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?