“Listen – Richard’s People – Yo Yo – MP3″
I hope everyone has made it over to Fufu Stew to check out the guest mix I did (if you haven’t, go now…I’ll wait). Vincent has a good thing going over there, and I was happy to contribute.
Today’s selection is a record that for a long time I hunted like Ahab after the white whale (just as obsessive but with little or none of the biblical subtext). The veteran (and not so veteran) crate diggers in the crowd will be familiar with the feeling that comes when you lust mightily after a particular record, and it eludes you for an extended period of time.
This used to bug me a lot more than it does now. With age and experience comes a certain zen oneness on the vinyl plane in which you come to understand that sometimes you just kind of have to sit back and wait for certain records to reveal themselves to you. Like quicksand, sometimes the more you struggle to get your hands on a 45, the harder it is to get.
I will admit that my eventual acquisition of this particular record came about in a mix of peaceful meditation and bug-eyed covetousness, but I never claimed to be a bodhisattva, just a hunter of records with an eye (and ear) pointed at the bigger picture.
So, anyway…though I knew of ‘Yo Yo’ by Richard’s People, I don’t think I actually heard it until just about a year ago when guest selector Cool Hands Luke dropped the needle on the record and – as the kids say – blew my freakin’ mind.
Starting with that crazy drum break, which sounds like one of those flash southern marching bands just fell into your living room, the tune takes off like a rocket, dropping what I can only describe as some funky-ass, funkity funk, sounding like the Joe Cuba Sextet, the JBs and Cha Cha Hogan locked themselves in the band bus, fired up a fatty and let rip with the music.
Then – again – there’s that break, which busts back in about halfway through the song like an out of control car through your living room wall.
But you know what? As funky and delicious as this record is, I’m here to tell you that it was every bit as mysterious. Until that is I got in touch with Matt “Mr. Finewine” Weingarden of WFMU fame, who hepped me to a couple of crucial – and ultimately mind blowing – facts about the record.
‘Yo Yo’ was released in 1968 on the Detroit based Tuba label, which was active from at least 1963 until about 1971 when the label’s co-owner, Marv Jacobs took his own life. The brief discography includes soul jazz by Johnny Lytle (maybe Tuba’s most prolific artist) Northern Soul by Dee Edwards, funky stuff by Derek Martin (his one Tuba 45, which falls one catalog number below Richard’s People, saw a second issue on Volt in 1968, which is how I was able to date the record*), gospel by Clara Ward and pop by the Cartoons.
Jacobs and his partner Morris Last (Mr. Finewine’s uncle, small world) also worked with Detroit locals like Ollie McLaughlin and New York producers like Joe Brooks. It turns out that the instrumental track for ‘Yo Yo’ originated in New York, and the vocal was added in Detroit by a vocalist named Richard Smith, with ‘Richard’s People’ being little more than a name assigned to the track, never to be used again.
None of this is in and of itself all that amazing. Backing tracks were being bounced around between labels and artists – especially in the world of soul and funk – all the time**.
When I was originally trying to dig up info on Richard’s People and ‘Yo Yo’, I searched the ASCAP database for the authors and the publishing company, and when I saw the results for the “Joe Brooks” with the longest list of song credits, I figured that there was no possible way that the author of the ne plus ultra of 1970’s AM radio sap – ‘You Light Up My Life’ – could possibly have had anything to do with a record as awe inspiring as ‘Yo Yo’ (especially since it didn’t show up in his list of credits).
Well, according to what Mr. Finewine passed on, it looks like this was indeed the case, proving once again the existence of often startling dualities in the universe. Brooks, who made his living as a well paid writer and producer of advertising jingles before his very successful run as a songwriter in the 70’s, is the same guy that wrote (though I can’t say if he performed on the record) ‘Yo Yo’. The next time you start to think that we don’t all live in a very, very strange world, re-read this story.
Though this just may be me working a little bit of a ‘cargo cult’ thing, I find ‘Yo Yo’ to be a record with a lot of depth. There are times when it sounds like a bit of proto-turntablism, constructed as if sampled.
With repeated spins, the oddball structure of ‘Yo Yo’ begins to reveal itself, with the breaks having a certain “pasted in” quality (much like the breaks in Lou Courtney’s ‘Hey Joyce’), almost as if someone heard a drummer working out that heavy shit (“He who drummeth, DRUM!!”) and decided that there was a foundation upon which a song simply had to be built. Certainly this has something to do with the geographical/physical disconnect between the creation of the instrumental and the addition of the vocals and lyrics. It makes me wonder how many other records have a similar history.
As I mentioned before, ‘Yo Yo’ has a Latin edge to it, sounding at times like a reworking of the “cornbread/hog maws” breakdown in Joe Cuba’s ‘Bang Bang’, an aspect that is emphasized further by the flute solo.
Last year a collective of the Bamboos and some of their Aussie pals put out a “comp” (‘Black Feeling’) consisting of covers of classic funk, all performed by made-up acts. The version of ‘Yo Yo’ by the Alvarado Rodriguez Trio takes the Latin vibe of the original and runs with it, making the piano a much larger part of the sound.
That said, I like the fact that a record this powerful is also enigmatic. It’s like some kind of ur document, with no direct precedent and no lame follow-up to tarnish it’s singular brilliance.
‘Yo Yo’ stands alone.
* That and the ‘Here Come the Judge’ reference to a distinctly 1968 craze. I haven’t been able to do anything similar with the ‘Yo Yo’ motif, which doesn’t seem to latch on to anything timely, other than the fact that in 1968 Abbie Hoffman was arrested while performing a yo yo trick in a congressional hearing. The ‘wind it up’ shout out dates as far back as 1961 with Little Junior Parker’s ‘Annie Get Your Yo Yo’, but I haven’t been able to find any similar vogue for yo yo-related dances/dance craze tunes in 1968/69.
** Stay tuned for a similar story in the near future
PS Special thanks go out to the always cool Matt Weingarden, without whom this would have been a very different (and considerably less informative) post. WFMU, where Finewine’s mighty Downtown Soulville show originates is doing their yearly fundraiser. Make sure you drop by (I did) and make a donation to keep THE great freeform station alive.