Monday, January 30, 2006

Apostles Update and an Important Message...

The Apostles Greetings all. As I was going through my mail this morning, I got a message from a cat named Joe Pipitone, who just happened to be the drummer for the Apostles (who I blogged about here last week), who also sent along the pictures above. Here'sJoe's message: "Larry, I was so surprised to see you found the recording “Six Pack” of the Apostles. I was the drummer in the band. I’ve attached a couple of pics of the group at that time. As you can see we were an all white soul band. The guitar player’s name you were referring to in the recording was Rich Rudolph. Gary Scott was the keyboardist, arranger, and wrote the music. We were heavily influenced by the R&B during that era, and we thought the Meters were really funky! The band had its beginning here in St. Louis, MO back in 1967, and played mostly clubs and school dances. We had two different black male lead vocalists…Marcel Strong and Billy Elam. We recorded 2 singles at Oliver Sain’s studio. We were recruited to come to New York by a guy named Bob Yuri who worked for Universal. He was in St. Louis at the time and caught our act and was very impressed. He also was the manager of a girl singing group called the Glories and he wanted us to back them up in NY. We spent 3 months during there during the summer of 1969, just prior to Woodstock. We played the club circuit in NY and also were the back up band for Chuck Berry in concert, along with the James Cotton Blues Band, and Ten Years After at Flushing Meadow state park. The band broke up in 1970 and we all went on to play in different groups in the St. Louis and throughout the Midwest. Most of us were all pretty young. I was only 17 at the time. Thanks for the great memories! Joe " Thank you, Joe! God bless the interwebs and all that sail on here, for without the instant connections made by even a cursory Google search, a once anonymous (at least to me) band like the Apostles is suddenly brought to life by one of its members. The tune can be heard by scrolling down the page a bit. And now for a public service announcement... This Wednesday I will be going in for some surgery, that will likely have me indisposed and unable to update the Funky16Corners blog for at least a week - possibly longer. I just want those of you that stop by on a regular basis to know that I appreciate the patronage, and that I will be back as soon as physical discomfort allows. If you're new here, there's a ton of great stuff in the archives, and you can always stop by the Funky16Corners web zine and read some of the longer form articles until I crawl from my sick bed. See you soon. Larry

Friday, January 27, 2006

Willie Harper - You You b/w Soda Pop (plus Lee Calvin)

Happy Friday my peeps! I could not be more pleased that the (work) week is coming to an end. I needs me some more sleep, and relax-a-ma-cation and must set aside a few hours to sit-my-ass-down-ism and put-my-big-feet-up-ness. You know how it is. In the last 6 months I’ve made a few crucial strides toward completing my collection of all the 45s on the Sansu label. If you’ve been reading, you know I have a taste for the sounds of New Orleans, and especially the sounds created by Mister Allen Toussaint. As I’ve laid out numerous times here an over at the Funky16Corners web zine, Toussaint really was the “complete package”. His mastery of songwriting, arranging, producing and (last but certainly not least) performing was unparalleled. There were others that did all those things, but not on a level approaching the work in Toussaint’s curriculum vitae. Going back to his first releases as Al Tousan in the late 50’s, through his work with artists like Ernie K Doe, Benny Spellman, Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas, Diamond Joe, Warren Lee, Eldridge Holmes, Wallace Johnson and many, many others, he created a formidable body of work. Studying the work of Allen Toussaint, it’s hard to miss the fact that the name (and the voice of) Willie Harper keeps popping up again and again. Harper worked steadily with Toussaint for most of the 1960’s, as a backing vocalist, “co-star” and featured artist on his own 45s. I first encountered Harper’s smooth, soulful voice several years ago via his first Alon 45 “A New Kind of Love” b/w “But I Couldn’t”. It was one my first – and cheapest - New Orleans 45 scores, and it’s still one of my favorites. When you listen to the breadth of Toussaint’s work, over the course of his involvement with Minit, Alon, Sansu, Amy, Tou-Sea and other labels, it becomes evident (at least to me) that their were artists that brought out the best in him. Whether these were his personal favorites, or even muses it’s hard to say, but many of his best records – those with the extra je ne c’est quoi – seem to be with the same, small group of artists, i.e Betty Harris, Eldridge Holmes, Lee Dorsey. Listening to Willie Harper sing ‘But I Couldn’t’ and ‘A New Kind of Love’ it’s obvious that he was in that group as well. Both sides have elements that are decidedly “New Orleans”, i.e. rolling piano, solid beat, but they also contain elements that transcend the local vibe. Like the production on Irma Thomas’ ‘What Are You Trying To Do’, the sound on ‘But I Couldn’t’ seems to be reaching outside of the Crescent City. Harper went on to record two more 45s for Alon, ‘You’re Gonna Pay’ b/w ‘Power of Love’ and ‘Cloudy Weather’ b/w ‘I’ll Never Leave You’. As I said earlier, Harper worked as a backing vocalist on Toussaint sessions. He’s the high (non Benny Spellman) voice in the background on Ernie K Doe’s ‘Mother In Law’, the harmony voice on Spellman’s ‘Lipstick Traces’, Diamond Joe’s “Hurry Back To Me” and many Lee Dorsey records. He also collaborated with Toussaint as an equal, the Willie in Willie and Allen’s ‘I Don't Need No One’ b/w ‘Baby Do Little’ (another recent find) and the second voice (with Toussaint) on one of the greatest two-siders in the Sansu discography the Rubaiyats ‘Omar Khayyam’ b/w ‘Tomorrow’. Today’s feature is both sides of the one 45 Harper recorded for Sansu under his own name. ‘You You’ b/w ‘Soda Pop’ eluded me for years, and then – in an entirely typical development – I ended up getting it for a bargain price. Listening to Willie Harper sing ‘You You’ makes me wish he’d had the opportunity to record more. He had a mellow tone to his voice that seems like it would have worked well in any setting. The backing is pretty standard for Sansu 45s of the period, i.e. relaxed with lots of laid back guitar, piano and nicely arranged horns. ‘Soda Pop’ runs at a similar tempo, but the arrangement is more complex with a more prominent bass line, and backing vocals from Toussaint himself. I like the melody a lot more on this side, and it’s not hard to imagine this song getting some pop radio airplay, had it in some bizarre way made it’s way put of New Orleans. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (right now coincidentally): Allen Toussaint crafted a bunch of truly amazing records that don’t seem to have been heard by anyone outside of the New Orleans metropolitan area, and that is no less than a Goddamned shame. I would include ‘Soda Pop’ on that list. Willie Harper went on to record at least on more 45, for the Tou-Sea label, and then did backing vocals for the Wild Tchoupitoulas in the early 70’s. After that, it’s anyone’s guess..... As a special bonus, I’m also posting a great track from Lee Calvin’s one Sansu 45. His was another disc that I had never even seen a copy for sale until a month or so ago, and I grabbed it (also not expensive, strangely enough). I know absolutely nothing about Calvin, aside from the fact that ‘You Got Me’ is at the very least a great example of the Sansu sound. Calvin’s vocals are recorded with a lot more echo than I’m accustomed to hearing on Sansu 45s, and the upbeat arrangement is quite good.
PS Sorry about the scan on the Harper 45. For some reason a few of the Sansu 45s in my collection seem to have originated in the same wet basement...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Memphis Organs 1965 & 1969

Mr Bobby Emmons’s Wednesday (like you forgot or something). Like you aren’t staring at the clock, watching the second hand fall like an axe, over and over again, praying for five o’clock (I know I am). For those of you that saw the title of today’s post and thought you were in for some kind of vintage parade of the phalluses, I’m sorry to disappoint you but Google is a single click away. The organs we speak of today are the kind manufactured by Hammond, Farfisa, Lowrey etc., i.e. keyboards. Back in the middle of the 20th century, when enterprising souls like Fats Waller and Milt Buckner decided that electric organs could be used for something other than church music, they had no idea how far it would go. Later on, when Jimmy Smith made the organ an acceptable front line solo instrument in the jazz world, he brought things a step closer to where we’re headed. Thanks to cats like Smith, organ combos became a staple of the smoky barrooms or America’s urban centers. Before long, the mighty Hammond was yanked out of the clutches of the beboppers and commandeered by R&B types who proceeded to get chicken grease and Dixie Peach all up in the keys, driving the unwieldy beast all the way to Soul Street. It’s especially cool to see an instrument that started out in church play such a prominent role in an otherwise “profane” world, especially considering how many of soul music’s greatest vocalists made the same transition. I mean, could Bach or Saint Saens have had any idea that the passage of time would mutate the massive, cathedral-bound beasts that they composed for into a delivery system for stuff like Toussaint McCall’s “Shimmy”? I dare say not.... Thousands of great organ-based soul/funk 45s were recorded in the 60’s. Many were by better known masters like Bill Doggett, Hank Marr, Jack McDuff, Booker T & The MGs, and the Meters, but the lions share were laid down by completely obscure artists that never made more than one or two 45s. The two numbers we offer today fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Bobby Emmons and Art Jerry Miller were both busy studio musicians (especially Emmons) who more than likely performed much of their best work on other people records, and both of them had the opportunity to release records under their own name. Bobby Emmons started out his career playing organ and piano with Bill Black’s Combo. Through the 1960’s he was a mainstay of Memphis recording studios, working on the staff at both Hi Records and American Recording studios and playing on countless R&B, soul, rock and country records before relocating to Nashville in the 70’s. I first heard Emmons organ work when I dug up his “Blue Organ” 45 on Hi. Not too long after that I found a copy of the awkwardly titled 1965 LP (that the tune originally appeared on) ‘Blues with the Beat with an Organ’. Though most of the LP is pretty standard R&B/pop organ combo action, ‘Blue Organ’ is surprisingly funky for 1965. Emmons works it out with some Willie Mitchell-esque backing, and the cover of ‘Mack The Knife’ on the flip manages to add a bluesy feel not ordinarily associated with the Weill/Brecht chestnut. Art Jerry Miller also started as part of the Hi studios band, writing the funky ‘Up Hard’ for Willie Mitchell. His 1969 LP, burdened with the suggestive but ultimately misleading (though there is a semi-visible breast on the album cover) title “Rated X: Suggested For Mature Souls”, was recorded for the Stax-associated Enterprise label. Miller is best known for the funky 45 ‘Grab a Handfull’ b/w ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ (both tracks appear on the LP), but both of those numbers are largely electric piano features. Of the remaining organ-based tracks on the LP (which is entirely instrumental) the best are ‘Mod Strut’ and ‘Moon Shot’. Bearing the clear influence of Booker T. & The MGs, Miller lays it down with help from drummer Willie Hall and the Memphis Horns. Though it doesn’t feature anything groundbreaking, the LP is still worth checking out if you dig soul organ. Bobby Emmons went on to write a number of country hits and play on scores of LPs. I have no idea what happened to Art Jerry Miller.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Apostles - Six Pack

Good-day to you..... Here’s hoping everyone had a fairly decent weekend (despite the loss of the Wicked Pickett). I’m still reeling from the news. It was nice to see that he got mentions on all the syndicated “entertainment” shows. Not that Joe Six-Pack gives a crap, but he should get a little Pickett on his plate to balance out the pork rinds and (ultra) cheap beer he was stuffing in his gob while watching football... I mean, honestly...I don’t suspect that anyone who’s following Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on their quest to save the earth gives a crap, but maybe one or two of the less jaded spectators will get the “Who’s Wilson Pickett?” virus jammed into their train of thought and Google-a-fy it the next time they jump onto the interweb. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m so removed from what is accepted as “pop culture” anymore, that when something like the loss of one of the greatest soul singers of all time is noted anywhere on television (outside of public TV, which is like a tiny little island that gets smaller every year), I get a little choked up. As much as I hate crap culture, it’s so overwhelming that like a dog that’s been beaten by its master, any show of kindness is amplified far beyond its actual value. When Lou Rawls passed a few weeks back, the features on TV news (“legitimate” and “entertainment”, quotation marks provided out of scorn for both...) were a less surprising because Rawls had a much higher public profile than Pickett, via more recent appearances on the charts, and his TV work for the United Negro College Fund and (of course) as an entertainer. Pickett’s last “big” media moment (not counting his brushes with the law, which in the grand scheme of things were fairly minor) was his 1991 induction into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame (don’t get me started on that thing...). Despite the fact that Pickett’s tunes get a fair amount of play on oldies radio, and have also found their way onto numerous movie soundtracks (especially ‘Land of 1000 Dances’) that doesn’t necessarily mean that the people paying ten bucks to sit through some formulaic comedy have any idea who he is. I guess all we can hope for is that some preternaturally hip kid will sit through the credits to find out who sang ‘Land of 1000 Dances’ or ‘Mustang Sally’ and head on over to the nearest music store and grab ‘Wilson Pickett’s Greatest Hits’. Anyway, enough of my crabbing (for today, anyway). Today’s selection is another super-duper-funky foh-five, and that is just about all I know about it. Really. I first heard the Apostles ‘Six Pack’ when it popped up on the sales list of a friend of mine. I was suitably impressed, US currency changed hands and before you could say “Bob’s yer uncle” it appeared in my mailbox. All I’ve been able to find out since then is that it came out in 1969. Despite any religious connotations of the name Apostles, I’m betting that they weren’t following anyone spiritually besides the Meters. It starts out with a funky – but not overly exciting – bass line, so as the record begins you’re sitting there thinking to yourself
“I expect this 45 to provide an acceptable level of funk, but little else.”
Then, a few short seconds later the guitar player drops in with some of the wildest, bell-bottomed, crazy legged fatback guitar and knocks the whole thing for a loop, and suddenly you’re all like
“Yipes! I didn’t see that coming.”
The horns follow suit (well arranged and played in a Memphis stylee) and the next thing you know you’re fiddling with the afro-pick in your suddenly luxurious head of hair and doing the Camel Walk over to the water cooler and back again. Now, when I say that the guitar is funky, I mean like some funky hermit was sitting around minding his own bid-ness when a bolt of lightning hit his picking fingers and sent this riff coursing through them. He spent the next few years wandering the streets playing the riff over and over again like a mantra, until someone found him, and built a band around him for the sole purpose of recording this song. He then wandered back out of the studio (before they could record the b-side “Soul Fiesta” which is in comparison a serving of that old favorite “weaksauce”), never to be seen again. He may yet be wandering the dusty streets of some forgotten town. Or – which seems more likely – the Apostles were a band that hit upon this riff the normal way, and were never capable of anything nearly as funky, which is why they only ever did the one 45 before fading away forever. If anyone knows who the Apostles were, I’d love to hear the story. Until such time, I’m going to go on believing that the first story is true.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Wilson Pickett 1941 - 2006 RIP

The Wicked Pickett!!
Goddamn.... I’m in bed last night, just about ready to turn off the TV, turn over and float away to dreamland, when I saw the name Wilson Pickett start to roll by on the “crawl” at the bottom of the screen. My immediate reaction was “Cool! Pickett’s up to something and will be back in the mix in no time”. Then I realized that they were talking about him in the past tense, and then the words “died of a heart attack” finished the crawl. Goddamn (I’ll say it again...) Nobody brought it harder than the Wicked Pickett. I don’t remember the exact time I first heard Wilson Pickett sing, but it was probably in the early 70’s on WCBS-FM in New York City. The tune was Pickett’s epic reworking of Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1000 Dances” and it absolutely blew my mind. It’s the record that set me on the road to soul music obsession, and remains today one of the greatest soul 45s ever made. But you could say that about any side on Wilson Pickett’s Greatest Hits. When I say that hearing Pickett blew my mind, I couldn’t be more serious. His voice cut like a razor, erupting from his records in a controlled scream that left its mark on millions of listeners and dozens of his contemporaries (I can think of no other soul singer as widely imitated as Pickett). When Pickett broke with ‘In the Midnight Hour’ in 1965, things changed in a very real way. Though he was known to some for his work with the Falcons (“I Found a Love”), this is the track that kicked open the door and let the world know that Wilson Pickett was someone to be reckoned with. He was a uniquely powerful singer, and was capable of writing his own material. He wrote or co-wrote nine of the twelve tracks on his first Atlantic LP ‘In the Midnight Hour’, many of the collaborations with none other than Steve Cropper. The title track remains today one of the most covered soul tunes of all time, redone by all manner of vocalists and instrumentalists in the ensuing 40 years. Opening with heavy drums and trademark Memphis horns, Pickett’s vocal is brilliant, sounding like dynamite exploding in a very small space. Just when it seems like he has complete control, his voice frays at the edge releasing the tiniest bit of a scream. The band pounds out the downbeat providing the foundation on which Pickett manages to build excitement without ever rushing the tempo. The importance of Atlantic Records decision to record Pickett at Stax studios in Memphis cannot be underestimated. If ever a voice was made to be wrapped in the Stax sound, Pickett’s was it. Between 1965 and 1967 (after which he started to record at Muscle Shoals) Pickett and the Stax rhythm section recorded some of the most spellbinding music of the 60’s. If anyone hadn’t “gotten” Pickett after ‘In the Midnight Hour’, his second LP for Atlantic, ‘The Exciting Wilson Pickett’ took care of that. Including “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)”, “Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” and his cover of Don Covay’s “Mercy Mercy” (all incredibly strong songs) it opened with the strongest of all, “Land of 1000 Dances”. No matter how many times I hear “Land of 1000 Dances” it never loses any of its power. When Pickett charges in with “ONE TWO THREE!!” it’s like he’s grabbing you by the collar and shaking you, and then he does it again “ONE TWO THREE!!” and you’re all like Whoa dad.... Then the bass player rolls in, followed by the drummer (going 150mph) and then the whole band with Pickett at the wheel with the “AWRIGHT”s and the “UNHH”s and he starts to drop the verse and your head is spinning and your arms and legs are jerking and Chris Kenner is up in heaven, knocked flat on his ass wondering what the hell happened to his song. You really have to map the progression from Kenner’s 1963 original – taken at a rollicking but comparatively soporific pace – on to the East LA brown eyed soul of Cannibal and the Headhunters (enter NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH NANA NAH NANA NAH NANA NAH) with things still on the slow and steady tip, and then Pickett and his Memphis pals get a hold of the thing and proceed to stuff it full of TNT, hand grenades, nitroglycerin, Tabasco sauce and sweat, and going like a house on fire commit it all to what must have been asbestos coated tape. It’s still hard to imagine how anyone managed to dance to this record without ending up rolling on the floor like a charismatic possessed by the fire of Godawmighty, limbs akimbo, going “BOOGITY BOOGITY BOOGITY!!!”. The tempo of the record is unbelievable, and the back up singers joining Pickett on the “NAH NAH NAH”s make the whole affair sound like cavalry charge, with Pickett swinging his sword at the front of the pack.
When Pickett said
"You know I feel alright? Hah! I feel pretty good y'all!"
..he said it all. “Land of 1000 Dances” remains today no less than a transcendent experience. How many aspriring soul men (or women) heard it explode from their radio (or saw him perform it live) and just thought to themselves “Fuck this shit...I’m going to barber college.”, walking away from music forever. It’s like the stories you used to hear about fledgling tenor men going to hear John Coltrane and returning home and throwing their saxophone in the garbage. Pickett was that good. He went on to record tons more quality soul and funk, charting regularly into the early 70’s. After that, the world kind of passed him by. He continued to perform, but the era of explosive soul power had been replaced by one of scented candles and quiet storms. In the 1991 movie adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s novel ‘The Commitments’, Wilson Pickett – though never seen – manages to be a major character in the film. It speaks volumes about the power of his music, and soul music in general.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Gate Wesley & Band - (Zap! Pow!) Do the Batman

Holy Cash-in Robin!!
Welcome to the middle of the week (previously known as the middle of nowhere, East Jabib and/or Limbo). Here in NJ the weather has gotten worse. It’s now raining poisonous toads and carpet tacks...well...not really, but the wind is like 50MPH and the rain is going sideways. Before I lash myself to the mast, and pray for mercy, I figured I should get a 45 up here on the ole blog as a kind of offering to whoever it is that makes it so miserable in January. What better antidote to a seasonal malaise than what we record folks like to call a banger. You know, the kind of record that makes your limbs jerk in time, despite your deepest commitment to wallflower-ism. Some bangers achieve said status by sheer virtue of their relentless tempo, attacking (or massaging) the part of your nerve centers that tell you when it’s time to stand up and spin around (look up Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers “I Gotta Go Now (Up On The Floor’). Others generate synaptic fire through gratuitous use of key words coupled with a certain gritty, testicle-rattling joie de vivre that may at first cause you to raise a skeptical eyebrow but that eventually sucks you in like a Hoover. Before you know it you’ve got your lower lip clenched in your teeth, your eyes glued to the nearest juicy booty and you’re prowling the room like a drunken panther, grunting all the while. Gate Wesley & Bands “(Zap! Pow!) Do The Batman” is such a record. I should preface this by saying that I have – despite my lack of interest in comic books – been a lifetime Batman maniac. I don’t have one of the original Batmobiles stored in my vast, luxurious (and highly secure) compound, nor have I stood in line to get Adam West or Burt Ward to autograph my Bat-O-Bilia (god forbid...). I do however believe that the Batman TV show is one of the great examples of Pop Art put into motion, with a combination of solid source material and brilliant execution that has rarely been seen since. Employing a palette of colors that looked like a busload of clowns went over a cliff with Roy Lichtenstein at the wheel, and the willingness of a parade of old-timey Hollywood types to make holy fools of themselves in the pursuit of greatness (it didn’t matter if their hipness was accidental) the show was a big hit, and left a big footprint on the zeitgeist. One of the by-products of that footprint was musical tributes. Forgetting for a minute that everyone of a certain age (and many beyond) can sing the original theme (though no one should be proud of their ability to commit “NAH NAH NAH NAH NAH BATMAN!!!” to memory), there were a number of outstanding cash-in/tributes that made it to vinyl. On the crazy side are cuts like ‘Golly! Zonk! (It’s Scatman)’ by the illustrious Scatman Crothers and the LP ‘Batman & Robin’ by the Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale, a collection of instrumentals that was played by Sun Ra and members of the Arkestra (including the great John Gilmore) and Steve Katz and Al Kooper (leaving only one degree of separation between Batman and Bob Dylan) of the Blues Project . On the great side, were organist LaBert Ellis' amazing 45 version of Neal Hefti’s ‘Batman Theme’ (which will most definitely be featured here in future) and ‘(Zap! Pow!) Do The Batman’. While I’m at a loss to tell you anything about Gate Wesley (I haven’t been able to track down any info), the disc features the vocals of journeyman R&B/soul singer Billy LaMont. LaMont recorded through the 50’s and 60’s for labels like Savoy, Bang and 20th Century. It was on 20th Century that he recorded ‘Sweet Thang’ with a pre-Experience Jimi Hendrix on guitar, a session that was also produced by Johnny Brantley (who also worked the board on ‘(Zap! Pow!) Do The Batman’). Brantley was a NY based producer (with Georgia roots) who also worked with Lonnie Youngblood, Jimmy Castor, Herman Hitson and Lee Moses. There’s a possibility that he is the same Johnny Brantley that recorded with the Ideals on Checker in the late 50’s, but I could not confirm that. ‘(Zap! Pow!) Do The Batman’ opens with a sound effect that’s probably supposed to be the Batmobile revving up, but sounds like somebody kicking a reverb unit. The drummer comes in and followed by LaMont shouting “Batman! Batman Baby!”. The band is playing a slow burning proto-funk with a horn break that sounds like it was lifted from ‘Coming Home Baby’ by Mel Torme. LaMont keeps shouting Bat-related jive through the record, and to be honest it sounds as if he were sitting in front of the TV, bottle in one hand, potato chips in the other riffing off an episode of Batman (I mean, honestly...”Hey baby! Is my cape on right???”). The end result is a greasy good time. It sounds like the whole band was crammed into the bass drum and recorded over the phone, but the feeling is there. PS While I was Google-ing, I found a copy of a WABC-AM radio survey from January of 1966. Check out the Bat-mania on the list of “Hot Prospects”.... Hot Prospects: Long Live Our Love - The Shangri-Las (Red Bird) A Hard Day's Night - The Ramsey Lewis Trio (Cadet) *Working My Way Back to You - The 4 Seasons (Philips) Batman and Robin - The Spotlights (Smash) Batman Theme - The Marketts (Warner Brothers) Batman - Peter de Angelis with the Peter Fielding Orchestra (ABC-Paramount) Batman - Jan & Dean (Liberty) Batman Theme - Al Caiola (United Artists) Batman Theme - Neal Hefti (RCA) Batman - The Riddlers (Warner Brothers) Batman - Billy Lamont (King) Batman - The Robins (Ardent) If anyone can confirm the existence of that Billy LaMont 45 on King (or better yet provide an MP3) it would be greatly appreciated...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Shuggie Otis - Strawberry Letter 23

Mr. Shuggie Otis
Greetings all. And so we gather to begin another week. Nobody likes Mondays (except for the poor slobs who have Monday as a day off, a segment of society that I was once a part of). Either way, as days go, it’s something between the run of the mill and a colossal letdown. It exists to yank you out of the reverie of the weekend, and throws you back into the hopper with everyone else who’s unhappy about having to return to work. Note to the independently wealthy kajillionaires who read this blog: I know that the above doesn’t apply to you, but please, bear with us. weekends go the past one wasn’t too bad. My son turned two years old, and we got to spend the day with my family, which was a lot of fun. We also got hit with some cockamamie half-a-blizzard that whipped a sudden helping of sub-freezing temperatures on a sluggish and complacent NJ that had become accustomed to unseasonably warm weather. Note to folks in Minnesota, Norway and the Yukon: We realize that 4 inches of snow and 25 degree weather isn’t really that bad, but we’re whiners. Anyway...I begin the week in a contemplative mood, and thus the record I bring you must in some way reflect that. I remember back in the day, when I was but a long-haired, Led Zeppelin-ized lad of 15, there came upon the airways a delectable slice of funky, stylish space-age R&B, that pulled my attention away from all things stadium and bong-hit related. That record was ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ by the Brothers Johnson. It was a Top 20 hit, so I’ll assume that those of you reading this who are of a similar age (in that positively molten 35 to 45 year old demographic) might be familiar with it’s silver lame/space suit-ish soul meets rock wooo wooo woooos, and also remember it fondly (I do). So many years go by, and David Byrne – a guy who’s music I don’t listen to a whole lot, but who I respect greatly – and his pals at the Luaka Bop label decide to reissue the work of a cat named Shuggie Otis. Now, I won’t lie to you and say that his name was completely unfamiliar to me. His father is none other than the mighty West Coast R&B master Johnny Otis (he of the Johnny Otis Show, “Willie & The Hand Jive”, “Watts Breakaway” etc), and his work as something of a child prodigy had made it’s way onto my radar screen (however faintly) over the years. Born in 1953, Shuggie was playing guitar professionally by the time he was in junior high school. He recorded sessions with Frank Zappa and Al Kooper (in addition to playing on several of his fathers sessions), and released his first solo LP “Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis” in 1969. He recorded one more LP “Here Comes Shuggie Otis” before laying down the LP that yielded today’s track. So, back in 2001 Luaka Bop decided to release the CD “Inspiration Information’, which included all of the 1974 LP of the same name, and four tracks from the 1971 LP “Freedom Flight”. It became something of a hipster cause celebre, reintroducing the amazing work of Shuggie Otis to a public whose attention was elsewhere when the LPs were first released. That the listening public of 2001 should be so interested in a 30 year old body of work is telling. Shuggie Otis grew up surrounded by blues, R&B and rock’n’roll, but was also, like any other teenager digging the sounds of young America. Listening to the music he created in 1971 and 1974 (almost completely by himself, acting as a veritable one-man-band) it’s obvious that he was listening to all the right things, and combining those influences in a truly unique way. ‘Inspiration Information’ was also the first inkling I had that Shuggie Otis had written and recorded the original version of ‘Strawberry Letter 23’. Though the 1974 LP that gave the reissue it’s name is generally accepted as the better of the two early 70’s releases, ‘Freedom Flight’ definitely has it’s moments. Listening to the tracks on ‘Inspiration Information’ I was struck by the “sound” that Otis had created. There, in 1971, he was making records that sounded like a 2001 post-modern, home studio record crafted by a recluse with extraordinarily good taste. There, bluesy guitars stand side by side with hippie-fied lyrics, soulful vocals and the kind of vaguely psychedelic touches that were starting to pass out of the collective musical vocabulary as the 70’s began. There also were startling sounds (for 1971) like integrating a primitive beat-box into his records (he wasn’t the first, but he did it better than almost everyone I’ve heard from that era (Simtec Simmons, Timmy Thomas). Though the records aren’t “spare”, there’s a tasteful (and deliberate) lack of sonic overload on them. The vibe is perfect, but doomed in its day by being too soulful for the rock crowd and too trippy for R&B radio- which is a damn shame because the songs are excellent. ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ opens up with acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, before dropping down into the verse. Shuggie’s voice sounds like ‘Nashville Skyline’ era Dylan filtered through a much younger, more soulful mouth. When he gets to the instrumental refrain at the end of the record, he’s mixing what sounds like a pump-organ, glockenspiel, bass guitar, beat-box, jingle bells, and wordless “wooo woooo woooos” into a perfectly layered (but never cluttered) whole. When the acoustic and electric guitars kick back in to play out the end of the song the tempo picks up just a touch and the then it all fades out. When you listen to these recordings, and reflect on the era in which they were created, the initial impulse is to think of it as blessed out (i.e. narcotized) “head music”, but that really does it (and Shuggie) a huge injustice. There’s not a note on either of those LPs that isn’t carefully worked out and put into place deliberately. It’s just done so well that it carries with it an air of sunshiney “casual-ness” that’s hard to miss. After ‘Inspiration Information’, Shuggie Otis pretty much retired from recording and performing. He returned to performing (sporadically) in the late 90s.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Lou Courtney - Hey Joyce

Mr. Lou Courtney
If you’ll allow me to quote the great and learned Herschel Krustovsky... Hey! Hey! Hey! That’s right, kids. It’s Friday. You and I and every other poor slob that has to work for a living have reached the end of the week. We sit here, pressed against the starting gate like horses all hopped up on speed, ready to break out and go careening all over the weekend, spilling beer everywhere we go until we crash back into Monday like a derailed commuter train.. Unless you’re one of those cats that goes home on Friday and curls up on the couch with a pint of ice cream and the TV remote. That’s cool too. No matter how you slice it, it ain’t work. In that spirit, I bring you a funk 45 that much like the previous entry (see McCall, Toussaint) is a banger of the first order. My crates at home are filled with all kinds of quality funk and soul. Truth be told, not every 45 is a killer. Most of them are good (dare I say great), but to be honest, though many of them create a funky vibe, or deliver a memorable hook, few are packed with enough energy to peel back your toupee and spill your cocktail at the same time. “Hey Joyce” by Lou Courtney is such a record. Not unlike his later masterpiece ‘Hot Butter’n’All’, ‘Hey Joyce’ is a record that sounds like it was engineered for absolute, maximum impact, between the ears, on the dancefloor and in that special, magical otherworld where record collectors gather for the kind of figurative pissing contest where “who’s got the “heavier” crates” is the game of the day. It is a quantifiably powerful record in ever way, from its opening (and middle-ing) drum breaks, the chants of “Hey Joyce you’re my choice!” to Lou Courtney’s soul-solid screams, to the background singers “sockitome”s. The ka-razy thing, is that this funk masterwork was crafted in the year nineteen-sixty and seven, making it something of a benchmark record (not that it was in any was the “first” funk 45, but that among early funk 45s it is so solid as to be able to compete with anything from funk’s prime era). As I said, the cut opens with a drum break, before slowing down a little to let the horns, bass and guitar drop in briefly, before it all screeches to a halt so that Lou and his tinkytonk piano can open the proceedings with the “Hey Joyce” chant. Lou opens the verse with a “HAH!” and spins his tale of desire/lust until the femme back up singers join him in the chorus, while he screams like a guy who just caught his wang-dang-doodle in his zipper. When the tune gets to the middle, and everything drops out to give the drummer some, it’s a really abrupt transition (sounds like a tape splice), which makes it all the cooler, giving it a slightly Frankenstein-ian edge, like they’d just harvested a really tasty drum break and couldn’t help but stitching onto their monster. The background singers come out of the break with the aforementioned ‘Sockitome’s, then Lou jumps in with a one of those sexy grunts from the “James Brown Blueprints of Funk” primer, following it up with a request that the object of his desire work it on out to the Broadway. While it may seem to some that the description above is one great big spaghetti heap of blazing hyperbole, one need only click on the link and listen to the song to know that I’m a man of my word. As the kids say, ‘Hey Joyce’ is the shiz-nizzle...or whatever it is they say. It’s important to know that Lou Courtney built himself up a pretty substantial pile of tasty 45s in the late 60’s, including the stuff that preceded ‘Hey Joyce’ on Riverside (a label not often cited for it’s great soul sides), and the stuff that followed it on Verve, Hurdy Gurdy and Buddah, as well as his more sophisticated sounds on Rags and Epic. If you’re lucky enough to find a copy of his Riverside LP ‘Skate Now/Shingaling’ grab it, as it’s a killer. As far as finding your own copy of this gem, prepare to crack open your piggy banks, as it’s on the pricey side. Thanks to it’s inclusion as a sample on DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's ‘Brainfreeze’ mix, thousands of beatheads who never knew who Lou Courtney, Eddie Bo or Tony Alvon & The Belairs were, suddenly had to have their 45s, driving the prices high, and the availability low.
Oh, and thank you Mrs. Estelle Craig of Cincinnati, Ohio....

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Toussaint McCall - Shimmy

Mr. Toussaint McCall
Are you ready? No you’re not... It’s Wednesday, the middle of the work week. You sit there, your coffee getting cold and you wonder how a stylish, intelligent cat like yourself ended up but one thin cubicle wall away from the herd of glassy-eyed apple polishers that are clogging up your office like so many beached whales. Maybe you are ready. I ‘m only hesitant to drop today’s selection, because I know how you feel, and if I were sitting there, my nerves shredded like evidence at the Republican National Committee offices, I might prefer to be massaged gently back into sanity, as opposed to shaken violently like a can in a paint mixer. If you want a gentle massage, tune it to Oprah. If you want to get with the program, and restore your late lamented self-respect and inner H-bomb, you need only click on the link above. Because my friends, by doing so you will release into your MP3 player a slice of gritty, paint peeling, ass-shaking funky soul so brutal, so elemental,, that you will never be the same (unless you’ve already heard this song, in which case you already know what I’m talking about). The cut I speak of is “Shimmy” by the mighty Toussaint McCall. It was several years ago when I first heard ‘Shimmy’. It had been reissued on a couple of different compilations around the same time, but the one that sticks in my mind is the absolutely essential ‘Vital Organs’ comp. There, on one unassuming disc were packed some of the finest Hammond funk and soul 45s ever issued, all gathered together by the soul mavens soul maven, Matt “Mr. Finewine” Weingarden of WFMU. Displaying outstanding taste, ‘Vital Organs’ included everything from ultra-rarities like “The Hatch” by the TMGs, semi-rarities like Louis Chachere’s “The Hen”, to “Shimmy” which is comparatively a very common record. How it got to be so common is an interesting story. To the few people that know who Toussaint McCall is, he is remembered not as a purveyor of slamming organ instrumentals, but rather as a deeply soulful balladeer. His biggest success (and only hit) was 1967’s ‘Nothing Takes the Place of You’ which was a Top 10 hit in the spring of 1967. A slow, heartbreaking plea that can stand proudly with the best Southern soul of the era, “Nothing Takes the Place of You” later appeared on the soundtrack to John Waters’ movie ‘Hairspray’ (in which McCall himself has a cameo role). Aside from its own merits as a great record, “Nothing Takes the Place of You” was also a kind of Trojan horse, as it carried “Shimmy” on its flip side. One can only imagine the surprise when people that bought the 45 for the hit, flipped it over, and soon flipped their wigs. “Shimmy” is a brilliant piece of minimalist soul power. Featuring (as far as I can tell) only McCall’s Hammond organ and a drummer, it manages to deliver an entire soul revue’s worth of energy. Opening with pounding drums and an unrelenting organ chord, McCall soon begins to solo over the top. The second run through the melody contains one of the great, surreal moments is all of Hammond-dom. In comedy, there's a concept (which I’m sure has a name, but I don’t know it) where a gag is played out past its logical conclusion, and then even further, until it passes right through unfunny, all the way into hilarious. By pounding the gag into the ground, it takes on a new level of power*. One minute and two seconds into “Shimmy”, Toussaint McCall dispenses with elaborate soloing, and holds down a single key on the organ for 19 seconds. Now 19 seconds doesn’t sound like a long time, but play the track and count it out to yourself. It’s INSANE. You can almost picture Toussaint in the studio, depressing the key on the organ for a few seconds, until he’s transported into a reverie that only 19 continuous seconds of the exact same note can satisfy. Of course it’s entirely possible that he was merely bored/distracted and was using his other hand to eat a sandwich or dial the phone, but the power of the track makes that scenario seem unlikely. Either way, it starts out cool, rolls into the realm of the absurd, and passes right on through into genius. That one-note solo is the axis on which this powerful instrumental turns. Played side by side with “Nothing Takes the Place of You”, it makes you wonder if McCall was in some way suppressing a dark side to his talent that he only released on the b-sides of his 45s. If you take a listen to all the 45s he recorded for Ronn, it becomes evident that the “Nothing Takes the Place of You” / “Shimmy” 45 was some kind of an aberration, presenting on its two sides the extreme light and dark, yin and yang of his sound. He recorded other organ instrumentals, but while they were cool, none of them even remotely approach the sonic brutality of “Shimmy”. His vocal recordings, many with a rocking edge also show that “Nothing Takes the Place of You” was also unusual in his oeuvre. No matter how you frame it, it’s a great 45, and as a result of its popularity oughtn’t be too hard to find. I remember once my pal Haim once said that “Shimmy” was the kind of record that was so good it should be worth a lot more than it was, but was in essence damned by its “common-ness”. Don’t let its easy availability lull you into complacence. Go out and dig up your own copy now. You will not regret it.
*One such comedic example is on the episode of the Simpsons where the family is sent into witness protection, only to be pursued by Sideshow Bob. At one point Bob steps on a rake - in classic slapstick style - and gets whacked in the face. He proceeds to repeat his mistake at least a dozen times, until the shot pulls back and the viewer realizes that he's completely surrounded by discarded rakes.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Gladys Knight & The Pips - You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)

Gladys Knight & The Pips
Greetings all! Here’s hoping that everyone had a good weekend. First off, thanks very much to Reverend Dan at LA Weekly who included the Funky16Corners blog in his list of ‘Five Blogs for Musical Archaeologists’. It’s nice to know that the word is getting out! Second, I figured that since I went all doo-wop-y and dreamy with the Jive Five on Friday, I’d drop something funky to get the week off to a good start. Back in the day, my knowledge of Gladys Knight and the Pips was mainly as purveyors of sophisticated soul hits like ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’, ‘If I Were Your Woman’ and ‘Neither One of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)’. As good as these songs were, they weren’t (at the time) my cup of tea, and Gladys & the Pips just blended into the Top 40 background. That all changed in my early 20s when I heard their 1967 version of ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ for the first time. Back then, it’s fair to say that as far as versions of ‘Grapevine’ go, Marvin Gaye’s, slow, sinuous version was the coin of the realm, followed distantly by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s considerably less sophisticated (but rocking) take from their first LP. So...I’m out at a flea market, picking through seemingly endless, dusty piles of 25 cent 45s, and I pull out the version by Gladys & The Pips and POW! Suddenly my respect for Gladys Knight and the Pips shot through the roof. I had never heard Gladys’ voice sound quite so gritty, or the tune on one of her records so funky. Theirs was the original version of the tune, and in my opinion, the best. So...years go by, and slowly but surely I happen upon a few more funky Gladys tracks (especially ‘Nitty Gritty’), so when I pick up a UK ‘Best of’ LP in the racks at the Princeton "used to be good in the old days" Record Exchange (to get that track), I grabbed it, brought it home and blew my mind all over again. There, in addition to the better known tracks, were a few brilliant Northern style cuts I’d never heard (especially ‘Take A Walk In My Shoes’) and a track so funky that it immediately became a favorite. Today’s selection ‘You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You)’ was actually a hit in 1970 (a few years before I first glued my ear to the radio), hitting #3 R&B and #22 Pop. Featuring a deceptively placid opening, with the drummer starting the beat on the bell of a cymbal, it starts to pick up steam right away, with the clavinet, drums and bass dropping in – until Gladys hits it with a “Well well well!” that just about kicks the door open. The drums are especially hard, and Gladys’ voice keeps moving into that part of her range where it has just the tiniest bit of a rasp to it (and a ton of soul). The song goes into overdrive in the breakdown at the beginning of the bridge. The backing thins out to just the drums and a tight guitar/bass riff, with Gladys and the Pips bringing the heat (gotta love it when the Pips start dropping the “BOOM BOOM BOOM”s in the background. There’s a great moment toward the end of the record where things are building to a climax in a reprise of the chorus and someone starts hitting the chimes in the background (not the little tinkly ones either, but the big churchy ones). It’s a fantastic, borderline absurd addition, but it works. The lyrics are possibly the most boldly sexual thing the lovely Miss Knight ever laid down (at least on a record), and it’s a great example of the kind of killer record the folks at Motown were still capable of at the turn of the decade. Composed by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong (who also wrote “Grapevine”), the tune was also recorded (at Motown) by Temptations (also 1970, not sure who cut it first) and the Jackson Five. Whitfield was the real genius behind late period Motown, injecting a fresh dose of innovation (and rock solid songwriting) to countless sides. There’s another great cover of the tune, done around the same time by journeyman (woman?) backup singer Clydie King on the LP she recorded for the Lizard label (also home to Nolan and Paul Humphrey & The Cool Aid Chemists). It doesn’t have the power of the Gladys Knight record, but King had a great voice and the whole LP is worth picking up if you can get your hands on it.
NOTE: I forgot to scan the record label, so no label scan today....I'll make it up to you, I promise.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Jive Five with Eugene Pitt - What Time Is It

The Jive Five
Here we are. It’s Friday again. If you stop by here regularly, you’ll know that I like to drop something heavy on Friday, in anticipation of the weekend. On most Fridays, that means some heavy soul or funk, i.e. the kind of thing that’ll get you up out of your seat and moving. However, I recently snagged a copy of one of my all time favorite records, and while it’s heavy in many senses, the only kind of dancing it’ll inspire is slow and close. When you take a long look at the birth of soul music, and the kind of sounds that produced it’s most memorable performances, there are a couple of benchmarks that keep popping up again and again. The first of these – and the one you tend to hear about the most – is gospel. One need only read back a few months in this blog right here to see repeated references to great soul singers who got their start in the amen corner, offering up their shouts and hollers to the greater glory of God. The other “soul source”, and in many ways the model (and root) of the greatest soul groups is R&B harmony vocals, better known as doo wop. Now doo wop itself may be a slightly misleading term, because it really covers a wide variety of styles. Pick up Rhino records ‘Doo Wop Box’ and you’ll hear everything from ‘Speedoo’ by the Cadillacs and ‘Buzz Buzz Buzz’ by the Hollywood Flames (both upbeat, quasi novelty numbers) to monumental ballads like ‘In The Still of the Night’ by the Five Satins and one of the greatest records ever made ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ by the Flamingos*. The music was made by black vocal groups that went back to the days of early R&B like the Ravens, integrated groups like the Crests and groups of white teenagers like Dion & The Belmonts. No matter how many permutations there were/are, it all boils down to voices joined in harmony, rooted in rhythm & blues. You just can’t listen to a group like the Temptations, or especially later “sweet” soul groups like the Intruders, Persuasions or Stylistics without hearing the direct influence of the doo wop era on their records. Today’s selection is by a group that straddled eras, starting out in the late 50’s and recording into the 1970’s. The Jive Five formed in Brooklyn, and had their first hit with ‘My True Story’ which went to #1 in 1961. Led by Eugene Pitt, the Jive Five took the sound of the harmony group and imbued it with a more modern, urban edge. The records they made are important bridge between classic doo wop and early soul (in much the same way as a group like Little Anthony & The Imperials who charted steadily from 1958 to 1970). I first heard the song ‘What Time Is It’ in the early 80’s when it was covered (faithfully) by power popper Marshall Crenshaw. For many years I had no idea it was a Jive Five tune, until a few years later when I caught it one night on the late lamented WCBS-FM in New York. I was absolutely blown away by the vocals and production. The record is the tale of a guy getting ready for a date, in which he will reveal his feelings to his girl. The lyrics run from the pedestrian (“better put my tie on, it’s almost time”) to the poetic (“I will kiss her sweet lips while the magic of the moonlight makes her mine.”). Both the lead vocal by Pitt and the soaring backing vocals (and the repeating chime in the background) make this one of the great “night time” records ever made. The coda of the record, where the group sings ‘It’s time for love’ in a crescendo, followed by the repeated “weeeoooo” is a moment of pure brilliance. The instrumentation is very spare, with traces of bass, guitar and drums, but little more. Strangely enough, 'What Time Is It' does not appear to have charted outside of NYC. The tune was written by Gerald Goldstein, Robert Feldman and Richard Gottehrer, who also wrote ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ for the Angels, and went on to form the Strangeloves. Gottehrer went on to a major career as a punk/new wave record producer (coincidentally he produced Marshall Crenshaw’s first LP).
*Unfortunately you won't find 'What Time Is It' on Rhino's 'Doo Wop Box Vol 1' (you'll need to get vol 2)
NOTE: Word just came in that Lou Rawls passed away today. He was one of the great singers of his time. Click here to see out tribute to him on December 12th of last year. He will be missed.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Mysterious Joe S. Maxey

As much as I know about the records in my collection, there a bunch of sides that I know little or nothing about. The world of old 45s is filled with enigmas, whether it’s different groups or labels with the same name, or just one-off 45s with no associated history at all. Every once in a while though, you come across a 45 where the deeper you dig, the more curious things get. This is one of those times. A couple of years back some cats in the UK released a comp called ‘Heavy On The Hammond’. Naturally, as a first class Hammond junkie I had to take a look and see if there were any new sounds to be investigated. There were a lot of familiar tracks, and unfamiliar tracks by familiar artists, but one particular number set my Spidey sense a-tingle. The artist was someone named ‘Joe S. Maxey’ and the tune was “Right On (The Cream)”. I’d never heard of the artist or the tune before, and so I set out on safari. The usually reliable Google turned up a discography for Lu Pine records (the original label of release), but little else. For the next few months I watched set-sale lists, on-line dealers and record shows, but turned up absolutely nothing. Then one day, scanning E-Bay for Hammond grooves I saw a copy of a Joe S. Maxey 45 on the Action label. Action was a UK label in the late 60’s/early 70’s that specialized in UK issues of mostly obscure (but very cool) US R&B and soul records, including sides by Betty Harris and Eddie Bo. I put my bid in, and despite some competition, won the record. So, a few weeks go by, and the package arrives at my doorstep. I eagerly unwrapped the record, placed it on the GP3 was immediately beset by confusion. This was because I had heard this record before, but not by any Joe S. Maxey. It took me a few minutes (and a run through my Hammond crates) before I deduced that the music I was hearing already resided in my collection, under the guise of a Packers 45: Hole In The Wall b/w Go Head On. Now this was curious. I spent 15 or 20 minutes flipping one 45 off the turntable and the other one on, to make absolutely sure that I wasn’t hearing a remake, but rather the same exact track (which it was). I was simultaneously pissed off (because I didn’t have a new groove to savor) and intrigued (because I now needed to figure out what the deal was). Was this a pressing mistake? If not, who was the legitimate artist, the Packers or Joe S. Maxey? I made some inquiries and discovered that Maxey’s Lu Pine 45 also included the Packers tracks. I eventually bagged a copy of the Lu Pine 45, credited to ‘Joe S. Maxey: Little 14 Year Old and His 15 Piece Orchestra the City Flames’. The tracks were ‘Right On (the Cream)’ and ‘May The Best Man Win’. The tracks on the Action 45 were ‘Sign of the Crab’ and ‘May The Best Man Win’. Despite the title change, ‘Right On (the Cream)’ and ‘Sign Of The Crab’ were in fact the same track. Both Maxey 45s credit the authorship (and production) of both tunes to someone named Cholly Williams. I now had more information, and was strangely enough, more confused. That was, until I read Rob Bowman’s excellent history of the Stax label, ‘Soulville U.S.A: The Story of STAX Records’. I already knew that the Packers (at one time or another in their existence) were led by Packy Axton, saxophonist for the Markeys, and co-author of their hit ‘Last Night’. He was also the son of Stax co-owner Estelle Axton. Bowman, in addition to laying out a comprehensive study of the Stax label, also managed to touch upon Packy Axton’s checkered history. Now, let me preface the following revelation by saying that I had always assumed that ‘Hole In The Wall’, which was credited (on the Packers 45) to Cropper, Jones, Jackson and Nathan, was a cover of a Booker T. & The MGs tune. I was incorrect, but more on that later. Bowman wrote that in 1965, following West Coast appearances by the Stax revue, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Al Jackson (of the MGs) and Packy Axton remained in Los Angeles. Jones, Cropper and Jackson stayed behind to play on a Bobby Darin recording session. Following the session, Jones, Cropper, Jackson and Axton were called into the studio by L.A. disc jockey the Magnificent Montague to record a demo session. Bowman says that Montague was looking to work something up that could compete with Ramsey Lewis’s hit ‘The In Crowd’. The group (with Jones on piano) was joined by Leon Haywood on organ and Earl Grant on bass. The jam they worked up in the studio became ‘Hole In The Wall’ (the ‘Nathan’ in the credits was the Magnificent Montague’s alias, allowing him to grab some of the publishing action). That was where the involvement of Jones, Cropper and Jackson ended. Axton stayed behind and with Haywood, recorded a second track ‘Go Head On’, which was credited to Haywood, Paxton (sic) and Nathan. These tunes were release on the Pure Soul Music label as by the Packers, which became a #5 R&B hit and a Top 50 Pop hit. According to Bowman, aside from being paid for the demo session, Cropper, Jones and Jackson never saw a dime from the record (though for some reason Stax artists the Bar-Kays later covered ‘Hole In The Wall’), and suggests that Axton’s involvement may have been prearranged by his mother. Packy Axton had a long history of wild (alcohol fueled) behavior, and aside from the Markeys hadn’t had mushc success as a performer. The people Bowman interviewed suggested not only that Axton’s involvement in the sessions may have been a foregone conclusion, but also that there were suspicions that Estelle Axton had in fact been a financial backer of the Pure Soul Music label. Packy Axton (along with conga player Johnny Keyes) went on to make other 45s as the Packers (for a variety of labels including Imperial, MK2, HBR, Soul Baby, Tangerine though it seems likely that Axton does not appear on some of these records) the Pac-Keys and LH & The Memphis Sounds (on the Hollywood label), and the Martinis (on the BAR and USA labels). The bottom line is that the music heard on all three 45s were recorded in L.A. by the group described above. So where does Joe S. Maxey come in? I’d always heard that the Lu Pine label was based in Detroit, and released a number of 45s by Detroit-based artists like the Falcons, Eddie Floyd, and the Primettes. However, a look at a Lu Pine discography shows that there were at least three different numbering schemes for their 45s, and the Joe S. Maxey 45 bears a Las Vegas address. This is not to suggest that Lu Pine was not originally based in Detroit, but rather that it seems there may be a few different time periods in play for their releases (and a change in location). The big mystery, is how did Lu Pine get their hands on the masters for the Packers sessions, and what would possess them to release a song that had already been a hit under a different name? It’s possible (even likely) that they thought they could make a quick buck with what was essentially an illegitimate release (though why they concocted “Joe S. Maxey the little 14 year old with the 15 piece orchestra the City Flames” is anyone’s guess) That leads us to yet another question, how did the Maxey record get issued in the UK? The Packers 45 had also been a hit in the UK, seeing release on both the Pye and Soul City labels. The kinds of things that were issued on Action suggest to me that the people running the show knew the music. The Action 45 was not released until 1972, so I suppose it’s possible that the Packers 45 was a distant memory, but why was the title of ‘Right On (the Cream)’ changed to ‘Sign of the Crab’ (a zodiac reference for a more psychedelic time, perhaps?)? Interestingly enough, the run off grooves of the Packers 45 and the Action 45 both have song titles scratched into the wax in similar handwriting. The Packers sides list ‘Hole In The Wall’ as ‘Hole In The Wall’ and ‘Go Head On’ as ‘Make It Baby’. The Maxey 45 on Action lists the ‘Hole In The Wall Side’ (now ‘Sign of the Crab’ as ‘Doin It Well’ and the “May The Best Man Win’ side as ‘Do The Porky’ (the Lu Pine 45 bears no such marks). The only other difference that I’ve been able to find is that the Packers version of ‘Hole In The Wall’ has a fade out that lasts a few seconds longer than the other 45s (none of the durations listed on any of the 45s match up). So what’s the lesson here? The independent record business in the 1960’s was riddled with shady dealings, and it’s entirely likely that the Pure Soul Music masters were transferred “legitimately” (as opposed to stolen) to whoever was running Lu Pine after 1965. Who leased the masters to Action is a complete mystery? The bottom line is that someone, either at Action, or the folks that released "Heavy On The Hammond' should have known better. The big question – at least for me – is, was there ever really a guy named ‘Joe S. Maxey’? The world may never know. If anyone has anything to contribute I’d be happy to hear from you. NOTE: The MP3’s I’ve included are pulled from the Maxey 45 on Action (the cleanest of the three 45s).

Monday, January 02, 2006

Mel Brown - Swamp Fever

Mr. Mel Brown
Greetings! Happy New Year (sincere)! Happy Monday (sarcastic)! New Years Eve, aside from the distressing image of Dick Clark in decline, was pretty cool – spent with family – good food, lots of laughs. Strangely enough (or not) despite all the celebration and symbolic demarcations of the new year, the world we live in is pretty much the same now as it was in the last week of 2005 . We cross the imaginary line at midnight, and at least in our minds, things are supposed to be refreshed. It’s like we get to roll our odometers back on January 1st – our slates cleaned, we put our resolutions into motion, more often than not doing little more than lip service to the notion of change. I guess it’s all just part of how we pass time. In deference to those who feel they are undergoing some kind of temporal renewal, and as a result are feeling extra sensitive, chafed or raw, I’ve decided not to start the year with anything too explosive. I don’t want any bruised psyches on my hands. However, at the Funky16Corners blog, I try to maintain a level of quality in the musical selections, and as it is in all things, one mans pablum is another mans leg of lamb (whatever that means). So, while I’m willing to back away from “explosive”, I refuse to go any lower on the quality scale than “kick ass”. If that’s still too strong for your blood, I expect you’ll have to go elsewhere until your vital bodily humors are sufficiently restored. Today’s selection is one of the first cool records I found when I started digging for funk 45s in earnest. My pal Haim had hepped me to a motherlode of 45s, way out in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Located in the rear of an unassuming looking music store was a room filled floor-to-ceiling with crates of 45s, all more or less sorted into alphabetical order. Now, let me state right up front that we were not the first diggers to go through this place. We’d heard stories about deep-pocketed out of towners with lots of time on their hands flying in and pulling all the super-rare stuff. That said, there were still tons of cool 45s, the majority of which were unplayed “store stock”. There were lots of common things, pockets here and there of multiple copies of uncommon things, and the occasional uber-bargain (like my $2.00 copy of Mary Jane Hooper’s ‘I’ve Got Reasons’). There were also thousands of records I’d never heard of before, which in a place with lots of room to work, and a record player, was just about a slice of heaven. Over the course of a few years I probably made four or five trips out there, dropping several hundred dollars and carting home a whole lot of records. I am sad to say that the last time I was there, it appeared that the owners had stopped bringing in new stock, and that most of the old stuff had been picked through quite thoroughly as word got out on the digger grapevine. A sad day indeed. Mel Brown’s ‘Swamp Fever’ was one of those records I’d never heard of before. I pulled it out to play because it was on the Impulse Label, so I figured at the very least I might have an interesting jazz jukebox 45 on my hands. As soon as I dropped the needle on the record I knew it was much cooler than that. Opening with a tasty drum break (which for some strange reason does not appear to have been sampled), the tune soon flies off in a storm of funky, chicken-likken guitar. Pulled from Mel Brown’s 1968 LP ‘The Wizard’, ‘Swamp Fever’ also features an extended break in the middle of the record (I believe the drummer is none other than Paul Humphrey). The flip side is a nice, atmospheric take on Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billie Joe’. Brown was something of a West Coast journeyman guitarist, having spent a few years with Johnny Otis, backing the Olympics and Etta James, and then working for a few years as an in-demand session player. While playing on a T-Bone Walker LP, Brown was spotted by Bob Thiele who signed him to Impulse records. Between 1968 and 1971 Brown recorded five LPs (and one ‘Best of’ package) for Impulse. He later became part of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s band, before settling in Nashville as a studio musician. He still plays and records today.
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