Monday, September 28, 2009
The Village Callers were one of the best bands in East Los Angeles in the late 60s. They were also arguably the first band with members with roots in the "Eastside Sound" of the early to mid-60s to utilize Latin percussion. Their repertoire was a mix of r&b, Latin, and Latin jazz. They recorded an album in 1968 for Eddie Davis' Rampart Records called "The Village Callers Live." The album included an instrumental with a Latin jazz feel named after their manager called "Hector," which did very well at the time and has become one of the Eastside Sound's classic recordings. It's been reissued on several compilations, used in movies, and sampled by artists such as Cypress Hill and the Beastie Boys. "The Village Callers Live" has also been reissued on the Vampisoul record label, which is based in Spain and internationally distributed, and on Barrio Gold Records, based in Japan. The Village Callers also have the distinction of having recorded a Latin rock version of "Evil Ways" before Santana.
The Village Callers were born out of a band in East L.A. called Marcy & the Imperials. Marcy Alvarado was a bluesy singer, guitarist, and band leader. (Marcy went on to get a masters degree from U.C.L.A, but passed away in the late 70s.) Gradually, Marcy & the Imperials evolved into the Village Callers, and the new members brought different influences into the mix. Ernie Hernandez (guitar) loved the music and style of guitarist Wes Montgomery. Johnny Gonzalez was into the blues organ style of Jimmy Smith. The music of Latin artists such as Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo were also added to the brew. With the new lineup in place they could play Latin, Latin jazz, rhythm & blues, and oldies but goodies. They became very popular in East Los Angeles, playing all the top venues such as the Big Union Hall, Roger Young Auditorium, and Montebello Ballroom. They also enjoyed a long run at the Plush Bunny nightclub in Pico Rivera, despite the fact they were underage. The Village Callers were an extremely dedicated band. They rehearsed five days a week, five hours a day. Already out of high school at this point, they also had a no drinking or smoking rule.
The manager of the Village Callers, Hector Rivera, knowing that the band was ready to record, invited producer and record company owner Eddie Davis to come and hear the band at the Plush Bunny. Eddie loved the band and wanted to do a "live" album recorded right there at the Plush Bunny where they were creating such excitement. The band's lineup on the record was Joe Espinosa (bass), Charles Masten (congas & sax), Johnny Gonzalez (organ & piano), Manuel Fernandez (drums & timbales), Ernie Hernandez (guitar), "Fuzzy" Martinez (sax), and Angie Bell (lead vocals). The Village Callers recorded most of their album, The Village Callers Live, in one night. It was recorded very simply with a few overhead microphones and a live mix. The band did go into a studio and record a few songs, including the classic break 45 "Hector." To add fatness to the record, the bass parts were tripled. The song wound up being so long that it was divided into "Hector Part 1" and "Hector Part 2" for the single. "Hector"-- with its hip Latin groove and Fuzzy's comedic spoken word contribution--caught on in East L.A. and began to get airplay on the big time am radio stations in Los Angeles.
Aside from the classic "Hector," the album also featured a heavy version of Willie Bobo's "Evil Ways," which was enjoying a lot of airplay, particularly in San Francisco. Word later got to them that Santana's producer heard their version on the radio and got Santana to record it. And that was that. (For further reading check out Mark Guerrero's website)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
"Love Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out On Us)" was the second single by the Persuaders, following their huge hit, "Thin Line Between Love and Hate." However, what Sly, Slick and Wicked do with it is take out the electric guitar and replace it with keyboards instead and in softening up the edge of the song, it really brings out the sublime, sweet soul qualities of the song that improve on the sound that The Persuaders' introduced. It's not a radically different song on the surface but listen to them side by side and it actually sounds like the Sly, Slick and Wicked's version would be the original and The Persuaders' is the cover. (The lower-fi quality of SSW's version doesn't hurt).
(Just to be clear too: There were two groups in 1970s named Sly, Slick and Wicked. One was from Cleveland and recorded for Paramount and People. The other (above) were from Los Angeles. Just to make things even more confusing, there was the soul group called The Lost Generation who had a decent hit in the same era with a song called "Sly, Slick and Wicked"). (Courtesy Soul Sides)
The track also bears more than a striking resemblance to the opening cut on a recent release I adore, Lee Fields' My World. The Fields/Expressions tune, "Do You Love Me," is basically a rewrite of the Persuaders cut. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
When Isaac Hayes passed away, the fine folks at Truth & Soul in Brooklyn compiled a fantastic EP of covers, performed reverently by the crack musicians in El Michels Affair.
Their version of "Walk On By" is slow, seductive, and deeply funky, and is a fitting tribute to one of the most enduring songwriters of the 20th Century.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Hortense Ellis (18 April 1941, Trenchtown, Kingston, Jamaica - 19 October 2000) was a reggae musician, and the younger sister of fellow artist, Alton Ellis.
Her father worked on the railways while her mother ran a fruit stall. Hortense was just 18 years old when she appeared on the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, then Jamaica's foremost outlet for young undiscovered talent. Her version of Frankie Lymon's "I'm Not Saying No At All" so impressed both audience and panel that she was invited back the following week. Hortense went on to enter many more competitions and showcases and she reached six semi-finals and four finals. In 1964 she was awarded a silver cup as Jamaica's Best Female Vocalist and went on to repeat this feat five years later.
During the sixties, Hortense toured Jamaica with Byron Lee and The Dragonaires and had begun recording with some of the island's top producers like Ken Lack ("I Shall Sing", "Hell And Sorrow" and "Brown Girl In The Ring"), Coxsone Dodd ("Twelve Minutes To Go"), "Ill Come Softly") and Duke Reid. Alton Ellis was also recording with Dodd at this time and the family connection was cleverly exploited by Dodd who produced "female" adaptions of some of Alton's hits (for Hortense to record) including "Why Do Birds" and "I'm Just A Guy". Dodd also paired Alton and Hortense in a run of classic duets such as "I'm In Love" and "Easy Squeeze".
The siblings toured Canada in 1970 but the following year, Hortense was back in Jamaica where she married Mikey "Junior" Saunders with whom she had five children in quick succession. Although her live performances suffered as a result, Hortense remained busy in the studio. Recording under the name Mahalia Saunders for producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, she cut several sides including "Right On The Tip Of My Tongue" and "Piece Of My Heart". Hortenese's biggest success came in the late seventies with a song cut for Gussie Clarke. "Unexpected Places" was a big hit in Jamaica and also in Britain where it appeared on the Hawkeye label.
For producer Bunny "Striker" Lee, Hortense became Queen Tiney for her "Down Town Ting" - an "answer" record to Althea and Donna's big hit "Uptown Top Ranking" which had itself been based on the rhythm of Alton's big hit "I'm Still In Love With You".
Around this time, Hortense recut many of her Coxsone/Studio One sides with Soul Syndicate, The Agrovators and the up and coming team of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. The rise of the Lovers Rock genre in the late seventies and early eighties led to Hortense cutting cover version of several popular soul classics including "Down The Aisle" (Patti Labelle) and "Young Hearts Run Free" (Candi Staton). Following her divorce from Mikey Saunders, Hortense spent much of the eighties living in New York and Miami. On returning to Jamaica in 1989, she began suffering health problems, but managed to carry on with occasional local live performances. She recovered sufficiently to make a private visit to New York in the summer of 1999 and then to Miami the following year where ill health finally caught up with her.
Hortense Ellis died in her sleep in a Kingston hospital on October 18, 2000 from a stomach infection. Below is her classic version of a soul-funk diva classic, "Woman of the Ghetto." (Biographical information courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Johnny Talbot was born in Texas and raised in the Bay area of California, to be more specifically, Oakland. While attending high school, he was involved in Doo-Wop bands, and like many musicians of the time, naturally graduated towards Soul, R & B, and in his case, Funk, as the times and tastes of music changed around him. He played guitar, and the bands he played in hit up the West Coast club and Bay area bar circuit. Eventually, Talbot went on to become the front man for De-Thangs, (the name given because no one could think of a thing to call the outfit ), and lay down some very funky stuff, earning him the nickname: “The Father of Oakland Funk”.
His turbo fueled mix of funky Texas style guitar and Rhythm Blues has inspired many Bay area artists including Tower of Power, and his bands backed up greats like Etta James and Marvin Gaye, plus other touring bands that came through town. Sort of like The Politicians from two weeks ago. This side was the first record put out on James Moore’s Jasman label, an Oakland based label that would go on to put out sides by Talbot and Sugar Pie DeSanto among others. He has gotten a bit of a resurgence in popularity since the 90’s, this time with a much younger crowd, from reissues by Ubiquity Records, courtesy of their Bay Area Funk compilations. (Via Flea Market Funk)