Saturday, December 31, 2011

F*U*N*K*Y Year's Closing G*R*O*O*V*E

Dear friends of this blog, I've been ill for a week or so and am right now about to recover. Of course these things happen to you when you least need them, e.g. in the week between Xmas and New Year's Eve. Did some cursin'.

Motown (CAN) LP # M 832V1 (1975)
Luckily I pulled myself together just in time to prepare this year's last blog post. Since some time now I've had in mind that the 31st of December needs something funky, and not just funky but F-U-N-K-Y ! And here one of JB's funky divas enters the stage: Yvonne Fair. in 1974, she recorded a handful of gritty funk tunes every one of which is a true ear bone shatterer. By 1974, Yvonne had been in the business since a long time. From 1963 onwards she was part of the James Brown Revue, and in 1965 she gave birth to JB's daughter Venisha. In the later '60s, Chuck Jackson brought her to Motown, but her first (and only) album only appeared in late spring 1975. Before that she regularly performed as an opening act for the likes of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye until in June '74 her first solo single (on the Motown label) hit the Soul charts. That first made her name known to a larger public and she was now noticed by JET: ... a honey peach of a girl ... she may look like an overnight hit, but she has been working and waiting for this break more than 10 years (August 1 issue, p. 60).

In '74 and early '75, Motown released three 45s of Yvonne Fair, and all the sides are included in her LP. These are actually the funky tunes on this album, while most others are in the ballad- ish vein (»It Should Have Been Me«); there's also a nice version of »I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)«. The aggressively sexist (yet intended anti-sexist) bitch concept of her fabulous album stands in a row of similar LPs of black female r&b singers in the post-Pam Grier era, culminating in Denise LaSalle's infamous The Bitch Is Bad album in 1977.

So let's move on to Yvonne's funky sides, one or two more than usual in this blog. But that's fine for today. The tracks are ripped from the LP but they were originally released on her three (and only) Motown 45s. Real killer-tunes! The latter two are probably well-known to most of you, the first two maybe not so. Happy New Year Y'all!

Yvonne Fair: »Love Ain't No Toy« / »Walk Out The Door If You Wanna« from the LP The Bitch Is Black (1975):

»Let Your Hair Down« / »Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On« from the LP The Bitch Is Black (1975):

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In case your head is clear tomorrow and you'd like to read more about Yvonne Fair, you can go here (in Italian) and here (in French).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday's Twosome # 6

In these days my main worry is to somehow make it through the pre-X-mas schedule of year's end dinners and the like. In times like these I tend to resort to some much- cherished classics, and today's classic comes from Fontella Bass (once again on this blog) and Bobby McClure.

Their first Checker 45, out in January 1965, was »Don't Mess Up A Good Thing« / »Baby What You Want Me To Do«. Now, this is a single I'd never hesitate to put in the famous »What-would-you-pick-for-a-lonely-island«-chest. This 45 was issued with two different B-sides, viz. the song you can listen to below and »Jerk Loose« by Oliver Sain (see the picture sleeve here). For all I know the original B-side seems to have been »Baby What You Want Me To Do« (a cover of Jimmy Reed's 1959 hit), and it is explicitly mentioned as flip in the Billboard issue of January 23, '65. Today, copies with »Jerk Loose« tend to be more commonly around, however.

»Baby What You Want Me To Do« is one of the primordial r&b duets from the '60s. Being released in the middle of the Beatles-mania (and contemporary with, for example, Elvis's pitiful »Do The Clam« or the Supremes' »Stop In The Name Of Love«) this record was the ultimate reminder of what r&b was all about when a record company did not look desperately for pop appeal but cut their artists lose on some earthy stuff. It's just such a pity that Fontella & Bobby didn't record more than just their few Chess/Checker sides.

For the record: Checker # 1097 was released towards the end of '64 or in early Jan. '65. The A-side made it to r&b #5 (BB) at the beginning of March and hit #29 on the Cashbox Top 100 in early April.

Fontella Bass & Bobby McClure: »Baby What You Want Me To Do« on Checker # 1097 (1965):

Postscript July 7th 2012: Read more about Fontella Bass here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tryin' to Make a Hundred

Several weeks ago I started playing songs by the marvelous Sister Lucille Pope, and you'll find information about her (if needed) and further links in a November post. I'm happy to continue today honoring her music because she's just so plain great a singer! After she and the Pearly Gates left Chess, they started to record for Nash- boro and this produced in 1974 a remarkable album, Our Silver Anniversary (Nash- boro LP # 7140) (look over at Red Kelly's Holy Ghost blogspot for a very personal appreciation of that album). Two songs from that LP were released as a single, on Nashboro # 1008, »99½ Won't Do« and »Somebody's Gone«. The first song, a well- known traditional, comes along in Lucille Pope's soulful version with much r&b feel, and her space-filling voice renders this version truly particular. The tune on the B-side is a sad song, kind of ballad-like, and not really a spiritual. It got a very personal message and speaks about the experience of loss and solitude ... here is someone speaking while looking back at life and the people once around. As such, the song reminds me much of what Gladys McFadden (of the Loving Sisters) was recording around the same time ... Happy Sunday all!

Sister Lucille Pope: »99½ Won't Do« / »Somebody's Gone« on Nashboro # 1008 (1974):

For the record: The songs were produced (and this means also arranged) by Shannon Williams of Nashboro and recorded at Nashville's Woodland Studios. And let's not forget to mention that the band is up to Lucille Pope's great performance!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Queen Re-Issued ... Again

It seems that things, when they come, they come in a bunch. A few weeks ago I stumbled across the newly released 12-CD box of Leontyne Price's albums of songs and spirituals. Now, more recently, I came across a new 4-CD box of some of Dinah Washington's most famous LPs, released by the Real Gone Jazz label. The box fea- tures eight remastered albums on 4 CDs and is part of the huge re-issue programme by Real Gone Jazz.

From Ebony, march 1964 issue
Of course, this is not spectacular news; we have the Complete D.W. On Mercury Collection, and several of Dinah's Mercury albums have been re-issued separately on CD more than once. But still, I paid about $14 for the box and this is, after all, a bargain (each one of the former separate re-issues of Dinah's LPs is priced almost as high!). However, there is no booklet (just scarce info about the personnel on the back), and the CDs do not come in repros of the original sleeves (as do, for example, the CDs in the Leontyne Price box). And the selection of the albums seems somewhat erratic, probably they went after some criterion of popularity.

Not included in this 4-CD box is Dinah's 1959 LP The Queen! (Mercury LP # SR 60111, released in autumn '59). This LP does contain a number of jazzy ballads and big band-blues tunes. It wasn't produced with much care, if we are allowed to deduce this from the fact that the song title of »Show Time« is given as »Show Place« in Martin Williams's notes on the back cover - and that's what the lyrics of the song actually say! (However, on the label of side 1 and on both sides of the sleeve we find it listed as »Show Time«). And Williams's comment that Dinah »sounds like she just walked out of a Baptist church, stopped by the Brill building just long enough to pick up a copy of a tune, and started to wail« is way over the top. Throughout his entire notes Williams really is keen to put Dinah in the gospel mould, noting that she »did beat the funky players to a kind of direct gospel-jazz« and referring to her being »almost raised on religious music« ... hmmm, don't start wondering what it could possibly mean for someone to be raised »almost« on religious music!

More sensible and closer to the truth is Billboard's short review in the Oct. 5, 1959, issue (p. 28): The Queen has a package here of much vocal craftsmanship. There are four blues ... and a number of ballads and sophisticated songs ... The backing is tastefully smart jazz. For those who are fond of wonderful phrasing and sensitive vocal nuance, here it is. Well yes, this about sums it up. You can listen to two songs from this album, »Show Time« (!) and »Trouble In Mind«. The latter song is famous enough but easily bears being played one more time. Both tunes were recorded with the Eddie Chamblee Orchestra at Universal Recorders, Chicago, on January 20, 1958.

Dinah Washington: »Show Time« / »Trouble In Mind« from the Mercury LP # SR 60111 (1959):

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday's Twosome # 4+5

... come today on a Wednesday. Work kept me away from the net the previous days and yesterday I fell asleep faster than I could glimpse. I try to make up for it today, and today's duets, both mixed, will not be generally well-known, even though one song reached the Top 10 of the r&b charts in 1968. Apart from 45s, a good source for lesser known material are LP samplers of the epoch.

SSS Int'l LP # 3 (1969)
In 1969, Shelby Singleton's SSS International of Nashville released a sampler of (more or less) soul music, with little imagination simply called Soul Gold Volume 1. This album contains 12 tunes, two of them instrumentals and one song by Betty Harris (»There's A Break In The Road«). And there are three duets, one by Laura Greene & Johnny McKinnis and two by Peggy Scott (later Scott-Adams) & Jo Jo Benson.

Peggy & Jo Jo hit it big in spring '68 when their first single, »Lover's Holiday«, reached the Top 10 r&b and #31 pop. In 1968 and '69, they were the biggest soul asset of SSS Int'l, and the two LPs preceding today's sampler were both by Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson (I will play some tunes from their first LP soon).

Actress, TV-commercials singer, model, life- style icon (and what not) Laura Greene was coupled with singer Johnny McKinnis and their first single on Silver Fox (a subsidiary of SSS Int'l), »Pledging My Love«, was out in February 1969; it reached #49 r&b although only staying two weeks on the charts.

These two songs from the SSS Int'l LP beautifully complement each other: Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson's »Lover's Holiday« is a gritty tune with a pretty, rough-voiced female vocal part. Laura Greene & Johnny McKinnis's »Pledging My Love« is rather the contrary: a lovers' plea, musically underpinned by gentle strings; both singers have a »confidential« spoken part in the middle, the almost inevitable element of a romantic ballad in the duet mode. Well, no great songs both, but nice. Listen here:

Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson: »Lover's Holiday« / Laura Greene & Johnny McKinnis: »Pledging My Love« from
the SSS International LP # 3 (1969):

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Three Spiritual Albums

Leontyne Price by Brian Lanker
I was travelling lately (and leaving this blog somewhat orphaned), but apart from being a professional necessity it also went along well with some sidekick hobbies of mine. When in Vienna recently, I went to one of the most furnished shops for classical music on CD which is situated not far from the State Opera. I left the shop with a brandnew 12 CD box released by SonyClassical. (It's actually not yet out in the US and seems to be released solely in the UK so far). I'm speaking of The Complete Collection of Song and Spiritual Albums by Leontyne Price. For as little as $35 you get here the re-issues of 9 RCA LPs, originally released bet- ween 1955 and 1974 plus 3 CDs from the '90s (including older recordings).

Leontyne Price, May 1958
Most of the albums contained in this CD box cover classical material, mainly Kunstlieder (by Richard Strauss, Robert Schumann, Samuel Barber, Gabriel Fauré, Hugo Wolf and others) and several opera arias; two of the LPs are live recitals from Carnegie Hall. However, three CDs are re-issues of Price's spiritual albums released between 1962 and 1971, and it's to those that I would like to draw your attention. Said albums are:
  1. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot: Fourteen Spirituals (RCA LP # 2600), 14 songs recorded at Manhattan Center NYC, Dec. 1961, and released in August 1962.
  2. My Favorite Hymns (RCA LP # 2918), 12 songs recorded at Calvary Episcopal Church NYC, April 1966, and released in November 1966.
  3. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (RCA LP # LSC-3183), 15 songs recorded at RCA Studio A Nashville, April 1970, and released in January 1971.
Moreover, the Carnegie Recitals recorded in 1965 and 1996 comprise several gospel songs as well, e.g. »This Little Light Of Mine«, »He's Got The Whole World In His Hands« and »Right On, King Jesus«.

Leontyne Price (oil on canvas by Bradley Phillips,
National Portrait Gallery, 1963)
Each of these Sacred Albums is interesting in its own right. The first, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, was recorded when Price's career was about to reach global fame. The cover is graced by one of the portrait paintings which were done of Leontyne Price in the early '60s (see below), and in the liner notes (written by Price) we read: »I have chosen in this album some of the songs dearest to my heart and to those of my parents and friends back home. I remember hearing and singing some of them as a child either in church, sometimes at school, and very often from my mother, who sang or hum- med them as she did her work around the house.« Yet the songs as you hear them on this LP are very far from any downhome style; on the contrary, the lush arrange- ments transformed them into symphonic pieces of operatic gospel arias deluxe: dramatic horns and strings, a Verdi-like wall-of-sound, the entire package.

The songs on the second album, My Favorits Hymns, are much closer to a, well, churchy style of the dignified, hymnic kind. There is a large boys choir, and a stately organ dominates the musical hue. The third album finally, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, is still entirely different. There is some Odetta-feel to the songs here, much simplicity and downhome purity. And we now have a clear political message as well. To tell you the truth, I prefer the last album above the others.

Now, as we are speaking about a recent release available on CD, I cannot play entire songs here. What I can do is provide sort of a teaser of what you may expect if buying this CD box. So you can hear in the following 50-second-extracts from three songs, each one taken from one of the Spiritual albums: »My Soul's Been Anchored In De Lord« (1962), »What A Friend We Have In Jesus« (1966) and »I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free« (1971):

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Left: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (RCA, 1962). Right: My Favorite Hymns (RCA, 1966)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

For the Ladies ... said Esther

Esther Phillips lets her hair down once more on this blog! And she did it back in January 1970 when she recorded her live album Burnin' Live at Freddie Jett's Pied Piper, L.A. (Atlantic LP # SD 1565). The album was released in August '70 after some overdubs (flute, trumpet and tenor sax) had been added in New York. The album was both listed on the Best Selling Jazz and Soul LPs charts; it stayed for some 6 months on the Soul LPs charts (beginning Nov. 14, 1970) and peaked at # 07 in January 1971.

From Billboard, Sept. 5, 1970, p. 72
The LP suscitated many reviews and comments in the contemporary press, and her frequent live performances in late 1969 and early 1970 were covered regularly in the California newspapers. (The back cover of the Burnin' album shows facsimiles of three such reviews plus short liner notes by singer Carmen McRae.) Even Ebony Magazine (in the December '70 issue, p. 28) run a review.

Ad from Ebony, Dec. 1970 issue
Interestingly, the variety of songs on the album made the critics differ as to which songs they preferred ... the Billboard writer singled out »Cry Me A River Blues«, while Carmen McRae in her liner notes chose to mention as favorites »Don't Let Me Lose This Dream« and »Please Send Me Someone To Love«. Nice thing is that you can hear the latter song (a Percy Mayfield composition) over on BB's Magic Jukebox blogspot. The Ebony writer preferred to call attention to Esther's version of »I'm Gettin' 'Long Alright«, and this is just fine with me. So get ready for a 6-minute version of that tune! Actually, the song starts only at about 02:10 into the recording, after Esther has done some introductory talking ... I do most of my blues songs for the ladies because we always have the blues, you see ...

Esther Phillips: »I'm Gettin' 'Long Alright« from the Atlantic LP # SD 1565 (1970):

AND ... I couldn't resist the temptation to post another recording of this song along with Esther's live version of it. It's a raw-cut, almost archaic version recorded by the Raelettes (with Ray Charles on the piano) which has never stopped haunting me. Compared to Esther's rather jazzy version (which is marvelous in its own right) you get here the modern version of somewhat like a hollering worksong of old, stripped bare to the basic harmonies and the insisting rhythm. Man, it tears me apart every time I hear it!

The Raelettes (feat. Ray Charles): »I Get Along All Right« from the Tangerine LP # TRCS 1511:

Note: On Tangerine LP # 1511 (Souled Out) the song title is given as »I Get Along All Right«. On the single release (TRC # 984, April 1968) of the same recording the title runs »I'm Gett'n Long Alright«.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

When I Get to Heaven

Some weeks ago I played a song by Lula Collins, »Hold Me Jesus«. Now, under the title »Rock Me« this tune (and actually the very same recording) was re-issued in the same year (1973) on Michal # 05-23-73 and Hub-City # 5-26-73, on the latter 45 as A-side. Billing on both sides of the Hub-City single says »Lula Collins & The Stars of Nightingales« and adds »Recorded at Allied Studio Memphis«. Very strange, though, that the B-side of Hub-City # 5-26-73 to my ears (a) doesn't sound much like Lula Collins, to say the least, and (b) the backing vocals could be done by different groups if compared to the A-side. I don't have a clue why this is so. All I can do here is play the song, »I've Got Shoes«. Happy Sunday All!

Lula Collins & The Stars of Nightingales: »I've Got Shoes« on Hub-City # 5-26-73 (1973):

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Tragelaphus Strepsiceros Revisited

Together with Nina Simone's Colpix, Phillips and RCA LPs Esther Phillips's series of Kudu LPs is without doubt one of the highlights of 20th cen- tury female jazz & r&b vocals. Formed in summer 1971, the Kudu label was launched by Creed Taylor (of CTI Records); in July, the first LP was releas- ed. Kudu was to be a vehicle for »soul jazz« and Taylor described it as »a black awareness label, more commercial oriented than CTI and indi- genous to the black popular music of the United States.« The name of the label, referring to the African Kudu (tragelaphus strepsiceros), was meant to convey Afro-American consciousness, and so did the colors used for the logo (red, black, green) and the bee-striped (actually kudu-striped!) sleeve. Vic Chirumbolo, sales manager for CTI, said that »[t]he jazz on the Kudu label will capture r&b jazz as well as blues-oriented jazz as opposed to CTI, which features more experimental and universal jazz artists« (Billboard, July 31, 1971, p. 13). In January '72, Esther Phillips's first album was out, From A Whisper To A Scream (Kudu LP # KU-05).

In a June 1972 interview originally published in Living Blues # 17 (1974) and re-issued in The Voice of the Blues (eds. Jim O'Neal & Amy Van Singel, London-New York 2002, pp. 375-87), Esther had the following to say about how she came to Kudu:
I felt I had to get with a smaller company where they had time to concentrate on me. Fortunately, this is what's happening with CTI.
So this company that I record for now, which is Creed Taylor, Incorporated, CTI Records, Kudu, they have a jazz label with Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard - so they were looking for me out in California and, at this time, I was without a record company again. And we got together, they wanted one album, so I recorded From A Whisper To A Scream and it worked out very well. ... So far, other than Atlantic, who did promotion, this com- pany really gives you a lot of promotion, which I can really appreciate. They're doing a fantastic job. I'm very pleased with them at this point. (p. 382 f.)
In the September 1972 issue of Ebony magazine, her first Kudu LP got an enthusiastic review. After mentioning Esther's heroin addiction (»everything but heaven itself had conspired to do her in«), the critic praises her power of will and sees her as »the logical successor to the great Dinah Washington.« (Others, however, have stressed Esther's closeness in art & life to Billie Holiday which, to my mind, is a more fitting comparison.) He then goes on to review some of the main tracks of the LP (several of which were released on Kudu 45's and reached the Top 40 of the r&b charts in '72). The album's closing track, the 6½-minute monster blues »Scarred Knees«, is described as an »improvisatory "Umph-umph-umph" thing« ... well, if this was to mean that Esther hhmmms, squeaks and even hiccups (listen at 01:33!!) herself through part of the song, he's right. This is the song, the bluesiest tune on the album (never released as a 45) and the one which has Esther experimenting most with her voice; she really draws you in:

Esther Phillips: »Scarrred Knees« from the Kudu LP # KU-05 (1972):

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P.S. Did I mention that Esther Phillip's string of Kudu records started at the same time (in January 1972) as the Westbound / ABC record series of Denise LaSalle?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Soul Shouting

mid-week gospel

The right thing to do on a day like this (I'm busy!!) is to play two songs about which, unfortunately, I can't tell you much. I'm speaking of »Help Me Lift Jesus« and »Heaven Knows I Tried« as recorded by »Rev. J.T. Bell & The Soul Shouting Weeks Sisters of Mullins, S.C.« (according to the billing on the label) and released on HSE # 443, sometime in or around 1974. The label of the HSE single also states that the songs were recorded at Jadel Studios in Marion, S.C. (10 miles from Mullins); sister Nancy Hamilton is credited with the arrangements & lead vocals. Rev. Bell, contrary to the billing, has only some shouting parts on both sides, with the actual singing being done by Nancy Hamilton & the Weeks Sisters.

The Weeks Sisters appear on later HSE releases (and LP covers) as »Week Sisters« (e.g. on HSE  # 466 or on the covers of HSE LPs # 1491 and # 1513). About the latter LP (they did three in all with HSE) you'll find some information over at Just Moving On; there's also a list of the group's personnel. There's something about the Week Sisters on the Get On Down ... blogspot, and the B-side of HSE #443 (»Heaven Knows I Tried«) appears in a WFMU playlist from earlier that year. And I love that B-side! A pity only that the recording (and pressing?) quality of the HSE single is poor ... and my copy of it is in a very good general condition.

Rev. J.T. Bell & The Soul Shouting Weeks Sisters of Mullins, S.C.:
 »Help Me Lift Jesus« / »Heaven Knows I Tried« on HSE # 443 (c.1974?):

Monday, November 28, 2011

Along Comes Misery

Thanks to Ana-B for cooperation on this post!

Why is it that so many of Tina Turner's songs seem to possess such a strong auto- biographical undercurrent? Is it that I am looking for it in her songs when in case of others I wouldn't? But then, why do I seem to hit on something every time I'm looking for it?

From Jack Robinson's photosession, 1969 (look it up here)
Spring 1969. The Turners have out their first Minit 45 (# 32060), released in March. As for their career, 1969 was a good year: they were playing Vegas now and getting paid more than ever; Ike was enjoy- ing his lush life and before the end of the year they were touring with the Rolling Stones. For the Blue Thumb label, they recorded two bluesy LPs that wouldn't go far saleswise but show Ike & Tina doing something different. They re-released their A&M album River Deep, Mountain High and increasingly started to cover songs made famous by others (»With A Little Help From My Friends«, »I've Been Loving You Too Long«, »Come Together« etc.). And Tina came to develop her ill-famed X-rated stage antics (watch Tina in action over here, from the Stones documentary Gimme Shelter). Little mattered it then that in April they had their Los Angeles home burglarized, with items worth $70,000 and their car part of the booty.

On the personal level though, things had gone from bad to worse. Tina had her stomach pumped clear of 50 valiums after she had discovered that Ike had fathered a child with her friend Ann Thomas and after Ike had started to treat her ever more violently. »Yes it finally got to the point where I was ready to die. ... I felt like I could not take any more. ... And that's when I started to hate Ike Turner. ... [W]ith the women, and the beatings, I had started losing that love for Ike. And now, after the pills and the hospital, I was starting to hate him« said Tina in her autobiography (I, Tina, p. 144 + 148).

From Jack Robinson's photosession, 1969
Now, Minit # 32060 was out in March. It features a com- bination of two songs, »I'm Gonna Do All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)« on the A-side and »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind« on the B-side. And these two songs being put together on one 45 does raise some questions.

The first tune, »I'm Gonna Do All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)«, was penned by country musician and producer Wayne Carson. It's one of those husband & wife songs, crammed with that kitschy marital and ultimately depressing devoteness lyrics so typical of the C&W scene ... he's the only real thing that ever happened to me ...  He can make me be good, he can make me change my ways, do the things a good woman should and I'm gonna make him happy each and every day. I'm gonna do all I can to do right by my man, to be the kind of woman he wants me to be ... Ike couldn't have cared less. The song made it to #98 pop in May '69.

Let's turn to the B-side, Johnny Northern's & Jimmy Bailey's »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind«. As to Tina's performance, this B-side is much stronger than the A-side. And what a contrast! Listen to Tina singing ... Every time in my life when things begin to glow, there comes a change and back downhill I go ... Every time when happiness comes my way, along comes misery and destroyed my whole day ... I once was blind but now I can see, I can see, oh yes I can see - that there's too many ties that binds (!) ... I cross my heart, hope to die, each time I think about my life, I wanna cry. That's why I'm singin' there's too many ties that bind. Too many, too many ties ... Phew! Ike couldn't have cared less. But how must Tina have been feeling when singing these lines? And how to reconcile the two songs?

From J. Robinson's photosession, 1969
However, things are a little more complicated still. The labels of Minit # 32060 on both sides give Ike Turner and Willie Mitchell the production credits. It is unknown at what time »I'm Gonna Do All I Can« was recorded. But it is known that the B-Side, »Too Many Ties That Bind«, was recorded years earlier and actually released for the first time in 1964 on Sonja # 5000. On the Sonja 45, only Ike Turner is credited and the song title appears as »Too Many Ties That Bind«. Ana-B (from The Singing Bones blogspot) told me that what you hear on Sonja # 5000 is not just the same song, but the exact same recording we find on the Minit B-side. So, essentially, the newer side, »I'm Gonna Do All I Can«, was in 1969 pressed with the older recording. Moreover, this also explains the curious fact why the song on the Minit (re-)release was re-titled »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind« even though the lyrics of the song do not feature the words »you've got«. Ana-B pointed out that Sonja # 5000 was probably an early Willie Mitchell production and that he got the belated credit on the Minit single. She also hinted me at John Ridley's Page where you'll find a review of Sonja # 5000 (the gist of it is quoted below in the comment section).

So what are we making of the Minit single? Musically, we have Tina singing two heartrending ballads here. Conceptually, we have a plea of marital thankfulness and an outcry of utter desperation, an explosive mix. Are they expressing just the same, after all? If looking at Tina's troubled life in and around 1969 and how she dealt with it this doesn't seem farfetched. But the B-side was recorded years before, and maybe also the A-side was not really a recent recording. So why put out both songs in 1969 (apart from the convenient fact of recycling, in part, older material)? I have no obvious answer to this. In fact, I am musing about this without truly knowing whether Tina's private life had any part in why these tunes were released in 1969. On the other hand, can you listen to these songs and be convinced, in earnest, that her private life had nothing to do with it? They just so closely reflect, in all their contrasting message, Tina's state of mind in 1969. And what she told in her auto- biography about the events in late 1968 and early '69 just so closely mirrors the lyrics of the B-side ... but she kept on holding up the facade and was stuck with Ike (that's where the A-side comes in) ...

For the record: »I'm Gonna Do All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)« never appeared on an album at the time (the Turner's only Minit LP being Live In Person). The song was first released in the '80s on LP and was afterwards included in CD packages of the Minit r&b output (one recently re-issued). »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind« appears on a 1991 Japanese CD (TOCP-6597) which has all the Minit sides and is actually entitled You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind. 

Ike & Tina Turner: »I'm Gonna Do All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)« / »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind«
on Minit # 32060 (1969):

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Down & Out

After Lonnie Mack's legendary instrumental »Memphis« skyrocketed the r&b and pop charts in summer 1963, Cincinnati's Fraternity Re- cords put together an album which eventually was released (mono only) in October. This LP (Fraternity # F -1014) features all the better known tunes associated with Mack's influential guitar style (»Memphis«, »Wham!«, »Down In The Dumps«, »Suzie-Q«) and some more songs besides.

Lonnie Mack has the distinction to call a very decent Wikipedia article his own, actually much better, more complete and more meticously documented than most other entries on '60 r&b music; over on WangDangDula you also find an exhaustive discography. On the back cover of his LP, Lonnie is credited, by Cincinnati Post's Dale Stevens, with a »lowdown, dirty and twangy« guitar style. But Stevens also portrays him as a »country boy, and I mean back country«. This image stuck with Mack for a long time, and the Output critic John Morthland wrote in 1984: »It was the era of satin pants and histrionic stage shows, and all the superior chops in the world couldn't hide the fact that chubby, country Mack probably had more in common with Kentucky truck drivers than he did with the new rock audience« (quoted from Wikipedia). If you like to read a more recent assessment of Lonnie's music and career, have a look at Greg Schaber's article »Mule Train«, published in the October 2000 issue of Cincinnati Magazine.

The Charmaines (publicity shot from 1966)
There are two tracks on Lonnie's Fraternity LP which stand somewhat apart from the rest. The first of these is »Baby, What's Wrong«, an uptempo adaption of a Jimmy Reed song. This tune (a dynamic feet mover in and by itself) earned its place on this blog by the simple fact that it features The Charmaines prominently as backing vocal group. The Charmaines from Cincinnati were a female trio of 18 year-olds when they won a local contest in 1960 and then were given a contract by Fraternity. More details on their work with Lonnie Mack you'll find in the liner notes to Ace CD # 1135. However, their appearance in »Baby, What's Wrong« remained uncredited on Lonnie's Fraternity LP. Even when the song was released as a 45 in November '63 (Fraternity # 918, shortly entering the pop charts at # 93) it went into the market as a Lonnie Mack release without any mention whatsoever of The Charmaines. Ah-Oom-Ba!

The second song of a somewhat different flavor on Lonnie's LP is the bluesy instru- mental »Down And Out«. Here we have Lonnie Mack & his band (Marv Lieberman, Ron Grayson, Wayne Bullock, Truman Fields and Irv Russotto) moving a long way from their country roots. And they're really into it:

Lonnie Mack (*feat. The Charmaines): *»Baby, What's Wrong« / »Down And Out«
from the Fraternity LP # F-1014 (The Wham Of That Memphis Man!, 1963)

(Both clips from Billboard, November 9, 1963)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday's Twosome # 2+3

Every Jill Has Her Jack ...

Speaking so much of The Staples lately and pondering which duets to chose for today's post left me, really, no choice but to take the marvelous Stax 2-LP album »Boy Meets Girl« from the shelf. In the second half of the '60s, mixed duets were high on the agenda of record producers. Motown's Marvin Gaye was paired up with three female artists, and Stax climbed the charts with Otis & Carla. After Otis's tragic death, Stax joined Judy Clay and William Bell (while Atlantic had Judy out together with Billy Vera). But in 1969, Stax produced what is, arguably, the ultimate duet experience on vinyl, viz. the above-mentioned double album »Boy Meets Girl«.

We have 22 songs here and 7 artists, 4 male and 3 female. One song, the opener of the first LP, is sung by all, the remaining 21 are mixed duets. We have 10 different combinations, one of these 4 times, two of them 3 times, four of them 2 times and three duets just once. Two female artists (Mavis & Carla) are present in 10 duets, one (Cleotha) in only 1, whereas among the males we find the first (William Bell) doing 9 duets, the second (Eddie Floyd) 6 duets, the third (Johnnie Taylor) 4 duets and the fourth (Pervis Staples) 2 duets. Only one of the male artists (Pervis) has only one female duet partner (Carla), while Cleotha has but one song and thus is easy to calculate. Mavis and Carla are present with the same number of duets (10), but Carla has one more partner (Pervis) while Mavis has more duets than Carla with the same partner (William Bell). Eddie Floyd is the only one among the male artists to sing with all three female artists. I guess some mathematically minded and mechan- ically gifted geek could construct a nice Rubik's Cube from that. I, who am neither so minded nor gifted, have to do with the music.

Stax STS 2-2024 front cover
Robert Christgau wrote a critical appreciation of this album (and by so doing also spoke about the role of duets in late '60s black music in general), read it here (a review orig. publ. in the NYT, June 22, 1969). I do not agree with everything he says, but he's certainly right in assuming that Stax was looking for a new duet to repeat the success of the Otis & Carla formula: »Somewhere among the permutations there's just gotta be another Otis & Carla.« He then concludes that there wasn't. A look at the chart success and the sales figures for this album seem to confirm Christgau's view: The album, released in July '69, stayed for some weeks in the lower 40s of the 50 Top r&b LPs charts; of course, being a two-record package it was a costly item and I don't know whether Stax possibly sold it at the price of one LP. However, five singles were released from this album and none did chart.

I personally find that this LPs offer many a remarkable song. And there is the additional advantage that you can hear many different voices in different combinations, making the two LPs sort of a vocal lab. Below, you can hear Mavis Staples & Johnnie Taylor with »That's The Way Love Is« (never released on 45). Mavis has just one duet with Johnnie on this album and I somehow feel that they should have done more. And their voices are mixed not only much up-front (in contrast to several other pieces on this album) but also into different channels. Second duet is Cleotha Staples & Eddie Floyd with »It's Too Late«. I have to admit that this tune is not up my alley, nor is the arrangement. But, hey, there are so few recordings of Cleotha singing a prominent part so I just thought I'd owe her that for all what she did with the Staple Singers. But it's not only that: she really got a beautiful, almost lyrical voice. You kind of feel, though, that she's not used to sing »on her own«, as it were, and she seems to hold back a lot, shyly, giving her vocal performance too little force and ... confidence? behind it (especially if contrasted with Eddie's professional and self secure performance). And she's more at home in the higher registers, but still. Was I being unjust? Listen for yourself:

Mavis Staples & Johnnie Taylor: »That's The Way Love Is« (from STS 2-2024A, 1969) /
Cleotha Staples & Eddie Floyd: »It's Too Late« (from STS 2-2024B, 1969):

This Stax 2-LP album was never re-issued on CD in its original form. Several songs are contained on a 2009 compilation entitled »Boy Meets Girl: Classic Soul Duets«. Mavis & Johnnie's duet »That's The Way Love Is« is added as bonus track on the 1993 CD re-issue of Mavis Staples's first two Stax albums »Only For The Lonely« (CD # STA 88012).
     On a CD review page, I found the following quote from Mavis Staples:
»Man, that was a looong time ago«, Mavis laughed. »'Boy Meets Girl' was an album compiled of all of the female and the male Stax people. I don't recall much of it, but I do remember singing with William Bell, because they played the song we did, 'Strung Out', quite a bit on the radio.«
* * * 
Tracklist of the original 2-LP album (songs marked with (*)asterisks were released as Stax 45s at the time):

LP 1 (STS 2-2024A)
A1 Staples, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Eddie Floyd: Soul-A-Lujah  (*)
A2 Mavis Staples & William Bell: I Ain't Particular 
A3 Carla Thomas & Johnnie Taylor: Just Keep On Loving Me 
A4 Mavis Staples & Eddie Floyd: Ain't That Good 
A5 Carla Thomas & William Bell: I Can't Stop 
A6 Mavis Staples & William Bell: I Thank You 
B1 Mavis Staples & William Bell: Love's Sweet Sensation 
B2 Carla Thomas & William Bell: I Need You Woman 
B3 Mavis Staples & Eddie Floyd: Never, Never Let You Go 
B4 Mavis Staples & William Bell: Hold On This Time 
B5 Mavis Staples & Johnnie Taylor: That's The Way Love Is 

LP 2 (STS 2-2024B)
A1 Carla Thomas & Eddie Floyd: It's Our Time 
A2 Carla Thomas & Pervis Staples: It's Unbelievable (How You Control My Soul) 
A3 Mavis Staples & Eddie Floyd: Piece Of My Heart 
A4 Mavis Staples & William Bell: Leave The Girl Alone 
A5 Carla Thomas & Pervis Staples: I'm Trying 
A6 Carla Thomas & Eddie Floyd: Don't Make Me A Storyteller 
B1 Mavis Staples & William Bell: Strung Out 
B2 Carla Thomas & Johnnie Taylor: My Life 
B3 Cleotha Staples & Eddie Floyd: It's Too Late 
B4 Carla Thomas & Johnnie Taylor: I've Just Been Feeling Bad 
B5 Carla Thomas & William Bell: All I Have To Do Is Dream 

POSTSCRIPT 26th February 2013

Today, I received the following sad notice:
Cleotha »Cleedi« Staples has passed away at the age of 78 in her Chicago home on the morning of February 21, 2013. God rest her soul.

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's the People in It ...

Come on, let's hype the Staples for another day! (Not that they needed it, though) Just a funky message song for today, considering our lousy times and all. This comes from their best Stax LP (that's what I think, anyway), released in March 1971. Those among you who find the machine-gunned intro somewhat silly or down- right cruddy, wait for the song to take off! After all, it's Mavis administering the ear drops to you here. And that says something.

The Staple Singers: »This Is A Perfect World« from the Stax LP # STS-2034 (1971):

Sunday, November 20, 2011

OT, then NT

The third single of the Gerald Sisters is a strange record: two more or less identical songs, with different lyrics: first OT, then NT. The A-side, »Holy Ground«, tells the story of Moses facing God on Mount Sinai (or rather vice versa), the B-side, »Who Jesus Is«, is a personal testimony of faith or, more exactly, a panegyric of the person of Jesus; the latter song is credited to Hoyt Sullivan (producer & owner of HSE Records) and Rev. Hassie Gerald (father of the four Gerald Sisters, playing piano / keyboard in most of their recordings).

For the record: The Gerald Sisters of Mullins, South Carolina, recorded several 45s and four LPs for HSE Records, then switched to Malaco. I believe Betty Gerald did the lead singing, but I'm not sure. HSE # 435 was probably recorded and released in 1975, yet this also is not exactly known. In and around their hometown, the Gerald Sisters are still active. In general, information about the Gerald Sisters (and the label HSE) is scarce. Happy Sunday all!

The Gerald Sisters: »Holy Ground« / »Who Jesus Is« on HSE # 435 (1975?):

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chic to Dig

Tonight, I have a personal confession to make. You know, the very first LP I bought with my own (sort of) money was Boney M's Nightflight to Venus. It was fresh out of the press, I was about ten years old then and I loved it; still do, somehow. Well, the second LP I got was an anthology of Chicago Blues, actually a 2-LP album. And these discs I played until they were positively worn out. One of the songs on this album was Willie Mabon's »I'm The Fixer«. Not really a song for the ears of a 10-year old. But I didn't get the message then anyway and was just carried away by the beat.

The song starts very abruptly with Willie kick- ing it off with »Ba-by! ...«. This had, for me, much the same effect as Tina Turner's outcry at the beginning of »A Fool In Love« had on the soul of Peter Guralnick*, that is, ushering a new sound into my world with a bang.
(*I remember with a degree of certainty it was Peter Guralnick who wrote somewhere about this experience of his ... can't find the passage right now.)

So on my side there is a lot of autobiography in that song. For the record: »I'm The Fixer« was released as B-Side on USA # 741 in late June 1963, and Billboard listed it as a new release in the July 6 issue. A-side is »Too Hot To Handle«. According to the most detailed Willie Mabon discography on the net, »I'm The Fixer« was recorded in Chicago on May 23, 1963, »Too Hot To Handle« on February 7; information about the musicians at the session you'll find on the discography page indicated before. The A-side, Eddie Noack's »Too Hot To Handle«, was originally a pure country bopper and some country flavor still pervades Willie Mabon's version. (By the way, another nice example of how intertwined the realms of Blues, r&b and c&w really were.)

Willie Mabon: »I'm The Fixer« / »Too Hot To Handle« on USA # 741 (1963):

* * *
I almost forgot: In case you're curious where I took the inspiration for the title of today's post, read this passage about the »soul craze« as it appeared in the Dec- ember 1961 issue of Ebony magazine (page 112).
Wow, I was way ahead of this when I was about ten: I knew Willie Mabon but I had never heard of Lasagne or foie gras ... uh, seems it was a sign of things to come ... well, not quite, I came to know (and love) lasagne in the meantime as well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

If He Can Preach It, We Can Sing It

... that's what Mavis Staples said on stage at Seattle's Jazz Alley on March 6, 2010, and it's a quote from her father. Mavis spoke about the Staples meeting Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Al., for the first time and, in particular, about their song »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« More to the point, she quotes her father Roebuck having said to them after the meeting: »Listen, y'all! I like this man's message! ... And I think that if he can preach it, we can sing it.« Listen here what Mavis had to say ... I took it from the concert video posted over at Vimeo, and I very much thank the lady who shared it with us all! Thank you!

Mavis Staples Talks (March 6, 2010, Seattle):

You may also watch the full video here:

Now, Mavis is saying that her father penned the song »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« in 1960. Others have said (I don't know on what authority) that Roebuck was inspired to write the song when watching TV coverage of the forced integration of Arkansas's Central High School in Little Rock, back in 1957. I don't know whether this is correct or at what time the Staples first performed the song (they often played it at meet- ings when MLK was about to speak as he liked the tune so much ... Mavis explicitly refers to this in the above video). However, they first recorded it, according to Hayes-Laughton' Gospel Discography and for all we know, in spring 1966.

The Staples (Ebony, Sept. 1965)
(on stage at Philadelphia's Uptown)

Now, there's a rub here. The song was released first, it seems, in late 1965 or (more probable) in early 1966 on Epic # 9880. (The following nos. of Epic 45s, 9881 ff., were all released in January '66.) The several discographies for Epic Records differ as to the time of release and they also differ as to which song was the A-side. Unfortunately, I do not know this 45 version of the song (there is a photo of sleeve and label here, but no music ...). What I know is the version as we have it on the Staples' 1966 Epic LP # BN 26196. This LP takes its title from this very song, viz. »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?«, and was released in May 1966. (Note: Some researchers were confounded by the fact that the 1991 Legacy CD by the name of Freedom Highway contains »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« and thus thought that the song was first released on the Staples' 1965 Epic LP # LN 24163 Freedom Highway, actually the recording of a live in-church session. Truth is, however, that the original Freedom Highway album does not include this song, while the CD by the same title features the very version of the Epic LP »Why?«, i.e. the one under discussion here.)

Ad from Billboard, May 7, 1966
Epic promoted the new album by an ad, head- lined: »The leading gospel-folk group of the college campus circuit with an album of most- requested songs!«. Billboard obligingly review- ed it one week later with the words: The family quartet is hard to top in this exceptional program of exciting and inspirational perfor- mances. Will soar in sales within the gospel field and easily spill over into the r&b field. Whether the material be sad or joyous, the group is equally brillant in its interpretations (BB, May 14, 1966).

Epic LP # BN 26196 (1966)
Listening to the LP version of »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« (you can do it below), you'll note the prelude by Roebuck Staples, serving as kind of an intro to the song. What this prelude does is setting the song's message in a specific context, and the context is openly and explicitly political, referring to the Civil Rights struggle: Those little children who can't ride the school bus because they're »of a different nationality« ... they weren't allowed to ride the bus ... and if you asked them about it they'd say: Why am I treated so bad? A song couldn't get much more of a protest song than this:

The Staple Singers: »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« from the Epic LP »Why« (1966):

The Staples did many a political song, as you all know; David Nathan in a '95 Bill- board article listed them, justly, among the »[r]ecording artists who helped provide lyrical ammunition in the struggle for civil rights« (Feb. 4, '95, page 28). However, »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« is not normally included in this category. We find no mention of it in Taylor Branch's monumental three-volume history of the Civil Rights Movement, nor is the song treated in even more relevant books like Peter Doggett's There's a Riot Going On (2007) or Dorian Lynskey's 33 Revolutions per Minute. A History of Protest Songs (2010).

Billboard, May 13, 1967
During 1966, the song steadily acquired more popularity, and in early 1967 several covers were released. Some of these (by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Bobby Powell and Brian Auger & Julie Driscoll) were very successful, and maybe none more so than the superb version of the Sweet Inspirations (giving them their first r&b Top 40 hit in summer '67). The Sweets »depoliticized« the song and changed the lyrics in order to achieve that: I'm all alone ... I'm gonna walk up to my baby's door, ask him why he don't love me no more ... he was wrong, said I was to blame, but I walk on in and love him just the same, though he treats me so bad ... So, obviously, we got a love song here. This is fine with me, but I cannot understand why we find the Sweet's version included on the 2006 Soul Jazz CD # 129 Soul Gospel Vol. 2 ...

In view of the success of their song, the Staple Singers in 1967 did a sensible thing (sensible, that is, in view of sales prospect): They re-released it on 45 (Epic # 10158A) in a version more appetible for the general, i.e. mainly the mainstream white market, skipping the politically charged prelude of Pops Roebuck, adding a horn section and in general giving the tune a more pop-oriented feel. They didn't change the lyrics, though. You can hear this 45-version of 1967 over at the Black Gold blogspot ... the song dented, for a week, the pop Hot 100 charts reaching # 95 at the beginning of June 1967 ... and it was, by now, more or less devoid of its original message.
* * *
Photo from the back cover of the Epic LP »Why«
By the way, the song »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« really stands out on Epic LP # 26196. The remaining nine songs are all done professionally, but are lacking variety: they follow the same arrangements, are instrumentated very similarly and (with one exception) have Roebuck as lead singer. So, being a huge fan of Mavis, there is not much of a treat for me here, and the single song featuring Mavis's lead voice is a boring ditty by the title of »Move Along Train«. All in all, I think it is fair to say that the album contains a lot of fillers, making it one of the least accomplished LPs of the Staples. To give you an idea how the nine songs apart from »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« sound like, I'd like to play the second song from the album, »King Of Kings«, actually the one which I like best among all the fillers. Here we go:

The Staple Singers: »King Of Kings« from the Epic LP »Why« (1966):