Mr. Aaron Neville
Diamond Joe – Look Way Back (Deesu)
Wallace Johnson – Something To Remember You By (Sansu)
Mary Jane Hooper – That’s How Strong My Love Is (World Pacific)
Irma Thomas – I Wish Someone Would Care (Imperial)
Eldridge Holmes – If I Were a Carpenter (Deesu)
Rubaiyats – Tomorrow (Sansu)
Eddie Bo – Watcha Gonna Do (Seven B)
Warren Lee – Climb the Ladder (Deesu)
Betty Harris – I Don’t Want To Hear It (Sansu)
Eddie Lang – Something Within Me (Seven B)
Eddie Bo – Let’s Let It Roll (Chess)
Benny Spellman – Sinner Girl (Sansu)
Chris Kenner – Land of 1000 Dances (Instant)
Robert Parker – I Caught You In A Lie (NOLA)
Bobby Marchan – ShakeYour Tambourine (Cameo)
Aaron Neville – Ape Man (Safari)
Diamond Joe – Gossip Gossip (Sansu)
As we close out the weekend and gather to begin yet another week, I figured I’d better stop my foot dragging, lolly gagging, shilly shallying etc, get my shite together and whip a little (more) of that sweet and funky New Orleans soul on you.
The first part of this mix (a dyptich of sorts) was all up in your grill a little over a month ago (a little more than a little….) and I promised that there would indeed be a second part, and, uh….here it is.
I’ll eschew my boilerplate gripe about how unfairly, under-appreciated New Orleans soul is. Suffice to say that the vast majority of these fine artists spent most of their careers laboring in utter obscurity, never getting any love outside of the Crescent City.
There are of course exceptions to the rule. Folks like Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Aaron Neville, and (for a brief time in the 60’s) Robert Parker rose to national prominence (though it would be fair to say that Toussaint did so behind the scenes as a writer and producer, managing to remain a relative unknown, “relative” in that you and I know who he is, but Aunt Fannie and the guy handing fries through the drive in window don’t know who he is and probably couldn’t care less).
That said – -and in the same spirit of relative-osity – many of these artists have appeared in this space (and the web zine) before, and will thus be familiar.
The mix opens (and closes, just wait) with one of my all-time fave soul singers, the criminally unknown Diamond Joe Maryland (just Diamond Joe to his friends). ‘Look Way Back’ is one of the stellar sides he recorded during his later period with Deesu (it’s flip, ‘The ABC Song’ is an excellent, unjustly ignored funk side), and is an old fashioned pleading ballad with a little hot sauce (“He says Diamond Joe..Heh heh, that’s ME, Diamond Joe.”) on the side. Anyone with an even serviceable voice would have prospered under the aegis of the mighty Tousan, but Diamond Joe wasn’t just anyone. He had a superb voice, absolutely swimming in drama and his very small discography is marked by several brilliant records.
A great side from the Sansu discography, ‘Something To Remember You By’ by Wallace Johnson is a typical (no pejorative there) Sansu soul disc, in that it features a great singer (dig Johnson’s creamy smooth tenor), and a great song and arrangement (how ’bout that Toussaint!). After his brief time with Sansu, Johnson went on to record a few more 45s, and still performs today.
Mary Jane Hooper (nee Sena Fletcher) recorded (in collaboration with the mighty Eddie Bo) a string of very tasty soul and funk 45 in the late 60’s. ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’ – featuring an uncredited duet with Bo – is her only 45 to get national distribution (it was released on World Pacific), and while light years away from the funk of ‘I’ve Got Reasons’ or ‘Harper Valley PTA’, the tune is still a solid bit of danceable soul. It is also – of all her 45s – the easiest to come by.
Irma Thomas is – along with Betty Harris – THE great female singer to record in New Orleans in the 1960s. Her Imperial sides are all excellent, but a few of them (including ‘Breakaway’, and ‘What Are You Trying To Do’) are among the finest soul 45s of the 60’s. ‘I Wish Someone Would Care’ is not only among that select group, but in my opinion one of the finest ballad performances in all of soul. The sound of the record is a mini-epic (dig those Spector-ian chimes), blending pure girl group sounds with a deep soul finish, all delivered in Thomas’s powerful voice.
If you’ve been a regular visitor to the web zine or the blog over the years, you’ll already be aware of my love for the music of Eldridge Holmes. Holmes may have been the greatest vocalist/songwriter to collaborate with Allen Toussaint in the 60’s. He recorded for a variety of labels (Alon, Sansu, Deesu, Atco, Kansu) from the early 60’s into the early 70’s, waxing everything from old school R&B and Northern Soul to relaxed deep soul and heavy funk. His cover of Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ is not only my fave version of that tune, but also my fave Holmes side. The record is a revelation, with an understated, yet powerful vocal and one of Toussaint’s finest arrangements. There was a period in the late 60’s where the master crafted a few amazing sessions in which he layered acoustic guitar leads prominently in the mix (Willie West’s ‘Fairchild’ and Lee Dorsey’s ‘Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky’ are two examples). Weaving in and out of the crisp drumming, the mariachi/Bacharach horn charts and Holmes’ vocal, the guitar lead has a clarity and rhythmic intensity that really takes the record to another level of greatness, taking on an almost trance-like quality in the last seconds of the record. While I said I’d dispense with my standard gripes, one that I absolutely MUST rehash is that we are still without a comprehensive retrospective of this great singers work, and the time is long past due for same. REALLY*.
The next tune may sound familiar because it was included in our recent ballads mix ‘Blues, Tears and Sorrows’. The Rubaiyats – actually Allen Toussaint and Willie Harper – made but one 45 for Sansu (under that name) but it was a killer. The a-side ‘Omar Khayyam’ is one of the finest upbeat soul party tunes of the 60’s, and its flip, ‘Tomorrow’ is an equally fine ballad. While Toussaint and Harper were not similar singers, their voices did have a similar quality, which goes along way to explaining why their duets (as the Rubaiyats, and as Willie & Allen) are so good. ‘Tomorrow’ combines their harmonies with a fine, understated arrangement.
We return to the star of the first NOLA Soul mix, Mr. Eddie Bo, and one of his better sides for the storied Seven B label, ‘Whatcha Gonna Do’. Bo is in fine voice here, aided and abetted by a female chorus, and some ringing guitar. This is for me, one of Bo’s best vocals, in that he allowed himself some room to stretch out and work with the relaxed tempo (which gets just a touch heavier – with the addition of a horn section, and sax solo – later on in the mix).
Warren Lee is another singer like Eldridge Holmes, who managed to record in a variety of styles through the 60’s and into the funk era (you may know him best from his Wand side, ‘Funky Belly’), hopping from label to label, yet creating uniformly excellent records. ‘Climb the Ladder’ is one of his mid-60’s efforts for Deesu (along with ‘Star Revue’) and has Lee delivering a casual vocal over ringing piano, chank guitar and a great horn arrangement.
I qualified my earlier statement about Betty Harris because though she made all of her best records in New Orleans, she – unlike Irma Thomas – was not a native of that city. ‘I Don’t Want To Hear It’ is one of her most powerful performances on Sansu, given a real uptown soul sound in one of Allen Toussaint’s most expansive arrangements. This is in that select group of Toussaint-helmed 45s that dispenses almost entirely with a New Orleans “feel”, aiming directly for the Top 40. This is not to say that it’s quality is in any way compromised, but rather that Toussaint was working with a different set of building blocks when he put it together, as if he were reaching beyond New Orleans for something bigger.
Eddie Lang was a fine, raspy voiced singer who recorded a few sides for the Seven B label, including the excellent ballad ‘The Sad One’. ‘Something Within Me’ was the a-side of his first record for the label, and it’s a powerful, uptempo dancer with a great guitar solo, and a memorable horn chart. Lang’s New Orleans drawl manages to peek through his soulful wail now and then, and in the end ‘Something Within Me’ is a record that should have (could have) made a bigger splash.
Eddie Bo returns with one of his excellent Chess sides, ‘Let’s Let It Roll’. If the song sounds familiar it might be because it borrows liberally from the Encyclopaedia Curtisiana. Mayfield may have been working his magic hundreds of miles away n Chitown, but his influence reached into New Orleans. This was the case subtly (i.e. Eldridge Holmes ‘Emperor Jones’ on ALON) and not so subtly as in ‘Let’s Let It Roll’ which sounds like a rough draft of the Impressions ‘It’s Alright’. Certainly Bo takes a completely different vocal approach (for a slice of pure Curtis, head on over to Texas for the Van Dykes), but the tune itself, with it’s gently rolling soul was undoubtedly influenced by the Impressions.
Benny Spellman’s ‘Sinner Girl’ was one half of one of the better two-siders on the Sansu label (flipped with ‘If You Love Her’). Unlike the Betty Harris record, ‘Sinner Girl’ is a perfect example of a record that is New Orleans to its core. Spellman delivers another characteristically excellent vocal, bolstered all the while by Toussaint’s piano rolls, and a meaty horn arrangement.
Next up is one of the truly legendary New Orleans records. Though there are those that would argue that Chris Kenner’s ‘Land of 1000 Dances’ doesn’t really cross over from the realm of pure R&B into soul, the tune itself was so influential (not mention what Wilson Pickett would make of it a few years later), and Kenner such a raw talent, that it would be foolish not to include it. The best part – for me anyway – is the juxtaposition of Kenner’s ragged howl against the background singers with the ‘Oh yeahhhhh’s’ and ‘Oooh Oohhhh’s’, backed by the simplest percussion and piano.
Robert Parker is best known for his huge hit ‘Barefootin’, but he also recorded a number of other excellent sides for the NOLA label (recording more singles than any other artist on the label). ‘You Caught Me In a Lie’ is, considered against the rest of his catalogue, quite a departure. Parker was a master of formulaic dance records, and to hear him take on a slice of mellow, romantic soul is kind of jarring. The cool thing is, that once the shock wears off, ‘You Caught Me In a Lie’ is quite good.
Despite that fact that he is largely unknown outside of soul fans and collectors, Bobby Marchan had a long and productive career, from his days with Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns, through a long string of excellent R&B and soul 45s that started in 1953 and lasted well into the 80’s. During that time he recorded as a solo, with the Clowns and (briefly) leading the Tick Tocks (who went on to record two excellent 45s for Sansu with John Williams in the lead). ‘Shake Your Tambourine’, which was released on Cameo in 1966 is in this writer’s opinion the best thing he ever recorded under his own name. The song is a soul raver, with some excellent guitar, but the highlight of the record is the repeated breakdowns where Marchan chants ‘Shake your moneymaker!’.
Aaron Neville should be a stranger to no one, but I doubt many have heard his one 45 for the Safari label, ‘Ape Man’. Recorded in 1968, in the lean years following ‘Tell It Like It Is’, the tune sounds as if it is being piped in from a few years earlier. Though the framework is disposable “dance craze”, the tune sports an excellent vocal by Neville, as well as some interesting chord changes along the way.
As promised, we close out this edition of Funky16Corners Radio with another side by Diamond Joe. Every once in a while you come across a record that clearly should have been huge, and ‘Gossip Gossip’ is one of those. Opening with Toussaint himself (I think) talking under the mix ‘Man did you hear what’s happening to Joe and his girl?’, Diamond Joe comes in at full blast with the verse, with the finest vocal he ever laid down. The instrumental backing – which for most of the record is a very simple organ/bass/drums pattern – blasts off going into each chorus, with the sax and horns hitting an ascending patter that almost physically lifts the tune to another level. You can say what you want, but I consider ‘Gossip Gossip’ to be one of the best soul records EVER recorded. The fact that it isn’t better known is a damn shame, and a testament to how many fantastic records never really got heard outside of New Orleans. I’ll take a page from my Eldridge Holmes spiel to remind the folks out there that own reissue labels, you NEED to get a comp of Diamond Joe’s recordings (which would all fit nicely on a single disc). I would also like to issue a plea, to anyone that has a copy of the 45 that Diamond Joe recorded for Instant (‘Too Many Pots’), which I’ve never been able to track down, I would love to hear it.
Anyway, I hope you dig the mix (there’s certainly enough material in the crates for more volumes).
*Come on Sundazed, let’s do it.
Remember that the second Asbury Park 45 Sessions is coming up this Friday 3/30, and I hear that Sport Casual will be jetting in from Brooklyn to join us on the decks.
NOTE: DJ Prestige has also entered the blogging game, and his new venture Flea Market Funk has been added to the blogroll…