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.

kauai

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.

Howard, Frederick, New Temptations (Soul 16th April 1972)

Another good week on the Cash Box R&B Top 60 from 50 years ago. Roberta Flack’s stunning version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, a Folk song written by Brit Ewen MacColl, swapped places at the top with “In The Rain” by the Dramatics while the rest of the Top 10 included Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Al Green & Joe Tex who makes the cover of this week’s issue. There are plenty of good records further down the list, so many that a double post is justified. We will see – here are three selections for a start.

First up it’s a surprise, a good one, to find Howard Tate, one of my favourite R&B vocalists, on the chart with “She’s A Burglar”, steady at #58 on the Top 60. Born in Georgia, raised in Philadelphia Howard had spent three years singing with keyboard player Bill Doggett before returning to Philly & finding that his teenage Gospel/Doo Wop group, the Gainors, re-named Garnett Mimms & the Enchanters had a hit 45 with “Cry Baby”. Mimms recommended Tate to his producer Jerry Ragovoy & from 1966-68 they made some of the best R&B records to come out of New York studios. Highlighting Howard’s vocal range, lighter on the producer’s liking for orchestration the effervescent “Ain’t Nobody Home” & “Look At Granny Run” made the Top 20 R&B chart while the smouldering “Get It While You Can”, surely now recognised as a Soul masterwork, failed to trouble the compilers. The album resulting from these sessions, also titled “Get It While…” (1967) is a wonderful Blues-Soul thing – essential. Ragovoy was using the royalties from Janis Joplin’s hits with his songs to build his Hit Factory studio while Howard, frustrated by a lack of success, moved to another label for “Howard Tate’s Reaction” (1970), an album with a terrible sleeve, a fine voice & less distinctive, sympathetic production.

In 1972 the gang, Tate, Ragovoy & the best NY session men available, got back together. Like they had never been gone the eponymous record has it all there, Howard’s great voice, Jerry’s songs & production, great playing. There’s the fine single, covers of Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country”, the Band’s “Jemima Surrender”, I don’t think it’s possible to do a bad version of “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” & the album was pretty much ignored. There were a few more singles before Howard retired from music, took a day job before a family tragedy led to addiction & homelessness then his religion helped his recovery. In 2001 a New Jersey DJ tracked Howard down, reunited him with his old producer &, with his voice wonderfully preserved, “Rediscovered” (2003) introduced Howard to a new audience & to new opportunities in music which he followed until his death in 2011. The record included a new version of “Get It While You Can”, simpler, just piano, Howard’s voice. In Paris in 2003 the great Soul singer was joined onstage by the writer/producer for a performance that I have enjoyed many times & now it’s your turn.

At #46 there was a new entry, another good one. Frederick Knight studied music at Alabama A&M University before an unsuccessful spell in New York, returning home & signing to Stax. “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long”, his first 45 for the label, was distinctive enough to get radio airplay, good & then popular enough to make the R&B Top 10, the US Pop 30 & even the Top 30 here in the UK where we knew absolutely nothing about this new singer. Frederick was independent, wanting to handle his own business. He recorded his album at the Sound of Birmingham studio in his hometown & it’s quality Southern Soul all the way. Some of the session crew from Muscle Shoals came down from Florence to help out but there’s a lighter touch than their usual sound & guitarist Pete Carr gets to shine on not only the hit single. “I’ve Been Lonely…” was co-written by Frederick’s wife Posie, he wrote the majority of the rest of the record which closes with a funky cover of the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together” which brings to mind Bobby Womack. The excellent follow up “Trouble” (later covered by Ry Cooder) failed to connect & Frederick is remembered as a one hit wonder. Of course there was more to come.

Knight appeared at the Stax showcase “Wattstax” & while there were no more albums stuck with the label until its bankruptcy in 1975. He then started his own label, Juana, & publishing companies to look after his own songs which were recorded by many artists. In 1979 he wrote & produced “Ring My Bell” for Anita Ward, a massive international Disco smash. Frederick Knight was, still is, a smart dude.

“Take A Look Around”, falling nine places to #19 this week is probably not one of the Temptations records that come to mind as being among the greatest of ther hits. By 1972 there had already been 11 R&B #1 singles with more to come & I’m not going to count others that made the R&B Top 10 in a decade of success that established the Tempts as the leading vocal group in the US. The times they were a changing for the Temptations, in 1968 the “Classic Five” era ended when David Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards then Paul Williams’ serious illness meant that on live gigs, when he was able, he would lip-synch while Richard Street would sing his parts from behind a curtain. After Ruffin’s departure Eddie Kendricks, the glorious falsetto voice, became more disaffected & in 1970 he signed a solo contract with Motown. The “Sky’s The Limit” album (1971) included more ballads alongside the now Tempts trademark Psychedelic Soul & Eddie’s parting gift was his lead on “Just My Imagination (Running Away From Me)”, as sweet & perfect as a single could be, a hit as big as the group had ever had – & that’s big.

“It’s Summer” a track for the “Solid Rock” record (1972), was recorded by the four remaining Temptations before Paul Williams was unable to continue as a member. Richard Street stepped out from behind the curtain, Damien Harris brought his own falsetto joining Edwards, Otis Williams & Melvin Franklin, the two remaining from the 1960s quintet. Producer Norman Whitfield & his writing partner Barrett Strong kept the quality high, the arrangements with his expected flourishes though less psych. It is perhaps a sign of greater inner-group democracy that on the two singles from the album both feature all five voices. “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” is a reply to criticism by their departed colleagues & “Take A Look Around” a more subtle social commentary than the “Stop The War Now” track. It’s a lovely song, the live performance showing that these new Temptations were still a world class act. By the end of 1972 they released “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” & we all know how that one goes.

Brothers And Sisters (Soul 2nd April 1972)

There are a lot of good & interesting R&B entries in the Cash Box album chart for the first day of April 1972. Some, Al Green, Denise La Salle, Honey Cone, were selling on the back of their smash hit singles, “Pain” by the Ohio Players was eventually to become the first of a run of big-selling collections & Stevie Wonder had the significant “Music of My Mind”, a coming-of-age record that we had all been waiting for. Oh look, there’s a Bobby Womack album & anything Quincy Jones released under his own name is surely worth checking out. But wait this is Cash Box R&B Top 60 week not albums,& a new entry at #57 on that chart is the lead 45 from a very high class 33 and a third .

“Little Esther” Phillips, mentored by bandleader Johnny Otis, had her first R&B #1 in 1950 when she was just 14 years old. It was a momentous year for the teenager, two more chart-toppers in a run of seven Top 10s ended when a dispute over royalties led to Esther leaving the Otis band & signing to Federal where there was just one more R&B hit two years later. The singer’s addiction to heroin meant that recording & performing was sporadic for the next decade before “Release Me”, a Country Soul ballad in the current style of Ray Charles, found her high in the Hot 100. In a couple of spells at Atlantic Records they couldn’t decide if Esther was a Blues, Jazz or Soul singer. “And I Love Her”, a classy cabaret Beatles cover attracted deserved attention & for “Burnin'” (1970) King Curtis brought along his saxophone & his band for a live album that consistently showcased her mature range & ability to sing the heck out of her set of chosen songs. It was Esther’s last album for Atlantic but Creed Taylor, boss of CTI Records, had plans for her.

“Home Is Where The Hatred Is” had been written & recorded in 1971 by rap-poet Gil Scott-Heron. It’s a harrowing story of ghetto addiction, unflinching & the truth, a brave, inspired choice for Esther who sings it like she knows it – because she does. Creed Taylor was a Jazz guy who, with his new Kudo imprint, wanted to set a standard for a new, polished Jazz-Funk sound. He had access to the finest New York session men & had hired the saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, former musical director with James Brown, as arranger & conductor. Pee Wee is a Jazz guy with a co-writer’s credit on, among others, “Cold Sweat” & “Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud”, he was around when Funk was invented. The combination of Esther’s voice, great playing, well-chosen songs matched to sumptuous, empathic arrangements made “From A Whisper To A Scream”, the atmospheric title track one of two songs by Allen Toussaint, an outstanding album. Esther & Pee Wee were involved in some fine, fine music in their long careers & this is a highlight for both of them. The story goes that at the following year’s Grammy Awards Aretha Franklin, winner of Best Female R&B Performance for “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, handed over her trophy to the also nominated, deserving Esther. You know that I hope this story is true.

The Isley Brothers in two paragraphs – that’s not gonna happen! Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly made their first record in 1957, had their first hit “Shout” two years later. The mid-60s were spent at Tamla Motown where the quality of releases like “This Old Heart Of Mine”, “I Guess I’ll Always Love You”, “Behind A Painted Smile” & others was not reflected in higher chart placings. In 1969 the trio’s first post-Motown 45, “It’s Your Thing”, an influential Funk anthem, established their independence & them as a force in the new music. With full control over their recordings for their own T-Neck label “Giving It Back” (1971), a collection of contemporary covers, had included a hit version of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One Your With”. “Lay Away”, the first single from their upcoming record rose a healthy 12 places to #29 in the R&B chart this week.

“Brother, Brother, Brother” has its share of Soft Rock covers too, three from Carole King (a 10 minute take on “It’s Too Late”) & Jackie DeShannon’s “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”. It’s the three self-written tracks that stand out, “Work To Do” an insistent classic, the rumbling “Pop That Thang” & the Soul-Rock of “Lay Away”, performed on “Soul Train” by a group who don’t have dance moves – they just groove. “Brother…” is a significant progression of a long-held, well thought out strategy by the Isleys. Two younger brothers, guitarist Ernie & bass player Marvin, along with brother-in-law Chris Jasper had been more involved in the studio, the young guns had probably put the older guys on to the more current songs they had covered. Now, for the first time, these three appeared on the sleeve credits of a record that still featured Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly on the cover. Chris had one of his songs on the album. Everything was in place for a big move, T-Neck’s distribution was moved from Buddah to the bigger Epic & the expanded group recorded “3+3” (1973) with the smash hit “That Lady”. It was the first of a run of 12 LPs to make the R&B Top 3, eight of them in the Pop Top20. For the rest of the decade it was gold & platinum albums all the way for one of the most popular, most enduring groups in the world.

We didn’t get to see “Soul Train” here in the UK. Starting in Chicago in October 1971, shown in just eight cities, a black music programme produced by black people quickly proved to be something to see. It was also a great opportunity for artists to get the kind of national TV exposure they had never had before. So here’s Millie Jackson promoting “Ask Me What You Want”, her second single taken from her eponymous debut album, rising 11 places to #18 on this week’s chart & on its way to the Top 10. Working with producer Raeford Gerard there’s a variety of styles on Millie’s record, “Ask…” & the next hit “My Man, A Sweet Man” both have more than a touch of Motown melodicism & danceability. After a fine start the following year she recorded “It Hurts So Good”, included in the blaxploitation movie “Cleopatra Jones” & her biggest hit yet, crossing over to the Pop chart.

Millie had always talked to her audience between songs. Initially it helped her nervousness but she was good at it, she would say what she liked & people liked what she said. The chat, about how women were treated, how they expected & deserved to be treated, became a bigger part of her show. After three quality albums that tended to follow current styles, with “Caught Up” (1974) Ms Jackson played to her strengths & hit her stride. The songs suited this strong, opinionated woman, a side from the other woman’s viewpoint, another from the wife’s, both of them taking no crap from their man. The Muscle Shoals crew were as strong or as silky as necessary & Millie had the first of her gold records. More were to follow, her tours were a sell out, she was a Soul superstar. I may not be the biggest fan of Millie Jackson though plenty were, anyway she wasn’t talking to me she was talking about me!

Boogie Your Sneakers Away (26th March 1972)

This week, on a distant, dusty website rather drily titled “World Radio History”, packed with media & music ephemera only of interest to obsessives such as myself, I was able to access the Billboard magazine chart archive that provided the initial impetus for these weekly posts from 50 years ago. This was a time before the B’board hotshots attempted to put their hand in my wallet & fortunately the Cash Box archive gave up first the contemporary R&B chart & this year those lower reaches, higher numbers (101-150) from the album listing. Billboard’s ranking goes all the way up to 200, that’s 50 better right? Nah, there’s ample choice at Cash Box & they helped me out when I needed it, the greed heads at Billboard can stick their bigger album chart right up their paywall!

My first selection is a Greatest Hits collection, well it was around my house, not so much if you lived between 3,500 & 5,500 miles to the West of here. Of the 14 tracks on “Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy”, a collection of early 45s by the Who, just four of them had reached the US Top 40 with only “I Can See For Miles” making the Top 10. By 1972 the Who were “the Greatest Show On Earth” (L.A.Times), show-stopping at festivals, Rolling Stones’ TV special-stealing, successive platinum albums with a Rock opera about a deaf, dumb & blind kid, a wall-shaking Live record & “Who’s Next”, a proper grown-up Rock classic. Way back in 1965, Pete & Keith still in their teens, John & Roger just 20, fashioned their Maximum R&B energy into the hit “I Can’t Explain”, ending the year with “My Generation”, recorded one day in October, released two weeks later, Townshend’s bold anthem about the young idea, lyrics we believed in, Daltrey stuttering over them like the pilled-up Mods in their audience. I’m aware that the USA was not yet swinging like a pendulum do but “My Generation”, a statement record that moved the music forward only made it to #74 in the US Hot 100. Why don’t you all fu-fu-fade away!

Encouraged by Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp, their West London Situationist managers, the Who gained popularity & notoriety while the talent & ambition of Pete Townshend, chasing the next hit single, turned Pop into Pop Art. 1966 produced “Substitute”, “I’m A Boy” & “Happy Jack”, all great records. The group were kept busy in the UK & Europe, I guess the US record company, Decca, already mistaking the feedback on tracks for faulty master tapes, had problems persuading radio stations to air songs about gender confusion & a man who slept on a beach. Unsurprisingly the perfect “Pictures Of Lily”, concerning the comfort of masturbation, didn’t catch on either. Pete was looking to extend his range & after “I Can See For Miles”, from “The Who Sell Out”, a dazzling record, it was at the expense of the self-contained three minute story single. “Magic Bus”, here in its full, over four minutes, length & the idiosyncratic, marvellous “Dogs” (not included) were less focused. His vision was fully realised with “Tommy”, “Pinball Wizard” just so. Rock & Roll was moving on up & the Who were in the vanguard. “Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy” is an essential compilation from exciting times when, with a rush & an amphetamine-fuelled push, Townshend, Entwistle & the indefatigable Moon were developing as a great power trio, Pete’s lyrics for Daltrey pointing out some stuff to the youth that no-one else was. The kids were alright. (oh yeah, MBB&B was #120 on this week’s chart.

Steve Miller arrived in San Francisco in 1966 just as that Haight-Ashbury scene & all the bands connected with it was about to blow up, attracting a bunch of men with unsigned record contracts to the Bay Area. Steve had been around, in Milwaukee guitar virtuoso Les Paul was his godfather, in Dallas artists such as T Bone Walker & Charles Mingus were guests at his family home. In Chicago he found kindred spirits, young white men who wanted to play the Blues, he formed a band, jammed with Muddy Waters & Howlin’ Wolf. The Steve Miller Blues Band signed with Capitol Records, a label they remained with for 20 years, & were sent to Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, where the Beatles & the Stones recorded & young engineer Glyn Johns was waiting to debut as a producer. “Children of the Future” (1968) didn’t garner great sales but its mix of Blues with a touch a psychedelia, gentler Folk-Rock & yeah, a sprinkling of Prog was built to last & following records did very well thank you. Make it nice in here, all have a smoke, put on “Sailor” or “Brave New World”, songs like “Quicksilver Girl” & “Seasons” keeping it mellow, the Blues braggadocio of “Gangster of Love” & “Space Cowboy” amusing & a most pleasant evening was had.

“Recall the Beginning…A Journey To Eden”, a new entry at #136, was Steve Miller Band’s seventh album. The line-up had changed, recruiting Ben Sidran to replace Boz Scaggs, both talented friends from college, was a shrewd move. “Rock Love” (1971), live tracks with an unseasoned group & studio leftovers, had been released while Steve was recovering from a motorcycle accident & was badly received. “Recall…” deserved more attention & closer listening, the Blues-based tracks have familiar structures but are all “written by Steve Miller”, the atmospheric side two is that thing the band did, the playing immaculate, Steve is the guitarist of choice of many folks. “Fandango” was released as a 45 though the group had never had a hit single, well not by 1972. “The Joker” (1973) had a lightness of touch & humour that had not always been apparent. It also had a killer title track that brought the Steve Miller Band platinum albums & Top 10 singles. These well crafted, self-produced, catchy Pop-Rock hits sounded great on the radio & I by no means begrudge Steve Miller’s ability to sell millions of records. If I need a shot of SMB it’s the foghorns & stoned groove of “Songs For Our Ancestors”, the textured space jams of “Sailor” & those early records that find their way on to my turntable.

Canned Heat were formed by a couple of Blues aficionados, Bob “Bear” Hite, who had an extensive collection of 78 rpm records & Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson who before he moved to California had worked with Mississippi John Hurt then taught Son House the songs he had forgotten when the two Country Blues legends were re-discovered. Joined by guitarist Henry “Sunflower” Vestine, bass player Larry “Mole” Taylor & eventually drummer Fito de la Parra what began as a jug band proved to be most effective when they plugged their instruments into the mains. A debut album of energetic cover versions was followed by original songs on “Boogie With Canned Heat” (1968). Boogie, a John Lee Hooker-inspired shuffle was what the band did, with Hite, a big man, as singer & hype man the others gelled, jammed & brought the Heat. The real jewel was Alan Wilson, a talented harmonica & slide guitar player whose high-pitched croon (based on Skip James) reworked first “On The Road Again” then “Going Up The Country” into distinctive hit records, songs that are still instantly recognisable & welcome. With hit records & an onstage presence Canned Heat were, by the end of the decade, a very popular group but Alan was uncomfortable with the Rock & Roll lifestyle, his depression, which led to hospitalisation, exacerbated by his use of barbiturates to help him sleep. In September 1970 he was found dead in his sleeping bag behind Hite’s house. Alan must have been pleased with “Hooker & Heat”, a double album recorded with one of his idols & released after his death. It was a record that got a lot of play round at our house, our introduction to John Lee Hooker, one of the greatest Blues men.

Canned Heat were kept busy, “Historical Figures & Ancient Heads”, #108 on the chart, was their seventh studio record. Vestine had left & returned, there was a new bass player & guitarist Joel Scott Hill, a guy I saw later in a rehashed Flying Burrito Brothers, had replaced Wilson. It’s not Heat’s best record, some ordinary Rock & Roll, too many “life on the road” songs. There should have been more tracks like “Utah”, credited to the whole group, where they hit a Blues groove & play it like they mean it. The first time I saw Canned Heat, the sun rose at a Summer festival & they played like the group who succeeded at Monterey & Woodstock. The third time, just a few years later, it was a pretty standard set of bar-room Boogie. Apart from providing two of the group’s three hit 45s the Blind Owl was the compass of Canned Heat, keeping them on the course that these Blues enthusiasts had set to bring the music to the US. Hite died in 1981 when the heroin was too strong & the cocaine he was given didn’t help. Fito abides & Canned Heat are still around. If I need a little Heat I may not reach for the 40 minute long “Refried Boogie” but I’m happy to hear “Fried Hockey Boogie” (11 minutes) & their often experimental early work.

Back On The Stax (Soul 19th March 1972)

The travails of the great Memphis Soul label Stax in the late 1960s could have been enough to have brought an end to a run of success that had begun in 1961. The death of Otis Redding, its most consistent & successful hit maker, in December 1967 was a great shock & sadness for the Stax community already finding themselves at the wrong end of a deal with distributors Atlantic who, as part of a sale to Warner Brothers, retained the rights to all recordings made between 1960 & 1967. Johnnie Taylor’s best selling single “Who’s Making Love” kept the label afloat in the following year then a risky, imaginative strategy to create an instant catalogue saw the release of 27 albums in mid-69. One of these sold millions & ensured the label continued as a force in Soul music. This week 50 years ago there were four Stax 45s on the Cash Box R&B Top 60 & that artist was responsible for two of them.

“Hot Buttered Soul” by Isaac Hayes is a ground-breaking landmark album, just four tracks, lush, stately, insistent orchestration epically stretching Bacharach & David’s “Walk On By” to 12 minutes, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Got To Phoenix” to 18. From valued studio hand producing & writing along with partner David Porter, the great Sam & Dave hits, sitting in on sessions when Booker T Jones was away at his musical studies, Isaac was now a leading man, “Black Moses”. His monumental soundtrack to “Shaft” (1971) reaching #1 in the US album chart, staying at that position for three months on the R&B listing & the natural headliner for the upcoming “Wattstax”, a showcase for the label in Los Angeles which would attract 112,000 spectators in August 1972. “If talking is the only way – Rap On!”, “Do Your Thing”, a radio version cut down to less than four minutes from the 19 on “Shaft” (there’s a 33 minute version out there) rose seven places to #5 on the R&B chart for 19th of March 1972 but you know that one don’t you so here’s one that was in the charts too.

Isaac Hayes had it together, his groove so creative, confident, effective, prolific & popular. Together with arranger down from Detroit Johnny Allen & his Movement, the group of musicians now working in the Stax studio, a new pulsebeat was found in melodic songs from the Bacharach & David & Soul catalogues while covers of the Beatles & Kris Kristofferson were impressively & successfully “Hayes-ified”. Ike’s latest treatment was possibly a surprise as the original was still on the chart at #12. “Let’s Stay Together” was a new entry on the R&B chart at #41 this week, a mega hit for Al Green from Willie Mitchell’s Hi Studios in Memphis, less than a mile away from the Stax operation at 926 East McLemore Avenue. It may have been a quickly put together & recorded instrumental but its leisurely jazzy course is very, very cool. Paired with the rich “Soulsville”, a vocal track from “Shaft”, that is one hot 7″ vinyl disc. Isaac Hayes changed how Soul music was viewed & consumed, “Shaft” had been the first double album released by an R&B artist. Such renown & success was difficult to maintain but there were gold records to follow from a man deservedly held in the highest regard.

I

n order to make the deadline for their new catalogue Stax needed to recruit new talent & producer Don Davis quickly established his credentials with his work on the “Who’s Making Love” hit. Don produced albums with Johnnie Taylor, Darrell Banks & Carla Thomas for the expansion, he had been working in Detroit for small labels like Ric-Tic & Golden World, both now bought out by the Tamla Motown giant. It was his contacts in the Motor City that led him to bring former Golden World alumni the Dramatics along with young songwriter Tony Hester into the Stax orbit, allowing them a creative freedom that they would never have received from Motown. The Sensations became the Dramatics in 1965 experiencing line-up changes particularly after an involvement in the 1967 Algiers Motel tragedy when, after a night of rioting in Detroit, three young men including the group’s 18 year old valet, were killed by police. By 1971 the Dramatics were original members Ron Banks, Larry Demps, Elbert Wilkins with William Howard & Willie Ford – the Classic Five.

The group, produced by Hester, supervised by Davis, certainly brought a touch of Motown to Memphis, with five capable lead voices the Dramatics could be compared to the Temptations. Their debut album “What You See Is What You Get” (1971) yielded a title track that became a breakout crossover hit followed by the theatrical, sound-effect laden “In The Rain” (seen here on “Soul Train”), an even bigger success’ another big mover on this week’s chart from 18 to #7. The flourishes of Hester/Davis & arranger Johnnie Allen were less predominant than those of Norman Whitfield, a romantic sweetness was a tip to the new group sound from Philadelphia & the Dramatics had their own thing going on. Further personnel disruption meant that there was no group photo on the second album, again completely written by Hester, & the following one was released as Ron Banks & the Dramatics to differentiate them from a breakaway unit. It is more than ironic that two standout tracks on “A Dramatic Experience” (1973) were the eerie “The Devil Is Dope” & “Beware of the Man (With the Candy in His Hand)” as Tony Hester’s increasingly debilitating drug habit led to less involvement with the group & his death by gunshot at just 34 years of age in 1980. The Dramatics abided, their records had a consistent quality throughout the next decade while other vocal groups faltered. They certainly deserve to be considered in the top rank of 1970s US vocal combos.

Little Milton (James Milton Campbell Jr) had a 20 year long recording career when he found himself at Stax Records though he had been to Memphis before. Raised in Greenville, Mississippi, his first solo tracks were recorded for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, backed by Ike Turner’s band. On moving to St Louis he & a partner started their own label Bobbin which did well enough to get a deal with the famous Chess organisation in Chicago. It was on Chess’ R&B subsidiary, Checker, that, in 1965, “We’re Gonna Make It”, lovely bit of Blues-Soul positivity, became an R&B #1, Top 30 on the Hot 100. Milton was versatile & popular, there were to be six more R&B Top 20 records (“Grits Ain’t Groceries”, “If Walls Could Talk”), four albums, in the decade but the death of founder Leonard Chess left his label in disarray & Stax were pleased to provide a home for an already established artist.

“That’s What Love Will Make You Do”, Little Milton’s second Stax 45 is at #33 on this week’s chart. The label had previous with Blues players when Albert King was matched with Booker T & the M.G.’s & the Memphis Horns on influential records. This time around Milton’s strong vocal attack was complimented by the production of Don Davis (busy guy!), employing those new studio guys including Lester Snell on keys, drummer Willie Hall & the distinctive punchy horns. There were to be some following 45s before the”Waiting For Little Milton” came around in 1973, a self-produced selection of his own songs & Blues classics that absolutely rocks. “Grits Ain’t Groceries”, a six track live set, recorded in 1972, not released until 1984, makes that night at the Summit Club L.A. seem like the place to be. In 1975 a poor distribution deal with CBS & fewer hits as Disco carried the swing led to Stax declaring bankruptcy. There was, of course a long queue of men with contracts outside Isaac Hayes’ yard, the Dramatics remained under the mentorship of Don Davis while Little Milton recorded more sporadically before, in the 1980s finding himself back in Mississippi with the Malaco label until his passing in 2005. A Bluesman, a Soul man, a showman, a survivor.

Straight To Your Heart (5th March 1972)

I had a pretty good 1972, I left home aged 18 in late 71, I was crazy in love, new friends, new experiences, all done to a great soundtrack. Like the Wild Angels I wanna be free, free to do what I wanna do, I wanna get loaded, I wanna have a good time & that’s what I’m gonna do. Please excuse me while I rave on about some of the records I found in the lower reaches of the Cash Box album chart (#101 – #150) of the 5th of March 1972. All three selections were favourites at the time of release, have become even more so over the years & who would have thought that I would still be listening in 50 years time? Not me, thinking wasn’t my strong suit back in 1972 – maybe it still isn’t.

First up it’s a debut by a new singer/songwriter, all the rage in the early 1970s. On its entry into the chart, the record was listed as “Saturate Before Using”, now two weeks later, the “Jackson Browne” album stood at #137. Jackson’s name had first come around in 1967 when he had played on & provided three songs for his girlfriend Nico’s, off of the Velvet Underground, record “Chelsea Girl”. The introspective “These Days” highlighted a maturity beyond his teenage years. Relocated to Los Angeles, signed to the new Asylum label, a radio broadcast from the time of his album’s release places him as a sensitive young man with a guitar playing songs from his first two albums that nobody knew, rather diffidently mumbling about taking too much cocaine after last night’s Carnegie Hall concert with Joni Mitchell. “Jackson Browne” is a more confident affair, the songs embellished with simple instrumentation to introduce an articulate, developing talent.

Right, “Saturate Before Using” (sorry, can’t help myself) in one paragraph without listing all the songs & avoiding the word “maturity” again. “Doctor My Eyes” took Jackson into the US singles Top 10 (similarly in the UK for the Jackson 5), the opening “Jamaica Say You Will” & my selection here “Rock Me On The Water” equally accessible. Some tracks take a little longer to differentiate him from all the other heartfelt Laurel Canyon troubadours but it’s worth it, the harmonies of David Crosby & Graham Nash on “From Silver Lake” still weaken my knees. I’ve stolen the phrase “conditional optimism” about Jackson Browne, whether personal, romance or the death of a friend, or political he stands “at the edge of my embattled illusions” & the later “resignation that living brings”. Not yet “caught between the longing for Love & the struggle for the legal tender”, imagining no possessions was not working out for my generation, we were having to figure just how much Peace & Love would sustain us in the 1970s. Jackson Browne articulated this quandary more lucidly than anyone around. On “For Everyman” (1973) he got himself a band, particularly guitarist David Lindley, who complemented this perspicacity & there were great records to follow, I really did enjoy last year’s “Downhill From Everywhere”, at 73 years old he & we are “Still Looking For Something“. I regularly reach for “Saturate Before Using” (now, I believe, the official title), a classic debut from an artist who, like many of us, was trying to work it out for the best.

I first heard Ry Cooder’s slide guitar on Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band’s game-changing “Safe As Milk” record in 1967 then backing Mick Jagger on “Memo From Turner” for the film “Performance” & adding mandolin to “Love In Vain” on the Stones’ “Let It Bleed”. His first solo record, released in 1970, illustrated his affection for Country Blues with the inclusion of songs by Sleepy John Estes, Leadbelly & Blind Blake among others along with a number of tunes from the Depression era. The lament “he could afford but “One Meat Ball””, Woody Guthrie’s “if you ain’t got that “Do Re Mi”” & the sublime “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times & Live” are respectfully & exuberantly interpreted. This was my introduction to Blind Alfred Reed, the author of “How Can…”, an itinerant musician who played at fairs, churches & on the street, just 21 tracks recorded between 1927-29, his homilies & social commentaries presented with guile & humour. There was to be more musical archaeology on “Into The Purple Valley”, #139 on this week’s album chart.

The tradition of Depression era polemics continued on “…Purple Valley” with “How Can You Keep On Moving (Unless You Migrate Too)”, “Taxes On The Farmer Feeds Us All” & Woody Guthrie’s militant “Vigilante Man”. The 1936 calypso “FDR In Trinidad” & an instrumental from Bahamian Joseph Spence introduced a Caribbean rhythmic seasoning & there was a reach back to the 1920s with “Billy The Kid” & “Denomination Blues”, a commentary on religious sectarianism (“Well, the Primitive Baptists they believe that you can’t go to heaven ‘less you wash your feet, & that’s all”) by Washington Phillips, a preacher-singer who knew a thing or two about a thing or two, expressed succinctly & melodically, playing a homemade instrument that involved some welding – amazing! A couple of 1950s R&B hits were in the mix too, a little more contemporary, adding variety & texture to the collection. It’s “Teardrops Will Fall”, a 1958 hit for Dickie Doo & the Don’ts, that makes the cut from a great record. Ry Cooder didn’t want to be a teacher, a curator of the American music museum, neither did he want to be a guitar hero but he was both. His excavations uncovered songs & artists that deserved our consideration, his impeccable, fluid guitar & mandolin reflecting his class, energy & delight to be playing them. There would be more, much more to come from Ry Cooder, in 1972 “Into The Purple Valley” was a little beauty.

In the summer of 1970 I was just 17, you know what I mean, with a job on a construction site providing the means to hit the local record shop on payday to buy discs that were neither on sale nor budget-priced, “Moondance” by Van Morrison was the first of these purchases. I know, I got good taste. After leaving his group Them Van’s move to the US was ill-judged, his producer/label boss Bert Berns was more interested in chasing the singles success of “Brown Eyed Girl” than recording an album. It took time & hardship to extricate himself that contract, at Warner Brothers there was freedom to make the hypnotic, mystical “Astral Weeks” (1968), a record that I knew but had not yet grokked the way I was able to “Moondance”, both critically acclaimed & along with “His Street Band & Choir” (1970) establishing Van’s position as a unique, passionate even visionary artist. His reputation for irascibility seems to be well-earned, his mutterings during the pandemic have placed him beyond the pale for many but in 1972, relocating with his wife & baby daughter from Woodstock N.Y. to rural California, he was in a good place.

“Tupelo Honey”,#117 on the list, opens with “Wild Night” a surge of excitement, one of the short, sharp R&B blasts that sounded great on the radio, sold well (US Top 30) & alerted folk to a new Van Morrison LP. Back in Woodstock Van had planned a Country & Western record but the cover versions were ditched in favour of his own songs & a new band hastily assembled. “Old Old Woodstock”, “Starting A New Life”, a key track & “You’re My Woman” are testaments to domestic happiness yet never cosy. As he sings on the latter Van’s concerns are what is “really, really real”, an expression of his feelings about his wife & the birth of their daughter as pure as he is able to capture. There is a Country inflection throughout the record though Van was never going to neglect his R&B roots, it’s how his songs went, the band, playing live in the studio do a great job, particularly Ronnie Montrose on guitar & Mark Jordan’s keyboards. The singer was always developing his voice as an instrument & he always knew how a horn section worked. It was going to be the ebullient, exciting “Moonshine Whiskey” featured because it always makes me happy however the title track is a classic, something you knew on first hearing it. This performance from a highly auspicious set live in Montreux in 1980, a stellar horn section of Mark Isham & Pee Wee Ellis, a singer confident enough in his talent to see where it led him, is popular music elevated to Art, a rare thing, a great thing.

Crikey, not all of these album posts will be as effusive – probably. I thought that I’d be on to the a “Best Of…” selection by now. This week’s chart also included “Who’s Next”, “Muswell Hillbillies” & Jim Capaldi’s “Oh How We Danced” so I may be rattling on too much next time.

The Blues Are The Roots (Soul February 26th 1972)

This week’s selections from the Cash Box R&B Top 60 of 50 years ago are from the higher numbers. For the past 10 years the prevailing trends of Rock & Soul, despite it’s influence on both, the Blues had been moved to the sidelines, given a comfy chair & told to take it easy grandpa. In the late-60s young white musicians often checked for the Blues greats who had inspired & influenced them & there was greater interest in & revival of these artists. Anyway, a good record is just that however it is labelled & Blues acts still broke into the lower half of the R&B chart they just weren’t selling in the Motown millions. Here are three from the 26th of February 1972 listing.

B.B. King, the Beale Street Blues Boy, was at first a trailblazer then pretty soon a legend of modern electric Blues. His fluid, string-bending guitar style & strong vocals brought R&B hits throughout the 1950s & 60s leading a busy life on the road, 342 shows in 1956, for himself, his guitar Lucille & his band. In the late 1960s a young producer, Bill Szymczyk, compensated for a lack of vowels in his surname with enthusiasm & creativity. In the studios of London, Los Angeles & New York young musicians who had been inspired & influenced by B.B. were invited to join the sessions. The “Completely Well” album (1969) contained “The Thrill Is Gone”, his only Top 20 Pop hit & awarded the 1970 Grammy Award for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, “Live In Cook County Jail” (1971) has an intensity & command to rival B.B.’s landmark 1965 live recording at Chicago’s Regal Theatre.

By 1972 Szymczyk had moved on to eventual fame & fortune with the James Gang, J. Geils band, the Eagles & er, Wishbone Ash. B.B’s current LP “L.A. Midnight” was sometimes uneven, always interesting. Joe Walsh & Jesse Ed Davis are happy to join such an iconic player, Taj Mahal’s guitar & harmonica can be heard & Red Callender, from ace sessioneers the Wrecking Crew, adds a distinctive tuba to three tracks. It’s a more experienced unit playing on the record’s standout track which placed at #50 on the chart this week. “Sweet Sixteen” was a hit for B.B. in 1959, a mainstay of his live set there are several versions on his records & this updated version (“I just got back from Vietnam baby & I’m a long way from New Orleans”) sounds to me like the best of a good lot. Starting calmly with B.B.’s strong vocal & precise picking the entry of a propulsive horn section stirs the King of the Blues to a powerful, wailing crescendo. The chart 45 was just less than four minutes long, the full seven minutes of the album track has been included here, I know that the screen is black but it’s there. There were many more years of great music from B.B. King & many accolades to come his way, all of them becoming of a true legend.

In 1971 Albert Collins was working in construction because playing his guitar wasn’t paying too well. Born in 1932 in Leona, Texas Albert made the Blues scene in Houston where the guitar solo was the thing. His 1965 debut, “The Cool Sound of…” consolidated the nickname “Iceman” & in 1968 with the encouragement & connections of Canned Heat he signed to their label Imperial & moved to Los Angeles. A couple of albums later & Albert was again looking for a day job just as he had back in Texas. Things were looking up when he was signed to the new Tumbleweed label, a start-up by B.B. King’s erstwhile producer, that man again, busy Bill Szymczyk.

“There’s Gotta Be A Change” employs a similar modus operandi that was a success for Bill with Mr King. Jesse Ed Davis & drummer Jim Keltner show out as does a full horn section & the versatile, always interesting, Dr John on piano. Albert Collins, “The Master of the Telecaster”, was no shrinking violet, his voice & his guitar are always out front. With a capo low on the neck Albert’s fiery, vibrant tone stung like a bee, seven of the nine tracks, including “Get Your Business Straight (#41 on the chart), are written by his wife Gwendolyn. They had their act together, “There’s Gotta …” is a great example of early 1970s Blues, but Tumbleweed folded the following year & it was five years before renewed interest & Gwendolyn’s encouragement brought him back to the studio. This time around there was more recognition for an individual Blues stylist who could put on quite a show, his 100 foot long lead taking him into the audience & sometimes out of the club to order a pizza! Albert got to play at Live Aid with George Thorogood, with Gary Moore & Robert Cray, both strongly influenced by him & on “Underground”, David Bowie’s theme for “Labyrinth” (“a savage, rough, aggressive sound” – D.B.) . In 1993, the year of his passing, he joined B.B. King onstage at the “Blues Summit” to duet on “Call It Stormy Monday”, the classic by T Bone Walker, a player who influenced both great guitarists. Someone had brought along a camera that night so here it is.

Higher up the chart “Standing In For Jody”, the 11th consecutive R&B Top 20 for Johnnie Taylor was sliding down slowly to #21 while Little Johnny Taylor, a different guy, had a new entry at #58 with “It’s My Fault Darlin'”. Little Johnny got his name when he was the smallest member of the Gospel group the Mighty Clouds of Joy, still a teenager when singers like Little Willie John & Bobby Bland attracted him to secular music.In a move to Galaxy Records he became thir biggest selling act when, in 1963, the slow Blues burn “Part Time Love” became a #1 R&B hit. His following records were not as successful & 1968’s “Soul Full Of Blues, Little Johnny Taylor’s Greatest Hits” though a fine collection was perhaps an exaggeration.

Ronn r#Records released a lot of now obscure R&B singles- (Little Duck & the Quackers – anyone?) & it was with them that “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing Pt.1”, the title track of a subsequent LP, returned Little Johnny to the R&B Top 10. A cut from this record “It’s My Fault Darling” just made it at #58 this week. There’s a large helping of Soul served with LJT’s Blues but it was the slower songs of yearning with a dry humour in the lyrics (wieners for lunch, a Joe Louis punch in “It’s My Fault…”, intimate knowledge of bunions & bedsheets as signs of infidelity in another hit “Open House At My House”) that makes him distinct. Listening to these three artists it’s clear that a horn section was now a feature of Blues records. Little Johnny recorded two good albums at Ronn then another with his namesake & label mate Ted Taylor There were less releases though he still performed & in 2016 no less than the Rolling Stones revived “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing”.