Boom Shaka Laka-Laka (Soul June 13th 1970)

In March 1970 the “Woodstock” movie gave fans the opportunity to experience the already seminal festival, 3 days of Music, Peace & Mud, from the comfort of a cinema seat. The documentary, a box-office smash, captured the spirit of the counterculture & showcased its music with new levels of camerawork, editing & sound. Of course Jimi’s incendiary “Star Spangled Banner”, the charge, the bolt, the buzz of “With A Little Help…” by Joe Cocker & the dynamism of the Who. Man, the film even made Ten Years After seem exciting. Another highlight had been a Sly & the Family Stone b-side in 1969 but “I Want To Take You Higher” was revived & climbing to #33 in the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for this week in 1970. Just two places above it was another version of the song.

 

 

 

Ike & Tina Turner - I Want To Take You Higher (1970, Vinyl) | DiscogsIn 1951 Ike Turner & his Kings of Rhythm featuring Jackie Brenston recorded “Rocket 88” now recognised as a foundation stone of Rock & Roll. When the record was released it was credited to Jackie Brenston & the Delta Cats it sold half a million copies & Ike & his band were paid just $20 each for the session. Undeterred he continued as a session player, songwriter (again not always credited) & talent scout, making connections with what seems to be most everyone on the R&B scene. Relocating to St Louis the Kings of Rhythm were a hot live act & in 1957 Ann Bullock, a young singer joined the group. Ike was offered real money ($20,000 in 1960!) by the Sue label who recognised the earthy power of his new vocalist. “A Fool In Love” by Ike & Ann, now Tina Turner, sold a million records & they were on their way. The Ike & Turner Revue, the Kings of Rhythm Orchestra, the Ikettes & the electrifying Tina regularly shook up the US TV Pop shows & I’m sure that anyone who saw a live show by them had quite an experience. In 1966 ace producer Phil Spector bought their contract so that Tina could front his Wall of Sound. The result, the monumental “River Deep Mountain High”, is an artistic triumph yet barely scraped into the US Top 100. In the same year the Rolling Stones invited the duo to join their UK tour.

 

Tina Turner on the Cover of Rolling Stone - Rolling StoneIn 1969 Ike & Tina supported the Stones again on a US tour, they were reaching a wider, more diverse, audience & Tina, photographed by film director Robert Altman, made the cover of the “Rolling Stone”. Ike, always astute to changing tastes, adapted the Beatles’ title track & Jagger/Richards’ “Honky Tonk Women” to his bluesy R&B for the “Come Together” LP (1970). Sly’s “I Want To Take You Higher” was another track that people would know. It’s lacking the flexibility of the Family Stone but became a furiously Funky opener to the Revue’s set, Tina & the Ikettes dancing & singing up a storm while the bandleader kept it tight. These were good years for the duo, their records were more popular, European tours were a great success & they travelled to Africa for the “Soul to Soul” concert. This goodwill towards them stood Tina in good stead when she relaunched as a solo singer. Ike Turner was undoubtedly a piece of work. I’m more inclined to believe Tina’s autobiography than I am the “What’s Love Got To Do With It” film but he was violently abusive towards Tina, controlling over her & his band. There’s no doubt though his talent as a Blues guitarist & arranger contributed to a great deal of fine music & kept Ike & Tina Turner at the top for over 15 years.

 

 

 

JET MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 12, 1970 *ARETHA FRANKLIN*: Various, Various ...By 1970 Aretha Franklin was the “Queen of Soul” & she still is. While signed with Columbia there had been 9 varied LPs which established her versatility & her quality. A move to Atlantic Records, matched to more contemporary material, brought instant then enduring success. Between 1967 & 1974 every 45 but one released by Ms Franklin reached the R&B Top 10 while many of them & her albums crossed over into the higher reaches of the Pop charts. (The one exception was her remarkable live Gospel version of Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy”, a highlight of the “Amazing Grace” filmed concert, which I’m guessing didn’t receive the same radio airplay as the others). The African-American female voice was very influential in the development of twentieth century popular music, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald & Nina Simone all brought an emotional honesty & a progression to their art. I grew up with “Respect” & “I Say A Little Prayer”, Aretha Franklin is as important as those great singers.

 

45cat - Aretha Franklin With The Dixie Flyers - Spirit In The Dark ...“Spirit In The Dark” is the title track of Aretha’s second LP of 1970. The lead track “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)” had been her ninth R&B #1 & the new release, rising to #17 this week, was on its way to the Top 3. The album, including 5 songs written by her, was recorded with three different bands, the New York session men, the Muscle Shoals boys, flown up the the Big Apple from Alabama & the Dixie Flyers, the new unit established at Atlantic’s Criterion Studios operation in Miami. The groove though is strong & consistent throughout another outstanding album for Lady Soul. Both singles credit the Flyers on the label & for “Spirit..” her friends & regular back-up Sweet Inspirations showed out adding to the lovely, extempore Blues-Gospel feel. In March 1971 Aretha, the Sweets & King Curtis’ group played three nights at San Francisco’s Fillmore West. Joined onstage by Ray Charles & Billy Preston, “Spirit…” became a joyous 15 minute long jam, one of the greatest things you could hear & see. In October 1970 Angela Davis, a former UCLA professor, an activist, a Communist, “a dangerous terrorist” according to President Nixon, was arrested & charged with aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder of a judge. Aretha Franklin, a friend of Martin Luther King Jr who had sung at his funeral, expressed her support for Davis & publicly offered to pay her bail. “Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace”. I’ll just leave it at that

 

 

 

 

Bobby “Blue” Bland, official picture of Duke Records, Houston, TexasWhen we were kids my best friend & I always bought the British music weekly “Record Mirror” because their charts page included the US Top 50. We liked to be ahead of the game about any new sensations or the latest 45’s from our favourite acts. Bobby “Blue” Bland was a name we often saw in the chart’s lower reaches, the “Bubbling Under” & “New Releases” lists but his records were rarely played on even the UK pirate radio stations. When we did hear Bobby his music seemed to lack the immediacy of the shiny Soul sounds that excited us so much. Of course we were wrong, we were young. Bobby “Blue” Bland, absolutely from the top shelf of American singers, was making music for grown ups & I’ve been one of those for some time.

 

Bobby had been recording since 1951 & had been a big deal since his breakthrough with the swinging Blues “Further On Up The Road” in 1957. In the early years of the new decade his voice matured into a unique, often understated combination of sophistication & grittiness allied to an unsurpassed interpretive gift. With Joe Scott’s Big Band Blues arrangements there was a long run of R&B Top 10 hits including the stately, passionate “I’ll Take Care Of You”, a definitive “Stormy Monday Blues” & intense “Lead Me On”. It’s a list & if you know Bobby’s work then you have your own favourites.

 

Bobby Bland (@BobbyBlueBland) | TwitterBobby Bland saw little of the cash generated by these hits. “If Love Ruled The World”, #48 in this week’s Top 50, was the latest to have his label head’s name on the credits of a song he probably didn’t write. The song’s idealistic lyric has its heart in the right place & Bobby’s performance finds both the heart & the soul of it. The records kept his name at the top of the bill on an endless & exhausting touring life often in clubs ill-suited to his talents. By 1968 he was disillusioned, dependent on alcohol & his band had quit on him but all Bobby could do was sing & there was a string of dates to fulfill. He continued with just a rhythm section before finding a new band &, in 1974, a bigger record label. The hits, including “Ain’t No Love In the Heart of the City”, kept on coming & so did the respect of a new generation of artists & fans (myself included). Bobby kept on keeping on until just before his passing in 2013 by which time he was in the Blues, the Grammy & the Rock & Roll Halls of Fame. Nowadays there’s little better than a Bobby “Blue” Bland album & a glass of fine single malt whiskey to indicate that maybe, just maybe, I’m finally a grown up.

 

 

Up Down All Around Like A See Saw (Don Covay)

Well 3 clips may be the magic number & you are all busy people but Don Covay was responsible for a whole lot of great Soul music. There’s no way in Hull that I can do the right thing by him as an artist by only featuring his own recordings because he was an equally talented songwriter. Whatever the changing styles & tastes in 1960’s African-American music when other singers came around calling then Don Covay usually had a song that was just the thing for them. Here’s one he kept for himself.

 

 

“Mercy Mercy” was a Top 40 US hit for Don & the Goodtimers in 1964. It’s a Gospel-inflected Soul gem, simple with a raw edge to the vocal underpinned by a variation on the sort of guitar work Curtis Mayfield brought to the Impressions. If, as it seems, Jimi Hendrix played on this, he performed the song on early Experience gigs, then he did a fine job. At the time  Rolling Stones were the world’s foremost R&B covers band. With Jagger doing his best Covay impression, they recorded a fine version for their third LP “Out of Our Heads” (1965). This wasn’t his only song to be picked up by the British Beat Boomers. “Long Tall Shorty”, Tommy Tucker’s follow up to his big hit “Hi-Heel Sneakers” was covered by both the Kinks & the Graham Bond Organisation.

 

Image result for don covayCovay progressed from his family gospel group to the more secular Rainbows before touring with Little Richard as his chauffeur & as “Pretty Boy” his opening act. In 1960 “Pony Time”, a song he recorded with the Goodtimers was picked up by Chubby Checker, riding high on the Twist craze, & became a #1 record. Such a big hit brings people calling. As he said later “copyrights last longer than record labels”. For a while Don provided songs about new, real or imaginary, dances. One he kept for himself, “The Popeye Waddle” unfortunately didn’t catch on because I think I would be a natural. There was though a whole lot more to Don Covay than dance instructions.

 

 

Oh yeah, the lovely Gladys & her equally lovely Pips hit big with “Every Beat of my Heart” in 1961 when Ms Knight was just 17. Don Covay provided this follow-up, another US Top 20 hit. A direct, impassioned ballad, covered in the UK by Billy Fury, the best of our early rockers, showed another side to his talents. Solomon Burke, Atlantic’s biggest star, took “I’m Hanging Up My Heart For You” & in 1965 his old boss Little Richard came to New York for “I Don’t Know What You Got But It’s Got Me”, a slow-burning two part overlooked Deep Soul classic. (There’s no room here for these songs but they are in your Youtube & you should find them. Do you like good music ? Then you will love the Little Richard track). Atlantic signed Don as a performer at a time when they were striking a partnership with a new Hit Factory at Stax studios in Memphis.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womack“See Saw” is co-written with Steve Cropper, guitarist with Booker T & the M.G.s. This group & the Memphis Horns were bringing a raw power to Soul. Don only recorded 4 tracks at Stax, this R&B hit, 2 co-writes with Cropper & “Iron Out the Rough Spots”, a Jones/Cropper/Porter joint. They can be found on the 1966 LP “See Saw”, his most consistent collection to date. In the UK “See Saw” found an audience in the Mod clubs & its place in the repertoire of Soul covers bands. In 1968 Aretha Franklin took “See Saw” into the US Top 10. She already knew that she could get a hit record on a Don Covay song.

 

 

In 1967 Atlantic took their new signing Aretha Franklin to Muscle Shoals Alabama where FAME studios were making hits. The turbulence of that first visit is well documented but the label knew they were on to a good thing & by the end of the year there were 5 Top 10 singles & the new star was the Queen of Soul. Don Covay’s “Chain of Fools” was the 5th of those records, the opening track of her almost perfect LP “Lady Soul”.  Aretha’s vocals, FAME house band the Swampers (Joe South on guitar) & back-up Sweet Inspirations combined to produce a perfect song & a Grammy for Ms Franklin. This is where Soul was at 50 years ago.

 

Don had been around the block & Peter Wolf off of J Geils Band relates a story from that time. On the promise to Jerry Wexler (Atlantic’s head honcho) of a better song than “Chain…” the label delivered an array of top of the range musical equipment which Don then sold on. There are 854 recordings around where Covay is credited as songwriter. He knew that his royalty cheques didn’t always match what he thought he was due.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womackDon was an ebullient, energetic character, his confidence surely reinforced by his success. His recorded rarely but in 1968 he instigated the Soul Clan, an ambitious amalgamation of 5 Soul Stars, himself,  Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Arthur Conley & Ben E King. Things did not run smoothly, Otis Redding died, Wilson Pickett pulled out, Burke’s plan to set up extensive black-owned businesses needed a million dollars from Atlantic that the label was unlikely to hand over. An LP, “Soul Meeting” (1968), was produced by Covay who provided a majority of the material. “That’s How It Feels”, the outstanding ensemble track of the album is co-written with Bobby Womack who was then having more success as a writer than with his own records & who often expressed his admiration for his collaborator.

 

Times were changing, Soul was getting Funky, with no label support & egos to juggle the Clan fizzled out. Don looked back & recorded with the Jefferson Lemon Blues Band, a pretty good LP with a touch of Taj Mahal about it. In 1972 he left Atlantic, his last 45 a cover of “Everything I Do Goin’ Be Funky”. The new head of A&R at Mercury was ready for the new thing.

 

 

Image result for don covay bobby womack“Super Dude” (1973) is such a good record. Don’s emotional story-songs are still straight to the heart but, now in his mid-thirties, things are getting a little more complicated.”I Was Checking Out, She Was Checking In”,his biggest Pop hit, is not the only fine “love gone wrong” ballad on the LP. Recorded in Alabama with Womack & the Muscle Shoals band, as good as it got back then, it really is a top class mature example of Southern Soul. Mick Jagger was still listening to Don Covay, you’ve heard “Fool To Cry” haven’t you ? A track from the sessions, the funktastic “It’s Better To Have (& Don’t Need)” made it on to UK radio & gave him a UK hit.

 

Don spent the Disco years at Philadelphia International, another right place at the right time. There was little more new music & in 1992 he suffered a stroke. Jagger & Richard are said to have helped with the rehabilitation expenses, friends & admirers recorded a tribute LP in 1993. There’s so much good music made by Don Covay. I must, at least, mention the songs he wrote with Wilson Pickett & the Reggae versions of his tunes. If you know his music then you know how big his contribution to Soul music was. If you don’t then he really is worthy of your attention.

 

 

 

 

The Grass Is All Synthetic And We Don’t Know For Sure About The Food (John Hartford)

As a young musician growing up in St Louis, Missouri John Hartford was inspired by the Grand Ole Opry radio show & particularly the finger-picking stylings of banjo master Earl Scruggs. While other white teenagers were trying to play Rhythm & Blues but starting to rock & roll John’s high school band played Bluegrass. He was in his mid-20s when he moved to Nashville in 1965 & signed with RCA records the following year. The 6 LPs he made with Felton Jarvis, Elvis’ man in Nashville, are a mix of poetic romanticism & wry humour. Hartford had more going on than the folkie Dylan imitators, was never, despite some incongruous orchestration, country enough for diehards but too rootsy & individual for a pop audience. It was a song from his 2nd LP “Earthwords & Music” which found an audience & changed his life.

 

“Gentle On My Mind” was the title track of Glen Campbell’s breakthrough LP (“The Big, Bad Rock Guitar of…” had missed out in 1965). There were 4 Grammy awards waiting for the song in 1968, 2 of them for Hartford himself. Later that year Dean Martin recorded his version which was a Top 3 UK hit. It became an upbeat Aretha Franklin B-side, she shows crooner Andy Williams how it’s done in this clip. When Elvis went to American Sound Studio for his “…In Memphis” record he included his take on the song. Well Alright ! The royalty cheques must have been so big that 4 guys had to carry them to John’s door. After writing such a major hit John Hartford was pretty much allowed to follow whatever musical path he wanted. To his credit he didn’t choose to tailor his songs in search of another middle-of-the-road crossover hit.

 

 

John was around US TV in the late-60s. He regularly appeared  on the Smothers Brothers show & again when Glen Campbell got his own series. He joined Johnny Cash for a Bill Monroe medley & a solo spot of “I’ve Heard That Tear-Stained Monologue You Do There By The Door Before You Go” (phew !) which is pretty, pretty good. Better still he added his banjo & fiddle to the the Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, check “I Am A Pilgrim” & “Pretty Boy Floyd”. Young rock musicians were starting to mine a vein of American roots music which had been neglected in the rock & roll years.

 

Hartford’s contract with RCA ended & he moved to Warner Bros in 1971. His first LP for them was quite a surprise. The clean cut young man, the welcome guest in America’s living rooms, had been replaced by a Fabulous Furry Freak Brother ! I admit that the striking cover of “Aereo-Plain” made me take a closer look. The quality of his accompanists impressed too & when I got the record home & took a listen I knew that I had made a spur of the moment purchase I would not regret (mentioning no names !).

 

 

“Aereo-Plain” is a joyous mix of John Hartford’s love for Bluegrass & letting his freak flag fly. He sounded more comfortable with his music & with his attitude than on any of his previous records. He assembled an all-star band of Nashville Cats & they sound clean as country water, wild as mountain dew. Guitarist Norman Blake had joined Bob Dylan for his Nashville visit, Randy Scruggs, bass, was the son of Hartford’s hero Earl. Tut Taylor was Music City’s Dobro player of choice while Vassar Clements, a veteran of Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys later added his fiddle to records by members of the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers & the Beatles. John’s fluid, subtle banjo playing fits right in with these guys. Together they make a beautiful noise, producer David Bromberg was told to let the tape roll & leave it on.

 

 

The LP is lyrically retrospective, “Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry”, “Back in the Goodle Days”, “Steamboat Whistle Blues” & the lovely “First Girl I Loved” (a cousin ?) are all wistful & whistleable. The stoner “Holding” & the out there “Boogie” bring High Times humour to the piece. “Aereo-Plain” has the same blend of hippie spirit & respect for musical roots as its contemporaries “Workingman’s Dead”, “Burrito Deluxe”, “Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers’ Favorites”, modern country rock classics that avoided worthy revivalism. It’s somewhere in your e-appliance (try Y-tube).

 

Of course the record barely made the Top 200 of the LP charts & the following year’s “Morning  Bugle”, recorded with Blake & former Miles Davis bassist Dave Holland was barely promoted. Hartford walked away from Warners & didn’t record again for 4 years. When he returned “Aereo-Plain” had become more recognised as a modern Bluegrass classic (I’m not gonna say “newgrass”…oh sh…!). John became a fixture on the folk & country circuit, a virtuoso welcomed by many talented musicians, a solo performer on banjo & fiddle, playing while dancing on a a piece of amplified plywood. He loved the steamboat culture of the Mississippi River & held a pilot’s licence as well as being an authority on its music & stories. Though suffering from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma he was still around to contribute to the soundtrack of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou ?”, another revival of a music that had never gone away.

 

 

Since his passing in 2001 the 6 LPs he recorded for RCA have been reissued. “Aereo-Plain” & “Modern Bugle” are the starting points for John Hartford. His intelligent, romantic, witty  country-pop songs make his work before those 2 worth checking too.

 

 

They Say That It’s A Man’s World But You Can’t Prove That By Me (Dan Penn)

A recent article in the New York Times, “Why Music Makes Our Brain Sing”, was an attempt to explain our reaction to music in terms of neuroscience. There was a load of dopamine flooding the striatum blah blah. Yeah, “Mr Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long, leaning note & make it float”. I am a music obsessive, I know what I like & I like what I bloody well know. You can take an auditory cortex, any expectations based on our stored musical representations & shove ’em.

All I know is that this is aural perfection. Don’t know why, don’t care, it just is. Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom !

This is the newest & the best Y-tube version of “I’m Your Puppet” by Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, the guys what wrote it. In 1966 James & Bobby Purify hit with the song. Dan & Spooner, confident that this music thing just might work, left Alabama for American Studios in Memphis where they became involved in a period of extraordinary creativity & success.  I was seeing the names Holland, Dozier, Holland on all of those Motown records, finding out that Steve Cropper & the M.G.s were playing on all the Stax hits & I was checking the name Penn on the credits of a lot of good tunes. “Out of Left Field”, the B-side of “Judy In Disguise”, that was one.

Dan always thought that the hit version of “Puppet” was a little fast & this take on the song harks back to the 1965 original. Allmusic identifies a weary resignation in this later version which just ain’t there. It’s a middle-aged interpretation, taking it’s time to appreciate  the good stuff, not coming & going in a heaving rush…you get me ?

Another slice of Paradise. I believe that this clip is possibly a high point of Western civilization…seriously. Dan Penn wrote “Do Right Woman” & “Dark End of the Street”, 2 dead-stone, all-time, Hall of Fame classics with Chips Moman, the owner of American Sound Studios. Atlantic Records wanted to break Aretha out of the R&B charts & added some Memphis/Muscle Shoals magic to an already formidable talent. “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” is a modern manifesto for women along with the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. When Gram Parsons, another outstanding voice, recorded the song as a country waltz it was no less distinctive both as a tune & for being sung by a man.

“Do Right Man” was the title of Penn’s 1994 solo LP, his first for 20 years. I love the 1973  “Nobody’s Fool” but the hits are on “Do Right”. There’s a simplicity about these songs which seems effortless but you know it isn’t. There’s a lyrical maturity & there is Soul.  He started to perform his great songs in concert & I was lucky to see him in London in 1994. An unassuming man, dressed a little incongruously in farm dungarees, he had no choice but to accept the gratitude of a large audience who considered him to be a legend.

The ideal accompaniment to a long Summer evening when business has been taken care of & a man can sit a while, smoke, whittle, scratch or just watch the light fade. All of these or any combination thereof is acceptable. Casual Records, a British label founded by the estimable D.J. Ross Allen, released a couple of compilations called “Country Got Soul” in 2003. Whether the tracks were country, soul or a hybrid is of no consequence, they are great collections. In 2005 some of those surviving artists gathered at Dan Penn’s basement studio in Nashville & recorded “Testifying” as the Country Soul Revue.

Spooner showed out, Donnie Fritts too. Bonnie Bramlett was still singing & Tony Joe White reminded us how good he was.It’s a good old boys (& girl) Buena Vista thing & “Sapelo” by Larry Jon Wilson is a stand out piece of glorious Southern Gothic. This was my introduction to Larry Jon, the singer who ‘could break your heart with a voice like a cannonball’. I have no idea what & when “Oglethorpe Time” is but it sounds great. So does “Testifying”,  warm., intimate music produced by artists happy to have been doing what they’re doing for quite some time.