Bill Doggett & his Orchestra - Funky Feet (plus bonus...)
Mr. Bill Doggett
In the words of my dear departed soul brother Fat Albert (no last name given), Hey hey Hey It’s Fri-DAY! That’s always a good thing, but especially this week, for a number of reasons (not including the fact that it is, coincidentally Good Friday, always a solemn occasion and rarely cause for celebration unless you’re some kind of Easter-freak and you view it as a preamble to the diabetic coma you plan on self-inducing this Sunday). First, the wife and son are returning this afternoon, after a week away visiting her folks. Second, I’m so f-ing tired (in both mind and body), I can only view the end of the work week as sweet relief. In the macro, the world carries on much as it has for the last few years. More soldiers were killed in Iraq this week, and despite multiple calls for the ouster of Secretary Rumsfeld (by several generals who clearly know what they’re talking about), the Bush administration, pathologically unable to admit any mistakes, refuses to discuss the matter. Of course they (at least publicly) think that everything’s hunky dory over there, so they’re either lying or deluded (or, as I tend to believe, both). In the micro, things are well. The family is healthy, the flow of good music continues unabated and this whole blogging thing continues to be satisfying. The Funky16Corners blog has been getting between 750 and 900 hits a day (fairly consistently), so at the very least, a few hundred people are stopping by to check things out on a regular basis. I hope they enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy laying it down. I had kind of a hard time picking a 45 to post today. Not that I was lacking in raw material (as my wife rolls her eyes and chuckles warmly in the background) - as I had several nice tunes picked out and ready to go – but I was having trouble deciding what to go with. You know, like choosing the right flavor of Kool-Aid to accompany a particularly piquant sack of potato chips. Making the wrong selection could render one a social outcast.... That said, I decided to make a couple of selections, one major, one minor. My proclivity for collecting and spinning Hammond grooves is well known (at least to those that know me), but knowing that my enthusiasm is not shared by all, I try to limit the amount of groove grease that I spread on the ole blogspot so as not to antagonize the anti-Hammond-ites among you. However.... I recently grabbed a copy of a record that I had been trying to track down for a while, and since it’s funky, and in the words of world-reknowned funk-meister Neil Sedaka “Ear Delicious”, I felt I had to share it.. The record in question is Bill Doggett’s ‘Funky Feet’. Now, Bill Doggett is one of those guys who despite being known to funk 45 heads the world over as the cat who laid down the mighty ‘Honky Tonk Popcorn’, had a long career in which true funk was just a blip on the radar screen. Doggett first came to prominence in 1956 with the legendary instrumental ‘Honky Tonk’. For the next 30 years he cranked out dozens of albums and 45s, working in R&B, jazz, soul jazz, blues and funk. Like many working organists in the 60’s, his curriculum vitae pretty much followed musical trends as they appeared. He made smoky, late night jazz, greasy dance floor R&B, dance party novelties, swinging soul jazz, hard danceable soul and eventually hard hitting funk (recording for King, Sue, ABC-Paramount, Columbia, Roulette, Warner Brothers and Verve in the 60’s alone). It was during that last phase that he had the good fortune to intersect with the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown, with whom he created the 45 and LP of ‘Honky Tonk Popcorn’ (both hot as hell, and rare with prices to match). After 1970 (when he parted ways with the King label), Doggett recorded mostly for small labels, and continued to tour and perform. As far as I’ve been able to tell, his one 45 for the Chumley label was his last foray into all things funky. I don’t know much about the label itself, other than I’ve seen a few 45s (which look like soul/R&B stuff) on Chumley, but nothing by anyone as famous as Doggett. The label sayst that it was distributed by Famous Music (a Gulf + Western Company) so I’ll assume that Chumley was a small subsidiary of a larger company, but I can’t really say which one. ‘Funky Feet’ credited to Bill Doggett & His Orchestra, has some of the polished production it’s 1974 date might indicate, but things never get too slick. Things chug along at a nice tempo, with nicely arranged horns, jazzy guitar and sax solos, and then Doggett jumping in and taking things to the next level. The tune was arranged by Doggett and fellow organist Webster Lewis, and was produced by John Bennings (who wrote the score for the blaxplo-western hybrid ‘The Legend of N*gger Charley’). While the end result is about a thousand miles away from ‘Honky Tonk Popcorn’, I still dig it.
The second record I’ll post today, is one I picked out of that huge 3,000 record haul a few years ago. What first caught my eye was the early, yellow V.I.P. record label (just like the Velvelettes 45s). The second thing was the name of the group, The Lewis Sisters (the Singing Schoolteachers). The first time I played the record, I can’t say that it made much of an impression on me (certainly not commensurate with the 30-40GBP prices it seemed to be fetching). I recently pulled it out to listen to it again, and found myself digging the tune ‘You Need Me’. Written by Berry Gordy Jr., it’s a slow, atmospheric slice of girl group/pop-soul with a fine arrangement and a great climactic chorus. So, I start searching the interweb for info on the ‘Singing Schoolteachers’ and much to my surprise, discover that the Lewis Sisters not only recorded a couple of 45s for VIP, and wrote songs for the Miracles and Edwin Starr & Blinky, but they also looked like a couple of the biggest slices of white bread I’ve ever seen. In the picture below they look like they ought to be singing Kumbaya at a Christian youth group instead of recording for one of the all-time great soul organizations (scroll down for the picture). According to their Allmusic bio, they started their careers singing jazz (working with none other than Les McCann), found their way to Motown (where in addition to their own 45s sang backup for Chris Clark), where Kay Lewis’s daughter Lisa would record a single as ‘Little Lisa’. Following their association with Motown, the Lewis Sisters moved to California where they worked as A&R people for the Canterbury label (home to many collectable Sunshine Pop groups like the Yellow Balloon and the New Breed. Basically just an interesting record with an even more interesting story behind it.