Category Archives: Soul

Bright Lights

Bright Lights!

Like AM Radio Dust, its companion volume, Bright Lights is just as much an exploration of lost spaces and places as it is of sound.

I hope you enjoy it.

Bright Lights
(single MP3 file)

Susan Rafey, “The Big Hurt”
Jerry Lee Trio, “Banshee”
Rick Durham and the Dynamics, “Southern Love”
Stan with the Marauders, “Echo Valley”
Maggie Ingram with the Ingramettes, “Melody of Love”
Zena Ayo, “Long Long Gone”
Mike Baltch Quartet, “Delilah”
Cheryl Thompson, “Black Night”
The Checker Dots, “Alpha Omega”
Fantastic Dee-Jays, “This Love of Ours”
The What Four, “Gemini 4″
Carole King, “A Road to Nowhere”
The Bittersweets, “Hurtin’ Kind”
Charles Wright and the Malibus, “Runky”
The Missing Links, “I Cried Goodbye”
J. Gale and the Games, “A Million Nothings”
The Benjamin Specials Gospel Singers, “I Am on the Right Road Now”
Link Wray, “Girl from the North Country”
Shirley Mc Donald accompanied by The Kay Nines K-9′s, “You”
The Santells, “These Are Love”
Houston and Dorsey, “Ebb Tide”
Dub Benson, “Shaping Up Today”
Henry Kaalekahi, “Hookipa Paka – Maunawili”
Johnny Love, “Rain Drops”
George Johnson, “Capricorn”
Fay Simmons, “Bells”
Cee Cee Carol, “The Right Guy”
Lou Smith, “I’ll Be the One”

Posted in Blues, Country, Exotica/Space-Age, Garage Bands, Girl-Groups, Gospel, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura, Mixes, Now Sound, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll, Soul | 10 Comments

Blue Flame: a new mix

I put together a new mix for my Dutch compadre Cortez for the fifth anniversary of his fabulous Club Cortez blog.  You can find it there now.

Club Cortez has been around as long as Office Naps.  Cortez’s tastes in music immediately stuck out from the pack then – believe it or not, there just weren’t that many of us around in 2006 – and, moreover, they still do.   That we share eclecticism and certain stylistic sensibilities – a broad appreciation for musical beauty, for one – doesn’t hurt, of course.  Either way, I hope and fully expect us to be rhapsodizing about music and our latest obscure finds five years from now.

Blue Flame, a new mix

Blue Flame, my new mix over at Club Cortez.

When I delivered the mix over to Cortez, I was feeling a bit abstract, describing it to him this way:

A mix for the bittersweet hours.

Here is mystery and melancholy strewn with chunks of ecstatic, post-War energy: Jazz on a rhythm & blues kick, rock ‘n’ roll on a mambo kick, a palpable sense of clubland’s frayed edges. Put the lights out behind you when you leave.

But I’d say that’s about right.  If you enjoy Office Naps (or the Exotica Project or the Lonely Beat), you’ll dig it, anyway.

Get the mix and playlist at Club Cortez, and do check out what he’s got going on over there.   Thanks to Cortez for inviting me aboard and, again, congratulations.

Posted in Blues, Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura, Latin, Mixes, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll, Soul, The Exotica Project, The Lonely Beat | 2 Comments

It’s your voodoo working

This week Office Naps surveys some R&B favorites from the early ‘60s.

There’s no tight conceptual theme, though these selections share some sensibilities.  They mine the arrangements and robust, minor-key melodies of compositions like “Fever,” “St. James Infirmary” or “Summertime.”   They’re pop-friendly but they’re highly stylized blues, too, infused with feeling without invoking all the usual 12-bar clichés.   They’re tinged with subtle, underlying Latin rhythms and an air of melancholy, even exoticism.

There’s also a poignancy here.  These selections capture the pivotal moment (years, actually) in the early ‘60s when R&B, as a commercial force, was being irrevocably superseded by an ascendant, and rapidly maturing, soul music.  Ray Charles and Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and Atlantic Records and Stax Records were already changing the game.  It wasn’t the end of R&B – which, either way, became a blanket term for pop-oriented commercially-produced black music.   But these transitional years were a sort of final, and irrevocable, shift for the R&B form.

Rhythm and blues had come a long way by the early ‘60s.  These three productions have a moody, churning power; stylistically distant from the R&B’s roots, they represent the best of the form’s final, most sophisticated commercial bloom.

Charles Sheffield, It’s Your Voodoo Working (Excello 45-2200)1. Charles Sheffield, It’s Your Voodoo Working (Excello 45-2200)
Born in Beaumont, Texas, Charles Sheffield cut the superb “It’s Your Voodoo Working” in 1961.  It would come amidst a sporadic eight-year-long run of 45s for this mysterious R&B vocalist.

Sheffield’s 45s, recorded for a handful of excellent Southern labels, together form an interesting primer on the Gulf Coast strain of R&B and blues.  As “Mad Dog Sheffield,” his first 45 (“Mad Dog” b/w “Clear My Night of Misery”) was a fairly straight-ahead blues shouter for the pioneering Louisiana label Goldband Records in 1957.  After this debut came Sheffield’s two 1958 singles (“Never No More” b/w “Is It Because I Love You” and “I’ve Gotta Love” b/w “Shoo Shoo Chicken”), much in the same vein, on Rocko Records, one of several labels run by the Crowley-based J.D. Miller, another key Louisiana studio and label operator.

Two more releases on Nashville’s Excello Records, including both this selection and its follow-up (“I Would Be a Sinner” b/w “The Kangaroo”), followed in 1961.

Charles Sheffield, circa 1962

The elusive Charles Sheffield. Newspaper photo, circa 1962

Sheffield’s three final 45s, all released in the mid-‘60s, were recorded as “Prince Charles.”  There was a swampy blues 45 for Huey Meaux’s Teardrop Records (“Come On Home” b/w “Only You”) and a second 45 for Meaux’s Jetstream label (the slightly more modern “Sick” b/w  “Get Down On Your Knees And Pray”).  And there’s the slinky “Baby Call Home” b/w “I Must Be #1,” released by NRC, an Atlanta record label.

Of Sheffield’s releases – which were commercially fruitless – “It’s Your Voodoo Working,” cut at J.D. Miller’s Crowley studios in 1961, is the highpoint.   This track is relatively sophisticated fare for Excello Records, one of the great post-War blues labels, though this track still maintains the Afro-Latin underpinnings and dark atmosphere that characterize Excello’s finest Louisiana sides.

Sheffield seems to have become finally disenchanted with recording music at some point in the ‘60s, a state of affairs that, in retrospect, was probably hastened by his dealings with some of the region’s most notorious music business hustlers.  Otherwise, Sheffield seems to have disappeared without a trace; I’d love to know more of what happened to him.

Thanks to Dan Phillip, who wrote of Charles Sheffield, and this 45 in particular, at Home of the Groove several years back.

2. Marv Johnson, With All That’s In Me (UA 423)Marv Johnson, With All That’s In Me (UA 423)
The great R&B vocalist and songwriter Marv Johnson was born in Detroit in 1938.  His early musical profile reads like that of many a young R&B singer from the time: a musically gifted youngster, he was raised on gospel music and secular R&B and pop material, sang with local vocal groups in his teens and debuted, at the age of twenty, with the obligatory obscure local single, 1958’s “My Baby-O” b/w “Once Upon A Time.”

Johnson was spotted in 1959 by fledgling producer, songwriter and future Motown mogul Berry Gordy, and “Come to Me,” Johnson’s ensuing 45, was, notably, the inaugural release on Gordy’s Tamla Records.

If “Come to Me” was the first Motown record, the seed from which the empire grew, at the time it was a more propitious beginning for Johnson, as the song’s commercial potential got the attention of the major label United Artists, who immediately stepped in and signed away Johnson, licensing and nationally releasing the 45 in turn, and with immediately successful returns.

The young Marv Johnson

The young Marv Johnson. Image courtesy of Yesterday's Gold.

Johnson enjoyed further success at United Artists, early on scoring with pop and R&B hits like 1959’s “You Got What It Takes,” 1960’s “I Love the Way You Love,” “(You’ve Got to) Move Two Mountains” and “Happy Days” and 1961’s “Merry-Go-Round.”    Television and tour appearances ensued for Johnson, and United Artists kept him on a prolific schedule of releases – including two full-length albums – over the next five years.

Johnson released the electrifying “With All That’s In Me” in February, 1962.  Penned by Detroit songwriters and musicians (and Motown associates) Clarence Paul, Andre Williams and Joe Hunter, it was neither a hit, nor typical of Johnson’s sterling-but-pop-oriented catalog, its piano vamps, titanic drum fill and Johnson’s commanding vocal giving the song a fearsome potency.

Indeed, like many of his cohort, Johnson’s smoother style, developed in the late ‘50s, would put him increasingly at odds with prevailing trends.   As the Motown sound and contemporary soul sounds exploded, Johnson’s sales figures for the somewhat stodgy United Artists would dwindle.

In 1965, Johnson returned to the Motown stable (even during his tenure at United Artists, Johnson co-wrote songs with Berry Gordy), recording three promising 45s with an updated sound that, however, did not seem to receive the complete support of the Motown promotional machine.  1968’s “I’ll Pick a Rose For My Rose,” on Motown’s Gordy imprint, would be Johnson’s last commercial release for the label.

Nonetheless, Johnson remained in the industry into the ‘70s, penning songs and working behind-the-scenes in Motown sales and promotion.  Though Johnson continued to perform live nearly until his 1993 death (following a stroke), his last Motown recordings would, with the exception of some recordings produced by UK Motown fanatic Ian Levine in the late ‘80s, represent his last releases, period.

Please refer to Pete Lewis’s 1992 interview for more on the fantastic Marv Johnson.

3.  Bobby King, Thanks Mr. Postman (Federal 45-12473)Bobby King, Thanks Mr. Postman (Federal 45-12473)
Not to be confused with several other R&B artists of the same name, Chicagoan Bobby King was a blues guitarist and vocalist who had a good local following and the greater respect of fellow guitarists, if not the added misfortune of living in a city full of such.

Born near Little Rock, Arkansas in the early ‘40s, King made his way to Chicago in 1959.  King, by all accounts a gifted guitarist, early on seems to have sought and found work as a supporting musician.  He played live behind R&B heavyweights like Hank Ballard and Bobby Bland, and contributed his spiky guitar licks to sessions for Lee Shot Williams, Jesse Anderson, Lonnie Johnson, Freddy King, Sonny Thompson and others in Syd Nathan’s King-Deluxe-Federal Records group at their peak in the first half of the ‘60s.

Bobby King, mid-'70s

Bobby King, playing live in Chicago in the mid-'70s. Image courtesy of the Recorded Live at Queen Bee cover.

King himself would also record a handful of 45s for the Federal Records in the early ‘60s.  They’re decent, capturing a capable singer who doesn’t move much beyond the trappings of Chicago blues.

1962’s “Thanks Mr. Postman” is the great exception to that.  A very loose answer to the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman,” the selection stands out as a marvelously moody, atmospheric anomaly, hinting only obliquely at the blues, not excepting King’s stinging guitar solo.

A good, if funkier, blues outing – “Froggy Bottom” for Weis Records , a Stax affiliate – would appear in the late ‘60s, and would be the terminus of King’s commercially-produced singles.   In the mid-‘70s, the French record label MCM released a live album by King – Recorded Live at Queen Bee – that captured him plowing through blues standards like “Stormy Monday Blues” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” in a local lounge in 1975.

After recovering from a stroke, King returned to playing for several years with the 21st Century Rhythm & Blues Band (who also recorded a live date, the obscure Elsewhere on the North Side).  Tragically, a second stroke incapacitated King, and he passed on in Chicago in 1983, barely in his early forties.

Posted in R&B/Vocal Groups, Soul | 5 Comments

The desperate hours

This week we look at a few representative examples of a wonderfully dark, slow strain of post-War rhythm and blues.

The lyrical content has always hovered around the same subjects – lost love, deep loneliness, obsession, suicide, death – a cluster of images and motifs traceable in turn to a body of material popular with pre-War blues musicians – sepulchral, haunted laments and pleas like “St. James Infirmary Blues,” “One Kind Favor” or “Poor Boy Blues.”

With R&B’s national marketing and ever-increasing commercial viability in the post-War years, however, a certain set of standard stylistic indicators would crystallize.  The aesthetic was embodied early on in R&B hits like the Dominoes’ “The Bells” (1952) and Nolan Strong and the Diablos’ “The Wind” (1954).   Classics like Donald Woods and the Vel-Aires’ “Death of an Angel (1955),”  Tarheel Slim & Little Ann “It’s Too Late” (1959) and the Vibrations’ “So Blue” (1960) further defined the aesthetic:  spare instrumentation, spectral vocals and harmonies, a funereal beat.  Some dramatic examples, like Billy Miranda’s “Go Ahead” (1959) and Jackie and the Starlites’ “Valarie” (1960) – not to mention “The Bells” and “Death of an Angel” – would feature actual sobbing.  Most of all, there was a persistent, sometimes relentless, note or sequence of notes picked out on a piano or guitar, a droning, repetitive quality eerily conveying the very passage of time.

Desperate hours

Some atmospheric R&B for the desperate hours this week.

Soul music precipitated out of gospel and R&B in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, but the basic sensibility would persist.  Diamond Joe’s “Moanin’ and Screamin’” and Jean Knight’s “The Man That Left Me” held something of the funeral dirge at their heart.  There is high cinema to this week’s three selections, too, a kind of voyeuristic pleasure to be taken from the drama and slow beat of despair.    They go to those bleak places so we don’t have to.

Merle Spears with Lionel Whitfield's Orch., It's Just a Matter of Time (Whit 713)1.  Merle Spears with Lionel Whitfield’s Orch., It’s Just a Matter of Time (Whit 713)
Who was Merle Spears?   I can tell you little beyond what Sir Shambling provides at the excellent Deep Soul Heaven.

Born in 1939 in Louisiana, Merle Spears’s profile, or what we know of it, is not unlike other aspiring Southern and Gulf Coast R&B vocalists and musicians in the ‘60s.  He cut a few records, probably performed live and made some guest appearances around Baton Rouge and Shreveport and, on occasion, may have provided his talents in the studio as a supporting musician.

If Spears never made the full-time leap into the professional music business, it was not for lack of talent.  His recorded legacy is thin – a handful of 45s, all dating to the mid-‘60s – but consistently excellent, revealing a vocalist with a rich baritone and an unruffled sophistication that owes much to then-reigning Texas blues stylist Bobby Bland.

Among Spears’s handful of 45s are fine R&B dances like 1964’s “I Want to Know,” classy mid-tempo numbers like “Ain’t No Need” (the flipside to “It’s Just a Matter of Time”) and deep Southern fare like “Wisdom of a Fool.”   But 1965’s riveting “It’s Just a Matter of Time” will always remain my personal favorite.  Likely recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s legendary New Orleans studio (thanks to Ana B and Dan Phillips for that tidbit), here the debt to Bobby Bland is blatant.  The production invokes the slowed-down meter of Bland ballads like “I’ll Take Care of You” or “Lead Me On,” Spears infusing his phrasing with an otherworldly, almost detached, level of emotion and foreboding.

This selection, as well as two other great Spears sides – “I Want to Know” and “Ain’t No Need” – were written by one Calvin Reed, a Baton Rouge-based musicians and songwriter.  (Reed, also known, I believe, as Murray Reed, has a frustratingly vague biography as well.)

Notably, this 45 would also be an early release for producer and manager Lionel Whitfield and his Shreveport-based Whit Records, a label that would find some national success in the ‘60s with a series of records by blind R&B singer Bobby Powell.

Sadly, Merle Spears passed away in 2009.

Bobby Newton, These Empty Arms (Foxie 7003)2.  Bobby Newton, These Empty Arms (Foxie 7003)
A singer and entertainer from Reading, Pennsylvania, Bobby Newton is the best-known and most prolific of this week’s three artists.

Recorded around 1961, released on Foxie Records (a brief-lived R&B and teen pop subsidiary of 20th Century Fox), “These Empty Arms” would be one of Newton’s earliest recordings.   His releases over the next decade-and-a-half showcase a stylist changing with the times.  Newton’s greatest gift was his versatility, his voice moving from mellow baritone to soul shout, often in the span of a single record.

Starting with 1968 dance number “The Whip,” many of Newton’s releases found him working with Philly singer, producer and songwriter Jesse James as well as with musicians from the chart-topping MFSB stable.   Despite the cutting-edge professionalism of his productions and musical support, Newton was handicapped at times by somewhat undistinguished material.  He seemed poised for broader success at several points without ever quite breaking through, and his commercial releases tapered off after the mid-‘70s.

Of his eight or nine 45s, “These Empty Arms” is easily among the most memorable.  It is also the archetypal R&B dirge, all obsession and gloomy atmosphere, the arpeggiated guitar figure and Newton’s croon summoning, almost visibly, a sense of solitude and despair.

Bobby Newton is today still a force, and performs live with the Bobby Newton Band around Philadelphia area and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Billy Sol with Orchestral Accompanyment: Punty Guitar & the   Sensations, When You’re Alone (Domar DM-1124-A)3.  Billy Sol with Orchestral Accompanyment: Punty Guitar & the Sensations, When You’re Alone (Domar DM-1124-A)
R&B vocalist Billy Sol was likely Mexican-American, and almost certainly would have established himself on San Antonio’s West Side scene, a rich and fascinating milieu that produced pioneering groups like Sunny and the Sunliners, the Royal Jesters, Little Jr. Jesse and the Teardrops and Rudy and the Reno Bops and that became, along with East Los Angeles, one of the epicenters of Chicano R&B and soul in the ‘60s.

Sol’s place amongst the scene is poorly documented.  Released in 1966, “When You’re Alone” is the second of his two 45s on Domar Records, one of several San Antonio labels operated by local music hustler Paul Beckingham.  Sol’s third 45 was also released the eponymous Beckingham Records.   (Domar Records is probably best remembered today for several raw 45s by local garage band the Five Canadians, though the label also released teen pop, West Side R&B instrumentals and more traditional conjunto sounds.)

A mix of harmony ballads, Twist-type dances and more current horn-and-organ-driven soul, the music on Sol’s three lone 45s, all from 1966, is fairly characteristic of the repertoire of many young Chicano R&B groups of the period in San Antonio.  Even measured against the West Side scene’s somewhat flamboyant vocal standards – quivering ballad delivery, hoarse soul vocals and falsetto harmonies were typical – Sol’s singing style seems particularly dramatic.

This is amply affirmed on his version of “When You’re Alone,” a song originally recorded by the pop group the Hilltoppers in 1956.  Sol – helped in no small part by masses of echo and a gritty, atmospheric backing arrangement – is spectacular here, taking a fairly conventional theme of heartbreak to some harrowing new level of finality.

Incidentally, Sol clearly had idiosyncratic and particular taste in covers; among his three 45s would be a version of the aforementioned “The Bells.”

Posted in R&B/Vocal Groups, Soul | 2 Comments

You’re No Good

“You’re No Good” was written by one Clint Ballard (1931-2008), an El Paso-born musician, songwriter-for-hire and band manager who enjoyed his greatest success in the mid-’60s.  “You’re No Good” is one of Ballard’s best-known, if not best, compositions.  (Other well-known Ballard works include “The Game of Love,” a big 1965 hit for Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders and “I’m Alive,” a UK hit for the Hollies the same year.  Additionally, Ballard’s songs would enjoy smaller-scale success in the hands of Jimmy Jones, Ricky Nelson, the Zombies and Frankie Laine, among others.)

Like any number of contemporary smashes – Ray Charles’s “Unchain My Heart,” Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” and Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” come to mind – “You’re No Good” brought uptown pop appeal to a dark R&B sound.

It was helped in no small way by the steely, sophisticated resolve of the lyrics, and furthermore by the perfection of the song’s musical composition.  Realized early on in sleek arrangements by Lieber and Stoller (for Dee Dee Warwick, see below) and by Calvin Carter (for Betty Everett, who made the number a hit in late ’63 for Vee-Jay Records), a dark, propulsive beat set the standard for and shape of all subsequent recordings, including a fairly faithful, if limp, reading by Linda Ronstadt, for whom it was a hit in 1974.

It’s just one of those durable compositions.  Like “Summertime,” or “Fever,” I suspect that there’s a bad version of “You’re No Good” somewhere out there, but I’ve yet to hear it.

Dee Dee Warwick, You’re No Good (Jubilee 45-5459) 1.  Dee Dee Warwick, You’re No Good (Jubilee 45-5459)
It would remain Dee Dee Warwick’s burden to play little sister to an international star.

Born Delia Warwick in 1945 into a musical family in Newark, New Jersey – Dee Dee’s sister was, famously, Dionne Warwick.  As part of the group the Gospelaires, Dionne and Dee Dee – along with their aunt Cissy Houston – would grow up performing together in the local church.

The early ‘60s brought a tide of bright gospel talents over into the pop world and the nascent market for what was then coalescing as soul music.  The teenaged Warwick’s musical predilections would be marshaled into her work as a back-up vocalist – again, often alongside sister Dionne – on many early ‘60s R&B sessions, including a number of recordings for the powerhouse indie label Atlantic Records.

This studio work led to her debut as a solo artist, 1963’s “You’re No Good.”  Released on the prolific New York City indie Jubilee Records, produced by the then-unstoppable songwriting-production team of Mike Lieber and Jerry Stoller, this, in addition to being the first recording of “You’re No Good,” would become a decent-sized hit for Warwick.  It would in turn be a much bigger hit for singer Betty Everett a few months later.  But for many, myself included, this – with Dee Dee turning in a deadly performance, not to mention the very early use of the fuzztone guitar – is the definitive version of “You’re No Good.”

Clearly the talent was there, but, unlike her sister, Dee Dee neither seemed to possess the proclivity for the show business spotlight nor the great fortune of landing herself as one of the most visible voices for the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songwriting team.  More hits on different labels would ensue for Dee Dee – including 1965′s “We’re Doing Fine” on the Blue Rock label, “I Want to Be With You” and “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” both in 1966 for Mercury Records, and “She Didn’t Know,” recorded for Atco Records in 1970.  But, as with many in the early generations of crossover R&B artists, the early ’70s onwards were a time of slowly diminishing returns, bungled commercial opportunities and decreasing exposure for Warwick.

Dee Dee Warwick passed away in 2008.

Cresa Watson, You’re No Good (Charay C-90-A)2.  Cresa Watson, You’re No Good (Charay C-90-A)
Someday I suspect the Cresa Watson story will be revealed but, alas, this is not that moment.

Some of the Cresa Watson mystery can be attributed to her association with Charay Records, one of a family of local labels (including Soft, Shalimar, Le Cam and Zuma, among others) operated out of Fort Worth by the infamous record hustler Major Bill Smith.

It wasn’t that The Maj didn’t release good stuff – his was an incredible discography of soul, R&B, garage bands and pop – it was that that the good stuff tended to get recycled endlessly, and shamelessly.  The Maj’s business practices meant that the same compositions (often credited spuriously to his own name) got circulated amongst many of his labels’ artists and that, similarly, backing tracks were reused multiple times with different overdubbed vocals or musical parts.  Sometimes the exact same recording would be credited to several artists, and sometimes different recordings would be given the same label release number.  For Major Bill ultimately the name of the game was wringing out as much royalty dough as possible.  Another 45 could always be released.

None of this should obscure the fact that her cumulative handful of actual recordings, while scattered across a much larger number of 45s, reveal in Watson a young and expressive soul voice.   Among her releases perhaps the best known is the legendarily suicidal “Dead,” also released on Charay Records.  (“Dead” is a confounding mystery unto itself.  In typical Maj-style, it was released multiple times as both a vocal and instrumental with different overdubs, and credited at least a dozen different ways, this version included.)

But “You’re No Good” is by far my favorite Watson-related record.  Released in 1969, though likely recorded a bit earlier, this, in Watson’s hands, is the darkest of this week’s three versions, its raw, churning R&B combo instrumentation giving it an appealingly weedy reek.

Trudy Johnson, You’re No Good (Capitol P-2631)3.  Trudy Johnson, You’re No Good (Capitol P-2631)
From North Richmond, California, vocalist Johnson grew up in the ‘50s singing gospel music before crossing over, as so many of her generation did, into the R&B, blues and pop world.

Johnson, by all accounts, first attracted significant local press in the ‘60s for her appearances with the Spiders, an interracial soul group and mid-‘60s fixture of the East Bay R&B circuit.  Contemporary accounts detail her magnetic presence and statuesque height.

This was Johnson’s debut disc. “You’re No Good,” and its bluesy a-side “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” (a big hit for Lou Rawls several months earlier), were produced and arranged in 1969 by longtime arranger Phil Wright and future Capitol Records president David Cavanaugh – frequent studio collaborators themselves, with close ties to Capitol’s pop and jazz stable.  Despite its flawless, classy production – a hallmark of that grand era of Capitol’s soul and R&B programme – and Johnson’s vital performance, the 45 made little progress in the charts.

Johnson has continued to perform in California as a versatile jazz, pop, R&B and jazz vocalist in the years since, though has remained somewhat out of the national spotlight, and has recorded only sporadically (including an obscure mid-‘70s 45 date with Lionel Hampton).  You can learn more about Johnson here.

Posted in Soul | 4 Comments

Booker T. and beyond

Booker T. and the MG’s contributed so much to the popularity of Memphis’s Stax Records in the ‘60s, and were so fundamental to the label’s sound – sharp, soulful, and classy, never flashy – it’s impossible to separate the histories of the two.

The group coalesced from young session players at the Stax Records studios – Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass, replaced by Donald “Duck” Dunn in ‘64), and Al Jackson Jr. (drums) – really only becoming an official unit after the success of their iconic instrumental “Green Onions.” In turn, the group helped make Stax a ‘60s powerhouse soul label – just behind Motown – and stars of many the label’s roster – Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Johnny Taylor, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas.

Booker T. and the MGs
Booker T. and the MG’s, mid-’60s publicity photo. Donald “Duck” Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson Jr.

It wasn’t just that Booker T. and the MG’s were racially integrated at an inauspicious moment in Southern history. It wasn’t just that they were sensitive accompanists, either, or that their sound or their guitar-bass-drums-organ line-up was unprecedented. Simply, it was that they consistently hipper and funkier than anyone that had come before them, playing with an impeccable economy that skirted minimalism. Even on their records like “Time Is Tight,” “Hip Hug-Her,” or, of course “Green Onions” – terrific sides as successful as the Stax headline artists they backed – they were brilliant strategists, never playing two notes where one would do.

Just as every hit inspires a dozen hopeful homegrown soundalikes and variations, all of this did not go noticed by American musicians, this week’s included. America itself seemed to prefer its Memphis instrumentals straight from the source, however (Willie Mitchell perhaps being the notable exception), and Booker T. and the MG’s would continue to oblige, producing hits from one end of the ‘60s (“Green Onions,” 1962) to the other (“Melting Pot,” 1971). Our guys didn’t have the same luck, but they had nothing to worry about in retrospect. There’d always be more room for their kind around here on Office Naps.

1. Del-Rays, Night Prowl (R and H)
The Del-Rays were one of several white R&B-based; groups who percolated out of northwestern Alabama in the late ‘50s.

It was a surreal scene. They came from surrounding Alabama towns, young white kids nursed on country music and crazy for R&B; and rock ‘n’ roll. Crazy, period. Early on, in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the Del-Rays were working an improbable circuit of Southern fraternity parties alongside like-minded groups like Dan Penn & the Pallbearers, the Mystics and Hollis Dixon. When they weren’t confounding the brothers from Phi Kappa Theta with manic versions of “Baby, What You Want Me to Do” or “Kansas City,” these musicians gravitated to the FAME recording facilities.

Started in the late ‘50s, FAME (short for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) was the quixotic vision of local Florence character Tom Stafford and young musicians Billy Sherrill and Rick Hall. Commandeered by the ambitious Hall in the early ‘60s, and moved to nearby Muscle Shoals, the FAME studios would become the region’s galvanizing force of soul music. Arthur Alexander recorded “You Better Move On” there in 1961, and Jimmy Hughes “Steal Away” in 1963. By the mid-‘60s, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin had recorded there. By 1971, so had the Osmonds: FAME had come a long way.

As part of the studio’s house band, the Del-Rays – or at least several members – would play a significant role in FAME’s success along the way. In 1964, however, when “Night Prowl” was recorded, the Del-Rays were another working-touring group, hanging around the FAME Studios but still a few months away from becoming full-time session musicians there.

The influence of Stax Records – a mere hundred miles to the west, but sort of in a different league at this point – is clear on this selection. Lean and mean, like “Green Onions,” perhaps even more so, a title like “Night Prowl” promises much, and the song delivers – the greatest thing to hit street brawling since Thunderbird Wine. “Night Prowl” would be the second of four 45s by the group, who at this point included guitarist Jimmy Johnson, saxophonist Billy Cofield, organist Billy Scott and drummer Roger Hawkins. (The Del-Rays’ debut was 1959’s “Hot Toddy”; the two later 45s – one on R and H, and one on Atco Records – were more rock ‘n’ roll-oriented, with vocals by Jimmy Ray Hunter.)

Not long after “Night Prowl,” Johnson, Cofield and Hawkins would join FAME as the studio’s second, and most storied, house band. Along with organist Spooner Oldham, bassist Albert “Junior” Lowe, guitarist Marlin Greene, trumpeter Jack Peck and saxophonist Don “Rim” Pollard, this band would back Pickett, for instance, on “Mustang Sally” and Aretha Franklin on the original version of “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).”

In 1969, Johnson and Hawkins – along with fellow Muscle Shoals musicians David Hood and Barry Beckett – left FAME. They formed the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and would became partners in the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, an immensely successful recording studio in ensuing years.

2. The Pac-Keys, Dig In (Hollywood)
Like “Night Prowl,” this selection encapsulates a certain aspect of Southern R&B; history. The Pac-Keys in this case were the vehicle of Charles “Packy” Axton, a saxophonist known as both a founding member of the Mar-Keys, and the son of Estelle Axton, the early co-owner of Stax Records, a label which her brother Jim Stewart – Packy’s uncle – founded.

The early chapters of Stax Records are inextricable from Packy Axton. The label, founded as Satellite Records in 1957 (the name changed to Stax in 1961) had some early success with 1960 records by legendary R&B; father-daughter team Rufus and Carla Thomas. It would be one of Axton’s early records with the Mar-Keys, however, that brought his family’s record business to national attention. 1961’s “Last Night” (hear excerpt here) was just as significant for its popularity – charting at number three – as it was for its lean, soulful motif, which set an early precedent for the Stax sound, and the sound of Memphis soul in general.

Other members of the Mar-Keys (Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn) would disembark for even greater fortune as Booker T. and the MG’s. Axton’s own would not follow down the same path, however. A wild man, his tendency towards dissolution increasingly marginalized him from the shifting rosters of the Mar-Keys (who, either way, were largely overshadowed by Booker T. and co. by the mid-‘60s) as well as the Stax staff in general, despite his mother’s fierce loyalty.

It wouldn’t be the last of Axton, though, who relocated to Los Angeles in 1965. There he recorded the moddish instrumental “Hole in the Wall” with, oddly enough, members of Booker T. and the MG’s, who were then touring the West Coast as part of the Stax Revue. Released on infamous Los Angeles DJ and promoter Magnificent Montague’s Pure Soul label, and credited as the Packers, “Hole in the Wall” would be a surprise number five R&B; and a top fifty pop hit in the fall of 1965.

More records hastily followed for the Packers, whose shifting members revolved around the erratic stewardship of Axton and percussion player Bongo Johnny Keyes, one of Montague’s old friends. There was a flurry of releases on various indie labels – HBR, Imperial, Tangerine, Soul Baby and Pure Soul – as the Packers; there were also several releases under different names – the Martinis, L.H. and the Memphis Sounds, and, finally, the Pac-Keys.

These records are hip, if a bit unmemorable, R&B; instrumentals. The thumpingly great “Dig In” was recorded back in Memphis at Hi Records with James Alexander (bass), Jimmie King (guitar) and Carl Cunningham (drums) – all members of the Bar-Kays, another famed Stax instrumental group. “Dig In” is by far the most impressive of these records, clocking in at a scant 1:51, which only meant you could hear it again that much sooner.

Released on Hollywood Records – a former Los Angeles R&B; label then operating as a scaled-back subsidiary of the country Starday label – neither “Stone Fox,” nor its follow-up “Greasy Pumpkin,” nor any of the various Packers releases, recaptured the success of “Hole in the Wall.”

Axton would drift further into obscurity, and deeper into his cups, alas, as the ‘60s wore on. He died of a heart attack in 1974 at age thirty-two.

3. Lorenzo the Hat and the Mad Hatters, Fun-Key (Space)
This week’s mystery selection, Lorenzo the Hat was either one Lorenzo Mandley, according to the label credits, or one Lorenzo Monley, according to BMI. Either way, this may be Lorenzo Manley, a Los Angeles singer who released a good soul 45 in early 1967, “(I’m Gonna) Swoop Down on You” on Original Sound Records. Again, just speculation.

Recorded around 1967, “Fun-Key” is a funky jam that rotates around the guitar fill from Booker T.’s “Hip-Hug Her” (hear excerpt here). Many great ‘60s instrumentals – think “Wipe Out,” or for that matter, “Green Onions” – followed this pattern: barely rehearsed sketches that started out interesting melody and wound up chart-topping hit. “Fun-Key” sounds awesome with its electric piano and wicked drumming, but it is not, in retrospect, a case of should-have-been-a-hit. “Fun-Key” is so loose it is clearly stoned, not the sort of thing to capture the public’s imagination. To be fair, its flipside “The Hat’s Back,” another stylish instrumental, has much more in the way of convention – a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end, for one.

Space Records was a subsidiary of Kris, an independent Los Angeles record label founded by singer-turned-DJ-turned-entrepreneur Mel Alexander. Kris issued a lot of excellent Los Angeles R&B; and soul throughout the 1960s on its subsidiaries (Space as well as Car-A-Mel and New Breed), though Space’s would be the coolest label design.

Posted in Soul | 18 Comments

Chicago soul, part two

(Ed. note: more of my favorite late ‘60s Chicago soul this week and a continuation of a very early Office Naps post – back when I wouldn’t let minutiae like research or facts stand in the way of posting.)

Like its Great Lakes counterpart Detroit, Chicago in the 1960s was a vast industrial landscape, a city with a substantial and concentrated African-American population, much of whom had migrated in earlier decades from the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the American South.

Though it had its Brunswick Records in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Chicago, unlike Detroit, never truly had its own Motown Records, that national tastemaker, that entity which so thoroughly dominated the local record industry. Chicago had its own homegrown economy of labels, though, a network that serviced and sustained itself through the African-American community. Successful independent record labels – United, Mercury, Vee-Jay and, perhaps most critically, Chess Records – registered both the vibrancy of Chicago’s post-War African-American demographic and north-by-south pedigree of its music scene. Its appeal would extend well beyond Lake Michigan, too, with millions of Chicago blues, R&B;, gospel and jazz records sold nationally in the post-War decades. And the ensuing infrastructure of A&R; men, distributors, studios, record stores, clubs, promoters, session musicians and entrepreneurs – the bedrock of a strong record industry – carried Chicago soul music well into the ‘70s, its record industry more formidable, diverse and ultimately more resilient than Detroit’s.

Chicago’s well-developed concentration of R&B-oriented; labels would be the foundation from which the soul-oriented labels could emerge after a gospel-infused number like Jerry Butler and the Impressions’ “For Your Precious Love” proved an early hit in 1958. Artists like Jerry Butler, the Impressions, Curtis Mayfield, Gene Chandler, the Sheppards and the Dells paved the way for soul’s organic evolution from R&B; established labels like Chess, Okeh and Vee-Jay – as well as new indies like Constellation and One-Derful – would be there to capture it. Soul music was ascendant, the hits rolled in, and many of Chicago’s own would be national stars by the mid-‘60s: Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, Betty Everett, the Dells, Gene Chandler, the Artistics, the Vibrations, Fontella Bass, McKinley Mitchell.
Most soul groups and soloists truly were vocalists only, however, and their backing, as had long been tradition, was still primarily assembled from session musicians, their productions in turn orchestrated by studio arrangers and engineers. If the Chicago soul idiom had begun to coalesce in the mid-’60s, then behind-the-scenes names like Burgess Gardner, Calvin Carter, Carl Davis, Billy Davis, Johnny Pate, Bill Sheppard, Johnny Cameron, Willie Henderson would define that style every bit as much as the performers themselves. (Some, like Curtis Mayfield, Syl Johnson and Monk Higgins were immersed in both worlds.)

This week’s selections, all made in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, reflect a pattern common amongst all commercial recordings, the tendency, that is, to appropriate the sound and spirit of their popular contemporaries. Specifically, these selections reflect the sound of industry veteran Carl Davis’s Brunswick Records (and its sister label Dakar), a Chicago label then rising with hits like Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher” (1967), the Artistics’ “I’m Gonna Miss You” (1967), Barbara Acklin’s “Love Makes A Woman” (1968), Tyrone Davis’s “Turn Back the Hands of Time” (1970) and Gene Chandler’s “The Girl Don’t Care” (1967). Carl Davis was an A&R; man, vice-president and, importantly, a producer at Brunswick Records. His aesthetic was dramatic – strings, vibraphones and an abundance of the soaring, sophisticated, gospel-infused harmonies that have been so identified with Chicago soul since the early soul hits of the Dells and the Impressions. Davis’s productions also managed a rhythmic wallop, too – loud bottom end and clear drums – that resonated with the dancefloor.

Brunswick Records embodied both the sound and hit-making success of late ‘60s and early ’70s Chicago soul – according to that logic, these selections should’ve been hits. But then you wouldn’t be reading about them on Office Naps, of course.

1. The Roe-O-Tation, Old Love (Gerim)
Precious little is known of the Roe-O-Tation themselves, but the credits of their sole 45 reveal much: this record was the handiwork of Gerald Sims, a name ubiquitous in ‘60s Chicago soul.

Gerald Sims, born in 1940 and a participant on the city’s music scene since his arrival from Kalamazoo, Michigan at age nineteen, was absorbed early on into the Daylighters, a vocal group then recently transplanted from Alabama. His considerable musical gifts – singing, writing, guitar playing – found Sims assuming lead vocal and songwriting duties for the Daylighters, and he would oversee the group’s transition from R&B; to soul with solid regional hits like 1962’s “Cool Breeze” and “I Can’t Stop Crying.” Sims himself would release two obscure soul singles under his own name on Okeh Records. His performing career, however, would be exchanged for expanded behind-the-scenes duties as a session guitarist, songwriter and producer with Okeh, Constellation and Chess Records, easily three of the city’s most vital soul labels in the mid-‘60s. Later that decade, Sims procured work as a songwriter and orchestra leader at Brunswick Records, but – before finally landing a producer role at Jerry Butler’s Fountain Productions in the early ‘70s – Sims worked in some time to release one record, this selection, on his own independent label, Gerim. Likely produced in 1969 or ’70, “Old Love” (and its flipside, “Special Category”) would be a one-off trial run for Sims’ label aspirations.

The sublime “Old Love” is a production in every sense of the word, a stunning bit of theater with wild tempo changes and an almost psychedelic vibes-and-guitar breakdown – great for making the whole dancefloor list to one side. “Old Love” makes you wonder what was happening in 1970. These soul guys were always running into old girlfriends on the street.

Gerim Records operations would be revived in the early ‘80s – the Chicago scene a pale shadow of the powerhouse it had been a decade earlier – for a brief flurry of contemporary soul releases from local groups like MC², Encore and 7 Miles High.

2. The Esquires, Reach Out (Capitol)
The Esquires, a group best known for 1967’s harmony-soul hit “Get On Up,” were originally formed at Milwaukee’s North Division High School in the late ‘50s by siblings Gilbert, Alvis and Betty Moorer and a series of neighborhood acquaintances.

Though popular in their native city, the Esquires did not record until relocating to Chicago in 1966, where the young group caught the attention of Bill “Bunky” Sheppard. Former A&R; man at the recently bankrupt Vee-Jay Records, independent promoter and manager, owner and vice-president of Constellation Records: Sheppard was an entrepreneur completely immersed in the city’s music industry.

Following the collapse of Constellation Records, Sheppard was shopping for talent for his new label, Bunky Records, and the Esquires impressed Sheppard enough to record a Gilbert Moorer original, “Get On Up.” Released in the summer of 1967, “Get On Up,” characteristic of their sleek, falsetto-led sound, was a huge pop and R&B; hit, and it unequivocally put both Bunky Records and the Esquires on the map. It would be their biggest hit, too, though the Esquires, suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, would continue to work closely with Sheppard, charting with late ‘60s singles like “And Get Away,” “You’ve Got the Power” and “Girls in the City.”

1969’s “Reach Out” was released on Capitol Records, based in Los Angeles, but don’t let that fool you. This embodies Windy City soul in all of its brassy, thumping glory; one doesn’t mistake Chicago soul like one doesn’t mistake an oncoming freight train. Produced and written by Bill Sheppard and Tom “Tom Tom” Washington (a Chicago-based arranger closely aligned with Sheppared), “Reach Out” was recorded by an incarnation of the group comprised of Gilbert and Alvis Moorer, Millard Evans and Sam Pace (part of the group from their Milwaukee days). It is silly-energetic, a 45 single flinging itself at the pop charts through exuberance alone, and a lesson in why that rarely works. Too bad. The Esquires’ star had begun to plateau a bit, but it wasn’t reflected on this gem.

Their last chart hit was their 1976 disco remake “Get On Up ’76.” As of ten years ago at least, the Esquires were still singing together in some capacity.

3. Judson Moore, Everybody Push and Pull (Capri)
“Everybody Push and Pull”: obscure soul dance, you-got-your-thing-I-got-mine party anthem. Push. Pull. Or not. Just be yourself, baby.

Research returns nothing on Judson Moore, and little more about either Capri Records – a label with a few other obscure 1970-era releases by Fred Johnson (“I Need Love”) the Scott Brothers (“Gotta Get Away From You”) and Reggie Soul and the Soul Swingers
(“My World of Ecstasy”) – or this selection’s principal producer Al Altog, who had a hand in releasing a few singles by the Soul Majestics on his own Al-Tog label in the early ‘70s.

This was speculatively recorded in 1970, the year that Rufus Thomas recorded his “(Do The) Push and Pull” on Stax Records.

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Message from the ghetto

What ties this week’s selections together is not merely their spoken word component (though it’s significant, certainly). Nor is it just their cause of change and greater societal welfare. Awareness-raising ballads, agitprop invective, activist commentary, summons-to-action and subversive parody are everywhere in recorded music – African-American or otherwise.

Their defining aspect, rather, is their specificity. “Invitation to Black Power,” “It’s Free” and “I Care About Detroit” aren’t broad laments of urban blight or gospel-liberated anthems. Theirs are messages associated with specific causes, specific religious organizations, specific cities, specific venereal diseases, even, and they’re calibrated to their communities accordingly.

The late ‘60s and early ‘70s would be the apogee of this sort of thing, specialized message records reflecting the general tumult of the era – the counterculture, the assassinations, the radical strategizing and the sexual and cultural politics. Music suffused the era’s upheavals, and the years’ idealism and anger inspired more than a few to disseminate the word in turn on the very model of audio expediency, the 45 rpm record. It’s music meets message meets shiny black wax this week on Office Naps.

1. Shahid Quintet, Invitation to Black Power, part I (S and M)
Despite its reference to the “long, hot summer” – Detroit’s deadly spell of rioting and discord in 1967 – I believe that “Invitation to Black Power” was actually produced in Chicago. The selection was likely recorded in 1968 or 1969 – after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s April 1968 assassination, certainly. But no substantive light can be shed on the Shahid Quintet or Richard or Earl Shabazz, who, either way, were probably not related. (Shabazz is a frequent surname assumed by Nation of Islam adherents.)

Its mysteries aside, “Invitation to Black Power” is a fascinating, a one-of-a-kind snapshot of a particular dimension of the black inner-city experience of the late ‘60s. It’s a bit amateur, sure, and its format is more a throwback to earlier beat-poetry-with-cool-jazz collaborations than the screeching saxophones and intellectual aspirations of contemporaries like Archie Shepp or Amiri Baraka. But it succeeds in one account: running down, humorously and unpretentiously, the Nation of Islam promise of rebirth, equality and separation of the races.

2. Shahid Quintet, Invitation to Black Power, part I (S and M)
Which is not to say that “Invitation to Black Power” was ever a proselytizing tool espoused, officially or otherwise, by the Nation of Islam in the local communities. It has more the flavor of a vanity project, the handiwork of a ragged jazz combo and two men with poetic and theatrical proclivities and the zealous energies of the converted.

Earl Shabazz and Richard Shabazz might have envisioned their record finding its way to their local Black Nationalist bookstore, they might have seen it being sold at local poetry readings. Some forty-odd years later, though, they likely wouldn’t have foreseen that their recording had landed mostly in hands of white record collectors, the inevitable home to such cultural ephemera.

3. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, I Care About Detroit (Motown and Stein & Van Stock, Inc.)
A name that looms large in America’s pop music annals, William “Smokey” Robinson was born in 1940 in Detroit and grew up singing and writing songs for the local vocal group the Five Chimes. The Five Chimes became the Matadors who, in turn, metamorphosed into the Miracles, the group with whom Robinson, the very icon of the romantic, urbane tenor, would go on to become one of the definitive voices of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Besides his considerable vocal gifts, there was Robinson’s acumen behind-the-scenes at Motown Records and his longstanding partnership with the man at the head of the Hitsville U.S.A. empire, Berry Gordy, Jr. It was Berry Gordy, then an aspiring producer, who recorded the Miracles for their first single “Got a Job,” a minor hit for the New York City-based End Records in 1958. It was Gordy who signed the Miracles as one the first groups to his fledgling Tamla Records (later absorbed under the Motown Record Corporation aegis) and it was Gordy, too, who made Smokey Robinson the company’s vice-president in 1961.

If early Miracles records failed to catch fire, 1960’s million-seller “Shop Around” changed all that. It would be the first in a decade-long series of hits like “Tracks of My Tears,” “I Second That Emotion” and “The Tears of a Clown.” Robinson’s successes as in-house songwriter and, later, producer mirrored both the ascendancy of the Miracles as one of the decade’s great soul groups and the broader fortunes of Motown.

The little-known “I Care About Detroit” was Motown in full 1968 flower, the synthesis of social consciousness and soulful groove, the embodiment of young, interracial, turned-on America. Penned by Michigan labor attorney Jack Combs and Detroit R&B; vocalist Jimmy “Soul” Clark, this was the second of two Motown 45s produced for “Detroit Is Happening,” a summer-long education and recreation program implemented after the Detroit riots of 1967.

The record industry was not quite the cynical monolith in 1968 that it is today. Still, Motown Records was a mainstream tastemaker and hardly one to hurl itself at a cause without a certain reflexive measure of caution. If Motown is to be commended for their gesture to public service, then Detroit’s disillusionment was that much more acute when Motown Records abandoned the imperiled city for its sleek new Los Angeles headquarters in 1972. Coming together for unity and progress seemed like a good idea until everybody had tried out their new, leather-upholstered swivel chairs.

Officially parting with the Miracles in 1972 to pursue a solo career, Robinson’s success as an adult-contemporary R&B; singer – and unwitting pioneer of the dreaded quiet storm format – tapered off sometime after his biggest solo hit, 1981’s “Being With You.” A vice-president at Motown until the company’s sale to MCA in 1988, Robinson has remained semi-retired since, with a few albums of smoot
h ballads and gospel in the last decade-and-a-half.

4. Bishops of the Holy Rollers Fallout Shelter with Curtis Colbert, It’s Free (CAVDA)
This spoken-word gem was written and performed in part by Gylan Kain, a poet and a founding member of the Last Poets, easily the best-known spoken-word group in the pre-rap era. To the relentless beat of conga drums, the Last Poets spieled unsparingly about revolution, racist society, poverty and the plight of African-Americans. Kain, though he never actually recorded with the Last Poets, took their aesthetic one step further on his sole LP, 1971’s Blue Guerrilla, a potent stew of psychedelic, funky jazz and Kain’s incendiary poetry and surreal incantations.

Produced by Gylan and Denise Kain (his wife, presumably) for the Chicago-based Citizens Alliance for VD Awareness, “It’s Free” has moments that bear resemblance to Blue Guerilla’s colorful, stream-of-consciousness imagery. If the references to “johnsons” and pre-AIDS unprotected sex seem a bit quaint in 21st Century America, then the level-headed humanism and candor of “It’s Free” seem positively radical in cultural terrain presently mediated by sinister, regressive forces like the Christian Coalition. Still, “It’s Free”’s quandary is not unlike that of any organization attempting to connect with a younger demographic. It’s hip, it’s direct, “It’s Free” rises to the challenge of outreach with aplomb and intelligence. The problem was neither its message nor how it was conveyed, though. The problem, rather, was the stomach-turning imagery of “It’s Free.” No one ever, ever played this record, which explains why this 45 is always in perfect condition when you find it.

In recent years, Gylan Kain has collaborated with the Dutch jazz and turntablist group Electric Barbarian.

Posted in Jazz Obscura, Miscellaneous Flotsam, Soul | 3 Comments