NOTE: If you’re one of the regular zip file downloaders, take a few minutes to checkout the mix as well, I think you’ll dig it
Ramrods – Soul Train Pts 1&2 (Rampage)
Tommy Wills – Night Train ’66 Style (AirTown)
Charlie Nesbit Organ Trio – Soul Train (Salvador)
Eddy G Giles – Eddy’s Go Go Train (Murco)
Bobby & the Heavyweights – Soul Train (Mor Soul)
Willie Mitchell – Night Train (Hi)
Hank Ballard – Funky Soul Train (King)
Jackie Paine – Go Go Train (Jet Stream)
Bo Diddley – Soul Train (Checker)
Robert Parker – Funky Soul Train (NOLA)
Relations – Soul Train/Funky Monkey (Community)
Gladys Knight & the Pips – Friendship Train (Tamla)
Little Royal – Soul Train (Trius)
Jason & Pam – Soul Train (Happy Fox)
New Bermuda Steelers – Soul Train (Edmar)
Rim Shots – Soul Train Pts 1 &2 (A1)
I hope everyone enjoyed an excellent, early summer weekend. It was hot and humid here in NJ, but I was digging just sitting on the deck, sipping lemonade, reading some new graphic novels and watching Miles run through the sprinkler.
As I said earlier in the week, I’ve been working up some new Funky16Corners Radio mixes, and I even went back – in a rare fit of revision – and “punched up” a mix that I had already prepared with some new drops, id’s etc, on account of I was feeling inspired and the software that I use to create the mixes allows easy additions.
Today’s edition of Funky16Corners Radio is that very mix, otherwise known as v.25 Funky Soul Train.
Like the recent “Horse” mix, this is a reworking of an old compilation I made for personal use a long time ago, and finally made the transition to an F16R mix. ‘Funky Soul Train’ is a selection of R&B, funk and soul records that all pivot off of the use of trains as musical metaphor, many of them specifically working the ‘Soul Train’ vibe. By this I refer not to the ‘Soul Train’ TV show – though a few of the tunes connect directly to that source – because that phrase was in use years before Don Cornelius ever dragged his mighty afro into the cathode ray tubes of America.
The fact is that the use of trains as metaphor in a musical setting predates even the birth of the blues. To an audience listening in 2007, when trains mean little unless you haul freight or commute in an urban setting, it’s hard to fathom how radically the introduction of rail travel changed the landscape of America. Access to a railroad line meant for the first time that people on the lower rungs of the financial ladder had the ability to escape rural areas and make the transition to the major urban centers, particularly in the North*. This – joined with the general concept of freedom (in all it’s guises) – found trains appearing in all kinds of music, including gospel, blues, jazz, country and rock’n’roll used both literally (including specific trains, railroad lines i.e. The Wabash Cannonball, Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe) as well as figuratively with trains in song standing in for everything from salvation (‘This Train’, ‘Zion Train’) and heartbreak (‘Mystery Train’) to pure unadulterated sex (‘Train Kept a Rolling’).
The record that opens the mix has an especially convoluted history. Though it appears here under the title ‘Soul Train’ by the Ramrods, and was used as one of the earliest themes of the TV show, the recording itself first appeared in 1962 as a tune called ‘Hot Potato’ by the Rinkydinks, which featured the legendary King Curtis not on saxophone, but on guitar! Independent record mogul Bobby Robinson reissued the recording ten years later – with the new artist and title – to take advantage of the TV show, and ended up having a Top 50 R&B hit. I actually had – and dug – this record for a few years before I had any idea that it had any relation to the TV show, until I heard it playing in the background of a video of MFSB’s ‘TSOP” (a later Soul Train theme) that included footage of the show.
I can’t tell you much about saxman Tommy Wills, other than he was probably from Indiana or Ohio. His 45s on the Air Town and Juke labels show up fairly frequently and have a great barroom R&B feel. His ‘Night Train 66 Style’ takes one of the older and more popular train songs (long a favorite of old time ecdysiasts and their accompanists) and throws a little bar-b-q sauce on it. I love the lo-fi attack of this record, along with the crowd noise and hand claps.
The Charlie Nesbit Organ Trio hailed from the great city of Philadelphia, and their ‘Soul Train’ – which I believe to be of an early 60’s vintage – is a great slice of soul jazz with some very nice guitar and, of course wailing Hammond.
Eddy G Giles recorded a number of soul and funk 45s for the Murco label, the finest of which is the POWERFUL ‘Go Go Train’. The tune, which owes an obvious debt to the Godfather of Soul, who made ‘Night Train’ ( a tune on which ‘Go Go Train’ was clearly based) a highlight of his stage show, is a real ass-kicker, with some first rate soul shouting from Eddy (I’m pretty sure that the Jive 5 credited on the label is NOT the Eugene Pitt group) with stops in Louisiana, Fort Worth, Mexico City (?!?) and LA, as well as a namecheck for JB when they get to Atlanta.
‘Soul Train’ by Bobby & the Heavyweights has long been one of my very favorite New Orleans soul 45s. Written by Earl King and Wardell Quezerque and originally recorded by Curly Moore on the Hot Line label (I’m still looking for a copy of that one), Bobby & the Heavyweights version of ‘Soul Train’ was recorded in 1968 and released locally on Mor Soul (also home to a later Benny Spellman 45) and nationally on Atlantic. I’ve never been able to track down any information on the group, though Bobby’s vocal sounds like he spent a fair amount of time listening to Curly Moore’s original.
We come back to another version of ‘Night Train’, taken at a slightly faster pace by none other than Memphis soul giant Willie Mitchell. I believe the backing here is by the Hodges brothers, with arrangement and horns by Mitchell.
The Soul Train takes on a funky vibe with – get ready – ‘Funky Soul Train’, a 1967 entry by Hank Ballard. Another slightly more distant cousin of ‘Night Train’ (maybe once removed), Hank and a band that I assume contained some or all of the Famous Flames lay it down in another excellent 45 from Ballard’s JB-assisted 1960’s renaissance.
Jackie Paine’s ‘Go Go Train’, a Huey P Meaux composition, on Meaux’s Jet Stream label, including a namecheck of Meaux (the Crazy Cajun) is a solid soul mover. Paine also drops mentions of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fontella Bass, the Righteous Brothers, JB, Roy Head, Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee (?!?) & Jimmy Reed.
Speaking of Bo Diddley, and soul trains, we bring you the master’s 1969 contribution to the genre, entitled surprisingly enough, ‘Soul Train’. Recorded during the era when the Chess brothers were trying to soul/funkify all of their big names (including Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf), ‘Soul Train’ features Bo rapping over an organ riff that explodes into a bit of a rave up.
Moving back to New Orleans we have one of Robert Parker’s rarer Nola 45s, ‘Funky Soul Train’. One of the last 45s he recorded for the label, the tune sports a great bass line, some groovy backing vocals and a dose of that patented Parker sound. Parker adopts (yet again) the ‘Night Train’ template – at least lyrically – with stops all over the south, though he also works in a number of dance steps here and there.
The Relations are one of a couple of the later groups in this mix that I know absolutely nothing about. I’ve never seen any other 45s on the Community label and picked up the 45 years ago in an Ebay search for ‘Soul Train’ 45s. ‘Soul Train – Funky Monkey’ works in train sound effects and dance steps and wraps up the whole thing in a very funky package.
‘Friendship Train’ is another classic from the funky side of Gladys Knight & the Pips. Opening with some heavy acid-guitar, and some chugga chuggas from the Pips. A 1969 collaboration with the brilliant Norman Whitfield (who also waxed the tune with the Temptations), ‘Friendship Train’ is one of the heavier sides that Gladys and the Pips would lay down (it’s from the same LP as the monumental ‘Nitty Gritty’) and the production/arrangement is classic Whitfield.
If Little Royal’s ‘Soul Train’ sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a cover of Jackie Paine’s ‘Go Go Train’. Here the namechecks get a slight reworking to include not only Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina, the Staple Singers and Isaac Hayes, but also (keep in mind the first dozen or so times I listened to this song I assumed he was saying ‘Allman Brothers’) the Osmond Brothers (WTF?!?!?). Not sure what he was up to there, but the funk quotient is turned up substantially, so all is forgiven.
Jason & Pam is another mystery group, on another mystery label (Happy Fox) with a heavy 70’s funk vibe. I believe that this and the Relations 45 are examples of groups trying to take advantage of the popularity of the TV series without having any actual connection to it.
I mentioned that a couple of the tunes in this mix had a relation to the Soul Train TV show, and ‘Soul Train’ by the New Bermuda Steelers is one of them (however indirectly). This “cover” of MFSB’s ‘TSOP’ is the highlight of this fairly common steel band LP (sold as a souvenir at a Bermuda hotel). Believe it or not, the drums on this track manage to be pretty heavy, with even the steel drums playing it pretty funky (or at least as funky as steel drums ever get).
This edition of Funky16Corners Radio closes out with another familiar sounding cut, a appropriation/rip-off of a re-appropriation (the Ramrods ‘Soul Train’) in the guise of the Rimshots cover of ‘Soul Train Pts 1&2’. I actually prefer some aspects of this version of the tune, especially the atmospheric guitar solo. The Rimshots were the house band at A1/Al Platinum records, and went on to record a bunch of disco sides in the later 70’s.
Anyhoo…dig the mix (if you’re one of the regular zip file downloaders, take a few minutes to checkout the mix as well, I think you’ll dig it).
* Though the riverboats did pretty much the same thing – especially facilitating the Northern spread of jazz – you pretty much had to live near a major river, say the Mississippi to take advantage of those.