I’m Gonna Cool You Cooks To Something (Joe Tex)

Joe Tex (Joseph Arrington Jr from down in Texas) was a sweet talking guy & he sure could sing. It took him 10 years of making records before his first big hit. “Hold  What You’ve Got” (1964) features 2 recitations, one to men, the other to women, with some down-to-earth advice about appreciating what’s at home. Joe was ready, there were 11 Top 20 R&B hits in the next 2 years. For the rest of the 1960s his music incorporated the changing styles & sounds of Soul music alongside his distinctive vocals & his good-humoured, congenial lyrics.

 

 

That first million seller was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where the Southern Soul sound was being forged. It was a smart move by label owner-producer Buddy Killen & so was hitching his Dial Records to a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. Joe’s records were in the shops & his name linked with the other members of the soul clan on that emerging major. He could write & perform those loquacious, folksy but never preaching,  ballads as well as anyone. Check “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show”, that’s a great one. “The Love You Save” (see above) is the track chosen by Butterfly from a very cool jukebox in QT’s “Death Proof”. Joe could go with the flow, the swinging “S.Y.S.L.J.F.M.” recalls the Wicked Wilson’s “634-5789”, “Papa Was Too” takes it’s cue from King Otis & Queen Carla’s (Lowell Fulson’s ?) “Tramp”. His songwriting nous & brightness ensured that he kept it fresh.

 

Joe’s first release of 1967 missed the R&B Top 20. “Show Me” is a dancefloor ripper, the most basic of his songs. Along with “Knock On Wood” it was in the repertoire of every  bar & youth club band in the UK. Not a one of them was as tight as the opening number of the Joe Tex Show. Here’s the evidence…

 

 

1967 ended with Joe Tex’s 2nd million seller. “Skinny Legs & All” was from “Live & Lively”, a faux-live LP recorded at American Studio, Memphis. The added novelty element brought a crossover to the mainstream. Joe was a big deal with a reputation for a dynamic, hit-filled live show. It was 1969 before he crossed the Atlantic with his 9-piece band. Both Spanish & Swedish TV pointed cameras at the them &, while there may not be the electricity of the earlier Stax/Volt European tours, they preserved a pretty good record of a 1960s soul revue.

 

Joe was a big enough deal to continue a public feud with James Brown. Back in 1955 they were both on the King label & their paths often crossed. If it wasn’t a dispute about writing credits it was women or the stealing of stage moves by one or the other. When JB adopted the title “Soul Brother #1”, Joe called him out. In 1955 that title was held by Little Willie John & Joe saw no reason to recognise the new contender. In 1966 he became involved with The Soul Clan, initiated by Solomon Burke as an attempt to build an autonomous African-American business concern. The project lost impetus with the death of Otis Redding & Atlantic wanted hit records not to bankroll real estate deals. By the time any recordings were released Tex, Burke, Don Covay, Arthur Conley & Ben E King were not that close.

 

 

Joe recorded at all 3 points of the Southern music triangle. In 1968 he was in Nashville for his “Soul Country” LP. There’s just one of his own songs & some of the covers are a little uninspired. “Buying a Book” (1969) is more like it. A brilliant slice of Southern Country Soul, my personal choice of all his tracks & I wish I still had that Soul mixtape it was on.

 

In 1970 Joe was standing on the verge with getting it on with the Funk & George Clinton was listening to the groove of “You’re Right Ray Charles”, a song about the advice Brother Ray gave him back then. His final LP on the Dial/Atlantic deal was 1971’s “From the Roots Came the Rapper”, before roots & rappers were even invented. “I Gotcha” an Isley Brothers inflected slab of a song which made the “Reservoir Dogs” soundtrack, found him at #2 on the pop charts, dancing up a storm with a girl & a microphone stand on “Soul Train”.

 

 

Then Joe abruptly quit the music business. He had embraced Islam, following the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, adopting the name Yusuf Hazziez. He returned to the studio with Buddy Killen after the death of Elijah &, in 1976, enjoyed a disco hit with “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)”. I don’t know the 1978 LP “He Who Is Without Funk Cast the First Stone” (1978) but that’s a good title. In 1980 there was an ill-planned reunion of the Soul Clan & unfortunately the next clan gathering was at Joe Tex’s funeral after a fatal heart attack in 1982, aged just 47.

 

Joe Tex was more than just the Clown Prince of Soul. His conversational, quick-witted singles sounded great on the radio at a time when there was a lot of fine Soul music around. His collected work, there are 25 on “The All Time Greatest Hits”, he wrote 24 of them, reflect the fast-changing times & taste of the audience. In a business which uses up & wears out the talent from 1965 to 1972 & then some more Joe was always around, always current & down with his bad self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down there by the Soul Train (to Philly)

I enjoyed looking through those Y-tube clips of “Soul Train” so much this week. I am going to have wheel & come again because there really was so much great music made in those early 70s. I was never one for running about a baseball park in a “Disco Sucks” T-shirt (I’m still a big fan of Chic) but as the sweet soul I loved was replaced by some sacchariferous apology I could not help feeling that something was being lost from black American music. Here are three clips of the very sweet soul that came out of Philadelphia in the early 70s when a couple of production teams found a hit formula to rival the earlier success of Motown and Stax.

Well, hello Ms Jackie Brown. Quentin T pulled a real stroke when he ran the opening two tracks of the Delfonics “Greatest Hits” behind the scene when Pam Grier invites Robert Forster to her apartment. It was just so right. Man, the day Ms Grier comes around to my place (in my dreams) it is always the mellifluous Bell-Hart symphonic soul collection that I reach for. When I try to force this old soul onto the young folk I always use the “Look, if it’s good enough for me & Tarentino” line but they stick with their hippity-hoppity & laugh at my prehistoric taste.

Producer Thom Bell and singer William Hart got it right for a couple of years before Bell hooked up with Linda Creed & the Stylistics. The Delfonics had some good records after the break but none as great as these early hits. There is a clip of a live performance of this song where Hart really does bring his lovely falsetto. The band, however, do not really get to the smoothness of Bell’s production. For this clip the law around here is you got to wear your sunglasses. Not so that you can feel cool, gangster lean but to protect your eyes from the ridiculous jumpsuits the guys are wearing.

Oh boy ! If you are not on this then I am going to have to provide a very long exposition which will hardly aid your enjoyment of this classic.I will try and keep it short.

This is Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes with their 6th hit produced by the team of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. That is not Harold singing, Mr Melvin is sat with the other Blue Notes while Teddy Prendergrass does that thing he did so well & sings/sells a classy single. It was a similar deal to Kool & the Gang (which one’s Kool ? None of them) when the voice of James Taylor was so well known or the Commodores when it was the ballads of Lionel Richie getting them on the charts. Teddy was the lead on all the hits. He was the voice & the face of the group. When he asked Harold if there could be a re-branding to “Teddy Prendergrass & the Blue Notes” he was turned down. The group’s days were numbered.

When Teddy did break away he was bloody massive. Marvin was not making so many records. Al Green had gone back to his church. Barry White, “The Walrus of Love” made music for bedrooms lit only by scented candles but T.P. was the new sex symbol of soul. For one tour they did not let men attend for Jah’s sake. He was top banana until a serious car accident in 1982 injured his spine so badly he was paralyzed from the waist down.

Gamble and Huff were a proven production team when they started their own label Philadelphia International. The sound was string heavy & did prepare the world for disco but they were totally on a winning run in the early 70s. On the LPs of their hit-makers they stretched out a little more. The album version of “Wake Up Everybody” is over 7 minutes long and is pretty, pretty, pretty damn good.

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Can I get a “Hallelujah” !

Gamble, Huff and the O’Jays were irresistible. “Back Stabbers” & “Love Train” were worldwide, deservedly so. In 1973 a soul masterpiece, “Ship Ahoy” was released. The best selling R&B LP of 1974 is a mix of conscious lyrics and the funk. The title track, 10 minutes of ominous atmosphere, reflects the experience of Africans on a slave ship to the New World. “Don’t Call Me Brother” is a 9 minute lyrical study in hypocrisy and musical beauty.

“For The Love of Money” has the finest bass line in soul that is not played by James Jamerson. Anthony Jackson has played on over 500 albums and is a fine musician. It is his riff, still fresh after nearly 40 years, which drives the song and is unforgettable. The LP track is longer than the 45 but this clip shows Eddie Levert and his fellow band members in fine form. How cool must it have been to be in a successful vocal group & to have such an obviously powerful song to sing to people ?

I don’t know who reads these things I write. I just want to highlight some music that moves me. If others like something else, that’s OK. Really, if you have any interest in soul music, if you missed this the first time around, then get yourself over to the Y-tube &  find the O’Jays “Ship Ahoy”. Your ears will thank you for doing so.

It’s like being on soul train

Over here in the U.K. we never got to see “Soul Train” on our TVs. There would be an occasional clip on “Top of the Pops” if an act was not coming over to Europe but there has never even been any retrospective compilation of a show which seemed to get all the acts you needed in a very creative period for American black music. I know there was a lot of lip-synching going on & those dancers were all “look at me, look at me” but it looked to be a pretty cool show when we were afforded a glimpse.

The Five Stairsteps, out of Chicago, a family group who were originally arranged in descending order of size & had a kind of Platters deal which was already out-dated. The first single had a Curtis Mayfield written B-side which swung a little more. They tried out a more Motown sound (James Burke did a fair Smokey impression)  before hooking up with Curtis again at his label, Curtom. The next singles were R&B hits, produced by Curtis & often covers of Impressions songs. They would sit really well alongside Baby Huey, Sister Love & Major Lance on a Curtom mix which should exist if it already doesn’t.

“Ooh Child” is the Top 10, gold record moment for the Burke family & what a lovely, optimistic song it is. The boys had been down to the Superfly boutique to get some new threads for their TV appearance. Alohe went for the jumper & slacks combo. She looks and sounds as beautiful as her name. Clarence Jr & James do their bit but this is Alohe’s song…wonderful.

At this time the Stairsteps were handing over the title of “first family of soul” to the boys from Gary, Indiana, the Jackson 5. It was of no consequence because the true first family were these guys…

By 1972 the Isley Brothers, Ronald, Kelly & Rudy, had been making records for 15 years. “Shout” & “Twist and Shout” were known to everyone who listened to pop music even if they did not know the original versions. They joined Tamla Motown, made some records that were more popular in the UK than in the US. Man, I hear the intro to “This Old Heart Of Mine”, I am back in that scout-hut youth club & a dancing fool again. Wanting more freedom than Motown would allow they left to write and produce for their own label T-Neck. The first single “It’s Your Thing” cleaned up.

The new sound served them well & 10 more singles used this winning formula. However the brothers were not just listening to James Brown. Covers of songs by Buffalo Springfield, War & Dylan got them airplay outside of the R&B stations. There were some young Isleys around, brothers Ernie & Marvin, brother-in-law Chris Jasper, who were putting the old hands on to these rock tunes. “Pop That Thang” comes from the 1972 LP “Brother, Brother, Brother” the first the new boys played on.

This is a confident performance of the song. The Isleys had made the move from soul to funk and were more popular than ever. They had some new sounds coming & they were ready to shake some action. The next LP “3 + 3” was by the new sextet. It was distributed by Epic & had the weight of major label promotion behind it. The brothers had been around the block & were ready for this new success. In the next 5 years they were one of the biggest black music acts around. I have favourite Isley tracks from all their long career. “Pop That Thang” is da funk with no frills and Ronald’s unmistakable lead vocal…love it…bang, bang, bang !

Gladys Knight, and her Pips, came late to Motown after some success elsewhere. Ms Knight always thought she got the short end of the stick from the label, being given songs that bigger acts had turned down. Her producer, Norman Whitfield, did give her first shake at “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” but it was Marvin who had the worldwide hit 2 years later. Whitfield had, in 1969, taken over production of the Temptations. Looking for a piece of Sly Stone’s action he developed a “psychedelic soul” sound. If  “Friendship Train” was rejected by the Tempts then Gladys got lucky this time.

This clip is from episode 1 of the syndicated “Soul Train” . The Pips have hardly pimped their strides but despite the odd leisure wear are as swinging & as dancing as Don Cornelius promises. Gladys is just stunning. The song, obviously linked to “Cloud Nine” & “Papa Was…” benefits from only having the two lead voices & not being over-complicated. The early attempts by Motown at socially conscious lyrics (selling records came first) could be clumsy. By this time they were getting it right. If you want a less pop version of this song check for Whitfield’s extended edition by the Undisputed Truth…suitably nuts.

Gladys brought a country tinge to her music with, among others, a cover of Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It”. It proved commercial, when she left Motown for Buddah she mined a very successful seam & became the star Motown never made her.

You know, maybe “Soul Train” was not always all that. In the UK we had the late night “Old Grey Whistle Test”. There are some great highlights from that show but it could often be flat and worthy. You needed a cup of tea, a fat one & some decent music after too many of the episodes. “Soul Train” is not like that in my imagination & from the clips I love to watch.

In the 80s two friends and myself were having the sort of weekend that only the finest pharmaceutical amphetamine made possible. A Friday night/Saturday morning session, a visit to Upton Park to see the Hammers, topped off with a Nigerian christening party. The living room of the house was dark and was now a dance floor. The room was filled with beautiful African princesses dressed in those sparkling dresses you saw in the market and wondered who wore them. The room was moving as one to the fine, fine music. My bug-eyed friend bobbed towards me with a big smile. He leaned into me & shouted “This is like being on Soul Train !”. I laughed because it was as close as we were ever going to get to it.