Friday, June 6, 2008

R.I.P. Chris Gaffney: Cowboys to Girls

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 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

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