Archive for March 15th, 2007

Young-Holt Unlimited – California Montage

March 15, 2007


Young Holt Unlimited

(Eldee Young, bottom right)


Listen – California Montage MP3″

Greetings, and good mid-week to you all.
This won’t be too lengthy a post, as my ass (and brain) is dragging, and the hour is late.
Today’s selection is yet another trip into the strange and wonderful world of Northern Soul, and sadly an obituary as well.
It was a few weeks ago that I happened upon the news that Eldee Young, bassist for the mighty Young-Holt Unlimited (born, with drummer Redd Holt out of the ashes and inspiration of the Ramsey Lewis Trio) had passed on in early February at the age of 71.
We’ve touched upon the work of the Young-Holt organization here a couple of times over the years, and I was definitely planning on writing about them a few times more. I just wish it didn’t have to be in conjunction with the death of one of the group’s members.
Young-Holt (along with pianists Hysear Don Walker and Ken Chaney, not sure exactly who’s playing on this track) recorded a number of excellent LPs for Brunswick, Cotillion and Paula between 1965 and 1973. Though their earliest work was pretty much a stylistic continuation of their work with Ramsey Lewis, they did move on to record some stylish and funky records (sometimes both at the same time), including their 1968 mega hit ‘Soulful Strut’ (aka the instrumental bed from Barbara Acklin’s ‘Am I the Same Girl’) which is probably – along with ‘Green Onions’ – one of the best known soul instrumentals (hell, soul records) ever.
Over the years, I’ve rarely passed up a Young-Holt 45 or LP when I found it, because they are of a consistently high quality, plentiful, and cheap.
Today’s selection, ‘California Montage’ is probably the only Young-Holt disc that I ever went out of my way to obtain a copy.
While I am in no way an authority on Northern Soul, I am a big fan, and some years ago I read of an obscure Young-Holt side called ‘California Montage’ that was something of a favorite on the Northern Scene (‘California Montage’ was for a time a traditional closing record of sessions at the storied Blackpool Mecca). My interest was piqued – as it often is – and I made an effort to grab a copy of the disc. I can’t remember offhand whether I picked it up in the field or via Ebay, but I do recall that at the time it was not an expensive record (under $10).
I also recall that the first time I played it, I found it to be kind of a strange record (though I’ve come to like it quite a bit)
The tune itself was written by Dave Grusin as part of the soundtrack to the 1969 Paul Newman film about racing ‘Indy’ cars, ‘Winning’. How Young-Holt happened to record a piece of obscure film music is unknown to me. That they did is to their lasting credit, because although it has something of a smooth (bordering on slick) veneer, ‘California Montage’ is a prime example of late 60’s Chitown soul.
The record was arranged by Sonny Sanders, who helped create some of the finest Chicago soul records of the 60’s for both the Brunswick and Okeh labels, including many sides by Jackie Wilson, Gene Chandler, the Artistics and of course Young Holt Unlimited. The main tangent that I’m inclined to draw would go directly from ‘California Montage’ to just about anything by the legendary Soulful Strings. Though Richard Evans sound with the Soulful Strings was – in my opinion – much more sophisticated, edgy and inventive overall (which could be said of the entire Cadet oeuvre), there are elements of Sanders arrangement that suggest that Evans and the Soulful Strings weren’t far from his mind. The song has a strong four on the floor backbeat for the dancers (which along with the string section and sweet, poppy touches go along way to explaining the record’s popularity with the Northern Soulies), and the interplay between the vibes and the strings is sublime.

As far as I can tell, aside from the 45, ‘California Montage’ only ever appeared on the Young-Holt Greatest Hits LP (though it has been included on several Northern Soul comps).
I know that after ‘Funky, Yeah’ on Monday, ‘California Montage’ is kind of a rapid downshift (think of it as a palate cleansing sherbet course), but I think if you give it a few listens, you’ll dig it too (and I promise that the next tune in the lineup will be something with a little more grease, and groove).
So give ‘California Montage’ a couple of “spins”, and remember Eldee Young.