Monday, April 17, 2006

Lou Courtney - Rubber Neckin' (Chick Check'n)

Lou Courtney Strikes Again!
Happy Monday. I mean it this time. Mark your calendars, because today marks the day (at least for this year) where I stop griping about how crummy the weather is and how I can’t wait any longer for spring to arrive. I spent part of Saturday sitting on the front stoop watching my 2-year-old son blow bubbles, collect rocks, and watch ants parade around the front walk. There’s something singularly amazing about watching a little kid get excited about ants. I can only imagine what it would be like if we had any real wildlife wander into the front yard. Anyway, it was sunny, almost 80 degrees and positively therapeutic, following a damp, grey winter. Feeling the sunlight and seeing flowers bloom everywhere is good for the soul (at least mine). Speaking of things that are good for the soul, may I add Soul (the musical kind) to the list? Certainly, my feelings on the matter are no secret, but I guess restating that fact over and over again – in as many different ways as possible – is sort of the modus operandi around here, so I shall continue. One significant aspect of the joy I derive from soul 45s, is the discovery thereof, and that (taking into account the enormous amount of records in the genre that I have yet to get hip to) is unlikely to end anytime soon. I particularly dig finding “new” records by artists that I already love, and today’s entry is just such a discovery. I first encountered the music of Lou Courtney many years ago, on one of my first big soul 45 digging expeditions. I had never heard of Courtney before, and when I encountered multiple, minty copies of a few of his Riverside 45s, and spun them on the in-house turntable at the record store, a new fan was born. Courtney was not only a great singer, but his records were overflowing with wild, energetic soul. Before long I was digging not only for Lou Courtney records, but also for facts on his life and career, and they have not been easy to come by. Sure, certain discographical info is always floating around, in no small part due to the popularity of two of his 45s with the funk45 crowd, i.e. ‘Hey Joyce’ on Popside, and ‘Hot Butter’n’All’ on Hurdy Gurdy, both absolute, stone killers engineered to knock you on your ass, mess your hair up and steal your lunch money (well, maybe not the last part...follow the links for earlier write ups of those 45s on the Funky16Corners blog). But, aside from following the trail of his records (noting his co-writers, producers etc.) I haven’t been able to get much solid biographical info. I suppose that’s OK too, because in a way, with many obscure artists, the trail of their 45s - as they jump from label to label - becomes their biography. The problem inherent in using discographies to track artists is often that they (the discographies that is) are incomplete, and the prevalence of “conventional wisdom”, i.e. what records are known and considered important by collectors, causes some truly amazing records to languish in obscurity. Part of the reason for this (at least in the case of Lou Courtney) is that the different segments of his career are followed by at least three different groups of collectors. The early part of his career, when he recorded for Imperial, Philips and Riverside is known to soul, and Northern Soul fans; the funk period – Popside, Verve, Hurdy Gurdy, Buddha – by funk 45 collectors; and the later years – Rags & Epic – by fans of deep soul. It’s rare to find anyone that digs all three periods. As I mentioned before, “conventional wisdom” is also a problem. I’ve been digging for funk 45s for years, and the records that have always been in demand have been ‘Hey Joyce’ (which exploded due to it’s inclusion in DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s ‘Brainfreeze’ mix) and ‘Hot Butter’n’All’. Both of those 45s are in demand and rightly so since they are funk burners of the first order. But nobody told me about ‘Rubber Neckin’ (Chick Check’n)’. Oh my. I suppose you could wait until the song downloads and see for yourselves, but I have to say, you’re going to want a copy of this one for your crates, performing the record collecting equivalent of putting a “tiger in your tank”. In the period between ‘Hey Joyce’ and ‘Hot Butter’n’All’, Lou Courtney laid down a couple of 45s for the Verve label, the first of which was ‘Rubber Neckin’ (Chick Check’n)’ b/w ‘Do The Horse’. ‘Do the Horse’ (which I believe was the a-side), while soulful and energetic, is a standard dance craze/bandwagon jump, and in the end nothing to get excited about. ‘Rubber Neckin’ (Chick Check’n)’ on the other hand, is every bit as shit hot as ‘Hey Joyce’ (aside from the lack of “open” drum breaks) and probably available at a fraction of the price. The main reason for the similarity between those two records is that they were both collaborations between Courtney and Robert Bateman (and they were recorded less than a year apart). Both records have – aside from a stellar vocal by Courtney – bright, reverbed horns and powerful drums. An ode to summertime girl-watching, the tune opens with deceptively slow bass and congas, joined immediately by horn blasts just before the whole thing takes off into a funky gallop. The opening wail from Courtney sounds like Smokey Robinson dropping in for a guest shot, but as soon as the verse starts it’s clearly Mr. Courtney at the wheel. He namechecks NYC hot spots like the Cheetah and the Trip, and dances like the Four Corners and the Horse. When Lou says that he’ll be “Pickin’ all the choosers Overlookin all the losers” You know he ain’t lyin’. As far as I can tell this gem has yet to be comped. Someone out in record company land needs to get their shit together and do a compilation of Courtney’s best stuff. There’s certainly enough great material out there. NOTE: This is Lou Courtney’s third appearance on the Funky16Corners blog. I may have to create some kind of Hall of Fame and place him in it...


Blogger Todd Lucas said...

Lou Courtney whew, his "Hot Butter 'n All" has been on my want list since hearing it here last year. Today's selection is a favorite too and one that I'm lucky enough to have in my collection.

Oh and p.s. - my two year old son is enomored with ants too, though he tends to refer to any kind of bug as a "spider". Sometimes even an odd looking leaf is a "spider".

4/17/2006 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger J Epstein said...

The timing of this selection is perfect - the weather has reduced the clothing quotient out on the street and chick checkin' is all you can do!


4/17/2006 03:56:00 PM  
Blogger MadPriest said...

Thanks. A beautiful record I had not heard before.
Now, if you could just post some of that fine weather you're having (a nice zip file full)... it's still freezing on this side of the Atlantic.

4/17/2006 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really want to find out who Lou Courtney is, and how come he's made of PURE HEAT.

That's three songs you've posted and all three were completely awesome. How much of his stuff is there?

4/17/2006 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger Jason X said...

Mr. Grogan,
You have posted another fine selection. Your blog keeps me coming back to see what gem you'll post next. I've had to go out and buy a few singles you've posted that I'd previously not known existed. Thanks Again!

4/19/2006 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Thanks Jason. I added you to the blogroll.

4/19/2006 04:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Schaller said...

great tune, Lou is from Buffalo in case you didn't know. I plan on putting on his sweet album Skate-Now-Shing-A-Ling tomorrow mornin' over some chocolate/raspberry java. Lou rocks!

Jeff S.

5/15/2006 10:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lou Courtney is preparing to resurface. His Album "I'm in Need of Love" has been re-released on CD overseas. A classic! It should be available here too! Keep your eyes open and request his album be played in the USA. Why let Europe and the UK be the only ones playing his tunes

7/04/2006 07:43:00 PM  

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