Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Stepfather of Soul Wasn't Born a Stepfather; Vinyl Made Him

Vinyl Record Day is here, and I have spent the last two days thinking about what I was going to write as my contribution to the blogswarm that J.A. set in motion over a month ago. I didn't think I would be the last person to write, so I've found myself thinking and rethinking my post as I have read the posts from all of the other blog participants. I have admired the stories of those who are older than me, those who came of age when vinyl was king; I have admired the stories of those whose record collections make mine seem like only a couple of discs laying about (and envy their collections, obviously); and I have enjoyed seeing that in all cases, records and the music contained in their grooves have been (and will continue to be, in one way or another) an important part of their life. With all of their good work in mind, here is my contribution to the blogswarm. (Please note that I reference some older "Get on Down ..." posts here; the audio links for each have been renewed. Also note, for reasons discussed in "Chapter Three" below and otherwise, not all MP3s presented here are ripped from vinyl.)

CHAPTER ONE - My love of music started with my parents' vinyl.

My parents had a decent-sized vinyl collection when I was a kid. They were no audiophile record collectors, to be sure: all of the 45s were unsleeved, as were most of the albums. The record collection was actually pretty static: because my parents were heavily into 8-track tapes, most of the records had been purchased by either or both of my parents before they got married (1972) or before I was born (1974); as a result, I didn't grow up hearing the hits of the late '70s or '80s on vinyl, but instead via 8-track or on the radio. At any rate, the records that they did own were played fairly frequently (by my mother, mostly, who was a stay-at-home mother), and I always enjoyed hearing them and watching them spin around and around.

From those records I got my very first taste of several genres of music. The first blues record I ever heard was Slim Harpo's "Baby Scratch My Back" b/w "I'm Going to Miss You (Like the Devil)," a blue-label Excello repressing. The sexual overtones of "Scratch My Back" went right over my head, of course, but the tune remains a favorite, even to the present day. The first tastes of funk came, naturally, from James Brown and, less naturally, from the Village Soul Choir, by way of "Hot Pants" and "The Cat Walk" b/w "The Country Walk," respectively. Johnnie Taylor's "Love Depression" was the first B-side to totally capture my interest, thanks to my mom's favoritism toward it. Pigmeat Markham's Chess LP The Trial was the first comedy record, and by the time I was ten years old I knew every routine on the record cold, be it the "Here Comes the Judge" routine that comprised almost all of the first side of the album or the "My Wife, I Ain't Seen Her" bit that kicked off side two.

For some reason, Atlantic Records was a bigger presence in my home than Motown, although we had a fair share of the latter product also ("I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)" by the Temptations was my favorite from Detroit at the time). I listed five of the most influential Atlantic recordings in my Ahmet Ertegun tribute post from last year, and I'll defer to it rather than go into details. We had one Atlantic LP, though, which was literally an encyclopedia of soul for me to absorb, an album called The Super Hits. Super Hits was an "Atlantic Group" LP which featured tracks released on Atlantic, Dial and Stax (although at the time I didn't understand anything about Atlantic's distribution structure, and how important Stax was as a label in its own right), and from there I learned so many seminal recordings: "In the Midnight Hour," "Knock On Wood," "B-A-B-Y," "Philly Dog," "S.Y.S.L.J.F.M. (The Letter Song)," "Baby, I'm Yours," "Skinny Legs and All," "Hold On, I'm Coming," etc. It was probably the most important LP I heard growing up.

And then there was gospel. My first gospel stuff came from three LPs my parents owned. The first was My Bible Is Right by the Bethlehem Gospel Singers. The Bethlehems recorded for HSE, the Hoyt Sullivan label which I have discussed in several posts. (When I interviewed Larry Blackwell, who now owns the HSE catalogue, he told me that the Bethlehems were strong sellers for the label despite their technical limitations - Blackwell recalled being seated next to Shirley Caesar at a gospel dinner and having Caesar tell him that she thought My Bible Is Right was an awful album but that she was amazed by its success; I suppose that's what you can do when you have WLAC and Hoss Allen plugging your records!) We played that scratchy album to death in our home in those days, and we knew every last song on the album. My brother and I actually had a little "bit" where we would alternate singing lead and backup on various songs. I would tackle Part One of the title track and he'd do Part Two; he'd lead "Jesus Is Mine" and I would do "God's Word" and "Let's Talk About Jesus." My mother's favorite was "Give Me a Little Bit Longer," and she actually sang it at church once. My grandpa always wanted my brother and me to sing "My Bible Is Right" at church, but we never did. These tunes, and a few others from the LP, are presented here:

1. My Bible Is Right (Pt. 1)
2. My Bible Is Right (Pt. 2)
3. The 23rd Psalm
4. Jesus Is Mine
5. I'm Depending On Jesus
6. Give Me a Little Bit Longer
7. God's Word
8. Let's Talk About Jesus

In addition to My Bible Is Right there was a Peacock compilation whose title I don't recall, but from there I heard the Pilgrim Jubilees sing "Steal Away" and the Jackson Southernaires do "Too Late," which I covered in a fairly recent post. And then, to cap it all off, there was the sermonology and singing of Rev. W. Leo Daniels (known best for his sermon "What In Hell Do You Want?"), on the Jewel LP Build Your Own Fire. It was powerful stuff.

With all of this music around me, from the age of nine or so to the present day, I enjoyed the vintage soul/blues/funk/gospel sound more than any contemporary stuff. So the foundation was set!

CHAPTER TWO - Get on Down With the Teenaged Record Collector of Soul (And More)!

Right off of the town square in Jamestown, Kentucky, my mom's hometown, is a little thrift store owned by a gentleman of the surname Skaggs. I can't recall the name of the store, but Skaggs's is open every Saturday and Monday, and when I was a teenager it was the place to go to get records. He had this old wooden display case that was chock-full of 45s and LPs. He would sell the 45s for ten cents each or three for a quarter, and would sell the LPs for a quarter, if I recall correctly. Like most thrift stores, most of the records were of the '50s easy listening variety (I always joke that Salvation Army stores are where Andy Williams and Liberace albums go to die), but from some undisclosed place Skaggs would get stacks upon stacks of '60s and '70s rock, soul, funk and disco records, and as a high schooler and then as a college student, there were days when I would literally go in the store, spend about $6 to $10 and leave with as many as 100 records, ranging from stuff like Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream and Other Delights (whose cover art is iconic enough to appear in one of the other Vinyl Record Day posts) to P-Funk to Mozart to B.B. King to MFSB, represented here by "Something For Nothing", the flip to "TSOP." I would then go to my grandmother's house and play them, keeping the ones I liked and throwing away those I didn't. More often than not, I'd keep more than I bought, as I had found a system: I would always buy stuff if it was on Hi, Stax, Atlantic, Motown, Philadelphia International, etc.; I would always buy blues stuff; I would always buy stuff that had a name I recognized in the songwriter or production credits; and I would always buy stuff if it looked interesting. Sometimes I'd really hit the jackpot, like the time I bought about 15 James Brown and JB-produced singles (giving me my first exposure to Bobby Byrd, the J.B.'s and tunes like "I'm a Greedy Man"), and then there were days I'd find records that I considered so wretched that I would break them before I threw them away (a habit I wish I hadn't have developed, as I broke and threw away a copy of "Oh, Julie" by the Crescendoes and a couple of 45s by the black country singer O.B. McClinton).

Of course, Skaggs's store wasn't the only game in town, as I hit other thrift stores, junk stores and yard sales at the time. From these other sources I was introduced to Redd Foxx 8-tracks and to two albums which turned me on to Latin music. Machito's Mambo Holiday (I think that was the title) was an unsleeved Harmony LP (Harmony was a budget imprint of Columbia) whose hot mambos brought something different to my old bedroom stereo. "Carambola," "Bee-Ree-Bee-Kym-
(sang by Machito's femme vocalist, Graciela) and "Bongo Fiesta" were my favorites from the LP and are still three of my favorite Latin tunes today. I also acquired from some place Bossa Nova: The New Sound in Jazz from South America by The Brasileros. The Bossa Nova LP was on Diplomat, a budget label not unlike a great many that flooded supermarket record racks in the '50s and '60s, and the LP holds the honor of being one of the records I've owned the longest (more on that below), as I still own it - and play it - today. The Brasileros, probably some group thrown together for a studio date, do their Stan Getz impersonations proud, and I still enjoy listening to "Desafinado" and "One Note Samba". (Not long ago I found a Diplomat discography that revealed that the Brasileros had two LP's on the label, and I learned that the Bossa Nova LP is a collectable worth about $30 if in mint condition.) Also, thrift shop digs in my college days exposed me to the fact that Stax Records (unsuccessfully) tried its hand at recording rock, and records like the Hot Dogs's "Another Smile" (Ardent)and Skin Alley's "Bad Words and Evil People" (Stax) have remained '70s rock favorites of mine despite their lack of commercial success when released.

CHAPTER THREE - CDs and MP3s: A Vinyl Hiatus

During my college days the era of CD reissues of classic blues, soul and jazz came into full bloom, and my knowledge of vintage music exploded with exposure to MCA/Universal's Original Chess Masters series, the three Complete Stax-Volt Singles boxed sets and Fantasy's aggressive reissue of the post-1968 Stax catalogue, and the Ace/Kent reissues. After college I moved to Chicago, where plenty of vinyl abounded (and where I did buy some material), but I bought loads of CDs and relatively few records between 1997 and 2005.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century I got into file sharing and MP3s, and I did an act that is so inconsistent with Vinyl Record Day: I threw away about 90% of my record collection. As one can imagine, the records I bought at Skaggs's store and at yard sales were not sleeved, and I had acquired most of the material in digital format. Why listen to scratched up 45s when you can have clear, digital-quality recordings, right? So they got the old heave-ho, save for some rarer stuff. Fortunately, some new friends would set me on the right path.

CHAPTER FOUR: Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul!

When I moved to Georgia in 2005 I was introduced to Brian Poust, Georgia Soul guru, and in October of that year I went to "Rhythm & Booze" for the first time. To see Tim Lawrence and Brian spinning killer soul 45s stirred something up inside, first to start this very blog, and then to get back to collecting records (instigated in part by an invitation by Tim to spin sometimes, which I couldn't accept because I didn't have any records!) Thanks to eBay and the occasional record fair, I have a relatively small (a couple of hundred 45s) but growing collection of records, all sleeved and in great playing condition (I quickly learned the Goldmine standards: I think record collecting is one of the few areas where something that is "very good" is not really that hot). Although I am not wealthy enough to buy as many records as I would like (or to spend more than $30 on average for any record), vinyl has reclaimed its rightful spot in my heart, and I am glad to be able to share it with the world via the internet.


Vinyl Record Day is very special to me, because vinyl played such an important part in the furtherance of one of my biggest passions, the enjoyment of music. I was fortunate to have heard so much great stuff on my parents' turntable as a child, and to have appreciated what I was hearing. I'm thankful that the music stuck with me as I grew older, and that as my knowledge grew about the music vinyl was always part of the equation. Now that "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul" is read throughout the world and I communicate with so many wonderful people, I am glad to know that the vinyl I acquire today serves as a key to the community. Thank you, Mr. Bartlett, for making this blogswarm happen. Happy Vinyl Record Day to all!


whiteray said...

Nicely done, with a good selection of music. I should add that I've enjoyed your blog for some time, and yours was one of the blogs that gave me the idea of starting my own. Thanks!

Red Kelly said...

'... I threw away about 90% of my record collection'


thanks for sharing so much great music & memories... even if they are painful ones!

Cies said...

'I was fortunate to have heard so much great stuff on my parents' turntable as a child, and to have appreciated what I was hearing.'

Didn't we all?
As soon as I discoverd the Reach Out album by the Four Tops, some Atlantic/Stax compilations, James Brown's Live At the Appollo and a best of Muddy Waters in my father's record collection it made an everlasting impression on me.

Still being Vinyl Day and all, I can't wait to see the day when the HSE catalogue is available on CD.

Andrea said...

If you like soul, there's a really amazing album that just came out on HackTone - 'First Landing' by The Dynamics. It is excellent - a rare soul album that slipped under the radar. They're touting it as a mix of smooth Detroit and gritty Memphis soul and I agree -- the opening song is killer! Of course, there's a MySpace -

Agent45 said...

Well I certainly didn't hear anything hip from my parents record collection, but at least they were very patient and accommodating for the stuff that I used to bring home from Quicksilver Records with my lunch money (thanks Mom & Pop!)

And don't give Tim and I too much credit. It was stirring inside you all along. Let's call Tim the fuse and I the lighter :)

Great read as always, Jason.