The Sombrero-delic Ernie & the Top Notes
“Listen – Raymond Winnfield – Things Could Be Better – MP3″
I hope all is well.
The tune I bring you today is one of the finest examples of that small but excellent subcategory of downtempo Crescent City funk (alongside tunes like Willie West’s ‘Fairchild’ and the Rhine Oaks ‘Tampin’). If memory serves, the record you hear today’Things Could Be Better’, with vocals by Raymond Winnfield, was not the first version I heard of this tune. That was likely the instrumental (entitled ‘Things Are Better’) by Ernie and the Top Notes. That song, also on the Fordom label*, was the flip side of the NOLA funk classic ‘Dap Walk’ (anthologized by the fine folks at Stones Throw some years back on a compilation with an oddly familiar title).
Although credited to label owner/producer Albion Ford, it would seem that the tune was written by Ernie Vincent**, leader and guitarist of the Top Notes. Winnfield himself was apparently a local car mechanic (and friend of Ford’s), who was brought in to sing on the track.
Driven by Vincent’s guitar riff, ‘Things Could Be Better’ moves along at a soulful, but fairly unremarkable pace. That is, until Winnfield whips out the first of a series of bloodcurdling screams (careful if you’re wearing headphones), which peak at a volume that suggests to me that he may have actually swallowed the microphone. Fortunately, as Raymond loses it the band kicks things up a notch, with the drummer waking up all of a sudden, and the horns come in blazing. I love the way the tune settles back into the slower groove after the break too. ‘Things Could Be Better’ is the very definition of “raw”, and is a great example of a record that could only have been made in New Orleans.
I hope you dig the tune and I’ll be back on Friday.
*The Fordom discography is short and sweet, with the Ernie & the Top Notes 45, the one by Winnfield and a deep soul 45 by William McGee. I have seen references to some possible variations (including a possible 80s/90s era single by Ernie and the Top Notes) on these 45s but nothing I could confirm.
**I believe the guitarist’s full name may have been Ernie Vincent Williams (I’ve seen it listed both ways)