Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Johnny Adams - South Side of Soul Street

Johnny Adams
For years I only knew Johnny Adams by his epic version of ‘Release Me’, one of the great ballad records to come out of New Orleans. Known as the ‘Tan Canary’, Adams took the country classic and added a deep soulfulness – and a generous helping of vocal filigree – and came within a hairs breadth of “over the topness’. If I had to compare it to another record I’d point to Joe Hinton’s recording of Willie Nelson’sFunny How Time Slips Away’, in which Mr. Hinton scales the cliffs of Mt. Falsetto with an equal amount of daring. ‘Release Me’ is without doubt a great record, but I never heard anything else by Adams (though his reputation certainly preceded him), and assumed he was strictly a ballad specialist. So I’m surfing the web and happen upon a playlist by some funk collector and right in the middle of what looks like a hard hitting set is this record, ‘South Side of Soul Street’ by one Johnny Adams. I was intrigued, and on that basis started to track down a copy. When the tell-tale 7x7 cardboard missile shot out of my mailbox, and the platter was nestled securely on the old GP3, I was more than pleasantly surprised. ‘South Side of Soul Street’ is a funky groover (borrowing some structure from ‘Funky Broadway’) with a great arrangement – dig those doubled flutes – and an aggressive vocal by Mr. Adams. The lyrics are pretty run of the mill funk 45 boilerplate about a groovy crowd that gets together in a funky place where things are banging all night long, but Adams manages to breathe some life into things with a vocal that more than keeps up with the band. As for who may be playing on the record, deeper folk than I will have to bring the knowledge. Info on the label seems to indicate that the session was recorded in Florida and that the tune was written and arranged by someone named RJ Benninghoff , who as far as I can tell was also responsible for at least two LP’s of “Classical Rock” on the SSS Intl. label (I’ve seen pictures and frankly I’d be afraid to listen to them…). Either way, he’s also credited with the funky arrangement herein, so he can’t have been all bad.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers - I Gotta Go Now (Up On The Floor)

In addition to having one of the coolest band names ever, Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers are also responsible for creating one of my all time favorite soul 45’s (seriously, top 10 material). I first heard of Mr. Garvin and his Cravers indirectly, via the Specials cover of ‘Sock It To Em JB’ (from the 1980 LP ‘More Specials’). The Cravers version is a somewhat hotter affair (with some weird phasing on Pt2), but that’s neither here nor there. Garvin and company are a perfect example of what I like to think of as “journeyman” artists, i.e. bands/singers that released a number of 45’s and LPs over a period of time for a variety of labels but never really broke through into the charts. Rex Garvin began his career playing on record with the doowop group the Hearts and Johnnie and Joe. He started releasing records with the Mighty Cravers in the early to mid 60’s on labels like Okeh, Like, Tower, Uptown, and Atlantic (and later at least one LP). Other than that there’s not a lot I could tell you about Garvin or his band. I’ve never been able to track down any biographical information of substance, so the evidence keeps trickling in on 45 labels. Some years ago I picked up a bootleg compilation of hard hitting soul and R&B, which contained todays number, ‘I Gotta Go Now (Up On The Floor)’. I can’t tell you much about the other tracks on the LP, but when ‘I Gotta Go Now’ kicked in the hair on the back of my neck stood at attention and I reflexively reached over and upped the volume. The tune is a storming soul raver from the get go, with Rex wailing and the Cravers egging him on in call and response. One of the things I really like about this record is that – like Chuck Edwards ‘Downtown Soulville’ – it has a “rock” edge to it. The propulsive bass, guitar chops and combo organ bring the tune to a boil and keep it moving all the way to the fade out. It’s easy to imagine Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers at the end of show, soaked in sweat and exhausted gathering up just enough energy to absolutely murder the crowd with a closing number like this. When they hit the chorus and start trading lines…. Rex: I gotta go now! Cravers: Go ahead! Rex: Out on the floor now! Cravers: Go ahead! Rex: I gotta go now! Rex: Out on the floor now! Cravers: Go ahead! Hit it! Git it! Don’t quit it! Hit it! …I can imagine a floor full of ecstatic dancers answering back. Garvin’s vocals work a well worn but still effective Wilson Pickett vibe (can’t knock the Wicked or his many disciples…). In the end ‘I Gotta Go Now…’ is more than just a great party record. It’s like someone was able to harness pure energy and press it into vinyl, ready to blow the tone arm off of the record player and exploding through the speakers, through your ears, into your brain and wrapping around your nerve endings with enough force to shoot you out of your chair. Play this song at high volume.
* The flip side of this record 'Believe It Or Not' is a weird (and cool) cautionary (?) tale of LSD. Clean copies of this record have been going up in price lately (I saw it go over $100 on Ebay, where it ought to be around $30-$50). If that's too rich for your blood, seek out the comps.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Billy Vera & Judy Clay - Really Together

Billy Vera & Judy Clay
I remember back when I was in high school I attended a beer blast a some kids house in a slightly more well to do area than I was accustomed to (friend of a guy I was in a band with). The kid’s Dad was in some peripheral way employed in the “recording industry”, i.e. strictly non-musical, promotions or some such. So, the gang is all liquored up, and this kid breaks open a box of square pinback buttons for a group called Billy and the Beaters. After we all got our “whothefuckartheys” and masturbation jokes about the band’s name out of our systems, we each grabbed several as keepsakes and that’s the last I ever heard of Billy and the Beaters…… Until…. The mid-1980’s rolls around and suddenly Billy Vera and the Beaters have a smash hit (some pile of mush prom theme type tune from the TV series ‘Family Ties’) and suddenly I’m wondering what happened to my Billy and the Beaters badge. Which in a sane world would be neither here nor there and a just and fitting end to an otherwise pointless story… Except for the fact that a year or so later, not long after I’d started digging for soul 45s, I discover that Billy Vera wasn’t always a mush-peddler. The 45 in question was Billy Vera and Judy Clay doing ‘Storybook Children’ – a soul/countrypolitan/pop duet that charted in 1968. The record was a landmark of a kind because it was one of the first interracial duets to hit the pop charts. Many assumed that the theme of the song dealt with interracial romance, but Vera has stated that it’s about adultery. So, nice tune. I still like playing it once in a while (as well as some other nice tracks from the ‘Storybook Children’ LP). The story really picks up some relevance to the old blog when I flipped over said 45, and discovered a little bit of dynamite. The b-side of ‘Storybook Children’ was the hard charging ‘Really Together’. Though credited to Billy Vera and Judy Clay, I’ll be damned if Clay is on the record at all (even the backing vocals on the track are male, probably Vera doubling himself). The tune is a fast moving slice of Southern soul (even if it was recorded in New York City and produced by Chip Taylor (?!?!?), that sounds like it dropped straight out of Muscle Shoals. Vera’s blue-eyed soulboy vocals are right on the money, and the lyrics are great:
I saw a fat man, on the piano Working some joint down in Louisiana With a three fingered guitar player Then I got a hold of dynamite drummer Son of a preacher and a rum runner Bass man got the feelin’ To set any barroom reelin’ And later… With a suitcase in my hand We went up North to the promised land Every joint we played, the marquee said “Straight from the bayou without no shoes!” It’s a solid burner and clocks in at a tasty and economical 1:55! I don’t know if ‘Really Together’ – which for me ranks with the tightest Atlantic soul records of the era – was originally intended for the Vera/Clay LP, or done at an earlier time as a Vera solo 45 (he had other 45s and at least one LP under his own name for Atlantic in the same period). Either way it’s kind of a great lost/hidden treasure; the kind of record I play for people and they’re all ‘Hey! Who’s that?!’. Vera later redeemed himself for any detours into “mush” with his work as a musical historian, compiling and annotating many Blues, R&B and rock reissue projects.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Eddie Bo - Baby I'm Wise

This track may be the earliest number I’ve posted here, but it’s a solid sender (like Little Richard’s friend Linda….stick with me, this is going somewhere…). If’n you don’t know who Eddie Bo is you need to get yourself edumacated, elsewhere on this here blog, as well as at the Eddie Bo Jam of the Month at the Funky16Corners home office. Needless to say (or needful to say, since I’m saying it) Eddie is one of the greats of the New Orleans scene (and just about anywhere else). His career goes way back into the 50’s, and this track is one of his earliest. As you listen to it spool out its one and zeros the chemical reactions that signal familiarity and memory in that brain of your should start firing. I know this song from somewhere, but where? Hmmmmmm….. Now imagine this tune covered with rum and set ablaze like a dish of Bananas Foster (and I do mean bananas…), tornado fingers tearing at the black and whites while about 65 pounds of shiny, processed hair teeters back and forth like so many spinning plates in a jugglers act on the Ed Sullivan show. That’s right Spanky! Little Richard (again). Mister Penniman, during one of his seminal New Orleans sessions for Specialty (fueled by locals like Earl Palmer and Lee Allen) got his hooks into (or “adapted” as the case may be) Mr. Bo’s tune and dragged it through the streets like a muffler hanging off the back of a funny car. I’m not here to deny the power of the Little Richard version - now entitled ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’)’. I am a firm believer in the majesty and raw power of his works. However I am here to hep you to the little heard original material from whence the King of WOOOOOOOOOO wove his sequined jacket. There’s not that much time between the release of Eddie’s version on RIC and Richard’s version on Specialty (probably less than a year, since the Specialty 45 came out in 1956), and in the interim Richard managed to get his name on the writers credits. While the arrangements are substantially different (like the difference between a stern warning and a lengthy jail term), the song performed is not. Richard adds some lyrics here and there and omits the slowed down break from Eddie’s version, but none of his changes (at least in my opinion) rises to the level of authorship.* This of course is in the end neither here nor there. Both men are musical geniuses. Eddie Bo’s ‘Baby, I’m Wise’ is a solid rocker with some nice horns and a great guitar solo (Roy Montrell perhaps???), as well as Eddie’s outstanding vocal. While he may not have been the throat-shredding dynamo Little Richard was, Bo had a memorable, reedy tenor that is especially pleasing in his early, R&B work. Little Richard was of course one of the performers without whom there would be no rock’n’roll. Whenever I hear one of his records, or see a film clip of him in his prime I wonder how me must have looked and sounded to sedate middle-America in 1956. If Bill Haley and the Comets were giving parents the heebie jeebies I can only imagine the effect that seeing Little Richard had. The man was a 20 megaton volume and flamboyance bomb that ignited whenever the needle was dropped on one of his records. If I was 14 or 15 then and hear ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’ or ‘Long Tall Sally’ I would have been GONE from that moment on. I only wish that the rock music that was coming out when I was a kid (mid-70’s) had 1/100th the power…
*For the record, I have no idea who 'D. Johnson' is. Listed as author on the 45 label, I can only suspect that since Mr. Bo has been given credit for authorship (or co-authorship with Mr. Penniman) on subsequent publications, that 'D. Johnson' was someone with their hand in Mr. Bo's pockets.
NOTE: Dan Phillips over at Home of the Groove lays out the whole 'I'm Wise'/'Baby I'm Wise'/Slippin' and Slidin' story in detail.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Jean Wells - With My Love and What You've Got (We Could Turn The World Around)

Jean Wells
For a long time I knew Jean Wells by reputation only, i.e. seeing her 45s turn up on playlists/want lists all over the place. The first record of hers I actually owned was 45 on Philly’s Quaker Town label, produced by none other that Hammond master Charlie Earland. Then a couple of years ago, a friend in New Orleans sent me a mix tape (it always comes back to New Orleans with me, doesn’t it??). In addition to a number of local rarities (including my first listen to Little Buck’s ‘Little Boy Blue’) he included a couple of non-NOLA faves of his. The best of them was ‘With My Love and What You’ve Got (We Could Turn The World Around)' by Jean Wells. I remember the first time I listened to the tape, and being absolutely blown away by this track. It has a storming beat that would surely set the Northern crowd a-drooling, a stunning vocal by Miss Jean and an arrangement to make the sleepiest bench warmer jump out of their seat and onto the dancefloor like a dervish. The record opens with the drums, horns and vibes in a fanfare, with Wells dropping in on a steady 4/4 beat (almost a march) for the verse. When she edges up to the chorus, with cries of ‘Let Me Love you!’, and then everything stops so she can shout out the title it makes for the one of my favorite moments on a soul 45. The fact that she and the band manage to kick things up to yet another level, taking this record from the level of just a solid soul disc to a certified floor filler is incredible. As she cries -
‘Don’t throw in the towel baby! Don’t give up yet! If you let me love you baby, I’ll make you forget! Reach out for me, take my hand! I’ll always be there baby!
-the energy level of the song keeps growing until it reaches a delirious level, where it’s not hard to imagine a room full of dancers positively igniting.
There's also the brilliant conceit of the chorus, wherin the love in question is so strong that it won't just satisfy Jean and her man, it'll turn the world around. Certainly sentiments like that were a lot more common in 1968 (I wish they were today) but that doesn't take away any of their poetic power in 2005. The disc (an early 1968 release) has one foot stylistically in earlier sounds and another in the slightly funkier vibe that was becoming more prominent. The arrangement is credited to Horace Ott (who played on a number of Don Covay 45s and arranged for Nina Simone), and the tune was written by Wells herself. I don’t know that Wells ever got the chance to record a full lp. She had eight 45s on Calla and several others on other labels. I haven’t heard them all, but I can’t imagine many of them approaching this level of perfection. Her Calla recordings were collected on an import-only CD called ‘Soul on Soul” on the Ace label. Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of the 45. It’ll become a cornerstone of your collection.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Brothers of Hope - Nickol Nickol

Long one of my favorite Philly funk tracks, ‘Nickol Nickol’ by the Brothers of Hope is a little known (hence inexpensive) track that ought to be much better known.I grabbed my first copy off of Ebay years ago, mainly because I was picking up as much Gamble Records product as I could get my hands on, and it was less than $10. That proved to be a wise investment, because unlike many sub-$10 funk 45s, this one packs a serious wallop.This is not to say that it’s a model of hard hitting, make your hair stand on end, make some UK fanboy drop a load in his trainers funk.
It’s not.
But what it lacks in sheer dynamic energy it more than makes up for it with a surplus of atmosphere and subtlety (yeah, I know that funk 45s are records not generally known for their subtlety, but that’s because some folks aren’t listening to the right records…).It’s one of the spookiest (and I mean that in a good way) funk 45s in my crates and despite the slower tempo is a serious groover (sounded great when I spun it a few weeks ago, and elicited a few queries from the crowd).Never having seen any info on the group (or any other recorded work), I assumed for a long time that the Brothers of Hope were in fact another in a long line of aliases for the Gamble/Philly International/MFSB rhythm section, including Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, Earl Young , Ronnie Baker and Vince Montana. A recent communiqué from Mr. Eli confirmed as much*.This solid pedigree is evident in the excellent playing on the record. The tune opens with a reverb-ed guitar line, then a second guitar playing a “counter” line. The bass and drums (hard and waaayyy up in the mix) soon follow accompanied by Mr. Montana on the vibes (not sure who’s playing organ here, maybe Lenny Pakula??). There’s a great polyrhythmic thing happening here too that makes ‘Nickol Nickol’ a treat for the ears as well as the feet.One of the cooler things here is the vibes quoting from ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as the record fades out.The flip side is a fairly run of the mill cover of ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’. As I said, you ought to be able to score a copy of this record at a relatively decent price. If even that is too rich for your blood, ‘Nickol Nickol’ was included on one of Soul Jazz’s Philly comps.
* The Philly rhythm section – in addition to their busy schedule backing up a wide variety of artists – also recorded a number of recordsd under other names for a variety of local labels. The word on the grapevine is that a comp is currently being assembled that will include many of these pseudonymous groups. I await it eagerly.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Parliaments - Good Old Music

The Parliaments
I’ve always loved the early 45’s by the Parliaments. They’re a great window into George Clinton’s range as a songwriter and the versatility of the band/vocalists as a whole. The Parliaments were one of the great transitional soul acts of the late 60’s, working a sound that took in traditional Detroit soul, 60’s pop, early funk and bits of psychedelia. From their earliest 45’s for Golden World (the very tasty, and extremely expensive but worth it ‘Heart Trouble’, covered by the Eyes of Blue in the UK) and Revilot (the R&B hit ‘(I Wanna) Testify’, covered by many – including the Parliament-a-delic-a-funky-godawmighty-Thang), it was obvious that Clinton and his various collaborators had their ears pointed all over the place, sounding alternately like a Northern Soul DJs dream (‘I Can Feel The Ice Melting’), a tastefully restrained version of Vanilla Fudge (“Good Old Music”) and the Norman Whitfield-ized Temptations (‘A New Day Begins”). As time went on the smooth soulfulness started to leak out and the progressive – possibly lysergic – freakiness started to seep in. This of course came to a head with the “birth” of Funkadelic, who’s Westbound LPs are the ne plus ultra of psychedelic funk. ‘Good Old Music’ was the a-side of their fifth (and second to last) 45 for Revilot. The record opens with an exceptionally tasty break, and charges out into a wave of fuzz guitar and organ. I reference Vanilla Fudge before, not to damn the Parliaments with faint praise but to illustrate what that bunch of bloated Long Islanders would have sounded like were they capable of writing original material of high quality, and to show a modicum of restraint. Listening to Vanilla Fudge bellow their “rocked out” versions of soul tunes like ‘Take Me For a Little While’ and ‘Shotgun’ – while possessed of a vaguely admirable lunatic over-the-top-ness (endemic in the rock community of the time), they are also slightly painful to behold. This is due in large part to the almost neo-minstrel attack of white boys desperate to appear Wilson Pickett-y yet lacking anything remotely resembling his subtlety. While this is good for a nostalgic laugh now and again (and I’m sure their hearts – if not their instruments - were in the right place), it makes a dyed in the wool soulie like myself nostalgic for the real thing, i.e. soul music performed by singes and musicians that really “got” the music. The Parliaments, especially on tracks like ‘Good Old Music’ and ‘A New Day Begins’ (which was released on Revilot as well as Atco) were moving toward that same Vanilla Fudgey synthesis from the other side of the line, and while this bound to start a classic “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter, you got your peanut butter in my chocolate” tit for tat, rest assured, there ARE important differences. Where Vanilla Fudge got their hands on a little bit of real soul and beat it senseless with their post-Cream, Marshall stack vibe, the Parliaments walked in the door with some of the tastiest soul available and spiced it up just right. They manage to appropriate many of the traits of Fillmore-style rock while managing to maintain the integrity of their own sound. Of course, as time went on the balance between soul and freak-out tipped in the other direction (see Funkadelic’s reworking of ‘Good Old Music’ on their brilliant 1970 debut), but even then the soul (and by then funk) foundation of the music was still unmistakable.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Diamond Joe - Fair Play

Diamond Joe Maryland is at once one of the greatest soul singers of the 1960’s, and also one of the most obscure. His entire recorded output, seven 45’s between 1961 and 1968 involved the collaboration/guidance of Allen Toussaint (who composed all but four of the 13 songs Diamond Joe would record). For the full story on Diamond Joe (or at least what I’ve been able to piece together) check out my article here. Those that follow the sounds of New Orleans closely, Diamond Joe is best remembered for his first 45 ‘Moanin’ and Screamin’ Pts 1&2’ on Minit – a monumental ballad cum dirge – and the powerful ‘Gossip Gossip’ on Sansu – one of the great undiscovered soul records of the 1960’s (from ANY area). ‘Fair Play’ b/w ‘Help Yourself’ was released in 1963 on Minit. ‘Help Yourself’ is classic early 60’s NOLA R&B with a lively vocal by Diamond Joe and rolling piano by Toussaint. It’s yet another example of a high quality tune – with lots of pop potential – that probably never got any airplay outside of the South (but should have been a hit). It’s good enough to require repeated listens, but also fairly typical considering the folks involved. It’s only when you flip the record over that you realize that this is more than your run of the mill Toussaint production. ‘Fair Play’, composed by occasional Toussaint collaborator Allen Orange (who would also record for Minit) and the great Earl (Johnson) King is a slow, thoughtful ballad with an unusual, haunting melody and a remarkable vocal by Diamond Joe. The arrangement is where things really take a strange turn. Aside from a few opening bass notes, the first thing you hear is someone chiming chords on an autoharp, which stands with the vocal as the most prominent sound throughout the record. As soon as the listener gets past the initial shock of hearing something so incongruous, it becomes obvious that this was an absolutely inspired choice on Toussaint’s part. He takes the autoharp, a signature of Carter Family-associated folkies, and uses it in a completely alien context, almost as if he lifted the lid of his piano and ran a pick across the strings. It creates a shimmering base for Diamond Joe’s impassioned vocal, and joins the gradually swelling, deeply spiritual backing vocals to create one of the most interesting and atmospheric 45s ever to come out of New Orleans. It really is something of a lost treasure. I found my first copy years ago at a record show, and despite it’s miserable condition snapped it up because it was a Diamond Joe 45 I hadn’t heard (lucky move there). I fell in love with the record, and it took a long time (but not a lot of dough) to find a clean copy. As far as I know, like much of Diamond Joe’s non-Sansu work, this record has yet to be comped/reissued. PS If anyone has a copy of Diamond Joe’s one 45 for Instant, “Too Many Pots” b/w “If I Say Goodbye” let me know. I’d even settle for a tape.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Willie West - Fair Child

Allen Toussaint
Back in 2002 I grabbed a copy of the ‘Crescent City Funk and more…’ comp on the UK Grapevine label. I addition to having a number of tracks I hadn’t heard it had been put together by Garry Cape and had liners by Jason Stirland, two cats who know what they’re talking about when it comes to old soul and funk. There were lots of NOLA rarities, and some previously unreleased cuts (including Eldridge Holmes ‘Ooh Baby’ which held special interest for me). The track on the comp that really hit me though was ‘Fair Child’ by Willie West. West was a dude with some serious history behind him, having recorded for a number of New Orleans labels through the 60’s (including Frisco and Deesu). His ‘Hello Mama’ on Deesu is a mid-60’s New Orleans classic with a great vocal by West and some of that rolling Toussaint piano. ‘Fair Child’ which I’d never heard of before was an Allen Toussaint composition /arrangement/ production and a mind blower. It featured West’s soulful vocals over a spare, haunting background, featuring bass, drums, organ and acoustic guitar. The record was like almost nothing else I’d heard from the pen/studio of Allen Toussaint (with the exception of Eldridge Holmes’ epic reading of ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ on Deesu, which seems to feature the same guitarist). The tune creeps in like a bayou fog, insinuating, building slowly with a laid back country funk. The acoustic guitar accents are really unusual and the drums manage to be crisp, restrained and funky at the same time. I instantly started to track down a copy of the record, but it proved elusive. It was like a monkey on my back for years, taunting me now and again in Ebay auctions where I wasn’t bidding high enough to bring home the bacon (or vinyl as the case may be). I eventually scored a copy from a seller after a high bidder didn’t pay up (heh, heh…). When the 45 finally dropped through the mail slot, and found its way onto my turntable, I was in for quite a surprise. About six seconds into the 45 a horn section dropped in, and then additional rhythm guitar. It was soon obvious that the mix on the 45 (at least the copy I had) was a much funkier affair than the cut on the compilation. The differences were fairly radical, and took some getting used to. The dark atmosphere of the first version (aside from the lyrics) was replaced by and large by syncopated funk and the record became a much more danceable/upbeat number with a fuller sound. I did some asking around from folks who should know, and was unable to get a definitive answer, though the consensus seems to be that what appeared on the Grapevine comp was an unissued take of the 45 (if anyone knows for sure, please let me know). There’s always the possibility that there was a local issue of the 45 with the different mix, but no one seems to know if it exists (and I can’t think of any other Toussaint/Josie product that came out locally first). Either way, both versions are worth hearing. Listen to the compilation version first, and then the 45 mix, and let me know which one you dig. ‘Fair Child’ is another irrefutable example of the genius of Allen Toussaint. It’s also an example of another absolutely brilliant record that didn’t really get any notice outside of New Orleans. I can’t really think of another musical auteur (writer / arranger/ producer/ performer) that made as many great records of consistently high quality that mainly played in a regional market. Certainly Toussaint wasn’t/isn’t hurting for money, but c’mon…The critics that get in line to build memorials to Burt Bacharach ought to spread some of that love down Louisiana way. As amazing as Bacharach was, Allen Toussaint is his equal – or superior – in every way. Like Bacharach, Toussaint seemed to “write records” more than just songs. His productions and arrangements are as much a part of his songs as what’s down on the sheet music and it’s hard to imagine many of his records reaching the levels of sophistication they do in anyone else’s hands. Unlike Bacharach, Toussaint rarely broke through to the pop mainstream and his songs, as amazing and memorable as they are do not occupy a large segment of the American musical consciousness. The time is long since past for some intrepid label to put together a comprehensive (at least five or six disk) survey of Toussaint’s work from 1960 to the mid-70’s with serious annotation and remastering. There have been smaller (no less admirable) tributes, most notable the recent RPM release ‘The Toussaint Touch’ (which includes ‘Fair Child’) and Sundazed Record’s ‘Get Low Down’ survey of his work with the Sansu and Amy/Mala labels, but neither of these really do justice to the awesome span of his career, working with nationally known artists like Lee Dorsey and stunning local singers like Diamond Joe and Wallace Johnson.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Jesse Hill - Mardi Gras

Jesse Hill
NOTE: Due to some cool recent finds, this weeks posts will be all New Orleans, all the time… Last week I posted a tune by Larry Darnell. As I said then Darnell was one of several Nawlins old-skoolers who jumped back up just as they were tossing dirt on his casket and funked the hell up (as they say). One of the other cats I mentioned was Jesse Hill. Hill’s first (and maybe only) hit was ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’ on the Instant label in 1960, which had the distinction of being the first Allen Toussaint helmed disc to make it big. It was an R&B Top ten hit (Top 30 pop) that became a NOLA standard of sorts, being covered by countless acts in and out of the Crescent City, including the Kingsmen, Ike & Tina, Paul Revere & The Raiders, the Shirelles and Skip Easterling. Hill was a bluesy shouter along the lines of Alvin ‘Shine’ Robinson. Hill also recorded a version of ‘Popcorn Pop Pop’, which Eldridge Holmes waxed for Alon. In addition to playing drums with Professor Longhair and Huey Smith, Hill fronted his own band the House Rockers, which at times featured Eddie Lang and the aforementioned Mr. Robinson. Hill moved to California in the mid 60’s, working mainly as a songwriter and hooking up with fellow NOLA expatriates Harold Battiste, Mac Rebennack and eventually (again) Alvin Robinson. This was good company to keep because they were for all intents and purposes the folks behind the Pulsar label. Prior to a couple of months ago, I had no idea that Jesse Hill had continued to record into the late 60’s. I happened upon a Mod real audio site (which I have been unable to relocate) and saw a link for a Jesse Hill song called ‘Mardi Gras’. I assumed it was probably an earlier track, and was shocked to hear hard, funky soul come out of my speakers. There was no other information on the site, so I started beating the bushes to track down a copy of the tune. Some helpful collector types hepped me to the fact that ‘Mardi Gras’ had been issued on Pulsar, and then an even more helpful collector type agreed to sell me copy. When the disc made it’s way into my mailbox (along with another NOLA gem I’m saving for later this week) I was pleasantly surprised to hear that ‘Mardi Gras’ was every bit as good as I remembered, and the the flip side ‘Free and Easy’ was even funkier (I'll post that up some other time). Though the writing credits for both songs don’t ring any bells, both sides are listed as HALMAC productions (that would be Messrs Battiste and Rebennack) and the band (which undoubtedly includes those gentlemen) lays down some heavy, funky soul. Though I don’t have a complete Pulsar discography, the records I do have and the sounds therein would place this gem in the 1968-1970 range. ‘Mardi Gras’ starts of with some groovy wah-wah guitar and gets into the groove straight away. The lyrics are typical New Orleans party chant with Hill wailing hard and the band cooking just as hard behind him (including the horn sectionlaying down a loose interpolation of 'When The Saints Go Marching In') . He sounds as if he’d been picking up steam steadily since ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’. The flip ‘Free and Easy’ is a funkier side with a prominent bass line and a wild backing chorus with a voice that I’d be willing to bet belonged to Alvin Robinson. Hill went on to record an album for Blue Thumb in the early 70’s and then returned to New Orleans where his fortunes took a turn for the worse. He passed away in 1996, a broken man. As far as I know neither of these tunes has ever been comped. The time for a comp from the Pulsar vaults is way overdue. Someone? Anyone???

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Futurefunk Sessions 2nd Anniversary
@ Lucky Cat, Williamsburg Brooklyn
Roger & The Gypsies – Pass the Hatchet Pt1 (Seven B) Meters – Cardova (Josie LP) Lou Courtney – Hot Butter N All (Hurdy Gurdy) David Batiste & The Gladiators – Funky Soul Pt1 (Instant) Mickey & The Soul Generation – Iron Leg (Maxwell) Brown Brothers of Soul - Cholo (Specialty) Willie West – Fair Child (Josie) Ann Sexton – You’re Losing Me (Seventy Seven) Billy Butler – I’ll Bet You (Brunswick) Soul Runners – Chittlin’ Salad Pt 1 (MoSoul) Lee Dorsey – Give It Up (Amy) Chris Jones – I’m The Man (Goodie Train) Brothers of Hope – Nickol Nickol (Gamble) Georgie Woods – Potato Salad Pt1 (Fat Back) NY Jets – The Funky Chicken (Tamboo) Radors – Finger Licking Chicken (Yew) James K Nine – Live It Up (Federal) Roy Ward – Horse With a Freeze Pt1 (SevenB) Chuck Carbo – Can I Be Your Squeeze (Canyon) Brother Jack McDuff – Hunk of Funk (Blue Note) Tony Newman – Soul Thing (Parrot) Village Callers – Hector (Rampart) Lou Courtney – Hey Joyce (Popside) Ray Barretto – Hard Hands (Fania) Interpretations – Jason Pew Mosso Pt1 (Jubilee) Mr Jamo – Shake What You Brought With You Pt1 (SSS Intl) Fantastic Johnny C – Let’s Do It Together (Kama Sutra) Eddie Bo – Hook and Sling Pt1 (Scram) Explosions – Hip Drop Pt1 (Gold Cup) Louis Chachere – The Hen Pt1 (Paula) Andre Brasseur – The Duck (Palette) Bill Doggett – Honky Tonk Popcorn (King) Art Butler – Soul Brother (Epic) Dyna Might – Borracho (Uni) Lyn Collins – Think (About It) (People) Herb Johnson Settlement – Damn F’Aint (Toxsan reissue)
Hoctor – Cissy Strut (Hoctor)
Many thanks to Sascha at Futurefunk Sessions, and DJ Prestige.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Larry Darnell - Son of a Son of a Slave

A young Larry Darnell
I recently came into some very tasty New Orleans funk 45s (which I will illuminate in this space in due course), but as I have not yet committed these works of genius into ones and zeros, I decided to hark back to one of my very favorite sides from the land of the po’boy. It’s no secret that I love the music of New Orleans. A short detour to my web zine shows that I am nearly obsessed with the funky and soul of the Big Easy (Lets see how many euphemistic nicknames for New Orleans I can fit into one post, shall we???). The fact of the matter is, no matter how hard I dig, no matter how much filthy lucre I pass into the hands of record dealers, no matter how much I network with other collectors, I am consistently rewarded with amazing records I knew nothing about. It seems that despite a lack of national success (or due to an unquenchable striving for same) the musical community of New Orleans, Louisiana kept cranking out soulful and funky records. If they only filled the jukeboxes of NOLA and the surrounding region, nobody probably made much money, but those lucky listeners had themselves a helluva good time. I look back to a time a few years ago when my man Haim and I met up at a local record show and he just had to play me a 45 he was holding to sell to some Euro-digger for much money. The disc was on Instant, one of the more common New Orleans labels (with what turns out are some of the most uncommon 45s in the high end of its catalogue). The artist, Larry Darnell was unknown to me, but the title, “Son of a Son of a Slave” was one of those tip offs that the grooves of that seven inches of plastic held some heat. Sure enough, Haim dropped the needle on the disc, and through a tasteful amount of crackly patina swelled the pounding of one of the tastiest drum breaks I had ever heard on a 45 (out of New Orleans or anywhere else for that matter). The vocal was hot and the twanging guitar kept jumping out over the funky beat. My eyebrows lifted, my interest was piqued and my Spidey-sense started tingling. “How”, I wondered “am I going to get myself a copy of this record???” This was no easy task. As I suggested earlier, if you’re looking for a copy of say Chris Kenner’sLand of 1000 Dances’ on Instant, you and your dearly departed $10 bill will have little trouble collecting said disc and you will be Pony-ing like Bonie Maronie in no time at all. However, were you to seek some of the funkier sides on the Instant label (like some of Kenner’s later stuff, Huey Smith’s “You Got Too Pt1” or David Batiste and the Gladiators “Funky Soul Pts 1&2”, you might have to put Mr. Hamilton back in your wallet and whip out Mr. Franklin to sweeten the deal (or get lucky and score a shall we say “less pristine” copy of any of the above at a bargain price, which is what I eventually did). So, I finally track down a copy of Mr. Darnell’s disc from a dealer known mainly for his “liberal” grading policy and frugal attitude toward matters of packing/shipping. Fortunately for me (and you I guess) the copy was crackly, but not so much that I can’t still have fun listening to it. One of the coolest things about this record is that Larry Darnell was no rookie when he made this 45. Much in the same way that other NOLA journeyman musicians entered the funk sweepstakes – Eddie Bo, Chuck Carbo, Jesse Hill, Kenner etc – Darnell, who’s discography tracks all the way back to 1949 (?!?) was in the autumn of his years as a recording artiste. Darnell proved that an old(er) dog had no trouble at all mastering new tricks and whips the funk on us post haste. He had a great growl to his voice and the backing band (rumored to be the Meters, or at least several members thereof) is kicking ass all over the place. The whole affair was produced (and co-written) by none other than Huey Smith (speaking of your NOLA journeymen) who helmed some very nice records for Instant toward the end of his own career. On a related note, I will be stepping behind the wheels of steel this coming Friday night at Futurefunk Sessions 2nd Anniversary at Lucky Cat, 245 Grand Street • Williamsburg • Brooklyn • 11211 • (718) 782-0437 . Drop in and say howdy. Listeners can expect to hear much heavy funk.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Erma Franklin - Piece of My Heart b/w Baby What You Want Me To Do

Erma Franklin

Earlier this year, during the Grammy Awards broadcast they did several “tributes”, ranging from 5 second “weren’t they wonderful” blurbs with brief shots of the artists (those that were still alive anyway…) in their seats, to full blown, “star studded” extravaganzas. These included a hideous and wholly unnecessary (unless you have a financial stake in the careers of Gretchen Wilson and Lynyrd Skynyrd…) “Southern Rock” rehash, polite nods to Lifetime Acheivement award winners Jerry Lee Lewis and Led Zeppelin, and the unholy conjunction of Melissa Etheridge and hot young star-of-the-moment Joss Stone paying “tribute” (I must apologize for the overuse of ironic/sarcastic quotation marks, but believe me, they’re completely deserved here…) to Janis Joplin. My perception of Janis Joplin has changed drastically over the years. When I was a kid, it was a given that she was one of the great rockers of all time. As I grew older, and was exposed to more music I began to realize that Janis Joplin’s legendary status was as much the result of her larger than life personality, early death and initially shocking sound as it was the quality of her music. Certainly Joplin had a dynamic stage presence, and her largely miserable personal life did a lot to make her one of the great tragic figures of her time and place (that and her position as the cornerstone of the Joplin/Hendrix/Morrison troika of “Oops I Died Before I Got Old”-ism). Unfortunately, I am of the opinion that her lasting legacy will not be as a musician, but as the archetype for hundreds of drunken, tattooed biker chick/bar band singers, all of whom think a bellyful of Southern Comfort is an adequate substitute for talent and taste. This was duly illustrated by the Joplin medley laid down by temporarily soulful Etheridge and barely soulful Stone at the Grammys. What tunes did they pick to illustrate the enduring wonderfulness of Janis Joplin? Two soul covers where the originals (no matter how poorly remembered by the viewing audience) outclass Joplin’s versions by a country mile: Erma Franklin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’ and Garnett Mimms and the Enchanters ‘Cry Baby’ (both written by the great Bert Berns and Jerry Ragavoy). Set aside for the moment that I can barely stand Etheridge’s leather-lunged, sub-Bob Seger rock, or have grown dizzy from the inauthentic stench of Joss Stone’s publicist fueled rise to “soul” stardom. The fact that Joplin’s best remembered tunes (if not her best records) are covers says something about her “greatness”. It’s like doing a tribute to Pat Boone and performing ‘Tutti Frutti’. At least if they did that Little Richard could be expected to jump up and start WHOOOOOOOOOO-ing all over the place and reminding people from whence the Tutti Frutti came. So, all this got me thinking, especially about Erma Franklin. Erma was the older sister of Aretha and Carolyn Franklin (that’s some talented family, huh?). She recorded a number of 45s (and an LP) for Epic, then laid down her best stuff for Shout, and then Brunswick Records. Her Shout 45 of ‘Piece of My Heart’ and ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ was one of the earliest purchases of my soul collecting days, mainly because I had a jones for original versions of tunes. I picked it up for the a-side, and ended up being blown away by the b-side (which is why I’m including both sides). Franklin’s version of ‘Piece of My Heart’ is, compared to Joplin’s take with Big Brother, the very spirit of subtlety. Franklin’s voice is all smooth, controlled power where Joplin’s was ragged, raw energy. The arrangement by Gary Sherman is heavy on the piano and drums and sports a very nice horn chart. When I first brought the 45 home, and saw that the flip was a version of Jimmy Reed’s oft covered but often somnolent ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ , I was underwhelmed. Fortunately my jones for original versions is equaled (perhaps exceeded) by my propensity to flip records over in search of hidden gold. This greed for grooves was rewarded handsomely with perhaps the funkiest Jimmy Reed cover ever laid down (interestingly enough the a-side of her first Shout 45 was a cover of Reed’s ‘Big Boss Man’). The bass and drums provide a solid backing for Franklin’s vocal gymnastics and groovy call-and-response exchanges with her backup singers. From the first day I heard this record it’s been a staple of funky mix tapes/CDs and the kind of disc I’m always trying to turn people on to. After her four Shout 45s in 1967 and 1968, Franklin went on to record several 45s and an LP for the Brunswick label. She passed away in 2002.
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