The Brother Got The Rap (Soul May 30th 1970)

It’s the last week in May already, 2020 is flying by isn’t it (yeah right!). On the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B locations for May 30th 1970 “Love On A Two Way Street” by the Moments retained the top spot for the seventh consecutive week. At #12, with a bullet as I believe our transatlantic friends say, up a massive 30 places, the Jackson 5 were heading for their third #1 of the year. This week’s selections are by three acts whose class & longevity qualifies them for “legendary” status. All three of the records are not necessarily those that would be in the first 5 or even 10 that first come to mind by any of them but this is James Brown, the Isley Brothers & Jackie Wilson so you know it’s going to be good.

 

 

James Brown-Brother Rapp-1970 Sheet Music-Original USA issue-Rare ...James “Mr Dynamite”, “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business”, “Soul Brother #1”, “Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk” Brown was already a sure thing for the Mount Rushmore of Soul by 1970. Since the release of “Please, Please, Please” in 1956 he had maintained his position at the forefront of Black music as a live act & on record. The two came together in 1962 when the “Live at the Apollo” album, essential to any record collection, sold a million copies. In the mid-1960s when I became aware of “The Godfather of Funk” through records like “Out of Sight”, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” & “Cold Sweat”, it was apparent that James was forging an individual path that many fans & musicians were happy to follow. The word “Funk” first appeared on his tracks in 1967. Three years later & Funk was that new bag. Now, whether it was established stars or the new groups, everything they did gonna be funky & James Brown could be heard in all of them.

 

James Brown - Brother Rapp (Part 1 & 2) / Bewildered (1970, Vinyl ...“Brother Rapp (Parts 1 & 2)” was at #2 on this week’s chart, it had been released & withdrawn earlier in the year then speeded up before a re-release. Of course it was a big R&B hit, everything James recorded at this time was. Even if you don’t know the song you already know it has the most insistent, irresistible groove & that, on Part 2, saxophonist Maceo Parker probably blows up a storm (he does). James used “Brother Rapp” later for his soundtrack to the Jim Brown blaxploitation movie “Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off” (1973). It was to be one of their last recordings together for some time as Maceo & other members of the band left in March 1970. James recruited a new crew including the Collins brothers, Bootsy & Catfish. At their first recording session they made “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine. This was followed, before the year was out, by “Super Bad” & Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved”. These tracks are part of the DNA of Soul music. In 1970 & for years to follow James Brown was unstoppable.

 

 

 

THE ISLEY BROTHERS 1970 Poster Ad KEEP ON DOIN' | eBayThe Isley Brothers were in a good place in 1970. In the previous year, dissatisfied with their treatment at Tamla Motown, they had revived their own T-Neck label & the first release “It’s Your Thing” was a bigger hit than their 1962 pre-Beatles “Twist & Shout” & was influential on the move from Soul to Funk that many were making. Two LPs in six months used their backlog of songs & with a mix of confidence & experience the brothers Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly had at least a couple of ideas that they thought just might work. Two younger Isleys, Ernie & Marvin along with brother-in-law Chris Jasper were showing great musical promise & they were encouraged to participate in the studio. Having these young guys around brought new energy & put the brothers in contact with more contemporary music. The Isleys were in no rush to make these changes, & their patience served them well. They had a thing going on anyway.

 

The Isley Brothers - If He Can, You Can (1970, Vinyl) | DiscogsThe next album “Get Into Something” was released in March 1970. The songs developed the Funk of “It’s Your Thing”, the ballads intimate the “Quiet Storm” gloss at which they became so proficient. Of the 10 tracks six were R&B Top 30 hits. “If He Can You Can”, stalled at #23 this week, is a solid slab of Funk, heavy on the guitar effects & possibly my favourite on the record. I’ve seen Ernie Isley, just turned 18 on the day before the LP’s release, praised for this work but I’ve a feeling that Charles “Skip” Pitts & his wah-wah pedal are responsible. 1971’s “Givin’ It Back” is a covers album, seven well-chosen tracks by the likes of Dylan, Neil Young & James Taylor. It reflected the growing contribution of the junior Isleys & Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” crossed over to the Pop charts. In 1973 the group fully embraced the changes & doubled in size. After 15 years of making records “3+3” & the lead single “That Lady” were a whole new ballgame for the Isley Brothers. Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly needed to clear some wall space for the Gold & Platinum records that came their way in the next decade.

 

 

 

Elvis with friend Jackie Wilson. July 11 1966 (With images ...In 1956 Elvis Presley, taking a Las Vegas break from all  that Rock & Roll brouhaha, went to see Billy Ward & His Dominoes on four successive nights. Their singer, the unbilled Jackie Wilson, performed a slower, more dramatic “Don’t Be Cruel” & on his next appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” you could hear that Elvis had been taking notes. The following year Jackie made his solo debut with the stunning, innovative “Reet Petite” (oh oh oh oh!). It was co-written by fellow Detroiter Berry Gordy who contributed to the following singles including the massive hit “Lonely Teardrops”. Jackie Wilson had earned the “Mr Excitement” tag & Gordy split with his royalties to form Tamla Motown. The hits kept on coming, 5 R&B #1s & often crossing to the Pop charts. Jackie Wilson was as popular & as influential as Sam Cooke during the developing urbanity of African-American music, retaining its emotion as R&B became Soul. His “…at the Copa” live album was two years before Sam’s, a Christmas record made the US Top 10. In the mid-60’s the great Chicago producer Carl Davis updated Jackie’s sound, hits like “Whispers”, “(You’re Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher” & “I Get the Sweetest Feeling” brought renewed success.

 

Jackie Wilson - Let This Be A Letter / Didn't I (1970, Vinyl ...The Chicago crew were still working with Jackie on the “This Love Is Real” album (1970) & his latest single, “Let This Be A Letter (To My Baby)” is at #38 in this week’s chart. Arranger Willie Henderson was having great success with Tyrone Davis, Eugene Record was writing songs as well as singing with the Chi-Lites & Carl Davis invited Motown’s Funk Brothers along to pay their respects & add their expertise. Jackie’s voice is still gymnastic, versatile & consummate. It’s hardly a cutting edge record, Jackie was not about to sing the inner city blues, but it’s a fine showcase for one of the great vocalists with enough innovation to keep him current & it still sounds good. Jackie Wilson was old school & experienced many of the problems associated with the music business. In 1961 he earned over $250,000 but bad investments, withholding of royalties & non-payment of tax left him broke. It didn’t improve when his manager was running his record label. When the indictments did arrive he was unable to state his case as in 1975, the constant workload & personal problems brought on an onstage heart attack & subsequent coma which meant that he never performed again. Incredibly & tragically Jackie Wilson was initially buried in an unmarked grave. Fans rallied round to purchase a mausoleum but that’s no way to say goodbye to such an influential artist.

 

Got To Have It (Sixties Soul Power)

OK, I’ll take a break from the 1970 R&B chart & dial it back just a few years to the Sixties…I know, I just can’t stop it…These three clips, recently arrived on the Y-tube are of such good songs, of such good quality &, in the case of two of them, can justifiably be categorised as “rare”, a much overused term on that website. I am working on a couple on non-Soul posts I promise but I love this music. What else could I do?

 

 

Bar-Kays - Soul Finger | Releases, Reviews, Credits | DiscogsWay, way back when I was just old enough to go to the weekend Youth Club disco it was the first time that the exciting Stax Soul records I had heard on the radio were played at a serious volume with other people in the room. Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” & Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood, every week or questions would be asked & “Soul Finger” by the Bar-Kays, the soundtrack to my first attempts at dancing in public. I was not a Mod, my mother still bought my clothes but I would have been if I could have been. This wonderful record was as Mod as it got for this 13 year old boy. Man, I even missed Emma Peel in “The Avengers” to be out on the floor on a Saturday night.

 

We remember...Otis Redding - 50BOLD“Soul Finger”, with its nursery rhyme intro, blaring horns, stinging guitar & the neighbourhood kids, hyped on sugary drinks, chanting the title, still sounds immediate & thrilling. Things were happening quickly for the Bar-Kays in 1967. Memphis boys recruited & groomed as the back up studio band for when Booker T & the M.G.s were not around, selected by Otis Redding to be his backing band for live shows & they had written a hit record of their own. Here they are in all their optimism & glory on the US TV show “Upbeat”  that has been around the Y-tube for some time but never in such clarity. Of course there’s an unavoidable poignancy to this clip. On the 10th of December 1967 Otis & four of these young men, friends from high school, still in their teens, were killed when their plane crashed into Lake Monona, Wisconsin. Trumpeter Ben Cauley survived the crash, bass player James Alexander was not on the flight but Jimmie King (guitar), Ronnie Caldwell (organ), Phalon Jones (sax) & drummer Carl Cunningham were lost & their memory, young, fine & Funky, will be eternal.

 

 

28 Best Motown Adverts images | Motown, Tamla motown, Berry gordyBack to the beginning of 1965 now & the marvelous Marvelettes, the girl group who, in 1961, had achieved the first #1 for the new Tamla Motown organisation with “Please Mr Postman” a song that became part of the Beatles’ live set & was included on their second album “With the Beatles”. There were other R&B hits before first Martha & the Vandellas & then the Supremes claimed the position of Motown’s premier girl group. Originally a quintet, the Marvelettes had recently become a trio, before this promotion of “Too Many Fish In the Sea”. Georgeanna Tillman had sung on the record but illness had forced her departure. Still Gladys, Wanda & Kathy, their dress & dance moves courtesy of the Motown charm school are as sharp & as energetic as the song, written by Norman Whitfield & Eddie Holland & the Marvelettes’ biggest hit for a couple of years. There are not many clips of The Marvelettes, what a treat this is.

 

Story Behind The Image - Classic MotownIn 1966 Smokey Robinson took over production/songwriting duties. “Don’t Mess With Bill”, “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” & “My Baby Must Be a Magician” were distinctive, a little idiosyncratic & brilliant. A non-Smokey track, the emotional, dramatically  produced “When You’re Young & In Love” was equally successful & the Marvelettes only UK hit. In 1980 there were plenty of white men in Hammersmith Palais to see Graham Parker & the Rumour on “The Up Escalator” tour & the Marvelettes were the support act. I have no idea how many of the three African-American women of a certain age were original members of the group & I didn’t care as we were treated to a set packed with Greatest Hits that made us dance, sing along & glad to be out of the house on a chilly October evening. (Remember going out to gigs? Ah well, someday).

 

 

The Sweet Inspirations (album) - WikipediaWell known in Gospel circles, Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney, had been so wary of secular music that she continued her factory employment while nieces Dionne & Dee Dee Warwick progressed from backing vocals to solo recording contracts. Helping out when Dionne was otherwise engaged Cissy discovered that two days in a New York studio paid better than a week assembling tubes for TVs so…y’know. These women were the classic “20 Feet From Stardom”. If it was recorded in New York & had female backing singers (& they all did) then that was the Sweet Inspirations. They were there on Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” & for “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” when Jimi Hendrix came to town. Atlantic gave a settled line-up, Cissy, Sylvia Shermwell, Estelle Brown & Myrna Smith a chance to record & two singles put their name out there. In 1967 they went to American Sound Studios in Memphis to make an album.

 

The Sweet Inspirations - Sweet Inspiration (1968, Vinyl) | DiscogsThe eponymous debut LP is heavy on covers of the hits of the day but Cissy’s lead & the natural interaction of all four voices bring a vivacity & originality to songs you know well. The exception is “Sweet Inspiration”, written by Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, regulars at American & onlookers at the session it was quickly recorded & became a Top 20 Pop hit. The Sweets continued to record, for themselves & for others then in 1969 Elvis Presley, a fan of the single, returning to the stage after 9 years away, engaged them as his opening act & as part of his backing singers for a run of Vegas shows. Cissy left for a solo career while the remaining Sweet Inspirations toured & recorded with Elvis until his death in 1977. That gig & the occasional concert tour with Aretha Franklin maintained their reputation as the best support singers in the business.  In 1968 Motown seemed to have the girl group scene, such a big deal in the early years of the Sixties, to themselves. I have no idea where the above promo for their big song comes from, I just know that it’s flipping brilliant to see the Sweet Inspirations, an essential female group of the time, as well as hear them.

Sweet Home Alabama (Soul May 23rd 1970)

In my weekly reviews of the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations from 50 years ago it has been inevitable that the records coming from the Soul music production lines of Detroit, Chicago & Memphis have predominated. This week my three selections were all recorded at a much more unlikely,  smaller operation. FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) had moved their studio just across the Tennessee River to Muscle Shoals (population around 10,000) in 1961 & when the money came in from the first hit, Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On”, they were able to upgrade to a place on Avalon Avenue. The word was out that something was going on. The New York bosses of Atlantic Records sent Aretha Franklin down to record while the “hippie cat who’s been living in our parking lot” turned out to be Duane Allman who had come up from Florida hoping to get a gig. By 1970 there had been changes but that “Muscle Shoals Sound” picked me up when I’m feeling blue, now how ’bout you?

 

 

 

Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals soul music pioneer – obituary

Rick Hall & Clarence

Clarence Carter, blind from his birth in Montgomery, Alabama, came up to FAME in 1965 to record his song “Tell Daddy”, an inspiration for Etta James’ answer “Tell Mama” & successful enough to gain him a contract with Atlantic. This week his latest 45, “I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone”, entered the R&B Top 10, the sixth time a song of his had achieved this mark. It’s not one of Clarence’s most remembered songs but his strong, gritty voice & his lascivious laugh when the innuendo got close to the bone complemented by the swampy, mid-tempo rhythms & the punchy Memphis Horns always got you in the end. The three albums Clarence had already recorded at FAME are sprinkled with hit singles & plenty of songs that you know given the Muscle Shoals treatment.

 

Clarence Carter - I Can't Leave Your Love Alone (1970, Vinyl ...“I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is the lead single from Clarence’s newest record. The title track “Patches” was a track from the debut LP by Chairmen of the Board. Written by General Johnson, the main Chairman & Ron Dunbar, who may or may not have been a pseudonym for Holland-Dozier-Holland, it’s a story/song about a tough upbringing in rural Alabama which Clarence certainly identified with as did others at FAME. “Patches was everywhere, his biggest hit in the US, his only one here in the UK. At the time I thought that it was over-sentimental (tough guy eh?), that he had made better records. Millions of others didn’t, Clarence deservedly (I think now) got a gold record & a Grammy nomination. As public tastes changed Clarence was less in the public eye but he continued to record, he’s still around & his great music always will be.

 

The group of young Alabaman musicians, inspired to fuse their Rock & Roll, R&B & Country influences, who first assembled in their local studio soon dispersed to either Chips Moman’s American Studios in Memphis or to Nashville where FAME co-founder Billy Sherrill was establishing himself as a major Country producer. Two local men, bassist David Hood & Jimmy Johnson (guitar) together with Barry Beckett (keyboards) & drummer Roger Hawkins stepped up & became the celebrated & in-demand Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. In 1969 the quartet left FAME to open their own set-up less than a mile away. The guy who started it all & stayed was owner/producer Rick Hall, who integrated the fluid, funky rhythm section with the brass swagger, added strings when a little sweetness was needed & captured the brightness of it all. Hall recruited a new unit & to get them into the groove recorded an album of covers of the hits of the day. “Sweet Caroline” & “Sugar Sugar” are songs that will never make my favourites playlist but “Solid Gold From Muscle Shoals” by the Fame Gang is my kind of middle of the road Pop-Soul.

 

 

45cat - Candi Staton - Sweet Feeling / Evidence - Capitol - France ... Staton married Clarence Carter in 1970 so was a natural to be signed to the relaunched FAME label. Already 30, with four children from her first marriage, Canzetta (lovely name) was prepared for the switch from backing singer to being out at the front & her work at Muscle Shoals soon justified claims to the title “First Lady of Southern Soul”. “Sweet Feeling”, #25 on the chart & rising fast, with producer Hall, husband Clarence & Candi herself sharing a composing credit, was the fourth in a run of 8 R&B Top 30 hits & it was included on both of her first two LPs issued by the label. There are four albums recorded at the Shoals before Warner Brothers & “Young Hearts Run Free” (1976) made Candi a Disco Queen. Candi is a Soul survivor, still around she had hit records across four decades, whatever she sang she did it with class & style.

 

In 1970 Rick Hall received a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year & in 1971, when of all people the Osmonds called in to FAME to record “Crazy Horses”, he was awarded that accolade by Billboard magazine. He achieved this with a lot of new people around the studio & mention must be made of Harrison Calloway Jr whose trumpet playing & arrangements for the Muscle Shoals Horns made them so distinctive & such a pleasure.

 

 

Willie Hightower - Walk A Mile In My Shoes / You Used Me Baby ...Well, thanks to a Swedish documentary crew, here’s  how they did it a FAME in 1970. Rick Hall is running a session where Willie Hightower is recording “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”, already a hit that year for Joe South, & at #45 on the R&B chart this week, while the Fame Gang, most notably Clayton Ivey on keys, do their thing. Willie, an Alabaman had grown up with Gospel, a meeting with his idol Sam Cooke inspiring him to make music his business. A couple of local hits brought him to the attention of Capitol Records where he made the “If I Had A Hammer” album (1969) where he’s not as smooth as Sam but the influence is clear. He came to FAME & released just three 45s, “Walk A Mile…” was the most successful though “Back Road Into Town” sounds to me like a better record. A planned LP never came around & Willie returned to shows around the South where he was still known before he did a 15 year stretch singing with a revived line-up of the Drifters.

 

In 2016 producer Quinton Claunch, a Shoals resident as a teenager before moving to Memphis & starting Goldwax Records (James Carr, O.V. Wright), called up Willie & asked if he was interested in recording again. QC got some of the old gang back together, including Clayton Ivey & guitarist Travis Wammack, at his Wishbone studio in…where else?. The resulting LP “Out of the Blue” is a fine example of retro Southern Soul, Willie may be over 75 but his voice still strong, more experienced & controlled while Claunch, over 90, still knows his way around. The last week in May 1970 was a good one for FAME with three records on the chart. They probably didn’t know then that 50 years later people would still want to hear that Muscle Shoals sound & that musicians would still want to emulate it.

 

 

Here’s a little lockdown bonus. In 2014 Candi Staton returned to FAME to record three tracks with Rick Hall for her “Life Happens”. Here Ms Staton, 74 years old , looking & sounding fine on it, performs a stripped down version of  one of those songs, “I Ain’t Easy To Love”, & all I have to say is Flipping Heck

Coming To Ya On A Dusty Road (Soul May 16th 1970)

The highest new entry on the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for May 16th 1970 was by a singer who was better known as a songwriter. When I say “better known” I’m talking one of Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songwriters of All Time, Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, having a street in Memphis named after you better. David Porter, you know him, well maybe not.

 

 

Isaac Hayes and David Porter | Isaac hayes, Music poster, SongwritingDavid Porter was a teenager hanging out at Satellite Records in Memphis when it changed its name to Stax in 1961. Apart from his songwriting talent he introduced high school friends Booker T Jones, William Bell & saxophonist Andrew Love to the label. It was in partnership with Isaac Hayes where he made the most impact. In 1969 Sam & Dave released a glorious “Best Of…”, 14 tracks & the Hayes/Porter team were responsible for 11 of them. Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y”, that was one of theirs, in fact most every Stax artist recorded their songs. In 1968, still reeling from the premature death of its major star Otis Redding, Stax found themselves on the wrong end of a distribution deal with Atlantic Records & lost control of their back catalogue. Hayes & Porter were kept busy in the studio as the label, desperate to have something to sell, released 27 LPs & 30 singles in mid-1969. When the dust settled it was Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul” setting new standards in Orchestral Soul, selling millions & saving the company. “Black Moses” had the road to international stardom to follow so David Porter finally got down to making his own solo album.

 

Featured Album: Stax Legend David Porter enlightens on "The ...“Can’t See You When I Want To”, straight in at #37, is taken from “Gritty, Groovy & Gettin’ It” (1970). A plea from “the other man” in a love triangle & over 7 minutes long on the LP the song most resembles his former partner in its drama & scope. It’s also the only track composed by David & then it’s a serious remodel of a 45 he had recorded in 1965. On other tracks he takes Curtis Mayfield & a couple of Motown tracks to Memphis & the transposition is enjoyable. Subsequently “…Into a Real Thing”, issued later in the year, is more Hayes-like though the Garage-Pop classic “Hang On Sloopy” can hardly carry the weight of the 11 minute treatment it receives. 1971’s “Victim of the Joke…an Opera” is an ambitious conceptual mix of music & dialogue. David Porter’s solo work is worthy of consideration. “When Something is Wrong With My Baby”, “Hold On I’m Coming” & “Soul Man” contributed to the dignity of Soul music & for that “I Thank You”.

 

 

 

Whitney Houston: film alleges singer sexually abused as a child by ...At the beginning of the 1960’s a New York recording session was not complete without the backing vocals of the Gospelaires, a group started by the Warrick sisters Dionne & Dee Dee. The older sister’s gig singing on demos for Burt Bacharach & Hal David led to Dionne Warwick becoming the interpreter, even muse, for the great songwriters. Young Dee Dee’s early career was guided by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, a more experienced & established partnership. While Dee Dee lacked the smooth, rich, Pop sophistication of Dionne the girl could certainly sing. Her R&B hits released by Mercury display a great range. In 1966 “I Want to Be with You” was a big production of a number from a Broadway show & “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, later a hit for Diana Ross & the Supremes & the Temptations, was cool & possibly ahead of its time. In 1969 “Foolish Fool” displayed Dee Dee’s power, earning her another chart placing & a first Grammy nomination.

 

Dee Dee Warwick - She Didn't Know (She Kept On Talking) / Make ...When Dee Dee signed for Atlantic she was sent down to Florida where, at Miami’s Criteria Studios where the label were setting up a new operation. Keyboard player Jim Dickinson assembled a band of Memphis session aces & the Dixie Flyers, guitarist Charlie Freeman, bassist Tommy McClure & drummer Sammy Creason  moved in. With stellar backing & well chosen material “Turning Around” (1970) is a very fine showcase for Dee Dee’s talent. Her Gospel grounding is undeniable but her forceful voice is no Soul shout, comfortable with songs that require a touch of Country or a shot of Blues. “She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking)” is the flipside of the David Porter record, a wife finding out that her husband is cheating. It was written by Swamp Dogg & Gary “U.S.” Bonds who were getting developing a knack for dramatic lyrics that were almost conversational & certainly distinctive. A Top 10 R&B hit, “She Didn’t Know…”was nominated for a Grammy in the Best R&B Vocal Performance-Female category. Others in the frame were winner Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Candi Staton & Esther Phillips. Dee Dee Warwick was keeping good company & was by no means out of place.

 

I am aware of & not ignoring the allegations made against Dee Dee in Kevin McDonald’s movie “Whitney” (2018). My take is that both parties are no longer around to either confirm the events or to defend themselves. I am more sure that Dee Dee Warwick’s openness about her sexuality, the lack of promotion of her records & possibly just being the little sister of a major star prevented greater recognition than she is given.

 

 

The Five Stairsteps – O-o-h Child (1970) | SamuelsoundsAnother new entry this week, in at #45, gets the nod because I will never tire of this great clip. In 1970 the five Burke siblings’ title as “The First Family of Soul” was under threat from Motown’s new contenders the Jackson 5. Chicago’s Five Stairsteps were all teenagers in 1966 when Curtis Mayfield produced their debut album, released on his own Windy C label. There were four R&B Top 20 hits on the record & while there are distinct Curtis touches the songs were mainly co-written by Clarence Jr. The partnership continued for two more records, with a mix of sweet ballads, funky uptempo tunes & a sprinkling of Mayfield songs the Five Stairsteps (& Cubie as they were known when the very youngest brother joined them) always proved to be popular. By 1970 Curtis was busy with his own plans, the Stairsteps signed to Buddah & were put under the care of the label’s house producer Stan Vincent. The first 45 “Because I Love You” missed the chart but “Ooh Child”, written by Vincent, was their first crossover to the Pop listing & the song for which they are mainly remembered.

 

The 5 Stairsteps* - O-O-H Child (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs“Ooh Child” has found it’s way into popular culture now. It was immediately covered by by the Spinners & Nina Simone, reggaefied by Bruce Ruffin & many versions have followed. Featured in “Boyz n the Hood” & “The Simpsons”, Spike Lee used the song in his movie “Crooklyn”, & it’s Peter Quill’s choice when offering a dance-off to Ronan the Accuser in “Guardians of the Galaxy”. It’s this original version & this “Soul Train” appearance that keeps me coming back. The group are growing up, Alohe, the eldest steps to the front sounding (& it has to be said, looking) as fine as her name. Clarence Jr & James take their turn & all the boys, ditching their lounge suits & straight out of the Superfly boutique, look confident & hip. In the backline drummer Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey, later of Funkadelic, drives the thing along. “Ooh Child” is such an optimistic song, the one I turn to when I need a little pick-me-up, a sharpener. In strange days like these we all need reminding of better days to come. “Some day, yeah we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. Some day when the world is much brighter”. That’s right!

 

Can’t Help Myself (Soul May 9th 1970)

In the Poptastic mid-1960’s there was a heaving rush of perfect 45’s, seven inch vinyl discs that broadened the scope of popular music not only appealing to a massive audience but forcing me to use the word “zeitgeist” here. In 1964 Phil Spector hooked up his Wall of Sound to the vocal talents of the Righteous Brothers for “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”. The following year “Satisfaction” showed that there was much more to the Stones than their R&B influences, Folk god Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar for “Like A Rolling Stone” & the double whammy of “We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper” confirmed the growing maturity of the Merseyside moptops. In 1966 Brian Wilson immersed himself in then emerged from his studio with “Good Vibrations” while “the Sound of Young America”, Tamla Motown, released “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, an urgent, exciting & assertive instant classic to rank with the aforementioned. The Four Tops, already established in the US, became international stars.

 

 

The Four Tops: 'Reach Out I'll Be There' | Classic TracksOn the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for May 9th 1970 “It’s All in the Game”, the latest record by the Four Tops, rose from #34 to #26. The quartet were friends from Detroit high schools, formed in 1953, releasing their first single in 1956 as the Four Aims, they were older than other emerging groups at Motown. Matched with producer/songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1964 they were immediately successful with a string of records featuring the quintessential, magnificent, mature vocals of Levi Stubbs, the sweetness added by Obie Benson, Duke Fakir & Lawrence Payton, a line-up that endured until 1997. The “Reach Out” LP (1967) launched the Tops into the stratosphere. The album included an incredible 6 singles all of which charted in the Top 20 of the Pop & R&B listings. “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, “7 Rooms of Gloom” & “Bernadette” are all in the same class as the title track. In 1968 the first volume of The Four Tops’ “Greatest Hits” was some kind of wonderful.

 

Four Tops - It's All In The Game - sheet music – A Nickel And A NailPerhaps the Four Tops were affected more than most by the departure of H-D-H from Motown. “Reach Out” was to be their final collaboration but the later singles from the record “Walk Away Renee” & “If I Were a Carpenter”, soulful reworkings of contemporary Pop hits, indicated a change of pace. I wouldn’t say more restrained because Levi was still giving it his all. They recorded with different producers & there was a period where their records were more successful in the UK than at home. In 1970 the LP “Still Waters Run Deep” put their name back in the top frame. “It’s All In The Game”, a melody written in 1911, a hit in 1958, an arrangement where the other members were, for once, more prominent, started another run of Top 20 R&B hits which continued after they left Motown in 1972. The live clip above, recorded in a Vietnam veterans hospital for “The Ed Sullivan Show”, is a little extempore but still charismatic. We all know just how great the Four Tops were.

 

 

 

Flaming Ember | Discography | DiscogsThe Flaming Ember originally Embers, named after a Detroit hamburger joint, had made some records for small local labels. George Clinton was involved with 1967’s “Hey Mama (What’cha Got Good For Daddy) but their big Rock & Soul sound met with little attention. The group’s luck was in when they were signed by Holland-Dozier-Holland’s new post-Motown operation. The trio’s reputation for quality & commercial appeal was reinforced with “Mind, Body & Soul”, Flaming Ember’s debut for them & the group’s first hit.

 

Flaming Ember - Westbound #9 (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs“Westbound #9”, at #45 on this week’s chart & headed for a much higher position, is the title track of the Ember’s debut LP on the Hot Wax label. I reckon that Levi Stubbs would have heard the 6 H-D-H songs on the record & thought that he & his group could have made a fair go of them. Featuring drummer/vocalist Jerry Plunk, that’s him out front in the love beads & bell bottoms giving it loads on the TV show “Upbeat”, the album’s instrumentation suggests that the house band, the Politicians, were busier in the studio than the four group members. They have more input on the next LP “Sunshine”, Jerry wrote a couple of the songs, but “I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper”, the standout track, another chartbound sound, followed by “Ding Need Dong (To Ding-A-Ling-A-Ding-Dong)” is an indication of its variable quality. The label was having bigger hits with other artists & Flaming Ember were soon back in the Detroit clubs. Still, you hear “Westbound#9” & that song sticks around for the rest of the day.

 

 

El Chicano - Viva Tirado (1970, Monarch Pressing, Vinyl) | DiscogsFrom blue-eyed to brown-eyed Soul. El Chicano were representing for their Mexican-American community in East Los Angeles who were developing a more visible political & cultural voice in parallel to the Civil Rights movement. “Viva Tirado”, an instrumental regional hit in their hometown was breaking nationally & was at #30 on the chart. There seems to have been an indeterminate number of members of El Chicano with a whole bunch of fine percussion surrounding the virtuoso Hammond B-3 organ playing of Bobby Espinosa complemented by the Jazz influenced guitar of Mickey Lespron. “Viva Tirado” is a Jazz tune & the integration of Funk, Soul, Latin, Salsa & Rock rhythms makes for a very tasty & moreish El Chicano sound.

 

Mexican-American band "El Chicano" including members Rudy Regalado ...I’m making up for lost time with El Chicano. The group released an LP a year until 1976 & there are new favourites to discover. Guest vocalists were added on later records but the instrumentals are the ones that hit the spot. Placing them somewhere between Santana & War their covers of well known tunes may not immediately impress new listeners but the band always hit the coolest of Latin grooves where foot-tapping & smiling is no longer optional. Here’s their take on Marvin’s “What’s Going On” to prove it. In the words of novelist Carlos Fuentes  “Soy chicano en todas partes. No tengo que asimilarme a nada. Tengo mi propia historia.” (I am Chicano everywhere. I don’t have to assimilate to anything. I have my own story). El Chicano are part of that story.

 


					

Just Blew In From The Windy City (Soul May 2nd 1970)

The #1 record in the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B locations for the whole of the month of May was “Love On A Two Way Street” by the Moments. Such a smash was keeping a couple of discs made in Chicago from the top spot. Tyrone Davis was hoping to repeat the success of last year’s “Can I Change Your Mind” but “Turn Back the Hands of Time” was stalled at #2 for the third week running while at #3, up a massive jump from #19 & surely a contender to replace the Moments, were the mighty, mighty Dells.

 

 

 

Northern Soul/Tamla Motown - Gladys Knight/The Dells Repro Concert ...The Dells had their first million-selling record in 1956. A decade later, the seasoned vocal group, with a line-up that would not change for almost 50 years, brought their expertise & talent to the great Chicago label Chess & pretty soon the Dells’ name was back in the R&B chart frame. Remakes of “Stay In My Corner” & their original hit “Oh What A Night” were both #1 records. New songs were provided by producer Bobby Miller & ace arranger Charles Stepney, at this time pushing the boundaries with Rotary Connection, did his thing with the blend of strings & brass that they did so well in Chicago. Between 1968 & 1970 the Dells had 10 Top 20 R&B hits. “Open Up My Heart” is one of that run, as finely tuned & classy as the rest.

 

The Dells, an American R&B vocal group, five men performing on ...There were many fine singers around in Soul music but the powerful, versatile baritone of Marvin Junior, a big man with a big voice, was a special thing. It’s Marvin’s voice that let’s you hear a song for the first time & know it’s the Dells. He was a great influence on Teddy Pendergrass whose time would soon come as the lead with Harold Melvin’s group but the Blue Notes didn’t have what the Dells had. Johnny Carter’s tenor-falsetto, a remarkable range, provided the perfect counterpoint to Marvin. The pair had sung together for a long time & knew exactly how it worked. Marvin’s son later said, “Johnny would set it up with the lightning, then Marvin would come with the thunder” & that’s perfect. When Miller left for Motown Stepney took over production & the hits just kept on coming. When they split with Chess they kept on going & going. There’s a lot more to the Dells than their remarkable longevity, pick up any of the 12 albums they made with the Chicago label & you’ll be on the right track.

 

 

 

little milton | TumblrMeanwhile at the same Ter-Mar Studios at 2120 South Michigan Avenue Little Milton was recording “If Walls Could Talk”, his fourth LP for Chess’ Checker imprint. Milton had been around so long that, after being spotted by Ike Turner, he had recorded at Sun Records in Memphis before Elvis Presley made the place world famous. He combined performing with production & management at his own Bobbin label where a distribution deal with Chess led to him moving over in 1961. It would be four years before “We’re Gonna Make It” was an R&B #1 & he was able to release his first album. Little Milton was a Blues man, as much a guitarist as a great singer. His next record was “…Sings Big Blues” but he knew what was commercial & the title track of “Grits Ain’t Groceries (All Around the World)” is a brassy Soul stomper. “Grits ain’t grocery, eggs ain’t poultry & Mona Lisa was a man!”, one of the best lyrics ever.

 

Little Milton (The Blues is Alright) - YouTube | Blues music, Jazz ...“Baby I Love You” was Little Milton’s highest charting R&B hit since 1965. It’s the most commercial track from an album that favours Soul rather than Blues. I don’t know who makes those guitar stabs in the middle eight but they sound good. When Milton slows it down he can mix the gruff with the smooth in the style of Bobby “Blue” Bland & when he ups the pace, ably supported by the nameless & immaculate Chess house band, he gets down with the best. When his label hit problems after the death of founder Leonard Chess Milton’s former protege, Albert King, found him a gig at Stax. The Blues were now running the game & Little Milton’s reputation was sustained as much for his instrumental work than by his vocals.

 

 

 

Curtis Mayfield Finally Gets a Definitive Biography. What Took So ...Across town The Impressions had a new entry on the chart, at #35 with “Check Out Your Mind”, the title track of their latest LP. This was probably no surprise for one of American music’s greatest vocal groups. They were a fixture of Soul’s rich tapestry & since 1967’s smash “We’re A Winner” the majority of their 45’s made the R&B Top 20. From 1964 to 68, on six Top 20, R&B albums the group had moved through simple Gospel truths, honeyed love songs to social commentary reflecting the changing aspirations of African-Americans, all marked by Curtis Mayfield’s great songs, his sweet high voice & melodious vocal harmonies. The last of these records, “This Is My Country” (1968) was released on Curtis’ own Curtom label. He had learned his trade in Chicago with producer Carl Davis & arranger Johnny Pate at Okeh Records & now, just 26, he was ready to take care of his own business.

 

The Impressions - Check Out Your Mind / Can't You See (1970, Vinyl ...“Check Out Your Mind” was to be the final LP that Curtis made with the Sam Gooden & Fred Cash & from the bustling Psychedelic Soul of the title track onward the trio went out on a high. Curtis’ songwriting was becoming more complex, & so were the sinuous arrangements, that Windy City brass/string driven thing again, with the rhythms of percussionist “Master” Henry Gibson prominent. The Impressions, Mayfield replaced by Leroy Hutson, stayed at Curtom & made more hit records. The records Curtis, Sam & Fred had made together are the soundtrack to the 1960’s. In May 1970 Curtis entered Chicago’s RCA Studios to begin work on his debut solo LP. The Impressions had always been about affirmation & moving on up, now he was free to embrace the Funk, to pull no punches & to get right on for the darkness. In November 1970 when we first heard the ominous bass, the spoken Biblical intro & the scream of ” (Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go we not only knew that Curtis Mayfield had changed but Soul music had too.

 

This week’s lockdown bonus is taken from the treasure trove that is “The !!!! Beat”, a TV show that, for 26 episodes in 1966, brought the Soul stars of the day to Dallas to perform their latest songs, capturing them, many for the only time, in glorious colour. Here’s Little Milton with his big hit “We’re Gonna Make It”, performing live in front of a great band led by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown & along with a couple of Go-Go dancers. As I said…Glorious!