Friday, July 15, 2011

Pat Your Foot

Today, we are just in for some easy listening, R&B style. I thought it a good idea, for this mid-july Friday, to present Brother Jack McDuff's first Atlantic album. It was released in July 1966 and recorded the previous May in New York.

News that he had switched from Prestige to Atlantic reached the informed public in the first week of May (when actually the Atlantic LP had already been taped). »Organist Jack McDuff has been tagged by Atlantic Records. McDuff comes to Atlantic after building a solid reputation on the Prestige label as one of the country's top jazz organists« said the brief notice in the Billboard issue of May 7, 1966 (p. 56). And everything was »top« for him in the following months, as the tune »A Change Is Gonna Come« (Atlantic # 5069, on the B-side »Down In The Valley«) reached the attention of many music lovers - it sold 15.000 copies in Chicago alone -, but it was his album of the same title that was to prove truly successful: It entered the Top Selling R&B LPs chart in August, peaked at # 10 in September and remained on the charts right up to the end of '66. After the effort of the Supremes, some months before in late '65, this was the second time that Sam Cooke's signature song was to win popularity for another artist.
     I always marveled at the cover of McDuff's LP - and the courage of Atlantic to put it out in this manner. Even to the most unsuspicious the cover must recall the visual imagery of Communist regimes of the day, notably that of North Vietnam. We see McDuff in buttoned collar and olive drab, faintly reminiscent of the uniforms, civil as well as military, which were so often seen on the photographs that went with the headlines reporting the latest successes of the Vietcong to the incredulous public in the U.S. And not content with that the artist appears in front of a red sun whose rays beam out and announce that a change is gonna come. Joseph McCarthy was nine years dead when this album cover appeared in the record stores. I guess that he had some postmortal convulsions when his restless soul drifted through the streets of a major city and found herself presented with that provocative cover. Not to mention the aggravating fact that this heretical crypto-communism could be laid at the door of a black musician.
     Atlantic had no such qualms, it seems. They merely were happy to have McDuff on their roster, and the sleeve notes on the back cover of the LP, written by Bob Rolontz, are nothing short of rapturous: The excitement and the emotion that per- vade his playing have won him enthusiastic acclaim and the title of America's No. 1 soul organist. ... This new album, McDuff's first for Atlantic, breaks new ground for the organist. It ... contains a greater variety of material than he has ever recorded previously. ... On every tune he comes through with soulful, moving performances in the genuine down home blues vein. And there is even a hint as to what McDuff's message was - after all, every buyer of this LP might justfiably have held great expectations in this regard, given the programmatic cover image and the no less programmatic title promising upcoming change. But McDuff damped any such highflying expectations, for he is quoted in the sleeve notes with the words: »We don't have any message with our music, except pat your foot and go on with what you're doing.«

So resign yourself to McDuff's quietist stance in things politic and pat your foot. Try tap it to a »Ho - Ho - Ho Chi Minh« beat if you still insist on some political message. You can also hum along. It works beautifully with the first song you can listen to in the following, »Down In The Valley«. I tried that out. The second tune, »What I'd Say«, works fine as well if you modify your chant slightly to »Ho-Ho-Ho / Ho Chi Minh«. Brethren of the earth, raise your fists and pat, tap or hum happily along! If Brother Jack didn't provide us with a message apart from having us move a bit, we've got to do that for him. Here you go:

Brother Jack McDuff: »Down In The Valley« / »What I'd Say« from the Atlantic LP # SD 1463 (1966):

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