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.


Blogger guapo said...

Another great post! By the way I used to have a Village Callers LP. It had two versions of "Hector" on it and a Laura Nyro cover. In fact it was all covers! I sold it, though. I do still have a CD with them doing "Evil Ways" on it. It`s pretty cool.

7/21/2005 04:01:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Mr Barf
I hope you got some dough for that LP - it's worth quite a lot. I have the 45 of 'Evil Ways'. I agree on its coolness.

7/21/2005 09:18:00 AM  
Anonymous tom said...

Thank you, very interesting!

12/08/2005 08:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, i just found this site. Wonderful! Good work.
I just like to say that for once someone has really done their homework regarding the rediscovery of these tunes.
I can safely say that i witnessed the rebirth of this tune in The Limelight club London. It was first played by Kirsten "The Funky Fly".
The opening bars sent people running off the dancefloor, but when the groove came in the place went ballistic!!
This was around '87. These kind of obscure tracks were gaining hold on the London club scene after the initial J.B/Kin/People label craze had died down.
I myself "broke" "The Tramp from Funky Broadway" by The Showmen Inc around the same time. Good times!
Brother Marco. London.

12/16/2005 03:32:00 PM  

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