Archive for June, 2006

Hugh Masekela / The Friends of Distinction – Grazing In the Grass

June 30, 2006

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Hugh Masekela

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Heyyy! How’s everybody doing?

Here we stand, on the cusp of the Fourth of July weekend, which due to the vagaries of the calendar will be especially long this year. With any luck, the East Coast will get a respite from the monsoon long enough to launch some fireworks, eat a hot dog or two and whoop it up on our country’s 230th birthday*.

NOTE: If you do not share my political POV – which skews a touch to the left – please skip ahead a few paragraphs. You don’t have to read what I’m about to say, but I have to write it.

Yesterday, in the same spirit of celebration – one hopes – the few surviving human beings on the Supreme Court told El Presidente that he and his goons were breaking the law with their little star chamber in Cuba, and had to start playing by the rules (including the Geneva Convention, which according to them only applies when it’s “our” guys getting the POW treatment).

Their response was to roll out that wheezing, two-faced hack John McCain – who REALLY ought to know better – to mumble his way through what amounted to a declaration that they would find some way around the Supreme Court decision. Not to mention the fact that following the decision, Justice Clarence Thomas (who has served in NO military capacity at all) criticized Justice John Paul Stevens (who served in the navy from 1942 to 1945 – that would be during WW2, the BIG ONE) for being “unfamiliar with the realities of warfare”.

You gotta love it.

God Bless the USA!!!!

Today’s Selection….

Anyway…. In the spirit of the concepts – maybe even the realities – of summer, the long holiday weekend, and of course good music, I bring you a double-hitter of sorts. Two outstanding records (one maybe a little more outstanding than the other, but that’s neither here nor there), recordings of the same song, presented first (and foremost) as an instrumental – the way it’s creator intended – and then with the addition of a delightful set of lyrics, for the folks in the crowd that need to hear some singin’ with their playin’.

The song I speak of is ‘Grazing In The Grass’, written by South African Philemon Hou, and first offered for your appreciation just around this time of year 38 years ago (that being late June of Nineteen and Sixty Eight).

Trumpeter Hugh Masekela was the most prominent of a number of South African expatriates that came to the US in the early 1960’s, including (his then-wife) Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu (and her husband Caiphus Semanya) , Dollar Brand, and Jonas Gwangwa. He recorded a couple of little heard (but excellent) jazz LPs for MGM, before relocating to Los Angeles and co-founding Chisa Records. 

Masekela appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, where in addition to his solo set, he and his percussionist Big Black joined the Byrds (reprising his appearance on the studio version of the song on 1967’s ‘Younger Than Yesterday’) on ‘So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star’. I don’t know if this was ever officially released, but I have an old bootleg of the performance (in which David Crosby, who sounds as if he is utterly filled with chemical enthusiasm – repeatedly refers to him as “Hughie”) that is excellent.

He recorded ‘Grazing In The Grass’ in 1968, where it made it to the Number One position on both the R&B and Pop charts. Opening with a ringing cowbell, before the guitar and piano come in off the beat, ‘Grazing In The Grass’ is as joyful a piece of music as I’ve ever heard. Masekela manages to meld jazz and pop with the rhythm of the Townships to create a funky, very danceable mixture. The fact that it was hugely popular is no surprise as it’s the kind of record than even people that don’t really dig music, have to dig whether they like it or not. It’s infectious in the best sense of the word. I can only imagine housewives and old folks hearing ‘Grazing In The Grass’ and shaking their asses (or at least bobbing their heads and tapping their feet…maybe snapping their fingers) when they thought no one was looking.

Early the following year, the Friends of Distinction had a hit with a vocal reworking of the tune. I had always thought that the Friends of Distinction were basically a rehashing of the Fifth Dimension “formula”, until I found out that founding members of the former group (Floyd Butler and Harry Elston) had been members of Ray Charles’ opening act, the HiFi’s with Marilyn McCoo and Lamont McLemore (later of the Fifth Dimension).

Elston wrote lyrics to Hou’s melody, straightened out the rhythm a little bit, picked up the tempo and managed to make it into the Top Ten in both the Pop and R&B charts. While the Friends version of “Grazing’ lacks the easy funk of Masekela’s version, there’s no denying that their take is also quite good. Not to mention the very tasty drum break in the middle of the record.

Slap both of these on the MP3 delivery mechanism of your choice, and sometime this weekend, when you’re half inside whatever the bag is that you choose to be in, fire them up, let the sunshine, the warm July breeze, and the scent of citronella wash over you and smile (taking time later to pick the mosquitos out of your teeth).

Peace.

ANOTHER NOTE: The move of the Funky16Corners blog to it’s shiny new WordPress location is complete. I finished moving and reinstalling the blog archives (available in the sidebar under the Back issues heading) yesterday, going back to it’s fossil form in November of 2004. I will be placing a forwarding message on the old Blogspot space, and leave that up hoping that folks will eventually get the idea and reset their bookmarks to the new location. .

*YET ANOTHER NOTE:Thanks to Todd Lucas for reminding me that the USA is actually 230 years old, not 220 as I previously stated.

Bill Withers – Harlem

June 28, 2006

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Mr. Bill Withers

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Good day to you…..

Here we are, at the regular Wednesday get together. The grey weather continues unabated, but since we in NJ have been spared the worst of this seemingly endless storm – which has caused all kinds of flooding and property damage between Philadelphia and the Carolinas – I can’t really complain. As long as it’s warm – and it is – it’s still summer to me, and I’ll take it.

Today’s selection is the kind of record that I’ve carped about before, i.e. a song that I genuinely love (as are all of the tunes I post here), but one that escapes easy categorization, and thus description. This may or may not be a moot point. As I post an MP3 of each and every song I write about, it is possible for the listener/reader to download/play and listen to the tracks and describe it for themselves. However… That’s not really the sole purpose of this little electronic Mom & Pop operation I have going here. What I strive to do (though strive may be, on some days, too strong a word) is present little slices of excellent music, wrapped in a little bit of context/perspective, a lot of enthusiasm, strained through my own stew of opinions. The end result is – I hope – that the readers are exposed to some excellent music that either they haven’t heard before, or are hearing in a new way, and that they learn something new about that particular piece of music’s place in the grand scheme of things. I try to maintain a balance between playing to the connoisseurs in the crowd, and to those who are by and large unfamiliar with much of the music posted here.

On that note, despite the fact that today’s selection resides on the b-side of a substantial hit record, I hadn’t heard it before a few months ago. I have my fellow posters over at Soulstrut to thank for hepping me to the excellence of Bill Withers first LP, 1971’s ‘Just As I Am’.

While I (and everyone else with access to a radio) knew and loved ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, and had picked up a couple of Withers’ 45s when they came out in the 70’s, I had never owned, or heard a copy of his first LP. While browsing the racks at my local book and music mega-mondo-mart, I saw that ‘Just As I Am’ had been reissued in an excellent new package that included the entire album, and when you flipped the CD over it was also a DVD with a mini-documentary about Withers and the entire album again, in surround-sound, so I grabbed it. I’m here to tell you that if you haven’t gotten a copy of this album, you should do so now. Withers, who was recording demos and laboring installing airplane toilets when he was finally signed to Sussex, is if not unique, a truly unusual talent. His style combined the basic singer/songwriter structure that was the lingua franca in 1971, with pure, deep soul. He was an outstanding songwriter, and his performances, often with an acoustic guitar, carried with them an intimacy that made his songs even more powerful. When I hear ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, the first thing I think of is a feeling, i.e. melancholy, before I even begin to consider the elements of the actual record. That’s deep.

That ability to transmit emotion in his songs carries throughout the entire ‘Just As I Am’ album, from his powerful originals like ‘Grandma’s Hands’, ‘Hope She’ll Be Happier” and the loose and funky ‘Do It Good’, and creative reworkings of Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ and the Beatles ‘Let It Be’. The tune that grabbed me the most when I listened to the album for the first time was ‘Harlem’. Opening with Withers’ guitar and then a wave of strings, the momentum of the song builds gradually. The lyrics, painting a picture of life in Harlem, are excellent, and as their intensity builds, so do the vocals, working into a powerful statement. It’s really interesting that they chose to make ‘Harlem’ the flip side of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, because the two recordings form a kind of stylistic yin/yang, balancing the quiet pleading of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ with the forceful ‘Harlem’. The production by Booker T. Jones (he of the MGs) is outstanding, and the record manages to build in its mere three and a half minute span into a kind of mini epic. It’s the kind of record that in combination with a very solid track record as a hitmaker, ought to spur on a reconsideration of Withers as a major artist.

As I said before, ‘Harlem’ was the flipside of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, so a little garage-sale-ing, and 25 cents ought to be enough to secure your very own copy of this gem. If your interest is a little bit deeper, you can always grab ‘Lean On Me – Best of Bill Withers’ which includes not only ‘Harlem’ but all of his big hits. I would suggest grabbing the ‘Just As I Am’ CD, if only to hear the album in its entirety. It’s just that good.

Buy ‘Bill Withers – Just As I Am’ from Amazon

Brenda Holloway – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy

June 26, 2006

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Miss Brenda Hollway

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Greetings all.

Hope everyone had a nice weekend.

Once again, allow me to apologize for the absence of the regularly scheduled Friday post. My lovely wife – who happens to be 8 months pregnant – had to go to the hospital on Thursday – which kept me occupied all of Thursday night and most of Friday. Fortunately she and the baby are both doing fine and remain on track for an early-August delivery (phew…). If you notice a sudden interruption in new blog posts around that time, you can safely assume that we are otherwise (happily) occupied with a new little soul fan.

Today’s post begins with a little bit of time travel. It’s the summer of 1969, and I am 7 years old. My family has taken a vacation drive to Dayton, Ohio to visit my Aunt, Uncle and cousins. A decision has been made that I will remain in the mysterious Midwest for a few weeks and will be catching a ride back to New Jersey when the Ohio branch of the Grogan clan treks east for a visit.

If memory serves, I was pleased by this development. I enjoyed spending time with my cousins, many of whom were older than me. My late cousin Pat was a teenager who worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which then struck me as the coolest job imaginable (I’m not positive, but at the time I may very well have thought that Colonel Sanders was actually running the restaurant in question). I had a lot of fun out in Ohio that summer, but the lasting impact of the visit is that by virtue of being around teenagers, 1969 was the year that I first made my first, solid connection to the radio, vis a vis contemporary pop music. I remember a clear grouping of songs that seemed to be getting a lot of play on the radio that summer, including ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ by Tommy James & The Shondells, ‘My Cherie Amour’ by Stevie Wonder, and ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ by Blood Sweat and Tears.

I always loved the Blood Sweat and Tears tune, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized that it was in fact a cover.

By the time I finally heard the original version (maybe 15 years ago), I was surprised to find out that it had been recorded by an artist that I already knew, Brenda Holloway. In the late 80’s, Motown already had a miserable reputation for the reissue packaging of their classic material (a situation that I’m happy to say has been resolved). The exception to the rule was a series of ‘Hard To Find Motown Classics’ (I think that was the title) cds. The volume I had – purchased for Eddie Holland’s original version of ‘Leaving Here’, which became a mod fave when covered during the British beat era by the Birds and the Who – gave me my first taste of the Velvelettes (“Bird In The Hand”), as well as Brenda Holloway’s ‘I’ll be Available’.

 I always dug Holloway’s voice, and when I found out that she had recorded (and co-written) the original version of ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ I decided to keep my eyes peeled for a copy. Strangely enough I didn’t get that particular record until recently (sometimes it’s just like that, i.e. the rare ones walk right up and bite you on the ass and the common stuff takes a while to acquire).

Holloway was unusual in that while she recorded for Motown in their mid-60’s prime, she was based not in Detroit, but California. She had been spotted by Berry Gordy singing at a radio industry convention in LA, and signed in 1964. She recorded a number of 45s (including the oft covered ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’, which was a substantial hit) and an LP that year.

‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ was a Top 40 R&B and Pop hit in 1967. Written by Holloway, her sister Patrice (who would go on to be the singing/speaking voice of ‘Valerie’ on the Josie & The Pussycats cartoon), Frank Wilson and Berry Gordy, the arrangement is a little mellower than the BS&T take, and of course features Holloway’s wonderful vocals. Despite the fact that she managed to rack up a number of hits (and record two LPs) for Motown, Holloway was criminally underpromoted by the label. In Nelson George’s excellent ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ he reprints a letter from Holloway to Gordy in which she suggests that due to her location on the West Coast, she was not getting the kind of attention her career deserved (and she was right). So disillusioned was she by her experience with Motown that she retired from music in the late 60’s. She recorded again (gospel and soul) starting in the early 80’s.

BUY – ‘The Best of Brenda Holloway’ on Amazon

Friday Alert!

June 24, 2006

Just a note to let you know that despite a planned entry for today, the occurence of a family emergency – which kept me busy most of last night and all of today – prevented it from happening.

Rest assured that we'll be back on Monday with grooves of a most excellent nature.

Have a great weekend!

Larry

Eddie Bo & Inez Cheatham – Lover and a Friend

June 21, 2006

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You go, Bo!

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Hey, hey ,heeeyyyyyyy!!

Wheeeee!

First day of summer in da hi-youssse!

Of course this information will come as a surprise to my fellow New Jersey-ans who have been sweltering for a few weeks now.

By way of what may come as a disturbing revelation to some, I used to go see the Grateful Dead on a fairly regular basis (late 80’s/early 90’s ish). Now I wasn’t following them around in an alfalfa sprouting, incense burning, tie-dyed, bloodshot, VW microbus, but I was otherwise a rather typical, long-haired, bong-rattling concert attendee, indistinguishable – aside from my largeness – from the rest of the crowd (though I never went in for the terpsichorean flights of fancy so common at the time). I mention this, because at the time, the Dead used to hit Giants Stadium every year in early June. The first time I saw them there, it was the end of the first week in June and it had to be close to 110 degrees. The following year, at roughly the same time, it was about 55 degrees, and I sat in my crappy, upper-deck seats freezing my fat ass off. So basically this was just a public service announcement about the capricious nature of the late-Spring/early-Summer weather in NJ.

Some years the “official” first day of summer is an eagerly anticipated event, wherein it is hoped that nice weather is just around the corner. Other years it’s like you’re standing in the middle of a bonfire and some wise-guy sidles up next to you to say “Sure is getting warm!” Other than the fact that the rather abrupt change of seasons can be jarring, I dig the warm weather as it brings with it the opportunity for me to wear shorts, allowing me the opportunity to expose my ghostly white legs to the general public. If it weren’t for the persistent traffic jams that come with the post-Memorial Day season, wall to wall out-of-state plates, and the drunken yahoos driving the cars (for some reason, at the Jersey Shore these visitors are known as “bennies”). Summertime would be an absolute pleasure.

That said, in the spirit of New Orleans Week, and the onset of summer, what better tune to post than Eddie Bo and Inez Cheatham’s ‘Lover and a Friend’. One of the pricier Bo items on the record market, due in large part to it’s inclusion as a sample on DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist’s ‘Brainfreeze’ mix (which drove up the value of a number of records in exactly the same way), it is worth every penny an intrepid (lucky) digger might pay, and then some. If you follow my ramblings, here an over at the webzine, you already know that I hold Mr. Edwin Bocage in the highest possible regard. If you dig good music, you should too. From the mid-50’s right on up to the present day Mr. Bo has been working his magic in vinyl, creating a vast and amazing catalogue of R&B, soul and funk, under his own name and as the guiding force (writing, producing, arranging) behind other artists. He really ought to have a shiny brass plaque affixed to his piano that reads:

The man that brought you both ‘Pass the Hatchet’ and Hook and Sling’.

I mean, the man is responsible for a LOT of amazing records, but his involvement in those two ought to be enough to get respect from anyone with an ounce of soul. However, I will not – as is my bag – let Mr. Bo rest on his laurels, without taking a moment to freshen them. ‘Lover and a Friend’ is – rightly so – one of the cornerstones of Eddie Bo’s mighty reputation.

The record opens with one of the most earth-shaking drum breaks in all of New Orleans recorded soul – a genre filled with them – provided by Mr. Bobby Williams. This is the same Bobby Williams of the storied ‘Boogaloo Mardi Gras Pts 1&2’ which, like ‘Lover and a Friend’ first saw the light of day on the legendary Seven B label prior to being picked up by Capitol for national distribution. While the ‘Lover’ break may not possess the wild, off-kilter brilliance of James Black’s opening on Bo’s ‘Hook and Sling’ (a work of absolute, certified brilliance that all who broke (breaked?) afterward should bow down before in awe), it is undeniably powerful, and ought to get even the sleepiest listener perk up, pick up their invisible drumsticks and start flailing along. Listen to that snare snap. Listen to that kick drum thump in syncopation as the high-hat ticks along with metronomic precision. It’s a thing of beauty.

Then the singing starts and I’m here to tell you that it gets even better. Eddie Bo made some outstanding records with female vocalists, most notably Mary Jane Hooper and the Explosions. For a long time, due in large part to what I would consider startling vocal similarities, I believed (as did many others) that Mary Jane Hooper (real name Sena Fletcher) and Inez Cheatham was the same person. According to a few reliable sources (including Martin Lawrie at Soulgeneration) this is not the case. Though Fletcher and Cheatham apparently sang together for a while, and both worked with Bo, they were two distinct people. Cheatham and Bo start the record with a repeated refrain of ‘Shoop!”, before diving into the verse, singing in unison. They both take turns breaking out of the harmony, especially in the choruses. The backing, with piano and guitar setting a steady rhythm and the drummer almost taking the instrumental lead, provides (borrowing the title of another Bo side) a solid foundation for the exciting vocals.

At the risk of sounding like a skipping record, allow me state once again that this is another example of a New Orleans record that should have broken nationally, and for whatever reason did not connect with the record buying public. New Orleans soul and funk are decidedly idiosyncratic sounds, but the top 40 (pop and soul) of 1967/68 was certainly diverse enough to absorb them. ‘Lover and a Friend’ is certainly not the only great record – from New Orleans or anywhere else for that matter – that was not a chart success, but something inside me just wants to imagine a 1968 where it was emanating from car radios (and on dance floors) all over the country.

Is that too much to ask?

Funky16Corners Radio v.5 – Funky Nawlins Pt1

June 19, 2006

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Track listing

1.The Meters – Cardova (Instant) 2.Chris Kenner – Fumigate Funky Broadway (Instant) 3. Jimmy Hicks – I’m Mr Big Stuff (Big Deal) 4. The Unemployed – Funky Thing Pt1 5. Skip Easterling –Too Weak To Break The Chains (Instant) 6. Lee Dorsey – When the Bill’s Paid (Polydor) 7.Cyril Neville – Tell me What’s On Your Mind (Josie) 8.Danny White – Natural Soul Brother (SSS Intl) 9. David Batiste & The Gladiators – Funky Soul Pts 1&2 (Instant) 10.Wilbert Harrison – Girls On Parade (Buddah) 11. Chuck Carbo – Take Care of You Homework (Canyon) 12. Allen Toussaint – We The People (Bell) 13. Oliver Morgan – Roll Call (Seven B) 14.Deacon John – You Don’t Know How To Turn me On (Bell) 15. Mary Jane Hooper – Harper Valley PTA (Power) 16. Eddie Bo – Don’t Turn Me Loose (Bo Sound)

To hear this mix, head on over to the Funky16Corners Radio Podcast Archive

Greetings all! Here’s hoping that you all had a good weekend. Things here in the Northeast were spectacular and spectacularly hot (at least for this early in the summer). Today we bring you the fifth installment of Funky16Corners Radio, this time taking a trip back down to the Crescent City, New Orleans, Louisiana for a selection of funk and funky soul. Connoisseurs of the genre will be familiar with some of these burners, but hopefully I’ve included something that’ll be new to everyone, especially some discs that I feel have been under-appreciated. We start things off with a number that resides at the top of many “Best of All Time” funk lists, the Meters mighty ‘Cardova’. By far my favorite number the Meters ever committed to vinyl under their own name – leaving out the many amazing 45s for which they provided anonymous backing – it starts out with George Porter dropping some heavy, heavy bass (so heavy in fact, that when it comes on in the car, I have to restart the tune and crank up the bass boost). As the rest of the gang drop in, Messrs. Neville on the organ, Nocentelli on the guitar and Modeliste snapping the traps, it all comes together into a swampy, hypnotic and undeniably funky mix. The only drag here is that this amazing song never made it out as a 45 (perhaps the tiny brittle confines of a 45 were too fragile to contain such a monster). If you want to spin it, you’re going to have to track down and snare a copy of their first LP (or a reissue thereof).

Chris Kenner is known to all for his early Instant label classics like ‘I Like It Like That’, but you would be wise to see if you can score copies of his late 60’s output for that label. In addition to his Eddie Bo collaborations like ‘All Night Rambler’, he also laid down tasty sides like 1967’s ‘Fumigate Funky Broadway’. Opening with a tasty drum break, Kenner goes off on a wild tear – as he was wont to do – backed by some groovy organ. The lyrics don’t make a whole lot of sense, but really, who cares? The b-side ‘Wind the Clock’, despite the new title, is actually a Part 2-ish continuation.

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Jimmy Hicks ‘I’m Mr. Big Stuff’ is of course an ‘answer record’ to Jean Knight’s 1971 ‘Mr. Big Stuff’. One of many outstanding 45s on the Big Deal imprint (along with Anthony Butler & the Invaders, and the Fantoms), ‘I’m Mr. Big Stuff’ takes things at a slightly more relaxed, and funky pace.

The Unemployed made a couple of excellent 45s with Wardell Quezerque. Though they recorded in Mississippi (at Malaco, as many of Quezerque’s productions), they were a NOLA band through and through. ‘Funky Thing’ is a fast moving, featuring group vocals, lots of guitar and solid drumming. Their other Cotillion 45, ‘Funky Rooster’ b/w ‘They Won’t Let Me’ is also excellent.

Though little known outside of New Orleans, Skip Easterling was the town’s greatest “blue-eyed” soul singer. Easterling recorded for a number of New Orleans labels – his ‘Keep The Fire Burning” on ALON is a classic – and his sides for Instant are outstanding. ‘Too Weak To Break the Chains’, from 1971 features some timely psychedelic guitar, a funky, stop-time beat and a smooth vocal by Skip. He recorded five 45s for Instant, one of which ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’ was a big local hit. Someone ought to get the lead out and compile his recordings, as he – like many other great NOLA singers – is deserving of wide recognition.

Where do you start with Lee Dorsey? The man could do no wrong. He was responsible for a number of hits, including oldies radio fixtures like ‘Ya Ya’, and was one of New Orleans’ finest R&B/soul singers. ‘When the Bill’s Paid’ hails from his 1971 Polydor LP ‘Yes We Can’. If you’ve heard the album, you already know that it’s packed from end to end with amazing tunes like ‘Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further’, ‘Tears Tears and More Tears’, ‘Gator Tail’ and the title track (later covered by the Pointer Sisters). ‘When the Bill’s Paid’ is one of the lesser known, but excellent tracks from the LP (it never came out on 45). Like the rest of the LP, it bears the mark of the Meters.

Cyril Neville’s solo debut was the 1970 45 ‘Gossip’ b/w ‘Tell Me What’s On Your Mind’. Also backed by the Meters, and Toussaint-produced it was funky on both sides – though funk 45 diggers are usually after the harder-hitting ‘Gossip’. ‘Tell Me What’s ON Your Mind’ is clearly no slouch in the funk department, with snapping drums, chunky organ and a tight, tight horn section.

Example

Prepare yourself for the pure, unbridled soul power of Danny White’s ‘Natural Soul Brother’. White recorded a number of ballads and soul dancers through the 60’s for labels like Frisco. ‘Natural Soul Brother’ was his sole 45 for SSS Intl, and it is a stone killer. I first heard this tune years ago on a comp, and just about went nuts trying to track down a copy. For a track on a relatively common and well distributed label it proved extremely hard to find. I was foiled more than once when I thought I finally tracked on down – one disappeared en route from the UK – before I finally scored a copy for a single US dollar in an otherwise uninspiring lot on E-Bay. I suspect that after you hear the song, you’ll want one of your own as well.

I underwent a similarly frantic search for David Batiste & the Gladiators ‘Funky Soul Pts 1&2’ on Instant. Not only is this track hard to find, but when you do it is EXPENSIVE. I lucked out and got it for a reduced price, but only because it looked a lot worse than it played. I would rank ‘Funky Soul’ as one of the four or five best funk sides to emerge from New Orleans (and that’s saying a lot). Released in 1971, it was issued later on the Soulin label. I have seen sales listings that infer that the Soulin issue is the first, but looking at the vintage of other releases on that label, I have my doubts. I have included both Parts One and Two here.

The next track is by a non-New Orleans artist, but it was recorded there. ‘Girls on Parade’ hails from Wilbert Harrison’s self-titled 1971 Buddah LP. Produced by Marshall Sehorn, with horn arrangements by Allen Toussaint, the LP is unremarkable, save for the funky ‘Girls On Parade’. Harrison, best known for the classic “Kansas City” and the 1969 ‘Let’s Get Together’ (covered by Canned Heat) wails a series of girls names (and not much else) over the modified Bo Diddley beat.

Chuck Carbo’s ‘Take Care of Your Homework’ was the flip side of his funky, Eddie Bo penned/produced masterpiece ‘Can I Be Your Squeeze’. ‘ Take Care of Your Homework’ never reaches the frantic levels of ‘…Squeeze’ but is still quite funky, with a melodic chorus. Carbo had recorded a number of 45s in the 50’s and 60’s, including several as a member of the Spiders with his brother Chick.

If you follow the doings in this space, you already know that I think very highly of the great Allen Toussaint. The man was responsible for the lions share of great R&B and soul sides to come out of New Orleans in the 60’s as a songwriter, producer and arranger. He worked closely with singers like Eldridge Holmes and Betty Harris, and lesser known (but also excellent) artists like Wallace Johnson. Toussaint also had his own performing career, first as Al Tousan, then as a member of the Stokes and finally under his own name. 1969’s ‘We the People’ was his final single for the Bell label. Moving along with a loping beat, lots of piano and Toussaint’s vocals, ‘We the People’ (which was flipped with a cover of ‘Tequila’) may not be the funkiest thing he ever recorded, but is nonetheless a fine – forgotten – chapter in his solo discography.

Example

Oliver Morgan recorded a bunch of classics, including ‘Who Shot the La La’, and, not surprisingly ‘La La Man’. The latter was one of his three collaborations with Eddie Bo on the Seven B label. The first record the recorded together was ‘Roll Call’, which features some tight James Black drums, backing vocals from Mr. Bo and a wailing lead from Morgan. The b-side, ‘Sure Is Nice’ is a groovy, upbeat soul tune.

Example

Deacon John Moore is best known for his work as a popular New Orleans session guitarist on countless classic 60’s records. His 1971 (or ’72, I’m not 100% sure) 45 ‘You Don’t Know How (To Turn Me On)” is a funky vocal with some excellent guitar (no surprise there). I know this was comped somewhere (but can’t recall where). The flip side is a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers To Cross’.

 

 Example

Eddie Bo produced and wrote for many singers, and many of his best remembered sides were with Mary Jane Hooper. For years, the rumor was that Hooper (real name Sena Fletcher) was the same person as ‘Inez Cheatham’, who recorded the duet ‘Lover and a Friend’ with Bo for Seven B and Capitol. This has been disputed – by no less an authority than Bo himself – but their voices are EERILY similar. ‘Harper Valley PTA’ was released on the local Power label, backed with another issue of ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’, which had been issued earlier on World Pacific.

Speaking of Eddie Bo, we close this mix out with the b-side of his 1971 Bo-Sound funker ‘Can You Handle It’. ‘Don’t Turn Me Loose’ is a more relaxed, but no less satisfying number, featuring a great horn chart and some nice female backing vocals (not to mention a stellar vocal by Mr. Bo himself).

Syl Johnson – Dresses Too Short

June 16, 2006

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Syl, looking slick (and wicked)

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I said bayyyybeee…your dresses too short!

Say what?

It’s Syl Johnson kids.

The one, the only, blues wailing, soul singing, harmonica wrassling, Sock It To Me man, running the route between Mississippi and Chitown, and like he said, your dresses too short (though I’m having a hard time seeing his point of view).

A few weeks ago I dropped Mr. Johnson’s name in reference to an excellent cover version of one of his best tunes, the mighty ‘Is It because I’m Black’, as offered by one Ken Boothe, reggae singer extraordinaire. Mr Boothe will be featured in this space, laying down that very same song in a few short weeks (during Funky16Corners all-Jamaican week, really…).

Syl Johnson is one of those cats, that despite being a dependable R&B hitmaker for almost 20 years, starting out with Chicago’s storied Twinight imprint, and then moving on to even more fine work in the hallowed Memphian halls of the Hi label (home to the right Rev. Green – “Al” to his friends – Anne Peebles and Willie Mitchell among others).

As I said, he erupted from Mississippi, and crash landed in Chicago in the late 50’s, working for legends like Magic Sam (the cat that makes me wish I had a blues blog on the side), Junior Wells and Billy Boy “I Wish You Would” Arnold, before making it into the studio with the laconic (some would say somnolent), and highly influential blues giant Jimmy Reed.

He started laying down his own wax for Federal that same year, making a number of 45s for that label into 1962.

Between ’62, and ’67 when he made his first sides for Twinight he recorded for a few small labels. He had one of his biggest hits right out of the gate with ‘Come On Sock It To Me’, his very first single for Twinight. An outstanding example of rough-edged sock soul, it can also be found in its non-vocal form on the Shama label as played by Syl’s backing band The Deacons (featuring Syl’s brother Jimmy on guitar). It’s a nice slice of mid-60’s organ bashing and remains rather affordable (at least the last time I checked). The Deacons version – ‘Sock It To Me’ hit the R&B Top 40 in December of 1968, just a month after ‘Dresses Too Short’ did the very same thing.

‘Dresses Too Short’, a similarly savage entry into the Big Book of Fine Chicago Soul Sides, though committed to wax in the Windy City, sounds as if Syl dragged the gang back down below the Mason-Dixon line for the session. The drums, they snap, the gee-tar, she twangs, the organ grinds and the horns sound like they wafted in on a strong wind from McLemore Ave. It’s a lively take on, if I may borrow a phrase from Mr. Lou Courtney – “chick check’n” – and sounds like the sound produced by a hot room full of funky butts, cheap wine and Continental suits.

That’s a PARTY son!

When Syl, who wails mightily starts going on about how,

You’re looking good

You’re looking so good, now

When you sock it to me

Rock it to me one more time

I can’t stand it

I’m going out of my mind

I said BAYYYBEEEE

You wear your dresses too short!

You’re there in the room with him, reaching up to mop the sweat from his brow, so his vision of such a fine, fine woman should not be in any way obscured.

The flip side, ‘I Can Take Care of Business’ is a very tasty soul ballad that incorporates a bit of Syl’s blues past.

Very nice 45 indeed.

NOTE: This, otherwise known as the regularly scheduled Friday post, is going up tonight on account of I got some bidness to take care of on the morrow. I’ll be back on Monday with a week of some high quality New Orleans sounds, including a new installment of Funky16Corners Radio.

Buy Syl Johnson’s Music on Amazon

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Ike & Tina Turner & The Ikettes – There Was A Time – African Boos -Funky Street

June 14, 2006

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Ike & Tina Turner

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Hey, hey, hey….. It’s Wednesday morning, and I am feeling about as well as anyone whose two-year-old son decided to wake him up at 5:45AM, i.e. I am tired. My eyes feel like two tennis balls, and the urge to crawl under my desk and take a nap is almost impossible to resist. However, the need to remain gainfully employed, and the inner pilot light that ignites my ‘The blog must go on’ impulse is maintaining just enough of a connection between my ears, brain and fingers to get today’s entry typed out. The only remedy, of course, is to open up what beer-swilling, ham-fisted goons normally refer to as a “can of whoopass”, or what I like to call – coincidentally – a “can of whoopass”. This may betray the fact that sometime in my cloudy past I may have aspired to – and achieved – beer-swilling, ham-fisted goon-hood, but that is a risk I must take, because if there is a can of whoopass near enough to grab, it has a label that reads:

Ike and Tina Turner Revue, Handle with Caution!

That’s right chillun. By clicking on today’s MP3 link, you will be unleashing into your computer (and of course your ears) a blast of just over six minutes of absolutely, unrelentingly, spine-twisting, brain-softening, eye-popping soul power. It may have been recorded more than 35 years ago, but like a bottle of ripple, it has only gotten more powerful (maybe even dangerous). I have dropped some Ike and Tina action in this space before, and though I bow to their power without hesitation, it is only fair to say that when it comes to the Turners, I am often conflicted as to what category they and their music should inhabit.

They are certainly soulful, but are they “soul”?

While capable of undeniably funky moments, are they “funk”?

Hmmmmmm….

Does anyone but me care about these distinctions? Perhaps not, but I’m gonna keep writing anyway. Ike and Tina Turner, by sheer force of talent and personality, managed to embrace all aspects of black music during their prime, while simultaneously transcending labels. They were purely rhythm and blues, but their sound passed through (and marked) soul, funk and even rock’n’roll.

They managed to create explosive and popular music that while rooted in roadhouses and chittlin’ circuit theaters almost always ended up going in other directions. How much of this power resulted from their famously contentious and violent partnership, is not for me to say. Despite Ike’s obvious talent, he was reportedly a wife-beating asshole, tyrant and all around unpleasant individual, and I can’t imagine this inspiring Tina to do anything other than pack a bag, grab her kids and hit the road (which she eventually did). The only answer – for me, anyway – is that they were both very talented, and they managed to create dynamic music in spite of their problems.

That said, they also managed to put together a shit-hot act, a large part of which was their backing group the Ikettes. Though I can’t say with any certainty which Ikettes are performing on today’s selection, but I can says that over the years their ranks included Clydie King, Vanetta Fields, Jo Armstead, P.P. Arnold and Bonnie Bramlett, and that they managed to crank out some outstanding 45s under their own name (and later as the Mirettes).

Today’s selection(s) hails from a 1969 Minit LP, ‘In Person: Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes’. Though by this time the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was playing psychedelic ballrooms and festivals, they were still hitting the supper clubs, and as things open up, the appropriate vibe seems to be in place. The band is vamping on a vague approximation of King Curtis’s ‘Soul Serenade’ and KSOL DJ Herb Campbell – who sounds like he’s chairing the local Kiwanis– is greeted by polite applause as he comes out to introduce the band. He calls out the Ikettes, who take the stage and thank the audience. Then, it happens. Forgetting that they’re in a supper club and not looking out over a sea of muddy hippies, the band turns the volume up to 11, and proceeds to explode into a cover of James Brown’s ‘There Was a Time’. I can only imagine some of the tuxedoed swells in the audience gagging on their cocktail onions as the band tears into the song at about 150 miles per hour. ‘There Was a Time’ is one of my fave JB songs, and I’m here to tell you that the Ikettes more than do it justice. They take the song and turn it into an extended intro – warning? – as Tina is preparing to take the stage. The Ikettes finish up, and Campbell returns to the stage to bring Tina on. ‘The beautiful, talented, Queen of Soul, Miss Tina Turner!’ Tina walks on – I’m assuming, this is after all a record – and the band fires back up and take things at an even faster rate (if that’s possible). There’s an extended vamp, with Ike bending the strings, and the drummer (whoever he was) laying down a hard, fast groove, and you can imagine Tina and the Ikettes doing that frantic Pony-variation that they did so well. Tina drops in and starts things up.

One used to be the Shotgun

Two used to be the bad boogaloo

 Three used to be the swingin’ Shingaling

Four used to be the Funky Four Corners

Down on Funky Street

Diggin’ the funky beat

Down on Funky Street Where the grooviest people meet!

OUCH! It like Arthur Conley is there on the stage, his face streaked with tears as Tina and the Ikettes are dancing all over his prone, shattered form. It’s that powerful. And then, after two (very) short verses, the whole affair comes to an abrupt end. The audience sits there, eyelids peeled back, lapels afire, wondering why they gave up a chance to see Robert Goulet to subject themselves to the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, for which they were obviously not prepared. It’s just like that sometimes.

* PS I’m not exactly sure which part of this medley “African Boos” is, unless that’s what Ike decided to call the part of the song where the band is vamping on ‘There Was a Time’, which in all hoesty just should have been called ‘There Was a Time’.

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Billy Preston – Let The Music Play

June 12, 2006

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Billy Preston R.I.P.

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Greetings.

First off, we’re still MOVING. I’m still mirroring these posts at the old Funky16Corners blogspot, but not for much longer as Blogger problems persist (and seem to be worsening).

I was saddened last week to hear of the passing of the great Billy Preston. If you grew up in the 70’s, Preston was a very familiar face, having hit the charts a number of times with tunes like ‘Outta Space’ and ‘Will It Go Round In Circles’. It’s not hard to conjure up an image of the Billy Preston of the 70’s, with his impossibly large afro and infectious, gap-toothed smile. While most of the music blogs I follow featured a tribute of some kind, this space remained unfortunately Preston-less. This was due in large part to the fact that I already had some posts n the hopper, and because I couldn’t quite think of any tunes that hadn’t already been covered in some way. This weekend I started to pull out and record some new material for the coming weeks, and while flipping through my Hammond boxes, I came up with something I think you’ll dig. It was only in adulthood that I found out about, and started to listen to Preston’s early work. Through the 60’s, from the time he was a teenager up until just before he collaborated with the Beatles on ‘Get Back’, Preston made a series of instrumental LPs featuring his work on the organ for the Derby, VeeJay and Capitol labels. Though none of these records would meet with any chart success, a few of his numbers, especially ‘Billy’s Bag’ (on VeeJay) would become dancefloor faves with the Mod and Northern Soul crowds in the UK. Though I was aware of this material for a while, the first record I was actually able to get my hands on was his first Capitol LP ‘The Wildest Organ in Town’. Arranged by (and featuring uncredited contributions from) Sly Stone, the LP was recorded not long after Preston’s run on the US pop showcase Shindig. This LP – like his previous work for VeeJay – featured a mix of cover versions of pop and soul tunes and a few originals. So, the years went on, and – Hammond fiend that I am – I grabbed Preston’s early stuff whenever I was able. Some years ago, during that period of acquisition, my pal Haim played a Preston 45 for me that I had never heard before, which immediately blew me away. ‘Let The Music Play’, which was released in late 1966 (and was recorded for Preston’s second Capitol LP ‘Club Meeting’, which I have never seen in the field), is less a Hammond tour de force than a jubilant, soulful vocal number that verily explodes with energy. Arranged by HB Barnum, the tune opens with a wailing organ, horns and vibes. Preston starts the vocal (I tend to think that the second voice in the background may be Stone, but it’s just as possible that it’s Preston doubling himself), and the verse – about a miserable life redeemed by music – is excellent, but it’s not until the chorus, with it’s wild “Hey!”s that sound as if they are panned from channel to channel, that things take off. The horn chart is powerful, and the backing track sounds as if it were recorded live in the studio with little or no overdubs. It’s probably my favorite Preston side, and ought to be better known. Preston must have liked the song since he re-recorded it in the mid-70’s. The version of Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’ on the flip side, sounds like a live recording and has a loose, “churchy” feel to it. It’s a great companion piece to ‘Let the Music Play’. As I said before, I’ve never seen a copy of the LP ‘Club Meeting’, I have seen the 45 turn up now and again, and ‘Wildest Organ In Town’ and ‘Club Meeting’ have been paired up for a CD reissue, as have his VeeJay recordings.

Buy Wildest Organ In Town / Club Meeting at Amazon.com

Buy Billy’s Bag at Amazon.com

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Tammi Terrell – I Can’t Believe You Love Me

June 9, 2006

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Miss Tammi Terrell

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Greetings to the second post here at the new blog. I will continue to mirror posts at the old blog for a few weeks until folks can get their links adjusted.

Anyway… Today’s selection is another one of those “hey look what I found sitting in my pile of records” revelations, which seem to be happening with increasing frequency these days. A while back, I was working on the computer and pulling LPs off the shelf and spinning them on the portable. One of the discs I grabbed was a 1967 Motown anthology – something like “16 Original Hits” – that had a bunch of painfully obvious, heavily overplayed selections, and a few interesting items that I was not familiar with. One of these, buried at the end of one of the sides was a Tammi Terrell tune, ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’. So, I’m sitting there, waiting for a page to load in the background, and playing spider solitaire and suddenly I hear a strangely familiar song. I checked the label, saw it was the aforementioned Tammi Terrell song, and started wracking my brain as to where I might have heard it before. It took a few minutes, and then I realized that I knew the song, but in a recording by someone else, in this case the mighty Ambassadors of Philadelphia, PA. The Ambassadors were one of the finest harmony soul groups to come out of Philly in the late 60’s, having recorded a series of 45s for Atlantic, and then a second run of 45s and an LP for the Philly label Arctic (also home to the Volcanos and Barbara Mason). ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’ was the b-side of the group’s first Arctic 45, the a-side of which ‘I Really Love You’ was their only chart hit. Tammi Terrell – who also hailed from Philadelphia – is best known to most listeners as one of the more prominent duet partners of Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’ among others) , and for her short, tragic life. She began performing in her early teens, and recorded a few 45s (for Scepter, and James Brown’s Try Me label) before being signed to Motown in 1965. ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’ was the a-side of her very first 45 for the label, and it hit the Top 40 of both the Pop and R&B charts. Written by Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’, as recorded by Terrell is a lush, sexy mid-tempo number with a fantastic arrangement. Opening with what sounds like doubled electric guitars, and then strings, Terrell comes in with her sweet voice, running through the chorus once before dropping back into the verse. Her voice is accompanied only by the guitars and percussion, before the backing singers and strings come back in for the chorus, which builds ever so subtly into a crescendo. It has quickly become one of my favorite Motown sides. Terrell also recorded the tune as a duet with Gaye in 1969. In 1967, she collapsed on stage and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Though she continued to record for a few more years, her condition got worse and she finally died in 1970, only 24 years old. Fortunately, all of Tammi Terrell’s best work – solo and with Marvin Gaye – is available in reissue, as are the recordings of the Ambassadors (which I recommend highly, even though their CD omits their version of this great song).

BUY TAMMI TERRELL ON AMAZON

BUY THE AMBASSADORS ON AMAZON

DONATE TO FUNKY16CORNERS 2006 PLEDGE DRIVE


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