“Listen – Merryweather – Are You Ready MP3″
“Listen – Sod – Too Loose To Get Tight Pt1 MP3″
Hey hey hey….
Howdy to all and to all a hearty “sorry the weekend’s over but hey, it’s spring so things aren’t all that bad after all”.
It’s been a somewhat busy weekend here at the Funky16Corners compound, with the errands to run, the children to care for and all that mess. Today (Sunday) the wife was away for some very well deserved R&R, so it was me and the boys (cue NRBQ) all by our lonesome today, and aside from some teething-related misery, all was well. I managed to squeeze in some vinyl transfers, including some of my vacation plunder, as well as getting a few more podcasts in the hopper.
As it is almost May, and the anniversary of the day we got our bandwidth sucked out from under us, precipitating the move to a bigger, better server, the Funky16Corners Pledge Drive* is just around the corner (probably starting the weekend of the next Asbury Park 45 Sessions), and I have something special planned. Without tipping my hand too much, it will feature a brand new edition of the Funky16Corners Radio podcast, in conjunction with some older volumes from the archive. I think you’ll dig it, as the sounds are hot and funky, and engineered for your listening and dancing pleasure.
That said, the tunes in tonight’s post are a couple of things that I’ve been meaning to get up into the old blog, but – as is often the case – I had to let the idea/theme bounce around in my head, letting my brain marinate in a bouillabaisse of facts, figures, conjecture and supposition until something took form.
This tale got started when some months back when I saw a 45 advertised on a dealers sale list, and intrigued by the description – which touted wailing Hammond organ content – I went in search of a somewhat less expensive copy of the record, and was rewarded forthwith when a copy turned up for about a fifth of the original asking price. As this fraction was in the words of the great Ralph Kramden, a “mere bag of shells”, I went ahead and grabbed it, unheard, and awaited its arrival eagerly.
Well…mail call came around, and as the disc slid through the mail slot, and onto the turntable, I immediately discovered that although there was lots of Hammond on the disc, it was not in fact what connoisseurs of organ 45s would describe as a “Hammond” disc. What the record in question was, was a fairly solid slice of Woodstock-era whiteboy funky rock.
I should take a moment here to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart (and ears) for this kind of stuff, i.e. sounds that seem thoroughly infused by the VanillaFudge–itude so common in the years between 1967 and say 1972. These were the days when longhaired rock types, all enamored of an admixture equal parts Wilson Pickett and Cream, stood astride the festival circuit like a grand parade of buckskinned, bell-bottomed groovers, horn sections in tow, generally (but not exclusively) led by bare-chested vocalists who seem to have a huge bone on for the sound of hard edged soul.
I invoked the name of Vanilla Fudge, because for me, that band was the ne plus ultra of the movement. If any one record can be hailed as a template for the subgenre, it is the Fudge’s testical-ization of the Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’. No matter how many white bands made hay covering black soul records, no one came within a mile of the moment when the band drops out and Mark Stein bellows
‘SET ME FREE WHY DONTCHA BABE”
and the rest of the band falls in with a loosely wrapped bundle of
“WOOO WOOOO WOOOOOO”s.
It was almost as if Vanilla Fudge had kicked in the door at Motown and stretched the whole enterprise out of shape. Oddly enough, what they and a hundred other bands composed of faux-soulmen were onto wasn’t far from a rough, less well thought out version of what Norman Whitfield was trying to do, i.e. blending then contemporary psychedelia with soul.
I would be lying if I said that my appreciation for bands like this wasn’t tinged by the tiniest bit of irony. Though there’s a pretty clear line between the kind of idol worship that bands like the Artwoods, Birds, Yardbirds and their ilk displayed for American bluesmen, and the “look how soulful we can be” isms of their late 60’s counterparts, the latter group was a step further removed from the source material. Whereas the R&Beat groups wore their idols catalogs on their sleeves, often going the long way around the block to out-authenticate their competitors, the longhairs half a decade down the pike were more interested in emulation of the performance style than they were in transmitting the original songs back to an audience that had been ignorant of it the first time around. Though I see the Vanilla Fudge as the best example, you can’t address the issue without bringing acts like (post Al Kooper) Blood Sweat and Tears into the mix. Though they were certainly guilty at times of jazzbo pretensions, they also had a great singer in David Clayton Thomas, and excellent taste in cover material, borrowing from Brenda Holloway (‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’) and Little Milton (‘More and More’). You might also want to make stops and visit with Janis Joplin, Lee Michaels, Bob Seger and even the mighty MC5, who took the whiteboy soul revue concept and bent it into amazing new shapes.
All things considered, BS&T were actually a little too tasteful for inclusion in this group. As I said, Thomas was a great singer, and not normally prone to the kind of vocal excess that I’m referring to. To get to where I’m talking about, you’d have to take David Clayton Thomas, make his pants waaayyyy too tight and turn up the meter to “overwrought”.
The 45 I was referring to earlier was by a band called Merryweather. Led by bassist, singer Neil Merryweather (who had been a member of the Mynah Birds with a young Rick James **- under his given name of Neil Lillie), Merryweather had recorded two LPs for Capitol before being signed to Kent records.
The record that we’re here to groove on today ‘Are You Ready’ (trust me, you aren’t…) is an interesting musical mix. Based on a hard, rocked out groove, the record features some swirling, vaguely psyched out Brian Auger-ish organ, spooky harmonica, and the wail of Merryweather himself. There are points in the record where it’s easy to picture Merryweather climbing atop the Hammond, dropping his bass, tearing off his peasant blouse and literally thumping his chest as his reinterpretation of mid-60’s hard soul sails out over the heads of a mud splattered audience, some dangling from the scaffolds barely able to believe what they are hearing.
As I said a while back, as I came to terms with my “Janis Joplin problem” it’s not fair to judge artists like this by comparing them to the people who they are imitating. What bands like Merryweather were doing was taking a template of sorts from the soul shouters they loved and combining them with all the pretensions that were plaguing rock music at the time. As was often the case, this combination often yielded mixed results, but sometimes, and I’d go as far as to say that Merryweather qualified, what you got was pretty exciting (as long as you didn’t take he performers as seriously as they sometimes took themselves). Many of these acts took funk and soul influences and ran with them. Sometimes they went (way) too far, but if you take it for what it was – and have a certain affection for the era, as I do – there’s a lot to dig.
The second disc in tonight’s post is one I dug up years ago. When I saw the bands name – Sod – and the title – ‘Too Loose to Get Tight’ – I was pretty sure that the 45 I was holding was the product of a rock band. I was also pretty sure – and putting the needle to the record proved me right – that this particular band had pretensions of Vanilla Fudge-itude. It certainly helps that ‘Too Loose to Get Tight’ opens with a delightful drum break (which has endeared the group to beat diggers and their ilk), and that part 2 (which I’ll save for another day) is an instrumental excursion with a groovy flute solo. Sod recorded a couple of albums (one with the assistance of that other beat diggers pal, David Axelrod), both pretty much along the same lines. While the bands sensibility is a little more restrained than Merryweather’s, that’s OK too. Not everyone had to be as deeply infused with over-the-top-ness, Fudge-itude or whatever you want to call it.
Though neither of these records are actually “soul”, they are both at times soulful, as well as funky***, and if this is in any way your cup of tea, you’re likely to get on board the freak bus and go for a little ride.
If these sounds are not up your alley, rest assured that there is a grip of rather straight ahead funk, pure soul and even a couple of tastes of soul jazz in the on deck circle, so hold tight brothers and sisters.
WOOOO WOOOOO WOOOOOOOOO…
*Many thanks to the few folks that have used the old Paypal link to make donations toward the upkeep of the site. Your help is greatly appreciated.
** A post-Neil Young versions of the Mynah Birds that recorded for Motown
*** Though this has little to do with (perhaps in spite of) the fact that Merryweather screams the word “funky” about eight times in a row during ‘Are You Ready’.