Bill Cosby – Funky North Philadelphia


Dr. William H. Cosby


Listen – Funky North Philadephia MP3″

Here we are again, at the beginning of another work week. For those of us on the East coast, we’ve also exited the realm of Daylight Savings Time, gaining an hour of sleep over the weekend.
When I was a younger man, and inclined to spend my Saturday nights in pursuit of wine, women and song (as opposed to a comfortable spot on the couch, which is the bag I’m in now), gaining an extra hour of sleep on a Saturday night – and not just ANY Saturday night, but the one right around Halloween, always a bacchanal – was a rare treat. I’m not going to hand you the old rubber peach and infer that I was actually sleeping. My friends and I were more likely to add an extra hour of beer consumption (or other, perhaps less savory revelry) to the schedule.
Now, I’m in my early-to-mid 40’s, and have a lovely wife and two children under the age of three. The concept of the clock going all akimbo, throwing an extra hour into the mix is akin to tossing a wooden shoe into the machinery of life. I mean, three month old babies are finicky enough sleepers, but when you add his two and a half year old brother, and two dreadfully sleep deprived parents into the mix, nobody, I say NOBODY son, is sleeping like they ought to. I can’t sit here in good conscience and tell you that I didn’t see it coming, but I don’t have to like it either.
Anyway, in other news, this week sees us approaching the second anniversary of the Funky16Corners Blog. Next Monday (the anniversary date falls on this coming Sunday) I’ll be posting the next installment of Funky16Corners Radio, a mix of some of the best tunes that have been posted on the blog in the last year or so. This week I have some heaters lined up, as well as a bonus Halloween post tomorrow.
Today’s selection comes to you courtesy of the not necessarily well-known, but surprisingly excellent non-comedic discography of Mr. Bill Cosby.
Now, I’m as puzzled as the next cat when it comes to Mr. Cosby’s metamorphosis into one of the great curmudgeons of our time. It may be that like every other “old” person (he’s coming up fast on 70) he looks at the world around him and is astounded by how different it is from the one he grew up in.
Either way, I’m old enough to remember Cosby before he was America’s cuddly, be-sweatered proxy Dad, and was still first and foremost a great comedian (the BJP period, aka Before Jello Pudding). What he also was – and I didn’t know this until much later – was one of the great musical dabblers of his time. Starting in the mid-60’s, Cosby – who was already a successful stand-up and a pioneering TV star – began yet another phase in his career, this time as a singer.
The world of “entertainment” is filled with people who are pretty good (sometimes excellent) at one particular discipline, yet insist on attempting to prove themselves adept at something that they are not as qualified to be doing. Back in the day, the late lamented Spy Magazine had a feature in which these people were labeled ‘Refuseniks”. You know who they are: Successful actors (or writers, or musicians or whatever) who insist that they can also sing, write a novel, drive a race car etc. Most of the time, the output in the “secondary” field pales in comparison to that which made them famous, and they either skulk away in shame, humbled by the lack of public acclaim for their artistic dalliance, or (sadly) continue to crank out sub par product for their more slavish fans (and others that simply do not know any better).
I’m happy to say that Cosby, though he be no James Brown (nor James Taylor), was in fact a pretty serviceable singer, always aware of his limitations (i.e. smart enough to avoid any embarrassing ballad performances). As a result, between the mid-60s and the mid-70’s he – with the assistance of a wide variety of excellent musicians – made a series of LPs and 45s that were generally pretty good, and sometimes even excellent.
It helps that for his first couple of albums, he was ably assisted by Fred Smith and the various and sundry members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
His first Warner Brothers LP, ‘Bill Cosby Sings: Silver Throat’ (on which he appears clad in a sombrero and false moustache) is more of a R&B/light soul affair, which managed to produce a chart hit in ‘Little Old Man’, a humorous reworking of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Uptight’.
His second LP, ‘Hooray for the Salvation Army Band’ is a much funkier affair (see Cosby’s new Groucho Marx meets Sly Stone look on the cover). In addition to the title track (an uncredited lift of ‘Purple Haze’, the Cos does a number of covers, including yet another entry in the ‘Get Out of My Life Woman’ sweepstakes, as well as today’s selection, ‘Funky North Philadelphia’.
As he lifted ‘Purple Haze’ for ‘Hooray…’, so does the Cos lift Dyke & the Blazers ‘Funky Broadway’ for ‘Funky North Philadelphia’. A ode to his old stomping grounds (later retitled ‘Funky North Philly’ on 45 releases*), the track is a stomping workout, in which he goes on about his funky pad on Diamond Street, from which the scent of greens, fried chicken and fried fish could be smelled.
Interestingly enough, on the LP (see label above), the tune is credited to Fred Smith’s Mirwood label pal Jackie Lee (he of ‘The Duck’ and ‘African Boo-Ga-Loo’). When the tune found its way onto 45, the writing credit was changed to ‘Bill Cosby’. Why either of these guys was getting credit for a song written by one Arlester Christian (known to you and I as Dyke, he of the Blazers), is beyond me. Sure the lyrics were rewritten, but you’d have to have rolled off the soul/funk version of the turnip truck not to realize that the song you are listening to is in fact ‘Funky Broadway’.
Either way, the tune is cool, and if you get the chance you might want to pick up some of that good, good Cosby vinyl (I’ll be posting some of the funkier Cosby-related sides in the future), most of which isn’t too pricey (especially the Warner Brothers 45s which are plentiful).

* See below…


9 Responses to “Bill Cosby – Funky North Philadelphia”

  1. mkmachine Says:

    don’t forget the “bill cosby’s not himself these days” lp. the song “rat own” is a full james brown attack…

  2. :::Philebrity…media, culture, music and more::: » Blog Archive » Musical Rumblings: Stoned Soul Picnic Says:

    […] >>> Hip-hop nation calmly alerted that the Philly blunt — the regular kind, not the “special” kind — may be getting the Love Park Treatment: You know, where you take a thing that made us famous as a cool outlaw place and pass a law against whatever that thing is, thereby making sure that it will be a civic identifier for generations to come. Hip-hop nation nods in agreement, goes back to making music less relevant than ever. [AllHipHop] >>> But it’s cool, because we’re hearing that hip-hop just passed the weed torch to indie-rockers. How else would you explain Freeway beards on skinny white dudes? [Pitchfork] >>> And on a totally unrelated note, FUNKY FUNKY NORTH PHILLY! Oh, Cos — if loving your crazy ol’ ass is wrong, I don’t think we’ll ever be right. Or, for that matter, sober. [Funky16Corners] […]

  3. Bill Says:

    I understand that Coz was also a pretty fair drummer.

    I’m a lawyer in “real life” and there is a hilarious court case analyzing the various versions of “Got My Mojo Working” in a copyright dispute, one of which is none other than ol Doc Huxtable’s. See Strachborneo v. Arc Music,

  4. Pete Gloria Says:

    The way that vertical thing above the dot of the ‘i’ in ‘Salvation’ counterpoints the natty hair parting. And the random orange strip on the metal gate. Plus a parking meter in the photo. It’s all in the details. Luv the cover design.

    But isn’t it actually not that funny (he was half-trying to take the mick, right)?
    Instrumental version wd be ace, tho…

  5. Adam Says:

    I recently picked up a copy of “The Original Jam Session 1969,” a collaboration album that Cosby did with Quincy Jones. I’m not sure how much input Cosby actually had on the session (he sings on one track of the album), but it’s truly an amazing album.

  6. Funky16Corners Radio v.15 - So Much Trouble « Funky16Corners Says:

    […] Hey, g’morning…. I was gonna hold onto this mix, but I decided that since I was going to take the end of the week off (from work, blogging, getting up early in the morning and giving a crap about anything that doesn’t strictly involve leisure) that I owed it to my pals to leave something of substance on yon blogspot to keep your ears fed while you stuff your bellies on Thanksgiving (for those of you in non-Thanksgiving celebrating locales, the experience can be recreated by making a turkey sandwich, and adding string beans, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy and pumpkin pie between the slices of bread, mayonnaise optional). This edition of Funky16Corners Radio is just a random selection of funky goodness featuring a variety of excellent vinyl that I had digitized in various and sundry locations, carefully selected and banded together for your delectation. The title of the mix may or may not be indicative of a certain level of angst that I may or may not be wrestling with (on micro and macro levels), or it may just be the title of the extremely funky tune that opens the mix (or it may be both, hmmmmmm.…). Anyway, this one blows up from the git go with the titular number, brought to you courtesy of Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul. The Washington, DC based unit recorded a number of 45s and an LP, and 1973’s ‘(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind’ was their most successful, and in my opinion their finest. Opening with a super-tight horn blast and hard, hard drums, this ode to the bad vibes of the early 70’s is a killer. If you’ve ever been plagued by the omnipresence of the Capitols ‘Cook Jerk’ on oldies radio and whipped topping commercials, I present you with a balm for your weary ears in their late 60’s funk banger ‘Afro Twist Time’. One of many Afro/African Twists sides from the era, the Capitols break it down with a happening groove, some well placed grunts and some very nice gutbucket guitar. Good gosh awmighty, indeed. The first time I ever heard Slim Harpo’s ‘I’ve Got My Finger On Your Trigger’, I figured it was a one-off trip to Funkytown by the highly regarded swamp bluesman. It turns out, after a perusal of an old LP, that I was incorrect, and that Slim got funky at least one more time, not long before his untimely demise. ‘Dynamite’ may not knock you on your ass, but if all you’ve ever heard by Slim is stuff like ‘Raining In My Heart’, it will come as a surprise. Unlike many seasoned bluesmen, who found themselves at the end of the 60’s grasping at stylistic relevance, Slim Harpo had always had a pop edge (and a touch of the groove) in his records. Regular readers of the blog (and before that, the Funky16Corners web zine) know that I dig the soul and funk efforts of famed non-musician Bill Cosby (as we saw not all that long ago). Back in the day, post- I Spy, and way, way, waaaay pre-Cosby Show, Bill had a TV series (called ‘The Bill Cosby Show’) where he played a gym teacher in Los Angeles. Why am I telling you this? Because the theme to that show is far and away the funkiest thing that Cosby EVER laid down, ranking up there with just about any “legitimate” funk 45 you can dig out of your crates. The tune in question ‘Hikky Burr Pts 1&2’ was the product of a collab between Cos and Le Q (known to his friends as Quincy Jones), and opens with an exquisite bass riff from none other than studio bassist extraordinaire Carol Kaye (drums courtesy of Mr. Paul Humphrey, he of the Cool Aid Chemists). What you get here is a very, very funky instrumental bed, on which Mr. Cosby jumps up and down for two and a half minutes, running off at the mouth like a crazy man. The end result is quite satisfying. I couldn’t very well whip up a mix like this without adding the spice that a bit of funky Hammond brings, and it doesn’t get much funkier (in title or execution) than Brother Jack McDuff’s ‘Hunk O’Funk’. Starting out with a delicious drum break, the band comes in with both organ and clavinet in the background. The first solo is taken by the flute, and it’s a fine example of Kirk/Steig style overblowing. By the time Brother Jack drops in to throw gas on the already raging fire, you’re all like ‘Where’s this record been all my life?’ and ‘How do I get me one?’, and all I can say is, you can’t have mine (but here’s an MP3 to tide you over). If the next tune sounds eerily familiar, it’s on account of the fact that the instrumental track is better known as the underpinning from one of my all time fave funk 45s, Lou Courtney’s ‘Hot Butter’n’All’. Donald Height (the Singing Preacher) may have even been the first to use the track (going by the catalog numbers on the 45 labels), but I still have to vote for Lou. Either way, Height’s take on the track is groovy one, with a new lyrics and just enough space at the beginning for the insane, free-jazz-ish sax-o-ma-phone to peek through the mix. Stevie Wonder and the Beatles go together like chocolate and peanut butter, and there is no better example of this than Mr. Wonder’s banging cover of ‘We Can Work It Out’. The drums drop like a hammer, the clavinet is all clavinet-ty, and the harmonica manages to transcend all previous negative connotations of harmonicosity (as it often did in the hands of Stevie) in what may very well be my fave cover of a Fabs tune (as well as one of my fave Stevie records). Solid. Another familiar tune delivered to you by unfamiliar hands is a tight little version of the Meters ‘Cissy Strut’, courtesy of the folks at Hoctor. Hoctor was not really a band (in name anyway) but rather a record label that created vinyl for use in dance classes. The fact that some of these records managed to be quite funky is but a happy coincidence. The end result, while certainly not up to Meters standards, is still pretty hot, with some chunky drums and a cheesy little organ solo. I don’t think I’m taking too much of a risk by suggesting that John Phillip Soul and His Stone Marching Band were a studio concoction. They made but one 45 (both sides of which are very, very nice) and were never heard from again. As to which Memphis organist brings the heat on ‘That Memphis Thing’ I cannot say, but I will vouch for the fact that this is a very hot slice of soul party au-go-go, replete with drum breaks, wailing Hammond, greasy guitar and blaring horns (the whole affair is certifiably overmodulated, which I dig). The next track, while probably not “funk”, is undeniably funky, and strangely enough a favorite of the Northern Soulies. It is also a disc with an oddball pedigree. NF Porter recorded soul for a variety of labels, but he really hit the jackpot with the folks at Lizard (who also brought you sides by Clydie King and Paul Humphrey), who sent him into the studio with various members of Little Feat and the Mothers of Invention (no kidding). That this unlikely admixture should produce a track as heavy as ‘Keep On Keeping On’ was a happy surprise. The weird juxtaposition of a guitar that sounds like it was running through a Leslie speaker and those classy strings works in spite of itself. I can’t tell you much about Joe and Everyday People, other than they hailed from Virginia, and that I almost had a heart attack when I happened upon this 45 in a box of records. I first heard it on a comp years ago, and was aware that it was fairly rare (so much so that I had never seen a copy for sale). The box I happened to be digging in contained a large helping of what might be charitably called “fairly ordinary” records, not the kind of stuff that you would expect to find clustered around a record like this. When I pulled it out, and asked the guy how much he wanted for it, it was clear that he too was aware of its scarcity. After a bit of haggling I was able to obtain said record, so that I might share it with you today. Dyke and the Blazers may be the great underrated producer of funk 45s ever. Known to all far and wide as the band that brought you ‘Funky Broadway’, they had a string of extremely good 45s for the Original Sound label, all of which had a certain down and dirty vibe. ‘Funky Walk’ is one of the best. Speaking of Dyke, we go to Mr. Mongo Santamaria who brings us a boogaloo-ed reworking of the Blazers’ ‘We Got More Soul’, delivered here as ‘We Got Latin Soul’. At the risk of blasphemy, I would go as far as to say that I prefer Mongo’s version, which is taken at a more lively pace, with the addition of Latin percussion and an excellent vocal by I know not who. Mickey and the Soul Generation are best known as the purveyors of the deep funk monster ‘Iron Leg’ (which holds a place in my all time top 5), but they also made a number of other excellent sides, of which ‘Football’ is one. Sitting atop their second Maxwell 45, ‘Football’ is less of an organ spotlight, focusing instead on some very tight horn work. It says something that while ‘Football’ may not be the monument to heavy-osity that ‘Iron Leg’ was, it still towers above the vast majority of early 70’s funk 45s. Things draw to a close with one of my favorite “affordable” funk 45s, ‘Pickin Cotton’ by Johnny Talbot & De Thangs. Talbot – sometimes listed as Talbert – was a Bay Area (Oakland to be specific) singer/guitarist that made a number of 45s in the 60’s and 70’s. ‘Pickin Cotton’ has some very tasty drum breaks, and works up quite a nice groove. The flip side ‘Git Sum’ is also excellent. Though this once comparatively cheap 45 has started going back up in price, a listen to the actual music will tell you that it is certainly worth it. See you on Monday. Happy Thanksgiving. […]

  7. bill of sale Says:

    Awesome photo of Bill and the salvation army! 😀

  8. Friday Flashback - F16 Radio v.15 So Much Trouble « Funky16Corners Says:

    […] web zine) know that I dig the soul and funk efforts of famed non-musician Bill Cosby (as we saw not all that long ago). Back in the day, post- I Spy, and way, way, waaaay pre-Cosby Show, Bill had a TV series (called […]



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