Friday, February 22, 2008

Fast as Falling: Arthur Alexander's Rainbow Road (Donnie Fritts/Dan Penn)

Arthur Alexander's "Rainbow Road."

No theme this week, but I've been listening this week to Donnie Fritts's solo album "Prone to Lean" and reading "Get a Shot of Rhythm and Blues: The Arthur Alexander Story" by
Richard Younger and figured I'd write a little about Arthur's version of the Fritts/Penn song "Rainbow Road."

Donnie and Dan wrote this song early on in their Muscle Shoals careers (1965), and loosely based the beginning on Arthur's sudden ascent to stardom, when "You Better Move On" hit the charts, peaking at No. 24 (1962). Arthur was still working as a bellhop at the Muscle Shoals Hotel (and selling moonshine in a dry county!) when he recorded the song, and by the time Donnie and Dan penned the tune, The Rolling Stones had covered "You Better Move On," the Beatles had done "Anna (Go To Him)," and Arthur had toured the South and East Coast, released a handful of singles and one LP on Dot, been on American Bandstand, and, most importantly, had inspired everyone in the small city of Muscle Shoals.

(Hey, I'm no expert, but to back up that last claim, when I saw Dan Penn (with Bobby Emmons) about a year and a half ago at
Fitzgerald's, there was only one song that he played that wasn't one of his own: "You Better Move On." It was an impromptu move, and he explained by saying, "This song put Muscle Shoals on the map and got everything happening.")

By the time Arthur stepped into American Studios in 1971 to record for Warner Brothers, he hadn't charted a song in about 10 years, had been arrested a few times for drugs, been through a divorce, been in Bryce Hospital three times for mental breakdowns, been through electo-shock (probably), and just about everything that could go wrong with his life had. In reading Younger's biography, one of the few consistent things in Arthur's life throughout these times was his friendship with Donnie Fritts. Donnie had done just about everything with Arthur, from driving him around the South to radio stations during the rise of "You Better Move On" (not a task for the thin skinned in early 1960s Alabama--check out the stories in Sweet Soul Music) to getting him a job at the great Nashville publishing company, Combine (home to tons of great songwriters, but that's another show), right before these recordings.

The song had been done by a few before Arthur finally got around to recording it for himself (I vaguely remember Dan Penn saying that he and Donnie had written the song for Arthur), most notably by Joe Simon, Percy Sledge, and Bill Brandon. While the first part of the song is based on Arthur, the rest about the great
Little Willie John (but that story is yet another show). In my opinion, this is the definite version.

First off, that country sliding intro from Reggie Young, and the soft keys from Bobby Emmons on the electric organ set the tone perfectly for Arthur's voice. Some overdubbed strings build that great gentle tone of the first two verses. Both wistful and nostalgic with a sense of the hard edge of experience (normally I hate it when music writing gets too much into biography to explain a song, but in this circumstance I can't help it). How Arthur simply draws out "Roa-hooad, Lord Now," right out of the WSM and gospel of his youth, straight into the quick change of "But then one night . . . " It's perfect.

When your rise is that sudden, "fast as falling" everything changes.

There's a lot more to that story and there's a lot more of Arthur Alexander and Donnie Fritts. Buy yourself a copy of
"Get a Shot of Rhythm and Blues" by Richard Younger, it's full of great information on the whole Muscle Shoals scene, as well as Nashville, and it's just plain out well-written and a great read.

Some day I'll do a full show of
Donnie Fritts songs (there's a lot of good ones out there), and I'll we'll tell some more of his story.
Thanks again for listening and reading!

Here's the playlist:

Percy Sledge; The Dark End of the Street; The Percy Sledge Way; Atlantic

Arthur Alexander; Rainbow Road; s/t; Warner Brothers
Kris Kristofferson; Epitaph (Black & Blue); Silver Tongued Devil & I; Monument
Ray Charles; We Had It All; Love & Peace; Atlantic (Complete Country and Western Recordings; Rhino)
Donnie Fritts; Prone to Lean; Prone To Lean; Atlantic

Cleveland Crochet & the Hill Billys; Sugar Bee; Goldband 1106
Jimmy Donley; A Woman's Gonna Have Her Way; Born To Be a Loser; Crazy Cajun
James & Bobby Purify; I Was Born To Lose Out; Bell 721 (Shake a Tailfeather; Sundazed)
Ted Taylor; Somebody's Always Trying; Okeh (The Ever Wonderful: Okeh Soul 1962-1966; Shout!)
Joe Simon; Come On and Get It; SS7 2628

Otis Redding; I Love You More Than Words Can Say; Atlantic Unearther: Soul Brothers (Rhino)
Otis Clay; Is It Over; Cotillion 44104
Jean Shepherd; Leave Me Alone; Heartaches and Tears; Capitol
Solomon Burke; Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye; I Wish I Knew; Atlantic
Freddy Fender; Since I Met You Baby; Since I Met You Baby; GRT

Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr; You're All I Need To Make It; Capsoul (Eccentric Soul 001; Numero Uno)
Roscoe Shelton; I'm In Too Deep; SS7 2582
Johnny Adams; You Can Depend On Me; Reconsider Me (Charley)
Augie Meyer's Western Head Band; Release Me; Finally in Lights (Edsel)
Tony Borders; Lonely Weekend; Uni 55180 (Cheaters Never Win; Soulscape
The Hacienda Brothers; Cry Like A Baby; What's Wrong With Right; Proper

George Jackson; My Desires Are Getting the Best of Me; Fame 1457
Conway Twitty; Another Man's Woman; Look Into My Teardrops; Decca
Bill Brandon; It's All Wrong, It's All Right; Moonsong 9005 (On the Rainbow Road; Soulscape)
Anne Peebles; I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down; Hi 2232

Department of Additions: Here's the Soul Detective Case on Allen Orange I mentioned. Check out the podcasts--they're great.

Department of Future Corrections: The audio on my podcast is just horrible. Sorry. I've talked to some people, and I'll hopefully be getting mp3s straight off the board in the future, so they should eliminate the hum.

Friday, February 15, 2008

No Sad Songs!

Hey, it's the day after Valentine's Day and what better than this tapper from Oscar Toney, Jr. to "show me how baby love can be."

The version appearing on the show was recorded at American Studios with Chips Moman engineering and Papa Don Schroeder at the producing helm in early 1967. It's the American all-star band with Bobby Emmons (organ), Reggie Young (guitar) and Tommy Cogbill (bass) and Gene Chrisman (drums). Right as Toney's great rendition of Jerry Butler's "For Your Precious Love," the Purifys' "Shake a Tail Feather" and The Box Tops' "The Letter" had put American Studios as the center of the soul recording universe. The band is kicking and, although this song was never released as a single, it works perfectly as the end of the full length LP: Oscar renders the dark depths of Dan Penn's "Dark End of the Street" and "Do Right Man, Do Right Woman" with surprising compassion, punches "Down in Texas" right onto that line between pleading and loving, and hits that deep deep soul with "For Your Precious Love." And here's his conclusion.

On "No Sad Songs," I can't get over the nice (most likely Sweet Inspirations over-dubs courtesy of Papa Don) backing chorus against that upper rasp of Oscar when he sings the chorus. It throws the lyrics perfectly against those pulse horns (thanks Chips!) and the alternating chug and swirl of Reggie Young's guitar. Not coincidentally, the arrangement is much like the Joe Simon version that came out on Sound Stage 7 as both a single and on the LP of the same name (well, it's no coincidence since Chips arranged them both). The Joe Simon recording mutes some of the highs, adds the touch of strings, and eases much more from the chorus to the verses. The difference between the recordings shows Chips' ear for the singer: While Oscar's version pushes that edge towards unabashed rejoice, Joe's (even though the song is a bit out of his great wheelhouse), slides smoothly into that country soul resignation of great things.

There's also one lyrical difference where I prefer Oscar Toney's version:

"Now there's no sad song in my heart / You took away the pain that tore me apart / You put love sunshine where there used to gray / And the Lord will love you Baby for being that way."

Thanks for listening (and reading). Feel free to comment.

Hope y'all's Valentine's were as moving as that song.

The Playlist:

Bobby "Blue" Bland; I'm Not Ashamed; Two Steps from the Blues; Duke (MCA)

Johnnie Taylor; I Need A Lot of Love; D1010 (Sam Cooke's SAR Records Story; ABCKO)
Carl Marshall; I Can't Live Without You; Double Hit 801
Solomon Burke; What Am I Living For; Bell 783
Bettye LaVette; He Made a Woman Out of Me; Silver Fox 16 (Take Another Piece of My Heart; Varese Saraband)
Waylon Jennings; 'Cause You Asked Me Too; Honky Tonk Heroes; Buddha

Homer Banks; 60 Minutes of Your Love; Minit 32008 (Hooked On Love; Stateside)
Jimmy Hughes; I'm A Man of Action; FAME 1011
Arthur Conley; I Can't Stop (No No No); Sweet Soul Music; Atlantic (Collectables)
Mighty Sam McClain; I Need A Lot of Lovin'; Amy 984 (Papa True Love; Sundazed)
Don Varner; The Power of Love; (Finally Got Over; Shout!)

Percy Sledge; Out of Left Field; Take Time To Know Her; Atlantic
Joe Ely; Treat Me Like a Saturday NIght; Joe Ely; MCA
Joe Tex; I'll Never Do You Wrong; Soul Country; Atlantic (Complete Dial Recordings 3; Shout!)
O. V. Wright; I'll Take Care of You; Backbeat 007
Hersey Taylor; Let Me Make You Happy; Future Stars 1001

Touissant McCall; Nothing Takes the Place of You; Ronn 3 (Nothing Takes the Place of You; WestSide)
Don Gibson; I Love You So Much It Hurts; I Love You So Much It Hurts; RCA
Tim Hardin; Reason to Believe; The Verve Recordings
Arthur Alexander; Another Place, Another Time; SoundStage7 2626 (The Monument Years; Ace)

Oscar Toney, Jr.; No Sad Songs; For Your Precious Love; Bell 6006-S (Rev-Ola)
Bobby Womack; What Is This; Minit (Midnight Mover; Capitol)
Irma Thomas; We Got Something Good; Chess 2036 (Down At Muscle Shoals; Chess/P-Vine)
Wilson Pickett; I Found The One; The Sound of . . . ; Atlantic
The Impressions; Talking About My Baby; Keep On Pushing; ABC (Kent)

Department of Additions: Here's the Joe Ely link I mentioned.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Radio Show February 8, 2008

From The Dark End of the Street, February 8, 2008

A scattershot throw into the depths of Louisiana Music in honor of Mardi Gras:

Allen Toussaint; Go Back Home; ALON 9021

Earl King; Those Lonely, Lonely Nights; Ace 509 (Earl's Pearls; Westside)
Lee Dorsey; So Long; 45 Amy 945
Betty Harris; I'm Gonna Get You; Sansu 471
Curly Moore; Goodbye; Sansu 468
Percy Mayfield; Louisiana; Best of; Specialty

Professor Longhair; She Walks Right In; Atlantic 897 (Getting Funky; Proper)
Art Neville; Too Much; Instant 3236
Chris Kenner; Something You Got; Instant (The Name of the Place; Bandy)
Warren Storm; Prisoner's Song (rerecording); King of the Dance Halls; Edsel
Mac Rebennack; Go Ahead On; (Dr. John Storm Warning; Westside)

Johnny Adams; Showdown; RIC 3507
Wallace Johnson; Baby Go Home; Sansu 476 (Get Low Down; Westside)
Eddie Giles; Baby I Care; Alarm (Sound City Soul Brothers; Soulscape)
Roscoe Robinson; We're Losing It Baby; Paula 378
Ted Taylor; I'm Gonna Hate Myself In the Morning; Alarm 114 (Sound City Soul Brothers; Soulscape)

Jerry Lee Lewis; Louisiana Man; She Still Comes Around; Smash
Fats Domino; All By Myself; Stomping; Sunset
Thedeus DeClouet; All Night Long; Greatest of the Greats; Goldband
Clarence Henry; Why Can't You; Argo 5395
Johnnie Allan; Somebody Else; Promised Land; Ace (UK)

Bobby Powell; C. C. Rider; Excello (The Heart of Southern Soul; Excello)
Merle Spears; It's Just a Matter of Time; Whit 713
Don Rich; My Lover's Prayer; Bayou Soul; Jin
Belton Richard; Get Me Another Chance; Essential; Swallow
Jimmy C. Newman; Daydreamin'; Dot 1237 (Bop A Hula; Bear Family)

Lloyd Price; Lawdy Miss Clawdy; Specialty
Joe Medwick; After Hours Man; Crazy Cajun Recordings; Edsel
Ray Algere; In My Corner; Sansu 467 (Get Low Down; Westside)
Sleep LaBeef; Ain't got No Home; Electricity; Rounder

Aaron Neville; Mojo Hanna; Make Me Strong; Charley

I left some music in my car, so alas no Irma Thomas, Bobby Charles, Cookie & the Cupcakes or Jimmy Donley, but there'll be plenty more weeks to show them off. This show has got a little bit of everything from La.: Blues, Soul, R&B, SwampPop, Cajun and Country. Note: The Podcast unfortunately cuts off before the last 3 cuts.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Well, Here Goes . . .

Hey y'all,

I've been threatening myself to do this for a while and now it's all up and running (despite some technical difficulties).

I've been doing various radio shows to the Greater South Side of Chicago for years on WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago
, and have re-launched the show as "From the Dark End of the Street." Taking the name (obviously) from the Chips Moman-Dan Penn composition first (and best) done by the unequalled James Carr, and later covered by a variety of artists from California Hippies to Country-politan Duets to 70's Hit Makers to Group Harmonizers to Indie Rockers. The heroes of the music of the Great Southland--from Muscles Shoals to Memphis to Nashville to Macon to Austin to Lafayette, Louisiana. Some shows will have vague themes, but most of all the theme is gonna be the music, with a little bit on content thrown in for knowledge's sake. 

I do a new show (just about) every Friday morning from 10:00-11:30am. You can tune in on-line at the above link, or just subscribe to the podcast which I'll attempt to update every Friday afternoon.  Hopefully I'll be beefing up this blog with links, commentary and other stuff, but first things first: The Music.

Thanks for tuning in. And check out the podcast.