Archive for July, 2006

Jeanne & The Darlings – Soul Girl

July 26, 2006

Example

Isaac Hayes & David Porter

Example

Listen – Soul Girl MP3″

Greetings

Here we are at the middle of the week, for what may be the very last “fresh” post* before the arrival of the hardest working infant in showbiz, aka Soul Baby #1 aka Mr. Wah Wah Waaah aka Little Mr. Dynamite, so I figured that I ought to bring some heat, so as not leave a bad taste in the mouths of those that drop by here for a slice of soul every now and again (and we have a winner for the run-on sentence of the week!!).

I have to start by admitting that over the course of this blogs existence, I have been remiss in providing the listener/reader with his/her daily requirement of Memphis soul, especially the varieties thereof created by the good folks on McLemore Ave, i.e. the Stax/Volt organization.

This isn’t because I don’t love me some Stax – on account of I do – but rather because I just haven’t gotten around to it. There may be a little bit of what I referred to in the Four Tops post on Monday, that being that the ongoing safari for soul obscurity may have led me to miss the forest for the trees, and in the end you may have been unduly deprived of some of what I – in my slightly skewed POV – may have considered too “obvious”. For this – or any similar omission – I beg your forgiveness, because if there is any “major” soul label that deserves your attention, Stax (and its sister label Volt) is it.

Seriously….you have your Otis Reddings, your Rufus (and or Carla) Thomas’s, the Eddie Floyds, the Mable Johns, Booker T and the MGs, Albert King, not to forget the double dynamite of Sam & Dave. As a purveyor of high quality soul, Stax had few peers. However, they also (like any label that released hundred of 45s) had some tasty obscurities, one of which (that being today’s selection) I will use to craftily present something from the Stax/Volt catalogue, which will also provide a taste of rarity for those so inclined.

That record, ‘Soul Girl’ by Jeanne & The Darlings is, at least in my opinion, the greatest example of while there may not have been a whole lot of out and out, shoot out your hip and let your backbone slip funk on Stax/Volt, they made records that were funkier, in word and deed than just about anyone, anywhere (anyhow).

Jeanne & The Darlings hailed – much like our funkiest President – from Arkansas, where they started out (at least Jeanne and Dee Dolphus) as the Dolphus Sisters, recording for Avant Records. They relocated to Memphis where between 1967 and 1969 they recorded five singles for Volt, none of which met with any measure of success. They did however (at least with their first two Volt releases) have the help of Isaac Hayes and David Porter and ‘Soul Girl’ was one of those collaborations.

Now, unless you just rolled off the storied turnip truck, you will of course realize that ‘Soul Girl’ is in fact a re-working of Sam & Dave’s mighty ‘Soul Man’. However, unless you just hopped back on said truck, you will also realize that ‘Soul Girl’ is much more than a cover. When Sam, Dave, Isaac, David and the Stax gang got together in 1967 and whipped up ‘Soul Man’, the creation they unleashed on the transistor radios of America (and the world) was a swaggering, super-charged machine that would tower above the world of soul for nearly ten years before being unjustly hobbled by the Blues Brothers, an affront from which the image of that song – as it is in the public consciousness – may not yet have recovered.

This is not to suggest that ‘Soul Man’ is not still one of the greatest soul records of the 60’s, but rather that the Blues Brothers opened a wound that the memories of a generation of kids – now approaching middle age – have kept from healing. It’s like if ten years after Bartholdi built the Statue of Liberty, some clown rolled up and spray painted a dick on it.

Know what I mean?

Anyway, when Hayes and Porter entered the studio a year later, being the talented and wise individuals they were, they decided that to merely redo ‘Soul Man’ in the distaff would be a waste of everyone’s time and money. As a result, they set to work putting a new spin on the tune, assisted ably by the powerful pipes of Jeanne Dolphus.

Jeanne & The Darling’s ‘Soul Girl’ takes the tempo back a step, with the addition of a drum line so epic in its scope as to bring about involuntary spasms (sometime known as dancing) in listeners. When the needle hits the groove, with a single guitar chord, and the drums come in, it sounds like whoever was working the board fell asleep, pushing the drum mike all the way up**.

It also sounds like they went out, found an all midget gospel quartet, kidnapped the bass singer, placing him inside the kick drum and forced him to repeat the phrase,

BOOM CHICK A BOOM BOOM CHICK

…over and over again to supplement Al Jackson’s right foot. I can’t say that I know for a fact that it’s the MG’s drummer playing, but as the Magic Eight Ball would say, all signs point to Al Jackson.

Hayes lays down some grooving piano chords on the bottom, and the horn section come in at all the right time, but the main thrust of ‘Soul Girl’ (aside from the aforementioned bass drum) is all Jeanne & The Darlings. The lyrics have been reworked here and there, Jeanne’s lead is powerful, and the Darlings keep bringing it it the background, with the WHOOOOOO!’s and the ‘SOOOULLL GIRLLL!’s and what not.

No matter how you slice it, ‘Soul Girl’ is a great record.

After their last 45, the group dropped from sight, as far as I can tell never recording again. ‘Soul Girl’ has been comped a few times, but the actual 45, while not being especially costly, is not an easy score (at least in decent condition). It’s been a fave of mine for a long time, and I only found one earlier this year.

*Unless of course I get uncharacteristically ambitious. One never knows….

**Said drums have been sampled numerous times, by the likes of Pete Rock and House of Pain

Four Tops – Shake Me Wake Me (When It’s Over)

July 24, 2006

Example

The Four Tops

Example

Happy Monday

I hope everyone had a great weekend and is digging Friday’s installment of Funky16Corners Radio.

At the risk of jinxing the situation, the humidity appears to have broken – at least for the moment – and the sun is out again. Unfortunately this meteorological upswing arrived after the end of the weekend, so I basically get to watch it through my window.

I should warn you now that my wife and I are expecting our second child next Monday, so next week is more than likely going to be filled with summer re-runs/”Best of” material, so I can do my duty as a loyal husband/father. I may post the occasional brief, but aside from that I’m going to be getting used to not sleeping again.

Rest assured, I have lots of great stuff in the pipe, including lots of new mixes, so bear with me.

Today’s selection is another one from the “I Can’t Believe How Much I Took This Group For Granted, Honestly.” File. Certainly, of the artists that pop up in this space, few are as well known or successful as the Four Tops. If you follow my antics with any regularity, you will have noticed that periodically I return to a previously worn groove. I do this – at the risk of sounding repetitive (or embarrassing myself) because usually it has to do with a slightly “larger” concept.

As a music lover and record fiend, I often catch the collector psychosis, in which rarity brings not only an increase in monetary, but also artistic value (dubious to be sure) stepping in when I listen to music. This results in many fine records, which popularity and drastic levels of overplaying on oldies radio have rendered, how do you say “familiar” (with the most pejorative meaning possible) getting the brush-off when they come on the radio. Many of these records are Motown sides, that for better or worse have gotten the “Big Chill” treatment, and as a result have become – for me anyway – all but unlistenable.

I realize that this is not the artists (or the songs) fault, and that my beef is with the homogeneity of commercial radio. As I often explain to my wife (who’s a little younger than I am) the vast majority of what gets played on “Oldies” radio, is the stuff that was lodged firmly in the Top 10 of its day, and that you rarely get to hear anything else that resided between #10 and #40. These songs were in fact hits when they came out, but because the America’s pop-cultural “memory” has been so warped by the funhouse mirror of commercially driven “nostalgia” (and the reliance of “Oldies” radio on the Pop top 10), that many great records are known today only to the people old enough to have heard them first-hand or collector types (like myself) who spend most of their time rooting around in the dusty attics (literal and figurative) of the world.

Anyway, the aforementioned issue kept me from properly appreciating the sounds of the Motown organization for many years. That this was foolish on my part is, sadly, undeniable. I can however say that the last few years have seen me endeavor to remedy this situation. This isn’t to say that you’re going to find me blogging ‘Stop In The Name of Love’ – a song that I’ve decided I just don’t dig – but that you shouldn’t be surprised if you see me singing the praises of groups like the Four Tops or the Miracles alongside people you’ve never heard of before.

That said, despite songs like ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ getting overplayed into oblivion, the Four Tops discography is filled to the brim with records that are so potent that they transcend their abuse at the hands of radio programmers, advertising executives and wedding DJs. One of the prime beneficiaries of the Holland/Dozier/Holland troika, the Four Tops – led by one of the great soul voices of the 60’s, Levi Stubbs – racked up a remarkable series of hits between 1964 and 1967*. Some of these, like ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, ‘Standing In the Shadows of Love’ and ‘Bernadette’ (one of my wife’s favorite records) are among the greatest soul records ever produced, taking Motown (and all of soul and pop for that matter) in new directions.

I first heard ‘Shake Me Wake Me (When It’s Over)’ not on the radio, but on a scratchy, flea-market copy of the Four Tops greatest hits that I scored as a teenager. It struck me the first time I played it as one of those “where has this been all my life” records.

Starting with the piano and bass drum in tandem, then the tambourine and Stubbs vocal, ‘Shake Me…’ busts open with a drum roll that takes the cry of anguish into a solid, danceable tempo. There’s a real “cry” in Stubbs’ vocal, and the backing of the Tops (and I think the Andantes) in the background is perfect. The melody is one of HDH’s best, and the arrangement, pushed along by strings and ringing vibes is brilliant (the key change in the second half of the song is beautiful), but the real standout here is the voice of Levi Stubbs.

I think that because Stubbs never recorded as a solo artist, he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. I suppose some of problem is that Motown is looked at as a kind of “hit factory” where the composers, producers, arrangers and band are often seen as equal contributors to the success of a given record (the same thing could fairly be said of many great Stax sides), and the singers end up looking like just another vehicle for delivery of the product. But I mean, really…give this track a couple of close listens and then honestly tell me that anyone besides Levi Stubbs could have delivered such a masterful, passionate performance (it is possible to make such a statement without denying the genius of the song itself, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive). I think you’ll agree**.

*I’m talking about the records that I consider remarkable. They obviously kept having hits after 1967…

** This said of course, noting that on the LP (this track is recorded from the jukebox EP seen above) ‘On Top’ almost the entire b-side is devoted to awful attempts at middle-of-the-road-ness like a version of ‘Matchmaker’ from Fiddler on the Roof. Despite the fact that the Four Tops did record jazz and standards before they signed with Motown, this unfortunate detour can be wholly attributed to the Motown organization, who pushed the same, ill-advised supper club dross on many of their hitmakers.

 Buy – The Four Tops Millenium Collection – on Amazon.com

Funky16Corners Radio v.7 – Funky Shing-A-Ling

July 21, 2006

Example

Track listing

Milton Howard – Funky Shingaling (Sound Stage 7)

Bill Moss – Sock It To Em Soul Brother (Bell)

AC Jones & The Soulettes – Hole In Your Soul (Imperial)

Andre Williams – Loose Juice (Wingate)

Lonnie Brooks – Let It All Hang Out (Chess)

Zip Codes – Sweet Meat (Better)

Lionel Hampton – Them Changes (Glad Hamp)

Willie Mitchell – Up Hard (Hi)

Al James – Groove City USA (Big Beat)

Freddie & The Kinfolk – Blabbermouth (Dade)

Ernie Wilkins Big Band – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (Mainstream)

Harry Deal & The Galaxies – Funky Fonky (Eclipse)

Joe Youngblood Cobb – It’s L.B. Time (exSPECT More)

Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band – Caesars Palace (WB)

Elijah & The Ebonies – Hot Grits (Capsoul)

Alvin Cash – Funky 69 (Toddlin Town)

Lee Fields – Tell Her That I Love Her (Bedford)

Lowell Fulsom – Funky Broadway (Kent)

Slim Harpo – I Got My Finger On Your Trigger (Excello)

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

Greetings all.

I know that the previous posts this week have all been focused on ballads, but since Friday is here, and another sweaty summer weekend looms large, I couldn’t help but whip together some funk, soul, funky soul, soul-y funk etc. for your delectation*. This time, the theme is launched far into the meta, so far in fact as to be no theme at all. It’s just a bunch of groovy gravy, designed to make you move in the groove, shake it loose like a moose, drop your pants and get happy. Should you desire, you may add alcohol (or the propellant of your choice) to amplify the effects of the music. However, some of these tunes might make you spill your beer into your Wheaties, so the general guideline is for the listener to find something that combines neatness and lift in a single, efficient package (or whatever lights your fire). Blast off.

.

Example

We jump from the starting blocks with a number by one Milton Howard. I can’t say as that I know much about ole Milton, aside from the fact that this 1967 cooker – from which this aggregation of killers draws its title – ‘ Funky Shing-A-Ling’ and its b-side ‘I’m From Missouri (You Got To Show Me)’ makes for an absolutely unfuckwithable combination, sure to lubricate your next potato chip and ripple soiree.

.

Example

Next up is Ohio soul legend Bill Moss with ‘Sock It To Em Soul Brother’. Moss was the founder of the Capsoul label home to the Four Mints, Johnson Hawkins Tatum & Durr and Elijah and the Ebonies (more from them later), among others. Moss recorded in both gospel (with the Celestials**) and soul/funk. ‘Sock It To Em Soul Brother’ is a funky kicker that takes the time to namecheck OJ Simpson, Willie Mays and Dr.Martin Luther King. The surprising thing is that this track may be from as late as 1972 or 1973!

.

Example

The next number also hails from Ohio (Cleveland this time). AC Jones and the Soulettes ‘Hole In Your Soul Pts 1&2’ was originally released on the Luau label, before being picked up for national distribution by Imperial. It sports some extra greezy guitar, backup ladies dropping the “Hooooooole in your soul”s, and some cool electric piano, and by the catalogue number appears to have come out in late 1965, early 1966.

.

Example

Next up is the mighty Andre Williams (who pops up on the Funky16Corners Radio dial now and again). Williams stands astride the world of 1960’s funk and soul like a mighty colossus, working as performer, producer, composer and all around groovy guy. ‘Loose Juice’ is a 1966 release on Detroit’s storied Wingate label (flipped with the typically double entendre-ish ‘Sweet Little Pussycat’). Here Andre the vocalist is largely out of the spotlight, his place taken by some very cool guitar and organ, as well as some tight drums. Sure, he drops in here and there with jive like “Give the juice to the moose and turn him loose Bruce”, but if you were to box this up with your instros, no one would give you a hard time.

.

Example

Brace yourselves, because the number you are about to hear is indeed a wild one. Lonnie Brooks is best known as a bluesman, but his 1967 ‘Let It All Hang Out’ is a soulful masterpiece. Cobbling together a ‘Day Tripper’ riff, throbbing bass, and some extremely funky flute action (who dat???) ‘Let It All Hang Out’ is dance-floor magic with a very nice vocal by Brooks, as he checks the Funky Broadway and the Boogaloo.

Anyone out there know anything about the Zip Codes (cuz I don’t…). I do know that ‘Sweet Meat’ is a funk dj fave, relatively easy to score, and has enough twisted novelty about it to suggest to me that the purveyors of same may have been a studio group. There’s some nice drums, electric sitar, and drums, but the chorus – “Gotta gotta gotta gotta gotta have my sweeet meat” – is vaguely disturbing. I think you’ll dig anyway.

I don’t know if Buddy Miles had any idea when he wrote ‘Them Changes’ that an old jazzbo, with his ear tuned to the sounds of the day would lay down such a hot cover of the song. That old jazzbo – Lionel Hampton – has appeared in this space before with the mighty ‘Greasy Greens’ (also on his own GladHamp label) and a listen to his stuff on that label and on Brunswick will reveal that even in the late 60’s he certainly had some fire left in his mallets. Though ‘Them Changes’ was covered six ways from Sunday – by Big John Hamilton, Bernard Purdie, King Curtis, Ike & Tina Turner et al – Hamps version is by far my fave. The band is funky, and you just can’t beat those ringing vibes.

Willie Mitchell is one of the greats of Memphis soul, and ‘Up Hard’ is one of the biggest guns in his arsenal. Written by organist Art Jerry Miller – who would go one to record an excellent LP for Stax subsidiary Enterprise a few years later – the tune is a hard hitting, very “live” sounding effort, with pounding drums and a memorable guitar riff.

.

Example

I believe that Al James ‘Groove City USA’ – despite its release on Philly’s Big Beat label (also home to Steve Colt’s brutal ‘Dynamite’) – was recorded elsewhere. I base this on Florida references in the lyrics, and the fact that I’ve never seen ANY mention of James hailing from Philly. It sounds like a late 60’s vintage, and the flip side ‘Sock-A-Ting’ is also quite good.

.

Example

‘Blabbermouth’ by Freddie & The Kinfolk is the flipside of the equally exceptional ‘The Goat’. Leader Freddie Scott – also known for the mighty ‘Pow City’, was a Miami, FL based drummer and vocalist. Freddie & The Kinfolk, who recorded for Henry Stone’s Dade in the late 60’s also laid down the sought after ‘Mashed Potato Popcorn’.

Ernie Wilkins was alongtime jazz sax player, who had played with Count Basie, Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie and Buddy Rich among others in along career that started in the 40’s. By the early 70’s, when his orchestra recorded their blazing cover of Sly’s ‘Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” he was working as the head of A&R for Mainstream records. The album ‘Hard Mother Blues’ features some nice covers of ‘Funky Broadway’, ‘Spoonful’ and ‘Midnight Hour’.

.

Example

When I first heard Harry Deal and the Galaxies ‘Fonky Fonky’, saw the North Carolina address on the label and heard it’s exceedingly “blue eyed” flip, I suspected I had a “beach music” side on my hands. A minimal amount of Google-ation revealed that this was indeed the case. Deal and the Galaxies were playing as far back as the early 60’s. ‘Fonky Fonky’ was released on their own Eclipse label in the early 70’s. There’s still a version of the band playing today.

.

Example

Joe Youngblood Cobb was on the air as a Chicago DJ, when he recorded ‘It’s LB Time’ for the exSPECT more label. Though you’d swear that this was of a late 60’s vintage, references to Jimmy Castor’s “Butt Sisters” betray it’s actual release date of 1972. Youngblood lays down a funky rap over a drum-heavy track. He says it all when he end the tune by stating “LB is the loose booty, man!”

Charles Wright was one of the most consistent producers of funky sides in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but like Dyke & The Blazers, he is also consistently underrated. In partnership with Fred Smith (and other LA heavyweights like Leon Haywood) Wright started out with the Soul Runners, and backed Bill Cosby on his musical Lps. Beginning with ‘Spreadin’ Honey’ in 1967, Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band laid down a string of very tasty 45s and LPs. ‘Caesar’s Palace’ was a 45 pulled from their first LP. Opening with a slightly sinister (and wholly misleading) piano line, the record soon turns into a party, with a solid groove and some soul shouting from the band.

.

Example

Returning to Ohio, we have Elijah and the Ebonies, with ‘Hot Grits’. Released on Bill Moss’ Capsoul label in 1974 (it’s flipside being the instrumental base for Moss’ ‘Sock It To Em Soul Brother’) ‘Hot Grits’ is rumored to be a slightly sick reference to the attack on Al Green with the otherwise delicious breakfast food of the title. It’s a real mover, with some great saxophone, guitar and piano, and someone shouting the title over the top.

.

Example

The name Alvin Cash should be familiar to most of you (‘It’s Twine Time!’ with the Crawlers, and the Registers and all that mess…). His ‘Funky 69’ is one of the finer side on the consistently good Chicago label Toddlin’ Town (also home to Bull & the Matadors ‘Funky Judge’). Though it sticks pretty closely to the road tested Cash formula of soul shouting/dance instruction over a funky beat, it runs at a lively enough tempo, with enough fire to keep Mr. Cash and the folks at Toddlin’ Town safe from any false advertising suits. It also appeared on what I believe was the only LP released on that label.

.

Example

Lee Fields is a name that should be familiar to fans of the modern funk movement, but those that know will tell you that he was making some outstanding 45s all through the “classic” funk era. ‘Tell Her That I Love Her” was his first 45 in 1969. It bears the mark of Fields James Brown fixation – if you’re a funk singer, that’s not a bad fixation to have – which he carried on long after most of his funky brethren had bought synthesizers and boarded the Mothership. He made a series of excellent funk 45s (and one LP) through the 70’s and into the early 80’s, and continued to perform all through the south before making his comeback as part of the Desco stable.

The final two tracks on today’s mix are – like the previous offering by Lonnie Brooks – perfect examples of artists best known as blues performers who managed to break through and get their funky side down on vinyl. Lowell Fulsom is justly regarded as a legend for his landmark recording for the Kent label ‘Tramp’, which was reworked several times, most famously by Otis Redding & Carla Thomas, and again by the Mohawks, (very thinly disguised) as ‘Champ’. He continued to fuse soul and blues through the late 60’s, and his reworking of the oft covered ‘Funky Broadway’, from the 1969 LP ‘Now!’ – the cover of which shows Fulsom in a flashy white suit leaning on a great big Caddy – manages to sound fresh. There’s a brash horn chart, some churning organ and snappy drums.

.

Example

I have to take a moment here to thank one of my oldest friends, Johnny ‘Bluesman’ Rahmer for blowing my mind back in the mid-80’s when he hepped me to the mighty James Moore aka Slim Harpo. If you don’t know the man’s work, you need to get your ass down to the nearest (good) record store and grab one of the many compilations thereof. You will not regret it. Slim Harpo is one of those “blues” performers that had fairly consistent success on the R&B charts. He was also a large influence on the UK beat scene where numbers like ‘Raining In My Heart’, ‘Got Love If You Want It’ and ‘I’m A King Bee’ were covered numerous times (the Rolling Stones being especially fond of his material). Though he often sounded like Jimmy Reed had been hijacked and dropped in the bayou with only his guitar and a handful of downers, he was also capable of lively action like ‘Tee Ni Nee Ni Nu’, ‘Shake Your Hips’ and ‘Tip On In’. Before his untimely death in 1970, he managed to crank out a very nice funky side, that being ‘I’ve Got My Finger On Your Trigger’. Slim wraps his patented, molasses voice around some heavy drums, wah wah guitar and even manages to include some nice harmonica action in the mix. It may not be typical of his work, but it is an excellent 45, and a great way to bring this installment of Funky16Corners Radio to a close.

*Rest assured that there will be a ballads installment of Funky16Corners Radio sometime in the future

** Just got the following update from Matt ‘Mr. Finewine’ Weingarden of WFMU: “hey, larry. nice stuff. the bill moss of capsoul is an entirely different dude from the gospel guy of bill moss and the celestials. capsoul’s is william r. moss of columbus, ohio, deceased; celestials’ is william a. moss of detroit, living. just fyi.”

I stand gladly corrected!Thanks Matt!

James Carr – The Dark End of the Street

July 19, 2006

Example

James Carr

Example

Greetings all….

Here’s hoping the morning finds you well, and that you haven’t melted yet (which applies to most areas of the continental US).

As I said on Monday, this week (at least Monday and today, I may drop a new mix on Friday) the focus is on ballads. Though Monday’s Van Dykes post doesn’t seem to have spurred on much in the way of commentary or discussion, I’ve decided to soldier on and bring you one of the greatest soul ballads ever committed to vinyl.

James Carr is one of those names that will likely cause any soul fan worth their grits and gravy, first to smile, and then shake their head sadly. Those that are familiar with the music he made during his life and the sad events that surrounded the making of same will tell you that while Carr was capable of amazing vocal performances, he was barely able to keep it together outside of the studio.

Born in Mississippi in 1942, but raised in Memphis, Carr began his career in gospel, singing with the Jubilee Hummingbirds the Harmony Echoes and the Redemption Harmonizers (where he sang alongside O.V. Wright). In 1964 he came to the offices of Goldwax Records with Wright and their manager Roosevelt Jamison. The recordings that Carr made for Goldwax (more than a dozen singles and two LPs) between 1964 and 1968 were some of the finest to come out of Memphis in the 60’s (and that – keeping in mind that Memphis was home to both Stax and Hi records – was no mean feat).

I first became aware of James Carr in the mid-80’s, after reading Peter Guralnick’s indispensable ‘Sweet Soul Music’. Carr was still alive when that book was written, and Guralnick’s telling of his struggle with mental illness, his long friendship with Jamison – who was as much Carr’s keeper/companion as his manager – and multiple attempts at a comeback, was absolutely heartbreaking.

Once I became familiar with Carr’s music, it was difficult for me not to think of those struggles while listening to the music. Whether or not this colored my perception of the music is hard to say, because I simply cannot imagine someone hearing ‘You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up’, ‘Pouring Water On a Drowning Man’ or today’s selection ‘The Dark End of the Street’ without somehow sensing that the pain that emanated from Carr’s voice was in some way real.

From the moment that the needle hits the wax, and the warm, swampy tremolo guitar announces the beginning of the song, ‘The Dark End of the Street’ is marked as one of the cornerstones of Southern soul. Carr’s delivery of the lyrics – one of the great cheating songs of all time – is a wonder. This has much to do with the natural power of his voice. He was not a growler like Wilson Pickett, or endowed with the silky voice of a Solomon Burke. He was however capable of delivering a boxcar full of emotion in every note, making the listener feel that the pain in the lyrics, is in fact his. Though there are several brilliant moments on the record, the one that gets me every time is at the very end, right after Carr delivers the title of the song for the very last time. There’s a coda of sorts, where Carr just hums to himself in tandem with the very same guitar that began the song. That few seconds is the very definition of “deep”.

The lyrics – some of the saddest in all of soul music – are filled with regret, guilt and pain – yet the protagonist of the song knows that despite all of that, he and his lover will always return to ‘The Dark End of the Street’. Composed by Dan Penn and Chips Moman, ‘The Dark End of the Street’ is also a perfect example of the great music made by the seemingly unlikely intersection of black and white performers in Memphis, Muscle Shoals and elsewhere in the south. Goldwax Records was itself co-owned by Elliot Clark (who was black) and Quinton Claunch (who was white). Penn and Moman were both white men who made their mark writing soul music sung by black artists, as was Eddie Hinton (who co-wrote ‘Breakfast In Bed’, the slightly more optimistic, sexy counterpart to ‘The Dark End of the Street’), Spooner Oldham, and many of the bands that played on the greatest southern soul sides were integrated. There’s also no denying that Carr – like Arthur Alexander - had elements of country music in his sound. ‘The Dark End of the Street’ became a standard, covered both by singers like Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Little Milton, Dorothy Moore, and Joe Tex, and in country versions by duets Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner and Archie Campbell and Lorene Mann, and later by the Flying Burrito Brothers (who also were clearly inspired to cover the Bee Gees ‘To Love Somebody’ by Carr’s version).

By the time that Carr ended his association with Goldwax, his condition had deteriorated considerably. This had a lot to do with his management being taken over by Otis Redding’s manager Phil Walden in 1968. Without the helping hand of Roosevelt Jamison, Carr was adrift. He managed a brief stint with Atlantic in 1971, and again with the River City label in 1977. He attempted another comeback in the 1990’s, recording albums for Goldwax and Soultrax, and touring sporadically before descending being stricken with lung cancer, which finally killed him in 2001.

Fortunately all the James Carr you’ll ever need to hear is available in reissue.

Buy – James Carr: The Complete Goldwax Singles – on Amazon

The Van Dykes – No Man Is an Island

July 17, 2006

Example

The Van Dykes – (l-r) Rondalis Tandy,

Wenzon Mosely, James Mays

Example

Greetings all….

I hope everyone had a most excellent weekend. Here in NJ it was brutally hot (by NJ standards that it, I harbor no illusions that we are somehow less comfortable than our brothers and sisters closer to the equator…), but we managed to have a good time anyway. Of course, it’s supposed to get even hotter today, and I fully expect to leave work this afternoon to find that the tires on my car have melted. I will of course drive home on the rims, because that’s the kind of guy I am…

That said, I can’t really complain. Life is hectic – but good, and as anyone within earshot of a TV or radio can tell you, it appears that World War Three is a-brewing in the Middle East, and no sane person can compare the discomfort of the summer’s heat to that of a missile blowing up your house and family.

I suppose that if the ship of state was being guided by someone that inspired even an iota of confidence, the situation might not seem quite so dire. Sadly this is not the case, and all one can do is keep their fingers (and toes, if possible) crossed and hope – maybe even pray – that cooler heads prevail and things can be rolled back at least to the ugly, but somewhat stable status quo (what the professionals refer to as a “fragile détente”) of a few weeks ago.

In the spirit of peace - inner and outer – I decided that it was finally time to post a couple of outstanding ballads that I recorded a while ago but have been holding in abeyance, waiting for just the right occasion (and apparently, this is it). Though I’d certain heard of the Van Dykes, and seen their records in the field, I had no idea what they sounded like. I came upon today’s selection ‘No Man Is an Island’ completely by chance.

Some years ago I was researching the legendary Pennsylvania group the Emperors (‘My Baby Likes To Boogaloo’) and found out that – during the lifetime of the group – had appeared only once on an LP. That LP ‘More For Your Money’, was a 1967 Bell Records comp that featured a number of artists that had appeared on Amy/Mala/Bell or distributed labels, including the Emperors, James Carr (who we’ll be rapping about later this week), Gladys Knight & the Pips, Lee Dorsey and of course, the Van Dykes.

I probably had that LP for a couple of years before I pulled it off the shelf and actually listened to the non-Emperors tracks. When the stylus tracked its way into the Van Dykes’ ‘No Man Is an Island’, I was struck by another attack of that old disease “I Can’t Believe This Was Sitting On My Shelf All This Time”-itis, which I have mentioned here many times before.

It’s like sitting on a diamond mine so vast that the limited free time that comes with having a family and a fulltime job is hardly adequate to plumb its labyrinthine depths. As a result, with increasing frequency, in the midst of the records I see every day, I stumble upon hidden gems. The glass-half-full part of my psyche looks upon this as a good thing, i.e. ‘My record collection seems to be spawning great stuff for me all the time’. The realistic side of things makes me reflect on the analogy that my Mother used to employ when she was “concerned” about the prevalence of clutter in my room.

“This place looks like the Collier Mansion.”, said mansion being the haunt of a couple of early 20th century brothers who were so reclusive, miserly and pack-rat-ish, that they ended up being consumed by the garbage filling their house (one of them being crushed to death under a mountain of newspapers that they were “saving”.)

A cautionary tale for collectors of every stripe, to be sure.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the Van Dykes masterpiece was sitting at arms length for God knows how long, and I had no idea. The Van Dykes were formed in 1964 in Fort Worth, Texas by Rondalis Tandy, Wenzon Mosely, James Mays and Eddie Nixon (Nixon would exit the group before they recorded). Tandy was a huge fan of Curtis Mayfield, a name that ought to come to mind the first time you listen to ‘No Man Is an Island’. The song was first recorded for the Hue label, before the Van Dykes were signed to Mala Records, who would reissue ‘No Man Is an Island’ and release all their subsequent 45s, with Bell releasing the groups LP ‘Tellin’ It Like It Is’ in 1967.

Opening with the subtle hum of an organ, and a bluesy, and ever-so-slightly raw guitar line, the group, led by Tandy’s falsetto lead, come in strong. The music, provided by the Van Dykes backing band the Rays, is a marvel of subtlety, laying down an unobtrusive – yet solid – base for the singers to build on.

I’ve gone on in this space before about the importance of gospel music to the development of soul, and that influence is certainly evident on ‘No Man Is an Island’, but that really doesn’t go far enough. Though the intent of the lyric seems to be a cautionary tale of romance, you can’t borrow the words/concepts that John Donne first committed to paper in the early 1600’s without allowing for the fact that they have a universal message about the human condition, and that message is implicitly religious. When said message is delivered in the manner of a mid-60’s harmony vocal group, backed by organ, guitar and drums, the listener can be forgiven for thinking that they are hearing the sounds of the church (and in a way they are).

Though I mentioned the influence of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions – which is undeniable – the Van Dykes’ take on that sound is a step or two removed from the highly polished Mayfield sound, which lends ‘No Man Is An Island’ a grittiness that draws equally on the vocal traditions of street corner and the choir loft. It’s the kind of record that should serve to stop even the most cynical listener in their tracks, compelling them to stop for a moment and savor the beauty therein.

Sadly, the Van Dykes only kept it together for a few years, breaking up in 1968. Fortunately, Sundazed has reissued the Van Dykes LP, along with a number of bonus tracks (45 only sides and such). I recommend it highly…..

Buy – ‘Tellin’ It Like It Is’ – on Amazon

Jamaican Trip Pt3 – Ken Boothe – Is It Because I’m Black

July 14, 2006

Example

Mr. Ken Boothe

Example

Happy Bastille Day!

This of course means next to nothing if you’re not French. However, one of the very few facts ingrained in my brain from high school French is the phrase “Quatorze Juillet”. This holiday celebrates not the storming of the Bastille (or the execrable song ‘Bastille Day’ by Rush), but the one year anniversary of same which marks the beginning of the modern French nation. As a result of this patterning, every July 14th I pause to remember my horrifying high school French teacher with a moment of silent reflection. So join me, won’t you, in hoisting a garlic-y snail and a Jacques Dutronc record, and saying ‘Vive le France!’ (unless you’re a Republican, in which case keep muttering…)

Anyway….

Today brings us to the third and final segment of the Jamaican Trip, during which we have made a cursory survey of soul recordings by Jamaican artists (barely scratching the surface).

Like the rest of the tunes I posted this week, today’s selection is a cover of an American soul record, but also amplifies (and to a point, transcends) the original version. This record is Ken Boothe’s 1973 recording of Syl Johnson’s classic ‘Is It Because I’m Black’.

Boothe was one of the most popular Jamaican singers of the 60’s and 70’s. He started out in Jamaica in a duet with Stranger Cole, moving on to a substantial career as a solo artist, in ska, rock steady and reggae. He always had a love for American soul music, and this is evident in ‘Is It Because I’m Black’.

The original recording, by Syl Johnson is one of the finest examples of his ability to combine the sound of the blues (where he got his start) with more modern soul styles. His performance of the song is a cry of pain, taken at a slow pace where the lamentation of the lyrics couldn’t be any clearer. As in his other Twinight recordings, upbeat, sock-soul killers or ballads, there’s a distinctive “southern” flavor to the record. ‘Is It Because I’m Black’ (most definitely a rhetorical question) is clearly of it’s time, in which soul music was in the midst of a wave of social consciousness. Where a record like Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ – rightly considered a classic – has an atmospheric, almost pop-inflected feel – Johnson’s epic (7+ minutes) recording sounds like a late night sermon from the stage of a Mississippi roadhouse, accompanied by the occasional cry of ‘Damn Right!’ and the welling of tears.

Ken Boothe – having grown up in the midst of a culture similarly damaged by racial inequity, colonialism and poverty – takes ‘Is It Because I’m Black’, ratchets up the righteous anger a few steps and delivers a performance that takes Johnson’s raised hand and turns it into a fist. Boothe – cutting the running time of the song in half – is like a tightly wound spring. Propelled by the persistent chank of the guitar and a rumbling bass, he delivers a bravura vocal performance, alternating between a smooth delivery and little explosions of emotion.

Though the LP that ‘Is It Because I’m Black’ hails from, ‘Let’s Get It On’ covers a lot of bases (everything from Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, and Paul McCartney to a fantastic cover of Neil Young’s ‘Down By The River’), ‘Is It Because I’m Black’ stands alone as a landmark interpretation of its source material. Boothe went on to have a number of hits, including a huge pop hit in the UK with a cover of Bread’s ‘Everything I Own’ in 1974. He has continued to record over the years, and much of his work is available in reissue, on compilations devoted to his work, and various artists collections as well.

Buy Ken Boothe – Crying Over You on Amazon

Jamaican Trip Pt2 – The Pioneers / Temptations – Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone

July 12, 2006

Example

Example

Example

 

Good day to you, sir(s).Here’s hoping that the morning finds you well, and ready to embark on some serious listening.

Though – as I stated yesterday – this is a theme week of sorts, devoted to soul music by Jamaican artists (all being cover versions of US soul records), I’ve decided that today’s selection simply cannot appear without also including the original version as well. “Why”, you ask, rolling your eyes and clenching your fists in frustration “would I do such a thing?”

Easy now….

I include the earlier recording of said song because it is, in the opinion of this writer one of the five or ten best records of any kind made in the last 40 years, and to rhapsodize about another artists version of this song without also doing so about the original would amount to a colossal sin of omission, from which my reputation (as it is) might never recover.

Or not…

Either way, I think that hearing these records side by side enhances them both.

That said…

I first heard the Temptations ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ when it was released in 1972. I was but a lad of ten, but even then, absent a mature understanding of the lyrics of the song or music in general, I knew an amazing record when I heard it. I’m not even sure that I knew any other songs by the Temptations, and I certainly had no idea who Norman Whitfield was. I was just another kid with a transistor radio glued to my ear, beginning a love affair with music that would still be coming to fruition 34 four years hence (Oh, how it pains me to do that bit of math…).

Of course, with brilliant records like ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ (which as a Number One hit was unavoidable); I was also exposed to all kinds of crap. There are those of a similar vintage who embrace said crap nostalgically, as 70’s music, and will assault you with the likes of Paper Lace, First Class etc etc. However, a look at a survey from December of 1972 (from WABC in New York, the station I was listening to), the Top 20 was dominated, not by crap, but rather by the likes of Billy Paul, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, the Stylistics, Al Green, and Stevie Wonder. Sure, you also have stuff like Helen Reddy and Gilbert O’Sullivan, but looking at the law of averages, and taking into consideration that good taste has never been universal, taking a few bad songs in rotation with a bunch of good ones was hardly a high price to pay (especially in the universe of Top 40 AM radio).

I will assume that the vast majority of people reading this blog will hardly need an introduction to the Temptations. They were one of mightiest weapons in the Motown arsenal, and despite the brutal overplaying of some of their golden oldies (I can hardly listen to ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’ or ‘My Girl’ without turning the dial), they were possessed of an embarrassment of riches as far as vocal talent is concerned (c’mon, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks in the same group?!?) and by 1972, they were firmly in the grasp of the label’s reigning mastermind Norman Whitfield.

It was not always thus. Despite the fact that Whitfield was always a genius (listen to some of the brilliant records he made with the Velvelettes in the mid-60’s), he was not always considered a “guiding light” at Motown. Even when he started to craft the “psychedelic soul” that would bring the Temptations back to prominence in the late 60’s (as well as groups like the Undisputed Truth, who recorded ‘Papa…’ first), it wasn’t until the hits started to roll in (being with money talking and bullshit walking, etc.) that he got the respect that he deserved – at least as an auteur of sorts, as he was already a very successful songwriter.

Starting in 1969, with the ‘Cloud Nine’ lp (by this point Ruffin had made his exit, replaced by Dennis Edwards, formerly of the Contours), Whitfield and the Temps made a string of amazing records that redefined funk and soul. By 1972, when they recorded ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’, Eddie Kendricks – who initially fought Whitfield on the group’s new direction – left to go solo and was replaced by Damon Harris.

So…it’s 1972, I’m ten years old, it’s way after bedtime and I’m huddle up with my radio and the DJ drops the needle on ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’. From the opening bass notes, through the ticking of the high-hat, into the strings, the wah-wah guitar and then – really setting the scene – the echoing trumpet, it is immediately obvious that what Whitfield has created here is more than just a record. It’s almost as if he took an aural snapshot of the ghetto and managed to transport a piece of that world onto two sides of a 7-inch record. Though ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ is in the most basic sense a “story song”, as a record, its reach is positively cinematic. When this record comes on, I can close my eyes and the story comes to life. It’s as if you’re in a bar, and you’re overhearing the Temps in the booth behind you telling the story.

Whitfield builds the record, layer upon layer, with each of the instrumental elements – from the gritty guitar to the sublime addition of elements that might otherwise seem incongruous, like harp and strings – as well as the different vocal sounds, Edwards’ growl, Harris’ falsetto and Melvin Franklin’s bass (and the group together in harmony) inhabiting separate strata, while blending together seamlessly.

 Taking the record (as it appeared on the LP ‘All Directions’) as a connected 11:45 whole, with it’s almost five minute instrumental prelude, it’s nothing less than an epic. It’s the greatest of the Whitfield/Temps collaborations, and one of the greatest records of any kind ever committed to vinyl, standing as a testament to the skill of the Funk Brothers as musicians, the Temps as vocalists but more importantly as a showcase for Whitfield as arranger/producer, or dare I say conceptualist. It’s that amazing/important a record. In the midst of an era where records in excess of ten minutes were becoming more common (though usually the bloated purvey of pretentious art rockers), Whitfield took that concept and ran away with it. You always hear talk about producers/arrangers crafting the prefect “three minute” pop record, yet here, Whitfield carries it out to almost twelve minutes and I defy you to find a single, solitary second of wasted sound.

When the Pioneers decided to cover ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ in 1973, they wisely eschew any attempt to mount an epic version of the song, instead choosing to boil it down to its essence. They focus on applying their harmonies to delivering the story within the song. The backing, while at times a distant mirror of the Temps original, is much sparer, the brisk reggae rhythm driven by the rhythm guitar and minimal percussion. Their only concession to the scope of the Temps version is some atmospheric electric piano and organ.

Coming together in 1962 in Jamaica, the Pioneers has two big ska hits with ‘Longshot’ in 1967 and it’s sequel, ‘Longshot (Kick De Bucket)’ in 1969. ‘Longshot (Kick De Bucket)’ (both songs were about a famous racehorse) was a big hit in the UK, and the Pioneers relocated there in 1970. They recorded for Trojan and associated labels through the late 70’s as the Pioneers, the Reggae Boys, the Rebels and Sidney, George and Jackie. They specialized in covers (reggae, soul and pop); with their biggest hit being a reworking of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’ in 1971.

 Though they broke up for good in 1989, they remain one of the more popular acts to have recorded for Trojan and their classic work is available on many reissues.

Jamaican Trip – Part 1 – Jackie Mittoo – Hip Hug

July 10, 2006

Example

Jackie Mittoo, enjoying a Coke and a smile…

Example

Howdy

I hope everyone had a great weekend, and that you have been enjoying the mix of Friday last, i.e. ‘Bold Soul Sisters’, in which the music is funky, and the sisters (of course) are bold. The Funky16Corners Radio mixes have proven to be quite popular, and as a result I am going to revise my posting policy (actual, as opposed to posted…), in that the links for the mixes will remain up for just a few weeks so as not to drain the bandwidth pool too rapidly.

I realize that I have often been slack in removing the MP3 links in a timely manner (sometimes shockingly so, as I find my self going back a few months to clean up after myself). When it comes to the individual tunes, this hasn’t been much of a problem, but those mixes…whoa…they eat up the bandwidth pretty quickly. I’ll try not to be too much of a hardass about it, but I also don’t want music delivery abilities of the blog to go belly up, so…you know.

Anyway, some weeks ago I mentioned that I was planning a “theme week” here upon yon blogspot that would concern itself with the soulful output of Jamaican artists exclusively. Well my friends, that week is upon us, and before I would like to issue a caveat, and ‘splain myself a bit.

As for the caveat, I only wish to state that on the subject of Jamaican music, I am no expert. I am a big fan, and could probably run circles around most folks with only a passing knowledge of the subject; however, I know that there are folks out there that have dug into reggae/ska/rock steady/dub etc with the diligence that I have applied to soul and funk. I ask them, if they locate any factual discrepancies in this week’s posts, or have pertinent information to contribute in the furtherance of understanding the music or musicians more thoroughly, to please drop me a line. The Funky16Corners blog has no illusions of infallibility, and our liberal update/corrections policy will continue.

That said, allow me to ruminate briefly about the music we are about to share…. I first started to listen to Jamaican music more than 20 years ago, as a reaction to the first wave of ska revivalists, i.e. the Specials et al. As is my habit (compulsion, whatever…) I started tracking down the original versions of the songs that were being covered by the modern bands*. I began to buy reissues that included cuts by folks like the Maytals (‘Monkey Man’), Pioneers (‘Longshot Kick De Bucket’) , Harry J All Stars (‘Liquidator’) , the Skatalites (‘Guns of Navarone’) , Dandy Livingstone (‘A Message To You Rudy’), and Prince Buster (‘Madness’ and ‘Al Capone’, redone as ‘Gangsters’ by the Specials).

After the initial shock on the somewhat slower tempo of many of the originals, I found that I liked this music a lot. I was also lucky enough to have friends that were schooled in more esoteric sounds of dub, like Augustus Pablo, Scientist and Eek A Mouse, as well as what most folks would consider “mainstream” reggae like Bob Marley and Burning Spear, and the more I listened, and understood the vibe of the music, the more I wanted to hear. In the ensuing decades I have continued to check out these sounds, to read as much as I could about the culture from which the music arose, and just to enjoy listening to that music.

As I stated a while back, tracking down original Jamaican (and I use the term Jamaican to describe the roots of the music, even though many of the records in question were recorded and pressed in the UK) vinyl is not a task for the uninitiated, and as a result I haven’t applied myself to the acquisition thereof as actively as I have American soul and funk.

Those last few words bring up an interesting point. For years, I (and I’m sure many others) “segregated” Jamaican music into an area all its own. This was of course my first (and biggest) mistake. To classify the music made largely by black Jamaicans/West Indians as an entity wholly separate from what we would normally consider R&B, soul and funk – solely on the basis of its beat – initially seemed like the right thing to do. Why would they give reggae and ska their own section in the record store if they didn’t belong there (duh…)?

There’s no doubt that from it’s earliest days, these styles of music were influenced by contemporary music being produced largely by black Americans, i.e. jazz, blues, R&B, soul and eventually funk. This is especially true of the sounds coming from the American south (New Orleans in particular) which made it to Jamaican listeners via the high-powered AM radio broadcasts of the day**. It’s almost impossible to listen to a compilation of the best sides by a group like the Skatalites (or any of their numerous solo offshoots), and not hear the threads of Jazz and R&B running through the solos. Listen to groups like the Melodians, the Maytals or the Pioneers and hear the echoes of R&B harmony groups. When you get to the early-60’s, and start hearing the sounds of American soul being reworked by Jamaican musicians you begin to realize that the beat (if anything) is often all that separates the original version from the cover.

When I decided to do a week of posts of Jamaican sounds, I decided to draw the connecting line as directly as possible by including three records that were in fact covers of tunes by US soul/funk artists. This is by no means an indicator of the breadth of these artists recordings – which they’re not – but rather an introduction that might light a fire under someone, and make them go out looking for Jamaican sounds the way I did so many years ago. For someone starting on that quest in 2006, I can assure them that thanks to tons of reissues (many bargain priced), that search is as easy now as it has ever been.

The first artist to be featured this week is the mighty Jackie Mittoo. Though many of you will not be familiar with that name, Mittoo is one of the true giants of modern Jamaican music. Born in Jamaica in 1948, Mittoo was playing professionally by his teens, and was one of the founding members of the legendary Skatalites. He quickly became a prodigious studio musician, especially for Clement Dodd’s Coxsone Records.

By 1967, Dodd had assembled the Soul Vendors, a group which included Mittoo on keyboards (and the great Roland Alphonso on saxophone). Dodd took the Soul Vendors to the UK, where Mittoo would record his first LPs as a solo artist. He got his first recognition with his instrumental cover of the Heptones ‘Fatty Fatty’ His first major hit was the mighty ‘Ram Jam’ which appeared on his first LP ‘Jackie Mittoo In London’.

Today’s selection appeared on his second LP, ‘Evening Time’. Unlike ‘In London’, which was composed largely of covers of contemporary pop tunes (and soul hits like ‘Soul Finger’ and Monk Higgins ‘Who Done It’), ‘Evening Time’ was with a few marked exceptions mostly originals. One of the few covers was a slightly re-titled (and psychedelicized) version of Booker T & The MGs 1967 hit ‘Hip Hug Her’, done here as ‘Hip Hug’. Though his organ playing is pretty much right on the money when lined up with Booker T’s original, Mittoo adds a certain funky swagger to things, along with some fuzz bass and echoey guitar. In fact, other than its appearance on the Coxsone label, there’s very little here to suggest that this tune was being played by a crack group of ska/rock steady sessioners. This isn’t the case with the rest of the album (which is available as a reissue), which contains outstanding cuts like ‘Napoleon Solo’, ‘Hot Shot’ and ‘Drum Song’. If you dig ‘Hip Hug’, you should also check out his cover of the Stereo’s ‘Stereo Freeze’ on his 1970 ‘Jackie Mittoo Now’ LP.

By the late 60’s, Mittoo had relocated from Jamaica to Toronto, Ontario, where he lived for the rest of his life. He was a major player in the worldwide reggae scene, writing, arranging and recording thousands of tracks during his career. He continued to play and record until his untimely death (from cancer) in 1990.

*Strangely enough, one of the first modern recordings that made me want to track down a Jamaican original was ‘Man In the Street’ by, brace yourself, the Hooters. Believe it or not, when the Hooters started out (early 80’s) they had a liberal dose of ska in their sound (including melodica on many of their tunes). Their very first recording, a demo that got a lot of airplay on WMMR in Philadelphia (where they were a popular local band) was a version of Don Drummond’s ‘Man In The Street’. It was never released commercially. If anyone has this, and can make me a copy I would be grateful.

** A particularly interesting example of this is the Rhine Oaks obscure ‘Tampin’, an Allen Toussaint project on Atco from 1970. This tune was borrowed and redone by the Wailers as ‘Memphis’. I can only assume that someone in Kingston either heard the tune on the radio, or more likely grabbed a copy of the 45.

Funky16Corners Radio v.6 – Bold Soul Sisters

July 7, 2006

Example

Track listing

1. Thelma Jones – The House That Jack Built (Barry) 2. Gladys Knight & The Pips – The Nitty Gritty (Soul) 3. Ike & Tina Turner – Bold Soul Sister (Blue Thumb) 4. Tina Britt – Sookie Sookie (Veep) 5. Ann Sexton – You’re Losing Me (Seventy Seven) 6. Viola Wills – Sweetback (Supreme) 7. Martha Turner – Dirty Old Man (Royal American) 8. Shirley Vaughn – Escape (Columbia) 9. Ruby Andrews – You Made a Believer Out Of Me (Zodiac) 10. Helena Hollins – Baby You’re Right (Stonegood) 11. Monica – I Don’t Know Nothing Else To Tell You But I Love You (Toxsan) 12. Lyn Collins – Mama Feelgood (People) 13. Gi Gi – Daddy Love (Sweet) 14. Erma Franklin – Baby What You Want Me To Do (Shout) 15. Yvonne Fair – Say Yeah Yeah (Dade) 16. Brenda & The Tabulations – Scuze Uz Y’All (Top & Bottom) 17. Cold Blood – You Got Me Hummin’ (San Francisco)

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

Happy Friday.

As we gather again, upon ye olde blogspot, I have decided that a single song is not nearly enough of a balm to bind the troubled psyche together in anticipation of a sunny, summer weekend. Because the weekly posts were – in the words of the great Vladimir Softelevnya – truncated, I have prepared for your delectation a mix composed of a variety of delicious sister funk.

This is powerful stuff, so I suggest that you get your 72 oz coffee and breakfast taco out of the way (and settled) before diving in (I don’t want to be responsible for your boss coming in and finding you face down on your keyboard, smoke pouring out of your ears).

.

Example

We start things off with a cooker from the great Thelma Jones. If the tune sounds familiar, it’s because ‘The House That Jack Built’ is the original (and some, myself included feel the superior) version of a record brought to prominence by the mighty Aretha Franklin. Though the power of Franklin’s version is undeniable, Thelma Jones – who recorded a number of very tasty 45s for the Barry label in the late 60’s – was clearly no slouch, and her ‘House’ has a looser, funkier feel. Give it a listen and I think you will soon be creeping through your local flea market in search of her other 45s.

Now, don’t get me started on Gladys Knight…I know that she’s probably too “mainstream” (and her 45s too cheap and easy to find) for the deep funk anoraks of the world, but if you can deny the essential funk of records like ‘You Need Love Like I Do’ and ‘Nitty Gritty’, then you are either a liar or a fool (maybe both) and unfit to collect records of any kind (with the exception of the six million Firestone Christmas LPs clogging up the thrift stores of America). The fact that the original version of ‘Nitty Gritty’ by Miss Shirley Ellis is a banger as well should not prevent you from shaking it loose to the strains of Gladys and her Pips, with the “woo woo woooos” and the “get on downs” and the wah wah guitar, tambourine and such as the strip the song down and rebuild it on a Detroit frame. It is –as they say – the shit.

Example

In the matter of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘Bold Soul Sister’, aka the People vs. Thangs and Stuff and Stuff and Thangs and Stuff, if this doesn’t grab you by the ass and force you to step lively, then you may be dead. I’ve addressed the pure, raw power of this record before, but restating the obvious, i.e. that ‘Bold Soul Sister’ is as potent a funk 45 as Ike and Tina ever created, hurts no one. Not to mention that the lead guitar is provided by an uncredited Albert Collins.

.

Example

Another one from the ‘Hey, where have I heard that before?’ file, Tina Britt brings us the third version of Don Covay’s monumental ‘Sookie Sookie’ to appear in this space (the previous two being Mr. Covay himself on Atlantic and Roy Thompson on Okeh). Britt was a bluesy shouter who laid down some Northern style sides for Eastern before dropping some very (VERY) tight 45s and an LP for Veep/Minit in 1968 and 1969. ‘Sookie Sookie’ is the best of the lot, with a towering horn section, some loose, greasy guitar and snapping drums. I suppose it’s possible that anyone with the appropriate amount of verve could lay down an acceptable version of such a great song, but only someone possessed of a voice like Tina’s can really lay it in the groove.

.

Example

Ann Sexton recorded a number of excellent sides for Seventy 7, SS7 and Monument, in the late 60’s/early 70’s, but none of them pack the wallop of ‘You’re Losing Me’. Opening with a deceptively sedate riff, it’s only after her initial cries of ‘You’re Losing Me!’ that the band suddenly pops into a deeply funky, James Brown-ly crisp groove. I initially heard this record on a mix by some long forgotten Samaritan, and demonstrate my eternal gratitude by spinning this one whenever I get the chance.

.

Example

I don’t know much about Viola Wills, other than that she (like Thelma Jones) recorded into the disco era (recording the famous disco cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’) , and that ‘Sweetback’ is a hard-hitting, Blaxploitation influenced burner. How can you miss with lines like ‘Sweetback, he’s livin’ in the ghetto, superfine and mellow.’?

If I didn’t know much about Viola Wills, I know even less about Martha Turner. ‘Dirty Old Man’ is a kicker, featuring a raw vocal by Martha, and some nice wah wah guitar. These are going cheap these days, so if you dig the record, you can probably pick one up without laying out too much coin.

.

Example

Shirley Vaughn’s explosive ‘Escape’ is the product of one of the great trades of my digging career. Years ago I picked up a strange 45 while out digging, posted it up on the Funky16Corners web zine, and before too long had a trade offer from a cat in Scandinavia. For that curious but ultimately uninspiring 99 cent disc, I received in return both this Shirley Vaughn 45 and an excellent Louisiana funk side as well. Vaughn’s vocal is nothing short of amazing, and the arrangement, with ringing piano and a powerful beat is excellent.

.

Example

Ruby Andrews is another artists that was unknown to me before someone hepped me to her via a mix CD (in fact I believe it was the very same mix that Ann Sexton arrived on). Andrews is known mainly for cuts like ‘Casanova (Your Playing Days Are Over)’, but ‘You Made a Believer Out Of Me’ is by far my fave. Featuring rock solid drums, droning bass and piano and Ruby’s amazing voice, the tune also has the added benefit of that amazing Zodiac label. Fortunately all of Andrews’ best sides are available in a budget reissue.

As far as I can tell, Helena Hollins never recorded more than one 45, the most excellent ‘Baby You’re Right’. With a polished sound – courtesy of the legendary Monk Higgins – the record cooks along nicely, before exploding in the chorus. Helena – wherever you are – we thank you for your funk.

.

Example

Monica (no last name) recorded two excellent 45s for Philadelphia’s storied Toxsan label. As far as rarity goes, Monicas 45s fall somewhere between relatively common sides by Rocky Brown and Topaz, and the ultra-rare, super funky ‘Damn Ph’aint’ by the Herb Johnson Settlement. ‘I Don’t Know What To Tell You But I Love You’ manages – despite it’s lengthy title – to be quite good. I’ve never come across any information about the vocalist, other than the fact that she may be the same Monica that recorded the also ultra-rare ‘Chauffeur’.

Lyn Collins, the ‘Female Preacher’, star of the James Brown stable, is known to most for her absolutely deadly (and oft sampled) ‘Think’, but in the spirit of taking things a little bit further out (and not belaboring the obvious, no matter how great it is) we offer her exceptionally funky “answer” record ‘Mama Feelgood’. Featuring the usual cast of characters (that just has to be Maceo with the creaming sax-o-mo-phone…) ‘Mama Feelgood’ bears all the funky trademarks of the James Brown groove factory, not the least of which is Ms. Collins’ outstanding vocals.

.

Example

Gi Gi is another artist about whom I’ve never been able to locate any info. There’s no doubt that ‘Daddy Love’ is an absolute killer, shooting out of the gate at about 100mph. The band is tight, and Gi Gi’s right along side singing her heart out. Interestingly enough, this record also saw a UK release on the Pama Supreme label, and there’s also a male version of this tune, performed by the song’s composer Charles Hodges (also on Sweet).

If you don’t have a copy of Erma Franklin’s 45 ‘Piece of My Heart’ b/w ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ on Shout, you need to get off your ass and start digging, right away. The a-side is of course the original version of the song catapulted into the stratosphere by Janis Joplin, but the flip – the funkier side of the record – is a fantastic reworking of the old Jimmy Reed saw. Ms. Franklin – sister of Aretha – and band lay down a nice, hard groove and a wailing vocal, taking the oft-covered, sleepy blues into a whole new bag.

.

Example

Returning to the world of all things James Brown-ian, we have ‘Say Yeah Yeah’ by Yvonne Fair. Better known for her 70’s recordings for Motown (like ‘Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns me On’ et al), this 1963 (?!?!?) recording has to qualify as one of the great masterpieces of prehistoric funk. Not to mention her vocal-chord shredding wailing, that really takes this record to the next level. Brutal.

.

Example

Philadelphia’s Brenda & The Tabulations are better known for their great soul ballads like ‘Right On The Tip of My Tongue’, but ‘Scuze Uz Y’all’ resides firmly in the center of Funkville. Residing on the flipside of one of their later Top & Bottom 45s the tune sports a fantastic group vocal – dig those ‘BOOM BOOM BOOM’s – as well as juxtaposing funky guitars against a classy string section. An inexpensive 45 that deserves more respect than it gets.

.

Example

We close things out with a side by the group Cold Blood. Part of the late 60’s San Francisco scene – they recorded for Bill Graham’s ‘San Francisco’ label – they were led by blue-eyed soul shouter Lydia Pense. Their cover of Sam & Dave’s ‘You Got Me Hummin’ lacks the subtle menace (and that rinky-tink Isaac Hayes piano) of the original, but they do manage to create a fine (and funky) example of late-60’s horn rock. The bass line is especially nice on this one.

Atlantic (Cotillion) Soul Sisters (and Soul Brothers…)

July 5, 2006

Example

Example

Example

 

Greetings all.I hope you all had a great holiday weekend. I apologize if you tuned in on Monday to discover that the blog had not been updated. I should have posted some kind of notice that I’d be slacking at the beach, instead of posting, but I figured the intersection of my disappearance and the holiday would cause the reader to reach the obvious conclusion.

I return to the figurative asteroid belt of the blogosphere with a couple of very tasty tracks for your perusal.

Despite the fact that I’ve been at this (i.e. filling the interwebs with writing about soul and funk) for around five years, my mailbox isn’t exactly overflowing with promotional swag. When things of that nature do find their way through yon mail slot, they are rarely worth writing about. In the face of my somewhat monolithic focus on vintage funk and soul, I often get CDs that wouldn’t qualify for consideration under even the most flexible definition of “funk and/or soul”.

However, recently I got a couple of excellent CDs that not only made sense stylistically, but were actually worth listening to. I’d even go as far as to say that were I flipping through the racks at the local dispensarie du disques, and encountered these CDs I may even have gone as far as to open my wallet in order to obtain them (but of course, having gotten them for free, I no longer have to do so. Essentially a very tiny perk in a relatively perk-free universe…).

The collections I speak of are ‘Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Sisters’ and ‘Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers’. The folks involved have mined the vaults of Atlantic and associated labels (Stax, Volt, Cotillion, Atco etc.) for rare and unreleased material, and if you’re familiar with the labels involved you know that the potential for material of an exceptionally high quality is great.

While today’s post will focus on the ‘Soul Sisters’ collection, I can tell you that the ‘Soul Brothers’ disc has a grip of quality selections, including stuff by Bobby Womack, Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley and a couple of outstanding tracks by Otis Redding (“I Love You More Than Words Can Say”) and Mighty Sam (“Lovebones”) that were both new to me.

The ‘Soul Sisters’ collection, as would be expected from the labels involved is jam packed with deep soul. There are tracks by artists that are better known for their work with other labels who passed through the Atlantic family of labels briefly, like Irma Thomas and Mary Wells, as well as by singers long identified with Atlantic, like Aretha Franklin. There are also outstanding numbers by Patti Labelle and the Bluebells, Judy Clay, the Sweet Inspirations and Esther Phillips.

Though lots of the material was new to me, there were a couple of numbers that I happened to have resting nicely in my crates, and I thought I’d share them with you today.

All three selections today are/were covered by other artists, though who did some of the songs first is in dispute. They also – coincidentally – both hail from 1969, are produced by Dave Crawford, and have sequential catalog numbers.

Though only Baby Washington’s ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ appears on the comp, I’ve decided to include its flipside, ‘Breakfast in Bed’ as well. Baby Washington recorded for a number of R&B/soul labels through the 50’s and 60’s (including ABC, Sue and Veep) before landing at Cotillion in 1969. Her cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s 1966 ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ (mistaken listed on the label as a tune called ‘What Becomes of a Broken Heart’, written by Ernest Tubb) manages to take Ruffin’s signature number and build upon it with a layer of deep, Southern soul. It’s one of those rare instances where an artist covers a song so firmly identified with another artists and does them one better.

The flip side has as solid a ‘Southern soul” pedigree as you can come by. Co-written by Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts, and recorded – as so many Atlantic sides of the day – at Muscle Shoals, ‘Breakfast in Bed’ is an absolute masterpiece. I mentioned before that the original recording of this tune was in dispute. Known to most via the version by Dusty Springfield on her legendary ‘Dusty in Memphis’ LP, I have seen conflicting references as to whether Springfield or Washington recorded the tune first. Whether or not Baby Washington originated ‘Breakfast in Bed’, in my opinion there can be no disputing that her version is by far the superior of the two. The song itself is a work of great subtlety, with a fantastic lyric and some truly original chord changes. Washington’s powerful voice works wonders in the quieter sections of the verse, building – and exploding – during the chorus. It’s really one of the greatest recordings to come out of Muscle Shoals, and that is truly saying a lot. Sadly, if you’re looking for ‘Breakfast in Bed’, you’ll have to settle for this MP3, as it doesn’t appear to be available in reissue*.

The next track is a song that will probably sound awfully familiar. Though the original version of ‘What a Man’ was recorded earlier in 1969 by Linda Lyndell on Volt – and subsequently sampled by En Vogue. Though Lyndell’s original is better known amongst collectors, beat diggers et al, and is subsequently rarer and more costly, I am of the belief that the version we present today, by the mighty Miss Laura Lee is better. Lee (with the guidance of Dave Crawford, who also wrote the tune) takes things at a slightly funkier, gritty pace. Though both versions have something to recommend them (Lee’s take omits the famous guitar riff) Lee was a more interesting singer than Lyndell. Either way I think you’ll dig it. You just can’t go wrong with Laura Lee.

*I have been notified by several folks (including all three posters so far) that ‘Breakfast In Bed’ has in fact been reissued on Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures: Taken From Our Vaults Vol 3

Buy Atlantic Unearthed – Soul Sisters on Amazon

Buy Atlantic Unearthed – Soul Brothers on Amazon


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 114 other followers