99 Pounds Of Soul (Ann Peebles)

If you ever attended the First Baptist Church in St Louis in the 1950’s & 60’s I’m sure that you were in for a treat. Minister of music Perry Peebles directed the Peebles Choir, founded by his father & which, over the years, included his wife Eula, their 11 children & many of the extended Peebles family. The seventh of the 11 siblings, Ann, was blessed with an outstanding voice. She was a natural performer on the Gospel circuit &, born in 1947, was of a generation where the transfer to secular Soul was easier than it had been for those 10 years older than her.

 

 

Image result for ann peebles willie mitchellAnn Peebles sang with bands in St Louis clubs before, on a trip to Memphis, impressing Gene “Bowlegs” Miller with her take on the Jimmy Hughes ballad “Steal Away, a 1964 hit from FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. “Bowlegs” (great name) referred her to Willie Mitchell, head of A&R at Hi Records, after a run through of the same song Ann found herself with a recording contract before she was 21 years old. Hi was known for its instrumental hits. Trumpeter/band leader/producer Mitchell had his own very groovy success in 1968 with the King Curtis tune “Soul Serenade“. Now Willie was looking to expand the label’s roster, matching new vocal talent to his ideas about how Soul went. As it says in the small print in the ad (trust me it’s there) for Ann’s 1971 45 “Somebody’s On Your Case” “Produced by Willie Mitchell & it’s pure Memphis”.

 

There was no instant success for Peebles. The label took time to school Ann in recording & promotion. Her debut LP “This Is…” (1969) was heavy on cover versions of recent hits. Two fine singles in 1970 made an impression but there was little new material & the “Part Time Love” LP (1971) included 6 tracks from that first record. “Straight From the Heart” was released in the same year &, as can be heard from “Slipped, Tripped & Fell in Love” & “99 Pounds”, she was finding her own strong, individual, mature style. There were others at Mitchell’s Royal Studios who were hitting the spot too.

 

 

“99 Pounds” was written for & about Ann by Don Bryant, a staff member at Hi assigned as her mentor. The pair did not instantly bond. Ann thought that she knew how to sing & Don thought that his own recordings were being neglected. This 3rd LP included 3 songs written by the singer (2 co-written with Bryant). In 1973 they co-operated on the song that defines Ann Peebles career. A year later the couple were married.

 

Image result for ann peeblesAt this time the walls of Hi Records’ office was filling up with gold discs as Al Green, another Mitchell discovery, became the new Soul sensation. The house band, the Hodges brothers, Charles (organ), Leroy (bass) & Teenie (guitar) with drummer Howard Grimes. augmented by the Memphis Horns (over from Stax) found a warm, melodic, still funky groove that became the new hit sound. These musicians are all over every Ann Peebles record, driving the song along, complementing her assertive lyrics. The Hi Rhythm Section are an instantly recognisable unit & Man, they’re good !

 

 

“I Can’t Stand the Rain”, we all know that one, bringing back sweet memories. A Peebles/Bryant composition with assistance from local DJ Bernie Miller it is the title track of a monumental LP, an update on the Southern Country Soul of the late 1960’s, a Hi-point of that label’s fine discography. In 1974 the record was not a major hit, the single just making the US Top 40, the LP #155. It was though recognised as an enduring piece of resistance. In 1978 a German disco version hit the US Top 20 & the UK Top 10, Tina Turner included a version on “Private Dancer” a 20 million selling album & our man Lowell George, off of Little Feat, made a good fist of it on his one solo LP.

 

Image result for ann peeblesThere are 7 Ann Peebles LPs from this period & there’s some high quality moments. “Beware” is from “Tellin’ It” (1975), take a look at that clip, a singer in her prime & how was that not a hit ? Willie Mitchell thought that Ann didn’t fulfill her potential, that she was not committed to becoming a star. I’m sure that as label boss he wanted her to be the female Al Green. The public’s tastes in African-American music were changing, they wanted to dance themselves dizzy. Ann was never as lyrically brazen as Millie Jackson, not as Disco as Donna Summer. There are some great Pop-Soul tracks (“A Love Vibration”, “Dr Love Power”) but she just did that thing she did & never was able to make the connection that transferred into major sales.

 

 

Ann took a break to raise her son in 1978. 10 years later she returned, on Willie Mitchell’s new label, but the electro-Soul sound didn’t really compare with her previous work. In 1989 the Waylo Soul Revue came to Europe. “A Memphis Soul Night” featuring Ann, Otis Clay & others confirms that there was a pretty good gig that I missed. She continued to perform & there are more records. Her reputation endured & her music was sampled by many Hip Hop artists. There’s a version of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” on the Joe Henry project “I Believe In My Soul” (2005) that absolutely does the trick.

 

Ann Peebles didn’t enter the pantheon of female Soul singers like Aretha, Diana & Gladys. She came around a little later than those legends & her brand of Southern Soul was no longer in the 1970’s mainstream. There’s more to her music than “I Can’t Stand the Rain” & “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. The records she made for Hi have all been re-released & if you are tempted by one of the many compilations then make sure it’s a double one because her “Best of” will not fit on the one LP or CD.

 

 

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No Static At All

I must have been good in 1977. At Christmas Santa brought two brand new copies of “Aja” by Steely Dan & some spiffy new headphones. That was me sorted until New Year. The group, now a duo, had released an album a year since 1972, it would be 3 more years before the next collection. “Aja” was good enough to get us through that long wait, still is. Not sure what happened to the cans.

 

 

 

Image result for walter beckerWalter Becker, who died this weekend, has been part of my musical landscape for 45 years now. From the compendium of finely crafted pop songs on the debut “Can’t Buy A Thrill” through to the my kind of Jazz Lounge of “Gaucho” any album that I hook up to is better than most everything else I hear. I have grown up with their music & their developing sophistication has helped me to grow up. Steely Dan’s literate, considered, often acerbic & cynical lyrics of the high life & the lowlife described a world that I was perhaps a little too familiar with. There are so many fine lines but an intro like “Five names that I can hardly stand to hear. Including yours and mine & one more chimp who isn’t here” makes “Bad Sneakers” a desert island favourite.

 

Image result for walter beckerThis is not an obituary, anyone who once heard “Do It Again” or “Reelin’ In The Years” seems to have had their say this week. All I want to say is that Walter Becker’s memory will be eternal & Walter, thank you for the tracks of whack.

 

Random Notes (August 2017)

OK, Summer break’s over… back on your head ( the punchline to a very old joke). Recently the going got weird so, as any fool knows, the weird turn Pro. As Life took a turn written by a Russian existentialist the blog took a back seat. Touting my favourite music seemed to be an inappropriate gewgaw but, y’know, I like doing it & I’ve certainly not stopped listening. Right, as Fyodor Dostoevsky used to say, “What the fuck”…Is this thing on ?

 

 

Single of the month is this glorious racket from Cleveland’s finest Pere Ubu. It’s been quite some time since I saw singer David Thomas & his crew perform music from the future at the Russell Club/Factory in Manchester. Those first two records from 1978, “The Modern Dance” & “Dub Housing”, angular, challenging post-Punk collections were so outstanding (& still sound great) that any music the group has released since merits consideration. Breaks have been taken, the line up has changed while David Thomas abides. In 1989 “Waiting For Mary” was one of the songs of that year, showing that the avant-garage experimentation combined with the ability to rock was a fine blend.

 

Image result for pere ubu monkey bizness“Monkey Bizness” is a taste of something fine from the upcoming LP “20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo”. The video features the classic 1990s “Funhouse” pinball machine, a little complicated for my old-school arcade taste but still a quality table. I’ll be looking forward to hearing the rest of the record, Ubu’s first since “Carnival of Souls” (2014), in September. A young person walked in while I was enjoying this track at high volume & wondered what the heck was going on…that’s good right ?

 

This month, like most everyone I know, I handed over some of my hard-earned to the local multiplex & they let me see “Dunkirk”. Christopher Nolan has always been worth the money since the low budget “Following” (1998) & the startling “Memento” (2000). He makes blockbusters now but his version of a previous British exit from continental Europe (a retreat which like most of our defeats has been portrayed as heroic) was never going to be a Speilbergian war epic. We got a sparse, impressionistic cinematic experience, emotionally anchored by a restrained performance by Mark Rylance as the middle-aged captain of a small rescue boat, which I found immersive & enjoyable.

 

 

Image result for goon last of the enforcersI was not going to miss the return to the screen  of Doug “The Thug” Glatt the pugilistic protagonist of “Goon” (2011). Any Ice Hockey (as we Europeans call it, to distinguish it from an entirely different sport played on grass) movie will be compared to “Slapshot” the 1977 comedy/drama directed by George Roy Hill & starring Paul Newman, one from the top shelf of sport films. Glatt (Sean William Scott) is no Reggie Dunlop. His not-too-bright amiability, his talent to hit somebody/anybody giving him somewhere he belonged, made for an endearing & enjoyable story.

 

This time around writer Jay Baruchel directs, the humour is still coarse, the exposition broad. In “Goon: Last of the Enforcers” Doug is now married to Eva (the lovely Alison Pill), too punched out to play with his oddball teammates on the Halifax Highlanders, replaced by Anders Cain (Goldie & Kurt’s boy Wyatt Russell who seems to have been busy since that gaming episode of “Black Mirror”). He turns to old rival Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber, the great Ray Donovan, excellent as another washed-up brawler in the capable biopic “Chuck”) for help. The violence is gratuitous, the story often sentimental but it was good to spend time in Doug’s company & to see how he is getting on. I’ve seen the film described as “hockey-flavoured comfort food” & sometimes that’s just the refreshment you need of an evening.

 

 

 

Image result for syreeta albumOf course it’s never all new stuff round here & the LP I have mainly been listening to this month is a classic from 1972. Syreeta Wright married Stevie Wonder in 1970. Together they wrote the songs for “Where I’m Coming From” (1971) Stevie’s first step towards independence from Motown, the beginning of a decade of musical brilliance. The marriage lasted just 18 months but they worked together on “Syreeta” (1972) her debut LP. The hook up with Tonto’s Expanding Headband (Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil) brought new synthesizer textures to the music & they are around for this record. Some of the tracks are a little sweet, it’s not Deep Soul & it’s not Detroit, more a modern Soul similar to Minnie Riperton’s “Perfect Angel” (1974) Related imageanother LP that Stevie & his crew worked on. The charming opening track “I Love Everything About You” sets the standard while the closer,the scorching Funk throb of “To Know You is to Love You”, is good enough to stand with the many great tracks created by Wonder. The pair collaborated on a more commercial follow up which made a bigger impression but, this month at least, I’m going with “Syreeta”.