Mr. Fred Smith
“Listen – Let It Crawl – MP3″
The week is well underway, and all is well here in the not-so-mystic East.
Though I haven’t been doing a lot of digging lately* I have been busy in other pursuits, such as mixology (the musical variety thereof), hanging with the fam and reading. I’ve been on a post-apocalyptic tear lately, burning through ‘Earth Abides’ and ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ and just about to jump into ‘Alas Babylon’. The overall effect of hitting this subject matter over and over again is somewhat unsettling (makes me want to stockpile weapons and beef jerky), but the subgenre is a very interesting one. Considering that two of those books were written during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, it’s remarkable how little things have changed.
On the musical tip, I managed to get some more digi-ma-tizing done (not as much as I wanted, but you have to take what you can get), so the flow of soulful ones and zeros should continue unabated.
Today’s selection is another of my record show finds from the fall, in which DJs Prestige, Prime and myself ran roughshod over a huge table of three-dollar 45s and walked away with a number of gems.
When, in the course of flipping through a stack of singles I happened upon the name ‘Society’s Bag’, I recognized it and put the 45 aside immediately pending further investigation. Though I hadn’t heard the record before, I had certainly heard of it, as it had been included in the ‘What It Is’ funk boxed set. When I slid it onto the portable for a preview it took but a few short seconds to realize that this record (and three less dollars) was coming home with me.
It was only when I got home and gave the tune a thorough listen (and the label a closer reading) that the factual stew got a tiny bit thicker.
The song ‘Let It Crawl’, a downtempo funker with groovy clavinet and the occasional bit of vocal punctuation seemed awfully familiar. After a spin or two I realized that the backing track on the record was actually ‘Chittlin’ Salad’ by the Soul Runners. When I saw the name Fred Smith on the label, things started to come into focus.
Fred Smith** is one of the great West Coast R&B/soul/funk record men, having had a long history with the Arvee, Tri-Disc, Mirwood, Keyman and Mo Soul labels and artists like the Olympics, Bob & Earl, the Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band and, more importantly the Soul Runners.
‘Chittlin’ Salad’ is credited to Smith and longtime collaborator James Carmichael. ‘Let It Crawl’ is credited to Smith, arranger Gene Page***, Bob Relf and Earl Nelson****. Relf and Nelson had both been major collaborators of Smith’s at Mirwood.
I can’t say for sure, but it would appear that the Soul Runners personnel may intersect with some of the same players that recorded ‘Hole In the Wall’ as the Packers (more here on that). What I do know is that the Soul Runners were not – as has been widely assumed/reported – the Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band, the only real connection being the involvement of Smith and Carmichael.
It is at this point that the trail grows cold, re-emerging some four or five years later in 1972 when Smith reheated ‘Chittlin’ Salad’ (with some new dressing) as ‘Let It Crawl’. Certainly, this practice is not unheard of (check the article referenced above, as well as the discography of almost any soul label) with backing tracks being recycled all the time, often instrumental reappearing with vocals (or vice versa). If anyone has the details specific to this case, I’d love to hear the story.
I hope you dig the track.
*In person that is. The E-dig continues unabated.
**Smith’s mother was comedienne Effie Smith, well known to funk and soul diggers for her series of “telephone” records, where she performed a comedy rap as if she were conducting a telephone conversation. I have a couple of these 45s and will be sure to post one in the future.
***Page was a major West Coast arranger through the 1960’s and went on to arrange the strings on most of Barry White’s biggest hits.
****Relf and Nelson also known as Bob & Earl (‘Harlem Shuffle’, ‘Dancing Everywhere’) , Nelson also recording under the names Jackie Lee (‘The Duck’) , Earl Cosby, Jay Dee and Chip Nelson (?!?!)