You go, Bo!
Hey, hey ,heeeyyyyyyy!!
First day of summer in da hi-youssse!
Of course this information will come as a surprise to my fellow New Jersey-ans who have been sweltering for a few weeks now.
By way of what may come as a disturbing revelation to some, I used to go see the Grateful Dead on a fairly regular basis (late 80’s/early 90’s ish). Now I wasn’t following them around in an alfalfa sprouting, incense burning, tie-dyed, bloodshot, VW microbus, but I was otherwise a rather typical, long-haired, bong-rattling concert attendee, indistinguishable – aside from my largeness – from the rest of the crowd (though I never went in for the terpsichorean flights of fancy so common at the time). I mention this, because at the time, the Dead used to hit Giants Stadium every year in early June. The first time I saw them there, it was the end of the first week in June and it had to be close to 110 degrees. The following year, at roughly the same time, it was about 55 degrees, and I sat in my crappy, upper-deck seats freezing my fat ass off. So basically this was just a public service announcement about the capricious nature of the late-Spring/early-Summer weather in NJ.
Some years the “official” first day of summer is an eagerly anticipated event, wherein it is hoped that nice weather is just around the corner. Other years it’s like you’re standing in the middle of a bonfire and some wise-guy sidles up next to you to say “Sure is getting warm!” Other than the fact that the rather abrupt change of seasons can be jarring, I dig the warm weather as it brings with it the opportunity for me to wear shorts, allowing me the opportunity to expose my ghostly white legs to the general public. If it weren’t for the persistent traffic jams that come with the post-Memorial Day season, wall to wall out-of-state plates, and the drunken yahoos driving the cars (for some reason, at the Jersey Shore these visitors are known as “bennies”). Summertime would be an absolute pleasure.
That said, in the spirit of New Orleans Week, and the onset of summer, what better tune to post than Eddie Bo and Inez Cheatham’s ‘Lover and a Friend’. One of the pricier Bo items on the record market, due in large part to it’s inclusion as a sample on DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist’s ‘Brainfreeze’ mix (which drove up the value of a number of records in exactly the same way), it is worth every penny an intrepid (lucky) digger might pay, and then some. If you follow my ramblings, here an over at the webzine, you already know that I hold Mr. Edwin Bocage in the highest possible regard. If you dig good music, you should too. From the mid-50’s right on up to the present day Mr. Bo has been working his magic in vinyl, creating a vast and amazing catalogue of R&B, soul and funk, under his own name and as the guiding force (writing, producing, arranging) behind other artists. He really ought to have a shiny brass plaque affixed to his piano that reads:
The man that brought you both ‘Pass the Hatchet’ and Hook and Sling’.
I mean, the man is responsible for a LOT of amazing records, but his involvement in those two ought to be enough to get respect from anyone with an ounce of soul. However, I will not – as is my bag – let Mr. Bo rest on his laurels, without taking a moment to freshen them. ‘Lover and a Friend’ is – rightly so – one of the cornerstones of Eddie Bo’s mighty reputation.
The record opens with one of the most earth-shaking drum breaks in all of New Orleans recorded soul – a genre filled with them – provided by Mr. Bobby Williams. This is the same Bobby Williams of the storied ‘Boogaloo Mardi Gras Pts 1&2’ which, like ‘Lover and a Friend’ first saw the light of day on the legendary Seven B label prior to being picked up by Capitol for national distribution. While the ‘Lover’ break may not possess the wild, off-kilter brilliance of James Black’s opening on Bo’s ‘Hook and Sling’ (a work of absolute, certified brilliance that all who broke (breaked?) afterward should bow down before in awe), it is undeniably powerful, and ought to get even the sleepiest listener perk up, pick up their invisible drumsticks and start flailing along. Listen to that snare snap. Listen to that kick drum thump in syncopation as the high-hat ticks along with metronomic precision. It’s a thing of beauty.
Then the singing starts and I’m here to tell you that it gets even better. Eddie Bo made some outstanding records with female vocalists, most notably Mary Jane Hooper and the Explosions. For a long time, due in large part to what I would consider startling vocal similarities, I believed (as did many others) that Mary Jane Hooper (real name Sena Fletcher) and Inez Cheatham was the same person. According to a few reliable sources (including Martin Lawrie at Soulgeneration) this is not the case. Though Fletcher and Cheatham apparently sang together for a while, and both worked with Bo, they were two distinct people. Cheatham and Bo start the record with a repeated refrain of ‘Shoop!”, before diving into the verse, singing in unison. They both take turns breaking out of the harmony, especially in the choruses. The backing, with piano and guitar setting a steady rhythm and the drummer almost taking the instrumental lead, provides (borrowing the title of another Bo side) a solid foundation for the exciting vocals.
At the risk of sounding like a skipping record, allow me state once again that this is another example of a New Orleans record that should have broken nationally, and for whatever reason did not connect with the record buying public. New Orleans soul and funk are decidedly idiosyncratic sounds, but the top 40 (pop and soul) of 1967/68 was certainly diverse enough to absorb them. ‘Lover and a Friend’ is certainly not the only great record – from New Orleans or anywhere else for that matter – that was not a chart success, but something inside me just wants to imagine a 1968 where it was emanating from car radios (and on dance floors) all over the country.
Is that too much to ask?