Mr. Robert Parker
1. Marie Boubarere – I’m Going Home (Nola)
2. Eddie Bo – You’re Going To Be Somebody’s Fool Too (Nola)
3. Barbara George – Satisfied With Your Love (Seven B)
4. Art Neville – Hook Line and Sinker (Instant)
5. Eddie Bo – Just Like a Monkey (Cinderella)
6. Warren Lee Taylor- Every Day Every Hour (Nola)
7. Diamond Joe – Fair Play (Minit)
8. Eldridge Holmes – Gone Gone Gone (Jet Set)
9. Wallace Johnson – I’m Grown (Sansu)
10. Aaron Neville – Why Worry (Parlo)
11. Robert Parker – In the Midnight Hour (Nola)
12. Benny Spellman- If You Love Here (Sansu)
13. John Williams & the Tick Tocks – A LittleTighter (Sansu)
14. Irma Thomas – Breakaway (Imperial)
15. Eldridge Holmes – No Substitute (Deesu)
16. Eddie Bo – A Solid Foundation (Seven B)
17. Willie West – Hello Mama (Deesu)
As promised we return at last with the long overdue (and possibly long awaited) new installment of that monolith of the interweb airwaves, Funky16Corners Radio, its 19th incarnation.
This time out (and, coincidentally next time too) we will be exploring the world of New Orleans-based soul, running roughly from 1964 to 1969. I’ve been working on these mixes (this being part 1, with Part 2 to follow in about a month, as well as a possible Part 3 somewhere down the road) for a while, and actually had them completed and planned for launch some time ago, but the untimely passing of James Brown and my need to get together a ballads mix jumped into the middle of the road and derailed their scheduled appearances for a few months. I mainly needed the time go back and re-record the intros to the mixes (with 17 & 18 now being 19 & 20), as well as prep the individual MP3 tracks for the zip files. I finally got down to work and blocked out some time this weekend to take care of that nuts and bolts stuff, and now I find myself here on Saturday night actually writing about it.
I’ve always found the subject of when “soul” records actually started happening a little problematic, and this is especially so in New Orleans.
So many of the basic building blocks of soul and funk got their start in the Crescent City, but the records on which they were delivered to the rest of the world were for such a long time (some running well into the late 60’s) so steeped in local flavor that they defied easy categorization.
This is certainly not due in any way to the vocals because in that case, they were soulful in the South (especially NOLA) way before almost anywhere else. I’ve always thought that this had to do with a few specific factors, not the least of which was the predominance of acoustic (i.e. regular old) piano. There’s hardly a city in America that can boast of a piano tradition more important than that of New Orleans, which was absolutely bursting at the seams with your Professor Longhairs, James Bookers, Fats Dominos, Eddie Bos, Doctor Johns and the mighty Allen Toussaint. One of the reasons I’m such a fan of New Orleans music in general is the big (and funky, in all senses of the word) piano sound. While the rest of the recording world was under the ever growing shadow of the electric guitar, the folks down in New Orleans kept right on tickling those ivories.
Another reason – at least to my ears – is that most of the records that I would consider New Orleans soul kept a decidedly storefront / lo-fi recording technique (and technology) in the fore in an era when innovations in recording technology were already taken for granted in the urban centers of the North (like, say Detroit…). I suspect that this was largely a matter of economy – both monetary and aesthetic – because there are certainly examples of full blown audio extravaganzas, especially in the Toussaint catalogue, one example being Irma Thomas’s ‘What Are You Trying To Do’ on Imperial. Unlike much of her Imperial discography, ‘What Are You Trying To Do’ was not only recorded in New Orleans, but with Allen Toussaint at the board. It is as polished and bombastic as any Detroit, New York or LA disc of the era, but is also – when juxtaposed with many of the other 45s that Toussaint was creating for Sansu and Deesu – a stylistic anomaly.
Don’t get me wrong though. In this mix you will hear some records that will blow your mind, not because they sound like a doorway to the space age, but because they were written, performed, arranged and produced by some of the most talented musicians (some – like Toussaint practically visionary) in the world.
The first five tunes in the mix are Eddie Bo or Eddie Bo-related. This may seem top-heavy, but Bo was nothing if not prolific. He worked successfully as a songwriter, pianist, singer, producer and arranger on more 45s than almost any of his contemporaries, including Allen Toussaint and Wardell Quezerque.
The opening track, ‘I’m Going Home’ is performed by Marie Boubarere, a singer on which I’ve never been able to find any information. The song was written by Bo and had previously been recorded on the Nola label by another little known singer named Betty Taylor. This is a perfect example of a record that seems somehow out of date, with a 1962 vibe and a firm 1967 release date. Boubarere had a powerful voice and the record has a nice “live” vibe (applause and all).
Next up is the man himself, with a tune from his one and only 45 for the Nola label ‘You’re Going to Be Somebody’s Fool Too’ (kind of an awkward title, that). While the backing vocals sound as if they were provided by the New Orleans Opera Society, Bo is right on the spot. This sounds like a number that could have been delivered with some serious power by a female singer. I love the line about how “I recall the days, when we were close as two to three”. Oddly enough, both of these NOLA sides were produced by Wardell Quezerque (not that odd, since WQ was a co-owner of NOLA, but bear with me..) which goes to show that even though he was capable of putting the whole show together, Bo was also considered viable solely as a performer, which is kind of cool too.
Barbara George who was already an early 60’s hitmaker with ‘I Know’ did some of her last work for the Seven B label and Eddie Bo was there producing and arranging. Her 1967 45 for that label featured a cover of Chris Kenner’s ‘Something You Got’, and its flip was the deadly ‘Satisfied With Your Love’. I consider this to be one of the great lost soul sides of the 60’s, with a sexy vocal by George and a very sophisticated arrangement by Bo. Though the elements are on their own pretty rudimentary (especially the drums) the complete package is a little bit of perfection. I don’t know if this has been comped, but I would suggest trying to track down your own copy. I’m not sure if it’s because Barbara George had had a big hit in the past, but I’ve seen copies of this gem pop up in some odd places (I’ve also seen the price going up, so get off the pot).
Art Neville’s driving dancer ‘Hook Line and Sinker’ is one of the first Bo-related 45s I ever tracked down. Recorded in 1966 with Bo writing and producing, it features future Meter Neville with an outstanding vocal, as well as a great pounding arrangement.
‘Just Like a Monkey’ is the best of two 45s that Bo recorded for the short-lived Cinderella label. It is clearly an attempt to glom onto the success of ‘Mickeys Monkey’ by the Miracles, and despite the fact that the arrangement isn’t one of the masters best, I really dig the energy as well as the increasingly bizarre lyrics, especially about the “cripple fella” who “dropped his umbrella” and “scratched, just like a monkey”. I also have to admire the horn players that played that riff over, and over, and OVER again.
Warren Lee Taylor is none other than the man you all know as Warren Lee, he of ‘Star Revue’ on Deesu, ‘Underdog Backstreet’ on Tou-Sea and the legendary ‘Funky Belly’ on Wand. He recorded two 45s for NOLA, the second of which was 1964’s ‘Every Day Every Hour’. Written by “The Mighty King Lee” (as he was wont to bill himself) , the tune is a rousing dancer with a slight Latin feel and blaring horns. Dig that rolling piano underneath everything. All in all an outstanding record.
Now, I know that Diamond Joe’s ‘Fair Play’ was in the last mix (as a ballad), but the fact that it’s also a great “New Orleans” record as well as one of my all time faves by anyone, anywhere, anytime, I decided to include it again. It is an absolute masterpiece from the mind of Toussaint. Written by Earl King and Allen Orange, the record (produced and arranged by Toussaint) is a haunting work of genius. Diamond Joe’s vocal is amazing, and the inclusion of autoharp (?!?!?) is positively inspired. While I’m not 100% positive my best guess would put this record in and around 1963. Loop this one and find yourself getting hyp-mo-tized. It’s that good.
Another longtime fave of mine – and one of Toussaints great protégé/collaborators – was he late, and most decidedly great Eldridge Holmes. Though ‘Gone Gone Gone’ was released in 1965 by the Washington DC based Jet Set label, the tune (like both sides of the two 45s that Holmes would have on Jet Set) was recorded in New Orleans. Co-written by Holmes and Toussaint, ‘Gone Gone Gone’ is another one of those New Orleans records that seems to be reaching for a wider audience. The horns and chimes give this a slightly Northern flavor, and Holmes pleading vocal (with backing and piano from Toussaint) is one of his best.
Moving back to Toussaint’s “home field” we have the under-appreciated Wallace Johnson. Johnson recorded for Sansu and a few other labels between 1965 and the early 70’s and is still performing in the New Orleans area today. The flip side of the equally excellent ‘Baby Go Head’, ‘I’m Grown’ features Johnsons’s buttery tenor as well as some outstanding guitar work. Johnson is another in a long line of singers in the Toussaint-ography that should have had a much bigger career than he did.
Aaron Neville didn’t record nearly enough in the 60’s, but when he did he was right on the money, honey. ‘Why Worry’ was – aside from the mighty ‘Tell It Like It Is’ – the highlight of his recordings for the Parlo label. It’s got a suave, sophisticated feel with some smooth Chicago-style backing vocals, a great dance beat and of course a fine vocal from Mr. Neville. This ought to be a much better known record.
Robert Parker recorded more sides for the NOLA label than anyone else, up to and including the only long player to come out on that label. His cover of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In the Midnight Hour’ is one of those examples where though it may not hold a candle to the original, it outshine many, many of the other cover versions. It’s also nice to hear a soul version of this classic that manages to break with the Memphis feel of the original and still come across quite soulfully.
The next two numbers also hail from the Sansu label. The first, ‘If You Love Her’ by Benny Spellman (another great singer) has a grooving dance beat and a very cool cascading horn line. If its many fine aspects weren’t enough to recommend it to you, be aware that it is the flipside of the mighty ‘Sinner Girl’.
The second record is ‘A Little Tighter’ by John Williams and the Tick Tocks. I don’t know much about Williams, other than that he was a dynamite singer and that Allen Toussaint appeared to be saving some of his best tunes for him (he also recorded the blistering ‘Do Me Like You Do Me’. ‘A Little Tighter’ has a driving rhythm section and some unusually ornate horns for a Toussaint production. Sadly, Williams was murdered in the early 70’s.
Irma Thomas is one of the finest singers ever produced by New Orleans. She made some of her best records in Los Angeles (with other Nola expats) for the Imperial label. One of these was the mighty ‘Breakaway’. Written (and originally recorded) by Jackie DeShannon, ‘Breakaway’ is a big fave with the Northern crowd and it’s not hard to see why. It has a relentlessly upbeat tempo, and all the finest aspects of the “girl group” genre. Oddly enough this was rerecorded by Tracey Ullman in the 80’s and she had a hit with it in the UK.
We return to the mighty Eldridge Holmes with 1969’s ‘No Subsitute’. A great, bluesy performance, ‘No Substitute’ actually appeared as the b-side to two of Holmes later Deesu 45s ‘The Book’ and ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ (which will appear in Part 2 of this mix). The tune — which I believe features the Meters – has that vibe of a non-funk record being played by a funk band (i.e. some of that grease can’t help but bleed through). I know I say this every time that the subject of Holmes comes up, but someone needs to get together a legitimate, well annotated compilation of his work. He was a truly great vocalist and songwriter.
Eddie Bo’s ‘A Solid Foundation’ hails from 1967 and was the flip side of the proto-funk ‘S.G.B.’. One of his better two siders for the Seven B imprint, it features a great vocal and arrangement by Bo, including some very nice piano.
The tune that closes out this mix is one of Willie West’s (he of the mighty ‘Fairchild’ on Josie) great Deesu sides. I love the overall old-school feel of this one, especially the rolling Toussaint piano.
I hope you dig the sounds here, and like I said, I’ll be back with another helping of this good stuff next month.