“Listen – Mr. Tuff Stuff MP3″
Greetings music lovers.
Friday is here, the weekend is creeping up behind us, ready to pounce and if you’re anything like moi, you’re crouched down next to your desk like a sprinter, aimed at the nearest exit with visions of cold beer and beautiful do-nothingness dancing just behind your fevered brow.
That’s right. For every five days of often seemingly pointless grind, we are rewarded with two days (and three crazy nights) of free-range wandering. You may choose to go on a tear (of your choosing), or you may just wish to firm up that potato chip filled dent in your sofa, but as the bartenders of the world are wont to say, ‘You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.’
That said, your old pal Lar’ is here to get the fuse lit with a smoking selection from the funk files, which will also satisfy federal “theme completion” standards for the week. The theme to be completed is of course ‘answer records’ (for $1,000 Alex), and this time out the answer is to one of the most answered 45s of all times, that being Jean Knights thomping Wardell Quezerquian treatise “Mr. Big Stuff”, hailing of course from nineteen and seventy two, heretofore known on the Chinese Astrological Calendar as ‘Year of the Big Stuff’.
If you are unfamiliar with that particular tune, I’d suggest you get (familiar, that is), on account of it’s one of the truly (and few-ly) great chart topping funk 45s, a radio staple for years and just an ass-kicker/jiggler from it’s first tasty bass note. Back in May, the great Stepfather of Soul whipped up a BigStuff-and-related podcast (which you must check out) , which covered not only Miz Knights original, but many of the best records created in its wake. One record which was not included is today’s selection, ‘Mr Tuff Stuff’ by Toby King.
Now Toby King is a great example of how, as the great Felix Unger said, “When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME”. For years (before I actually owned a copy of this 45) I assumed, via a combination of word of mouth and seeing that Mr. King had released a 45 on Deesu (that famed New Orleans, Toussaint/Sehorn related label of yore) that he hailed from the Crescent City, which would make ‘Mr Tuff Stuff’ that rare and fabulous thing we all know as a “New Orleans Funk 45”.
When I finally scored a copy of the disc, and took the time to read the label, it was revealed to me that the record had in fact been recorded in North Carolina. Of course this information was not enough to disqualify Toby from residence in New Orleans, since other Big Easy-ites (like Eldridge Holmes) had also recorded outside of the the New Orleans city limits. However, not satisfied with that little bit of hard info I went a-Googling and soon discovered that King had recorded for a few NC based labels, and that his appearance on Deesu (of some tunes that had already appeared on the NC based Cotton imprint) was likely a licensed-to issue, and that he, like Joe Haywood before him was in fact a non-NOLA performer who had a brief brush with the Deesu organization.
As far as how answer-y ‘Mr Tuff Stuff’ is, it’s basically working on a level of titular reference and overall funkiness without sounding anything like the root-record. In fact, where ‘Mr Big Stuff’ stands like a colossus astride a landscape that looks like a snapshot from the old school, ‘Mr Tuff Stuff’ definitely has its feet planted firmly in the new school – at least as it was in 1973, with its prominent clavinet and slightly “cleaner” sound. This is not to say that ‘Mr Tuff Stuff’ is unworthy of your attention – I wouldn’t drop it here if I felt that way – but rather that it comes from a different “place” than the record that it answers, a record that is undeniable in its greatness. This difference says a lot about the way funk was evolving in the early 70’s. 1972-73 was an important transitional period, with the approaching modernization of the funk sound in much the same way that R&B was giving way to soul a decade earlier. The era of Motherships, codpieces, YEOOOWWWS and various other ephemera of pre-Jhericurl fonk had yet to fully manifest themselves, but in much the same way that scientists pick up the vague remnants of the big bang in their radio telescopes, so can the earliest stirrings of that later funk vibe be heard in this record.
How much of this can be laid at the doorstep of technology – i.e. was the modernization of recording technology responsible for a less “funky” funk – and how much to a general change in the vibe of Black music in heading toward the mid-70’s is not exactly an issue of no consequence, but it’s also not worth arguing about (at least right now). That the times were changing, and the music with it is undeniable, and whether or not you feel that the later, shinier style of funk is worth listening to (which I do) is a discussion for another day.
Either way, have a great weekend.