The Great O.V. Wright
1. Howard Tate – Get It While You Can (Verve 45)
2. Toussaint McCall – Nothing Takes the Place of You (Ronn 45)
3. Van Dykes – No Man Is An Island (Bell LP track)
4. O.V. Wright – I Want Everyone To Know I Love You (Back Beat 45)
5. Diamond Joe – Fair Play (Minit 45)
6. Little Buster – I’m So Lonely (Jubilee 45)
7. Mable John – Your Good Thing (Stax 45)
8. John Williams & the Tick Tocks – Blues Tears and Sorrow (Sansu 45)
9. James Carr – The Dark End of the Street (Goldwax 45)
10. Johnny Soul – I Almost Called Your Name (SSS Intl LP track)
11. Otis Redding – Cigarettes and Coffee (Atco LP track)
12. Otis Clay – You Don’t Miss Your Water (Cotillion 45)
13. Rubaiyats – Tomorrow (Sansu 45)
14. Lee Dorsey & Betty Harris – Please Take Care of Our Love (Sansu 45)
15. Billy Very & Judy Clay – Do Right Woman – Do Right Man (Atlantic LP track)
16. Eldridge Holmes – A Love Problem (Decca 45)
17. Little Royal – Losing Battle (Trius LP Track)
So, it’s Sunday afternoon, and I just got my sick three-year-old* down for a nap, my wife’s got the baby in the living room and I’m here in the record room tapping out the letters, word and phrases of today’s post.
Here in NJ we’re in the midst of one of the strangest winters in memory, one in which it is barely (rarely) cold and the few snowflakes that have appeared pretty much disappeared before they hit the ground. Unfortunately a blanket of snow would be welcome right about now, if only to cover up the ugly grayness of January, in which our world is ruled by dead leaves, fallen branches and puddles of muddy water.
All in all a colossal downer.
One of the things I’ve wanted to do for a long, long (loooong) time is to compile a session of Funky16Corners Radio devoted to soul ballads. Current circumstances – new work schedule, wanting to spend some time with my family etc – prevented me from doing this for a long time. I mean, I suppose that I could have just cobbled together a pile of CDs and whipped something up in an hour, but this is one that’s been eating at me for a while, and I wanted to do it right.
There are 17 tracks in this mix, and while some of them – being longtime cornerstones of my personal (theoretical/imaginary) crate of favorites – came to mind immediately, others were in those long, irregular orbits of my subconscious where nothing short of grabbing a pen and writing the titles down when they came to mind would keep them on the list. Others were filed in the crates, leaking their tears on the adjacent records, waiting for me to get them out and give them another long overdue “rediscovery” spin.
That’s how I spent yesterday afternoon; pulling crate after crate out onto the dining room table, where I sat with my portable and a cup of coffee, making pile after pile of definites, maybes, and remote / left-fieldy choices (some of which made the final cut after all).
It was not an easy process. As I said before, I definitely had some records in mind when I started, but not all of those ended up as part of the mix. As I flipped through the 45s (and some LPs) I was surprised to find a couple of outstanding cuts that were either languishing on the flip sides of more familiar records, as well as a couple of gems that made it into the crates but were soon forgotten due to the fact that my brain was in a funkier place that particular day. Unfortunately – as I’ve said in this space numerous times (perhaps too often) – when you’ve got as many records as I do (and still manage to have a “normal” life, i.e the kind where you’re not 40, single and sharing your mama’s basement with your records and several varieties of mold – it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything. The only upside to this particular problem is that I get to rediscover records all the time that I never devoted enough time to in the first place.
Many of these happened because they were records whose charms were too subtle to be revealed by the kind of cursory examination that comes when you return home from a record show with 30 to 50 records. Others are victims of a periodic narrowing of my tastes when I become temporarily obsessed with a particular genre/region/period of music. Either way, on occasions like yesterday, when I take the time to dig back into the vault and sample the treasures within, there’s always something cool to be found.
I tried (as I always do) to maintain a balance of well known and obscure, if only because there are some classics that are rightly considered so and cannot be ignored (i.e. James Carr), and others aren’t as familiar (unless you’re a hardcore “deep soul” fanatic) and deserve to be championed at any available opportunity.
As to the general vibe of the mix, don’t let the palpable sadness of many of these songs lead you to believe that I’m writing this with one hand on the keyboard and the other on a noose. I’m willing to admit that I came to love some of these songs deeply during times of actual sadness, but I’m at a place in my life where you put on records like these as much to appreciate the virtuosity in the grooves as you do to evoke the sense memory.
I’ve never been one of those people that can point to a certain song and identify with the specific sentiments (i.e. “I lived the story of that song and relive it every time I hear it”). It’s more important to drop the needle on a tune like Otis Redding’s ‘Cigarettes and Coffee’ and really feel the vibe run through you like some tastes and smells do. The way some things start off with a bitter edge but become infinitely more complicated and rewarding as they spread over the palate.
This is “soul” music in the realest, deepest sense, running from your ears, through your heart and back into your brain. It’s possible – necessary – to dig these songs from both a purely aesthetic standpoint and then also in all of the abstract ways that art can affect you.
There are two ideal scenarios for getting the most value from this mix.
First and foremost, at night, in the dark watching the world go by outside your window.
Second (and perhaps more important depending on the individual), by yourself, in your car, where you can sing along loudly, revealing – if only for a moment – your inner soul singer.
Either way, there’s almost an hour of really good music here. With any luck much of it is new to you, and if it’s not, hopefully it’s something you already dig, just being heard in a new setting.
The set opens with one of my all time favorite records in any genre, Howard Tate’s monumental ‘Get It While You Can’. If ever a soul record was waxed that was a study in the use of dynamics and drama, this is it brother. One thing a lot of these records have in common is echoes of the amen corner. You don’t have to be some kind of historian to listen to music like this and realize that none of it is too far removed from its gospel roots. When Tate closes out the chorus with the line ‘Don’t turn your back on love.’ he might as well be leaning over the pulpit. If you don’t have his Verve LP (which has been reissued a couple of times), go get yourself a copy. We’ll be here when you get back.
If you hit this space regularly, you’ve definitely heard the name Toussaint McCall, but in the context of organ grooves only. It’s one of the great gifts of 60’s soul, that perhaps the greatest Hammond instrumental of the era was the flip side of one of the truly great ballads. Such is the case with ‘Shimmy’ that appeared as the b-side to ‘Nothing Takes the Place of You’, which was a hit in 1967. I can hardly think of another record that successful (it was a Top 40 hit in the spring of that year) that was as defiantly low-fi. It’s just McCall’s voice and organ, a piano and the sparest percussion, with a sound that makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping on someone’s confession. It’s deep.
The Van Dykes ‘No Man Is an Island’ is an undisputable classic of the genre, and another supremely “churchy” record. Rondalis Tandy’s piercing falsetto, combined with the chiming guitar and subdued organ is absolute perfection. If you get a chance, grab the reissue of their Mala LP which includes some beautiful upbeat material as well.
‘I Want Everyone to Know I Love You’ by O.V. Wright has been a staple of my crates for over 20 years. One of the first high-quality soul 45s I ever bought, it was also one of those early records that confirmed for me that there was a universe to be explored well beyond the obvious. I love the way that Wright starts off the tune with a creamy tenor, before the chorus hits and his voice is transformed into a razor sharp gospel shout. The bridge on this record, with the additional “secular” vibe of the saxophone is a thing of beauty.
Diamond Joe Maryland is one of the great lost geniuses of 1960’s soul, and ‘Fair Play’ is a forgotten (or never discovered) work of genius. Perhaps the only soul record I’ve ever heard that features an autoharp, ‘Fair Play’ is a combination of a bravura vocal by Diamond Joe with a positively visionary arrangement by Allen Toussaint. One of my top 10 favorite records in any genre, ‘Fair Play’ is yet another example of the countless brilliant Toussaint records that probably never got airplay outside of Louisiana.
I have to admit that I had never heard of Little Buster before I read his obituary over at Red Kelly’s brilliant ‘B-side’ blog (one of the finest music blogs on the web today). I wish I’d known about him sooner, because ‘I’m So Lonely’ is just over two minutes of soul perfection. Combining Buster’s soulful rasp with a rhythm I can never really get a handle on, the tune I evidence that no matter how deep you dig, there are ALWAYS more great records to be found.
Mable John (sister of Little Willie) was a powerful singer, capable of pulling you in with a whisper as easily as a shout. Her performance on Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s ‘Your Good Thing Is About To End’ is a classic and ought to be required listening for new soul fans. When she drops the “Look out!” just before the chorus, it gives me chills.
Yet another fine example of Toussaint-iana, John Williams and the Tick Tocks ‘Blues Tears and Sorrow’ (one of three Sansu sides in this mix) is like many Toussaint productions of the era the intersection of a great singer with a great song/arrangement. Williams only recorded four sides for Sansu, but they’re all fantastic.
James Carr’s ‘Dark End of the Street’ is simply one of the greatest records ever made, transcending time and genre.
I never knew the name Johnny Soul until I picked up an old comp of SSS Intl sides. His ‘I Almost Called Your Name’ is a heartbreaker that sounds like it came from Muscle Shoals, with only a hint of pedal steel guitar revealing its Nashville roots. I can’t say that I’ve ever been able to find out anything else about him.
The first time I ever heard Otis Redding’s ‘Cigarettes and Coffee’ I had to pick up the tone arm and play it again, and again…..and again. I’m quite sure you don’t need me to remind you of his greatness, but I suspect many of you may never have heard this record before. It’s one of his best.
Otis Clay’s cover of the William Bell classic ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ is one of those great b-side discoveries. I picked up the 45 for the cover of ‘She’s About a Mover’ and was pleasantly surprised when I flipped the record over. Recorded at Fame Studios, the horns echo the Memphis born original but there’s also some cool electric piano that sets this one apart (not to mention Clay’s fantastic vocal).
Speaking of Allen Toussaint, that’s him duetting with Willie Harper as the Rubaiyats on ‘Tomorrow’. The flip of the raucous Crescent City classic ‘Omar Khayyam’, ‘Tomorrow’ is a slow, thoughtful number with an interesting melody line, understated horns and great harmonies. Toussaint may not have been the finest interpreter of his own material, but he was certainly of soulful voice, and Harper’s voice was the perfect counterpoint to his own.
Another Sansu duet (one of only a few) was the heartrending ‘Please Take Care of Our Love’ by Lee Dorsey and Betty Harris. The b-side of the pop-soul of ‘Love Lots of Loving’, ‘Please Take Care of Our Love’ pairs two of the finest singers to have benefited from the prolific pen of Allen Toussaint. Lee may be long gone, but Betty is back performing and recording today.
When in comes to soul duets, one of my all time faves was that of Billy Vera and Judy Clay. Best known for their hit ‘Storybook Children’, their outstanding version of the soul chestnut ‘Do Right Woman – Do Right Man’ is one of the highlights of their only LP. Recorded in NYC, the album manages to tap into the Atlantic-and-related Southern soul continuum nicely.
Turning to New Orleans once again, ‘A Love Problem’ is one of the finer ballads recorded by the great –direly underrated –singer Eldridge Holmes. In a career that barely lasted 10 years Holmes – almost entirely with Toussaint – recorded some of the finest soul and funk 45s to come out of New Orleans (or anywhere else for that matter) in the 60’s and 70’s. Listen to the way Toussaint’s piano mirrors Holmes’ voice in the later verses. The fact that he didn’t break on a national level, and is still yet to be recognized with a serious retrospective is one of the great tragedies of soul music (hello, Sundazed???).
We close out this installment of Funky16Corners Radio with Little Royal’s cover of Johnny Adams ‘Losing Battle’ (written by none other than Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John). An oasis of calm and contemplation next to the frantic ‘Razor Blade’, it’s a great showcase for Little Royal’s funky rasp.
*As of today! Happy Birthday Miles!!