OK, it’s been a month since my last selections from the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago because y’know, Life. Right so, a New Year, new energy & a whole bunch of new entries on the chart. Let me at them & for sure it’s going to be another year of nothing but the real thing & there ain’t nothing like that.
There’s a brand new Top 3 for 1972 & the #1 on the R&B list is also at the top of the Pop chart. The Jackson 5 were the teen sensation of the day & “Got To Be There” was the debut solo 45 by 13 year old Michael. A more serious song, the boy with the prodigious voice & moves was growing up, a nailed on international hit while the family band were rising to #9 with “Sugar Daddy”, a more typical Pop-Soul confection. At #2 19 year old Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” didn’t crossover to become a Pop hit but its fresh Miami sound, that guitar riff by Little Beaver, makes it still recognisable 50 years later. Joe Simon had moved from Nashville to Philly, getting an update to his sound from producers Gamble & Huff, still making the Top 3 with “Drowning In the Sea of Love”. That’s a pretty good selection right there
In 1965 Bobby Womack’s marriage to Sam Cooke’s widow just 77 days after the star’s death brought criticism from family, fans & the music business. Leaving his own family group, the Valentinos, his first solo efforts were badly received. Bobby found a place in Memphis as a session guitarist at American Sound Studio where his songwriting talent provided hits for Wilson Pickett & led to a new recording contract. After a couple of albums he was picked up by United Artists, a bigger label, moved to Los Angeles where he became Sly Stone’s drug buddy & contributed to “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”. Staying in L.A. to record his third solo record, with better promotion & a growing reputation, it was time for Bobby Womack to break on through.
“Communication” matches spare, modern Funk to Bobby’s Old Soul voice & it’s the three of his own songs that are, in my opinion, the highlights of the collection. “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha”, #12 this week, up from 16, is a sweet Soul-Blues with his brothers on backing vocals & the Muscle Shoals band. The title track & “If You Don’t Want My Love) Give It Back” cut it too. Bobby always had a taste for a monologue & a trademark spoken intro & I have always found them engaging, it’s the easy listening covers, present on all his early records, that I find to be less successful. This time around it’s James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” & Ray Stevens’ “Everything Is Beautiful”. No matter, Bobby Womack was building an impressive catalogue & there was an upcoming LP, “Understanding” in May 1972 that really is a classic Soul album.
It was out on the youth club dancefloor, dancing awkwardly with the girls (well, near the girls) to the exciting Atlantic singles recorded by Wilson Pickett in 1965-66, a list that starts with “In the Midnight Hour” & ends with “Mustang Sally”, that made this too young to be a Mod a Soul Boy. The Wicked Pickett was my gateway to Southern Soul, to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, that Stax sound with a little more grit than those Motown sensations that were calling out around the world. I’ll admit that after voting for Wilson as the World’s Top Vocalist in the NME’s end of year poll 12 months later my choice was Otis but Pickett’s gruff & ready soul-shouting & shrieks were a Soul wonder & the hits kept on coming & he was such an international star that in 1971 when Soul went to Africa it was his name at the top of a star-studded bill. “15 continuous hours” of music in Black Star Square, Accra, Ghana, you know it, by the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. Well maybe not but my workmate Manny does & it was a very big deal when Soul Brother #2 (after James) performed in his home city. The light in his eyes was brighter when he told me his stories about that day over a decade later.
In 1969 the wicked one recorded a coruscating cover of the Fabs’ “Hey Jude”, sparks flying between Wilson & that new guitar-slinger, young Duane Allman, the Muscle Shoals band giving it loads. The 45’s success led to other covers from the Pop/Rock catalogue & this week 50 years ago, up a healthy 10 spots to #22 was “Fire and Water” written by Andy Fraser & Paul Rogers, half of the band Free, the young ones of the British Blues boom. Free were a tight unit with a great live show & a growing reputation when a track from “Fire & Water”, their third album, the anthemic Rock classic “All Right Now”, made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. The songwriters, Fraser, a melodic bassist, & Rogers, a forceful vocalist & frontman, were up to the job of reinforcing this success but the unreliability & increasing heroin dependency of ace guitarist Paul Kossoff destabilised a great band that coulda been a contender. Wilson Pickett did a great job on “Fire & Water”, an imaginative choice, looking fly on “Soul Train” in his silver lame suit. He perhaps missed a trick by not picking up on “The Stealer”, another fine Blues-Soul song from Free.
It”s a last chance to include this great tune in my selections as this week “Keep On Keeping On” by Nolan Porter had slipped from #36 to #54. Nolan’s first LP, “No Apologies” (1970) had been recorded in Hollywood with Little Feat, the band adding an attractive rockier edge to the singer’s soulful interpretations of songs by Van Morrison, Don Covay, Randy Newman & others. Released on producer Gabriel Mekler’s small label Lizard the record received little promotion & failed to gain attention. When a new recording, a reggae version of “Groovin’ Out On Life”, a song by the great Bobby Charles, was a small R&B hit it was under the name Frederick II so did little to raise Nolan’s profile. An eponymous second album included remixes from the debut along with four new tracks though, as can seen from the label above, “Keep On Keeping On” is by N.F. Porter. So few recordings so many names for Nolan Porter.
Both this 45 & the following “If I Could Only Be Sure” featured distinctive, almost eerie, lead playing by Johnnie “Guitar” Watson, different enough to attract attention from the Northern Soul scene in the UK. The quality of these records & that there would be no more releases by Nolan until 1980 added to their reputation. The riff for “Keep On…” being incorporated into Joy Division’s “Interzone”, Paul Weller covering “If I Could Only…”. A new generation of British Soul fans knew about Nolan Porter & he received a great welcome from fans & musicians when he visited. Unfortunately Nolan died last February, just two albums, less than 20 tracks. It really won’t take long to check him out & it will be worth it. More than anything, at the beginning of another uncertain year, we have to “Keep On Keeping On”. HNY.