“Listen – Super Duper Love Pt1 MP3″
“Listen - Super Duper Love Pt2 MP3″
It’s Thursday night, the end of the week is nigh and I feel like crashing out and snoring for an hour or eight (or nine, or twelve).
I hope you’ve all been digging the Nola Soul mix, especially since Mardi Gras is right around the corner and all that and we can all send our good vibes down that way for a city and its people that’ll be on the mend for some time.
Today’s selection(s) is both halves of a very fine 45, that if you’re a real soulie may be an old fave, and if not may still be vaguely familiar. If you fall into the latter group, you probably first heard the song (but not the record) a few years back, being delivered by the young Joss Stone.
In 2003, Stone, then a 16 year old UK born “prodigy” dropped on the scene with an LP composed largely of soul gold, in which she was aided and abetted by a who’s who of Florida soul, including Little Beaver, Betty Wright and Timmy Thomas. Despite a large helping of PR jive that would have had you believe that Stone had erupted fully formed like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, sui generis, all bare feet, patchwork jeans and dewy sex appeal, what the listener basically ended up with was Mandy Moore with a slightly better class of mix tape.
Though I hesitate to lay the blame for this entirely at Stone’s feet (she was after all only 16), it’s hard not to see her “launch” as anything more than another crass reach for the wallets (and maybe ears) of the “hipsters” (a major pejorative if ever there was one) of the world, especially in light of the fact that she seems to have dropped the ‘vintage soul’ thang like a bad habit in the few years since her debut.
The consumers – led around largely by a suggestibility born out of a chronic inability to know better – were fed another product, not all that different from the assembly line pap that regularly jams up the pop charts, except that this time out the provenance – obscure, but classic soul – was supposed to elevate it. Unfortunately what we ended up with was soul music from a machine in which the ne plus ultra was programmed in not as say Gladys Knight, or Aretha Franklin, but rather Dusty Springfield, i.e. soul music delivered via a system in which the real thing is felt to be too strong a brew, and the listener is then asked to bypass soul, for that which is merely soul-ful.
The truly insidious aspect of it all is that Stone’s LP was put together with just enough of an eye toward “cred” that all of the rockcrit types to whom names like Laura Lee, Betty Wright and maybe (just maybe) Little Beaver and Timmy Thomas might be familiar would be taken aback by this wunderkind and her surprisingly mature taste in soul would then feel compelled to let the world in on their “find”. Those that didn’t have enough background to appreciate the obscurities were provided with yet another bit of hipster-bait, that being the White Stripes cover, removed from its frantic origins and miscast as a nu-soul groover.
So, what does this all have to do with anything?
Well, reflecting on Stone ties into my recent, slow, painful and ongoing reappraisal of Janis Joplin, especially as an interpreter of soul.
I have said some unkind things about Joplin over the years, mainly due to my own purists anger at a success built on covers of classic soul that I felt (and generally still do feel) were by and large inferior to the source material.
However – and this is a big however – while digging out a selection of Howard Tate *covers (those being tunes originally recorded by Tate, all written by Jerry Ragavoy) I found myself listening to Janis Joplin’s studio and live recordings of ‘Get It While You Can’, and I found myself digging her approach to the song very much.
I think the problem is that for years, especially after discovering singers that Joplin had covered, like Erma Franklin and Howard Tate, I resented being fed rocked up “soul” wailing when the real thing was so readily accessible. I grew up enveloped in the “classic rock” (before that term was coined) hegemony, which by its very nature insisted in a way that source material (especially by black artists) be considered somehow archaic and could only be listed to, nay appreciated when redone by rock singers. This was the case in 1964 when the Beatles were selling us/US Arthur Alexander, in 1968 when Joplin was covering Tate and in the early 70’s when the J. Geils Band were digging up/digging on the Marvelows**.
By the time I was a young adult, and becoming aware of – and falling in love with – the original versions of so many of these songs, I experienced a type of internal backlash in which my personal tastes underwent a kind of divestiture, in which rock versions of R&B/soul material were immediately and angrily cast aside in favor of the originals (which in virtually all cases were superior). That I wore this as kind of a badge of pride is a testament not only to my deep and abiding love for soul music, but I now have to admit also somewhat to my own immaturity.
Though I may have taken my Led Zeppelin CDs to the resale counter lo those many years ago, so that I might be alone to meditate upon Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters discs, I know now almost 20 years hence that although I was probably correct in drawing a qualitative line between raw originality and regurgitation, I was ignorant of the fact that that regurgitation is not only the natural way of the world, but a necessary part of the continuum. This is not to say that Jimmy Page ought to have been ripping whole chunks out of Robert Johnson songs and building upon them as if they were his own (the musical equivalent of copying your term paper from the encyclopedia), but rather that borrowing and reinterpretation – in moderation – were going on in the Misissippi Delta in 1935 as much as they were in the UK in 1970, and I probably oughtn’t let myself be so bothered by it all. I’m still in a place where I draw a firm line between the real thing and the imitation, but I’m now able to listen (most of the time anyway) to both.
Which brings us back to Janis.
The main reason that I’ve started to find my way around to Janis Joplin is that over time I’ve been able to do two things. First and foremost, I’ve been able to separate Joplin from the hype that surrounds all dead rock legends, but especially her. Listening to the three LPs that form the core of her discography – divorced from the Mardi Gras beads, ostrich feathers and booze that have been stapled to them for the past three and a half decades – is, if not a revelation, a decidedly new experience. Second, I’ve stopped trying to judge Joplin as a soul singer (which she was not).
Joplin traveled from Port Arthur, Texas to San Francisco in the early days of the freak flag, a folk blues singer. When she got to SanFran, and fell in with Big Brother, the juxtaposition of her wail against that of Sam Andrew’s guitar created one of the signature sounds of the age. Her need to channel Big Mama Thornton collided with the acid zeitgeist, and while the end result may have been impossibly sloppy/chaotic by current standards, it was also a good deal more real than what we are accustomed to.
While Joplin may have been fed material by a variety of sources, she was, by virtue of the willingness, or blindness of the record industry able to bounce wildly between vibes, combining raw freaky rock with blues and yes, even soul. The end result was that over a very short career, in which she was rarely able to keep it together, Joplin managed to combine raw emotion with a powerful and difficult to control instrument, and when these elements intersected she made music with real soul (if not entirely real soul music, if you get what I mean). This is not to say that her discography isn’t rife with screamy overkill – which Joplin’s audience seemed to want from her and she was more than willing to provide – but that I’ve come to the point where I realize that it clearly isn’t all that way.
Listening to Janis Joplin work it out on ‘Get It While You Can’, you hear not a crass attempt to cash in on authenticity, but rather an honest attempt to bring something new to a great song. The bottom line is, that as an interpreter of soul material Joplin was real, and Joss Stone is not.
Where all this rumination leads us is to both sides of Sugar Billy’s 1974 original recording of ‘Super Duper Love’. A supremely funky slice of soul, sounding a few years earlier (or rawer) than the 1974 copyright would suggest. Not much is known about Sugar Billy/Willie Garner other than he seems to have hailed from Detroit, where he laid down a couple of funky scorchers for Dave Hamilton on the New Day label in 1971. He recorded an entire albums worth of material for the FastTrack label in 1974, and then promptly disappeared.
I love the groove on this tune, and I felt it necessary to include both parts if only to get a little more of that sweet guitar playing (anyone know who that is??).
Either way, it’s a fantastic record, gritty, soulful and unlike the cover, entirely too strong a quaff for college girls to vibe on while tagging potential suitors with body glitter.
Have a great weekend.
* I’m especially digging versions of ‘Stop’ by the James Gang and Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills
**Though in most of these cases, as with the cast majority of the UK R&Beat bands that introduced the sounds of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and John Lee Hooker to a white audience that was largely ignorant of those artists, the covering was done out of reverence, not calculation.