Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wednesday Is Blues Day, So Says John R!

Bobby Hebb - You Gotta Go

Today's post yet again continues the series of posts I've done regarding the SPV/Blue Label Nashville compilations. (See the first and second posts for more information about the project and selections from The Rogana Story and The Ref-O-Ree Records Story.) Today's selection comes from The Rich Records Story: Music City, Motor City & The Big Easy, which features WLAC DJ John Richbourg's early '60s Rich label. Although John R's later involvement with Joe Simon and Monument's Sound Stage Seven concern constitute his best-known off-air contributions to R&B history, quite a few great records came out on Rich, including sides on Lattimore Brown, the first J. J. Barnes records (John R had some connections in Detroit), fine Southern soul by Dee & Lola, a few jive-talking 45s by the WLAC jock himself and the early sides of Bobby Hebb, one of which is featured today.

Bobby Hebb struck pop and R&B paydirt for Philips in 1966 with his bittersweet "Sunny," a song covered so frequently by subsequent peformers of various genres (including a jazz version by James Brown!) that a couple of great compilations of nothing but "Sunny" covers have been issued, but Hebb also had a knack for harder stuff, and his Rich sides cover the raw R&B and blues bases nicely. (Hebb would make appearances also on Hoss Allen's The Beat TV show, and his "down-on-my-knees-soul-man" routine is a highlight of the series, as is an oddball moment where Hebb relives his "Grand Old Opry" origins by playing the spoons!) "You Gotta Go" is a swinging blues with quite ominous lyrics - Hebb encourages his philandering woman to leave while she can, while his desire to commit bodily harm is still checked. Quite a ways from "Sunny," to be sure!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chicken Pickin' Time!

Larry Birdsong - I'll Pick My Own Chicken

Today's post continues last week's discussion of SPV's Blue Label Nashville soul and R&B compilations, focusing this time on the The Ref-O-Ree Records Story: Southern Soul volume. Ref-O-Ree was started by the ubiquitous Nashville R&B figure Ted Jarrett in the late '60s, and despite some fine recordings by Roscoe Shelton, Larry Birdsong, Freddie Waters, The Avons ("Tell Me Baby (Who Would I Be)" being one of most outstanding Nashville Northern Soul sides out there, in my opinion) and others, the lack of adequate distribution and changing times in the music business did the label in. Quite a few of the tracks on The Ref-O-Ree Records Story previously appeared on the Kent comp Music City Soul, which provided a broader overview of Jarrett's soul sides of the '60s, but there's plenty of material on the Blue Label disc to make it a worthy purchase on its own.

Larry Birdsong was covered in a post last month featuring "Digging Your Potatoes", and today he returns to the blog with his last secular 45. "I'll Pick My Own Chicken" follows up on the "take care of your homework" theme of "Potatoes" with its oddball barnyard-themed lyrics. It's pretty silly, to be frank, but the groove is nice and Birdsong brings his usual quirky intensity to the performance.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Get on Down With Ben E. King!

Ben E. King - Do It in the Name of Love

Ben E. King's pop-slanted R&B crooning of the early '60s, both as a member of the Drifters and then as a solo act, cemented his place in the history of rock and roll and R&B, and by the time his career had run out of steam in the late '60s (despite some harder-hitting soul sides for Atco and his participation in the ill-fated "Soul Clan"), he had plenty of laurels to rest upon. And rest he did, focusing on oldies circuit performance rather than recording, save for four singles and two LPs for Maxwell and Mandala in 1970 and 1972. In 1975, at the urging of Ahmet Ertegun, King rejoined the Atlantic family and made a roaring comeback with the disco-funk smash "Supernatural Thing." After a couple of further hits, including today's selection and some collaborations with the Average White Band, King re-entered the oldies circuit for good, and he's still out there doing his thing today. (See the Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks profile of King for the full story of King's career.)

"Do It in the Name of Love" (not to be confused with Candi Staton's great 1972 FAME record) was the follow-up to "Supernatural Thing," and it was a second hit for King in 1975, although it is generally overlooked nowadays. After a nice gospelly intro, a bumping groove kicks in and King and the backup singers lay down some serious call-and-response. It's some great "get down" to start the week with!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hitch It To The Hoss!

Tiny Watkins - Words of a Dying Man

As readers of this blog are aware, I constantly champion the sounds of Nashville soul, and love to feature tunes from that little-heralded scene. It's not surprising, then, that I was thrilled to learn that the German SPV concern's Blue Label was working with Bluesland Productions to do comps featuring Bluesland's Nashville soul and R&B holdings, which include the Ted Jarrett labels of the '50s and '60s, John R's Rich Records label, the Bullet/Sur-Speed concern and, as featured today, Bill "Hoss" Allen's Rogana production concern (see SPV's Blue Label page and the Bluesland Productions website, which also refers to a couple of comps they did in association with R.O.A.D. Records).

The Rogana Story: Hossman's Blues features the WLAC DJ / The Beat!!!! emcee's productions under the Rogana imprimatur, which he started when he found it easier to lease his productions to other labels than to try to keep his Hermitage label afloat. Although the only Rogana act to obtain any significant level of success was Earl Gaines, whose "Best of Luck to You" hit on HBR in 1966, the records Hoss leased to Excello, Bragg, Jewel and other labels on Gaines and other Nashville soul luminaries like Jimmy Church, Rodge Martin, Lucille Mathis and Frank Howard were outstanding and many of them are well-known in the rare soul scene.

One of my favorite Rogana artists is the late Tiny Watkins, whose deep voice added tremendous gravitas to ballads like "A Soldier's Sad Story" and "Forbidden Fruit" and resonated warmly on dancers like "Way Across Town" (one of the best weapons in my DJ arsenal) and today's selection. According to the Rogana Story liner notes, Watkins only had four 45s released before his untimely death, which is a shame because the tunes I've heard are all of very high quality and maybe he could've caught a break had he lived. The perhaps-prophetic "Words of a Dying Man" finds Watkins contemplating imminent mortality and seeking forgiveness from his true love over a strutting groove.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Still Doin' Stuff With Eccentric Soul!

Perk Badger - Do Your Stuff

I've praised the Numero Group's Eccentric Soul series of rare soul compilations quite a few times on this blog, and I am continually thrilled at the top-notch material they keep putting out. I just got a copy of the latest volume, Outskirts of Deep City, which is the second volume of the series to cover the Miami-based Deep City label and its affiliates. (I discussed this earlier comp in a prior post.) The new comp is the product of further digging by the Numero crew, who - in what would seem more appropriate for a movie or a TV show than real life - got access to an old box of tapes that had been stowed away in the closet of Willie Clarke's ex-wife. The material they found, plus material left out of the prior Deep City comp, is splendid, and as always, I have to say that the comp joins the others in the Eccentric Soul series as must-have discs for any soul fan's collection.

Pearstine "Perk" Badger (aka "Mr. Percolator") is well-known among rare funk fans for tunes like today's selection and among soul fans for tunes like "One Woman Man" (see John Ridley's Sir Shambling profile of the Percolator for more info), and one of the treats on Outskirts of Deep City is the full version of "Do Your Stuff," which is generally known in its edited form as released on Hit Sound. This is one of those funkers that builds up steam as it goes, and I dare you to sit still as the Percolator and the band (the Rising Sun, who will be featured in a future "It's Not Eccentric, It's Awesome" post) turn up the heat.

(For further stuff from this great comp, check out O-Dub's Soul Sides post featuring two more cuts from the CD!)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Different Take ...

The Meditations - It's Wrong to Fight

Nearly a year ago I featured the Violinaires' "It's Wrong to Fight" on this blog, and since then I've heard another version of the tune, this time as performed by the Meditation Singers, no stranger to this blog or the "Get on Down ..." podcast, who are billed on the Checker 45 as "The Meditations". The Meditations record seems to predate the Violinaires version, as a more rocking groove is in place rather than the Chess funky soul prevalent on the Violinaires record and countless other Chess/Checker/Cadet sides I've discussed here, like "Lay It On Me" by Maurice & Mac, which I featured last week. The groove works, though, and the group does its thing with the great lyrics.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm Still Here!

The Soul Stirrers - Time Brings About a Change

Well, between having a visitor from out of town (a good thing) and then a visit by the old flu bug (a bad thing) your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul has been pretty inactive around these parts. I'm still here, though, and I'll let this atmospheric gospel number by the Jimmy Outler-led Soul Stirrers start off a new week. "Time Brings About a Change," a SAR recording, has all of the trademarks of the Sam Cooke sound, and Jimmy and the group really sell the song.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

News Brief: Stax and XM Radio Today and Sunday!

Here's some news that may be of interest to Stax fans who have XM Radio:

Interview with Al Bell, the former President of Stax Records
Thu, 2/14 at Noon ET on Soul Street - XM60

Al Bell, the former president of Stax Records, talks to Soul Street's Bobby Bennett. Bell, the man behind Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Booker T & The MG's and many of Stax's other music legends, speaks candidly about the music industry, the artists he worked with, segregation in the South and more.

Stax 50th Anniversary Concert

The interview with Al Bell will be followed by the Stax 50th Anniversary Concert, a presentation of music by Isaac Hayes, The Soul Children, Eddie Floyd, Booker T & The MG's and many others from the Stax label.

Encores Sun, 2/17 at 9AM ET

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lay It On Me, Maurice & Mac!

Maurice & Mac - Lay It On Me

The history of many soul (and pop) groups usually plays out with the lead singer forging a solo career, with the group either dissolving forthwith or soldiering on with new lead singers, with mixed results. In the case of the Chicago soul group The Radiants, lead singer Maurice McAlister and group member Green "Mac" McLauren split off together to join the parade of Sam & Dave-inspired acts as "Maurice & Mac." (The Radiants would recruit Mitchell Bullock as lead and continue to record for Chess - the Northern Soul classic "Hold On" comes to mind - and then for Twinight before disbanding in 1972.) From 1967 to 1972 the duo recorded a string of fine singles, mainly for Checker, ranging from their version of "You Left the Water Running" (their most successful record) to great ballads like "So Much Love" and uptempo groovers like today's selection. By 1972, the two broke up the act and, interestingly, McAlister re-joined the Radiants for their final Twinight single, "Don't Want to Face the Truth," although not as lead singer.

Although it is true that Chicago soul didn't have an immediately-identifiable "sound" a la Detroit soul or Memphis soul, I've found that a lot of the Chess/Checker/Cadet funky soul sides of the late '60s have this groove that is instantly recognizable. That groove is all over "Lay It On Me." The strong horn charts, great bass lines, and propulsive drumming (I assume by Maurice White) provide a fine foundation for Maurice and Mac to bring their aggressive back-and-forth leads and harmony work.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Big Number 25!

The 25th episode of "Get on Down ..." is now available! This show marks the return of voiceovers by your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul, facilitated by the Audacity recording software! The show features a broader array of music than usual, but it's a lot of fun! Enjoy!

1. Debbie Taylor - Don't Let It End
2. The Esquires - Reach Out
3. Hank Ballard & The Midnighters - Do It Zulu Style
4. Little Milton - Twenty-Three Hours
5. The Supremes - Floy Joy
6. Joe Frazier - Knock Out Drop
7. John R "Soul Medallion" Radio Ad
8. Jimmy Reed - Over the Hump
9. Junior Wells - (I Got A) Stomach Ache
10. Mary Lou Williams - Praise the Lord
11. Little Richard Royal Crown Hair Dressing Radio Ad
12. The Sandpebbles - Forget It
13. Margie Joseph - What You Gonna Do
14. The Honey Cone - Woman Can't Live By Bread Alone
15. "Soul Soldier" Radio Ad
16. James Brown - Let a Man Come in and Do the Popcorn (Pts. 1 & 2)
17. The Inspirational Singers - He Brought Me
18. Emanuel Laskey - More Love (Where This Came From)
19. Larry Banks - Let's Roll Up Our Sleeves
20. Booker T. & The M.G.'s - My Sweet Potato (closing theme)

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Stepbrothers Are Socking Soul Power AGAIN on Rockin' Radio!

This past weekend your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul spent yet another fun day with the Electro-Phonic Brian Phillips of Rockin' Radio as Brian's guest on a special two-hour episode of The Electro-Phonic Sound of Brian Phillips, which is now available at Rockin' Radio. As you know from Episode #20 of the "Get on Down ..." podcast, Brian and I always have a lot of fun when we get together, and this go-round is no exception. The playlist includes '50s R&B, '60s rock, '70s soul, some tomfoolery and lots of good music and commentary by Brian and myself. My thanks to Brian for hosting me yet again, and special thanks to Rockin' Radio organizer Randy Tivens, who invited me to be part of the Rockin' Radio family!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - And if two hours of the "Stepbrothers of Soul" isn't enough to keep your soul satisfied, I'm planning to record Episode #25 of the "Get on Down ..." podcast this weekend. Look out for it! It's going to be a stone gas!)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Try It, You'll Like It!

The Barrino Brothers - Try It, You'll Like It

The Holland-Dozier-Holland sound of the early '70s on their Invictus/Hot Wax setup always gets to me because it was so bright-sounding. As Motown moved west and started to change its core sound, H-D-H kept the flame going in Detroit, with the Honey Cone, the Glass House, Laura Lee and the Chairmen of the Board pumping out hits. Today's selection is by the Barrino Brothers, who had done some work for Dave Hamilton's TCB label before releasing a handful of singles and two albums on Invictus. The funky "Try It, You'll Like It" was released in 1972 and that bright H-D-H sound is all over the record. Unfortunately, R&B stardom was not in the cards for the Barrinos, and by the mid-'70s they had faded into obscurity. Nearly thirty years later, however, their niece, Fantasia, would go on to win American Idol and start a successful career as a singer/actress. The talent was genetic, I guess!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Soul on the Air #5: The Evans Happening, 1967

Free Music - Listen Audio Files - John Evans and Tony Quinn, A...

I had planned to feature a different aircheck as #5 in the "Soul on the Air" series at a later date, but I acquired this aircheck a couple of weeks ago and the very end of it struck me as being very appropriate the day after the "Super Tuesday" Presidential primaries, in which, for the Democrats, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both had impressive showings. The last minute or so of this aircheck is a PSA about "the power of the ballot," and how in Tuskegee, Alabama, attempts to block the implementation of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 failed and black voters were able to elect a black sheriff, black city councilmen and other public officials. Last night, Obama won the Alabama primary, which shows just how far things have progressed.

Now, on to the aircheck. As I discussed in the very first "Soul on the Air" feature, WVON was the dominant R&B station in Chicago, a position it would hold until the mid-to-late '70s. One of 'VON's competitors was WGRT ("W-Great"), which replaced jazz station WAAF at 950 on the AM dial in 1967. Although "Great Radio," as it was also known, was able to keep its R&B format for much longer than other WVON competitors (WBEE abandoned its R&B format in 1968, and WYNR, Chicago's first black-focused station, collapsed as soon as WVON hit the scene, due in part to its Top 40-heavy playlist and the political leanings of its management) under the WGRT calls and then as WJPC (upon the acquisition of the station by Ebony and Jet publisher Johnson Publishing Company; presently, the WGRT calls belong to a station in Port Huron, Michigan), the station never was as popular as WVON and has received scant historical study. (Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul would love to hear from anyone who has memories or info about this station.)

Today's feature is an hour from the afternoon of Sunday, August 27, 1967, with John Evans presiding over "The Evans Happening" for the bulk of the time before handing off to Tony Quinn. These guys lay down some great tunes, including "Take Care" by June Conquest, Otis & Carla's version of "Knock on Wood," "Forget It" by the Sandpebbles, the Shirelles' version of the Northern classic "Last Minute Miracle" and Bill Cosby's funky 45 "Little Ole Man" (which is accompanied by an ad for a Cosby appearance in Chicago - "we're gonna sock it to you," Cos says). Evans in particular provides some very entertaining patter (dig the pointed commentary Evans makes in connection with a radio ad for the Sidney Poitier film To Sir With Love). Also of interest is the "20/20 News" and commercials for C.E.T., a Chicago television store whose "MOhawk 4-4100" phone number jingle - pretty un-PC by 2008 standards - was as ubiquitous in Chicago as Empire Carpet's "588-2300" jingle years later.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Again, the limitations of AM radio and trading apply to this aircheck; the volume is somewhat low, and in portions there is some interference.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Gettin' Up With The Devonnes and Larry Banks!

The Devonnes - Doin' "The Gettin' Up"

Singer/songwriter/producer Larry Banks cemented his name in the annals of rock history with his composition "Go Now," which the Moody Blues turned into a big hit in the mid-'60s (although it unfortunately crushed the original version that his then-wife, Bessie, cut for Lieber and Stoller), but fortunately his output extended much farther than that one song, and us soul fans are double fortunate that the late Dave Godin championed Banks' songs and recordings and started work on Larry Banks' Soul Family Album before his death. Kent's Ady Croasdell picked up where Godin left off and the resulting CD closed out a great year of Kent comps. I featured Banks' demo of "Ooh It Hurts Me" on Episode #24 of the podcast, and today's selection is another fine cut from the CD.

The Northern groover "Doin' 'The Gettin' Up'" is a nice piece of "get on down" by the femme group The Devonnes. After some dialogue to establish the "blossoming of the wallflower" theme, the song's groove kicks in and the lead singer shows that there's more than meets the eye, especially since she's got a new dance to lay on the world. The GWP recording nods to the Esquires' "Get on Up" and "And Get Away" in the chorus, and the whole thing, despite its "soul musical theater" feel, really cooks. Get on up and get away!

Monday, February 04, 2008

You Gotta Have Eddie!

Eddie Floyd - I Got Everything I Need

If Eddie Floyd's only contribution to the world of music was the soul anthem "Knock on Wood" (unfortunately, in the erroneous view of the mainstream that was his only contribution), that would be plenty, but his songwriting and outstanding recordings provide ample foundation for his status as a soul legend. Although Floyd was not as big a "name" as his Stax contemporaries Otis Redding or Johnnie Taylor, Floyd's warm vocals were as comfortable as one's favorite pair of pajamas, making songs like the Northern Soul classic "Big Bird," country soul like "The Best Years of My Life" and eccentricities like the bluesy "Oh How It Rained" and the reggae tune "Baby Lay Your Head Down (Gently on My Bed)" really work. Although Eddie's hits dried up in the mid-'70s, like most Southern soulsters' did, Floyd has always kept busy touring and performing, and he is presently in the midst of the first of two European tours scheduled for the first half of this year and has a new album forthcoming.

Today's selection was an unissued Stax cut tht appeared on the comp 3000 Volts of Stax. The ballad "I Got Everything I Need" is Eddie's reworking of the gospel song of the same name, and he gives the song a great reading while the Stax gang bring their usual "A-game" in support.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Correction Section: Johnny Jones

Recently I featured the Swanee Quintet's Johnny Jones on the blog, but in my discussion of Jones' very short-lived soul music career I made a mistake. I wrote that Jones recorded one 45 for Bobby Robinson's Fury concern, but Red Kelly has done a feature on The B-Side about Robinson which includes a second Jones Fury 45. "No Love As Sweet As Yours," featured there, blows "I Find No Fault" and "Tennessee Waltz" out of the water; I promise you'll be like me, listening to it over and over!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Johnson Power!

Syl Johnson - Annie Got Hot Pants Power (Pt. 1)

If any of the readers of this blog live in the Chicago area or intend to be in the Chicago area tomorrow, make sure to go to the Hideout and see Syl Johnson, the great supproting line-up named in the above poster and the East of Edens DJ duo, John Ciba and James Porter. The show is being put on by Ciba's Rabbit Factory concern and Impose magazine to raise money for the 7th annual Ponderosa Stomp. Syl's performances are pretty infrequent, so it's certainly worthwhile to go see him. (I saw him in 1999 and it was a great show.) To go along with this event, today's feature is one of Syl's latter Twinight singles. The funky "Annie Got Hot Pants Power" finds Syl extolling the awesomeness of the title character while a female chorus provides support and the groove chug-a-lugs along.