Jackie Mittoo, enjoying a Coke and a smile…
I hope everyone had a great weekend, and that you have been enjoying the mix of Friday last, i.e. ‘Bold Soul Sisters’, in which the music is funky, and the sisters (of course) are bold. The Funky16Corners Radio mixes have proven to be quite popular, and as a result I am going to revise my posting policy (actual, as opposed to posted…), in that the links for the mixes will remain up for just a few weeks so as not to drain the bandwidth pool too rapidly.
I realize that I have often been slack in removing the MP3 links in a timely manner (sometimes shockingly so, as I find my self going back a few months to clean up after myself). When it comes to the individual tunes, this hasn’t been much of a problem, but those mixes…whoa…they eat up the bandwidth pretty quickly. I’ll try not to be too much of a hardass about it, but I also don’t want music delivery abilities of the blog to go belly up, so…you know.
Anyway, some weeks ago I mentioned that I was planning a “theme week” here upon yon blogspot that would concern itself with the soulful output of Jamaican artists exclusively. Well my friends, that week is upon us, and before I would like to issue a caveat, and ‘splain myself a bit.
As for the caveat, I only wish to state that on the subject of Jamaican music, I am no expert. I am a big fan, and could probably run circles around most folks with only a passing knowledge of the subject; however, I know that there are folks out there that have dug into reggae/ska/rock steady/dub etc with the diligence that I have applied to soul and funk. I ask them, if they locate any factual discrepancies in this week’s posts, or have pertinent information to contribute in the furtherance of understanding the music or musicians more thoroughly, to please drop me a line. The Funky16Corners blog has no illusions of infallibility, and our liberal update/corrections policy will continue.
That said, allow me to ruminate briefly about the music we are about to share…. I first started to listen to Jamaican music more than 20 years ago, as a reaction to the first wave of ska revivalists, i.e. the Specials et al. As is my habit (compulsion, whatever…) I started tracking down the original versions of the songs that were being covered by the modern bands*. I began to buy reissues that included cuts by folks like the Maytals (‘Monkey Man’), Pioneers (‘Longshot Kick De Bucket’) , Harry J All Stars (‘Liquidator’) , the Skatalites (‘Guns of Navarone’) , Dandy Livingstone (‘A Message To You Rudy’), and Prince Buster (‘Madness’ and ‘Al Capone’, redone as ‘Gangsters’ by the Specials).
After the initial shock on the somewhat slower tempo of many of the originals, I found that I liked this music a lot. I was also lucky enough to have friends that were schooled in more esoteric sounds of dub, like Augustus Pablo, Scientist and Eek A Mouse, as well as what most folks would consider “mainstream” reggae like Bob Marley and Burning Spear, and the more I listened, and understood the vibe of the music, the more I wanted to hear. In the ensuing decades I have continued to check out these sounds, to read as much as I could about the culture from which the music arose, and just to enjoy listening to that music.
As I stated a while back, tracking down original Jamaican (and I use the term Jamaican to describe the roots of the music, even though many of the records in question were recorded and pressed in the UK) vinyl is not a task for the uninitiated, and as a result I haven’t applied myself to the acquisition thereof as actively as I have American soul and funk.
Those last few words bring up an interesting point. For years, I (and I’m sure many others) “segregated” Jamaican music into an area all its own. This was of course my first (and biggest) mistake. To classify the music made largely by black Jamaicans/West Indians as an entity wholly separate from what we would normally consider R&B, soul and funk – solely on the basis of its beat – initially seemed like the right thing to do. Why would they give reggae and ska their own section in the record store if they didn’t belong there (duh…)?
There’s no doubt that from it’s earliest days, these styles of music were influenced by contemporary music being produced largely by black Americans, i.e. jazz, blues, R&B, soul and eventually funk. This is especially true of the sounds coming from the American south (New Orleans in particular) which made it to Jamaican listeners via the high-powered AM radio broadcasts of the day**. It’s almost impossible to listen to a compilation of the best sides by a group like the Skatalites (or any of their numerous solo offshoots), and not hear the threads of Jazz and R&B running through the solos. Listen to groups like the Melodians, the Maytals or the Pioneers and hear the echoes of R&B harmony groups. When you get to the early-60’s, and start hearing the sounds of American soul being reworked by Jamaican musicians you begin to realize that the beat (if anything) is often all that separates the original version from the cover.
When I decided to do a week of posts of Jamaican sounds, I decided to draw the connecting line as directly as possible by including three records that were in fact covers of tunes by US soul/funk artists. This is by no means an indicator of the breadth of these artists recordings – which they’re not – but rather an introduction that might light a fire under someone, and make them go out looking for Jamaican sounds the way I did so many years ago. For someone starting on that quest in 2006, I can assure them that thanks to tons of reissues (many bargain priced), that search is as easy now as it has ever been.
The first artist to be featured this week is the mighty Jackie Mittoo. Though many of you will not be familiar with that name, Mittoo is one of the true giants of modern Jamaican music. Born in Jamaica in 1948, Mittoo was playing professionally by his teens, and was one of the founding members of the legendary Skatalites. He quickly became a prodigious studio musician, especially for Clement Dodd’s Coxsone Records.
By 1967, Dodd had assembled the Soul Vendors, a group which included Mittoo on keyboards (and the great Roland Alphonso on saxophone). Dodd took the Soul Vendors to the UK, where Mittoo would record his first LPs as a solo artist. He got his first recognition with his instrumental cover of the Heptones ‘Fatty Fatty’ His first major hit was the mighty ‘Ram Jam’ which appeared on his first LP ‘Jackie Mittoo In London’.
Today’s selection appeared on his second LP, ‘Evening Time’. Unlike ‘In London’, which was composed largely of covers of contemporary pop tunes (and soul hits like ‘Soul Finger’ and Monk Higgins ‘Who Done It’), ‘Evening Time’ was with a few marked exceptions mostly originals. One of the few covers was a slightly re-titled (and psychedelicized) version of Booker T & The MGs 1967 hit ‘Hip Hug Her’, done here as ‘Hip Hug’. Though his organ playing is pretty much right on the money when lined up with Booker T’s original, Mittoo adds a certain funky swagger to things, along with some fuzz bass and echoey guitar. In fact, other than its appearance on the Coxsone label, there’s very little here to suggest that this tune was being played by a crack group of ska/rock steady sessioners. This isn’t the case with the rest of the album (which is available as a reissue), which contains outstanding cuts like ‘Napoleon Solo’, ‘Hot Shot’ and ‘Drum Song’. If you dig ‘Hip Hug’, you should also check out his cover of the Stereo’s ‘Stereo Freeze’ on his 1970 ‘Jackie Mittoo Now’ LP.
By the late 60’s, Mittoo had relocated from Jamaica to Toronto, Ontario, where he lived for the rest of his life. He was a major player in the worldwide reggae scene, writing, arranging and recording thousands of tracks during his career. He continued to play and record until his untimely death (from cancer) in 1990.
*Strangely enough, one of the first modern recordings that made me want to track down a Jamaican original was ‘Man In the Street’ by, brace yourself, the Hooters. Believe it or not, when the Hooters started out (early 80’s) they had a liberal dose of ska in their sound (including melodica on many of their tunes). Their very first recording, a demo that got a lot of airplay on WMMR in Philadelphia (where they were a popular local band) was a version of Don Drummond’s ‘Man In The Street’. It was never released commercially. If anyone has this, and can make me a copy I would be grateful.
** A particularly interesting example of this is the Rhine Oaks obscure ‘Tampin’, an Allen Toussaint project on Atco from 1970. This tune was borrowed and redone by the Wailers as ‘Memphis’. I can only assume that someone in Kingston either heard the tune on the radio, or more likely grabbed a copy of the 45.