Friday, April 28, 2006
Hey, kids! It's King Coleman!
So it’s the middle of 1967, and you just rolled into your job at the local six million watt AM radio powerhouse. You pour yourself a disgusting cup of lukewarm coffee and grab a box of new 45s, to see what might make it onto the air. You work your way through all manner of budding psychedelia, sunshine pop and middle-of-the-road instrumentals, when you reach into the box and pull out something called ‘The Boo Boo Song Pts 1&2’ by a cat calling himself King Coleman. Though you are unfamiliar with the artist, you decide to give it a spin anyway, knowing that despite the suspect title, anything is possible. You unsleeve the record, place it on the turntable and absentmindedly apply needle to wax. The next few second are a blur. All you can remember is that following seemingly innocent opening, female singers chanting;
A hunting we will go A hunting we will go We will catch that fox and put him in a box And will not let him go! You momentarily figure you have a childrens record on your hands. And then, something happens that causes you to spit out your coffee and jump from your chair like your pants were on fire. There, booming out of the speakers is something that sounds like a bug-eyed madman on a caffeine bender.
Boo bo boo bo boo boo boo bo bo bo bo Bay bay buh baybay bay buh buh bay bay Bo bo bo bo bo bo bo (etc etc...)*
It sounds like the kind of guy, that if a certified lunatic like Screaming Jay Hawkins saw King Coleman coming up the sidewalk, he’d pull the bone from his nose, avert his eyes and cross to the other side of the street, murmuring to himself, “Omigod, omigod, omigod. It’s that King Coleman...PUH-leeze don’t let him see me....” Suffice to say, that as far as you were concerned, things only got worse. The wild babbling emanating from the grooves builds to a crescendo, a mess of corrupted nursery rhymes, nonsense syllables and wild wailing. You rake the needle across the record, pull it off the turntable and break it into little pieces, run into the next room and tell your secretary that if she ever lets ANYTHING like that through again she’s going to be looking for work. You of course are a tasteless bastard, and this little memory goes a long way toward explaining why you currently live under a highway overpass, grilling pigeons over a campfire. Now if it were me back then (I’d be 5 years old), I’d have immediately requested several extra copies of ‘The Boo Boo Song’ so I’d have some spares ready as I wore them out. That’s just the kind of kid I was (and am). You see, I think King Coleman was one of the great geniuses of his day, erupting like a rhythm and blues volcano, wrecking the joint with all manner of Mashed Potatoes, Hully Gullys, Loo-key Doo-keys, Alley Rats (and Soulful Mice) and Booga-Lous. Between 1959, when he moved from his work as an emcee and disk jockey into the world of R&B as the voice on Nat Kendrick & The Swans ‘(Do The) Mashed Potatoes Pts 1&2’ – and the late 60’s, Carlton ‘King’ Coleman laid down some of the butt-shakingest, eye-rollingest, high-stepping soul and funk 45s to ever roll down the pike. Every last one of them** is a guaranteed party starter. ‘The Boo Boo Song Pts 1&2’ is possibly the finest of them all, because it manages to rope in (barely) his explosive vocalizing, pairing it with some booming drums, blaring horns and organ, all of which make it a storming slice of soul evangelism – guaran-freaking-teed to peel off the wallflowers and send those already dancing into a sweaty trance. If you haven’t done so already, I would suggest most vociferously that when you play this track, you loosen your tie, turn the volume way up and let it wail. I would also recommend that if you have any small kids around, you play it for them too. I played it for my two-year old son, and he thought it was a hoot. Thankfully, of you’re not the type to go digging for 45s, the always brilliant folks at Norton Records have assemble the King’s best into a single compilation (see link below).
* Yeah, I know that isn't an exact transcription, but if you think I'm going to spend a half an hour, restarting the song 50 times so I can accurately count all the BOBO's and BAYBAY's, you my friend have another think coming...
** The only exception - and a track that was omitted (for obvious reasons) from the Norton comp is the fascinating 'Freedom', which came out on Fairmount in 1965 or 66. It's a mostly spoken word, civil rights anthem that is an extreme departure from the rest of his oeuvre. I'll post it here sometime in the future
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Stevie Wonder - Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)
Mr. Stevie Wonder!
The middle of the week is upon us. Despite the fact that I have a couple of burners in the on deck circle (and I’m chomping at the bit to get them posted) I’ve decided to change things up and work in a ballad*. Back in 1973 (when I was but a sprout of 11), Aretha Frankin had a big (#1 R&B/#3 Pop) hit with the tune ‘Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)’. I loved the song then (unusual, I know but the melody really grabbed me), and I always turn up the radio when it comes on. It was years before I found out that the tune was actually written by the one and only Stevie Wonder. Of course I started tracking down the original version, but in the pre-internet days I was - how do they say - stymied. As time went on I figured that Wonder had written but never actually recorded the song himself. A few years ago, when it was included on a CD compilation, I realized that Wonder had indeed recorded, but never released his own version of the song (I had yet to hear it). I decided in the last year or so that I was going to try to track down the recording... About a month ago I had some spare time on my hands and started to pull out some records to make a funk/soul mix. One of the LPs I removed from the old Expedit was a 3-LP Stevie Wonder collection from 1977 called ‘Looking Back’, one of several similar Motown reissues from the 70's. I had grabbed it at a garage sale in the neighborhood a few years ago, and it had basically been gathering dust on the shelf since then. I had taken it out to see if it included the funky 1968 number ‘You Met Your Match’ (another fave) which I didn’t happen to have on 45. So, I’m scanning the track listings in the awkward tri-fold LP jacket, when, much to my surprise there on the second disc was ‘Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)’. My initial shock was soon exceeded by a feeling of “Boy, am I ever a rube” (this of course goes back to the “too many records to keep track of problem”). I started doing some research and discovered that this was the only time the recording had ever been issued on vinyl. Wonder co-wrote the tune with Clarence Paul and Morris Broadnax**. Paul was the man that initially brought Wonder to Motown, and served as his mentor/father figure for many years.
Wonder recorded the song in 1967, and the full arrangement suggests that it almost certainly was intended for release at one time (as opposed to being solely a “publisher’s demo”). Apparently there was also another 60’s recording of the tune – also unreleased at the time – by Junior Walker & the All Stars (it was eventually issued on a Best Of CD in 1993). Wonder’s recording opens with lush strings and a subdued rhythm section. His vocal is of course wonderful, and the arrangement a little slower and more romantic than the hit version by Franklin. Her recording has a soulful kick to it, especially with the taut call and response exchanges between Aretha and her backup singers. I still haven’t decided which version I prefer, but I suppose since they’re both excellent, it doesn’t really matter. The tune was later covered by Johnny Mathis, Paul Young, Basia and – believe it or not – the Captain & Tennille. If your not the type to haunt garage sales, flea markets or dusty used record stores (where you could probably find a copy of ‘Looking Back’ for a few dollars), ‘Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)’ is included on the Stevie Wonder boxed set ‘At the Close of a Century’. Considering the greatness of Mr. Wonder, you’d definitely be getting your money’s worth.
* There'll be some nice, upbeat soul on Friday, but I will be returning with another ballad next week.
**The trio also wrote ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’ for the Contours NOTE: I’d like to extend a special note of thanks to reader Matt M., who found a copy of the Four Larks ‘Groovin’ At The Go Go’ (long an unrequited highlight of my want list), and sent it to me, gratis. For this extremely cool move, I will be forever in his debt.
Monday, April 24, 2006
One Good Neville Deserves Another
One from Art...
And one from Cyril!
Greetings all. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be able to meet my Monday payroll (as it were), since Blogger had been offline for most of the last 24 hours (if not longer). Fortunately it appears to have been restored (at least momentarily) so I’m going to try to get today’s selection posted up before the whole house of cards comes tumbling down again. I spent some quality time yesterday sifting through old stuff, new arrivals and a couple of gems I had put aside for just such an occasion, got it all recorded and scanned, and then remembered I had a few things already waiting in the wings. These records were so delicious, that I just had to get them posted before I moved on to bigger, better (read: newer) things. In the spirit of brevity (hand in hand with the spirit of coincidence) I figured that I could post them both at the same time, since, as they say in New Orleans: “one good Neville deserves another”. Those that stop by this space regularly know that the sounds of New Orleans have a large, warm and welcoming space reserved in my heart – causing me to wax poetic about them on a semi-regular basis. The two records I’m posting today are – as I hinted above – both Neville-related, one having the extra-special bonus of being an Eddie Bo composition/production. That record, Art Neville’s ‘Hook Line and Sinker’ is a lively mid-60’s soul banger , with an outstanding horn chart and a great four-on-the-floor beat. As far as I know the recording of this record pre-dates the formation of the Neville Sounds (the band that would become the Meters), so I’m guessing that the backing band is likely a studio aggregation. ‘Hook Like and Sinker’ (not the same tune recorded by Betty Harris a few years later) is a great slice of pop soul, and typical of the kind of quality record that was coming out in the Instant label’s post-R&B soul and funk era, especially in the fact that outside of New Orleans it was all but ignored (a fate that befell lots and lots of quality Crescent City records of that era). While Art’s vocals may not have been as distinctive as his brother Aaron’s (though there are similarities), he was abetter than average singer (having waxed sides for Specialty and Cinderella). The second 45 we have for you today hails from about five years further down the pike, well inside the city limits of Funk-ville. Cyril Neville, the youngest of the famous brothers, had been a member of the pre-Meters Neville Sounds. When Art Neville, Zigaboo Modeliste, George Porter and Leo Nocentelli broke off and formed the Meters, Cyril and Aaron Neville went on to for the Soul Machine (a band that sadly never recorded). By the time Cyril finally had the chance to record under his own name, it was 1970 and he found himself in a Georgia studio with Allen Toussaint and the Meters*. The resulting sides, ‘Gossip’ and ‘Tell Me What’s On Your Mind’ were both heaters. Prior to a few years ago, ‘Gossip’ was unkown to me. I had ‘Tell me What’s On Your Mind’ on a comp – and dug it – but that tune, a smooth, soulful number didn’t prepare me for the power of ‘Gossip’. I started to see the tune mentioned on several sale-lists (and Ebay listings...ugh) and finally grabbed my own copy a while later. The tune opens with a throbbing rhythm section, and then, when you least expect it, Mr. Nocentelli (who also penned the tune) drops by with and electric sitar, starting off the whole affair with a touch of funky psych-out. When the full band (and horns) drop in, the sound of the Meters in unmistakable. Cyril’s vocal is right on the money, sounding like a slightly tougher version of Art, dropping the ‘FONKY’s right and left like they were going out of style (which thankfully they were not). The record is super-tight, red hot and worthy of the elevated prices it was (and is) fetching. The fact that it has such an excellent b-side should only serve as extra incentive to score your own copy. Cyril went on to join the Meters a few years later, as well as spearhead the formation of the Wild Tchoupitoulas. Since the 70’s he has been a fixture of the Neville Brothers, as well as recording his own bands, and as a solo artist. ‘Gossip’ has appeared on reissues (currently a Jazzman 45 reissue flipped with brother Aaron’s sought after ‘Hercules’). I can’t say for sure if ‘Hook Line and Sinker’ is currently available. I know there’s a UK 3CD compilation of Minit/Instant material, but I have not been able to find a track listing.
*I believe that this is a different session than the one that produced Eldridge Holmes mighty 'Pop Popcorn Children'.
Friday, April 21, 2006
The JBs - The Grunt Pt1
These are the J.B.s!
Hey, look! It’s Friday. Wheeeee! As a special treat (and under advisement from my wife) I’ll dispense with any existential grousing and get right to the music. I’ve wanted to post today’s selection for a long time, and I don’t know why I never got around to it. The likely explanation is that I was distracted while flipping through records by more obscure artists, or something shiny flew past my window...I don’t know. I’m easily distracted these days (addled, fried...whatever). Anyway...I decided that I was going to get it posted this week, no matter what. The only problem is, I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach this record (which is The J.B.s ‘The Grunt’ by the way), and not having a lot of success. It should be simple enough. It is – of course – a great funk record, by one of the great funk bands of all time. That sounds easy, n’est ce pas???? Unfortunately, nothing is ever that simple hereabouts, a problem that I attribute entirely to myself. My initial take on the record has always been this: ‘The Grunt’ sounds to me like the band director from ‘Drum Line’ directing the orchestra from the prison for the criminally insane. The opening sax-o-ma-phone squeal is about as crazy as anything committed to wax since Edison was reciting ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’, and it’s placement at the very beginning of the tune is to say the least disconcerting. The juxtaposition of this single, strange element against the powerful beat is tempered almost immediately by the sound of the J.B. horns blaring away as if their lives depended on it. The march-like aspects of the tempo only serve to enhance the wild abandon of the rest of the record. It’s not hard to imagine the JB’s, in uniform, high stepping around the studio led by some kind of other-worldly drum major in orange sequined hot pants (or some such). Though it may seem that I am portraying the record as somehow chaotic (which in a way it is) the chaos exists within the constraint of the patented James Brown Rhythmic Method. While the band may be going nuts, the whole affair is bolted into an iron box. It may lack the subtlety and grace (or as some might say, smooth mechanical precision) of a record like ‘Sex Machine’, but ‘The Grunt’ is in many ways a more powerful statement. The very first record released under the J.B.s name, it was also one of a handful of singles recorded with the line-up that included former members of the Ohio band the Pacesetters, i.e. Bootsy (William) and Catfish (Phelps) Collins, Frank ‘Kash’ Waddy and Philippe Wynne. James Brown had hired the Pacesetters when the majority of his existing band walked out on him. The Collins brothers would leave the fold soon after, for many of the same reasons, mainly Brown’s tyrannical attitude toward his band. The wild sound of ‘The Grunt’ is especially interesting when you realize that the very next record in their discography is the comparatively subtle and jazzy ‘These Are the J.B.s Pts 1&2’. It’s almost as if the acid had worn off, and James had forced Bootsy to get a haircut. I’d go as far as to say that while the J.B.s were one of the hottest bands in the land, they never made a record (under that name) as hot as ‘The Grunt’.
Part 2: Cheapies vs. Expensive-ies....
One of the regular readers left a comment on this Wednesday’s post, saying that he hoped I hadn’t paid a lot for the record (King Ernest Baker’s ‘Somebody Somewhere (Is Playing With Yours)’) because it was a “cheapie”. Normally I’d let something like that go without comment, but this time it irked me a little. I’m positive, that if you were to make a survey of my collection, you would find a wide variety of records for which I had alternately underpaid, or overpaid for as the case may be*. That’s the way these things go. Sometimes you get lucky, and find normally costly records for pennies, and other times you pay more than the going rate for a record because you really, really, REALLY want it and don’t feel like waiting for a cheap copy to present itself. I find the collector preoccupation with the financial “value” of records to be unsettling. It brings along with it a lot of baggage, especially when you start to balance the cash value against the musical value. I’ve heard plenty of expensive records that pale in comparison to 45s that I got for a dollar. The collector mentality (something I’ve recognized in myself from time to time) places an inordinate value on rarity of the physical item (i.e. the 45 itself) that often ignores the quality of the music in the grooves. I’ve featured a number of exceptional 45s in this space that are readily available for $20 and under, as well as scarce items that the average Joe might only be able to grab on a CD reissue. Not to mention that for those that are willing to dig (and experiment) there are tons of amazing, little known (or appreciated) records out there to be had – if you’ll forgive the pun – for a song. I think sometime soon I may have to do a week or two devoted exclusively to “cheap” records. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
King Ernest Baker - Somebody Somewhere (Is Playing With Yours)
Wednesday....aaarrrgh. While the glass-half-fullers of the world see it as ‘Hump Day’ (a name which should have been reserved for a much more interesting – yet to be established – national holiday), the “beginning of the end” of the week, I can’t help but feel that such a sentiment is indicative of the kind of wet-brained “optimism” currently infecting the White House. What some see as the gateway to fun and games, I see as a barren shoal in the middle of a still sea, with no land in sight. I hate to burden you with what has become a repeated litany (I should distill it to its essence and enshrine it in some kind of FAQ), but it all goes to explaining a general “philosophy”of sorts (maybe too classy a description) behind the Funky16Corners blog. As I attempt to get new tunes and words posted up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I like to think of the chain of posts as a kind of rickety bridge from one weekend to the next, in which we (the readers and myself) traverse the work week making every effort to maintain equilibrium, aided by the natural power of funk and soul music. I’m willing to admit that it’s possible that no one but myself sees it that way, but one can hope against hope (can’t one?). The strange thing is, that despite my repeated griping, I like my job (as much as its possible to like a “job”). The problem is, that sometime early in my life (probably the period after high school where I had convinced myself that I was going to “work” as a rock musician, a notion from which I was soon – rightly - disabused) I decided that working for a living was “for the squares”, and as a result have resented having to do so for the rest of my life, right up to the present day. That resentment, chiseled into my brain, and always hovering in the background when and wherever responsible action is required, almost always loses out, but it’s always there, lobbing psychological Bronx cheers at me as a reminder of the slacker philosophe I once fancied myself. I can’t help but be embarrassed about it all, but it’s become ingrained in my basic nature. Fish gotta swim. Monkeys have to throw their own poop. I have to gripe about working for a living. Good thing for me that I have a lovely wife, wonderful son, great family and a pastime/avocation that keeps me occupied. Now that that’s out of the way... How about the music? Some time back a year or two ago, someone (and I forget who, so If you’re reading this, I apologi-eeeze) sent me a mix CD with a bunch of cool – and unfamiliar – cuts on it). One of these was a funky organ jam that I hadn’t heard before, and because such records are like mothers milk to me, I set out to track it down. It took me a few months to track down a copy of the record at a reasonable price (please note that the price of a record that I find “reasonable” may in no way conform to generally accepted levels of reasonable-ness). When it finally dropped through the mail slot, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that said organ jam was merely an instrumental dub of the vocal on the a-side, King Ernest Baker’s ‘Somebody Somewhere (Is Playing With Yours)’ on the appropriately named Funk Records. I hadn’t heard of Baker before, and it took a while to find any info on him and his career. It turns out that King Ernest was part of along tradition of R&B singers that passed through a number of genres in his career, recording as a soul, funk, and eventually blues singer. Born and raised in Mississippi, he moved to Chicago in the late 50’s and worked there for a number of years before moving to New York City. He recorded his first record for the Old Town label. The singer, now known as King Ernest, moved back to Chicago in the late 60’s and over the next ten years recorded 45s for Sonic, Barry , Mercury and Funk. I’m not sure, but I’d place ‘Somebody Somewhere (Is Playing With Yours)’ around 1969 or 1970. The backing band on the session was the Pieces of Peace, who had a history as a backing band on a number of Twinight Recrods sessions, for artists like Syl Johnson, Annette Poindexter, and the Dynamic Tints. They recorded one 45 under their own name, “Pass It On Pts 1&2” for Twinight. Opening with powerful horn bursts, ‘Somebody Somewhere (Is Playing With Yours)’ features a strong vocal by King Ernest, hard drums and wailing organ (which would take the lead on the b-side). The arrangement is tight, and the lyrics, an admonition to pay attention to your woman, equally so. King Ernest lays it down... “I know it’s hard to resist temptation With all the miniskirts and hot pants around You’re sneaking here, and sneaking there With every girl you can around town WAKE UP!
Boy you better shape up! Before you find yourself out cold.” Words to live by. King Ernest went on to a career with the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department, and returned to recording in the 90’s for the Evidence and Fat Possum labels (see below). Sadly, he died in a car wreck in 2000, just after completing his last LP.
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...
Friday, April 14, 2006
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.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Betty Harris - Show It
Miss Betty Harris
Good afternoon. I’ll open today’s entry by hoping that Wednesday finds you well. Aside from the fact that my wife and son are away for a Passover visit to the old sod (that being the Schenectady metropolitan area), things are tending toward the hunky-dory-esque on this end. I’ll spare you another political rant, if only because things haven’t changed measurably in the last few days. The media (electronic and otherwise) in this country is still a disgrace, but nothing I say is going to make that change, so I will refrain (at least for today...). Today’s entry will be on the brief side, if only because I covered much of the related material in depth over at the Funky16Corners web zine a few years ago. If you’ve been here before, you’ve seen me discuss my passion for the soul and funk music of New Orleans, especially the work of Allen Toussaint on the Sansu label. Since the inception of the Funky16Corners blog, I’ve written about sides by Willie Harper, Lee Calvin, and John Williams & The Tick Tocks as well as non-Sansu sides by Sansu artists like Eldridge Holmes and Curly Moore. Strangely enough (at least to me) in over 160 posts in this space, I’ve never written up a side by one of my all-time favorites, Betty Harris. For the full story on Harris, refer to the feature at the web zine. Briefly, Harris, who recorded for Douglas and Jubilee early in her career and all but one of the balance of her sides for Sansu (the exception being her final 45, the funk masterpiece ‘There’s A Break In The Road’ on SSS Intl.), was the premiere female vocalist in Allen Toussaint’s stable, cutting 10 singles (more than any other artist on Sansu) for the label*. I have been collecting Sansu sides for years, and have gotten my hands on all but one 45 from the label’s “classic” years (i.e. Curly Moore’s ‘Don’t Pity Me’). Among my most recent acquisitions was today’s number, which - for reasons I haven’t been able to figure out – eluded me for years (it’s not a particularly pricey piece). Released in 1968, ‘Show It’ (and it’s b-side ‘Hook Line & Sinker’) is one of the finer records in the Harris/Toussaint collaboration. The record features a typically brilliant vocal by Harris, a tasty, danceable arrangement complete with stylish female backing vocals and strings. There’s also plenty of twangy New Orleans guitar to keep things grounded. Unfortunately, the best Betty Harris compilation ‘Soul Perfection Plus’ is out of print, and the currently available ‘Lost Soul Queen’ omits ‘Show It’.
Fortunately, Betty Harris is back in the game, performing and recording new music. * One was a duet with Lee Dorsey ‘Love Lots of Loving’ b/w ‘Take Care of Our Love’
Monday, April 10, 2006
The Soul Clan - Soul Meeting (and some more politics...)
Messrs Burke, Conley, Covay, King & Tex
Good afternoon all. Here we are again, at the regular meeting of the Monday Soul Society/coffee klatch. The afternoon finds me (like Azrael Abyss, Prince of Sorrows) forlorn. The weatherman keeps promising that Spring is actually here, but I for one am not convinced. The first day I can walk around comfortably sans sweatshirt, or drive with at least one of my car windows rolled down (terrorizing the locals with loudly played soul and funk obscurities), I’ll believe that we’ve changed seasons, but right now I refuse to cooperate. As much as it pains me to do so, I have to start off another post with a political rant, though this one is less specifically about George Bush than about those of his ilk (I love the word “ilk”. Note to self, employ “ilk” as much as possible without sounding like a shill for the “ilk” lobby...). I was home taking care of my little sonny boy last week – he was working off a pesky fever – and spent a fair amount of time watching the cable news channels. It was funny (both “ha ha” and not “ha ha”) watching Fox News ignore the breaking scandal involving Fearless Leader’s inability to keep a secret, choosing instead to continue their racist/fascist jihad against the “Mexican Menace”, i.e. the crisis with illegal immigration (which just turned into a crisis when the Republicans decided that they were getting hit by too many pieces of rotten fruit – or the figurative equivalent - in the public square). I mean, really...it’s not like Fox News has ever been anything but a musty little circus tent filled to capacity with pinheads, flat-earthers, racists and Red-baiters, but sometimes the rhetoric that spills out of that place is beyond belief. Of course, were you to acquaint yourself with the Right-wing blog-o-sphere (another note to self: try not to use the word “blog-o-sphere” ever again), you’d realize that few of the new Right Wing memes that find their way onto Fox News haven’t already been road tested on the web in crypto-fascist loony bins like Free Republic, and the Pajamas Media cabal. It’s almost as if Fox News was only there as an echo chamber in which the Right Wing see and hear themselves reflected. In the past few days the channel has been a swirling vortex of outrage (“How dare they carry Mexican flags at these rallies?!”), the aforementioned Red-baiting (“Isn’t that a communist front organization?”), and out and out hysterics like suggesting that the Mexican immigrants are intent on a revolution that will re-claim the American Southwest as Mexican Territory, and that the rallies have been infiltrated with criminal street gangs. They portray the gun-toting self-appointed border patrollers the ‘Minutemen’ as some kind of concerned citizens group, instead of the dubious paramilitary enterprise that it is, and feature a steady stream of Republican officials from Border States rolling their eyes and pulling their buzzcuts out over the “problem”. Of course, everyone in Congress, Republicans and jelly-spined Democrats alike have waded into the controversy with a volley of conflicting legislation, as if all of our lives depended on cobbling together a knee-jerk solution as soon as possible. Here’s the deal, this is neither a new problem, nor has it suddenly increased to a level that requires this kind of hysteria. This country has had a shameful history when it comes to immigration, the part that illegal immigrants play in this economy, and using illegal immigration as an excuse to whip up Joe Six-pack. The people fanning the flames with a lot of racist, xenophobic rhetoric need to take it down a notch or two (or ten...). I think if we’re going to spend money “investigating”, it ought to be spent seeing how many members of Congress (and their big campaign contributors) employ undocumented aliens as domestics (household work or child care), in manual labor situations (either directly or indirectly, i.e. does your landscaper/gardener employ them, do they hold stock in companies that benefit from sweatshop labor?) or otherwise, and then apply the strongest fines possible. That, of course, will never happen. I’d also like to see the list of unemployed American citizens that are waiting to take the “jobs” held by undocumented workers. You know, those “jobs” that don’t pay minimum wage, or include any benefits, or have to follow labor laws or safety regulations. I suspect it would be a fairly short list. They (Fox, their minions and proxies) just need to shut the fuck up and try a little honesty. That said, James Wolcott has some very insightful things (and some pertinent links) to say on the issue.
I promise that I’ll lighten up on the politics just as soon as the political situation (as it is) lightens up (b/w the exciting track “Don’t Hold Your Breath”...). Anyhoo....It just wouldn’t be right for me to go on like that if I didn’t have an absolutely smoking track waiting at the end (c’mon...you don’t make someone eat their broccoli and then give them shredded wheat for dessert). No my friends, the track I had selected for today is a ass-kicker from the get go, top loaded with all-star soul talent (probably more soul talent by volume than any single 45 ever created). I speak of the mighty Soul Clan, and their very, very, very tasty ‘Soul Meeting’. For those of you that have never heard of the Soul Clan, the membership breaks down like so: Solomon Burke, Don Covay, Ben E King, Arthur Conley and Joe Tex. Formed in 1968 by Don Covay (who also produced the 45), the original version of the group was to have included Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. By the time things finally came together, Otis was dead (replaced by his protégé Conley) and Pickett had backed out (not sure why). Though this supergroup only recorded the two sides of this 45 (‘Soul Meeting’ and ‘That’s How It Feels’) there was also a Soul Clan LP that was composed of a variety of solo tracks by the group’s members. ‘Soul Meeting’ opens with Covay calling the roll, ‘Is Arthur here? Is Joe here? Where’s Solomon? I see Don coming in now, and Ben E’s with him.’ In what can only be described as some kind of Super Soul Tag Team extravaganza, Joe Tex takes the first verse, tags Ben E. King, who then brings in Don Covay, then Solomon Burke, and finally the junior member of the team Arthur Conley. The tune cranks along at high speed with a swampy guitar line, blazing horns and super-tight drums. The track made it to #34 R&B and #91 Pop, but no more was heard from the Soul Clan, at least in its collective form. Solomon Burke has claimed that Atlantic effectively killed the record in order to put a monkey wrench in the groups efforts at expanding Black control of the record business (I’m not sure how the Soul Clan 45 was supposed to do that), but I’d say it’s a lot more likely that the Soul Clan concept – which was really only there on the 45 – couldn’t gel long enough to gain momentum. There were plenty of white ‘supergroups’ that went right into the toilet. At least in the case of the Soul Clan, they never waded into the swamp of self indulgence, leaving behind a single, excellent 45 as their legacy. The Soul Clan reunited in the early 80’s, with Wilson Pickett replacing Arthur Conley.
Friday, April 07, 2006
The Chairmen of the Board - Since the Days of Pigtails (and Fairy Tales)
Stand up and salute! It's General Johnson.
Friday has arrived once again, the weekend is upon us, and I must take this chance to say, huzzah! Kudos to the inventors of the weekend, the 40 hour work week (as it is), labor laws and health insurance (again, as it is…). I invoke these great – and often forgotten – pioneers, because if they ever had the opportunity to return from the great beyond, and see who’s running this country, they would, to the last, expire again immediately, their ghostly faces twisted in disbelief. Now, I know that this blog has always had a musical focus, but if you’re a loyal reader you know that I sometimes digress into political ruminations, and this is such an instance. George Bush is a lying motherf*cker. There, I said it. Sure, I didn’t have to resort to profanity, but I find it difficult to think of what Bush has done to this country without descending into a kind of subverbal funk where foul language is about as good as I can muster. Things are that bad. The specific instance of dishonesty I speak of, is back when the whole affaire de Plame got rolling, ad he expressed his displeasure with people that leak information, and how when he found out who it was that was leaking information, he was going to fire them. So, yesterday, we find out from the humorously named “Scooter” Libby (who’s real first name, hidden behind the initial ‘I’, must be so horrible as to never be revealed, because, when you think of it, why would any grown man - outside of a full time circus midget - go around calling himself Scooter?) has testified that it was Bush himself who OK’d the leak of classified information. He apparently did so after getting “legal” advice from Alberto “Dowatchalike” Gonzalez. So today, after an evening of deafening silence, Bush sends his greased weasel Scott McClellan into a hostile pressroom to split hairs, parse language, invoke ongoing investigations and generally add insult to injury by inflating the “lie pile” just a little bit more. Apparently allergic to straight answers, McClellan spent the better part of a half an hour dancing around the issue of the President’s no-leak policy by claiming that Bush was referring only to leaking of classified information (which he clearly wasn’t), and that the release of information he has “declassified” is not a leak, but merely contribution of information “in the public interest” (a phrase McClellan used over and over again, never convincingly) in order to counter “lies and misinformation” from hostile Democrats. Please… A leak is a leak is a leak, and if you sprinkle a pile of shit with diamonds, it’s still just a pile of shit. These people ought to be ashamed of themselves, but sadly, it appears that they are beyond shame. So, anyway, how’s about some music? I’ve gone on before about the joy of discovering a great new track, and haven’t been above admitting the instances when I had been unable to see the forest for the trees. This is one such instance. A few weeks ago, via a Myspace friend, Spain’s own Gruyere DJ, I received a link to download his New Years Eve DJ mix. I did so, and the mix was excellent, featuring a wide variety of rare funk nuggets, as well as a bunch of stuff that was not familiar to me. One such track appeared less than 15 minutes into the mix, and it was a killer. I immediately recued the tune (three of four times), listening to see if I might recognize the singer(s), or if any of the lines might reveal a familiar title. No such luck. So, I tried to contact Gruyere DJ to ask him who it was. The Myspace link wouldn’t load. So, I posted a query over at Soulstrut, figuring that one of the learned heads over there would recognize the refrain. Snake eyes…. Then I tried Google-ing the lyrics, only to discover that the main line in the chorus also appeared in a Jackson Five song (this was clearly not the same song, nor was it the Jackson Five). I thought I had reached a dead end. Then Myspace started working again, and I got a message through to my amigo in Spain. He got back to me in short order, and informed me that the track was ‘Since the Days of Pigtails (and Fairy Tales)’ by the Chairmen of the Board. So I start searching around to see how I an get myself a copy of this funky gem, and lo and behold, it turns out to be residing on the b-side of a huge hit, ‘Give Me Just A Little More Time’. Well, dip me in shit and call me stinky! Naturally, I found a nice copy for under ten bucks, and had it drop through the mail slot a few short days later. If you’ve heard the song (which I’m sure someone out there does), you’ll already know how smoking hot it is. If you’re as blissfully ignorant as I was, it should come as a very nice surprise indeed. The Chairmen of the Board was one of the top acts in Holland-Dozier-Holland’s Invictus/Hot wax stable. Formed in 1968, by General Johnson – who had previously been in the Showmen, who’s Beach Music anthem ‘It Will Stand was a hit in 1961 and 1964 (for Minit and Imperial) – Danny Woods and Harrison Kennedy, hit the top ten several times between 1970 and 1973. ‘Since the Days of Pigtails (and Fairy Tales)’ appeared on their 1970 debut LP, and was credited to Ronald Dunbar and Edith Wayne. The Dunbar/Wayne credit, which was also attached to Freda Payne’s ‘Band of Gold’ (among other tunes) was in fact a pseudonym for Holland-Dozier-Holland who were still contractually obligated (as songwriters) to the Motown organization. That LP also featured the original recording of Patches (written by General Johnson) which went on to be a huge hit for Clarence Carter. While the a-side of the 45, ‘Give Me Just A Little More Time’ is one of the most fondly remembered early 70’s soul classics - which strangely enough did better on the Pop charts (#3) than the R&B charts (#8) – it’s killer flipside is what we’re hear to talk about today. Starting off with a funky guitars and tambourine, the good General drops in with the first few lines before the congas, and then the drums kick the tune into gear. The first chorus takes things to another level entirely, bolstered by the horn section. The arrangement is clean, mean and delicious, with enough kick to please the funk fans and the dancers, and plenty of hooks for the pop crowd. Why this didn’t catch on to create one of the great two-sided hits of all time is beyond me. I’d place it up there with ‘Band of Gold’, and Laura Lee’s ‘Crumbs off the Table’ as the absolute best of Invictus/Hot Wax. So the next time you’re prowling garage sales and flea markets, bring along an extra quarter. You’ll be able to get your own copy of this killer. You can thank me then.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Sam and Bill - I'll Try
Sam & Bill
Howdy y’all.... Allow to begin by apologizing for missing my regularly scheduled Monday post. Family responsibilities prevented me from hammering away at my keyboard like I usually do. I spent the extra time taking extra special care in making the selections for the next few weeks posts, and if you’ve been satisfied by the Funky16Corners bill of fare in the past, I assure you I have some gems in store. Normally, I try to pull six or eight sides that ought to hold me for a few weeks of posts. The selections are generally a mix of newly acquired gems and prime stuff that I keep aging in the crates like Kobe beef. This gives things a nice balance between my current enthusiasms and a nice vintage here and there from the Funky16Corners cellars. I already had a couple of excellent newbies burning a hole in the turntable, so I decided to grab a crate at random and see what grabbed me. Now, what I am about to admit will both displease my wife, while simultaneously filling her with a sense of satisfaction.
I have so many records I can’t possibly keep track of them all.
While many of my records are personal favorites that I spent a long time tracking down and treasure dearly, my crates are also filled with piles of things that I either never got a chance to listen to, or just didn’t grab me the first time I heard them. While some people might look at this as a form of “over consumption”, I prefer to think of it as a kind of vinyl slush fund, just waiting for me to dip back in when the flow of new heat ebbs momentarily. I realize that this sounds like a bit of “spin”, but it’s true. Nothing beats pulling out a handful of 45s that don’t ring a bell, slapping them on the turntable and discovering that you missed a couple of winners the first time around. This happens for a variety of reasons. Occasionally I’ll get my hands on a big lot (i.e. hundreds) of records where it’s just not possible to process it all in a limited time period. In a case like that, the inclination is to grab the obvious stuff first, and put the other “interesting” stuff aside for later investigation. As recounted early in the history of this blog, a few years ago, my father-in-law hooked me up with a massive lot of 45s (3000+), which my wife and I scoured over a period of several weeks. I started paring things down by pulling out all the obvious crap (either by virtue of content or condition) and putting it aside. I also pulled all of the obvious heat and put that in its own pile. The next (and biggest) effort was extracting everything that looked promising, giving it a spin and checking it out in the record guides. Once the wheat was separated from the chaff (there was a LOT of chaff), I had some nice stacks of funk, soul and 60’s rock that I would either sell or fold into my own collection (depending on how greedy I was feeling at the time). Some records made it into the “sales” box, and then later on bounced back into the “keepers” box. One such record was ‘I’ll Try’ by Sam and Bill. Originally formed in Newark, NJ in 1962 by Sam Gary (originally the guitarist for the Soul Brothers) and Bill Johnson (a member of the Steps of Rhythm, who recorded for Sun), Sam & Bill went on to hit the R&B charts twice with singles on Johnny Nash’s JoDa records. By 1967, Sam Gary left the duo and was replaced by Sam Davis Jr (no, not the Candy Man...). This version of Sam & Bill recorded 45s for the Decca label. Now when I pulled ‘I’ll Try’ out of the box, and flipped it on the turntable, I could only wonder where my brain was when I spun it the first time.
How did this record not grab me right away?
Was I not paying attention?
All I can say is that I definitely missed the boat, because ‘I’ll Try’ is an absolute killer. Further research reveals that ‘I’ll Try’ has its share of partisans on the Northern Soul scene, and it’s not hard to see why. The record features a strong beat for the dancers, great vocals by Sam & Bill, some wonderful hooks and a powerful arrangement that packs on the power right on up to the anthemic chorus. It’s the kind of record that bands like the Action made a habit of covering. I can’t imagine any self-respecting UK R&B band circa 1967 hearing this record and not wanting to add it to their playlist right away. The tune, written by a certain “F. Tanner” is filled with the kind of twists and turns, and decided pop flavor that mark the best “mod soul” sides. You just can’t listen to this record without visions of sweaty Englishmen (and their birds) doing the flip, flop and fly at a vintage allnighter. ‘I’ll Try’ is a new favorite of mine, and I hope you dig it.