Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Marlena Shaw - Woman of the Ghetto

Miss Marlena Shaw
From the “time flies while you’re having fun” department, the Funky16Corners blog is rapidly approaching its one year anniversary. As I was going back through the records I’d posted in the last year, I noticed that there was a paucity of female recording artists represented, and perhaps the ladies weren’t getting their propers. This is certainly not due to any lack of female singers/musicians in the Funky16Corners crates, so I have to attribute it to oversight, and do what I can to rectify it, posthaste. As a result, I pulled some favorite Sister funk and soul 45s out, and will feature them over the next few weeks (and do what I can to make sure that more of them get posted from now on). The first of these is a record that I’ve wanted for a long time and only scored a copy of very recently. Marlena Shaw is a name that should be familiar to beat diggers due to the use of the drum break from her version of ‘California Soul’ on the DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist ‘Brainfreeze’ mix. As a result Ms. Shaw’s funkier 45s became something of a hot commodity and started to change hands in an elevated price range (especially for ‘California Soul’ which occasionally breaks the $100 mark). While I dig ‘California Soul’, and wish I had my own copy on 45, the Marlena track I dig the most, and which I bring to the table today is the mighty ‘Woman of the Ghetto’. Readers of the Funky16Corners web zine (and occasional posts here) will know that I am a huge fan of Richard Evans. Evans was the composer/producer/arranger behind the Soulful Strings, as well as any number of amazing records for the Cadet label. He was a master of creating a sophisticated sound and then mixing in unusual instrumental touches. In his years at Cadet he worked his magic with the aforementioned Soulful Strings, as well as Terry Callier, Odell Brown & The Organizers, Dorothy Ashby and of course, Marlena Shaw. Shaw started her career singing with small jazz groups in bars and supper clubs in the Northeast. She was signed to Cadet records in 1966, and had her first hit in 1967 with a vocal version of Cannonball Adderly and Joe Zawinul’s ‘Mercy Mercy Mercy’ (also done vocally by fellow Chicagoans the Buckinghams who had a hit with a similar version a few months after Shaw). Though there are touches of soul on her first Cadet LP ‘Out of Different Bags’, Shaw was mainly a jazz vocalist with a sophisticated pop edge. Her second LP, 1969's ‘The Spice of Life’ still featured a few standards, but Shaw and Evans started to take things in new directions. The arrangements by Evans take traditional orchestrations and flavor them with heavier guitar and drums as well as “world music” touches like kalimba. ‘Woman of the Ghetto’ is not only a departure for Shaw musically, but marked a move into “topical” material. Co-written by Shaw, Evans and Bobby Lee Miller, the lyrics are a powerful social/political statement, and unusual in her Cadet catalogue. She lays down a soulful vocal with bits of improvisational spice. The tune has a slightly menacing edge, with some cool, echoey background vocals. The arrangement builds slowly, with a pulsing bass line and new sounds being added as the record (which clocks in at over five minutes) moves along. At one point Evans seems to run the kalimba through a wah-wah pedal which makes for an interesting effect. The recording stands out as an epic of sorts, and is one of the finest that Evans ever had a hand in (and that’s really saying something). Though the record didn’t chart, it was influential, garnering cover versions in the US by Doris Duke and in Jamaica by Marcia Griffiths, Hortense Ellis and Phyllis Dillon (Shaw’s version appears to have been released in Jamaica). ‘Woman of the Ghetto’ has been sampled a few times as well by both Lyrics Born and No ID. After leaving Cadet, Shaw toured for four years as a vocalist for the Count Basie Orchestra, after which she became the first female vocalist signed to the Blue Note label. In the years since then she has continued to record for Columbia, Verve and Concord Jazz, and still performs today.
WARNING: This is a large file and may take some time to download..


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Larry,

great idea to "rectify" the paucity of sister funk and soul tracks. Looking forward to the upcoming weeks now.
Then I will certainly get to know new tracks (this one I knew of).



11/03/2005 02:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Natalie said...

Have you ever heard the live version of "Woman of the Ghetto"?
The first time I heard it, it gave me the chills! Maybe I'll post that someday (that version is even longer than this one!)

11/10/2005 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Sadly, I have not. Is it on Blue Note?

11/10/2005 04:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Natalie said...

OK, now I don't like to be the type of person that's like "You need to hear this because blah blah blah...!" because I know I hate it when people force stuff on me. However, I'll go against my beliefs and say YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS! I think you'll enjoy it. And, yeah, I think the live album was orig. on Blue Note as well. I have it on a Blue Note compilation called "Say it loud:Brotherhood, pride & groove on Blue Note." I just checked the case and this live version clocks in at 9'51 minutes! I'll post it soon...

11/10/2005 07:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Levon said...

Im not sure, but i allmost want to say that the live version of Woman of the Ghetto was what blue boy sampled for "Remember Me", Track 2 on Mushroom Jazz 1.

The live version can give you chills!

11/13/2005 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Kas said...

Im Sorry if I am totaly wrong. But other sources says Phyllis Dillon did the original of "woman of the Ghetto"

1/12/2006 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

That seems unlikely, as Shaw, Richard Evans and Bobby Lee Miller wrote the song.

1/12/2006 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Kym Thomas said...

I heard on the radio the complete version that Natalie has on her vinyl. Its such a shame that it got edited down when it was put on CD

3/14/2006 01:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Maybe a late comment on this topic, but I just read it for the first time.
The live version is from the LP Live at Montreux (Blue Note, yes) and clocks in at 9'20. Chills, indeed.
If you like funky reggae, there's another very good, slow grooving version by Hortense Ellis on the Impact label. This record was recently re-released on 7" and double LP.

10/22/2006 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger DJ Kool JB said...

says, this is a big file, but where's the link???

4/15/2008 02:28:00 AM  
Blogger YE said...

Marlena Shaw

Live @ The Assembly, Leamington

27th January 2009

11/04/2008 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Quaver said...

Absolutely the best version is the Live Woman of The Ghetto, brings a tear everytime I hear it. It just seems to have more purpose and soul than the recorded version - absolutely awesome. has it for play online.
(Link is sketchy, sometimes works but you can just search)

Love the blog,


1/03/2009 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Alexkaa said...

Hey Larry,

Great site you got here. Love what your doing.
Can you do us a favor and repost this track.
Would love to hear it.

1/20/2009 12:44:00 AM  

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