Monday, December 31, 2012

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

... comes this year from the Los Angeles-based outfit Senor Soul, from 1969.

Senor Soul released two albums for Double Shot in 1968-69, It's Your Thing being their second; the group was composed by Willie Briggs, Ed Stevenson, J.T. Crump, Howard Talley and Charles Miller. True to their style, their 1969 LP features funky (& soul-jazzy) instrumentals, many of them adapted from known songs (like Proud Mary, Working In The Coalmine and others). The title song It's Your Thing reached the Top 40s R&B. And that's just about all I know about the LP, really. If you got two spare minutes, find out more about their album over at GrooveAddict and Funk-o-logy.

There are two heavy funk pieces on this album, »The Mouse« and »Make The Funk Jump« ... just the right stuff for New Year's Eve. Hear them below!

A peaceful 2013 to all of you!
May everything you desire come true.

Senor Soul: »The Mouse« / »Make The Funk Jump« from the Double Shot LP # DSS-5005 (1969):

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

My God, my Freedom

Jewel/Paula ad in Billboard,
Aug. 11, 1973, p. 25
In November 1971, Stan Lewis of Jewel-Paula signed Fontella Bass. »She is the daughter of the great gospel singer, Martha Bass. Fontella was the musical accompanist for her mother and traveled extensively through the country playing Gospel music. In 1969 Fontella and her family moved to Paris, and there she recorded several albums with The Art Ensemble of Chicago. One was the soundtrack of the French film "Les Stances à Sophie." Fontella also has had numerous successes on the domestic scene. Now she'll be released on the Paula label« ran the short Billboard notice a few days later (Dec. 04, 1971, p. 14).

Billboard, Sept. 11, 1971, p. 35
At this time, around 1970-71, Fontella's career was indeed at a turning point. For one thing, she had started to work outside the pop and soul circuit, as with the above-mentioned Art Ensemble of Chicago (The soundtrack LP Les Stances à Sophie was recorded and released in France in July 1970, and in the US only in 1971). For another thing, she was picked up by Jewel-Paula in late autumn 1971 and embarked upon another pop-/soul career. However, the resulting album Free (Paula LPS # 2213, rel. 04/1972) was to be her last LP release in the field of secular music. In August 1973, her LP Free was, justly, described as »an instant success«, and Paula- Jewel announced »plenty of tunes still waiting for release« (BB, Aug. 11, 1973, p. 22). Yet these tunes were never released for their major part, and only some of them are found on the CD re-release of the 1972 Paula LP (Varese/Sarabande 2000).
     Fontella's 1972 LP is certainly, as has often been claimed, a lost jewel in the realm of post-1970 soul music (read a review here). It was arranged and produced by Oliver Sain, Fontella's old mentor, producer and musical manager. Lightyears away from the often shallower pre-1970's productions, this LP comprises a wide array of well-arranged songs: love songs, political songs, and gospel, all adorned and made special by Fontella's outstanding performance. That we find a gospel song on her 1972 Paula LP prefigures the turn her later career took, when she focused mainly on gospel. Although she occasionally appeared live to sing R&B stuff, she only released gospel material after 1972 (apart from less than a handful of other songs exclusively on 45''). An incomplete overview over her post-1972 LP/CD releases would include the following:
  • From the Root to the Source (Soul Note LP # 1006, 1980, together with her mother Martha)
  • Everlasting Arms (1991)
  • No Ways Tired (1995, arranged by James Cleveland and nominated for the 1996 Grammy Award of Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album)
  • Speaking In Tongues (1999, together with saxophonist David Murray; read a review by Stan North here)
  • Travellin' (Fontella Bass with The Voices of St. Louis, 2001)
From her 1972 Paula LP comes this gospel gem, written by accomplished guitarist Morris Dollison (his real name being said to be Maurice Dollison; he often used his showbiz name Cash McCall) and entitled »My God, My Freedom, My Home«. Musicians and background singers are not credited, so we have to live with the simple fact that it's Fontella singing. But that just about suffices, doesn't it? Ah, by the way, it could well be Fontella herself playing piano on this recording; in any case she did it on a number of other occasions. (If somebody can corroborate this, please let me know.)
Blessed Sunday all!

Fontella Bass: »My God, My Freedom, My Home« from the Paula LP Free (1972):

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Farewell ...

... sweet-timbred light of (my) soul !!!

Fontella Bass: »Rescue Me« from the Checker LP # 2997:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday's Twosome # 16

April 9, 1966: Billboard announces the release of a certain Tune-Tone LP (about which more in a second). Several months later, in the October 22 issue of the same year, the Billboard announcement is repeated (for whatever reasons) and the said LP was awarded a mediocre 3-star rating; the album was categorised as »popular«. After that, we hear nothing more of the said LP.

Tune-Tone LP # 121 (04/1966)
The artists featured on the said LP are Bonnie & Clem, prominently billed on the cover as »The Aero-Dynamic Singers«. I really have not the faintest idea what this was supposed to mean, and if you search for »Aero-Dynamic Singers« using the various net ressources at our disposal you'll get a mere 0 results. However, the singers are familiar enough, maybe even household names to some aficionados: Bonnie Davis and Clem (Clement) Moorman, wife and husband at this stage of their career (they divorced only several years after in the early 70's).
Bonnie Davis (this being her stage name; for the law she was Gertrude Melba Smith) was born in New Orleans and grew up in Alabama. She met pianist Clem(ent) Moorman in or around 1942 when both worked in Newark. Clem was playing at the local Piccadilly Club, forming the house band, i.e. a trio made up of himself (piano), Al Henderson (bass), and Ernie Ransome (guitar). They soon became the Piccadilly Pipers, Al Henderson was replaced by Henry Padgette, and that's how they finally encountered Bonnie Davis. Bonnie on the other hand was around Newark as a singer with saxophonist Teddy Hill's band and in 1942, when the Piccadilly Pipers were looking for a female singer, all teamed up together. Early on, they also recorded as the »Bunny Banks Trio«. Their first sessions with Savoy produced a #1 R&B hit (»Don't Stop Now«), and their follow-up records during the 1940's were likewise more or less successful. But it was only in 1949 that the group appeared officially, for the first time, as »Bonnie Davis And Clem«. -- Well, this is just a digest of a much longer and more interesting story which was researched in detail by Marv Goldberg (read it here: »The Piccadilly Pipers«). Equally informative proved a long entry at Google Answers, read it here. There, reference is also made to the study of Barbara J. Kukla: Swing City: Newark Nightlife, 1925-50, Philadelphia 1991 (I haven't checked this reference).

The Piccadilly Pipers (feat. Bonnie Davis)
The Piccadilly Pipers (feat. Bonnie Davis) recorded into the mid-50's, after which Bonnie went to Decca (the group was by then already under contract with Coral, a Decca subsidiary) and started a solo career (of sorts; Clem of the Pipers was playing piano at all her sessions). This didn't lead anywhere, and soon The Piccadilly Pipers were back in business, with changed personnel. They continued to record until the end of the 50's before they finally disbanded. Bonnie & Clem went ahead as a duo, touring supper clubs and lounges, thus sharing the fate which the merciless 1960s had in store for many late-40's/early 50's artists who had lost, it appears, touch with the younger audience, were by now lacking overall success and in any case were regarded by many as relicts of the past; musicallywise they usually offered, or were forced to offer, the somewhat outdated tunes popular in the cocktail lounge circuit which still appealed to an elderly, white middle-class public.

Publicity shots of Bonnie Davis, from the 1950's
Their Tune-Tone LP, released only in 1966 (according to Billboard; Marv Goldberg mentions the earlier date of 1964), was hopelessly outdated when it was released (at least if measuring it at what was current on the charts of the time). In fact, even the portraits of Bonnie & Clem on the cover probably date to the 1950s, as becomes apparent if comparing Bonnie's photo with some of her former publicity shots. Weirdly, the back cover of the album has no complete song list but features, among other things, two short career sketches of Bonnie and Clem and a list of places »both have appeared as a duo«. All texts on the back cover focus heavily on their TV and concert appearances and downplay their former history as »The Piccadilly Pipers«; probably the LP was meant to be sold after their stints in the various clubs. The disc labels yield the following song list:
  • A1   No Man Is An Island
  • A2   Basin Street
  • A3   The Heart Of A Fool
  • A4   You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You
  • A5   Madeira
  • A6   All I Want Is You
  • B1   Just A Little Lovin'
  • B2   Exodus
  • B3   Capucciana
  • B4   Moonlight In Vermont
  • B5   When I Lost You
  • B6   It's Alright With Me
Several of these songs were recorded, I presume, in the years before 1966, but I cannot give any dates. »You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You«, for example, was recorded by Bonnie & Clem in 1959 for the first time. Moreover, Clem appears as a duet partner of Bonnie in only about five songs; the rest are Bonnie solos (with Clem on the piano). The two duets which, to my mind, stand out from the rest are »All I Want Is You« and »Just A Little Lovin'«. The first tune is an original Davis-Moorman composition, exhibiting much witty playfulness and even some features of a typical novelty song; the second tune, classically romantic, is much different in mood and performance as you will easily notice ... so in between these songs we can capture the wide range of musical styles Bonnie & Clem could cover with much charm and skill:

Bonnie & Clem: »All I Want Is You« / »Just A Little Lovin'« from the Tune-Tone LP # 121 (1966):

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Anyhow, there are still two things to consider here, one biographical and the other musical.
    The biographical bit: It may not be remembered generally that Gertrude Melba Smith (aka Bonnie Davis) is the mother of known singer Melba Moore. However, the surrounding details are somewhat unclear: Both Bonnie and Clem said later that they fell in love the moment they met in Newark, that is, in 1942 at the latest. Melba was born in 1945 while Bonnie was married still to Teddy Hill (the bandleader of her for- mer engagement), and Melba was nine when Bonnie remarried Clem Moorman. So was she married before to Clem, divorced him sometime before 1945 and remarried him in c.1954? Or maybe the mention of a remarriage is a mistake and Bonnie actually married Clem for the first time in c.1954, although they had been in love for a considerable time before. Melba, in any case, later acknowledged to have been much influenced by her stepfather Clem and even took her stage name »Moore« from Clem's family name »Moorman« (while »Melba« refers, obviously, to her mother). In the July 1970 issue of Ebony (p. 31), we read the following about Melba Moore:
As a child growing up in New York and Newark, she was "turned on" to show biz by her parents, both of whom performed with a group called the Piccadilly Pipers. "I met a lot of people through them," Melba relates, "for they have a great facility for making friends wherever they go. My initial impulse was to get into nightclubs singing and playing the piano, since that's what they do, and I thought I could get started in that most easily. My brothers, my sister and I were all musically inclined and we enjoyed taking lessons. At one time I was really heavy into jazz piano."

   The musical bit: There is one song on this LP, another duet, entitled »Capucciana« (which Bonnie & Clem consistently pronounce »Capuccina«). It obviously is meant to be a funny pun on cappuccino and is partly sung in Italian, one of the myriad of pseudo-Italian songs popular in the early 1960's and impossibly kitschy for my personal taste (but well-suited to a supper club audience which presumably had often its fair share of nostalgic Italo-Americans). Now, there is no such song, really, as »Capucciana«,and the song is little more than an adaption of Nicola Arigliano's hit single »Permettete, Signorina« from 1960. The Italian parts run, in case it is of interest:

          Permettete signorina
          Vi dispiace se vi chiedo di ballar
          Non c'e' bimba piu' carina
          Che mi possa questa sera far sognar   ... ... ...
          O mia bella signorina
          Baciami ancor
          Dammi dammi un bacio
          Un lungo bacio
          E ciao ciao ciao amor!

Bonnie & Clem: »Capucciana« from the Tune-Tone LP # 121 (1966):

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Still Reminiscing ...

... ah well, I am still thinking, with no little nostalgia, about my late summer trip to Greece ... while around here the golden leaves are falling on the ever colder ground and the sun, when she does appear through the misty haze of the autumn sky, struggles more and more every day to reach her meridian over the horizon. At night, the moon is often obscured by batches of dark clouds as if his silver disk is waylaid by a swarm of hungry bats. So best I can come up with today are two songs which dispel my gloomy autumn mood and bring back the memories of sunnier days ... and of places like this, on a lonely beach in southern Crete called Sweetwater:

(Click to enlarge)
When I looked through some of my records, summer songs proved less easy to find than I thought! At the end, I ended up with a version of Gershwin's classic »Summer- time«, by Brenda & The Tabulations (recorded in Philadelphia and released on their one-and-only Dionn LP # 2000 Dry Your Tears in May 1967). Following up their hit »Dry Your Tears«, Brenda & The Tabulations rushed out, as was common, an accompanying album which, for all the speed with which it was produced, contained many covers and known standards, among which the said song. A Billboard critic of the epoch (June 3, 1967 issue, p. 86) nevertheless stated that Brenda's mono version of »Summertime« gives an »excellent treatment« to the tune, so it did no go unnoticed. There will be some out there who have never heard Brenda's version before, and although I do not think that hers is the definitive version of that tune it strikes me as a particularly melancholic version, and the song in itself is essentially melancholic! (Thus it well fits my actual mood ...) Brenda's high-pitched voice, somewhat echoing and distant in the recording, confers an almost mystic atmo- sphere. And mind that at around 02:18 into the song, before the organ sets in, there is a noticeable break which must be due to bad cutting, I guess. In any case, it does not seem caused by the LP nor by the pressing.

As for the second tune, I took it from an album you all know, yet it arguably is - given that almost all songs from this album have become landmark recordings - the least remembered of them all: Aretha Franklin's »Hello Sunshine« from her 1968 Atlantic LP Now. The song was penned, in or little before '68, by King Curtis and Ron(ald/nie) Miller. As you know, Curtis was present in person at the December, 19, 1967 session which produced the track, and the backing vocals are due to none less than The Sweet Inspirations ... Like »Summertime«, »Hello Sunshine« is again a melancholic song, even if Aretha's room-filling powerhouse voice wasn't fitted to produce a version you could call »mystical«. As only she could (and, well, can), she effortlessly blasts the tune away into the blissful heaven of immortal recordings!

Brenda & The Tabulations: »Summertime« from the Dionn LP # 2000 (1967, mono) /
Aretha Franklin (feat. The Sweet Inspirations): »Hello Sunshine« from the Atlantic LP # 8186 (1968):

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Return of the Jedi

Oowee, ... about time to breath life again into this blog which I left sadly orphaned for two months!
Not that I was idle, really. Rather, I set out to purify my mind and soul, and fortu- nately I found some very beautiful places to do so. So, for example, I went here:

(Click to enlarge)
This spectacular lagoon is known by the name of Bálos and is situated on the northwestern tip of Crete. It is hard to reach, only either by boat or afoot, but the view (and, once descended, the turquoise water) is obviously worth the effort. And yes, during the weeks past I toured the island of Crete, leaving my hard discs, records and all the rest safely at home. I had never been to Crete before, and my first visit was truly a ravishing experience. Most parts of Crete, especially those near the sea, are equally lovely, so it doesn't matter much where you go. And it's more than an island, in many ways, not the least because of its size: its length exceeds 150 miles, yet there is but one motorway (mostly with one lane only!) and the rest of the isle is crisscrossed by more or less winding roads which often climb steep mountains in long serpentines ... and may, on occasion, give you cold sweats if you start looking into the abyssal ravines beside the road. A lot of places you can only (thanks God, for it keeps the masses away) reach on bumpy dirt tracks or by walking.
* * *
To give you a better idea, here are two more panorama views of this beautiful Mediterranean isle. The first shows Elounda Bay, near Spinalonga. It is situated to the north of Agios Nikolaos (and the reputedly chic VIP resorts of Elounda have lately seen the visits of Lady Gaga and Brad Pitt ... just saying). The second photo shows the view over Mokhlos (the shining white village below at the seaside, in front of the little island) and the Gulf of Mirabello (as the Venetians, the former lords of Crete before the Turkish conquest, called it). Both scenarios are in Eastern Crete:

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
Now, this was a beautiful trip indeed. Back home, I then continued moving house ... and finished TODAY !! That is, today I finally relocated the last bits and pieces from my old apartment and left it, metaphorically speaking (but not much), more or less vacuum clean. Since this move from my old to my new home occupied me for the last five or six months, I can't tell you what I am feeling right now: exhaustion, joy, you name it. And a good day it is to »reopen«, as it were, this blog. Happy homecoming!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lemon Prequel

mid-week gospel

Savoy LP # MG-14149 (1966)
Tonight only with a small »prequel« to the post I have in mind for next Sunday ... from the 1966 Savoy LP by the Howard Lemon Singers from Detroit, Michigan. (The album has one of the many covers by Harvey which make the '60s LPs of Savoy so special.)
You can hear them below with a swinging up- tempo version of »Amazing Grace«. On piano: Howard Lemon; lead: Joyce (Lawson) Moore, accompanied by Burnadette (!) Gaudy, Patricia Green and Brenda McDonald and, possibly but uncertain, Catherine Massey Stovall.

The Howard Lemon Singers: »Amazing Grace« from the Savoy LP # 14149 (1966):

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bessie Smith Tribute Contest (1st part)

»After You've Gone«

Being one of the queen mothers of modern jazz, blues and ultimately soul as well, Bessie Smith and the songs she recorded have inspired many. On March 2, 1927, Bessie recorded four popular songs, Turner Layton's & Henry Creamer's »After You've Gone« among them. (The song was first recorded in July 1918 by Marion Harris: listen to it here; find out more about it here and here.) At the time and later on as well, Bessie's choice of popular tunes was often criticized. Chris Albertson writes:
Blues purists - who, oddly enough, don't complain about Bessie's 1923 record- ings of lesser-known pop fare - have bemoaned her "commercial" repertoire for this session, and critics have rationalized it as an attempt to regain lost ground. But Bessie's popularity was not threatened at the time, and her recordings reflected only a part of her actual repertoire. Her treatment of these songs offers delightful evidence of her talent for turning banal material into something special. (...)
Just as the sudden popularity of theatrical blues (as opposed to the street corner variety) had turned "sweet" singers into blues divas overnight, so it was easy for blues singers to venture beyond their regular domain. Bessie did this routinely on stage, but even a song like "After You've Gone" almost be- came a blues when she handled it ... (Bessie, rev. and expanded ed., New Haven 2003, p. 148 f.)
The least one can say is that Bessie made the song her own, so that until today nobody (I guess) associates it with Marion Harris but rather with Bessie Smith. Thus we find it on two »Bessie Smith Tribute« LPs from the late '50s, the one, famous enough, by Dinah Washington, the other, truly obscure, by Becky Hall.

AAMCO LP # 324 (1959?)
Let's start with the second, entitled A Tribute to Bessie Smith (AAMCO # ALP-324). Strangely, the singer is nowhere mentioned on the cover; instead you'll have to read the sleeve notes on the back in order to finally stumble across the artist's name in about one of the last lines. On another blog, the writer is as clueless as I am about who Becky Hall really was. In fact, it is not even clear whether one of the two women posing in the cover photo is Becky Hall or not (my guess is that she isn't, because on many other AAMCO 33⅓ covers there is no picture of the artist but rather a more or less kitschy, if not outright trashy or freaky, tableau composed of otherwise unrelated models) ...!
     The low-priced AAMCO label (a subsidiary of some sort of Alison Enterprises) was established in summer 1958 and barely a year later, in June '59, Alison-AAMCO already filed for bankruptcy (see Billboard, June 29, 1959, p. 7). However, if running across the net you'll find release dates for AAMCO LPs ranging from 1956 to the mid-'60s ... Conventionally, Becky's LP is assigned to 1959, and this makes sense because Georges Rhodes (who was Sammy Davis's accompanist) is mentioned as the arranger in the notes on the back cover. Rhodes joined Alison-AAMCO only at the beginning of '59 (see JET, Jan. 29, 1959, p. 64), thus 1959 seems to be about right as the release date of the album.
     For the curious among you I can add that it is worthwhile to look for other AAMCO LP releases ... you'll find everything from serious jazz by famous soloists and bandleaders to mildly bizarre releases of more or less exotic stuff: Torero (Music of the Bull Ring) (»a 66 piece band captures the pageantry of bull ring«), Favorite Polkas, Mazeltov, Flamenco, The Scots Guards Bag Pipes (»Stirring songs of Scot- land«) and, my favorite album, Tarik Bulut's In An Egyptian Garden (»Sensuous songs of the exotic Middle East«). Also noteworthy is the respective cover art of many of these LPs, and not without good reason at least one AAMCO album made it on the Bizarre Records website ...

EmArcy LP # MG-36130 (1958)
Second, Dinah Washington. Her album Dinah Sings Bessie Smith (EmArcy LP # MG 36130) was out in February 1958. It doesn't need much of an introduction, I think. It features 10 songs made famous by Bessie Smith and recorded by Queen Dinah in December '57 and January '58, accompanied by her then-husband, the saxophonist Eddie Chamblee, and his band. »After You've Gone« in particular was taped at Universal Recorders, Chicago, on January 7, 1959. On the back cover of the EmArcy LP, the tune is explicitly mentioned as »one of a handful of non-blues songs among the 160 (which Bessie put on wax during her eleven years as a recording artist).«

Below, you can listen to Becky Hall's version of »After You've Gone«, followed by Dinah's. I personally feel that putting Becky's version first is doing her a favor, really. Maybe this is because I am, by personal inclination, unshakably partial to the art of Ruth Lee Jones. Anyhow, Becky's every so often strident voice is less forceful and less modulated than Dinah's, especially in the upper registers, and vocally she tackles the song as if it were kind of a French chanson. Finally, and quite indepen- dent from both the artists' respective talents, Dinah's voice was recorded way clearer and more up front than was Becky's. But well, there is always something to listen to with interest, if not delight:

Becky Hall ('59)/ Dinah Washington ('58): »After You've Gone«:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Can't Nobody ...

mid-week gospel

... tell me that this isn't a beautiful LP! A gifted artist and a piano. That's about all you need. And Martha Abbott does give it to us, in abundance, on her 1976 Hoyt Sullivan LP Precious Is His Name (HSE LP # 1458): eight songs, a marvelous voice and about 85 ivories in black & white.

From the cover of HSE LP # 1458
(changed to B&W)
Martha Abbott's first HSE LP was recorded in Nashville and probably released in (late?) 1976; however, three songs from the album were filed for copyright only in January 1977 (if that is to mean anything). The album features two songs by Martha and several more or less known tunes by others.
     Mrs Abbott, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. John H. Clark from Columbus, Ohio, and married to deacon Robert Abbott, dedicated her life to church music. In 2001, she was among the inductees of the Columbus Senior Musicians Hall of Fame and I understand that she is still active in several Columbus baptist communities and occas- ionally gigging. Apart from this, information about her is scarce.

Several months ago, Alex on his blog posted a piece on Martha Abbott. He writes that he called her (you'll actually find her phone no. on the back of the HSE LP!) and eventually had a nice conversation after overcoming some (understandable) diffidence on her part. She said that »Precious Is His Name« (listen to it on Alex's blog) was the first song she ever wrote and that her first HSE LP was recorded in Nashville. After that, she recorded in her hometown of Columbus instead and released a total of eight LPs. Locally, Martha is a known artist and her LPs sold well throughout Ohio and in neighboring states. »You can find them everywhere« she added. Not less importantly, Mrs. Abbott stressed that she feels blessed to have been able to perform her music for so many people for such a long time. »It's all about Jesus,« she said. (Read more here) ... and yes, the cover photo from her HSE LP seems to be the only known »official« photo of her. It does seem to come, in style and posture, from a by-gone epoch so that's why I changed it to B&W above. Not so her music which resonates today.

On most songs of her LP, Martha Abbott is accompanied (almost shyly and much in the background) by an electric organ; on »Precious Is His Name« and »All Of My Life« we have only her and the piano. Some of the tunes are church ballads, but two others are true downhome piano stompers, with a hint of barrelhouse: James Cleveland's »It's So Hard To Get Along« and Andrae Crouch's »Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus« (which means »can't nobody treat me like Jesus« as the lyrics say at one point). It's just what I felt I needed to hear today. Hope you feel the same!

Martha Abbott: »It's So Hard To Get Along« / »Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus« from the HSE LP # 1458 (1976):

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday's Twosome # 15

Entry from Billboard, Nov. 02, 1963
(click to enlarge)

... will prove today, if anything, the very versatility of this cherished bloglet of mine (chuckling). Just yesterday I uncrated another 45 which I didn't remember to possess. It turned out to be a hit single released in September '63, by Dale & Grace (Dale Houston & Grace Broussard, both from Louisiana; well, Dale originally hailed from Mississippi). Famously, in an impromptu evening session, Sam Montel of Baton Rouge brought together his up-to- then unsuccessful songwriter Dale Houston with 19-year old Cajun singer Grace Broussard. They rehearsed some songs together until they hit upon »I'm Leaving It Up To You«. Montel was convinced that they had a hit and made them record the song the very next day. He then put it out on the Michelle label (MX-921), named for Montel's daughter (and consistently referred to in Billboard's issues of the period as »Michele«). A Houston radio pushed the song and it got airplay in the south. Eventually, it was re-released on Montel # 921 and was soon known nationally; it became a # 1 hit in late November 1963.

Michelle # 921 and Montel # 921 each featured a different B-side, »Foolin' Around« and »That's What I Like About You« respectively. »Foolin' Around« was first done by Buck Owens and Don Rich before Dale & Grace dealt it with grace. The outcome was a mildly fast version with a heavy Mexican flavor. Dig it here:

Dale & Grace: »Foolin' Around« on Michelle # MX-921 (1963):

Ummh, and yes, this B-side is kind of a rarity because it was neither included on their (first and only) Montel LP (#100: I'm Leaving It Up To You) rushed out in December '63 on the wave of their overnight hit nor was it included in modern CD re-issues of this album.

The standard comment regarding Michelle # 921's A-side is that it reached # 1 on the Hot 100 charts on the very day in November '63 when Kennedy was assassinated (in fact, the Billboard charts were published only the day after, on Nov. 23); it was then ousted by the Beatles. To keep to the spirit of this blog, and to put Dale & Grace's single into perspective, we might remember that the rise of their first Michelle 45 coin- cided first with the Vandellas's »Heat Wave«, Doris Troy's »Just One Look« and Inez Foxx's »Mockingbird«, later with Garnet Mimms's »Cry Baby« and Rufus Thomas's »Walking The Dog« (to name but them). Truly surprising that »I'm Leaving It Up To You« also made it, during the same time, into the Top Ten of the R&B charts.

For more info on Dale & Grace, have a look here:

Monday, August 13, 2012

I Wish I Knew ...

... How It Would Feel To Be Free ... from Shirley Scott's 1969 LP Shirley Scott & The Soul Saxes (Atlantic SD 1532).

51 Years ago today, the Berlin Wall was built. Fortunately, it's been down for 23 years now and the world has become a better place. But let us not forget that others are still struggling to acquire their freedom ... in Syria, in Belarus, in Iran, in Alge- ria, in North Corea, in Cuba, in Ukraine ... and in some sense in Russia as well ... and not to speak of the social and racist barriers to freedom that exist throughout the entire world.

Atlantic SD 1532 (1969)
For the record: Shirley Scott's '69 album actually features six songs recorded in July 1969, all with the participation of saxo- phonists King Curtis, Hank Crawford and David Newman, hence the title. There is one title though (the one you can hear below) which was already recorded back in September 1968 ... and it's the only track on the LP without saxophone. Accompanying Shirley on the organ are Eric Gale (guitar),  Jerry Jemmott (bass) and Bernard Purdie (dr).

Shirley Scott: »I Wish I Knew How It would Feel To Be Free« from the Atlantic LP # 1532 (1969):

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Heilbut Was Right, Wasn't He?

A cloudy sunday ... maybe the right day to dig deep into the crate. Out came a HOB 45 released in June 1973 (according to the stamp on both labels; it actually says »June 27 1973«).

HOB # 1379 has two songs by the Greater St. Paulettes. Reference is to the Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. The former local pastor, Dr. W.T. Bigelow, is mentioned as arranger of »He Touched Me« on the A side; the song itself is the famous hymn written by William (Bill) J. Gaither and first recorded in 1964. Now, Durham is known not only as the birthplace of Pigmeat Markham and John D. Loudermilk but also of Clyde McPhatter and Shirley Caesar (few names, but what a bunch of artists!). Unfortunately, by 1973 black gospel (and not only black gospel) had already started to move into its »mass choir-phase«. This may have reflected changes in the forms of worship and may have been due to enhanced technology as well, but musicallywise it proved a disaster (it still does). Anthony Heilbut lamented bitterly, and oh so justly, that by taking this turn gospel music buried the vocal qualities of individual singers. What is more, mass groups are pretty much unfitted to perform quieter and less frantic (indeed less frenzical) songs; some also said, correctly I think, that the mass-choir style tends to stress rhythm over harmony and thus resembles the development from soul to disco during the early to mid-1970s. You'll hear all this on this 45. The B side is a prime example of what went wrong (at least if you're looking for vocal artistry). However, there is still a recognizable individual voice that stands out on the A side, a voice I find quite intriguing.

For the record, I have no idea to whom the voice belongs (is she Dorothy Fox, mentioned on the labels as arranger of the group?). Nor do I know anything about the Greater St. Paulettes. This was their only 45, but in early 1974 Scepter-HOB also released a LP entitled Gospel Train (HBX-2166) and containing ten songs in all, including those two you can hear now. Happy Sunday all!

The Greater St. Paulettes: »He Touched Me« / »Working In The Vineyards« on HOB # 1379 (1973):

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Vocal Muscle

Margie Joseph's earliest recordings were done at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1967 and resulted in two OKeh 45s, out in December 1967 and in May 1968. They didn't chart but made enough noise to earn passing mention in Billboard. Later, after she had been picked up by Stax in 1969, she returned to Muscle Shoals in 1970 for another four songs which then found their way unto her first LP (Volt LP # 6012, 01/1971). And although her Muscle Shoals output was limited (and actually ended with her 1970 session), her name remained bound up with the »Muscle Shoals Sound Story«. This is attested, curiously, by an ad from September 1970 where Margie's name appears in the flattering company of the Rolling Stones, Sam & Dave, Solomon Burke, Mavis Staples, Odetta, Joe Tex, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and many others (see ad below). This ad was placed months before her first Volt LP was released.

Now, I never lost any sleep about why Margie's second LP was called Phase II, being her second LP and all. What I have never grasped so far is the pun or message, if there is any, of why her very first LP was entitled ... Makes A New Impression (for a pic of the cover, see yesterday's post). In any case, it seems that the LP was either at first (or alternatively as an afterthought) destined to be called Meet Margie Joseph, which apart from the nice initial alliteration would make some good sense for an artist's premiere album. However, only the labels show Meet Margie Joseph, while the sleeve has Makes A New Impression. So we are left to guess whether sleeve or labels were printed first (and, depending on this, whether Meet Margie Joseph was the original title or not; I guess it was).

Stax/Volt ad from Billboard, Jan 30, 1971
Not that it really matters, because she does make a pretty solid impression in any case. Andrew Hamilton called this first LP Margie's »most successful and aesthetically pleasing album« (AMG to Soul, p. 379). It famously contains the 10-minute monster track of »Stop! In The Name Of Love« preceded by a »Monologue: Women Talk«. It soon proved to be the LP's stand-out song, was quickly used for a Stax-Volt ad and finally released as a 45. I have to confess, it is not my kind of bag. And to the probable bewilderment of some among you, several other songs on this LP aren't my bag either. Basically all those which were recorded in the Memphis Stax Studios, with the exception of »Sweeter Tomor- row« (as heard on yesterday's post). Andrew Hamilton described the LP as being »a mixture of Stax and city slick R&B sounds«, but frankly, I would object that the Stax songs on this LP are the very epitome of everything I would call »city slick« ... and just about too slick for my modest taste at that.

Which leaves us, or me at least, with the tracks Margie Joseph recorded at Muscle Shoals. They are quite a contrast to the rest of the album. One of those, »Punish Me«, was released as a 45 (Volt # 4046) by Stax-Volt in September '70 in order to wax the floor for the coming album but it didn't succeed in doing so. (The result was that Margie's LP was then released without any hit single attached to it. The more astonishing that the album reached the Top Ten of Soul LPs and made it to #67 in the general Top LPs listing. But no, not astonishing; it's called quality. However, minds have been divided over this album.) Two other of the Muscle Shoals tracks are the songs I like most about this album. Dig them here:

Margie Joseph: »Same Thing« / »I'm Fed Up« from the Volt LP # 6012 (01/1971):

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From Billboard, Sept 26, 1970, p. 72

Friday, July 13, 2012

Overdue Celebration

Most of you will have noted (or ordered) already, so it's probably somewhat late, and actually overdue, for me to remind you that the second volume of Bob McGrath's Soul Discography (G-M) (Eyeball Productions) has been published - not even recently, but several months ago. I always wanted to mention it here, because it really is a very welcome and most useful addition to the (not too numerous) research tools at our disposal. As this calls for a little celebration the obvious thing to do was to take my inspiration from the cover of the second volume and make it come alive musically (or rather vocally if you like).

Volt LP # VOS-6012
The cover image is taken (and laterally revers- ed) from Margie Joseph's first ever LP Makes A New Impression (Volt LP # VOS-6012, released in January 1971), so inspiration has to flow from there. Tonight I don't have the time to say much about Margie and her first album; suffice it to say that half of the songs of her first LP were recorded at Stax, the other half at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. I'll follow up her story tomorrow, or as Margie tells us: »(Everything Will Be) Sweeter Tomorrow« ...

Margie Joseph: »Sweeter Tomorrow« from the Volt LP # VOS-6012 (1971):

Friday, July 06, 2012

Driving People Bananas

Atlantic LP # 8120
After his fabulous success with »Mercy, Mercy« (feat. Jimi Hendrix on guitar) Don Covay was soon picked up by Atlantic. In February 1966, they put out his album See-Saw, the second on Atlantic but actually the first entirely produced and recorded under Wexler's supervision; it has acquired its place in the history of memorable covers, showing a decently dressed white girl in a wintery landscape on a see-saw ... so much for Atlantic's shrewd (if inherently racist) policy of how to sell the energy-loaded music of a black singer, tall, handsome and sexually attractive, to the mainstream market in mid-60s America.

Covay's initial time at Atlantic was not as successful as many had hoped for, the only hit in 1965-66 being the album's title song »See-Saw«. What most don't know, however, or do not care to remember, is that four of the album's 12 songs were written by Steve Cropper & Covay and recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis on 30 June '65: »See-Saw«, »I Never Get Enough Of Your Love«, »Iron Out The Rough Spots« and »Sookie Sookie«. (According to some, »Iron Out The Rough Spots« was recorded in a later session but this is almost certainly wrong.) The personnel playing in the June '65 session was actually made up of Booker T. & the MG's, together with other known Stax session musicians: Duck Dunn, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson, Booker T Jones, Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love and Floyd Newman. Hard to think of anything more »Stax« than this mix! And indeed, those four songs are about the best on this album which has its fair share of fillers; hear two of them below.

In the Stax studio: Jim Stewart, Don Covay, Steve Cropper, David Porter (right to left); photo from Rob Bowman's Soulsville U.S.A.

As is known, Atlantic brought on several occasions promising singers to Memphis, and for the use of the Stax studio and musicians Atlantic then split with Stax the publishing and Stax got a share of the sales from Atlantic product recorded in Memphis. Before Wexler headed to Memphis with Covay, Atlantic had recorded Wilson Pickett there. So towards the end of June, Covay appeared in the Stax Studio. Rob Bowman in Soulsville U.S.A. has some details about the Covay sessions (p. 62 f.); in particular he quotes Steve Cropper with the words:
I remember that Jim Stewart [the boss of Stax] called Jerry Wexler and said, 'Get Don Covay out of here. He's driving us nuts.' Don Covay was a little bit on the weird side. I loved Don to death. We get along great but I don't think Jim and them understood Don. He ... was kind of driving people bananas. ... He's kind of frantic when he makes decisions. He jumps from this place to that. You never know what he's gonna do next.
Bowman puts this a bit more neatly in saying that »Covay's high energy and extreme unpredictability were the antithesis of Jim Stewart's banker personality«.

Both Pickett and Covay were difficult to work with and their respective Stax sessions turned out to be rather turbulent. What is more, the Stax studio musicians started to rebel and Jim Stewart was likewise not gifted with undue patience. So after the Pickett and Covay sessions, Stax wouldn't let Atlantic stars record as often or as easily as before. However, the Covay sessions produced some prime Memphis soul from the first heyday of the legendary Stax sound.

Don Covay: »Iron Out The Rough Spots« / »Sookie Sookie« from the Atlantic LP # 8120 (1966):

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Record with Soul

mid-week gospel

..., well sort of. At least that's what it says on the label. Apart from this, I know little about this record or the group. All I know is the information provided by the labels of A- and B-side (see scan below) which, fortunately, name the respective soloists and credit the songwriters. In addition, this records appears in a 2009 playlist on the webpage of St. Louis photographer Bob Reuter but he also seems to possess no further information.

The slogan »Revelation: Records with Soul« places this 45'' somewhere in the time between 1964 and 1966, I should think, and this would vaguely fit the visual style of the label. (Hayes & Laughton in their Gospel Discography say »ca. 1968«, however.) It doesn't look like the Gospel Colettes ever recorded something else.

The songs are also otherwise unknown, at least to me. Both song titles, »Come To The Fountain« and »He's By Your Side«, are famous enough but nevertheless the songs here are not identical to any of the others known by these titles. As to the lyrics, the concepts expressed are familiar and in a general manner resemble those of the other songs known by the above-mentioned titles.

So, as little as we know about this record, may it take us back in time and remind us that the spirit of it transcends the years.

Gospel Colettes: »Come To The Fountain« / »He's By Your Side« on Revelation # 301:
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Daughters of Reverend Williams

mid-week gospel

Be prepared, folks, tonight the bells strike up a merry peal! I, once again, return to one of the LPs of the fabulous Loving Sisters of Little Rock.

You can hear on this blog a number of songs from their 1970's LPs, so tonight we'll go back further in time, and actually as much you can when following up the Loving Sisters' career, all the way back to their first Peacock LP, Trying Time (PLP # 125), released in May 1965. As their later allbums, this LP offers consistently outstanding material and, a fact especially noteworthy, this material is mainly self-penned (penned by the group's leader Gladys Williams-Givens-McFadden, that is). It is not much of the standard studio LP, that is, all the songs being recorded for the occasion. Rather, the tunes featured were recorded between 1962 and 1965, and some were previously released on 45s, viz. Peacock # 3011 (1962) and # 3027 (1964); a third 45, Peacock # 3060, seems to have been released more or less at the same time as the LP, in 1965. They all were recorded, over the years mentioned, in Houston's Gold Star Studios (see Andy Bradley / Roger Wood: House of Hits. The Story of Houston's Gold Star Recording Studios, Austin 2010, p. 109 for details). So this LP is kind of a summary of the Loving Sisters' early work for Peacock; it also contains one song with the Sisters' father, Reverend Williams, singing the lead vocals.

Because there is not much known about the Loving Sisters, I hope it might be interesting to some of you to read the liner notes from the back cover of their 1965 Peacock LP; the relevant parts - leaving out all generic panegyrics praising the group's excellence, which I take for granted - are the following:
Their singing career started when they were very young. The girls, Leona, Lorraine, Josephine, Anner (!) and Gladys, the original members. The daughters of Reverend and Mrs. Aaron Williams. Reverend Williams pastored a small church and Mrs. Williams served as Choir Directress. During those years the girls participated in the church singing activities along with their two brothers Archie and Luther.
     When Gladys (the baby girl) reached the age of nine she organized the girls group and they performed at the church and along with the school glee clubs ... At twelve years she began to compose her own compositions. When these songs were performed by the girls, the audiences were amazed at the fact that young children could display the words of God so emphatically ...
     In 1951, the girls faced a sudden shock at the death of Leona, the oldest sister. It was some time before they recovered from the loss and attempted to continue their career. They accepted a new member Bobbie Lewis, to fill the vocal vacancy and since then have accepted her as though she were a sister of their family.
     Fortunately in 1962, they were heard by the Pilgrim Jubilee Singers, a professional singing group. They recommended the girls contact Peacock Records Inc., in regards to becoming members of the Peacock Spiritual Family. The group auditioned and was accepted for recording. At the first session their favorite selection (and what they felt most appropriate) »Who Can Ask For More,« was recorded and and later released as their initial Peacock effort. The record sold very well and The Loving Sisters joined with Reverend C.L. Franklin for their first personal appearance tour. The tour proved successful and offered quite an experience for the girls. Since then they have toured the United States many times and many recordings have been recorded and sold. Including such favorites as »Don't Let My Running Be In Vain,« »Sing Your Troubles Away,« »Fix Me« and the ever popular »Trying Time,« which was written by Gladys in a small Mississippi town, during the time the Sisters were participating in a freedom march ...
     The Loving Sisters recently added another member Mary Moore, who serves when needed as vocalist and also designs costumes for the group.
As for the names mentioned in the first paragraph, »Anner« should of course be »Anna« (or »Ann«), and the spelling of the names in general deviates in more than one case from the names as we find them on their 1970's LP (check them here). But it matters not.

The song »Don't Let My Running Be In Vain«, mentioned in the notes on the back cover, was copyrighted by Gladys Givens in Dec. 1962, presumably recorded around that time and subsequently released on Peacock # 3011 (B-side). You can hear it below. It's a beautiful example of a song that comes in two parts, the first almost lyrical, featuring a vocal solo and preparing, with much melodic suspense, for the second part, the second having the background vocals joining in fully. And it comes together with another song from their LP, »Lord Deliver Me«, again penned by Gladys, and only released on this album; it was probably recorded at a later date, possibly in 1965. After an ear-catching piano cascade that opens the song, Glayds powerful voice sets in and, as the song goes on, she cries her soul out. Let not anybody tell me that the Loving Sisters, and their lead singer in particular, have not been underrated in the history of black gospel music!

The Loving Sisters: »Don't Let My Running Be In Vain« / »Deliver Me Lord« from the Peacock LP # 125 (1965):

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday's Twosome # 14

Ain't that good? Uploads are back to normal ... and I actually didn't even plan a post for today, but somehow I didn't want to skip this occasion now that things are working properly again.

Theme song for tonight is first a duet, being Tuesday, and second it's related to my today's mood, viz. »Ain't That Good«, performed by Mavis Staples and Eddie Floyd, from 1969. It was released as Stax # 0041 (B-side) and on the double album Boy Meets Girl (about the latter see more here).
So we have another Mavis-call today, which is fine with me. It'll be fine with you as well, I hope. Here we go ...

Mavis Staples & Eddie Floyd: »Ain't That Good« from the Stax LP # STS-2-2024 (1969):