Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Curly Moore - We Remember

Someday I’m going to develop a shorthand equivalent for the following paragraph:

“_____________(insert artists name here) made some of the coolest soul 45s to come out of New Orleans in the 1960’s, yet had little or no success outside of the Crescent City, and remains virtually unknown to most of the listening public.”

I’ve had to use this statement (or something close to it) countless times when writing about my fave New Orleans artists, so much so that it grates on me (and many others I’m sure), because of what it says about the disparity between the high quality of the music coming out of NOLA in the 60’s and the pitiful amount of public recognition given to the people making those records. One such artist is the great Curly Moore. One such record is Curly Moore’s ‘We Remember’. Much like his homeboy Warren Lee’s ‘Star Revue’, the funky ‘We Remember’ is a winning cross section on self-aggrandizing boasts and shout-outs to other soul greats. Curly namechecks James Brown (Outta sight, Try Me, I Feel Good) , Stevie Wonder (Uptight) , Lee Dorsey (Ride Your Pony), Otis Redding (Security) and his own ‘Get Low Down’, and ‘Soul Train’ (his original cut of the tune on Hot Line later covered by Bobby and the Heavyweights on Mo-Soul and Atlantic). The record features some wild drums, great rhythm work on piano and guitar and bright horns. The backing vocals are a little strange, but seem to work in context (much like the insane horn breaks in Eldridge Holmes’ ‘Pop Popcorn Children’, another Allen Toussaint arrangement). Moore, who recorded three 45s for Sansu, one for Hot Line, one for Instant and one for Roxbury (‘Little Sally Walker’), had a high, reedy voice with a New Orleans twang to it. He was one of the more memorable male vocalists to work with Toussaint in the 60’s. Of his Sansu sides, ‘We Remember’ is the funkiest, ‘Get Low Down’ the swampiest, and ‘Don’t Pity Me’ is the one with the most pop potential (and the rarest, bringing several hundred dollars in a recent E-Bay auction, it’s flip side ‘You Don’t Mean It’ being a fave of the Northern Soulies). His Instant 45, ‘Sophisticated Sissy Pts 1&2’ features some great drums and is a welcome addition to the long parade of NOLA Sissy/Cissy records. The record that bears the name of Curly Moore, and has generated a bit of controversy (I’ve discussed it here before) is ‘Shelley’s Rubber Band’ by Curly Moore and the Kool Ones on House of the Fox. The record has long been accepted as an Eddie Bo product/production, and Bo has stated that Moore had nothing to do with the record. Early on I was inclined to go along with this statement, yet over the years, listening to Curly Moore’s records, I find myself leaning to believing that it is in fact Moore singing/shouting the introduction to ‘Shelley’s Rubber Band’. Not having seen any reference to this by Moore himself, the record in question remains a disputed item. I haven’t heard Moore’s Roxbury 45 (from the early 70’s I’m guessing) and I’m not aware of any other records he may have done. I have also seen it mentioned that he passed away, which I cannot confirm. Most of Moore’s Sansu recordings (excluding ‘You Don’t Mean It’ which has been comped elsewhere) are available on the great Sundazed comp, ‘Get Low Down: The Soul Of New Orleans ’65-‘67’, which includes tons of great music. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Soulful Strings - Burning Spear

Richard Evans
Richard Evans is a genius. Plain and simple. One of the greatest musical minds at one of the greatest record labels ever. A genius. Don’t know who he is? Evans was a producer, arranger, performer (playing bass with Sun Ra at one point) , and songwriter who was one of the driving forces behind Cadet records in the 1960’s,and more specifically the man behind the Soulful Strings. Evans produced (with Esmond Edwards) and arranged for artists such as Marlena Shaw, Woody Herman, Odell Brown, Dorothy Ashby and Terry Callier during his tenure at Cadet. He had a knack for creating expansive, string laden, musical tableaux, that in the most diverse settings always bore his unique stamp. Evans also had the good fortune to work with some of the best studio musicians (many of them members of the Chess/Cadet “house” band) available, including Charles Stepney (keyboards, and a major producer/arranger in his own right), Cleveland Eaton (bass), Phil Upchurch (guitar) , Billy Wooten (vibes) and Lennie Druss (flute). Despite the many landmark sessions he was involved with, Evans signature work was with his group the Soulful Strings. Conceived no doubt as an answer/antidote to the booming “beautiful music” market of the 60’s, the Soulful Strings took what could have been a run of the mill conceit and turned it into something else entirely. Between 1966 and 1971 Evans created seven Soulful Strings LPs on the Cadet label. Employing a repertoire composed almost entirely of covers, Evans and company created a unique sound, combining a sharp, soulful rhythm section with a lush string backing. The results, while occasionally hovering close to the “easy listening” universe, always managed to have something extra that kept things interesting. The really crucial element that made the Soulful Strings sound so successful was Evans talent as an arranger. Much like the great jazz arrangers Evans was painting his musical picture not through a single instrument but through the ensemble. He created a unified musical vibe, while still allowing space for his soloists to shine. His use of an electric rhythm section at the core of his group, as well as flavoring his arrangements with sounds like the kalimba and sitar made for a decidedly modern sound. Evans’ best known original composition – and probably the best known Soulful Strings tune – was ‘Burning Spear’. First appearing on the ‘Groovin’ With The Soulful Strings’ lp (and also released as a Cadet 45) ‘Burning Spear’ was eventually covered by Jimmy Smith, S.O.U.L., Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass and the Salsoul Orchestra (among others) and was redone by Evans during the disco era. Opening with the aforementioned kalimba, followed by a pounding snare, the tune soon kicks in with the flute stating the main theme. The beat never lets up, with the strings adding rhythmic propulsion, and Druss soloing wildly for almost the whole song. There are also some great moments with the flute and vibes playing in unison. In many ways the record’s polish, along with the strong beat presage the disco era. Unfortunately none of the Soulful Strings LPs are currently in print. Tracks are available here and there on compilations (including ‘Burning Spear’), but if you want to immerse yourself in the Soulful Strings experience you’re going to have to track down the original LPs. Most of them aren’t too difficult to find in the $20 - $30 range, and ‘String Fever’ (my personal fave) and ‘Soulful Strings in Concert’ should be high on your list. Their 45s should be much easier to track down at lower prices. Evans now works as a professor at the Berklee College of Music. 'Burning Spear' by the Soulful Strings' was included on the Soul Jazz comp 'Chicago Soul:Electric Blues, Funk & Soul -- The New Sound Of Chicago In The 1960's', which is available at DustyGroove. Stop by the Funky16Corners web zine for a longer look at Evans and his work.

Monday, July 25, 2005

L'il Bob & The Lollipops - I Got Loaded

Camille 'L'il' Bob
I like to sing in the car. There...I said it. Some people sing in the shower. I sing in the car. When I’m driving to or from work (usually the only time I’m alone in the car), and a great song comes on, I’ll start singing at the top of my lungs, drumming on the steering wheel and generally making a fool of myself. I can’t vouch for how this looks from other cars, but I’d guess it falls somewhere between amusing and disturbing (I guess depending on how you process the image of a great big guy covered in tattoos who looks like he’s yelling at no one in particular...). Not every song will send me into such a state. One song that does (every time) is ‘I Got Loaded’ by L’il Bob and the Lollipops. In the service of complete disclosure, I should mention that prior to a few years ago, I had no idea that ‘I Got Loaded’ wasn’t a Los Lobos song (the version I first became familiar with was when they covered it back in 1984). ‘I Got Loaded’ appeared on their LP ‘How Will the Wolf Survive’ and got a fair amount of college radio play at the time. I always liked their recording of the tune, but as I said, had no idea it wasn’t an original. So a few years ago, my buddy Keith sent me a CD called ‘New Orleans Party Classics’, a Rhino comp of old school Mardi Gras hits including cuts by the Hawketts, Al Johnson, Oliver Morgan and others. I popped the disc into the CD player and about halfway through my ears perked up. “HEYYY!”, I thought, “I know this song!”. The tune in question was ‘I Got Loaded’, but the artist was new to me. I popped open the booklet and there was all I needed to know (at least for the moment), about L’il Bob and the Lollipops. I was surprised a second time when I checked the writing credits for the song and discovered that “L’il Bob” was also known as Camille Bob, a name I knew from the very funky 1972 cut ‘Brother Brown’ (Bob recorded funk 45s for the Soul Unlimited and Master Trak labels). It wasn’t too long before I tracked down a copy of the original 45 on the La Louisianne label (a label that still exists to this day). Camille Bob formed the Lollipops in the mid-50’s, recording for the Goldband (see Count Rockin’ Sidney, below), Jin and LaLouisianne labels. By the mid-60’s (“I Got Loaded” came out in 1966) they were performing live every Saturday on the Lafayette, LA TV station KLFY’s “Saturday Hop”. They were equally adept at swamp pop, R&B and soul, and ‘I Got Loaded’ while still a Louisiana fave, is also popular with the Beach Music crowd. They recorded an LP for LaLouisianne, a second LP for Jin a few years later and are still playing today (based out of Houston, TX). “I Got Loaded’ opens with a great guitar riff and is followed quickly by L’il Bob’s high tenor vocals and the horn section. They lyrics are as straight-forward as you’d imagine with a title like ‘I Got Loaded’. Unlike many similar tunes, this not a cautionary tale but rather an endorsement of the intoxicating pleasures of gin, whiskey and wine (variety of course, being the spice of life...). ‘I Got Loaded’ has a swinging, dance friendly tempo and is a perfect mix of swamp pop, R&B and soul (all of which the Lollipops played with equal relish). In addition to the Los Lobos version, ‘I Got Loaded’ has been covered by Robert Cray, Van Broussard, the Boogie Kings and Elvis Costello (as well as appearing on the soundtrack to ‘Bull Durham’). I have also seen a number of references that suggest that that L’il Bob and the Lollipops are covering Texas bluesman Peppermint Harris’s tune of the same name, but having heard his recording I can say that aside from the same title the songs have virtually nothing in common.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Eddie Bo Fans Listen Up!!!

Mr. Eddie BO
Attention Eddie Bo fans! Martin Lawrie over at the outstanding SoulGeneration site has finally assembled his annotated Eddie Bo discography. This is a MUST SEE for fans of the Master. It's a labor of love and an indispensable resource. The discography includes many rare label scans, as well as commentary.

BRAVO Martin!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mickey & The Soul Generation - Iron Leg

Prepare to have the lettuce blown out of your taco...

Back in the day (which for reference purposes is about 10 years ago) I was starting to get the itch to track down some of the lesser known funky music that I’d heard edging into the ether from parts unknown. I was a longtime collector of obscure and cool garage and psychedelic 45s, but my soul and funk (as I knew it) collecting was casual at best. So, one day I’m browsing through the bins at Vintage Vinyl (a once great but sadly depleted local record store) and came across a bunch of bootleg-ish looking CDs called ‘The Sound of Funk’. I knew none of the groups featured, but took a chance and grabbed a few volumes. When I first played these CDs, a couple of tracks knocked me on my ass right away. One was ‘Hector’ by the Village Callers, and the other was ‘Iron Leg’ by Mickey and the Soul Generation. The tune (which you’ll hear if you click on today’s MP3 link) opens with a jarring slash of guitar feedback, followed shortly by fuzz bass and drums. When the feedback ends the band drops into a funky groove, led by Hammond organ. The sound is laid back, but has a slightly sinister edge. Then the chorus/break EXPLODES in a blast of horns and organ, in a funky fanfare that in an instant conjures the red carpet at the Players Ball - all sequins, fur lined pimp hats, diamond canes and platform shoes – crossed with a grainy clip of the Soul Train Line. When the band drops back to “verse” tempo, the organist solos for a while, until the band explodes again, and so on until he record fades out into groove heaven. An absolutely incredible record that at least then, ended in an informational dead end. The CDs had no notes to speak of, yon “internets” had yet to come into full flower, and the concept of “deep funk” had yet to take hold here in the colonies. Fast forward about five years, and word of the Deep Funk “scene” in the UK had made it across the pond, collecting of rare funk was gathering steam (with, by that time, my participation) and information had started to be exchanged on these records. Fast forward another few years, and via the keen eye and generosity of my old pal Haim, I came into possession of my very own copy of ‘Iron Leg’ (in delicious 45 form) and rejoicing was heard throughout the land (or at least my apartment). A few years after that Josh Davis (aka DJ Shadow) tracked down the members of Mickey and the Soul Generation, gathered all of their released and unreleased material and released ‘Iron Leg: The Complete Mickey and the Soul Generation’ on Cal-Tex, one of the best funk comps available. Now, if you Google “Mickey and the Soul Generation”, you’re likely to get the idea that Mr. Davis discovered this music out of the blue and revealed it to a nation starving for funk.. This is to a certain extent true, but ignores the fact that ‘Iron Leg’ was regular spin in the UK as far back as the mid-80’s (on the Acid Jazz scene believe it or not), and was popular when the Deep Funk “scene” started to happen. Were it not for these prescient (and tasteful) Brits, great archival compilations like the Cal-Tex ‘Mickey...” collection may never have happened. This is just another example of the disconnect between popular belief and fact where the genesis of the funk45 scene is concerned, i.e. mistaking the additional interest that hip hop djs have brought to these records for their actual discovery. This is not to say that DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist (among others) haven’t done some amazing work popularizing these sounds to a younger generation, but that some of these listeners need to go back and do their homework. Mickey and the Soul Generation were recording their music in San Antonio, TX in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Their 45s were originally released on the Mr. G and GC labels (each now available to those with upwards of $500 spare dollars in their 45 budget), and then two of them licensed to Maxwell Records for national distribution (these, ‘Iron Leg’ b/w ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Football’ b/w ‘Joint Session’ - the ones I have - findable closer to the $50 mark). Unlike a lot of bands that made rare funk 45s (they weren’t supposed to be rare, of course), M&TSG managed to lay down a fair amount of music (five 45s and an unreleased LP, that came out on the Cal-Tex reissue) that in toto indicates that they really had their own “sound”, and were tighter and hotter than rubber underpants on a fat ass. They were the kind of band, that had they caught on with a larger audience could have had a much more substantial career, instead of fading back into the neighborhoods of San Antonio and obscurity. As it stands, my Mickey and the Soul Generation 45s are permanent residents in my DJ box (I LOOOOOOVE to hear ‘Iron Leg’ blasting out of a big sound system), and thanks to the extra shweeeet Hammond work by organist (and namesake) Mickey Foster, ‘Iron Leg’ makes regular appearances on my Hammond mixes. I can’t recommend the Cal-Tex compilation highly enough. DJ Shadow deserves kudos for his excellent work compiling and annotating 2 CDs worth of incredible music that you’d otherwise have to mortgage your house to afford, and for spurring on a new generation of similarly studious funk reissues.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Count Rockin' Sidney - Deedie Deedie Da

All Hail the Count!!
Straight outta the Turban Hall of Fame, I bring you the mighty Count Rockin’ Sidney! Regular readers of Funky16Corners (site and or blog) will be hip to the fact that I dig all things New Orleans, but this record should serve notice that the Big Easy ain’t the only place in Lousiana from whence great records sprout. I first heard the mellifluous name of Count Rockin’ Sidney (aka Sidney Simien) back in the mid-80’s during the brief but frenzied ‘Toot Toot’ craze/war. There he was, cranking his accordion alongside competing versions of the zydeco novelty ‘My Toot Toot’ by Fats Domino. Jean Knight, Boozoo Chavis and Jimmy C. Newman among others. The first time I heard the tune, I thought to myself “Now here’s a song I can get sick of REALLY QUICKLY...”. As a result, I quickly forgot everything about Count Rockin’ Sidney (except for his name, of course) until the late 90’s when I happened upon a funk record by his highness on a French comp. That tune ‘Bury The Hatchet’ (on the Bold label) was a laid back, swampy dose of funk with an anti-Vietnam twist. When I later tracked down the 45, I discovered that the flip side ‘Back Door Man’ (not the Howlin’ Wolf/Doors tune) was also quite delicious in that funky way. Count Rockin’ Sidney (previously just Rockin’ Sidney) had previously recorded for the Fame, Jin (who also released a 45 by Warren Lee) and Rod labels. His 1963 recording for Jin, “You Ain’t Nothing But Fine” was later covered by the Rockpile and the Fabulous Thunderbirds . He hooked up with the Goldband label in 1965. Goldband was founded in the mid-40’s, releasing country and Cajun records (most notably Cajun legend Iry Lejeune)., and moving into swamp pop, R&B, zydeco, soul and funk through the 50’s and 60’s (releasing records by Phil Phillips and a young Dolly Parton among others). So...I’m out digging at a record show a few years back and discover this little gem in a pile of unsorted 45s (along with a copy of the Count’s ‘Soul Christmas’ – see me in December for more on that one...). I plopped in on the old GP3 portable and was pleased with the results. I slid the dude the princely sum of $2.00 and took this gem home where it could keep my other Louisiana 45s company. But back to the record... As the needle drops, the listener is greeted by a cry of –

“Hey Count Rockin’ Sidney! How ‘bout singin’ Deedie Deedie Da one time fo’ us?”

The crowd shouts in agreement and the Count obliges.. The label says that the track was recorded live at the Casa Blanca in New Iberia, LA. I’m willing to bet that it’s “live” in the studio, but it doesn’t really matter in the end. Count Sidney and band are working a mixture of rock and soul (nuthin’ wrong with that now, is there?). The Count wails on vocals and combo organ, with the guitar, bass and drums reduced to a bass-y rumble underneath. The lack of clarity in the recording suggests a ready made for AM radio feel, that I’m sure sounded great rattling jukeboxes across Louisiana and eastern Texas. Though the lyrics are your basic slightly suggestive dance craze boilerplate, Count Sidney’s vocals are top notch, and the record has a great house party feel that ought to get the feet moving at your next ripple and potato chip party. As I said, Count Rockin’ Sidney went on to much success as a blues and zydeco artist, winning the 1985 Grammy for best Ethnic or Traditional Folk recording for ‘My Toot Toot’. Sadly, Sidney Simien passed away in 1998.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Louis Chachere - The Hen Pt1

A little funk for your weekend.

In my book, there’s just nothing tastier than a funky organ groove on 45. There are a number of reasons that this is so…

1. Most of your best organ grooves appear only in 45 form 2. Organ grooves provide at least 200% of your daily minimum requirement of party starting, butt-shaking, good time 3. Because I said so (you can ignore this your peril!) Anyway, whether it’s R&B, soul, jazz or beat-heavy funk, there are dozens of amazing Hammond sounds out there to be had and heard. I always dug organ sounds, but for years my listening was largely limited to jazz organ (which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself) and the masters thereof, the Jimmy’s Smith & McGriff, Groove Holmes, etc. Then in 1999, my pal Bill Luther hit me up with a righteous birthday present. The CD in question was the ‘Vital Organs’ compilation, compiled and annotated by the mighty Matt ‘Mr. Finewine’ Weingarden of WFMU and record collecting fame (a righteous dude and a man who’s probably forgotten more great records than I’ve managed to collect). I was immediately intrigued. The track listing revealed not a single familiar name (a challenge!), and lots of appealing song titles – ‘The Hatch’, ‘Soul Power’, ‘Put Your Weight On It’, ‘Shimmy’ – the kind of titles that when attached to a dusty 45 pulled out of a moldy box set the spidey sense a-tingling (they’re also the kind of titles you sometimes find on surprisingly un-funky records, but that’s why I got a portable to dig with). So, I get into the car, slide the CD into the player and enjoy a whole other party all the way home. It was all over after that. It’s not often that I can trace my interest in a genre of music back to a specific starting point, but this was one of those times. In the ensuing six years I have spent an inordinate amount of time (and, yes….money) tracking down, and digging up all manner of Hammond action on 45, to the point where I can proudly say that my organ crates are quite healthy and filled with all manner of death dealing heavy hitters, each one guaranteed to leave the house suitably rocked and the dancers sweaty (but happy). Though I still haven’t tracked down all the cuts from ‘Vital Organs’ (and considering the rarity of some of them likely never will), I have managed to snag a copy of ‘The Hen Pts 1&2’ by Louis Chachere. Despite the fact that ‘The Hen’ was released on Louisiana’s Paula label, and the artist in question has a name that sounds like it shows up several dozen times in the New Orleans phone book, this gem is a bit of Kansas City soul. Chachere originally recorded ‘The Hen’ for the local MJC label, and it was then re-released by the Forte label, in Kansas City, MO. Forte was owned by Marva Whitney’s husband Ellis Taylor (her Excello 45 ‘Daddy Don’t Know About Sugar Bear’ was originally issued on Forte). ‘The Hen’ was licensed to, and released by Paula records.

The tune opens with a tighty, funky snare break (one of my fave snare sounds, along with the drums on James K Nine’s - actually Eddie Bo - ‘Live It Up’ on Federal),and the bass and organ jump right in. The melody line is stated first by the saxophones and then Louis drops in wailing on the break.. The jazzy guitar playing is excellent, and the record is very tightly arranged and well produced. ‘Part 2’ starts back in with a lengthy (and tasty) sax solo, followed by a nice section where the bass/drum tandem is brought up in the mix. Both sides of the record put together barely crack the four and a half minute mark, so the dj in you can’t be blamed for wanting to rock doubles and play it all the way through. The beat is irresistible, and Louis and company manage to keep the novelty “chicken” hysterics on a very low boil. I haven’t been able to nail down a release date, though the catalog number on the 45 suggests sometime between 1969 and 1970, so there is a possibility that this was an attempt to capitalize on the Meters ‘Chicken Strut’ (if anyone knows for sure, drop me a line). Mint copies of this classic are unlikely to be had for less than $50 (sometimes more) though I bagged mine at a bargain price because I took a chance (rewarded) that the record had been undergraded. ‘Vital Organs’ is sadly, out of print, though you might be able to track down a used copy. The only other info I could track down about Louis Chachere is that he produced the funky rarity ‘Remember Me’ By the Trinikas.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Professor Longhair & The Clippers - Third House From The Corner

Professor Longhair
If New Orleans is a heaven of a sort, and is populated by saints (who of course march in on a regular basis), leading that number will be none other than Saint Henry Roeland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair. Professor Longhair is one of those artists who’s talent and influence is inestimable, yet is known to most only as a curious name. What he is/was is no less than the Godfather of New Orleans R&B, a master pianist (who influence no less than Fats Domino, Huey Smith, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint) and an inspired performer. Whether he was jamming with the Blues Jumpers, the Shuffling Hungarians (?!?), or the Four Hairs, he squeezed absolute magic out of the piano and spread it over the grooves. Longhair made his one and only chart appearance in 1950 with ‘Bald Head’ and continued to record for several labels, including Mercury, Atlantic (for whom he recorded the original version of his legendary ‘Tipitina’) , Ebb, Federal, Ron, Rip and Watch through the 50’s and 60’s. The three 45s he recorded for Watch in 1964/65 – a remake of ‘Bald Head’, ‘Big Chief Pts 1&2’ and this 45 - represented the “end” of the first, long phase of the Professor’s career. Working with Earl King, Mac Rebennack, Smokey Johnson and Curtis Mitchell, Fess laid down some of the rockin’est sides of his career. The Watch version of ‘Big Chief’ is revered today by funk and soul collectors for it’s intense, second line drums and powerful horn arrangement. It is rightly regarded as a New Orleans classic and is a cornerstone of any Mardi Gras compilation. The number we gather to discuss today is a certifiable curiousity in the Longhair oeuvre. ‘Third House From The Corner’ opens with a distant, ringing piano line (much like the opening to ‘Go To The Mardi Gras’) and is immediately smothered by a loud, somewhat overmodulated organ. As far as I can tell, it’s Fess playing the organ here. The playing doesn’t have the smoothness of a James Booker, sounding at times like someone who was more comfortable on a piano than an organ (ruling out – at least for me – Booker, who was dazzling on both instruments). The background is a simple rhythm guitar line (zat’you Doctor John?), rattling maracas (the drums are practically non-existent here), and a tight horn section. Things really heat up at the beginning of the third “verse”. Someone (Earl King, I think) sings ‘Let me hear you hear you sing your song now!’ and Fess drops in with a helping of his patented vocalizing. I say vocalizing, because no matter how much I enjoy Professor Longhair’s voice, I hesitate to call what he does “singing”. Much like his vocal on ‘Tipitina’ (a tune who’s melody works its way in here) Fess starts to let loose a sound that’s a funky mélange - 10% crawfish boil, 30% hair tonic, and 60% “stayed out too late having a good time”. It’s not hard to picture him pumping the organ keys, leaning into the microphone and letting loose a string of insane ‘Tra-La-La’s’ with a big ole smile on his face. Though I’ve seen references that suggest these sessions were arranged by Wardell Quezerque, I have also heard it suggested that the driving force here was Earl King. King wrote ‘Third House From The Corner’ (as well as composing ‘Big Chief’ and singing lead on Part 2 of that record). The bottom line is that while this is far from Professor Longhair’s greatest performance, it’s one of his most interesting, and not one your likely to hear when the master is being discussed. What it is, is a solid, fun, mid-60’s New Orleans party record with some great players on it. Hearing Fess work the organ is akin to someone like John Coltrane picking up a bassoon – what comes out the business end of the thing may not be the most amazing thing he ever produced, but it’d certainly be worth a listen (or two, or three). After his sides for Watch, Professor Longhair dropped out of sight, working menial jobs, a prophet without honor in his own land. It wasn’t until he appeared at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 1971 that the world outside of the Crescent City started to wake up to the wonder of his piano playing. He would record and tour fairly steadily until his death (at only 62) in 1980.

'Third House From The Corner', 'Big Chief' and other great cuts have been reissued on 'New Orleans Soul 60's: Watch Records'.

NOTE: I finally picked up a copy of the "New Orleans Soul 60's: Watch Records" comp, and the version of 'Third House From the Corner' included on the CD is significantly different from the version released on 45. It features a prominent vocal by Earl King that does not appear on the record.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Tito Puente & His Orchestra - Oye Como Va

"El Rey" Tito Puente
To begin with, a humorous Tito Puente related anecdote… About 26 years ago, when I was just a lad, still in high school, some friends and I got tickets to the “big” show at what was the the Kool (used to be Newport, and not the cigarette…) Jazz festival in NYC. Each year (at least back then) there were one or two big thematic, all-star showcases that anchored the rest of the festival. That year we had tickets to ‘Dizzy Gillespie Presents Unity with Diversity’. It was Dizzy and a gathering of jazz and jazz-related drummers, including Max Roach, Roy Haynes and on the Latin side of things, "El Rey' Tito Puente. Living in close proximity to New York City, I was certainly aware of Tito Puente, but only as an “exotic”, Salsa type guy who I assumed hailed from either Puerto Rico or Cuba. The “Tito Puente” area in my brain was reserved for the fact that he had written ‘Oye Como Va’, which Santana had covered. That was pretty much it. So… the program goes on, and my friends and I are thrilled to be seeing not only Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach, but Patato Valdez and a bunch of other people the mists of time have erased from my already faulty memory. The time drew near, and Tito Puente was announced. He started playing – as brilliant and energetic as you’d imagine - and when he was finished, walked up to the microphone, where to my complete surprise started to address the audience in a New York accent. There I was, expecting to hear the rapid-fire staccato Spanish heard daily spilling out of boom-boxes on the sidewalks of New York (and on Univision), and I get a regular (albeit lively) New York guy. In some ways I think that little surprise – aside from exposing my naivete - made Latin music more accessible to me. Later that year, Santana rolled into New York City on its 10th Anniversary Tour. My buddy Tim and I got tickets to see them at the Palladium (used to be the Academy of Music). Aside from the obligatory “new” songs, which we weren’t digging, Santana was absolutely smoking on the classic stuff, the highlight of which (at least for me) was ‘Oye Como Va’. Say what you want about latter-day Santana (ugh…), but those first three albums feature a very hot band (especially drummer Michael Shrieve) and the mixture of Latin percussion and West Coast rock still makes me turn up the radio whenever I hear stuff like ‘Jingo’, ‘Soul Sacrifice’ or the brilliant three-play of ‘Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen / Oye Como Va’ that takes up most of the first side of ‘Abraxas’. Anyway…(many) years later, thanks to my pal Haim, I’d started to pick up Latin 45s, mostly the funkier stuff (Ray Barretto, Monguito etc) on Fania, but also boogaloo stuff by Joe Cuba, Fred Rodriguez, Willie Bobo (another cat who saw his tunes resurface in the Santana catalog) etc. So I’m out digging one day, and what do I find but today’s gem, the original version of ‘Oye Como Va’ by Tito Puente and his Orchestra on Tico. The tune, which first appeared on Puente’s 1963 LP ‘El Rey Bravo’, is as infectious and lively - if a touch more stylish and restrained – in it’s original form as when laid down by Santana in 1970. The coolest thing – at least to my ears – was that Santana hadn’t strayed from the original arrangement that much. Certainly, the cover version has a much harder “rock” sound, with Santana’s guitar replacing the flute and trumpet from the original, but the structure was still there. In the liner notes to the reissue of ‘Abraxas’, Carlos Santana, speaking about why he chose to cover the song is quoted:
“I thought, this is a song like ‘Louie Louie’ or ‘Guantanamera’. This is a song that when you play it, people are going to get up and dance, and that’s it.”
Old Carlos hit the nail right on the head. ‘Oye Como Va’ is the kind of song that gets normally sedate people out on the dance floor. The rhythm is strong, and the tempo builds slowly but surely with the scratch of the guiro, the congas, and above all the timbales of El Rey. The horn section, led by the soloing trumpet – as well as sundry shouts and whistles from the bandstand – pushes things to another level entirely – until there’s a party spilling out of your speakers. It also helps to know, that the four lines of lyrics to the song (when translated) are basically a chant of “Hey how’s it going? My rhythm is good for partying, babe.” Ain’t that the truth.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Irma Thomas - What Are You Trying To Do

Miss Irma Thomas
I’ve been on record for a long time citing Betty Harris as my fave New Orleans vocalist (though technically she wasn’t a native Nawlins-ian). I am of the opinion that Harris’s work under the guidance of Allen Toussaint made for some of the best records in that cities 1960’s soul (and funk) catalog. Harris and Toussaint had a relationship not unlike that of Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach, in that it reflected the dynamic of a great “auteur” providing material for, and crafting the recordings of his muse. The “other” great female artist with a similar working relationship with Toussaint was the mighty Irma Thomas (who to be fair, is considered by most to be the premier ‘Soul Queen of New Orleans’). Thomas started recording as a teenager for the Ron label, moving on to work with Toussaint at Minit from 1961 to 1963 (when Toussaint went into the Army). Her best work for Minit, including the classic ‘It’s Raining’ achieved huge local status without even grazing the national charts (a fate shared by dozens of brilliant New Orleans 45s). Her contract was sold to LA based Imperial records (a label with a long and fruitful New Orleans connection, principally the recordings of a certain Antoine Domino). During her time with Imperial, Thomas recorded with Eddie Ray and HB Barnum in LA (where her first LP would be recorded), and Jerry Ragavoy and Nick DeCaro in NYC. During the LA and New York sessions she recorded some of the finest soul 45s of the era, including the epic ‘I Wish Someone Would Care’ (written by Thomas herself, and a national Pop and R&B top 20), it’s flipside, the Northern Soul fave ‘Break-A-Way’ and a number entitled ‘Time Is On My Side’ that a little combo named the Rolling Stones had a bit of success with. During this period Thomas recorded songs by Randy Newman, Doc Pomus, Richard Berry and a couple of great numbers written by Van McCoy (including the smooth ‘It’s Starting To Get To Me Now’). Thomas’s Imperial sessions sounded little like her earlier New Orleans work, and when Thomas reunited in the studio with Toussaint in 1965 (still for Imperial) the polish remained. In fact, the sides that Toussaint wrote and produced for Thomas, ‘What Are You Trying To Do’and ‘ Take A Look’ are among the most traditionally sophisticated he’d ever create*. The earlier comparison of Toussaint to Burt Bacharach works not only because of their similar “auteur” status, but because Toussaint occasionally looked to the pop master for stylistic cues (see his arrangement of ‘Until The End’ by Eldridge Holmes). ‘Take A Look’, with it’s Latin undercurrents and sophisticated strings bears the hallmarks of many a Bacharach arrangement/production (take a listen to Chuck Jackson’s version of ‘Any Day Now’ for comparison). The side of the record we’re here to chat about, though, is the spellbinding ‘What Are You Trying To Do’. I mentioned before that ‘Break-A-Way’ was popular with the Northern Soul crowd in the UK, and such is the case with this record, which has appeared on Northern comps and still pops up on soul DJ’s playlists with regularity. The record has a pounding dance beat, Detroit-ish baritone sax flourishes and a wonderful vocal by Thomas, which rises to a crescendo in the approach to every chorus. The tune has a great pop flavor, and the arrangement is polished without losing its edge. It has one of the most finely layered, “uptown” arrangements in the Toussaint catalog. The record opens with the band and strings pulsing, and Thomas coming in gradually. The approach to the chorus, with the background vocals and swelling strings is absolute perfection. This is the kind of record that seems as if it were crafted specifically with dancers in mind. It maintains a beat that is pulsing without becoming obtrusive (letting the strings and vocals push the beat along – the drums are very low in the mix, and the rhythm guitar and tambourine take a more prominent role – and has a sing-a-long chorus that draws the listener inside the record. Thomas’s beautifully modulated voice takes a classy record and moves it to another level entirely. Irma Thomas would record only one other 45 for Imperial – ‘It’s A Man’s-Woman’s World’ – an answer record to James Brown’s ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’, produced by Brown himself – before being dropped by the label. She would record a few sides for Chess, including the underrated ‘We Got Something Good’ - and then bounce from small label to smaller label through the 70’s. * When I refer to this 45 as “traditionally sophisticated”, I do so not to infer that the rest of Toussaint’s work is in any way unsophisticated (it never is), but rather that the two sides of this record conform to a set of stylistic criteria that, when placed side by side with, say, ‘We Remember’ by Curly Moore, would be judged by less informed listeners to have a “cleaner”, more radio friendly sound.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Otis Redding - Shake

Truer words were never spoken...
Let me begin this entry by stating that in my opinion (give that as much weight as you deem necessary), there was no better soul singer than Otis Redding. This is the kind of statement that is guaranteed to start arguments, especially among those folks who would consider themselves “soul” fans. Fortunately for all of us, all I want to do is call Otis “the best”. Were I to do something foolish, like say call him the first (which would be nutty), the shiznit would hit the fan, all hell would break loose, fists (and record guides) would fly, eyeglasses broken, feelings hurt…you know how it is. Anyway… Why do I think Otis was the best? Why would I place him above folks like Solomon Burke, James Carr, Wilson Pickett etc. First of all, in the purely subjective sense, I like his overall catalog better than I like those of the singers I listed (and lots more I didn’t list), even though I love every one of those singers. His music just hits me where I live. In many ways, the voice of Otis Redding defines “soul” for me. His singing embodies the intersection of the sacred and the profane that is at the very root of soul music. It’s as if he started singing and a door was kicked open letting the sounds of the street directly into the amen corner. Redding was alternately a crooner, gospel shouter, rock’n’roller and funky bluesman. It’s as if someone took Sam Cooke, Little Richard and Muddy Waters and tossed them into a blender, added dashes of Tabasco, Georgia pinesap and nitroglycerin and set the whole mess on frappe. The end result is an entirely new sound, where even though you know the bits and pieces are there, the influences have become so enmeshed, the cross pollination so thorough, that the final product transcends it’s sources completely. The voice of Otis Redding, standing on it’s own, was a remarkable thing. It was a raucous instrument, full of potholes and jagged edges, yet possessing so much power and drive that the imperfections disappear in a blur – and – despite that awesome power, capable of a tenderness saturated in tears. Listen to a performance like ‘Try A Little Tenderness’, where in the course of five minutes, Redding takes the tune from a touching ballad to one of the greatest balls-out soul rave ups of all time, sounding as convincing in the first minute as the last. All of this in addition to the fact that thanks to documentary film we can remember today that Redding was a dynamic and captivating stage performer. Redding’s set at the Monterey Pop Festival is a chance to see a performer who seems as if he’s about to leap through the screen. The 1966 LP ‘Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul’ may be his most solid, pre-death LP (which is to say that there was some great work released posthumously). Featuring his original version of ‘Respect’, classic takes on ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and ‘Satisfaction’, and no less than three Sam Cooke covers, the LP is Otis at his best. There are ballads, strong soul moments, inspired covers and all of it backed by the Stax/Volt house band (if ever there was a perfect complement to the voice of Otis Redding it was the sound of Steve Cropper’s guitar). I chose to blog ‘Shake’ – one of the three Cooke covers – not only because it’s a great soul dancer, and ratchets up the energy of the original – but also because it provided the template for the even more energetic cover by the Small Faces (passing the soul on to yet another iteration…). The rhythm section chugs along powerfully, with the horn section breaking in and punctuating Redding’s vocal. In the verses Otis is riding along with the band, but he breaks out during the chorus, so much so he seems like he’s straining against the rhythmic and lyrical constraints of the song. He emits a series of small bursts, one after another, at one point abandoning words and almost speaking in tongues. At the end of the bridge he shouts – “You got to do the thing with SOUL!!’ and as he sings/shouts the word “soul” his voice starts to break. It’s almost like a preacher being overtaken by the spirit and falling to his knees, eyes closed, fists clenched, sweat running from his forehead (see also Brown, James…). The tune goes out with almost as much energy as it starts with, the horns taking a cue from ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ and starting to pick up speed as the song fades out. The LP of ‘Otis Blue’ came with a sticker on the cover that stated ‘This LP Contains Satisfaction’. Truer words were never spoken.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Orlons - Rules of Love

The Orlons
Philadelphia – at least in my opinion – produced more great soul/R&B 45’s in the 1960’s than just about any city outside of Detroit. Boasting a host of prolific local record labels and tons of local talent, there end result was inevitably a surplus of high quality music. One such talented group was the Orlons. Formed in the 50’s the group underwent a few membership changes before auditioning for Cameo/Parkway records in 1961 (apparently at the suggestion of schoolmate Len Barry, of the Dovells and later solo success). The group’s early 45s were unsuccessful – their first taste of success was as backing vocalists on Dee Dee Sharp’s hit ‘Mashed Potato Time’ in 1962. Later that year they made the charts with ‘Wah Watusi’, followed soon by ‘Don’t Hang Up’, ‘South Street’ and ‘Crossfire’, all top 20 hits. The group – featuring lead vocals by Rosetta Hightower - managed to create a vibe that had all the successful aspects of the popular girl group sound and gave it an energetic, soulful twist (the fact that they had a male vocalist in their ranks gave them a slightly different vocal sound). ‘The Rules of Love’ was a top 50 hit in the summer of 1964 (one would imagine it charting higher if not for the huge influx of British Invasion material at the time). “Written” by Cameo/Parkway bigwigs Kal Mann and Dave Appell – I place the word written in quotes since the tune is basically a shameless lift of Ray Charles ‘What’d I Say’, in both style and substance – ‘Rules of Love’ includes fake crowd noise, ringing electric piano, and a fantastic vocal by Hightower, with a rougher sound unlike much of their other work. It’s not hard to imagine this record hitting it big on the dance floors in Philly and down the shore at Wildwood. The Orlons recorded 5 more 45s for Cameo – but nothing better than this - before some more personnel changes and a move to Calla records in 1965. It was for Calla that they would record what I (and almost everyone on the Northern Soul scene) consider their best record, the storming ‘Spinning Top’. Rosetta Hightower moved to the UK in the late 60’s and appeared as a backing vocalist on Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ in 1969 and later on the ‘London Muddy Waters Sessions’.
free web page hit counter