Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Dave Hamilton - Late Freight
Today's selection is one of this blog's rare forays into soul jazz, and it fits nicely in the "Tuesday Is Blues Day" theme as well. I featured multi-instrumentalist/producer/record label owner Dave Hamilton in a week's worth of posts some time ago. Today I turn to his early work with Motown. Hamilton played guitar and vibes on quite a few early recordings for Berry Gordy before he stepped out on his own to run labels and provide occasional session work elsewhere. While with Motown, however, Hamilton was one of a handful of musicians who recorded for the short-lived Workshop Jazz label. Berry Gordy had set up the label to give his musicians, many of whom were serious jazz cats (in the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Joe Hunter strongly emphasized that the Funk Brothers were playing jazz in clubs when they weren't down in the "Snake Pit"), incentive to work with him - sort of a "play some R&B for me, and I'll let you do what you really like" thing. Within a very short time, however, Gordy was able to shutter the label, so among the early Motown material the Workshop Jazz stuff is pretty rare. Interestingly enough, when the Four Tops first signed to Motown, they recorded a set for Workshop Jazz, which went unreleased until Hip-O Select put it out on CD a year or two ago!
"Late Freight" was part of Hamilton's Blue Vibrations LP, and the tune also garnered single release. After the band sets the "train" theme in the tune's aggressive intro, the groove settles into a blues shuffle and Hamilton, on vibes, does his thing.
Monday, August 25, 2008
John KaSandra - Down Home Ups (monologue) / Good Whiskey and Bad Women
John KaSandra, Stax Records' funky philosopher, was featured on this blog a couple of years ago for his black consciousness funky 45 "(What's Under) The Natural Do." Today's feature was the lead-off track to KaSandra's 1972 Respect LP The True Genius. "Down Home Ups" is a fun monologue about why KaSandra had to leave the farm. After explaining that it "wasn't the downs that made me leave, it was the ups," he explains the grueling life of having to get up, feed up, hitch up, giddyup, etc. All of this nonsense is rapped over a nicely-orchestrated piece of relaxed funk. As KaSandra segues into the song, the instrumentation gets even better, and a femme chorus gives him fine support. One cannot help but think that this is the type of tune that Joe Tex would've gone to town with (KaSandra channels Tex's country soul twang here and there in the song), with its character depictions and jovial tone!
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The Supremes - The Day Will Come Between Sunday and Monday
First of all, I must say that we're losing too many of our soul legends this year!
I unfortunately have to bring another, albeit belated, RIP note to this blog: Pervis Jackson, bass singer for the Spinners, died earlier this week. Jackson was with the group from its inception until ill health forced him to stop touring in June of this year. Unfortunately I don't have "Games People Play," the song for which Jackson is best known due to his solo parts, available here at work in order to feature it today, but I'm sure many of you have the song or have at least heard it. RIP "Mr. 12:45." Your sound will live on forever through those great Motown, VIP and Atlantic sides.
Now on to today's selection. Motown's practice of recording the same song on multiple artists usually had the beneficial side effect of providing lots of released versions (albeit sometimes only on LP) that allow the strength of the song itself to shine, as regardless of which version is played, the song's lyrics, melody or instrumentation will pop out at the listener. "The Day Will Come Between Sunday and Monday" was a 1970 single from British singer Kiki Dee's Tamla LP Great Expectations. Neither the single nor the album, produced by Frank Wilson, succeeded commercially, so Ms. Dee had to wait until her hit duet with Elton John, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," put her at the top of the charts in the U.S. However, the Jean Terrell-led Supremes recorded a version of the tune that languished in Motown's vaults until the CD era, and as I noted above, hearing multiple versions of the song shows how good it was despite its commercial failure. Jean, Mary and Cindy really sell the sharp lyrics of this Pam Sawyer-Joe Hinton song, which is strongly augmented by a very dramatic arrangement.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Carl Hall - You Don't Know Nothing About Love
Well, after writing yesterday's post about Carl Hall, I realized that I couldn't just go on with this blog unless I featured Hall's Loma classic "You Don't Know Nothing About Love." This slab of serious soul finds Hall pouring his all into the Jerry Ragovoy tune, and the combination of the backing track, with its alternating periods of calm and storm, and Hall's vocals - don't tell me that his shrieking at the end doesn't raise a hair or two - makes for a killer record. Howard Tate would cover the tune on his 1972 eponymous LP for Atlantic, but as awesome as that recording is, the intensity of Hall's record wins out every time.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Carl Hall - You're So Qualified
Rather than do a "Tuesday Is Blues Day" thing this week, I'll make one of my rarer forays into Northern Soul with this great thing by Carl Hall. Hall started out singing gospel with the Raymond Raspberry Singers and then branched out into secular work, both as a soul singer and as a theatrical performer (he was in the stage production of The Wiz). Although he only had a handful of singles, mostly on Capitol and Loma, they were of top-notch quality. Hall's raspy, high voice was emotion-filled, as demonstrated on the deep soul classic "You Don't Know Nothing About Love" and the funky "The Dam Busted" (both penned by Jerry Ragovoy, who also produced the tunes for Loma). Today's selection was a Mercury single that has proven quite popular among the Northern Soul crowd and fetches prices commensurate with its success. Over a brassy groove, Hall wails his baby's praises with ample support from the background chorus.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Cortez Greer - Testify
Back in 2006, I heaped praise on Rabbit Factory's excellent comp The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill, Vol. 1, and I'll defer to that post for some background info on Hemphill and about Rabbit Factory's John Ciba. Since that disc was released, Rabbit Factory's profile has grown in soul circles, in no small part due to the Rabbit Factory soul revues that have been put on in New York, in Chicago and at the Ponderosa Stomp, to name a few locales, in which Roscoe Robinson, Ralph "Soul" Jackson, Hermon Hitson, Wiley & The Checkmates and others sock soul power before appreciative audiences. Now the second volume of The Birmingham Sound is out, and I'm glad to say that I hold it in the same high esteem as the first. The CD carries over the '70s Southern soul vibe of the first, and the liner notes manage to provide more insight into Hemphill's life and work - dig a reminisce by Hemphill's daughter about her short foray as a recording artist - and profile the artists, some of whom also appeared on the first set. This CD is a "must-buy" for serious soul fans, and I encourage you to get it from Dusty Groove America or any other retailer of rare soul CDs.
Today's selection features the late Cortez Greer, who is described in the liner notes as a Delta baggage handler by day and as a knockout nightclub performer at night. Greer has an appealing gruff baritone, and it's put to good use on the rocking "Testify," which includes good background support by a femme chorus and a churchy coda.
POSTSCRIPT - Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul is honored to have received an acknowledgment in the liner notes of this fine CD. Thanks to John and Rabbit Factory for putting out such great material!
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
Tommy Tate - Revelations
Tommy Tate is yet another one of those immensely-talented artists who was never able to catapault into the big time despite having immense talent and fine recordings for OKeh, Stax (as the lead singer of the post-Ollie Hoskins Nightingales) and for Ko Ko. His tenure for the latter label in the '70s resulted in a handful of singles, all of which, along with other tracks, have fortunately been anthologized, first by P-Vine and, most recently, by Kent.
"Revelations" finds Tate tackling environmental woes with that raspy voice of his over a stepping Southern soul groove that sounds a bit more like 1972 than its 1976 release year. "He's burning fumes from gasoline; he knows too much, you can't tell him anything," Tate laments about mankind. "Tell me why he can't tell me how high is the sky?" Powerful stuff.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Wiley & The Checkmates - All-the-Way Wrong
Today's post features an act that appeared in my "Promo Day" podcast of a few months back. Wiley & The Checkmates and their label, Rabbit Factory, were profiled by my man Red Kelly over at The A-Side for Vinyl Record Day, and I'll defer to that feature for more about Herbert Wiley, The Checkmates and Rabbit Factory. (Editor's note - I will be featuring material from the new second volume of Rabbit Factory's "Birmingham Sound" series very soon; it's a great CD!)
"All-the-Way Wrong" is one of those songs whose atmosphere makes all the difference. The moody ballad features a very world-weary vocal by Wiley that seems to summon the spirit of Solomon Burke at times. Even in the most emotional passages of the song, Wiley keeps his vocals at a simmer, letting the horns do the shouting for him instead. It's a great deep soul mover. Trust me - it's all-the-way right!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Never Be True
Today is one of those days that just didn't start on the right foot: I didn't sleep well last night, I have a lot on my mind, and an accident on the highway forced me to sit in traffic for nearly ninety minutes on my way to work. One good thing came out of the latter, however, as it gave me an opportunity to listen to Live at the Bohemian Caverns by Carla Thomas, which was released for the first time by Concord/Stax last year, in its entirety, and listening to Carla Thomas is always a fine way to brighten up a day, right?
The Bohemian Caverns album was recorded on May 25, 1967, the second night of a five-night engagement Thomas had at the legendary Washington, D.C. jazz club. It was a particularly auspicious occasion, as Stax prexy Jim Stewart, Al Bell, Rufus Thomas (who performed a short set afterwards) and Carla's brother Marvell had come up from Memphis to show support (Otis Redding was also to attend, but he was delayed). Carla, backed by a fine ensemble featuring her Howard University classmate Donny Hathaway on piano, performed a great set of jazz, standards, her hits "Gee Whiz" and "B-A-B-Y" and the Donny Hathaway-Leroy Hutson composition "Never Be True." Although the concert recording was assigned a Stax album number, it ended up being shelved. Although the strength of the set leads one to wonder whose head was full of rocks to not release the album, the fact that the Otis and Carla LP King and Queen, featuring the smash hit "Tramp," was hitting the streets that year and that the Bohemian Caverns set was jazz-bent probably factored into the decision. It's fortunate for us soul fans that the album has seen the light of day now, because it would be criminal for it to have been lost to history!
The latter two tunes mentioned above are the focus of today's post. The passing of Isaac Hayes this weekend makes the inclusion of the Hayes-Porter tune "B-A-B-Y," a big hit for Carla in 1966, that much more significant. In keeping with the jazz leanings of the entire set, the band provides a Ramsey Lewis-esque groove to the tune, which Carla rides to glory, replete with some great ad libs later in the tune. Carla closed the set with "Never Be True," which she notes is a Hathaway composition, prophetically stating "I think we're going to hear a lot of things by this young man." Carla then proceeds to sing the mess out of the song, and I dare you to not be moved by her performance of it.
All I know is that maybe I should get stuck in traffic more often!
Monday, August 11, 2008
Last year I discussed how vinyl played a fundamental role in my evolution into the Stepfather of Soul. This year I've decided to dive into a particular segment of my collection that doesn't get coverage on the blog. The "party record" has a pretty long history, stretching well into the 78 RPM era, and such albums, which featured blue humor and often suggestive cover art, thrived well into the '70s and perhaps even the '80s. The party record was so named because it would often be played at adult social gatherings. Usually they were sold under the counter at record stores or by mail order. One of the best known and most notorious party record labels was Laff Records, who recorded everyone from Joe Ross from Car 54, Where Are You? to a young Richard Pryor to LaWanda Page ("Aunt Esther" from Sanford and Son) to Richard & Willie (a foul-mouthed take on the Willie Tyler & Lester ventriloquist act), but a great many others, mostly low-budget affairs, also recorded material. A Laff discography is available here (warning - this page includes nude cover art and is, accordingly, not suitable for viewing at work or by minors or those who would be offended). I think that changing mores by the '80s did in the party record, in part because the humor contained in those grooves just didn't seem so dirty in light of mainstream success by Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Andrey "Dice" Clay and others. Some of the jokes are downright tame to a 2008 listener.
I've decided to feature material from two party albums for my Vinyl Record Day feature. Although party records were not limited to black comics (one of the most famous party record artists was Rusty Warren, whose "bodacious broad" routines graced albums like Knockers Up!), in keeping with the blog's usual subject matter, two well-known and one lesser-known black comics' works are featured. I will reiterate my earlier warning, as some of this material is indeed not safe for work and not suitable for minors or those who don't appreciate blue humor.
The late comic and actor Nipsey Russell is probably better known today as "the poet laureate of television" due to his frequent game show and talk show appearances, on which he was regularly called upon to recite comic couplets - a well-known one was "the opposite of 'pro' is 'con' / this fact is plainly seen / if 'progress' means 'move forward' / then what does 'Congress' mean?" - and as the Tin Man in the film version of The Wiz than he was for his comedy, but Russell was an important figure in African-American comedy, as his more intellectual approach to his material - including sharp monologues about race - set the stage for comics like Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby. In the '50s and early '60s Russell cut several party records, mostly for the Humorsonic label, but as he became a TV fixture he dropped blue material from his act. I present here four selections from his The Birds and the Bees and All That Jazz album. "A Day at the Races" finds Russell joking about a bad time at the track (remarking about a slow horse he had bet upon, "you've heard of a photo finish? They could make an oil painting of that rascal") before settling into a re-telling of Redd Foxx's famous "The Race Track" routine. On "Radio Roundup" Russell drops lots of bad puns in a fake radio news report. "My Friend Luigi" allows Russell to do a little humor in an exaggerated Italian accent, and on "School Days" Nipsey dips into "little Johnny"-styled jokes. It's not clear from the album notes whether this album was recorded at a nightclub, and I sort of doubt it, because the audience laughs just a little too hard at some jokes, but it's a good album nonetheless.
Redd Foxx was a star long before "Sanford and Son" catapaulted him into "household name" status thanks to prolific album output on Dooto, Loma, Warner Brothers, King and Foxx's own MF stretching back to the 1956 Dooto LP Laff of the Party. Foxx was easily the "King of the Party Record," and his stuff is more widely available on CD than many of his contemporaries. At Home was recorded at Foxx's Los Angeles comedy club (it was in business from 1967 or so until 1971, when it burned down), and over the course of the album, Foxx tells lots of blue jokes, gets some jabs in at some audience members, and even makes reference to the fact there's a recording being made ("sit in the back - you gonna mess my record up with an 'ooooh'," Foxx says). You can check it out here in two parts (Part 1 and Part 2).
Happy Vinyl Record Day! Keep laffin'!
Sunday, August 10, 2008
The impact of Hot Buttered Soul goes beyond the track lengths, as discussed above: Hayes' bald head made for striking cover art; the album got play on R&B radio as if it were a single; the album topped several Billboard charts and was it was so hot a property that, according to Rob Bowman, record stores reported being burglarized but only having Hot Buttered Soul stolen! My favorite track from the LP is the long funk jam "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic." Hayes delivers some oddball blues lyrics while the band and the backing singers slink along. After nearly five minutes, Hayes settles into a funky piano solo and you can get lost in the funk as it pushes along for another four minutes or so.
Shaft's Cab Ride
Hayes picked up an Oscar for his soundtrack to the 1971 film Shaft, and the title track became part of pop culture history. The entire soundtrack, released as a 2-LP set, featured lots of great material, but two things I always enjoy hearing are the deep soul song "Soulsville" and a piece of "action" music called "Shaft's Cab Ride." The former is a powerful, gospel-slanted song in which Hayes points out lots of ghetto ills, and the latter is a short thing that starts off orchestrally and then settles into a nice Memphis-flavored instrumental stomp.
My last pick is a 1974 Enterprise single from Hayes. "Wonderful" is a bit more conventional that some of Hayes' other tunes, but I think that anyone who's ever been in love can understand the lyrics of the song.
Of course, there's so much more to Hayes' story than I can tell in a simple blog post, and I'm sure my fellow bloggers will cover a lot of ground over the next few days. RIP, Black Moses. Your sound and unique style will live on forever.
A postscript - Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes' passing so close together is uncanny, as Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson and Isaac Hayes just recently filmed a movie, Soul Men, in which Mac and Jackson starred as an estranged pair of soul singers and in which Stax tunes were included. Here's to hoping that the movie gets released and that it does well in the box office!
(EDITOR'S NOTE - Vinyl Record Day is Tuesday, August 12. Last year, your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul participated in a blogswarm connected to the event hosted by J.A. Bartlett from The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. Well, another blogswarm is happening, and I will be participating again. I was going to write a piece to post today, but in light of the news of Isaac Hayes' passing, I will postpone it to tomorrow. Make sure to check it out!)
Friday, August 08, 2008
Clarence & Calvin - Rooster Knees and Rice
Clarence Carter's long career started in the early '60s with his Alabama State University classmate Calvin Scott. The duo recorded for Fairlane, Duke and Atco billed as "Clarence & Calvin" or the "C&C Boys," with no particular success. After Calvin was seriously injured in an auto accident, Clarence soldiered on as a solo act with Rick Hall, who had produced the duo's Atco single, signing to FAME and then achieving major success on Atlantic. Calvin would return to recording a few years later, but despite pretty good product - including the Stax LP I'm Not Blind ... I Just Can't See - his recording career never took off and he got out of show business in the mid-'70s. (Check out Calvin's official website for his biography and other information about his career.)
"Rooster Knees and Rice" was the flip side of the duo's Atco 45 (the A-side was a secular version of the Boyer Brothers' gospel classic "Step By Step"). The tune is an instrumental that is essentially a hybrid of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" and James Brown's "Mashed Potatoes," but it's a fun slice of greasy R&B that is good for some dancefloor action.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
It's high time that another installment of "Soul on the Air" make its way on the blog, and this 20-minute slab of sockin' soul power comes from Baltimore's WWIN, with the ebullient Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson doing his thing. I'll defer to this great profile of Fat Daddy for info about the DJ, which includes some additional aircheck clips and MP3s of two 45s featuring Johnson's jive ("Downtown With the Fat Man" has to be heard to be believed). I've heard quite a few motormouth DJs over the years, but Fat Daddy's rapid-fire rhyming and scatting are amazing.
This aircheck is from the morning of July 1966. The announcer's spiel sets the stage right away: "if you missed any of the action on the last part of the Fat Daddy Soul Morning Show, brother, you missed a lot!" Fat Daddy then proceeds to spin Solomon Burke, Nancy Wilson, the Five Stairsteps and others while pushing his high-octane patter and giving a big "soul kiss" to the Baltimore listening audience. The commercials are cool, too, and they include a soulful plug for Salem menthol cigarettes and the "Golden Oldie Album," a joint venture between WWIN and Roulette Records (many radio stations used their record industry connections to create compilation LPs plugging the station and its jocks - I have a WVON Christmas premium in my record collection like the one advertised here). It's a great aircheck, but it's unfortunately too short!
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Buddy Ace - Fingerprints
It's funny how quickly time flies by; I knew I had featured soul-blues singer Buddy Ace on this blog before, but I'm surprised to find out that it was a year ago! I'll defer to this Blues Critic profile of Ace for biographical info so I can jump right into today's selection.
After a lengthy tenure at Duke, where he scored a couple of minor hits but generally remained in the shadow of labelmate Bobby Bland, whose vocal style Buddy emulated (and in whose band he played in back in the '50s), Ace moved on to Stan Lewis' Jewel/Paula/Ronn concern. "Fingerprints" was a 1971 Paula single, and over a buoyant groove Buddy works the song's great lyrics with aplomb. (Interestingly enough, Bobby Bland would turn the tables on his soundalike ex-labelmate/sideman and record a less-funky but very good version of "Fingerprints" for his ABC-Dunhill LP Get on Down With Bobby Bland a few years later.)
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
B.B. King - Messy But Good
It's no accident that B.B. King is considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time. King knows how to make "Lucille" sing oh-so-soulfully, and even on throwaway tracks like today's selection, it's always nice to hear him work those six silver strings with his trademark passion. "Messy But Good" was included on the Electric B.B. King LP for ABC. It was clearly there just for filler, but one man's filler is a King's feast, so B.B. and the band lay down some serious after-hours instrumental blues that leads one's mind to a smoky bar at 2 A.M. with the jukebox playing something like this. The tune truly lives up to its title!
Monday, August 04, 2008
June Conquest - All I Need
June Conquest's "What's This I See" was featured on this blog way back in 2005. Since then, I've heard a few other sides by Ms. Conquest that are outside of the Curtis Mayfield umbrella like her FAME 45 "Almost Persuaded" and the pleasant "The Only Way to Correct a Mistake (Is to Make One)," a duet with "The Demon." "All I Need," featured today, is a Mayfield-related recording, and it finds June providing fine vocals over a swinging Chicago soul groove.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Now that the bar exam is out of the way, your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul is ready to get back in the saddle and to start sockin' soul power on a regular basis again! And what better way is there to do that than to roll out a new podcast?
1. Mitty Collier - Get Out
2. Sidney Barnes - Ember Furniture Song
3. Tee Fletcher - Down in the Country
4. Jimmy James Thomas - I Can't Dance
5. Eddie Floyd - Hobo
6. The Raelets - Leave My Man Alone
7. Soul Brothers Six - I'll Be Loving You
8. John R - James Brown "Thinking About Little Willie John and a Few Nice Things" Radio Ad
9. Lou Johnson - Nearer
10. Little Hank - Mr. Bang Bang Man
11. Joe Simon - Put Your Trust in Me (Depend on Me)
12. T-Bone Walker - Party Girl
13. Alton Ellis & The Flames - Girl I've Got a Date
14. Earl Gaines - Been So Long
15. James Moore - Feet
16. Pauline Shivers - You Better Tell Him No
17. The Lollipops - Cheating, Is Telling on You
18. Carla Thomas - Coca-Cola Radio Ad
19. Clydie King - I'm Glad I'm a Woman
20. Bobby Womack - Lillie Mae
21. Lee Austin - Respect
22. Mel & Tim - I've Got Puredee
23. The Mad Lads - Monkey Time '69
24. Joe Haywood - Say You Will
25. The Pac-Keys - Stone Fox