Funky16Corners Radio v.61 – Focus On Lou Courtney
I Watched You Slowly Slip Away (Philips 45)+
Skate Now (Riverside 45)
Do The Thing (Riverside LP version)
You Ain’t Ready (Riverside 45)
I’ve Got Just the Thing (Riverside 45)
If the Shoe Fits (Popside 45)
It’s Love Now (Popside 45)
I Need You Now (Riverside LP Track)
Me & You Doing the Boogaloo (Riverside LP track)
Hey Joyce (Popside 45)
I’m Mad About You (Popside 45)
Do the Horse (Verve 45)
Rubber Neckin’ Chick Check’n (Verve 45)
You Can Give Your Love To Me (Verve 45)
Tryin’ To Find My Woman (Buddah 45)+
Lou Courtney & Funk Junction – Hot Butter’n’All (Hurdy Gurdy 45)
Beware (Rags 45)
The Best Thing That a Man Can Do For His Woman (Epic 45)
Lou Courtney & Buffalo Smoke – Don’t Stop the Box (RCA LP track)
I hope all is well on your end, and that you all had a most excellent weekend.
My world – on the other hand, is a bit chaotic and stressful right now. As a result, after the mix I’m dropping today, I’m going to take the rest of the week off. I need to relax a little and get my head screwed back on correctly.
Of course, working at a newspaper, there are few weeks as stressful as the one leading up to Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), so maybe this isn’t the best time to try and chill, but my addled brain can only concentrate on so much at any given time. Right now, in addition to the normal work stress, yet another major layoff is looming, and I have lots to concentrate on in my non-work life.
This mix ought to keep you busy, and if that’s not enough, you can always dip back into the podcast archive and whip a little soul on the gang while you’re stuffing your face with turkey, taters and pie.
In the history of the Funky16Corners Radio Podcast (this being the 61st edition thereof), I’ve only done a couple of ‘single-artist’ mixes (Lee Dorsey, James Brown, Eddie Bo, Jerry-O, Soulful Strings). The reason for this, is that this has always been that very few of the artists we cover in this space have ever generated enough material for a mix of their own, and those that have, probably already have compilations on the market. The ethos here being – after all – that what you dig here ought to get you out and digging for more of the same on your own.
However – big however here – as in the case of the Soulful Strings – sometimes I have an artist that I dig a lot, and there is almost nothing available in reissue.
The mix I bring you today is another example of someone like that.
I remember the very first time I pulled a Lou Courtney 45 out of a box and put the needle to the wax. I was out digging with a buddy at a once great spot out in the hinterlands, and I happened upon a grip of 45s on the Riverside label by an artist that I’d never heard of before. Despite the fact that I knew Riverside as a jazz label, a quick look at the titles suggested to me that these were soul 45s. As soon as I sat down to preview the records on the store turntable, my suspicions were confirmed.
That first one I played was the mighty ‘I’ve Got Just the Thing’ by Lou Courtney.
That was probably close to 10 years ago, and that record remains a big fave. It was the beginning of a long search for more of his records, and as you’ll hear in this edition of Funky16Corners Radio, that search was consistently rewarding.
There is however , a catch…
Though I’ve been digging up his records for close to a decade, I’ve never been able to turn up much information on the man. Suitably enough, the little I have found is confirmation that over the years, Lou Courtney let his music do the talking.
Courtney was born Louis Pegues in Buffalo, NY in 1944, and appears to have laid down his first 45 for Imperial in 1963. He recorded fairly steadily, for a variety of companies for the next 15 years.
During that time, while he wrote and recorded some absolutely spellbinding soul and funk 45s, he was also writing for, and producing other artists. The really interesting thing is, that at least in the beginning, he was having as much success as a pop/rock writer as he was as a soul singer.
During the British Invasion years, he and his writing partner Dennis Lambert* wrote songs that were recorded by Freddie & the Dreamers, Leslie Gore and the Nashville Teens among others. On the soul side of things, Courtney went on (often with Robert Bateman) to write for Mary Wells, Lorraine Ellison, Gloria Gaynor, Dee Dee Warwick, the Webs** and Henry Lumpkin.
Though he clearly spent a lot of time working for other artists, he was (at least in my opinion) saving his best material for himself. Though Courtney’s Imperial and Philips 45s are rousing soul sides, by the time he hooked up with Riverside (and its Popside subsidiary) he had crafted a dynamic sound. Courtney had a wonderful voice with a flexible range, as adept with hard edged soul as with a gentle ballad. That he was also a talented songwriter makes his relative obscurity all the more hard to understand.
I’ve gone on in this space before about ‘journeyman’ performers, who managed to record and perform through the classic soul era without ever breaking through to a larger success. Unlike many of those artists, Lou Courtney had more than enough talent to be a much bigger star, yet for any number of reasons was unable to get to that level.
Much like another favorite of mine – Chuck Edwards – Lou Courtney had a knack for mixing pop and rock sounds into his soul. As a result his records have both pop hooks and a heavy edge, forceful enough for the dancefloor but with enough pop savvy to keep the dancers singing along.
Between 1966 and 1968, Courtney recorded an LP (‘Skate Now and Shingaling’, both rare and excellent) and a number of 45s (some of them with amazing non-LP tracks) for Riverside/Popside. Many of the cuts from this era have become prized by both soul and funk DJs. During this period he created storming Northern style cuts like the brilliant ‘Me & You Doing the Boogaloo’ (try not dancing when you hear this one), pop-edged soul like ‘If the Shoe Fits’ and Motown influenced fare like ‘It’s Love Now’.
His Riverside/Popside discography demonstrates that Courtney was an important transitional artist, bridging the gap between soul and funk. There’s not better example of this than the crate digger’s fave ‘Hey Joyce’ (its famous break sampled by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist) It’s important to keep in mind that Courtney was working in a variety of styles during this period, continuing to record mainstream soul and ballads as well as funk.
He moved on to the Verve label by 1968 (for two singles), where he continued to craft danceable soul (like the dance craze ‘Do the Horse’), ballads ( a cover of the Bacharach tune ‘Please Stay’) and edgy funk like ‘Rubber Neckin’ Chick Check’n’.
He laid down one single for Buddah in 1969, the smoking ‘Tryin’ To Find My Woman’. Here (again) Courtney works both prominent guitar and combo organ into the mix, along with blazing, soulful horns.
Sometime in the next few years (1971, I think) he recorded one of the most slamming funk 45s I’ve ever heard, the manic (borderline insane) ‘Hot Butter’n’All’. This is one of those records that’s so powerful it just about makes may hair stand on end. The track was also used by Donald Height (also on the Hurdy Gurdy label) for the song ‘Life Is Free’***.
As far as I can tell, Courtney didn’t record again until 1973 when he went into the studio with Jerry Ragavoy to record for the latter’s Rags label. The funky ‘Beware’ was written by Courtney, produced by Courtney and Ragavoy and arranged by Leon Pendarvis.
The following year Courtney would record the album ‘I’m In Need of Love’ for the Epic label. The lone ballad in this mix, ‘The Best That a Man Can Do For His Woman’ comes from that album, once again co-produced by Courtney and Ragavoy, and arranged by Pendarvis.
Lou Courtney would record one more LP, ‘Buffalo Smoke’ in 1976. By this time he was working on the funkier side of disco. My favorite cut from the LP ‘Don’t Stop the Box’ is a great example of the kind of polished, funky grooves that Steely Dan was clearly listening to at the time (dig the electric piano on this one). Buffalo Smoke would go on to have a disco hit in 1978 with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Stubborn Kind of Fellow’. It was during that year that Lou Courtney would join a later version of the Fifth Dimension, during the period when Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. were out having hits on their own.
I haven’t been able to track down anything on him after that point, other than a few mid-70s sessions as a backing vocalist on other people’s albums (Bonnie Raitt, Michael Boothman). The trail goes cold.
Where is Lou Courtney?
Though ‘I’m In Need of Love’, (highly regarded by modern soul fans) has been reissued, and several early tracks have appeared on compilations over the years, most of his finest work is available only to those willing to head out into the field and dig for vinyl.
This is nothing less than a crime.
Certainly there are countless soulies and crate diggers out there (myself included) who cherish his records, but Courtney’s was no ordinary talent, and is deserving of commemoration. I can offer up this mix, but I suspect that it’s so much ‘preaching to the choir’. Someone out there (Numero, Sundazed) ought to get to work on something (maybe a disc of his own recordings and a disc of his work with other artists?).
I hope you all dig the sounds, and if you’re still out there Lou, know that your music is still loved.
See you all next week.
+ I wanted to represent something from all of the labels Courtney recorded for, but have as yet been unable to get vinyl copies of the Philips, or Buddah sides. The versions here were digital copies I found online, so the sound quality may be a touch substandard. My apologies.
*Lambert went on to write a number of huge hits, including ‘She’s Gone’ (Hall & Oates), ‘Baby Come Back’ (Player), ‘Night Shift’ (Commodores) and ‘It Only Takes a Minute Girl’ (Tavares)
**The Webs were one of the few acts besides Courtney to appear on the Popside label
***The song also appears as an instrumental (by ‘Mr C & Funck Junction’) on the flipside of ‘Hot Butter’n’All’)