E. Rodney Jones
“Listen – Right On – Right On (Sex Machine) MP3″
Though this is a little late for inclusion on the mid-week tip, I will be following it up on Friday with a brand new edition of Funky16Corners Radio (as well as another one next week), so hopefully my tardiness will be forgiven.
Today’s selection is a cut that I happened upon some years ago during the early stages of my Jerry-O fixation.
Jerry-O (read the story here) was one of those soul cats who managed to record a lot of 45s, but also managed to do so in some fairly well hidden nooks and crannies. Though he had a couple of minor hits, Jerry-O (Jerry Murray to his mama) managed to release a number of records on his own label that also saw release on larger labels, while simultaneously recycling instrumental tracks in a way that created a fair amount of discographical confusion. This is itself was not unusual, as the world of 60’s, small label soul and funk is rife with re-used tracks, oft times given new sets of lyrics and performed by different singers, sometime merely renamed. It’s just that Jerry-O and his associates made something of a cottage industry of the practice, which oddly enough is beside the point – kind of. How it is not beside the point is that Jerry-O was also a producer and songwriter and often worked on records only in one or both of those capacities.
‘Right On – Right On (Sex Machine)’ (which he co-produced with Bernie Hayes) is one such record.
Billed to E. Rodney Jones & Larry & the Hippies Band (triple word score for getting not one, but two ampersands in a band name!), ‘Right On – Right On (Sex Machine)’ is actually a slightly retitled cover of the stoner funk opus ‘Sex Machine’ from the epic ‘Stand!’ LP by Sly & the Family Stone. The tune was also covered by no less that the mighty Woody Herman on one of his funky big band albums for Cadet.
Now, I love me some Sly (more on the master soon), but I have to say that E. Rodney (and Larry and his Hippies) do the best version of the tune that I’ve ever heard.
That the vocal track is so mellifluous has much to do with the fact that Jones was no itinerant funk-meister, but rather one of the most popular/powerful radio personalities in Chicago. As the voice of WVON (the Chess-owned black radio powerhouse) Jones was one of the great radio voices of the last half of the 20th century, and – as any great DJ – a tastemaker. He also – like many of his contemporaries, including Jocko Henderson, Georgie Woods, John R, and Jerry Blavat – made a record or two in his day. That none of these great voices was much of a singer (in the classic sense) matters not a whit. That they managed to crank out a couple of tasty soul novelties here and there only adds to their status as legends.
Jones recorded 45s for Twinight, Double Soul, Tuff and Westbound, some of which – like ‘Soul Heaven’ on Twinight have become highly collectable.
Larry & the Hippies also recorded their own sides for another great Chi Town label, Toddlin’ Town.
‘Right On – Right On (Sex Machine)’ manages to take the original, somewhat lysergic vibe of the original and “turn it up to eleven” by ladling on extra helpings of wah-wah guitar and organ, and sounding like he was sitting at the mike with a huge shit-eating grin, his face illuminated only by the orange coal on the end of a big, fat joint. I’m not suggesting that E. Rodney was in any way a consumer of the kind bud, but rather that his success at creating the impression that he was – via his enthusiastic reading of the song – is a testament to his greatness as a purveyor of the theatre of the mind* (if you know what I mean, and I think you do…).
The “lyrics” – created expressly for this record, since the original was a 13 minute instrumental workout – combine a certain zen minimalism with a kind of black power-lite message, all delivered by Jones in a blissed out fashion.
Jones eventually relocated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he went on to a very successful second chapter as an influential blues DJ. Sadly, Jones passed away in 2004.
* According to IMDB, Jones appeared (at least his voice did) in ‘Three the Hard Way’ and ‘Mahogany’