Friday, December 28, 2007

Soul On The Air #3: George Vinette, 1968

Embed Music Files - Audio Hosting - George Vinette, WYLD Airchec...

As promised, here is the third installment of my "Soul On The Air" series of vintage R&B radio airchecks. (The prior two installments appear in the links section.) With New Year's Eve rapidly approaching, I thought that a seasonally-appropriate aircheck would be great. As I write this, I now realize that today's featured aircheck is not only seasonally appropriate, it's also from TODAY'S DATE, 39 years ago!

WYLD-AM (940 on the dial) was one of New Orleans' two R&B radio powerhouses of the '60s and early '70s (the other was WBOK, an aircheck of which - interestingly enough, from the same date as today's feature - will be featured at another time). By the mid-'70s the station switched its contemporary R&B format to its FM frequency and, after a couple of decades as an adult urban contemporary station, became a gospel station ("WYLD for Jesus" is the station's motto). That's really all I know about the station, and I know absolutely nothing about George Vinette, whose entertaining patter and fine selections make this 45-minute slice of December 28, 1968 a real treat.

As always, there's the mix of hits we all know and love, presented in their original context (Johnnie Taylor's "Who's Making Love" starts things off with a bang, and his "Take Care of Your Homework" is played shortly thereafter), and then lesser-known stuff. I first heard James Brown's "Believers Shall Enjoy" and "Little Groove Maker Me" from this aircheck, along with Jackie Moore's "Here I Am," and it's fun to hear a live version of Otis Redding's "Can't Turn You Loose" and Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life" getting great voiceover treatment by Vinette. It's also neat to hear about the big New Year's record hop that's about to happen at the I.L.A. Auditorium (am I hearing this correctly?) - George's enthusiasm about the show is infectious and it makes me want to jump into a time machine and go to the show myself! Of all the fun on this aircheck, however, the biggest treat comes at the end. After playing Joe Tex's "That's Your Baby," George picks up the phone and starts to chat with Joe Tex himself. Unfortunately the aircheck ends before the interview concludes, but check out the "skinny legs" story that Vinette and Tex get into right before the cut-off point.

I will be traveling this weekend and will have limited internet access, so this post will be the last of 2007. I want to take this moment to thank all of you for making 2007 a big year for "Get on Down ..." and I look forward to socking more soul power to you in the new year. I wish for nothing less than the very best for all of you in 2008! God bless you all.

(POSTSCRIPT - I'd like to welcome the lovely and knowledgeable edie2k2, aka "Ms. Old School," to the blogosphere! Her brand new blog is now in the links section.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Funky Hot Mess?

James Brown, Bobby Byrd and Hank Ballard - Funky Side of Town

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of James Brown, and it is sad to hear news reports from Monday and yesterday reminding us that so much drama still surrounds the administration of his estate, adding yet another negative shadow to the immense shadow that threatened to choke out Brown's mainstream legacy during the final decades of his life. But today I choose to leave that mess behind and examine a different kind of "mess."

What I think is neat about a lot of JB's records from around 1969 through to the end of his hitmaking era is that a lot of tunes he recorded were nothing but little jam sessions where the band would get a groove going and then James would strike up little conversations or joke around with various band members. To list them all would be too time-consuming, but tunes like "Ain't It Funky Now," "Make It Funky," and "Escape-Ism" come to mind right away. Today's selection falls within that category, and it was part of JB's 1972 Polydor LP Get on the Good Foot, whose title track was a #1 hit for him that year. "Funky Side of Town" finds JB, long-time right-hand man Bobby Byrd and Hank Ballard (whose JB-produced "From the Love Side" was giving him an increasingly-rare taste of chart success) ad-libbing around with the phrase "let's go to the funky side of town," giving "shout-outs" to various musicians (the usual soul suspects plus Johnny Cash and others!) and joking around with each other (at one point JB announces, "ladies and gentlemen, we bring you now the man that sings 'Hot Pants - I'm Coming,' Hank Ballard," in a dig at Byrd, who had hit with the record). In my opinion, this tune is a hot mess, but it's a funky hot mess. Only James Brown could pull off funky hot mess like this, and I'll let it stand as a quirky anniversary tribute to the man.

A quick postscript - although I say in this post that "Funky Side of Town" is a hot mess, the ultimate "hot mess" in the entire James Brown discography also appears on Get on the Good Foot. In the "Recitation by Hank Ballard," Hank comes forth with a mixture of a spoken-word advertisement for the LP and a testimony of how JB had resurrected his career. Although JB-produced testimonials to James Brown had been recorded before, beginning with Florence Farmer's "Living Legend," there's something disturbing about Hank's "recitation" that puts it at the bottom of my JB list.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Just in Time For Christmas!

Episode #24 is now online! This episode is a bit mellower than usual, but there's some good funky soul and Ike Turner-related material in here! From my home to yours, I wish you all a very happy holiday season. I'll be back with my usual features after Christmas. Here's the playlist:

1. Roscoe Robinson - Ooh, Baby I Love You
2. Luther Ingram - Since You Don't Want Me
3. Larry Banks - Ooh It Hurts Me
4. The Ikettes - Don't Feel Sorry for Me
5. Etta James - My Mother-in-Law
6. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Swept for You Baby
7. Ike & Tina Turner - It Sho' Ain't Me
8. Carla Thomas & Jerry Butler - Coca-Cola Radio Ad
9. Moses & Joshua Dillard - My Elusive Dreams
10. Lucille Brown & Billy Clark - Both Eyes Open
11. Betty Harris - 12 Red Roses
12. Little Richard - She's Together
13. The Kelly Brothers - Not Enough Action
14. Eddie & Ernie - Woman, What Do You Be Doing
15. Renaldo Domino - Let Me Come Within
16. Otis Redding "Stay in School" PSA
17. Ronnie Mitchell - Soul Meeting
18. The Superlatives - I Don't Know How (To Say I Love You) Don't Walk Away
19. The Whispers - Needle in a Haystack
20. The Brothers of Soul - A Lifetime
21. The Charmels - As Long as I've Got You
22. The Meditation Singers - Blue Christmas
23. Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm - Nuttin' Up

(NOTE - Encoding problems hindered both the original mono and stereo mixes of this podcast, but I put the stereo mix online anyway. After listening to it a few times, I realized it would be much better for me to re-record the podcast and attempt to encode it again rather than subject you, my friends, to a podcast that was wretched to listen to in some portions. I recommend that anyone who downloaded the podcast via RSS feed delete the prior copy of the program and get the new mix, which is only available in mono. My apologies for any difficulties this may have caused.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jump Back!

Rufus Thomas:

Jump Back '75 (Pt. 1)

Jump Back '75 (Pt. 2)

I suppose it was only fitting that the man who helped get Stax Records off the ground was also the one to be there to see the label fade into the sunset. Rufus and Carla Thomas' local hit "Cause I Love You" made folks (especially Atlantic's Jerry Wexler) take notice of the fledgling Satellite label back in 1960, and today's selection was Rufus' final 45 for Stax and the second-to-last 45 on the label before it was shuttered in bankruptcy in early 1976.

The funky two-parter "Jump Back '75" was a remake of Rufus' 1964 hit "Jump Back," and Rufus delivers the song's nursery rhyme lyrics with his usual aplomb while a background group (which seems to include Carla, whose own solo career at Stax had run its course by 1973) provides call-and-response support (the Drapels had those honors on the original). Part Two continues the groove and features a couple of fun stop-time breaks. When the comp The Funkiest Man came out a few years ago, another Rufus remake, "Memphis Train '75," was included. I take it that had Stax not gone out of business, that fine record would've been released, but at least Thomas took 1975 (and Stax) out with a great groove on "Jump Back."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - The podcast should be up either tonight or tomorrow morning.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's "Get Down Time," So Who Do You Call? Jr. Walker!

Jr. Walker & The All-Stars - Gimme That Beat (Pt. 1)

GLORYHALLELUJAHANDHOTPASTRAMI, your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul is so glad to have completed exams and to be only one semester away from finishing law school! Considering my ebullient mood, I hope it's okay with you, kind reader, that I feature something I can "get down" to today!

Jr. Walker's "Gimme That Beat" failed to catch fire when it was released in 1973, reaching only #50 on the R&B charts and just "bubbling under" the Hot 100 at #101. To be fair, by that time, Jr.'s commercial streak was on the way out and "Gimme That Beat" isn't the strongest tune out there, lyrics-wise. But I don't think anyone with any "boogie" in their body could sit still while the groove on "Gimme That Beat" pumped along and Jr. shouted the "dance-and-party" lyrics with his trademark gusto. "Look at Mary, boy, she's walkin' that penguin walk while the disc jockey's sittin' there spinnin' them records and talking that crazy talk," Jr. wails. That sounds like one hell of a party, Jr. - I want to be there! I've got a reason to celebrate!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Look out for a new episode of the podcast, which I hope to record sometime between now and Friday. And late next week, "Soul on the Air" returns with a New Year's Eve treat.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another Italian Pickett Moment, in Audio and Video!

Wilson Pickett - Un'avventura

Soul songs recorded by American soulsters in Italian have been featured twice on "Get on Down ..." already, first with a post featuring "Deborah" that was part of my tribute to Wilson Pickett after the legend's death in 2006, and then on Episode 20 of the podcast, when the Electro-Phonic Brian Phillips played Stevie Wonders "No Sono Un Angelo" ("I'm Wondering").

Today's selection showcases Pickett's other Italian record. "Un'avventura" is a surging soul mover, again showing off Pickett's versatility. As in "Deborah," both Italian and English lyrics are used, but in either case Pickett really sells the song (I mean, that famous scream has the same impact regardless of the language, no?) As a bonus, here's a YouTube clip of Pickett performing the tune live!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Contours' Soulful Swan Song

The Contours - Your Love Grows More Precious Every Day

There is probably no spoken word intro in all of rock 'n' roll history that works as much magic as "You broke my heart 'cause I couldn't dance; you didn't even want me around. But now I'm back ... to let you know ... I can really shake 'em down." With those words the Contours set the pop and R&B charts ablaze with their Gordy single "Do You Love Me." Over the next few years, the group would cut lots of great material, most bearing a dance record or humorous slant, but the fact that the group also held its own as a soul vocal group was buried by the immense success of "Do You Love Me," which is still frequently heard on oldies radio (and immortalized in the Dirty Dancing soundtrack).

By 1967, the Contours were drifting about at Motown, and today's selection was the B-side of their final Gordy single. By this time, the group was recording straight-up soul stuff, but I suppose at a time when the Four Tops and the Temptations delivering serious goods for the company, there wasn't a whole lot of room for the group. It probably didn't help much that Dennis Edwards' lead on "Your Love Grows More Precious Every Day" has more than a touch of the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs sound to it. Speaking of Edwards, by the next year he would be taking David Ruffin's place in the Temptations, so perhaps the Contours' fate was sealed anyway!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More Great Gospel From The Q.C.'s!

The Highway Q.C.'s - Lord, I'll Go

Spencer Taylor and the Highway Q.C.'s were featured in a post awhile ago, and I'll defer to it for details about the group. "Lord, I'll Go" is one of the many great up-tempo tunes the group waxed during their tenure with Vee-Jay. Over a great rambling rhythm, the group provides outstanding support to Taylor, whose intense vocal really sells the song.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Darondo Time!

Darondo - Packin' Up

This post will be short and sweet, as your ever-lovin' is feeling a bit under the weather. I've covered Darondo in prior posts (here's the initial post), so I'll just say that "Packin' Up" (from the EP Legs, released after the awesome comp Let My People Go) is a nice piece of eccentric funk featuring Darondo's weird hybrid of Al Green and Ron Isley vocal technique.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Tomorrow night is "Rhythm & Booze" at El Myr Burrito Lounge in Atlanta, from 10 PM until "last call" - make sure to come out to hear lots of great soul/funk/blues/jazz/gospel 45s, to get your dance on, and to get some Christmas cheer from the Tim and the "R&B" DJs!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

News and Views!

Today's post is a "news and views" feature. Dig the following:

1. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul joined forces with Brian Phillips to record the newest installment of The Electro-Phonic Sound of Brian Phillips, returning the favor of his appearance on Episode #20 of the "Get on Down ..." podcast. Well, the Electro-Phonic Sound episode is now online at Rockin' Radio - click "Now Playing" and stream Brian's show from there. As always, Brian and I had a lot of fun listening to records, picking tunes to play, and doing the show. There's a lot of good stuff in this show, ranging from Southern soul to Northern soul to organ jazz to Latin soul to 78 RPM R&B. Instead of featuring a tune for today's post, I'll encourage you to check out this show!

2. Vee-Jay Limited Partnership is working in partnership with The Orchard to release its catalogue via online retailers! As the world of soul and R&B reissues continues to grow, online retailing is the wave of the future, and it may very well be the key to getting some of the more obscure material released (it counters the problem of not being able to justify a print run of CDs), so for Vee-Jay to take this approach is a mighty move indeed!

Below are four recent releases that I really think you should check out. Clicking any of the pictures will lead you to the product info page at The Orchard.

I wish Vee-Jay and The Orchard much success in this project, and hope others will follow their lead!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Get On Down With Big Al, Country Style!

Big Al Downing - Cornbread Row

The multifaceted singer/pianist Big Al Downing has appeared on this blog before, and I'll defer to my initial post about him for more details about the soul/country/country soul giant. Today's selection was a Silver Fox single which has been comped on Action Speaks Louder Than Words, one of several great compilations that have been released over the last couple of years featuring SSS International and its affiliated labels. "Cornbread Row" clearly straddles the line between country and soul, as Al tells his story over a mid-tempo groove featuring some twangy guitar. It's Big Al at his best, and it's a fun one!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Soul On The Air #2: Bill Kenner, 1966

Listen Music - Download Audio - Bill Kenner, WBEE Aircheck, ...

Today's post is the second of a new series I'm doing called "Soul On The Air," dedicated to the R&B jocks of the classic soul era. Last week, I kicked off the series with an April 1970 WVON aircheck from Radio Hall of Famer Herb Kent. Thanks to all of you who provided feedback, either on the blog or via email, and I'm glad to have you aboard for what I think is going to be a very fun series.

Today's feature covers another of Chicago's R&B stations. WBEE (1570 AM, licensed to south suburban Harvey, Illinois) was one of WVON's top competitors when 'VON started in 1963, but by 1968 the station, unable to keep up with 'VON's popularity, would switch to a jazz format, which it kept (save for Sunday brokered-time gospel programming and a very short-lived attempt at a financial news format in the late '90s) until 2003, when the station was sold and changed into a gospel station (a country FM station in New York state now holds the WBEE call letters). From 1955 to 1960, Herb Kent was at the station, but during the soul era the top jock at 'BEE was Merri Dee, "The Honey Bee," whose 1966-68 stint at the station was the start of a legacy career in Chicago media (Dee hosted talk shows on TV stations WCIU and WSNS before joining WGN in 1972 as a news anchor, staff announcer, host of various specials and, for many years, the emcee of the daily Illinois Lottery drawings; she is still with WGN today, as a community liaison for the station).

The WBEE aircheck featured today came from the afternoon of September 8, 1966. I don't know anything about Bill Kenner, but his more energetic style stands as a nice antithesis to the laid-back style shown in the Herb Kent aircheck. Kenner's got some great wordplay going on (check out the opening of this aircheck and his outro for J.J. Jackson's "But It's Alright"), and there's lots of neat stuff in this aircheck: the Olympics' "Baby Do The Philly Dog," Koko Taylor's "Good Advice" and Billy Butler's "Right Track" are played on this aircheck (this was where I heard those three tunes for the first time); the news break features Strom Thurmond's filibuster of a 1966 civil rights bill, the mass murderer Charles Whitman, and the election of a minister who opposed Martin Luther King's urban housing crusade as the head of the National Baptist Convention; and a WBEE station ID includes a nice recording of "We Shall Overcome" (does anyone know which version of the song this is?) Also dig Kenner taking phone requests on the "Bee Line" segment ("You're 17, and he's 18, and he's your baby? Oh, he's your boyfriend ... gotcha covered, queen bee.")

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Gospel Time!

The Weeks Sisters - What Will It Be Like

Today's post (which I think marks the first time in the history of this blog that strictly gospel is featured in two posts in a row - the Ryan Shaw posts included gospel tunes also) is a return to the great catalogue of Hoyt Sullivan recordings. The Weeks Sisters recorded three LPs and a handful of 45s for HSE, both as a standalone act and as support to Rev. J.T. Bell. Unfortunately, like a great many of the minor-league acts that populated labels like Sullivan's there's not much info out there except for the outstanding aural evidence of their artistry. I picked up this slightly-scratchy 45 recently at the Atlanta Record Fair and it has been getting heavy rotation on the iPod these days. "What Will It Be Like" finds the group pondering the afterlife over a nice loping rhythm. The song's simplistic structure is somewhat misleading to the new listner, however, because by the end of the record the lead singer's ad-libs build subtly in intensity; by the time she's asking "will I know you, Jesus?" you'll be caught up in the song's power.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Thank God It's (Funky Gospel) Friday!

The Horace Family - God Will Dry My Weeping Eyes

Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul is totally out of gas today, having had a long week and a very tough Bankruptcy exam last night. Thank God it's Friday! Today's post is a follow-up to the "Funky Gospel Friday" post I did a month ago featuring Numero's Good God! comp. The Horace Family's "God Will Dry My Weeping Eyes" is a solid sender on so many levels: the groove is a slinky piece of sultry mid-'70s funk (dig that slow, bumping groove), the lyrics are very powerful (covering both personal and political concerns), and the group singing is outstanding. I can only wish that the walls weren't so rigid between gospel and R&B radio, because this could have easily challenged the Pointer Sisters or any similar femme group of the era. Or, alternatively, I can imagine the Staple Singers doing this and blowing the roof off the charts! It's fortunate, however, that this tune is available for us all to enjoy on CD!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Funky Down Easy With The Boogie Man!

Jerry McCain - Funky Down Easy

Blues singer/harmonica man Jerry "Boogie" McCain has appeared once before on this blog, and he makes a long-overdue second appearance with today's selection. McCain's very interesting story is covered in this great Blues World profile, and I encourage you take some time to read this lengthy piece, which touches not only on the ups and downs of McCain's career but also stories of several blues-related record companies, from Excello to Ichiban.

I bought a copy of McCain's Royal American 45 "Welfare Cadillac Blues" b/w "Funky Down Easy" at the Atlanta Record Fair a few weeks ago after hearing "Funky Down Easy" on a portable phonograph at the event. As noted in the Blues World article, "Welfare Cadillac Blues" was a swipe at the right-wing country hit "Welfare Cadillac," which had been recently recorded by Guy Drake and then covered by Travis Bell. Considering that the Drake record came out on Royal American also, I suppose that the label owners didn't quite "get" the satire McCain intended, or maybe they didn't care. At any rate, the flip is anything but satire. "Funky Down Easy" borrows Little Walter's "Mellow Down Easy" for its title and chorus but uses its funky soul groove to provide a foundation for McCain to name-check a lot of big names in soul at the time and to just sling some nice "dance record" lyrics. I was planning to save this one for the next edition of the podcast, but this is just too good to sit on for a few weeks.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Crazy Cosbyness

Bill Cosby - Ursalina

I've covered various funky 45 sounds from Bill Cosby on this blog on multiple occasions, and today's post is a follow-up to the post I did some time ago featuring the Cos' "Ursalena," a beathead favorite. As I mentioned in the prior post, the Cos re-recorded the song in 1973 for Paramount, and that alternately-spelled version is featured today. I still stand on what I said in the prior post about the Warner Brothers recording being the superior one, but further spins of the Paramount 45 has illuminated the fact that the re-make is worth more than a listen or two. The West Coast funk of the Warner record is replaced with a jazz-funk groove, and the lyrical references of the original are absent. Instead of presenting the story of the tongue-tied suitor of the song's subject, the Paramount version finds Cos and Stu Gardner using the song's eccentric hook as a springboard for improvisational vocalese - these two guys are just hooting and hollering about, with Gardner's gospelly wails playing against Cosby's chanting. At any rate, the groove slips and slides along, and there are some nice jazz and funk breaks in there to spice it up a bit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tuesday Is Blues Day!

Etta James - W.O.M.A.N.

I want to thank those of you who have provided feedback on the "Soul On The Air" series' inaugural post from yesterday. I've decided that I will archive this feature, so if you miss it you can always listen later!

Today's post will be short and sweet, because I know that readers of this blog are very familiar with Etta James. "W.O.M.A.N." is one of her '70s Chess sides, so it's got a very polished sound, but James' vocals are awesome as usual, and she really makes it work.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Soul On The Air Premiere: Herb Kent, 1970

In my recent post featuring Paul Flagg I asked whether anyone would be interested in features on this blog for some of the great soul disc jockeys. I got some very enthusiastic feedback, so today will begin a semi-regular feature called "Soul on the Air," in which I'll provide streams of some of the airchecks in my collection. Let me give a few words of introduction to the series and then I'll roll out the first featured disc jockey.


What Is An Aircheck?

For those who are not familiar with the concept, an "aircheck" is a recording of a radio broadcast, more particularly of a DJ performing on a radio station (as opposed to a transcription of a "radio show" a la The Green Hornet or Lum 'n' Abner). Some airchecks were recorded by the jocks themselves, for personal and/or professional reasons (in the latter case, the airchecks were used for critique and improvement or as demos for DJs when seeking other jobs in markets where they were not heard), but a great many were recorded by radio fans of the time. I'm sure some were recorded by fans of the various disc jockeys or radio stations (some of more well-known airchecks involve erratic behavior by certain jocks or radio station format changes), but for those of us of my generation and older, taping off the radio was the only way to get certain songs (for example, in my rural town there weren't any record stores), so I'm sure some recording was done for that purpose. Airchecks are either scoped (commercials and music are excised, leaving only the DJ patter) or unscoped (unedited).

Online Aircheck Resources

Whatever the reason airchecks were generated, there are thousands of hours of material in the hand of collectors, disc jockeys and other entities, and a thriving internet community exists for these recordings. The leading online resource for hearing vintage airchecks is Reel Radio's Reel Top 40 Radio Repository, which features airchecks from a very broad range of disc jockeys, including the famous "Boss Jocks" of KHJ, the Los Angeles Top 40 giant of the '60s, notables such as David Letterman (broadcasting as a college student in Muncie, Indiana), Wink Martindale (who was a star jock at LA's KFWB), and Rod Roddy (on the air as a controversial talk show host in Dallas in the late '60s), to name a few, and scores of other talents, from both well-known (Chicago's WCFL, New York's WABC, etc.) and obscure stations and even early episodes of America's Top 40. The site now requires membership for full access to the materials, but there's lots that can be heard there if you are a fan of classic '60s and '70s radio, it's a must-see and must-hear site. WFMU's now-defunct "Aircheck" program covered lots of interesting and unusual material, and the archived shows are still available at WFMU's website. A search on the internet will reveal scads of other sites dedicated to the preservation, trading and selling of airchecks (two well-known commercially-available aircheck CDs are a comp of material from madcap Memphis rock-n-roll impresario Dewey Phillips and Philly soul jock Sonny Hopson).

A Note About This Series

As I mentioned in the Paul Flagg post, it is unfortunate that out of all of the airchecks that are in the hands of collectors, R&B stuff is pretty scarce. I've been able to acquire some material from various collectors, and it is from my collection that I'll be doing the series. All of the airchecks are unscoped, so in addition to hearing lots of great soul music in its original context, you'll hear commercials, DJ patter, the news, and other features. You'll hear national hits that you'll easily recognize, but also lots of regional stuff. Since this stuff came exclusively from AM radio and then dubs of dubs, the audio quality won't be sterling, but I think the soul will ring right on through. As much as I can, I'll provide info about the DJ, the radio station, and some of the tunes featured. At this point I don't know how long I'll keep the streams available, so don't sleep on these! Finally, I would really appreciate your feedback on these; I want this project to be one where ideas are exchanged and good fun is had by all. OK, after all that introductory verbiage, I guess I should get started with the feature!

Soul on the Air: Herb Kent,
WVON, Cicero, IL, April 1970

Download Music - Download Audio - Herb Kent, WVON Aircheck, Ap...

Of all the legendary R&B radio stations of the '60s, Chicago's WVON (1450 AM) was easily one of the most prominent. Chess Records principals Leonard and Phil Chess bought WHFC, a suburban brokered-time ethnic station (brokered-time stations sold timeslots to various performers, who then solicited their own advertising; some ethnic stations and religious stations still follow this format today), in 1963. Christening it the "Voice of the Negro," the Chess brothers found their 1,000-watt station quickly becoming one of the top stations in the market ('VON literally dominated its R&B competitors and ranked alongside Top 40 stations WLS and WCFL at the top of the ratings). Crucial to the station's success were the "Good Guys," the team of jocks and other personalities who kept music, news and community service programming going around the clock. Changing times in radio spelled the end of 'VON as a major force (as was the case with many of the AM giants of the prior decades) by the mid-'70s, but the station is around today as the black talk-oriented "Voice of the Nation." Do take a look at the history at WVON's website and read Nadine Cohodas' Spinning The Blues Into Gold, Robert Pruter's Chicago Soul and Pervis Spann's The 40-Year Spann of WVON for more info about the station's history and its transition into its current format.

Of WVON's Good Guys (which at one time included future "Soul Train" host and producer Don Cornelius), Herb Kent, "The Kool Gent," was the most popular. Kent handled the night slot, and his smooth style (he was known, among other things, for not talking over the records like most R&B jocks of the day did) and wicked wit made him a smash success. Kent, a Radio Hall of Fame inductee, is still on the air on Chicago's WVAZ-FM, doing two weekend shows and making appearances at various "steppers" dances. I'll defer to WVAZ's Herb Kent page for more biographical details about Kent and for info about Kent's forthcoming memoirs.

This aircheck came from April 1970. After a quick jingle plays, Kent launches into Bobby Womack's "More Than I Can Stand," after which he sets forth his (fabricated) vital statistics and asserts his greatness as a jock. There's a lot of good stuff in this aircheck, including Brook Benton's version of "My Way," an O.C. Smith Coca-Cola commercial, Tyrone Davis' "Turn Back The Hands of Time" (then one of the top R&B hits in the country), George Perkins' "Crying in the Streets," Azie Mortimer's "You Can't Take It Away," Stanley Winston's "No More Ghettos In America" (the "WVON Traffic Stopper"), the Viceroy cigarette ad I've used on a podcast before, and, strangely, John Lennon's "Instant Karma" (Kent didn't mind bending genres if he liked certain songs!) There's also a great commercial from Pervis Spann for one of the many package shows he put on ("the hottest thing ... since the Chicago Fire," Spann exhorts) featuring Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, O.V. Wright and Jesse Anderson! (What a show!) There's so much I could say about this aircheck, but I'll cut it short to prevent this post from being insanely long. Enjoy the show, and don't forget to leave feedback!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

King James' Version

James Cleveland - The Love of God

The late Reverend James Cleveland's gruff yet crooning vocals and innovative arrangements made him a significant figure in the evolution of gospel in the '60s and early '70s. Cleveland had been in gospel almost since the genre's literal beginning, making his performing debut as a child soprano(!) at Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church, whose music minister at the time was no less than Thomas A. Dorsey. Once his voice changed he switched to being a pianist, songwriter and arranger, working with luminaries such as Robert Martin and then Albertina Walker and the Caravans and becoming widely known in gospel circles for his influenced songs and arrangements. By the early '60s Cleveland began a solo career in earnest, and over the next three decades he marked the gospel landscape with his songs, his choral projects (he started the Gospel Singers Workshop Convention and founded the Southern California Community Choir, who appeared on Aretha Franklin's classic LP Amazing Grace and in the famous movie The Blues Brothers), and his continuing innovation, including the use of jazz, pop and soul elements and orchestrations in his later works.

"The Love of God" had been a hit for the Johnnie Taylor-led Soul Stirrers in their final years on Specialty, but Cleveland's take on the record from 1960 or 1961 gave him his first solo hit. The lightly-swinging rhythm of the Soul Stirrers version is replaced by a stately arrangement featuring almost over-recorded background vocals by the Voices of the Tabernacle, and Cleveland's version effectively moves from a meditative whisper to a growling roar and back again, with the background voices being this/close to being a little over-the-top (I think the soprano is saying "the love of good" in several places) but somehow framing Cleveland's vocals nicely. It moved me when I first heard a skipping copy of the record as a child (via a tape our pastor made for my parents), and it still moves me today.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Daptone, Everywhere!

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - How Long Do I Have To Wait For You (Ticklah Remix)

As I have discussed many times on this blog, I'm a big fan of the retro soul and funk label Daptone Records, and I am delighted to see that 2007 has been a major year for the label and its acts. Interest in Daptone's genuine sounds has dramatically increased the public profile of all parties involved: the Dap-Kings provided backing support to Amy Winehouse for her Back To Black album; the studios themselves were used by quite a few outside acts, who sought to capture some of its analog magic; Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings have been making quite a splash in the media, with "Tell Me" from their new album, 100 Days, 100 Nights, making its way into the soundtrack of ABC's hit series "Private Practice" and Jones getting a role in the forthcoming film The Great Debaters, directed by and starring Denzel Washington, to name just a couple of things; Jay-Z has sampled the Menahan Street Band's Denham 45, "Make the Road By Walking" on his hit "Roc Boys"; and now even the corporate world has taken notice.

Toyota has created a series of interesting CDs and 12-inchers as a promotion for its Scion line of automobiles which features DJs working their magic remixing many different types of music. Although these recordings are not commercially available, they are given away in Toyota dealerships and at Toyota events. For Volume 19 of the series, Scion A/V (the in-house label overseeing these projects) have hooked up with Daptone for the two-disc set Daptone Records Remixed. I'll defer to this press release for more info about the project. Disc one of the set are the remixes themselves, and disc two features the Daptone originals.

For today's selection, I've selected the Ticklah remix of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' "How Long Do I Have To Wait For You," the original version of which (from Naturally, the group's second album) I featured way back in January 2006. The tune is put on a reggae beat that really works, and it's a fun way to move into the weekend!

(Thanks to World's Fair for forwarding me a copy of Daptone Records Remixed.)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Jock Soul!

Paul "Sir Raggedy" Flagg - Shoo Fly Pie

As I noted some time ago in a post on E. Rodney Jones, quite a few disc jockeys in the heyday of soul radio tried their hand at cutting records. Although I think that Jones was the most prolific, I've also heard tunes by, just to name a few, Gary Byrd, Georgie Woods, Bernie Hayes, Frankie Crocker, John R, Joe Cobb, Ed Cook and Lucky Cordell. As noted in my prior post, most of these recordings found the DJ doing some monologue, patter, or dance instructions over recorded tracks. Atlanta's Paul "Sir Raggedy" Flagg, the late WIGO morning man, showed a bit more musical ability than his "boss jock" brethren, and with two Atlantic 45s and a subsequent Wand disc, Flagg laid down some fine pieces of funky Southern soul.

I will defer to the fine post that Brian Poust did on his Georgia Soul blog featuring Flagg for more details about Flagg, his WIGO career and his excellent Atlantic two-sider "What Did I Do Wrong (To You Baby)" b/w "Love Get Off My Shoulder." Today's feature is the B-side of Flagg's first Atlantic 45. Although the funky "Papa-Momma-Romper-Stomper" is a fine record, I'm partial to "Shoo Fly Pie." Flagg's gritty vocals work well over the rocking bass-and-guitar groove and the lyrics are bit more structured than they are on the flip, which, despite Flagg's singing, falls more in line with the traditional "DJ soul" records described above.

I mirror Poust's wish in his post about hearing some of Flagg's on-air work. Unfortunately, although there is a very large aircheck collector community on the internet, replete with aircheck websites, R&B material is woefully under-represented. I don't know whether this is because it didn't occur to people to tape off the radio (a highly unlikely proposition) or because the collector pool is mainly made of Top 40 fans. I own and have heard quite a bit of good material, but it's only a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of Top 40 stuff that's out there. Hopefully, someone, somewhere, will unearth more treasures from people like Flagg in order to illustrate the powerful role that those DJs played in black radio. In the meantime, would anyone be interested in me posting some of the airchecks on this blog? Let me know.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

King Pins and Kelly Brothers, Together In One Post!

The King Pins - A Lucky Guy

The King Pins a/k/a The Kelly Brothers have been featured on this blog quite a few times, so I'll refer you to my main write-up of the group and jump right into today's goodies. When I wrote that earlier piece I was unaware of today's selection. "A Lucky Guy" was a one-off single the group did for Vee Jay between their tenures with Federal and Sims. It's a nice, pop-slanted thing with a bit of a Drifters feel to it. Of course, it's light years away from the deep Southern soul stuff they'd be doing for Sims within a year or so, but it's worth a listen. Speaking of the deep Southern soul stuff, here's a clip from YouTube of the Kelly Brothers, doing "Falling In Love Again" live on The Beat!!!! If this isn't soul, I don't know what is!

I recently learned that Gusto Records, owners of the King Records catalog, has put out a comp, Songs From The Good Book, featuring the Kelly Brothers' gospel sides on Federal. I am trying to get my hands on a copy!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Funk From The Isley Empire

The Isley Brothers - Black Berries (Pt. 1)

The Isley Brothers had been recording for a good twelve years for a myriad of labels (most notably for RCA, Atlantic, Wand and Tamla) by the time they blew the charts wide open with "It's Your Thing" in 1969 on their own T-Neck label. For the next two decades, the Isleys would reign as a royal family in the R&B world, serving up hit after hit with their mix of hard-hitting funk, bedroom soul and inspired covers of various pop songs. Ronald and Ernie Isley are still doing their thing in the 21st century, proving that the versatility of the Isley brand is one that cannot be underestimated.

The 1969 two-part funker "Black Berries" (named "The Blacker The Berrie" on their The Brothers Isley LP) was the third T-Neck single by the group, and it clearly was cut in the wake of the prior two singles, "It's Your Thing" and "I Turned You On." Although "Black Berries" would end up further down the Billboard charts than those other two records, it's a great tune. While the groove slips and slides along, Ron provides monologues and blues lyrics which bridge a rambling "reminisce" about the brothers hunting for wild berries as children to a thinly-disguised appreciation of darker-skinned black women with its "the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice" refrain. This is clearly one of those funky throwaways that people like the Isleys and James Brown did so effortlessly in those days, and it's good for a "get down" on this busy Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gettin' In The Christmas Spirit With Darlene Love!

Darlene Love - Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas (stream only)

Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul enjoys Christmas as much as any other soul, but he is usually one to warm into the Christmas spirit pretty slowly. This year, however, Thanksgiving turkey was followed by "Black Friday" shopping and trimming the Christmas tree on Sunday evening, so the Christmas spirit has come a bit early. Also helping to bring on the Christmas cheer this year are the magnificent sounds of the great Darlene Love. The kind folks at Miles High Productions forwarded me a review copy of Darlene's new CD, It's Christmas, Of Course (Shout Factory), a couple of weeks ago, but I waited until the day after Thanksgiving to play it. When I did, the Christmas spirit came upon me! Hallelujah!

Christmas music, of course, is nothing new to the versatile singer (she sang with the Blossoms, sang lead on "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" by Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, and recorded a handful of singles for Phil Spector's Phillies concern) and actress (all four "Lethal Weapon" pictures and the Broadway run of "Hairspray"), who recorded the pop Christmas classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" in 1963 for Spector and has performed it annually on The Late Show With David Letterman (see this You Tube clip of Love performing the classic on the show in 2006). For this new CD, Love tackles a dozen Christmas songs that have been made famous by other artists. It's a pretty ambitious project, as Love tackles everyone from James Brown ("Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto") to the Pretenders ("2000 Miles") to Charles Brown ("Please Come Home For Christmas") to John and Yoko ("Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"), but she pulls it off with a set of strong performances. The CD is available at many retailers and online at Amazon or iTunes.

When I received the CD I was surprised to see that Darlene included the Staple Singers' "Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas," one of my favorite classic soul Christmas records, in the playlist, because Mavis Staples' reading of the Deanie Parker-penned song completely personalized it (Rob Bowman writes that Parker was actually peeved at Mavis' performance of the tune, because Staples kept pronouncing "merry" as "Mary"). Fortunately, Love avoids trying to impersonate Mavis' singular style, and fortunately she doesn't have to, because the great arrangement (featuring a nice electric piano-led groove and great backup vocals) really gives her room to bring her own style to the song, whose message is as timely today as it was nearly forty years ago. It's my favorite tune off the CD, and it certainly got me in the Christmas spirit; I think that when you get this CD, you'll be in the spirit, too!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

And Now #23!

Episode #23 of the podcast is now online! The playlist is as follows:

1. Albert Collins - Soul Food
2. Bernie Hayes - The Soul Pearl
3. Billy Butler & The Enchanters - Gotta Get Away
4. Prince Harold - Ain't It Amazing
5. Kell Osborne - You Can't Outsmart A Woman
6. Edwin Starr - Headline News
7. Big Maybelle - No Better for You
8. Joe Tex Coca-Cola Radio Ad
9. Emanuel Laskey - Tomorrow
10. The Implements - Ole Man Soul (Pt. 1)
11. Leah Dawson & Choker Campbell's Orchestra - My Mechanical Man
12. The Parliaments - Don't Be Sore At Me
13. Senator Jones - Whatcha Gonna Do
14. The Appointments - Sweet Daddy
15. James Fry - Tumblin' Down
16. John R "Soul Medallion" Ad
17. Willie West - Fairchild
18. Willie Mitchell - 30-60-90
19. The Vashonettes - A Mighty Good Lover
20. Otis Clay - I Testify
21. Bobby Womack - Somebody Special
22. Jackie Day - Guilty
23. Johnny Jones & The King Casuals - Soul Poppin'

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wilson's Magic

Wilson Pickett - Only I Can Sing This Song

Although Wilson Pickett had extended his hitmaking ways into the '70s on Atlantic thanks to hits like the #1 Billboard R&B hit "Don't Knock My Love" and "Call My Name, I'll Be There," by the end of 1972 he left the label (whose focus, to be honest, had moved away from Southern soulsters like Pickett toward Philly acts like the Spinners and Blue Magic) and signed to RCA. Pickett's first LP for the label was 1973's Mr. Magic Man, which yielded a minor hit with the title track. Although Pickett would hit the charts a few times during his two-year tenure with the label, it's safe to say that changing times caught up with Pickett despite his recording high-quality material with top-notch producers (like Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford, who helmed Mr. Magic Man), so the RCA era is generally overlooked when looking at Pickett's career.

Today's selection came from Mr. Magic Man, and is one of my favorite RCA Pickett recordings. The fantastic ballad "Only I Can Sing This Song" finds Pickett bringing a very nice reading of the story of lost love and starting over, keeping things nice and conversational through the first few verses and then opening up in the last verse. The country soul arrangement is really the icing on the cake, though, as it gives Pickett sufficient room to work his magic. It's a powerful recording, to be sure!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Every Day!

Bobby Powell - Thank You

Blind Louisiana singer/pianst Bobby Powell's '60s and '70s soul and funk sides for Whit, Jewel and Excello are well-known among serious soul fans but Powell's name and music is rarely recognized outside of that circle. This is unfortunate, because Powell's powerful gospel-bent singing and the fine Southern soul arrangements that surrounded him made records like "C.C. Rider" (his only substantial hit) some of the finest of that genre. Powell himself would stop chasing the hit parade by the early '80s, returning to gospel music and fading into obscurity afterwards. Fortunately, his records are very easy to get and the Whit and Jewel sides have been comped on the WestSide CD Into My Own Thing: The Jewel and Whit Recordings 1966-1971. It's only fitting that the last post before Thanksgiving Day be one about being thankful, and Powell's Whit 45 "Thank You" fits within my "Thanksgiving Every Day" post title, because he's talking about being thankful for his woman's love and the impact it has. The groove here is a nice piece of strutting funk, and Powell and the background singers really bring home the song's message while said groove pushes and pulls along.

If all goes to plan, I will be doing the Thanksgiving thing with family and friends tomorrow, but will get the new podcast up on Friday or Saturday! Happy Thanksgiving to all of you; I'm thankful for you!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Get on Down With Mr. Big Stuff," Revisited

John Holt - Sister Big Stuff

Dennis Alcapone - Teach the Children (aka Teacher Teacher)

Back in the spring of 2006 I did a "Mr. Big Stuff" set featuring the 1971 Jean Knight hit and an array of covers, answer records and derivatives related to it. I have revived (and slightly edited) that post, and will put a link to it over in the "Get on Down Podcasts" section as an "Episode 22.5." Thanks to reader Slim Jay, I can add two more versions of the classic song to the list.

As I mentioned back in '06, it's only natural that some reggae artists tried their hand at "Mr. Big Stuff" and "Groove Me," because both tunes had a touch of reggae in their jaunty grooves. The recording of "Sister Big Stuff" by Tomorrow's Children was presented as an example, but it appears that John Holt's "Sister Big Stuff" was actually the first Jamaican version of the song to be released. Holt is a giant in the history of reggae vocalists, having provided vocal and songwriting excellence as a member of the Paragons and then as a solo artist. Holt's rocksteady-oriented, gender-switched version of the song uses the horn vamp that appears in the mid-section of most versions of "Mr. Big Stuff" as the intro, throwing in some scatting background singers to boot. It's a great version of the tune.

The prolific dub DJ Dennis Alcapone got a hold of Holt's recording (not too hard, considering that both men were working with producer Bunny Lee at the time; both men had worked with Coxsonne Dodd previously as well), and used the groove to create the most un-"Mr. Big Stuff" song out of the other versions that came about at the time. "Teach the Children" (also known as "Teacher Teacher") finds Alcapone doing a sing-a-long spelling song. The tune was very successful and it ended up being used by a Jamaican literacy campaign to help teach reading! It's quite an interesting addition to the "Mr. Big Stuff" canon.

(Special thanks to Slim Jay for these two tunes.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Back Beat Soul!

Eddie Wilson - Get Out In The Street

In a post from last week I discussed the unfortunate lack of a Duke/Peacock/Back Beat soul comp on CD (and I must now correct one point from that post; the producer of the Eddie Simpson sides discussed therein was Andre Williams, not Oliver Sain, although Sain wrote "Stone Soul Sister"). I picked up today's selection at the Atlanta Record Fair, and it is yet another Back Beat side I know nothing about. "Get Out In The Street" is a nice piece of "party" soul, with Eddie Wilson (about whom I know nothing) encouraging the listener to spend some money on some fun every now and then. A good message, if you ask me!


1. Vincent the Soul Chef at Fufu Stew invited your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul to join a bunch of other great bloggers in bringing a dish or two to his inaugural Thanksgiving feast, and the end result is a spread that any music fan would be proud of! The Chef has the three-part(!) Thanksgiving feast online now - go check it out! Thanks again to Vincent for inviting me to be part of this great occasion!

2. This weekend I joined Brian Phillips to record the new episode of his Rockin' Radio program, The Electro-Phonic Sound of Brian Phillips. As you may recall, Brian joined me on Episode #20 of the "Get on Down ..." podcast, which was certainly a great time (as the pictures attest). I had a great time returning the favor for his show, and it soon will be available at Rockin' Radio; I will let you know when the show's on. In the meantime, though, make sure to check out his current show (the link to Rockin' Radio is in the links section), as well as the other great Rockin' Radio programs!

3. Thanksgiving equals days off from work and from school, so hopefully during the span of this week I will get the new edition of the "Get on Down ..." podcast recorded and put online!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Get on Down With The Kids!

The 3 Simmons - You Are My Dream (School Time)

The 3 Stars - Jersey Slide (Pt. 1)

Today's post piggy-backs on the great post that O-Dub did at Soul Sides about Numero's comp Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul. Once the Jackson 5 topped the charts in the late '60s, everyone who had children with any inkling of talent seemed to rush them into their local studios to cut records. Although some kid acts did do well, such as the Five Stairsteps, the Sylvers and, as O-Dub notes, the Ponderosa Twins Plus One, many - whose talent levels were generally less than the acts named above, some significantly less so - faded immediately into obscurity. All of the acts featured on Home Schooled fell into the latter category, although Jr. and His Soulettes' sole album, Psychodelic [sic] Sounds, was reissued on CD over a decade ago. Two of my favorites from Home Schooled are featured today.

The 3 Simmons' "You Are My Dream (School Time)" and the 3 Stars' "Jersey Slide (Pt. 1)" demonstrate the cuteness but also the technical limitations that most kiddie soul records faced. "You Are My Dream" is actually a cute little love song in which the start of a new school year is also the renewal time for a puppy love relationship. Although the vocals (both lead and background) are a bit shaky, it actually works. "Jersey Slide," were it recorded by adults, would be a very good dance record that would probably be in high demand among rare soul collectors, as it features a great groove. The execution of the vocals, however, leave quite a bit to be desired. It's clear the group was going for a Five Stairsteps and Cubie approach, but the end result is that the lyrics (which mix dance instructions with a "Grazing in the Grass"-inspired hook) are delivered adequately by the older members of the group but the younger members just aren't there (although the squeaky "don't just sit there, doing nothing" in the second verse is cute). Although as a whole it doesn't completely "work," the groove is boss and the tune is worthy of occasional plays.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good Timin' R&B!

Wynonie Harris - Big Old Country Fool

Today's selection digs a little deeper in the historical well than usual, but good timin' '50s R&B rumpshakers like this one can't be slept upon. Wynonie Harris made a splash with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra in 1945 with "Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well," and within a few years, thanks to his 1948 King release of "Good Rockin' Tonight," Harris was at the top of the charts and laying part of the groundwork for the rock revolution of the following decade. His sides for King were strong sellers for quite a few years, but by the latter half of the '50s, the new rock and roll sound had, ironically, wiped out his commercial success. Although Harris recorded and performed regularly until his death in 1969, he never recaptured his glory years, when he, "Mr. Blues," had no peer. The '50s groover "Big Old Country Fool" is my favorite Wynonie Harris record. Here, Harris tells the story of being played for a fool by a gold-digging woman over a great sax-led rhythm while a buoyant group of background singers brings a touch of country and a touch of sass to the proceedings in the choruses.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Back Beat Soul, or, the Compilation Blues

Eddie Simpson - Stay That Way (Don't Change)

A recent discussion on one of the Yahoo! soul music groups revisited the long-time lament that there has not been a good compilation of Peacock/Duke/Back Beat soul sides by MCA/Universal, who owns the catalogue. One commenter noted that in the past it was explained that the problem is in licensing, as the ownership status of a lot of the material is unclear (apparently the Houston company didn't keep its paperwork in order). That's highly unfortunate, because there was a lot of good soul and funk stuff released by Don Robey on acts like Al "TNT" Braggs, the Lamp Sisters, and many others which, although not extremely successful commercially (Bobby Bland, O.V. Wright, Joe Hinton and Roy Head excepted, of course), would be very worthy of reissue. Today's selection is one such tune.

I don't know anything about Eddie Simpson or this Back Beat 45 except that St. Louis multi-instrumentalist/producer/talent scout/'70s funkmeister Oliver Sain produced it. It's a pleasant piece of funky soul featuring a nice gospelly intro and a tasty groove once things get started. I picked it up from Kurt Wood at a record fair a couple of months ago and I've enjoyed it and the flip, "Stone Soul Sister," which I need to feature in the near future. Let's keep our fingers crossed that fine stuff like this gets comped in the near future!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Smooth NOLA Soul

Robert Parker - I Caught You In A Lie

Last month I featured Robert Parker on this blog, and I'll refer you to that post for a link to a profile of Parker's career from Funky 16 Corners. Today's selection was a departure from Parker's usual NOLA sides, which were dance-oriented. "I Caught You In A Lie" is a nice floater in which Parker croons about his lover's infidelity. To me, the tune has a Gene Chandler feel, and I can imagine the Chicago soul master doing it for Constellation or Checker, but Parker certainly holds his own, making sure to keep things sufficiently New Orleans - "I caught you in a lie, baby, sho' 'nuff I did," he proclaims in the coda. It's an uptown sound that has been getting a lot of play on the iPod lately.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Under the Power of Joe Tex!

Joe Tex - Under Your Powerful Love

A couple of weeks ago I discussed a couple of Joe Tex's lesser-known 1970s recordings. Today I will continue that discussion with one of Joe's early disco-oriented tunes. Joe scored a minor hit in 1975 with "Under Your Powerful Love," but the tune has proven to be more popular in the UK than it was in the US. After a nice introduction, in which Joe sets the stage for the tale he is about to tell, a very nice disco groove kicks in and Joe brings his usual good vocal work to the call-and-response song. The storyline, in which a woman is trying to get away from a potential sexual encounter with a man she meets at a bar and had a few too many drinks with, is somewhat disturbing when viewed in today's social climate, especially in light of how Tex presents it with a touch of amusement, but the tune really works.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Go Out to the Dixie Mockingbirds' Programs?

The Dixie Hummingbirds:

Let's Go Out To The Programs

Let's Go Out To The Programs #2

The fact that the Dixie Hummingbirds were able to release a 75th anniversary CD in 2004 speaks volumes about the power and longevity of the legendary group, whose role in the development of gospel music cannot be underestimated. The group was at the peak of its power in the '50s and '60s, when the classic lineup - Ira Tucker and James Davis on leads, backed ably by Beachey Thompson, James Walker and William Bobo, who was probably only second to the Harmonizing Four's Jimmy Jones as the greatest bass singer of gospel's "Golden Age" - waxed classic after classic for Peacock. As a live act, their impressive showmanship influenced every other act around, and today's selections provide an example of such showmanship.

One of the Humminbirds' stage antics was their song "Let's Go Out To The Programs." The program was a common event on the "gospel highway," a church version of the "chitlin' circuit" R&B revues. Gospel audiences were provided a show packed with the top names in gospel for a relatively low price, and the acts competed to be the ones that could "wreck the house," sending audiences into religious frenzy. Fortunately, one great program is available for us to enjoy, Specialty's The Great 1955 Shrine Concert, which featured the Pilgrim Travelers, the Caravans, Brother Joe May, his daughter Annette, the Soul Stirrers, Ethel Davenport and Dorothy Love Coates and the Original Gospel Harmonettes. The Hummingbirds used "Let's Go Out To The Programs" as a showcase of the group's versatility, as they would perform a medley of tunes by their peers, imitating them so well that the Hummingbirds were occasionally referred to as the "Dixie Mockingbirds." I'm sure that the Hummingbirds drew cheers and laughs with this routine, and fortunately, two forms of it exist on wax for us to enjoy today.

The first "Let's Go Out To The Programs" was released on Peacock in 1953. After a nice ensemble vocal opening, the group tackled the Soul Stirrers, the Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Pilgrim Travelers and the Bells of Joy, singing snippets of each group's big records, bridged by James Davis' introductions. The group gets its "props" by closing the tune with a reprise of their own "Trouble In My Way." The tune was very successful, so the Hummingbirds went back to the well in 1959 with "Let's Go Out To The Programs #2." On this sequel, the group took a somewhat a tongue-in-cheek approach at recognizing members of the distaff side of the gospel spectrum. After reprising the closing line of the 1953 version and giving James Walker a short intro (in which he deadpanned "Mavis Staples can sing like a man"), the group took on Dorothy Love Coates & The Original Gospel Harmonettes, the Clara Ward Singers, the Caravans, the Davis Sisters and the Staple Singers, all in comic falsetto, before wrapping things up with a snippet of their 1957 gospel hit "Christian's Automobile."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Soul Blues Saturday: Both Sides of Bobby Rush

Bobby Rush - I Need Someone

Today's "Soul Blues Saturday," the first in the series for quite some time, features Bobby Rush, whose story kicked off the series over a year ago. In that piece, I discussed his infamous stage show, and here's a YouTube video of Rush doing his thing (with the aid of a big-booty dancer) at a club (BYOB, no less) for very appreciative fans.

Although Rush is very well-known among soul blues fans for this kind of fun and games, Rush is also a fine singer who can lay down a great ballad. "I Need Someone" is my favorite Bobby Rush recording outside of his '70s classic "Chicken Heads." Rush takes this "Please Send Me Someone To Love"-syled ballad and gives it his all, both vocally and with his harmonica.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

VIP Soul!

The Spinners - My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)

Today's selection is one of the many "Motown sings Motown" treasures that exist, due to the label's penchant for trying out songs on multiple artists with the hope of reaping commercial benefits from at least one of the resulting recordings. After David Ruffin was fired from the Temptations in 1968, his newfangled solo career took off with his version of "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)." Although Ruffin would never be as big a star as his talent could have allowed, this song and his biggest '70s record, "Walk Away From Love," are prominent examples of his masterful singing.

Of course, the fact that "My Whole World Ended" was such a big hit for Ruffin did not preclude other Motown acts from recording the fine tune, and as example after example of lesser-known versions of Motown hits has shown, the strength of the songs themselves and the Motown arrangements make the other versions strong records in their own right. The Spinners, finally having hit paydirt with "It's a Shame" but still a few years away from their mega-successes for Atlantic, laid down this fine take on "My Whole World Ended" for Motown's VIP subsidiary (which, I've noted before, is ironically-named, considering that the label was mainly the home of the label's B-listers). It's a serious cooker that is worth more than one play on the computer or iPod.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Get on Down With Little Richard (And His Own Beautiful Hair)!

Little Richard - Get Down With It

I've featured Little Richard and his lesser-known soul records of the '60s and early '70s on this blog several times before, so I'll just jump into today's selection. Little Richard covered Bobby Marchan's "Get Down With It" (the virtual antecedent to the Mighty Hannibal's classic "Jerkin' the Dog") for OKeh, and the rock'n'roll legend gave the opening monologue's "let your hair down" line his own flamboyant twist before laying down a rocking version of the tune. It's a fun one to go into the back stretch of the week with.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tuesday Is Blues Day With The Fat Man

Fats Domino - If You Don't Know What Love Is

When ABC-Paramount signed Fats Domino in 1963, it appeared that the label had scored a second coup in the music world, having signed Ray Charles a few years earlier. Unfortunately, however, Domino's recordings for the label were not very successful and, despite getting some minor hits with tunes like "Red Sails In The Sunset," Domino left ABC in 1965 after three albums and a handful of singles. The lack of success probably came from changing times in the pop and R&B field (most notably, in the former case, the British Invasion of 1964) and the fact that Domino's ABC sides lacked the production work of Dave Bartholomew, whose talents had made Domino a household name in the prior decade. Although Domino's legend can safely rest on the Imperial hits and outlying stuff like his classic Reprise recording of "Lady Madonna," the ABC material is worth a listen, and one of those recordings is featured today. "If You Don't Know What Love Is" was a 1964 ABC-Paramount single, and the Domino-penned blues shuffler features a very brassy arrangement and, curiously, some down-home harmonica squalling. It's a tasty tune that fits nicely on "Tuesday Is Blues Day."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Cinematic Soul!

The Forevers - Soultown

This weekend I saw the new movie American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, which is the story of Frank Lucas, a black crime boss of the '60s and early '70s who managed to build his Harlem empire around "Blue Magic," a potent type of heroin that he arranged to have smuggled from Southeast Asia on U.S. Army cargo planes during the Vietnam War. Both lead actors turned in excellent performances, as expected, but Washington's portrayal of Lucas as more of a charismatic businessman than as a crime boss was very effective, and quite a few members of the full-house audience at the cinema openly rooted for Lucas despite the clear fact that his efficient network and profitable product clearly contributed to the devastation of many lives and the community in which he operated.

Of course, this type of anti-hero was not a foreigner to black moviegoers of the time period in which the movie was set, as movies like Superfly and The Mack, just to name two, presented strong images of the black underworld that have lasted to the present day. The soundtracks to such films were often big sellers, with Curtis Mayfield's score to Superfly and Isaac Hayes' Shaft leading the way. Other artists, writers and producers, seeing the hit potential of such material, started dipping into what I'll call "cinematic soul" - hightly-orchestrated material featuring socially-conscious lyrics reflecting the bleaker side of black urban life. Naturally Marvin Gaye's early '70s work fits in this mold, as does tunes like Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" and scores of other tunes. Today's selection is more of a rarity. The Forevers recorded the very atmospheric "Soultown" for Weis, a Chicago-based label that was distributed for a period by Stax Records. "Soultown" manages to be both cheerful, thanks to its great groove and arrangement (I love the strings in the choruses and the strong female lead vocals), but also dark. Although "Soultown" almost sounds like a song of pride, it's a great bookend to a tune like Isaac Hayes' "Soulville" (from the Shaft soundtrack), providing a litany of various problems that exist, in no small part due to people like Frank Lucas!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Funky Gospel Friday, or, Thank You For Another Great Year!

The Mighty Voices of Wonder - I Thank The Lord

Tomorrow will be the second anniversary of Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul! It seems like only yesterday I announced the first anniversary, replete with statistics, and posted Episode #12 of the podcast, the "Anniversary Show." Well, the fanfare will be lesser this go-round due to pressing time commitments (like the MPRE - a legal ethics exam required for admission to the practice of law - tomorrow) and sundry other obligations, but I would like to thank all of you who check out this little nook of the Internet. Knowing that you guys are checking out my little labor of love, and receiving such great feedback and e-mail from you all, gives me continued encouragement to keep doing this thing as close to daily as possible. I certainly look forward to the third year of this blog and the podcast being a great year, and I hope you'll come along for the ride! Having said all that, I suppose it's only appropraite to feature something about thankfulness, right?

Today's selection came from Numero's great - as per usual for Numero - comp Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal, which is comprised of fine '70s gospel featuring a decidedly funky groove. By the '70s, gospel artists were regularly raiding the worlds of soul music to update their sound, and often in the process they would cover soul tunes (see the great article at Sir Shambling's site on this topic to hear some great material). On "I Thank The Lord," the Mighty Voices of Wonder take on the Sam and Dave tune "I Thank You" with great results. Once a rock-solid groove is established by the rhythm section and the lead singer replaces Sam Moore's "soul clapping" intro with a little testifyin', the group makes the connection to "I Thank You" by using the chorus a couple of times. After then, however, the tune dives into more traditional gospel territory, but the groove keeps on working along. This is a serious head-and-shoulder bopper, although it is easy to get distracted by the drummer, who gets cymbal-happy about halfway through and forgets to subsequently lay back.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Talkin' BS With the Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers - Fight the Power (Pts. 1 & 2)

I don't think anyone reading this blog needs any introduction to the legendary Isley Brothers, whose career has spanned six decades thus far. Today's feature was a #1 R&B hit for the group in 1975. "Fight the Power" is an aggressive rant, notorious for its chorus, which included the word "bullshit" - the Isleys have interviewed that when they went to record the song they did have reservations at first, but then decided that they were keeping it real by saying the word. Obviously, it got bleeped on most radio stations, but it got its message across. Of course, looking at today's radio, where bleeping (particularly with rap music) is very common, the controversy over "Fight the Power" seems pretty minimal! Airplay-friendly language aside, "Fight the Power" features a nice bumping groove and growling vocals that really sell the song's message.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jr. Walker's 1974 Deep Soul

Jr. Walker & The All-Stars - I Ain't That Easy to Lose

My second ballad post of the week is a 1974 outing by Jr. Walker. By the mid-'70s, Jr. was by no means a big hitmaker, but he continued to adapt his sound to the changing times and stayed with Motown until 1979, when he moved on to record for Norman Whitfield (Motown also pulled the plug on its Soul subsidiary around that time; Walker would re-up with the label for a spell in the '80s). "I Ain't That Easy to Lose" was the flip of "Dancin' Like They Do On Soul Train," and it finds Jr. declaring that his woman is going to have to work extremely hard to get rid of him, because his love is so strong. Although the backing track and background vocals are pretty darn polished, Jr.'s singing brings out the desperation of the lyrics. "I ain't that easy ... no, no, no!" Jr. wails in the choruses with throat-shredding intensity. This is sho' 'nuff deep soul, 1974 style, and Jr. really shines.

(Thanks to Gregory Rose for this track.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Get on Down With The Frogman!

Clarence "Frogman" Henry - Come On And Dance

New Orleans singer/pianist Clarence "Frogman" Henry's place in rock 'n' roll history is cemented by the novelty classic "Ain't Got No Home" (from which his nickname derived) and the more stylish pop sound of "But I Do" and "You Always Hurt The One You Love." Henry's Fats Domino-styled sound gave him quite a few big records for Argo in the '50s and early '60s, but the latter decade wore on, Henry's sound became somewhat outmoded and his commercial successes waned despite fine records for Parrot and Dial (his Dial record "That's When I Guessed" is a favorite of mine and is featured in Episode #8 of the podcast). Henry kept performing, however, and remains a fixture in New Orleans to the present day. Check out the Frogman's website for more info.

Hot Slop's Rob Baker turned me on to "Come On And Dance," a 1962 Argo single by the Frogman, and I think it's worth featuring today. This groover finds Henry slinging the dance lyrics about with joyous abandon while pumping the keys in his usual rockin' style while a chirping girl chorus and blasting horns keep the groove moving. I dare you to sit still on this one!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sweet Spring Soul

Leroy Randolph - (I Have Fallen Into) The Tender Trap

Back when your ever-lovin' Stepfather was still an informal record collector (by way of Skaggs' junk store in Jamestown, Kentucky; see my Vinyl Record Day post, which discusses this store and its important role in my life), this record popped up in a Saturday trawl. The only thing I knew about the record was that it was on Spring, whose Joe Simon and Millie Jackson platters I had heard, and that the A-side title, "Good To The Last Drop," sounded catchy. I took it home and indeed found a catchy dancer. The flip was just as good, and it's worth a feature today. Today I know as much about Leroy Randolph as I did when I bought the record (zero), but "(I Have Fallen Into) The Tender Trap" is a very atmospheric ballad that I enjoyed then and, when I finally got another copy of the 45 a few weeks ago, I still enjoy today.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thursday Gospel Godspeed

The Highway Q.C.'s - Do You Love Him

Tomorrow your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul is heading out of town for a few days for his college reunion, so today's post will be the last for the week; Monday's post will kick off the countdown to this blog's second anniversary (wow - it seems like only yesterday I was celebrating the first anniversary)! Since I won't get to do "Sunday Gospel Time" at its usual time I thought I'd do it today.

The Highway Q.C.'s were formed in Chicago in 1945 and have continued to perform into the twenty-first century. For the first dozen or so years of the group's existence the Q.C.'s were literally a "farm team" for some of the bigger names of the time: Lou Rawls left the group to go to L.A., where he worked with both the Chosen Gospel Singers and the Pilgrim Travelers before breaking out as a solo superstar; Sam Cooke absconded from the group at the behest of the Soul Stirrers' S.R. Crain to start his ascent to pop fame with that group; and Johnnie Taylor replaced Sam in the Q.C.'s lineup and then replaced Sam in the Soul Stirrers' lineup before breaking out on his own. In 1956, Spencer Taylor (no relation to Johnnie) joined the group, and for the remainder of the century he led the group on fine recordings for Vee-Jay, Peacock and others. "Do You Love Him" was an early-'60s Vee-Jay release, and the group shows that they can work well with a bit of a beat, as they also do on the excellent "Lord, I'll Go" from the same era, which I must post at another time. After a couple of choruses, Taylor launches into a little testimony and some call-and-response with the group that works very well. I'm also particularly fond of the tune's fake-out ending. It's a solid piece of gospel group singing, and with it I'll wish you all Godspeed until next week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Walking In The Rain With Joe Tex!

Joe Tex:

Rain Go Away

Baby It's Rainin'

It is easy to be tempted to think that Joe Tex's 1970s output for Dial and Epic can be summarized by the titles "I Gotcha" and "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)"; to be fair, Joe and producer Buddy Killen went back to the well of both of those tracks quite a few times - "You Said a Bad Word" and "Cat's Got Her Tongue" kept the "I Gotcha" groove going, and "Rub Down" chronicled other aches and pains Tex picked up at the disco where the "Big Fat Woman" danced. The fact of the matter is, however, that Joe Tex presented a nice bag of sounds that, although not as innovative or as commercially successful as his classic '60s material, showed that Tex was still a master of his craft. Today's selections present two varied sounds tied by the theme of rain.

"Rain Go Away" was a 1973 Dial single that was included on the Spills The Beans LP. After a dramatic intro, Joe settles into a Nashville-meets-Miami groove and does a great job with his anti-"I Wish It Would Rain" lyrics. It's a nice mid-tempo thing that was slept upon when released. A sensous Joe Tex comes forth in 1975's "Baby It's Rainin'." This is straight-up Southern soul, and Joe's reading of the sexy lyrics is outstanding. The dialogue in the middle shows that Joe is no Barry White when it comes to seductive raps, but his earnest delivery (I love his line about not knowing what perfume his lady is wearing) really brings home the feeling he's trying to convey. It's a solid sender!