Lee Dorsey – Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further (Polydor)
Meters – Dry Spell (Josie)
Lee Bates – Simon Says (Instant)
Curly Moore – We Remember (Sansu)
Fantoms – Mau Mau Pt1 (Big Deal)
Porgy Jones – Catch Joe Potato (Great Southern)
Sonny Jones – Sissy Walk Pt1 (Scram)
Doug Anderson – Hey Mama Here Comes The Preacher (Janus)
Ironing Board Sam – Original Funky Bell Bottoms (Styletone)
Betty Harris – There’s a Break In The Road (SSS Intl)
Lee Dorsey – A Lover Was Born (Amy)
Bobby Williams Group – Boogaloo Mardi Gras Pts 1&2 (Capitol)
Senator Jones – Mini Skirt Dance (Bell)
Robert Parker – Everybody’s Hip Huggin (NOLA)
Eddie Bo – Can You Handle It (Bo Sound)
James Rivers – Tighten Up (Eight Ball)
Warren Lee – Underdog Backstreet (Tou-Sea)
Here’s hoping you had a decent weekend, and have not yet been beset by the melancholy that comes along whenever Labor Day (and the end of summer) looms in the distance.
Unfortunately, this week also marks the one year anniversary of one of the great human tragedies in recent memory, the effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
Needless to say – though I’ll say it anyway – the response of our government, was, and is grossly inadequate and as a result much of the storm damage still remains, and the root cause of the problem, a fragile and poorly maintained levee system is still not in the condition it should be.
Many of the city’s poorer residents (and some not so poor) had to make a mass exodus (to cities like Houston, Atlanta and even further away) and most – because their old neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble – have been unable to return. Aside from the lives lost or ruined, and the material damage, the cultural loss is almost incalculable.
As a reminder of the musical aspects of that culture, this installment of Funky16Corners Radio (the tenth, believe it or not*), is a return trip to the funk of the Crescent City, all pulled from vintage vinyl sources, all guaranteed to put a smile on your face, and to serve as a reminder that any town that can crank out music like this is possessed of real power, the kind that can’t be washed away by a mere flood.
We start things off with a cut from Lee Dorsey’s 1970 ‘Yes We Can’ LP. Like Ernie K Doe’s Janus LP of the same year, it’s a certified (if little known) classic, created with the help of the mighty Allen Toussaint, and ought to be sought out by anyone with even a passing interest in high quality New Orleans soul. ‘Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further’ – backed like much of the LP by the Meters – is a churning bit of funk with some tangy guitar work and a hard charging beat.
Speaking of the Meters, 1969’s ‘Dry Spell’ – the flipside of ‘Little Old Money Maker’ – moves at a slower clip, but still oozes funk. Dig, if you will that wailing Art Neville organ, and the snap of Mr Modeliste’s traps.
Lee Bates – see the excellent piece on Bates over at Red Kelly’s Soul Detective blog (scroll down) – is one of the lesser known, yet consistently excellent vocalists to record for Instant records in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Bearing the influence of Otis Redding, Bates laid down some outstanding funk and soul sides, including a cover of Wilson Pickett’s ‘International Playboy’, and this novel, dance craze entry, ‘Simon Says’. Opening with a tasty break, Lee leads the class through their paces, backed by a pumping bass line and some nice horns.
Curly Moore recorded some brilliant 45s for Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn’s Sansu label, my fave being this 1967 entry ‘We Remember’. Much like Warren Lee’s ‘Star Revue’, ‘We Remember’ is a soul roll call, with namechecks for Lee Dorsey, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Moore himself. The tune sports some great piano, backing vocals and one of Moore’s most powerful performances.
The Fantoms recorded for several local New Orleans labels, including Big Deal, Man and Power Funksion. ‘Mau Mau Pt1’ was released on Big Deal, and is one of the most powerful 45s I’ve ever heard, from New Orleans or anywhere else for that matter. Sounding like a marching band on a speed/acid binge, it’s the kind of record that sounds as if the band collapsed immediately after finishing. I don’t know what the hell they’re taking about, but whatever it is, I’m convinced.
Trumpeter Porgy Jones recorded for a few labels, under a few different names throughout the 60’s and 70’s. ‘Catch Joe Potato’ (huh?) was waxed for the Great Southern label. If you can find it, dig up the sides he recorded with Porgy & the Polka Dots for the Frisco label.
‘Sissy Walk Pt1’ by Sonny Jones is not only a very solid 45, but also a bit of a mystery. Despite the fact that there was a New Orleans performer named Sonny Jones, the voice on this hard hitting slice of funk sounds a lot ( a whole lot) like Mr. Eddie Bo. The tune, credited to Bo and label owner Al Scramuzza, is a burner from note one, with some hard, hard drums, organ and guitar. If anyone has any hard info that this isn’t in fact Bo singing, I’d like to hear it.
Speaking of Eddie Bo, and pseudonymous recordings, here we have the murky, psyche-funk of Doug Anderson’s ‘Hey Mama Here Comes the Preacher’. Bo had a habit of recording under assumed names (and recording anonymously on the b-sides of other performers, as on ‘Live It Up’ by James K Nine. I don’t know if Anderson was a real person – though the other side of this 45 is a ballad, and it almost certainly not Eddie Bo singing. ‘Hey Mama…’ features some wild combo organ soloing, a repeating rhythm guitar riff, and an unfortunate mastering/pressing defect/drop out about halfway through. Cool tune though.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and check out Jeff Hannusch’s excellent books on New Orleans music. One of them contains a very enjoyable chapter on the great Ironing Board Sam. ‘Original Funky Bell Bottoms’, a funky tour de force was released on a California label, but make no mistake, Ironing Board Sam was a 100%, crawfish etouffe New Orleansian. The tune, in addition to Sam’s wailing vocals and keyboards, features a grooving horn section. For some reason, this tune was also issued in France. Stranger things have happened.
When it comes to records that are one hundred percent, consistently excellent, you can do no wrong with the recordings of Betty Harris. Though she was best known for her soul sides on Sansu, she closed out her recording career with a side of absolutely blistering funk. Recorded under the watchful eye of Mr. Toussaint, and driven powerfully by none other that the Meters, ‘There’s a Break In the Road’ is nothing less than explosive. Starting with the guitar feedback at the beginning, through the relentless drumming and right on through to Miss Harris’ brilliant vocals, there’s no mistaking why this 45 is sought out by funk collectors the world over.
We return to the oeuvre of Mr. Lee Dorsey with 1969’s – also Meters backed – ‘A Lover Was Born’, which features some great lyrics and backing vocals by none other than Allen Toussaint. Dig Leo Nocentelli’s tip of the hat (guitar) to Chuck Berry on the intro.
I’m pretty sure that the Bobby Williams who recorded ‘Boogaloo Mardi Gras Pts 1&2’ for the Seven B label (later issued on Capitol) was not the same guy that later recorded the 45 ‘Funky Superfly’ (a Florida artist) but rather a New Orleans session drummer of the same name. ‘Boogaloo Mardi Gras Pts 1&2’ – produced by none other than Eddie Bo – is in fact a drumming tour de force, with Part two adding some of that great New Orleans patois into the mix.
Senator Jones was a major producer, songwriter and performer for a large number of local New Orleans labels through the 60’s and 70’s. One of the sides he did under his own name ‘Mini Skirt Dance’ (with the excellent b-side ‘Sweet Thing’) is a funky treat, with a growling vocal from the Senator and some sweet backing vocals. Listen for the namechecks of Bobby Powell, Aretha Franklin, and Robert Parker among others.
Speaking of Robert Parker, who practically made the NOLA label in the mid-to-late 60’s, ‘Everybody’s Hip Huggin’ is one of his funkier efforts for that imprint. Parker’s smooth vocal works will with the chugging beat and laid back horn work.
We come once again to the sounds of Mr. Eddie Bo, this time under his own name, for his own Bo Sound label. ‘Can You Handle It’ is a heavy, James Brown-ish workout with a heavy, heavy horn chart and some tinkling piano from Bo himself. The flipside ‘Don’t Turn Me Loose’ is also worth checking out.
James Rivers was the go-to guy for horn work (sax and flute) in New Orleans in the 60’s and 70’s. He recorded for a number of labels, including Instant, Eightball, and Kon-ti, waxing everything from old school R&B, soul dancers and out and out funk. ‘Tighten Up’ – no relation to the Archie Bell chestnut – is a dancefloor mover, with some excellent sax by Rivers and some cool rhythm guitar.
Warren Lee – see more here – made a string of outstanding 45s, many for Allen Toussaint, starting in the early 60’s (when he recorded under the name Warren Lee Taylor). ‘Underdog Backstreet’, which he recorded for the Tou-Sea label is a not so distant musical cousin to Lowell Fulsom’s ‘Tramp’ franchise. Filled from end to end with funky grunts from the Mighty King Lee, ‘Underdog Backstreet’ (apparently a dance of some kind) grooves slowly but surely. It’s one of Lee’s best, and a great way to close out this mix.
* I already have a Funky Nawlins Pt3 in the can, which will drop sometime in the fall.