Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Soul on the Air #10: WVON, January 29, 1966

Lucky Cordell:

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Ed Cook:

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Outside of programming that is pre-recorded, radio disc jockeys, be they from the classic era of Top 40 and R&B radio or in today's corporatized radio world, all know that "the show must go on" is law of the land. So what do you do when a DJ is out of town and his substitute is late due to the freezing cold weather? Well, on the frigid afternoon of January 29, 1966, WVON's Lucky Cordell extended his Saturday program to cover for the "Nassau Daddy," Ed Cook, slated to fill in for E. Rodney Jones, whose car wouldn't start due to Chicago's subzero weather. The result is nearly two-and-one-half hours of aircheck delight, despite horrible fidelity (my apologies in advance)!

Lucky Cordell, "The Baron of Bounce," worked at WGRY in Gary and then at Chicago's WGES/WYNR (hosting his popular "House of Hits" program at both stations) before hooking up with WVON in the early '60s. Cordell's cheery disposition and fondness for reciting poems (he had several soul and gospel 45s throughout the '60s featuring his recitations) made him a favorite to listeners, but he was successful away from the mike as well: by 1965 Cordell was the station's program director, from which position he was promoted to Assistant General Manager in 1968 and to General Manager in 1970. Cordell stayed with the station until the mid-'70s, when changing times (and meddling suits) brought about Cordell's departure from the station. On this aircheck, Cordell's chipperness shines as he plays lots of great stuff, ranging from Gene Chandler to Wilson Pickett (whose "634-5789," by then on its way to being the top R&B record in the country, is WVON's "pick hit") to Slim Harpo to James Brown to Walter Jackson (whose "One Heart Lonely" b/w "Funny (Not Much)" is WVON's "Top and Bottom" feature) to the Manhattans, delivers a corny joke or two, encourages listeners to "set their timepieces" when he delivers the time, and muses as to what mood Ed Cook will be in when he arrives.

Cordell's musings were quite appropriate, as the late Nassau Daddy was 'VON's resident curmudgeon, if this aircheck and reminisces I've read are any indication. Cook, like Pervis Spann, had more of a taste for blues than his fellow "Good Guys," and his complaints about the then-new Dan Ryan Expressway (which he often called the "Damn Ryan") were frequent enough for a drop-in in this aircheck ("Poor Ed, everybody's wrong on the Dan Ryan but him") and an eventual 45, "The Dan Ryan Express." When the "Good Guys" were rather unceremoniously dumped from 'VON in the mid-'70s he moved on to Spann's WXOL, after which I don't have any record of his further radio career.

The Cook aircheck is often sold on eBay and is probably one of the better-circulated R&B airchecks out there, and for good reason. If Ed was a cranky sort anyway, the fact that his car wouldn't start in subzero weather guaranteed that his on-air performance was really going to be special. It didn't help matters that, right off the bat, the wrong record was played. The intro to the Beatles' "Day Tripper" follows the WVON jingle, and Cook is having none of it. "Hold it, man!" he bellows, as the record is quickly switched to Sonny Boy Williamson's "Bring It on Home." "Shoot - messing up already ... look out, Jim [Maloney, WVON's newscaster], I ain't in a good mood today ... I feel like Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou!" For the remainder of the aircheck, Cook holds court, playing some of the same tunes Cordell played but getting some B.B. King in there among other things (he mentions that King used to be a DJ, and remarks that King was smart to quit and become a musician) and railing about the weather ("Why would anybody want to move to Chicago?" he complains, although he is amused that Tupelo, Mississippi and other Southern cities are snowed in), thanking the lady who drove him to the radio station, encouraging listeners to go see Cat Ballou, and making come-ons like "you just stand there like a rich man's porch and let me admire you!" It's a classic, and it's always good for a laugh as well as a "get on down."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

RIP Dee Dee Warwick

Dee Dee Warwick:

She Didn't Know (She Kept on Talking)

Suspicious Minds

The recent passing of Dee Dee Warwick, sister of Dionne, has been covered in the news and on music blogs lately, and I rue the fact that I had to wait until today to have something to post. But better late than never, considering how many RIPs have been presented here lately!

Dee Dee, like most siblings of more-famous artists, failed to reach her sister's fame. Neither her singing style nor the material she recorded was as pop-friendly as the Bacharach-David concoctions that made Dionne a household name, but in this soul fan's opinion, her recordings are much more interesting. (Now, that's not to say that I don't like Dionne; it's just a point I'm trying to make.)

I decided to do a Dee Dee Double Feature today, first with her biggest hit, "She Didn't Know (She Kept on Talking)," a Southern soul ballad on Atco with which Warwick broke into the R&B Top 10. I don't have my reference books handy, but Raeford Godfrey (aka Ray Gerald) did a great version of the tune for Spring Records as well. This is one of those tunes that hits deep.

My favorite Dee Dee Warwick side is her version of Elvis Presley's 1969 hit "Suspicious Minds," and I'll make it the second half of today's feature. Warwick's version came out a couple of years after Presley's, and everything about this record works to make it a fine soul record: the Dixie Flyers replace the slightly-countrified groove of Presley's record with a bumping R&B groove, the Sweet Inspirations (who, interesting, did the backgrounds on Elvis's version as well) provide fine support, and Dee Dee brings a declarative but soulful vocal performance.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wednesday Is Indeed a Blues Day

James Brown - Maybe I'll Understand (Pt. 1)

Your ever-lovin' Stepfather's got the blues today, because since the last post, comedian Rudy Ray Moore and singer Dee Dee Warwick have passsed away, and I don't have anything on hand for a Warwick post (like the great version of "Suspicious Minds" she put down on Atco). So, for a "Wednesday Is Blues Day" type of thing, I pull this James Brown blues number, which was released as a Colgate Power Pack promo single and in two parts on his 1968 King LP Got the Feelin' (also on the album was a blues instrumental, "Maybe Good, Maybe Bad," which was also released as a two-part King single). It's clearly just an improvised thing, but it nicely showcases Brown's crooning, which is often overlooked amidst his funky things.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Turn It On!

Earl Gaines - Turn On Your Love Light

It's been a little over a year since Earl Gaines has been featured on the blog. Being that Gaines sounded a lot like Bobby Bland, it's probably not surprising that at some point he would cover a Bland record, as he did in the case of "Turn On Your Love Light," which saw release as a Seventy-Seven single. (It's worth noting that Gaines also did a version of "Little Boy Blue" while recording for Starday-King's Hollywood and DeLuxe outfits that is included on the Lovin' Blues comp mentioned in the prior post.) The arrangement is given a '70s flavor, and Gaines' vocals don't fall into mere imitation of Bland. The end result is a pleasant little groover.

Friday, October 17, 2008

RIP Levi Stubbs

The Four Tops - Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me

I have just learned from Colin Dilnot that Levi Stubbs, longtime lead singer of the Four Tops, has died at age 70. Today's selection is the only MP3 of the group I have here at work, but it's a cooking groover that kicked off a recent podcast. The song had been recorded previously by both Jimmy Ruffin and (with switched genders, of course) Gladys Knight & The Pips, but Stubbs' shouted lead, fine support by the Tops and a nice funky groove makes this 1969 version my favorite.

The Four Tops headlined the Homecoming gala at my college my freshman year, and after the show my friend Norman and I slipped through the back hallways of our college's arts center and ran into the Tops, in their street clothes, heading out of their dressing room. Obie Benson had already headed out the door, so Norman and I got to talk briefly with Stubbs, Duke Fakir and Lawrence Payton. I remember telling Duke in response to a comment he'd made onstage about a song maybe being from some people's "crib days" that my mom played their records all the time when I was a kid. "Your mama's hip," he replied. I got autographs of the three men and then I watched them get into their limo and depart. I went back to my dorm feeling like a million bucks because I had met THE FOUR TOPS in person. Now with Levi's passing, only Duke Fakir remains as a living member of the group's classic lineup. I'll have to pull that program out of my souvenirs file this evening and consider that. RIP Levi.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gotta Stomp!

Bobby Comstock - Let's Stomp

Today finds your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul invigorated and full of optimism and ready to "get on down"!

I don't know anything about today's selection or its artist except that I first heard it on a Fat Daddy WSID aircheck. This is one of those early '60s R&B stompers that was always good for a "get down" as the genre began to take shape as "soul" music. The drumbeat kicks things off, followed by handclaps, and then a fast blast of R&B shouting by Comstock, who encourages the listener to get on the dance floor and stomp away. It works for me!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

O.V. Wright Night!

The rise of the internet has caused so many great things to happen within the community of soul fans and for soul artists. The Lattimore Brown story is a great example, and another has been efforts by fans to make sure that deceased soul stars are given fitting gravestones and memorials to reflect the adoration that fans around the world have for them. One example that comes to mind immediately is the fine job the folks at the Soulful Detroit site at providing a memorial marker for Darrell Banks, whose grave lay unmarked for over thirty years. Today I pause to recognize yet another movement.

The O.V. Wright Memorial Fund was established some time ago by a team of soul fans who realized that the legendary soul man's grave in Memphis went unmarked. My man Red Kelly has been actively involved with the Fund in addition to his work with the rediscovery of Lattimore Brown, and he has asked that I make notice of "O.V. Wright Night," which we be held at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Memphis on Saturday, November 15. Otis Clay is the featured guest, and he'll be performing with the legendary Hi Rhythm Section. I've provided a link below which you can use to purchase tickets, which are $25 each (there is also a $2 Paypal fee). Prior to the show, ticketholders will also be able to take a special after-hours tour of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music at a reduced price (see the Fund website for more details). On Sunday, November 16, the reveal of O.V. Wright's memorial marker will take place. If you are able to attend this event, I would strongly recommend it. If you are not able to attend, like me (unfortunately), please visit the Fund's website and make a donation.


Monday, October 13, 2008

It's '70s Soul Time!

The new podcast is online, and it's a '70s soul spectacular, with an odd '69 record slipping in!

1. Soul Brothers Six - You Gotta Come a Little Closer
2. Bobby Powell - Question '71
3. Labi Siffre - Sadie and the Devil
4. Parliament - Little Ole Country Boy
5. "Dusk 'Til Dawn Drive-In Movie Marathon" Radio Ad
6. The Detroit Emeralds - You Want It, You Got It
7. Valerie Simpson - Drink the Wine
8. The Green Brothers - Can't Give You Up
9. The Rollers - Knockin' at the Wrong Door
10. Clarence Carter - Scratch My Back (Mumble in My Ear)
11. Ollie Nightingale - Sweet Surrender
12. Willie Henderson - Loose Booty
13. Luther Ingram - Ghetto Train
14. Detroit Emeralds Radio Ad
15. Wales Wallace - Forever and a Day
16. Dorothy, Oma & Zelpha - Gonna Put It on Your Mind
17. Sugar Pie DeSanto - Straighten It Out With Your Man
18. Wilson Pickett - Bumble Bee (Sting Me)
19. Louis King - Our Love Will Overcome Everything
20. Jackie Moore With the Dixie Flyers - Wonderful, Marvelous
21. Oliver Sain - Going Back to Memphis

You Gotta Read This!

The long-running R&B television program Soul Train quietly faded from the airwaves this year, as Don Cornelius sold the show to an outfit called Madvision, which does intend to revamp the show and bring it back in the future. I had known for a long time that the show had started on Chicago's WCIU in 1970 and had continued to run in a local format for some years after Don Cornelius took the show to Los Angeles and national syndication in 1971. Information about the show, which aired daily in glorious black and white on WCIU with Clinton Ghent at the helm, has been very scarce, until recently. Jake Austin's article in the Chicago Reader about the show provides an interesting and very-welcomed account of the show, for which film footage appears to be non-existent. Hopefully this article will provide impetus to further study of this program!

Penn, Tell Her!

Dan Penn - Just As I Am

The contributions of Dan Penn and his frequent collaborator Spooner Oldham to the world of soul music are well-known soul fans, whether or not they have read the songwriter credits for the many soul classics they composed. The recordings by the two men are known only by serious soul fans, but are definitely worth seeking out. Guitarist Dan Penn was the more frequenly recorded of the two, and today's selection, better known as a Solomon Burke recording for Atlantic, was a FAME single that shows off Penn's countrified blue-eyed soul sound. The earnesty Penn brings to "Just As I Am" grabs the listener and make the tune worth profiling today.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

RIP Alton Ellis

Alton Ellis - I'm Still In Love With You

I've just read that reggae singer Alton Ellis, whose "Girl I've Got a Date" was featured on a recent podcast, has died of cancer in London. It was only recently that I became aware of Ellis and his music, but his soulful singing and fine recordings deserve a memorial feature here. A remake of today's selection, not to be mistaken for the Al Green song of the same name (not to be mistaken for the Rufus Thomas song of the same name) was recorded by dancehall star Sean Paul and made quite some noise, but the Ellis side is worth a listen today.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tuesday Is (Soul- and Anniversary-) Blues Day!

Jimmy Lewis - Don't Tell Me What a Man Won't Do for a Woman

For today's "Tuesday Is Blues Day" I'll dip once again into the vast catalogue of Jimmy Lewis' latter recordings for his own Miss Butch concern. I've featured Lewis sides, both '60s and '70s soul and soul-blues, multiple times, so I'll leave you to those posts for any info. Despite the synth-heavy arrangement, "Don't Tell Me What a Man Won't Do for a Woman" is 100% Southern soul of the variety only Lewis could craft. It's a statement of the song's quality that no less than Solomon Burke recorded it for one of his Rounder albums. As good a performance as Burke gave, however, only the "barber shop philosopher" talk-sing style of Lewis does the song justice. I mean, only Lewis can turn a lyric like "a home is not a home if there's no hairpins and rollers up in there."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Today's selection is dedicated to my wife, Jadda, with whom I am celebrating today eight years of marriage. Don't you tell me what I won't do for her! I love you, Jadda!)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Dunham Cinematic Soul!

Menahan Street Band - Tired of Fighting (stream only)

The last couple of years have been huge for the retro soul and funk label Daptone and its artists, and one of the newest beneficiaries of all of this fame is the Menahan Street Band, an aggregation of Daptone musicians organized by multi-instrumentalist Thomas Brenneck (erstwhile guitarist for the Dap-Kings), who has started the Dunham label for his own productions on the band and Charles Bradley, recorded at his home studio. Whether or not people were aware, the MSB's "Make the Road By Walking" became part of the mainstream consciousness thanks to it being sampled for Jay-Z's mega hit "Roc Boys." The band's debut album, Make the Road By Walking, will be released on October 14. The kind folks at World's Fair sent me a review copy and I have to say that Brenneck and his gang have put down a solid set of instrumentals that evoke '70s film scores and really cooks. When I say "'70s film scores" I want to emphasize that I don't mean pastiches of blaxploitations movie soundtracks; each of the ten tracks are highly atmospheric and there's a level of sophistication that really thrills the listener.

I'll invite you to take a look at the World's Fair press page for the band for more info and for a download link for "Make the Road By Walking." Today's feature is "Tired of Fighting," which has also been released as the B-side of Charles Bradley's new Dunham single, "The Telephone Song." Soak in the atmosphere of this tune. This is powerful stuff.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Quick (But Soulful) Depature From the Norm!

Tito Puente - Mambo Con Puente

As I discussed in my 2007 Vinyl Record Day post, I've been a fan of Latin music, particularly mambo, since I found an old Machito LP during one of my forays as a teenaged "junkstore cratedigger. " Today I'll take a stylistic departure to dip my toe into the fantastic sounds by one of the real Mambo Kings, the late Tito Puente. I have discussed on this blog before how I feel that there are many artists who, although they are not "soul" artists per se, have soul to spare. All you have to do is look at a video of Tito Puente performing, even late in life, and see him standing there, drumming away, with that giddy smile of his, and you know you're in the presence of soul. His lengthy career resulted in scads of records, but recently Fania has gone back to Puente's first sides as a bandleader, made for George Goldner's Tico concern. The Complete 78s consists of four two-disc sets. The first volume came out in August, and the second is scheduled for November release. The kind folks at Giant Step sent me a review copy (see this press release for more info about the series and for a good bio of Puente) of the first volume, and from it I pull today's selection.

I think one reason why I like mambo music is because, like a good piece of funk, the tunes often were built from the groove up, and as the layers come together the power of the tune is electrifying. On "Mambo Con Puente," the piano sets the groove right away, daring the listener to move their body, and by the time the vocals come in and then the horns start blaring, it's soul time! Get on Down With the Mambo King!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wednesday Is Blues Day?!?

Hop Wilson - My Woman Has a Black Cat Bone

First it's gospel on Monday, and now it's blues on Wednesday. Has your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul gone crazy? No, I just plays 'em as I feel 'em, and today some lap steel blues is just what the doctor ordered.

Harding "Hop" Wilson's blues sides of the late '50s and early '60s were distinguished by their unique guitar solos, which were the result of Wilson's playing a table steel guitar rather than a regular axe. That instrument gave his solos a wild, watery sound that stood out from that of his peers, even those who played with a slide. Hop was based in Houston, and his dislike of touring caused Wilson's fame to be limited mostly to his home city, where he worked until his death in 1975. Wilson's recordings were similarly limited, as the full extent of Wilson's recorded output were some sides for Goldband made in 1957 and some others for Trey and Ivory from 1960 and 1961, all of which have been comped on CDs such as Ace's Steel Guitar Flash! and Bullseye Blues's Houston Ghetto Blues, from which today's selection comes. "My Woman Has a Black Cat Bone" was one of Wilson's signature tunes, and Wilson lays down the shuffler with dry vocals that are punctuated by his unique guitar sound. Although Wilson's national fame was virtually non-existent, his influence in Houston is reflected by the fact that Texas bluesmen Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray recorded "Black Cat Bone" for their Showdown! album, taking a moment to honor Wilson in the song's spoken intro.