Midnight Walker, Sweet Soul Talker (Soul November 1969)

Another month, another Cash Box R&B Top 10 dominated by “the Sound of Young America” Tamla Motown. On November 15th 1969 four entries were releases from the Detroit company & across town former writing/producing team Holland-Dozier-Holland were responsible for “Crumbs Off the Table” by Glass House, a fine single by a short-lived group featuring Scherrie Payne, a future Supreme. There were to be two more chart-topping Motown records before the year was out so this month let’s see what else was coming around.

 

 

Image result for syl johnson poster"If you own a copy of the 81 track “Complete Mythology” collection of the works of Syl Johnson then you will know that he suits the tag “legendary”. Born in Mississippi Syl moved north to Chicago when he was a teenager. He & his brothers acquired their musical skills alongside his neighbour, Blues guitarist Magic Sam, a young man who had made the same journey. In a decade of recording his music, whether it was Blues or more contemporary Soul, was always dynamic & entertaining. By the mid-60’s he was socking it to us with with bright songs about different strokes, mini skirts & the latest dances & making an impression on the R&B charts. “Is It Because I’m Black”, at #32 on the chart & rising, was a different kettle of Blues-Funk, a straight ahead, no punches pulled commentary on race in America in 1969. I’ve selected the full 7 minute long album version here because it’s a monumental track, a classic record. A message from a mature Black man, telling it like it is.

 

Image result for syl johnson"The hit single & subsequent LP were by no means a case of bandwagon jumping. James Brown was saying it loud but this was a year before significant albums by Marvin Gaye & Sly Stone placed social consciousness at the forefront of Black music. Syl’s new vision was helped by the Pieces of Peace, the new hit sound of Chicago, the band behind the success of Tyrone Davis & Young Holt Unlimited,. After a disagreement with producer Carl Davis they brought their talents to Twinight Records & the singer made good use of them. The funked up covers of the Fabs’ “Come Together” & Joe South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” complement Syl’s impassioned songs of discrimination (“Concrete Reservation”) & hopes of integration (“Together Forever”). The closing track “Right On” is a tower of Funk power, singer & band hitting the groove & just not stopping. A fine end to an absolutely outstanding & significant album.

 

Syl hooked up with his friend Willie Mitchell who had something good happening at the Hi studios in Memphis. In his time there less use was made of his own material. While he may have been overshadowed by the success of Al Green & Ann Peebles, Mitchell’s productions at the time were second-to-none & Syl recorded some fine sweet Memphis Soul. Extensive sampling of his music brought renewed interest & he later resumed his recording career. If you are not too familiar with Syl Johnson then you know the drill.

 

 

Image result for johnny adams it can't be all bad 1969"Stalled at #41 was a single by a wonderful singer, another one who never enjoyed the success he deserved. Johnny Adams had been working & recording around New Orleans for a decade with just “A Losing Battle”, produced & written by Mac Rebennack (Dr John) grazing the national R&B chart in 1962. A potential move to Motown was thwarted by a previously signed contract & some of his records were selling no more than a couple of hundred copies. In 1968 Johnny was signed to SSS International in Nashville & his fierce version of the country classic “Release Me” shamed Engelbert Humperdinck & put him back on the R&B Top 40. The label matched Johnny with country writers Myra Smith & Margaret Myers for the gorgeous “Reconsider Me”, as good as Country Soul got & a Top 30 Pop hit. “I Can’t Be All Bad”, from the same team, has a marvellous Bluesy feel. I have no idea who was the Nashville cat in the studio that day but his guitar playing is as clean as country water, wild as mountain dew.

 

Image result for johnny adams 1969"Johnny Adams, “The Tan Canary”, had a range & versatility, accomplished in many styles, powerful but still smooth, that few singers could match. He recorded 4 singles for Atlantic, no album, & one of them Jagger/Richards’ “Salt of the Earth” is from the very top shelf of Stones covers, a hit that got away. Johnny was in his fifties when he began a series of records for Rounder, Jazz, Blues, Soul, tributes to Percy Mayfield & Doc Pomus, all accomplished & classy. In 1970, with his name more visible than ever, SSS assembled the best of his recordings up to that date &”Heart & Soul” is the Johnny Adams primer, an entry into the good stuff.

 

 

Image result for bobby womack poster"I’m really spoiling myself this month, I hope you feel the same. At #39 was “How I Miss You Baby” by Bobby Womack, a man who, from his involvement with Sam Cooke in the 1950’s until working with Gorillaz in the 2010’s, remained relevant & influential. While still in the family group, the Valentinos, he co-wrote “It’s All Over Now”, the first #1 hit for them Rolling Stones, Bobby wasn’t too pleased until the royalty cheques arrived. His marriage to Cooke’s widow, Barbara, less than three months after his idol’s death met with some disapproval & his records were not played on the radio. He found a place as a songwriter, with hits for Wilson Pickett, & as a session guitarist around Memphis. In January 1969 “Fly Me To The Moon” was a fine start to his solo career. The title track, an old standard & “California Dreamin'”, a new one, put him in the R&B Top 20.

 

Image result for bobby womack 1977"“How I Miss You Baby” is the lead single from “My Prescription”. More of the same, Bobby’s strong raspy gospel-inflected voice, clearly enunciating just like Sam taught him, telling his own stories, finding the Soul in sometimes unlikely easy listening classics (“I Left My Heart in San Francisco”), perfect accompaniment from the Memphis Boys at American Sound Studios. This was his most successful single yet before a change of label, with increased promotion, & a move down to Muscle Shoals in Alabama brought a regular R&B Top 10 presence. This string of early 1970’s 45’s, often employing a trademark introductory monologue, is a long, impressive list. I would be remiss of me if I did not at least mention “Across 110th Street” & “Harry Hippie”. Of course Bobby Womack kept on keeping on, a Soul Survivor adjusting to changing taste, always the real deal. “The Poet” (1981) is probably his most well known LP, one day I’ll take the time to tell you just how good “So Many Rivers” (1985) is.

 

I’ve had the company of some fine fine music this week. I’m aware that my recent selections have been predominantly male singers. Next month’s #1 is by America’s most successful female group of the 1960’s so that’s a start & I’ll have no problems ending the year by redressing any imbalance.

Having Fun Is Compulsory (Glastonbury)

It was the Glastonbury Festival weekend &, as I have for some years, I experienced it from the comfort of my armchair at home. The BBC coverage gets no easier to watch. Every talking head & news clown trilling  the “G” word mantra as an axiom for good clean fun & great music. If it’s part of the festival then it has to be a delight, no deviation from the party line allowed. The BBC got the show rolling with their weekday magazine programme for the geriatric, presented by 2 gurning nincompoops. placing the weekend firmly into the social season. Between Derby Day at Epsom & Henley Regatta why not hire a yurt in the countryside & be entertained by those most antediluvian of artistes, the Rolling Stones. If we are lucky perhaps a member of the Royal Family will grace us with his attendance. Harumph !

My times as a Pilton Pilgrim was the 1980s. Boy, it was a proper festival back then, Monday’s amphetamine psychosis a fair trade-off  for attempting  to have too much fun (I ain’t ever had too much fun). The current, corporate, commentators emphasize the convoy of travellers, the avenue of drug dealers (“Black ‘ash, good black ‘ash”) but many thousands bought a ticket, got high with a little help from their friends & some almost hallucinogenic cider to make memories that they still cherish. Not a one of these 21st century professional blowhards seem to be able to appreciate that Worthy Farm is not only a beautiful, perfect setting for a festival but that it is a magical place. Just so long as they get the opportunity to tweet their asinine observations, to be interactive they may as well be in a shopping mall.

Enough bitching about these new days not being as good as the old ones. There was some great music to enjoy over the 3 day weekend & it was a man as old as the Stones who did it for me on the Sunday night. Bobby Womack headlined at a smaller arena than the Tory Boy faux folk pop of Mumford & Sons on the main Pyramid stage. He played a split set with 5 songs from his work with Damon Albarn on a solo LP & with the Gorillaz before a break, a change of clothes & band, then a set of his greatest hits. These are not so great that you have heard them too often or to turn the gig into a sing-along. They are great enough to let you know that Bobby has more going for him than just longevity. He has been ill in recent times.To see him hold centre stage for an hour, “I can’t stop !” he shouted, was a real pleasure. If I had been in Somerset the Mumford toffs would not have been playing their banjos near me.

Saturday night at Glastonbury is a very special time. People have got their bearings & have got it. The penny has dropped that this town, which has appeared from nowhere, is functioning pretty well. The flags, the smoke from hundreds of fires gives it an atmosphere of a medieval army & its camp followers. No-one handed out a rule book on entry, the festival goers are taking responsibility for their own behaviour & everything is turning out fine. How cool would it be if we could do this every weekend ? The Pyramid stage is the place to be on a Saturday night to celebrate the festival. I have been in bigger crowds at sport events & demonstrations but, right there, right then it always felt to be more than just having the best possible time.

I have seen the Stones play live. If I want to hear them play I can listen to “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out”. Public Enemy, old school but still a force, played on another stage at the same time but I would have been down at the main arena to do a little more than see the Rolling Stones. Those grumpy old men, criticizing from their living rooms as if it is just another gig,  do not get it. This time, you really do have to be there

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds are not new at the music game either. It’s 30 years since the band formed after the break up of the Birthday Party. This year they released a 15th LP after a 5 year hiatus & 2 Grinderman records. The band have a perfect festival set, a career-spanning review of their gothic vignettes. “Tupelo”, “Red Right Hand”, “The Mercy Seat”, it’s a list & it could be longer. Blixa & Mick Harvey are no longer around but the band look suitably dissolute & Warren Ellis is still throttling his instruments. At the centre of it Nick, conducts & cajoles his band & the audience. It is powerful, it can be intense, but his unlikely hair colour shows that this thing is not to be taken too seriously. “Jubilee Street” is a track from this year’s “Push The Sky Away”, fit to become part of the Bad Seeds canon. The warm up act for Mumford & Sons ? You are having a laugh ! I hope they frightened the children in the audience waiting for something less offensive.

All this media coverage…everything is just so much fun at Glastonbury…absolutely ignores the incredible amount of recreational intoxicants ingested at the festival. It is easier to fall back on tired platitudes about mud & toilets than to admit that so many people got so high & had such a good time without killing themselves or each other. As I became a Glastonbury veteran my “things to pack” list got smaller. For 3 years I did not take a tent, it was imagine the drugs you needed for 4 days, add 50% to this & you were ready to rock. Anyway, there must have been some music this year made by people under 50.

So, it’s not Portishead, Dinosaur Jr or Chic then, nor is it any of those pop muppets who treat the gig as some sort of Radio 1 Fun Day & just stink up the place. Palma Violets are sprogs from Lambeth in London & if “Best of Friends” sounds familiar it is because it it absolutely the kind of row the young uns like to make. It was the #1 track of 2012 in the NME but there is a new guitar band around every year. In 2011 it was the Vaccines, this year it is the Strypes. Let’s hope that Palma Violets have got more in them than a gap year LP because I like this loud stuff.

I can beef about the increased corporatisation of my favourite festival. The move towards respectability has created a massive, homogenous audience of fun-seekers who seem to demand the biggest musical entertainment money can buy inside an arena with a 20′ high boundary fence. I do know that much of my dissatisfaction with the present is a lament for a well-spent past that is now just a memory. Those days when I could throw some things in a bag & get deliriously fucked up in a field with my friends are over, as are the days when I wanted to do that. The closest I will get is through my TV &, ridiculously, I resent that the experience is not as exhilarating. Nuts innit ?

I have seen some great music at Glastonbury. Taj Mahal, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Spirit & many others. I’ve danced all night in the Dread Broadcasting sound system tent. There was a Sunday night when we had to be back in London for work on Monday. We met 2 friends camped with their 3 children in a cricket field overlooking the Vale of Avalon. Closing the festival that year was Fela Kuti then Weather Report, not our favourites but world class acts. There was just the 9 of us, dancing, checking the lights & sights of the festival. The lasers arced across the Vale towards the silhouette of the Tor then on to the horizon. It was peaceful, breathtaking, beautiful & a perfect evening in a place that was these 3 things too.

Joe Brown Picks The Hits (Three From 2012)

For the first time loosehandlebars welcomes a new Selector to punch up the tunes. Joe Brown is the bass player with Bam Bam & the Calling, legends of the Derry music scene.

 He is partner of the lovely Gayle, father of 3 three teenage boys and the owner of, I think, several Hank Williams tee-shirts. That or he has just the one and he wears it all the time. I know that we are in safe hands because throughout 2012 Joe has been sending me new and old music of a spectacular quality. OK some of it has been German blokes from the 1970s who have fallen asleep at their keyboards but the rest of it has been brilliant. This is Joe Brown’s pick of the best new music he has heard this year.

“The Bravest Man In The Universe” is the title track from the Only Survivor/The Poet, Bobby Womack’s first LP for 12 years (and that was a Xmas record). Bobby wrote the first #1 for the Rolling Stones, hits for Wilson Pickett and was with Sly Stone for the creation of “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”. In the 1970s & 1980s there were times when his music touched new heights. He is a true Soul Great. He has been Across 110th Street a few too many times & has been suffering from cancer.

 “Bad as I been, I can sing my ass off, better than I could before”. Womack has always had an ear on how music is changing,Richard Russell and Damon Albarn have produced a merger of  the classic and the present. To hear Bobby in such good form on this atmospheric and beautiful song is just a treat. He is clear of his illness now so let’s hope that there is more good stuff to come. “The bravest man in the universe is the one who has forgiven first”…Hell Yeah !

“Aw just like Sister Ray said”…in space…turn it up… let the psyche-boogie free your mind (& your ass will follow). Moon Duo is a side project of San Franciscan psychedelicists Wooden Ships. Guitarist Ripley Johnson and accomplice  keyboardist Sanae Yamada recorded the LP “Circles” in the USA and mixed it in Berlin. Appropriate enough as they take their cues from the Velvet Underground and Suicide and add more than a pinch of the louder old German groups like Guru Guru. (Take my word for it, if you are too young to know these bands they are pretty damn good starting points).

Let “I Been Gone”‘s rumbling soundscape fill the room and it will pummel any resistance. Moon Duo are doing this thing better than anyone else this year. The only criticism is that the tune is not 10 minutes longer !

I have to interject here and state that my friend Joe Brown in no way recommends the use of recreational hallucinogenic stimulants as an enhancement to your musical pleasure. (Maybe he does, but not on my blog Sunny Joe). He does though, love a bit of flanging and distortion. He would only agree to that one way ticket to a desert island if he could take along “Nuggets”, the collection of acid/garage/psych classics. So, obviously, Tame Impala tweaks his nipples…mine too.

Any psychedelic record, and “Lonerism” is certainly a modern one , is inevitably compared with the past. “Elephant” sounds like John Lennon riffing on the “Doctor Who” theme. It is these echoes of the Beatles, and a modern pop sensibility, that makes the track such a killer single. The rest of the LP is a little dreamier (McCartney ?) and just as good. Kevin Parker, Tame Impala , is the best thing to come out of Perth Australia since…no he’s that best thing. He took a long time to make this record and has been rewarded with a place on most “Best of 2012” lists.

OK, I hope I have done Joe’s choices the justice they deserve. Two of the three would have made my own Top 10 and the third is proving to be a “grower”. The exchange of opinions about music and life with Joe & his crew has been just the ticket this year. There are times I say nothing because these guys have already said what I think. This, I tell you, makes a fine change from keeping it zipped because it just ain’t worth it. Onto 2013 brothers !