Archive for April, 2007

The Big Funky White Rock Thang….a Tale of Two 45s

April 30, 2007

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Merryweather

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Example

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Listen – Merryweather – Are You Ready MP3″

Listen – Sod – Too Loose To Get Tight Pt1 MP3″

Hey hey hey….

Howdy to all and to all a hearty “sorry the weekend’s over but hey, it’s spring so things aren’t all that bad after all”.
It’s been a somewhat busy weekend here at the Funky16Corners compound, with the errands to run, the children to care for and all that mess. Today (Sunday) the wife was away for some very well deserved R&R, so it was me and the boys (cue NRBQ) all by our lonesome today, and aside from some teething-related misery, all was well. I managed to squeeze in some vinyl transfers, including some of my vacation plunder, as well as getting a few more podcasts in the hopper.
As it is almost May, and the anniversary of the day we got our bandwidth sucked out from under us, precipitating the move to a bigger, better server, the Funky16Corners Pledge Drive* is just around the corner (probably starting the weekend of the next Asbury Park 45 Sessions), and I have something special planned. Without tipping my hand too much, it will feature a brand new edition of the Funky16Corners Radio podcast, in conjunction with some older volumes from the archive. I think you’ll dig it, as the sounds are hot and funky, and engineered for your listening and dancing pleasure.
That said, the tunes in tonight’s post are a couple of things that I’ve been meaning to get up into the old blog, but – as is often the case – I had to let the idea/theme bounce around in my head, letting my brain marinate in a bouillabaisse of facts, figures, conjecture and supposition until something took form.
This tale got started when some months back when I saw a 45 advertised on a dealers sale list, and intrigued by the description – which touted wailing Hammond organ content – I went in search of a somewhat less expensive copy of the record, and was rewarded forthwith when a copy turned up for about a fifth of the original asking price. As this fraction was in the words of the great Ralph Kramden, a “mere bag of shells”, I went ahead and grabbed it, unheard, and awaited its arrival eagerly.
Well…mail call came around, and as the disc slid through the mail slot, and onto the turntable, I immediately discovered that although there was lots of Hammond on the disc, it was not in fact what connoisseurs of organ 45s would describe as a “Hammond” disc. What the record in question was, was a fairly solid slice of Woodstock-era whiteboy funky rock.
I should take a moment here to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart (and ears) for this kind of stuff, i.e. sounds that seem thoroughly infused by the VanillaFudge-itude so common in the years between 1967 and say 1972. These were the days when longhaired rock types, all enamored of an admixture equal parts Wilson Pickett and Cream, stood astride the festival circuit like a grand parade of buckskinned, bell-bottomed groovers, horn sections in tow, generally (but not exclusively) led by bare-chested vocalists who seem to have a huge bone on for the sound of hard edged soul.
I invoked the name of Vanilla Fudge, because for me, that band was the ne plus ultra of the movement. If any one record can be hailed as a template for the subgenre, it is the Fudge’s testical-ization of the Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’. No matter how many white bands made hay covering black soul records, no one came within a mile of the moment when the band drops out and Mark Stein bellows

‘SET ME FREE WHY DONTCHA BABE”

and the rest of the band falls in with a loosely wrapped bundle of

“WOOO WOOOO WOOOOOO”s.

It was almost as if Vanilla Fudge had kicked in the door at Motown and stretched the whole enterprise out of shape. Oddly enough, what they and a hundred other bands composed of faux-soulmen were onto wasn’t far from a rough, less well thought out version of what Norman Whitfield was trying to do, i.e. blending then contemporary psychedelia with soul.
I would be lying if I said that my appreciation for bands like this wasn’t tinged by the tiniest bit of irony. Though there’s a pretty clear line between the kind of idol worship that bands like the Artwoods, Birds, Yardbirds and their ilk displayed for American bluesmen, and the “look how soulful we can be” isms of their late 60’s counterparts, the latter group was a step further removed from the source material. Whereas the R&Beat groups wore their idols catalogs on their sleeves, often going the long way around the block to out-authenticate their competitors, the longhairs half a decade down the pike were more interested in emulation of the performance style than they were in transmitting the original songs back to an audience that had been ignorant of it the first time around. Though I see the Vanilla Fudge as the best example, you can’t address the issue without bringing acts like (post Al Kooper) Blood Sweat and Tears into the mix. Though they were certainly guilty at times of jazzbo pretensions, they also had a great singer in David Clayton Thomas, and excellent taste in cover material, borrowing from Brenda Holloway (‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’) and Little Milton (‘More and More’). You might also want to make stops and visit with Janis Joplin, Lee Michaels, Bob Seger and even the mighty MC5, who took the whiteboy soul revue concept and bent it into amazing new shapes.
All things considered, BS&T were actually a little too tasteful for inclusion in this group. As I said, Thomas was a great singer, and not normally prone to the kind of vocal excess that I’m referring to. To get to where I’m talking about, you’d have to take David Clayton Thomas, make his pants waaayyyy too tight and turn up the meter to “overwrought”.
The 45 I was referring to earlier was by a band called Merryweather. Led by bassist, singer Neil Merryweather (who had been a member of the Mynah Birds with a young Rick James **- under his given name of Neil Lillie), Merryweather had recorded two LPs for Capitol before being signed to Kent records.
The record that we’re here to groove on today ‘Are You Ready’ (trust me, you aren’t…) is an interesting musical mix. Based on a hard, rocked out groove, the record features some swirling, vaguely psyched out Brian Auger-ish organ, spooky harmonica, and the wail of Merryweather himself. There are points in the record where it’s easy to picture Merryweather climbing atop the Hammond, dropping his bass, tearing off his peasant blouse and literally thumping his chest as his reinterpretation of mid-60’s hard soul sails out over the heads of a mud splattered audience, some dangling from the scaffolds barely able to believe what they are hearing.
As I said a while back, as I came to terms with my “Janis Joplin problem” it’s not fair to judge artists like this by comparing them to the people who they are imitating. What bands like Merryweather were doing was taking a template of sorts from the soul shouters they loved and combining them with all the pretensions that were plaguing rock music at the time. As was often the case, this combination often yielded mixed results, but sometimes, and I’d go as far as to say that Merryweather qualified, what you got was pretty exciting (as long as you didn’t take he performers as seriously as they sometimes took themselves). Many of these acts took funk and soul influences and ran with them. Sometimes they went (way) too far, but if you take it for what it was – and have a certain affection for the era, as I do – there’s a lot to dig.
The second disc in tonight’s post is one I dug up years ago. When I saw the bands name – Sod – and the title – ‘Too Loose to Get Tight’ – I was pretty sure that the 45 I was holding was the product of a rock band. I was also pretty sure – and putting the needle to the record proved me right – that this particular band had pretensions of Vanilla Fudge-itude. It certainly helps that ‘Too Loose to Get Tight’ opens with a delightful drum break (which has endeared the group to beat diggers and their ilk), and that part 2 (which I’ll save for another day) is an instrumental excursion with a groovy flute solo. Sod recorded a couple of albums (one with the assistance of that other beat diggers pal, David Axelrod), both pretty much along the same lines. While the bands sensibility is a little more restrained than Merryweather’s, that’s OK too. Not everyone had to be as deeply infused with over-the-top-ness, Fudge-itude or whatever you want to call it.
Though neither of these records are actually “soul”, they are both at times soulful, as well as funky***, and if this is in any way your cup of tea, you’re likely to get on board the freak bus and go for a little ride.
If these sounds are not up your alley, rest assured that there is a grip of rather straight ahead funk, pure soul and even a couple of tastes of soul jazz in the on deck circle, so hold tight brothers and sisters.
WOOOO WOOOOO WOOOOOOOOO…
Peace
Larry

*Many thanks to the few folks that have used the old Paypal link to make donations toward the upkeep of the site. Your help is greatly appreciated.

** A post-Neil Young versions of the Mynah Birds that recorded for Motown

*** Though this has little to do with (perhaps in spite of) the fact that Merryweather screams the word “funky” about eight times in a row during ‘Are You Ready’.

Friday Flashback #4 – Funky16Corners Radio v.6 – Bold Soul Sisters

April 27, 2007

Greetings all. This post represents the 4th Friday Flashback in which we dig up a past episode of the Funky16Corners Radio Podcast – this time it’s Episode the Sixth – for your re-delectation. The traffic hereabouts has almost doubled since thismix was posted last July, so I’m hoping that it will be new to a lot of you, as well as holding some value for those that dug it the first time around (assuming that it was indeed dug…).

As always, there’s a mixed MP3, as well as a zip file with the individual tunes in it. So download away, slip the ones and zeros onto the podlike device of your choosing, and have a funky weekend.

Peace

Larry 

 

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

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)

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).

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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 they strip the song down and rebuild it on a Detroit frame. It is –as they say – the shit.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Kingpins – In the Pocket

April 26, 2007

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King Curtis, y’all…

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Listen – In the Pocket MP3″

Hey hey hey….

Hope everyone’s having a groovy week so far, not letting the man get you down and all that.
I’ve been working slightly different (later) hours this week, which is great for sleeping in, but bad for getting anything done in the evenings.
I have to give it up for the Mrs., who stepped in to get the boys to sleep tonight so that Daddy might sit down and assault the interwebs with his bon mots.
If you patronize the blogs to which I roll, you may have noticed a certain King Curtis-y vibe of late. My man Red over at the mighty (and I do mean mighty) B-Side blog recently addressed the work of the King, and today’s selection actually dropped as part of a recent mix over at Fufu Stew. I had already select-o-ma-fied, and digi-ma-tized said 45 before that appearance, so I decided to go ahead and post it up in this space, on account of there’s no such thing as too much King Curtis (or soul music in general for that matter), and I have to make the most of the precious little recording time I have set aside.
We last visited with the King a while back with a look at one of my fave soul instros, ‘Blue Nocturne’, and even further back at his heavy, heavy take on the Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if sometime after today’s selection cools off, we might very well dip into the supply of Curtisology again (and again etc.).
This time out, the 45 label says that the groove you are downloading is provided by the Kingpins, but it should come as no surprise that the King himself is working it out therein. King Curtis is a close to ubiquitous as any musician on Atlantic and associated sessions throughout the 60’s (not to mention several other labels). He created countless memorable sax solos backing other artists, had several hits under his own name and had records released under the names of his backing bands, the Kingpins and the Noble Knights.
The tune in question, ‘In the Pocket’ (the flip side of one of the 842,000 covers of ‘Ode to Billy Joe’) was written by the King (Curtis Ousley to his Mama) and the great Bobby Womack.
As to the “Kingpins”, it’s difficult to say who the members of the band actually were. King Curtis had to have had a touring band, but it would appear that when in Memphis (where most of his sessions as a leader took place in the summer of 1967) his band was composed of local session heavies, including American Studios stalwarts like Bobby Emmons, and Tommy Cogbill who is listed as co-producer with the legendary Tom Dowd.
That August 24th session produce nine tracks, all but one appearing on Atco 45s . ‘In the Pocket’ was one of the few non-covers from that session, and is a great example of the kind of sounds that can be found on that mystical bridge that connects soul and funk. The tune opens with a relaxed drum break before things are taken over by the horn section, and a thick chugging bass that pretty much drives the record. There’s some great guitar throughout the song, and as soon as the King himself drops in to work it out on the sax, things get a lot funkier.
Though the tempo’s a little on the slow side (for the dancers anyway) there’s no denying that ‘In the Pocket’ is a hard charging slice of Memphis soul. It’s a fine example not only of how solid even the margins of the King Curtis discography are, but also of the kind of vibe that was emanating from that part of the eastern bank of the Mississippi in those days.
Solid stuff.
Peace
Larry

PS See you on Friday with another Funky16Corners Radio Flashback

Buy – Instant Soul: The Legendary King Curtis – at Amazon.com

Lorraine Ellison – Call Me Anytime You Need Some Lovin’

April 23, 2007

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Ms. Lorraine Ellison

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Listen – Call Me Anytime You Need Some Lovin’ MP3″

Greetings all.

I have returned from what – despite sheets of freezing rain – turned out to be a pretty nice vacation. The fam and I managed to get some rest, have some fun, consume much lobster (in roll and pie form, more on that in a minute) and see some fantastic scenery on the Maine coast. I also managed to hit a couple of record stores and scoop up a grip of excellent vinyl (mostly LPs), the likes of which would have been double (triple, quadruple) the price here in Jersey, had they not already been bought up years ago.
My Maine haul – courtesy of Enterprise Records in Portland, a very chill place with lots of great stuff – consisted mainly of 60’s pop/blue eyed soul and a couple of odd folk and soundtrack discs.
The second stop happened en route back to the homestead, when we were visiting with my in-laws (very hospitable folks) in the Schenectady, NY area. There’s a shop in Saratoga Springs that seems to get in a lot of excellent jazz collections, and this time they also had some very nice funk and soul LPs, which of course I adopted so that they might live out the rest of their natural lives in a good home. I even managed to grab some cool 45s – nothing rare, just cool – out of the $1.00 bin.
So, aside from the constant, nagging dread that comes with knowing that you have to eventually return to work, I’m feeling relaxed, revivified, refreshed (physically and vinyl-ly) and ready to get back into the blogging thang.
To take a brief culinary detour, if you dig lobster – and you know you do, you gourmet you – you need to journey to New England (especially Maine) where the good folks know (in the deepest, zen sense) their lobster, and prepare it in many delicious ways, all of which pay proper tribute to the greatness of the little beclawed bottom feeders.
There are of course the famous lobster rolls, in which lobster meat (the good stuff, i.e. claws’n’tails) is laid gracefully inside of a grilled hot dog bun (the cool New England kind with the flat sides) for your delectation. Some folks will toss the lobster with mayonnaise and serve it as “lobster salad”. No matter how much you like mayo (and I do) putting it on a substance as sublime as lobster is a dreadful mistake. Not that it doesn’t taste delicious, but a certain lobstery essence disappears once mayonnaise elbows its way into the act.
The REAL way to serve up a lobster roll, is to adorn the meat with it’s only true bosom pal – the way Marvin and Tammi, Ike & Tina, beer and pretzels, and oil and vinegar go together – that being drawn butter. These two elements (three if you count the roll) thusly combine to create a gustatory experience rivaled by few others.
One of those others also involves lobster, butter and bread (of a kind). In Wells, ME, on the side of RT1 there lies the Maine Diner, a fantabulous haven wherein the lobster fan may indulge in a veritable wonderland of crustaceana. It is at the Maine (in Maine) that the great minds of lobsterdom decided that the buttered lobster roll wasn’t enough, so they created the Lobster Pie. When I tell you that the lobster pie at the Maine Diner is a dish of the most eye-rollingly decadent food you will ever consume, I ain’t lying brother.

They take chunks of lobster, mix it with a bread stuffing and bake it in a casserole dish, after which the consumer (that’s me) applies drawn butter to taste. Man, oh man…lobster heaven (literally and figuratively). None of this – of course – could possibly be good for any part of you (other than your tastebuds, of course) – but I only get up there once a year, so I’m not going to feel too badly about it.
Now, on to the music…
I first heard today’s selection a while back courtesy of the late, lamented blog Number One Songs In Heaven*. While I certainly knew who Lorraine Ellison was, I had never heard ‘Call Me Anytime You Need Some Lovin’’, and the song quickly became a new fave of mine (thanks Lee!).
While you can pick up a little background info in a previous Funky16Corners post on Ellison (here), I can try to do justice to this truly amazing record.
I suppose I should start by referencing – once again – Peter Shapiro’s outstanding tome ‘Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco”. Among the many new things I learned in this wonderful book was that a few of the major movers and shakers of the Northern Soul movement in the UK – Ian Levine and Kev Roberts – were also involved in the evolution of the disco era, as DJs, record producers and above all tastemakers.
That these mavens of danceable soul music should be involved in the disco era comes as little surprise because what Northern Soul and disco have in common (aside from the obvious, that being dance music created largely by black Americans) is dancer’s anthems. Though to someone at a distance from either genre this might seem unusual, putting things into sharper focus, the similarities between the two grow as the differences become less and less significant.
A great dance record should be an object lesson in the use of beat and dynamics. The beat – first and foremost – compels the seated to become upright, and to move to the groove. The dynamics, i.e. using a variety of elements including volume, pop hooks, adjustments in tempo etc, allow the makers of these records, including the songwriters, singers, producers and arrangers, to build the effect the record has upon the audience (with varying degrees of subtlety). In doing so they can transport a crowd from a baseline groove in which the dancers needs are served at least adequately, into cascades of ecstatic experience that go back to the earliest historic interaction between music makers and music consumers.
This construct, i.e. people being carried away by music and dance, has been around pretty much forever, and still exists as a part of many religious rituals. Referring to the gathering of people to groove on music and dance as a religious ritual may seem blasphemous to some, but that’s just too bad because – and I’m certain of this so bear with methey’re wrong.
Sure, not every dance experience ends with the crowd trance-ported (sic), but most of them do to one degree or another. This has been true since the days of tribal drummers, whirling dervishes, the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, the disco dance floor and right on into the rave years. The idea of people, all digging the same kinds of sounds gathering together to experience said sounds – intoxicated, whether by good feelings, the love for one’s fellow man/woman, or via chemical assistance (in the form of fermented whatever, mushrooms, hash, LSD, purple hearts, poppers or ecstasy) – has been around since time immemorial, and continues to this very day and will go on into the future.
So, you ask, what does this have to do with anything?
Both Northern Soul and disco have long traditions of records specifically designed to transport listeners via the dance experience, and ‘Call Me Anytime You Need Some Lovin’’ is one of those. Take the time if you will to listen to records like ‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’ by the Marvelettes, ‘Baby You’ve Got It’ by Maurice and the Radiants, ‘I’ll Try’ by Sam & Bill as well as classics like ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes** (or the more famous cover by Thelma Houston, also excellent), or Gloria Gaynor’s version of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and realize that what they all have in common is a solid, propulsive verse that builds to an explosive chorus, the arrival of which causes any self respecting rug cutter to roll their eyes back into their head and shift into overdrive.
I’ve given a fair amount of thought to how much influence the lyrics of these anthems contribute to the experience, and I still haven’t made up my mind. The vast majorities of these records are love songs – some dealing with loss, others with triumph –and probably give almost anyone something to identify with. However, what all of these records also have in common is the aforementioned “build”, as well as absolutely deadly hooks. I haven’t taken the time to make a serious empirical study of the art form (and it’s not likely that I will), but maybe someday somebody will.
That all said, the record (waxed in 1966) is fantastic, due in large part not only to Ellison’s killer vocal but by the authorship and musical direction of one of our old friends here at the Funky16Corners Blog, Mr. Lou Courtney.
The record has the good taste to open up (aside from a brief horn fanfare) with the chorus, after which Miss Ellison digs down deep into the verse. Standing alone, the verse could have been pulled from any number of pop tunes/styles of the era (dig the handclaps, fuzz guitar etc), but when the chorus comes along, and Ellison takes off into the vocal stratosphere we’re all on the express train to Soulville. The way she stretches out in the choruses reminds me more than a little of a record like ‘With My Love and What You’ve Got (We Could Turn the World Around)’ by Jean Wells, in that the singer seems to reaching for seemingly unattainable heights, and almost gets there, all the while pushing the limits of what magnetic tape could deliver.
This is a record that absolutely demands that it be played at high volume, and if you can’t swing that, slap on some headphones and get carried away.
You can thank me after you regain consciousness.
Peace
Larry

*Make sure you follow the link to Lee’s new blog ‘Crying All the Way To the Chip Shop’

** If you’ve never heard the HM&the BNs original, stay tuned to this space as it is in the ‘to be blogged’ stack

PS Get on over to Fufu Stew to check out an excellent blues mix by my man Vincent, and then head over to Fleamarket Funk as DJ Prestige is burning up the interwebs over there too.

Mel Brown – Son of a Preacher Man

April 18, 2007

Example

Mr. Mel Brown

Example

Listen – Son of a Preacher Man MP3″

Greetings all.

I sit here tonight, composing this mid-weekly post from storm tossed Maine, in the midst of one of the most unfortunate stretches of vacation weather we’ve ever experienced in the almost ten years that the Mrs. and I have been a couple.
This time out we’re on the road – for the first time – with the whole family, and I’m here to tell you that traveling with an infant and a toddler is a whole ‘nother bag my friends. The things you do, the places you eat and stay…all different. If you’re flexible and you work at it – which we do – it can be a lot of fun. If you sit around pining for the days of traveling as a couple you’re in for a very rude awakening. That said, despite the horrible weather – which we seem always to be at least one step behind – we’re doing OK. Our trip across southern Vermont and New Hampshire was beset by several detours when state roads had literally been washed out – just like in the movies – and we had to change course. In suburban NJ this wouldn’t be such a big deal. In rural New Hampshire, every new turn was a possible stranding.
We finally found our way into northeastern Massachusetts – wherein plates of delicious oysters and clams were waiting patiently for our arrival – and then on to Portsmouth, NH.
We took the long way up the coast – taking a short stop in Kennebunkport to hang a moon by the Bush compound (witnessing a truly awesome and angry Atlantic waves in the process). The Maine coast is littered with fallen trees, and in some instances evidence that the sea had reached beyond the beaches, leaving sand and rocks all over the roads.
The hotels we stayed at in Portsmouth and Portland are both hosting evacuees from the coast and islands and we’ve heard stories about major power outages.
A mess.
Anyway – unlike the last trip – I’ve managed to hook up with some excellent high speed wi-fi, and as a result am taking some time out (with the kids gone to sleep) to get some sounds up on ye olde bloggespotte…
I’ve featured a couple of cuts by the mighty Mel Brown in this space before, and while rifling through my crates to pull DJ heat in the last few months, I decided that the time was ripe for one more by the master.
Brown recorded a grip of very tasty LPs for Impulse in the late 60’s, and his final session for the label, ‘Blues for We’ was among the tastiest*. The best track on the LP was today’s selection ‘Son of a Preacher Man’.
I suppose that that tune, waxed so memorably by Dusty Springfield, falls into that category of “can’t miss covers”, though without knowing for sure I’m almost certain that there are versions out there by the Montovanis, Percy Faiths and Crappy Von Wimpsteins** of the world, so who knows. That said however, the law of averages, and the heat generated by Mr. Brown and his gee-tar, suggests to me that most of the covers out there are at least worth hearing (his especially so).
I’d even go as far as to say that Brown’s version is the best I’ve heard, vocal or instrumental. The session, arranged by Artie Butler cooks, with a very hot horn chart, funky drums and a double heaping helping of ultra-greeezy fatback axe-work by Mel.
It, like all the MB 45s that I’ve gathered in the field, is most groovy, and worth picking up if you are lucky enough to encounter one yourself.
I’ll be off the interwebs for the latter part of the week, so it’s unlikely there’ll be anything new before Monday, so enjoy, pray for sunshine, and I’ll see you then.
Peace
Larry

PS The Asbury Park 45 Sessions numero three-o will be back on Friday May 11th. Don’t miss it.

PSS No comments on the Philly mix? Anyone digging it? Anyone?

* Oddly enough the 45 label says that the album is entitled ‘Set Me Free’. ‘Blues for We’ features a track by that name, so I’ll assume that that was the albums working title.

** Not a real guy…

Funky16Corners Radio v.21 – Philly Soul Vol. 1 aka The Vacation Mix

April 14, 2007

Example

The Volcanos

Track Listing
Volcanos – Storm Warning (Arctic)
Agents – You Were Meant For Me (P&L)
Herb Johnson – Two Steps (Ahead of a Woman) (Swan)
Globeliters – The Way You Do (Philtown)
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes – Get Out (And Let Me Cry) (Landa)
Butlers – Laugh Laugh Laugh (PHILA)
Common Pleas – I Wanted More (Crimson)
Casinos – If I Told You (Del-Val)
Formations – At the Top of the Stairs (MGM)
Eddie Holman – I’ll Cry 1,000 Tears (Bell)
Ambassadors – I Can’t Believe You Love Me (Arctic)
Intruders – All the Time (Excel)
Patti & The Emblems – Please Don’t Leave Me Baby (Kapp)
Cruisers – Take a Chance (Gamble)
Intrigues – In a Moment (Yew)
Ethics – Look at Me Now (Vent)
Gene Faith – My Baby’s Missing (Virtue)

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

Greetings all.
The weekend is upon us, and as promised – as the Funky16Corners fam is about to hit the road for some well deserved R&R – I have concocted a new mix, a la Funky16Corners Radio pour vous, so that while I am away from the interwebs, and consuming lobster at what might be described as an “alarming rate” , you have some sweet sounds to soothe you.
The very first installment of Funky16Corners Radio was a survey of some of the hotter Philly funk 45s in my crates, and ever since that time I have wanted to revisit Philadelphia, in the soul sense. This in and of itself didn’t present much difficulty, in that the sounds of Philadelphia have been a major obsession of mine for some time, and the crates are, as they say chock full’o’Philly. Where the difficulty comes into play, is deciding what segment of that vast sea of great music to address. With the records I finally picked for the first volume (and there will ultimately be several) the connecting threads (other than the geographical) were actually quite vague.
Though there is a kind of “sweet” vibe to be found here, the records in the mix hail from a fairly wide time span (almost ten years) in which the sounds of soul – not just in Philly, but everywhere else too – underwent a considerable evolution. When I selected the sides for inclusion herein, the basic criteria was “do I like the song”, and in each and every case I do. There are lots of tight harmonies, a couple of superior dancers, a few cuts where the producer/arranger is as important as the performer, and as always, a few of my personal favorites.
The mix opens with one of the better known mid-60’s Philly sides (it actually charted), ‘Storm Warning’ by the legendary Volcanos (read the whole story here). Led by vocalist Gene Faith (nee Eugene Jones), the Volcanos are perhaps the best example of a group that created a grip of consistently excellent singles covering the breadth of the classic soul era (in their case 1965 – 1969), in collaboration with some of the finest songwriters and producers working in Philadelphia. ‘Storm Warning’ was written by Carl Fisher of the Vibrations (who also wrote under the pseudonym ‘Del Shahr’). It is a great example of how all of the elements of the early-70’s ‘Philly Sound’ were brewing half a decade earlier. Faith’s gritty lead is wrapped in the sweet harmonies of the group, all served up on a bed of ringing piano and vibes (the tune is a ‘Dynodynamic’ production, signaling the involvement of the Harthon crew, i.e. Weldon McDougall, Luther Randolph and Johnny Stiles). All of those things, in combination with a solid four on the floor beat have long made ‘Storm Warning’ a fave with the Northern Soulies.
I don’t know much about the Agents (Nat Williams, Kenneth Davis, Jimmy Downs, Norman Bowen and Warren Lundy), other than the fact that their sole 45, ‘You Were Meant for Me’ on the P&L label is a very solid slice of laid back soul harmony. I love the way the spare instrumental backing – little more than guitar and tambourine – works under the street corner-cum-sweet soul falsetto harmonies. This cut was comped a few years back by Philly Archives.
If Herb Johnson is known to you at all, it’s probably from the legendary, ultra-rare, ultra-smoking funk monster ‘Damn Ph’aint’ by the Herb Johnson Settlement on the Toxsan label. Johnson recorded for a number of Philly labels through the 60’s (Len, Arctic, Swan, V-Tone et al) in a variety of styles (his ‘I’m So Glad’ on Brunswick is a killer). ‘Two Steps (Ahead of a Woman)’, from 1964 has all the hallmarks of the early soul, sounding as if it were recorded beside some of Arthur Alexander’s best work. The tune was co-written by Wally Osborne, a major mover and shaker of Philly soul in the 60’s. Johnson began to record again late in life, before his untimely passing in 2004.
The Globeliters are another “mystery” group. Though the flip side of ‘The Way You Do’ was arranged by Leroy Lovett (the Lee in Ben-Lee productions), I don’t recognize any of the other names on the label. ‘The Way You Do’ has a great lead vocal, and the tune itself has a memorable melody. The Philtown label is also one of several in the area to feature a picture of the Liberty Bell.
Sure you all know of the classic recordings of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass, but how many of you are aware that they were together as a group as early as the mid-50’s, recording with a number of lead vocalists (including the great Bernard Williams who also recorded for Harthon) for several different labels? The singer on ‘Get Out (and Let Me Cry)’, their sole 45 for the Landa label was John Atkins. The tune, which starts out with a deceptively quiet soliloquy by Atkins, soon erupts into a solid dancer, with some of those wonderful Blue Notes harmonies rolling under Atkins lead. Written and produced by Richard Barrett, ‘Get Out…’ is another one of those records you hear and can’t help but wonder how it didn’t become a big hit.
The Butlers – led by Frankie Beverly – came together in the early 60’s, and recorded some excellent 45s for a number of Philly labels (PHILA, Sassy, Eldorado, Quakertown, CRS) before morphing into Frankie Beverly’s Raw Soul, and finally into the group Maze in the early 70’s. ‘Laugh Laugh Laugh’ features great harmonies (I love those WOOO WOOOs in the chorus) and a solid dancers beat.
Despite having had the record for years, and searching high and low I have been able to track down nothing on the Common Pleas. My assumption has always been that they were renamed to go along with the title of the a-side of their sole 45 ‘ The Funky Judge’. The cut featured here is a major fave of mine, ‘I Wanted More’. The tune sports sophisticated melody and lyrics, suggesting to me that the writers had more of the same up their sleeves. Had either side of this 45 hit the charts, there’s no telling what they might have done. I don’t think either side of this 45 has been comped, so I’ll have to include the flip in a future mix.
The Casinos recorded for the storied Del-Val label, along with Gene Woodbury, and Bernie Williams, he of ‘Ever Again’ fame. ‘If I Told You’, a smooth, stylish dancer appeared on the flip of ‘Everybody Can’t Be Pretty’, a Kenny Gamble composition. The record was produced by another local legend, Joe Stevenson, who also worked with funkers The Interpretations.
‘At the Top of the Stairs’ by the Formations (more here) is another longtime fave of mine. The tune has enough forward motion to get the kids out onto the dancefloor, and manages to do so with a memorable melody. The arrangement is one of the finest to come out of Philadelphia during the 60’s – dig those French horns. The rest of their 45s (harder to find, of course) are also excellent.
Eddie Holman, known to most as the singer of ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’ recorded a number of absolutely amazing 45s for Cameo/Parkway and Bell during the mid-60’s. Holman was not only a brilliant singer, but also an accomplished songwriter. ‘I’ll Cry 1000 Tears’ (penned by Holman) features a stunning vocal, Motown-esque arrangement and once again production from the Harthon team. All of Holman’s early 45s (which I consider to be his finest work) are worth picking up, though some might set you back a couple of bucks (like this one for instance…). They’re all worth it.
Following a few excellent 45s for Atlantic, the Ambassadors recorded several more (and an LP) for Jimmy Bishop’s Arctic imprint. They’re funky cover of Tammi Terrell’s ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’ should have been a huge hit. The arrangement takes all kinds of unexpected twists and turns (including a couple of interesting key and tempo changes), and the group vocals are terrific. Though clean copies of the Ambassadors 45s are hard to come by, their LP has been reissued on CD.
If you aren’t already hip to the Intruders, I suggest you back away from the computer and head to the record store, because they not only had several outstanding sweet soul hits (‘Cowboys to Girls’ anyone? How about ‘A Love That’s Real’?), but the rest of their catalog is well worth searching for. ‘All the Time’, a Gamble-Huff composition was one of their very first 45s, recorded for the Excel label before they went on to great success with Gamble. ‘All the Time’ is a stomper with a memorable hook in the chorus.
Patti and the Emblems recorded a bunch of great 45s during the 60’s, including the hit ‘Mixed Up Shook Up Girl’ on Herald. Their later 45s, on Kapp are uniformly excellent, especially their last 45, the rare ‘I’m Gonna Love You a Long Long Time’. ‘Please Don’t Ever Leave Me’ is a great Northern style dancer, written and produced by the Ben-Lee crew. Though this tune is not included, try to pick up the Kent CD ‘Ben-Lee’s Philadelphia Story’, which included a number of outstanding Philly area sides, including stuff by the Persionettes, Kenny Gamble and the certifiably epic (and ironically unreleased) ‘Got No Time’ by Timmy and the Empires.
The Cruisers (Gene Williams, Randy Hamilton, Paul Long, and McKinley Anthony) recorded two 45s for V-Tone records in the very early 60’s, and didn’t enter the studio again until 1967, this time for Gamble. ‘Take a Chance’, written by the group and produced by Gamble-Huff is a lost gem, with sweeping strings juxtaposed against chunky lead guitar, as the Cruisers harmonize on top of it all. Despite the high quality of this release, the record doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent outside of Philly, and precious little inside the city. The Cruisers had one more 45 on Gamble in 1969, before fading into the ether.
The Intrigues ‘In a Moment’ was a Top 40 hit (Top 10 in some markets) in the fall of 1969. The tune had originally been released on the local Bullet label before the group moved to a slightly larger local label, Yew records (also home to the Radars/Radors of ‘Finger Lickin’ Chicken’ fame). They went on to record six 45s for Yew (between 1969 and 1971), and two for Janus (‘71/’72) before disbanding.
The second to last number in the mix is ‘Look at Me Now’ by the Ethics. Released prior to their big local hit ‘Sad Sad Story’, ‘Look at Me Now’ is something of a lost treasure. Sitting right on the cusp of the early-70’s Philly Sound (it was released in early 1969) the tune – produced by Vince Montana, who can be heard adding the vibes in the hook – mixes danceable pop-soul with tight, sweet harmonies, and never gets old no matter how many times I spin it (go ahead, try to listen to it just once…). I’ve seen this described on a UK message board as “cheap as chips”, but if you don’t feel like digging, there is a budget CD release of the Ethics best stuff.
The mix closes with the same voice that opened it, Gene Faith. Following his departure from the Volcanos, Faith recorded a number of excellent 45s for the Virtue label (one of them was even under the Volcanos name). ‘My Baby’s Missing’ is a great showcase for his raspy tenor. Turn it up at the beginning to catch the telephone sound effects.
So…this is pretty much it for the next week (though if I do get some decent wi-fi access on the road I’ll probably try to get a post up late in the week).
See you soon.
Peace
Larry

Example

Eddie Kendricks – Keep On Truckin’ Pt1

April 12, 2007

Example

Mr. Eddie Kendricks

Example

Listen – Keep On Truckin’ Pt1 MP3″

Greetings to all, and a happy mid-week oh my god we’re on the slow slide to Saturday, to you as well.

If the week were a wave, it would be on the verge of breaking, and we are all faced with the choice of standing up on the board and riding it out in style, or missing our chance and getting a mouthful of wet sand (or something like that).
In furtherance of the former – and the ensuing avoidance of the latter – I bring you the track that I alluded to this past Monday, that being the song which required more attention than I was capable of producing after what amounted to a long-ass day on the job. Now, I won’t jive you and claim that my brain is any fresher or sponge-cakey than it was on Monday night, but rather that I have a little more time tonight in which to lay out my case, and so I will.
Despite that fact that work, family life and blogging often leave me with barely enough time left over to sleep (who knew, back in the day, when I was a tyke fighting my Mom and Dad about going to bed, how much I would come to love a nice, satisfying snooze?), I have been managing to ingest a book or two every week.
Sometimes – like this past winter when I first entered into my current/ongoing period of employment hassles – I might invest a month or two in wrestling with something challenging (like ‘Moby Dick’ or ‘Ulysses’) in an effort to take my mind off of stuff like that. More often than not I’m likelier to grab something a little lighter.
Such was the case about a month back when I picked up the wholly excellent and informative ‘Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco’ by Peter Shapiro. It was both a great window into the earliest days of turntable culture (I would also recommend – highly – ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey’ by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton) as well as a cultural survey of the artists involved in the creation of disco music.
I should begin by saying that in the 70’s, I was both a perpetuator and secret questioner of the “disco sucks” ethos. I was a long-haired, hard-rocker wannabe, and part of a cultural stratum in which all things disco – not just the music – were to be avoided like the plague. Though I was as homophobic as the next suburban teenage male, there really wasn’t a sexual element to our disdain for the disco culture (at least not consciously).
My recollection is that at least among the kids I hung out with, disco was a signifier not of sexual orientation or race, but rather of class and cultural differences.
We saw disco as the sole province of slick, Camaro owning, polyester wearing, blow-dryed, cologne soaked fools, and the music itself as an assault on all that was real and “authentic” about rock’n’roll (oblivious at the time to how unreal and inauthentic the music we worshipped was, especially in comparison to much of the dance music we ignored).
We were idiots.
I was an idiot (I may still be depending on who you ask).
But I had a secret shame.
While I loathed the vast majority of disposable disco-related pap that found its way onto the pop charts during the height of the disco craze (I speak now of the ‘Disco Lucy’s) et al), I actually dug a lot of “disco” records (and I only enclose the word in qualifying quotes because some of the records might not qualify to discerning ears as disco, but more on that soon). Among the groups who I liked then – and still listen to now – I would include KC and the Sunshine Band (don’t tell me ‘Get Down Tonight’ isn’t a great record), Chic, BT Express, Kool & The Gang, Barry White, tons of Philly Sound (MFSB, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes) stuff as well any number of lesser lights who managed to hit the charts (and fill the dance floors) at the time. I still remember seeing (and digging) Sylvester on American Bandstand performing ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real’, which to this day strikes me as an absolutely kick-ass record.
I think that the main issue for me then (though it only took me 20 years to get a handle on it), was a inability first, to have the balls to admit that I liked something my friends didn’t (no one wants to be excommunicated from their peer group), but also to separate the non-musical aspects of the disco world from the music itself, which not surprisingly represented several different musical styles/strains.
When you take even a cursory survey of the short list of artists above and the music they created in the 70’s, what you get is a feeling for the evolution of soul music in that decade. Very few of the artists on that list were born of the disco sound, but rather came from funk and soul, and as the tempos evolved, and the records got longer, the artists evolved as well.
This was not always the case, as a great many records extended for the dance floor were stretched like a sack of dog food, substance replaced by empty filler. But in a lot of cases, where folks like Tom Moulton were involved, the extended disco mix became a work of art. Moulton productions like the long version of ‘Do It (Til Your Satisfied)’ by BT Express, and the nine minute long remix of KC’s ‘Get Down Tonight’ – in which the basic vibe of the record is creatively and successfully reshaped – were fantastic examples of how a record might be expanded (as opposed to just stretched) for the dance floor. They illustrated how by extending a record – imitating in the studio what pioneering DJ’s like David Mancuso and Francis Grasso did at the turntables (on the fly, no less) what might have begun as a dance pop single might be turned into a ten minute long passion play in which a crowd might be brought up, down, and up again by playing with dynamics and more importantly, the beat.
It is also important to note that many of the records that have since become identified with disco – much like today’s selection ‘Keep On Truckin’ Pt1’ by Eddie Kendricks – predate the explosion of disco culture into American (and world) pop consciousness. Though they might have been a big part of what was then a largely sub rosa culture – while most people who heard ‘Keep On Truckin’’ were undoubtedly moved to dance, not many outside of the clubs in New York City and San Francisco were doing so in the context of what would become known as “disco”.
By the time ‘Keep On Truckin’’ was released (and became a major hit) in 1973, Eddie Kendricks had been out of the Temptations – a group for which Kendricks’ falsetto had been an indispensable element –for almost two years, and hadn’t been all that successful as a solo artist. Motown producer (and Northern Soul legend) Frank Wilson, along with Leonard Caston (who had been a member of the Radiants) and Anita Poree (who co-wrote the Friends of Distinction hit ‘Love or Let Me Be Lonely’) wrote ‘Keep On Truckin’ for Kendricks (as well as his follow up hits ‘Boogie Down’ and ‘Girl You Need a Change of Mind’) and the rest is history.
When ‘Keep On Truckin’’ hit the charts in 1973, I was an 11-year-old with a portable radio (remember them kiddies??) glued to my ear. I have a vivid memory of a sleepless night on a Boy Scout camp out that I spent shivering in my pup tent listening to WABC-AM out of New York City until I passed out sometime in the middle of the night. Over the course of a few hours I must have heard the record (the long version, i.e. Pts 1&2 together) at least three times. Unlike most of the other records getting played that night (which I can’t remember) ‘Keep On Truckin’ made a big impression.
The record itself falls into that gray area where it’s not quite funk – though it’s undeniably funky – but even less identifiable as what we’ve come to know as disco (other than that it was danceable).
Opening with a horn fanfare, ‘Keep On Truckin’’ launches at full speed, driven by a propulsive rhythm, equal parts bass and clavinet. While there are classy string flourishes, these are tempered by funky guitar and organ. The real unsung hero of the mix is whoever was working overtime on the vibraphone, sounding like Vince Montana on remote from Sigma Sound in Philly.
The interesting thing is that ‘Keep On Truckin’’ is really two records. The first – which you’re hearing today – is the basic, one-sided radio edit, fading out at around three and a half minutes. The version I heard that night in 1973 – which is the two-part single as a continuous edit – is a whole other bag. While his old group the Temps was working with Norman Whitfield to create socially conscious epics like ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Masterpiece’, Kendricks and Wilson took the “epic” concept, and stripped it down – removing almost everything but the groove – for the dancers.
I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that what they ended up with is in any way the equal of ‘Papa..’ but rather that it signaled a change in direction. Going forward, records could still extend beyond the traditional boundaries of the 45, but the era of deep, impressionist soundscapes was coming to an end, to be replaced by a second helping of the groove (and then some). That so many of the records that followed failed to rise to a certain level of quality had more to do with what the audience was expecting, than what the musicians had to offer.
Peace
Larry

Buy – Eddie Kendricks – The Ultimate Collection – at Amazon.com

Aretha Franklin – See Saw

April 9, 2007

Example

The Queen of Soul

Example

Listen – See Saw MP3″

Greetings All.

Here’s hoping that you all had a great weekend, whether you were wrapping up Passover, working up to Easter or engaged in any number of non-religious activities.
The weekend was busy, and it is only by a stroke of luck (and a kind wife who volunteered to put the kids to bed) that I find myself with enough time for the traditional Sunday night late/Monday morning early (for the folks in the EU) post.
I spent the majority of the ride home from Pennsylvania mulling over which of the carefully pre-selected numbers I was going to post, and wouldn’t you know it, when I actually sat down to write, I changed my mind almost instantly (mainly because the tune I was considering really deserves more attention that I can muster at this late hour, so I’ll get to it later in the week).
Today’s selection is another one of those absolute soul smokers that I found my way to only after a circuitous detour to the UK.
Back in the day (I seem to start a lot of stories that way, don’t I?), when Ronald Reagan and his gang of tightly necktied thugs were running roughshod over this once-great nation of ours, my pals and I were deeply ensconsed in revival/re-examination of the music of two decades prior, specifically US garage punk, UK R&B/Beat and psychedelia of all nationalities. While I came into this world fairly well versed in the kind of 60’s rock I got to hear on WCBS-FM in New York City (that being all kinds of great music, from soul, to “charting” garage and psyche to just plain classic pop music), the scene I walked into was inhabited by folks for whom those sounds were merely a jumping off point into the depths of obscurity.
The next few years were something of a collaborative crash course in the back alleys of 60’s sounds, where I was first acquainted with many of the artists that became lifelong favorites.
One of these artists, to whom I was introduced by the Mod contingent, was a Hammond wrangler from the old sod who like many of his Brit contemporaries had taken to ingesting and reformulating American R&B and soul. Known to his mama as Clive Powell, and to the rest of us as Georgie Fame, this cat looked to the likes of Fats Domino, Mose Allison and Prince Buster to create a swinging sound that built him a serious career in the UK, as well as a few moments on the charts here in the US (with hits like ‘Yeh Yeh’ and ‘Getaway’).
At the time – mid-80’s that is – if you were part of the In Crowd, you usually had yourself a copy of what at the time was the standard Georgie Fame re-ish, that being ’20 Beat Classics’, and those of us that needed a little more Fame in our game grabbed what 45s we could track down, and his first two US LPs, which oddly enough carried the same names as his first two US hits (those being ‘Yeh Yeh’ and ‘Getaway’).
It was on that second album – alongside one of my all-time fave Hammond sides, ‘El Bandido’ – that I first heard the tune ‘See Saw’.
As time went on, and we all dug a little deeper, we discovered that the tune had been written by the mighty Don Covay. It was soon after that, during some DJ night or other that I first heard what I now consider to be the definitive version – which we bring to you today – that by the fantabulous Queen of Soul, Ms. Aretha Franklin.
Now, if you aren’t hip to Aretha, well….I don’t even know what to say to that.
Either way, she was (and is) possessed of one of the mightiest voices to jump directly from gospel into soul, and back and forth until the line was forever blurred and we all just sat back and let the greatness wash over us.
Aretha’s version was recorded in 1968 for the ‘Aretha Now’ LP, which also included other heavy bits of brilliance like ‘Think’, and her classic re-working of Dionne Warwick’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’. Though I can’t say with certainty where the LP was recorded, a look at the credits suggests to me stops in Muscle Shoals and Memphis, where she was ably assisted by Messrs. Cogbill, Moman, Hawkins and Jemmot, as well as the Memphis Horns, the Sweet Inspirations and Mr. Bobby Womack to the point where the sessions were so heavy they could have charged double for the album and it still would have been a steal.
Aretha and band get down into a tight groove (those horns are HOT) and whip some serious soul on us all. When she gets toward the end of the song and sings ‘That ain’t right!” over and over again, joined by the Sweet Inspirations on the last repetition, the record – already solid – goes off into a whole new thing. It bests Covay’s loose, funky original, and though I still dig the Fame version, at the end of the day (or at least the end of the record) there’s no messing with Aretha.
‘See Saw’ was a Top 40 hit, and as result it’s been reissued a grip of times on any number of Aretha collections, not to mention the original LP which remains in print in CD form.

In other Funky16Corners Blog news, me and the fam are hitting the road at the end of the week for a little R&R (and if we’re lucky, lobster rolls), so I’ll probably refrain from any new posts next week (though you never know what kind of wi-fi time I might find). That said, I have prepared a brand new Funky16Corners Radio podcast/mix that I’ll get up here in yon blogspot before we depart (It’ll probably drop on Friday).
Peace
Larry

Buy – Aretha Now – at Amazon.com

Friday Flashback #3 – Funky16Corners Radio v.13 – Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky

April 6, 2007

NOTE: Welcome to the third installment of Funky16Corners Radio Podcast re-posts, this time by special reader request. F16Radio v.13  – originally posted in October 2006 – was a survey of the funk and soul of New Orleans legend Lee Dorsey. As always, I hope you dig it, and we’ll see you on Monday.

Peace

Larry

Example

Track Listing
1. Get Out of My Life Woman (Amy 45)
2. Go Go Girl (Amy 45)
3. Love Lots of Lovin’ (Sansu 45) w/ Betty Harris
4. Wonder Woman (Amy 45)
5. Four Corners Pt1 (Amy 45)
6. Four Corners Pt2 (Amy 45)
7. A Lover Was Born (Amy 45)
8. Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On) (Amy 45)
9. Give It Up (Amy 45)
10. What You Want (Bell 45)
11. Yes We Can Pt1 (Polydor 45)
12. Yes We Can Pt2 (Polydor 45)
13. Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further (Polydor LP)
14. Gator Tail (Polydor LP)

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

Greetings
Before you ask (once you recover from the shock) this post is in fact a day earlier than normal, due this time to the fact that I’m taking tomorrow off to do something fun with my wife and kids, and I wanted to get something else up before the weekend.
A while back – I can’t honestly remember when – I said that I would be putting together an installment of the Funky16Corners Radio podcast to feature the funky side of the legendary Lee Dorsey.
Dorsey was one of the most consistent (both chartwise and artistically) R&B/soul artists to come out of the Crescent City in the 1960’s. Like Betty Harris (with whom he collaborated), he was also the beneficiary of the composing/producing/arranging talents of the the mighty Allen Toussaint. Beginning with ‘Ya Ya’ in 1961, Dorsey and Toussaint would create (compared to most of the artists Toussaint worked with) a substantial body of work, including several albums that would stretch until his last LP, ‘Night People’ in 1978. He was an underrated singer (with a distinct Ray Charles influence), and one of the finest interpreters of Toussaint’s songs (every song on this mix was written by Toussaint, except for ‘A Lover Was Born’ which Dorsey co-wrote).
To most people (even soul fans) the name Lee Dorsey conjures up images of good-time New Orleans R&B and soul, with tunes like ‘Working In a Coalmine’ and dancers like ‘Ride Your Pony’. However, to the crate diggers and funk 45 hounds of the world, there’s a whole second chapter to the Dorsey story, in which Lee (with the assistance of Allen) decided to get funky, and stay that way “from now on”.
When I decided to assemble this mix, I decided to use 1965’s ‘Get Out of My Life Woman’ as a starting point. The recording date may predate almost all assessments of “funk”, but when you’re talking about the soul sounds of New Orleans, you enter a funky Twilight Zone of sorts in which some (or all) of the elements of funk were present years before they are believed to have appeared elsewhere. Without getting into a semantic dispute about the definition of the word funk as it applies to music, there are a grip of NOLA records that predate records like James Brown’s ‘Cold Sweat’ (as good a “first funk record” as you’re likely to get any two people to agree on), that are undeniably funk-y, and arguably (depending on who you’re arguing with) “funk”.
Whether or not ‘Get Out of My Life Woman’ rises to that particular level, it is the song with the drums that launched a thousand beats, from countless straight covers of the tune, to cut ups of the beat from those records that were employed to put the hip, to the hop, to the hippity hop etc etc, to the point where the Sample FAQ lists more than 30 uses of the Dorsey version alone. It’s only fair that we should begin our survey of the funky side of Mr. Dorsey with that particular tune.
The mix jumps forward two years with ‘Go Go Girl’, ‘Wonder Woman’ and the top side of Dorsey’s Sansu duet 45 with the great Betty Harris ‘Love Lots of Lovin’. These records are not only under-appreciated points in his discography, but important transitional records on his way up the funky road. Though previous to1967 he had recorded much high quality, upbeat soul like ‘Can You Hear Me’ and the aforementioned ‘Rode Your Pony’, by ’67 Toussaint had started to move him into a more aggressive sound.
‘Go Go Girl’ has a driving bass line, and a very tight horn chart. The chiming rhythm guitar sounds as if it was lifted from John Williams & the Tick Tocks ‘Do Me Like You Do Me’, another Toussaint written/produced side on the Sansu label (Williams and Dorsey would both record Toussaints ‘Operation Heartache’).
It unfortunate that the collaboration between Lee Dorsey and Betty Harris never went further than their one Sansu 45. ‘Love Lots of Lovin’ is a great slice of funky, melodic soul and the two singers made a great combination. The flip side ‘Please Take Care of Our Love’ is a heartbreaking ballad and something of a lost classic.
‘Wonder Woman’ is another one of those records where Toussaint really laid on the arrangement, taking the record out of the rougher New Orleans sound into a different area. Though there’s plenty of twangy guitar, and Toussaint’s piano (and backing vocals) are evident, the horn and string charts add a dose of sophistication, no doubt an attempt to reach a wider audience.
The next 45 in Dorsey’s discography starts out with one of the epic drumbreaks in the history of New Orleans soul. ‘Four Corners Pts 1&2’, Lee’s entry into the “Corners” dance records craze (which included the record from which this very blog takes its name) opens with a wild break that combines furious funk with a New Orleans street parade feel, that while not as insane as some of the breaks James Black laid down for Eddie Bo, still manages to knock the listener for a loop. The record has a frantic energy that never lets up, with Dorsey dropping some crazy lyrics (“Shake-a-make-a-make-a-shake-a-hula!”, “Fee-fi-fo-fam-Give some to the guitar man!”), reprised drum breaks, wild combo organ and a blaring horn chart. Though the record often gets dangerously close to Archie Bell and the Drells ‘Tighten Up’, the fact that it is literally exploding with energy takes it to another level entirely.
Though it’s likely they were playing on Dorsey’s record before this, ‘A Lover Was Born’ is the first of his sides that (at least to my ears) clearly bears the mark of the Meters (or some of them anyway). Opening with a quasi-Chuck Berry guitar line (and a weird scream buried in the mix), the tune (with some of the funniest lyrics in the Toussaint catalogue) is filled with New Orleans flavor. The 45 also bears the mark of many of Dorseys singles, with a tasty soul or funk side paired with what can only be described as an appeal to the pop mainstream (this time out a version of ‘What Now My Love’).
Next up is the tune that gave this mix its title ‘Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky’. The tune – which opens with reading the title (Marshall Sehorn?) – is a slow moving, swampy bit of funk, with the kind of acoustic guitar accents that Toussaint would apply to Willie West’s ‘Fairchild’. There are bits of organ here and there, but for the most part, the verses are all bass and drums.
The next record is at least in my opinion the finest record that Dorsey and Toussaint would create (again with the help of the Meters). Starting out with a soulful piano line, ‘Give It Up’ then moves on to the bass and electric sitar in tandem, before background singers start chanting the title. When the drums finally hit, they hit hard, and the instrumental backing all comes together like clockwork into a funky stew. It’s also one of the trippiest funk side to come out of New Orleans. The fact that it’s not a better known record is positively criminal (though that could be said of countless Toussaint-related sides).
By the time 1970 rolled around, Dorsey would make one record for the Bell label before moving on to Polydor. That record, the aggressively funky ‘What You Want’ is a much harder edged side than you’d expect from Dorsey. The record starts out with a muddy bass line and is soon joined by the drums, and (again) electric sitar. It almost sounds like it might have been recorded in the same sessions as ‘Give It Up’ but after the intoxicants had worn off.
The last four cuts in this mix all appeared on the album ‘Yes We Can’. Like the ‘Ernie K. Doe’ LP that K. Doe and Toussaint collaborated on around the same time, ‘Yes We Can’ is absolute perfection. Both LPs are composed almost entirely of Toussaint compositions, and both also feature the Meters as the backing band. Though the album covers a lot of stylistic ground, the overall feel is quite funky.
‘Yes We Can Pts 1&2’ has a percolating groove with fantastic use of syncopation, the instruments all adding textured, layered as perfectly as any James Brown funk beat. Part 2 is largely instrumental (the acoustic guitar accents, again used to great effect). If you get a chance check out the Pointer Sisters excellent 1973 cover (retitled ‘Yes We Can Can’) on Blue Thumb.
If any tune on ‘Yes We Can’ should have been a hit, it was ‘Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further’. Combining topical lyrics with a driving beat and a sing-a-long chorus, the song is the highlight of the LP. There were four singles released from this LP, and it’s incomprehensible to me this song wasn’t on any of them.
One tune that did make it onto a 45 is the record that closes out this installment of Funky16Corners Radio, ‘Gator Tail’. Propelled by a razor sharp guitar and a driving snare beat, ‘Gator Tail’ is one of the harder edged cuts on ‘Yes We Can’.
Following ‘Yes We Can’ Dorsey released one great non-LP 45 ‘Freedom for the Stallion’ (which was actually released twice, both times on Polydor, with two different non-lp flipsides, ‘If She Won’t (Find Someone Who Will)’ and ‘On Your Way Down’). He wouldn’t record again until 1978, when he and Toussaint collaborated again for the LP ‘Night People’ on ABC. Though he continued to perform until his death in 1986, as far as I can tell he never recorded again.

Seeya Monday.

Frank Frost – My Back Scratcher

April 4, 2007

Example

Mr. Frank Frost

Example

Listen – My Back Scratcher MP3″

Good evening.

This was going to be one of those nights, i.e. the kind where I’ve been thinking about getting a post up in this space all day long, and then the night happened.
Y’know? It turned into one of those clean out and move the old car, go out to dinner, put the toddler to bed things, where by the time I’m done it’s like 10:45 and I just as soon crash.
Then I took a look at my ‘to-be-blogged’ folder, and realized that I had some of that good, greasy stuff in the on-deck circle, and I perked right up.
The tune in question, is a sweet little burner by an old-school, hardcore Arkansas blueswailer, gee-tar slapper and all around righteous cat by the name of Frank Frost.
Frost dropped into the world in 1936, and by the time he was 20 he was working alongside the mighty Sonny Boy Williamson II aka Rice Miller , with whom he gigged off and on until he passed on (Sonny Boy that is) in 1965.
In the early 60’s Frost, along with his band the Night Hawks recorded a number of sides for Sam Phillips’ Phillips International Records. They gigged heavily through the decade, before landing at Jewel Records in 1966, where, with Scotty Moore running the board (yes, the same Scotty Moore that played guitar for Elvis) he recorded a single that was simultaneously one of the all time great answer/rip-off records, but an absolute juke joint burner as well entitled ‘My Back Scratcher’.
I first encountered this tune some years back when it appeared on one of the UK ‘Mod Jazz’ comps. Despite the fact that much of the music on those CDs wasn’t really jazz in any meaningful way, it was a great window into the deep and varied tastes of the OG UK Mods. Back in the early to mid 60’s, the Mods were digging a wild mix of records that were connected only by the fact that they were generally American, also generally – though not exclusively – by black artists, and were to the last perfect for the dance floor. These sounds ran the gamut from pure Chicago blues, driving R&B, soul, soul jazz, to Latin and Jamaican, and while they may have been gathered from a wide variety of sources, they all fed into the same basic vibe.
Now while you’re busy trying to wrap your brain around a dance floor culture that lauded Mark Murphy, Prince Buster and Frank Frost all equally (it’s really not that hard once you get the hang of it), download today’s selection, and as the hip cats say, dig it.
Close your eyes and hop into the Waybac Machine (sic)* Mr. Peabody, where you will soon find yourself in the back seat of one of those old school Lincolns with the suicide doors, speeding down some long forgotten slice of two-lane blacktop in the deep south of 1966.
Out of the darkness you spot a sliver of light, which grows brighter – and oddly enough louder – as you approach, until the car rolls up on a roadhouse with a tin roof and a big old Rockola juke, out of which is winding the strains of Mr. James Moore – known to his friends as the mighty Slim Harpo – whipping a little thing called ‘Baby Scratch My Back’ on the room. As several sweaty bottles of beer, and the warring vibratos of the swampy guitar and harp lay down a foundation for Slim’s bluesy drawl, the song winds to a close. Just then, some wiseacre sidles on up to the box, pops a nickel into the slot and hits the right combination of buttons, and all of a sudden your ears are gobbling up something new, yet strangely – and I do mean strangely – familiar.
The vibe in the room picks up just a little bit, and the folks who were just sweating away their Saturday night on a barstool are now moving onto the floor and working up an even bigger head of steam, day(night)dreaming of getting a little something just after last call, while you, still wondering how you got where you are, are digging a song that your brain keeps telling you might be called ‘Baby Scratch My Watermelon Man’, until you press your nose up against the glass and discover that the man responsible for turning up the heat is a certain Frank Frost, and the tune is ‘My Back Scratcher’. The groove is tightened up, and the harp burns a little hotter, and while you still dig Slim Harpo **–nothing will ever replace ’Raining In My Heart’ as your ‘I’ve had ten beers too many and I’m pining for my old girlfriend’ song – you need to get a copy of this one to keep things warm at home.
Then – of course – you wake up and remember that you couldn’t be further from the rural south, and you’ve got a nice, cold cubicle waiting for you. The cool thing is, that while you sit at your desk, surrounded by your fellow corporate veal, you get to have this song running through your head all day long.
Not bad, eh?
Peace
Larry

*Come on. I can’t be the only guy watching “Bullwinkle and Rocky” with his three-year-old, can I???

** Keep in mind that although there’s a Shreveport, LA address on that 45, Frost was not a Looziana homeboy of Slims, but was actually doing his recording in Tennessee (Memphis and Nashville)

Buy – Frank Frost – Harpin’ On It: The Complete Jewel Recordings – at Amazon.com


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