Mr. Joe Tex
Mr. Sam Butera
“Listen – Joe Tex – Ode To Billie Joe – MP3″
“Listen – Sam Butera and the Witnesses – Ode To Billie Joe – MP3″
Welcome to the middle of the week, wherein we dip into the crates for a couple of very tasty versions of one of my all time favorite songs, that being ‘Ode to Billie Joe’.
The OG by Bobbie Gentry is one of the truly great singles of the 60s, and as any dedicated crate digger will tell you, hugely influential by virtue of the countless covers of the song.
While I don’t seek out covers of ‘Ode…’ the way I might with ‘Soul Makossa’, if I pick up an LP and there’s a version of the song on it, it goes right into the keeper pile.
The two takes I bring you today are among my fave covers of ‘Ode…’, one an instrumental and the second a great, soulful vocal.
Joe Tex was of course one of the truly great soul and funk singers of the 60s and 70s. Though Tex was a gifted songwriter, he was also a great interpreter of other people’s material, case in point his 1968 recording of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’.
Where the classic arrangement of the Gentry original – employed as a template by countless other versions – rolls along as slowly as the muddy river in the song, Tex’s take, recorded in Memphis at American Studios is propelled forward by an aggressive rhythm guitar figure and interjections by the horn section. The real not-so-secret ingredient here however is Tex’s vocal. Removing it from the sultry framework of Gentry’s version, Tex rocks out, punching up the lyrics in unusual places, adding soulful interjections (“Black eyes peas. That’s soul food you know what I’m talking about!”) and reimagining the backwoods southern gothic with a dose of funk.
Louis Prima is best known as the man who unconsciously gave David Lee Roth his second wind, but he was much more than that. He started out as a jazz trumpeter before rocketing to fame with then-wife Keely Smith in the 1950s. Though his last high-profile gig was providing voice talent for Walt Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’, Prima remained a steady draw in Las Vegas and on the road for the rest of his life until he was felled by a stroke in 1978.
Aside from his female foils – Smith and later on Gia Maione – Prima’s main on stage partner was saxophonist and bandleader Sam Butera. Butera and his band the Witnesses were a hot live act, at one time including unsung Hammond organ hero Little Richie Varola.
The Butera and the Witnesses version of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ features a funky rhythm section and a wailing lead guitar. Their version (from 1975) is a great showcase for the fact that no matter how much Prima stayed the same, Butera liked to keep things current with the band.
I hope you dig the tunes, and I’ll be back on Friday.