Chicago soul

Chicago was, in addition to being one of America’s greatest music cities, an epicenter for soul music in the ’60s and ’70s.

As cities, only Detroit and Philadelphia rivaled Chicago in terms of a sheer abundance of independent record labels catering to the local African-American populations and the recording of their singers and groups. These selections’ stately sound gravitates towards strings, sophisticated vocal arrangements and bracingly funky drums, a characteristic of so many late-’60s-era Chicago records. This sort of lavishness reflects, in turn, the sound of Brunswick Records. Brunswick was then the Chicago R&B powerhouse, with multiple releases by Gene Chandler, the Artistics, Barbara Acklin and Jackie Wilson (amongst many others) topping the pop and R&B charts, and everyone, as you’ll hear, wanted to sound like them.

1. Little Sherman & The Mod Swingers, The Price of Love (Sagport)
Sublime late ’60s soul, the plush,
sweeping sound of “The Price of Love” is so characteristically Chicagoan.

Little Sherman was actually one Sherman Nesbary, a longtime local singer with a handful of soul and R&B releases to his name (as well as to Verble Domino – another Nesbary nom de plume) in the ’60s and ’70s. Nesbary was a songwriter, too, his most famous composition, “We Don’t Have To Be Over 21,” was recorded early on by the Jackson Five in 1968.

2. The Chymes, My Baby’s Gone Away (Down to Earth)
Harmonizing brothers Victor, David and James Martin recorded a clutch of singles in the late ’60s and early ’70s as both the Star-Tels and the Chymes . “My Baby’s Gone Away,” sort of a spiritual cousin to “The Price of Love,” succeeds here as an urban tale, its passing reference to Vietnam doesn’t draw attention to itself, but reflects the everyday reality of the war and conscription for the young black male at the time.

The Chymes are supported here by the Soul Crusaders, Burgess Gardner’s versatile and ubiquitous Chicago house band on many, many ’60s R&B sessions. Down to Earth – one of several contemporary subsidiaries (including Lamarr Records, which releases the Star-Tels’ 45s) operated by Burgess’s brother Walter – was one of the hipper Chicago R&B and soul labels then vying for popularity and that elusive breakout hit, achieving it only briefly, alas, with singles by the Esquires (“Girls in the City”) and General Crook (“Do It for Me,” “Gimme Some,” “What Time It Is”).

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Soul | 2 Comments

Sleeping pills

It all depends on the week.  Sometimes you’re chugging along and it seems that every time you turn your perfectly-shaped head there’s another library being named for you, another director who wants you for their picture or just another good-looking friend who wants to raise a toast to you. You’re at the top of your game and it shows.  And sometimes, like this week, it’s just you in your boxer shorts, a handful of pills, and the test patterns on TV. These dark jazz obscurities are the sound of your next downward spiral.  See you in rehab, buddy.

1. Parker McDougal, Foxxy Minor (M and M)
Parker McDougal was a tenor saxophonist who played a supporting role for many local outfits.  He also recorded early on for the hip M and M Records, who released the rivetingly
dark “Foxxy Minor” in 1960. McDougal remained a Chicago jazz and R&B fixture but recorded, as a leader at least, only sporadically in subsequent decades.  He passed away in 1994 at age 69.

See the fantastic Red Saunders Research for the full story on M and M and other indie Chicago R&B/jazz labels.

2. Henry Glover & His Quartet, Sassy’s Dream (King)
The Arkansas-born Henry Glover got his professional start during World War Two playing trumpet and providing arrangements for swing and jump R&B groups like Jimmie Lunceford’s, Lucky Millinder’s, Buddy Johnson’s and Tiny Bradshaw’s. A pioneering African-American record executive moreover, it was at Cincinnati’s legendary country and R&B (and later rock ‘n’ roll and soul) label King Records that Glover truly his niche, distinguishing himself there behind-the-scenes as a talented producer, songwriter, scout and Artists & Repertoire man.  During his time at King Records, Glover worked with everyone from Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and Little Willie John to versatile R&B veteran Bull Moose Jackson and hillbilly duet the Delmore Brothers.

On this lovely ’50s downer, Glover steps from the shadows to play piano. There’s a real kismet here to the selection’s title and atmosphere, and it’s fun reading all sorts of illicit messages into that dreamy, torpor-inducing drugginess.

Glover passed on in 1991.

3. Bob Bain’s All Stars, Black Beauty (Montclare)
“Black Beauty” is an old street name for amphetamine.  “Black Beauty,” in this case, is the opposite of amphetamine.

This is ether music of the finest order.

Bob Bain, a jazz guitarist and longtime LA studio musician, is here heard along with Plas Johnson, another prolific studio heavyweight. (Both, incidentally, were Mancini regulars – Johnson best known for the saxophone work on The Pink Panther theme and Bain for Peter Gunn‘s unforgettable crime-jazz Telecaster riff.)

There were a few full-length light jazz and easy-listening releases of his own along the way – and of course this memorable obscurity – but mostly Bain remained in the studio world for much of a very successful post-War working career, playing hundreds of pop and television soundtrack sessions  and winding up, eventually, for a long spell in the guitar chair in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band.

“Black Beauty” was recorded in Los Angeles in the early to mid-’60s.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Jazz Obscura | 6 Comments

The Generation Gap

Rejecting the square world has always been something at which angst-laden youngsters excel. If the subject matter of these three selections is any indication, then 1967 and 1968 were golden years to be putting down the Plastic People.

1. The Things, Jazz-Rock With Soul (Ray Pro)
We’re gonna play that new sound,
The sound of Jazz-Rock With Soul.
This is our music.
And it’s for generations now,
And the ones that follow.

he Things succeed with their primeval garage band rock ‘n’ roll, though a more problematic concept – the “Jazz-Rock With Soul” part – gets a bit lost in the shuffle. In name at least, though, the Things are beating Miles Davis to jazz rock by several years here.

These are brave souls. While I have no authoritative evidence for where they hailed from, I’d have to guess California.

2. The Jelly Bean Bandits, Generation (Mainstream)
A New York group with an excellent full-length LP and – unlike their beguilingly sincere West Coast counterparts – a cultivated sense of irony. This is a loud 45, too, and what the Jelly Bean Bandits couldn’t articulate with free association and wordplay, they put across with volume, feedback and crashing reverb.

“Generation” was released in 1967.

3. Savage Resurrection, Thing in “E” (Mercury)
In 1968, the Savage Resurrection took the hippie ethos of cultural secession and, with a throbbing beat and a whispered “it’s better,” imbued it with a menacing biker vibe all their own.

The fuzz guitars and the tinge of drugs and juvenile reprobation remind me of some of the heavier Texas psychedelia of the late 1960’s. The Savage Resurrection were actually a Bay Area group, though, and they, too, had an entire full-length LP to their name – of which”Thing in ‘E'” is the stand-out.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands | 6 Comments

Roscoe Weathers, pt. 1

Part of it is the mystery. As far as I can tell, West Coast jazz musician Roscoe Weathers’s entire output consisted of ten 45 rpm records. Born in Memphis, several online references place Weathers later in the post-War nightclubs of the Pacific Northwest where, as a saxophonist and bandleader, he’d play with Bobby Bradford, Floyd Standifer, Warren Bracken and other young Portland and Seattle beboppers. At some point in the late 1950s Weathers relocated to California. There he’d contribute to the 1958 album Stringin’ Along, an obscure West Coast jazz session led by Bob Keene. More significantly, Weathers would release a series of 45s on tiny Los Angeles labels, becoming something of a regular in the bohemian clubs and coffeehouse of the Venice Beach scene of the ‘60s.

Then there’s the music. Hip and atmospheric, the records feature Weathers’s talents on flute along with his crack jazz combo. They’re great examples of the Latin jazz that flourished on the West Coast among jazzbos like Cal Tjader, Eddie Cano and Bobby Montez, a form that favored hip exoticism over the hotter, brassier style of New York musicians like Machito, Dizzy Gillespie or Tito Puente.

It’s both the obscurity and the quality of these 45s, three of them featured this week, which have spawned something akin to fascination on my part. It all leads, finally, to the question: just who exactly was Roscoe Weathers?

1. Roscoe Weathers, Penny Whistle Montuna (Cornuto)
We start with the wonderful “Penny Whistle Montuna.”

Thunderous conga drums, flute, mad penny-whistle birdcalls, tension galore. “Penny Whistle Montuna” is the template for Weathers’ s exotic brand of Latin jazz.

Jimmy Welton, noted in the writer credits, was a producer who owned and ran the Cornuto, Protone, and (I believe) Vended Record labels, all tiny Hollywood operations. Protone was, until at least very recently, active as classical music label and was run in part by Jane Courtland (see “Penny Whistle Montuna”’s credits again), a producer herself and the widow of the late Jimmy Welton.

If the publishing date is correct (and they’re sometimes not), “Penny Whistle Montuna” was recorded in 1964.

2. Roscoe Weathers Quintet, Echoes (Vended)
On “Echoes,” there’s again that sense of subcontinental latitude. Weathers’s jungle flute, along with the vibraphone (that archetypal Pacific accoutrement) and electrifying percussion showcase make it impossible to locate which latitude, of course, but that’s not the point. It was somewhere intriguing and mysterious.

I’d guess that “Echoes,” as with all of this week’s selections, was recorded around 1964 or ’65.

3. Roscoe Weathers Quintet, I’ll Remember Clover (Aspect)
Somewhere in some West Hollywood backroom molder the tapes of “I’ll Remember Clover” in its entirety. As you hear, the selection is faded out hastily after the piano solo, just as the group seems to be reaching some sort of thematic refrain. This practice was fairly widespread back in the day, actually, and probably says far more about the quality control of the independent record industry than it does about the musicians involved.

“I Remember Clover” isn’t without precedent in the California of the 1950s and ‘60s. If anything, the coast’s music reflected the area’s own stereotypes. Jazz icons like Chet Baker, Art Pepper and Chico Hamilton are California cool personified while the Latin jazz of Cal Tjader or Eddie Cano pulsed with a peculiarly Pacific atmosphere. I won’t belabor the point: Roscoe Weathers was West Coast jazz at its darkest, hippest and most piquant, “I’ll Remember Clover” is the perfect illustration.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Jazz Obscura, Latin | 7 Comments

Psychedelic Pop

1. Tomorrow’s World, When It’s All Over (Era)
A California unknown. The vocal arrangements here are reminiscent of those of Curt Boettcher – the influential studio whiz behind West Coast pop productions by the Association, Sagittarius, Millennium and many others. And, indeed, songwriters Jannsen, Jannsen and Keske were involved, albeit marginally, with a contemporary Boettcher production, the Mother Love’s “Where Do We Go From Here.”

The dense harmonies otherwise lead me to think this a group of Los Angeles folkies. Laboring under producer and engineer (and occasional Boettcher collaborator) Mark Taylor and his strict policy of enforced “grooviness,” I’m guessing.

As with a lot of the West Coast variety of sunshine pop, with this dreamy, ’67-era nugget there’s echo, great syrupy masses of it.

2. Fargo, Sunny Day Blue (Capitol)
Though recorded in California, it was Salt Lake City-based songwriters and high school friends Tony Decker and Dean Wilden who formed the core of Fargo. Decker was perhaps the more experienced hand here, having recently toured and recorded in Texas and the Southwest as part of the Tuesday Club, a harder-edged rock group that would become – after wearing through several line-ups, locations and identities – Fargo.

“Sunny Day Blue” was, I believe, recorded in 1968. It was followed by an excellent full-length album on RCA a year later.

3. The Network, The Boys and the Girls (Spar)
Soaring, dreamy pop from the late ’60s, and one of the slowest 45s ever.

Without being overtly psychedelic, this gem just settles everything down on a mellow sunshine cloud, man. Written by freelance songwriter Mark Charron (best-known for his work for B.J. Thomas), “The Boys and the Girls” was produced in 1968 for, surprisingly, Spar Records, a sort of local clearinghouse label largely oriented towards budget country and western releases.

All else is speculation about the Network, sadly. Though I’d guess this is again the handiwork of Nashville session singers and players, and not an actual working group.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 4 Comments

Take Five and beyond

“Take Five” – recorded by the Dave Brubeck quartet in 1959, and composed by the group’s saxophonist, Paul Desmond – was known both as the biggest-selling jazz single of all time and, later, for its use in TV commercials for luxury sedans. “Take Five” was also written in 5/4 time. Its success kicked off a brief flurry of interest in jazz releases with irregular meters. Or, at least, interest from record companies desperate for anything to reverse already-declining sales of jazz.

Without further ado, “Take Five” is the inaugural theme for Office Naps.

1.  Billy Patt Quintett, Passion (An Act of Love) (Sabra)
Hey, never mind that it’s actually a quartet heard here.

In 1964 Patt and Co. would have been cooling down heads all over town with this smooth 5/4 cocktail. You can almost hear those matching charcoal gray wool jackets.

Sabra was a small Houston label operated by Lelan Rogers (brother of Kenny). Otherwise, no word on who Billy Patt was, though I’m guessing Billy Patt was a Los Angeles-area resident.

2. Saturday’s Children, Deck Five (Dunwich)
A classy Chicago group who wore dark Beatles suits and posed with umbrellas, Saturday’s Children had a handful of high-quality British Invasion-styled singles on the great Dunwich label, which did a lot to chronicle the city’s teeming garage band scene.

This is one of Dunwich’s stranger releases. It’s seasonal fare – seasonal fare that also happens to be an highly listenable mutation of “Take 5” and “Deck the Halls” forced into the mix like some sort of unholy Christmas frappe.

3. Hank Levine, Swingin’ Village (Dolton)
From 196, this jazzy concoction on the Seattle-to-Los-Angeles Dolton Records steers between insistent “Take 5”-style chording and melodic references to “Summertime” (another jazz hipster’s anthem).

Hank Levine mostly stayed behind the scenes in Los Angeles, racking up many, many credits to his name as a freelance Los Angeles studio producer & arranger in the ’50s and ’60s. He did issue at least a few other great 45s (including “Image” and “Portrait of a Blonde”) under his own name at the time, though, too.

4. France Gall, Pense a Moi (Just Think of Me) (Philips)
France Gall – blonde, bright, blindingly French – sings her seventeen-year-old heart out on this mad, mod version of “Take Five.”

“Pense a Moi” was from 1964, and, sadly, it was one of only a few Gall records to be released domestically. It seems that Gall, while wildly popular in her own country, was, like so many of her countrymen, ultimately just too French to ever make much of a splash anywhere else.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Miscellaneous Flotsam | 4 Comments