Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday "Blues"

Lenny Williams - Feeling Blue

Although Fantasy Records' Galaxy imprint did not set the R&B charts ablaze during its run in the '60s and early '70s, a few major hits did emerge on acts like Rodger Collins, Little Johnny Taylor, Bobby Rush and Bill Coday, and definitely fine records were released that have pleased soul fans to the present day. Today's selection is from Lenny Williams, who would go on to have significant success in the '70s both with Tower of Power and then as a solo act. Williams started out in Oakland and was one of Galaxy's homegrown acts when he covered Fantasy labelmate Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Feeling Blue." The Forgarty tune features a Stax-slanted groove, although surprisingly toned down for the Williams record (in my opinion, the CCR record sounds almost as if the band crashed 926 East McLemore one night and cut the track), but Lenny rides it for all it's worth.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Episode #32 Is Online!

The new Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul! podcast is now online, and it honors our new President, Barack Obama, and it also features 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Womack. Here's the playlist:

1. The Soul Stirrers - My Loved Ones Are Waiting for Me (Waiting and Watching)
2. Betty Adams - Make It Real (Ride On)
3. The Detroit Executives - Cool Off
4. Big Bill Collins - H&A Restaurant Radio Ad
5. Mrs. Odell Knox & The Famous South Land Singers - I Have a Dream
6. Bobby Womack - Love, the Time Is Now
7. Jean Wells - Try Me and See
8. B. B. Brown - I Weep
9. Moses Dillard & The Tex-Town Display - Are You For Real
10. The Triumphs - Walkin' the Duck
11. Jo Ann Garrett & The Dells - You Can't Come In (Big Bad Wolf)
12. Bobby Womack - What You Gonna Do (When Your Love Is Gone)
13. Al Green & The Soul Mates - I'll Be Good to You
14. Big Bill Collins - City Bar-B-Q Radio Ad
15. The Coasters - Talkin' 'Bout a Woman (aka She Can)
16. Lou Courtney - I Can Always Tell
17. James Barnes & The Agents - Good & Funky
18. Bill Thomas & The Fendells - Southern Fried Chicken (Pts. 1 & 2)
19. Louis Chachere - The Hen (Pt. 1)
20. Darrell Banks - I'm the One Who Loves You
21. Bobby Womack - Baby I Can't Stand It
22. The Meditation Singers - A Change Is Gonna Come
23. James Brown - Funky President (People It's Bad)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Late on the "Motown 50" Thing

Gladys Knight & The Pips - The End of Our Road

I suppose I really shouldn't have the ambivalence I feel about Motown. The contributions of the label to the fabric of American music are legion, and the material released on the Motown, Tamla, Gordy, Soul and other labels is very good and, as the Complete Motown Singles series of boxed sets has demonstrated, more diverse than the standard "oldies" radio station would lead one to believe. I suppose it's a battle any anorak faces: how do you dive deep into the rare and obscure yet embrace the "common" stuff?

That philosophical issue will have to be resolved another day. I have been remiss in not joining the celebration of Motown Records' 50th anniversary, and so today I'll feature something that sort of bridges both sides of the problem. By 1968, Gladys Knight and the Pips had been with Motown awhile, and they had scored a major hit on the Soul label with their version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," which topped the Billboard R&B charts for six weeks. (Marvin's version would come later in the year and would be a sit at #1 even longer on its route to music immortality. Truth be told, I like Gladys and the Pips' version better.) "The End of Our Road" clearly went back to the "Grapevine" well in its feel, but to me the tune represents what I like best about a lot of Motown stuff: the groove is hot, full of that funky drumming and churchy tambourine; Gladys' vocals are full of gospel fire, and the Pips provide their usual top-notch backings. You can't just sit still with it, as was the case of a lot of uptempo Motown stuff, and I'm comfy with it being my "Motown 50" post, despite my Motown conundrum.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sir Elton Meets TSOP

MFSB - Philadelphia Freedom

Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul has just returned from Washington, D.C. and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's 44th President. Quite a few media outlets, including blogs, have pointed out the euphoria that gripped the city and how the very diverse crowd coexisted in a spirit of "love and unity" to the extent that one blogger called it "Woodstock without the mud." From my firm's D.C. office I was able to watch the swearing-in ceremonies on TV and then see the parade pass right by the window, although the President and First Lady ended their short walk outside of their limousine just short of where our building was located (darn)! Anyway, in the midst of all of the fun, I overheard a few Philadelphia soul classics (especially McFadden & Whitehead's anthemic "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now"), and so the Philly sound has been stuck in my head. Just a few minutes ago, in an "a-ha" moment, I realized that today's selection fits nicely in line with the excitement and national pride that made for a great time in D.C.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote "Philadelphia Freedom" in honor of tennis legend Billie Jean King and her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms. Gene Page, then hot with his arrangements for Barry White, gave a helping hand with the string arrangement, and the Muscle Shoals Horns contributed the horn charts. The soulful, patriotic-sounding single, credited to the "Elton John Band," shot to #1 on the pop charts in 1975. (Being a 1974 baby, "Philadelphia Freedom" is actually one of the very first songs I remember hearing as a child.) It's probably not surprising that since the future Sir Elton cribbed a page from the Philly soul playbook for the song that some soul cover versions would emerge. I've heard several, with Esther Phillips' Kudu reading being one of my favorites, but for today I'm going with MFSB's instrumental take of the tune, which was a hit for them that year. The already-danceable tune is geared even more for the disco dancefloor in MFSB's collective hands, but the uplifting spirit of the tune rings through all the same.

(EDITOR'S NOTE) - Hopefully, this weekend I can get around to posting ...

Friday, January 16, 2009

BW Goes CW (And To The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)!

Bobby Womack - Point of No Return

Congratulations are in order for legendary soul singer/songwriter Bobby Womack, who has been named as one of the 2009 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From his early associations with Sam Cooke (first as a member of gospel's The Womack Brothers and then as one of The Valentinos) to his streak of songwriting successes for Wilson Pickett in the '60s, to his major successes as a solo artist in the '70s, Womack is truly deserving of the honor. (It should be noted that Spooner Oldham, Southern soul songwriter, will also be inducted, under the "sideman" category; although he has written and co-written so many great songs that make him worthy of the honor, the mere fact that he co-wrote "Dark End of the Street" is enough, in my book!)

Bobby Womack would directly take on country music with his 1976 LP B.W. Goes C.W., the commercial failure of which closed out his tenure with United Artists Records, but "Point of No Return," from 1974's Lookin' For a Love Again, is a fine country song given a great reading by Womack, who does a great job building up the song's intensity as he expresses mounting frustration, from the introductory accusation, "baby, if the cake ain't missing, how'd that icing get all over you?" onwards. Congrats Bobby!

(CORRECTION SECTION - As the commenter below noted, I got my songwriters mixed up re: "Dark End of the Street." The songs the commenter correctly names as Oldham compositions are all very good.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Going to the River With Ollie & The Nightingales

Ollie & The Nightingales - A Smile Can't Hide (A Broken Heart)

The Ace/Kent setup in the UK has been rolling out lots of great stuff lately, and their new boxed set Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story 1961-1977 continues the trend. Over three CDs, Southern soul chestnuts and absolute rarities sit side by side. Naturally, Memphis soul is highly represented, and Stax sides make up a good number of tracks. A treat from the Stax stable in the set is today's selection.

William Bell released "A Smile Can't Hide (A Broken Heart)" as the B-side to his version of the Albert King classic "Born Under a Bad Sign." Ollie & The Nightingales cut a version as well that languished in the can but is now available on Take Me To The River. The mid-tempo groove gives the group plenty of room to do its gospel harmonizing and for Ollie Nightingale to bring his piercing lead vocals. The unearthing of this side makes me wonder if anyone plans to release their "Heartaches Mountain," which I have not heard, which was released only on the Stax various artists double LP Soul Explosion, several tracks of which have still not seen CD reissue. One can only hope!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Get on Down With Little Willie John!

Little Willie John - I Had a Dream (Take 7)

Today's post features a track from the outstanding Kent CD Nineteen Sixty Six: The David Axelrod and HB Barnum Sessions, a set of recordings the '50s R&B legend made for Capitol in the title year while out on (a losing) appeal from his 1964 murder conviction. The recordings were made, King Records (his previous label) blocked their release, John lost his appeal and then died in prison in 1968. The material never received a proper release (a low-fi and possibly bootlegged release of some of the stuff made it out, but that was it) until Kent put it out, alternate takes and all, in 2008. It's a serious treat for soul fans, because John's in fine voice and the dynamic duo of David Axelrod (producer) and H.B. Barnum (arranger), who were crafting a hit sound for Lou Rawls around that time, really put together some solid sounds behind him that capture a bit of jazz, a bit of blues, and the soul sound.

The funky blues "I Had a Dream," not to be confused with the Hayes-Porter composition of the same name that was Johnnie Taylor's Stax debut, opens with some sinister-sounding electric piano before opening up into a nice strutting groove with good horn charts, over which John's cool vocals really cook.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tuesday Is (Country With) Soul Blues Day!

Rufus Thomas - Today I Started Loving You Again (live)

Today's "Tuesday Is Blues Day" feature is from Rufus Thomas' 1998 Ecko CD Rufus Live!, which was recorded in Atlanta in 1996. Performing as part of a Memphis soul package for the Summer Olympics, Rufus' set finds the World's Oldest Teenager mastering the crowd with the same ease he managed the infamous Wattstax audience in 1972. The CD is somewhat difficult to find these days, but it's worth purchasing, as Thomas lays down a little soul and blues, walks the dog and does the funky chicken as only he could.

As fun as the uptempo things are on the CD, however, Rufus' 18 minutes-plus take on the country classic "Today I Started Loving You Today" is nothing short of a tour de force. After acknowledging Nashville as the home of country music and name-checking a few country singers (including, interestingly, Jerry Lee Lewis, who, although indeed a hit country act from the late '60s onward, would seem to be linked more to Memphis and rock'n'roll), Thomas distinguishes himself from that crew, declaring that they sing country "country" but he sings country with soul (dig the neat change in the piano background in the introduction at that point) and then gets to work on the meat of the song. After a couple of verses, however, Rufus engages in a lengthy monologue that ranges from what a man would like from his woman when he comes home from work to the power of love to clowning with some female audience members, switching from being serious to being silly but keeping the soul quotient very high and showing how the old soul masters could spin a captivating web around an audience and then work their magic in monologues. (Listen to this and then listen to similar portions of Solomon Burke's Soul Alive album and you'll get my point.)

Monday, January 05, 2009

(The Monday Return Of) Sunday Gospel Time!

The Virginia State Ensemble:

If I Had My Wings

I Work For God

For the first time in awhile, albeit on Monday (internet connection issues prevented yesterday's post from getting off the ground), "Sunday Gospel Time" makes an appearance on the blog with this nifty two-sider. I don't know (and couldn't find) anything about the Virginia State Ensemble, but I do know that these two sides were released as a Weis single, and I know that Weis was one of the handful of small labels (such as Warren, Front Page, Arch and Dig) that Stax distributed in the early '70s. Future Spinners lead singer John Edwards had a release on the label, and tunes like Bobby Holley's "Moving Dancer" and "Soultown" by The Forevers have become funky 45 faves.

"If I Had My Wings" is a rambling, organ-led number based on the spiritual "I Got Shoes," and the male lead enthusiastically engages the chorus in call-and-response. This record is this/close to being suitable to play for dancers as well as church folk. As nice as it is, however, the flip, "I Work For God," is an outstanding ballad featuring solid singing by the chorus and a fine vocal by the female lead. I really wish I knew more about this group!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Reachin' Out in 2009!

Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces - Reaching Out

My New Year's resolution for 2009 is to bring the activity level of this blog back to what it used to be. I want to "get on down" as much as I can! So Happy New Year to all of you, dear readers, and let's get down to cases!

I've written about the Muscle Shoals combo Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces before, so I'll just note that "Reaching Out" is an appealing tune that shifts between Southern soul balladry on the choruses and a rushed groove in the verses before closing out up-tempo. Although the tempo shifts make the song unfit for dancing, it's a nice number with a nice spirit to it.