Friday, March 31, 2006
Wheeee! It’s Friday, it’s getting warmer outside, and I’m just about done with this godforsaken week. I mean, really. Some weeks fly by without a hitch and before you know it the weekend is upon you and all is well with the world. Not this week. The days have seemed painfully slow, and the nights strangely short. What up with that? And then, just when I was hoping that things couldn’t get any worse, I realize that daylight savings time begins this weekend, which means we lose an hour of sleep. AAARRRRGGHHHH!!! This of course means that I’m not going to sleep right for at least a week. “Spring forward” my ass..... Anyway, that optimistic forecast out of the way, it’s time for today’s selection. Unless you’re a habitué of the Northern Soul scene, or a soul music collector, (or a long-time resident of Philadelphia), the name Billy Harner may not ring a bell. If memory serves, the first time I heard any of Harner’s music was on the turntable at one of my old, favorite (and now sadly depleted) record spots, way out in rural Pennsylvania. I was picking through one of the hundred or so boxes in the room and pulled out a 45 with a tune on it called ‘Homicide Dresser’. “This looks intriguing”, I thought. So I put it in my “to be auditioned” stack and kept digging. Later that afternoon, when I was either too tired (or too poor) to continue, I settled down at the store’s turntable and started checking out the records. As was the case, a good 80% of the “blind” picks - i.e. records that were previously unknown to me but that had interesting sounding group/label names, or song titles – were duds. However, the remaining 20% were/are often better than I expected. Thus was the case with this Billy Harner record. It was a tough soul mover with an excellent vocal and arrangement. It wasn’t until I got home and started doing some research that I found out that Billy Harner was not only Philly-based, but was also a white guy. The surprise I felt at finding out the latter says a lot about the soulfulness of his voice. In the years since, Harner’s records have become favorites of mine, and I’ve tracked down a bunch of them, including his rare late-60’s LP. Harner started making records in 1964 as part of Billy Harner & The Expressions on the Lawn label. That year he would also record solo 45s for both Lawn and Cameo/Parkway. By the mid-60’s he was making records for Kama Sutra, including the aforementioned ‘Homicide Dresser’ and 1967’s ‘Sally Saying Something’ which charted in Philadelphia and several regional markets including New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans (I believe it was also issued overseas, possibly more than once). By the late 60’s he was recording for the local Philadelphia label Open/OR records, also home to the Persianettes. It was for Open that he would record a number of 45s and an LP. It’s important to note that at least one of his Open 45s – Honky Dory – was picked up for wider distribution by the Kent label, and he also managed to have a track (‘A Message To My Baby’) appear on an 1969 Arctic Records compilation ‘Donnie Brooks (Soul Finger) Presents 20 Great Oldies Various Artists’ (which included both Arctic and non-Arctic performers like Steve Mancha, Darrow Fletcher and Jamo Thomas). The LP he recorded for Open/OR, ‘She’s Almost You’ is composed largely of tracks that were also released on 45, and is quite good. The title track was a hit all over Canada (?!?) and in several US markets in 1969. Today’s selection ‘I Struck It Rich’, a Gamble/Huff composition was first recorded by Len Barry (speaking of Philly “blue eyed” soul) in 1966. While I dig his recording, Harner’s reading of the tune is far superior. The arrangement is tight and Harner’s vocal is outstanding. Sporting a tough four-on-the-floor beat, bright horns and snapping drums the record is understandable popular with the Northern Soulies. It’s one of my favorite Philly soul singles, not only for ‘I Struck It Rich’ but for the smoking cover of Bobby Parker’s ‘Watch Your Step’ on the flip side. Interestingly enough, though the label states that ‘I Struck It Rich’ is from the LP “She’s Almost You’, the version of the track on that LP is quite different, sounding as if it had been tinkered with after the fact. The mix is different, and someone has added incongruous tack piano in the chorus. That said, the rest of the album is excellent, and if you’re ever lucky enough to track down a copy, I recommend it highly. As far as I know, after he parted with Open Records, he only ever released one more 45, on the obscure 66+6 label, a funky cover of Chris Kenner’s ‘Something You Got’. Once you’ve heard the best of Harner’s 1960’s recordings, it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that he should have become much better known. In my opinion he ought to rank with the best white soul singers of the era, including Mitch Ryder, Skip Easterling, Billy Vera, and Felix Cavaliere. Another piece of trivia, UK mod-revivalists the Prisoners apparently liked this record so much, they “borrowed” the tune from the chorus for their own ‘Thinking of You (Broken Pieces)’ in 1985. Aside from tracks here and there on soul comps, there is no comprehensive survey of Billy Harner’s work in print. Most of his 45s are findable at reasonable prices (most for less tan $25), especially if you live in the Philadelphia area. These days, Harner works as a barber in Camden, NJ (right across the river from Philly) and still performs on the oldies circuit.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The Four Larks - Keep Climbing Brother b/w It's Unbelievable
Happy Wednesday all. Those of you who know record collectors, and those of us who collect records (at least those of us who are nominally self-aware) know that it has, like most collecting hobbies, and element of obsession to it (some might say sickness). This is manifested especially harshly in the actions of those – and I count myself among this group – that will hunt down certain records for years, even though they have a perfectly good copy of it on a reissue CD/LP somewhere. These records, which elude us over and over again, whether by virtue of their rarity or their expense (sometimes the same thing) are the elements that compose the storied “want list”. The want list is compiled, physically and mentally for sharing with those similarly afflicted as well as the facilitators, aka the folks sitting on stacks of rare records just waiting for folks like me to roll into their sights with a swollen wallet and a hungry look in my eyes. These are the record dealers. Anyway, the want list has, at least for me, evolved from a casual list of artists and labels that I hadn’t yet encountered in the field, into a carved-in-stone listing of records that I know I’ll probably never lay my hands on unless I’m willing to divert the odd mortgage payment (which I’ve sworn to my wife, under penalty of death that I would never, EVER do....really). These are the records that started out rare, got popular amongst collectors and as a result had their limited supply depleted to the point where – like a rent controlled apartment in New York City – someone has to die in order for one to change hands. Certainly, many of the records on my personal list aren’t THAT rare. I can assure that no matter how swollen my record collection is – and it is swollen – there are people out there that traffic in records that I’ve never heard of and will never be able to afford. Most of the stuff I’m still looking for are things that sit outside my price range, or are things that are so obscure, no one else knows/cares enough about them to offer them for sale. Some of my personal “white whales” have ended up in my crates for surprisingly low prices. Among the records in the first category (i.e. too costly) is ‘Groovin’ At The Go Go’ by the Four Larks on Tower. It is one of the all-time great Northern Soul records to come out of Philadelphia in the 1960’s and a big fave with our talcum spreading pals across the pond. It has also been heavily comped, so while owning a copy of the record may be tough, hearing it is extremely easy (which is why it’s so popular, etc etc.). The Four Larks were a Philly-based group initially composed of Jackie Marshall, Calvin Nicholls, Bill Oxedine and Weldon McDougal, though McDougal’s wife Irma would end up singing lead on most of their 45’s. Weldon McDougal is also the man that co-founded one of the greatest Philly soul labels of the 60’s, Harthon records. Starting in the early 60’s, they would release a string of 45s on the Sheryl, Arock, Priority, Fairmount, Wand, Tower and Uptown labels under the names the Larks, the Four Larks, Irma & The Larks and Irma & the Fascinators, in addition to singing backup on a wide variety of Harthon-related productions. Among their recordings is the stunning – though initially unreleased – ‘You Need Love’ by Irma & The Facinators which recycled the backing track from the Cooperettes ‘Shingaling’ to great effect. Over the years, I’ve managed to track down a number of their Tower and Uptown 45s – except of course ‘Groovin’ at the Go Go’ – and have enjoyed them all. A few months ago a friend sent along a sale list with a Four Larks record I’d never heard of. It was selling at a reasonable price, so I grabbed it. I’m glad I did. ‘Keep Climbing Brothers’ b/w ‘It’s Unbelievable’ was (as far as I can tell) the very last record the Four Larks ever released, sometime in 1969. The a-side ‘Keep Climbing Brothers’ is a funky instrumental, seemingly out of character with some of the group’s other sides. This can no doubt be attributed to changing times – things being funkier in 68/69. The cut features some rolling piano and funky drums, with a wailing sax soloing over most of the tune with the group chanting “Climbing! Climbing Brother!” in the background. The flip side is (what I believe to be) a remake of one of their first singles ‘It’s Unbelievable’. The tune – a not too distant cousin to the Flamingo’s ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ has some beautiful harmonies. Stylistically it can stand right alongside their other sweet soul classic ‘Rain’ (covered here earlier) . It’s so nice, I’m posting both sides of the record.
It would be nice if someone in Philly would get all of the Four Larks and related material together on a compilation. Weldon McDougal went on to work extensively with the Motown label in public relations/promotion.
Monday, March 27, 2006
The Electrostats - 21st Century Kenya
Greetings all. Monday is upon us, and I can assure you that I was no more eager to depart the safe, warm confines of my bed this morning than any of you were. I had a sort of weird yin/yang weekend, one day spent hanging with old friends and family – good times all around – and another unable to convince anything thicker than tap water to stay in my stomach. It was, I assure you, a hoot. As I write this morning, all appears to be well. Was God punishing me for saying unpleasant things about his loyal servant George W. Bush? I mean, you’d kind of hope that God would be cooler than that, but you never know. Anyway... Today’s entry will be considerably less verbose than most, because just about the only incontrovertible fact that I can supply you with about today’s selection is that it was recorded in New Orleans, Louisiana. The record I speak of is ‘21st Century Kenya’ by the Electrostats. Released on the Three Oaks label - which was also home to Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington’s "Heavenly Vibrations (You Give Me)" / "Sun Ain't Gonna Shine" – the record features the funky instro by the Electrostats on one side, and the band backing vocalist Hillary McGinnis on the ballad ‘Weak As You Want To Be’ on the other. I first heard of the Three Oaks label back when Wax Poetics ran their comprehensive Eddie Bo feature. The Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington 45 I just mentioned was an Eddie Bo production (one of three 45s he produced for Washington on various N.O. labels) that was previously unknown to me, as was the label itself. Not too long after reading that feature, while a-Googling, I happened upon mentions of the Electrostats 45. After seeing a couple of positive comments from reliable sources, I decided to seek out my own copy. I finally scored onerecently, and the search proved to be worthwhile. Opening with heavy wah-wah guitar, the organ (which takes the lead for most of the song) comes in, followed immediately by the bass, drums and percussion. While the title and to a certain extent the percussion suggest an attempt to latch on to other Afro-centric funk sounds of the era (which I guessing is the early 70’s), the record doesn’t exactly scream dashikis and naturals. It reminds me a little – especially the organ - of another NOLA funker from the same era, Larry Foster’s ‘Funky Belly’ on Big Beat. There’s also a nice fuzzed out guitar solo. The Electrostats released at least one other 45 on Three Oaks, the extremely laid back ‘Setting The Mood’.
Friday, March 24, 2006
The Sherlock Holmes Investigation - The Pot's Hot
The pensive - but funky -
Carl "Sherlock" Holmes
Here we go. Despite all of your fears and a sense of pure dread brought on by the “leadership style” of the numbskull in the White House, it’s Friday once again. Spring is upon us (though not that firmly if you live in the Northeast) and as a result, so is the mud. Aside from the general improvement in the average temperature, the departure of winter often seems like the morning after a particularly raucous bacchanal. The trees are grey and bare, the streets are scarred by road salt and all the garbage the ice and snow could conceal and the greenest lawn now looks like the main street of an old gold mining boom town, all rutted mud interrupted here and there by the remains of once healthy vegetation. As a result, we cling to the optimism that spring will inevitably arrive, but this is tempered by the ugly reality around us. So, to help give you the impetus you’ll need to survive an aesthetically draining weekend (especially if anyone in your house is a devotee of college basketball), I follow through on my promise from earlier in the week by posting a favorite from my Philly crates. Carl Holmes is not a familiar name outside of the sphere of record collecting types. This despite the fact that he had a pretty solid track record, recording for local and national labels through the 1960’s into the early 70’s. He formed Carl Holmes and the Commanders in the early 60’s. Featuring Holmes on guitar, Marco King on vocals, Sports Lewis on sax, Fats Howard on electric piano, Calvin Irons on bass and John Holmes on drums, The Commanders recorded a full length LP, ‘Twist Party at the Roundtable’ for Atlantic in 1962. The LP (from which a 45 of ‘Mashed Potatoes” was released) is a slice of rocking R&B, composed almost entirely of hepped up versions of classics like ‘New Orleans’, ‘Good Good Lovin’ and ‘Shout’. The Commanders would go on to record 45s for Parkway (the crazed ‘I Want My Ya Ya’), and Verve (‘Telegram’). In May of 1966 a pre-Experience Jimi Hendrix gigged with the group but never recorded with them. Their last recorded work is the super hot (and ultra-rare) 45 for local Philly label Black Jack, ‘Crossing Over’ b/w ‘Soul Dance #3’. By this point the group had been joined by local organist Pervis Herder (who's 45, 'Soul City' on Jamie is an R&B killer). I actually held a copy of this intense record in my hands once, but sadly, after weighing the condition of the record (dire) against the asking price (even more dire) I had to pass. By the end of the 60’s the Commanders had disbanded and Holmes had formed the Sherlock Holmes Investigation. A funkier outfit, the Investigation included Chico Green on bass, John Hammond on keys, John Daves on flute, Jimmy Towns on bass, Chubby Brown on guitar, Art Grant on sax and cats named Dickie, Peachie and Sly on vibes, congas and organ respectively. The group recorded an LP for Curtis R. Staten’s C.R.S. label (also home to at least one 45 by the Caprells) entitled ‘Investigation #1’. The disc included smoking funk like ‘Black Bag’ (which opens with a deadly break) and ‘Get Down Philly Town’, and smooth, soulful ballads like ‘Your Game’ and Burt Bacharach’s ‘Close To You’. This LP, like the Black Jack 45 is today hopelessly rare, pulling upwards of $300.00 if you can find a copy. There was one 45 released from the album, with ‘Your Game’ as the a-side, and the non-LP b-side ‘The Pot’s Hot’. Opening with doubled guitars, one fuzzed and one wah-wah, ‘The Pot’s Hot’ begins with a little bit of Latin percussion and a horn section before the fuzz guitar returns to take the lead for the rest of the song. The overall feel is a Latin-inflected funk with a slightly ‘uptown’ edge, especially when the flute and vibes come in together. The tune – like all the songs from the LP except for the Bacharach cover – was written by Len Woods, who was not as far as I can tell a member of the band. I have no idea what became of Carl Holmes after the ‘Investigation #1’ LP. It has since been reissued (without ‘The Pot’s Hot’). The 45 of today’s selection runs $40 - $50 when you can find it (I fortunately found mine years ago for much, much, MUCH less…).
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The Johnny Otis Show - The Watts Breakaway
Shuggie, Johnny & Delmar
Hey hey hey... It’s Wednesday. I can’t say a whole lot more about it. Despite the dubious institution of “hump day”, I can’t really get behind Wednesday as a siginifier of optimistic “glass-half-fullness”, in as much as it’s supposed to signify that our Sisyphus-ian efforts have not been for naught, and it should be all downhill from here. Baloney, I say. To paraphrase the great malapropist Yogi Berra, It ain’t Friday until it’s Friday. I think that secretly, way back in our minds, despite any hope we have that we’ve crossed a line of sorts and the sailing is going to be smoother from here on out, we all realize that this is true, and are dreading what Thursday and Friday have in store. Well my friends, I’m here to make it all better. I promised that I had some heaters in the on deck circle, and I wasn’t lying. As I sit here, listening to Roger and the Gypsies “Pass the Hatchet” – the very definition of “heater” – I know that even when you’re floating in a mid-week Sargasso Sea of deskbound bullshit, the right record can/will snap your head back, open your eyes and put a little glide in your stride Clyde. So, in the spirit of all things musically uplifting, I bring you today’s selection, a later entry from the Johnny Otis Show entitled ‘The Watts Breakaway’. For those that don’t know Johnny Otis was (and is) one of the true legends of West Coast R&B, getting his start in the 40’s and producing high quality material under his own name and for others (like his son Shuggie Otis and Preston Love) ever since. Starting his career as a drummer for Harlan Leonard’s Rockets, he assembled his own orchestra and started recording in the mid-40’s. He went on to discover Little Esther Phillips, Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John and Hank Ballard among others. He scored a number of R&B hits in the 50’s, but had his first big success with ‘Willie & The Hand Jive’ in 1958. He continued to record (and produce, and discover, and do a TV show and a whole lot of other stuff) through the 60’s, and as times changed, the sounds coming out of the Otis stable changed as well. Shuggie Otis, only a teenager at the time was turning into a hot guitarist, and vocalist Delmar “Mighty Mouth” Evans had joined the Johnny Otis Show. Things were taking a turn for the funky. Perhaps the greatest example of this turn was 1970’s ‘The Watts Breakaway’. Written by Otis, and sung by Evans, ‘The Watts Breakaway’ is a super-funky, break-laden affair. Opening with a demented sounding bass riff, things soon get mighty clean, with a sharp horn section. Evans’ vocals are on-point, with the occasional interjection from Johnny, and some hot lead guitar from Shuggie. Sly & The Family Stone get namechecked too. As I said, the breaks are heavy, and despite a diggers wish for “clean” breaks, I really dig the way Delmar drops in with his UHNN’s, AHHH’s and what-not. I also really like when Johnny comes in near the end and asks
Watts....Breakaway....dance...as good as you can?”
Delmar: “Because I am the jumpingest, dodge-ingest,
dancing-est cat you ever knew!?
That’s solid! Evans, who appeared on a number of late 60’s/early 70’s Otis projects (including ‘Live at Monterey’ and ‘Snatch & The Poontangs’) , continued his career singing with the Johnny Otis Sgow well into the 80’s. ‘The Watts Breakaway’ has been comped (along with a bunch of Otis-related funk, including the Vibrettes 'Humpty Dump' - often misattributed to Eddie Bo ) on 'Watts Funky' (see below) .
Monday, March 20, 2006
Winfield Parker - Starvin'
Mr. Winfield Parker
The weekend was a productive one. I was going through the crates, searching for some interesting and funky sides with which to blog-i-fy, and I lingered in my Philly boxes. As a result, the next week or two will bring four worthwhile Philly based records (not all in a row of course), interrupted by the occasional non-Philadelphia funk heater (and I do mean heater) for your pleasure. While I’m not technically a Philadelphian, I do have friends and family in the area and have become something of a Philly soul “nut” over the years, having spent time in various under-the-radar digging spots. Of course, the under-ness of said radar depends on what diggers you’re talking to. I’ve been in some real caverns that I thought were unexplored, only to find out that the real heat had been carried out years before by more intrepid types than myself. Of course the obscurity of the places where I find these 45s is irrelevant (except where other dusty fingered record hounds are considered), because ultimately the music is what’s important, and when you’re talking about 60’s and 70’s soul and funk music, Philly has as much to offer as almost anywhere in the US. Of “local” Philly labels, one of my personal favorites – due in large part to sides by the mighty Volcanos – is Arctic Records. Co-owned by Philly radio personality Jimmy Bishop, Arctic had it’s biggest success with Barbara Mason’s ‘Yes I’m Ready’. Their discography is marked by many great Northern soul sides, some gospel, and at the very end (1968/69) a couple of nice funk sides. One of the best of these (and one of the hardest Arctic sides to locate in decent shape) is ‘Shake That Thing’ by Winfield Parker. Sharing a backing track with another hard to find Arctic side – Honey & The Bees ‘Baby Do That Thing’ – the Parker 45 is sought after by funk collectors. Sadly, I’ve never been able to score a copy, and as a result, ‘Shake That Thing’ is not today’s selection. However... Searching for that very record made me keep my eyes peeled for stuff by Parker, and as a result, I happened upon the little stick of dynamite you find yourselves downloading this very day. Winfield Parker got his start in his native Baltimore playing saxophone with a local group called the Veejays, before recording for the first time with Sammy Fitzhugh & The Moroccans (how’s that for a name?) in 1959. He moved on to record with the Imperial Thrillers on Ru-Jac in 1963. He would record his first sides as a leader for that label later that year. He continued to record for Ru-Jac into the late 60’s, with one of his singles, ‘Sweet Little Girl’ b/w ‘What Do You Say’ being picked up and issued by ATCO in 1968. He recorded the aforementioned Arctic 45 in 1969 and then went on to record one 45 for the Wand label in 1970. He had his greatest success with the Spring label. His 1971 release for that label ‘S. O. S. (Stop Her On Sight)’ b/w ‘I'm On My Way’ scraped the R&B Top 50. Today’s selection, ‘Starvin’ was the a-side of his second and last 45 for that label. Produced (and co-written) by Philly all-star Bunny Sigler and Phil Hurtt, ‘Starvin’ is a powerful record. Opening with a jangling, but sinister sounding guitar, and supercharged horn blasts, Parker drops in with some soul screams before launching into the verse. The beat is hard and funky, and Parker is, as they say, hitting it. His vocal is relentless, and the band provides a more than adequate backing. I’m not sure what to make of a lyric like: You look good to me baby And I mean you no harm Cause there ain’t no soul sisters Over in Vietnam The energy level remains high into the run off groove, certifying ‘Starvin’ as a lost classic of Philly funk. The flip side '28 Ways (She Loves Me)' was penned by Carl Fisher (of the Vibrations) who also wrote the Volcano's 'Storm Warning'. Parker went on to record for the G.S.F. label, and later as a member of the group Best of Both Worlds for Calla. He continues to perform to this day, singing gospel as part of Winfield Parker & Praise. The track has recently been comped by the BGP label on ‘Living In the Streets 3: Bustin’ Out of the Ghetto’. Were you to seek a copy of the record to keep the lesser records in your crates warm and cozy, you might have to shell out $25 or so.
Friday, March 17, 2006
At last, it’s Friday. I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s St Patrick’s Day, and as an American of Irish descent I’m proud to say that I will once again refrain from participating in the huge, pulsing public nuisance that has come to mark this holiday. I’ve been to Ireland, and it’s a lovely place, filled with equally lovely people. It in no way resembles the St Paddy’s day crowd at TJ McDrunken-fucks, spilling green vomit on each others shoes while U2 plays in the background. Do yourself a favor. Grab a corned beef sandwich (a wonderful reflection of the Irish/Jewish concord in my own marriage), a bottle of Guinness (or Harp, or Smithwicks, or the delicious hard cider of your choice), rent a copy of ‘The Commitments’ and realize that the Irish really do have soul (literal and figurative). It’s also the good ole end of the week, which of course signifies that we have two days of leisure before us in which to catch up on lost sleep, family time, old movies, reading or whatever it is you like to do to relax. A hearty HUZZAH to the inventor of the weekend! In celebration of this time honored institution, it’s time to whip out – as I am prone to do – a couple of bangers worthy of a celebratory Friday. Today’s selection both hail from the once great state of Texas, now home to all manner of insane, Bible-banging, creationist shit-heels. I know that there are still plenty of good folk in the Lone Star state, but really folks, it’s time to either get the crackpots under control or move to higher (philosophical) ground. That said, no amount of religious hysteria can mask the fact that Texas has produced a very impressive musical lineage, running from the days of the territory bands, western swing, a grip of wailing “Texas Tenors” (running from Arnett Cobb, to Illinois Jacquet, to the mighty Booker Ervin), blues giants like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lightnin’ Hopkins, right up to giants like Sir Doug Sahm and the 13th Floor Elevators. On the soul side of things, you can’t do better than Bobby Patterson and James Young & The Housewreckers. My first encounter with the music of Bobby Patterson was back in my early 80’s college days and heard the Fabulous Thunderbirds cover ‘How Do You Spell Love’. I didn’t know it was a Bobby Patterson tune for years, but when I found out, and started digging for more I realized that ‘How Do You Spell Love’ was only the tip of the iceberg. A few years ago, when someone (I don’t recall who) hepped me to ‘My Thing Is Your Thing’, I was blown away. After a few moments of chimp-like marvelling at the clear yellow vinyl, I managed to get the disc on the turntable, and things really started smoking. Opening with a wobbly, phlanged sounding guitar, the horn section punches its way into the tune and get the ball rolling. Bobby drops in with a wailing vocal, dropping funky “UHNN”s here and there, right up into the anthemic chorus. The wah-wah guitar, and snapping drums move things along nicely, making ‘My Thing Is Your Thing’ a hot slice of Dallas funk. While Bobby was steaming things up on the Jetstar label, James Young & The House Wreckers were, uh, wrecking the house on it’s sister label (both Huey P Meaux related) Jetstream. Originally known as “Big Sambo” & The House Wreckers (there are pressings of ‘Barking...’ that list him as ‘Big Sambo’), the band originally came to prominence with the original version of ‘The Rains Came’, later a hit for the Sir Douglas Quintet.This later 45 is a funk classic. Featuring Young’s screaming sax and wild vocals, the drummer is in the pocket, and the guitar is bluesy. A very tasty groove indeed. If you happen upon a copy (not cheap, mind you), flip it over to hear the band rip off Jean Knight’s ‘Mr. Big Stuff’ with an instrumental version entitled ‘Funky Butt’.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Chicago Cubs Clark St. Band - Slide
The 1969 Cubs
Howdy folks. Those that know me, and have followed by wild rantings over the years know that I am a stone organ jam freak, and that I seek out the sound of the wailing Hammond organ like Republicans seek out graft, i.e. relentlessly. Knowing that, my old pal Haim, a once and future record dealer (and expert) would often hep me to his new discoveries, and more often than not, I would reach into yon billfold and yank out some of the filthy lucre in order to exchange it for said records. It was during one such exchange, many years ago that he pulled a disc out of his crates that at first struck me as, how do they say, improbable. It was a 45 recorded by members of the 1969 Chicago Cubs, “singing” a version of Little Willie John’s “Fever” with rewritten, baseball-specific lyrics, entitled (unsurprisingly) “Pennant Fever”. I of course have little or no interest in baseball or any of the associated memorabilia, so I wondered aloud what about this particular record would interest me. Then Haim dropped the hammer.... He flipped the disc over to reveal an instrumental called “Slide” by the almost certainly mythical Chicago Cubs Clark St. Band. As soon as the needle hit the wax I knew I was going to leave his house with a slightly lighter wallet than I arrived with.* There, erupting from the grooves was the track you hear today. Led by a slamming soul Hammond, a grooving drummer and guitarist (I think the bass is Hammond pedals) lay down a smoking instro, sure to appeal to the dancers and the head-nodding wallflowers alike. Aside for the fact that the band includes an organ, it couldn’t have less to do with baseball, ballparks or any other part of the sporting picture. In the ensuing years, we often wondered what the source of the instrumental was. Eventually, one of the names on the label produced the only concrete clue. ‘Slide’ was arranged by Richard Rome. I first came across Rome’s name when digging for Philadelphia soul and funk 45s. His recording for the Fayette label “Ghost A Go Go”, and ultra rare organ instro likely of a mid-60’s vintage showed up in a few places on the interweb, and was subsequently reissued a few times in the UK. These days it is rumored to change hands for several hundred pounds (yipe). I have never seen a copy out in the field. Researching further, it turned out that Richard Rome was a busy man on the Philadelphia music scene of the 60’s and 70’s working as a keyboardist and arranger for many of the acts in the Gamble/Huff stable, like the O’Jays, Archie Bell and others. He also arranged all three 45s (every one a gem) by one of my fave Philly soul groups, the Formations (‘At The Top of the Stairs’ is no less than brilliant). So, what does this tell me? Not a hell of a lot, as it turns out. However, I’m willing to make an educated guess, that being...that someone in Philly (maybe Rome himself) was working the Hammond on ‘Slide’, and that the track ended up being leased to Chess Records, only to languish on the b-side of a novelty record. Though the track is credited to R. Spain and N. Alfred (neither of which ring a bell), the arranging credit for Rome, who worked exclusively in Philadelphia suggests to me that the track originated in the land of cheese steak and sweet soul. If anyone out there in blog-land has any more info as to the origins of this mighty track (or corrections to anything I’ve written today), please let me know.
* A little later I flipped my first copy of the 45 for the copy you see today, accompanied by the groovy picture sleeve (purchased from someone selling sports memorabilia, for the princely sum of $10).
Monday, March 13, 2006
Diamond Joe - The ABC Song
Greetings all. And a happy Monday it is. My convalescence has been for all intents and purposes, completed, and I find myself as far back in the saddle as I’ll ever be. Those that follow my ramblings, here, and earlier at the Funky16Corners web zine know that I have a deep and abiding love for the music of New Orleans that approaches the level of obsession. Deep within that larger area of interest, lie several smaller obsessions, usually with individual artists that I’ve devoted time to collecting their records and what little information I can about their histories. Diamond Joe Maryland is just such an artist. Of the seven 45s that he recorded between 1961 and 1968, three of them are among my all time favorites – in any genre. In that brief period, he worked exclusively with Allen Toussaint, on the Minit, Instant, Sansu and Deesu labels, and as far as I’ve been able to tell made very little noise outside of New Orleans. This is of course a damn shame, as some of his records are of such a high quality as to be considered among the best made in NOLA or anywhere else for that matter) in the 60’s. His last 45 for Minit, 1963’s ‘Help Yourself’ b/w ‘Fair Play’ is an absolutely transcendant thing of beauty that I posted here last year. Suffice to say that it is one of Toussaint’s best early sides and features nuanced and powerful vocals by Diamond Joe. His last of three 45s for Sansu, 1967’s ‘Gossip Gossip’ b/w ‘Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ is one of the two or three finest records ever to appear on the label – and that’s saying a lot – and should have been a much bigger hit (God only knows why it wasn’t). ‘Gossip Gossip’ ranks among Toussaint’s best raw soul tunes, and Diamond Joe’s performance is nothing short of remarkable. It’s one of those records that I’ve played for people and almost universally get the reaction of “Why haven’t I heard this record?”. The following year, Diamond Joe made his last 45, after which he would fade into the background, never to record again. The A-side of that last 45, ‘The ABC Song’ is today’s selection. I find it odd that ‘The ABC Song’ isn’t better known, at least these days when the resurgence in interest regarding New Orleans funk continues unabated. It hasn’t been reissued, and is not well known outside of New Orleans fanatics like myself. This may have something to do with the fact that Diamond Joe is known amongst collectors mainly as a singer of R&B and soul, and that his final 45 came out on the later Deesu label, which was not particularly well distributed, produced no hits and as a result is fairly hard to find. That is not to say that it didn’t bring the heat anyway, as three of Eldridge Holmes best 45s were released on that particular imprint, including the brilliant ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ and Holmes’ own “lost” funk gem, “The Book” (written by Leo Nocentelli, and without doubt a future post in this space). Opening with a horn fanfare and some funky guitar, the band (who I’m pretty sure – despite all suspicions surrounding late period Toussaint funk sessions - are NOT the Meters) sets the groove as Diamond Joe drops in with the first verse. Things are decidedly rough, with a sound not unlike Larry Darnell’s Instant classic ‘Son of a Son of a Slave’. The drums are super hard, and Diamond Joe’s vocals get rougher as the song progresses, especially as he’s joined by the backing vocals. The band rolls along like one of those busted looking, old-timey muscle cars that looks beat but still has twice as much iron under the hood as anything else on the road. I guess if you’re never going to make another record, leaving a killer like this as evidence of your greatness isn’t a bad way to go. Sadly (very), the last I heard Diamond Joe was currently homeless. With the exception of his first 45 ‘Moanin’ & Screamin’ (which was on a UK ‘Minit/Instant’ comp), and most of his Sansu sides (which appear on the Sundazed ‘Get Low Down’ set), the rest of his work has never been reissued. I’ve never even heard his Instant 45 (if you’ve got a copy I’d love to hear from you).
Friday, March 10, 2006
Gene Dozier & The Brotherhood - Cold Sweat
Mr. Gene Dozier
Hey hey hey! It’s Friday! Here we are again, primed for the weekend, during which one would hope to ingest the intoxicant(s) of their choice (or none at all if that’s your bag), and get as loose as time, propriety and personal standards will allow. Here at the Funky16Corners blog, we realize that any good weekend “loosening” session is best handled with the accompaniment of good music, more often than not of the soulful variety so as to increase the likelihood that the loosening is both thorough and enjoyable. I always like to lay down something hot on Friday’s, and this week is no exception. As I have some very hot stuff in the pipe for the next few weeks, I thought that while today’s selection should be “hot”, I might want to bring something to the table that while not, blisteringly, hair singe-ingly ferocious, is still toasty, delicious and thought provoking. I want to maintain an audience here…. That said, those of us that compose the rank and file of the “digger” community (though I dig as much with my computer keyboard these days as I do in the old fashioned “dusty fingers” way) know that you have to put in your time, and work your way toward soul nirvana over a period of time. This is achieved by putting in the hours going through crates and boxes, and working your way toward the chewy center – not unlike that of the storied Tootsie Pop – a record at a time. Over the course of this process, you encounter records in several levels, starting with the plentiful, obvious stuff (that had respectable chart runs), moving down to the cheap, but lesser known coolness, then encountering the slightly rare stuff, and eventually, assuming that you are both diligent and lucky, making your way to the molten, ultra rare core. Today’s selection is by an artist that occupies a niche in that second strata. Chances are, were you to mention the name Gene Dozier to anyone but a certified, record collecting soul fan, you would draw only blank stares. However, to any remotely experienced collector of 60’s soul, Dozier is likely to raise a smile. The three 45s that he recorded for Minit in 1966 and 1967 are a staple of the days when I first made my way through the layer of well known 45s and started to scratch the surface of the next level of rarity. Tunes like ‘Hunk of Funk’, ‘Testify’ and ‘Funky Broadway’ were all solid, soul/funk outings that probably take up space on many a diggers mix. While none of them pull much coin, that should not be a reflection of their quality, which in this case outpaces their cost. Gene Dozier (who also wrote and recorded under the name Billy Jackson, which I think is a pseudonym) got his start in Philadelphia working at Cameo records. By the mid-60’s he had relocated to Detroit where he had wanted to work for Motown, but ended up working briefly at the legendary Golden World label writing for Theresa Lindsey (‘Daddy-O’) and Pat Lewis (‘Let’s Get Together’) under the Jackson name. He soon found his way to the West Coast, where he signed with the Minit label and began recording as Gene Dozier & The Brotherhood. The Brotherhood sound was mostly instrumental, marked by a funky rhythm section backed by a full horn section, with Dozier composing, arranging and playing keyboards. The groups first 45, ‘Hunk of Funk’ was a Top 50 R&B hit. All the tracks that appeared on their Minit 45s also appeared on the 1968 “Blues Power” LP, which is where today’s selection – an LP only track – originates. One gauge of James Brown’s popularity is to look at how often his songs were covered (one need only look as far as the previous entry on the blog this week by Jerry O). Dozier & the Brotherhood were no exception, and their cover of the master’s ‘Cold Sweat’ is quite solid. Maintaining a funky groove, and featuring a wild trombone solo, Gene and his band also – and they get extra credit for this – keep the famous break largely intact. While it isn’t the sublime work of genius that graces the James Brown original, it’s still funky, and in the end, can we really ask for more? The rest of the LP, aside from an inexplicable detour into novelty on their version of ‘Mustang Sally’, is a groovy collection of some cool originals (‘Hunk of Funk’, ‘One For Bess’, ‘Soul Stroll’) and fairly obvious cover material like ‘Watermelon Man’, ‘Soul Man’ and ‘Hold On I’m Comin’’. Dozier went on to work as a pianist, composer and arranger through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s for the likes of Dusty Springfield, The Whispers, Minnie Riperton, The O’Jays, Shalimar, Lakeside and the S.O.S. Band among others.He also co-wrote Wilson Pickett’s ‘International Playboy’ (also covered by New Orleans soulster Lee Bates). You should also keep your eyes peeled for a late 60’s 45 by Washington DC’s Keni Lewis & The Dreams. The flip side of their DC Sound 45 ‘They Call Me Jesse James’ is a smokin’ instrumental, written and produced by Dozier called ‘The Charge’.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Jerry O - There Was A Time
Mr. Jerry Murray aka Jerry O!
Here’s a little story ‘bout a man named Jerry-O, aka Jerrio, aka Jerry Murray. Through the years, as I dig deeper and deeper into the soul and funk vaults, I occasionally come across an artist that tickles my fancy, in such a way that I am thus compelled to seek out his or her story. Jerry-O was just such an artist. I figure the first time I came across Mr. Murray was probably a routine acquisition of ‘Karate Boogaloo’ on Shout, by far his most popular (and thus common, i.e. cheap) 45. As time wore on, I found some of his other 45s, and my interest suitably piqued, I started to do a little research. I had no idea. Jerry-O is a great example of a cat that discovered his niche early, dug in like a tick and refused to let go, even when it was probably clear that the old career train had long ago run out of steam and been relegated to an abandoned siding, south of Soulville. Between 1965 and the early 70’s, he wrote and recorded (for himself and others) a string of “dance craze” records that for all intents and purposes can be viewed as building blocks of funk (and later on, out and out funk). He started his career writing and producing 45s for other artists, most notable the Dukays. In 1965, he teamed up with Robert “Tommy Dark” Tharp in the duo Tom &Jerrio. They recorded a series of 45’s for the JerryO, Boogaloo and Paramount labels, that would lay the groundwork for the rest of Jerry-O’s career. After they split in 1966, Jerry-O recorded a string of 45s that would be nationally distributed on the Shout label (most were also released locally on the Boogaloo and Jerry O labels). Among these was his 1967 Top 40 hit ‘Karate Boogaloo’, which features Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson aka Dawn (as in Tony Orlando and...) as his backing vocalists. The funkiest of his Shout sides, 1968’s ‘Afro Twist Time (Um Gow Wow)’ is a proto-funk classic and should grabbed if located. Later in 1968 he ended his tenure with Shout and moved on to the White Whale label (home of the Turtles and the Clique among others). His White Whale 45s are by far his funkiest and wildest. Today’s selection, ‘There Was A Time’ was his last 45 for the label. Now, you can’t discuss a cover version of ‘There Was A Time’ without taking time to go back to the source, in this case the mightiest of the mighty, the man that wrote the book on funk, Soul Brother Numero Uno, the incomparable James Brown. When James Brown laid down the original version of ‘There Was A Time’, he created a record so powerful, that it stands to this day as a sort of three-minute manifesto on the importance of dance steps as a signifier of power, masculinity and all around coolness. It is a record that is powerful on it’s surface, and equally so as the listener peels away (with the guidance of the Godfather himself) the onion-like layers of the text. As the band pounds out the tune, in a rough, frenzied manner that suggests nothing if not urgency, James manages to lay it down so hard that the record itself seems to sweat. As I wrote a few years ago in the Funky16Corners web zine: “It was only a month later that the band laid down one of the most powerful sides in the JB canon, ‘There Was A Time’. It was as if James got together with the band and they decided that hitting Number One wasn’t enough. That the public wasn’t getting the point and something drastic had to be done. That something was ‘There Was a Time’. As the song starts, the Flames come in with their guns blazing. JB comes in early with what sounds like a false start, and then starts the verse. The lyrics sound like just another dance party, but the overall sound is much more serious. JB takes the words and sculpts (shouts/screams) them into a statement of purpose. A recognition that the release of the dance – at least driven by a band as godawmighty tight as the Famous Flames – is serious business. The band lays down a heavy groove, with extremely hot, over-modulated sound that betrays the fact that the tune was recorded not in a studio, but on the stage of the empty Apollo Theater in NYC. The intensity builds from verse to verse – rising at the end of each verse into horn blasts – and right there at the very end, when you hear: "There was a time. Sometimes I dance. Sometimes I clown. But you can bet, You haven’t seen nothin’ yet. Until you see me do The JAMES BROWN!" if there was anyone that wasn’t paying attention, they were certainly listening now. In a country who's cities were racked by riots, James Brown had harnessed the power of his band, and his own immense power as an entertainer and brought it’s full weight to bear on the idea of the dance as freedom (no bullshit…it’s there…just listen). “ If you ever get a chance, seek out the video of Brown’s performance at the Boston Garden in 1968. In a concert that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, which was broadcast on local television in an effort to keep the kids off the street to try to stem the tide of unrest, JB and the Famous Flames perform an absolutely searing version of ‘There Was A Time’ in which Brown uses the instrumental breaks between verses to bring the dances in the song to life. So, needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway), with ‘There Was A Time’, James Brown set the bar mighty high. This of course didn’t stop anyone from covering the tune, initially by Gene Chandler and Jerry-O, and later by Jimmy Lynch and The Soul Searchers. Jerry-O’s cover of the tune manages to remove some of the urgency of the Brown original, while maintaining a high level of energy. Jerry-O’s mastery of the dance craze/party record made him the perfect vehicle for the song’s basic message, and he takes that and runs with it. He picks up the tempo a couple of notches, and customizes things with a funky rap. The tune opens with a screaming horn section and the rhythm section starts to vamp right away. Jerry-O starts things right by tipping his hat to James Brown right away, and then namechecking his homeboy Gene Chandler “The Woman Handler” and his version of the tune (also worth seeking out by the way). He continues his preamble with a couple of screams, and his patented ‘My My My!’s, before segueing into the verse. Things are, of course, more spoken than sung, as was his custom, and strangely enough it works. He wisely omits Brown’s final verse and replaces it with an offhand mention of his own ‘Jerry-O Jerk’, and later the ‘Karate Boogaloo’, ‘Jerry-O Four Corners’, and last but not least, the ‘Jerry-O Get Down’. The band never slows down, and the end result is a very tight, funky record. Now there are folks out there that’ll tell you I’m nuts (for a wide variety of reasons), because they believe that Jerry-O basically remade the same record over and over again*. I look at it this way: Jerry-O, like many foods, is what they call an “acquired taste”. This is not to say that he is the musical equivalent of liverwurst, but rather that he had a very specific style, which once he discovered a working formula, he clung to for dear life. If you dig that style, you are likely to dig his records. If you do not, you may direct your attentions elsewhere, leaving more Jerry-O records for freaks like me and my ilk. I think you ought to check him out. After his tenure with White Whale, Jerry-O went on to record for Wand, and with E. Rodney Jones for Double Soul and Westbound. After that the trail goes cold. Jerry-O died sometime in the mid-70’s (he would have been in his mid-30’s by then). If you dig his sounds, most of his 45s for nationally distributed labels like Paramount, Shout and White Whale aren’t too hard to track down, though the later stuff is a little more pricey. His work on local Chicago labels is harder to find, and in many instances duplicates material that was released nationally. There was a comp that included most of his best stuff (including work with other groups like the Ideals) that is no longer in print, however following the link below will lead you to Amazon where copies can be procured from after-market sellers. *NOTE: Jerry-O had a habit (not at all unusual at the time) of recycling backing tracks over and over again under changing titles. For the Jerry-O story in much more detail, check out the story I did on him a while back in the Funky16Corners web zine. The discography includes annotation as to what tracks were recycled and where.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Velvelettes - He Was Really Sayin' Somethin' (and some books...)
Once again, The Velvelettes!
And so begins the week.... Anyway, the weekend was cool, my cheeks are once again approaching their natural rosy glow, thanks to lots of fresh air, rest and reading like a man possessed. In the time I’ve been out of work recuperating I’ve consumed something like 2000 pages of various and sundry music biography and history, in the process absorbing more information on Sam Cooke and the Beatles than I’ll ever need (ever). Peter Guralnick’s Sam Cooke bio, ‘Dream Boogie’ was a Christmas gift from my lovely wife, and a book that I was really anticipating reading (so much so that I held on to it for more than a month knowing that it’s hugeness would carry me through a decent portion of my recovery) As much as I respect Guralnick – his ‘Sweet Soul Music’ is one of the truly great music books ever written – I felt that ‘Dream Boogie’ could have been truncated by a few hundred pages (at least) and not suffered much at all. The book is comprehensive, but to an unnecessary degree, to the point where at least I felt that there was too much focus on the minutiae of Cooke’s daily life, and not nearly enough on his music. That said, it was still better than about 80% of what passes for biography – musical or otherwise – on the market today. I would recommend it, but only if you have a lot of free time, and patience in reserve. I also read Bob Spitz’ immense (800+ pages) biography of the Beatles. Covering their lives up to the time that the band broke up, the book is engrossing and well written. I must confess that in my early teens (years after the Beatles had dissolved) I became a serious Beatles nut, an affliction that never really left me completely. The depth of the research in ‘The Beatles’ may be too much for a someone with a more casual interest in the group, and I wouldn’t suggest approaching a book like this unless you are already familiar with the music. I’m currently about a quarter of the way into Jeff Chang’s ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation’, and I’m digging the hell out of it. I you have any interest at all in the roots of Hip Hop, Chang is a hell of a writer and really manages to grasp the history on macro and micro levels. So…enough of the book report. Today’s selection marks the return to the Funky16Corners blog of the mighty Velvelettes. I’ve gone into detail in this space before about how despite my devotion to soul music, my appreciation of Motown and it’s associated labels came rather late in the game, for a variety of reasons (some better than others). My appreciation of the Velvelettes specifically, built in fits and starts over the years, from my initial discovery of the group on a Motown rarities comp in the 80’s, through my chance acquisition of their ‘Lonely Lonely Girl Am I’, which instantly became one of my all time fave 45s’ I first heard ‘He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’’ as a cover version by Bananarama (oh, how it pains me to even type that name…) back in the 80’s heyday of MTV. I think at the time that I knew the tune was a cover, but I can’t say that I had any idea who did the original version. That information came to me a few years later, via a mix tape made by one of my more soul connected, Mod-associated chums. In the years since then, as I picked up on more of the Velvelettes material, I was progressively more impressed by their high quality, and at the same time perplexed that they weren’t a “bigger” group in the Motown stable (and soul music overall). The Velvelettes had the benefit of an outstanding lead singer in Carolyn “Cal” Gill, as well as being mentored – and provided material – by the mighty Norman Whitfield. Between 1963 and 1966 they hit the R&B and Pop charts a number of times, even hitting R&B #1 with the storming ‘Needle In A Haystack’. ‘He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ made it to R&B #21 and Pop #64 in early 1965, and rates with the groups best 45s. One of the things I really dig about the Velvelettes is that their records are among the most sophisticated sides created during Motown in the mid-60’s, but they also manage to keep a foot in earlier “girl group” sounds as well. The backing vocals, which feel “buried” on other groups records, maintain a greater level of prominence on Velvelettes records. It also helps that the vast majority of the best sides were written or co-written by Whitfield. Opening with a ringing piano, which is soon offset by a beefy horn section, the vocals come in as the rhythm section builds the beat in the background. The combination of sharp rhythm guitar, bass and drums makes the tune a solid dancer, and the call and response between Gill and the rest of the group is infectious. The whole thing wraps up in just two and a half minutes, leaving you wanting more.
The tune was also covered by the Marvelettes a few years later. Though none of the Velvelettes 45s are particularly expensive, I would recommend picking up the currently available greatest hits, so you can get the whole picture in one convenient package.
Friday, March 03, 2006
The Mohawks - Ride Your Pony
Ride Your Pony!
Happy Friday, y’all! Today, a blustery day, not unlike those that plagued the Hundred Acre Wood for so many years, is salvaged by two factors.
A. The sun is out #2. I have some Hawkshaw to lay on you (always a good thing).
Wha’zat, you say? Hawk-what? That’s Alan Hawkshaw, the certifiable master Hammond massager, and Library music composer non pareil. Still drawing a blank? Remember this?
Do doo doo, do doo doo, do doodle-y doo!
That’s right! The Mohawks, the otherwise anonymous Hammond combo that brought us the mighty ‘Champ’, ‘Baby Hold On’ et al. The leader of that studio conglomeration, manning the mighty Hammond was none other than Alan Hawkshaw. For those of you that aren’t already hip to the “Library” thing, in brief, it was music composed for use as background music in advertising, TV shows and the like, once thought disposable, but now highly collectable and thus pulling serious coin from aficionados. Mr. Hawkshaw composed a buttload of same, as well as lending his keyboard talents to other folks, not the least of whom being Keith Mansfield, of ‘Boogaloo’ and ‘Soul Thing’ fame. In 1968, Mr. Hawkshaw and a collection of studio folk recorded an LP and a series of 45s for the Pama/Supreme labels in the UK, under the nom de guerre ‘The Mohawks’. The most famous number they laid down was the aforementioned ‘Champ’, a not so reworked, as re-spelled version of ‘Tramp’ that has since become a huge favorite of the Hammond and breakbeat crowds (having been sampled at least 40 times by Eric B and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and De La Soul among others). They had some 45s (‘Champ’ & “Baby Hold On’) issued in the US on the Cotillion label (not too hard to find, but not cheap either), and in Europe on the Philips label. Hawkshaw, who spent most of the 60’s as an in demand studio player (Tom Jones, Cliff Richard, Donovan, Dusty Springfield et al), and then as a backing musician for the Shadows in the 60's and 70’s, did some of his best work recording the aforementioned “Library” music for the KPM, DeWolfe and Chappell companies. The Mohawks side project was successful diversion (with Hawkshaw working under the alias “Morris Hawk”). I can’t tell you how they ended up on the Pama/Supreme labels*, which had previously been home mostly to soul and reggae acts, but I can tell you that their 45s are all worth picking up, and if you can find the ultra-rare and oft bootlegged LP, you are a lucky bastard. Hawkshaw also recorded and released similar material under the guise of the Salon Band and Rumplestiltskin around the same time. Today’s selection is one I grabbed a couple of years ago, and haven’t seen a copy of since. One of the few Mohawks tracks to appear only on a 45, ‘Ride Your Pony’ is also one of their best. Opening with some nice loud drums, the background singers drop in, repeating the title of the tune a couple of times until the familiar sound of Hawkshaw’s Hammond comes a- soloing. The playing is hot, and a little bit closer to Hawkshaw’s solo on Keith Mansfield’s ‘Boogaloo’ than to ‘Champ’, but that is hair that need not be split at all, since both solos are smoking. While the overall effect isn’t as instantly iconic as ‘Champ’, few 45s are, and Hawkshaw and company do Messrs Dorsey and Toussaint proud. As far as I can tell, ‘Ride Your Pony’ has yet to be reissued. There are a couple of excellent Hawkshaw/Mohawks related reissues out there, though be forewarned that the Mohawks LP has seen a repressing of substandard quality, and you’d be wise to grab one of the CD reissues that take a look at his entire career, Mohawks and otherwise.
* It should be noted that there is at least one reggae 45 under the Mohawks name, i.e. a cover of the Beatles 'Let It Be', though I can't say if it's the same group (doesn't sound like it...)
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Tony Alvon & The Belairs - Stone Soul Candidate
Greetings all. Those of you that have followed the funk revival in the last five to ten years, have most definitely gotten your groove on to the breakbeat rich sounds of Tony Alvon & The Belairs impossibly rare and expensive (but suitably reissued) ‘Sexy Coffee Pot’. There weren’t too many funk sides created in the Philly area that could compare to the laid back, super funky, pimp-rolling sounds of Mr. Alvon and company laying it down. The groove is spot on, and the drum break in the middle of the record is deadly, the kind of thing that grabs right onto your brain and tells your feet to move. As long as I’ve been digging (in and around Philly_ I have yet to come across a copy - though I’ve heard tales of folks coming across boxes of this one back in the day and they make me want to cry…. Anyway… In my travels, I have discovered the bands other two Atlantic 45s, both of which are fairly tasty (and funky), though neither as shit hot (nor as rare or in demand) as ‘Sexy Coffee Pot’. There are certainly plenty of examples of groups/labels where one 45 is impossibly rare and/or excellent, and the rest of the catalog gets ignored as a result – i.e. diggers lining up around the block to beg for copies of the Third Guitar’s ‘Baby Don’t Cry’ on Rojac, while passing over the affordable and also quite tasty ‘Don’t Lose Your Groove’ by Lavell Hardy (which I actually prefer). I won’t argue with the fact that ‘Sexy Coffee Pot’ is maybe one of the top 2 or 3 funk 45s ever to come out of Philly, but I’m also here to tell you that you ignore their other two 45s at your peril. The two 45s that Tony Alvon & The Belairs recorded for Atlantic prior to ‘Sexy Coffee Pot’ are both worth tracking down. The first ‘Philly Horse’ b/w ‘Don’t Be No Drag’ is an obvious entry into the Philly ‘Horse’ sweepstakes (see Funky16Corners web zine article), with ‘Don’t Be No Drag’ using the same instrumental track as ‘Philly Horse’. Today’s selection, ‘Stone Soul Candidate’, is a funky raver. A “campaign” song, with the singer looking to lead the ‘Stone Soul Party’ moves at a fast clip, with pounding drums – sorry , no breaks - , a blaring horn section (that gives the tune a “southern” feel) and a wild vocal that reminds me a little of Maskman and the Agents. There’s a great section where the singer references Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man”, and goes on to rap about how he’s going to “kiss all the girls and shake everybody’s hands”. For some reason, at the very end of the record he ends things shouting about “matzoh balls and spaghetti”. Note also that Alvon's name is misspelled on the label as 'Avon'. The flip side, “Catch a Fox” is once again a recycling of the instrumental track of the a-side. Strangely enough, both ‘Philly Horse’ (written by Tony Alvon, Willis Wooten and “Lee”) and ‘Stone Soul Candidate’ (written by Sharon Smith) have different author credits, with both intrumental flip sides credited to Hill/Stiles (I’m assuming that ‘Stiles’ is in fact key man from the Harthon label, Johnny Stiles, who coproduced both records with Frank Virtue). All three 45’s originated in 1969/70. While ‘Sexy Coffee Pot’ will set you back $200.00 - $400.00, you can probably find copies of both ‘Philly Horse’ and ‘Stone Soul Candidate’ for less that $40.00 each. Sometime in the last few years there was a vinyl reissue of ‘Sexy Coffee Pot’ in the UK, but you’re not likely to find any copies of that laying around either. The track can be found on the comp linked below, along with a bunch of other cool stuff. NOTE: I have also heard rumors of another 45 by an earlier incarnation of the band (as the Bel-Aires) on a Detroit label, but I have not been able to confirm that.