Soul Brother & Sisters (Soul November 14th 1970)

At #17, rising 10 places, on the Cash Box Top 60 For R&B Locations for 14th November 1970 was “Big Leg Woman (in a Short, Short Mini Skirt)” by Israel “Popper Stopper” Tolbert. This credit alone justifies inclusion in any monthly chart review & it’s a fine bluesy, brassy Muscle Shoals party. While I could knock off a couple of paragraphs concerning big leg women & skirts that no-one needs to read, I know very little about the Big Popper so we’ll leave it with the link. Anyway, this week there was a new chart topper by one of the greats of Sixties Soul. The first time he had hit #1 since 1967.

Remembering Wilson Pickett; daughter, Veda, helping to keep his memories  alive - Music Life Magazine

Yeah ! In 1966 this 13 year old cast his vote in the New Musical Express Readers Poll for Wilson Pickett in the World Male Vocal category. The Wicked Pickett released 4 singles that year, “634-5789”, “Ninety Nine & a Half (Won’t Do)”, “Land of 1000 Dances” & “Mustang Sally”, Blimey! My pocket money was still spent on discs by the British Beat groups but the raw, impassioned vocals & that driving beat made these records the highlight of the weekend Youth Club dances. They, more than any other, first brought the Stax studios in Memphis & the Alabaman FAME gang of session musicians to my attention. It’s a devotion that endures to the present day. “Spotlight on Wilson Pickett now, that wicked wicked Pickett. Singin’ Mustang Sally, Oh yeah, oh yeah”.

Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia - Rolling Stone

By 1970 Wilson may have been supplanted in my affections by the greater sophistication & wider range of Otis, Marvin, Stevie. After his 1968 success with the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” he released a number of Souled-up covers of Rock & Pop hits. It was in 1970 that Atlantic moved Pickett away from his usual recording setting, matching him with Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff the young writer/producers rapidly establishing their reputation. The resulting album, “Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia”, introduces more varied instrumentation, a little sweetness, without changing his gritty, forceful voice. That was his trademark, what made him “Wicked”, there would be no point. The record is a little uneven but when it was done right, & the groovy, funkified “Engine Number 9” certainly is that, it worked. Both 45s lifted from it returned Pickett to the US Pop Top 20 & that was the point. In the following year , Gamble & Huff having their own thing to do, Wilson successfully returned to Muscle Shoals before leaving his long-time home at Atlantic & not bothering the chart compilers so much. “Engine Number 9”, a welcome update on his sound, is not always included in the top rank of his hits, it should be.

Ann Peebles | Concert posters, Music concert posters, Vintage music posters

Down in Memphis bandleader Willie Mitchell had been working at Hi Records since 1961. Increasingly involved in production, by 1970 he had his ducks in a row & made his move. Taking over as executive vice-president of the label he had two new singers, Ann Peebles & Al Green, to record & develop along with a stellar studio band anchored by the Hodges brothers, Charles, Teenie & Leroy & star drummer Al Jackson Jr. from Booker T & the M.G.s. “Part Time Love” was the fourth single released by Ann Peebles. It was at #3 on this week’s chart, a breakthrough, the biggest hit yet for the new kids on the Memphis block though how “Generation Gap Between Us”, the lead 45 of 1970, missed out remains a mystery to me.

Ann Peebles - Part Time Love / I Still Love You (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs

Ann’s “Part Time Love” album re-works four of the tracks from her debut of the previous year & includes covers of contemporary hits that are very good but y’know it’s difficult to improve on the Isley Brothers’ original of “It’s Your Thing”. It’s a showcase for a great singer, tough, confident & passionate, beautifully matched to Mitchell’s new Hi sound, a tight, smooth, mid-tempo groove, the Memphis Horns less urgent but just as prominent as they were on their Stax recordings. In the near future Al Green used this template to join the pantheon of male Soul stars while Ann Peebles, apart from “I Can’t Stand The Rain” (1974) struggled to find more commercial success. Together with her writing partner & later husband Don Bryant, she did have more input in her later more mature recordings & while her individual albums are worthy of investigation any “best of” assemblage, 17 or 18 tracks showing how well Memphis Soul was done in the first half of the 1970s, is essential.

ARETHA FRANKLIN "BORDER SONG" SHEET  MUSIC-PIANO/VOCAL/GUITAR/CHORDS-1969-NEW!! | eBay

The two highest new entries on this week chart were songs written by white British musicians. (the third highest was Curtis Mayfield’s “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go”, a good week or a Golden Age? You decide). Santana’s performance at the Woodstock Festival, the barnstorming “Soul Sacrifice” being a highlight of the movie & of the million seller soundtrack album, had brought much wider attention. “Black Magic Woman”, in at #38, is a Peter Green song. Green had made his reputation as Eric Clapton’s replacement in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. His instrumental talent & a developing individuality as a songwriter made his group Fleetwood Mac one of the best & most interesting of the British Blues bands rather than the coked-out, polyamorous purveyors of Soft Rock it became after his departure.

Elton John Recalls Aretha Franklin's Final Performance in Heartfelt Tribute

In late August 1970 the buzz created by Elton John’s US debut at the Troubadour in Los Angeles had set him on the path to becoming Elton John. Aretha Franklin was, of course, “Lady Soul”, the Queen, on an incredible run of 10 albums between 1966 & 1974 that defined & refined the emotional intensity of African-American music. In 1970 her current LP “Spirit in the Dark” brought another pair of hit singles, adding to a list so long that I can’t be bothered to count. Her latest 45, entering the chart at #36, was a song from Elton’s eponymous second LP &, oh my, she took “Border Song (Holy Moses)” to church. Aretha’s vocal, her own piano, Billy Preston’s Hammond organ & a choir led by the Sweet Inspirations invest the song with a grandeur & a spirituality that surpasses the original. I sure that Elton John & his lyricist partner Bernie Taupin, still finding their way, still some months away from the success of “Your Song”, were equally stunned & thrilled that an artist of Aretha’s stature would cover one of their songs. I’m sure too that they would agree that she made it better.

99 Pounds Of Soul (Ann Peebles)

If you ever attended the First Baptist Church in St Louis in the 1950’s & 60’s I’m sure that you were in for a treat. Minister of music Perry Peebles directed the Peebles Choir, founded by his father & which, over the years, included his wife Eula, their 11 children & many of the extended Peebles family. The seventh of the 11 siblings, Ann, was blessed with an outstanding voice. She was a natural performer on the Gospel circuit &, born in 1947, was of a generation where the transfer to secular Soul was easier than it had been for those 10 years older than her.

 

 

Image result for ann peebles willie mitchellAnn Peebles sang with bands in St Louis clubs before, on a trip to Memphis, impressing Gene “Bowlegs” Miller with her take on the Jimmy Hughes ballad “Steal Away, a 1964 hit from FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. “Bowlegs” (great name) referred her to Willie Mitchell, head of A&R at Hi Records, after a run through of the same song Ann found herself with a recording contract before she was 21 years old. Hi was known for its instrumental hits. Trumpeter/band leader/producer Mitchell had his own very groovy success in 1968 with the King Curtis tune “Soul Serenade“. Now Willie was looking to expand the label’s roster, matching new vocal talent to his ideas about how Soul went. As it says in the small print in the ad (trust me it’s there) for Ann’s 1971 45 “Somebody’s On Your Case” “Produced by Willie Mitchell & it’s pure Memphis”.

 

There was no instant success for Peebles. The label took time to school Ann in recording & promotion. Her debut LP “This Is…” (1969) was heavy on cover versions of recent hits. Two fine singles in 1970 made an impression but there was little new material & the “Part Time Love” LP (1971) included 6 tracks from that first record. “Straight From the Heart” was released in the same year &, as can be heard from “Slipped, Tripped & Fell in Love” & “99 Pounds”, she was finding her own strong, individual, mature style. There were others at Mitchell’s Royal Studios who were hitting the spot too.

 

 

“99 Pounds” was written for & about Ann by Don Bryant, a staff member at Hi assigned as her mentor. The pair did not instantly bond. Ann thought that she knew how to sing & Don thought that his own recordings were being neglected. This 3rd LP included 3 songs written by the singer (2 co-written with Bryant). In 1973 they co-operated on the song that defines Ann Peebles career. A year later the couple were married.

 

Image result for ann peeblesAt this time the walls of Hi Records’ office was filling up with gold discs as Al Green, another Mitchell discovery, became the new Soul sensation. The house band, the Hodges brothers, Charles (organ), Leroy (bass) & Teenie (guitar) with drummer Howard Grimes. augmented by the Memphis Horns (over from Stax) found a warm, melodic, still funky groove that became the new hit sound. These musicians are all over every Ann Peebles record, driving the song along, complementing her assertive lyrics. The Hi Rhythm Section are an instantly recognisable unit & Man, they’re good !

 

 

“I Can’t Stand the Rain”, we all know that one, bringing back sweet memories. A Peebles/Bryant composition with assistance from local DJ Bernie Miller it is the title track of a monumental LP, an update on the Southern Country Soul of the late 1960’s, a Hi-point of that label’s fine discography. In 1974 the record was not a major hit, the single just making the US Top 40, the LP #155. It was though recognised as an enduring piece of resistance. In 1978 a German disco version hit the US Top 20 & the UK Top 10, Tina Turner included a version on “Private Dancer” a 20 million selling album & our man Lowell George, off of Little Feat, made a good fist of it on his one solo LP.

 

Image result for ann peeblesThere are 7 Ann Peebles LPs from this period & there’s some high quality moments. “Beware” is from “Tellin’ It” (1975), take a look at that clip, a singer in her prime & how was that not a hit ? Willie Mitchell thought that Ann didn’t fulfill her potential, that she was not committed to becoming a star. I’m sure that as label boss he wanted her to be the female Al Green. The public’s tastes in African-American music were changing, they wanted to dance themselves dizzy. Ann was never as lyrically brazen as Millie Jackson, not as Disco as Donna Summer. There are some great Pop-Soul tracks (“A Love Vibration”, “Dr Love Power”) but she just did that thing she did & never was able to make the connection that transferred into major sales.

 

 

Ann took a break to raise her son in 1978. 10 years later she returned, on Willie Mitchell’s new label, but the electro-Soul sound didn’t really compare with her previous work. In 1989 the Waylo Soul Revue came to Europe. “A Memphis Soul Night” featuring Ann, Otis Clay & others confirms that there was a pretty good gig that I missed. She continued to perform & there are more records. Her reputation endured & her music was sampled by many Hip Hop artists. There’s a version of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” on the Joe Henry project “I Believe In My Soul” (2005) that absolutely does the trick.

 

Ann Peebles didn’t enter the pantheon of female Soul singers like Aretha, Diana & Gladys. She came around a little later than those legends & her brand of Southern Soul was no longer in the 1970’s mainstream. There’s more to her music than “I Can’t Stand the Rain” & “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. The records she made for Hi have all been re-released & if you are tempted by one of the many compilations then make sure it’s a double one because her “Best of” will not fit on the one LP or CD.

 

 

That Girl Can Sing (70s Soul)

In 1970 Willie Mitchell took over the output of Hi Records in Memphis. His production talents & his nonpareil house band made Al Green one of the biggest soul stars of the early part of the decade. While O.V. Wright was not on his label Mitchell made some definitive Southern soul with the singer. Another proteg√©, Syl Johnson, released some fine tunes that sound like impressions of Green. It was his female star, Ann Peebles, who made the most distinctive records of this time that were not by “the Prince of Love”.

Ann is known for her biggest hit “I Can’t Stand The Rain”, covered by many artists of taste & for “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. “Rain” was sampled in 1997 by the always interesting Missy Elliott. From 1969 to 1975 she collaborated with Willie & made a run of great records which all have the unmistakable feel and precision of the Hi house band, the 3 Hodges Brothers, Al Jackson Jr & the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson & Andrew Love). “Beware” is from 1975. There will be no more of these gems. A collection of Ms Peebles’ work, including B-sides if possible is a lovely thing.

From a year earlier Syreeta’s “Spinnin’ & Spinnin'” is from 1974’s LP “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta”. The couple were divorced in 1972 after an 18 month long marriage. They continued to work together, This is the 2nd record that Stevie produced for her & ¬†all the songs are either his or are co-written with Syreeta. It is a delightful record, Stevie had produced “Perfect Angel” for Minnie Riperton (Oh My !) in this year & there is a similar lightness of touch. He was also working on “Fulfillingess’ First Finale” at this time & Syreeta’s record fits right in there with his unbeatable music of the first half of the 70s.

Well, I’m too old to make a fool of myself on a dance floor but in Chaka Khan’s case I may make an exception. “Once You Get Started” is a 1975 single from “Rufusized” the 2nd of 6 Top 20 LPs in the US. The band had gotten started with a hit “Tell Me Something Good” written for them by Stevie Wonder. The “& Chaka Khan” was added for the 2nd LP. You can see why. The young & beautiful Chaka was compared to Tina Turner & Aretha, she was a star. In 1978 her first solo LP included the Ashford & Simpson written smash “I’m Every Woman” but she did return to Rufus to record with them. A final recording session with the band produced “Ain’t Nobody”, a prized possession for anyone who had the 12″ vinyl single. Then it was off to Prince for “I Feel For You” & deserved legendary status. Watch the clip again…she’s great.

In the late 70s the sweet soul drifted into Disco &, I feel, some individuality was lost. I mean Donna Summer was good but…It was soon impossible to go a whole day without hearing something by the Bee Gees &, Jah knows I tried. These lip-synch clips from a Dutch TV programme are a high quality chance to hear some great music & see some great artists in their prime.