See You Later Oscillator (Malcolm Cecil)

I do like to think that I keep up with happenings in the world, at least those that interest & affect me. I mean I have the Internet & it’s all on there isn’t it. Unfortunately a combination with the current corona cull & being a man of a certain age has meant that in the past year there’s been just too much death in the news that has come my way. I was not affected by the recent expiration of a senior member of our royal family, nor by the excessive, often obsequious media coverage as I own a television that has an off switch. I was though surprised & saddened to only learn this week of the passing, three weeks ago, of Malcolm Cecil, a pioneer of & innovator in electronic music &, with his partner Robert Margouleff, more responsible for the introduction of new technology & its potential to mainstream music than anyone.

Londoner Malcolm was born into a musical family in 1937, his mother Edna being well known as “The Queen of the Accordion”. After a first professional gig as a 13 year old drummer he switched to double bass & made the Jazz scene with leading British musicians while backing visiting American stars as part of the resident band at Ronnie Scott’s club in the glittering West End with a daytime job in the BBC Radio Orchestra. An engineering education then a two year stretch in the Royal Air Force as a radar operator extended his interest in & knowledge of the technical side of recording. His understanding of the process led to the first 4-track studio in London which soon had become 16-track & demand for his services in Los Angeles & New York. In N.Y. he was referred to Media Sound Studio where Robert Margouleff was producing sound effects for advertising jingles on a Moog Series III. Galvanised by each other’s enthusiasm, with a whole lot of inspiration, innovation & access to the developing technology “The Original New Timbral Orchestra” was the largest, multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer in the world, whatever that means T.O.N.T.O., 6 feet high, 25 feet in diameter & weighing a ton, was impressive.

Die or D.I.Y.?: Tonto's Expanding Head Band ‎– "Zero Time" (Embryo Records  ‎– SD 732) 1971

“Zero Time”, an album by Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, was released in 1971. Recorded at Media Sound, entirely on synthesizers, the adventure stimulated the duo to create new sounds, grabbed on to tape from the analogue gear before they disappeared & even new gadgets to expand the machine’s range. These soundscapes (a new word back then) were undoubtedly helped by Cecil’s musicality & Jazz background, they had rapidly progressed from “how do you get a tune out of this thing?” to doing exactly that. With its Sci-Fi inspired tracks & psychedelic cover, in the early 1970’s the album was at the front of the stack, along with “Live/Dead” & “Gandharva”, an atmospheric piece by fellow Moog Droogs Beaver & Krause, for pleasant evenings sprawled on a large cushion with a small circle of friends & a microdot tab of L.S.D. each. “Zero Time” did not sell too well but was still noted. When Stevie Wonder asked to meet the pair he arrived carrying a copy under his arm.

Malcolm Cecil, Synthesizer Pioneer, Is Dead at 84 - The New York Times

Stevie Wonder was just 21 & his album “Where I’m Coming From” (1971) had marked a process of establishing his independence from the Tamla Motown organisation & his maturity as a writer & musician. On the majority of the record he had played a synth bass, now he was looking for new sounds on new instruments & his collaboration with the similarly eager Margouleff & Cecil proved to be monumental. With a new contract & full artistic control the quickly recorded “Music of My Mind” (1972) was more than a statement of intent. A critical rather than commercial success it gave the trio confidence to push it along even further. Bob & Malcolm found the sounds that Stevie could hear, setting the controls for the heart of the Funk, Stevie played the instruments while his partners rolled the tape. “Talking Book” (1972), “Innervisions” (1973) & “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” (1974) were expressions of the genius of Stevie Wonder that progressed the sonic palette of popular music. Add in a record by his wife Syreeta & Minnie Riperton’s “Perfect Angel” & the trio were on a run. I could select any number of tracks to confirm that & it’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” with its adroit, avant-garde, fat, funky bassline that makes the cut today.

Such success meant that the pair were in demand as programmers, producers & engineers. Cecil set up the synths for Stephen Stills’ “Manassas”, the same on “Good Old Boys” for Randy Newman & Van Dyke Parks’ “The Clang of the Yankee Reaper”, all three favorites round here. It was with the Isley Brothers, a group that had an ear for what’s going on since the world was in monochrome, that the pair added value to a sound that sold on the “Live It Up” & “The Heat Is On” albums. In 1975 disagreements over credit & finance led to Wonder, Cecil & Margouleff going three separate ways. The family Isley stuck with Malcolm & he produced “Harvest For the World”, a song we all know.

With his own set up at T.O.N.T.O studios, Santa Monica, Malcolm continued to work with Billy Preston then in 1977 began a relationship with Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson, fellow students at Lincoln University Pennsylvania who, throughout the 1970s had combined Jackson’s Soul-Jazz grooves with Gil’s conscious poetry to create music that was to prove increasingly influential leading to Gil being recognised as a Rap pioneer. When Jackson left “Reflections” (1981) was overall an attempt to make a mainstream record that was not always successful. The album included “B Movie”, a 12 minute long salvo against the trivialisation of US politics, of nostalgia for a past that only existed on celluloid, of the desire for a president who embodied the masculine virtues of John Wayne & the reel to reality of the second-rater Ronald Ray-Gun (sound familiar?). Underpinned by another sensationally groovy bassline, Cecil produced a masterpiece where the music & the message meet in perfect euphony.

Stevie Wonder Remembers 'Genius' Co-Producer Malcolm Cecil - Rolling Stone

Since the first piano lessons at the age of three there had always been music in Malcolm’s Cecil’s life. He was of an age & temperament to have an inquisitiveness to obtain knowledge of developing technology in electronic music & its potential to change recording techniques. Of course he had contemporaries who were making their own contributions & breakthroughs in the field but none were making records that made the charts & sold in their millions. In a pre-digital age where experimentation & innovation was a necessity it was Cecil’s vision & musicality that transformed the squawks & squonks of a machine into a key, now commonplace, development in modern music. A restored, playable T.O.N.T.O. is now in the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta & until his death Malcolm would lecture on & demonstrate his amazing device.

I’ll close with a track by Little Feat from their great “Dixie Chicken” record. I had always assumed that Bill Payne played all the keyboards on their albums but on “Kiss It Off”, a diversion from the group’s developing sultry Country Funk, Cecil’s work, programming & probably playing, transforms Lowell George’s mournful ballad into an atmospheric, experimental treat.

It’s What’s Happening (Soul April 17th 1971)

This week’s review of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations chart of 50 years ago is a big one. On the previous listings for April 10th “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations ended its month long stint at the top spot. It was replaced by a song that became the title track of my favourite album of all time. So, I had better get this right. Here we go.

Your Morning Shot: Marvin Gaye, 1973 | GQ

The title of a definitive biography of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz is appropriately titled “Divided Soul”. When Marvin re-located to Detroit, following his mentor Harvey Fuqua, his musical aspirations were to become an all round entertainer like Nat “King Cole, playing nightclubs like Sam Cooke at the Copacabana. It was R&B becoming Soul that was the current thing & his label Tamla Motown were in the business of providing & defining this new music. In 1963 Marvin was married to Anna, his boss Berry Gordy’s sister & by the middle of the decade he was the label’s biggest solo male star. There was a long run of hits, none of them from his album of Broadway show songs or the tribute to Cole & by the end of the decade “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” & “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” were as good as Motown got & his biggest hits yet. However, his albums were still packaged around the current hit single, it had been 1965 since one of Marvin’s songs, “Pretty Little Baby”, had featured as an A-side. The collapse in 1967 & subsequent death in 1970 of Tammi Terrell, his partner on a string of wonderful duets, greatly affected him. As a black man turning 30 Marvin inevitably had concerns about his country’s escalating war in Vietnam & the social conditions experienced by his fellow African-Americans after the hope of the Civil Rights movement. A song, inspired by an incident of police brutality (sounds familiar?), by Renaldo “Obie” Benson had been rejected by his group the Four Tops then was polished & customised by Marvin to express these concerns & how he felt about what’s going on. As Obie said “we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it”.

This growing assertiveness met with opposition from his brother-in-law. In 1970 a cover of the socially conscious “Abraham, Martin & John”, a UK success, was not released in the US & Gordy’s refusal to release “What’s Going On” as a single brought a stalemate when Marvin refused to record any further tracks. It was without the boss’s knowledge that 100,000 copies were pressed, sold out on the day of release &, proving Berry Gordy wrong, became the fastest selling record in Motown’s history. “What’s Going On” has an insistent, never strident, groove, the party chatter, saxophone intro, cool rhythm section, backing vocals & strings balanced to match the depth of Marvin’s velvety multi-tracked vocals. There’s no question mark in the title, lyrically the song is a statement, a timeless one, that the problems of society could be helped by more love & understanding. Public enthusiasm for this new considered, mature style inspired Marvin to quickly record an album which similarly approached issues of war, ghetto life, ecology & spirituality with an assured, emphatic comprehension complemented by more gentle, imaginative Funk. The record is a snapshot of 1971 that endures as social commentary with the persistence of the same issues. Popular music has sometimes produced transcendent music that can be regarded as Art. “What’s Going On” is one of those landmark records. For the first time “The Sound of Young America” branding did not appear on the label. Motown & Soul was coming of age.

Chi-Lites – Give More Power To The People / Troubles A' Comin' (1971,  Vinyl) - Discogs

Back in 1971 a record took some time before it hit the upper reaches of the chart. “What’s Going On” had first entered at #55 in the middle of February. “Do Me Right” by the Detroit Emeralds, a big success at #5, had been around for 14 weeks. So “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” by the Chi-Lites, moving from #51 to #29 then to this week’s #10, was kind of a big deal. The vocal group, formed in high school, had been around the Chicago scene from the beginning of the 1960s. The Hi-Lites became the Chi-Lites &, with a settled four man line up Marshall Thompson, Creadel “Red” Jones, Robert “Squirrel” Lester & Eugene Record, their luck changed when they signed to Brunswick Records. With the patronage of the city’s panjandrum of Soul Carl Davis the group were more visible, their records featuring on the R&B chart while Eugene Record flourished as a songwriter for the likes of Jackie Wilson, Barbara Acklin & Gene Chandler. A credit for Young-Holt Unlimited’s million selling “Soulful Strut”established that Eugene had more than potential. In 1971 it was Chi-Lite time.

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The group’s first two albums were hurriedly framed around the hit singles “Give It Up” & “I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine)”. In fact the latter of these included seven songs from their debut. “Give More Power To The People” was a more considered, more experienced effort. Written & produced by Eugene the eleven songs showcase a range of styles & influences. That fast-rising, urgent, socially conscious title track incorporates the rhythms of Sly Stone with the vocal intricacy of the Temptations. When they slow it down the Chi-Lites can be as sweet as their fellow Chicagoans The Impressions. It is a very good album by a group who really did know what’s going on in music. Later in the year the fourth single taken from Eugene’s record, the distinctive, excellently produced slow jam “Have You Seen Her” broke out internationally & into the US Pop Top 3, keeping the album around for some time. The Chi-Lites had arrived & there was more to come from them.

Vinyl Album - Margie Joseph - Margie Joseph - Atlantic - USA

Further down the chart at #29 is a cover version that sounds rather unlikely when heard for the first time. Margie Joseph, from Mississippi, was still in her teens when she signed with the Stax subsidiary Volt in 1969, the year that Isaac Hayes released the blockbuster album “Hot Buttered Soul” which resuscitated the label & with just four tracks in its 45 minutes marked an evolution in Soul. For Margie’s debut album her producer pulled in Dale Warren, the arranger for “The Isaac Hayes Movement” to re-imagine the 1965 Supremes’ hit “Stop! In The Name Of Love”. With a nearly three minute spoken prelude “Woman Talk” before an eight minute elongation of the Motown classic I’m not sure that such a perfect Pop-Soul song has the inherent drama of the classic “Walk On By” & “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” chosen by Hayes but a shortened edit found a place on radio playlists & put Margie on the R&B chart. On her two records recorded in Memphis Margie shows she has a great voice but was unable to find success though some of her more conventional songs sound pretty good to me.

Margie moved to Atlantic Records making three records with ace producer Arif Mardin & the best New York session men. They are classy bits of work which remind me of Minnie Riperton though without the amazing vocal range. Her biggest hit was a cover of Paul McCartney’s “My Love” which reached the R&B Top 10. Later there was an album with Lamont Dozier, one third of the team responsible for “Stop! In The Name Of Love” & many more sure-fire Motown smashes. Again it’s a well-crafted, elegant collection without finding that song to set Margie Joseph apart from the rest of the female singer field.

It’s 1972 & in Washington D.C., his birthplace, Marvin Gaye Day is being celebrated. The singer had been absent from the stage for four years, since the incapacitation of Tammi Terrell. Here, flanked by the master Motown bassist James Jamerson, he returns to perform his great hit & it’s perfect.

 

Like Thunder, Lightning (Eddie Floyd)

When Eddie Floyd formed a Doo Wop vocal group, the Falcons, in mid-1950s Detroit he could not have imagined that almost 60 years later he would be invited to participate in a celebration of Memphis Soul at the White House with a Black President & his wife front & centre of the audience. In 1966 Eddie had recorded a song that encapsulated the robust energy of the music being created in the Stax studios in Memphis. “Knock On Wood”, you know it, everybody does, has been recorded by over 150 other artists but there ain’t nothing like the real thing & if that’s what you need then, even when he’s over 70 years old, you send for Eddie.

eddie floyd knock on wood

Everything you read about Eddie Floyd confirms that he is a thoroughly good & unassuming man. The Falcons sold a million in 1959 with “You’re So Fine” then again three years later when “I Found A Love”, featuring an extraordinary vocal by Wilson Pickett, was an R&B smash. The lead singer went solo, the Falcons disbanded, passing their name to another group, & Eddie recorded for his uncle’s label in Detroit then, relocating to Washington, for a label he started with local DJ Al Bell. When Bell was head hunted by the Stax label Eddie went along as a songwriter & found he had an immediate rapport with guitarist Steve Cropper. The former Falcon Wicked Pickett was around too with his hit “In the Midnight Hour”. The Floyd/Cropper combo provided “634-5789” & “Ninety Nine & a Half (Won’t Do)”, tailor-made for the new star.

“Knock On Wood” was intended for Otis Redding but on hearing the demo Atlantic thought that Eddie had already done it right & so he had. The international success of the single may have been a surprise to the label because the track chosen for the b-side sounds like a perfectly good hit to me. “Got To Make A Comeback”, another track from a very fresh debut LP, is written by Eddie & Joe Shamwell, another friend from Washington who had made the move to Memphis. Starting slowly as a duet between the vocals & Cropper’s guitar, building with ascending horns & backing vocals the song displays Eddie’s range more successfully than subsequent attempts to re-create the success of the A-side.

Otis Redding/Stax Records

In 1967 Eddie was part of the Stax revue that introduced European audiences to real Soul Power. His performance, backed by Booker T & the M.G.’s & the Mar-Keys, of “Raise Your Hand” seems to have been mislaid by the Internet which is a shame because it would be a certainty for inclusion here. The death of Otis Redding in December of that year shook the label to its foundations. It was on Eddie’s delayed flight from London back to the funeral that the idea for “Big Bird” originated. Back home the song was completed with Booker T Jones who produced & played guitar on the record. The finished product is a clap of thunderous Power Soul which, on release in 1968, felt like I was hearing the future of music. This absolute gem is recognised now but at the time it was the least successful of any of Eddie’s singles. How could that have happened?

Eddie Floyd | Memphis Music Hall of Fame

Still, Eddie was becoming one of Stax’s most consistent performers & his next two singles, “I Never Found A Girl” & a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” both made Top 5 R&B, his biggest hits since the big one. In 1968, through a shady deal with Atlantic, the label lost the rights to their back catalogue. A rapid reloading programme saw the release of 28 albums with the new finger-popping logo in May 1969. “You’ve Got to Have Eddie” may have been hurriedly recorded, there are only two of his songs included, but on a curation of his singles “Rare Stamps” he had written 11 of the 12 tracks & it’s some collection. With his friend Al Bell now co-owner of Stax Eddie remained loyal to the label right to the end in 1975. Other major players were pursuing further opportunities but were still ready to work with Eddie. 1970’s “California Girl” was a more restrained collaboration with Booker T & the following year he moved across town to the new TMI studio set up by Steve Cropper.

Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper at a Stax recording session [1968] :  OldSchoolCool

After over five years of Steve & Eddie working together on a classic Memphis sound “Down To Earth” is a very interesting departure. It’s an album that is influenced by not only the new Psychedelic Soul but there’s plenty of Rock in there too. It’s certainly different to hear Eddie singing songs like “Linda Sue Dixon” (L.S.D.) & “My Mind Was Messed Around At The Time” & Cropper’s guitar goes to places we hadn’t heard him visit before. It’s a heavy (in a good way) record, closing with the rather epic “Changing Love”. Maybe Stax couldn’t handle all this changing, perhaps they were not inclined to promote a record made in a rival studio but there was no single released from the record & “Down To Earth” remains an album unfairly overlooked at the time & still worth checking out.

Introduction to Eddie Floyd – Mental Itch

Eddie continued to record without repeating his success of the previous decade but his reputation was made, his name remembered. Any compilation, every celebration of Memphis Soul had to include him. Any Soul weekender in Europe would be happy to have Eddie Floyd, still in fine voice, as a respected headliner. Of course he would have to sing “Knock On Wood”, it enabled him to live a life in music & still does. There was so much more to his music & his contribution to the music of fellow Stax artists. I have to end with this track that begins “Eddie Floyd wrote this song”, “Oh yes he did brother”. In 1968, around the same time as “Big Bird”, the double dynamite duo Sam & Dave took a break from the string of hits written for them by David Porter & Isaac Hayes to record “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me”. Yes “Soul Man” & “Hold On I’m Comin'”, yes “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” but when I hear this song I still get the same thrill, have the same silly smile on my face as that 15 year old Soul fan who thought it was just the greatest thing when he first heard it. Keep the faith!

Ray Charles, Believe To Your Soul (Soul April 3rd 1971)



A rare trio of selections from the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations from 50 years ago this week. All three are from a group of musicians & singers assembled by an iconic figure in Black American music, an extraordinarily gifted artist who influenced & inspired many others & who achieved recognition on a scale comparable to the Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Let’s start with a song at #26 on the chart, rising from #33, & a wonderful clip that displays his individual talent & has pretty much been on repeat round at our yard we we discovered its existence.

Ray Charles Robinson was raised in Florida. Blind since the age of six, he received a musical education at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, leaving on the death of his mother when he was 15 & making his living as a professional musician since then. His early records were influenced by the successful, sophisticated stylings of Nat King Cole & Charles Brown, while his tastes were much wider it was what a young unknown musician had to play if he wanted to work in the clubs. There was more R&B push after signing for Atlantic in 1952, there were hits like “Mess Around” too but Ray was still working with other artists, reliant on local pick-up bands for his gigs. Employing his own band brought a focus to the music he wanted to play &, in 1954, “I Got A Woman” hit the shops & the top of the charts. Of course many Black singers had found their voices in church but Gospel still regarded singing secular music as going over to the dark side. With a tune borrowed from the Southern Tones & a sensational, stirring vocal inspired by Archie Brownlee from Five Blind Boys of Mississippi Ray took the song to church & made a ground-breaking record. A door had been open, Sam Cooke, Little Richard & Elvis Presley stepped through.

Ray Charles 1961 concert ad rakes in more than $5K at auction | | tucson.com

Ray Charles toured for 300 days a year with his seven piece orchestra. When studio-ready he was left alone to make his own music & from 1954 to 1957 there was an unbroken run of Top 10 R&B hits. In 1959 “What’d I Say”, a seven and a half minute burst of energy building to a frenzied finale, was edited into two parts with some of the sexual charge sanitised. It crossed over into the Pop charts & earned a gold record. In the same year he recorded an album of swinging big-band music with players from Count Basie’s & Duke Ellington’s groups. These seasoned veterans were impressed by the acuity of the 27 year old R&B pianist & Atlantic could not resist naming the results “The Genius Of Ray Charles”. After a move to ABC the mainstream deal was sealed in 1962 when “Modern Sounds in Country & Western” used a foundation of Country standards to incorporate Ray’s Gospel, Jazz, Soul & Pop to create a new American music so popular & significant that attributions of breaking the racial barriers of the time have been made. Now, when Ray Charles played in New York it was at Carnegie Hall not just the Apollo. The only barrier to this success was his longstanding relationship with heroin & regular brushes with the law. In 1966, faced with prison, he was able to finally break that habit.

In 1970 Ray was ready for the Country again & “Don’t Change On Me” is a single taken from the “Love Country Style” album. For some tastes the swirling strings & choruses on these songs were a little countrypolitan but Ray’s soulful vocals could bring it all back home. Here he’s in the barn of Kornfield Kounty for an appearance on the long-running “Hee Haw” TV show. A fine Country band (the Buckaroos?) is propelled along by his energy, the fluidity, the immediacy of Ray’s vocals make it, for myself anyway, better than the record. It’s a new song not a standard & it’s a Y-tube gem!

Love Country Style - Wikipedia

Further up the chart at #19 is a Ray Charles composition, performed by the Ray Charles Orchestra & released on his own Tangerine label. Throughout the 1960s Ray had expanded his range even more, writing less original material, adding show tunes & selections from the Great American Songbook to his repertoire. His other LP in 1970 is “My Kind of Jazz”, produced by Quincy Jones who he had befriended back in the day when they were teens living in Seattle. It’s a cool instrumental selection, smooth & still swinging with a stellar brass section & Ray on Hammond organ. “Booty Butt”, Ray’s only song in the set, is something of an outlier. If the current thing was Funk then these experienced players show the young guns that it’s not that new & they have always been playing that stuff. Over an oh-so-solid rhythm section of piano, bass & drums, the saxophone solos, Ben Martin’s guitar stings then Ray plays his keys & scat sings. In 1971 a record this good could be played on the radio & sell enough copies to make the R&B chart. What a world!

Ray Charles Video Museum: Ray Charles & The Raelettes

Our final selection is holding up the rest of the chart at #60. In 1956 Ray invited the Cookies to join his recording session & two years later they became part of the Revue as the Raelettes. With Margie Hendricks as the prominent voice the group made fine contributions to the stage show & to records like “What’d I Say” & “Hit the Road Jack”. Margie left in 1964 & the mid-1960s, when the Raelettes were recording their own singles there was a high turnover in personnel. . Members included Merry Clayton, Minnie Riperton, Edna Wright (coming round here soon with Honey Cone) & Clydie King. Mable John joined after leaving Motown, went for solo work with Stax then, by 1971, had rejoined the group. It is her voice that is heard on “Bad Water”, a song written by Jimmy Holiday, also credited on “Don’t Change On Me”, & singer Jackie DeShannon. Other members include Vernita Moss, future Supreme Susaye Greene & possibly Dorothy Berry, keeping tabs on who was a Raelette & when is a tricky thing.

Books have been written & a film has been made about the life of Ray Charles. He achieved more with his musical vision than I can include here. His apparently limitless flexibility meant that he could play Jazz, Gospel, R&B, Country & Pop with equal energy, emotion & creativity. A claim can be made that Ray invented Soul music, if that’s not the case he was certainly in the room when that happened. By 1971 he was already a legend & there was another 30 years of records, performances & deserved accolades from the public & fellow artists to confirm a unique place in American music.

For this week’s live clip we return to that 1970 “Hee Haw” & find Ray Charles sharing a seat with Buck Owens, a pioneer of the influential Bakersfield sound in the 1950s & a star of the show. Buck had written “Crying Time” in 1964 & it was hidden away on the b-side of another song. In 1966 Ray’s version made the US Top 10 & won two R&B Grammy awards. That band plays as clean as country water, the performances by & the obvious respect between the two artists are beautiful things. Excuse me, it must be dust or smoke that’s in my eyes.