Saturday, December 20, 2008
I did, however, start the show off with one Xmas song, Otis Redding's excellent "Merry Chirstmas, Baby."
Happy Holidays to you and yours. I've got a backlog of some shows and posts which I'll start putting up more regularly in the New Year. I've also got some shows lined up, including some of the best releases of 2008, a deep soul focus on the influence of Bobby Blue Bland, an Eddie Hinton penned show, and more.
Thanks for sticking with me through this long year.
Here's the playlist:
Percy Sledge; From the Dark End of the Street; The Percy Sledge Way; Atlantic
Otis Redding; Merry Christmas, Baby; Atco 6631
Sam & Dave; You Don't Know What You Mean to Me; I Thank You; Atlantic
Doris Allen; I'll Just Keep On Loving You; Shell of a Woman: The Legendary Playground Recordings (Soulscape)
Don Varner; Down in Texas; Finally Got Over (Shout!)
Toussiant McCall; I'm Gonna Make Me a Woman; Ronn 20 (West Side)
O.V. Wright; A Nickel and a Nail; Backbeat 822
Homer Banks; Fighting So Hard To Win; Minit (Stateside)
Bobby Womack; Arkansas State Prison; My Redemption; Capitol (Charley)
Steve Young; Montgomery in the Rain; No Place To Fall (BMG Canada)
Johnny Addams; Real Live Hurtin' Man; Body & Soul; SSS (VampiSoul)
Joe Tex; A Sweet Woman Like You; Dial
Aretha Franklin; It Was You; Rare & Unreleased; (Rhino)
Sam Baker; Safe in the Arms of Love; I Believe in You (Soulscape)
Lucille Mathis; Somewhere Out There; Abet 9431 (Excello)
Van & Grace; Set Me Free; Louisiana Legends (Jin)
Roscoe Shelton; Running From My Life; Deep in My Soul (AIM)
King Curtis; Hold On, I'm Coming; Plays the Great Memphis Hits; Atco
Sweet Inspirations; Sweet Inspiration; Atlantic 2476
Joe Simon; Further On Down the Road; SS7 (Shout!)
Eddie Hinton; Happiness Is Just Around the Corner; Dear Y'all; Zane
Syl Johnson; Let Yourself Go; Hi 2269
Solomon Burke; Seems Like You're Gonna Take Me Back; Nashville; Shout Factory
Grace Braun; Do Right; It Won't Hurt; Rykodisc
Lloyd Price; Restless Heart; Profile; Specialty
Doug Sahm; Sell a Song; Complete Mercury Recordings; Rhino
Saturday, November 8, 2008
At 10:oopm Central Time on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008, all of my anxiety and anger for the past few years was suddenly eased with a chill in my spine. I have been moved by the voice of this country:
"Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope"
On Friday morning, I did a radio show--the HPK stands for Hyde Park-Kenwood, home of the President Elect!--of soul songs that, in part, encompass many of the feelings that accompanied this historic event: freedom, redemption, optimism, unity, service, and mostly, hope for a new day. So many songs from the Civil Rights Era, echoing those same sentiments, seemed suddenly appropriate and re-energized to me, much as many of those themes were for this country during these past 22 months of campaigning. In the enduring words and spirit of Sam Cooke, "It's been a long, long time coming, but I know A Change Gonna Come, Yes it will." Let us all hope it has.
And not to get ahead of our selves, let us remember:
"This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.
It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other."
Many of these songs speak to that for me, and I hope they can for you. Yes, We Can!
Mel & Tim; Yes We Can!; Starting All Over Again
Sam Cooke A Change Is Gonna Come; The Man Who Invented Soul
Aretha Franklin; People Get Ready; Lady Soul; Atlantic
Gene Allison; You Can Make It If You Try; You Can Make It If You Try; Vee Jay
Bettye LaVette; All The Black And White Children; Child Of The Seventies; Rhino
Otis Redding; Amen; Definitive
The Impressions; This Is My Country; This Is My Country; Curtom
Notations; A New Day; Eccentric Soul: Twinight's Lunar Rotation (Numero Uno)
The Chambers Brothers; Time Has Come Today [Single Ed]; Time Has Come: The Best of the; Mercury
James Carr; Freedom Train; The Complete Goldwax Singles (Kent)
Solomon Burke; Maggie's Farm; Atlantic 2288
Bill Moss; Sock It To 'Em Soul Brother; Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label (Numero Uno)
Wilson Pickett; You Can't Stand Alone; The Sound of Wilson Pickett; Atlantic
Otis Clay; If I Could Reach Out (And Help Someone); Hi 2252 B;
Johnny Copeland; Blowing in the Wind; Wand 1114
Willie Hightower; Walk a Mile In My Shoes; s/t (Astralwerks/Honest Jon's)
Syl Johnson; Talk Bout Freedom; Is It Because I'm Black; Twinight
Eddie Hinton; We Got It; Very Extremely Dangerous
will.i.am; The Yes We Can Song (Obama for America); www.barackobama.com
Bob Dylan; Chimes Of Freedom [Live at Newport Folk Fest, 1964]; No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (Columbia)
Mahlia Jackson; We Shall Overcome
(This time I put up a version of the show that eliminates my talking--thanks for listening. And the excess of Dyland songs are in part because Mr. Obama has spoken of how his songs speak to him, specifically, the rebellious spirit of Maggie's Farm).
In that spirit, I have been talking about, and sharing, the following quote from Robert F. Kennedy, while campaigning for President in 1968. And it is my sincere belief and hope that it will be this President who can bring America to judge itself by "the enduring power of our ideals":
"We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the gross national product. For the gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes, and ambulances to clear our highway carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and jails for the people who break them. The gross national product includes the destruction of the redwoods, and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads . . . It includes Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.
And if the gross national product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of public officials . . . the gross national product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile; and it can tell us everything about America -- except whether we are proud to be Americans."
You can listen to a different version of this speech here.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
All the information I have on Don Varner comes from David Cole in the liner notes to the excellent CD reissue of Don Varner's recordings, Finally Got Over: Deep Soul From the Classic Era (Shout!), which he took from a longer article in his excellent In the Basement Magazine. There's no need to recount all that here (go pick up a copy of the cd), just in short to say, Don Varner bounced around a few of the more obscure 45 labels in the South in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Downbeat, South Camp, Quinvy, House of Orange), did almost all of his recordings with Eddie Hinton at Quin Ivy's studio in Muscle Shoals, and just generally, seemed to be a great guy with a warm heart and an incredibly stark raspy, baritone voice. As I said, pick up the CD and check out the wealth of great tracks, from the Northern Soul favorite, "Tearstained Face," a great country soul swinger, "Down in Texas", a couple of Dan Penn gems, and some self-penned shakers like the title track. Even some of the cliched parts of the recordings, like the 60s tremloed guitar or the hip shaking, are overshadowed by the edge of his voice.
The track here, "He Kept On Talking," never got released in its day. According to Don (as interviewed by David Cole), "I thought that was the one. Everybody else thought that was the one, but it just didn't happen, it didn't even get a release." Quin Ivy prodcued the track himself, and it's written by another member of that southern soul mailing list, Jerry Williams, aka Swamp Dogg. It definitely has that commercial appeal with the arrangements and doesn't have the edge of the Eddie Hinton produced tracks. That's not the appeal the song has for me: it's the downward spiral that Don Varner takes from the lyrics.
I admit that I have a soft spot for the narrative song, especially when its initial emotion is revealed and subtly shifted during the telling, and this is one of those that sticks in the throat just right. The kind of songs that are country strong: Looking back and wanting everything to change, allowing the anger to swell, then consigning yourself to the harsh end. The first song that came to mind was "Mansion on the Hill," but after thinking about it I realized I could name about 15 Hank Williams songs that word. Although the performance reminds me more of the young, vulnerbale Johnny Paycheck ("Apartment #9" or "The Late and Great Me").
Don's got it all over too: the innocence; trembling shock as he soars over all the bridges, "We were just talkin' . . .", "So go on with him . . .", "I'll just swallow my pride . . ."; a waver as he tries to hold himself together even after the fact "I kept on smiling and turned my head / 'cause a man ain't supposed to cry." Finishing it all off with the brutality of the last line:
"But the memory of you face
Is gonna be hard to erase
'cause everytime I come see my children
I'll see you.
I'll see your face, baby."
It doesn't get any harder than that.
Don Varner passed away in 2002, but his wife keeps his legacy alive. It was a post to the southern soul email list in 2000 by Mrs. Francine Varner that led to David Cole's contacting Don and the reissue cd, so go out and grab a copy. David Cole also has a new issue of In The Basement out, which I haven't gotten a chance to get my hands on yet, but I have no doubt to its depth and quality.
The song appears not only on the Shout! reissue, but also on Down & Out: The Sad Soul of the Black South, a real solid southern soul compilation put out in Germany by the Trinkont label.
Well, here's the playlist:
Linda Rondstadt; The Dark End of the Street
Don Varner; He Kept On Talking; Finally Got Over! (Shout!)
Sam Baker; Sometimes You Have to Cry; SS7 2550
Major Smith; Paying With My Own Tears; Lewis 2807
Solomon Burke; These Arms of Mine; Proud Mary (Atlantic)
Mighty Sam McClain; Silent Tears; Amy
Eddie Giles; So Deep In Love; Silver Fox 9
Clarnce Carter; Too Weak To Fight; This Is; Atlantic
Bill Brandon; Full Grown Loving Man; On Rainbow Road (Soulscape)
Roy Head; She's About a Mover; Introduction to (Fuel)
Sam & Dave; You Left the Running; (Atlantic Unearthed)
Ella Brown; A Woman Left Lonely; Lanor 566
Joe Simon; Further On Down the Road; SS7
Arthur Alexander; Call Me Honey; The Momument Years (Kent)
Kinky Friedman; Sold America (live); Lasson From El Paso
Joe Tex; I'll Never Do You Wrong; Soul Country; Atlantic
Merle Haggard; My Past Is Present; Sing Me Back Home; Capitol
Johnnie Allen; I'll Never Love Again; Promised Land (Kent)
Touissant McCall; I'll Do It For You; Ronn 10 (West Side)
Lattimore Brown; I Wish I Felt This Way At Home; Renegade 101
George Jones; Heartaches By The Number; Mercury Recordings
Don Covay; Just Because; Mercy; Atlantic
Van Broussard; Tell Me the Truth; Van and Grace (Jin)
Johnny Truitt; There Goes the Girl (alt); Excello
Roscoe Shelton; I Can Cry If I Want To; AIM
Bobby Charles; Your Picture; Chess Masters
The Ovations; You Had Your Choice; Goldxaw Recordings (Kent)
Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Dunn; You Can't Blamc Me; CapSoul 22 (Numero Uno)
Impressions; You Want Somebody Else; This Is My Country; Curtom
And don't forget to vote next week.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Another sad post here on From the Dark End of the Street. The music giant, Jerry Wexler passed away a couple of weeks ago. There's no way I can come close to summing up the broad influence of his big ears on American Music. From the early days of R&B to the heyday of Southern Soul, the world wouldn't have been the same without him.
This show is made up of many of the hits from the golden era of Atlantic R&B. I forgot the set list at the station, so just sit back and enjoy the fruits of Jerry's hard work.
Rolling Stone has written a good obituary here.
Friday, August 15, 2008
The great Isaac Hayes passed away last Sunday at the young age of 65. While there are a lot of very fitting tributes out there to this immensely talented man, this show focusses on his songwriting while at Stax. The first two sets of the show are all songs written by Isaac. While there, Issac Hayes wrote over 200 songs with longtime collaborator David Porter, the breadth and depth of which are simply hard to come to grips with. His legacy is a huge one, and that's not even to mention the piano playing, session work, arrangements and solo performances.
The set list:
Aretha Franklin; Do Right Woman - Do Right Man; I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You; Atlantic
Ruby Johnson; Left Over Love; I'll Run the Blues Away; Stax
Johnnie Taylor; I Had a Dream; Stax 186
Mable John; Same Time, Same Place; Stax 215
William Bell; It's Happening All Over; Soul of a Bell; Stax
Carla Thomas; Something Good (Is Gonna Happen For You); Stax 207
(Sir Isaac & the Do Dads; Blue Groove; Volt 129)
Homer Banks; Lad of Stone; Minit 32030 (Hooker on Love; Stateside)
Judy Clay; You Can't Run Away From Your Heart; Stax 230
The Astors; Twilight Zone; Stax 179
Wilson Pickett; Toe Hold; Hey Jude; Atlantic
Sam & Dave; Hold On, I'm Comin'; Stax 189
Danny White; Keep My Woman Home; Natural Soul Brother (Kent)
(Booker T. & the M.G.s; Winter Snow; Stax 236)
Isaac Hayes; I Don't Know What To Do With Myself; The Isaac Hayes Movement; Enterprise
Geater Davis; I'll Play the Blues For You; House of Orange Recordings; Soulscape
Bettye LaVette; Your Turn To Cry; Let Me Down Easy in Concert; Munich
Don Varner; Here Come My Tears Again; Down Beat 102 (Finally Got Over; Shout!)
Arthur Conley; Sleep On Otis; Soul Directions; Atco
James Carr; Stronger Than Love; Complete Goldwax Singles (Kent)
Dwight Yoakam; Stayin' Up Late; Population Me; Koch
Tony Borders; Headman; Cheaters Never Win; Soulscape
Chuck Jackson; Any Other Way; Wand (Mr. Emotion; Kent)
Jimmy Donley; Just a Game; Born to Be a Loser; Crazy Cajun/Edsel
Chris Kenner; That's My Girl; Instant
Clarence Murray; Dancing to the Beat; SSS 778
Chuck Mitchell; Let Me Be Myself; The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neil Hamphill, volume 2
Bill Wright; You've Got a Spell On Me; Eccentric Soul: The Tragar and Note Labels; Numero Uno
Sir Douglas Qunitet; Sixty Minutes; 1+1+1=4; Mercury
This show does not way come close to the genius of Isaac Hayes, but I hope y'all enjoy it.
I got an email on my way up the stairs to the radio station that Jerry Wexler had passed away during the night. Next week, I'll do a show on his giant legacy. Red Kelly has already done a great tribute here.
Thanks for listening and I've got a back log of shows (that aren't memorials thankfully) and some posts started which I'll finish up someday.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Well, I've been completely remiss about updating this blog, between travel, work and some 16" softball, I haven't had much free time. But, well, that's no real excuse not to put up the podcasts, so apologies are in order.
The podcast is from the show a couple of weeks ago when still mourning the death of the great "Western Soul" singer, songwriter and accordionist, Chris Gaffney. So here's his first recorded version of the Gamble-Huff classic, "Cowboys to Girls."
Everyone knows The Intruders' version of this song, written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song was so big (#1 R&B; #5 Pop), that it defined Philadelphia Soul and allowed it to develop freely. It was the perfect song for the beginning of the movement's shift to prominence--full of street corner doo-wop swing with equal hints of urban gospel and teenage dancehall. And a timeless nostalgia that took people's minds off the tumult that was 1968 in America ("This whole world has been rearranged"). Whether that's good or bad in the bigger cultural picture is probably a subject for another blogger. As is the ensuing development of Gamble and Huff's productions (and Sissy Soul) after this song convinced Columbia to throw some money their way and establish the (very profitable) Philadelphia International Label.
The version here, from Chris Gaffney's great 1995 album, "Loser's Paradise" has much of the same elements of the original, but the mood is entirely different, and a much more emotional performance. Produced by his good friend and collaborator, Dave Alvin, the record showcases the various Southern influences on Gaff's music: Honky-Tonk, Tex-Mex, Southern California Roots Rock, Doo-Wop, and even some Cajun (he does a real nice job wailing the vocals and accordion on a version of the classic runner "Sugar Bee"). The song inserts those elements smoothly--the Tex-Mex picked guitar over a decidedly soul organ intro, the backing doo-wop backing vocals replaced by some haunting, and delicate, singing by Lucinda Williams, and of course, Chris' gruff vocals. The Intruders version has no sense of sadness, and what's nostalgia without that? I love the way Gaff breaks in after the intrumental fill, with "Oh I remem-hem-ber" just drenched in how much he missed a simpler time. And then there's that added verse at the end: "making love till long after dark / all day / all day."
Gaff's most recent project, The Hacienda Brothers also added "Cowboys to Girls" into their repertoire, and it was a huge hit. The three times that I saw them, this song always got people up to slow dance and sing along in whispered voiced to his/her partner. It was just such a beautiful sight for what a song can do.
They also released a version on the great cd, "What's Wrong With Right." The Hacienda Brothers are going to continue on without Gaff and will be playing some shows throughout the summer in what promises to be an emotional tour. They are also releasing a new record in a couple of weeks, "Arizona Motel," which if you buy from www.helpgaff.com a portion of the proceeds will go to alleviating some of the medical costs to his family.
There are a couple of other versions of Cowboys to Girls that I know of: Gene Chandler did a upbeat version on his Brunswick LP, "Now There Was a Time," that's a pretty hard hitting version for Chicago soul with some great sliding falsettos. Joe Bataan also did a version, and apparently, the song was a big hit with Latino youth in Southern California in the late 60's, which I know nothing about (but intrigues me muchly).
Thanks for listening and I promise I'll be better in the future about posting the shows (even if I don't have time to write anything).
And please visit www.helpgaff.com
Here's the playlist:
James Carr; The Dark End of the Street; Goldwax 317
Chris Gaffney; Cowboys to Girls; Loser's Paradise; Hi-Tone
The 5 Royales with Willie Mitchell; Show Me; Take Me With You Baby; (Purple Pyramid)
Betty Everett; Getting Mighty Crowded; VeeJay 628
The Ovations; Qualifications; Gold Wax 306 (Kent)
Wilson Pickett; Something You Got; The Exciting Wilson Pickett; Atlantic
Joe Simon; Long Hot Summer; SS7 2608
Little Johnnie Taylor; There is Something on Your Mind; Ronn 59
Homer Banks; 60 Minutes of Your Love; Minit 32008 (Hooked On Love; Stateside)
Spenser Wiggins; He's Too Old; Gold Wax 337 (Kent)
Solomon Burke; (No No No) Can't Stop Loving You Now; Atlantic
Geater Davis; Sweet Woman's Love; House of Orange 2401
Johnny Truitt; That's What Love Will Do; Abet 9423 (Excello Soul Story; P-Vine)
George Jones; Sometimes You Just Can't Win; Trouble in Mind; United Artists
Ruby Johnson; How Strong Is My Love; (I'll Run Your Hurt Away; Stax)
Tony Ashley; We Must Have Love; Decca 32342
Clarence Carter; That Old Time Feeling; Atlantic 2876
Jerry Lee Lewis; Another Place, Another Time; Another Place, Another Time; Smash
Otis Clay; Trying to Live My Life Without You; Hi 2226
Johnny Soul; Lonely Man; SSS 785 (Souther Soul Showcase; Kent)
Ralph "Soul" Jackson; 'Cause I Love You; Atlantic 2597
Otis Rush; Gambler's Blues (long version); Cotillion 44032
Ted Taylor; The Road of Love; You Can Dig It!; Ronn
Don Varner; Handshakin'; Diamond 264; (Finally Got Over; Shout!)
Joe Hinton; You Gotta Have Love; Backbeat
Jan Howard; I Still Believe in Love; s/t; Decca
Donnie Fritts; You Gonna Love Yourself in the Morning; Prone to Lean; Atlantic
Bobby Charles; Everyone Knows; Walkin' to New Orleans; (Edsel)
Johhny Ace; Saving My Love For You; Memorial Album; MCA
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
A sad day for Western Soul. Chris Gaffney, singer, songwriter and accordionist, passed away a few days ago after a brief battle with liver cancer.
Most recently, Chris was the lead singer of the Hacienda Brothers, a country soul band based out of Tuscon, Arizona. Anyone who was lucky enough to see Chris perform know he sang the songs the way they had to be: with direct, honest emotion.
If you would like to send a message to Chris's family or help contribute to the medical expenses, please visit this website: http://www.helpgaff.com/
The Years That Got Away: "I never saw them coming, I never felt them leave, they came and went just like a whisp of smoke upon the breeze."
He will be greatly missed.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Barbara Lynn's story is another great one from the I-10 stretch that unites East Texas with New Orleans, with stops along the way in Lake Charles and Lafayette: born to Creole parents in Beaumont, discovered by a Crazy Cajun, and recorded in New Orleans.
After Joe Barry caught "Bobbie Lynn and the Idols" at Lou Ann's, a roadhouse in Dallas, he suggested she get in touch with his manager Huey Meaux (who had just taken Barry's "I'm a Fool to Care" to the national charts). Well, the Crazy Cajun was impressed (although I have a sneaking suspicion he also though he could sell the novelty of a girl group fronted by an attractive woman playing guitar left-handed) and he took her to the fames Cosimo Matassa studio. After one failed release, put out "You'll Lose a Good Thing" on the Philadelphia based Jamie label. Almost miraculously, the song spent 3 weeks at the top of the R&B charts in the summer of 1962. It's hard to underestimate what a feat that was back then: a woman playing her own guitar and topping the charts (And it still always strikes me today--every once in awhile late at night, I catch that Jerry Butler hosted infomercial for a soul cd box set and am always pleasantly taken aback when they show that brief clip (from The Beat I believe) of Barbara singing her hit).
Check out this performance from You Tube (no lip0synching here!) and you can see what a magnetic performer Barbara is:
Today's selection was one of the follow up singles to "You'll Lose a Good Thing" that didn't live up to the that single's previous success but still kicks it. It's another Lynn original that always strikes me as a mixture of all the good sounds of the Gulf Coast--a little bit Bobby Bland R&B, a little bit B. B. King guitar, some Lake Charles 2-step, a touch of teenage dancehall, and that driving rhythm guitar (probably from Miss Lynn herself).
And it's a song that reinforced the noble nature of Barbara back then (and still today). While she was doing extensive touring to back up "You'll Lose a Good Thing" with heavyweights like B.B. King and Sam Cooke, her mother went everywhere with her (Barbara was only 20 when the song hit), and kept her on the straight and narrow. As quoted in a recent interview by Scott Jordan in the Lafayette Independent Weekly, her mother would "tell all those guys, 'My daughter don't smoke or drink,' and they all called her 'Mother Dear,' because they heard me calling her Mother Dear." And here's a sweet song about fidelity that no matter how much her old flame might want her, she's "right here at home" because "Oh Baby, we got a good thing goin' on." She sounds so resolute I absolutely love it, especially when the music drops to the background and she implores her man, "Baby make me know that you're mine, all mine, all mine."
I'm not the only one who loves this song, as Mick Jagger called up Huey Meaux and asked to cover it, which of course Barbara gave immediate permission. It came out on The Rolling Stones, Now in the U.S. and on Out of Our Heads in the U.K. Well, the Stones don't add much to the song, except some Chicago blues guitar to replace the horns, but they did add to Barbara's pockets. She was able to buy the house in Beaumont where she still lives today, and according to the Scott Jordan interview: "I still get royalties from that song."
After some decent charting singles on Jamie, and a few for smaller labels for Meaux, and a brief stop by at Atlantic in the early 70's that failed to produce any big hits, Barbara retired to the West Coast to raise her family. After a couple of decades silence, she made a live record while touring Japan that put her back on the map, and has continued to record off and on since. And she plays the Ponderosa Stomp just about every year, and according to all the the reports I hear, she still has a good thing going on.
Thanks for listening!
Also, you can check out the track here from another great blogger.
A Couple of More Notes: The Tommy McLain version of Bobby Charles's "Before I Grow Too Old" is one of my favorites and is the type of Swamp Pop cover of Charles that I mentioned in the Sahm post a couple of months ago. The slight waver in his voice is just perfect, especially on "gonna kiss all the pretty girls," and "'cause it will take a lot of prayers to save my soul." Also, I failed to mention that Ralph "Soul" Jackson (no relation) has a newer CD out called "The Phenix City Sessions," which y'all should pick up to support this good, good man.
Also, it's been quite a while since I updated this and I apologize (I've got excuses), but I've got a couple of shows and posts backlogged now, so I'll be ready for any more breaks in the action. Including one of odd Bob Dyaln covers to celebrate his Pulitzer.
The Set List:
Lazy Lester; The Dark End of the Street; Harp and Soul; Alligator
Barbara Lynn: Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin'); You'll Lose a Good Thing: The Jamie Recordings
Tommy McLain; Before I Grow Too Old; Essential; Jin
Warren Storm; Prisoner's Song; King of the Cajun Dance Halls; Crazy Cajun
Roscoe Robinson; We're Losing it Baby; Paula 378
Syl Johnson; We Did It; Hi 2229
Sonny Burgess; Red Headed Woman; Sun 247 (Rounder)
Joe Clay; You Look That Good To Me; (Ducktail; Bear Family)
Hayden Thompson; Love My Baby; Sun
Roy Head; I'm Not a Fool Anymore (Introduction; Fuel)
Bettye Harris; Bad Luck; Sansu 461 (Get Low Down; Sundazed)
Ralph "Soul" Jackson; Take Me Back (The Birmingham Sound; Rabbit Factory)
William Bell; It's Happening All Over; The Soul of a Bell; Stax
Willie Mitchell; Baby, You Turn Me On; Soul Serenade; Hi
The Collins Kids; Hoy Hoy Hoy; Columbia
Barbara George; Love (Is Just the Chance You Take); A.F.O.
Chris Kenner; That's My Girl; Instant 3252
Bobby Powell; Tell Me Who's Your Lover; Whit 6900
Art Neville; What's Goin On; Specialty 656
Wallace Johnson; Something To Remember You By; Sansu 467
Lee Dorsey; So Long; Amy 945
Irma Thomas; Let's Do It Over; Down at Muscle Shoals; Chess
Big John Hamilton; I Have No One; Minaret 129 (Southern Soul Showcase; Kent)
Spencer Wiggins; Old Friend; Goldwax 312
Merle Kilgore; When Your Love Stopped; Ring of Fire; Pickwick
Joe Tex; Set Me Free; Soul Country; Atlantic
Wilson Pickett; It's All Over; The Exciting; Atlantic
Joe Medwick; Barefootin'; (Crazy Cajun; Edsel)
George & Greer; Good Times (Gold Wax Story, Volume 2; Kent)
Arthur Conley; Funky Street; Soul Directions; Atco
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
My apologies out there: I've been busy with out of town visitors and various meetings and such and didn't get a chance to update the blog last week. And, to make things worse, haven't really gotten the chance to prepare anything for this week. So, I fall back on one of my stand-bys: the best of Dan Penn hits. This week, the first partnership with Spooner Oldham, the first hit for Joe Simon, and an early encounter with Muscle Shoals: "Let's Do It Over."
The success of Vee-Jay 694 is another story of the confluence of many talents with great timing and circumstance.
Joe Simon had recorded a few unheard singles for the California based Hush label, which got him the notice of Chicago based Vee-Jay records. If it were 1963, Vee-Jay would have been a good home for his smooth easy singing style, with a roster boasting Jerry Butler, Jimmy Reed, The Dells, Betty Everett, Gene Chandler, and the Four Seasons, not to mention distributing the early Beatles 45s. But by 1965, Vee-Jay was in many legal battles with EMI and Capitol over the Beatles and being sued for back payments by Frankie Valli. Although good singles were still being released, the company was on the verge of losing it all in 1965. Simon had moderate success with "The Adorable One" (609) and "When I'm Gone" (663), but it wasn't till he met John R. that things began to get rolling.
John Richborg, known throughout the South, especially in the black community, simply as John R., was one of the disc jockeys on the ultra-powerful WLAC Nashville. John R. broke many an R&B artist in those days with his 50,000 watts of power and, of course, a great ear. Otis Redding, James Brown, Chuck Berry are just some of the greats that owed part of their success to the man. When Joe met John, he suggested to Vee-Jay, as he had begun to do for others, to take Joe down to a small Northern Alabama city, Muscle Shoals, to record.
Muscle Shoals wasn't quite on the map yet for soul music in 1965. Things had gotten started, but things were also going away, and the studio, well Rick Hall in particular, was unsure of their sound (and thus their future). Arthur Alexander and Jimmy Hughes (coincidentally, "Steal Away" was being distributed by Vee-Jay) had already broken big out of Muscle Shoals, but Arthur was in Nashville and so soon was original group. In late 1964, David Briggs, Jerry Carrigan, and Curly Putnam had been lured away by the bigger paychecks in the Music City, But with their departure, some of those waiting in the wings stepped up in influence at FAME, notably Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham.
Dan and Spooner had been around Muscle Shoals for a few years, playing the fraternity circuit in white R&B bands and hanging around the studio. By early 1965, Dan had a job as house writer for Rick and, as quoted by Barney Hoskyns: "All I really cared about was the studio. I hadn't thought of cuttin' my own records or anything for a long time. I wanted to be a writer and a record produced." Spooner was playing second fiddle (or piano as it were) to Briggs, but getting big calls whenever he could. But with their departure for Nashville, Dan's band (formerly the Mark Vs, then Dan and the Pallbearers) petered out and Spooner was now the keyboard player. The rest of the FAME gang were also brought in around this time, with Jimmy Johnson and Roger Hawkins joining the fold. And along came a Joe Tex hit and a Joe Simon follow.
Buddy Killen had brought down Joe Tex with an iffy song. Joe recorded "Fresh Out of Tears," and according to Killen it took forever, then they threw together a song Joe had penned himself and been kicking around: "Hold On to What You Got." Killen told the musicians he "wanted straight out country chords." After some overdubbing and messing around with the tapes up in Nashville, Killen released the record and it sold 50,000 copies in the first day. Joe Tex was on the map and the idea of country soul was in full force in Muscle Shoals. Much as with the early career of Jimmy Hughes and the Wallace Brothers, it was Dan Penn and the musicians who pushed the famously hard-headed Rick Hall into producing a different kind of song. Not coincidentally, according to Dan, it was the kind of music he had been hearing on WLAC.
"Let's Do It Over" was the first real song Dan and Spooner wrote together. And it was the first real hit for Joe Simon, spending 17 weeks on the R&B charts, peeking at #13. The song really spotlights what's so great about Joe Simon--his delivery. Joe may be the most underrated of all the great soul singers because everything seems to come so effortless and natural to him. His rich baritone just ebbs and flows with the song, constantly bringing the song up ("Full of your prec-cious love"), then settling himself ("Looking back"). The imploring nature of the lyrics really allows Joe to ease back and be emotional at the same time--it's almost as if he's singing in an audible whisper with immaculate clarity. Upon each listen, I find new lines of the song that stick out differently than the last time.
As far the band goes, there's a couple of hints of what FAME would become, with Jimmy Johnson's gentle county pick and the ease of the backing vocals and horns. But there isn't any of the cliches that would later come to represent the Muscle Shoals sound, but I think that works in Joe's favor, allowing him to set the phrase and tempo of the song. Anyway, I just love how he gently he pleads with his woman, asking her yet in that calm tone of voice that just oozes confidence. And that to me is one of the great aspects of the Penn-Oldham collaborations: the emotion can always go either way. Depending on the strength of the singer, "Let's Do It Over" could be either the desperation or the conviction as the dominant element. But when they're done right, it's never that simple. No matter how easy the singer sounds.
Irma Thomas also recorded a version of "Let's Do It Over" when she was sent by Chess to Muscle Shoals in 1967. Although it was never released as a single, it was put out on the album "Down At Muscle Shoals," and it shows the band in full force by that time--with all the cutting riffs and edge even on the ballads. Don't get me wrong, Irma's version is stellar, but I prefer Joe's because she doesn't quite implore that emotional ambiguity to the tune. Hers is definitely heart-felt and renching, but the vocals never reveal that other side of the lyrics. (Toussiant McCall also recorded a good version of the song, that didn't get released by Ronn at the tie, but that's for another post).
Soon after this singe Vee-Jay went belly up and things worked out for everyone (well, everyone else), as Joe went to Sound Stage 7, the new R&B label from Monument with John R. as the head of the A&R department and released a ton of great singles and had bigger hits. Dan and Spooner continued to write and play together in Muscle Shoals, then in Memphis, and had bigger hits. And FAME brought in everyone and had bigger hits. John R. died in 1986, but his impact still rings out over the airwaves. Dan and Spooner still play (together and apart), write, and produce. And Joe, well, he's a Bishop in Flossmore, Illinois, about 20 minutes south of where I live, and records Gospel albums. Check it out and you'll immediately recognize that voice and, well, he's still got it.
There's a great discography with some sound clips, including "Let's Do It Over" by a great purveyor of Deep Soul, Sir Shambling, here.
One of these days, I'll just throw up a podcast of the quintessential recordings of Dan Penn songs: everything from the obvious (James Carr's "Dark End of the Street," Aretha's "Do Right Woman," Percy Sledge's "Out of Left Field," "Solomon Burke's "Take Me (Just As I Am)") to the lesser known (Ralph Soul Jackson's "Cause I Love You," Tony Border's "Cheaters Never Win," Van Broussard's "Feed the Flame," Clarence Carter's "She Ain't Gonna Do Right").
The Flying Burrito Brothers; Dark End of the Street; Sin City
Joe Simon; Let's Do It Over; Vee-Jay 694
Jimmy Hughes; Why Not Tonight; Fame 1011
Willie Hightower; If I Had a Hammer; (s/t; Astralwerks)
Irma Thomas; Yours Till Tomorrow; Down at Muscle Shoals; Chess
Percy Sledge; It Tears Me Up; Atlantic 2358
Johnny Ace; Pledging My Love; Memorial Album; MCA
Bobby Charles; On Bended Knee; Chess Masters
Al Prince; True Love; Ronn 39
Johnny Adams; I Won't Cry; (Reconsider Me; Collectibles)
Bobby Bland; How Does a Cheating Woman Feel; The Duke Recording
Oscar Toney, Jr.; Turn On Your Love Light; For Your Precious Love; Bell (Rev-Ola)
Wilson Pickett; You Can't Stand Alone; The Sound of . . .; Atlantic
Little Carl Carleton; Competition Ain't Nothing; Backbeat 588
Arthur Conley; One Night Is All I Need; More Sweet Soul; Atlantic
Tony Borders; What Kind of Spell; South Camp 7009 (Cheaters Never Win; Soulscape)
Solomon Burke; You Can Make It If You Try; Atlantic 2185
Eldridge Holmes; Love Affair (Carolina Soul Survey; Grapevine)
Warren Storm; Tennessee Waltz; King of the Cajun Dancehalls
Joe Perkins; I'm Not Gonna Leave; Sapton 100
Cookie & the Cupcakes; Got You On My Mind; Chess 848 (King of Swamp Pop; Ace)
Bettye LaVette; I Still Want To Be Your Baby (Take Me Like I Am); Scene of the Crime; Anti
Tony Joe White; Whomp Out on You; Black & White; Monument
Sam & Dave; I Get What I Want; Complete Stax Singles; Rhino
Mighty Sam; Baby Come On Home; Amy 11,022 (Complete Amy Recordings; Sundazed)
Candi Staton; I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart . . .; I'm a Prisoner; Fame
Percy Wiggins; Book of Memories; Atco 6479 (Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers)
Wanda Jackson; Funny How Time Slips Away; Love Me Forever; Capitol
Aaron Neville; For the Good Times; Make Me Strong (Charley)
Sunday, March 16, 2008
My good man Red Kelly over at the B-Side just finished up his superb four part series on the career of Chips Moman with a great post on the Chips' move to Nashville and an epilogue to Tommy Cogbill. Since Red is one of the people that inspired me to do this, I though this week I'd write an addendum to that series with Townes Van Zandt's "Flyin' Shoes" recordings at American Nashville.
Townes's story story is well-documented: the rise and perpetual fall of the great American songwriter from his well-off family background in Fort Worth, to the mental breakdowns and insulin shock therapy, to the life on the road, to the retreats from the world, to his attempted returns and finishing with, sadly, his inevitable early death. Due to his reckless attitude and deep involvement with various vices (both external and internal), everyone who spent time with him has numerous stories of Townes' antics, and combined with the heavy, heavy nature of his songs, the myth is just as big as the life.
In most cases of the early death of the artistic "genius," the myth is much larger than the life (see Gram Parsons for example), but in Townes's case, the legend just as true. From the various footage of him off stage recorded over the years, you get the sense that everyday was an adventure just as deep or humorous as the songs. And, by most first hand accounts, the legend was already in place when he was alive. Townes himself even helped build it: according to is friend and guitarist, Mickey White: "He knew he was creating the myth. I would always be amazed by those incredible tales Townes told me. then we'd be on the road and run into some old friends who would bring up these stories without prompting, and they were exactly the same, word for word. My impression was he really didn't have to make that much up. It was so outlandish in the first place." For that story, definitely check out the 1975 Austin music documentary, "Heartworn Highways," and the more encompassing documentary, "Be Here To Love Me" by Margaret Brown, and John Kruth's To Live Is To Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt.
"No Place to Fall" has three distinct versions: recorded (1973) and first released (1977) as part of the "Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas" album; recorded by Cowboy Jack Clement for the "7 Come 11" album (1973), but unreleased until "The Nashville Sessions" (1993); and recorded by Chips Moman and released on "Flyin' Shoes" (1978).
By the that time, Townes had recorded, and Kevin Eggers had released on his Poppy label, an album a year since 1968. All of those 6 records have there own high, low and in between (pun intended) moments in all aspects: the songwriting, the performance, and the production, done by Cowboy Jack Clement, Kevin Eggers, or Jim Malloy or some sort of combination of the three (except for his fourth record, Delta Mama Blues, which was recorded and produced in New York by Ronald Frangipane). For the hardcore Townes fans, the production of these records is a distraction: Jack Clement took a good deal of risks on the first two records (For the Sake of the Song and Our Mother the Mountain), adding bellowing strings, background vocals, harpsichords, flutes (?), and just about everything in his bag of tricks. Ironically, most of this stuff was recorded live and not overdubbed, but most people heavily criticize the overproduction, feeling it takes away from Townes' songs. And that's probably true: they bury the vocals with reverb, because that's the way it was done--Townes had a voice with very little range or polish and any producer would've done the same at the time to enhance the vocals. But as one of Townes' closest friends, Guy Clark said, as quoted by Kruth, "It breaks my heart to hear the way they overproduced his stuff. He was not unaware of it. Townes is really the one who's responsible. You can't let him off the hook. He didn't have the time to mix the fuckin' records 'cause he was too busy drinkin' and shootin' dice."
Following the 1972 release of the Late Great Townes Van Zandt, Kevin took Townes and his newest songs back into the studio with Cowboy Jack as producer and Chuck Cochrane as arranger. It was a great batch of songs (perhaps the strongest yet), including "At My Window," "Rex's Blues," "White Freightliner," "Loretta," "Two Girls," and "No Place to Fall." But much to his later regret, Kevin Eggers didn't pay Cowboy Jack, who in turn wouldn't turn over the tapes. The album, originally called "7 Come 11," didn't get released until 1993 (Not surprisingly, Eggers shame is conspicuously absent from the CD: there's no information on the recording session, the date, or the players; all it gives is the lyrics, produced by Kevin Eggers, recorded by Jack Clement, and the original issue date of 1993). Any of the national momentum that had been building for Townes just went up in smoke, and hazy reasons: Eggers claims he didn't release it because he "had such a bad feeling." While undocumented, I believe that it was a lack of money (Eggers was famous for constantly moving around money), having nothing to do with Townes' drinking and drug use. But that's just speculation.
In the time following these sessions, Townes continued his life on the road, found a new girlfriend who would become his second wife, and began a musical tailspin. The touring was just too crazy with in fighting, unfinished shows, smashed fiddles, bad comedy, and Townes' destructive behavior. According to Mickey White again, "Townes' business was goin' out the window. The gigs sucked. He started to lose interest in bein' the great Townes Van Zandt, and he become careless." [Note the picture on the left, above comes from Townes' road manager, Harold F. Eggers, Jr.'s website. Check it out] Eventually, he settled down in a cabin in the mountains of Tennessee (with Cindy and his trusty dog Geraldine) procured for him by the young Steve Earle. Even though out in the middle of nowhere, he had plenty of visitors and the myths and stories continued to grow, including the now famous game of Russian Roulette in front of Earle. During this time, in 1977, Eggers released "Live at the Old Quarter" to regain the fan base (after all no record had come out in 5 years), with or without Townes' assent. Following that, John A. Lomax III (of the family that we all owe so much to) who had taken over the managing job, brought Townes into the studio with some new material and the re-hashing of songs from the unreleased sessions. Lomax got Chips Moman, and Chips got some of the American studios tried and true great musicians for the session, along with some bluegrass help for the album "Flyin' Shoes."
Here's part of the roll call: Phillip Donnelly (guitar), Tommy Cogbill (bass), Bobby Emmons (keyboards), Randy and Gary Scruggs (guitar, mandolin and harmonica), Spooner Oldham (piano), and Chips himself producing and playing guitar. And, in my opinion, it's the best production that Townes ever got. The production is gentle with little added to Townes' voice except some background vocals to enhance the choruses. Most of all, the production really allows the simple melodies of the songs to shine. For example, the first track from the album, "Loretta," layers multiple guitars picking and strumming the melody with a nice slow harmonica foreshadowing the vocals, slowly adds the backing vocals, a steel guitar (from Jimmy Day), a nice interplay between the ebbing organ and the return of the harmonica, then strips them back away for "Sweetest at the break of day . . ." The drumming gets more prominent as the song approaches its climax and the harmonica returns with a touch of that high lonesome (hey, after all, Gary is Earl Scruggs' son). And the song just stays even and cool over all that with the hopeful and whistful finale repetition of "Loves me like I want her to . . ." It's country round picking that you could image being heard with a group of great musicians on the porch of Townes' cabin, as shown in the photograph on the back of the LP.
"No Place To Fall" is one of the many songs in the Townes canon that plays with the idea of love, full of unabashed natural joy and frightening insecurity, against the passage of time. It recurs throughout the early records with varying degrees of simplicity and obtuse imagery: "I'll Be Here in the Morning" from For the Sake of the Song (and the self-titled third LP); "Be Here to Love Me" and "Second Lover's Song" from Our Mother the Mountain; "Only Him or Me" and "Come Tomorrow" from Delta Momma Blues; "Greensboro Woman" from High Low and In Between; "No Lonsome Tune" and "If I Needed You" from The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. It's one of the more simple songs in Townes' canon, and maybe that's why it appeals to me so much. The honesty is all there: "I'm not much of a lover, it's true / I'm here then I'm gone and I'm forever blue / But I'm still wanting you." So is the hope in spite of all that Townes is and does--time will pass "a fast old train," but together it doesn't matter, "wouldn't you take my hand." Like many of his songs, it still hints at that mystery: Is that fall death? Who is he really singing too then? By the time he repeats the first verse at the end, the meaning has changed.
As above, the production takes a nice back seat to the vocals and the melody, slowly building around the guitars, with a touch of reverb on the mandolin to bring it back as the dramatic fill following the second last verse and before the final repetition of the first verse. I particularly love the nice interaction between the swelling organ and the touch on piano from Spooner that dramatizes Townes' reserved vocals. While Kruth calls Townes "laconic" on the record, I hear it differently: it's resigned to the fate of the songs. While it almost sounds detached, Townes has settled into "the same old songs, it wouldn't be long"--the songs have their own natural momentum. And Chips produces and arranges around that--letting the ease of the Tennessee mountains and its musical tradition swirl around the lyrics, building them up and pulling them back as the lyrics go.
For comparisons sake, the version that was recorded by Cowboy Jack Clement, starts with a more plodding beat under a more expressive Townes, suddenly throws a heavy, dirge organ on the second verse against the finger picking and emphasizes the lyrics at odd places with heavily reverbed backing vocals. There's also the hint of a classical sounding string quartet deep in the mix. Everything seems in the background on the track. Here the music seems laconic with really only Townes trying to hold the melody. The hope of the song as opposed to the desolation before it is nowhere to be found.
Obviously, the Old Quarter version is the simplest, with just Townes and his guitar picking and strumming through it. He really hits the lonesome on "I ain't much of a lover," goes stronger on "Time she's a fast old train," then hits gentle on the final verse. Recorded on the last night in 1973 of a 5 night gig at the small club in Houston run by his good friend (and subject of the song "Rex's Blues"), "Wrecks" Bell, the album was released before Flyin' Shoes. Unfortunately, I have no idea about the original reaction to the LP but over the years it has become "the rosetta stone" to Townes fans, since it's got most of his best songs in the simplest setting. To me, that's just the myth of the songwriter rearing its ugly head: if anyone else is involved in a recording, then it takes away from the genius. I just can't believe that: in the right setting (and I think Chips and American was it), the more talent involved can compliment the original song. And frankly, I'd rather hear the collective effort than the auteur.
Off my soapbox, the record was not successful, they're were problems with the tour, Townes ran into more personal problems and the rest of the story is more valleys than peaks. He did, however, leave some of the most incredible songs I've ever heard and some truly great records, with or without the myth.
Thanks for reading and listening. Here's the set list. The first set is all American Studios work in different contexts. And don't forget to check out Red's blog.
Oscar Toney, Jr.; The Dark End of the Street; For Your Precious Love; Bell (Rev-Ola)
Townes Van Zandt; No Place to Fall; Flyin' Shoes; Tomato
Norman West; Words Can't Say; Smash 2123
Sam Hutchins; I'm Tired of Pretending; AGP 106
Rudolph Taylor; Doorsteps To Sorrow; Roman 311
Wilson Pickett; I've Come A Long Way; I'm In Love; Atlantic
Waylon Jennings; Till I Gain Control Again; Ol' Waylon; RCA
O. V. Wright; Heartaches, Heartaches; Backbeat 583
Ester Philips; Try Me; Atlantic 2370
Ray Price; Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me; The Other Woman; Columbia
Solomon Burke; Baby Come On Home; Atlanitc 2314
Willie Mitchell; Willie's Mood; Soul Serenade; Hi
Etta James; Tell Mama; Cadet 5578
Mighty Sam; Fannie Mae; Amy 963 (Papa True Love; Sundazed)
Eddie Hinton; Brand New Man; Very Extremely Dangerous; Capricorn
Bettye LaVette; Shut Your Mouth; Atlantic 2160
Tony Borders; Polly Wally; Revue 11045 (Cheaters Never Win; Soulscape)
Doug Sahm; Crazy, Crazy Baby; Jukebox Music; Antone's
Brenda George; Everybody Don't Know About My Good Thing (Pt. 1); Ronn 60
Mel Tillis; The Games People Play; Sings Old Faithful; Kapp
Clifton Chenier; Release Me; Cajun Swamp Music Live; Tomato
Johnnie Allan; Tennessee Blues; (Promised Land; Ace)
Magic Sam's Blues Band; That's All I Need; West Side Soul; Delmark
Department of Apologies: The podcase starts about 8 minutes in--I was late, sorry.
Department of Additions and Favors:
As chronicled by Backroads of American Music, some of the good fellas in the Southern Soul Group have started a fund to get O. V. Wright a proper head stone at his (as of now) unmarked grave in Memphis. O. V. is one of the true greats and has enhanced all our lives, so let's take a minute and give something back to him and his family. I'll leave the button up on the sidebar.