Coming To You On A Dust Road (Sam and Dave Double Dynamite)

So where the heck did this come from ? The Y-tube clips of Sam & Dave’s turbo-charged live act are just the greatest thing. The dynamic duo’s great run of hit singles received plenty of exposure at the time which we are lucky enough to still have around. Then there’s this gem, a promo for a song that was never actually promoted.

As Mod as anything ! “I Don’t Need Nobody (To Tell Me About My Baby)” is a track from “Double Dynamite”,  Sam & Dave’s 2nd LP for Stax Records. The record was not as successful as their debut “Hold On  I’m Coming” or the succeeding “Soul Men” but it included 3  high quality 45s (“When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”…oh my !) which kept their name in the frame. This track was not 1 of the 3, not even, I think, a B-side. Written by Randle Catron, a Memphis personality, a future king of the local Cotton Jubilee, it’s not the usual dynamic call & response belter rather a sweet soul swinger. The guys look as sharp as a winter’s morning & the girls, dancing barefoot, are just the epitome of 1966/67 chic. 6 months later there would be dashikis, afros & a liquid light show. I think that I prefer this cool, casual look. Straight from the fridge.

Sam Moore & Dave Prater hooked up in Miami & were recording for Roulette Records before they were signed to Atlantic Records by Jerry Wexler who already had a connection to Stax Records in Memphis. The duo, like most every R&B act in the early 1960s, were on that Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Little Willie John thing but Atlantic wanted the raw, harder recipe that Booker T & the M.Gs were cooking up. They were lloaned to Stax,  assigned to the young staff songwriters Isaac Hayes & David Porter & once the 3rd single, “Hold On I’m Coming” reached the Top 30 there was a string of thoroughbred hit songs tailored to their new distinctive, urgent style.

Of course “Soul Man” was the big one in 1967. I would play that 45 on repeat. There’s a little drum break in there that still rocks me, so that’s Al Jackson. As the song says “Play it Steve !”, so that’s Steve Cropper. Earlier that year the Stax Volt Review had toured Europe & thrilled audiences. Similarly the artists were galvanized by an exposure to a, mostly white, audience they had previously been unaware of. After “Soul Man” Sam & Dave were in the major league back home. Here they bring the soul revue experience to the Ed Sullivan Show & how much fun is this ? “I Thank You”, the most basic of their singles was another big hit. Prime time TV could never capture the lightning of their live show but the fanciest horn section, all 9 of them, give it plenty & make their appearance special.

The loss of Stax’ superstar Otis Redding hit the label hard. Musicians & writers, especially Steve Cropper & Booker T Jones, were less content to live in the studio at East Macklemore Avenue, judged by the quantity of records sold rather than the quality of the music. The next  year, 1968, the “gentleman’s agreement” between Stax & Atlantic was revealed to be weighed against the good guys. As a consequence  Sam & Dave’s loan period ended . They returned to Atlantic & were never as popular with a wider audience again. The Sullivan Show gig was to promote “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” which, despite being their biggest UK hit, always seemed to me to be one of the weakest of their releases. Still, what do I know ? The storming 1968 single “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me” , written by Cropper & Eddie Floyd, was#1 in my heart in a time when there were plenty of rivals for my affections. The song came nowhere in Britain & just made Top 50 in the US.

This story does not have a happy ending. The duo’s records made in New York never recaptured the Memphis magic. Their often volatile relationship led to a temporary split, the punters wanted Sam & Dave not Sam OR Dave. Sam Moore’s affection for heroin didn’t help. When he added coke to the mix his $400 dollar a day habit meant that he was working for the monkey on his back. There was always work. They opened for the Clash on a 1979 tour, Jake & Elwood Blues, a Sam & Dave tribute act revived interest too. By the time Sam did clean up Dave had hired another Sam & a lot of lawyers became involved. Dave was prematurely killed in a car accident in 1988. Sam has stuck around & he is just great.

I’m going to end this with something I found on like page 9 of a “Sam & Dave live” Y-tube trawl (you have got to go deep, just in case). It’s film of the most successful soul duo ever doing what they did better than anyone else, performing live. It is shot, I think, on that first Stax tour of Europe when the acts were backed by Booker T & the M.Gs & the Mar Keys, Stax’ A-team. I’ve never seen this before (33 views…that’s nuts !). A small sweaty club, the cameraman apparently sat in Booker T’s lap.  “Of all the R & B cats, nobody steams up a place like Sam & Dave ” (Time). “Unless my body reaches a certain temperature, starts to liquefy, I just don’t feel right without it.” (Sam Moore). The clip is 10 minutes long & I know that you are all busy people but it’s “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, “Hold On I’m Coming” & it really is a wonderful, relentless & irresistible thing.

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Back To The !!!! Beat (Atlantic Soul)

When it comes to music on TV the British show “Ready, Steady Go” has been #1 in my heart for so long that it now holds the title belt in perpetuity. In 1966, while the just turned teenage me was waiting for the monochromatic Mod Mistress of Ceremonies Cathy McGowan to introduce the latest from Zoot Money & his Big Roll Band, half a world away in Dallas Texas, Bill “Hoss”  Allen, a Nashville DJ, was rolling out some great acts, backed by a great band to make some great music (seems to be an adjective shortage around here). “The !!!! Beat” showcased Soul, Rhythm, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, artists who needed a crossover hit before the networks helped out. The show did this in that new fandangled televisual gimmick…colour.

I’ve mined this seam before both here & there. “There” has a Garnett Mimms clip which, if we could get enough people to watch, could quite possibly bring about world peace. I’m back around “The !!!! Beat” because these nuggets are pure Platonic gold giving  “a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  Seriously, that good. On the final show of the series, which ran for just one year, Otis Redding came down from Memphis to host & perform on the show. He brought along some of the outstanding Southern Soul acts which the Atlantic label were promoting as an earthier, more raw alternative to the Motown hits.

In 1966 the esteemed critic Dave Marsh listed his favoured songs of the year. After “Reach Out & I’ll Be There” #s 2, 3 & 4 were all by Atlantic artists. “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge was one of these 3. Just months before the song’s March release Percy was still a part-time singer.His impassioned pleading, backed by the patiently building Muscle Shoals arrangement (no horns until the very end, Spooner Oldham’s perfect organ) was a nailed on, unstoppable hit. Here the horns drive the song & young Percy gives it the full soul belter treatment but he tries a little tenderness & this is how it was done in 1966. Surely there has never been a deeper soul sound at #1 in the charts. “When A Man Loves A Woman” is a classic, has become a standard but no-one has ever improved on this Sledge’s original. (He, unfortunately, gave the publishing rights to a couple of musicians who helped with the song).

Percy kept on chooglin’ with his yelping songs of heartbreak. He got some fine Dan Penn songs to record including the original of the heart-rending “It Tears Me Up”. Like many soul artists Percy re-recorded his catalogue for CD release. I have a feeling that on my Greatest Hits that the drums are not being played by Roger Hawkins, that the Shoals are less Muscular. Now, as a rule, this would, at least, irk my not so inner purist. Y’know’ the songs & the vocals are so good, Percy Sledge never just goes through the motions. It’s a fine, well used collection.

Well ! Just look at these moving pictures of Carla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul. Her Daddy, Rufus, when he was not walking the dog, was a DJ & mentor of local black talent.His beautiful teenage daughter was recording for Satellite Records before it became Stax. It was her Top 10 hit “Gee Whizz (Look At His Eyes)” in 1961, when she was 18 years old, which alerted Atlantic Records to the talent to be found at East McLemore Ave in South Memphis.

“Comfort Me”, a 45 & the title track of her 1966 LP is a product of some of that talent. Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd & Al Bell are the writers. The Stax houseband, the MG’s/Mar-Keys the players &, surprisingly, the backing vocals courtesy of Motown’s Gladys Knight & the Pips. This is a Pip-free performance but it lacks nothing else. This is a Carla Thomas thing, a Stax Records joint, an every which way slice of enjoyable.

The record was not a hit but Carla had a good 1966. Paired with the David Porter/Isaac Hayes team she hit with the  Tamla-ish “B-A-B-Y”. The next year Stax looked to cut into the Marvin/Tammi duet action. Carla made an LP with Otis Redding, “King & Queen”, which is as light, as pop, as anything the label recorded. It stands as an entertaining one-off, the final LP recorded by Otis. The stand out track, “Tramp” crackles & fizzes with chemistry & wit. I loved it on the radio in 1967, still do. Aretha was the undisputed “Queen Of Soul” but when she came to Memphis there was r-e-s-p-e-c-t & fealty to be paid to Rufus Thomas’ little girl Carla.

There is great footage, some of the greatest, of Sam & Dave. Their 2 European tours were filmed, audiences, unused to such uninhibited physical & vocal gymnastics, were transfixed then transported. We know what a great live act the duo were but who knew that their suits were red ? Sam Moore & Dave Prater joined Stax in 1965, Hayes/Porter delivered the tailor-made songs. I’ve checked for their singles discography, the quality keeps on coming right into 1969. ( The 3rd wheel on “I Take What I Want” was Mabon Hodges who co-wrote “Take Me To The River” & “Love & Happiness” with the Reverend Green…bloody hell !). The great house band on “The !!!! Beat!, led by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown raise thir already considerable game. The go-go dancers have an extra shake in their tail feathers. Man, Otis is having to stop himself making the act a trio. It is what these men did.

I bought a Greatest Hits of Sam & Dave which gave me no indication that I was not handing over my hard earned for the Atlantic classics. On my first listen I knew that Booker T & his Memphis Group had not been involved in this CD’s production. In the case of Percy Sledge I could bite it, accept the odd false step. Now I even became convinced that one or other of the most successful soul duo ever could be different blokes. These revisions were cut in 1978. It was the same guys but it was impossible to reproduce the energy, the Double Dynamite of the Stax originals. “Soul Man”, you know it, has a drum track by Al Jackson which convinced me that I was listening to the greatest exponent of the instrument ever. This was missing from my new purchase…I binned it…pronto.

Till Steve Cropper Plays A Bum Note (Stax)

From that very first time I heard the brassy blare, the rock solid rhythm and Wilson “Wicked” Pickett strutting through the Midnight Hour the sound of Memphis soul has shaken more than my tailfeathers. In 1966 I dutifully posted my vote for Wilson as the best singer in the world to a music paper (I’ve always been a sucker for a lost cause). A year later, just turned 15 years old, I waited on my bike to meet my best friend and share the shock of the morning news. Our new favourite, Otis Redding, had been killed in a plane crash. The world carried on with little regard but for Wink & I it was a big loss.

I did not know the hows and the whys, the whos and the wheres of the Stax/Atlantic legends then like I do now. I just knew that the raw, deep soul sound sure did it for me.

In 1967 Stax brought their artists to Europe for a tour which galvanised both performers and audiences. The Beatles, busy recording “Sgt Pepper”, sent a limo to meet them at Heathrow. The mainly black performers had not played to mainly white audiences before. The attention & interest alerted the label to not just a European market. Later in the year Otis Redding tore up the Monterey Pop Festival before the hippie “love crowd”. We are very lucky that one of these concerts, in Oslo, was filmed. Every second of the film is packed with quality, energy and soul.

Eddie Floyd is singing “Raise Your Hand” the follow up to his biggest record “Knock On Wood”. This simple call and response sits on a bed of pure Stax music. You could sing the telephone book and it would sound good. (Wilson Pickett started to do so on  “634-5789”). Eddie made some great records, he’s looking fine and singing strong here. He will always be remembered for the classic “Knock On Wood”.

Behind Floyd is the powerhouse band who backed all the acts on this legendary show and were the house band back in the Memphis studio. In the horn section there is Wayne Jackson and, I think, Packy Axton, son of Estelle, the AX in Stax. The other four are Booker T and the M.Gs, stars in their own right. Booker T Jones, played organ, arranged and composed songs while studying classical composition. His 2007 Grammy for lifetime achievement is deserved. Two childhood friends, Duck Dunn (bass) and Steve Cropper (guitar) were young men who grew up loving R&B, they knew how it went, knew where it was going and were helping to take it there. Cropper co-wrote this song, “Knock On Wood” and many others in his years at Stax. On drums is Al Jackson Jr and he is simply the best exponent of this instrument I have ever heard or seen. Eddie Floyd is great in this clip. Watch it again, see and listen to the best band in the world…The Mar-Keys.

Stax was not only the honking, stomping shots of energy, when they tried a little tenderness they got the job done too.William Bell, like Eddie Floyd, wrote and recorded many memorable songs without great commercial success. In 1967 he released ” A Tribute to a King”, the label’s eulogy for Otis. A year later the near-perfect soul duet with Judy Clay, “Private Number” was a big UK hit. In the same year “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” set new standards in sweet soul music. From the opening restraint of Steve Cropper’s guitar, the strings, yes strings, before the horns move in and Bell’s impassioned regret. Man, producer Booker T does a fine job on this. Like the run of 1960s singles by the Impressions this song just ends too quickly.

The song has often been covered (Billy Idol…anyone ?) and sampled. In Jamaica in 1977 Lee Perry produced a version by George Faith which is a highpoint of sweet reggae and is well worth a listen.

The story goes that Otis Redding returned from Europe and said he didn’t want to tour with Sam and Dave anymore. The all-singing, all-dancing, all-energy duo were one of the great live acts of the 1960s. Sam Moore and Dave Prater enjoyed massive success with their records too. A run of hits, many written by the team of Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter, established them as the biggest soul pairing in the US. Here they just wreck “Soul Man” with the Stax B-line. The A team were back making hits in Memphis but there is no visible or aural drop in quality. I could try and encapsulate Sam and Dave’s appeal but there are what, about 150 videos on Y-Tube and there are not 3 better than this. Just watch the clip, it’s great.

With international success, the tragic and premature loss of their greatest star and the machinations of the music industry the travails of the Stax label are labyrinthine and a little sad. Led by Isaac Hayes they recovered from the loss of their magnificent catalogue but the story still ended in bankruptcy. A cottage industry out of a converted cinema set the standard for great soul music which still endures. I still listen to and love the music that Stax made. I guess that once you’re a soul boy you end up a soul man.