Want A Hit Record Yeah (11th November 1972)

The Raspberries, a quartet from Cleveland, Ohio, had two records in the lower reaches of the Cash Box album chart, those listed between 101 – 150, from 50 years ago this week. Their eponymous debut had been released in April 1972 & “Go All The Way”, the second 45 taken from it, made the US Top 5 boosting interest in & sales of the album. After a peak of #51 it was now slipping down the list to #103 but the Raspberries were not hanging about & the next collection “Fresh” was a new entry at #107. Like their first, “Fresh” opened with a rush & a push, something that sounded good on the radio, a hit record yeah.

Power Pop is a term coined by Pete Townshend to describe his own group’s music back when he was writing killer three minute singles rather than rock operas. Even though some of my favourite bands, Big Star, Flamin’ Groovies, are regarded as such I’m not about to get definitive about such a nebulous classification, it’s enough to say that Raspberries merit a more than honourable mention in any discussion about Power Pop. Formed by members of two teenage groups from Cleveland, Ohio they found themselves a deal with a major label & a promotion budget that stretched to a “scratch n sniff” sticker on the cover of their debut album. It’s a record that owes a lot to the mid-60s Beatles, not a bad thing, good short tunes with strong choruses are always welcome though some of the more obvious steals from the Fabs are a bit cheeky. In 1972 Retro was not yet a thing but Raspberries took the best of all of six years ago & made a fine record. “Fresh”, with more consistency through the album, is even better.

Eric Carmen wrote & sang lead on the hit records, “I Wanna Be With You” made the US Top 20, while guitarists Doug Smalley & Wally Bryson had their songs to contribute. Eric liked those Mcartney-esque melodies & silly love songs – OK, romantic ballads – but the guitars added crunch to the caramel though neither Doug nor Wally were John to Eric’s Paul. Perhaps unfairly regarded as mainstream at a time when “progressive” was the thing, Raspberries well-crafted Pop was ahead of the game & still sounds good. “Side 3” (1973) had more Power than Pop but band tensions led to the departure of Smalley & drummer Jim Bonfanti & the reduced promotion meant reduced sales. With new members “Starting Over” (1974) had more ambition & the epic “Overnight Sensation” returned the group to the singles chart before Carmen decided that he should be all by himself & went solo. That’s four good Raspberries’ records, ones that plenty of young bands listened to & thought that they would like to make that kind of noise.

Clean as country water, wild as mountain dew, that’s those Nashville Cats & at #150 this week was one of the “A Team” of the session men behind the countless hits created in Music City. Charlie McCoy started out in Miami with a 50 cent harmonica & played guitar in a teenage Rock & Roll band dismissed as a little too modern in Nashville & by the faculty at Miami University. Undeterred he returned to Tennessee where, missing out on a gig as a guitarist with a band who also needed a drummer, he bought himself a kit & got the job. In 1961 he joined an all-star studio band & added a prominent harmonica part to Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man”, an international hit. Charlie thought that $49 for three hours work was good getting for a 20 year old & with the endorsement of producers Chet Atkins & Owen Bradley he would be playing over 400 sessions a year. On a 1965 visit to the New York World’s Fair he was contacted by Bob Johnston, an old friend & Bob Dylan’s producer, & was handed a guitar to play on “Desolation Row”. When Johnston & Dylan wanted to record in Nashville Charlie was asked to get the band together for the “Blonde On Blonde” sessions. There’s a story that he played bass one-handed, a trumpet in the other, on “Most Likely You Go Your Way & I’ll Go Mine”! In 1967, on the more restrained sublime “John Wesley Harding” Charlie kept both hands on the bass, playing on all the tracks.

Charlie McCoy played with all the Country greats & the stars who followed Dylan to Nashville. It’s a very long list including a whole lot of Elvis Presley, both versions of “Jackson” (Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Cash & June Carter) & with Area Code 615, his Nashville friends, on “Stone Fox Chase”, known in the UK as the theme tune to Rock TV show “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. His current, eponymous album is, like the other three collections issued in 72/3, a mix of Country classics & contemporary Pop hits all rather faithfully covered & arranged to feature Charlie’s crystal clear harmonica backed by elite studio men. The listening can be easy, these guys were used to completing four tracks in a session because they knew what went where & how it goes. The result is pleasant & proved to be popular, all four albums reaching the Country Top 10. Charlie added harp & vibes to Elvis’ version of “I Really Don’t Want To Know”, a 1953 hit for Les Paul & Mary Ford. Often covered, the song is in my collection by both Gene Clark & Jason & the Scorchers. There’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville, but if you needed a harmonica then you called up Charlie McCoy.

In August 1967 Columbia Records issued “The Byrds’ Greatest Hits”11 singles, from four LPs released between April 1965 & March 1967. Music that had heard the Beatles & answered the British Invasion with Folk-Rock, Space-Rock & Raga-Rock. The assemblage became the group’s biggest selling album, a Gold record within the year, but the times they were a changing in the Summer of Love, the audience that had grown up listening to the Byrds were looking further out & farther along. Losing group members had caused disruption but this was by no means the end of the Byrds’ artistic achievement & innovation though they no longer were the shock of the new & never as commercially successful. By 1972 Roger McGuinn was the last original Byrd standing, the new cohort, Gene Parsons (drums), Skip Battin (bass) & master guitar string bender Clarence White had been together since late 69. The opening two sides of the double album “Untitled” (1970) & other recordings confirm that the group were a great live act but their last studio record, “Farther Along” (1971), had failed to trouble the compilers of the Top 150 albums chart. Their contract with Columbia was coming to an end, a rumoured reunion of the original 5 members was causing a stir & “The Best of the Byrds: Greatest Hits Volume II”,#151 on the chart, was pushing it a bit.

Volume II spans the years 1968-71 & the highest chart ranking I can find for any of these 11 “greatest hits” is #65 for “The Ballad of Easy Rider”, the title track of a 1969 album. Apparently curated with the input of McGuinn only one track from each of “Notorious Byrd Brothers” (“Get To You”) & “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”), both records now rightly appreciated as ground-breaking classics, are included. The three tracks from “The Ballad of…” are good though there is no “Gunga Din” or “Deportee”. “Nashville West”, “Lover of the Bayou”, “Bugler” & “Lazy Water” would all be alternate & better choices for inclusion. I’ll go with “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”, a song left over from Gram Parsons’ brief one-album stint as a Byrd, about Nashville DJ Ralph Emory who disapproved of all these longhairs playing Country music. In May 1973 “History of the Byrds”, a double album was released in the UK & Europe. Compiled by John Tobler, with a family tree by Pete Frame, two aficionados & champions of the group, it was a much more sympathetic appreciation of the latter part of the Byrds’ output. “History…” included the track “Lady Friend”, a blink & you missed it US 45 pretty much unknown on this side of the Atlantic at the time. If you have never heard “Lady Friend”, a David Crosby classic, then maybe it’s time you did.


You Are Still My Brother (Soul November 26th 1972)

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…

Get Back Jack (Albums November 18th 1972)

There are some much loved records on the lower reaches of the Cash Box album chart, those ranked between 101-150. The Stones “Exile On Main St” (#114) & “Harvest” by Neil Young (#115) had both held the #1 position earlier in the year & if you have recently added these 50 year old records to your collection then you are doing the right thing. Further down the list, rising four places to #139 was a group who took their name from a steam-powered dildo in William S. Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch” & who named their debut LP from the Bob Dylan song “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. “Can’t Buy a Thrill” is a refreshing , erudite take on Rock, “post-boogie” if you like. In late 1972/early 73 we were discovering the well-crafted delights of tracks beyond the two Top 20 singles though did we know that it would retain its crispness for half a century or that we were listening to the starting point of great American artistry? Only a fool would say that.

In 1972 Steely Dan were a six man band. Donald Fagen (keyboards) & Walter Becker (bass), college friends from back East, in Los Angeles as staff writers with ABC, had a bunch of songs that it was probably best they recorded themselves. They had met Denny Dias through a “Must have Jazz chops. Assholes need not apply” advertisement & he joined session man Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on guitars. Drummer Jim Hodder knew Skunk & as Fagen was unsure of his vocal abilities David Palmer added his voice. Palmer sang lead on just the two tracks, more in the live show, & his short stay in the group means that he gets little credit for his contribution. I do know that when I sing “Like the castle in its corner in a medieval game, I foresee terrible trouble & I stay here just the same” from “Dirty Work” it’s his perfectly pitched, yearning vocal that I’m aiming for.

For all Becker & Fagen’s love of Beatnik Jazz (& conversation) & R&B “Can’t Buy A Thrill” is a record made by a young band who had been listening to the radio in the 1960s, their teenage years, when there was a Pop & Rock explosion. “Do It Again” & “Reelin’ In The Years”, those two classics that still merit airtime, are epic singles, the guitars of Denny & Skunk (& Elliott Randall on “Reelin’…) come correct & shine brightly. There are Jazz inflections, bossa nova rhythms but these are songs with hooks & choruses written by two young men intending to write hits. I could have chosen any track, “Midnight Cruiser”” & “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me” were certainly in the frame, but “Change of the Guard” with its sprightly tenderfoot optimism, even idealism, makes the cut here. It may be an outlier from the rest & the acerbic seeds of the group’s sardonic lyrics that Steely Dan would cultivate are certainly present on “Can’t Buy A Thrill”. There’s an argument to be made that it is the most varied, most accessible, even the best of their records & I would listen to that reasoning. Myself, I prefer the jaded urbanity of their later lyrics matched to the sophisticated perfectionism of their music – I guess that makes me a Dapper Dan Man.

By 1972 Joe Walsh had established a reputation as a guitar hero with three studio albums by the James Gang, attracting the admiration of the likes of Jimmy Page & Pete Townshend without his power trio achieving the mega-success of theirs. The Blues-Rock of “James Gang Live In Concert” (1971) shook the foundations of New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. On a couple of tracks Joe put down his axe to play an atmospheric Hammond organ, an indication perhaps that his musical ambitions went beyond an impressive, grandstanding 18 minute long jam on a Yardbirds’ song. He left the Gang, recruiting drummer Joe Vitale, a classmate at Kent State University & bassist Kenny Passarelli to form Barnstorm. So was this new album, “Barnstorm”, at #128 on this week’s chart, a group effort or a Joe Walsh record? His name was there on the disc’s label, the gig posters of the time have “JW & Barnstorm” on the bill It was a little confusing but despite the contributions of his new buddies (they wrote two of the tracks) I’m going with “Barnstorm being Joe’s solo debut.

Joe had followed his long time producer Bill Szymczyk out to the Caribou Ranch studio in Colorado & the Rocky Mountain way was having an effect. There’s a more pastoral feeling to his music now & an expanded instrumentation, Vitale brought along his flute, Joe his ARP synthesizer. “Barnstorm” is creative, adventurous &, on tracks like “Birdcall Morning” beautiful. Szymczyk’s skill in layering assorted acoustic & electric guitars gives the songs texture & substance on possibly the best of Joe’s releases. I chose the one hard-edged track, “Turn To Stone”, a song he revisited on “So What” (1974) because those trademark chunky, still melodic power chords are what Joe does so well. The record, with no single to promote it, was not a commercial success, the following year Barnstorm recorded “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get”& it made the US Top 10. Joe was having a good time having a good time in the early 1970s, in 1975 at the urging of his producer with no vowels in his name he was recruited by the Eagles, a regular job that he probably needed. Earlier this year there was news of a new record by Barnstorm, now that would catch my interest.

A story about a deaf, dumb & blind boy, you know “Tommy” (1969), had made the Who transatlantic stars. A monumental “Live At Leeds” (1970) repeated the rock opera’s double platinum status while the group’s composer, Pete Townshend, struggled in his home studio with the next concept. The plot of “Lifehouse” was so convoluted, the vainglorious ambition so far-reaching – music that could be adapted to reflect the personalities of the audience, culminating in a universal chord merged from biographical data – that Pete became alienated from the rest of his uncomprehending group members & estranged from his mercurial co-manager Kit Lambert who was in New York shopping around an unauthorised movie version of “Tommy”. “Lifehouse” remained unfinished when a new Who album was required & eight tracks from the unfinished project were used on “Who’s Next” (1971), a triple platinum landmark in early 1970s Rock. Interest in the Who, particularly in the US, had never been greater.

While Pete was seeking that elusive universal chord he became interested in the spiritual teachings of Meher Baba & had, with fellow acolytes, recorded a couple of albums inspired by & in tribute to Mr Baba. Initially in limited quantity Decca, the Who’s US label approached Pete about an official release, he took a couple of tunes from both , three “Lifehouse” demos & a couple more unreleased tapes he had stashed away & “Who Came First” became Pete’s first major label solo album. Over the years we have heard more of Pete’s home tapes. They lack the robustness of Daltrey’s voice & the intensity of the Who in all their glory but the tunes, the arrangements are all there & the gentler dynamic is charming. OK, the favourite country songs of Pete’s mystical mentor may not be to everyone’s taste but “Who Came First”, at #116 on the chart, with early versions of “Pure & Easy” & “Let’s See Action” is an insight into Pete’s process & a fine collection. The Who did record “Time Is Passing” I think that I prefer the homemade version on this record. Ronnie Lane of Faces was another Baba believer & in 1970 they recorded “Evolution” together for the “Happy Birthday” record. As “Stone” the song was later recorded by both of Ronnie’s groups, Faces & Slim Chance. It’s a lovely song, some great acoustic picking by Pete & a welcome addition to “Who Came First”. So, while we’re here…

Do You Want Beans With That? (Cafe Culture)

Here in the UK, after 10 days of forelock-tugging, monarchical myth-making & the performative grief of our national broadcaster (luckily I have a TV with an off switch) I was able to raise my Victorian mourning veil to find that we now live in a Kingdom & have a new head of government whose pernicious economic policy has rewarded millionaires, leaving the millions struggling in an inflationary recession to their own devices. Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses only worse, probably. Trickle down economics – you’ve got to be joking but it’s not funny. Feeling a strong disconnection with the country I live in it’s time to turn to Sir Raymond Douglas Davies who, after inventing Heavy Metal with “You Really Got Me”, has for over 50 years cast a sardonic but still empathic eye on the country of his birth. The title track of his 2007 record “Working Man’s Cafe” is a place that I recognise & like & Jah bless Ray Davies for writing a song about it.

Mitchell wasn’t a fan of the Cockney Hut, on that row of shops at the bottom of the high-rise flats on the Camberwell Road, now called Tony’s Cafe, you’ve passed it on the bus. He reckoned that the proprietor had a grubby thumb in the beans as he handed you the heart attack (& beans) on a plate but that didn’t bother me, I was hungry. The Hut was warm, steamy & not-too welcoming, you were left to enjoy your meal in peace which was fine by me. Just 50 yards from my work it was an ideal morning stop for beans on toast, egg on toast to soak up last night’s alcohol & help with the headache. I told my foreman that I may be 15 minutes late but he would get more work out of me if I had eaten breakfast than on an empty stomach & hungover & he bought it (I was good at my job). When Mitchell & I were both off work, lunch at the Hut, a saunter to the bookies, a couple of pints at the pub on Camberwell Green then a few frames at the snooker hall was like being in an episode of “Minder”, the popular 80s TV programme. A long good Thursday afternoon.

I could search for more food related musical selections to accompany these memories but let’s stick to Sir Raymond & his group, the Kinks. “God’s Children” is possibly one of the greatest songs ever recorded, certainly the best song to be featured in a movie about a penis transplant.

A few years & a few jobs later I was knocking the heck out of old warehouses then making them nice enough for office space in Shoreditch, East London. It’s Millennial Central round there now but back then, while the developers were still making plans, the area retained enough of its proletarian past & grimy charm to encourage a spot of instant cash-in-hand overtime if you wanted to spend the night in the Bricklayer’s Arms (oo-er!). The construction crew were a lively, mainly Irish gang & life was too hectic for making sandwiches for work. At breakfast time we all descended on Anna’s, a cafe run by a Greek married couple on Rivington St, a path from Old Street to our site on Charlotte Rd. The rush & push for tea & bacon rolls was eased when the bosses allowed a couple of us behind the counter to vaguely aim the big metal teapots at a row of empty mugs. At lunchtime the home-made Greek-English meals – not many beans in those – were nourishing & for those of us who had drunk our wages before payday (sometimes that was me) there was a line of credit that was happily paid back on Fridays. Anna would tell us that she was only staying around until the “yuppies” moved in, which they would & did. Maybe it was what we wanted to hear but I think she meant it. If I was in the area I always paid a visit to Anna’s.

There are other cafes that merit a mention here – I never got round to writing that guide to the “greasy spoons” of London. We lived just 50 yards from the Regency in Westminster, big, efficient, an Art-Deco classic that had featured in movies. Open until 8 p.m. the take out jam roly-poly (a suet-based comfort dessert) & custard was often irresistible. The Vietnamese place in the Borough where the carb-packed spaghetti bolognese & chips seemed, to me, to be an unlikely popular lunchtime selection. The owner made such a fuss of my girlfriend on the day she joined me – she loved it. At my final regular spot, just off the Walworth Road, the Chinese lady always worried if we were a no-show for a weekend breakfast & she left her station behind the counter to hug me on the day I told her I was leaving London. “It’s only a cafe” said my companion. He just didn’t get it.

Of course most of these places have gone now (the Regency abides), gentrification of humble neighbourhoods has always been a part of an evolving city. I can’t say that I’m, like Larry David, too comfortable in the coffee & chrome joints where avocado has replaced the beans on the toast though I’m too polite to order some “vanilla bullshit”, I stick with a latte, coffee with milk – it’s a thing! In my small town it’s still the mid-20th century & there are still cafes where the breakfast options occupy half of the menu, where, if you ask nicely, they will stick their thumb in the beans when they serve you.

OK let’s end with a song about British food in its multicultural glory written by Joe Strummer, another another perceptive observer of the somethings about England.

Salsa In Africa (Fania All Stars)

In 1974 Don King, bookmaker-turned-boxing promoter & less than 2 years out of prison, was working on his big deal. George Foreman, the 40-0 heavyweight boxing champion was making short work of any challenger, former title holder Muhammad Ali, the most famous sportsman in the world had lost twice since his return to boxing after a 3 year ban for refusing the US’s invitation to join their army in Vietnam. It would be “the fight of the century”, all Don needed was the $10 million to tempt the protagonists into a ring. He found an unlikely sponsor in Mobuto Sese Seko the President of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). The eyes of the world would be on his country & “The Rumble in the Jungle” set for September the 25th.

An injury to Foreman’s hand caused the postponement of the fight for six weeks but Zaire 74, a three day music festival, went ahead. The concert line-ups were curated by South African trumpet player Hugh Masekela & his record producer Stewart Levine. The best home talents , along with international African star Miriam Makeba, were booked along with a stellar selection of African-American artists. The plane to Kinshasa carried James Brown & the J.B.’s, B.B. King, Bill Withers, the Crusaders & the Spinners. Among King’s international investors & facilitators were David Hemmings, the British actor, through his Hemdale Film Corporation & apparently Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator. An original associate of his was Jerry Masucci, NY cop, then lawyer, now founder of the Fania record label. The Fania All Stars, a Salsa supergroup ensemble of some of the best Latin players around, joined the passenger list for the musically packed DC 8 to Zaire.

The All Stars brought along Celia Cruz, the charismatic, Afro-Cuban “Queen of Salsa” who, as a child, had learned the songs of Santeria, a religion derived from Yoruban by the African slave diaspora in Cuba. Exiled from home since 1962, Celia had become a significant representative of the Cuban-American community. Here, singing “Quimbara”, her latest hit, comparing life to dance, in Spanish to a French speaking African audience, we see the Queen in all her glamour & glory. The song was recorded for the “Celia & Johnny” album. Johnny Pacheco is Celia’s bandleader & dancing partner here. Born in the Dominican Republic, the son of a prominent local musician, Johnny had moved to New York when he was 11 years old. As a performer, composer, producer & co-founder of Fania Records Johnny was a central figure in the development & growing popularity of Latin music.

You don’t need an ethnomusicologist to point out the elements of African rhythms in the music of the Caribbean, they came over on the boats involved in a terrible trade in human beings. Drums were banned by the US plantation owners fearing that they carried a language & a message that they couldn’t understand. Those antebellum, antediluvian assholes may have had a point because the percussion on “Ponte Duro” is really saying something. I could list the members of the All Stars present at a momentous concert but would struggle to put faces to the names. The three featured sticksmen though deserve a shout out. Roberto Roena (bongos) led his own star band, Apollo Sound, in Puerto Rico. He later played with Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian saxophonist who was present at Zaire 74. Nicky Marrero, a master of the timbales, was born in the Bronx, New York to a Puerto Rican family & had been playing professionally since he was 14. Ray Barretto (congas) is another New Yorker of Puerto Rican stock. Ray was a big star, when artists across the musical spectrum (or “Sesame Street”) needed a percussionist, he got the call. Individually impressive, together that’s a triple threat trio of energy, showmanship & rhythm.

The progression of Latin music is more complicated than from Rumba to Mamba to Salsa. There’s a whole lot of rhythms in between as Afro-Cuban sounds spread around the Spanish-speaking Caribbean & continental South America before reaching the melting pot of New York’s Latin community. Their clubs were the place to be in the post World War II years the bands jammed & found work with & were influenced by the great Jazz musicians around. In the 1960s a cross-pollination of the sons & daughters of migrants, Nuyoricans, & their Afro-American neighbours in Central Harlem developed into Boogaloo, a Latin fused with R&B which produced many great records & was the very thing in 1969 when Ray Barretto & Mongo Santamaria represented at the Harlem Cultural Festival, the “Summer of Soul”. Here, from that year is Ray’s fantastic “Soul Drummers”. As Celia Cruz would always shout, “Azucar!”.

Dear, Oh Dear, What Dreadful Rowdy People (Faces)

In March 1970 Faces, three former members of Small Faces joined by guitarist Ron Wood & singer Rod Stewart from the Jeff Beck Group, released “First Step”, their debut album. Just three months later “Gasoline Alley”, Rod’s second solo album, with significant contributions from all of his new group, hit the shops, a more confident, more fully realised record than “First Step” which, according for the North American market had Small Faces on the cover! This, Faces still finding their feet in the studio & growing recognition of their singer complicated things. On the 15th of September 1970 they were at the BBC Maida Vale studio to record three tracks for the John Peel radio show, showing that live, onstage, they knew what they were all about & were the most exciting new band in the UK.

The words on the top of the page are the first impression of John Peel, the most influential British DJ for generations of listeners. He soon changed his mind about Faces, they were certainly rowdy, certainly not dreadful & in 1971, when Rod was at #1 with “Maggie May” he was there on Top of the Pops as an honorary Face, wondering what to do with the mandolin in his hands. This was the second session the band recorded for him this year. “Around The Plynth” is the rockingest, rawest track on “First Step”, Ron Wood, a bass player with Beck, playing a filthy slide guitar, Mac, as good a keyboard player as there was in Britain, Kenney Jones, the man to replace Keith Moon in the Who & Ronnie Lane, the nicest guy around. Then there’s the singer, Rod at the top of his game, his “Gasoline Alley” bringing melodicism to the toughest Blues-Rock. “Never knew what it was to be loved – bam, bam, bam” Oh my!

Ah go on, here’s moving pictures from 1971 of Faces performing “Plynth” in Paris. As John Peel said, “ the Faces for me recaptured the kind of feelings I’d had when I first heard Little Richard and people like that and Jerry Lee Lewis, in the same way as the Undertones were a few years later”. By 1971, with the group’s essential “A Nod’s As Good As A Wink…To A Blind Horse” album & Rod’s damn near perfect “Every Picture Tells A Story”, Faces were setting the standard for British Rock.

The Rhythm And The Blues (Soul July 2nd 1972)

It’s been a while since I took a look at the Cash Box R&B Top 60 from 50 years ago this week so let’s see what was new & what was hot on the chart for the 1st of July 1972. The Top 10 was pretty static, the Top 3 unchanged from last week. One we all know, “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers remained at #1 & was on its way to the same pinnacle on the Pop 100. Luther Ingram had been around the R&B Top 20 before & “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right”, rising from #9 to #4, was to be his biggest hit, on the way to the top spot & becoming a much-covered Soul standard. The one new entry was by an artist who had been pretty much guaranteed a high placing for any of her singles since her four R&B #1s in 1967.

That’s Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. “All The King’s Horses” may not be as well remembered as hits like “Respect”, “Think”, “I Say A Little Prayer” & about 10 others but it’s a little beauty, a slow burner with a couple of crescendos where Aretha raises the temperature. She’s backed by New York’s finest, Cornell Dupree’s guitar, Donny Hathaway’s piano, a strong string arrangement, bringing it home sweetly with her sisters Carolyn & Erma. The song is one of the four self-penned tracks on the “Young, Gifted & Black” album, as strong & consistent a studio collection as Aretha ever released. It was the fifth track from the record to be released as a single, all of them entering the R&B Top 10, With this following the monumental “Live At Fillmore West” (1971) & the release, in June 1972, of “Amazing Grace” recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, a great Aretha album & the highest selling Gospel record of all-time the Queen of Soul was at one of the highpoints during a long, glorious contribution to contemporary music.

Cousins Mel Hardin & Tim McPherson went North from Holly Springs, Mississippi & in 1969 were signed by Chicago Soul legend Gene Chandler to his Bamboo label. Mel’s mum Yolanda & a bunch of other family were involved with Bamboo too & the self-penned “Backfield In Motion” hit the spot, selling over a million copies. Unfortunately after just the one album, “Good Guys Only Win In The Movies” (1969) the label folded & it would be three years before the duo released another record. This time around they were taken to 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama to be produced by Barry Beckett at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The results were passed to the Stax label in Memphis who had a Sam & Dave sized vacancy on their roster since the departure of the Soul Men. The ballad “Starting All Over Again”, written by Shoals staff writer Phillip Mitchell, an arrangement nodding towards the sweet Philadelphia sound, is at #46 on this week’s chart. It continued to rise steadily becoming a big Summer R&B & Pop hit, giving Mel & Tim their second gold record.

None of the songs on the subsequent two albums Mel & Tim recorded for Stax registered as strongly as “Starting All Over Again”. Of course, like everything that came out of the Shoals at this time, they were strong, punchy as heck & well worth a listen but lacked that something to get them noticed. Meanwhile just across town in another Sheffield studio they were trying to find that something too.

Z.Z. (Arzell) Hill moved from Texas to Los Angeles in 1963, the singles & two LPs released in the next 5 years by Kent Records of a quality that was not reflected in commercial success. Try his version of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises”. A move to Capricorn Records in Georgia was unsatisfactory for both sides & Z.Z’s contract was sold to Jerry Williams who in 1970, sick of being told what to do by labels who then didn’t pay him properly for his records & compositions, had started his own production company, his own label & re-invented himself as Swamp Dogg. His album “Total Destruction of the Mind” is an Acid-Soul attempt to achieve exactly that, the price of Swamp’s new independence was he lacked a promo budget to get the record heard. It’s wild, ambitious fearless ranked alongside Sly, Curtis, Funkadelic (even Frank Zappa) in 1970 & still a classic now.

Swamp Dogg had plans for Z.Z. Hill too but the singer was unhappy about his new contractual arrangements. Apparently he showed up at Quinvy Studios for three days, laid down his vocal tracks, leaving the rest to his new producer. “The Brand New Z.Z. Hill” is a concept album concerning a man’s relationships with two women, the tracks linked by conversational interludes. The concept is loose, the chat at first confusing & the gender politics absolutely of its time but the Blues-Soul tracks written by Mr Dogg & former rock & roller Gary U.S. Bonds have quality & individuality, familiarity adds a cohesion to the record & the musicians, on furlough from the other two more well-known local studios, particularly guitarist Pete Carr, revel in the space given to them. “Second Chance”, Z.Z’s response to a plea for just such a thing, is at #56 on this week’s chart. In the 1980s Hill found a home at Malaco Records, recording a number of accomplished, acclaimed & appreciated Blues records. In my opinion none of them bettered “The Brand New Z.Z. Hill”, a particular favourite of mine & one of the great Southern Soul albums.

The Woman’s Got Soul (Soul 30th April 1972)

When Holland-Dozier-Holland, the songwriting/production wizards behind so many of the label’s great hits, left Tamla Motown to start up their own operation they knew that they would need a girl group on their roster. Their songs for Martha & the Vandellas & the Supremes had moved the sound along from Phil Spector’s work with the Crystals & the Ronettes (not forgetting the Shirelles, the Chiffons & the Shangri-Las) maintaining the female vocal group’s importance in American R&B/Soul. The first release on H-D-H’s Hot Wax label in 1969 was by Honey Cone, a trio from Los Angeles, by the 30th April 1972 the group were the girl group of the day, enjoying their fifth entry into the Top 10 of the Cash Box R&B Top 60.

Honey Cone had connections, lead singer Edna Wright was the sister of Darlene Love, the go-to vocalist on many of Phil Spector recordings. She & Carolyn Willis had sung on many sessions, Shelly Clark had been an Ikette. It was when Darlene was unable to fulfill a TV date on “The Andy Williams Show” that the stand-in trio were seen by Eddie Holland, signed up & brought to Detroit to record. The majority of their debut album were songs credited to “Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne”, H-D-H had not yet settled their publishing independence from Motown so could not us their own names. Ron worked for them, Edythe was a friend. It was Honey Cone’s fifth single “Want Ads” that really broke them out, #1 in the Pop & R&B charts, they looked good on TV in their hot pants, sounded good too. “Stick Up”, the follow up, put them back at the top of the R&B list, both bright, strong & driving like the Vandellas tunes, based on the new hit sound of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, a good sound & who cares when it was done so well.

The hits were both written by Greg Perry, producer & Edna’s boyfriend, & General Johnson, frontman of Chairman of the Board, flourishing with the encouragement of his new employers. On “Soulful Tapestry” (1971) Holland-Dozier-Holland stepped back from Honey Cone as it was apparent this pair knew what they were doing. Along with label mate Laura Lee, Millie Jackson & Ann Peebles, the album’s songs of female empowerment were part of a new thing. One of the three tracks H-D-H did provide, “The Day I Found Myself”, #26 this week was sliding down from the R&B Top 10. It’s a really good one bringing to mind the Marvelettes & the Velvelettes from Motown’s mid-60s. It’s also a change from the pure Pop-Soul of the previous hits, an indicator of the way Honey Cone could be progressing. Unfortunately H-D-H were discovering that there was more to the business of music than making hits, getting paid by their distributors was more important. With the label in financial trouble Honey Cone’s “Love, Peace & Soul” (1972) was their least successful album, a dissatisfied Carolyn left the group & there were to be no more recordings by the original trio. Honey Cone burned bright for a short time, their confidence & sass influential on future girl groups.

#26 down from 19

Barry White spent much of the 1960s in Los Angeles writing, producing, recording the odd overlooked solo record. His biggest success was with Felice Taylor whose “I Feel Love Coming On” made the UK Top 20 in 1967 – there’s a story about why I like that song so much but I don’t know you well enough to share it. White’s ambitions as an independent producer stalled until he assembled a girl group. He worked with sisters Glodean & Linda James & their cousin Diane Taylor for a year before launching them as Love Unlimited & 50 years ago this week their debut 45 “Walking In The Rain With The One I Love” was a big mover on the R&B chart, rising 14 places to #16 before crossing over to the Pop Top 20 in the US & the UK. “Walking…”, with Barry growling to Glo on the telephone, is from an album full of mid-tempo Love ballads, the Motown girl group sound with any sharp edges smoothed, the songs drenched in orchestration, the sweet, sweeping string arrangements of Gene Page making it distinctive.

Having discovered how to do it Barry did it better next time & “I’m Under the Influence of…Love Unlimited” (1973) was a Top 3 Pop & R&B album though I’m surprised that the title track & “It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart it’s Spring)”, both dusted down from the Felice Taylor times, were not bigger hits. He was looking for a male singer & found one at home – himself. In 1973 his debut was the first of four successive chart-topping R&B albums, the following year “Love’s Theme”, an instrumental originally included on L.U.’s “Influence…” was released by the Love Unlimited Orchestra & hit #1 on the US Pop listing. Barry married Glodean & Love Unlimited became an important part of the international superstar Barry White Show, still recording & heading the R&B chart in 1974 with his song”I Belong To You”. Disco was coming & Barry White was leading the way.

Honey Cone may have been carrying the girl group swing in 1972 but the long-time title belt holders were not about to hand it over yet. The group had not been “Diana Ross & the Supremes” since 1970 when their lead vocalist left for a solo career & Jean Terrell joined Mary Wilson (that’s the lovely…) & Cindy Birdsong. Frank Wilson had been one of “The Clan” assembled by Tamla Motown to fill the gap left by Holland-Dozier-Holland’s departure & had co-written hits for the Supremes when Diana was still around. Now, as sole producer, hits like “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, “Nathan Jones” & the sublime “Stoned Love” showed that there was still life in & love for a group who since there breakthrough in 1963 had established themselves as the most popular female group in the world. In 1971 “Touch” did well on the R&B chart but tanked on the Pop albums list, other producers were tried but a planned follow-up “Promises Kept” was shelved. The next man up for the job was label stalwart, vice-president & legend Smokey Robinson.

Smokey wrote all nine songs on the “Floy Joy” album. They’re not of the same quality as “Ooh Baby Baby” or “Tracks of My Tears” but it’s a smooth, sweet, consistent record, Jean being the featured lead voice with Mary & Cindy having their moments while the Funk Brothers (guitarist Marv Taplin had played with the pre-Supreme Primettes before joining Smokey & the Miracles) hit all the right notes. The two uptempo tunes were released as singles, the title track making the US Pop 20 & “Automatically Sunshine”, a new entry at #44 on this week’s R&B chart, James Jamerson’s bass leading in Mary & Jean’s shared vocals, was more successful in the UK than in the US. Cindy’s pregnancy was showing, her maternity leave replacement Lynda Lawrence is on the album sleeve & sings on “The Supremes Produced & Arranged by Jimmy Webb”, released later in 1972. It’s an interesting record, check out Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want”, that failed to connect with record buyers. With more line-up adjustments, disputes with Motown & changing tastes it would be four years before the trio, by then Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, returned to the Top 40 when Eddie & Brian Holland returned to produce an act they had helped to make the greatest,the dream girls, the most successful girl group ever.

Not Like Everybody Else (23rd April 1972)

A couple of weeks ago I checked out the Cash Box album chart from 50 years ago, made my selections from those listed between 101 – 150, dug out some old records & hit a problem. The soft rock of Loggins & Messina just didn’t seem as interesting & as engaging as it had done in 1972. It was the same with the Raiders (formerly Paul Revere & the…) & Harry Chapin. I’m an enthusiast not a critic, I don’t want to waste my, your’s, anybody’s time with music I don’t really like so, for the first time this year, I scrapped the weekend blog post. On to the chart for the 23rd of April 1972 & ah, that’s much better. One of my selections is a favourite record by a favourite group so excuse me if later it all gets a bit florid.

Philadelphian Todd Rundgren’s teenage band, the Nazz, made an impression with their Psych-Pop, now classic, “Open My Eyes”. Leaving after a second album Todd, with his own ideas about the recording process, found employment as a sound engineer/producer with Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman’s Bearsville organisation, preparing a mix (Glyn Johns did one too) for the Band’s “Stage Fright” (1970). The record “Runt”, written, produced but not released under his name was a vanity project, a favour from the boss. They were both surprised when the track “We Gotta Get You A Woman” made the US Top 20 & Todd had a solo career. “Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren” (1971), like the debut, failed to attract big sales but those who were listening could hear the influence of sweet New York & Philly Soul & Laura Nyro, the melodicism of the Beatles, the Hard Rock of the Yardbirds, the inspiration of Jimi Hendrix – phew! All of this was evident on the next record, no more Runt, his name on the sleeve. Todd was in control & did not want to be viewed as just another singer-songwriter.

“Something/Anything?”, #124 on this week’s chart, is a double album, four different sides of a prolific & restlessly forward-thinking artist. There were long studio sessions while Todd played all the instruments & sang all the vocals on intricate arrangements. An L.A. earthquake took him back to the East Coast to finish the record with a band. Side one, “a bouquet of ear-catching melodies” opens with the sure-fire hit “I Saw The Light” & does exactly what it says on the label. There’s more than a touch of Prog on the “cerebral” side, a “Pop Operetta” revived “Hello It’s Me” for an even bigger hit. My selection, “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”, may not have invented Power Pop but certainly raised the bar. More songs like this would have been welcome. “Something/Anything?” may. like many double albums, may be self-indulgent but it’s a major work by a major talent. If it was recorded on Ritalin & weed the follow-up “A Wizard, A True Star” (1973) employed synthesizers & acid & was as madly chaotic as a box of frogs. Todd himself called it “career suicide” though to say the album is worth sticking with is understating its appeal. He could care less anyway, keeping busy with his band Utopia, running in parallel to his solo releases, while establishing himself as a leading producer. My subscription to the “Todd Is God” society lapsed some time ago though I’ll always listen to his output when it comes my way. The early albums, well I’ll always have time for those.

When sixth form ( a college but still school really) had finished for the day me & Butch would hop into his Morris Minor & scoot over to a local record shop where his girlfriend Natalie would let us listen to the new albums we wanted to hear but couldn’t afford to buy. The song that brings to mind those two young idiots spilling out of the listening booth (remember those?) whooping with the Rock & Roll excitement of it all is “Coming Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from “On Tour With Eric Clapton” (1970). Delaney Bramlett, raised in Mississippi, moved to Los Angeles after service in the Navy hooking up with other Southern musicians in the orbit of Leon Russell. Bonnie O’Farrell’s experience as a backing singer included three days onstage with Ike & Turner as the first white Ikette. Moving West in 1967 she met Delaney & they were married later that year. Delaney & Bonnie had many “Friends”, their first record was recorded at the Stax studios with Booker T & the M.G.s & the Memphis Horns, released by the label as part of their 27 album reinvigoration it got a little lost in the crush. On “Home” & “Accept No Substitute” (both 1969) Gospel, Country & R&B coalesced into an intoxicating rootsy Southern Rock. With their killer band augmented by Clapton, Dave Mason & sometimes George Harrison they had a great live show, the set recorded at the less-than-glamourous Fairfield Halls, Croydon becoming their most successful album.

In 1970 that band, Bobby Whitlock (keyboards), Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) went off with Eric to be Derek & the Dominos. Delaney & Bonnie still had plenty of friends, Little Richard, Duane Allman, Gram Parsons – it’s a long list – to help out on their records. The acoustic “Motel Shot” included “Never Ending Song of Love”, a US Top 20 entry as was their version of Dave Mason’s “Only You Know & I Know”. The latter, like the studio version of “Coming Home” was released was released by Atco along with the accompanying album “Country Life” which was withdrawn by label boss Jerry Wexler who thought it lacked quality. Columbia picked up the record, shuffled the tracks & released it as “D & B Together”, #101 on the Cash Box chart. Wexler made a tough call, audiences may have been moving towards the guitar-based Southern rockers (Allman Brothers, ZZ Top) but there’s plenty of passion & soul on the record including “Groupie (Superstar)”, later a hit for the Carpenters. While D & B were “together” professionally they were separated then divorced by the end of the year. For a while it had seemed to be a sure thing that they would be big stars but it didn’t happen. Their five albums, particularly “”Accept No Substitute” & “On Tour” still rock.

In 1965 the Kinks were one of the biggest bands in the world. The previous year “You Really Got Me” started a pretty much five year long unbroken run of UK Top 10 singles, the first three of them hitting the same in the US. Preceded by a fractious reputation an American tour was marred by poor ticket sales, in-band arguments, unsatisfactory shows & finally a punch-up before an appearance on the “Dick Cavett Show”. The American Federation of Musicians were now able to defy the invasion of the Limey Longhairs & the Kinks’ ban from performing in the US lasted four years. Ray Davies developed an idiosyncratic British sensibility, sometimes cynical, increasingly nostalgic, a catalogue of great albums & popular 45s, all embellished by the guitar of brother Dave. “Waterloo Sunset”, a perfect, pivotal moment in 1960s British music made no impression on the US charts. In the UK the now influential, still wonderful “The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society” (1968) failed to match the commercial success of albums by their contemporaries but in 1970, their US ban served, “Lola” was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The group ended their US deal with Reprise who now had a load of great, deserving of a wider hearing, music & the label found an imaginative way to re-release it.

“The Kink Kronikles”, a new entry at #142, is not a greatest hits kollektion (sorry). Compiled by critic & big fan John Mendelsohn it’s a 28 track non-chronological selection from the group’s 1966-71 output. There are great 60s singles (“Dead End Street”, “Autumn Almanac”), the later hits (“Lola”, “Apeman”), three songs by Dave, who never released the solo album he should have done, album tracks & some hard-to-get in the US stuff. Of course there are omissions (“Big Sky”, only the title track from “Village Green”) but the selection is wide ranging & considerately assembled. My current favourite is “God’s Children”, from a fag-end of the 60s (1971 actually) Brit-com – Hywel Bennett has a penis transplant – that Ray provided the soundtrack for. It’s possibly the most uplifting song he has written & never fails to bring a smile. If I don’t want one of the classic albums then I reach for “The Kink Kronikles”, an excellent, still surprising playlist from a very creative time of a great band. God save ’em.


Soul Instrumentals (16th April 1972)

On my first look at these Cash Box R&B charts I am initially drawn to the many great Soul singers. There are always instrumentals on the list & 50 years ago with the success of Isaac Hayes & increased interest in movie soundtracks maybe a few more stood a chance of being heard. Here are three selections from the chart of April 1972.

One conclusion that viewers of “Get Back”, Peter Jackson’s lengthy Beatles documentary, must (or should) have made was that Billy Preston was not only a great keyboard player but a bloody good bloke too. The fractious Fabs, had grown up, become wealthy & grown apart. They were musicians who had not played on a stage for over two years & muddling about in a studio seemed like the last thing they wanted to be doing. When Billy arrived to help out the respect for their guest’s ability & personality is clear, the band were never more unified or happier than when running through the Rock & Roll standards they had played back in Hamburg. Billy played with them on the Apple Corps rooftop, the single “Get Back” had “with Billy Preston” on the label, a unique credit for a non-Beatle. In 1970 Billy played on his first Rolling Stones record, that became a regular thing & by 73 he was touring with the band. It was around this time that Miles Davis named a tune in his honour but Billy Preston was more than a sideman to his heavy friends & 50 years ago this week “Outa-Space” from “I Wrote A Simple Song”, his eighth studio album & his most successful yet, was a new entry at #48 on the R&B chart.

Billy Preston, a self-taught child prodigy, was backing Little Richard at 15 (where he met the Beatles), recorded his first album the following year, had a gig in the house band for the “Shindig” TV show then, still just 20, joined Ray Charles’ group. There were a lot of cover versions on his sometimes quickly recorded releases but his own “Billy’s Bag”, a Mod classic, justifies the album title “The Most Exciting Organ Ever” (1965). His two records for Apple are a fine mix of Gospel, Rock & Soul, Billy tore up the Concert For Bangladesh with his enraptured single “That’s The Way God Planned It”, a bigger hit in the UK than in the US. The self-produced “I Wrote A Simple Song” is more of the same & “Outa-Space”, Billy trying out a clavinet played through a wah-wah pedal for the first time, is a Funk outlier that the record company were less sure about than the million people who bought the record. This was the first of four successive albums to make the R&B Top 10, Billy’s lyrical spirituality may have seemed a little simplistic but it was direct & honest, when he was playing some irresistible Funk or, as on the title track, organ swirls along with George Harrison’s Dobro you knew that he was a special talent.

In Houston, Texas, Joe Sample (piano), Wilton Felder (saxophone) & Stix Hooper (drums), fellow pupils at Phillis Wheatley High School, hooked up with Wayne Henderson (trombone) to form the Swingsters then the Modern Jazz Sextet. After a move to the West Coast in 1960 they were the Nite Hawks for a while before settling on the Jazz Crusaders. From 1961-70, across 17 albums, they bopped hard, their versions of contemporary hits were tight & sophisticated. Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” caught deserved attention, Sample’s piano similar to the Jazz-R&B of Cannonball Adderley’s group, the dual horns assertive, still melodic & very impressive. Both Sample & Felder, who had become more than proficient on bass guitar, were in demand as session players for a wide variety of artists. “Old Socks New Shoes…New Socks Old Shoes” (1970), Joe on the Fender Rhodes piano, with a couple of electric guitarists, opens with a “Hell Yeah!” version of Sly Stone’s “Thank You Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin”, it was their most popular record yet & the last to feature “Jazz” in the group’s name, from now on they were The Crusaders.

I don’t know whether the Crusaders played Soul-Jazz or Jazz Fusion or whatever, they had got it going on. Great musicians who had grown up together with a shared vision for the power of the unit, sympathetic support for each other’s parts. “Crusaders 1”, the third album with their abbreviated name still had plenty of Jazz with the added ingredient of young lead guitarist Larry Carlton. He shines on “Put It Where You Want It”, #55 on this week’s chart, a forerunner of the cool, insistent groove , gently but firmly propelled by Stix, the Crusaders favoured on their succeeding albums, records that, for the discerning listener (that would be me & my friends), fitted right in with the likes of Steely Dan, Grover Washington & Weather Report. In 1979 I spent the Summer away from the UK & away from music. I was surprised to find that on my return the Crusaders were only in the British Top 10 with “Street Life”, a collaboration with singer Randy Crawford. By this time Henderson & Carlton had moved on & it wasn’t the same after Stix left in 1983. Surely he, Joe & Wilton, Houston high school boys, could not have imagined that their musical journey would take them so far.

Crusaders #55

Dennis Coffey was born in the right place at the right time. The guitarist was just 15 years old when he played on his first Detroit recording session. His passion, like millions of teenagers, was rockabilly but on his return after a stint in the military he found session work on the burgeoning Motor City Soul scene. Backing artists like Edwin Starr, J.J. Barnes & Darrell Banks (Dennis is a Northern Soul Legend in the UK) it was at the Ric-Tic/Golden World studio that he met the moonlighting from Motown Funk Brothers (they were fined by the label). When Ric-Tic merged with Tamla Motown ($1 million changing hands) he moved over to 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Hitsville USA, his first session spent adding the guitar effects to “Cloud Nine” for Norman Whitfield & the Temptations. Dennis became part of the crew who played on more hits than they can remember, he & his effects pedals always in demand. The wah-wah guitar on “In The Rain” by the Dramatics, #2 in this week’s chart, Dennis Coffey is that guy.

With Motown making plans to move to the West Coast & Dennis ambitious to see what he could do with himself & after a slow start with a 1969 album signed a solo deal with Sussex Records. “Evolution” (1971) by Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band featured a whole load of multi-tracked guitars & help from his Funk Brother friends including Jack Ashford on tambourine because, well, this is Motown. “Scorpio”. from the soundtrack of a blaxploitation movie that really should have been made hit the Top 10 of the Pop & R&B charts & sold a million. “Goin’ For Myself” (1972) was a little more reflective with horns & strings, covers of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” & Carole King’s “It’s Too Late”. “Taurus”, #23 on the chart of 50 years ago, became a sizeable follow-up hit. The next album, “Electric Coffey” (1972) had a bunch of songs with more star signs in the title but sales were not as high. These are all good, interesting records, Dennis is a tasty & tasteful player. By this time he had re-located to Los Angeles & was in the Mowest studio making hits for Berry Gordy’s label & it is for his contribution to so many records we know that he will be best remembered.