Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bellson, Nelson and Brown

James Brown - The Man in the Glass (Pt. 1)

I was inspired to do a James Brown post today after having seen a set of great JB videos on YouTube this weekend. One contributor has added some great stuff, including a medley of "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" and "Soul Power," performed by James (in an awesome outfit, I must add) and Bobby Byrd on a soundstage, and a guest spot by James on "Dinah's Place," where James, backed by the show's house band (led by Fred Wesley), tears through "Get on the Good Foot." Get over to YouTube and do a search for this stuff; you'll be glad you did.

Today's selection was the fruit of the Soul on Top sessions, in which JB recorded a mix of standards, show tunes, a few new songs and remakes of some of his hits backed by jazz drummer Louis Bellson's big band, conducted by Oliver Nelson. Although the concept sounds somewhat baffling on paper, and the 1970 LP did not sell well at the time, the truth is that the material is actually very good. James' vocals are powerful, the song selection is strong and the band actually grooves nicely. Fortunately for soul fans, the LP has had a CD reissue on Verve. "The Man in the Glass," credited to Brown's long-time associate Bud Hobgood, was part of the album and a portion of an alternate version, which is featured here, was also included on Brown's 1970 LP It's a New Day So Let a Man Come In. "Man in the Glass" fits right in with tunes like "World" and "I'm Not Demanding" (which was also included on It's a New Day and was scheduled for two 45 releases, both of which were scrapped). On all three songs, Brown does some serious emoting about serious topics in dramatic arrangements that were unlike a lot of what JB was doing at the time. The "man in the mirror" lyrics of today's selection are powerful and even thought-provoking. Dig them!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And Now ... The Rest of the Story(?)

Lattimore Brown - Little Bag of Tricks

My man Red Kelly has posted his chronicles of Sir Lattimore Brown's return to the stage and related events over at The B-Side. I wanted to wait until Red had told his tale, because I knew he would have some awesome stuff to share. He's got the story, great pics, outstanding video and more, so go check it out. But come on back to read my account, okay? Okay.

[Awaiting your return.]

When Red informed me that he had managed to put together Lattimore's performance at the Banks Street Bar in New Orleans, I knew I just had to be there. Since the Jazz Fest was also going on, and since neither me nor my wife had ever been to New Orleans, we decided to make a mini-vacation of the trip.

We went to the Jazz Fest on Sunday, April 26, and after a long, exasperating walk from the final streetcar stop to the fairgrounds, we encamped at the Blues Tent, arriving just in time for the New Orleans R&B Revue. Eddie Bo was supposed to be part of the Revue, had he lived, and his absence was noted by Deacon John Moore, who did a set and served as the bandleader and emcee of the program. I won't go into a full concert review here, but the show was quite enjoyable. Wanda Rouzan (of the Rouzan Sisters, of "Men of War" fame) lit up the stage with a good-timey set of songs, including a version of "Mama (He Treats Your Daughter Mean)." Al Johnson, who was profiled in the Times-Picayune that weekend as the recipient of a home in "Musicians Village," a development designed to provide housing for New Orleans msusicians affected by Hurricane Katrina, did a quick set capped off with his Mardi Gras perennial, "Carnival Time." (I didn't get any pictures of the crowd, but once "Carnival Time" started out came the umbrellas and handkerchiefs among the crowd!) Robert Parker, who I had been most interested in seeing, came out and did a perfunctory, if not exactly electrifying, set of blues and his classics "Where the Action Is" and "Barefootin'." Allen Toussaint was the headliner, and he did a fine set which featured "Here Comes the Girls" (which was slightly marred by the inability of Deacon John's drummer to accurately combine the military and funk elements of the tune) and a great extended take on "Yes We Can."

After the Revue, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings took to the stage and gave up the funk as only they know how. The crowd was full of people who were not familiar with the high-octane show, but Sharon made converts of them all. (Their set also kept the Jazz Fest security busy, as they had to continually shoo dancing people out of the aisles!

After the festivities ended, it was time to get to the mission at hand: Red had invited us to join him and Lattimore for dinner at Mother's, a no-frills New Orleans landmark known for its po' boys. Joining us for dinner was filmmaker Chase Thompson, who has documented the entire Lattimore Brown story, WWOZ personality Allan "Alski" Laskey, and graphic designer Paul Pollman and his wife, Honey. Lattimore was a bit tired, so he stayed fairly quiet, but the conversation buzzing around the table was as good as Mother's food!

Lattimore, Red, Chase and me; Alski and Paul.

The next day, my wife and I decided to do some sightseeing, but we managed to hear Lattimore's appearance on WWOZ. Although, as Red noted, Lattimore's singing of "It's a Sad Sad World" didn't exactly "click," I was very excited by Lattimore's storytelling and promotion of his show ("we're gonna do like Koko Taylor and pitch a wang dang doodle," he proclaimed several times), and when he sang "I Know I'm Gonna Miss You" (Red, who sang the Roscoe Shelton part?) it was very nice. After sightseeing and a trip to Louisiana Music Factory for some record digging, I hustled over to the Banks Street Bar for the rehearsal.

Red has chronicled the rehearsal, so I won't go into a lot of detail. In addition to meeting Wraquel and Wanda, I got to meet Cies from the Just Moving On gospel website and blog, and we had a great conversation. When Lattimore took to the stage at around five-thirty, I saw a fire in his eyes that thrilled my soul. Although the Banks Street Bar stage at that time of day is not exactly the most thrilling sight, to watch Lattimore work the stage made the place feel like the Apollo Theater! (I put up a video a few days ago from the rehearsal.) I left for dinner knowing that the evening was going to be special.

Red has adequately described what went down that night at the actual show. Like Red, I did not get to take any pictures, since I was working the door. Yes, the show had moments that were great, some not-so-great, and some that were somewhat cringeworthy, but all in all it was clear that Lattimore Brown had made a triumphant return, and everyone from Jazz Fest visitors to WFMU deejays to music journalists had witnessed it.

I didn't have time to stay in New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp and the second weekend of the Jazz Fest, although I would've loved to, so I was as upset as I was pleased to get a text message from Red the next say saying that Lattimore was going to be appearing at the Stomp with Wiley & The Checkmates, and then to get a text message two days later saying that Lattimore had "tore it up"! Wow!

When the Lattimore Brown story first appeared on Red's blog and on mine, the phrase "this ain't nothing but God" captured the spirit of what had happened. I am glad to report that the phrase is equally meaningful after the New Orleans weekend: Lattimore met his daughter after nearly forty-one years (and to think that she found out about him via the internet, just like the kind nurse did when she contacted me so long ago); Lattimore made a triumphant return to the stage (and a debut in the New York Times); Red, Cies and I, brothers-in-arms online, got to meet each other in person for the first time, and we got along as if we hung out regularly; and I got the see how my relatively insignificant act of writing about Lattimore on my blog served as a catalyst for all of this. I am still on a "high" from it all.

I must take a moment to give major "props" to Red Kelly, whose hard work in finding Lattimore, chronicling his story and getting Lattimore back on stage proves that God is truly with him. I have a feeling that, although the New Orleans weekend makes for a great closing to a "movie-ready" story, that more is yet to come - the Man Upstairs has a "bag of tricks" of His own!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The "Price" Is Right!

Gloria Taylor - You Got to Pay the Price

Al Kent's Detroit soul instrumental "You Got to Pay the Price" is a staple record among the Northern Soul crowd, and is one of the easier 45s to acquire out of the "Northern Soul Top 500." The Ric-Tic single is a sho' 'nuff floater good for winding down an all-nighter, with Dennis Coffey's guitar riffs pleasantly riding the shuffling groove. Although I had figured that the track was intended to back a vocalist, I didn't hear vocal versions of the song until many years after I had heard the Kent record. Diana Ross &
The Supremes did a version of the song that I suppose came about after Berry Gordy bought out Ed Wingate and acquired the Golden World/Ric-Tic/Wingate labels. Their fine reading of the song, however, went unreleased until it was included in one of the Cellarful of Motown compilations. Gloria Taylor, known among soul fans for her reading of J.J. Barnes' "Poor Unfortunate Me" and for the two-parter "Grounded," among others, did a version of the song that was released on Glo-Whiz and on Leland Rogers' Silver Fox concern that did merit release, although it didn't go anywhere. Taylors' vocals show a fine melody that really works with the famous groove.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

More Lattimore on YouTube!

Paul Pollman managed to capture Lattimore Brown's performance with Wiley & The Checkmates at the Ponderosa Stomp and has put it up on YouTube! Are you ready for Star Time?

Sweet and Rough, Smart Brothers Style

The Lattimore Brown story is forthcoming, but in the meantime ...

Theron & Darrell - I Was Made to Love Her

Once again the fine folks at Numero have hit one out of the park with their Eccentric Soul series. The newest disc, Eccentric Soul: Smart's Palace features the soul sounds of Wichita, Kansas, as recorded by Dick Smart, whose Solo and other labels augmented his entertainment empire, whose roots lay in the Smart's Palace club, where he and his brothers had a high-powered act (the comp's striking cover art is a picture of one of the Smarts doing a handstand while performing). The CD features a variety of great tracks from the Smart Brothers and others, and quite a few sides have a delightful roughness about them that really lends atmosphere to the material.

Today's selection is a good example of this. Theron Gafford and Darrell Buckner had a band that filled in at Smart's Palace whenever the Smart Brothers were away, and the duo's 1970 Solo 45 "I Was Made to Love Her" did very well locally, but like so many other artists featured in the Eccentric Soul series, not much else followed. That's a shame, though, because despite the roughness of the production, Theron and Darrell really bring home the bacon with this strutting piece of sweet soul. The duo alternate between trading off lines and singing harmony parts, and the whole thing really works. I particularly love the "to be mine" part later in the song, especially near the end, where they drop off to give the band a rough but funky vamp. The whole CD is outstanding, but this tune alone makes the price worthwhile.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - I did not know until today that Numero has a blog; it's very entertaining, and some great stories about the development of the CD are there. I will add it, along with several other fine blogs I've been introduced to lately, to the blogroll pretty soon.)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Get on Down With Lattimore Brown on YouTube!

Here's a short vid of Sir Lattimore Brown rehearsing for his show, with help from Wiley & The Checkmates.

I'm waiting to coordinate posting with Red before I do the full account of the Lattimore Brown weekend, so bear with me. I'll do some regular posts in the meantime!