It could be a jazz organist angling for a catchy original number to climb the R&B; charts. It could be a young six-piece combo who played together in their high school band and who were now letting loose with a funky James Brown-style instrumental workout. It could be a handful of session musicians stretching a recycled blues riff over the two sides of a 45 rpm record.
The sixties were the R&B; instrumental’s halcyon days. As well as encompassing every possible regional variation of the form, the decade’s R&B; instrumentals absorbed every new development in popular music from one end (e.g., Dave “Baby” Cortez and 1959’s “Happy Organ”) to the other (e.g., Eddie Bo with 1969’s “Hook and Sling”).
Stylistic developments and differences aside, the R&B; instrumental’s niche in the continuum of post-War music owes most everything to its live and spontaneously funky quality. This was much of its broader crossover appeal. The form did not set out to make history or invoke spiritual revelation. The typical R&B; instrumental sounded best performed in a club in the wee smoky hours, or rattling through the boozy din from a corner jukebox. Nor did it put on airs. A few beers, copies of “Green Onions” or “The Horse,” your turntable: an R&B; instrumental also sounded pretty fabulous in your friend’s living room.
If the R&B; instrumental was its own self-sustained phenomenon, then its rapid evolution closely followed soul music’s rise from rhythm & blues in the sixties. As soul grew ever funkier and ever more colorful, absorbing Latin and psychedelic influences with each passing year, its instrumental counterparts would do the same.
This week’s trio of selections falls somewhere in that overlap between the mod-styled thump of shingaling soul and the polyrhythmic surge of James Brown-style funk. Its instruments? Horns, of course, and the organ, which from the powerhouse churn of the Hammond B-3 to reedier Farfisa organ, was vibrating nightclub walls with peals of piercing electricity. Its look? Dark mohair suits, turtles, leather boots, the whole works. The net result? Pure discotheque dynamite.
1. Booker T. Averheart, Heart ‘n Soul (Soultex)
Memphis-style Horn stabs, dramatic changes, minor key vamping: with a few added lyrics “Heart ‘n Soul” could have been any number of ‘60s dance crazes. Were it not, of course, for its deadly, stony-faced sense of self-possession.
The Dallas/Fort Worth area, though never the hub of Texas R&B; that Houston was, still had its own vibrant club and studio scene. The independent Soultex Records, operated by local entrepreneur and guitarist Roger Boykin, was one of several musician-owned labels that served the area’s jazz and R&B; musicians.
In addition to being a airplane pilot, motel owner, local music promoter, Booker T. Averheart was a Dallas-based bassist, keyboardist and bandleader. A string of four late ‘60s 45s, all excellent, exemplified Texas’s gritty, funky strain of soul and R&B.; 1969’s “Heart ‘n Soul,” the follow-up to his “I Wanta Be the President,” would be the last 45 released the Soultex label.
Averheart passed on in 2004.
2. The Touch, Pick & Shovel (Lecasver)
The Touch, likely inspired by the success of funky late 60’s instrumentals like the Meters’ “Cissy Strut,” labored here under the assumption that America would also be mentally ready for the “Pick & Shovel” and its pure Cubist strains of organ. And clearly, America wasn’t, as the dizzying “Pick & Shovel” sank without a whisper. Led by the obscure session keyboardist John Frangipane, these were probably New York City studio musicians, but little is otherwise known about the Touch or how many Newports they smoked before knocking out this gem.
“Pick & Shovel” was released on New Jersey’s Lecasver label, circa 1969.
3. The Bobby Cook Quartette, Ridin High, Part 1 (Compose)
There is some evidence to suggest that the future free jazz guitar pioneer James Ulmer played on this selection, but there’s precious little information about either Bobby Cook, a Detroit jazz musician, or his quartet.
The several minutes that you take to listen to both sides of 1968’s “Ridin High” will likely be several minutes that you will later have a difficult time remembering. This is the hypnotic power of “Ridin High.” Both the Hammond player (presumably Cook himself) and saxophonist take solos here but you’d barely notice them – or anything, for that matter – for all of “Ridin High”’s surging forward momentum.
4. The Bobby Cook Quartette, Ridin High, Part 2 (Compose)
This is the first of two 45s that Bobby Cook released on the Compose label. (The second, “On the Way” and its flipside “Sister Lu,” is credited to Bobby Cook and the Explosions.) Compose was a tiny label run from Ecorse, Michigan, a town outside Detroit and home to another lost nugget of gurgling Hammond gold, the Organics’ “Foot Stumping.”