Like Thunder, Lightning (Eddie Floyd)

When Eddie Floyd formed a Doo Wop vocal group, the Falcons, in mid-1950s Detroit he could not have imagined that almost 60 years later he would be invited to participate in a celebration of Memphis Soul at the White House with a Black President & his wife front & centre of the audience. In 1966 Eddie had recorded a song that encapsulated the robust energy of the music being created in the Stax studios in Memphis. “Knock On Wood”, you know it, everybody does, has been recorded by over 150 other artists but there ain’t nothing like the real thing & if that’s what you need then, even when he’s over 70 years old, you send for Eddie.

eddie floyd knock on wood

Everything you read about Eddie Floyd confirms that he is a thoroughly good & unassuming man. The Falcons sold a million in 1959 with “You’re So Fine” then again three years later when “I Found A Love”, featuring an extraordinary vocal by Wilson Pickett, was an R&B smash. The lead singer went solo, the Falcons disbanded, passing their name to another group, & Eddie recorded for his uncle’s label in Detroit then, relocating to Washington, for a label he started with local DJ Al Bell. When Bell was head hunted by the Stax label Eddie went along as a songwriter & found he had an immediate rapport with guitarist Steve Cropper. The former Falcon Wicked Pickett was around too with his hit “In the Midnight Hour”. The Floyd/Cropper combo provided “634-5789” & “Ninety Nine & a Half (Won’t Do)”, tailor-made for the new star.

“Knock On Wood” was intended for Otis Redding but on hearing the demo Atlantic thought that Eddie had already done it right & so he had. The international success of the single may have been a surprise to the label because the track chosen for the b-side sounds like a perfectly good hit to me. “Got To Make A Comeback”, another track from a very fresh debut LP, is written by Eddie & Joe Shamwell, another friend from Washington who had made the move to Memphis. Starting slowly as a duet between the vocals & Cropper’s guitar, building with ascending horns & backing vocals the song displays Eddie’s range more successfully than subsequent attempts to re-create the success of the A-side.

Otis Redding/Stax Records

In 1967 Eddie was part of the Stax revue that introduced European audiences to real Soul Power. His performance, backed by Booker T & the M.G.’s & the Mar-Keys, of “Raise Your Hand” seems to have been mislaid by the Internet which is a shame because it would be a certainty for inclusion here. The death of Otis Redding in December of that year shook the label to its foundations. It was on Eddie’s delayed flight from London back to the funeral that the idea for “Big Bird” originated. Back home the song was completed with Booker T Jones who produced & played guitar on the record. The finished product is a clap of thunderous Power Soul which, on release in 1968, felt like I was hearing the future of music. This absolute gem is recognised now but at the time it was the least successful of any of Eddie’s singles. How could that have happened?

Eddie Floyd | Memphis Music Hall of Fame

Still, Eddie was becoming one of Stax’s most consistent performers & his next two singles, “I Never Found A Girl” & a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” both made Top 5 R&B, his biggest hits since the big one. In 1968, through a shady deal with Atlantic, the label lost the rights to their back catalogue. A rapid reloading programme saw the release of 28 albums with the new finger-popping logo in May 1969. “You’ve Got to Have Eddie” may have been hurriedly recorded, there are only two of his songs included, but on a curation of his singles “Rare Stamps” he had written 11 of the 12 tracks & it’s some collection. With his friend Al Bell now co-owner of Stax Eddie remained loyal to the label right to the end in 1975. Other major players were pursuing further opportunities but were still ready to work with Eddie. 1970’s “California Girl” was a more restrained collaboration with Booker T & the following year he moved across town to the new TMI studio set up by Steve Cropper.

Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper at a Stax recording session [1968] :  OldSchoolCool

After over five years of Steve & Eddie working together on a classic Memphis sound “Down To Earth” is a very interesting departure. It’s an album that is influenced by not only the new Psychedelic Soul but there’s plenty of Rock in there too. It’s certainly different to hear Eddie singing songs like “Linda Sue Dixon” (L.S.D.) & “My Mind Was Messed Around At The Time” & Cropper’s guitar goes to places we hadn’t heard him visit before. It’s a heavy (in a good way) record, closing with the rather epic “Changing Love”. Maybe Stax couldn’t handle all this changing, perhaps they were not inclined to promote a record made in a rival studio but there was no single released from the record & “Down To Earth” remains an album unfairly overlooked at the time & still worth checking out.

Introduction to Eddie Floyd – Mental Itch

Eddie continued to record without repeating his success of the previous decade but his reputation was made, his name remembered. Any compilation, every celebration of Memphis Soul had to include him. Any Soul weekender in Europe would be happy to have Eddie Floyd, still in fine voice, as a respected headliner. Of course he would have to sing “Knock On Wood”, it enabled him to live a life in music & still does. There was so much more to his music & his contribution to the music of fellow Stax artists. I have to end with this track that begins “Eddie Floyd wrote this song”, “Oh yes he did brother”. In 1968, around the same time as “Big Bird”, the double dynamite duo Sam & Dave took a break from the string of hits written for them by David Porter & Isaac Hayes to record “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me”. Yes “Soul Man” & “Hold On I’m Comin'”, yes “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” but when I hear this song I still get the same thrill, have the same silly smile on my face as that 15 year old Soul fan who thought it was just the greatest thing when he first heard it. Keep the faith!

Ray Charles, Believe To Your Soul (Soul April 3rd 1971)

A rare trio of selections from the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations from 50 years ago this week. All three are from a group of musicians & singers assembled by an iconic figure in Black American music, an extraordinarily gifted artist who influenced & inspired many others & who achieved recognition on a scale comparable to the Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Let’s start with a song at #26 on the chart, rising from #33, & a wonderful clip that displays his individual talent & has pretty much been on repeat round at our yard we we discovered its existence.

Ray Charles Robinson was raised in Florida. Blind since the age of six, he received a musical education at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, leaving on the death of his mother when he was 15 & making his living as a professional musician since then. His early records were influenced by the successful, sophisticated stylings of Nat King Cole & Charles Brown, while his tastes were much wider it was what a young unknown musician had to play if he wanted to work in the clubs. There was more R&B push after signing for Atlantic in 1952, there were hits like “Mess Around” too but Ray was still working with other artists, reliant on local pick-up bands for his gigs. Employing his own band brought a focus to the music he wanted to play &, in 1954, “I Got A Woman” hit the shops & the top of the charts. Of course many Black singers had found their voices in church but Gospel still regarded singing secular music as going over to the dark side. With a tune borrowed from the Southern Tones & a sensational, stirring vocal inspired by Archie Brownlee from Five Blind Boys of Mississippi Ray took the song to church & made a ground-breaking record. A door had been open, Sam Cooke, Little Richard & Elvis Presley stepped through.

Ray Charles 1961 concert ad rakes in more than $5K at auction | |

Ray Charles toured for 300 days a year with his seven piece orchestra. When studio-ready he was left alone to make his own music & from 1954 to 1957 there was an unbroken run of Top 10 R&B hits. In 1959 “What’d I Say”, a seven and a half minute burst of energy building to a frenzied finale, was edited into two parts with some of the sexual charge sanitised. It crossed over into the Pop charts & earned a gold record. In the same year he recorded an album of swinging big-band music with players from Count Basie’s & Duke Ellington’s groups. These seasoned veterans were impressed by the acuity of the 27 year old R&B pianist & Atlantic could not resist naming the results “The Genius Of Ray Charles”. After a move to ABC the mainstream deal was sealed in 1962 when “Modern Sounds in Country & Western” used a foundation of Country standards to incorporate Ray’s Gospel, Jazz, Soul & Pop to create a new American music so popular & significant that attributions of breaking the racial barriers of the time have been made. Now, when Ray Charles played in New York it was at Carnegie Hall not just the Apollo. The only barrier to this success was his longstanding relationship with heroin & regular brushes with the law. In 1966, faced with prison, he was able to finally break that habit.

In 1970 Ray was ready for the Country again & “Don’t Change On Me” is a single taken from the “Love Country Style” album. For some tastes the swirling strings & choruses on these songs were a little countrypolitan but Ray’s soulful vocals could bring it all back home. Here he’s in the barn of Kornfield Kounty for an appearance on the long-running “Hee Haw” TV show. A fine Country band (the Buckaroos?) is propelled along by his energy, the fluidity, the immediacy of Ray’s vocals make it, for myself anyway, better than the record. It’s a new song not a standard & it’s a Y-tube gem!

Love Country Style - Wikipedia

Further up the chart at #19 is a Ray Charles composition, performed by the Ray Charles Orchestra & released on his own Tangerine label. Throughout the 1960s Ray had expanded his range even more, writing less original material, adding show tunes & selections from the Great American Songbook to his repertoire. His other LP in 1970 is “My Kind of Jazz”, produced by Quincy Jones who he had befriended back in the day when they were teens living in Seattle. It’s a cool instrumental selection, smooth & still swinging with a stellar brass section & Ray on Hammond organ. “Booty Butt”, Ray’s only song in the set, is something of an outlier. If the current thing was Funk then these experienced players show the young guns that it’s not that new & they have always been playing that stuff. Over an oh-so-solid rhythm section of piano, bass & drums, the saxophone solos, Ben Martin’s guitar stings then Ray plays his keys & scat sings. In 1971 a record this good could be played on the radio & sell enough copies to make the R&B chart. What a world!

Ray Charles Video Museum: Ray Charles & The Raelettes

Our final selection is holding up the rest of the chart at #60. In 1956 Ray invited the Cookies to join his recording session & two years later they became part of the Revue as the Raelettes. With Margie Hendricks as the prominent voice the group made fine contributions to the stage show & to records like “What’d I Say” & “Hit the Road Jack”. Margie left in 1964 & the mid-1960s, when the Raelettes were recording their own singles there was a high turnover in personnel. . Members included Merry Clayton, Minnie Riperton, Edna Wright (coming round here soon with Honey Cone) & Clydie King. Mable John joined after leaving Motown, went for solo work with Stax then, by 1971, had rejoined the group. It is her voice that is heard on “Bad Water”, a song written by Jimmy Holiday, also credited on “Don’t Change On Me”, & singer Jackie DeShannon. Other members include Vernita Moss, future Supreme Susaye Greene & possibly Dorothy Berry, keeping tabs on who was a Raelette & when is a tricky thing.

Books have been written & a film has been made about the life of Ray Charles. He achieved more with his musical vision than I can include here. His apparently limitless flexibility meant that he could play Jazz, Gospel, R&B, Country & Pop with equal energy, emotion & creativity. A claim can be made that Ray invented Soul music, if that’s not the case he was certainly in the room when that happened. By 1971 he was already a legend & there was another 30 years of records, performances & deserved accolades from the public & fellow artists to confirm a unique place in American music.

For this week’s live clip we return to that 1970 “Hee Haw” & find Ray Charles sharing a seat with Buck Owens, a pioneer of the influential Bakersfield sound in the 1950s & a star of the show. Buck had written “Crying Time” in 1964 & it was hidden away on the b-side of another song. In 1966 Ray’s version made the US Top 10 & won two R&B Grammy awards. That band plays as clean as country water, the performances by & the obvious respect between the two artists are beautiful things. Excuse me, it must be dust or smoke that’s in my eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press Advert 10x5 The Staple Singers : Be What You Are Album:  NewspaperClipping: Books

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

Booker T. and the MG's – 64 Quartets

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

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

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

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

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

O.V. Wright | Spotify

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

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

New York City Is The Place Where (Ellie Greenwich)

Ellie Greenwich, RIP - John Gushue . . . Dot Dot Dot

In 1965, in New York, in an office of Red Bird Records, Ellie Greenwich, her husband Jeff Barry & her friend from Long Island George “Shadow” Morton were working on songs for the label’s star turn, the Shangri-Las. Their usual way of working was to write a song (hopefully a hit), make a demo then Ellie would work on vocal arrangements with the group before Shadow, along with tyro arranger/engineer Artie Butler, would do his atmospheric, sound effect-laden thing in the studio. This time “You Don’t Know” never made it to the Shangs, perhaps it was regarded as too mature for the still teenaged girls. Instead the demo was polished & released under Ellie’s name, a name that had appeared on the labels of many hit records, this was the first time that it was smack dab in the middle.

What a perfect record “You Don’t Know” is. Ms Greenwich’s performance is enchanting while Morton’s production adds depth & drama. The early-60s success of the girl groups was on the wane as the British Invasion became the current thing. Here is an update on a classic sound, more mature musically & lyrically. The single was set to be the pick of the week on a New York radio station but pulled & replaced by Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love”. So “You Don’t Know” was a hit that got away. You’re just a click away from one of the best 45s of 1965, a very good year.

Ellie was raised in Levittown, a post-war suburb of New York. As a 16 year old she recorded a couple of tracks as Ellie Gaye before obtaining a teaching degree. After less than a month back in high school she quit to sell her songs to the publishers based around the Brill Building in New York. Being young, blonde & female maybe helped, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, songwriters whose blend of R&B with smart, sharp lyrics had influenced the direction taken by Rock & Roll since Elvis Presley recorded their “Hound Dog” in 1956, took an interest & matched her with Tony Powers. When Phil Spector came looking for material he took a couple of Powers/Greenwich songs for Bob B Soxx & the Blue Jeans & for Darlene Love.

Leiber & Stoller were concentrating on the business of music, publishing & production. Their group, the very aptly named Exciters, had a Top 10 Pop hit in 1962 with “Tell Him”. Ellie, still living at home, was driven by her father to a studio session & it was the early hours of the morning when she woke her sleeping Dad with the news that her song “He’s Got the Power” had been chosen as the follow up single. The producer’s company, Trio, signed Ellie to a $100 a week contract. That’s $870 in today’s money, not bad for an about-to-be married 22 year old but she had to keep the hits coming.

The Exciters with Brenda Reid, a dynamic vocalist, backed by her husband Herb, Carol & Lillian, were high energy all-round. “He’s Got the Power” is another blast & they may be lip-synching on this great colour Scopitone (an early video jukebox) film but it’s a treasure. There’s a live version of the song on the Y-tube, recorded on the same trip to France, that knocks the audience’s chaussettes off. They never had the same success after “Tell Him” but the two albums they made at this time mark a new assertiveness in the girl group sound. The following year Ellie Greenwich, now writing with her new husband Jeff Barry, provided the Exciters with “Do-Wah-Diddy”, another small hit. In 1964 a tame cover by Manfred Mann was #1 all over the world.

Spector, Greenwich & Barry | Discographie | Discogs

When Phil Spector came East again he headed for the Greenwich/Barry office hoping for a follow up to the Crystals #1 record “He’s A Rebel”. The result was “Da Do Ron Ron”, you know it, everyone does, the first of nine hits released on Spector’s Philles label in 16 months that included “Then He Kissed Me” for the Crystals again, “Be My Baby” & “Baby I Love You” for the Ronettes. The trio were established as significant figures in Pop music. Along with two other husband & wife teams, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, all young with the talent to articulate not-too-distant teenage feelings, Greenwich & Barry maintained New York & the Brill Building as the music business’ fulcrum. The pair were so busy that, unwilling to interrupt their productivity, when a demo of “What A Guy” was smartened up & released as the Raindrops they hired a replacement group for public appearances. A sizeable $28,000 royalty cheque diverted Ellie from the fact that Leiber & Stoller were taking a bigger cut from the couple’s hits.

In 1964 Leiber & Stoller started their own operation, Red Bird Records, giving Barry & Greenwich free rein to write the songs, find the talent & produce the records. The new label’s first release was a re-recording of a song that Spector was unwilling to release. The Meltones, a female trio from New Orleans, passed on Little Miss & the Muffets in favour of the Dixie Cups & in June “Chapel of Love”, yet another classic, displaced the Beatles for three weeks at the top of the US chart. The subsequent LP is packed with Greenwich/Barry gems, “People Say”, “You Should Have Seen The Way He Looked At Me”. The Cups moved back to New Orleans for their next recordings but Red Bird was on fire & they had another girl group ready for prime time.

Queen Bee of The Brill: Ellie Greenwich and 35 of her cha-cha-charms – DJ  Larsupreme

When Shadow Morton said that he wrote hit songs he was being economical with the truth as he had never written a song. To back up his boast he came up with “Remember (Walking In The Sand)”, hired a teenage group from Queens, New York & the Shangri-Las found themselves in the Top 10, breaking new girl group ground with song construction, subject matter & production. Greenwich & Barry were involved with from the start, Ellie would guide the raw young proteges, singer Mary Weiss, her sister Betty, identical twins Marge & Mary Ann Ganser, through the vocal arrangements. To reinforce their tough girl image & to encourage Morton’s studio innovation the pair wrote “Leader of the Pack”. Get the picture? (yes we see), From a candy store meet to “now he’s gone” it’s yet another in a string of hits that we all know & are part of Pop’s DNA. “Out In The Streets” was not a super smash but this clip from “Shindig” shows the Shangri-Las, minus Betty, in their leather pomp, a great look, a great song. The Myrmidons of Melodrama indeed.

Ellie & Jeff divorced at the end of 1965 but continued to work together for some time. When Spector visited he left with “River Deep Mountain High” & “I Can Hear Music”. Leiber & Stoller, on finding their partner’s debts meant that mobsters became involved, sold their two-thirds share of Red Bird for $1. At a demo session Ellie met Neil Diamond, she & Barry put him on salary, passed on their expertise & got him signed to their friend Bert Berns’ label Bang. When “I’m A Believer” caught the attention of bigger industry figures Diamond split leaving the trio thinking “what just happened?”. This was a tough time for Ellie, music had been her life, she had lost her husband & songwriting partner just as the times were changing. That Marshall McLuhan “hi-fi/stereo changeover”, audiences & artists were growing up together, the three minute 45, however perfectly constructed & gratifying was replaced by the album as the new frontier.

Ellie Greenwich - Under Appreciated Rock Guitarists

In 1968 she released the charming “Composes, Produces & Sings” album. The success of her contemporary Carole King brought new offers & in 1973 “Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung”, her re-recording of the Greenwich songbook appeared. The rather flat production is a failure of imagination on someone’s part. For all the studio magic of Spector & Morton the foundation is the song & stripped-back versions by the originator would surely have worked. Ellie Greenwich’s legend was already ensured. everyone of a certain age knows & was affected by the landmark girl group hits that she created, everyone who knew her has nothing but good things to say about her. In 1984 “Leader of the Pack”, a jukebox musical based on her life & work moved to Broadway & Ellie appeared there as herself. Unfortunately she passed away in 2009 aged 68 but Ellie Greenwich doesn’t need a revival. Her instantly recognisable songs have been with us for what seems like forever & I think they’ll be around for some time.

Slow Jams And Stevie (Soul March 6th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week was headed this week by “Mama’s Pearl”, the fifth of six consecutive #1 records by Motown’s teenage sensations the Jackson 5. Family bands were all the rage in 1971 & at #3, down from the second spot on the chart were the Osmonds, five Mormon brothers with an age range from 21 year old Alan to Donny, just 13, whose toothy wholesomeness had made them familiar faces on prime time TV shows starring Andy Williams & Jerry Lewis. Reportedly the song “Guess Who’s Making Whoopie (With Your Girlfriend)” was considered to be too racy for young Michael Jackson so new lyrics were provided by a team of Motown writers. Conversely the Osmonds needed to toughen up if they wanted a share of that teenage heartthrob dollar. Sent to FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals they liked “One Bad Apple”, a George Jackson (no relation) song written with the Jackson 5 in mind. The result was a crossover success on the Pop & R&B charts. Anyway, if you think that the Osmond Brothers are making my selection of Classic Soul then think again.

Down in Alabama they may have been expanding their range into Teen Pop but at #16 on the chart, after three weeks in the Top

Candi Staton – He Called Me Baby / What Would Become Of Me (1970, Vinyl) -  Discogs

10, was a great example of the Muscle Shoals Sound. Candi Staton had sung in a teenage Gospel group before spending most of the Sixties raising her four children. She was in her late-twenties when, in 1968, her husband-to-be Clarence Carter introduced her to FAME. Candi was instantly successful, her first album “I’m Just A Prisoner” (1970) came off the back of two Top Twenty R&B hits & displayed a strong, rich, mature voice to handle the emotional songs, comfortable with the innuendo of the women getting together to talk about men ones. The following year’s “Stand By Your Man” repeated two from her debut while for the new tracks producer/arranger Rick Hall did exactly the job that was needed to establish Candi as “The First Lady of Southern Soul”. The title track, a hit for Tammy Wynette, had been covered by most of Country’s female royalty, only Bettye Swann had added a little bit of Soul. Candi’s take has an insistent bass foundation for the string & brass flourishes & earned her a Grammy nomination.

candi staton and Clarence Carter

He Called Me Baby” is another Country standard . Written by the great Harlan Howard the most well known interpretation was by Patsy Cline for whom Howard had also written “I Fall To Pieces”. Candi’s Gospel, Blues & Country ingredients, flavoured with a classy, building arrangement makes for a plaintive, gorgeous dish of Soul. “Stand By…” is not a record full of Country covers. Once again the studio’s staff writers, George Jackson most prominent, provided strong varied material for their new star. The new FAME gang of studio musicians were finding their feet too, it really is a fine collection. In 1976 Candi’s “Young Hearts Run Free” was a feelgood hit of the summer & other dance floor favourites followed. She may have returned to her Gospel beginnings but young British groups like the Source & Groove Armada were happy to have her guest on their dance records leading to compilations of her earlier work bringing a deserved higher visibility & reputation.

Finding the 'Real' Marvin — Adam White

At #14 on the chart was a vocal quartet who had sung with various Detroit groups before signing to Tamla Motown in 1966 as The Originals. Joe Stubbs, briefly a member was the brother of the more famous Levi of the Four Tops while Freddie Gorman, in 1961 & working as a mailman, had co-written “Please Mr Postman” by the Marvelettes, the label’s first #1 record. With few of their own recordings they provided studio backing vocals to many hits & remained 20 feet from stardom until, in 1969, their friend Marvin Gaye intervened. Marvin wrote & produced “Baby I’m For Real”, a song that would not be out place on “Let’s Get It On”. He showcased all four Originals’ voices & the record was a #1 R&B , Pop Top 20 hit. “The Bells” was a follow up success & the early 1970’s became a very productive period for the Originals.

The Originals – God Bless Whoever Sent You (1972, Vinyl) - Discogs

“God Bless Whoever Sent You” is taken from “Naturally Together”, their second album of 1970. That driving Motown beat may not have been apparent, it’s a slow jam in the smooth romantic style becoming more popular with the success of groups like the Delfonics & the Chi-Lites. Producer Clay McMurray, along with British woman Pam Sawyer provided the songs & the Originals all had fine, strong voices without perhaps a distinctive lead voice to make them discernible from other groups. “The Only Time You Love Me Is When You’re Losing Me” sure sounds like a hit but was not released on 45. The Originals made 8 albums with Motown, surviving, reduced success & line up changes before “Down In Love Town” topped the new Disco chart in 1976 ensuring that they left the label on a high. The group is not always considered in the front rank of the Motown roster but they made good records & they made their mark.

Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder in London, February 3rd, 1966. : beatles

The highest new entry of the week at #44 is one of my favourite Beatles cover versions. This was Stevie Wonder’s first 45 of 1971, the fourth track to be lifted from his “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” LP. Like the title track from that record “We Can…” is sparkling, imaginative & wonderfully sung. Still only 20 years old Stevie was enjoying a fantastic run of great singles & was established as a major artist. More of his own songs were included on the album & he was taking greater control in the studio. His Motown contract came up for renewal on his 21st birthday & he was already recording the more expansive music with an expression of his social conscience that greater independence would allow. In April 1971 the release of “Where I’m Coming From”, produced by Stevie, written by himself & Syreeta Wright, marked that coming of age. It seems that most of Stevie Wonder’s singles are included in these selections of mine. His records certainly all made the R&B chart, they still sound fresh & we know them all. There was much more great music to come & it’s a sure bet that I wont be able to resist those either.

This week’s live bonus is not a contemporary clip. As part of the 2011 Americana Music Awards show Candi Staton stepped out in front of an All-Star band including Don Was, Spooner Oldham & some faces I should be able to put names to & gave a lovely performance of “Heart On A String”. It’s a song from 1969, the B-side no less of “I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’)” that never made it on to her albums of the time. Co-written by, here’s that name again, George Jackson, it’s a perfect slice of Pop Soul that has deservedly been resurrected. The blissful smile of ace guitarist Buddy Miller betrays how happy he is to be playing that Muscle Shoals sound, sharing the stage with the effervescent, still gorgeous at 70, legendary Ms Staton. This makes me happy too.

A Funky Family Affair (Soul February 13th 1971)

The fastest rising record, up 16 places to #18 (with a bullet, a Super Soul Sure Shot indeed) on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for February 13th 1971 was on it’s way to a month long stay at the top position. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” headed both the R&B & the US Pop charts in March the third time that the Temptations enjoyed such a double header success. It’s such a great, even significant track that I’m not waiting until the 50th anniversary of this achievement so let’s get to it.

Image result for temptations just my imagination

Despite the defection of David Ruffin in 1968 The Temptations had maintained their position as the US’ premier vocal group. Three one-hour TV specials, two with the Supremes (R.I.P. the wonderful Mary Wilson), one their very own &, beginning with “Cloud Nine” (1968), a move to Psychedelic Soul kept them at the front of the pack. However the group was unhappy this new style was less dependant on their own superlative vocal performance than on the innovative but dominant productions of Norman Whitfield. In 1970 “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” became the first Tempts 45 to miss the US Pop Top 30 since 1964. With “Just My Imagination” Whitfield & his lyricist Barrett Strong returned to the emotional love ballad in the style of the “Classic Five”, they, arranger Jerry Long & the whole group delivered a beautiful perfect single. Eddie Kendricks had not provided the lead vocal on a Temptations A-side since 1968’s “Please Return Your Love To Me”. His performance of of this reverie about Love is perfectly pitched, the slower, clear reveal that “in reality, she doesn’t even know me” still resonates 50 years later. the Temptations were back.

Image result for temptations just my imagination

However things were not right with the group. Eddie Kendricks was, like David Ruffin before him, looking for a way out & already recording a solo album. The personal & health problems of Paul Williams were affecting his performances in the studio & on stage. In April 1971 doctors advised Paul to retire from the group. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show highlights the rift within the the Temptations, Eddie putting some distance between himself & his fellow members. Whitfield had lined up “Smiling Faces Sometimes” as the follow-up to “Imagination” but Eddie was gone by then & promotion without his featured vocals was impossible. Of course there were still great Temptations moments, more big hits to come but “Just My Imagination” serves as a poignant watershed in the long career of a great group.

Image result for chambers brothers new generation

With roots in Gospel & Folk the four Chambers Brothers, with the addition of electricity & a drummer, had by the mid-1960s a spirited, still sanctified live set incorporating Blues & Soul. Still, the full 11 minute glory of “Time Has Come Today” was a surprise, An epic, ambitious, assured mix of sock-it-to-me & the Summer of Love incorporating Sly Stone, James Brown & the new Psychedelia this was the shock of the new, Afro-Rock, an instant classic, now an obligatory inclusion on any film or documentary concerning the turmoil of late 1960s America. The edited single version made the US Top 20 & while their subsequent releases didn’t make the same impression or have the same commercial success the Chambers Brothers continued to make interesting, inventive records.

Image result for chambers brothers funky

Well alright! “Come in Mr. DJ, Phife by the microphone. Down with the Tribe Called Quest, yes man”. The rather fantastic “Funky” was at #30 on this week’s R&B chart & this is where TCQ found their introduction to”I Left My Wallet In El Segundo”. 1971’s “New Generation” is the fifth album by the Chambers Brothers since the success of “Time…” & it’s a varied, robust, dramatic collection, a collision of so many ideas that compares to Funkadelic. “Are You Ready?” sure sounds like a hit to me & it’s not the only one. If this had been the soundtrack to a blaxploitation movie we would still be finger-popping along to these tunes today. As it was this was not the group’s time & this line up went their separate ways the following year.

1970 had been a winning year for Sly Stone. A “Greatest Hits” collection would go on to sell five million copies, it included the single “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)” which hit #1 in the US Pop chart in February. The film of the Woodstock Festival, released in June, captured the excitement & immediacy of our music in a new way & Sly & the Family Stone’s electrifying performance of “I Want To Take You Higher” was a highlight of the fifth highest grossing movie of the year. Atlantic Records offered Sly his own Stone Flower imprint for any productions he wanted to give them. it was, of course, a family affair.

Image result for little sister somebody's watching you

Slipping down the chart at #33, Vaetta “Ven” Stewart was Sly’s little sister. Along with Mary McCreary & Elva Mouton she had provided backing vocals for his “Stand” album &, as Little Sister they recorded two singles for his new label. “Somebody’s Watching You” is a re-working of a track from “Stand”, a sparse, atmospheric cover it is too, a Sly & the Family Stone record in all but name so it matters. Alone in the studio with a new-fangled drum machine, a violin case full of drugs & the problems that such fame brought, Sly continued to innovate & redefine urban music. There were only to be four single releases on Stone Flower, Little Sister had returned to the background when later in 1971 Sly & the Family Stone were back at #1 on the chart with “Family Affair” & a ground-breaking, brooding album. The major Soul stars were ready with their state of the nation social commentaries at this time & “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” would sit among the very best of them.

For this week’s live highlight we jump forward three weeks to March 6th 1971, to Black Star Square in Accra, Ghana when great American Soul stars including Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, the Staple Singers & Santana honoured that country’s Independence Day. The all-singing, all-dancing, 100% energy of Voices of East Harlem get the funky party started in the best possible way. They are young, gifted & Black, there’s a whole wild bunch of them & it’s irresistible. My friend Mani attended this concert, proud & excited that his American idols should come to his city. I loved to share my lunchtime & his vivid memories of a great day.

Get On Up Get On Down (Soul January 30th 1971)

The artist celebrating his first #1 record on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations 50 years ago this week was 53 years old, had made his recording debut more than 20 years before, his experiences reaching back to the days of Black minstrelsy, touring the Southern states in travelling tent shows. Rufus Thomas was a legend in his home city Memphis, his show “Hoot & Holler” (“We’re feeling gay though we ain’t got a dollar, Rufus is here, so hoot and holler.”) on WDIA, the city’s premier African-American radio station, played the latest, hippest R&B, in 1953 his record “Bear Claw” was the first hit for Sun Records & he was involved with the Stax organisation when it was still called Satellite. It was his 17 year old daughter Carla who had that label’s first hit & Rufus, who had seen it all, was a mentor to the singers & musicians attracted to 926 E McLemore Ave.

Rufus Thomas at home in Memphis wearing his outfit from the Watt Stax  concert 1973 Stock Photo - Alamy

Here in the UK Rufus was known for his biggest record before “Push & Pull”. 1963’s “Walking the Dog” was covered on the Rolling Stones’ debut LP & included in the set of every teenage band moving from Mersey Beat to Mod R&B. There were 4 “Dog” tracks & then his records had less impact though I have to include here 1968’s outstanding “The Memphis Train”, used in Jim Jarmusch’s appreciation of the city “Mystery Train”. Booker T & the M.G.s propel the song like only they can, the Memphis Horns do their thing & producer Steve Cropper’s guitar stings like a bee. It was another dance record that put Rufus back on the chart when “Do the Funky Chicken”, his only hit this side of the Atlantic, dropped in 1969. His energetic, entertaining encouragements to get on up & get on down backed by hard-edged Funk were back in style & “The World’s Oldest Teenager” entered the most successful period of his long career.

Rufus Thomas - Modus House of Soul

“(Do The) Push & Pull” had first been recorded for the album “Rufus Thomas Live: Doing the Push & Pull at P.J.’s” (L.A.’s first discotheque, corner of Santa Monica Blvd & North Crescent Heights Blvd, you know it). The single version, backed by the Isaac Hayes Band featuring the chiming guitar of Michael Toles, packs a little more pace & punch. Apart from the odd clunker the album “Did You Heard Me” finds Rufus & the band on fine form & further instructions for “The Breakdown” & to “Do the Funky Penguin” made the R&B Top 20. There were more singles, more dances, the Funky Robot, the Funky Bird & the Double Bump. Rufus still D.J.’d in Memphis, always positive & exuberant, never drab or dreary, he was recognised as a great entertainer. There’s a boulevard in Memphis, a park in Poretta, Italy named for him & all those great records where, if you don’t know how to do it he’ll show you how to walk the Dog, the Chicken or whatever.

The Spinners - Classic Motown

At #36, rising from 47, on this week’s chart “We’ll Have It Made” was the Spinners’ follow-up to “It’s A Shame”, a Top 20 Pop hit & a return to the R&B chart after a four year absence. Since signing for Tamla Motown in 1963 the Spinners had found that there was only room for one five man vocal group on the label. A “Best of…” collection of their years in Detroit is very good but they neither established their individuality nor achieved commercial success & they were even working as roadies, chauffeurs & chaperones for other acts. “We’ll Have It Made” was, like “It’s A Shame”, written by Stevie Wonder & his wife Syreeta though while Stevie was in the studio for these tracks eight other producers were involved in the 1970 album “Second Time Around”. This was to be the Spinners’ final single for TM, knowing that Atlantic Records were waiting in the wings their contract was not renewed & they moved on.

The Spinners Vintage Concert Poster from Honolulu International Center, Dec  30, 1973 at Wolfgang's

It was not as easy as that, G.C Cameron had taken the lead on these two songs & he remained at Motown to be replaced by his cousin Philippe Wynne who joined Bobby Smith & Henry Fambrough as one of three lead vocalists. There was a deal of goodwill towards the group & when Atlantic matched the Spinners with producer Thom Bell over in Philadelphia he was able to highlight their individuality & unleash their potential. The first collaboration in 1973 produced three Gold records, four Top 10 R&B 45s & the Spinners were on the way to becoming one of US’s biggest groups of the decade. Here in the UK they were first known as the Motown Spinners then the Detroit Spinners to avoid confusion with a cable-knit jumpered Folk quartet with the same name. None of us were ever confused.

Gary Byrd - Presenting The Gary Byrd Experience | Discogs

On the lower reaches of the chart, at #58 was a young radio DJ who after reading his poem “Every Brother Ain’t A Brother” on his overnight show for WWRL-AM in New York & was encouraged by listeners to commit it to vinyl. It’s a cautionary rhyme that “Everything Black just ain’t Black & baby, that’s a fact”, not as militant as the Last Poets or Gil Scott-Heron but still positive & a reminder that there was plenty of spoken-word flow around before it was called Rap. The Gary Byrd Experience released an album & their 1973 45 “Soul Travelin'” is a review of the early 1970s Soul scene that you would be better served listening to than reading this.

Gary hooked up with Stevie Wonder & his lyrics for “Village Ghetto Land” “Black Man” were featured on “Songs in the Key of Life” (1976). It was in 1983thatthe Experience returned with “The Crown”, an almost 11 minutes long reinforcement of Black potential & positivity, recorded with & released by Stevie Wonder. One that got away in the US but deservedly hit the UK Top 10. Now Imhotep Gary Byrd he has 50 years of broadcasting experience, his Afrocentric talk career has always been of the moment & significant.

My last R&B review ended with a live, joyous performance by Billy Preston & I’d like to make that a thing. In 1972 an idea for a benefit concert by Stax Records affiliated to the Watts Summer Festival in Los Angeles blossomed into “Wattstax”, 112,000 people paying just $1 each to attend the Coliseum. At 6.26 pm Rufus Thomas, avuncular, in a natty pink shorts-suit, cape & white boots combo appeared to perform his current hits. The packed, excited, sharp-dressed crowd spilled out from the bleachers (is that the word?) on to the infield. There was no pushing & shoving, no Crips & Bloods brouhaha, just the beautiful Black people of Southern Los Angeles feeling the need to do the Funky Chicken & why the heck not!

Brothers Work It Out (Soul January 16th 1971)

At #8 on the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for January 16th 1971 was a powerful, no punches pulled protest against the Vietnam War, a conflict that in 1968 involved over 500,000 US troops, that in 1970 President Nixon had expanded into neighbouring Cambodia. An increase in opposition culminated in the killing of four Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard while the scenes of US troops returning home in body bags on nightly TV news disturbed American homes. “Stop The War Now” is Edwin Starr’s follow up to the classic “War” & perhaps unfairly sits in the shadow of that great hit. The troubles of present day USA has been brought sharply into focus by last week’s events in Washington, incited by the soon-to-be ex-President. 50 years ago the best summation of the wider tumultuous state of the nation sat at #3 in the Cash Box R&B chart.

Curtis Mayfield was, by 1971, already recognised as a significant contributor to American music. During his apprenticeship at Okeh Records young Curtis’ aptitude for simple, sweet melodies that caught a radio listener’s ear developed into a string of hits for his group the Impressions & others. Singles with more than a tinge of Gospel, “Amen”, “Meeting Over Yonder” were released alongside the gently romantic like “I’m the One Who Loves You” & “Talking ‘Bout My Baby”. A growing involvement in the Civil Rights Movement & an association with Martin Luther King Jr inspired songs that promoted Black positivity & pride. The spiritual “People Get Ready” was as early as 1964. Later “We’re A Winner”, “This is My Country” & “Choice of Colors” were more assertive & polemical. In 1970 Curtis left the Impressions & his first solo LP was rightly much-anticipated. The innovation & realisation of this new phase was still a surprise & a delight.

45cat - Curtis Mayfield - (Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All  Going To Go / The Makings Of You - Buddah - Germany - 2011 055

Curtis Mayfield was ambitious for & far-sighted about his music, his business & his race. The first minute of “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go”, an ominous fuzz bass, a female voice talking about the Book of Revelations, Curtis’ echoed shouts “Sisters! Niggers! Whities! Jews! Crackers! Don’t worry…” then a scream, shows that things have changed, doors have been kicked open, new ground has been broken. What follows is an update on Chicago Funk, an urgent, perfect mesh of brass, string, rhythm guitar & percussion. The radio edit of the track is half the length of the 8 minutes on the album, that introduction too strong for mainstream airwaves. Like “Move On Up” “If There’s A Hell…” is best appreciated as originally intended. There are still those so-sweet, romantic, melodic love songs on “Curtis” but this solo debut showed that Mr Mayfield knew it was time for shit to get real, that things needed to be said, that lyrically & musically he was a great force.

Kool & The Gang | Samuelsounds

Meanwhile at the Sex Machine club in West Philadelphia, on 52nd & Market, (long gone, a good time, you know it) Kool & the Gang were recording their first live album. The New Jersey school friend Gang got together in the mid-sixties as a Jazz group who soon found that for an eight piece band it was more financially viable to play Soul covers & back touring acts in local clubs. Spotted, signed, produced & managed by Gene Redd, bassist Robert “Kool” Bell’s name was moved to the front in 1969. A debut album, instrumentals dominated by a fresh, funky & kool horn section, included two Top 40 R&B hits & got their name about. On stage the band put on quite a show & the Sex Machine set was one of two live albums released in 1971.

Looking at a Kool & The Gang concert poster from back in the days feat. The  Chi-Lites & Major Har… | Vintage music posters, Concert posters, Vintage  concert posters

“Who’s Gonna Take the Weight (Part II), from “Live at the Sex Machine”, is at #28 on this week’s chart. I suspect that the relatively mild opinions expressed at the beginning of Part I meant that this was the side of the 45 played on the radio. Of the 10 tracks on the album four are covers of well-known songs that are difficult to improve upon (“Walk On By”, “I Want to Take You Higher”). Given the Kool treatment they become part of a tight Soul-Jazz set that’s very enjoyable even with the over-dubbed audience screams. “Who’s Gonna…” has a solid rhythm section underpinning the so fashionable wah-wah guitar & a hot brass ensemble. In 1973 Kool & the Gang had a commercial breakthrough when their “Wild & Peaceful” record produced two Pop Top 10 singles. As Disco became more prominent they smoothed out their style, still making the R&B chart but the albums were no longer going gold. In 1979, a new singer, J.T.Taylor & a change to ballad oriented material found the resurgent group hitting a run of success that lasted until the mid-1980s. Man, Kool & the Gang were a big deal. I know that “Celebration” (Wah-Hoo!) & “Get Down On It” are still well-loved by many but if I need a little K & the G around it’s the rougher Funk of “Live At the Sex Machine” I’ll be reaching for.

sgt. pepper's lonely hearts club blog. | Billy preston, George harrison,  The beatles

Master keyboard player Billy Preston was a late contender for the “fifth Beatle” belt. When, in January 1969, George Harrison invited him along to the “Let It Be” sessions it was to join a bickering not-so Fab Four who would break up before the year’s end. As George hoped the group were accepting of their guest & tensions were eased. Just a week later Billy was on the roof of Apple Corps in Savile Row (London’s glittering West End, just off Regent St, you know it) performing alongside them in their final live appearance. In April “Get Back” had “The Beatles with Billy Preston” on the label, the only time such credit was given. The respective beliefs of George & Billy in Krishna & Christ had a mutual credo of all you need is Love & after signing for Apple the pair began work on Billy’s album. For the title track of “That’s the Way God Planned It” Eric Clapton, Keith Richards & Ginger Baker showed out to assist on an impressive, positive song that sure sounded like the hit it was in the UK. The single suffered in the US from an inexperienced record label who had never really needed to promote Beatles records. Billy had recorded his first album when he was 16 years old, the respect for his talent was reflected in the demand for his services from many major artists. This Beatle association brought a whole different level of attention.

Billy Preston - My Sweet Lord (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs

“Encouraging Words” was recorded with another all-star cast. Co-producer Harrison, possibly hoping that his group would continue to record, contributed two of his song stash to the project. That’s how Billy Preston’s version of “My Sweet Lord”, at #50 on this week’s R&B chart, came to be released in the UK two months before the “original”. Billy takes the song to church, guests the Edwin Hawkins Singers making it more “Hallelujah” than “Hare Krishna”. It may lack the impact of Phil Spector’s Wall of Acoustic Sound on George’s version but Billy, aided by the Temptations’ touring band, sure gets his groove on. “Encouraging Words” is a fine mix of Soul, Gospel & Rock with Delaney & Bonnie’s stellar band providing great back up. Billy had a good 1970s with big solo success while maintaining an involvement with the Rolling Stones in the studio & on tour. In August 1971 he joined George & his friends for the “Concert For Bangladesh”. His barnstorming “That’s The Way…”, Billy feeling the spirit & dancing across the stage, almost stole the show. We’ll end with that because I & probably you could use a little Joy at the moment.

Bowie, Balls & Mungo (British Pop- Prog January 1971)

My selections  from the British progressive music scene of 50 years ago became irregular then finally stopped in 2020. It’s not just down to indolence on my part. The Marmalade Skies website is a lovingly curated archive resource for those interested in the period however their month-by-month “Remember the Times” feature has proved to be a little approximate. I’m have no great attachment to verisimilitude but y’know, fake news on the Interwebs, who would do such a thing? Hippies eh! Marijuana would have been legalised years ago if they could have remembered where they had left the petition. Any road up, in 2021 let’s get back to it. There was plenty of interesting British music released 50 years ago, some classics, some that caused more than a ripple at the time, others that have been, deservedly or not, forgotten. My first selection from their January 1971 listings turns out on further “research” to have probably hit the shops in September of that year. No matter it is a great single which didn’t get a wide hearing at the time but y’know it’s only 50 years, it’s not too late.

Balls were a planned Birmingham supergroup financed & organised by Tony Secunda, a proto-Malcolm Mclaren, a manager, sensationalist & chancer. Secunda had managed the Moody Blues until a financial fallout after their second 45 “Go Now” became an international hit. His guidance of The Move ended when a publicity stunt libelled the Prime Minister & all the royalties to “Flowers in the Rain” were lost in a court case. It was Denny Laine, formerly of the Moodies & Trevor Burton, recently split from the Move at the core of Balls. They, like those other Midlanders Traffic, went to get it together in the country, a large cash advance was acquired from the record company. They were joined by an assortment of other Brummie musicians &, I would imagine at some expense, Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller was hired to get it into order.

Balls - Fight For My Country (1971, Vinyl) | DiscogsThe cottage on the Berkshire Downs was too near a pub & the drug use said to be more than recreational so things were a little chaotic as personnel came, went, then came back again. Tony Secunda lost interest when he became involved with T.Rex, a Pop sensation in 1971. Two other Birmingham musicians, Jeff Lynne with E.L.O. & Roy Wood with Wizzard, hired prospective members of Balls & then, later in the year, Denny Laine got a call from Paul McCartney to join a new band Wings (“the band the Beatles could have been”-Alan Partridge), an offer he couldn’t refuse. After all the rigmarole only three tracks were completed & I’m guessing that a later re-release of “Fight For My Country” under the name B.L.W. means that Burton, Laine & Alan White, drummer off the Plastic Ono Band, stuck around. Burton’s song is robustly anti-war driven by Denny’s pumping bass. Miller gives it a full, heavy treatment & it’s an epic of muscular Psych, like Eric Burdon’s “Sky Pilot” only, thankfully, without the bagpipes. The single got little airplay (was it the band’s name?) & that was all the Balls we heard. Years later I would see Trevor Burton’s lunchtime sessions at the Station Hotel in Sutton Coldfield. He didn’t play “Fire Brigade” or “Fight For My Country” but straight ahead, no bullshit Rock & Roll & a couple of beers was just the thing before a roast dinner.

MUNGO JERRY/RAY DORSET UK Tour Vintage ORIG 1979 Press/Mag ADVERT 3.5"x  2.5" - £1.99 | PicClick UKIn May 1970 the Hollywood Music Festival (not THE Hollywood, the one near Newcastle-under-Lyme in the UK) featured an impressive line-up including the first UK appearance of the Grateful Dead. The show was stolen by a group that barely made the poster. Mungo Jerry’s good time jug band music was the ideal afternoon relief from a day of electric music & they raised such a ruckus that they were invited to play on both days (conveniently M.J’s management also organised the festival). The group’s debut had been released days before their appearances, a “maxi-single”, 3 tracks, 33 1/3 r.p.m., retailing at 49p (68 cents). The song didn’t really need such a promotional boost, “In the Summertime” (you know it) was fresh, distinctive & sounded like the super smash international feelgood hit of the summer it became with eventual sales of 30 million. Just weeks later Mungo Jerry were known by many more people than 30,000 hippies in a Staffordshire field.

Beat Instrumental Magazine No 100 August 1971 Procol Harum Manfred Mann Mungo  Jerry Jericho Jones“…Summertime” was written by lead singer Ray Dorset, an enthusiastic & charismatic frontman with the most impressive mutton chop sideburns in music. His song “Baby Jump”, another maxi-single, was the follow up, a stomping boogie with lascivious lyrics & the group had another UK #1. “Mungomania” was an actual word in 1971. In the clip Ray, dressed in his mum’s curtains, & the band mug there way through it for French TV but the song rocked. Four more singles made the charts & the line up changed but they continued to perform for years.  Undoubtedly Ray Dorset was the face of the group (I think some people thought that his name was Mungo Jerry) & as long as he was there with his songs, his sideburns & his spirit audiences were alright, alright, alright for many years to come.

In 1980 Ray wrote his third UK #1 when Kelly Marie’s “Feels Like I’m in Love” broke out of the Scottish club scene (Lord help us!) on to the national chart. Not my kind of music at all but the synth drum hook brings to mind my great, unfortunately late friend Dave Evans, a son of Dublin, a man of the world. Dave & I enjoyed many conversations about Hegelian dialectics, Bill Griffin’s Zippy comics & the merits of the B-52’s “Whammy” album. So man, “BOOP-BOO!”

David Bowie – Holy Holy = Sagrado, Sagrado (1971, Vinyl) - DiscogsDavid Bowie was not having the best of things at the beginning of 1971. “The Man Who Sold the World”, his third album, had a US release in November of the previous year but it would be April before it was in the UK shops when, in his words, it “sold like hotcakes in Beckenham, and nowhere else”. The attention he had received after “Space Oddity” was waning & his new management had problems with the former management, with the record label & with the lapsing of David’s publishing deal. “The recording of “The Man Who…” had not ended well with producer Tony Visconti & guitarist Mick Ronson, both involved with Bowie’s planned group Hype looking elsewhere while Mercury had no plans to release a single from the album. Phew!

Hear David Bowie's Rare, Original 'Holy Holy' From 1971 - Rolling StoneA demo of “Holy Holy” attracted a new publishing deal & producer Herbie Flowers brought along his bandmates from Blue Mink, session musicians enjoying success with positive, polished Pop, to record a 45 which was released on January 17th 1971. With lyrics influenced by Alistair Crowley, a rather insipid bass-heavy production & a vocal tipping its hat to Marc Bolan, “Holy Holy”, despite a TV appearance in a Mr Fish dress, was not a success. However the new deal brought a new energy & substance to Bowie’s songwriting. A promotional visit to the US inspired tributes to Dylan, Warhol & the Velvet Underground. A  side project, Arnold Corns, with the returning Mick Ronson bringing along Woody Woodmansey & Trevor Bolder, tried out early versions of songs that Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars would record. In the summer of 1971 new studio sessions instigated a wonderfully varied & imaginative set of songs that, when released in December by a new label, RCA, marked David Bowie as a special, rather unique talent. That album was “Hunky Dory” & everything kinda was after that.