James Brown - Nature

The rise of disco in the mid-'70s did in many of the soul legends of the '60s, whose more rough-hewn styles and Southern-inflected vocals didn't mesh well with the "four-on-the-floor" groove and chic aesthetic (no pun intended) that the disco dancers preferred. These fading stars didn't go out without a fight, but for most it really didn't work out. Joe Tex fared best, scoring a major hit with "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)," and Joe Simon snared a few hits, with "Get Down, Get Down (Get on the Floor)" leading the way. James Brown would not adapt to the new style as well as they did, as his "new, new super heavy funk" was too singular for the disco groove or the newer funk sound coming out of the P-Funk camp (whose personnel now included former-JB's Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker). From 1975's Sex Machine Today and The Original Disco Man to Jam/1980's (from which today's selection comes), Brown's albums started focusing on putting a disco slant to the groove. Although he did manage to get hits out of "Bodyheat" and "It's Too Funky In Here," the late-'70s JB singles started regularly missing the pop and R&B charts (Brown wouldn't regain any chart momentum until "Living in America" in 1986). Unfortunately, this era is politely ignored in the overview of JB's legacy, but in doing so, some pretty good recordings are overlooked.

Today's selection was released as a two-part Polydor single, which failed to chart. It is, however, one of my favorite recordings from the "disco" period. "Nature" is a nice disco-funk strut with a wickedly infectious guitar lick, over which James talks about "if I didn't have nature - I wonder where would I be" (it's not clear to me, though, if he's talking about the Good Earth or about something else) and getting the band to give up the funk. Before the dancing starts, however, James does a little preaching about nature in the song's long, churchy intro (dig the line "When I rub up 'gainst my baby, yeah, ah, it makes me feel hot! Makes me feel hot! Ah, my body gets warm!") - the intro is really over-the-top, but I love it. On the 45 edit, the tune is started about halfway through, with a short chanted intro ("ohhhhh back to nature now!") spliced onto the top (I suppose disco patrons wouldn't want to stand around to hear the long intro); Part 2 of the tune is the churchy intro and a bit of the beginning of the tune. I think the whole of "Nature" is much better than the sum of its parts, however, and from the opening guitar licks to the vamping ending (dig where the guitarist actually trips up on his little lick after one of the vamps), it's proof that JB still had something to offer, even if the market didn't accept it.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Get On Down With The Son Of The Stepfather Of Soul!

Here's Nicolus, our seven-year-old, now empowered by one of his Christmas gifts, a karaoke machine:

I think it's safe to say that the boy's got soul!

Tribute to The Godfather: My First JB Record

James Brown - Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)

I recommend that everyone check out the Funky 16 Corners obituary of James Brown, as it provides a great overview of JB's life and work, closing with a sentiment that I share: unfortunately, in the mainstream JB is viewed as more of a punchline, the man with the crazy mugshot, than the innovator and trailblazer of American music. Fortunately his work will forever stand on its own, both in recordings and video, and so his greatness cannot be denied. I think that my part in the JB memorials that will be all over music blogdom will be to just cover a few things that I have always enjoyed by JB and his production stable. The three "Rhubarb Cake" shows I posted yesterday, plus everything that everyone else will write, will offer so much more than the lowly Stepfather, so I'm not going to try anything that massive. I probably will, however, do a tribute set later in the week.

The three-part People 45 of "Hot Pants" was the first James Brown record I ever heard. As I noted in my Ahmet Ertegun post the other week (too many legends are passing away, I say!) my introduction to soul came from my mom's records, and the James Brown 45 stood out from all the rest I was listening to in those days: the groove was so bare; James' vocals were chanted and not sung; the horns darted in and out save for the vamp toward the end of Part 1. It was raw funk, my first exposure to the genre. What a way to be introduced to the sound!

"Hot Pants" was James' second release on his new King-distributed People label (the first being "Escape-Ism"), and it was a #1 Billboard R&B chart hit in 1971. The hit came at an odd time, however, as James was about to leave King Records (whose entire operations, by this point, were basically kept afloat by JB's hits) for Polydor, taking the People imprint and his masters with him.

Polydor rushed out the Hot Pants LP to ride out the People 45's momentum, and James re-recorded the song to be the centerpiece of the album. The album was not one of the stronger entries in JB's discography (although the improv jam "Blues & Pants" is a personal favorite, that will appear in a future JB tribute post), and I personally find the People version of "Hot Pants" to be the superior recording. Here, James talks about "the girl over there with the hot pants on" while a sinister guitar line strolls along and the very simple bassline provides the tune's heartbeat.

Monday, December 25, 2006

RIP James Brown

I just went online to check my e-mail and have learned that James Brown passed away this morning at the age of 73. My surprise, coupled with the holiday's activities, means I won't be able to write anything today or work on any podcasts, etc., but all of that will follow. The Godfather of Soul is dead; I'm sure that my blog - and all of my fellow bloggers' sites - will provide ample tribute over the next few weeks. In the meantime, here are links to not one, not two, but three awesome archived WFMU "Rhubarb Cake" shows featuring Brown and his productions on himself and others. We're talking a major dose (TWELVE HOURS) of JB (RealAudio required). The links are as follows:

Rhubarb Cake broadcast, 12/25/01 (SIX HOURS of JB and his funky people, ironically broadcast five years ago today)
Rhubarb Cake broadcast, 12/24/02 (features THREE HOURS of JB productions)
Rhubarb Cake broadcast, 1/4/01 (features THREE HOURS of recordings from JB's People label)

Rest in peace, JB.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

OK, One More Xmas Post

The Meditation Singers - Blue Christmas

I had said that yesterday's post would be my last regular post before the holidays, but this 45 came in the mail today and, being that had it arrived earlier it would've been part of the podcast, I'll go ahead and post it today.

The Meditation Singers are no stranger to this blog or the podcast, so I'll simply say that "Blue Christmas," recorded at a time when so many young men were away in Vietnam, is still appropriate today, when so many young men and women are now in Iraq and Afghanistan. I will join many who will be thinking of our armed forces this Christmas. To my brother-in-law, Second Lieutenant Charles Dozier (who's in Baghdad right now), and all of the others, Merry Christmas. We love you and miss you.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Here's #13!

Episode #13 of "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul!" is now online in both stereo and mono! Due to time constraints I didn't get to record any voiceovers, so the music is here just to enjoy! Here's the playlist:

1. Ronnie Mitchell - Soul Meeting
2. Larry Birdsong - Every Night In The Week
3. The Fame Gang - It's Your Thing
4. Johnny & John - Christmas In Vietnam
5. Maurice & Mac - So Much Love
6. Little Milton - Coca-Cola Ad
7. Wales Wallace - We're Not Happy
8. Shirley Wahls - That's How Long (I'm Gonna Love You)
9. James Brown - Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto
10. Art Jerry Miller - Put Me In The Mood
11. Don Fletcher - Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right
12. The Jewels - Opportunity
13. The Mad Lads - No Strings Attached
14. Gladys Knight & The Pips - Coca-Cola Ad
15. Little Sonny - Sonny's Bag
16. The Mighty Hannibal - Jerkin' The Dog
17. The Bobbettes - I've Gotta Face The World
18. The Commotions - Handy Man
19. Dee Dee Sharp - Bye Bye Baby
20. Don Covay & The Goodtimers - Gonna Send You Back To Your Mama
21. Arthur Conley - You Don't Have To See Me
22. Otis Redding - Amen
23. The Lafayette Leake Trio - After Hours (closing theme)

The Stepfather's Favorite Christmas Blues

Lowell Fulsom - The Original Lonesome Christmas (Pt. 1)

For today's selection I have to turn to my (unfortunately, scratchy) 45 of Lowell Fulsom's "Lonesome Christmas," my favorite Christmas-themed blues song. Fulsom (alternately spelled "Fulson" on many releases) is best known among soul fans for his funky blues 45s of the '60s and '70s for Kent ("Tramp," "Make a Little Love") and Jewel ("Sleeper"), but his long career started with Fulsom being a major proponent of the Texas and West Coast blues sound, with a ten-year stint on Checker providing great records such as "Reconsider Baby" and "Blue Shadows." Prior to his Checker tenure, however, Fulsom was working out West with lots of great recordings for Swingtime (during which period a young Ray Charles worked in his band) and Hollywood. "Lonesome Christmas," penned by L.A. pianist and Fulsom associate Lloyd Glenn, was a Hollywood release (reissued several times when Hollywood was acquired by Starday-King and, later, when Gusto acquired Starday-King) and it features Fulsom's ingratiating voice over a gentle groove that tick-tocks along. Although the lyrics reflect Fulsom's regret that he can't be with his loved one for the holidays, the tune is very cheerful and playful.

Today's post will be the last regular post I do before the holidays. If all goes as planned I will have the next episode of the podcast online either tonight or tomorrow, where I'll feature a couple of more Christmas songs but also the usual mix of groovers and movers! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Soul Brothers Six Minus Five?

John Ellison - Lost the Will to Live

Willie John Ellison and the Soul Brothers Six joined the incredible list of immensely-talented footnotes in the annals of soul history with their 1967 Atlantic 45 "Some Kind of Wonderful," which just broke into the Billboard Hot 100 (#91) and missed the R&B charts altogether (in 1974 Grand Funk Railroad took a sleek rock-n-roll take on the song to #3 on the pop charts). The group had five 45 releases on Atlantic, with diminishing returns - although good, the uptempo numbers attempted too many times to revisit the "Some Kind of Wonderful" groove, but the ballads were stunning - before moving on to Phil.-L.A. of Soul in 1971, where a handful of unsuccessful 45s closed the door on the group's attempt to reach the big time. A slightly-different take of today's selection was released as a Phil.-L.A. of Soul single in 1974, but this take appeared on the Philadelphia Roots comp billed to Ellison alone. Over a rushed, bare groove, Ellison's high, quivering voice lays out the absolute despair a broken love affair can engender while the Soul Brothers and the horns provide responses. This is real soul - how can it not be with lines like "you were my reason for wanting to live, now you're the reason that I want to die"?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thank You (For This Groove)!

Jesse James - Thank You Darlin'

Jesse James (born James McClellan, and not to be confused with the writer/producer of many classic Phil.-L.A. of Soul funky 45s) recorded a string of 45s for labels including Shirley, Hit, 20th Century, Zea, Zay(!) and TTED, and made some good soul-blues recordings for Gunsmoke at the end of the '80s. Besides "Believe In Me Baby (Pts. 1 & 2)," which made noise on its 1965 or 1966 release, he never broke out of soul's second tier. Today's selection came out on 20th Century in 1967 and is a one heck of a dancer. Sporting writing credits of James, Jesse Mason and soul legend Sugar Pie DeSanto (who has, sadly, recently lost her husband and her home in a fire - see this site for information about a fund set up for her), "Thank You Darlin'" is a brassy, swinging piece of soul, over which James thanks his woman for being so good to him despite his poor treatment of her. Andrew Hamilton at All Music Guide stated in his review of James' eponymous 20th Century LP that James' "thin, unexpressive voice causes you to lose interest after a few tracks," but despite James' technical limitations, he's singing with all of his soul and it translates well on this record, especially when he does a little half-talking, half-singing testifying between the verses. (In fairness to Hamilton, he does consider "Thank You Darlin'" to be a highlight of the album.) For some reason, Little Milton comes to mind when I hear this song, and I think it's too bad he didn't record it, because I'm sure his growling voice would have turned this song into a major hit. But as it stands, Jesse James' song is yet another "great but unappreciated" gem.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Spencer's Blues

Spencer Wiggins - Lover's Crime

In a prior post I discussed Spencer Wiggins and the great Kent comp of his Goldwax sides, so I'll only say here that "Lover's Crime," also on the comp, is a great piece of bluesy soul, featuring Spencer's great vocals and a very busy guitar player.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - The podcast has been pushed to later this week. I promise it will be up before Xmas!)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Little Royal!

Little Royal & The Swingmasters - Razor Blade

"Little" Royal Torrance had a sound that was probably too derivative to ever elevate him from the B-list of soul artists, particularly considering that his vocals were very similar to those of James Brown. Despite this limitation, Royal recorded fairly frequently in the '60s and '70s for labels including Carnival, Excello and Tri-Us, a Starday-King label. For the latter label Royal cut his most well-known material with the "Crazy Cajun," Huey P. Meaux, as producer. Today's selection was the instrumental B-side of his 1972 Tri-Us single "Jealous" (a reworking of Garland Green's smash 1970 hit "Jealous Kinda Fellow" that gave Royal a rare taste of chart success) and has become a breakbeat favorite. "Razor Blade" has a pretty good melody, but what really sells the record is the wicked bass solo and the scratchin' guitar solo that follows it. It's solid get-down, and a lot of fun. Although "Jealous" was the hit, "Razor Blade" made enough noise for a funky 45 follow-up, "Switch Blade," which is also popular among the rare funk flock. Little Royal's Tri-Us recordings are worth checking out, as they are fine pieces of what Southern soul in its final hour.

It should also be noted that "Razor Blade" has a fraternal twin in Sebastian's Brown Dog 45 "Living in Depression," for which it is the backing track.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

More on Ahmet

Atlantic Records has put together a tribute site for Ahmet Ertegun worth checking out. Time does not permit a post from me today. Look out for the podcast, maybe tomorrow!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Five for Ahmet

Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun passed away yesterday at the age of 83. Ertegun and Herb Abramson set up shop in 1947 and had their first major hit with the blues novelty "Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" by "Sticks" McGhee (Brownie's brother) in 1949. Over the next seven decades the label, its subsidiaries and affiliated companies (such as Stax Records, which Atlantic distributed from 1959 to 1968) would play a big role in the story of R&B, rock and roll, soul, jazz and pop, both as an independent and as part of Warner Communications. The fantastic website Both Sides Now has a great history of the label as well as an album discography (1947-82) that is worth checking out, and I will defer to it and the news link above for details about Ertegun's life and the label. For today's post I'll borrow a page from J.A. Bartlett and his "The Hits Just Keep On' Comin'" site (see links section; check out his great blog, if you don't already) and do some reminiscing.

I am occasionally asked why a 32-year-old like me is so passionate about older music, and I always trace it back to the old record player (with the automatic changer!) at my parents' house and my mom's records. I spent a lot of time as a child playing her old 45s and LPs and enjoying what I heard from there. By the time I was ten years old I knew what music I liked. To be fair, I was also tuned into what was popular at the time, but there was something about that music that captivated me. I quickly came to recognize the red and black "big A" Atlantic 45s and, although I didn't realize the significance of the label, or the fact that "Distributed by Atlantic Recording Corp." appeared on a lot of the Stax, Dial, Karen, Flaming Arrow and other 45s that my mother owned, I loved the music that came from those records. The songs discussed below are by no means rare or obscure, but they were an important part of my musical education and they paved the way for a country boy from Sparksville, Kentucky to become The Stepfather of Soul.

1. Aretha Franklin - Do Right Woman - Do Right Man - This was one of the first Aretha Franklin songs I ever heard. My mother gave the flip, "Dr. Feelgood," slightly more spins, but the slightly-countrified, whisper-to-a-scream "Do Right Woman - Do Right Man" was always my favorite and, 25 or so years later, it still is.

2. Wilson Pickett - For Better or Worse - When you're a kid, you don't fully understand the craft of soul singing, but you know there's something you feel when you hear it. My brother and I thought Wilson Pickett's screaming choruses at the end of "for Better or Worse" were the mark of a madman, but listening to it as an adult I can understand the intensity of the song's words, and the effectiveness of the song's coda. You have to have some life experience with being in and out of love to understand "A small voice inside my head keeps telling me to leave you, baby. But what can I do? Lord, what would I say? But again I think I'll stay, and maybe your love will be true."

3. Clarence Carter - Too Weak to Fight - This was my personal #1 song when I was in third grade. For some reason my mom had more Clarence Carter 45s than any other artist's, and I loved them. I loved the groove of "Too Weak the Fight" and the way Clarence would stretch the word "I'm" in the chorus on this one, as well as his ad-libs in the coda. Again, I was too young to appreciate the words for what they were, although my brother and I gave the song new words to describe my Aunt Opal, who liked to go out to eat a lot. Fortunately, the words to "Too Weak to Eat" are no longer fresh in my memory.

4. The Spinners - Could It Be I'm Falling In Love - When I first heard this one I was old enough to understand the words. I was in eighth grade, I think, and I had a crush on this high school girl who rode the same bus as me. Her name was Sonya Tweedy and she was always very nice to me, so I would play this record and think about her. Although the song no longer holds such meaning to me, I love it now because it shows how awesomely juxtaposed Phillippe Wynne's countrified vocals were in relation to the group's smooth Philly soul sound (note particularly how Wynne spits out the word "witcha" in the choruses). The version posted here appeared on the One of a Kind Love Affair boxed set. At the end of the track are additional ad libs that Wynne had done for the song that were left out of the final recording; did Wynne have soul, or what?

5. Ray Charles - (Night Time Is) The Right Time - I started collecting records when I was a teenager, hitting thrift stores and yard sales in search of 45s and LPs of all types (and I mean all types - I was probably the only teenager within 100 miles that had everything from soul 45s to a Machito mambo LP to Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass' Whipped Cream and Other Delights LP, the latter of which got a lot of album cover art study from me). I bought a reissue 45 of this song after seeing the famous episode of "The Cosby Show" where the Huxtables hilariously lip-sync the classic Ray Charles record. From those days onward, I have maintained my love of vinyl, even after CDs and MP3s came along.

Wow - that was a pretty long-winded post, but what I'm trying to say in the long run is that it was those Atlantic records that played an important role in my life, both as a person and as a soul fan, and I have to thank and honor Ahmet Ertegun for them, as well as for sharing Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, The Coasters, Solomon Burke, Don Covay, the Stax artists, Aretha Franklin, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Percy Sledge, Bobby Darin, The Coasters, The Spinners, Sonny & Cher, Cream, CSNY, the Rolling Stones and so many others with me via his successful company. Rest in peace, Ahmet.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

We Belong Together!

The Kelly Brothers - You're the Most

Back in March I did a whole week of posts featuring the Kelly Brothers, and I'll defer to it for additional information. "You're the Most," a Sims single, really shows off the churchy Kelly Brothers sound on a fine ballad.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Hopefully I will have a new podcast up within a few days!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's Not Eccentric, It's Awesome (Revisited)

Sheila Jack - I've Got To Have You

I recently purchased the newest installment of the Numero Group's Eccentric Soul series, which features the productions of Phoenix, Arizona DJ/record store owner/label owner/artist manager Mike Lenaburg. This CD ranks right up there with the Capsoul and Deep City volumes as the best in the series, featuring lots of strong material. A lot of the uptempo stuff on the disc is patterened after Phoenix's main claim to soul fame, Dyke & The Blazers, which of course is not a bad thing. Today's selection, however, went unreleased at the dawn of the '70s and it's so fortunate that such a fine ballad was included in this comp. Sheila Jack's cover of "I've Got To Have You" is a bare-bones production which puts her great vocals (which are double-tracked in the choruses) right in the forefront. Like Helene Smith's "I Am Controlled By Your Love" on the Deep City disc (featured on this blog some time ago), the end result is breathtaking. The only negative point is that it appears that the Numero crew had to get this great tune from an acetate, and as a result there's a scratchy portion that, although not enough to ruin the recording, is quite noticeable. I'm glad, however, that they didn't let that stop them from putting it on the disc, since the song is so good; besides, if nothing else, listeners can make believe that they are spinning the 45!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Northern Soul Dustin'

Ike & Tina Turner - Dust My Broom

Some time ago I posted a Howlin' Wolf performance of the blues standard "Dust My Broom." Today's selection revisits that classic, but with a different slant. Among the many label stops Ike and Tina Turner made during the '60s was a two-45 stint on Ray Charles' Tangerine label, for which they waxed "Dust My Broom" in 1966 (the same year, incidentally, that Wolf did the performance featured here). The stomping blues feel of Wolf's version is replaced here by a nice Northern Soul groove, Tina's usual good vocals and a great arrangement that inserts an Ikettes chorus between the verses. It's short and sweet, and truly deserving to be included in the "Northern Soul Top 500," and the CD set of the same name.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Chicago Soul Power!

Tony Drake - Suddenly

Back in 1999 I bought a compilation called We're a Lover which featured male soul from the Brunswick/Dakar labels. One of the strongest songs on the set was the Eugene Record-Barbara Acklin song "Suddenly," performed by Tony Drake. Drake's website provides a bio and discography, as well as news about new releases, and I'll defer to it for other details. "Suddenly" is full-throttle Chicago soul as practiced by the Brunswick crew at the time. The liner notes to We're a Lover accurately note that the horn chart has a touch of Acklin's "Am I The Same Girl" (aka "Soulful Strut"), although the horns here are hotter (check out the shrieking trumpets). The slightly loping groove chugs along and the uncredited Chi-Lites provide the "ooh ahh ahh" background vocals for the song's mid-section and coda. Drake's vocal is both polished and anguished, selling the song's desperation very well. "There's no difference in the days since you went away - but I love you," Drake wails in a voice somewhat reminiscent of a funky Walter Jackson, as the horns and strings surge with him. This is a solid slab of Chicago soul power, and it's one of my favorites.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Gospel Time!

The Gospel Stars - Have You Any Time For Jesus

Today's selection is one of the highlights of the Complete Motown Singles series, as the early volumes of the set feature the 45s from the short-lived Divinity gospel subsidiary (as mentioned in a prior post, Motown, like most R&B indepdendents, tried their hand at recording gospel, but didn't stick with it). The Gospel Stars' strolling "Have You Any Time For Jesus" features very strong female group singing over a bluesy groove.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - I have missed the last couple of "Soul-Blues Saturday" posts and apologize for not sharing any great music on those days. As those of you who know me personally know, my wife and I are in the process of adopting a child and we are now in the "visitation" phase with a little boy. And as any of you with children know, a little boy consumes lots of time!)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Get (On Down) In The Christmas Spirit!

Booker T. & The MG's - Jingle Bells

The Christmas spirit has finally come around to where I live, with gift-wrapping going on at home and an office Christmas party today, so I thought I'd post my first Christmas song of the year. Booker T. & The MG's take on the holiday perennial is a lot of fun, and Steve Cropper's guitar solo gives it the necessary spice. Now let's party!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Acid Lounge Funk Time!

Dave Hamilton:
Pisces Pace (Pt. 1) b/w (Pt. 2)

Dave Hamilton's shelved Soul Suite album was discussed in one of my "Dave Hamilton Week" posts (check them out to get info about the Detroit artist/sideman/label owner and his productions). "Pisces Pace," a two-part TCB single, was the only thing from that album to be released. It truly fits the "acid lounge funk" description given to it by Dean Rudland, but such a label is somewhat unfair, as the tune is a sweet piece of fast and furious funk, with Dave's guitar and vibes carrying the haunting melody. I'm actually partial to Part Two, which opens with a nice drum break and then some trippy guitar work from Dave.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I Got Soul, You Got Soul

Gene "Bowlegs" Miller - Everybody Got Soul

Those of you who have listened to my podcasts are probably quite familiar with the John R aircheck snippet I use often for the "Soul Medallion" advertisement, in which the legendary WLAC disc jockey intones "Now I know you got to have some soul, or you wouldn't be listening to ol' John R, 'cause I got me some soul!" I like to think the same is true for all of you who come by and check out your ever-lovin' Stepfather!

A while ago I featured Gene "Bowlegs" Miller's "Frankenstein Walk" on this blog. I finally got a copy of the 45 and, as great as that tune is, the flip is really nice and certainly delivers a "soul" message consistent with John R's sentiments and mine. "Everybody Got Soul" finds Miller essaying on "I got soul, you got soul, everybody got soul" with good support from the Hi musicians, who provide yet another muscular groove, and the background singers. The tune, of course, does not escape from being brushed with Miller's good humor, as he exhorts those with soul to show it by clapping their hands and stomping their foot - "you mean feet," the background singers interject; "no, not your feet, your foot!" Miller responds - and encourages those without soul to follow Frankie Crocker and countless radio preachers' advice and put their hand on the radio for some soul healing (which I know none of you need, because you already have soul!)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Miami Soul Showcase

Helene Smith - Pain In My Heart

Today's selection returns to the excellent Numero Eccentric Soul series to feature the Deep City label and the great vocals of Helene Smith, who, were it not for the ascendancy of Betty Wright in the late '60s and early '70s, would be known as the Queen of Miami Soul with her great recordings of that era. To be sure, Smith's vocal chops weren't as versatile as Wright's, but she put a lot into her songs, which ran the gamut from beat ballads ("I Am Controlled By Your Love," featured on this blog a few months ago) to funk ("You Got To Be A Man") to, as shown here, deep soul. Her cover of this Otis Redding classic (itself a reworking of the Irma Thomas record "Ruler of My Heart") is more polished than the original, but Smith's strong delivery keeps the soul quotient high.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I Want You To Wait (Wait Wait ...)

Jimmy Lewis - Wait Until Spring (Pt. 2)

Jimmy Lewis is no stranger to "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul," so I'll not write much about his remarkable, albeit unsung, career. "Wait Until Spring" was one of Lewis' first singles, and it came out on Four-J in 1962. Part One of the recording is a stately, slightly churchy ballad in which Lewis and the femme chorus entreat the listener to wait for a lovely spring wedding, but Part Two is a nice slab of bluesy R&B, with Lewis stealing a page from the Isley Brothers' playbook to start things off and then trading off his "I want you to wait" lines (he goes through the word "wait" like James Brown would go through "please") with the chorus.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gospel Blues Sunday, and Two Things to Check Out

Rev. Cleophus Robinson - Poor Boy From Mississippi (Pt. 1)

Cleophus Robinson's career in the gospel music business stretched over six decades and included recordings for labels such as Savoy, Battle, Peacock and Nashboro as well as a long-running television program and a 1980 performance at the White House. Robinson's recordings were never as successful as those of his contemporaries, but were consistently very good. Robinson's tenure with Nashboro in the '70s was particularly fruitful, with records like "Wrapped Up, Tied Up, Tangled Up" showing off Robinson's bluesy, Brother Joe May-styled voice to good effect. Today's selection was a 1972 Nashboro single. The autobiographical "Poor Boy From Mississippi" is a sho' 'nuff gospel blues, with a wailing harmonica and lowdown accompaniment that is rescued from the juke joint by Robinson's strong vocals.

On a related (and unrelated) note, here are two things you should check out, if you haven't already:

1. If you are not a member of the Yahoo! Southern Soul group, you should join, not only for the great discussion about those great soul sounds but also John Glassburner's "Gospel Pick of the Day," which is always informative and inspiring.

2. Soul expert Colin Dilnot's web sites are always worth checking out, and I've added his In Dangerous Rhythm blog to the links section. He's started including audio files, and if you check it out today you'll hear some of the best Northern Soul and beat balladry I've heard in awhile.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Little Mo' Bumpin'

The Majestic Arrows - One More Time Around

Keeping with the disco-fied bump groove that has been featured a few times this week, I go back to the excellent Numero Eccentric Soul CD featuring Arrow Brown's Bandit label. The Majestic Arrows, a mixed-gender group, was one of Bandit's mainstay acts and several of their tracks appear on the CD. "One More Time Around" kicks off the disc, and it's a great tune. The lead and background singers slip and slide around each other and the band lays down a slow bump groove anchored by nice guitar work and a string vamp.