Friday, November 30, 2007

Jock Soul!

Paul "Sir Raggedy" Flagg - Shoo Fly Pie

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

King Pins and Kelly Brothers, Together In One Post!

The King Pins - A Lucky Guy

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Funk From The Isley Empire

The Isley Brothers - Black Berries (Pt. 1)

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gettin' In The Christmas Spirit With Darlene Love!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

And Now #23!

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wilson's Magic

Wilson Pickett - Only I Can Sing This Song

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Every Day!

Bobby Powell - Thank You

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

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

John Holt - Sister Big Stuff

Dennis Alcapone - Teach the Children (aka Teacher Teacher)

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Back Beat Soul!

Eddie Wilson - Get Out In The Street

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


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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Get on Down With The Kids!

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

The 3 Stars - Jersey Slide (Pt. 1)

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good Timin' R&B!

Wynonie Harris - Big Old Country Fool

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Back Beat Soul, or, the Compilation Blues

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Smooth NOLA Soul

Robert Parker - I Caught You In A Lie

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Under the Power of Joe Tex!

Joe Tex - Under Your Powerful Love

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Go Out to the Dixie Mockingbirds' Programs?

The Dixie Hummingbirds:

Let's Go Out To The Programs

Let's Go Out To The Programs #2

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Soul Blues Saturday: Both Sides of Bobby Rush

Bobby Rush - I Need Someone

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2007

VIP Soul!

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

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

Little Richard - Get Down With It

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tuesday Is Blues Day With The Fat Man

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

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

Monday, November 05, 2007

Cinematic Soul!

The Forevers - Soultown

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

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

The Mighty Voices of Wonder - I Thank The Lord

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

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

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Talkin' BS With the Isley Brothers

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

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