Mr. Stacy Lane
“Listen – African Twist MP3″
The weekend is finally over.
It was – as always – brief but – as sometimes – enjoyable, spent with family and friends, celebrating our Irish heritage (by birth, or marriage).
Oddly enough, we managed to do this (and delicious beer was indeed consumed) without anyone ending up face down in the gutter, clad only in an orange, green and white Cat in the Hat chapeau (having been forcibly de-pantsed, de-shirted and de-dignified by strangers) and flecks of our own vomit – as I’m sure was the case outside countless sub-standard chain restaurants with faux Gaelic names across our great land.
As a person of largely Irish extraction (but a few generations removed from the old sod, with the pale complexion to prove it), I can’t help but be a little disgusted by the way so many people choose to spend the feast of St. Patrick engaged in an alcohol-soaked spirit walk through the back alleys of the human experience, utterly besotted, their bellies awash in phony Irish-branded suds (Killians, the Shamrock Shake of beers), “loaded” potato skins and green bagels.
I suppose that their ultimate reward is waking up in a holding cell with (someone’s) green underwear wrapped around their pounding head, wondering how they’re going to explain to their sainted mother why they were arrested for trying to get friendly with a mounted policeman’s horse on the parade route.
In honor of these good folks (though I suspect that they’re too busy clinging to the shag carpeting in their parents basement, in a valid attempt not to fall off the face of the earth to be surfing the interwebs), I present a track so loud, so powerful, that anyone with a hangover would be foolish to get within shouting distance.
That track being ‘African Twist’ by Stacy Lane.
I suppose I should begin by stating that aside from the basic discographical get-down – that being that our friend Stacy laid down two sought after 45s for that pillar of Southern blues and soul, Excello Records – I can provide little or no information about him.
I first came across his brief but delicious catalogue in the very early days of the Funky16Corners web zine. The very first feature article I wrote was about the African/Afro Twist, a little known, but oddly well documented (via records) dance “craze” of the mid-to-late 60’s. I will refer you to the article itself for more detail, but in the spirit of long-story-short-ism, I attempted to tie a number of records (by Jackie Lee, Jerry-O, Lonnie Youngblood et al) celebrating said dance with a rise in Black consciousness around the same time, in which all things African came into vogue. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that many of the artists involved were doing anything more that attempting to get some action on the dance-floors and radio charts, but rather that the records were a pop-cult reflector or sorts, tapping into and (to a smaller extent) driving the zeitgeist.
The thing that grabbed me about Stacy Lane – aside from the obvious high quality soul power of his record – was that his performance therein was a fantastic example of the powerful and far-reaching influence of Mr. Wilson Pickett (with whom we shall visit in the next week or two).
When making a survey of the 1960’s soul/funk landscape, there are several major artists that cast shadows of varying length across same. Though you could make an argument for including many performers (James Brown, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding), among those that left a clear mark, the name Wilson Pickett looms large.
Countless soul singers participated in the melding the strains of sacred and profane that brought the sounds of gospel into the world of rhythm & blues (and vice versa), but in this writers opinion, few did it better – or with as much gusto as Pickett.
That Pickett had an influence on the world of funk and soul (and rock’n’roll as well) is undeniable. The breadth of that influence however is arguable.
I qualify my argument because there are elements of Pickett’s style that clearly did not originate with him. His signature growl – though few were able to approach its raw power – was not without precendent. There are so many performances in 60’s soul that are Pickett-esque, the temptation is to attribute his influence to all of them. However, the degree to which he directly effected the work of others varies wildly.
In the case of Stacy Lane’s ‘African Twist’ – however – the connection couldn’t be clearer.
It’s not just the multiple shout outs to the Funky Broadway (and there are many), or the breakdowns that sound as if they were lifted straight from Pickett’s time in Memphis. It’s the fact that Lane sounds as if his diploma from Soul U wasn’t enough, so he decided to enroll at the Wilson Pickett School of Graduate Soul Studies for an advanced degree in Pickettology, after which he graduated summa cum soulful, having proven that he was capable of performing all thousand dances to the satisfaction of the faculty.
Without listening too closely, one might be forgiven for thinking ‘African Twist’ had originated at a Pickett session, though careful examination reveals that while Lane clearly made a careful study of the Wicked’s patented sound, he lacked a certain razor sharpness in his attack. It’s almost as if Lane was Pickett in his larval form, waiting only for the passage of time in which all that had not formed fully would come into sharp focus.
That said, ‘African Twist’ is a hot little groover, with its lion roars, monkey screams and Lane’s repeated chants of “UNGOWA!” (just enough novelty to make it fun but stopping far short of Dr. Demento territory). Served up to an audience of eager dancers, the fact that it is but imitation Wilson Pickett would be of little consequence, because it’s such a good imitation. When you’re out on the floor mixing it up and the lights are low and the sweat and beer are flowing liberally, all that matters is that the music is soulful, and in this case is it very much so, and that is why – because it only takes one great song – Stacy Lane is entitled to a small corner in the hall of soul immortals.
NOTE: the Asbury Park 45 Sessions #2 is coming up fast, less than two short weeks away. You don’t want to miss it. See DJ Prestige’s site for more details..