Funky16Corners Radio v.52 – Message From the Meters
Funky16Corners Radio v.52 – Message From the Meters
LaBert Ellis – Cissy Strut (Nonstop)
Grant Green – Ease Back (Blue Note)
Johnny Lewis Trio – Cissy Strut (Luv’n’Haight)
Syd Jones – Cardova (Doctor Bird)
Hoctor – Cissy Strut (Hoctor)
Leon Spencer – Message From the Meters (Prestige)
Earl Van Dyke – Cissy Strut (Soul)
Tommy McCook – Moon Invader (Doctor Bird)
To hear this mix, head on over to the Funky16Corners Radio Podcast Archive
I hope everyone had as excellent a Fourth of July weekend as we did here at Funky16Corners central. We started things off on Thursday with a most excellent fireworks display, following on Friday with lobster and corn (a July 4th tradition in the Grogan household) with the rest of the weekend spent engaged in all manner of rest, relaxation and good times.
The edition of Funky16Corners Radio that I bring you today is one that’s been percolating in what the folks at Soulstrut refer to as my “private mind garden”. Compulsive mixmaker that I am, ideas for new podcasts are constantly being picked up (and often subsequently dropped) and filed away for future reference in the dark recessesof my fevered brain.
As it is, this podcast is based on an old mix CD I made a few years ago that concerned itself with ‘Cissy’ tunes, all sprouting from the UR Cissy tune, the Meters ‘Cissy Strut’, itself based on a dance step.
I was going to turn that into a podcast (and may yet), but the recent acquisition of a few covers of Meters tunes changed my course and Funky16Corners Radio v.52, Message From the Meters (concerning itself entirely with covers of that band’s ouevre) was born.
The Meters first hit the charts in January of 1969 with ‘Sophisticated Cissy’. It was a few months later that they had their biggest hit with the original version of ‘Cissy Strut’, which was an R&B Top 10 hit (Pop Top 20 in many markets). They ended up scoring a number of other R&B hits with singles from their first two LPs.
The Meters intricate Crescent City funk was both popular (thus the ease with which one might acquire their 45s today) and hugely influential, with ‘Cissy Strut’ being covered many times by soul, jazz and funk artists*. As you’ll hear in today’s mix, it wasn’t the only Meters tune to be covered.
The first track in this mix – which it bears mentioning is a departure from our vinyl only policy as it (and the Johnny Lewis track) was never issued on vinyl – is a cover of ‘Cissy Strut’ by a man I consider to be one of the great unsung heroes of the Hammond, Mr. Labert Ellis. Ellis, who operated (like another great organist R.D. Stokes) out of Compton, California, recorded one amazing 45 (‘Dancing In the Streets’ b/w ‘Batman’ on A&M) in 1966. I’ve researched this 45 and from what I’ve been able to turn up it may never have seen anything but a limited promo release in its day (it seems as if the catalog number on the 45 was eventually assigned to another record). That was – for a long time – all I was able to find out about Ellis, until I received an e-mail tip a few years back that a previously unissued 1971 session by Ellis had been released on CD by guitarist Arthur Wright (who had played in a trio with organist). When I finally got my hands on the disc I was thrilled to see that one of the tracks was a cover of ‘Cissy Strut’. That cut – and the rest of the CD – is proof that had he gotten the opportunity, Labert Ellis very well might have gone on to compete with the finest organists of the day. As it was, he never recorded again. Dig the throbbing bass, which is actually Ellis working the bass pedals on the organ.
The name Grant Green should be familiar both to jazz fans and regular visitors to the Funky16Corners blog. He was one of the finest guitarists of the 60s and 70s as both a leader and as one of the busiest sidemen in the Blue Note stable. His cover of ‘Ease Back’ is from his 1969 ‘Carryin’ On’ LP, a personal fave of mine. Green (along with keyboardist Neal Creque) takes ‘Ease Back’ at a relaxed but funky pace. If the OG is too rich for your blood, get yourself a reissue of this album as it is one of Green’s best later sessions with smoking versions of Creque’s ‘Cease the Bombing’ and James Brown’s ‘I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing’.
Johnny Lewis was a Seattle-based sax player who recorded for a number of labels. The sought after ‘Shuckin’ and Jivin’ LP (originally released on the local Jaro label, also home to the Overton Berry Trio), which pulls major coin today was fortunately reissued (with bonus tracks) a few years back by the good folks at Luv’n’Haight. One of the aforementioned bonus tracks was a version of ‘Cissy Strut’, recorded live at the Trojan Horse restaurant in Seattle in 1972 (also issued more recently on the outstanding ‘Wheedles Groove’ comp). Dig if you will the extensive drum breaks and tasty clavinet.
By far, my favorite Meters tune, and a recording that I would (on certain days, as these things change all the time) go as far as to nominate as the funkiest of all time, is ‘Cardova’. I had searched far and wide for a cover of same, and for years assumed that there were none. Until that is I happened – during some random browsing – upon a reissue 45 that contained not one, but two older Jamaican versions of Meters tunes. One of these was a cover of ‘Cardova’ by Syd Jones and the Troubedours. I haven’t been able to track down any info on this record (other than that Jones was apparently from Barbados) , including whether or not it even had an original release. No matter, Jones takes the heavy bass line of the original, slows it down a step or two and whips up a heavy, heavy cover of an already heavy tune.
If you needed any proof that ‘Cissy Strut’ had crossover success, you need look no further than the cover of the tune on the Hoctor label. The Hoctor label was home to a series of dance instruction records (mostly non-funky, with a few notable exceptions) meant for use in dance schools. The identity of the musicians on this 45 have been lost to the sands of time, but the funky groove they laid down is still with us today. Despite the fact that this was intended for leotard clad dance students, the organ and drums manage to be quite tasty indeed.
Organist Leon Spencer recorded a number of excellent soul jazz sessions for the Prestige label. 1970’s ‘Sneak Preview’ was his first album for the label and included his cover of ‘Message from the Meters’ (as well as a version of the Presidents’ ‘5-10-15-20’). Spencer works the Hammond, ably assisted by none other than drummer Idris Muhammad (a NOLA homeboy of the Meters during his childhood days as Leo Morris) and guitarist Melvin Sparks.
Earl Van Dyke led the Motown house band the Funk Brothers on both organ and piano through the 1960’s. He recorded a number of 45s on his own (all worth grabbing) as well as two LPs. The first 1965’s ‘That Motown Sound’ was composed entirely of Motown covers. 1970s ‘The Earl of Funk’ was still mostly covers (as well as recycling his excellent 45 ‘The Flick’) but Van Dyke moves away (somewhat) from Motown to cover a number of contemporary hits, among them the Meters’ ‘Cissy Strut’. Van Dyke’s version features some wailing organ as well as a funky horn section (as long as you can get past the dubbed in audience noise).
The mix closes out with the flip side of the Syd Jones 45, a little number entitled ‘Moon Invader’ by Tommy McCook. As anonymous as Jones is, McCook’s is most definitely a well known name. The saxophonist was leader of Jamaica’s first great recording band, the Skatalites and McCook appeared on countless ska, rock steady and reggae sessions throughout his career. After the Skatalites he went on to form (and record with) the Supersonics. ‘Moon Invader’ which is actually a cover of the Meters ‘Look a Py Py’ is not the same as the song ‘Moon Invader’ recorded by organist Winston Wright (though I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that it’s Wright – who played on the Harry J All Stars ‘Liquidator’ – playing on this). McCook takes the New Orleans funk and lays a little reggae flavor on it.
I hope you dig the mix, and I’ll be back later in the week with some goodness
*I have a few other ‘Cissy Strut’ covers that I’ll have to post in the future
PS Head over to Iron Leg for some freakbeat
PSS Check out Paperback Rider as well