Friday, September 28, 2007

A Soul Meeting: Motown and New Orleans

Earl King - Three Knocks on My Door

The late singer/guitarist/songwriter Earl King was a powerhouse of New Orleans R&B, having hits like "Trick Bag" and "Those Lonely, Lonely Nights" and having written classics such as Willie Tee's "Teasin' You" and Lee Dorsey's "Do-Re-Mi." King's career as a recording artist, however, was cut off abruptly in 1963 by the initial shuttering of Imperial Records (which would come back later in the decade as a Liberty Records subsidiary), and it would not be until the '80s and '90s that King would reach acclaim as a recording artist with blues albums on Black Top. This almost was not the case, however. After Imperial folded, King and several other New Orleans acts auditioned for Motown, which at the time was still trying out a diverse range of music to release while what would eventually be known as "The Sound of Young America" was still taking shape. King recorded several sides, but none saw the light of day after Berry Gordy was sued by Joe Ruffino, who claimed to have Joe Jones and Johnny Adams (who had joined King on the audition) contracted to his Ric/Ron setup. Fortunately, as always, the CD era resulted in the release of three of King's audition sides on the interesting comp Motown's Blue Evolution. Today's selection is my favorite of the three.

"Three Knocks on My Door" is a very atmospheric minor-key ballad with great horn charts (I like how they keep the mood nice and heavy, and the dramatic lines in the choruses) and an anguished vocal by King. There is no "Detroit" in this record; this is totally a New Orleans thing, and it really works. It makes one wonder what would have happened had Motown been able to make the New Orleans connection. I figure what eventually became the "Motown sound" would still have won out in the end, as it earned Gordy crossover success and lots and lots of money, but it may have allowed for a little more diversity in the Motown catalog. Unfortunately, we will never know.


Brian Phillips said...

The Motown Sound had it's pluses and minuses. Along the same lines, "Fire" by Gino Parks could have been one of the biggies that didn't have that sound.

However, there is also, "Indiana Wants Me" by R. Dean Taylor (oy!). This CERTAINLY wasn't your typical Motown record. For those who don't know this one, stick with "There's a Ghost In My House"

The Stepfather of Soul said...

You are right to mention R. Dean Taylor and Gino Parks ... there were indeed great deviations from the "Motown Sound" out there, but I can only wonder what could've happened had Motown went for a more diverse catalog. I think that the hits we all know and have heard a billion times made enough money that Motown could've easily did other records with no risk of destroying the business. But I guess when your company makes money hand over fist like Motown did, you only think about making more of said money!