Friday, June 29, 2007
Donny Hathaway - Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)
Sometimes there's nothing like a nice get-down jam session to get someone in a weekend frame of mind, and so today's feature, a live Donny Hathaway recording, can lead the way! I'll defer to the All Music Guide for Hathaway's biographical details so as to get right down to cases.
"Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)" was the title track of Hathaway's 1970 Atco debut LP, and its groove had already inspired a cover version by the Soulful Strings (whose guitarist, session guitar ace Phil Upchurch, had actually played on the Hathaway album) by the time Hathaway did a nice long workout of it for his 1972 Live LP. Hathaway had some serious heavy-hitters behind him for this LP, most notably Cornell Dupree (who was probably the most in-demand session guitarist in R&B at the time) and bass guitarist Willie Weeks (more on him later), and this performance of "Voices Inside" found Hathaway and company stretching out in order to give almost every member of such a talented crew opportunities to solo. Hathaway, in a show of his classical training, refers to each section as a "movement" and the audience's enthusiasm builds with each one.
But then Willie Weeks steals the show with his "movement." Bass solos are often underappreciated in most recorded R&B and are, accordingly, infrequent. Willie Weeks' solo here ranks right up there with Bob Babbitt's legendary solo on Dennis Coffey's "Scorpio" and Fred Thomas' solo on "More Peas" by the J.B.'s as one of my favorite bass solos. Weeks starts off by laying a basic groove foundation but then he moves into more and more daring territory, culminating in a cascade of flurrying notes at the end of the solo that has the crowd cheering before he eases back into the tune's groove with a playful take on "Shortning Bread." Weeks' solo "makes" the recording, in my opinion, and I think it makes for a nice "get down" to take into the weekend. Get on down, y'all!
POSTSCRIPT - Donnie Hathaway's musical education included studies at Howard University, where he was friends with Carla Thomas, who was at the time the Queen of Stax Records (and was touring and recording during breaks and weekends). As I mentioned in my recent Carla Thomas post, Concord is going to issue, for the first time, a live album Carla recorded in D.C. in 1966 but that Stax did not release. Hathaway was part of Carla's backing band for the album; this may be one of the earliest recorded Hathaway appearances!
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Bunny Sigler - Love Train (Pts. 1 & 2)
Walter "Bunny" Sigler was no novice to showbiz when he took a break from his songwriting chores at Philadelphia International Records to record the 1974 LP That's How Long I'll Be Loving You, having had hits in the '60s for Cameo-Parkway (most notably with a medley of "Let the Good Times Roll" and "Feels So Good") and having penned quite a few hit records for Gamble and Huff's label, such as the O'Jays' "Sunshine." Although Sigler enjoyed a few hits at PIR (I believe today's selection was his biggest hit for the label) and then afterward for Goldmind and Salsoul, he never reached the level of success of many of his brothers-in-TSOP, but his recordings were consistently satisfying and showed off Sigler's immense talent.
Sigler's take on the O'Jays' 1972 smash "Love Train" was pulled from the 1974 album to be a two-part single that same year. Sigler turned the Philly dancer into a slow, churchy thing, with great effect. Taking the tempo down allows Sigler to really bring out the "People Get Ready" nature of the song's lyrics and the vocal work by the TNJ's (a group from Trenton, New Jersey that Sigler worked with) is the icing on the cake. Sigler gives the group ample opportunity to shine, with their humming intro effectively setting the tone of the tune and then providing a nice "church" moment later in the tune. After giving the group's hometown a shout-out, Sigler says "come, brothers; hum real pretty now." And they do!
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Simtec & Wylie - Put an Added Plus to Your Love
The story of Simtec & Wylie is told in part in a post I did some time ago regarding Simtec Simmon's "Limber Up" (which kicked off the latest podcast as well). Although the duo is best-known for their sides for Mister Chand in the '70s, some soul fans consider their 45s for Shama (Syl Johnson's label) to be their best. "Put an Extra Plus to Your Love" was coupled with "Gimme Some of What You Got," another fine funky 45, as a Shama single in 1970. This is sockin' soul power at its finest, with Simtec & Wylie bringing their usual hard singing to a strong groove.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I just learned from The Black Gospel Blog that legendary gospel artist Bill Moss, founder of The Celestials, brother of Mattie Moss Clark, uncle to the Clark Sisters, and father of gospel artist/producer J. Moss, not to be confused with the Capsoul label owner/"Sock It To 'Em Soul Brother" singer, has died. Moss & The Celestials were one of the earliest acts to bring a contemporary sound to gospel, as the YouTube clip shown below demonstrates. Moss owned the Bilesse label and the group recorded on Bilesse, Westbound and Jewel, to name a few labels, in a long, soulful career. I will feature a Celestials track the next "Sunday Gospel Time," but enjoy this appearance by the group on Jubilee Showcase in the meantime (note that at the end of the clip there are other related clips to enjoy also).
The Emotions - Runnin' Back (And Forth)
The five-year tenure of the Emotions on the Volt label (1969-74) yielded little in terms of hits - outside of their Volt debut, "So I Can Love You," which made a splash upon release, it would take an affiliation with Maurice White, who took them to the top with tunes like "Best of My Love" in the latter half of the '70s, to accomplish that - but did result in some good femme soul sides, my favorite being the funky "Blind Alley." "Runnin' Back (And Forth)" had two single releases on Volt in 1973, once as an A-side and then as the B-side to the Wattstax tie-in single of "Peace Be Still." An All Music Guide reviewer stated that "Runnin' Back," an Eddie Floyd-Mack Rice composition, "should have been cut by someone else." I think that's a bit unfair, as the group did a competent reading of the tune. It's true that it is nowhere near their best recordings, but it's a nice uptempo thing that is of some value, as Sheila Hutchinson and the group lay down some sass and their usual good harmony work.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Brook Benton - Let Me Fix It
After a long and successful tenure with Mercury Records, Brook Benton's career had started to wane, but hooking up with Atlantic in 1968 gave his career a major shot in the arm. He was assigned to the Cotillion subsidiary and he struck paydirt with Tony Joe White's atmospheric "Rainy Night in Georgia," a major R&B and pop hit in 1969. Benton stayed with Cotillion through 1972 but never hit big as he did with "Rainy Night in Georgia." He did, however, record a lot of good material, including a nice soul version of the Frank Sinatra anthem "My Way" and today's selection. After he left Cotillion he moved from label to label, leaving behind records on Stax (the great "I Keep Thinking To Myself," my personal favorite) and All Platinum, among others, but he never matched the successes of his early Mercury sides and the Cotillion material.
The fun and funky "Let Me Fix It" was the b-side of "Shoes" and was part of Benton's 1970 Cotillion LP Home Style. The tune starts off with Brook casually sings the first verse over a jazzy organ rhythm before the Dixie Flyers come in and bring a swamp soul groove to the proceedings. Brook opens up then, and with his velvet baritone he sweetly but aggressively - and apparently successfully - woos a female vocalist (uncredited on the Cotillion 45, but actually Cissy Houston, whose Sweet Inspirations provided backup vocals on the LP), whose responses to his lines change from sassy to inviting over the tune's four-and-a-half minutes. Benton, who wrote the tune, is having a lot of fun here, and by the time he's running scales with the phrase "fix it" by the end, he's won the listener over also. Fix it, Brook!
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Robert Banks - So Much To Thank Him For
Gospel singer, pianist and choral leader Robert Banks is best known among soul fans, and Northern Soul fans particularly, for the rocking "A Mighty Good Way" on Verve, which was featured on this blog some time ago. Banks recorded an album for Verve, The Message, which featured Banks and other soloists doing gospel tunes with touches of soul and pop such as "A Mighty Good Way" and today's selection. "So Much to Thank Him For" has a nice groove and good singing by Banks and a femme chorus.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Harmonica George - Get Some Order (About Yourself)
I don't know very much about Harmonica George, except that his "Get in the Kitchen and Burn" and "Get Some Order (About Yourself)" was a punchy 45 on Toddlin' Town from 1968 or 1969. Both sides feature a taut rhythm section and nice harmonica work from George, whose vocals have a King Coleman-esque sound. "Get in the Kitchen and Burn" appears on one of the first episodes of the podcast. "Get Some Order (About Yourself)" is featured today. The groove and George's vocals are joined by a male chorus on this one, and it's a fine record.
EDIT (6/23/07, 3:15 PM) - This in from Marc Demuynck:
(Liner Notes to Delmark LP 624-"Chicago Ain't Nothin' But A Blues Band")
Born June 12,1934 in Aberdeen,Mississippi,George W. Robinson learned harp from an older brother,Jesse.He came to Chicago in 1952 and started sitting-in in 1954.He began working with his own band a year later at The Embers,Grand & Damen,played the old Sylvio's at Oakleigh &Lake in 1956 with Elmore James,Howlin' Wolf and his own group.At the time these sides ("Sad And Blue / Sputnik Music"-for the Rev. Harrington's Atomic-H label) were recorded in the summer of 1959,he was working at the Happy Home,2200 blk. on West Madison.Other jobs have been with Elmore at the Grand Terrace Ballroom (famous for Jazz activity in the '20s and '30s) and a year later at the Playhouse Club,43d & Lake Park.After 1961 he worked as a cab-driver,though he has recorded for Toddlin' Town and Twinight since then.Perhaps Twinight will release an LP he made for them in July of 1969...(Bob Koester)
Friday, June 22, 2007
Louisiana Red - Ride On Red, Ride On
I'll start today's post with a plug: if you haven't already, take some time and check out Rob Baker's Hot Slop podcasts at Garagepunk.com (see links section). Rob's mixture of soul, garage, and '50s and '60s R&B (and Rob sure knows how to play some serious R&B rumpshakers!) is a guaranteed good time. Rob had considered ending the podcasts, but fortunately for all of us has decided to continue. I always enjoy hearing the show and hearing Rob spin at "Rhythm & Booze," where his picks keep dancers very happy.
Rob turned me on to today's selection when he guested at "Rhythm & Booze" back in May. I refer you to bluesman Louisiana Red's official website for biographical data about Red, born Iverson Minter, and about what he's up to now. "Ride On Red, Ride On" was a 1963 Roulette release that finds Red talking about his move to the North to escape Jim Crow discrimination, finding time to mention various "citizen's committees" and Little Rock along the way. Although Red is telling it like it was, the star of the tune is the highly-danceable groove, with its catchy bassline (try getting it out of your head after listening!) and great drumming. Ride on, Red! Ride on, Rob!
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Charles Leonard - Funky Driver on a Funky Bus (Pt. 1)
Today I'm grouchy and in a funk, so I picked a nice piece of funky complainin' for today's selection. Charles Leonard's 1971 Loadstone record "Funky Driver on a Funky Bus" finds Leonard grousing about a commute gone bad while a nice guitar-led funk groove pushes along. Today I join Leonard's "I was so mad, I wanted to cuss" sentiment, but at least this funky groover puts a little smile on my face!
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Fatback - Street Band
The Fatback Band's good-time groove graced recordings from the late '60s into the 1980s for Perception, Event and Spring (the later recordings credited only to "Fatback"), and although they never were as big as some of their contemporaries (like Kool & The Gang), the band's dancefloor slant, be it on minimalist funk records like "Wicky Wacky," disco-slanted stuff like "(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop" or club funk records like "Get Out On The Dance Floor" or the proto-rap "King Tim III (Personality Jock)," gave the group exceptional longevity and regular chart presence. Although I prefer the older Fatback material generally, finding the latter records to be too slick for my tastes, today's selection is a pleasant exception.
"Street Band" came from Fatback's 1980 Spring LP Hot Box, and it gained single release as the flip side to "Gotta Get My Hands On Some Money." "Street Band" features a nice shuffle groove that is more akin to records like "Doing It To Death" than to the go-go groove that was bubbling up at the time. After a very good sax solo sets the tone, the warm vocals and good-timing nature of the tune seals the deal, even down to the call-and-response scat singing at the end. Although some of the "1980 sound" sneaks in here and there (especially in the horn break late in the tune) the overall result is a pleasant throwback record. It's a funky good time!
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Gino Parks - My Sophisticated Lady
On the most recent edition of the podcast I included today's selection, but since I was trying to study for my Securities Regulation class while I was recording the show, I ended up questioning why Gino Parks' "My Sophisticated Lady" seemed to be trunctuated in the mix but then saying during the show's close that I must have been mixed up, because the tune was complete. Well, I was actually mixed up at that point, because the tune was trunctuated (it fades near the end of the last verse) - I must have accidentally hit a button or something while I was working on the show and studying simultaneously. To rectify that, I'll post the full tune today.
Gino Parks, who had recorded for Motown in the label's earliest days (his "For This I Thank You" is a great record I need to get a copy of for my collection), recorded "My Sophisticated Lady" for Golden World with Andre Williams producing. The intro features a proto-funk break beat (pretty funky for late 1965!) but then settles into a nice mid-tempo groove. Parks' (double-tracked?) vocals and the fine arrangement (dig how the strings quote "Any Day Now" in the tune's vamp and in the coda) really make this a nice one.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Darrell Banks - Open the Door to Your Heart
Darrell Banks' "Open the Door to Your Heart" is by no means a rare tune, so I won't write much about it except to say that if you don't know much about it or about Banks you can go to the Soulful Detroit site and learn plenty. The surging intro to this one is a great way to kick off a new week, so enjoy!
Friday, June 15, 2007
Betty Everett - You're No Good
Generally, I write the posts for this blog at work, during a twilight period between my arrival and my bosses' arrivals. It's one of the best times of day for me to get my wits about me, scan through my MP3 folder to pick something (although occasionally I will pick some MP3s in advance), gather my thoughts and then to write. Writing on the fly sometimes results in my making typos and poor grammatical choices (I try to proofread as I go but sometimes things get by me), but what I really hate is when it results in my giving factually incorrect information or omit very important information (in either case due to faulty memory or writing too quickly; trust me, I have no need to try to intentionally deceive anyone!) Today's post attempts to rectify one such omission.
When I did my first Betty Everett post back in April, I neglected to mention that Everett recorded and had an R&B hit with the original version of "You're No Good" (which Linda Ronstadt would take to the top of the pop charts a decade later). Ronstadt's version is a good record, to be sure, but the restraint of Everett's version, both in her vocal and the backing, is very appealing.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I mentioned this outstanding show on the podcast the other week, but I realized that I've been amiss in not putting up this gorgeous poster. John Ciba's Rabbit Factory presents this outstanding pair of concerts that are going to be phenomenal. Between the lineup of soul greats and the serious DJ lineup it's going to be nothing but soul nirvana, and only for $15! I'm not going to be able to attend, but I encourage anyone who lives in either city (or can travel to either city) to get over to one of the shows and to get on down!
Earl Gaines - Don't Take My Kindness For Weakness
Earl Gaines is one of the many Nashville figures whose star just didn't shine as brightly as it should have in the history of soul music. To be fair, Gaines fared better than many of his peers, having had one major hit at the beginning of his career, "It's Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)," on which he fronted Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, and two other hits later in his career. The Brooks record did well on its 1955 release (#2 R&B), but Gaines' plans to build a career off of the record were frustrated right away by Brooks and the band's disinclination to tour behind their hit. Undeterred, Gaines struck out as a solo, generally working with Nashville R&B guru Ted Jarrett (author of "It's Love Baby" and countless other Nashville R&B and soul sides). Over the next two decades Gaines would record plenty of great material for several labels, with notable stints at Hollywood, DeLuxe, Seventy-Seven (where he had his biggest solo hit with his cover of the Mighty Hannibal's "Hymn No. 5") and, as discussed below, HBR. Throughout all of the lean times, Gaines kept his day job as a truck driver and, after a 1975 Ace single went nowhere, Gaines mostly left music to focus on driving full-time. In the '90s, Gaines hooked up with Fred James and returned to the studio to release what has been a satisfying string of soul-blues albums as a solo and as part of the Excello All-Stars (which included the late Roscoe Shelton). He's still at it today, with this year's Crankshaft Blues being his latest CD.
Gaines' lack of greater success probably came in part from the fact that he sounded a whole lot like Bobby Bland, who at the time was ruling the charts with his soul-bent blues, but Gaines got a serious shot to usurp Bland's crown with his 1966 HBR LP Best of Luck to You, whose title track (which had previously been recorded by Sam Baker) was an R&B hit for him. (Unfortunately, the album and singles referred to him as "Earl Gains".) "HBR" stood for Hanna-Barbera Records, a short-lived attempt by the cartoon company to branch out into recording. Although HBR did release some records tied to children's music and their cartoons, they also leased in material from other sources like the Gaines set and Scatman Crothers' "Golly Zonk." Gaines' HBR sessions were produced by WLAC's Hoss Allen, who was his manager at the time, and featured Johnny Jones and the King Casuals as the backing band. It's a solid set of Nashville soul, featuring quite a few Ted Jarrett tunes (including a remake of "It's Love Baby," which Gaines has re-recorded quite a few times) and solid performances by Gaines and the band. "Don't Take My Kindness for Weakness" also garnered single release and it's one of my favorites of the HBR sides. Gaines gives the song a very warm reading and it's one of my favorites of the HBR recordings. Had this song been a Bobby Bland release on Duke it would've been a smash, as all of the trademarks of Bland's are there, but HBR didn't put enough muscle behind the single to get Gaines that type of success.
Fortunately for us soul fans, nearly all of Gaines' classic soul records have been reissued: Black Magic's CD 24 Hours a Day includes the entire HBR album and earlier material Gaines had recorded for Ted Jarrett; WestSide Records has put out Lovin' Blues: The Starday-King Years 1967-73, which hits all of the high spots of Gaines' tenure on Hollywood and DeLuxe, including the entire DeLuxe LP of the same name; and AIM Trading Group has recently put out The Lost Soul Tapes, which covers his tenure on Seventy-Seven. Listening to all of this material shows that Gaines was much more than just a Bobby Bland imitator. (And nowadays, Gaines' voice is in much better form than Bland's - on Crankshaft Blues he covers today's selection and it sounds almost as good as the original!) Had Gaines' luck been better, he could've been sitting on Bland's throne!
(Two quick post scripts: first, today's post was inspired by hearing Gaines' "I Have Loved and I Have Lived" on Brian Phillips' excellent "Electrophonic Sound" show over the weekend - go to Rockin' Radio (see links section) and check it out; secondly, when I mentioned Eli Reed yesterday I failed to mention the great show he's going to be part of - that post will go up immediately after I finish writing this - and I also failed to point you over to his website, on which you can hear his new single, "The Satisfier" - and trust me, it's satisfying!)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Mitty Collier - What Do You Want
Mitty Collier's legacy in the history of soul music is generally associated with Chicago and Chess Records, where she recorded the classic "I Had a Talk With My Man" and other fine records like "Sharing You" (my personal favorite of her Chess sides), which mixed a sophisticated Chicago soul sound with Collier's gospel contralto. In 1969, Mitty left Chess and signed with Stax singer William Bell's Atlanta-based Peachtree label for a three-year stint. None of her five Peachtree singles did well commercially, but all of them are outstanding. Today's selection was an unissued Peachtree recording that was included in the fantastic Grapevine compilation William Bell Presents Atlanta Soul: The Peachtree Records Story (see Brian Poust's review for more information about this must-have CD). "What Do You Want" is deep soul to the nth degree. The stunning opening is followed by Collier's fantastic reading of the tune. It's a powerful recording and it's one of my favorites on the CD.
A quick post script: after one post-Peachtree single in 1972 Collier decided to leave the secular music business and to return to the church. Now Rev. Mitty Collier, she pastors a church on the South Side of Chicago, where she helped retro soul man Eli "Paperboy" Reed forge his career during an apprenticeship as a church musician.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Carla Thomas - Guide Me Well
Today's post came about due to a very thought-provoking post by Preston on his excellent Memphis Sound: Lost and Found blog in response to a recent Memphis Commercial-Appeal article about the alleged lack of respect in Memphis for the legacy of Rufus and Carla Thomas. (Preston's post includes a link to the newspaper article.) In reading his strong remarks, the article, and responses to both by commenters to the blog (to which I added my two cents' worth), I couldn't help but feel sad about Marvell Thomas' perception that the Thomases are being slighted (see also on Preston's blog a Rufus Thomas interview excerpt in which Thomas himself mirrors that view), but I was even more sad about how Carla has basically been a recluse, making very sporadic appearances here and there. I decided that since, as I have stated before, Carla Thomas is my favorite female soul singer (period), I needed to do a post about her today.
By 1970, when her Memphis Queen LP was released, Carla was indeed the Queen, at least of Memphis soul (Aretha had usurped the "Queen of Soul" crown by 1968, some time after Carla's classic The Queen Alone LP), with her fantastic recordings for Stax. Carla's soulfulness, coupled with her great diction and poise, shone through on everything from ballads (from the Stax-establishing "Gee Whiz" to tunes like today's selection) to midtempo stuff like "B-A-B-Y" to sassier fare ("A Dime a Dozen"), but as Stax itself was changing gears at the dawn of a new decade, Carla's spotlight began to dim. As noted in the newspaper article, Stax was moving toward the funky '70s and Carla's sweeter style just didn't fit in as well. She bounced from producer to producer (including her brother Marvell and Detroit's Don Davis) and scored a few minor hits, but by the time she appeared at Wattstax in 1972, she was all but through as a recording artist and her final Stax 45 was released in 1973. After Stax folded she made music a part-time priority, and her apperances became more and more sporadic in the following two decades. She appeared pretty extensively in the 2002 documentary Only the Strong Survive, but it was clear that time had not been too kind to her: she was in great vocal form, but I will diplomatically say that she lacked all of the style and glamour that she had possessed in her heyday, making her part in the film pretty bittersweet to me.
Today, though, I choose to focus on just how great of an artist Carla Thomas is, and reach for one of her last hits, "Guide Me Well" from her Memphis Queen album, to put things back on a positive note. Carla's monologue makes up the bulk of the 1970 recording, and she really puts it over. When she moves into the gospelly song it moves me mightily and reminds me again and again why she's my favorite.
(POST SCRIPT - Despite the pessimism surrounding the Thomas legacy, there is at least one bright spot. As noted in the article, Concord Music, the new owners of the Stax catalogue, are taking a very aggressive tack in reissuing material, and in addition to the "Stax Profiles" compilations they released on both Rufus and Carla, they are working on a comprehensive Rufus Thomas compilation and are issuing, for the first time, a live album Carla cut in Washington, D.C. in the mid-'60s. So at least for us soul fans, the Thomas legacy lives on.)
Monday, June 11, 2007
Emanuel Laskey - I've got To Run For My Life
Detroit soulster Emanuel Laskey has appeared on this blog before, and his "Don't Lead Me On Baby" is part of the most recent podcast (#18). His great singing is worth another feature today, so without any further ado, here it is - "I've Got To Run For My Life." Run on, Emanuel! (Again, check out the article at Soulful Detroit that appears in the prior blog entry, and make sure to get Issue #3 of There's That Beat! to read the fond remembrance of Laskey that appears in its pages.)
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Rev. Cleophus Robinson - Sacred Meditation
The bluesy gospel sound of Cleophus Robinson has been featured on the blog before (see this post for more information about the famed preacher and singer). Today's selection was the flip of his Nashboro record "Wrapped Up, Tied Up, Tangled Up" and has been getting a lot of plays on the iPod lately, so I thought I'd feature it today.
When it comes to performing, the singing preacher has an advantage over other gospel singers because he or she can slide between preaching (which is a mighty performing art in its own right) and singing with tremendous ease. In live performance this will "wreck the house" - the preaching has stirred the crowd up so strongly that the singing is the "push" that sends people to shoutin', cryin' and carrying on. Records by the most famous singing preachers, like those of C.L. Franklin or W. Leo Daniels, would find the song coming at the tail of a sermon, and would go to the fade with shouting sisters in the background. (Over at the great Just Moving On blog, Cies comments about how any albums by Rev. Daniels he has found are always well-played; that's why!) Cleophus Robinson's "Sacred Meditation" is a studio cut, so the excitement level is somewhat lesser, but as Robinson spins his sermonette about the "mother and a son" he slips and slides in and out of preaching and singing, and by the time the moaning fade comes along you know you've had "church"!
(POST SCRIPT - If you need a little more of Rev. Robinson at work, check out this You Tube clip of Robinson singing on "TV Gospel Time" with the Loving Sisters, an outstanding gospel group in their own right!)
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Charles Spurling - That's My Zone (He's Pickin' On)
'60s and '70s soul artists not affiliated with James Brown are often overlooked in a discussion of King Records' soul legacy. Of course, to be fair, JB was really the bread and butter of the label with his numerous hits, but Cincinnati's soul scene had a lot going on, and King Records was there to record a lot of it. Fortunately the King soul catalogue has started to get more attention in the last decade or so, most notably from Ace/Kent, which to date has released two King Northern Soul comps, two King's Serious Soul discs, the King New Breed Rhythm & Blues comp, and ...King Funk to show off a wide range of material. Joining the fray is the Spanish Vampi Soul label with Crash of Thunder, available both on CD and on vinyl (as ten reissue 45s). WFMU's Mr. Fine Wine ("Downtown Soulville") did a great job picking out a set of soul dancers, funky soul and outright funk that is certainly worth checking out.
Charles Spurling makes a couple of appearances on the set, and today's selection is one of my favorites. (I refer you to my "Popcorn Charlie" post for more on Spurling, including a very informative comment from Christopher Burgan about Spurling and his career.) "That's My Zone (He's Pickin' On)" is a serious Northern Soul-bent groover on which Spurling warns that he's just about had it with this guy trying to get close to his girl. Although Spurling's vocals don't quite sound as threatening as his lyrics, the heavy horn chart and insistent groove makes it clear that he's as serious as a heart attack! Stay out of the "Spurling zone," if you know what's good for you (except to dance, of course)!
A reader of the blog recently emailed me to tell me that he met Spurling at a music store in Cincinnati recently. Spurling was impressed with the writer's keyboard playing and, after he had told him about some of his credentials, asked the writer to do some keyboard work for him in the future. I wish the both of them luck!
Friday, June 08, 2007
Lowell Fulsom - Lovin' Touch
Lowell Fulsom's blues records have graced three episodes of the podcast so far and one blog entry, so it's obvious that I really like his work. So, to go into the weekend, I think a Fulsom funky blues is just what the doctor ordered. After "Tramp" was a hit for Fulsom (and Otis and Carla took it to new heights with their cover version), Fulsom and associates went back to the well for several follow-up records. Personally, I prefer the follow-up records, because the shaky groove of "Tramp" is strengthened in the latter records and the arrangements are sharper: with "Make a Little Love" (featured on Episodes 4 and 16 of the podcast), the faster groove and femme background singers really sell the song, and with "Lovin' Touch," today's selection, the groove is hard-hitting and the horn charts are very effective. Fulsom's in full confidence with the funk by this time, and his usual warm vocals are very nice.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Harmon Bethea - Talking About The Boss And I
Some time ago the MadPriest featured today's selection, along with its flip, "Roaches," on his long-defunct music blog, but I'd like to dust it off here to be today's post. Harmon Bethea, the Maskman, has been covered on this blog before (go here for my short write-up about Bethea and his records) and has made appearances on a few podcasts, so I'll just jump right into today's post with no further ado.
"Talking About The Boss And I," a 1973 Musicor single billed in Bethea's Christian name, finds the Maskman putting a dollop of '70s funk into the proto-rap formula he had perfected with his '60s hits "One Eye Open" and "My Wife, My Dog, My Cat." On this record, the nagging wife is replaced by a racist boss, and the Maskman can't help but to react. "Don't you *ever* slip up and call me a 'boy' no more," he bellows. "If you *ever* slip up and call me a 'boy' again, I'll hang a sign over your eyes saying 'Closed For The Weekend'!" Whatever black pride sentiment the tune has ("there ain't no more 'yes ma'am' and 'yassuh' - the word is 'right on'!") is somewhat deflated by the last verse, which slips back into the Maskman's usual comic territory, but by then he had made his point.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The Soul Children - Hearsay
The Soul Children made their debut on this blog awhile back ago, and I'll refer you to my prior post about them for the group's history. The strutting 1972 record "Hearsay" was a #5 R&B chart hit (and was just outside of the Pop Top 40 at #44) that was written by Norman West and John Colbert (aka "J. Blackfoot"), the group's two male vocalists, and it's one of my favorites by the group and one of my favorite "finger-snappin'" era Stax 45s.
"Hearsay" is one of those tunes where everything just fits together the right way. The vocals are outstanding: Blackfoot really lays down the lyrics; the group provides very strong vocals at the ends of the verses and with the "he said, she said you did it" riff in the tune's midsection and coda; and Blackfoot and one of the female singers (which one I forget) do a good spoken interlude in the middle of the record. The groove is so "in the pocket" that you would think it was a record from the label's "stax-o-wax" era. Of course, it didn't hurt matters that Stax founder Jim Stewart, along with Al Jackson, produced the cut (Stewart had pretty much removed himself from producing at Stax by '72, tending instead to the numerous business details the then-burgeoning label had), and having Donald "Duck" Dunn playing bass on the record shaped that groove as well. (Rob Bowman notes that Colbert and West wrote the song to be faster, but Duck couldn't play his part the way they envisioned it, so the compromise was a more relaxed groove.) This is good ol' Southern soul get down, no doubt about it!
It should be noted that Bowman also writes that live performances of the song were also very good, as Norman West would get involved in the little skit, playing an instigator. He's right - check out the version of the tune the group does on the Wattstax soundtrack: the tempo is quicker but also hard-hitting; the vocals are very good, of course; and the skit is great ("I don't give a damn what Shirley has to say")!
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Gideon & Power - Follow Your Dream
A few years ago a spring cleaning session at my wife's grandmother's house resulted in my bringing home a bunch of old LPs that belonged to my wife's late uncle. Gideon & Power's I Gotta Be Me was without a sleeve and pretty banged up, but upon playing it I was pretty impressed. A quick search of eBay netted me a mint copy of the album and gave rise to today's mystery.
I have been unable to find out much about gospel singer Gideon Daniels except that he and his multiethnic group, Power, cut the LP I Gotta Be Me around 1972 and at least one single, "Hallelujah (I Feel Like Shouting)" b/w "I'm Movin' On," for Bell. I have also learned that Daniels was friends with Elvin Bishop (he provided some vocals for Bishop's Let It Flow album), and that at one point Power included singer Mickey Thomas, who would later join forces with Bishop (he's the singer on the classic "Fooled Around and Fell in Love") and then become part of Jefferson Starship. If anyone has any further information about Gideon & Power, it would be greatly appreciated.
The I Gotta Be Me LP was produced by New Orleans expats Harold Battiste and Melvin Lastie. Gideon & Power bring a "gospel-meets-Woodstock" touch to the proceedings, recorded live at a Los Angeles (or maybe San Francisco - my memory fails me as to the record liner notes) nightclub. Gideon's high tenor and falsetto whoops effectively carry tunes like the black pride-oriented "I Gotta Be Me," gospel ballads like "I'm Movin' On" (the live version presented on the LP includes a funny yet scathing sermonette from Gideon, delivered in a growling preacher voice, about the misuse of Christianity - "Jesus is cool, but he don't pay the rent," Gideon says), and "flower power"-optimistic tunes like "Peace and Love" and today's selection. "Follow Your Dream" features a nice slow funk groove with some great New Orleans-styled piano playing, rhythmic hand clapping and Gideon's soulful lead vocal. It's an uplifting groover that is a highlight of the LP. Now only to find out more about this group!
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Episode #18 of the podcast is now online and can be downloaded from the links section! Here's the playlist:
1. Simtec Simmons & Band - Limber Up
2. Jimmy Holiday - I've Been Done Wrong
3. Homer Banks - A Lot Of Love
4. Johnny & Jake - It's A Mess I Tell Ya'
5. Rose Batiste - Come Back In A Hurry
6. Emanuel Lasky - Don't Lead Me On Baby
7. Otis Redding - "Stay In School" PSA
8. Jimmy McCracklin - My Answer
9. Little Johnny Taylor - Zig Zag Lightning
10. Wallace Johnson - Something To Remember You By
11. Albert Collins - Do The Sissy (background music)
12. Soul Brothers Six - Thank You Baby For Loving Me
13. The Valentinos - I've Got Love For You
14. Fontella Bass - Coca-Cola Radio Ad
15. Gino Parks - My Sophisticated Lady
16. Ike & Tina Turner - Tell Her I'm Not Home
17. The Gospel Stars - Have You Any Time For Jesus
18. Eddie Purrell - The Spoiler
19. The Kittens - Ain't No More Room
20. Ollie & The Nightingales - You're Leaving Me
21. Betty Everett - Your Love Is Important To Me
22. Lattimore Brown - Bless Your Heart (I Love You)
23. The Lafayette Leake Trio - After Hours (closing theme)
Friday, June 01, 2007
Bill Cosby - Mouth of the Fish
After the fleeting tease of funk in yesterday's post it's only fair to provide a full-on, full-length funker to go into the weekend!
The '60s and '70s soul and funk forays of Bill Cosby have been covered on this page before, and again I will refer you to the great article at Funky 16 Corners about Cosby's musical projects for more information. What's neat about the Cosby musical records is that on all of them he surrounded himself with top-notch musicians who were able to turn what would otherwise be a collection of novelty -and perhaps even vanity - recordings into gems that record collectors and soul fans can appreciate. The Hooray For The Salvation Army Band LP had the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band working out the funk behind Cosby's strained singing, and subsequent LPs found the Cos working with some of the top jazz and soul session artists. Two LPs that merit particular interest in relation to high-level musical talent are the Bill Cosby Presents Badfoot Brown and the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band albums that came out in 1970 and 1971 on Uni and Sussex, respectively. The Uni LP consisted of two long instrumentals, the moody "Martin's Funeral" (based on the assassination and funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.) and a freewheeling funky jam session entitled "Hybish, Shybish." The Sussex LP was a mixed bag of material, and from that LP comes today's selection.
The Sussex Bunions Bradford album found longtime Cosby musical collaborator Stu Gardner lending his talents to the proceedings and some vocals, too, on tunes like the eccentric "Blues" (whose lyrics are silly enough to sound like a "Cosby Show" joke but features an interesting arrangement) and today's selection. "Mouth of the Fish" is straight-up funk, and it hooks you (pun intended) right away with an awesome drum-and-bass groove. Gardner brings gospel fire to the vocals and the background singers provide strong support, but the groove is the star of this recording, and accordingly the last half of the record is instrumental. That half of the record is the funkiest two minutes you'll ever associate with Bill Cosby: there's some horn solos, but then the band reprises the intro and a piano rides that groove on home.
Cosby would go on to record several more musical LPs throughout the '70s, all with Gardner's involvement, for Capitol and Stax (the At Last Bill Cosby Finally Sings LP on Partee; note also that Gardner released a solo LP, Stu Gardner & The Sanctified Sound, on Enterprise), and Gardner would work with Cosby from those days onward, composing the theme to "The Cosby Show" and then working with Bill on some jazz albums in the '90s.