In December 1988 our crew hurried to the Town & Country Club in Kentish Town to catch Little Feat’s return to London after 11 years away. Of course the late Lowell George was missed but the other five Feat were present, the T&C was the perfect place to boogie your sneakers away. & it was a blast to hear Feat favourites played live again. Halfway through their set the band were joined onstage by Bonnie Raitt. It would be some time before Ms Raitt was anyone’s support act again. Three months later she released “Nick Of Time”, her 10th record & boy did a lot of people like it, #1 on the US chart, the 1990 Grammy Album of the Year, five million copies sold. Bonnie was just as much value as a singer/slide guitarist before all this success & that night in North London she opened her set with a cover version of a song that stood at #10 in the Cash Box R&B Top 60 of 50 years ago this week.
Denise LaSalle had got it going on in 1972. Moving from Mississippi to Chicago when she was 13, Denise was 30 before she was recorded by Billy “the Kid” Emerson (“Every Woman I Know Is Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile”/”My Gal is Red Hot”) & just one regional hit was released on his short-lived Tarpon label. She had learned enough about the music business to, in 1969, form Crajon Enterprises with her new husband Bill Jones to manage her affairs. The decision they made to record in Memphis was absolutely the right place at the right time, Willie Mitchell, with his Royal Studio band based around the three Hodges brothers had the new hit Soul sound of the city. “Trapped By A Thing Called Love”, swinging, finger-popping, plaintive but sweet Southern Soul caught the ears of many to become a #1 R&B record for Denise, crossing over to the US Pop Top 20. “Now Run & Tell That” followed into the higher reaches of the R&B chart & now “A Man Sized Job” was her third Top 10 hit on the bounce.
Denise had written 8 of the 11 tracks collected on the “Trapped…” album. In her mid-30s her mature lyrics were fortified by a sturdy, confident backing band. “A Man Sized Job” is the lead 45 from “On The Loose”, one of just three of her compositions on a selection that was perhaps quickly recorded to cash-in on her popularity. Her Country Soul covers of “Harper Valley P.T.A.” & Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” are good but her songs, with something to say & said well, are the best of the record. The hits got smaller, though he still made the R&B chart, & it was three years before another album. In 1983 she moved to the Blues-based Malaco Records as a songwriter, stayed for 15 years, became “The Queen of the Blues” & even had a UK top 10 hit with the cover of the zydeco standard “My Toot Toot”. Later there were Gospel records, back to R&B & an album called “Still the Queen”. Catch a collection of her Memphis recordings, because you are worth it.
The Four Tops, Levi Stubbs, Obie Benson, Sugar Pie & Honey Bunch (sorry couldn’t resist an old joke) no, Duke Fakir & Lawrence Payton, were high school friends in Detroit when they formed their quartet. A decade later, in 1963, they signed with Berry Gordy’s growing Tamla Motown roster, had their first Pop Top 20 hit the following year with “Baby, I Need Your Loving”, their first #1 “I Can’t Help Myself” in 1965. Both were written & produced by Motown’s young tyro team Holland-Dozier-Holland & the hits kept right on coming with songs tailored to Levi’s strong, instantly recognisable baritone voice. The Tops became a cornerstone in the Motown edifice, the hit factory that dominated Soul music in the 1960s. The album “Reach Out” included six US Pop Top 20 hits, a title track that was the most obvious #1 record since that last Beatles 45, “Walk Away Renee” & “If I Were A Carpenter”, two well chosen songs by contemporary songwriters that expanded the group’s range. Then H-D-H left the company, there was just one of their songs on the follow up to “Reach Out” & the Four Tops were not as dominant. In the fast moving world of popular music that was then, this is 1972.
“Keeper of the Castle”, rising a healthy 14 places to #23 on this week’s R&B chart is the Four Tops’ first single on the ABC/Dunhill label – not on Motown, almost unthinkable. It was on its way to the US Pop Top 10, their first 45 to do so since “Bernadette” in 1967. Under the supervision of label head Steve Barri, Brit Steve Potter & his partner Dennis Lambert contributed the songs & production for this next phase of the Tops career. The “Keeper” album is an attempt to update their sound, more restrained, the group were in their mid-30s now, not always successful but Levi’s voice abides & Obie Benson, confident from his co-writing credit on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, has five of his tunes included, something that never happened at the previous label. Perhaps the Tops’ stylist for this “Soul Train” appearance was not quite onboard with the overhaul – check dungarees were never a good look, even in 1972 but the group was still popular. Another track from the album, “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” reached a higher chart position than “Keeper” & R&B hits followed. The Four Tops were welcome everywhere they performed, audiences wanted to hear & dance to their favourites from the 60s & they obliged because oldies were never more Golden than the Four Tops Greatest Hits.
New to the chart at #58 is from a new label, a new artist with, certainly, a new sound. Timmy Thomas had moved from Indiana to Jackson, Tennessee to study Music Education. There he entered the orbit of Goldwax Records in Memphis becoming the keyboard player of a studio session crew making essential Soul records with James Carr, Spencer Wiggins, the Ovations & others. With the label’s demise he took a position at a Florida college, moved to Miami, opened the first Black-owned lounge in Miami Beach while pursuing his own music.”Why Can’t We Live Together” was recorded as a demo tape, with necessity being the mother of invention Timmy used a simple, contagious drum machine rhythm under his simple, sometimes shrill Lowrey organ before, after an almost two minute instrumental introduction he sings a passionate plea for peace inspired by the Vietnam War. Timmy took it to the newly-founded TK Productions where further orchestration was considered. TK founder Henry Stone had, as was proved in the following years, an eye for innovation & an ear for a hit record the demo was released & Timmy had a two million selling song.
Homemade hypnotic minimalism wasn’t a thing on the R&B charts of 1972. The subsequent album was criticised for a lack of variety though in later years, when we knew about drum machines, chill out & trip hop, it has come to be better regarded. Timmy did have three more records on the R&B Top 30, one as late as 1984.but never returned to the Top 3 of the Pop listing. He became part of the TK crew who were so influential in the new-fangled Disco music, he will be best remembered as a one hit wonder & what a hit it was.
“Why Can’t We Live Together” is a song that has endured. In the 80s Sade covered it on her debut album, in the 90s Santana included it in their live sets & in the 21st century Steve Winwood, who, knows his way around a Blues riff on an Hammond organ recorded his version with a Brazilian-Cuban percussion team accentuating the Latin rhythms & adding to Steve’s particular feeling & taste. So, while we are here…