Wednesday, October 31, 2007
BB King's 1970 LP "Indianola Mississippi Seeds" found the bluesmaster picking up some of the crossover soul and rock touches used by contemporaries over at Chess/Cadet, and expanding his sound with a range of guests that include Leon Russell, Joe Walsh, and Carole King. Despite the presence of these bigger names, the set's very much in BB's own spirit -- mostly focused on his vocals and guitar work, and still mostly including original compositions.
Undoubtedly a high mark of King's career, "Chains & Things" finds B.B. agonized and, well, pretty damn blue--the mixture of the bareboned 70's groove with melancholic, remorseful strings augments BB's material to brand new heights.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Just when you thought yet another cover of The Meters' "Cissy Strut" would render you comatose, along come Bill "Ravi" Harris & the Prophets.
On "Funky Sitar Man," Ravi Harris & the Prophets play James Brown/Meters-inspired funk with a difference: The main voice on these instrumentals is sitar. It might be viewed as a gimmick -- if it didn't work so well. Harris is never going to make it as a performer of Indian classical music; he hasn't got the chops for that, but his playing on this album is as good as it needs to be (let's face it, Indian classical and instrumental funk require decidedly different skills). Solid bass, syncopated drums, chicken-scratch guitar, and economical organ fills form the backdrop, and the sitar rides at the front. This has got to be the greatest album of sitar funk ever (not that there's much competition), and truly one of my favorite, and greatest, finds. These are the kind of obscure gems that make crate digging so rewarding.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Marie "Queenie" Lyons was a funky soul diva whose powerhouse vocals and raw emotive energy drew stylistic comparisons to many other outstanding female artists of her era, including Lyn Collins, Betty Davis, Marva Whitney, Vicki Anderson, and Ann Sexton. She only released one full-length album (Soul Fever, 1970) that wallowed in obscurity for a number of years alongside her ultra-rare 45s. In more recent years, her material has been reissued, sampled, and comped, allowing a wider audience to become familiar with her work.
"See And Don't See" is the first track on Soul Fever--a heart-wrenching ode to the art of denial as a means of self-preservation. Throw in a funky bassline, a dash of bold, dramatic brass, some seriously soulful belting, a "good God almighty" or two, and you have the makings of a certifiable classic.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Deep funk from down under -- and the stunning full length debut by Australia's finest, The Bamboos. For a while, the group really only had a few 45s ("Voodoo Doll" being one of them) to their name-- but those records alone got The Bamboos plenty of attention, ultimately earning them a deal with Kenny Dope and Keb Darge's label, Kay Dee. Eventually, after word about the band continued to spread, UK based Tru Thoughts signed the act for an album and Ubiquity picked-up the record for North America.
The groove is tight small combo funk at its best -- done in the stripped-down, all-classic mode of artists on Daptone or Soul Fire -- and certainly in the best style of supportive labelmates Quantic Soul Orchestra. The combo's a sextet, with Hammond, guitar, tenor, and trumpet all taking heavy lines through the mostly-instrumental session -- hitting a sound that's a slightly jazzier take on styles The Meters or James Brown Band might have cut at the end of the 60s. "Voodoo Doll" is a wicked nugget of deep funk, proving that there are still worthy artists today bringing a fresh, disciplined, and original take on the genre. And that opening drum break is just killer.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Outside of soul fans, or New Orleans aficionados, mentioning the name Betty Harris is likely only to draw blank stares. Yet in a seven year recording career that yielded 8 sides for Jubilee Records, 18 for Sansu and 2 for SSS, Betty Harris left a legacy of soul vocals that rival any of her contemporaries for complexity, imagination and pure soul.
She was born 1941 (or 1943 depending on the reference) in Florida to a Minister father and a missionary mother. As a teenager she went to work for R&B star Big Maybelle as a maid. Big Maybelle encouraged Harris’ talent, and in 1960 she recorded her first single, "Taking Care of Business" b/w "Yesterday's Kisses," for Douglas Records. Via her association with Big Maybelle, Harris met the mighty Solomon Burke, who recommended her to his producer Bert Berns. With Berns and Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller at the controls, she re-recorded Burke’s hit ‘Cry To Me’ for Jubilee Records in 1963. This went on to be her biggest hit, hitting #10 R&B and #29 pop. This was rereleased in 1970 and charted again.
Harris met up with the legendary Allen Toussaint while on tour in 1965. Their partnership began with the very first single on the legendary Sansu label. It would last four short years but resulted in some of the finest records to come out of New Orleans (or anywhere else for that matter) in the 60's. The Toussaint / Harris partnership mirrored that of Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick in many ways. Both Toussaint and Bacharach were prolific composers who specialized in following their songs from the first compositional idea all the way to the pressing plant. Unlike Bacharach, much of Toussaint's best work would elude the Top 40. Despite the fact that their five year association yielded only a single hit, the 20 sides they did between August of 1965 and March of 1969 were of a consistently high quality, acting as a showcase for Toussaint's prodigious compositional talents and Harris’s brilliant singing.
In a grand tradition, Harris and Toussaint saved the best for last. Betty Harris' last 45 (in March of 1969) was written and recorded by Toussaint, but leased to SSS International (home to another great New Orleans classic, Danny White's 'Natural Soul Brother'). 'There's A Break In The Road' is as powerful and imaginative funk record as you're ever likely to hear. Here the Meters' sound is clearly evident. The record opens with a throbbing George Porter bass line, followed by the howl of feedback (?!?!), the crack of Ziggy Modeliste's snare and a burst of horns, breaking down into a wild, off-kilter beat. Harris jumps into the mix at full-tilt and powers her way through the verses. Each chorus is marked by Modeliste's wild drumming, powerful and funky enough to rival even the mighty James Black. All throughout the song, Leo Nocentelli's guitar is feeding back. Everyone, especially Harris is operating at 150%, pulling out all the stops as if they realized that this was to be her last record and they needed to make it a landmark. The end result is a masterpiece, and a must have for any serious fan of funky New Orleans.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
The track "Soul Makossa" was a hit for Manu Dibango in early 1973. After it was issued, a lot of folks sought to cover it -- most badly. But, in this case, that single track spawned a band of studio musicians hell bent on creating not only a club and jukebox 45 hit of the Dibango original, but an entire set of groove-driven instrumentals that could be issued as 45s for the juke market. Afrique, which was comprised of organist Charles Kynard, guitarist David T. Walker, bassist Chuck Rainey, Joe Kelso and Paul Jeffery on saxophones, drummer Ray Pounds, and a host of percussionists including Chino Valdes and baritone honker Steve Kravitz. There were 13 members in all for this one-off. So the deal is simple: this LP, the only Afrique title, is a hell of a slab of lost funk. Sure, there's a groovin' greasy version of the title track, but the real magic lies in the wah-wah excess, saxist angst, and drunken, careening rhythms.
"House of the Rising Funk" opens with a wicked drum break and never relents. It has been sampled by Coldcut ("Beats and Pieces"), Geto Boys ("Damn It Feels Good to Be A Gangster"), Schooly D ("Black"), and Too Short ("I Want to Be Free"), among others. A true cratedigger's classic.
As a (Southern) California resident, I'd feel remiss if I didn't share this picture with all of you. The wildfires are, needless to say, a horrible mess, and almost a million people have been displaced from their homes. Driving on the 118 freeway the other night was literally like driving through an ashtray--a thick, gray cloud of ash, smoke, and charred earth. I saw this picture on "The Google" (as Dave Letterman would call it), and I think it perfectly captures the duality of nature: a gorgeous, orange-glow sunset obstructed by noxious, destructive flames.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Lee Fields initially made his name among die-hard funk fans with a series of hard-hitting singles recorded for various small labels during the '70s. Everything about Fields -- his look, his vocals, the grooves on his records -- was so indebted to James Brown that he earned the nickname "Little J.B." Fields never hit it big, but his rough-and-tumble singles went on to become popular collectors' items. After a lengthy hiatus, Fields returned in the '90s as a soul-blues belter playing to female-heavy audiences on the Southern circuit. Thanks to sample-obsessed hip-hoppers and British rare-groove aficionados, interest in obscure vintage funk reached a peak in the late '90s, and Fields was fortunate enough to have remained active when new recordings in the style became a viable proposition. Energized by his return to raw, heavy, James Brown-style funk, Fields emerged as the leading light of the deep funk movement with a series of recordings that often equaled, and sometimes outdid, his early work.
Judging by his performance on his Desco Records debut full-length, "Let's Get a Groove On," Fields' move to the pioneering old-school funk-revival label freed him to do the kind of gritty, authentic funk album he'd been itching to record for quite some time. With the help of the Desco house band, the Soul Providers (who would eventually morph into the powerhouses THE DAP KINGS), this LP features a richly organic set of guitar-and-organ-dominated funk backings. "Let A Man Do What He Wanna Do" represents Fields and his cohorts at their rawest: rubbery bass lines, punchy horns, and a mad groove that doesn't relent.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Along with James Brown's "Funky Drummer" and Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks," the Honey Drippers classic "Impeach the President" is one of the most important tunes in sampling history.
Soul singer Roy Charles Hammond was a hugely talented singer and writer, whose ability far exceeded the moderate attention he received since his start in 1958. He changed his name to Roy C. Hammond to avoid confusion with singer Ray Charles and embarked on a career as the lead singer of The Genies, scoring a top ten hit with the track "Who’s Knocking." He then moved on to the group Mark 4, writing and producing their hit "Honey I still love you". In 1969 he started his own label - Alaga, based in Jamaica, Queens. Alaga Records would eventually release "Impeach" in 1973.
"Impeach the President" was Roy’s response to the Watergate scandal and one of several politically-charged songs he recorded with his young backing group, The Honeydrippers. The infectiously funky track featured choppy guitar licks, driving horns, funky vocals and a sampler’s dream in the form of a two-bar opening drum break. One of the first uses was by Audio Two for "Top Billin’". They based the entire track around the drum break, giving it a very raw, stripped-down feel. More recently producer Salaam Remi used the break as the backing for Nas’s 2003 hit “I Can.”
The popularity of “Impeach the President” among producers, beatmakers and vinyl collectors has led to a dramatic rise in the price of the 45 since its pressing. It has been known to change hands for as much as $300. Just like the Winstons’ "Amen brother", hip hop songs featuring “Impeach the President” must be in the millions, sale-wise. In the early ‘90s, record label Tough City shrewdly bought the rights to the song. Let’s hope Roy C. got a good price. (Courtesy Format Magazine.)
Nas' "I Can"
Friday, October 19, 2007
1970 saw the release of one of the toughest, greasiest, one-two punches in funk 45 lore, Cyril Neville's debut solo single, "Gossip" b/w "Tell Me What's On Your Mind." The songs included backing music by his brother Art's new outfit, the Meters. The Meters, looking to expand their lineup, eventually asked Cyril to join full-time, playing vocals and congas. He also contributed to such Meters albums as 1972's Cabbage Alley and 1975's Fire on the Bayou.
Released on the Josie label, this 45 remains a staple for any funk collector. It's easy to hear why. The Meters as a backing group leave their fingerprints all over the tune, snapping, cracking, and popping in all the right places.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
"The Hen" is one of the funkiest Hammond organ 45's ever. Despite the fact that "The Hen" was released on Louisiana’s Paula label, and the artist in question has a name that sounds like it shows up several dozen times in the New Orleans phone book, this gem is a bit of Kansas City soul. Chachere, a respected jazz-funk organist, originally recorded "The Hen" for the local MJC label, and it was then re-released by the Forte label, in Kansas City, MO. Forte was owned by Marva Whitney’s husband Ellis Taylor (her Excello 45 ‘Daddy Don’t Know About Sugar Bear’ was originally issued on Forte). "The Hen" was then licensed to, and released by, Paula records.
Chachere passed away in August 2007, but this classic nugget will live on in funk infamy. RIP, Louis!
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Classy, elegant Northern Soul, courtesy of the Joytones.
The Joytones history dates all the way back to 1956, when they recorded their first sides for George Goldner's Rama Records. Their tale is a complicated, but not uncommon one, of lineup changes and poor marketing by the label. They never received much airplay or sold many records during their career, but this track is now considered a "Northern Soul" classic--a loose term used in the UK for a type of mid-tempo and uptempo heavy-beat soul music that was popularized in northern England in the mid 1960's.
Kudos to the ace British label Kent (and Ady Croasdell) for rescuing this gem from obscurity on "Norhtern Soul's Classiest Rarites."
Monday, October 15, 2007
A rare funky single from the Welshman himself, "Lookin Out My Window" is one of the heaviest tunes that Tom Jones ever cut, with a wild, psychedlic, massive break (about 1:10 in) that first started getting sampled 20 years ago (Big Daddy Kane's "It's a Big Daddy Thing") and became a collector favorite after DJ Andy Smith (Portishead's DJ) included this nugget on his legendary mixtape, "The Document." You can practically see the VU meters getting pegged on this one.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Long before a solo recording career beckoned, Ann Peebles supported the legendary Soul Stirrers on tour. The experience was no doubt inspirational, being that the group featured an up-and-comer singer named Sam Cooke. Later, she became labelmates with soul legend Al Green at Hi Records where she recorded a series of great singles and 7 inches. Amongst that work was 'I Can't Stand The Rain', a record which John Lennon purportedly described as 'the greatest single ever' (and which Missy Elliott later sampled in "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)").
"Handwriting On The Wall" comes from 1978--a bit late in the classic Hi years--but Ann was still going strong, in a smooth southern style that recalls the best 70s work by singers like Millie Jackson or Shirley Brown. Below is an MP3 of "You've Got The Papers (I've Got The Man)," a lowdown tune that truly defines what "Cold Heat" is all about. The words are icy, but the groove scorches. See for yourself.
Monday, October 8, 2007
A truly rare record from the South American outfit Xingu ("El Combo Xingu"), which was originally released as a Peruvian library record in the early 70s. Not much else is known about this gem, but the music features great latin-jazz influenced funk, with wild organ, frantic guitar, and screaming horns.
Below is their steamy, powerful take of James Brown's classic "Hot Pants":
Saturday, October 6, 2007
The Pazant Brothers were one ofthe greatest combos on the early 70's New York scene. The group was the brainchild of Eddie and Al Pazant, who had been gigging around in between Eddie’s stints in the horn section of the Lionel Hampton Band. Eventually they caught the ear of producer/writer Ed Bland who drafted them in to the studio at GWP Productions and Records Group where he was an in-house producer.
The Pazant Brothers backed many of Ed’s productions, but they also started to put out 45's and LP's under their own name, and over the next couple of years they made four singles (including the MP3 below, under the name of the Chilli Peppers) and a couple of tracks on various artists samplers, as well as some legendary sides for the RCA and Vigor labels. With horn-heavy funky grooves, the Pazants earned their reputation as one of the hottest things going at the time -- snapping on the beat with a tightness learned from their old boss Pucho, but also a willingness to explore brassier grooves in a style that seems to be influenced from the New Orleans and Texas scenes of the late 60s. Producer/arranger Edward Bland had a good hand in much of this work -- giving the tracks a gritty, nitty, Perception/Today kind of groove.
At the end of those two years, GWP was winding down and the band and Bland went their separate ways. Below is a nasty New Orleans-inspired swamp-funk groove called "Chicken Scratch", uniquely punctuated by some dramatic strings. A very funky affair.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The ONLY recording ever made by the Soul Lifters. Scouted by Lelan Rogers, the same cat that recorded Maceo & all the King's Men, this is sadly your only opportunity to hear this group. Nearly all funk collectors will agree that one of the illest (and rarest) 45's EVER. Despite a fantastic sound and a production credit to famed soul DJ Shelley Pope, it’s likely the 45 didn’t sell well – hence the rarity of the original. In January of 2007, a copy was sold for $787.
Largely forgotten after years of neglect, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist incorporated this break into their famous "Brainfreeze" sets, and left thousands of curious ears wondering who could create such a devastatingly funky jam. Ladies and gents, the Soul Lifters.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Lyman Woodard was born March 3rd, 1942 in Owosso, Michigan and started his formal musical training at age four on the piano. In 1962, he attended the Oscar Peterson School of Contemporary Music in Toronto, Canada. After hearing a performance of the great Jimmy Smith in 1963, he was convinced that this was his future and he made the switch from piano to the Hammond B3 organ. Lyman formed the first Lyman Woodard Trio in 1965 along with fellow musicians Melvin Davis on drums & vocals and Dennis Coffey on guitar.
In 1973, Lyman became the musical director for Martha and the Vandellas. By 1974, he was anxious to have his own band again and reformed the Lyman Woodard Trio with fellow musicians Leonard King on drums and Ron English on guitar.
Later that year he expanded his band by adding alto saxophonist Norma Jean Bell and percussionist Lorenzo Brown, and changed the name to the Lyman Woodard Organization. For the next 11 years, the "Organization" played the clubs and venues of the midwest, changing members occasionally and opening shows for artists such as Billy Paul, MFSB, Bob James, the Jazz Crusaders, Gil Scott Heron, Herbie Hancock, Tito Puente & his Latin Jazz Ensemble and James "Blood" Ulmer. The Lyman Woodard Organization disbanded in the late 1980s.
"Saturday Night Special" is a great set of hypnotic organ funk from Lyman Woodard. Woodard's electric piano, organ and occasional mellotron and Norma Bell's alto saxophone lend a cosmic funk aspect throughout, very much like Death Wish-era Herbie Hancock. Ron English accents the thing perfectly with his languid guitar and bass groove, while Leonard King and Lorenzo Brown's drumming and percussion can keep the groove adrift, or tear it up in a funky maelstrom depending on the mission of the cut. It's totally essential Strata jazz funk -- and below is an mp3 of the track "Creative Musicians." (Gotta love the simplicity of the name, right?)
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
A great soundtrack from the incomparable Galt MacDermot, a wonderful Canadian-born pianist and composer most famous for scoring the rock musical "Hair."
This album features the sample for Busta Rhymes "Woo-Hah!" in the track "Space". Lots of other cool spare funky tracks, and a great record all the way through. Tight grooves, spare electric keyboards with a flat "Wu Tang" sound, and lots of choppy funky sounds. A must for sample heads and fans of off-kilter funky grooves alike. The songs are catchy, the playing is earnest, and all of it is eminently listenable. (The famous sample occurs about :45 in.)
Busta Rhymes' "Woo Hah! I Got You All In Check":