The Afro Blues Quintet + One - La La La La La
The Afro Blues Quintet + One
Brrrrrrrr! Man, it’s cold here in Jersey....and wet...and depressing. Looking out the car windows this morning there was nothing to see but driving rain, slushy piles of snow, mud and hundreds of other people, trapped in their cars who looked no happier about going to work than my wife and I did. So what to do???? Well, the doctor prescribes a slice of upbeat Friday start-your-weekend soul. Nothing too extreme (don’t want to strain anything), but something just hot enough, with just enough spice to get your blood flowing again, your muscles limbered up and to move your brain out of neutral, so that when you punch out at 5:00 you’re ready to make the best use of your hard-earned free time. How’s about a little Afro Blues Quintet Plus One? “Whodat?” you ask. Well. To begin with, today’s selection ‘La La La La La’ was first recorded in 1962 by Little Stevie Wonder and Clarence Paul (who wrote the tune). It was only Stevie’s second 45 (predating ‘Fingertips’) and didn’t stir up much chart action. Then, a couple of years later, a Chicano band from East LA, the Blendells laid down a very tasty cover of the tune, scoring a Top 10 hit on the West Coast, and going Top 40 in only one city east of the Mississippi, Pittsburgh (proving that city’s musical hipness once again). The Blendell’s version (released initially on Rampart, and then again on Reprise) has the same kind of laid back soulfulness as Cannibal and the Headhunters cover of ‘Land of 1000 Dances’, another East LA classic. The Blendells version opens with the announcement “ I’m gonna do a little song for you now that’ll make you clap your hands, kick your feet, and as a matter of fact, it’ll tear you up!” Indeed! The Blendells went on to record only one other 45 before breaking up As an aside, I would highly recommend picking up any of the ‘Brown Eyed Soul’ volumes released by Rhino for a beginners glimpse into not only the sound of the Chicano bands (the ones I mentioned plus the Premiers, Thee Midnighters and others) but also the soul and R&B by black artists that was such an important part of that scene (and continues to be part of “Low Rider” culture today). Around the time that the Blendells were happening, the Afro Blues Quintet + One were picking up speed. The Mira / Mirwood labels were one of the great LA recording operations of the 60’s. Run by Fred Smith (see Keyman records, Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band etc) ran the labels, with Mirwood focusing mostly on soul and R&B, and Mira hosting a (very) wide variety or sounds, from pop (Carol Connors) to folk rock (The Leaves, Primrose Circus) to jazz (Rene Bloch, Afro Blues Quintet). Formed in 1962 by vibist/leader Little Joe De Aguero, the ABQ worked bits of soul jazz, gospel and latin sounds into a formidable mixture. They recorded at least three LPs (there are apparently a few LPs out there that may or may not be legitimate), and seven 45s (one as Rene Bloch & The Afro Blues Quintet) for Mira. Also featuring pianist Bill Henderson, Bassist Norm Johnson, drummer Michael Davis, reed player Jack Fulks and percussionist Moses Obligacion, the group wasn’t too far off the mark from a Chess/Cadet soul jazz sound, with a little more dance-floor flavor added in. Their Mira LPs featured a wide variety of soul, jazz and pop covers with a sprinkling of originals. The ABQ version of ‘La La La La La’ (from 1967) opens with a solo flute, before the whole group drops in with ‘La La La’s, and handclaps. There’s a fantastic vibes solo by De Aguero, and great flute work by Fulks. They take the tempo of the Blendell’s version and kick it up a few notches for the dancers. The flip side is a relaxed version of ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’. I have to admit, that when I picked this 45 up years ago, I hadn’t heard anything by the group. I just figured with a name like that, and covers like that, it was worth checking out. It was a good investment. Since then I’ve grabbed a few other 45s, and one LP by the ABQ, and as they say ‘It’s all good.’ Individual ABQ tracks have been comped, and their ‘New Directions’ LP has been reissued and BGP has a compilation called ‘New Directions In Sound’ that’s worth picking up.