NOTE: Welcome to the third installment of Funky16Corners Radio Podcast re-posts, this time by special reader request. F16Radio v.13 – originally posted in October 2006 – was a survey of the funk and soul of New Orleans legend Lee Dorsey. As always, I hope you dig it, and we’ll see you on Monday.
1. Get Out of My Life Woman (Amy 45)
2. Go Go Girl (Amy 45)
3. Love Lots of Lovin’ (Sansu 45) w/ Betty Harris
4. Wonder Woman (Amy 45)
5. Four Corners Pt1 (Amy 45)
6. Four Corners Pt2 (Amy 45)
7. A Lover Was Born (Amy 45)
8. Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On) (Amy 45)
9. Give It Up (Amy 45)
10. What You Want (Bell 45)
11. Yes We Can Pt1 (Polydor 45)
12. Yes We Can Pt2 (Polydor 45)
13. Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further (Polydor LP)
14. Gator Tail (Polydor LP)
Before you ask (once you recover from the shock) this post is in fact a day earlier than normal, due this time to the fact that I’m taking tomorrow off to do something fun with my wife and kids, and I wanted to get something else up before the weekend.
A while back – I can’t honestly remember when – I said that I would be putting together an installment of the Funky16Corners Radio podcast to feature the funky side of the legendary Lee Dorsey.
Dorsey was one of the most consistent (both chartwise and artistically) R&B/soul artists to come out of the Crescent City in the 1960’s. Like Betty Harris (with whom he collaborated), he was also the beneficiary of the composing/producing/arranging talents of the the mighty Allen Toussaint. Beginning with ‘Ya Ya’ in 1961, Dorsey and Toussaint would create (compared to most of the artists Toussaint worked with) a substantial body of work, including several albums that would stretch until his last LP, ‘Night People’ in 1978. He was an underrated singer (with a distinct Ray Charles influence), and one of the finest interpreters of Toussaint’s songs (every song on this mix was written by Toussaint, except for ‘A Lover Was Born’ which Dorsey co-wrote).
To most people (even soul fans) the name Lee Dorsey conjures up images of good-time New Orleans R&B and soul, with tunes like ‘Working In a Coalmine’ and dancers like ‘Ride Your Pony’. However, to the crate diggers and funk 45 hounds of the world, there’s a whole second chapter to the Dorsey story, in which Lee (with the assistance of Allen) decided to get funky, and stay that way “from now on”.
When I decided to assemble this mix, I decided to use 1965’s ‘Get Out of My Life Woman’ as a starting point. The recording date may predate almost all assessments of “funk”, but when you’re talking about the soul sounds of New Orleans, you enter a funky Twilight Zone of sorts in which some (or all) of the elements of funk were present years before they are believed to have appeared elsewhere. Without getting into a semantic dispute about the definition of the word funk as it applies to music, there are a grip of NOLA records that predate records like James Brown’s ‘Cold Sweat’ (as good a “first funk record” as you’re likely to get any two people to agree on), that are undeniably funk-y, and arguably (depending on who you’re arguing with) “funk”.
Whether or not ‘Get Out of My Life Woman’ rises to that particular level, it is the song with the drums that launched a thousand beats, from countless straight covers of the tune, to cut ups of the beat from those records that were employed to put the hip, to the hop, to the hippity hop etc etc, to the point where the Sample FAQ lists more than 30 uses of the Dorsey version alone. It’s only fair that we should begin our survey of the funky side of Mr. Dorsey with that particular tune.
The mix jumps forward two years with ‘Go Go Girl’, ‘Wonder Woman’ and the top side of Dorsey’s Sansu duet 45 with the great Betty Harris ‘Love Lots of Lovin’. These records are not only under-appreciated points in his discography, but important transitional records on his way up the funky road. Though previous to1967 he had recorded much high quality, upbeat soul like ‘Can You Hear Me’ and the aforementioned ‘Rode Your Pony’, by ’67 Toussaint had started to move him into a more aggressive sound.
‘Go Go Girl’ has a driving bass line, and a very tight horn chart. The chiming rhythm guitar sounds as if it was lifted from John Williams & the Tick Tocks ‘Do Me Like You Do Me’, another Toussaint written/produced side on the Sansu label (Williams and Dorsey would both record Toussaints ‘Operation Heartache’).
It unfortunate that the collaboration between Lee Dorsey and Betty Harris never went further than their one Sansu 45. ‘Love Lots of Lovin’ is a great slice of funky, melodic soul and the two singers made a great combination. The flip side ‘Please Take Care of Our Love’ is a heartbreaking ballad and something of a lost classic.
‘Wonder Woman’ is another one of those records where Toussaint really laid on the arrangement, taking the record out of the rougher New Orleans sound into a different area. Though there’s plenty of twangy guitar, and Toussaint’s piano (and backing vocals) are evident, the horn and string charts add a dose of sophistication, no doubt an attempt to reach a wider audience.
The next 45 in Dorsey’s discography starts out with one of the epic drumbreaks in the history of New Orleans soul. ‘Four Corners Pts 1&2’, Lee’s entry into the “Corners” dance records craze (which included the record from which this very blog takes its name) opens with a wild break that combines furious funk with a New Orleans street parade feel, that while not as insane as some of the breaks James Black laid down for Eddie Bo, still manages to knock the listener for a loop. The record has a frantic energy that never lets up, with Dorsey dropping some crazy lyrics (“Shake-a-make-a-make-a-shake-a-hula!”, “Fee-fi-fo-fam-Give some to the guitar man!”), reprised drum breaks, wild combo organ and a blaring horn chart. Though the record often gets dangerously close to Archie Bell and the Drells ‘Tighten Up’, the fact that it is literally exploding with energy takes it to another level entirely.
Though it’s likely they were playing on Dorsey’s record before this, ‘A Lover Was Born’ is the first of his sides that (at least to my ears) clearly bears the mark of the Meters (or some of them anyway). Opening with a quasi-Chuck Berry guitar line (and a weird scream buried in the mix), the tune (with some of the funniest lyrics in the Toussaint catalogue) is filled with New Orleans flavor. The 45 also bears the mark of many of Dorseys singles, with a tasty soul or funk side paired with what can only be described as an appeal to the pop mainstream (this time out a version of ‘What Now My Love’).
Next up is the tune that gave this mix its title ‘Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky’. The tune – which opens with reading the title (Marshall Sehorn?) – is a slow moving, swampy bit of funk, with the kind of acoustic guitar accents that Toussaint would apply to Willie West’s ‘Fairchild’. There are bits of organ here and there, but for the most part, the verses are all bass and drums.
The next record is at least in my opinion the finest record that Dorsey and Toussaint would create (again with the help of the Meters). Starting out with a soulful piano line, ‘Give It Up’ then moves on to the bass and electric sitar in tandem, before background singers start chanting the title. When the drums finally hit, they hit hard, and the instrumental backing all comes together like clockwork into a funky stew. It’s also one of the trippiest funk side to come out of New Orleans. The fact that it’s not a better known record is positively criminal (though that could be said of countless Toussaint-related sides).
By the time 1970 rolled around, Dorsey would make one record for the Bell label before moving on to Polydor. That record, the aggressively funky ‘What You Want’ is a much harder edged side than you’d expect from Dorsey. The record starts out with a muddy bass line and is soon joined by the drums, and (again) electric sitar. It almost sounds like it might have been recorded in the same sessions as ‘Give It Up’ but after the intoxicants had worn off.
The last four cuts in this mix all appeared on the album ‘Yes We Can’. Like the ‘Ernie K. Doe’ LP that K. Doe and Toussaint collaborated on around the same time, ‘Yes We Can’ is absolute perfection. Both LPs are composed almost entirely of Toussaint compositions, and both also feature the Meters as the backing band. Though the album covers a lot of stylistic ground, the overall feel is quite funky.
‘Yes We Can Pts 1&2’ has a percolating groove with fantastic use of syncopation, the instruments all adding textured, layered as perfectly as any James Brown funk beat. Part 2 is largely instrumental (the acoustic guitar accents, again used to great effect). If you get a chance check out the Pointer Sisters excellent 1973 cover (retitled ‘Yes We Can Can’) on Blue Thumb.
If any tune on ‘Yes We Can’ should have been a hit, it was ‘Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further’. Combining topical lyrics with a driving beat and a sing-a-long chorus, the song is the highlight of the LP. There were four singles released from this LP, and it’s incomprehensible to me this song wasn’t on any of them.
One tune that did make it onto a 45 is the record that closes out this installment of Funky16Corners Radio, ‘Gator Tail’. Propelled by a razor sharp guitar and a driving snare beat, ‘Gator Tail’ is one of the harder edged cuts on ‘Yes We Can’.
Following ‘Yes We Can’ Dorsey released one great non-LP 45 ‘Freedom for the Stallion’ (which was actually released twice, both times on Polydor, with two different non-lp flipsides, ‘If She Won’t (Find Someone Who Will)’ and ‘On Your Way Down’). He wouldn’t record again until 1978, when he and Toussaint collaborated again for the LP ‘Night People’ on ABC. Though he continued to perform until his death in 1986, as far as I can tell he never recorded again.