Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ray Barretto - The Soul Drummers

Ray Barretto
Greetings to all, and my apologies for a late start this week. I was greatly saddened this past weekend when I learned of the passing of one of the all time great congueros, Ray Barretto. Back in the day, when my man Haim was hipping me to all kinds of soul, jazz and funk on the reg, he also made sure that I heard a bunch of interesting Latin soul. I was always a fan of the Latin sound, but had no idea of the wealth of Latin soul, funk and boogaloo discs that were laid down in the late 60’s. Hearing so many great records that blended clave with soul, funk and R&B blew my mind over and over again, and the sounds of Ray Barretto were at the top of that list. In my lifelong musical search, I’ve always found myself gravitating toward artists and performers whose music is marked above all by “commitment”. Turn on your radio any time of day, and it’s likely that a large portion of what you hear will bear the mark of assembly line manufacture, i.e. music that is by and large boring, bland and struggling mightily to sound exactly like everything else on the charts. I can hardly remember the last time I heard something new that struck me as the work of someone that was really intent on filling the grooves (as they are in this digital age) with their heart and soul. I grew up during the FM rock years of the 1970’s, and I got used to hearing “major” artists treading water – as it were – and cranking out endless rivers of uninspired crud, which in spite of what seemed to me to be obvious substandard quality got played on the radio in an effort to maintain the status quo (the death knell of the 60’s?). When the sounds of punk and new wave began to find my ears, I began to notice a return to “commitment”, i.e. the fact that the artists in question seemed to going for broke, intent on creating works of quality and power. As the years wore on, and I started to encounter older, more obscure music, that mark of commitment became something of a hallmark that I sought out. If the music in question didn’t seem to have a certain level of energy or raw emotion, then it was time to move on to the next record. The vast majority of the records that I’ve collected over the last 25 or so years all bear that mark in some way. Whether it be soul, funk, R&B, garage punk, Latin, jazz or whatever subsection of the musical world I’m drilling down to on any given day, it better move me – or in turn as I post it up here on the Funky16Corners blog – or you or it’s just a waste of time. That mark of commitment is something that I have always heard in the records of Ray Barretto. “The Soul Drummers” originally appeared on Barretto’s landmark 1968 LP ‘Acid’. Perhaps the finest synthesis of raw Latin sounds with contemporary soul (and even rock a little bit), ‘Acid’ featured a grip of amazing cuts, including ‘A Deeper Shade of Soul’, “Mercy Mercy Baby’ and “Teacher of Love”. Having already crossed over into non-Latin markets with 1962’s ‘El Watusi’ (on the Tico label), and made his mark not only as a bandleader but a prolific session player (on countless jazz LPs), ‘Acid’ solidified Barretto’s place as the man to watch in the world of Latin soul. “The Soul Drummers”, while not a big chart hit was issued in several countries, as well as becoming a favorite dance party number on the always eclectic Pittsburgh music scene. It remains today a huge favorite among soul and funk DJs. Opening with Barretto’s congas and the timbales of Orestes Vilato, the tune soon opens up into a melodic, rolling Latin soul groove. Vocalist Adalberto Santiago (who also appears on Barretto’s outstanding ‘Barretto-Power’ LP) drops right in, rapping about the soul drummers.
Have you heard them cooking? The soul drummers Oh they play so cool The soul drummers So hard to resist The soul drummers With the African Twist The soul drummers Oh you know they can swing The soul drummers That African thing The soul drummers When they play that beat The soul drummers Got to move my feet Sock it to me!! It’s one of those records that as soon as the needle hits the wax you absolutely must get up out of your seat and start to groove in the manner to which you have become accustomed (or at least sit on your lazy ass, clapping your hands and tapping your feet). The band is hot as hell (just wait til those trumpets come in) and as the song goes on Barretto hits the skins ever harder and Santiago raves all the wilder. When he screams “Give the drummer some!” you can imagine him with his eyes closed, waving his hands in the air. If you’re spinning it, you’d better have something good in the follow-up slot because ‘The Soul Drummers’ will have the dancers oiled up but good. “The Soul Drummers” is more than just a song, it’s a call to arms. It contains within it’s three minutes and fifty one seconds all the power of the street, the grease and groove of the barrio and the sweat of the dancefloor blended together into a uniquely powerful mixture to which no man or woman is (or at least should be) invincible. If you are able to resist it’s power then you need to check your pulse brother. Adios, Ray.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels - Sock It To Me - Baby! & Breakout

Mitch Ryder
Greetings all. Here’s hoping the later part of the week finds you well and eager for the beginning of the weekend. All is as well as can be expected on this end. Convalescence continues slowly but surely, and though I could be better, I’m a lot better than I was a few weeks ago, so I cannot in good conscience complain. The term blue-eyed soul has over the years been broadly misapplied, in that it has been used to describe any white person “trying” to sing soul music, not necessarily the few that have done so successfully. I like to think of those that have done so consistently, merely as “soul singers”, and those that were unsuccessful generally as painful hacks who should be justly ashamed of their musical wrongdoing (Michael Bolton, you know who you are….). The bottom line (and the essence of the problem when you try to have discussions like this) is that soul is soul and I’ll know it when I hear it. Using criteria like that, the scale shifts from listener to listener, record to record. Certainly there are artists out there that generate some level of consensus, but at the same time there are purists that who have you believe that no “white” person is capable of creating a true “soul” record (I am most assuredly not one of them). If I were to generate a list of white singers from the classic soul era that were capable of delivering an authentically soulful performance, I would have to include folks like Billy Vera (especially for his duets with Judy Clay, and brilliant sides like ‘Really Together’), Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, New Orleans own Skip Easterling, Eddie Hinton, obscure artists like Steve Colt, and a couple of vocalists that would be more accurately described as “soulful singers” , i.e. Leon Russell and Doug Sahm, who were never really “soul” singers in any real way. I would even go so far as to include someone like David Clayton Thomas, who despite his Top 40 cum rockfest history had a truly great voice. Today’s selections are by a cat that I consider to be near the top of that list, Mitch Ryder. Born William Levise in 1945, he started singing with a black quartet called the Peps in the early 60’s. He went on to form Billy Lee & The Rivieras who quickly became one of the top local acts in the Detroit area. It was there that they were spotted, signed and renamed by Bob Crewe. Now known as Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, the group went on to hit the Top 40 five times between 1965 and 1967. Strangely enough, as much as I listened to oldies radio when I was a kid, I think the first Mitch Ryder record I was aware of was the cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock’n’Roll’ by his post Detroit Wheels band Detroit, which was something of a staple on NY area FM radio in the 70’s (the song’s distinctive opening riff was also used for years in radio ads for the local drag strip, Raceway Park in Englishtown NJ). It wasn’t until Bruce Springsteen’s live cover of the Detroit Wheels ‘Devil With A Blue Dress / Good Golly Miss Molly’ from the ‘No Nukes’ film became a hit in the early 80’s that I became familiar with Ryder’s mid-60’s work. Say what you want about the fact that with the exception of the two songs I’m blogging today, all of the bands hits were cover tunes (and that their LPs were filled with a similar proportion of covers). Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels were a hot fucking band, with a singer out front that was really feeling the soul. They certainly added a solid dose of rock to the equation, but they never lost sight of their roots. The first tune today, ‘Sock It To Me - Baby’ was their second to last chart entry in 1967. Ryder wails like a man possessed, with the band laying down a solid beat and the guitarist getting just the tiniest bit far-out. It has a real soul party vibe. Today’s second selection, ‘Breakout’ was the title track from their second LP and hit the charts in the spring of 1966. The tune brings a more classic Detroit soul sound (it’d better be, with the band on the LP cover looking tough perched on a mountain of tires in a junkyard), with a memorable horn riff, feverish vocal by Ryder and great backing vocals by the band. If you can get your hands on the first or second LPs, do so. In addition to the hit singles there are many killer cuts, including an absolutely massive cover of the Isley Brothers ‘Shakin’ With Linda’. Not long after the Detroit Wheels chart run, Crewe tried to remake Ryder as a crooner, which proved disastrous both artistically and commercially. In the early 70’s he reunited with some of the Detroit Wheels to for Detroit. And then dropped out of the business for a while. He made a comeback in the early 80’s, courtesy of fan John Mellencamp, and has recorded and performed sporadically since then.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Allen Toussaint - Get Out of My Life, Woman

Toussaint -
Wheeler, Dealer & Healer...
Like I said yesterday, I’m back, but maybe performing at a 75 – 80% level of competence. Should this post fail to meet Funky16Corners daily required amounts of music, information and or riboflavin, you may send the unconsumed portion back to the manufacturer for a full refund (It’s your stamp pally….). That caveat laid out shamelessly…. During my time in the hospital, and recovering at home, I’ve discovered that my saving grace (aside from my wife and the rest of my family who have made this process a lot easier than it had any right to be) was my MP3 player. A few years ago, as part of my lifetime quest to take left turns and fly down blind alleys in the face of obvious choices, my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I replied “IRiver!” The IRiver is an MP3 player/data storage thingy that occupies a relatively small portion of an MP3 player market dominated by Apple’s ubiquitous IPod. My research (actual and anecdotal) suggested that aside from locking myself out of the halls of hip consumerism forever, the IRiver was in fact more bang for the buck. Aside from some minor technical glitches in regard to creating playlists, the thing has worked like a dream. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting the opportunity to use it as much as I’d like. I don’t have a long commute, and God knows I have enough “music delivery” devices in my house, car etc to keep me busy forever. Little did I know that the cosmos brings MP3 players into your life for a reason, and that “reason” was on the horizon. When I was packing for the hospital, I figured that the IRiver would be good to have on hand. I’d been in the hospital a few other times in my life and remembered them as characterized by the kind of boredom usually reserved for being stranded on a desert island somewhere. Little did I know that the evening after the surgery would be marked by a level of pain I had never experienced before (i.e. the kind that hurts so bad you can’t think about anything else). Sometime during the surgery my back went into a spasm of some kind and wasn’t coming out of it (the surgery, ironically had nothing to do with my back). The next few days and nights were alternately spent in a stupor and begging for pain medication. During that time, the only way I was able to sleep (or at least relax) was to slap on the headphones and allow myself to be transported by music. The hit parade included ‘Ragas’ by Ravi Shankar & Ali Akbar Kahn, ‘In a Silent Way’ by Miles Davis, a set of Gershwin piano preludes by someone I can’t remember right now, Beethoven’s first five symphonies, John Fahey, and of course (because here at the Funky16Corners blog the conversation always manages to find its way around to Allen Toussaint, Eddie Bo or something else New Orleans-related), the 2-disc Sundazed ‘Get Low Down’ set which focused on Toussaint’s work (mainly on the Sansu label) between 1965 and 1967. Aside from the fact that those two discs contain some of my all-time favorite records, there’s something about the overall Toussaint sound that comes out of each and every one of those songs that I found comforting as I lay in bed drifting in and out of consciousness. Falling asleep to a Betty Harris ballad, or waking to the voice of Diamond Joe or Eldridge Holmes, or the sound of Toussaint’s rolling piano added a tiny, but significant element of comfort to an otherwise unpleasant situation. During the periods of time when my wife or another member of my family was unable to be in the room with me, the music was my escape. I’m happy to report that the pain (and the accompanying medication) has ebbed considerably in the two weeks since the surgery. I don’t feel like I wish I would, but I suspect that I will before too long. Anyway…the record I decided to blog today has been sitting around the “to be blogged bin” for a while, moved to the back burner for newer/hotter/more topical sides that I was more interested in writing about at the time. This delay should not be seen in any way as a reflection of the quality of the record, as it’s a killer. I figured, since Mr Allen Toussaint was kind enough to craft a body of work so wondrous as to heal the ill, I should return the favor (in what little way I can) by paying tribute. ‘Get Out of My Life, Woman’ is one of those legendary tunes that carry with it, no matter who records it, a built-in breakbeat. Though the version known to most is the Lee Dorsey hit, there are probably hundreds of covers out there, including efforts by the Paul Butterfield Blues band, the Leaves, Grasella Oliphant, on and on ad infinitum. The opening BOOM SHAK A BOOM-BOOM SHAK
BOOM SHAK A BOOM-BOOM SHAK beat, reproduced by dozens of anonymous drummers since the mid-60’s has provided sampler fodder for beatmakers the world over (which is especially relevant since with most of the records on which the song appears, the opening beat is as far as anyone would want to listen anyway). Well, floating out there in the sea of ‘Get Out of My Life, Woman’s, relatively unnoticed, is a version recorded by the maestro himself. Laid down in 1968 or 1969 by Toussaint, ‘Get Out of My Life, Woman’ is taken at a decidedly relaxed pace, with Toussaint only singing on the chorus, and his piano taking most of the attention. The record sounds as if Toussaint gathered a band on his back porch, fortified by patented mellowing agents one and all, and decided to make some very relaxed, very New Orleans in the summertime, very groovy music. I love the acoustic guitar (something Toussaint was using a lot in the late 60’s) and the occasional drop-ins by someone on the “boo-bams”. The only element that sounds like it needed to be done in an actual recording studio – the horn section – also manages to sound relaxed, adding just the slightest touch of polish around the edges. ‘Get Out of My Life, Woman’ has long since become one of my fave Toussaint-by-Toussaint records in my crates. I know that it’s been reissued somewhere along the way, but I can’t remember exactly where.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Apostles Pt 3 aka I'm Back! (cough...)

Greetings all! I have returned (but more on that later...) What's more important, is that the saga of the mystery band The Apostles and the uber funky track 'Six Pack' (as blogged here back on January 23rd) carries on to yet another iteration, this time carrying with it more information (and a question). While I was infirmed, I recieved the following e-mail communique: "Larry, I wish to set the record straight regarding the Apostles. My name is Bob Rogger from St. Louis, Missouri. I was the drummer for the Apostles on all of our recordings including Six Pack. My stage name was Bob Regan. I formed a band known as Bob Regan and the Renegades in 1964. It was a very popular band with a horn section. We worked with Buster Jones of KATZ radio, a singer and recording artist. Upon his departure from St. Louis, I and the Renegades hooked up with Chuck Cunningham also with Katz radio and he got us a show backing the "Esquires" (Get on Up). In 1967 I merged the Renegades with the then small group known as the Apostles. Bill "Bunky" Shepard promoter and manger of The Esquires, Gene Chandler, Tyrone Davis and more recorded our first single "Soulful" at the studois of Oliver Sain here in St. Louis. When Chuck Cunnigham Left St. Louis for another radio market I asked Donnie "Soulfinger" Brooks to be our new promoter. He did and he was responsible for us recording Six Pack. He owned a Night Club called The Twenty Grand in Gaslight Square where we backed such performers as Gene Chandler, Tyrone Davis, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Barbara Mason and The Delfonics to name only a few. We were an all white band as Joe said:Bob Rogger (Regan) Drummer & Former Renegade, Chuck Klein, Bass player and originator of The Apostles, Mike Menke, Lead Guitar who joined the Apostles one week before me, Gary Scott, Organ and Horns & former Renegade, Mark Trentmann, Tenor Sax & former Renegade, Bob Hoffarth, Trombone & former Renegade, Jim Kalbfeld, Trumpet, & former Renegade. These are the musicians performing on all our recordings.As you can see I had a great influence on the group and would never have left it but......at the ultimate peek of our success, I and the terrific guitar player you enjoy, were drafted into the United States Army during Viet Nam. The Apostles tour which I negociated through Bob Youri of Columbia Records and which Joe speaks of would not include Mike and myself. I was first replaced by Jerry Zehnle as the drummer and he was replaced by Joe. I have so many memories and friends from this experience and my son John helps me keep those wonderful memories alive.I am so thrilled that you have posted this for all the world to see and I would be happy to answer any questions about us that anyone including yourself might have. Thank you Mr. Grogan. " You're quite welcome Mr. Rogger. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that posting a track as obscure (and high quality) as 'Six Pack' would elicit not one, but two responses from members of the band. This is the kind of info I would have killed for for the Funky16Corners web zine (pictures and everything!). Normally I would have had to beat the bushes, e-mailing connection after connection to get this kind of stuff. I post the tune on my blog and it all falls into my lap. Go figure. Anyway, if you go back and read the letter I got from Joe Pipitone back on January 30th, and compare it to the letter from Mr. Rogger, there seems to be some disagreement between these former Apostles in regard to who was in the band and when (though most of the key facts seem to line up). Would it be too much to ask for a third Apostle to approach the Funky16Corners blog from neutral territory and get things into line?? And in other news, I have returned. First of all, I’d like to thank all of those that sent get well messages. They were much appreciated. Things went pretty much as expected, but during the surgery my back got injured and I spent the better part of a week crying like a baby and getting pumped full of SERIOUS pain medicine. So much so that I was barely lucid enough (or physically able) to sit down at the computer and produce coherent sentences. Today is really the first time I’ve been able to think and type enough at the same time to get anything posted here, and I figured the new Apostles update would be the way to do it. Sometime this week I will definitely get some new MP3s and info posted, and hopefully by next week I’ll be back on my old schedule. In the meantime, bear with me (please). Thanks Larry
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