Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Deep Soul Devastation!

Junior McCants - She Wrote It I Read It

The liner notes to the Kent CD King Northern Soul tell the tragic tale of Cincinnati soul singer Junior McCants, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 24. King Records pulled McCants' singles in respect for the singer, making records like the Northern groover "Try Me For Your New Love" and today's selection incredibly scarce. McCants had a breathtaking falsetto and lots of soul, both of which are showcased in "She Wrote It I Read It," which appeared on Kent's King's Serious Soul, Vol. 2: Counting Teardrops comp. This story of a philanderer's moment of truth is punctuated by Junior's amazing vocals, particularly in the two dramatic breaks that appear in the song.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I-Dentify With Lee Austin and Future Shock!

Lee Austin - Missing You

I first heard of James Brown Revue member Leon "Lee" Austin via an episode of James Brown's obscure Future Shock TV show, where he appeared as the featured guest. In their pre-performance chat, JB and Lee discuss that this record was supposed to have a prior release but they decided to hold back on it because the time wasn't right, but now that President Carter was in office (and, by extension, the national mood had brightened), people were ready for a "heavy ballad" like today's selection.

"Missing You" was a 1975 or '76 I-Dentify release. I-Dentify was one of the lesser-utilized JB labels, having four or five single releases, the most notable being the instrumental "Picking Up The Pieces One By One" by A.A.B.B. ("Above Average Black Band"), a JB-produced takeoff on the Average White Band's smash hit "Pick Up The Pieces." Although in my opinion "Missing You" is mixed poorly, it's a pretty decent ballad with just a little bit of a beat to it, and Austin's country tenor is a good fit.

Post Script: Someone really needs to obtain the rights to JB's Future Shock shows and get them on DVD. I have two episodes I acquired from a private collector and they are really interesting. Future Shock was an Atlanta-based takeoff on Soul Train produced and hosted by Brown which aired on WTCG (the local precursor to cable superstation WTBS) and in about 40 Southern markets for about two years (approx. 1976-78). It's clearly a vanity project (95% of the show's playlists was tunes by James Brown, the J.B.'s or other JB-produced artists, who also appeared on the show as guest stars), and James demonstrates that being a TV host was not his strong suit: on the two episodes I have he interviews the director of the George Washington Carver Museum at Tuskeegee Institute, and his remarks and questions are pretty off the wall. Despite Brown's shortcomings as an emcee, however, the shows are great to watch. Thanks to a YouTube user, here's a clip of a Future Shock open which starts with JB doing a bit of "Hot," his unapologetic ripoff of David Bowie's "Fame," followed by one of the show's infamous "dance contests":

Also, here's a great ad for the official Future Shock T-shirt!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tyrone Can't Bump!

Tyrone Davis - I Can't Bump (Pt. 1)

Disco's "do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight" message was well-received in the mid-to-late '70s, as a nation emerging from the horrors of Vietnam and Watergate, the oil embargo and inflation was searching for a release from all the pressure. Although there was not an outright "disco sucks" movement in the world of R&B (probably because it was from '70s R&B that disco arose), some artists did take on the genre, generally either to make gentle fun of it (Joe Tex's "I'm Going Back Again," "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)" and "Rub Down" all covered the risk of physical injury from disco dancing) or to discuss the more common problem, that of the non-dancer who was left out of the fun. Today's selection fits in the latter category.

Chicago soulster Tyrone Davis' 1976 single "I Can't Bump" was one of his last for Dakar before he moved on to Columbia. The tune is generally dismissed in a discussion of Davis' work as a bad attempt at disco, and at first blush the attempt to add a soft disco groove to Davis' vulnerable love man style indeed doesn't seem to fit right. But if one ignores the hi-hat for a moment and listens to the words and Davis' delivery, it's clear that the tune has been underrated. Davis returns to the territory he covered in his earlier hit "I Wish It Was Me" to express his longing for the dancing woman, surrounded by dancing suitors, whom he cannot woo because, as he laments, "I can't bump, I can't hustle." Fortunately, he plans to get his dancing shoes on and learn so he can win the girl by doing the "Watergate, the kung fu, any dance [she wants] to do." Davis would eventually get the disco thing right for Columbia, but he would then be left behind as the genre exploded at the time of Saturday Night Fever. I suppose it just wasn't meant for Tyrone to bump!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Golden Nugget Gospel!

Golden Nugget:

Jesus Is Waiting b/w Gospel Train

Gospel funky 45s are always fun to find. Although the artists involved are generally terminally obscure, the records are both spiritually uplifting and good for some "get down." Today's selection covers both sides of a 1970(?) Cotillion single. All I know about the interestingly-named group Golden Nugget is that they recorded material in the early to mid-70s at Malaco studios. It also appears that around the time of "Jesus Is Waiting," Atlantic Records was devoting more resources to gospel records, with gospel sides showing up on Atlantic, Atco and Cotillion (Atlantic, unlike most of the great R&B independents, never had a steady gospel series; instead, interesting gospel records pop up here and there in the label's discography). "Jesus Is Waiting" features a touch of funk and solid singing by the group. "Gospel Train" is a reworking of "This Train" which sticks closer to the more traditional gospel quartet sound.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Impressions for Alvin!

The Impressions - I'm So Proud

Today's selection is by no means an obscurity, but hearing it recently at a restaurant over lunch brought back one of my favorite soul music memories. When I was a broke, single graduate student in Chicago I used to visit a hole-in-the-wall bar near where I lived. I was easily the youngest person to visit the bar, but the regulars were very friendly and I always enjoyed going in there. One of the regulars was an older black man named Alvin, who would be generally pretty inebriated by the time I would arrive. He never remembered my name, but he remembered that I was from Kentucky, so when he would see me he would call me "Kentucky." We would sit around, have a few drinks and talk while the jukebox was playing. He really liked "I'm So Proud," and could sing every part of the song very well. And what a song to sing parts to - Curtis Mayfield's falsetto tenderly caresses the lyrics and the harmony work is fantastic. I don't know what ever became of Alvin, but today's selection is dedicated to him.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Cooling Out With Darondo

Darondo - Didn't I

The eccentric '70s soulster Darondo has been covered in a prior post, so I'll simply present this tune, his best-known of his three singles, as a great groove to take into your weekend's cooling out!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Detroit Soul Quickie

Emanuel Lasky - You Better Quit It

I was sick yesterday and playing catch-up at work today (after a two-hour long commute due to bad traffic), so here's a quickie to tide you over until your ever-lovin' Stepfather is back in the saddle. For info about Mr. Lasky and his fine Detroit soul records do visit the Soulful Detroit website in the "Links" section!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Joe Tex, Name Dropper!

Joe Tex - I Can See Everybody's Baby

Joe Tex is no stranger to these pages, so I'll simply say that "I Can See Everybody's Baby," an early-'70s thing that went unreleased until Charly dug it up in 1989 for the Different Strokes comp, is a nice mid-tempo number in Joe's usual style. Here, Joe points out that in his travels he sees women all over the world, including Ray Charles' woman, Isaac Hayes' woman, James Brown's woman, Tom Jones' woman(!), etc.; when he goes home, however, he can't find his own old lady!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Goody Goodies!

The Goodees - Would You, Could You

Stax Records, like many R&B independents, dabbled unsuccessfully with expanding its business into the rock and pop market with two series of releases on its Hip label and a smattering of other releases on Stax, Volt, Enterprise, and Ardent (a joint venture between Stax and John Fry's Ardent Studios). Although quite a few of the recordings, most notably the LPs Big Star and #1 Record by Big Star (Alex Chilton's post-Box Tops project) on Ardent, are considered in retrospect to be very good, the Stax rock project never really took off, and the only significant chart action that Stax received came from the Southwest F.O.B. "The Smell of Incense" and The Goodees, who are pictured above and featured in today's post, which I admit is quite anomalous hopefully not too left-field for this blog.

The Goodees (Sandra Hall, Judy Lowe and Kay Evans) recorded four 45s and one LP (Candy Coated Goodees) for Hip. In many ways the group was doomed to commercial failure from the outset, as their style (referred to very unfairly by one blogger as "Southern White Trash Shangri-Las") was rapidly becoming anachronistic as the '60s came to a close. The group managed, however, to get a minor pop hit in 1968 out of "Condition Red," a Don Davis(!)-produced "Leader of the Pack" derivative that has appeared on quite a few comps, including Rhino's girl groups comp, One Kiss Can Lead to Another. ("Condition Red" is discussed (along with some other Goodees material) in this interesting Scram article.) The Goodees' recorded output, however, is much more diverse than their sole hit would reflect, as many of the people more associated with Stax's soul output (such as Don Davis, Isaac Hayes, David Porter and Joe Shamwell) worked with the group as writers and producers. For example, today's selection (the flip of "Just a Little While") is a stomping piece of Stax northern soul. While the girls do their thing with the Hayes-Porter lyrics, the Stax regulars lay down a great groove and nice horn charts, turning this record from girl group pop to "get down" quasi-soul!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday Gospel Time!

The Inspirational Singers - He Brought Me

I suppose that I'm on target to put every track on the 1967 Checker LP Sunday Gospel Open House on here, but there's a good reason for it: the LP is chock-full of great Checker "gos-pop" of various types and it's a very solid album. Today's selection is the lead-off track on the album and it's a great way to get things started. The bass and piano opening sets a great atmosphere and the ensemble singing is very good.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Soul-Blues Saturday: Let's Go, Baby!

Mel Waiters - Hole in the Wall

One of the anthems of the soul-blues scene is Mel Waiters' "Hole in the Wall," which was released on Malaco Records' Waldoxy label in 1999. Many a night I heard Pervis Spann drop this on his late-night radio broadcast on WVON, and in places like the Fifty Yard Line, Artis' Lounge, and other places in Chicago frequented by working-class, middle-aged black people, a jukebox wouldn't be a jukebox without it. Waiters, whose performing career began in 1974 and whose recording career didn't take off until nearly two decades later (during which time he did some radio DJ work and landed a contract with the U.S. goverment to perform for the military), had two albums on smaller labels before signing on with Malaco and breaking out with Material Things, which, amazingly for a soul-blues album, broke into the Top 100 of Billboard's album chart. "Hole in the Wall" was pulled as a single from that album, and it made it all the way to #24 on the R&B sales charts, again a major feat for a soul-blues record.

It's no surprise that "Hole in the Wall" fared so well. Soul purists will certainly decry all the sythesizer work and the drum machine, but in all respects this is a record that Tyrone Davis could've put down during his Dakar heyday. As the groove chugs along, Waiters spins his fun tale about his favorite after-hours joint, where one can find "smoke-filled rooms, whiskey and chicken wings" and so much fun that "no one wants to leave." Waiters has revisited this good-timing theme on many subsequent releases, including "Juke Joint" and, from his newest album, "Throw Back Days," and his audience is still eating it up!

Friday, January 19, 2007

What The World Needs Now Is Jeanne & The Darlings!

Jeanne & The Darlings - Singing About Love

Jeanne Dolphus and her Arkansas-based gospel group, the Dolphus Singers, ventured over to Stax Records in 1967 and spent the next few years doing some backup singing (they backed Rufus Thomas on "Sophisticated Sissy," for instance) and cutting six great, albeit commercially unsuccessful, soul 45s for Volt under the name "Jeanne & The Darlings." It's very unfortunate that they didn't break through, because records like "How Can You Mistreat The One You Love" (featured on Episode #4 of the "Get on Down ..." podcast), "Soul Girl" (the femme version of Sam & Dave's "Soul Man") and "It's Unbelievable (How You Control My Soul)" showcase the group's great sound. Today's selection was written by Jeanne with the Staple Singers in mind, but it instead served as her group's Volt swan song. "Singing About Love" features a friendly groove, great "message" lyrics (which are still timely today) and strong vocals by Jeanne and the group.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


L.C. Cooke:

Put Me Down Easy b/w Take Me For What I Am

Sam Cooke's brother, L.C., had the chops to make it big in the business, but it was not meant to be; like most siblings of mega-stars (Erma and Carolyn Franklin come to mind right away), there was too much room for comparison, and in L.C.'s case it didn't help that he sounded a lot like Sam. (L.C.'s bio can be found here, so I'll defer to it for those details.) Fortunately, L.C. made some great recordings in his career, most notably for Sam's SAR concern.

Today's selections comprise my favorite of L.C.'s SAR 45s. I must admit that when I finally got my hands on the single (having owned the Sam Cooke's SAR Records Story box set for some years), I was somewhat disappointed, because I had fallen in love with an alternate version of "Put Me Down Easy" that had a little bit more drive to the groove than what the record held. The 45 version of the tune, however, is still very good. Over a nice accompaniment that has a touch of cha-cha-cha (not unlike some of the things Sam was doing at the time), L.C. (billed as such on the 45) delivers the slight optimism present in the otherwise desperate lyrics, and Sam and S. Roy Crain (former Soul Stirrers singer and manager turned SAR label principal) provide nice gospel-bent background work on the choruses. The flip, "Take Me For What I Am," is a bright, up-tempo number finding L.C. and a femme chorus doing sort of a pop-gospel thing with lyrics that probably said everything one needed to know about Sam's way with the ladies vis-a-vis his wife ("don't try to make me into what I ain't / when you met me, baby, I was no saint"). Dubious morality of the lyrics aside, L.C. is having fun with this one, and it really bops along. Lou Rawls would take the tune, graft onto it one of his patented monologues (titled "Can You Dig It") and give it a southern soul ballad reading later in the decade for Capitol, a version that is also worth checking out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Funky Disco Cole Porter?

The Hustlers - Soft Hustle

As I noted several times in my James Brown tribute posts from a couple of weeks ago, in the mid-'70s JB attempted to take on disco with the same gusto he had brought to his funk records earlier in the decade. Quite a few tunes from 1974 forward find Brown with one foot in funk and the other in disco, and some of them - although nowadays politely ignored in review of JB's legacy - are actually pretty good.

James 1974 LP Reality generated one big hit, the breakbeat classic "Funky President (People It's Bad)," but the album also included some pretty unusual covers such as a remake of colleague Hank Ballard's "The Twist," the blues classic "Further On Up The Road," and, most interestingly, Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In." The latter caught my attention when I first heard it on one of the "Rhubarb Cake" shows. Brown is giving the standard all of his usual gusto (he was no stranger to doing standards the JB way, as attested to with the LP Soul On Top and in recordings like "Prisoner of Love") over a groove that starts funky but then opens up into a disco-funk sound. It turns out that JB was particularly fond of that groove, as he released the instrumental track, featured today, on his People label as "Soft Hustle" by "The Hustlers," reflecting an obvious desire to get aboard the disco train and to get some mileage out of Van McCoy's smash hit "The Hustle."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Keep a Light in the Window!

J.W. Alexander - Leave A Light In The Window Until I Come Home

J.W. Alexander's gospel group, The Pilgrim Travelers, were one of the more popular gospel groups of the late '40s and early '50s, with their tight harmonies and toe-tapping rhythm giving them hits with records like the deep "Mother Bowed" and up-tempo things like "Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb." By the end of the '50s, despite further good recordings, the latter of which including Lou Rawls as a new lead, and the group's even trying their hand at pop ("Teen Age Machine Age," credited to "The Travelers"), commercial success had evaporated and the group called it a day. Alexander, who had no qualms about taking on secular music as well as gospel, hooked up with his friend Sam Cooke, whom he had known since the gospel days (when Sam's Soul Stirrers overtook the Travelers in popularity) to form SAR Records. The label yielded hits and great records with the Soul Stirrers, the Valentinos, Johnnie Taylor, L.C. Cooke and Johnnie Morrisette, but Sam's untimely death in 1964 shuttered the label. Alexander would keep his hand in the business, mainly producing and writing but, as in today's selection, occasionally singing.

"Leave A Light In The Window" was a one-off 45 Alexander did for Mirwood, and it's a nice one. J.W.'s light tenor gracefully delivers the gospel-bent ballad about a soldier's yearning for his woman. The single was not successful, but it made enough noise for Solomon Burke to cover it on one of his later Atlantic singles. Burke's version is very good, but I prefer Alexander's. Overall the song's message is very appropriate during our current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, although the last verse ("I know the cause is right") is not.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Prayer For Peace, Revisited

The Dixie Hummingbirds - Our Prayer For Peace

Today's selection was posted in a "Soul of the Movement" post from February. On this King Day, the sentiment and belief that this song reflects reminds me of the passion and fervor that Dr. King and so many others brought to the cause of freedom for black Americans, for which I am so thankful.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hannibal Conquers Atlanta!

King Hannibal - The Truth Shall Make You Free (St. John 8:32)

Last night I went to see The Mighty Hannibal at The EARL in Atlanta and he gave a great, albeit short, show. The show was very well-attended, and it was great that the Creative Loafing featured Hannibal and promoted the show. (See this link for a Hannibal bio.) Hannibal was presented a "Mighty Hannibal Day" proclamation from the City of Atlanta (presented by Michael Julian Bond, whose father and Hannibal go waaaaaaay back) and he made some sharp remarks about the war in Iraq. Then he warned us - "when I get back on the stage, put your seat belts on, because I'm fixin' to turn this mother out." And when he returned an hour later, he did, showing that at age 67 he still can do his thing. He performed today's selection as well, so I decided to feature it.

Hannibal had been releasing 45s for a good 14 years for a range of labels (including King, Loma and Venture) and variations on the Hannibal stage name when his first LP, Truth, arrived on the scene in 1973. Truth found Hannibal addressing politics, both of the social and personal kind, with the title track taking on his overcoming a drug problem that had plagued him for some time. It's a great gospel-flavored piece of funk that was a great anchor for the LP.

A further note about last night's show: doing some spinning before the show, between the opening acts and afterwards was "Georgia Soul" guru Brian Poust (who also got to introduce Hannibal) and WFMU's Mr. Fine Wine ("Downtown Soulville"), and in the audience was The Birmingham Sound compiler John Ciba. It was great to meet both of the latter gentlemen!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Swing and Sway the Tamla Way!

The Miracles - Happy Landing

One of the things I like about a lot of the early Motown tunes is how they often had a bluesy swagger to them. There was an earthy looseness in the recordings that would eventually be replaced by the tightly-packaged "Motown sound." Today's selection, a 1962 Tamla single, is indicative of this. Although the flip, the excellent "You Really Got a Hold on Me," is pretty darn bluesy in its own right, "Happy Landing" finds Smokey Robinson & The Miracles rushing along in telling Smokey's little revenge story - Smokey effectively puts over the songs feeling as he slings the lyrics along - over a swinging groove with lots of organ and sax accents.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Get on Down With Episode #14!

Episode #14 of the podcast is now available in stereo and mono! Here is the playlist:

1. Lyn Collins - Wheel Of Life
2. Otis Redding - Papa's Got A Brand New Bag
3. James Brown - Blues & Pants
4. Bobby Byrd - "Fight Against Drug Abuse" PSA
5. Freddie North - I've Got To Hold Back
6. The Bar-Kays - Sock Soul
7. The Mighty Hannibal - Somebody In The World For You
8. The Dee Felice Trio - There Was A Time (background music)
9. Vicki Anderson - I Want To Be In The Land Of Milk And Honey
10. Joe Tex - That's Your Baby
11. Lou Pride - There's Got To Be Someone For Me
12. John R - "Soul Medallion" Ad
13. James Brown - Believers Shall Enjoy (Nonbelievers Shall Suffer)
14. Bobby Byrd - When Something Is Wrong With My Baby
15. Ernie Johnson - In These Very Tender Moments
16. The Solars - Here's My Heart
17. Shirley Jean & The Relations - People Make The World A Better Place
18. Josephine Dicks & The Rock Gospel Informations - He Captured My Soul
19. The Hi Rhythm Section - Moody (closing theme)


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Gene Chandler's Northern Soul

Gene Chandler - After the Laughter (Here Comes the Tears)

Episode #14 of the "Get on Down" podcast has been recorded, but time restraints prevented me from getting it uploaded, writing up the RSS feed, etc., so look for it later tonight - it's partially a James Brown tribute (50% of the tracks are JB-related), but it's completely a fun hour of soul, funk, and gospel.

In the meantime, today's selection is a fantastic piece of Northern Soul from Gene Chandler's dual tenure with Brunswick and Chess. The soaring "After the Laughter" was a Checker release and it's absolutely exquisite. Chandler's aching vocals capture the essence of the lyrics, but the groove will make you grin and get down!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sweet Soul Quickie!

The Intruders - Together Baby

It's been very busy for your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul, hence the absence of posts over the weekend and on Monday. Time is still short, so here's a piece of great Philly soul to provide a soothing balm for a hectic day. I have prepared the playlist for a new podcast, and hope to get it up tonight! Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Tribute to the Godfather: JB's Blues

James Brown - Like It Is, Like It Was (The Blues)

Today's post will conclude my two-week series of James Brown tribute posts. I have decided not to do a mini-podcast, as several have sprung up elsewhere and the "Rhubarb Cake" shows I posted links for on Christmas Day are more than sufficient. When I do the new episode of the podcast I will play a few JB tracks, and of course some JB material will always appear at various times in future posts.

One of the strongest points Rev. Al Sharpton made in his eulogy of JB on Saturday was that James came from the bottom of the bottom, born in abject poverty, but he managed to become a creatively and commercially successful artist whose music was globally-recognized. Brown never tried to forget his wretched origins or to distance himself from the Southern towns where he spent his youth. Just a few days prior to his death Brown gave out toys and food for the poor in Augusta, and his generosity was mentioned in the New Yorker piece I referenced earlier. In many ways Brown was the American success story writ large, despite the negative racial elements of it and his own later-life scrapes. He was Horatio Alger and Booker T. Washington rolled up in one, and his life story is equally as inspiring as his music.

The quiet "Like It Is, Like It Was" served as part of the Black Caesar soundtrack, fitting nicely in mood with the ballad "Mama's Dead." The alternate version of the tune featured today was unearthed for the Polydor comp Messing With The Blues, and it is a fitting way to close out this tribute. Here, the song is an after-hours chat between Brown and long-time band member St. Clair Pinckney. Brown's opening remark ("have you ever been broke and hungry? I *have* been broke and hungry") is the gateway to a long reminisce about his hard-scrabble childhood (pausing to explain to the youth what a pallet is) and how blues music reflected how it really was. He admits that he had reached a point where he lives too richly to "sing the blues like I used to sing 'em," but recognizes that he is blessed to live in a time when people like himself, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, B.B. King and others are so successful (his litany of artists is the closest that Brown, well-known for his ego and attempts to upstage his peers at any opportunity, ever came to giving other artists praise on wax). Brown's mixture of chit-chat with Pinckney and blues wailing is very effective and reminds me of how strong of an example his life story can be at a time when there are so many that are still struggling.

James Brown was an amazing musician, electrifying performer, American success story, African-American hero, and an incredible shaper of twentieth-century American culture. His influence on many genres of music and his work will endure forever. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tribute to a Godfather: Play It, James!

James Brown:

Shhhhhhhh! (For a Little While)
Blind Man Can See It

Fred Wesley & The J.B.'s: Watermelon Man

James Brown's discography is chock full of instrumentals, starting with early '60s recordings like "Devil's Den" through to the J.B.'s LPs of the late '70s. Although Brown's legacy does not rest on his instrumental work, he played on quite a few of the instrumentals, mainly on keyboards or, as shown in the third of today's selections, the drums. All of today's selections represent my favorite instrumentals in which JB sat in with his band.

I included "Shhhhhhhh! (For a Little While)" in one of my podcasts but I used it as an instrumental bed for some announcements, so I'm posting it here, free of my voice. "Shhhhhhhh!" is a nice uptempo groove that encroaches on Northern Soul territory. There's a great hard piano groove that undergirds the record, and James mixes his quirky organ playing (see my prior post about "Believers Shall Enjoy" in regards to the mixed opinion that exists about JB's organ-led instrumentals ) with little grunts and "all rights." JB appears to be having a lot of fun working it out on this one, and I dare you to sit still through it. James played electric piano on "Blind Man Can See It," which was part of the Black Caesar soundtrack. A popular track for sampling, "Blind Man Can See It" starts off with a typical early-'70s JB groove, but then James and the piano storm to the forefront and the band lays back to allow James to solo for the rest of the tune in an almost conversational way. (The full version of the track, unearthed for the In the Jungle Groove comp, finds James adding some spoken commentary later in the cut which, in my opinion, wrecks the vibe that makes the tune special.)

If JB's keyboard work was unorthodox and unusual, his participation in Fred Wesley & The J.B.'s version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" shows that his drumming was equally unique. I don't know what the circumstances were that inspired JB to take to the drum kit (usually left to the great John "Jabo" Starks and/or Clyde Stubblefield), but he lays down this hot-foot beat, pounding away on the bass drum and scattering snare and cymbal shots around in a manner more akin to a tap dancer's hoofing than jazz drumming (perhaps James was dancing on the stool while he played). Whatever James was doing, the tune does work and it showcases the jazz chops of James' band.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tribute to the Godfather: The Swanees' Soul!

The Swanee Quintet - Try Me Father

The Swanee Quintet, anchored by the leads of Rev. Reuben Willingham and Johnny Jones, were one of Nashboro Records' most popular acts. James Brown was one of their biggest fans and he took them on tour with him in the '60s. When I did the "Sunday Gospel Time" post this week I was negligent in not noting today's selection. "Try Me Father" is often referred to merely as a gospel version of Brown's 1958 hit "Try Me," which is a pretty unfair description. Over a sterling arrangement, Johnny Jones rarely swoops into his more customary falsetto (in my opinion, there are a lot of places in the song where it almost sounds like Wilson Pickett is leading the song) but instead captures the intensity of the lyrics. In the Swanees' hands this is not just a doo-wop-styled ballad, but rather a serious soul meditation which, although somewhat an anomaly in their discography (their sound was usually much more down-home), is one of the strongest records they released during their prime. The flip of the 45 (which was released on the Nashboro subsidiary Crescent in 1966), "That's the Spirit," finds Rev. Willingham fronting the group in a rollicking gospel version of Brown's "Ain't That a Groove," which, although good, is certainly more deserving of the assessment usually given to "Try Me Father."

(POSTSCRIPT - The Swanees are still doing their thing, and they performed at JB's funeral in Augusta on December 30. The Electrophonic Brian Phillips attended the funeral, and in a guest turn at Brian Poust's Georgia Soul blog he delivers a fantastic report of the goings-on that is worth checking out.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tribute to the Godfather: Let a Man Come In!

James Brown - Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn

JB's late '60s recordings probably reflect the legend at his most fertile creative period. By that time, James was basically keeping King Records afloat with his hits, which seemed to come out every other week or so. One of the more curious phenomena of this period is that he was recording so many multi-part jams that sometimes King would release the parts as separate singles. ("World," which was covered in a post some time ago, received such a release - it should be noted, however, that the promo copies of that single presented the whole thing on one two-part 45.)

A continuation of what was becoming a James Brown "Popcorn" franchise, Part 1 of "Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn" was a #2 R&B hit in 1969, but for some reason it is under-recognized as one of Brown's funk masterpieces (of course, when a man has over 100 singles in his discography, something has to be left out). The guitars and horns slip and slide around each other so loosely that the arrangement sounds almost haphazard, but JB's equally-unfocused lyrics rise to the occasion and make the whole thing a nice funky 45. The 45 was backed with the ballad "Sometime," which is pretty good. Part 2 of "Let A Man Come In," listed on the label as "Part Two (Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn)" was released later that year, coupled with Part 2 of "Get a Little Hipper"(!) and, amazingly, it was also a hit - quite a testament to James Brown's hitmaking power at the time. The full version as presented here originally appeared on the King LP It's a New Day - Let a Man Come In.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Tribute to the Godfather: New Year's Resolution!

James Brown - Kiss in '77

As I discussed in the "Nature" post from last week, James Brown made a major stab at disco in his later-'70s albums, with diminishing results. To write off that era as a debacle, however, does JB disservice, as his albums generally included interesting material. The 1976 LP Bodyheat scored James a Top 20 R&B hit with its disco-funk title track (which is still a very popular rollerskating record in Chicago), but today's selection is indicative of other approaches JB was taking on wax at the time. Brown, always a good balladeer, stuck some great ballads on his albums that featured great arrangements and masterful singing. "Kiss in '77" was a minor hit, I believe, and it finds a pensive JB trying to rekindle a romance gone cold ("In 1975 I tried to love you," he sighs) by changing his ways. It's a soulful New Year's resolution that really works. Incidentally, the falsetto singer that comes in later in the song is JB's bass player, "Sweet" Charles Sherrell, whose People LP For Sweet People From Sweet Charles includes great (but at the time unheralded) funk and soul cuts like a great remake of "Soul Man" and "Treat Me Like a Man."