Sunshine, Szabo & Joe Tex (Soul September 25th 1971)

“Stick-Up” by Honey Cone had been on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 10 weeks before reaching the top spot. Longevity, a slow & steady rise, was more of a thing 50 years ago & three of the Top 10 had entered the chart over three months ago. I am now, of course, like everyone else in the 21st century, only attracted the shiny, new things & much of the current Top 10 has been featured in previous posts. There is one record, at #4 on September 25th 1971 after one week at #1, that has not been included so let’s start with one we all know, a classic hit, before excavating the listing’s lower reaches for some less well-known good stuff.

Ain't No Sunshine' 9 Memorable Covers

In 1971 things were all new for Bill Withers & he was new to record buyers. The cover of his debut album showed him, lunchbox in hand, at his job as an assembler at Weber Aircraft in Burbank, California. Bill was 32 years old, reluctant to quit in case this music thing didn’t work out. “Just As I Am” was produced by Booker T Jones who called in his fellow M.G.s Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass & drummer Al Jackson Jr. Steve Cropper was unavailable so Stephen Stills brought his guitar along. Heavy friends for a freshman recording artist. Judicious, expert use of strings added a sheen tosongs such as “Harlem”, Grandma’s Hands”, “Hope She’ll Be Happier” & the breakthrough “Ain’t No Sunshine” (I know, I know, I know that you know that one) that showed Bill Withers to be a songwriter with the ability to capture emotion with a dextrous lucidity. The overall impression was one of likeability & sincerity. It was no surprise that this was just how Bill was.

Bill Withers, Singer-Songwriter Of 'Ain't No Sunshine,' Has Died At Age 81  | KUAR

While he was trying to obtain a contract Bill made demo tapes using local Los Angeles musicians from Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. When the time came to take his show on the road they joined him &, as displayed on TV appearances & the 1973 “Live At The Carnegie Hall” album, their sympathetic, insouciant groove turned the Soul-Folk into an effortless Funk. In 1972 “Ain’t No Sunshine” was deservedly awarded the Grammy for Best R&B Song. It was followed by “Still Bill”, a very successful record produced by Bill & his band which not only included “Lean On Me” (US Pop #1) & “Use Me” (Pop #2) but also enough songs to make a damn fine list. After a move to a bigger label in 1975 he became increasingly dissatisfied with the insensitivity of the star making machinery & its effect on his creativity. “Menagerie” (1978) featured “Lovely Day” another song we all know, there was a hit collaboration with Grover Washington Jr, an album in 1985 & that was it. I hope that Bill Withers was fairly remunerated for those much-loved, much-covered songs he wrote. I do know from interview & documentary evidence that he was a content & admirable man who liked to live his life on his own terms.

This is a Gibson guitar print ad featuring Gabor Szabo.

Gabor Szabo, just like my Uncle Erno, was a young man when they both escaped a Red Army invasion of Hungary in 1956. Erno found his way to the UK where he absolutely lucked out by marrying Ruth, my favourite Auntie while Gabor arrived in California via Austria , a guitarist already Jazz-influenced by exposure to the Voice of America radio station in Budapest. After a couple of years studying in Boston he returned west & joined a quintet led by established bandleader Chico Hamilton with whom he made his first recordings. His solo records, 8 across 1966-67, often included versions of contemporary songs by the Beatles & others. I have never been sure about Jazz’s interaction with the Pop canon, however cool, stylish & well-played or however “Jazz Raga” you make “Paint It Black”. A creative & business partnership with vibraphonist Gary McFarland led to the formation of Skye Records & “Dreams” (1968) is fine collection of his many influences including Hungarian Folk music. His most commercially successful work with vocalist Lena Horne was released just as Skye had to declare bankruptcy.

Gabor Szabo / Bobby Womack – Breezin' / Azure Rain (1971, Vinyl) - Discogs

So to 1971 & the “High Contrast” album with “Breezin”, this week rising a healthy 12 places to #30. Now with the famed Blue Thumb label this was a collaboration with Bobby Womack who played rhythm guitar on the sessions & wrote 4 of the 7 songs. This is much more to my taste, a leisurely Jazz-Funk groove that anticipated later music by the Crusaders, Grover Washington Jr, Bob James, Eric Gale & the rest of the CTI crew. Gabor continued to record & often returned to Hungary. He had though picked up something else from American Jazz musicians & died when just 45 years old after a long-standing heroin addiction. Gabor Szabo is fondly remembered by those who were listening at the time. The great Carlos Santana cites him as an influence & merged Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen” with Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” to create a killer track.

JOE TEX/PERCY SLEDGE - Knoxville 1968 Music Concert Poster Art | eBay

A new record from Joe Tex was always a good thing. Since “Hold What You Got”, his first hit in 1965, there had been over 20 placings on the R&B Top 30. The 5 successive Top 10 singles across 1965-66, released on the Dial label, distributed by Atlantic, placed him in the front line of the Southern Soul artists who were coming to national attention. While Joe could write Soul stompers like “Show Me” & “S.Y.S.L.J.F.M. (The Letter Song”) it was his three minute homilies, homespun observations told with a moral told with humour, warmth & exuberance, that became his stock-in-trade. “Skinny Legs & All” crossed over to the Pop chart in 1967, “Men Are Getting Scarce” (“Men are gettin’ scarce, scarcer than hen’s teeth, & that’s mighty scarce!”) were just two of a long line of memorable, individual hits which, along with an outstanding stage show (including impersonations), made him a major star.

Joe Tex – Give The Baby Anything The Baby Wants / Takin' A Chance (1971,  Vinyl) - Discogs

Joe Tex was involved with the Soul Clan, a superstar collective with higher ideals than just making records which never received the promised backing of Atlantic. There was a move to Mercury Records but, through a partnership with manager-producer-Dial label owner Buddy Killen, he maintained his independence, recording what & where he wanted, using the best musicians from Muscle Shoals & American Sound Studios in Memphis. The Memphis Boys, Reggie Young (guitar), Tommy Cogbill (bass), keyboard players Bobby Emmons & Bobby Wood , would come on over to Nashville if Joe had sessions there. “Give The Baby What The Baby Wants”, #41 this week, is a fine, funky workout for the crew that sits just right on the collection of Dial A-sides that is an essential for any Soul enthusiast. The following year “I Gotcha” became Joe”s biggest hit (#1 R&B, #2 Pop) but recording became more sporadic when Joe, a convert to Islam in 1966, announced his retirement in 1972, returning three years later after the death of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)” was one last hit in 1977. Joe never really suited Disco & his music lacked the progression of some of his contemporaries. There were both health & financial problems before a fatal heart attack in 1982 which is a shame but there’s always the great, uplifting music of Joe Tex – a Soul Man.

Groovin’ With The King (Soul September 11th 1971)

The Top 10 of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week can take a backseat this time around. The highest of the 10 new entries on the chart is such a great record that we will get straight to that then it really should be no problem to to select another two of the higher numbers from lower down the page.

How much do I love the voice of Overton Vertis Wright? Flipping loads! 50 years ago I was just 18, you know what I mean. Young & in love, leaving my parent’s home for new adventures in a town 150 miles away, dumb as a box of hair. Everything was new, that’s the way I liked it & Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, the Soul innovators, were the soundtrack to the excitement & anticipation. The deep Southern Soul of O.V. Wright seemed, I’ll admit, a little staid. I knew nothing about the pain of loss, heartbreak & the tribulations Life brings. Now I’m almost grown (huh!) & have a greater experience of all that tricky stuff, I believe that O.V. is one of the singers (it’s a short list) who is able to communicate & illuminate these feelings most honestly & convincingly.

O.V. Wright 1970 Detroit, MI Jumbo Globe Concert Poster.... Music | Lot  #89880 | Heritage Auctions

“A Nickel & A Nail” entered the chart at #45, O.V. had started his recording career with two R&B Top 10 hits but, while popular in the southern states, he never emulated the success of some of his contemporaries. His Gospel group, the Sunset Travellers also included James Carr (blimey!). The pair went to Goldwax Records together but O.V. had signed a contract with the smaller Back Beat label whose owner Don Robey always (as Deadric Malone) seemed to have songwriting credit. A run of fine 45s brought the involvement in the late 1960s of producer Willie Mitchell & when Willie got his own thing going at Royal Studio in Memphis he brought O.V. along. With the Hi (Records) Rhythm Section & the Memphis Horns the backing was sweeter & stronger though never overpowering his intense, immaculate vocals. Yeah, there have now been times when all I’ve had in my pocket was a nickel & a nail & O.V. Wright sounds like he has too. That’s the Blues.

O.V. Wright (Overton Vertis Wright) | Facebook

O.V.’s run at Hi Records was interrupted by his involvement with narcotics leading to jail time. After a 4 year break he resumed recording in 1977. Such were the times that the music was now Disco-inflected but O.V. still sang it like it was. His take on Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”, part of a 10 minute long medley, is spine-tingling & “Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose)” is just too much. In September 1979 the Hi band (with the three Hodges brothers) got together with O.V. for a tour of Japan. Looking frail, a little sick & tired of being sick & tired, his voice is still a wonder, the resulting live album is a run through his career & a triumph of Memphis Soul, O.V.’s testification made all the more poignant by his fatal heart attack, at the age of 41, in the following year. O. V., you’re gonna make me cry.

Now this is an odd one. Just making the chart at #59 this week is “Groovin’ Out On Life” by Frederick II. I know the song from the original Jamaican hit by Hopeton Lewis, a lovely version by Dennis Brown, recorded at Studio One with Coxsone Dodd when the singer was just 14 years old & its inclusion on Nolan Porter’s 1972 album “Nolan” but Frederick II, you got me there. It turns out that there’s not a long-lost recording by the briefly King of Prussia (March 1888 – June 1888) but that this is the Nolan Porter track issued under a different name & that’s nothing but a good thing!

Nolan Porter | Discography | Discogs

If Nolan Porter was not in with the In Crowd of Los Angeles then he was certainly in with an In Crowd. His producer Gabriel Melker had been responsible for records by Steppenwolf (“Born To Be Wild”!), Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin & others. Married to Frank Zappa’s, off of the Mothers of Invention, sister Candy, Nolan was able to recruit the assistance of the members of Little Feat, soon to be the coolest band on this planet. Subsequently a little more Rock innovation was added to the Soul, well-chosen cover versions (Booker T Jones, Randy Newman, a Little Feat song) were mixed with his own compositions. It was a prescription that served Rod Stewart pretty well in 1971. A 45, “I Like What You Give”, was a small R&B hit but the LP “No Apologies” by simply “Nolan” failed to register. Anyway there was always Frederick II.

Stone Foundation on Twitter: "There aren't enough words on here to express  our sadness in the passing today of our dear friend and brother Nolan Porter.  You taught us so much in

In 1968 Desmond Dekker’s sensational “The Israelites”, a #1 in the UK, reached the US Pop Top 10 but Jamaican music had not made the same impression there as it had on this side of the Atlantic. There were two Reggae songs on Nolan’s re-mixed, re-shuffled (four new tracks) & re-released album & “Groovin’…” is a pretty sweet tune even if the L.A. boys don’t totally re-create the depth & feel that the JA studio cats could play all day, every day. Is this the first US Reggae record to make the R&B chart? Nolan’s record company went bust & that was it from him. His music was distinctive & good enough to attract devotion in UK Northern Soul clubs then enthusiasm from younger listeners. “If I Could Only Be Sure” & “Keep On Keeping On” (the riff borrowed by Joy Division for “Interzone”) are the “hits” but all of Nolan Porter is worth checking out.

Funkadelic : Live At Meadowbrook 1971 (Vinyl Reissue) : Aquarium Drunkard

Just sneaking on to this week’s chart at #60 is a track taken from “Maggot Brain”, the third album released by Funkadelic in 14 months. George Clinton’s vocal group, the Parliaments had integrated with its backing band to create an amalgamation who set off on a lysergically-fuelled magical mystery expedition, where the rules are that there are none, in search of that “way back yonder Funk”. The group’s first two records laid the foundation of the Funkadelic P-Funk credo, “Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow”, psychedelia energetically & free spiritedly combined with many Black & Rock influences, always music you could dance to. George encouraged the talented musicians he had assembled to express themselves & “Maggot Brain” is the realisation of their ideas about forging something modern, different & individual. It’s a landmark record.

Funkadelic & The Parliament gig flyer, 1971: OldSchoolCool

The acoustic guitar intro to “Can You Get To That” is pretty calming after the opening title track, a 10 minute long intense mind-melting instrumental led with rare skill & emotion by guitarist Eddie Hazel who knew that the talent of Jimi Hendrix was as much from the heart as well as the hands. “Can You…” is Gospel reinforced by Funk,the vocals by Isaac Hayes’ backing singers Hot Buttered Soul,& it’s as catchy as heck. Funkadelic enjoyed modest success with their records & it would be their ninth studio album, in 1978, before a platinum disc arrived. George was ready with a stadium-filling space spectacular based around some Mothership craziness & innovative, inspired music. “One Nation Under A Groove” is undoubtedly a great, still influential album. I prefer Funkadelic from 1971 when they had “rusty ankles and ashy kneecaps”.

In 2013 Jeff Tweedy, off of Wilco, got back together with Mavis Staples to record a successor to the album “You Are Not Alone” from three years earlier. Mavis, a Queen of Soul with her family band, can make any song better with her presence & passion & “Can You Get To That”, from “One True Vine” was a perfect candidate for revival. I try not to post phone clips but I will never get enough moving pictures of Mavis & her fine touring band. She takes you there!