Friday, June 30, 2006

We've Moved! AGAIN!!! Funky16Corners v3.0

Funky16Corners Has moved yet AGAIN!!! Go to.... Henceforth, all new blog entries will be at that location, and all archived posts have been moved there as well. I hope to see you there. Larry PS The regularly scheduled Friday post will be up in that space shortly.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bill Withers - Harlem


Mr. Bill Withers



First off, we're still MOVING. The switch over to the Wordpress version of the Funky16Corners blog is underway, and will soon be final . This version will remain up as a repository and forwarding site, but the Blogger tool has become progressively more unreliable, and I've tired of dealing with is. Please adjust your links/bookmarks accordingly to point to

See you there... Larry

Good day to you..... Here we are, at the regular Wednesday get together. The grey weather continues unabated, but since we in NJ have been spared the worst of this seemingly endless storm – which has caused all kinds of flooding and property damage between Philadelphia and the Carolinas – I can’t really complain. As long as it’s warm – and it is – it’s still summer to me, and I’ll take it. Today’s selection is one of those records that I’ve carped about before, i.e. a song that I genuinely love (as are all of the tunes I post here), but one that escapes easy categorization, and thus description. This may or may not be a moot point. As I post an MP3 of each and every song I write about, it is possible for the listener/reader to download/play and listen to the tracks and describe it for themselves. However... That’s not really the sole purpose of this little electronic Mom & Pop operation I have going here. What I strive to do (though strive may be, on some days, too strong a word) is present little slices of excellent music, wrapped in a little bit of context/perspective, a lot of enthusiasm, strained through my own stew of opinions. The end result is – I hope – that the readers are exposed to some excellent music that either they haven’t heard before, or are hearing in a new way, and that they learn something new about that particular piece of music’s place in the grand scheme of things. I try to maintain a balance between playing to the connoisseurs in the crowd, and to those who are by and large unfamiliar with much of the music posted here. On that note, despite the fact that today’s selection resides on the b-side of a substantial hit record, I hadn’t heard it before a few months ago. I have my fellow posters over at Soulstrut to thank for hepping me to the excellence of Bill Withers first LP, 1971’s ‘Just As I Am’. While I (and everyone else with access to a radio) knew and loved ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, and had picked up a couple of Withers’ 45s when they came out in the 70’s, I had never owned, or heard a copy of his first LP. While browsing the racks at my local book and music mega-mondo-mart, I saw that ‘Just As I Am’ had been reissued in an excellent new package that included the entire album, and when you flipped the CD over it was also a DVD with a mini-documentary about Withers and the entire album again, in surround-sound, so I grabbed it. I’m here to tell you that if you haven’t gotten a copy of this album, you should do so now. Withers, who was recording demos and laboring installing airplane toilets when he was finally signed to Sussex, is if not unique, a truly unusual talent. His style combined the basic singer/songwriter structure that was the lingua franca in 1971, with pure, deep soul. He was an outstanding songwriter, and his performances, often with an acoustic guitar, carried with them an intimacy that made his songs even more powerful. When I hear ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, the first thing I think of is a feeling, i.e. melancholy, before I even begin to consider the elements of the actual record. That’s deep. That ability to transmit emotion in his songs carries throughout the entire ‘Just As I Am’ album, from his powerful originals like ‘Grandma’s Hands’, ‘Hope She’ll Be Happier” and the loose and funky ‘Do It Good’, and creative reworkings of Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ and the Beatles ‘Let It Be’. The tune that grabbed me the most when I listened to the album for the first time was ‘Harlem’. Opening with Withers’ guitar and then a wave of strings, the momentum of the song builds gradually. The lyrics, painting a picture of life in Harlem, are excellent, and as their intensity builds, so do the vocals, working into a powerful statement. It’s really interesting that they chose to make ‘Harlem’ the flip side of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, because the two recordings form a kind of stylistic yin/yang, balancing the quiet pleading of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ with the forceful ‘Harlem’. The production by Booker T. Jones (he of the MGs) is outstanding, and the record manages to build in its mere three and a half minute span into a kind of mini epic. It’s the kind of record that in combination with a very solid track record as a hitmaker, ought to spur on a reconsideration of Withers as a major artist. As I said before, ‘Harlem’ was the flipside of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, so a little garage-sale-ing, and 25 cents ought to be enough to secure your very own copy of this gem. If your interest is a little bit deeper, you can always grab ‘Lean On Me – Best of Bill Withers’ which includes not only ‘Harlem’ but all of his big hits. I would suggest grabbing the ‘Just As I Am’ CD, if only to hear the album in its entirety. It’s just that good.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Brenda Holloway - You've Made Me So Very Happy


Miss Brenda Hollway


Greetings. First off, we're still MOVING. The switch over to the Wordpress version of the Funky16Corners blog is underway, and will soon be final . This version will remain up as a repository and forwarding site, but the Blogger tool has become progressively more unreliable, and I've tired of dealing with is. Please adjust your links/bookmarks accordingly to point to See you there... Larry

Greetings all. Hope everyone had a nice weekend. Once again, allow me to apologize for the absence of the regularly scheduled Friday post. My lovely wife – who happens to be 8 months pregnant – had to go to the hospital on Thursday – which kept me occupied all of Thursday night and most of Friday. Fortunately she and the baby are both doing fine and remain on track for an early-August delivery (phew...). If you notice a sudden interruption in new blog posts around that time, you can safely assume that we are otherwise (happily) occupied with a new little soul fan. Today’s post begins with a little bit of time travel. It’s the summer of 1969, and I am 7 years old. My family has taken a vacation drive to Dayton, Ohio to visit my Aunt, Uncle and cousins. A decision has been made that I will remain in the mysterious Midwest for a few weeks and will be catching a ride back to New Jersey when the Ohio branch of the Grogan clan treks east for a visit. If memory serves, I was pleased by this development. I enjoyed spending time with my cousins, many of whom were older than me. My late cousin Pat was a teenager who worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, which then struck me as the coolest job imaginable (I’m not positive, but at the time I may very well have thought that Colonel Sanders was actually running the restaurant in question). I had a lot of fun out in Ohio that summer, but the lasting impact of the visit is that by virtue of being around teenagers, 1969 was the year that I first made my first, solid connection to the radio, vis a vis contemporary pop music. I remember a clear grouping of songs that seemed to be getting a lot of play on the radio that summer, including ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ by Tommy James & The Shondells, ‘My Cherie Amour’ by Stevie Wonder, and ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ by Blood Sweat and Tears. I always loved the Blood Sweat and Tears tune, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized that it was in fact a cover. By the time I finally heard the original version (maybe 15 years ago), I was surprised to find out that it had been recorded by an artist that I already knew, Brenda Holloway. In the late 80’s, Motown already had a miserable reputation for the reissue packaging of their classic material (a situation that I’m happy to say has been resolved). The exception to the rule was a series of ‘Hard To Find Motown Classics’ (I think that was the title) cds. The volume I had - purchased for Eddie Holland’s original version of ‘Leaving Here’, which became a mod fave when covered during the British beat era by the Birds and the Who – gave me my first taste of the Velvelettes (“Bird In The Hand”), as well as Brenda Holloway’s ‘I’ll be Available’. I always dug Holloway’s voice, and when I found out that she had recorded (and co-written) the original version of ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ I decided to keep my eyes peeled for a copy. Strangely enough I didn’t get that particular record until recently (sometimes it’s just like that, i.e. the rare ones walk right up and bite you on the ass and the common stuff takes a while to acquire). Holloway was unusual in that while she recorded for Motown in their mid-60’s prime, she was based not in Detroit, but California. She had been spotted by Berry Gordy singing at a radio industry convention in LA, and signed in 1964. She recorded a number of 45s (including the oft covered ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’, which was a substantial hit) and an LP that year. ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy’ was a Top 40 R&B and Pop hit in 1967. Written by Holloway, her sister Patrice (who would go on to be the singing/speaking voice of ‘Valerie’ on the Josie & The Pussycats cartoon), Frank Wilson and Berry Gordy, the arrangement is a little mellower than the BS&T take, and of course features Holloway’s wonderful vocals. Despite the fact that she managed to rack up a number of hits (and record two LPs) for Motown, Holloway was criminally underpromoted by the label. In Nelson George’s excellent ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ he reprints a letter from Holloway to Gordy in which she suggests that due to her location on the West Coast, she was not getting the kind of attention her career deserved (and she was right). So disillusioned was she by her experience with Motown that she retired from music in the late 60’s. She recorded again (gospel and soul) starting in the early 80’s.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Eddie Bo & Inez Cheatham - Lover and a Friend


You go, Bo!


Greetings. First off, we're still MOVING. The switch over to the Wordpress version of the Funky16Corners blog is underway, and will soon be final . This version will remain up as a repository and forwarding site, but the Blogger tool has become progressively more unreliable, and I've tired of dealing with is. Please adjust your links/bookmarks accordingly to point to See you there... Larry

Hey, hey ,heeeyyyyyyy!! Wheeeee! First day of summer in da hi-youssse! Of course this information will come as a surprise to my fellow New Jersey-ans who have been sweltering for a few weeks now. By way of what may come as a disturbing revelation to some, I used to go see the Grateful Dead on a fairly regular basis (late 80’s/early 90’s ish). Now I wasn’t following them around in an alfalfa sprouting, incense burning, tie-dyed, bloodshot, VW microbus, but I was otherwise a rather typical, long-haired, bong-rattling concert attendee, indistinguishable - aside from my largeness - from the rest of the crowd (though I never went in for the terpsichorean flights of fancy so common at the time). I mention this, because at the time, the Dead used to hit Giants Stadium every year in early June. The first time I saw them there, it was the end of the first week in June and it had to be close to 110 degrees. The following year, at roughly the same time, it was about 55 degrees, and I sat in my crappy, upper-deck seats freezing my fat ass off. So basically this was just a public service announcement about the capricious nature of the late-Spring/early-Summer weather in NJ. Some years the “official” first day of summer is an eagerly anticipated event, wherein it is hoped that nice weather is just around the corner. Other years it’s like you’re standing in the middle of a bonfire and some wise-guy sidles up next to you to say “Sure is getting warm!” Other than the fact that the rather abrupt change of seasons can be jarring, I dig the warm weather as it brings with it the opportunity for me to wear shorts, allowing me the opportunity to expose my ghostly white legs to the general public. If it weren’t for the persistent traffic jams that come with the post-Memorial Day season, wall to wall out-of-state plates, and the drunken yahoos driving the cars (for some reason, at the Jersey Shore these visitors are known as “bennies”). Summertime would be an absolute pleasure. That said, in the spirit of New Orleans Week, and the onset of summer, what better tune to post than Eddie Bo and Inez Cheatham’s ‘Lover and a Friend’. One of the pricier Bo items on the record market, due in large part to it’s inclusion as a sample on DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist’s ‘Brainfreeze’ mix (which drove up the value of a number of records in exactly the same way), it is worth every penny an intrepid (lucky) digger might pay, and then some. If you follow my ramblings, here an over at the webzine, you already know that I hold Mr. Edwin Bocage in the highest possible regard. If you dig good music, you should too. From the mid-50’s right on up to the present day Mr. Bo has been working his magic in vinyl, creating a vast and amazing catalogue of R&B, soul and funk, under his own name and as the guiding force (writing, producing, arranging) behind other artists. He really ought to have a shiny brass plaque affixed to his piano that reads:

The man that brought you both ‘Pass the Hatchet’ and Hook and Sling’.

I mean, the man is responsible for a LOT of amazing records, but his involvement in those two ought to be enough to get respect from anyone with an ounce of soul. However, I will not – as is my bag – let Mr. Bo rest on his laurels, without taking a moment to freshen them.

‘Lover and a Friend’ is – rightly so - one of the cornerstones of Eddie Bo’s mighty reputation. The record opens with one of the most earth-shaking drum breaks in all of New Orleans recorded soul - a genre filled with them – provided by Mr. Bobby Williams. This is the same Bobby Williams of the storied ‘Boogaloo Mardi Gras Pts 1&2’ which, like ‘Lover and a Friend’ first saw the light of day on the legendary Seven B label prior to being picked up by Capitol for national distribution.

While the ‘Lover’ break may not possess the wild, off-kilter brilliance of James Black’s opening on Bo’s ‘Hook and Sling’ (a work of absolute, certified brilliance that all who broke (breaked?) afterward should bow down before in awe), it is undeniably powerful, and ought to get even the sleepiest listener perk up, pick up their invisible drumsticks and start flailing along.

Listen to that snare snap.

Listen to that kick drum thump in syncopation as the high-hat ticks along with metronomic precision.

It’s a thing of beauty. Then the singing starts and I’m here to tell you that it gets even better.

Eddie Bo made some outstanding records with female vocalists, most notably Mary Jane Hooper and the Explosions. For a long time, due in large part to what I would consider startling vocal similarities, I believed (as did many others) that Mary Jane Hooper (real name Sena Fletcher) and Inez Cheatham was the same person. According to a few reliable sources (including Martin Lawrie at Soulgeneration) this is not the case. Though Fletcher and Cheatham apparently sang together for a while, and both worked with Bo, they were two distinct people. Cheatham and Bo start the record with a repeated refrain of ‘Shoop!”, before diving into the verse, singing in unison. They both take turns breaking out of the harmony, especially in the choruses. The backing, with piano and guitar setting a steady rhythm and the drummer almost taking the instrumental lead, provides (borrowing the title of another Bo side) a solid foundation for the exciting vocals.

At the risk of sounding like a skipping record, allow me state once again that this is another example of a New Orleans record that should have broken nationally, and for whatever reason did not connect with the record buying public. New Orleans soul and funk are decidedly idiosyncratic sounds, but the top 40 (pop and soul) of 1967/68 was certainly diverse enough to absorb them. ‘Lover and a Friend’ is certainly not the only great record – from New Orleans or anywhere else for that matter - that was not a chart success, but something inside me just wants to imagine a 1968 where it was emanating from car radios (and on dance floors) all over the country. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Funky16Corners Radio v.5 - Funky Nawlins Pt 1

Track listing
1.The Meters – Cardova (Instant) 2.Chris Kenner – Fumigate Funky Broadway (Instant) 3. Jimmy Hicks - I’m Mr Big Stuff (Big Deal) 4. The Unemployed – Funky Thing Pt1 5. Skip Easterling –Too Weak To Break The Chains (Instant) 6. Lee Dorsey – When the Bill’s Paid (Polydor) 7.Cyril Neville – Tell me What’s On Your Mind (Josie) 8.Danny White – Natural Soul Brother (SSS Intl) 9. David Batiste & The Gladiators – Funky Soul Pts 1&2 (Instant) 10.Wilbert Harrison – Girls On Parade (Buddah) 11. Chuck Carbo – Take Care of You Homework (Canyon) 12. Allen Toussaint – We The People (Bell) 13. Oliver Morgan – Roll Call (Seven B) 14.Deacon John – You Don’t Know How To Turn me On (Bell) 15. Mary Jane Hooper – Harper Valley PTA (Power) 16. Eddie Bo – Don’t Turn Me Loose (Bo Sound)
First off, we're still MOVING. The switch over to the Wordpress version of the Funky16Corners blog is underway, and will be complete and final in a week or so. This version will remain up as a repository and forwarding site, but the Blogger tool has become progressively more unreliable, and I've tired of dealing with is. Please adjust your links/bookmarks accordingly to point to See you there... Larry

Greetings and welcom to the fifth installment of Funky16Corners Radio, this time taking a trip back down to the Crescent City, New Orleans, Louisiana for a selection of funk and funky soul. Connoisseurs of the genre will be familiar with some of these burners, but hopefully I’ve included something that’ll be new to everyone, especially some discs that I feel have been under-appreciated. We start things off with a number that resides at the top of many “Best of All Time” funk lists, the Meters mighty ‘Cardova’. By far my favorite number the Meters ever committed to vinyl under their own name – leaving out the many amazing 45s for which they provided anonymous backing – it starts out with George Porter dropping some heavy, heavy bass (so heavy in fact, that when it comes on in the car, I have to restart the tune and crank up the bass boost). As the rest of the gang drop in, Messrs. Neville on the organ, Nocentelli on the guitar and Modeliste snapping the traps, it all comes together into a swampy, hypnotic and undeniably funky mix. The only drag here is that this amazing song never made it out as a 45 (perhaps the tiny brittle confines of a 45 were too fragile to contain such a monster). If you want to spin it, you’re going to have to track down and snare a copy of their first LP (or a reissue thereof).

Chris Kenner is known to all for his early Instant label classics like ‘I Like It Like That’, but you would be wise to see if you can score copies of his late 60’s output for that label. In addition to his Eddie Bo collaborations like ‘All Night Rambler’, he also laid down tasty sides like 1967’s ‘Fumigate Funky Broadway’. Opening with a tasty drum break, Kenner goes off on a wild tear – as he was wont to do - backed by some groovy organ. The lyrics don’t make a whole lot of sense, but really, who cares? The b-side ‘Wind the Clock’, despite the new title, is actually a Part 2-ish continuation.
Jimmy Hicks ‘I’m Mr. Big Stuff’ is of course an ‘answer record’ to Jean Knight’s 1971 ‘Mr. Big Stuff’. One of many outstanding 45s on the Big Deal imprint (along with Anthony Butler & the Invaders, and the Fantoms), ‘I’m Mr. Big Stuff’ takes things at a slightly more relaxed, and funky pace.
The Unemployed made a couple of excellent 45s with Wardell Quezerque. Though they recorded in Mississippi (at Malaco, as many of Quezerque’s productions), they were a NOLA band through and through. ‘Funky Thing’ is a fast moving, featuring group vocals, lots of guitar and solid drumming. Their other Cotillion 45, ‘Funky Rooster’ b/w ‘They Won’t Let Me’ is also excellent.
Though little known outside of New Orleans, Skip Easterling was the town’s greatest “blue-eyed” soul singer. Easterling recorded for a number of New Orleans labels – his ‘Keep The Fire Burning” on ALON is a classic – and his sides for Instant are outstanding. ‘Too Weak To Break the Chains’, from 1971 features some timely psychedelic guitar, a funky, stop-time beat and a smooth vocal by Skip. He recorded five 45s for Instant, one of which ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’ was a big local hit. Someone ought to get the lead out and compile his recordings, as he – like many other great NOLA singers – is deserving of wide recognition.
Where do you start with Lee Dorsey? The man could do no wrong. He was responsible for a number of hits, including oldies radio fixtures like ‘Ya Ya’, and was one of New Orleans’ finest R&B/soul singers. ‘When the Bill’s Paid’ hails from his 1971 Polydor LP ‘Yes We Can’. If you’ve heard the album, you already know that it’s packed from end to end with amazing tunes like ‘Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further’, ‘Tears Tears and More Tears’, ‘Gator Tail’ and the title track (later covered by the Pointer Sisters). ‘When the Bill’s Paid’ is one of the lesser known, but excellent tracks from the LP (it never came out on 45). Like the rest of the LP, it bears the mark of the Meters.
Cyril Neville’s solo debut was the 1970 45 ‘Gossip’ b/w ‘Tell Me What’s On Your Mind’. Also backed by the Meters, and Toussaint-produced it was funky on both sides – though funk 45 diggers are usually after the harder-hitting ‘Gossip’. ‘Tell Me What’s ON Your Mind’ is clearly no slouch in the funk department, with snapping drums, chunky organ and a tight, tight horn section.
Prepare yourself for the pure, unbridled soul power of Danny White’s ‘Natural Soul Brother’. White recorded a number of ballads and soul dancers through the 60’s for labels like Frisco. ‘Natural Soul Brother’ was his sole 45 for SSS Intl, and it is a stone killer. I first heard this tune years ago on a comp, and just about went nuts trying to track down a copy. For a track on a relatively common and well distributed label it proved extremely hard to find. I was foiled more than once when I thought I finally tracked on down – one disappeared en route from the UK – before I finally scored a copy for a single US dollar in an otherwise uninspiring lot on E-Bay. I suspect that after you hear the song, you’ll want one of your own as well.
I underwent a similarly frantic search for David Batiste & the Gladiators ‘Funky Soul Pts 1&2’ on Instant. Not only is this track hard to find, but when you do it is EXPENSIVE. I lucked out and got it for a reduced price, but only because it looked a lot worse than it played. I would rank ‘Funky Soul’ as one of the four or five best funk sides to emerge from New Orleans (and that’s saying a lot). Released in 1971, it was issued later on the Soulin label. I have seen sales listings that infer that the Soulin issue is the first, but looking at the vintage of other releases on that label, I have my doubts. I have included both Parts One and Two here.
The next track is by a non-New Orleans artist, but it was recorded there. ‘Girls on Parade’ hails from Wilbert Harrison’s self-titled 1971 Buddah LP. Produced by Marshall Sehorn, with horn arrangements by Allen Toussaint, the LP is unremarkable, save for the funky ‘Girls On Parade’. Harrison, best known for the classic “Kansas City” and the 1969 ‘Let’s Get Together’ (covered by Canned Heat) wails a series of girls names (and not much else) over the modified Bo Diddley beat.
Chuck Carbo’s ‘Take Care of Your Homework’ was the flip side of his funky, Eddie Bo penned/produced masterpiece ‘Can I Be Your Squeeze’. ‘ Take Care of Your Homework’ never reaches the frantic levels of ‘...Squeeze’ but is still quite funky, with a melodic chorus. Carbo had recorded a number of 45s in the 50’s and 60’s, including several as a member of the Spiders with his brother Chick.
If you follow the doings in this space, you already know that I think very highly of the great Allen Toussaint. The man was responsible for the lions share of great R&B and soul sides to come out of New Orleans in the 60’s as a songwriter, producer and arranger. He worked closely with singers like Eldridge Holmes and Betty Harris, and lesser known (but also excellent) artists like Wallace Johnson. Toussaint also had his own performing career, first as Al Tousan, then as a member of the Stokes and finally under his own name. 1969’s ‘We the People’ was his final single for the Bell label. Moving along with a loping beat, lots of piano and Toussaint’s vocals, ‘We the People’ (which was flipped with a cover of ‘Tequila’) may not be the funkiest thing he ever recorded, but is nonetheless a fine – forgotten – chapter in his solo discography.
Oliver Morgan recorded a bunch of classics, including ‘Who Shot the La La’, and, not surprisingly ‘La La Man’. The latter was one of his three collaborations with Eddie Bo on the Seven B label. The first record the recorded together was ‘Roll Call’, which features some tight James Black drums, backing vocals from Mr. Bo and a wailing lead from Morgan. The b-side, ‘Sure Is Nice’ is a groovy, upbeat soul tune.
Deacon John Moore is best known for his work as a popular New Orleans session guitarist on countless classic 60’s records. His 1971 (or ’72, I’m not 100% sure) 45 ‘You Don’t Know How (To Turn Me On)” is a funky vocal with some excellent guitar (no surprise there). I know this was comped somewhere (but can’t recall where). The flip side is a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers To Cross’. Example
Eddie Bo produced and wrote for many singers, and many of his best remembered sides were with Mary Jane Hooper. For years, the rumor was that Hooper (real name Sena Fletcher) was the same person as ‘Inez Cheatham’, who recorded the duet ‘Lover and a Friend’ with Bo for Seven B and Capitol. This has been disputed – by no less an authority than Bo himself – but their voices are EERILY similar. ‘Harper Valley PTA’ was released on the local Power label, backed with another issue of ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’, which had been issued earlier on World Pacific.
Speaking of Eddie Bo, we close this mix out with the b-side of his 1971 Bo-Sound funker ‘Can You Handle It’. ‘Don’t Turn Me Loose’ is a more relaxed, but no less satisfying number, featuring a great horn chart and some nice female backing vocals (not to mention a stellar vocal by Mr. Bo himself).

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Syl Johnson - Dresses Too Short


Syl, looking slick (and wicked)


Greetings. First off, we're still MOVING. The switch over to the Wordpress version of the Funky16Corners blog is underway, and will be complete and final in a week or so. This version will remain up as a repository and forwarding site, but the Blogger tool has become progressively more unreliable, and I've tired of dealing with is. Please adjust your links/bookmarks accordingly to point to See you there... Larry

I said bayyyybeee…your dresses too short!

Say what?

It’s Syl Johnson kids.

The one, the only, blues wailing, soul singing, harmonica wrassling, Sock It To Me man, running the route between Mississippi and Chitown, and like he said, your dresses too short (though I’m having a hard time seeing his point of view).

A few weeks ago I dropped Mr. Johnson’s name in reference to an excellent cover version of one of his best tunes, the mighty ‘Is It because I’m Black’, as offered by one Ken Boothe, reggae singer extraordinaire. Mr Boothe will be featured in this space, laying down that very same song in a few short weeks (during Funky16Corners all-Jamaican week, really…).

Syl Johnson is one of those cats, that despite being a dependable R&B hitmaker for almost 20 years, starting out with Chicago’s storied Twinight imprint, and then moving on to even more fine work in the hallowed Memphian halls of the Hi label (home to the right Rev. Green – “Al” to his friends – Anne Peebles and Willie Mitchell among others).

As I said, he erupted from Mississippi, and crash landed in Chicago in the late 50’s, working for legends like Magic Sam (the cat that makes me wish I had a blues blog on the side), Junior Wells and Billy Boy “I Wish You Would” Arnold, before making it into the studio with the laconic (some would say somnolent), and highly influential blues giant Jimmy Reed.

He started laying down his own wax for Federal that same year, making a number of 45s for that label into 1962.

Between ’62, and ’67 when he made his first sides for Twinight he recorded for a few small labels. He had one of his biggest hits right out of the gate with ‘Come On Sock It To Me’, his very first single for Twinight. An outstanding example of rough-edged sock soul, it can also be found in its non-vocal form on the Shama label as played by Syl’s backing band The Deacons (featuring Syl’s brother Jimmy on guitar). It’s a nice slice of mid-60’s organ bashing and remains rather affordable (at least the last time I checked). The Deacons version – ‘Sock It To Me’ hit the R&B Top 40 in December of 1968, just a month after ‘Dresses Too Short’ did the very same thing.

‘Dresses Too Short’, a similarly savage entry into the Big Book of Fine Chicago Soul Sides, though committed to wax in the Windy City, sounds as if Syl dragged the gang back down below the Mason-Dixon line for the session. The drums, they snap, the gee-tar, she twangs, the organ grinds and the horns sound like they wafted in on a strong wind from McLemore Ave. It’s a lively take on, if I may borrow a phrase from Mr. Lou Courtney – “chick check’n” – and sounds like the sound produced by a hot room full of funky butts, cheap wine and Continental suits.

That’s a PARTY son!

When Syl, who wails mightily starts going on about how,

You’re looking good

You’re looking so good, now

When you sock it to me

Rock it to me one more time

I can’t stand it

I’m going out of my mind


You wear your dresses too short!

You’re there in the room with him, reaching up to mop the sweat from his brow, so his vision of such a fine, fine woman should not be in any way obscured.

The flip side, ‘I Can Take Care of Business’ is a very tasty soul ballad that incorporates a bit of Syl’s blues past.

Very nice 45 indeed.

NOTE: This, otherwise known as the regularly scheduled Friday post, is going up tonight on account of I got some bidness to take care of on the morrow. I’ll be back on Monday with a week of some high quality New Orleans sounds, including a new installment of Funky16Corners Radio.

Donate to the 2006 Funky16Corners Pledge Drive

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ike & Tina Turner & The Ikettes - There Was a Time \ African Boos \ Funky Street

Ike & Tina Turner
First off, we're still MOVING.
The switch over to the Wordpress version of the Funky16Corners blog is underway, and will be complete and final in a week or so. This version will remain up as a repository and forwarding site, but the Blogger tool has become progressively more unreliable, and I've tired of dealing with is.
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Hey, hey, hey..... It’s Wednesday morning, and I am feeling about as well as anyone whose two-year-old son decided to wake him up at 5:45AM, i.e. I am tired. My eyes feel like two tennis balls, and the urge to crawl under my desk and take a nap is almost impossible to resist. However, the need to remain gainfully employed, and the inner pilot light that ignites my ‘The blog must go on’ impulse is maintaining just enough of a connection between my ears, brain and fingers to get today’s entry typed out. The only remedy, of course, is to open up what beer-swilling, ham-fisted goons normally refer to as a “can of whoopass”, or what I like to call – coincidentally – a “can of whoopass”. This may betray the fact that sometime in my cloudy past I may have aspired to – and achieved – beer-swilling, ham-fisted goon-hood, but that is a risk I must take, because if there is a can of whoopass near enough to grab, it has a label that reads: Ike and Tina Turner Revue, Handle with Caution! That’s right chillun. By clicking on today’s MP3 link, you will be unleashing into your computer (and of course your ears) a blast of just over six minutes of absolutely, unrelentingly, spine-twisting, brain-softening, eye-popping soul power. It may have been recorded more than 35 years ago, but like a bottle of ripple, it has only gotten more powerful (maybe even dangerous). I have dropped some Ike and Tina action in this space before, and though I bow to their power without hesitation, it is only fair to say that when it comes to the Turners, I am often conflicted as to what category they and their music should inhabit. They are certainly soulful, but are they “soul”? While capable of undeniably funky moments, are they “funk”? Hmmmmmm.... Does anyone but me care about these distinctions? Perhaps not, but I’m gonna keep writing anyway. Ike and Tina Turner, by sheer force of talent and personality, managed to embrace all aspects of black music during their prime, while simultaneously transcending labels. They were purely rhythm and blues, but their sound passed through (and marked) soul, funk and even rock’n’roll. They managed to create explosive and popular music that while rooted in roadhouses and chittlin’ circuit theaters almost always ended up going in other directions. How much of this power resulted from their famously contentious and violent partnership, is not for me to say. Despite Ike’s obvious talent, he was reportedly a wife-beating asshole, tyrant and all around unpleasant individual, and I can’t imagine this inspiring Tina to do anything other than pack a bag, grab her kids and hit the road (which she eventually did). The only answer – for me, anyway – is that they were both very talented, and they managed to create dynamic music in spite of their problems. That said, they also managed to put together a shit-hot act, a large part of which was their backing group the Ikettes. Though I can’t say with any certainty which Ikettes are performing on today’s selection, but I can says that over the years their ranks included Clydie King, Vanetta Fields, Jo Armstead, P.P. Arnold and Bonnie Bramlett, and that they managed to crank out some outstanding 45s under their own name (and later as the Mirettes). Today’s selection(s) hails from a 1969 Minit LP, ‘In Person: Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes’. Though by this time the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was playing psychedelic ballrooms and festivals, they were still hitting the supper clubs, and as things open up, the appropriate vibe seems to be in place. The band is vamping on a vague approximation of King Curtis’s ‘Soul Serenade’ and KSOL DJ Herb Campbell – who sounds like he’s chairing the local Kiwanis– is greeted by polite applause as he comes out to introduce the band. He calls out the Ikettes, who take the stage and thank the audience. Then, it happens. Forgetting that they’re in a supper club and not looking out over a sea of muddy hippies, the band turns the volume up to 11, and proceeds to explode into a cover of James Brown’s ‘There Was a Time’. I can only imagine some of the tuxedoed swells in the audience gagging on their cocktail onions as the band tears into the song at about 150 miles per hour. ‘There Was a Time’ is one of my fave JB songs, and I’m here to tell you that the Ikettes more than do it justice. They take the song and turn it into an extended intro – warning? – as Tina is preparing to take the stage. The Ikettes finish up, and Campbell returns to the stage to bring Tina on. ‘The beautiful, talented, Queen of Soul, Miss Tina Turner!’ Tina walks on – I’m assuming, this is after all a record – and the band fires back up and take things at an even faster rate (if that’s possible). There’s an extended vamp, with Ike bending the strings, and the drummer (whoever he was) laying down a hard, fast groove, and you can imagine Tina and the Ikettes doing that frantic Pony-variation that they did so well. Tina drops in and starts things up.
One used to be the Shotgun Two used to be the bad boogaloo Three used to be the swingin’ Shingaling Four used to be the Funky Four Corners Down on Funky Street Diggin’ the funky beat Down on Funky Street Where the grooviest people meet! OUCH! It like Arthur Conley is there on the stage, his face streaked with tears as Tina and the Ikettes are dancing all over prone, shattered form. It’s that powerful. And then, after two (very) short verses, the whole affair comes to an abrupt end. The audience sits there, eyelids peeled back, lapels afire, wondering why they gave up a chance to see Robert Goulet to subject themselves to the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, for which they were obviously not prepared. It’s just like that sometimes.
* PS I'm not exactly which part of this medley "African Boos" is, unless that's what Ike decided to call the part of the song where the band is vamping on 'There Was a Time', which in all hoesty just should have been called 'There Was a Time'.
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