To paraphrase the mighty Tenacious D – WARNING! The following music may very well blow the FUCK out of your speakers!
Lou Courtney is a name that has passed the lips of funk collectors with increasing frequency in the last few years.
He had a fairly respectable (in not million selling) career, releasing 18 45s and 3 LPs between 1963 and 1976. His mid-60’s recordings on Riverside/Popside are fantastic (and fairly easy to come by, with the exception of the funky and highly collectible ‘Hey Joyce’), and his lesser known 45s for Verve are also quite good.
His recordings illustrate that Courtney, like most R&B/soul singers of the 1960’s followed a fairly reliable track, following the funk as it became more prominent in the late 60’s, and then stepping back into a more relaxed soulfulness as the 70’s wore on.
As I said before, Courtney has become more popular with funk collectors since DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist sampled the tune ‘Hey Joyce’ for their Brainfreeze mix (the “Brainfreeze phenomenon”, i.e. records having been sampled for that mix soaring in value due to sharply increased demand has repeated itself over and over, from common records like Rufus Thomas’s ‘Breakdown’ to less common sides like Eddie Bo and Inez Cheatham’s ‘Lover and a Friend’). 1967’s ‘Hey Joyce’ (which did not appear on the excellent ‘Skate Now (Shingaling)’ LP of the same year) was a churning slice of proto-funk, and it’s popularity (no matter how late) is not surprising.
The record we’re her to discuss today is about 50 times funkier than ‘Hey Joyce’, and just as hard to locate.
‘Hot Butter’n’All’ was released on the Hurdy Gurdy label, sometime after Courtney’s 1969 45 on Buddah. It is as savage a funk 45 as has ever been laid down on wax, possessed of an energy so explosive as to bring into question how anyone involved in the record left the studio with their lives. It approaches (and perhaps passes) James Brown at his James Brown-iest (though honesty would not exist without the Godfather), and is as edgy as any basement produced-six-copies-known-to-modern-man funk rarity.
Courtney lets loose with a series of screams that would have Wilson Pickett wetting his pants and begging for mercy. The drums are super hard, funky and heavy, the horn section is blaring and the guitar and bass are right on point. The record sounds like Lou and his band (the Funck Junction of ‘Hot Butter’n’All Pt2’ fame on the b-side of this very same 45) were all jammed into a VW microbus with a primitive microphone and sent hurtling down the side of Mt. Everest with nothing but a barrel of hot peppers and a handful of LSD.
The dance-craze lyrics are hilarious (and suspiciously double-entendre-ish):
I put the popcorn on her
Listen to me y’all
I put the popcorn on her
Sho was a mess
My my my my my
Butter on her dress….
Here’s a record that might have been a huge hit, were it not released on the never-heard-of-it, pressed-in-Uncle Fruity’s-basement Hurdy Gurdy label. On the other hand, maybe the record would have been too intense for a larger audience. One can only image scores of Soul Train dancers spontaneously combusting on TV as Don Cornelius stood idly by with tears in his eyes and his afro catching fire at the edges (no doubt the result of a “stone gas” leak somewhere…).
America was already in the grips of a ‘Popcorn’ mania (with all your Mother Popcorns, Honky Tonk Popcorns, Popcorn With a Feelings, Let a Man Come In and Do the Popcorns, Poppin’ Popcorns, Pop Popcorn Childrens etc.), but this may have been the record to blow the whole thing wide open, causing the Black Panthers to replace their berets with Jiffy Pop.
But it didn’t play out like that.
As mighty as it was, ‘Hot Butter’n’All’ didn’t have that kind of impact. Perhaps after a record like that, Lou didn’t have any funk left in him.
It does however remain- in 2005 – as a testament to the ultimate badness of Mr. Lou Courtney.
UPDATE:Agent45 of the Georgia R&B and Soul Records site sends along a label scan (and audio link in the comments section) for another disc on Hurdy Gurdy, 'Life Is Free' by Donald Height that uses the same backing track as 'Hot Butter'n'All'.