Random Sightings July 2021

Right, the football season is finally over. England lost their first final in a major tournament for 55 years to an admittedly deserving Italian team by the width of a goal post in a penalty decider. I enjoyed the ride, being able to watch the games with a small group of family & friends was a pleasure after a year of garden meetings. I now have a few weeks when the pros & cons of the Video Assistant Referee or whether the England manager’s preference for the “double-pivot” would prove to be too defensive (it would) can be put on the back burner so let’s get back to throwing some of the good stuff that has crossed my path recently on to the blog. Is this keyboard still working?

Kevin Ayers | Progressive rock, Psychedelic bands, Music is life

In 1972 Kevin Ayers, a mainstay of the music scene in Canterbury, was, as was his habit, kicking back for a while. As a member of the Wilde Flowers & the Soft Machine he had contributed to the progressive/psychedelic improvisation & innovation that was characteristic of that city’s musical output. His three solo albums had a relaxed, whimsical, rather louche charm while retaining elements of surprise & exploration that made him such an original artist. The only live clips of Kevin from this time on the Y-tube are from “The Old Grey Whistle Test” with his group the Whole World. Now, this black & white clip of a solo performance has appeared & what a treat it is. The clip comes courtesy of an independent TV service produced by the Inner London Education Authority, a grouping responsible for the city’s schools which, like its parent administration the Greater London Council, was considered by Thatcher to be part of “the enemy within” & was subsequently abolished. The song, which Kevin explains “isn’t called anything” is “Hymn”, a track from his 1973 LP “Bananamour” & by heck it’s good.

Kevin Ayers – Rainbow Takeaway Lyrics | Genius Lyrics

Sometime in 1972 I attended a midweek entertainment at my university that promised appearances by not only Kevin Ayers but also Syd Barrett, such an influential pioneer of Psychedelic Pop with Pink Floyd before his drug intake & mental fragility led to his withdrawal from the group. A chance to see two such individual British mavericks was a pretty good deal & we took our places cross-legged in front of the stage (it was 1972!) in anticipation. Syd had recorded two fascinating, honest solo albums in 1970 before his unavailability had encouraged the rumours & enhanced the legend. We had no idea of what Syd looked like now so assumed that as the figure setting up in the dark was not Kevin it probably was Syd. Unfortunately on his return to the stage a roadie was adjusting a microphone. The performer stormed off & was not to be seen again. That’s as close we ever got to see one of the great British psychedelic talents…or maybe not. Kevin Ayers saved the day with an intimate & (that word again) charming solo set of bohemian cabaret filled with songs that weren’t about anything, finishing with his version of Marlene Dietrich’s “Falling In Love Again”. Another good, interesting night out.

Stiller & Meara (@STILLERandMEARA) | Twitter

“The Ed Sullivan Show” was never shown in the UK. We knew it was a big deal in the States, our very own The Beatles appeared on three consecutive Sundays in February 1964, causing the same cultural tremors to which we were becoming accustomed. Pretty soon England was swinging like a pendulum do & we had a whole scene going on over here anyway. Over the past year the archives of the show have been regularly released on to the Y-Tube. The show aired from 1948 to 1971 & some of the earlier variety entertainment is a little moderate. Post Mersey Mania the bookers upped their musical game & while the house orchestra are by no means the Funk Brothers it’s always good to see regular guests the Supremes in their modish Motown glory. Of even more interest to myself is the chance to see a number of outstanding US comedians doing that very funny thing they do. I have records by Bob Newhart, George Carlin & Richard Pryor but have never seen their early stand-up routines. The Sullivan clips are introducing me to others who were at the top of their game but we never got to see.

Who was Jerry Stiller's wife Anne Meara?

I was aware that Ben Stiller’s father Jerry was a funny guy. I’d seen him playing George Costanza’s Dad in “Seinfeld”. He was the guy who put me on to Festivus. What I didn’t know was that in the 1960s he had been part of a successful double act & that his partner was Anne Meara, his wife, Ben’s Mum & a very funny guy too. There were 36 appearances on the Sullivan show & this sketch about computer dating (in 1966, in colour, imagine that) where Jewish Jerry meets Irish Catholic Anne, from the same neighbourhood but living separate lives, is short, sharp & eventually sweet. The cracks are wise, the affiliation obvious & attractive. In 1970, concerned about blurred lines between the act & her marriage, Anne stepped away to raise her kids. She later returned to films, TV & theatre including a run with Jerry in “The King of Queens”. Jerry & Anne were married, until her death in 2015, for 61 years, now that’s sweet too.

Harlem Cultural Festival - Wikipedia

Any regular visitor to this part of the Interweb will be aware that I am a little obsessed with that golden decade of Soul from 1965-75 so “Summer of Soul” has been, along with the upcoming Sopranos prequel, the most anticipated film of the year & it did not disappoint. The Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of free concerts in New York, was held across six weekends in the Summer of 1969. The events were filmed but despite the success of the “Woodstock” movie & the emerging “blaxploitation” genre there was no financial backing for any commercial release of the footage. Amhir “Questlove” Thompson, a man of multi-talents including playing drums for the Roots, making his directorial debut, has a very solid, impressive musical foundation on which to base his film. It starts with the Psychedelic Soul boys the Chambers Brothers rocking out with “Uptown” & Fifth Dimension, as Billy & Marilyn acknowledge, finding that playing to such a large black audience unwrapped a funky side that was rarely seen on their TV appearances, then the musical highlights keep on coming.

It’s difficult to top the emotional impact of a duet between Mavis Staples & Mahalia Jackson singing “Precious Lord Take My Hand”, a favourite of Martin Luther King & performed in his honour then along come Sly & the Family Stone, racially & gender diverse, boundless, infectious energy & one of the greatest groups ever. Stevie Wonder stakes his claim to being the funkiest individual in the world & the only word to describe Nina Simone is Goddess. All this music is carefully & expertly placed into the context of an assertiveness about the Black experience in the USA. There’s activism & anger about the Vietnam War, about police brutality & social inequality. There’s pride too in their community. The Harlemites who attended the concerts & those who are still around to tell about it want their stories to be heard & listened to. The unanimous dismissal in contemporary interviews of the Moon landing, a big deal for White America, is, as they would say in 1969, “Right On!”.

A Rose In A Fisted Glove (Soul July 10th 1971)

While “Mr Big Stuff” by Jean Knight & Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong” remained at the head of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for July 10th 1971 there was significant movement just below these hits. No less than five singles were newly welcomed to the Top 10 so this week’s review will not be crate-digging for barely remembered or perhaps never heard before songs from the lower reaches of the chart. Instead it’s big hits from big stars all the way. Let’s get to it.

The Isley Brothers○Love The One You're With○1971 - YouTube

In 1971 the Isley Brothers were a-changing just like the times. The sleeve of their current album featured Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly, the family band whose high-octane early 60s hits “Shout” & “Twist & Shout” had appealed to the wild side of the British Invasion groups. A spell at Tamla Motown was perhaps more appreciated on the UK Soul scene than at home. In 1969 the self-written, produced & released “It’s Your Thing” celebrated the trio’s independence & established their Funk credentials. “Love the One You’re With”, rising a big 10 places to #4 on this week’s chart of 50 years ago was becoming their most successful single since then. Younger brother Ernie, then just 16 (!) had played bass on “It’s Your Thing” & was now the band’s guitarist, his bass duties taken up by little brother, 17 year old Marvin. Rudolph’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper, another young gun, played keyboards so the Isleys had their own in-home & at the studio band. I don’t know if it was the regulars or all these young dudes who chose the songs for their new album, whatever, it was an inspired move, a step forward for the Isley Brothers.

the Isley Brothers | Members, Songs & Facts | Britannica

The “sounds crazy but it just might work” idea of “Givin’ It Back” was to cover contemporary, familiar hits by mainly white artists. So there’s James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain”, Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” & “Spill The Wine” off of Eric Burdon & War. “Love the One You’re With” is one of two songs by Stephen Stills, ascendant as one quarter of Crosby Stills Nash & Young while rising star Bill Withers contributed & played on his song “Cold Bologna”. The album opens with “Ohio/Machine Gun”, Neil Young’s immediate & angry reaction to the killing of four Kent State students by the Ohio Army National Guard segues into a song by Jimi Hendrix, a former member of their backing band. The whole is nine minutes of incendiary, incisive militancy, an atmospheric arrangement, Ronald’s impassioned vocals matched by Ernie’s wailing guitar, influenced & inspired by his friend. This epic track invokes the now less-remembered fatal shooting of two black students at Jackson State a matter of days after the deaths in Ohio, it showcases the fresh energy of the Isley Brothers, confidently moving into social commentary & progressive Soul. Two albums down the line the album “3+3” recognised that the band now had six members who all had their first platinum record.

JAMES BROWN OLYMPIA PARIS DVD - 1971 COLOR - JAMES BROWN PARIS FRANCE

James Brown, Soul Brother #1, Mr Dynamite, The Godfather of Soul, Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk, had two records in this week’s Top 10. “Escape-ism (Part 1) rose three places to #6 while the impressively double-bracketed “Hot Pants (Part 1) (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)” flew from #16 to #5. After 14 years of recording for King Records these two 45s were the first releases on James’ People label, set up for him through his new deal with Polydor. In March of the previous year most of James’ road band had voiced their concerns about payment & quit. With live dates & recording sessions to fulfill “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” acted quickly by recruiting the Collins brothers, guitarist Catfish & bass player Bootsy, & the first release with this new young band, the J.B.’s, was “Get Up ( I Feel Like A Sex Machine)”. James was still getting on the scene, as popular as ever, same as it ever was. On a European tour in March 1971 disputes over money (again) & Bootsy’s lysergic indulgence left James without a band again. Stalwart trombonist Fred Wesley had returned to the fold, drummer Jabo Starks abided & the new J.B’s were assembled. These two current hits were the first recordings with his fresh crew.

Ad – The James Brown SuperFan Club

So the first album for Polydor can sound like the singer & the group jamming in the studio getting to know each other. On “Escape-ism (Part 2)” James spends three minutes asking his new allies where they are from! Still, musicians taking their chance to show the boss that they’re the guys to keep that distinctive, tight funky groove, with Fred as band leader there’s now a touch more brass in there & it all makes for a pretty good noise. “Hot Pants”, the title track, is the most structured of the cuts, it’s not one from the top shelf of James Brown classics, that’s a high shelf, but it’s on point, one of the great run of R&B hits he had for so long. Oh yeah, Hot Pants were a big fashion thing in 1971, ask your Grandma if she’s still got her’s.

Here’s another cover version taken from one of the singer-songwriters whose softer, acoustic rock was carrying the swing on the Pop Album charts in 1971. Carole King was already a US Pop legend for her compositions, written with her husband Gerry Goffin. Switching coasts from the Brill Building in New York to Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon she hung out with James Taylor & Joni Mitchell while recording her solo album “Tapestry”. “You’ve Got A Friend” was written in response to Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” & his version, a #1 Pop hit, was released in June 1971. An R&B take on the Grammy “Song of the Year”, a duet by two rising stars of the genre, was shipped on the same day & this week rose to #9 on our chart.

Where Is The Love": Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's Collaborations |  WTTW Chicago

Donny Hathaway, from Chicago, was studying the noted Howard University when he was tempted by musical opportunities in his hometown. His name started to feature on records as a writer, arranger & producer & he worked with big names such as Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler & Betty Everett. Pretty soon he had a solo deal & in 1970, on “Everything Is Everything”, he displayed a sensitive, velvet voice to match his natural musicality. The record did not sell too well, even “The Ghetto (Part 1)”, a wonderful, influential, jazz-influenced groove, failed to make the mark it undoubtedly deserved & now has over time. Roberta Flack also studied at Howard, her talent earning a full scholarship at the age of just 15. Her progress was hindered by the death of her father & a return to her family home in North Carolina before a move to Washington D.C. & her appearances in the city’s nightclubs led to great appreciation of her talent. Like Donny Ms Flack was not an instant success, “First Take”, her 1969 debut, which included two songs by Hathaway, did not become a #1 hit until 1972 when Clint Eastwood employed “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (you know it) in his film “Play Misty For Me”. In 1971 the two friends, both talents of the highest class, were matched by Atlantic for an album of duets.

180 Donny hathaway ideas in 2021 | music, legacy projects, soul music

Together Donny & Roberta made a fine, mature album, the covers classic & contemporary, original songs are interesting, the combination of Jazz, R&B & Gospel influences are effective & mellifluous. “You’ve Got A Friend” will always be associated with King & Taylor but the more than a little bit of Soul added by Hathaway & Flack make it my personal preference. The album, recorded with the finest New York session players, was released in 1972 & with Roberta’s star newly ascendant “Where Is The Love” reached the Top 10 on the Pop chart. In the following years Roberta confirmed her unique ability to understand & possess a song, her interpretation becoming definitive & selling records to the millions of buyers who could hear this. Donny released a glorious live album including “…Friend”, Marvin’s “What’s Goin’ On” & John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. Unfortunately his erratic behaviour led to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia & he was prescribed extensive medication, a regime to which he did not always adhere. His progress stalled until a reunion with Roberta produced a major hit with “The Closer I Get To You” in 1978. While recording a planned album of duets, in January 1979 his behaviour in the studio was described as delusional & the session was aborted. That day he was found dead in the street below his 15th floor hotel; room. Donny Hathaway was just 33, a sad, terrible loss to the music world.

No video is available for this week’s live performance. This is the brilliant, extended version of “The Ghetto” from Donny’s “Live” album. We have these records so keep his memory is eternal.

Hot Stuff, Can’t Get Enough (Soul June 12th 1971)

50 years ago this week the great writing/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland were having it their way on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations chart. No longer employed by Tamla Motown, still working in Detroit with their Hot Wax/Invictus labels, two of their records were in the Top 4. “Want Ads” by Honey Cone was still toppermost of the poppermost & had been for a month while at #4 was a song that had been released as the b-side of the million selling “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” by 100 Proof (Aged In Soul). Not wanting to put the brake on those sales “She’s Not Just Another Woman”, an urgent drum-propelled slice of pure Detroit Soul & an obvious hit, was re-released under the name 8th Day, a made-up name for a band that didn’t exist. H-D-H were better at making hits than doing business. At #2 the Wicked Wilson Pickett was enjoying his biggest success since 1967 with “Don’t Knock My Love” while the fastest rising record on the chart, this week’s #3, was a record that if you hear it this weekend you will smile & “Get Dancin'” like Disco Tex & the Sex-O-Lettes just like all those record buyers from 50 years ago.

In May 1970 the spectacularly named Wardell Quezergue, a stalwart musician/producer of the New Orleans scene, borrowed a school bus to drive five artists the 200 miles to Jackson, Mississippi where he had made a deal to use the Malaco studio & the musicians who worked there. “Groove Me” by King Floyd was another b-side that was brought to the attention of Atlantic Records after local airplay. National distribution & better promotion made it the final #1 R&B record of 1970. Other labels showed interest in what Wardell had been up to & Tim Whitsett, head of publishing at Stax & a Jackson man, picked up a track from the session for release. This was “Mr Big Stuff” by Jean Knight, “who do you think you are?”, you know it.

Jet magazine August 12, 1971 Jean Knight | eBay

Jean Knight, from New Orleans, had recorded locally without much success & was working in Loyola University’s cafeteria when she was given the chance to work with Quezergue. “Mr Big Stuff” was an instant super smash, a month at the top of the R&B chart, #2 on the Pop listing, double platinum sales (that’s big numbers) & a Grammy nomination. This & the King Floyd record had the slip & slide of the Big Easy sound then added a clear funky punch, even slickness, that sounded very modern. “Mr Big Stuff” is a Stax favourite but it definitely ain’t from Memphis. They made Malaco’s reputation as a place to be & influenced the new Disco music coming out of TK Studios down in Florida. The success of the single led to a very engaging album of the same name, all original songs, no cover version filler. There are some big productions, the studio had the money, but it’s best when guitarist Jerry Puckett, bassist Vernie Robbins & James Stroud on drums are confidently doing their thing. Jean Knight didn’t make another album for a decade & though she did chart again she is remembered as a one-hit wonder & what a hit it is. “Mr Big Stuff” has been a fixture of sets by the UK’s premier DJ Norman Jay since his early “Shake & Fingerpop” times because he knows that it’s a dead stone dance floor filler.

Jet - February 4, 1971 | Jet magazine, Ebony magazine cover, Ebony magazine

Two versions of the same song were on this week’s Top 10, one by the teenage Soul sensations of the day, the other by a man who was discovering a new mass market for albums by a black artist. The Jackson 5’s version of “Never Can Say Goodbye”, a song written Clifton Davis, a songwriter working at Motown West, Los Angeles who later was more visible as an actor, was slipping to #9 having been at #1 for two weeks. Two places higher was a very different take by Isaac Hayes. When, in 1969, Stax found themselves at the wrong end of their deal with Atlantic & lost the rights to their back catalogue it was all hands on deck to provide new material. It was Hayes, best known for his writing partnership with David Porter & their great songs for Sam & Dave, who gave the label the hit they needed with his “Hot Buttered Soul” album. There were just the four tracks on “H.B.S.”, the modern classics, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” & “Walk On By” by Bacharach & David were 18 & 12 minutes respectively. Isaac had an ear for a great song then adapting it to an expansive arrangement over a steady groove & his deep authoritative voice. It was a formula that worked & it’s how he rolled on the two subsequent albums released in 1970. The 45s were not major hits but Stax were shipping long-playing discs by the lorryload.

Sasa of In Flagranti - Dalston Superstore

Isaac kept himself busy in 1971. “Never Can Say Goodbye” was the first track to be released from November’s double album “Black Moses”. This time the cover versions, interspersed with “Ike’s Raps”, included Curtis Mayfield & Kris Kristofferson. It’s a monumental work, a little stretched but the arrangements are original & all the elements that made his music so successful are present & in the correct place. A reduced by 90 seconds “Never..” was his biggest single yet, it’s a durable song, both a Discofied Gloria Gaynor (1974) & the High Energy of the Communards (1987) enjoyed hits with it. But hold on, Isaac was working on something else. In June 1971 his soundtrack to “Shaft” was a major factor in taking Blaxploitation movies uptown. The theme track was a #1 Pop hit as was the album, Isaac was dealing with Oscars, Grammy awards & major international recognition.

45cat - The Stylistics - Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart) / Stop, Look,  Listen (To Your Heart) - Avco Embassy - USA - AVE-4572

Earlier in 1971 the debut single by the Stylistics from Philadelphia had made the R&B Top 10. “You’re A Big Girl Now” has a slightly clunky construction, a cheesy organ riff & distinctive, if idiosyncratic, drums. It’s great. For the album their label sent them to the local Sigma Sound Studios where Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff & Thom Bell were finessing a sweet Soul sound that became associated with the city & an influence on the development of popular music. Thom Bell had realised a shared symphonic soul vision with the Delfonics. Now he & his lyricist partner Linda Creed prepared eight new songs, custom built for their Stylistics project, four of which would join “You’re A Big Girl…” in entering the R&B Top 10. Rising four places to #27 was “Stop, Look (Listen to Your Heart)”, the first we heard of the way that the Philly Sound was headed.

The Stylistics - the Original Debut Album — The Stylistics | Last.fm

Bell employed the startling soprano voice of Russell Thompkins Jr as lead on all of the album tracks. The other stylists, Airrion Love, Herb Murrell, James Dunn & James Smith were around but, according to those who were too, it’s said that backing vocals were the work of the Sigma Sound crew. The studio band, soon to be world-known as MFSB, provided the gentle, lavish, string-laden grooves. The other cuts from the album were “You Are Everything”, “Betcha By Golly Wow” & the ambitious “People Make the World Go Round”. We know them all & after that run the group were established as a leading vocal group. There were to be two more albums from the Bell/Creed/Stylistics combination, more hits with Russell’s voice making them instantly recognisable. The City of Brotherly Love was making serious Soul Music waves. It will be impossible not to include more music from Philly in my selections from the next few years.

Songs of Innocence And Experience (Soul May 15th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago this week was topped by a song that, since its release in January of the preceding year, had spent six weeks at the top of the US Pop chart & become a much covered standard across the full spectrum of popular music. Andy Williams had pushed it into the middle of the road, Buck Owens & the Buckaroos were ready for the Country, three Motown acts had added a little bit of Soul & Elvis Presley recorded it in Nashville before including a show-stopping version in his Vegas act. In 1971 it was the turn of Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul” to release her Gospel-inflected take on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” album. An edited single release, the one at #1 on the chart, sold two million copies & won the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the Grammys. We will get to this later.

The Honey Cone – Want Ads – PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

Well OK, “Wanted, young man single and free, experience in love preferred, but will accept a young trainee”. I’m sure that in 1971, after seeing Honey Cone perform their big hit “Want Ads”, climbing one place up to #3 on the chart, on its way to a month at #1, I would have been in that long queue. The trio, formed in Los Angeles, had all been 20 feet from stardom for some time. Featured vocalist Edna Wright was introduced to Phil Spector’s operation as her older sister Darlene Love was the producer’s singer of choice. Shelly Clark had been on Broadway as a 7 year old & spent a short time as an Ikette while Carolyn Willis sang on many sessions, joining Edna & Darlene in the Blossoms. They were signed by Holland-Dozier-Holland the great hitmakers who had left Motown & Honey Cone were the first 45 & album releases on their new Hot Wax label in 1969. H-D-H produced the “Take Me With You” LP & the majority of the songs were credited to “Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne”. Dunbar was around the organisation but Holland-Dozier-Holland’s litigation over publishing with former boss Berry Gordy meant that they often used this pseudonym.

The Honey Cone Photo Gallery

This Motown pedigree did not bring instant success, though the singles “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” & “Girls It Ain’t Easy” sound pretty good to me. Honey Cone were not the new Supremes, with strong vocals & direct lyrics they were more like Martha & the Vandellas. A little work was put into “Want Ads” by General Johnson, off of Chairmen of the Board, & Greg Perry, both flourishing with their new mentors, to give the song that Pop-Soul bounce that had proved to be so commercial for the Jackson 5. The group had the sass & the style to be memorable & set the song on the way to the top of the R&B & Pop charts. There was another R&B #1, two more in the Top 10, all three made the Pop Top 30. Honey Cone were big, by the end of 1971, the cover of Jet magazine big. Unfortunately the owners of the label could not match their musical acuity in business & Honey Cone’s further releases were hindered by financial uncertainty before, in 1973, the Hot Wax/Invictus combo folded & so did the group. Honey Cone were a modern, modish girl-group whose influence became more apparent as time passed.

290. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles - The Tears of a Clown (1970) - Every  UK Number 1

A consideration of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles up to 1971 leads to a couple of very long lists, one of the group’s hit records, the other of the songs written for others by the man whose name was at the front. I’ll give you three of each but I will be overlooking songs that were fundamental to the Miracles’ success & to that of their label Tamla Motown. “Shop Around” was, in 1960, Motown’s first million selling record, 1962’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me” was covered by the Beatles on their second album & Smokey Robinson was known around the world, the perfect & poignant “Tracks of My Tears” (1965) is one for the ages. Smokey wrote, often with other Miracles, & produced “My Guy”, making Mary Wells the Queen of Motown, “My Girl” for the Temptations & 200 other artists, Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” & I’ll stop there. In 1963 the Miracles, with Claudette, Mrs Robinson, still in the group, were topping the star-studded bill of the Motortown Revue, young Smokey’s audience-rousing energy a surprise as he was the sweetest & smoothest of the label’s artists. 1971 was a strange time for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – I Don't Blame You At All (1971, Vinyl) -  Discogs

Smokey’s association with Berry Gordy, head honcho at Motown, had begun before there was a label. His influence extended beyond being a star performer & a leading creative force. He was vice-president of the company where plans to move from Detroit to Los Angeles were at an advanced stage. With this upheaval & two young children it was known that Smokey intended to retire from performing with the Miracles. Concurrently over in the UK long-time Motown Mod club favourites were reaching a wider audience putting the Elgins & the Isley Brothers on the chart. A 1967 Miracles album track, “Tears of a Clown”, was released in 1970 & reached the top of the UK chart precipitating a US remixed version which provided the group with their fifth R&B #1 & the first time they had topped the Pop chart. It made both musical & business sense for Smokey to keep on keeping on. The follow-up to “Tears…” was at #8 for the third week on this week’s chart. “I Don’t Blame You At All” is a new song, slick, melodic, it invites you on to the dancefloor & is immediately recognisable as the Miracles. When Smokey sings…well!

Way back then my best friend & I were a couple of teenage music geeks who bought the weekly “Record Mirror”, the only place we could scan the US Top 50 charts for records that we could expect to cross the Atlantic in a month or so. A name we often saw, if not in the chart then in the new releases or “bubbling under”, was Bobby “Blue” Bland. We didn’t hear much of Bobby’s music, if it did get radio play then the show would be way past our bedtime & that smoky dive bar where they played the Blues existed only in our imaginations or a future Tarantino movie. The little we did hear sounded to our young ears a little restrained, even old-fashioned. The energetic Soul sounds of young America coming out of Memphis & Detroit were much more our glass of Dandelion & Burdock. I know, I was so much older then.

RIP Bobby "Blue" Bland - Sing Out!

Bobby Bland was part of an earlier generation of Memphis musicians, the Beale Streeters, who included Johnny Ace & B.B. King. He first recorded in 1951, finding success six years later when signed to Duke Records where he stayed for 20 years. The head of Duke, Don Robey’s, business practice included a tight control over publishing which led to his alias Deadric Malone being credited as the writer of many songs. Bland, disadvantaged by his illiteracy, was signed to a contract which paid reduced royalties consigning him to an arduous touring schedule to earn his living though the singer, aware of limited opportunities for an uneducated Black man, held little resentment towards Robey. Through the 1960s Bobby enjoyed consistent success on the R&B chart with only rare crossover on to the Pop listing. I can point you towards “I’ll Take Care Of You”, “Lead Me On” & “Turn On Your Lovelight” while his string of hits, with sophisticated arrangements by Joe Scott which added colour while Bobby sang the Blues without overwhelming a unique voice, is a formidable body of work. “I’m Sorry”, the highest new entry of the week at #44 is the latest of these fine songs.

Bobby Bland’s instrument was his voice, maturity & fine tuning adding a guttural growl to his rich sensual sweetness. He sang songs about the yearning for, the finding & the losing of Love with an impeccable emotionality, a sophistication & a comprehension that was unmatched. His brand of urban Blues, songs of experience, did not always have wide appeal but the more life you lived the more you understood & identified with this music for grown-ups. A move to a bigger label, with a wider choice of material & better promotion combined with repackaging of his Duke years brought a greater appreciation & recognition for Bobby, He truly was “The Voice”.

For this week’s live clip it’s back to that #1 record. Over the weekend 5th-7th of March 1971 Aretha Franklin played three explosive concerts at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Backed by King Curtis’ super band, Billy Preston, the Memphis Horns & the Sweethearts of Soul Aretha mixed her back catalogue with contemporary hits in a dramatic, landmark live performance. There are, as far as I am aware, 564 versions of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, none of them are better than this one.

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.

Google Image Result for  http://www.postercentral.com/Concert%2520Posters/Before%2520They%25… |  Concert posters, Vintage concert posters, Facts about michael jackson

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.

Good Rockin’ Tonight (Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen)

Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen were one of my favourite Country Rock bands. They were not, like Gram Parsons or Gene Clark, breaking new ground, they were certainly not as precious about musical tradition as the likes of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band nor as insipid as the cocaine cowboys from L.A. The group aspired to a modern take on Western Swing, a counter-culture Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, flavoured with Country, Rock & Roll & Boogie Woogie. They mixed their own songs with Rockabilly & Country classics, all performed with exuberance, humour & a sense of fun. As the lyrics of one of their songs goes, (the title of a “Best Of…” compilation), there’s “A whole lotta things that I never done but I ain’t never had too much fun”.

BB Chronicles: Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen - 1973-08-11 -  Denver, CO

The good Commander (pianist George Frayne) had assembled his crew in Ann Arbor, Michigan before relocating to Berkeley, California where they signed with Paramount Records, a new label that mainly released the soundtracks of films from their affiliated studio. There were by now eight members in the group. To do it right needed more than piano, two guitars, bass, drums & a vocalist so steel guitar & fiddle ensured that it would be done right. “Lost In The Ozone” (1971) introduced talented musicians who rocked like the best bar band around while keeping the three chords & the truth of “proper” Country music in their hearts. “Hot Rod Lincoln”, from the Commander’s stash of vintage talking songs, was a surprise US Top 10 hit. “Seeds & Stems (Again)” is an hilarious yet still poignant invocation of the meanest Blues I knew in those pre-sensimilla days. The final three live tracks acknowledge that Commander Cody’s mission to play good music & have a good time was most fulfilled & best experienced on stage.

On “Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites” (1972) the hook to hang the album on was trucks & their drivers. Not some breaker, breaker Citizens Band baloney but blue collar, hard driving, hard living men who won’t do nothing but the “Truck Stop Rock”. “Semi Truck” describes the frustrating combination of a faulty vehicle & a benzedrine buzz, “Looking At The World Through A Windshield” had first been recorded by Del Reeved in 1968 while “Mama Hated Diesels”, the saddest song I know, sounds like an old song but was written by a friend of the band. “Hot Licks” is a great Dieselbilly album played with such brio that it will always sound fresh & uplifting. I have great memories of six days on the road from London around Italy in a, as we call them, lorry when this tape was a fixture of afternoons on the autostrada.

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen at The Armadillo World | Lot  #53097 | Heritage Auctions

On “Hot Licks” Bobby “Blue” Black, the new steel player, showed that he could play more than sad & lonesome, contributing sharp, sweet pedal work. Andy Stein was a virtuoso on fiddle when the band were keeping it Country, saxophone if they were ready to Rock while Bill Kirchen, now recognised as the Telecaster master that he was back then, sang those melancholy songs as well. Commander Frayne is more than handy on the keys & a fine on stage host while front & centre young Alabaman Billy C Farlow brought his Southern charm, his fine voice & his enthusiasm for the songs he wrote & the oldies, still goodies, he chose. With John Tichy adding guitar, “Buffalo” Bruce Barlow, bass & Lance Dickerson drums you had a damn fine band on a crowded stage.

The band released a third album & “Country Casanova (1973 ) was a little more polished with plenty to please the already converted. It was followed by the live recording that we knew would show them at their best. “Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas” (1974), taped over four nights at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, 13 songs, only two of which had been previously recorded, the only record you needed to bring to a rockabilly party on Saturday night. From the keeping it cowboy “Sunset On The Sage” to a (better than the original?) rocking revival of Gene Vincent’s “Git It” Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen get it absolutely right. One reviewer wrote “a band that refuses to be pretentious about its lack of pretensions”, a good thing in 1974 & a good thing now.

Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen at the Berkeley Community | Lot  #52086 | Heritage Auctions

“Star-Making Machinery : The Odyssey of an Album” is a book by Geoffrey Stokes about the attempts of the band, their management & new label Warner Brothers to sell more records. It’s something of a classic study on how business gets in the way of music & will cost you £296 ($405) for a hardcover copy! Big money was involved, the studio drugs were of higher quality but the executive who thought he could have the new Eagles on his hands was overpaid & too high. I handed over my hard-earned for the eponymous fifth album because buying Commander Cody records was a thing I did. There are good songs on it but it was the earlier records that got played & I passed on “Tales From The Ozone” where there was a lack of original material. “Tales…” hardly bothered the charts (#168 on the Top 200) & Warner finally went for the tried & trusted live album option. The 19 track double “We’ve Got A Live One Here” captures a UK tour where the group run though a great selection of their back catalogue. The original group had about run its course & this serves as a better souvenir than any “Best Of” curation.

Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen | Ann Arbor District Library

It was a long-anticipated treat to see the band on that “Live One” tour. Billy C had returned home before the concert but that was OK, the band still rocked, the Commander stepped to the mic for more of his showpieces & while Bill Kirchen may not have been a rockabilly rebel rouser he knew his way around that music. The group wanted the audience to have fun, they succeeded & it was a great night. There had already been a couple of tweaks in personnel & the next record was essentially a George Frayne solo effort with a change in musical direction with multiple sidemen. While Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen lasted they were a delight, understanding the attraction of the Country music that laid the ground for Rock & Roll, an affinity that was shared by their audience. This band got it!

Footnote : Sometimes in the late hours when the company is good & I am suitably refreshed I have been known to treat those assembled to a Commander Cody tune. “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)”, more a recitation than a song, was a hit (#1 for 16 weeks!) in 1947 for Western Swing star Tex Williams.. Look, I hardly know you & I’m straight now. OK, if you insist, here’s a snippet… (deep breath) “Now I’m a guy with a heart of gold, the ways of a gentleman I’ve been told, the kind of guy who’d never harm a flea. But if me and a certain character met, the man who invented the cigarette, I’d murder that son of a gun in first degree

It ain’t ’cause I don’t smoke myself & I don’t figure it’ll hurt my health, I’ve been smoking ‘ 25 years ain’t dead yet. But nicotine slaves are all the same, at a pettin’, party or a poker game, every thing’s gotta stop while I smoke that cigarette” (and exhale, lovely).

All The Way From Memphis (Soul March 20th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week was rammed with great records by great artists. The four Tamla Motown singles in the Top 10 by the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5 & the Four Tops, were joined by Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin & James Brown. The remaining two, Johnnie Taylor & Z.Z. Hill, are probably not regarded with the same elevation but they were pretty good too. Let’s see what other fine, fine music we can find from the lower reaches of the chart.

The Staple Singers – The Staple Swingers (1970, Vinyl) - Discogs

A good start & how about this clip? For some years the Staple Singers, a family group from Chicago, had been moving towards the mainstream with little success. A reverence for their distinction in the Gospel field had led to a little timidity in both production & choice of material. Their final two records for Epic & those made with Steve Cropper at Stax were interesting but tended to undervalue the rich, emotive voice of Mavis & the individual guitar style of patriarch Pops, reaching back to the Country Blues he heard in Mississippi as a youth, that could distinguish them from the pack. There were some changes in 1970, brother Pervis left to be replaced by sister Yvonne while Al Bell, co-owner of the label, a man with an ear for what got played on the radio, took over production duties.

Press Advert 10x5 The Staple Singers : Be What You Are Album: Amazon.co.uk:  NewspaperClipping: Books

For “The Staple Swingers” LP (1971) Bell, looking to toughen up the testifying, moved the operation to Muscle Shoals. His song choice from the staff writers at Stax was considered. Their lyrics were more socially conscious, more compatible with Pops’ aim of telling it like it should be. On “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry”, an R&B hit in 1965 for O. V. Wright, Mavis sang the Blues & oh my, my. There are songs by Smokey Robinson & the Bee Gees & there is “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)”, co-written by Pop vet Jeff Barry & Bobby Bloom, lifted from Bloom’s debut album. It’s a surprisingly light choice benefitting greatly from its Stapleised treatment & it achieved just what was intended. Rising 6 places to #19 on the chart “Heavy..” was the first of an unbroken run of R&B Top 20 hits that stretched to 1976. Here on an Anne Murray special for Canadian TV, not yet the major stars they would become, they perform that first hit with the joy & affirmation that gave the Staple Singers a very particular, significant place in 1970s Soul.

Booker T. and the MG's – 64 Quartets

Just as Stax were welcoming new stars on their roster at #33 on the chart, up a lucky 13 places, was the final 45 from a group of musicians who had been absolutely pivotal to the extraordinary success of the label. In 1962 17 year old organist Booker T Jones, 20 year old guitarist Steve Cropper & bassist Lewie Steinberg, all already fixtures of the fledgling Memphis label’s house band, took advantage of a session break to jam on a track that was considered good enough to release. A B-side was needed so, with drummer Al Jackson, they quickly came up with “Green Onions”, a Top 3 US Pop hit, one of the most popular, enduring instrumentals of all time. The record made Booker T & the M.G.’s reputation, they continued to record throughout the decade though it would be 1967 before a photo of the racially integrated group appeared on an album cover. Back in the studio at 926 East McLemore Avenue both Jones, while studying music at Indiana U, & Cropper became indispensable as musicians, writers & producers. Their credits are too long to list here, Steve co-wrote “In the Midnight Hour”, “Knock On Wood” & “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” along with many others. With bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn joining in 1965 the sound of Booker T & the M.G.’s was the sound of Stax.

Booker T. and the MG's | Members, Songs, & Facts | Britannica

That was then this is 1971, the group were no longer young kids happy to be making music. Just as up in Detroit at Hitsville USA key players at Soulsville USA demanded more autonomy & probably a bigger cut of the money they were making for the company. Booker T left for California in 1969, Steve Cropper formed his own production company in the following year. When time came to record the “Melting Pot” album Booker T refused to return to the Memphis studio, the band travelled to New York between gigs. The title track, abbreviated as a 45, is 8.15 of alchemy between Jones, Cropper, Dunn & Jackson. I can’t pick a man of the match, these guys knew when to step forward when to lay off, just how good they sounded when they played together. The track surges, swells & is as funky as anything. An outstanding instrumental & what a way to finish. In the words of Duck Dunn “we had a band powerful enough to turn goat’s piss into gasoline”.

O. V. Wright – When You Took Your Love From Me / I Was Born All Over (1970,  Vinyl) - Discogs

Less than a mile down the road from the Stax set-up is Royal Studios. It’s on Willie Mitchell Boulevard, the name changed in 2004 to honour to honour the trumpeter turned producer who did so much to maintain Memphis as the Southern Soul capital through the 1970s. Further down the chart at #55 “When You Took Your Love From Me” was the latest 45 from O.V. (Overton Vertis) Wright a singer who made a string of albums of the highest quality with Mitchell. O.V.’s first recording “That’s How Strong My Love Is” was withdrawn when a contract signed while with his Gospel group, the Sunset Travellers turned up. That contract was with Don Robey, gambler turned booking agent turned label boss & not a man to be crossed. There are many R&B songs credited to Deadric Malone (a.k.a. Don Robey) that he probably didn’t write. Whoever did when O.V. sang the outcome was often startling. It’s a sad & beautiful world, other singers like Aretha & Mavis gave us joy but no one did yearning & loss like O.V. pouring it all out.

O.V. Wright | Spotify

As a youth I had yet to have my heart broken, I had never walked around with no more than a nickel & a nail in my pocket. I have now & the voice of O.V. Wright articulates these Blues. Like his contemporary Bobby “Blue” Bland, life experiences are an aid to appreciation of the music. Willie Mitchell called O.V. the most honest Blues singer he ever worked with. He had that gliding, still powerful Hi sound, the rhythm section, the horns, Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes on backing vocals but the magic was in waiting for the spirit to move the singer & to capture that special take. “When You Took Your Love…” is one of those records. Have Mercy! O.V. Wright was a troubled man, his career was interrupted by a stretch for narcotics offences then rehab. He returned to recording, his health & his voice affected but not his passion. In 1980, just 41 years old, he died from a heart attack.

This week’s live clip goes back to the Oakland Coliseum on the 31st of January 1970 & inspired by the watching Creedence Clearwater Revival, Booker T & the M.G.’s play, in the opinion of the organist, as well as they had ever done. “Time Is Tight” was written for the film “Up Tight” & a slower single version became their biggest commercial success since the debut hit. Here they have four guns blazing & they are the best band in the world. It’s a great performance underpinned by the metronomic drumming of Al Jackson Jr. Al was older than the rest of the M.G’s. He took a weekly salary from Stax & played sessions for Willie Mitchell where he used a different kit for a lighter touch. For just a moment back then I thought it a coincidence that two great drummers had the same name! His violent death in 1975 was a great loss to Soul music.