Coming To You On A Dust Road (Sam and Dave Double Dynamite)

So where the heck did this come from ? The Y-tube clips of Sam & Dave’s turbo-charged live act are just the greatest thing. The dynamic duo’s great run of hit singles received plenty of exposure at the time which we are lucky enough to still have around. Then there’s this gem, a promo for a song that was never actually promoted.

As Mod as anything ! “I Don’t Need Nobody (To Tell Me About My Baby)” is a track from “Double Dynamite”,  Sam & Dave’s 2nd LP for Stax Records. The record was not as successful as their debut “Hold On  I’m Coming” or the succeeding “Soul Men” but it included 3  high quality 45s (“When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”…oh my !) which kept their name in the frame. This track was not 1 of the 3, not even, I think, a B-side. Written by Randle Catron, a Memphis personality, a future king of the local Cotton Jubilee, it’s not the usual dynamic call & response belter rather a sweet soul swinger. The guys look as sharp as a winter’s morning & the girls, dancing barefoot, are just the epitome of 1966/67 chic. 6 months later there would be dashikis, afros & a liquid light show. I think that I prefer this cool, casual look. Straight from the fridge.

Sam Moore & Dave Prater hooked up in Miami & were recording for Roulette Records before they were signed to Atlantic Records by Jerry Wexler who already had a connection to Stax Records in Memphis. The duo, like most every R&B act in the early 1960s, were on that Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Little Willie John thing but Atlantic wanted the raw, harder recipe that Booker T & the M.Gs were cooking up. They were lloaned to Stax,  assigned to the young staff songwriters Isaac Hayes & David Porter & once the 3rd single, “Hold On I’m Coming” reached the Top 30 there was a string of thoroughbred hit songs tailored to their new distinctive, urgent style.

Of course “Soul Man” was the big one in 1967. I would play that 45 on repeat. There’s a little drum break in there that still rocks me, so that’s Al Jackson. As the song says “Play it Steve !”, so that’s Steve Cropper. Earlier that year the Stax Volt Review had toured Europe & thrilled audiences. Similarly the artists were galvanized by an exposure to a, mostly white, audience they had previously been unaware of. After “Soul Man” Sam & Dave were in the major league back home. Here they bring the soul revue experience to the Ed Sullivan Show & how much fun is this ? “I Thank You”, the most basic of their singles was another big hit. Prime time TV could never capture the lightning of their live show but the fanciest horn section, all 9 of them, give it plenty & make their appearance special.

The loss of Stax’ superstar Otis Redding hit the label hard. Musicians & writers, especially Steve Cropper & Booker T Jones, were less content to live in the studio at East Macklemore Avenue, judged by the quantity of records sold rather than the quality of the music. The next  year, 1968, the “gentleman’s agreement” between Stax & Atlantic was revealed to be weighed against the good guys. As a consequence  Sam & Dave’s loan period ended . They returned to Atlantic & were never as popular with a wider audience again. The Sullivan Show gig was to promote “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” which, despite being their biggest UK hit, always seemed to me to be one of the weakest of their releases. Still, what do I know ? The storming 1968 single “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me” , written by Cropper & Eddie Floyd, was#1 in my heart in a time when there were plenty of rivals for my affections. The song came nowhere in Britain & just made Top 50 in the US.

This story does not have a happy ending. The duo’s records made in New York never recaptured the Memphis magic. Their often volatile relationship led to a temporary split, the punters wanted Sam & Dave not Sam OR Dave. Sam Moore’s affection for heroin didn’t help. When he added coke to the mix his $400 dollar a day habit meant that he was working for the monkey on his back. There was always work. They opened for the Clash on a 1979 tour, Jake & Elwood Blues, a Sam & Dave tribute act revived interest too. By the time Sam did clean up Dave had hired another Sam & a lot of lawyers became involved. Dave was prematurely killed in a car accident in 1988. Sam has stuck around & he is just great.

I’m going to end this with something I found on like page 9 of a “Sam & Dave live” Y-tube trawl (you have got to go deep, just in case). It’s film of the most successful soul duo ever doing what they did better than anyone else, performing live. It is shot, I think, on that first Stax tour of Europe when the acts were backed by Booker T & the M.Gs & the Mar Keys, Stax’ A-team. I’ve never seen this before (33 views…that’s nuts !). A small sweaty club, the cameraman apparently sat in Booker T’s lap.  “Of all the R & B cats, nobody steams up a place like Sam & Dave ” (Time). “Unless my body reaches a certain temperature, starts to liquefy, I just don’t feel right without it.” (Sam Moore). The clip is 10 minutes long & I know that you are all busy people but it’s “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, “Hold On I’m Coming” & it really is a wonderful, relentless & irresistible thing.

California Seoul (Kim Jong Un Thinks I’m At Work)

Having lived long enough to be certain that Hell is other people, these days I rarely attend an actual cinema to see a film the proper way, on a big screen. Anyway,most of the movies that tempt me to part with my hard-earned do not star Sandra Bullock (“The Heat”, are you kidding me ?) or Seth Grogan so are not exhibited by my local multiplex. It was a worthwhile 60 mile round trip to catch Terry Gilliam’s “Zero Theorem”. We had to go further afield for “Stoker”, the Hollywood debut of master director Chan-wook Park. You are not just talking about a night at the pictures with Park’s films are you ? This is Cinema, Art which will still resonate long after that DVD of “Knocked Up” is just landfill.

It was Park’s “Vengeance” trilogy which put us on to Korean films. Tartan Video’s “Asia Extreme” releases covered movies from  Japan & Hong Kong but they were not all of the quality of  “Battle Royale” or “Hard Boiled”. “Oldboy” (2003) was an irresistible, visceral, bunch of amazing & it encouraged you to take a chance on other Korean films in the World Cinema rack at the video store (just 30 titles, all the culture you were gonna get down that street). These films were sharp, a little strange & of the 21st century. Cool, fresh entertainment that shook up the accepted ways of filming in both East & West.

Now the Koreans are moving to California. Park will always make provocative, beautiful movies on any continent. Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer” (2013) is as good a sci-fi romp, unpretentious & exciting, as I have enjoyed for a while…if you have not seen it then…Perhaps the most interesting debut is that of  Kim Jee-woon who last year revived a genre which seemed to be over & done. “The Last Stand” is, oh yes, a Schwarzeneggar movie.

“A Bittersweet Life” (2005) is an addition to that Korean genre, the vengeance movie. It is a stylish, ultra-violent take on my favourite cinematic thing, the gangster film. Kim Jee-woon tips his hat to “Infernal Affairs”, the Hong Kong flick that is the touchstone for modern crime thrillers. There is also respect paid to “The Godfather”. The intricate set-pieces are operatic & tense, just like Francis Ford made them. Those big fights from HK were all getting a bit Jackie Chan…you get me ? In both “Kill Bill” & “Kung Fu Hustle” the battles are not only choreographed but actually became dances. Our hit man with a beef is less interested in busting a move with a gang of goons than ensuring that they choke on their own blood. Cool & deadly “A Bittersweet Life” is on the Y-tube. I got my copy for just 1 of our English pounds when the video store closed down. If you like gangster films then you know what to do.

There’s an “otherness” about this  modern Korean cinema. Seoul is a world city forged in the white heat of shiny new technology. It is though still close to the traditional agrarian society of the generation not on the Seoul train (ouch !). There’s plenty of “Blade Runner” city-of-the-future glimpses in these films but they also often remind me of Yashujiro Ozu’s perfect studies of a changing Japanese society. Anyway, how cool is the eastern promise of an Oriental mob ? Triad, Yakuza, whatever these Korean boys are, they are all good.

Next up for Kim Jee-woon was “The Good, The Bad & The Weird” (2008), an Eastern Western. That he was given the green light for his homage to Sergio Leone is a sign of the confidence of Korean cinema. Of course it is a rip-roaring romp of a movie only it’s a little long & the 3 protagonists a little lightweight. The shoot-outs, the chases, the pyrotechnics are just beautiful & the most fun you can have watching a film. Kim was ready for Hollywood but his film took just $128k at the US box office out of over $44 million worldwide. Come on America, this is fresh, the best there is, get on it, it’s only a sub-title.

Today I woke up to the sad news that Eli Wallach, Tuco, Il Cattivo had passed away. He was an  essential part in the creation of an enduring piece of cinema. “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” inspired Kim to make his film & influenced any future film director who was paying attention. R.I.P. Mr Wallach.

I am not a big Arnie fan, of his films or his politics. I came up with tough guy heroes like Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, not big men but you would want them on your side. Schwarzeneggar & Stallone were steroidal mean motor scooters, half killing machine, half man of few words. Just some dumb ass one-liner & that’s it. Besides I had read the 1976 Rolling Stone interview (the same issue that Hunter S backed Jimmy Carter). I had seen “Pumping Iron”, I found Arnie’s narcissism & his intimidation of poor Lou Ferrigno unattractive. He & Sly were the action heroes that  the Reagan era wanted & deserved. “This ain’t  really your life…ain’t nothing but a movie”.

 Ah but I was so much older then & Arnie is now 66, “The Last Stand” is part of his post-political career return to films & this thing is right up my street. Now, let me think why…Those Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez grindhouse joints are my thing too but they are always a little knowing. I still have to see “Machete Kills”. I know that there will be nods & winks to the audience tipping us off just how smart the director is for making a 1970s exploitation movie in the 21st century. That’s OK, all those films are entertaining. “The Last Stand”, with a hole-filled plot & some dumbass dialogue in a strange Austrian accent, just gets on with being imaginative & intelligent. A drug baron has escaped in a car from the future but, no problem, it’s only the Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) who is on the case. The Dog has strayed from the Way of the Samurai & the bad guy is getting away but has to pass through Sheriff Arnie’s burg. It’s a great cast, Peter Stormare, Luis Guzman, Jackass Knoxville & others but Kim Jee-woon is all over this film & knows what he’s doing.

The hardware (cars & guns) fetishism is as cool as you like. The climactic crescendo is a proper cinematic tour of force, a thrill free of video game mimicry or apocalyptic CGI nonsense with the spirit of Leone looking on. Arnie gets to do what Arnie has to do & gets some trademark one-liners too. “The Last Stand”, the cult action movie brought up to now.

Whether this “golden generation” (it’s a football thing) of Korean directors continues to work in the USA or returns home I will want to see what they create. It may be a little harder to do so because  Tartan Video’s success was followed by a  rush of  releases which were not always of the same quality. There is a limit to the number of cyber-animanga movies that you need to see & Tartan folded in 2008. It has been tougher to discover new Korean movies since then, the multiplex has got some over-priced popcorn to shift & good films by established directors struggle to be seen. Maybe Arnie & Kim Jee-woon can stay together for Sheriff Ray Owens in “The Last Stand 2”. Hang on…that doesn’t make sense !

When This Old World Starts Getting Me Down (On The Death Of Gerry Goffin)

The sad passing of Gerry Goffin, the great American lyricist, at the age of 75 cannot go without some tribute being paid. In the 1960s, with his wife, Carole King, he created a breathtaking string of enduring songs which had a major influence on the development of modern pop music. He wrote 50 Top 40 hits, songs that came to you when you were a child & have stuck around all your life. As a very young boy I was charmed by the Crickets version of “Don’t Ever Change”, it was a little different from the rest, it was sweeter & it was modern. I will not list all the great songs, you can find them here. If I make the claim that Goffin was writing the soundtrack to our lives then I offer as evidence “Up On The Roof” (The Drifters), “Goin’ Back” (Dusty/The Byrds) & “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha). You know this one but not , perhaps, this demo. It is an absolute beauty which you should keep close for those times you need a little uplift. RIP Gerry Goffin, a very talented man.

Goffin & King were based in New York, part of the production line for hit songs based in 1619 Broadway (the Brill Building) & 1650 Broadway (Aldon Music). Before the British arrived to rescue popular music from teen idol schlock it was the girl group sound which provided the innovation & inspiration that made pop music Pop Art.  Goffin & King did their bit with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” for the Shirelles & “One Fine Day”, the Chiffons. They also, encouraged by those Myrmidons of Melodrama, the Shangri-Las, helped to push the envelope of the genre. “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss) was recorded by the Crystals for Phil Spector. It is an ominous, morally ambiguous song which still stirs the listener 50 years after it was written. The Cookies’ “Don’t Say Nothin’ (Bad About My Baby)” has more charm but is still an odd song which takes us off the beaten track.

Any road up, I am looking through the Y-tube (catch it while it’s free !) for some of those great girl groups &, I know, beefing about what is absent rather than grinning about all the good stuff inside my computer when this unexpected gem turns up.

Blooming Nora ! The Chiffons “Nobody Knows What’s Goin’ On Inside My Mind But Me”…in colour ! 1965, more psychological than psychedelic. The girls were a big deal, “He’ So Fine”, “One Fine Day” & “Sweet Talking Guy” are all part of the girl group pantheon. This track though is a whole different brick in the wall of sound. Stephen Friedland had been a member of New York doo-woppists the Tokens before writing & producing under the unlikely pseudonym Brute Force. There are connections with Goffin & King who wrote a Tokens’ 45, a single solo LP & interest from the lead guitarist of the Beatles. Me, I’ll stick with this sweeping street symphony with its “whoa, whoa, whoa”s, it’s “no, no, no”s & “they say we’re too young but what do they know ?”. Terrific.

Here in the UK the Queen of Sixties Pop, Dusty Springfield, was making such a good job of her covers of Goffin & King songs that by 1965 she was getting the first option on new songs. “Goin’ Back” is  a perfectly structured song, the lyric a wistful reflection on a loss of innocence. Dusty does the right thing by such a fine song. She says here that “Some Of Your Lovin’ ” (1965) is her favourite of the songs she had recorded, it was her first original version of the duo’s. I love Dusty & try to squeeze her stuff into as many of these things as I can. This is here on merit not just my own preference & she sings & looks just great.

OK. I am going to get back on to that list of Gerry Goffin hits. He wrote Taj Mahal’s “Take A Giant Step” & I did not know that.  These songs are part of my musical DNA. “Catch me if you can…”

 

Through Our Voice The World Knows There’s No Choice (Curtis Mayfield)

Curtis Mayfield had a good 1960s. He & his boys from Chicago’s Cabrini-Green hood, the Impressions, had a run of 7 successive Top 20 hits with graceful gospel-soul songs of elevation & empathy. Over at Okeh Records Curtis learned about making records from 2 accomplished talents, producer Carl Davis & arranger Johnny Pate. This prolific trio cultivated a crop of Chicago artists which included Jerry Butler, Major Lance & Walter Jackson. They styled some snazzy, bespoke soul for these singers, at the outset catching whatever commercial way the wind blew before gaining the confidence to set their own course.

By 1968 Curtis had founded, with associate Eddie Thomas, his own record label, Curtom. His best songs for the Impressions, “People Get Ready”, “It’s Alright” & the sublime “I’m So Proud”, were modern hymns, endorsing & encouraging the positivity of Martin Luther King  & the Civil Rights Movement. Now Dr King had been murdered by racists, the war in Vietnam had become, in his words “a white man’s war, a black man’s fight.” Expectations of civil & economic progress remained unfulfilled. At the beginning of a new decade Curtis Mayfield left his group & began a solo career. He was 28 years old, he had something to say about America & his eloquence was matched by his vision for the music that would accompany the message.

“(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go “…Hot Damn ! The opening track of “Curtis” is an apocalyptic symphony. An everything including the kitchen sink drama almost 8 minutes long, the Book of Revelations for Jah’s sake. This first solo LP, “Curtis”, came in like gangbusters & kept on keeping on. Curtis was so ready for his new artistic freedom. Whether he was using a full orchestra to elegant effect or allowing “Master” Henry Gibson to drive the songs along with his sensational congas, everything was in the right place at the right time. There are still romantic songs, there’s the poetic “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” & not a wasted note in 8 minutes 40 seconds of “Move On Up”. The “Sgt Pepper’s” of 70s Soul ? You decide. Both singles were severely edited for the radio, not an improvement.

In 1971 you had to be either legendary or the Jackson 5 to score a #1 R&B LP. “Curtis” swapped this spot with Isaac Hayes before Aretha had 5 weeks there. Marvin’s  “What’s Going On” prevailed for 8 weeks before  Hayes returned with “Shaft” for an amazing 3 months at the top. Stuff I still listen to. It had taken a while for the longer form record to stand predominate in R&B. In 1969 Isaac Hayes’ ” Hot Buttered Soul”, just 4 expansive tracks, was a landmark in terms of sales & creative artistic control. Curtis Mayfield, with his own Curtom studio, was right on for this & ready to get busy.

Well…here we are then. It’s the aforementioned Henry Gibson on congas, Joseph “Lucky” Scott rocking the bass & some other very cool cats. How about that band ! Curtom Records was rocked by the premature death of Baby Huey in 1970. Just 26 years old, already a Chicago legend, Baby H was ready for national success. There were other productions, Mayfield made a final record with the Impressions, but it was his own work that was getting heard. “Curtis/Live!” (1971) is a double LP recorded at the small Bitter End club in New York, a perfect blend of his past with the present. From “Gypsy Woman” to “If There’s A Hell…”, it’s all Curtis & it’s all good. In the same year “Roots” was a set of new material including “We Got To Have Peace”. I don’t know if these songs were from a stockpile or if they were all new. Whatever the case this was a major creative outpouring.

Curtis was never going to shake off his religion, his romance & uncomplicated emotional exposition. I have seen his viewpoint described as “middle brow”, of being that of the “Black middle class”. I think this is meant as a criticism.Curtis may never have been down with Amiri Baraka “up against the wall motherf***er” or as raucous as the Last Poets but I’m sure he was a supporter of the Panthers 10 Point Programme just as he would endorse anything which helped black people move on up. There could be an element of love being the answer, of children being the future but Curtis was about self-advancement, about a brother helping a brother, being an achiever not a victim. If you are too cynical for those things then you are too cynical.

Curtis’ next move was perfect as a musical choice & as a business option. In the early 1970s blaxploitation movies were reaching beyond Quentin Tarantino & the urban black target audience. Whether it was “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” or, more likely “Shaft”, both from 1971, which set the trend, these films needed a funked-up soundtrack. “Super Fly” (1972) is the story of a cocaine dealer’s one last score, a $1 million deal for his pension. It’s a gritty, grainy, low-budget movie which anticipates Scorsese’s kings of New York  & the street-smart soliloquies of Rap. “Super Fly” made money, it was an influential film which was helped  then outgrossed by Curtis Mayfield’s perfect soundtrack.

“Super Fly” the record brought Curtis to a whole new audience. It topped the national charts, included 2 million-selling Top 10 singles. Curtis was not about the glorification of drug culture & was reticent about taking on the project. Of course he would never abandon long-held & heartfelt principles but the discipline of composing to a fixed brief & a deadline worked a treat. So, the title track, “Freddie’s Dead”, “Pusherman”, “Little Child Running Wild” ah… it’s a list & I could include the whole LP. Here, have another…

In the last clip Curtis is playing bigger gigs now. He is in the Premier League of R&B, Grammy Awards & more money than he could spend according to Jet magazine. There is a little loss of subtlety in having to please a larger audience but there is still an individual voice with something to say, a great band & some of the sweetest soul music ever made.

 

 

When Your Hair’s Combed Right And Your Pants Fit Tight It’s Gonna Be All Right (The Byrds Part II)

At the beginning of 1966 the Byrds, coming off 2 #1 singles, were the hottest band in America. The group’s 3rd LP “Fifth Dimension” was a less consistent piece, Gene Clark had left & his songs were missed. The Byrdsification of Bob Dylan songs, pivotal to the massive success, was absent this time around too. The 3 single releases from the LP failed to reach the Top 10 where their folk-rock contemporaries, the Mamas & the Papas & the Lovin’ Spoonful, had taken up permanent residence. The now 4  Byrds faced a new group dynamic, pressure to keep the hits coming & a music scene which was changing at a “blink & you’ll miss it” pace. In the first week of 1967 the Doors broke on through with their debut LP just weeks after the release of Love’s “Da Capo” with its revelatory single track on Side 2. Something was happening & by the end of 1966 the Byrds were no longer the hottest band in Los Angeles.

“Eight Miles High” is now a landmark song. It had been left behind by Gene Clark but Jim McGuinn & David Crosby contributed enough to share the billing. Was this acid-rock, space rock, raga rock ? Heavyweight names John Coltrane & Ravi Shankar were dropped not only by the critics. The band showed up at the press launch with a sitar. In 1998 Crosby said “they kept trying to label us; every time we turned around, they came up with a new one … it’s a bunch of bullshit.” & it was. One thing that was for sure, despite the group’s rebuttals, “Eight Miles High” is either about or inspired by drug use. Some US radio stations elected to protect the delicate ears of their listeners & did not play the record. This may have affected sales, the song may have been a little too ( a new phrase) “far out”  for the group’s audience. No matter, it fits right into the whirl of great Sixties music & still sounds fine right here.

With 20% less people around there was space for David Crosby to step forward. His individual talent for imaginative harmonization would take this young man far in the next few years & on “Fifth Dimension” he was all over the songwriting either solo or in collaboration. As the lead singer/guitarist McGuinn was the guy who people pointed the microphone at & hindsight shows that for sure he was always looking out for himself & for the group. In these 2 promo clips he seems to be leaving it up to Crosby. His distinctive guitar drives both songs but he seems to be a little disconnected. “Was it all a strange game, you’re a little insane”, that’s how this one goes.

“So You Want To Be A Rock n Roll Star” is another stunning pop record. The bass guitar rumble, screaming teenage girls, Hugh Masekela’s trumpet, sour, cynical lyrics, producer Gary Usher packed a lot in to a short song. “So You Want…” is the first track of a Byrds LP which looked back at where they had come from, forward to where they were going but mostly was about right here right now. But this was the Spring before the Summer Of Love, change is now, time to tune in, turn on & go to San Francisco. The new thing was going  “underground”, being on the charts & the teenage TV shows was no longer where the action was. The Byrds were a little too much part of that old scene to be down with the love crowd. One of the cool kids at my school was going with that flow. He bought the LP but didn’t like it. He sold me “Younger Than Yesterday”, one of the first LPs I owned, for 15 old English shillings, that’s 75 pence, just $1 American. Man, I was on the right end of that deal

Well, here comes bass player Chris Hillman, no longer rocking the Beatles mop-top but with 4 songs that capture that beat group plays country twang that the Fab Four did so well. The rock solid guitar sound on “Time Between”,  “Have You Seen Her Face” & the others is one of the reasons why some days “Younger…” is my pick of the Byrds’ great records. Crosby’s songs show just how quickly things were changing . “Renaissance Fair” is a lilting melodic Byrdsian classic, “Everybody’s Been Burned”, an ethereal haunting thing & “Mind Gardens” is just fu…well it’s abstract.

Jim McGuinn, not as flamboyant as Crosby, didn’t really want “Mind Gardens” on the LP but gave it a pass. Crosby though, kept on pushing.The group had written  & recorded a crappy, throwaway theme song for “Don’t Make Waves”, a film of similar quality. A final, disdainful “masterpiece” from Crosby showed just what he thought of such show biz nonsense. He had not wanted to record another Dylan tune. He was wrong & Jim was right. “My Back Pages” is a nailed-on cert for any best Dylan covers mix, it’s a beauty.


In June 1967 the Byrds performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, a 3 day gathering where Jimi, the Who, Otis Redding & Janis Joplin made the biggest splash. Our boys didn’t make the final cut of the movie of the gig, not hip enough. It would make interesting viewing. David Crosby’s introduction to “He Was A Friend Of Mine”, a song inspired by the assassination of President Kennedy, condemned the Warren Commission as a cover up. Another inter-song rant advocated a dose of LSD for “all the statesmen and politicians in the world.” When, the next day, he replaced the missing Neil Young in Buffalo Springfield, his fellow Byrds were resenting being told what to do by someone who did exactly as he wanted.

Then there was “Lady Friend”, a Crosby song written with the intent of returning the Byrds to the Top 20. That just didn’t happen. It’s a baroque & roll summertime smash, a big, bright boost. A month after its release a Greatest Hits collection became the Byrds biggest selling LP. The audience still wanted a bit of that old jingle-jangle from the band. The band blamed Crosby, he blamed the producer & the struggle for artistic control continued with the failure of his new song not helping his case.

So David Crosby was invited to hang up his cape. He went on to pills & hash, to Stills & Nash, to one of the best solo records I have ever heard & to a whole lot more. The Byrds, with McGuinn now calling the shots, stayed on the course set by “Younger…” & got down to recording another dead stone classic LP of the 1960s.

We Got To Have It, Soul Power

I discovered this weekend’s top tune while listening to a selection by Arthur Alexander, a favourite of mine from those pre-Motown days. Times when Sam Cooke & Jackie Wilson carried the R&B swing. I posted some of Arthur’s great songs here but “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way” was written & recorded in 1992, 30 years after his effective & affecting ballads had influenced young Lennon, McCartney, Jagger & Richard to record their own cover versions. His biggest song “You Better Move On” was the first hit to be recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals & it was his friends from back in that day, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham & Donnie Fritts (who co-wrote “If It’s…”) who helped him make his first LP for 21 years. I hope that our man saw some of the money which is surely generated when the Beatles & the Stones use your songs but Arthur had been driving a bus for a living. It was only a matter of months after the release of the LP “Lonely Just Like Me” (1993) & his return to performing that he suffered a fatal heart attack. The world would be a better place with more beautiful country-soul songs like this one from an innovative & influential man.

There is a generation of performers who never made it in front of the movie or TV cameras so are not around the Y-tube for our (OK, my) enjoyment.  No tape around of Arthur Alexander performing live or even lip-synching any of his songs. Another Muscle Shoals master, Clarence Carter, was only filmed when he had a worldwide hit with “Patches” in 1970 even though there was a run of R&B hits spanning 1968-71. Some of these crossed over, 2 of them sold a million & “Slip Away” was one of that golden pair.

Clarence, who was blind from birth, is remembered for that big hit but “Patches” has always seemed a little extravagant, too heavy on the schmaltz for my taste. A Greatest Hits collection captures the liquified, flexuous pulse that places the Muscle Shoals sound firmly on the soul side of country-soul & is a very good thing. His rich baritone incorporates a salacious chuckle which adds a pleasant humour to his testifying. The hits stopped coming when African-American music started on the path that ended up in Disco but he continued to perform & you know you will have a good night, with some good songs, at a Clarence Carter show.

This wonderful clip is from a hometown gig at the Shoals Theatre in Florence Alabama in 2011. Clarence is 75 years old here…really. “Too Weak To Fight”, the follow up to “Slip Away,” was another big seller & another great song. It’s not just the song & the ribald showmanship which makes this performance a delight. Mr Carter’s exhibition of how a Southern Soul rhythm guitar part is played is just immaculate & splendid. I love this music.

OK…are you ready for Star Time ?…I  said…We move to Memphis in the meantime to check for my Uncle Overton. O.V.Wright was a nonpareil of brooding, impassioned soul singing. He may have said that the difference between his gospel & his secular music was no more than the substitution of the word “Jesus” by the word “baby” but O.V. never really came to terms with his choice of the profane over the sacred. In Tennessee in the mid-60s a musician had to be wholly holy, Rock & Roll was still the Devil’s music. O.V. Wright’s blues are right there on his records.

“Eight Men & Four Women” was one of the first songs O.V.  recorded with producer Willie Mitchell. An earlier contract meant that the records were released through a Texan label, Backbeat but the music is pure Memphis, home of the Blues. Mitchell’s set-up at Hi Records flourished with the brilliant success of Al Green & his partnership with Wright lasted for 10 years. There was no great commercial success as public taste moved to a sweeter, slicker sound which did not always complement the singer’s more traditional style. He remained though, a star in the Southern states & those earlier Backbeat records are something to hear. Unfortunately O.V. Wright’s taste for the high life got him into something that he couldn’t shake loose.

This amazing film is from May 1979 when O.V. visited Japan where he was still a big deal. Heroin addiction had wrecked his health & his finances, had put him in hospital & in jail. This frail man is just 40 years old. There’s a short excerpt from a 1975 show of his on the Y-tube where he is a stocky, smart-dressed man singing & dancing up a storm. He can’t do that anymore, those last 4 years must have seemed like 20.  O.V.Wright’s medley of “God Blessed Our Love” & “When A Man Loves A Woman”, performed with Teenie Hodges , Teenie’s 2 brothers & the rest of the Hi Rhythm section is stunning & chilling. His control, his delivery…ah, man, just watch & then watch again Within 18 months O.V. was dead from a heart attack. We are lucky that this great artist, this great piece of American art is here for us to watch & admire.

 

Gigi Mac Remembers The Fete des Gitans And I’m Sure It Remembers Her.

Rose, Noir et Blanc en Mai…
 
To me these colors will always represent the Camargue, the gorgeous southwest region of France — a place where the native language  blends with Catalan & Calo into something cool & murky & kind of funky… the elegant pink flamingos [almost surreal to watch while in flight], the powerful black bulls, and the majestic white Camargue ponies…
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 So right now that June is here, the Mediterranean is just a little more quiet than it was a few weeks ago. May 24th marks the Fete des Gitans– le Pelerinage as some call it.  A pilgrimage to a little beach town named Les Saintes Maries de la Mer.  From what I understand [if you follow these things] shortly after Jesus’ death, christians were being persecuted left & right.  Somehow Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacob & Mary Salome escaped to safer areas with their servant Sarah la Kali [ Sarah the black]. Their little boat made it to Southern Gaul, or what we know now as Southern France. Rumors circulate around Sarah – some speculate she was Egyptian, some say a true Romani because she would collect alms for the poor – I suppose that’s a quality to have to be a Romani?  Some even say she was the daughter of Mary Magdalene & Jesus… whatever the case may be, and keeping a long story short, the Roms adopted her as their very own saint—Saint Sarah, and every year in mid- to late- May quite the gathering of gypsies transpire in that sleepy little beach town to pay homage to their ‘Sainte Sarah’… As a disclaimer, I understand that the term ‘gypsy’ might be offensive to some, but my friends, who are of Rom origin are happy to call themselves that [gitan or gitane in french] and I, quite fond of my friends, use it with love & admiration.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Since the details and the origins of the festival/pilgrimage get little muddled & confusing [sometimes I wonder if the gypsies relish in that – a little mild chaos always adds to the fun] I won’t dwell too much here, but the MUSIC!! I’ve only had the privilege of visiting once, but I treasure it, and the memory is still fresh in my head. You have to imagine as many gypsies that can afford to come, make their way down [or up] to enjoy their time together.  French, including the manouche, Romanian, Italian, Morroccan, Spanish, Turkish, Russian, Ukranian, Irish…  flamenco guitars [but of course], contra basses, violins, tablahs, dumbeks, flutes, tin whistles, fanfare brass, cajones, all kinds of things that shake & ring etc, etc, etc… sometimes in a pinch [which I’ve seen personally] an upside down ice bucket & a spoon – one must always keep the rhythm going!
In this clip [taken by my friends who attend every year] is Urz Karpatz, a favorite each year, but what surprised me was somewhere by the end [and off-camera the whole time I suspect!] was Manitas de Plata! a self-taught maestro of sorts, and the unofficial mayor of ‘Les Saintes’, as the locals call the town. That was quite a get, girls!  Manitas, nee Ricardo Baliardo, is an extraordinary gypsy-flamenco genius, and still performing at almost 93.  Whenever I hear about his soirees with Picasso, Dali, Brigitte Bardot, and so many more, I long for a time machine…
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 This was recorded the year I went – 2002 – by a dear friend who passed away a few years ago. This particular restaurant/bar/hotel is Les Vagues—a favorite hangout place for Manitas & his cousins & entourage in the Les Saintes right across the street from the sea — still can’t believe we had our own little session with the maestro himself:
still flirting, ever so charming… he even had Pikachu on his keychain – I suspect one of the grandkids hooked him up. haha
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Around the 19th of May or so, the cars & vans & trucks & caravans make their way, little by little into town. Apartments get rented out, parking lots fill up, vendors sell their wares—sometimes quite aggressively once they realize you’re not from ‘these parts’… every other corner or so musicians will gather, girls will dance, hats passed around filling up with Euros… if you settle into a nice spot at a café, you can witness all kinds of fun. The daytime hustle in Les Saintes is quite a spectacle, but then the night comes…. That’s when it all starts. All one really needs is a couple guitars, a few guys who really know how to play, because when one gets tired, he can hand it off to somebody else, and the crowd will come.  If there are tasty libations, all the better!
This little compilation captures some of the night time awesomeness:
more from my friends who manage to make the trip every year… even with a little bit of high jinx at the end – ah t’is quite a lovely shade of green I turn when I watch this stuff  😉
The cool part about the Camargue, this part of southern France, is that nearly everyone is related. The Baliardos & Reyes’, [think of the Gipsy Kings] distant cousins themselves, connect with the Soles’, who connect with the Regis’ who connect with Arenas’[and not necessarily in that order, but you get the gist] and practically everyone in between, and what you have here is ultimately la famille – family, and if you can hang, you sort of get adopted into the fold.  It’s a beautiful, musical, sometimes crazy thing! Can’t wait to go back…