Wednesday, June 08, 2011

High-Octane Truth

Mid-week Gospel

At last. Some pretty busy days are over. And I thought to return, for today's post, to the story of The Meditation Singers. Well, last time we followed them back into the early 1960s. There are some other, albeit few, recordings of the group from the late '50s and early '60s but I neither do know them nor do I possess them on vinyl, alas. So I move back to the future, as it is, right into the later '60s and back to one of their best LPs, »The Bad Apple« released by Checker in 1968 (recorded in '67, it's the Checker LP # 10044). Some details concerning the singers of the group active in 1967/8 and their producer Ralph Bass can be found in an entry I posted some months ago (see here). Today I would like to present two more songs from the album ment- ioned above, together with information about some others who were involved in the recording. And it's worth mentioning that each of those two songs was written by one of those persons involved.

What is more, both songs are interesting for the fact that they are original recordings by the Meditation Singers. When I looked those songs up in Hayes & Laughtons Gospel Discography it also turned out that they weren't recorded by anybody else until the '70s. So, no cover songs but »Meditation originals«.
     The first song, »Let Them Talk«, was penned by Gene Barge, a known saxophone player who in the late '60s (and actually since 1964) was working as an arranger at Chess Records. Thus he was also involved in the Meditations Singers' Checker LP and he played as a session musician on numerous other recordings. Together with Ralph Bass he not only produced the Meditations Singers but also such great names as Etta James.

In the Billboard issue of Nov 9, 1968 (only a few months after the Checker LP of the Meditation Singers had been released) we find on page 57 a nice picture showing Gene Barge as »a&r director for the Chess, Checker and Cadet/Concept group« (see the photography, Gene Barge standing in center); the picture was taken when Phil Upchurch was signed to Cadet (a subsi- diary of Chess). Now, Gene Barge contributed to the Checker LP of the Meditation Singers the song »Let Them Talk«, a raw and intense, in some ways also sinister piece of R&B-Gospel. And it's really one of a kind, not the least because of its remarkable lyrics ... accompanied by the spherical sound of a harp! On the back cover of the LP this song is described as follows:
»The haunting, taunting French horns and harp open Let Them Talk with overpowering force as Ernestine Rundless begins to "preach it to 'em" about sticks and stones can break your bones and those words that never harm you. Some high-octane truth and music.«
The Meditation Singers: »Let Them Talk« from the Checker LP 10044 (1968):

The second song, »Why Don't You Try Him« was written by Sonny Thompson. He was a bandleader and pianist who made some noise back in the '50s (when he was married to R&B singer Lula Reed). In the '60s he worked as a session musician, arranger, producer and songwriter for King Records in Cincinnati, then for Chess Records in Chicago. Thompson's activity at Chess (and related labels) is well-covered in Robert Pruter's Chicago Soul. Thompson also produced or wrote several songs, in particular Christmas tunes in the pop-gospel mould for the Soul Stirrers or also the Meditation Singers. You can hear the latter on the Chess LP »Have A Merry Chess Christmas«. About the song »Why Don't You Try Him«, which in respect to melody and rhythm is much more conventional than Barge's »Let Them Talk«, we find the following on the back cover:
»The familiar rhythms of Why Don't Try Him evoke memories of the happy "call and command" gospel songs and the lead, Miss Rundless, gives it some sock-it-to-'em preaching which helps answer the very questions she asks.«
The Meditation Singers: »Why Don't You Try Him« from the Checker-LP 10044 (1968):


  1. I just found a mint copy of The Meditations 'The Bad Apple' today at a thrift store. What a fantastic LP. Thank you for providing such great info about this obscure (at least to me) group!

  2. Sorry for being late with "releasing" your comment on my blog! Unfortuna- tely, I was busy with so many other things.

    As to the Meditation Singers, yes, they certainly merit more attention than they have received so far. It makes me very glad to think that you had, as it seems by way of my postings, their name on your mental agenda when entering that shop; to imagine that, when your eyes fell on that LP, your ganglions started working and made you remember "hey, isn't that the album I read about on the net?" ... And congratulations for getting a mint copy, mine isn't quite.