Friday, October 21, 2005

Chuck Wood - Soul Shing-A-Ling

You just have to love b-sides. Some years ago – before we had our son - my lovely wife would sometimes accompany me on digging expeditions. This in and of itself probably isn’t that unusual. The difference is, my wife would actually dig with me. I would provide her with the following basic set of guidelines:
1. Look for unusual labels, small/independent outfits 2. Look for song titles that include tell-tale keywords like “soul”, “funky”, “boogaloo”, “shingaling” etc. 3. Look for interesting artist/band names that give off a soul or funk vibe, i.e. anything along the lines of ‘Fatback Johnsons Goodtime Chicken Shack All Stars’ I even once went so far as to scan a number of labels for her to use as a guide. She would join me in dusty back rooms, rifling through boxes of 45s for hours at a time. Am I not married to the most wonderful, considerate woman?? Indeed I am. So...we’re out on a digging expedition in a blighted burgh across the river from Trenton, NJ, in a store manned by an old hippie who insisted on torturing us by playing early-70’s vintage Wizard rock at high volume, while we dragged various structurally unsound cardboard boxes out from under display cases. The place was typical, in that you had a ratio of one or two interesting records per 1000 (if we were lucky), and only intensive digging would be rewarded in any way. So, we’re flipping through 45s, getting dirty and breathing in that magical mixture of decaying paper, dust and god-only-knows what else that you get in places like that, and my wife says “Hey, look, “Soul Shing-a-ling”. Do you have that?” (see rule #2, above). I did not... I wasn’t familiar with the tune, but decided that I couldn’t pass on a title like that (this was in the days before I owned a portable turntable), and added it to my stack. At the end of the day, I suppose I walked out of that place with 25 to 30 45s. Not many spectacular finds, but some nice stuff (mint copies of James Brown 45s I didn’t have, a couple of Philly funk 45s), and of course ‘Soul Shing-a-ling’. When we got home I dragged out my record guides, and fired up the internet. I started searching for Chuck Wood, and discovered that he had recorded a tune called ‘Seven Days Is Too Long’ that was a big favorite of the Northern Soul crowd. Coincidentally enough, that very song also happened to reside on the other side of the ‘Soul Shing-a-ling’ 45. I cleaned the 45 and slapped it onto the turntable, therein experiencing for the first time one of the great ‘Jeckyll and Hyde” 45s in my crates. What do I mean by that? It’s no surprise that ‘Seven Days Is Too Long’ is a popular Northern spin. It’s a stylish, upbeat dancer with the kind of polish and emotion that gets them out on the floor at places like the Wigan Casino, Blackpool Mecca and Herringbone-on-Slyke (ed. - not a real place) etc. It was so popular that it was reissued at least twice in the UK, first on the Mojo label and then as the flipside to ‘Footsee’ by Wigans Chosen Few (where it would chart in the UK in 1975). It was also covered by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Flip the platter over, and the turntable gets all greasy, with a side that sounds like the Velvet Underground backing the aforementioned Fatback Johnson. ‘Soul Shing-a-ling’ leads off with a decidedly lo-fi, swampy, front-porch guitar riffing over what sounds like a Merry-Go-Round calliope immersed in a vat of molten Velveeta. Chuck falls by with a soulful vocal about how the ‘Soul Shing-a-ling’ is sweeping the nation on TV and “Even in Miami Beach”. Chuck is joined on the chorus by some high pitched, and vaguely off-key backing vocals. The record is so “funky” – in the back country, collard green-y, overalls with one broken strap kind of way - and possessed of such a comparably low fidelity, it sounds like the Chuck Wood that recorded ‘Seven Days Is Too Long’ had a breakdown, returned to the studio, kicked everyone out and recorded ‘Soul Shing-a-ling’ with some people he met at the doctors office. Now – never having heard anything else that Wood ever laid down – it’s entirely possible that ‘Soul Shing-a-ling’ is what he sounded like most of the time, and that ‘Seven Days Is Too Long’ is the aberration. He did record for a number of labels from the late 50’s to the late 60’s, including Mercury, Warner Brothers, SSS Intl., and at one point recorded a song called ‘Chocolate Covered Ants’. Make of that what you will. As the wise owl used to say in the Tootsie-Pop commercial, ‘The world may never know....’.
PS There's soemthing weird going on with my web storage, so I had to move some files and delete others. I will restore them when I get a chance...


Blogger Red Kelly said...

you're preachin' to the choir over here, bro!

what a great B side story!

(although I'm not sure if I'd really want MY wife with me while I'm vinyl diving...)

this is a GREAT tune! tell the mrs. thanks a lot!

10/22/2005 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Lucas said...

Is this the same guy who recorded as Big Chuck Wood for Warner Bros. in the 1950's? I have one on that label called "Paula Bunyon" that sort of sounds like Joe Turner meets The Big Bopper.

10/30/2005 01:31:00 AM  

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