The Artwoods Meet Solomon Burke & Benny Spellman
Hey look...it’s Friday. That kind of snuck up on me. First and foremost, let me begin by saying thanks for all the positive feedback on the first Funky16Corners mix. I have a couple of others ready to go for the next few weeks, and as long as you keep digging them, I’ll keep making them. If I can get my techno-shnizzle together, there may even be more sophisticated, “radio style” podcasts in our future. Today’s selections were initially only supposed to be today’s selection (in the singular), but I started to ruminate, and before I knew it the connections began to take shape, and I had to drag in a second song, if only to bring things – as they say – full circle. This particular circle begins back in the days of yore, in this case in and around 1985. That was the year that my participation in the NY/NJ Mod scene* began in earnest, bringing me in contact with all manner of hardcore record collector types, and intense Anglophiles, (switching now to bad, cigar wagging Bill Cosby imitation) with the Beatle boots, the mod clothes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the fuzz guitar, and the flazozzle. It was through these folks that I first heard the dulcet tones of one of the great mid-60’s UK R&B bands, the Artwoods (who’s name is derived, rather cleverly from the first and last names of it’s leader, Art Wood, who’s brother Ron was at the time playing in the Birds, prior to his stints in the Jeff Beck Group and a little outfit known as the Rolling Stones). The Artwoods – which also featured future Deep Purple-ite Jon Lord on organ – were like many of their ilk, devoted to R&B, soul and blues from the USA. They were symptomatic of a larger phenomenon, in which US youths first heard many of these songs, not from the original sources, but via the interpretation of UK groups, i.e. the sounds of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and their pals had to take a steamship to the other side of the pond, and then fly back via the British Invasion to get any play with the kids (or just about anyone else for that matter). It was true in 1965, and it was still true 20 years later when my friends and I were listening. Despite the convoluted (and somewhat depressing) nature of this phenomenon, in the end I suppose it was a good thing because those of us that took the bait and followed the Rolling Stones to Howling Wolf’s door got to hear two cool recordings, instead of just the one (if you get my drift). Whether we were on the trail because of Georgie Fame (to Billy Stewart, Joe Hinton or Gene McDaniels), the Animals (to John Lee Hooker and Nina Simone) or Them (to Jimmy Reed), the end result is that many of us found our way, eventually to the original sources (which, despite the enthusiasm of the Brits, were often far superior). In the case of the Artwoods, their cover material led home to two particularly outstanding originals. When the UK label Edsel (a mid-80’s precursor of quality reissue labels like Sundazed) released the Artwoods compilation ‘100 Oxford Street’, it became required listening for fans of UK R&B, and two of the numbers that got played and replayed frequently were ‘Keep Looking’ and ‘I Feel Good’. The first of those two numbers was originally recorded by the mighty, majestic, and ultimately soul-tastic Solomon Burke. Burke was by far one of the great soul singers of the last 50 years. Possessed of a powerful voice, capable of soaring into the stratosphere at a moments notice, King Solomon, though still performing today, is not as well known/remembered as his peers like Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. ‘Keep Looking’ opens with ordained minister Burke, taking us all to church for a few seconds with his intro:
I’m so happy to be here today And for all of you who are searching for the answers to your problems in life If you’re ready right now, we’re gonna solve’em And this is alllllll you got to do....
From there, Burke launches into full gallop, with a gusto that makes the Artwoods excellent cover seem anemic by comparison. The band is moving at a fast tempo, the guitar is twangy and there is a particularly interesting horn arrangement by LeRoy Glover. Burke just keeps building the energy until at each break he explodes with –
FAT BAM BOOM BAM SAM-A-LAM! KEEP LOOKING!
It’s a killer, definitely one of his best, and I’d go as far as to rate it as one of the great mid-60’s soul sides (it was released in 1966). It’s a guaranteed floor-filler.
The second great number I heard via the Artwoods was something of a mystery for a number of years. The writing credit on the Artwoods LP listed ‘I Feel Good’ as having been written by Naomi Neville. It was only years later, when my New Orleans mojo was considerably stronger that I came upon a Benny Spellman 45 on Ebay with the same title. A light bulb went off over my head (just like in the cartoons) when I realized that the “Naomi Neville” that puzzled me for so many years was in fact a pseudonymous Allen Toussaint. I bid on (and won) the record, and as soon as the needle hit the wax, I knew my hunch had been right. Released in 1965, first on the local ALON label, and picked up for national distribution by Atlantic, ‘I Feel Good’ was the flip side of the novelty ‘The Word Game’ (which itself was built on the recycled instrumental track from the Stokes ‘Young Man / Old Man’). Spellman’s original take on ‘I Feel Good’ is every bit as energetic as the Artwoods’ cover, but has the additional benefit of a healthy helping of New Orleans flavor – not the least of which is Toussaint’s rolling piano – and Spellman’s vocal is outstanding. He is one of the sorely under-recorded members of the Crescent City’s soul fraternity, not having recorded after the late 60’s. If you are so inclined, you ought to be able to pick up copies of these 45s in the $20 range. You would be wise to do so....'Keep Looking' does not appear to be available on any current reissues. 'I Feel Good' can be had for a mere bag of shells (see below).