Tom (right) and Jerrio (left)
Etta James – Payback (Argo)
Five Du Tones – Shake A Tail Feather (One-Der-Ful)
Marvelows – I Do (ABC)
Dukays – The Jerk (Jerry-O)
C.O.D.’s – Michael (the Lover) (Kellmac)
Tom & Jerrio – Come On & Love Me (ABC/Paramount)
Billy Stewart – Once Again (Chess)
Fascinations – Girls Are Out To Get You (Mayfield)
Jamo Thomas – I Spy (For the FBI) (Thomas)
Shells – When I’m Blue (Conlo)
Tommy & Cleve – Boogaloo Baby (Checker)
Mamie Galore – Special Agent 34-24-38 (St Lawrence)
Fred Hughes – Oowee Baby I Love You (VeeJay)
Major Lance – Too Hot To Hold (Okeh)
Maurice & the Radiants – Baby You’ve Got It (Chess)
Vontastics – Never Let Your Love Grow Cold (St Lawrence)
Billy Butler – I’ll Bet You (Brunswick)
Soulful Strings – The Stepper (Cadet)
Here’s hoping everyone had a great weekend, and are rested and ready for some delicious, high quality soul music, because that – my friends – is what we have lined up in this, the 11th chapter in the ongoing saga that is Funky16Corners Radio.
A while back, I was spinning some 45s and it struck me that a couple of my very favorite soul sides hailed from the Windy City, aka Chicago. This of course should come as no surprise, not because I have impeccable taste (which I may, but it’s really not for me to say), but because Chicago was – without a scrap of doubt – one of the most consistent producers of Grade A soul records in the 1960’s. With a vibrant and productive soul scene, led, at least figuratively by Curtis Mayfield (I can’t think of any single artist – outside of Allen Toussaint – who influenced the sound of an entire city the way Curtis did) Chicago was a constant presence on the charts through the 60’s and early 70’s.
When I decided that I wanted to get together a Chicago mix, I was initially worried that I wouldn’t have enough great stuff. Well, as soon as I broke out the Chicago crates and started flipping through the 45s it was immediately evident that not only did I have enough for one mix, but would probably (and will) have to create a second volume at some point to cover all the bases. The contents of this installment of Funky16Corners Radio run from 1963 to 1968 (with a completely coincidental concentration in 1965 and 1966) and include both homegrown artists, as well as performers who either recorded regularly for Chicago based labels, or who made the city their adopted home.
We start things out with an upbeat side from the legendary Miss Etta James. Though she started her career on the West Coast, between 1960 and 1976 James recorded exclusively for Chicago powerhouse Chess/Argo/Cadet records. ‘Payback’, from 1963, is a great early soul side, and a showcase for James’ powerful growl. There’s also an excellent horn chart.
Another “early” soul classic, and a perennial favorite on dance floors (which is remembered by an entire generation for Ray Charles’ version in the Blues Brothers movie), also from 1963 is the Five Du Tones ‘Shake a Tail Feather’. It’s one of the truly great dance sides of the 60’s and has a great, raw sound (dig those drums).
Back in May, I posted another track by the Marvelows, ‘I’m So Confused’. As cool as that track was, it’s hardly their best known song. That honor would fall to their 1965 Top 10 hit, ‘I Do’ (popularized years later by the J. Geils Band). A fantastic mix of upbeat dance floor soul with a heavy dose of R&B group harmony, “I Do” is one of the most infectious soul record to come out of Chicago, and features a certifiably manic drum roll about halfway through the record.
Starting out as a doowop group featuring the vocals of Gene Chandler, the Dukays (‘Duke of Earl’ was for all intents and purposes their record) carried on after Chandler’s departure, eventually landing in the hands of one Jerry Murray, aka Jerrio/Jerry-O. ‘The Jerk’ , a post-Larks (1964) attempt to cash in on the ‘Jerk’ dance craze is a Jerry-O, composition, production, and appears on Jerry-O Records, but like many of the tracks on this mix bears the influence of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. The high falsetto lead, the rich harmonies and the swinging tempo were all patented Chicago-style Mayfield-isms.
The next track, ‘Michael (the Lover), by the C.O.D.’s is one of the bigger national hits in this list, having made the Top5 in 1965 (it was also later covered by Geno Washington, the Mad Lads and the Jackson 5). It’s a hand-clapping killer that also – no surprise, I’m sure – bears the influence of the Impressions. The group – Larry Brownlee, Robert Lewis and Carl Washington, went on to record several sides for the Kellmac label, and Brownlee went on to record with the Lost Generation.
Tom & Jerrio, aka Robert Tharp (who went on to record as Tommy Dark) and Jerry Murray had their biggest hit with ‘Boogaloo’ for ABC/Paramount in 1965. Though most of the records they made as a duo follow that same dance craze blueprint, ‘Come On and Love Me’ (the flip side of ‘Great Goo-Ga-Moo-Ga’) is a wholly uncharacteristic – but excellent – bit of sweet soul (thanks to Matt ‘Mr Fine Wine’ Weingarden for hepping me to this one way back when). Jerry-O of course went on to record a grip of excellent soul and funk sides for Boogaloo, Jerry-O, Shout, White Whale, Wand and Westbound as a featured artist, composer and producer before passing away sometime in the mid-70’s. Tommy Dark went on to record the excellent funk 45 ‘Wobble Legs’ for the Sugar label.
Billy Stewart is one of those artists that came from elsewhere – in his case Washington D.C. – but made his mark in Chicago. Discovered (and hired as a pianist) by none other than Bo Diddley, Stewart went on to record a couple of tunes that are certified Mod/soul anthems, i.e. ‘Summertime’ and ‘Sitting In the Park’ (later covered by Georgie Fame). The flipside of the latter ‘Once Again’ is a bit of a neglected/lost classic. The tune features Stewart’s patented machine-gun delivery, as well as a powerful horn chart.
The Fascinations, featuring the lead vocals of Bernadine Smith started out in Detroit, but ended up in Chicago where they were managed, written for and produced by Curtis Mayfield, and had their biggest hit, 1967’s ‘Girls Are Out to Get You’ released on his Mayfield label. Packed with great singing and a propulsive dancers beat (that made it a fave with the Northern Soulies), ‘Girls Are Out to Get You’ is a killer. Ironically, for all of Mayfield’s involvement, the record sounds less like a Chitown product and more like something from the Motor City (dig the vibes and the baritone sax solo).
Jamo Thomas wins the prize for the artist to come the longest distance to make records in Chicago, having started out in the Bahamas. ‘I Spy (for the FBI)’ was one of the better records to cash in on the mid-60’s spy craze. Recorded for Eddie Thomas’s Thomas label in 1966 (Thomas went on to be the ‘TOM’ in CURTOM), and produced by Monk Higgins and Burgess Gardener, the tune is a soul stomper with a great falsetto lead by Jamo. He went on to record the extra-groovy ‘Shake What You Brought With You’ as ‘Mr. Jamo’ for SSS Intl.
The next side is one half of probably my all time favorite Chicago soul record. ‘When I’m Blue’ (the flip of ‘Whiplash’) by the Shells is a great example of a painfully obscure record that ought to be much better known. Produced by none other than Jerry Butler and Eddie Thomas, 1965’s ‘When I’m Blue’ is a moody side with some heavy guitar and haunting vocals. The group – brothers Charles and James Calvin,Willie Exon, and Billy Harper – recorded one other 45, as the Four Shells for the Volt label in 1966, soon after fading away unjustly into obscurity. I’ve only heard of two other records on the Conlo label, one by Jamo Thomas and another by Arlene Bailey, though the label on one of the two copies I have of the Shells record indicates that they were nationally distributed by Cameo/Parkway.
Tommy & Cleve (Tommy Bullock and Cleveland Horne) recorded ‘Boogaloo Baby’ for Checker in 1966. The record is a hard charger, with great back and forth between the two vocalists and a great arrangement. The duo appear to have recorded at least two other 45s for Checker.
Mamie Galore’s ‘Special Agent 34-24-38’, another entry into the spy craze (this time from 1965). Co written by Monk Higgins and local DJ E. Rodney Jones, and recorded for one of the finer local imprints ‘St Lawrence’ records, the tune whips in a little bit of ‘Peter Gunn’ flavor, along with a memorable vocal from Miss Galore (the former Mamie Davis).
The next number is a tune that I was unaware of until it was posted over at the great Number One Songs In Heaven blog. Fred Hughes was an LA based artist that was signed by VeeJay’s West Coast office, and went on to record almost exclusively for Chicago labels like Chess and Brunswick. ‘Oowee Baby I Love You’ was a #3 R&B hit in 1965. It has a great atmospheric, slow-burn, with ringing piano and female backing vocals, as well as a great vocal by Hughes.
Major Lance was one of the most successful Chicago soul artists, recording a number of hits (including ‘The Monkey Time’ and Umm Umm Umm Umm Umm’) for the Okeh label in the 60’s, often under the aegis of Curtis Mayfield. ‘Too Hot To Hold’ was a Top 40 hit in 1965, and is as fine a slice of sophisticated urban soul as you’re likely to come across. What I really dig, is that under the sophisticated veneer, there are these little, slightly “out of control” elements, like the ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’s in the beginning.
‘Baby You’ve Got It’, a 1966 entry by Maurice & The Radiants is definitely in my personal Top 5 soul records of the 60’s. Known to me initially by the cover version by UK Mods the Action, ‘Baby You’ve Got It’ is a perfect combination of great song, super slick arrangement, and amazing vocals (with lead by Maurice McAllister, and backing by James Jameson and Wallace Sampson). The tempo builds gradually as the layers are added, finally coming together in a perfect combination.
Another classic on the St. Lawrence label is also another personal fave of mine, 1966’s ‘Never Let Your Love Grow Cold’ by the Vontastics. The group were signed to record after winning a talent contest sponsored by local soul radio powerhouse WVON (Voice of the Negro), which became the VON in Vontastics. Composed of singers Bobby Newsome (who also wrote much of their material), Jose Holmes, Raymond Penn and Kenneth Gholer, the Vontastics made several hot sides for St .Lawrence, including a great soul cover of the Beatles ‘Day Tripper’.
Billy Butler (brother of Jerry Butler) started out recording with his group the Enchanters (later just the Chanters), and recorded the Northern Soul classic ‘Right Track’. In 1968, he was also recorded one of the first versions (pre-dating the recording by Funkadelic) of George Clinton, Sidney Barnes and Theresa Lindsey’s ‘I’ll Bet You’. The tune was also recorded by Jean Carter (on Sunflower), Theresa Lindsey (on Golden World, probably the first version) and the Jackson 5 (on Motown). Butler manages to give the songs a soul groove while adding the slightest soupcon of funkiness. While the version on the first Funkadelic LP will always be my fave, this comes in a close second.
We close out this installment of Funky16Corners radio with a side by one of my favorite Chicago groups, the Soulful Strings. Basically a studio concoction put together to highlight the arranging/producing skills of the brilliant Richard Evans, the Soulful Strings recorded several outstanding LPs of soulful mood music in the late 60’s and early 70’s. ‘The Stepper’ ( a tune that takes it’s name from a Chicago-centric dance scene) is a classy, mid-tempo effort that features – as do all the Soulful Strings records – the cream of the Chess/Cadet studio band.
* The ZIP file is larger this time because the individual tracks are recorded at a higher bit rate than the mix.