Skip Easterling - Keep The Fire Burning
The term “blue-eyed” soul – generally used to refer to white singers of black music – is often misused. The fact that it’s used at all is problematic. True, there are few white singers that sing soul music with any real power or feel, but the problem is the term “blue-eyed” soul is applied to any white singer trying to sing soul, whether they’re any good or not (I’m looking at you Michael Bolton…). Over the years, singers like Doug Sahm, Mitch Ryder, Felix Caveliere, and Michael McDonald (as well as countless other lesser-knowns) have demonstrated a real feel for the music by without the need to resort to minstrelsy. The bottom line is, “soul” (at least in the musical sense) is an intangible, you either have it or you don’t, and if you don’t and you try too hard, it’ll be obvious in the low quality of your output (I’m still looking at you Michael Bolton). One of the aforementioned “lesser-knowns” who sang with an authentic sense of soul was the great James ‘Skip’ Easterling (for the whole story on Skip check out the interview with him on the Soul Generation site). Easterling made a grip of records in New Orleans through the 60’s and the 70’s, recording for Ron, Alon, Instant and other NOLA labels, and working with both Eddie Bo and Huey Piano Smith. One of his best sides (and a 45 that’s commanding serious coin these days) is the Eddie Bo (written/arranged/produced) jam ‘Keep The Fire Burning' from 1967. The tune, which sounds like a lost b-side to Oliver Morgan’s “La La Man” (also a Bo project), is a hard charging soul dancer (which would explain it’s popularity with the notoriously deep pockets of the Northern Soulies) with one of Easterling’s best vocals. The arrangement is 100% classic Bo (bearing all of the instrumental and vocal hallmarks of his best 60’s productions – for himself and others), and Easterling does this solid foundation justice. Easterling’s other ALON sides (including more upbeat sides as well as some tasty ballad performances), and his later, funkier 45s for Instant (‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’ and ‘Too Weak To Break The Chains”) deserve a high quality reissue (Sundazed? Hello???) that would bring to light the work of an excellent, albeit minor part of New Orleans musical history. The high quality of this record (above and beyond Easterling’s stellar performance) also goes a long way toward demonstrating Eddie Bo’s position as one of the great musical “auteurs” of the New Orleans scene. As demonstrated repeatedly in the Funky16Corners Eddie Bo Jam of the Month, Bo was equally adept as songwriter, arranger, producer, and talent scout which should place him firmly in the first rank of New Orleans soul along with Allen Toussaint and Wardell Quezerque.