Monday, December 12, 2005

Lou Rawls - Season of the Witch

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Mr. Lou Rawls
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A few weeks ago I posted Letta Mbulu’s ‘Welele’, and promised that I’d be dropping another slice of Axelrod produced magic. That slice is a tasty one, Lou Rawls’ cover of Season of the Witch’. Back in the day, when I was a kid, Lou Rawls was the smooth-voice crooner placing hits in the top 40 that were like a more “adult” (in the mature sense) shot at the Barry White audience, i.e. folks looking to get their love on. The malt liquor is on ice, scented candles are burning and the silky sounds of Lou Rawls are pouring from the hi-fi, setting the scene for a night of “romance” (heh heh...). That is to say, that as a young teen, the sounds of Lou Rawls were inescapable on the AM dial, but at that time were for me, something to wait out until ‘The Streak’ came on. Some years later, when I was starting to delve into the world of soul music, I picked up a couple of volumes of the Rhino Records ‘Soul Shots’ series, one of which included Lou’s mighty ‘Love Is a Hurting Thing’. Suddenly aware that Rawls was something more than a leisure-suited smoothie, I started to keep my eyes peeled for some of his discs from the 1960’s. I eventually picked up a couple of LPs, including the one with ‘Love Is a Hurting Thing’ and a live disc with a fantastic version of ‘Tobacco Road’ that included one of Lou’s patented raps. That’s pretty much as far as I got. Until a few years ago, when I pulled a trashed copy of today’s selection out of a huge pile of unsleeved 45s (I have since “minted up”). The thing that first caught my eye (and ears) was the a-side, a cover of Mable John’s ‘Your Good Thing (Is About To End)’. Mable’s version has always been a fave of mine, and Lou did not disappoint. In fact, it was his singing on ‘Your Good Thing’ that really changed my view of Rawls. I can’t imagine anyone not liking Rawls’ voice. He has a deep, dark baritone and is a masterful singer in a wide variety of styles. He’s as adept soul as he is, jazz, R&B and pop. He started out singing gospel with his high school buddy Sam Cooke, touring with him in the Pilgrim Travelers. After a 1958 car accident that nearly killed him, sidelining him for more than a year, Rawls decided to make the move to secular music, and relocated to the west coast. He was discovered and signed to Capitol Records, where he recorded his first LP in 1962 (the same year he backed Cooke on ‘Bring It On Home To Me’). He recorded a number of LPs for Capitol, hitting the Top 10 with ‘Love Is a Hurting Thing’ in 1966. He hooked up with David Axelrod in 1967 and over the next three years recorded a series of excellent LPs. The 1969 LP, ‘Your Good Thing’ was hit (thanks to the title track which was a #3 R&B hit), and included today’s selection. ‘Season of the Witch’ has been covered a bunch of times (Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills Super Session, Brian Auger/Julie Driscoll, Terry Reid, Vanilla Fudge), I’ve always been partial to the original by Donovan, a hugely underrated (and somewhat misunderstood) performer. Largely because of his hippy dippy demeanor and close proximity to all things trippy in the mid-60’s, Donovan has been tossed by many onto the patchouli-soaked ash heap and forgotten. Those folks ought to grab some of the man’s albums and give them another listen. Because in an era where many of his contemporaries were in fact being sucked into their hookahs never to be heard again, Donovan was writing a lot of quality songs and making records that often crossed stylistic boundaries in new and interesting ways. His mixtures of folk, rock, psychedelia and jazz (yes jazz) were way ahead of their time, and hold up quite well today. Anyway...Lou Rawls take on ‘Season of the Witch’ is notable for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he does the song justice, taking a laid back but funky approach to the material that avoids a lot of the histrionics so common in other versions. Second, the arrangement is tight as hell, with some cool organ work, fuzz guitar in the background and a tasty vocal by Mr. Rawls. Lou stretches things out a bit too, with the track clocking in at almost 6 minutes! That said, with the Mable John cover on the flip, this 45 ought to be an essential resident in any self respecting soul collectors crate (it ought to be pretty cheap, too). Fortunately Stateside (in the UK) has released the compilation, “I Can't Make It Alone: The Axelrod Years” which features all of Rawls’ best collaborations with Axelrod on the Capitol label.

6 Comments:

Anonymous cj grogan said...

As I am indeed looking out my window on my laptop recovering from my recent surgery, I was pleasantly surprised to find Mr.Rawls version of one of my favorite songs. You make a good point about how Donovan is very much underrated. This song lends itself to a slow funky drawl just as much as it lends itself to Donovan's cynical weed soaked version. Anyway, Lou has one of the greatest voices anyway (i.e. duet with Sam on Bring it on Home). I'll have to pick up some moreof the early stuff. Ncie find bro....

12/12/2005 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Hey dude!
Hope you're feeling better.
Larry

12/12/2005 04:20:00 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

nailed it once again, Larry... you got it goin; on!

(I always dug 'fat angel' from the same Donovan album, and I'm not ashamed to say so... sitar and all!)

12/12/2005 07:39:00 PM  
Anonymous ringo said...

man, i discovered your website this june and i check it twice a week. it is the best thing on the internet i discovered so far. i am so glad you keep the heritage alive and convert it for all of the guys abroad that could never lay hands on those vinyls. thanks a lot. and keep it up. it is very much appreciated.

12/12/2005 08:52:00 PM  
Anonymous kirkatron said...

R.I.P Lou

1/10/2006 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Keeping Soul Alive said...

Hi Larry

What a cooking version which was new to me.

I recently bought Brian Auger's version in a fit of nostalgia because it was the theme to a 1969 BBC film of same name. The film features Julie Driscoll the lead singer dropping out in Brighton. This inspired me to the same 3 years later when I went there as deadbeat student!

1/23/2006 04:23:00 AM  

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