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, so....so...cool, 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.