CULT CLASSIC: CARL PERKINS-ON TOP.

Cult Classic: Carl Perkins-On Top.

By the time Carl Perkins signed to Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in 1954, he had already been a professional musician for eight years. His career began in 1946, when he was fourteen and still living in Tiptonville, Tennessee, where his parents worked as sharecroppers.

Life was tough for Buck and Louise Perkins, who spent twelve to fourteen hours each day toiling in the fields. Despite working such long days, the Perkins family lived in poverty. To try to make life easier for his family, six-year-old Carl Perkins joined his parents in the cotton fields during the school holidays. After the first day, he knew how hard his parents worked for so little. Carl Perkins was exhausted and his reward for a day in the cotton fields was just fifty cents which he gave to his parents.

After that, Carl Perkins spent every school holiday in the cotton fields, working from dawn to dusk dawn. By the time he was a teenager, he promised himself that he one day, sooner, rather than later, he would escape from the grinding poverty of life in the cotton fields. Offering him an escape from poverty was music.

The young Carl Perkins was introduced to music by the Grand Ole Opry, which he heard on his father’s radio. Carl Perkins listened intently to the music, and one night, asked his father if he could have a guitar? With money tight, there was no way the Perkins family could afford a guitar, so he had to make do with a homemade guitar which his father made out of a cigar box and broomstick. This was enough to get Carl Perkins started, and allow him to learn the basics of the guitar.

Later, Buck Perkins bought a Gene Autry model guitar from a neighbour who had fallen on hard times. They were grateful for the couple of dollars they got for the old guitar. Carl Perkins didn’t care that the guitar had seen better days. At last, he had his first real guitar.

Not long after this, Carl Perkins met John Westbrook, an African-American field worker who he called Uncle John. He took Carl Perkins under his wing, and taught him blues and gospel. Uncle John was a good teacher, and Carl Perkins was a willing pupil, who came on leaps and bounds.

Around this time, Carl Perkins was asked to join the Lake County Fourth Grade Marching Band. There was a problem though, the Perkins family couldn’t afford the uniform. Fortunately, Lee McCutcheon the lady who organised the Band gave Carl Perkins the uniform he needed and he joined Band.

In late 1946, Carl Perkins and his brother Jay made their professional debut at the Cotton Boll tavern on Highway 45, which was twelve miles south of Jackson. At first, the Perkins brothers played on Wednesday night, but soon, they were playing further afield at the Sand Ditch tavern, which is near the western boundary of Jackson. Both taverns had reputations as places where trouble could break out all of a sudden, but the Perkins brothers proved a popular draw.

As 1947 dawned, the Perkins family were on the move. They left Lake County, Tennessee and settled in Madison County, Tennessee. Over the next couple of years, Carl and Jay Perkins continued to play further afield. They were a popular draw, but Carl Perkins felt their sound was incomplete. What he felt he needed was a bassist, and Carl Perkins recruited his brother Clayton on standup bass. At last, the band was complete and went from strength to strength.

By the late forties, Carl Perkins was playing on WTJS, which was the local radio station in Jackson. This lead to an appearance on another radio program, Hayloft Frolic, where Carl Perkins played a couple of songs, including Talking Blues. Sometimes, Carl Perkins took to the stage with the Tennessee Ramblers, which augmented his income.

Still, though, he was only a part-time musician and worked during the day in various jobs, including the cotton fields. However, what Carl Perkins wanted was to become a full-time professional musician.

This came about not long after his marriage to Valda Crider in 1953. By then, Carl Perkins was working in bakery, and one day, he was told that his hours were being cut and he would be working part-time. When his wife heard this, she encouraged Carl Perkins to start playing the taverns on a full-time basis. This was the encouragement that he needed and he embarked upon his career as a professional musician.

A turning point for Carl Perkins was hearing Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black’s newly released Blue Moon of Kentucky in July 1954. Upon hearing the song, Carl Perkins told Valda: “there’s a man in Memphis who understands what we’re doing. I need to go see him.” Not only did he journey to Memphis, but this resulted in him auditioning for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records.

Five months later, and Carl Perkins released his debut single Movie Magg which he had written as a thirteen year old. On the B-Side was Turn Around which was another Carl Perkins composition. Movie Magg released on the Sun Records’ imprint Flip on March ‘19th’ 1955. While it wasn’t Carl Perkins’ most successful single, the B-Side gave him a regional hit single. So did Gone Gone Gone in October 1955. However, around this time, Carl Perkins wrote one of the most famous songs in music.

This was Blue Suede Shoes, which Carl Perkins wrote in autumn 1955. When he completed the song, which was recorded on December ’19th’ 1955. Little did he know that it would change his life forevermore. When January Blue Suede Shoes was released on January the ‘1st’ 1956, it gave Carl Perkins the biggest hit of his career. It reached number one on the US Billboard Country charts, two on the US Billboard 100 and three on the US R&B charts. For Carl Perkins this was a game-changer.

It should’ve been, but disaster struck after a show in Norfolk, Virginia on March ’21st’ 1956. The Perkins Brothers Band was heading for New York, where they were due to appear on Perry Como’s NBC-TV show the following day. However, the car they were travelling in hit the back of a pickup truck and driver of the pickup truck was declared dead at the scene of the accident.

The two Perkins’ brothers were badly hurt in the accident. WS Holland, the Band’s drummer  found Carl Perkins lying facedown in the water. He was taken to hospital and was discovered he had a broken collar-bone,  fractured three vertebrae in his neck and had lacerations all over his body. Carl Perkins lay unconscious for a day. Meanwhile, doctors discovered that brother Jay Perkins had fractured his neck and suffered various internal injuries. Sadly, he never fully recovered and died two years later in 1958.  March ’21st’ 1956 was a day that Carl Perkins would never forget.

It was only later that Carl Perkins discovered that Sam Phillips was going to present with him with  a gold disc for Blue Suede Shoes on Perry Como’s NBC-TV show. By then, Blue Suede Shoes had sold over 500,000 copies and transformed Carl Perkins’ career.

On April ‘21st’ 1956, Carl Perkins returned to recording and touring. Boppin’ The Blues was released in May 1956, and reached number seven on the US Billboard Country charts, seventy on the US Billboard 100. Later in 1956, Boppin’ The Blues joined Blue Suede Shoes on Carl Perkins debut album, Dance Album Of… Carl Perkins. This was the first of two albums Carl Perkins released during 1956.

Carl Perkins’ next single was Dixie Fried, which was released in August 1956, and reached number ten in the US Billboard Country charts. Dixie Fried was the third hit single Carl Perkins had enjoyed during 1956, and as 1957 dawned, the future looked bright for the twenty-five year old.

Sadly, Carl Perkins was unable to replicate the success of 1956, and he only enjoyed one hit single during 1957, Your True Love. It reached number thirteen in the US Billboard Country charts, and took Carl Perkins number of hits to four. Carl Perkins was hoping he would enjoy a change of fortune during 1958.

On January ‘25th’ 1958 Carl Perkins signed to Columbia Records, after spending three years on Sam Phillips’ Sun Records. It was the start of a new era for Carl Perkins, who in June 1958, recorded his debut album for Columbia Records Whole Lotta Shakin’.

Whole Lotta Shakin’.

For his first album  for Columbia Records, the majority of the tracks that Carl Perkins chose were rock ’n’ roll standards, This included Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On, Tutti Frutti and Shake Rattle And Roll which joined the country blues of Sittin’ On Top Of The World. It was joined by Ready Teddy, Long Tall Sally, That’s All Right, Where The Rio De Rosa Flows, Good Rockin’ Tonight, I Got A Woman, Hey Good Lookin’ and Jenny Jenny. These tracks became Whole Lotta Shakin’, which was recorded during two days in June 1958.

When Carl Perkins joined his band entered the studio in early June 1958, he was sporting a new Fender Stratocaster, which he intended to play on Whole Lotta Shakin’. As the tapes ran, Carl Perkins and his new Fender Stratocaster became one, as he and his band recorded the ten tracks that became Whole Lotta Shakin’ over a two-day period. After that, Carl Perkins found time to record another four tracks which Sun Records would later release as singles.

With Whole Lotta Shakin’ complete, the album was sent to Columbia, who scheduled a release date for the autumn of 1958. That was when record buyers would hear what was one of the greatest albums Carl Perkins would record.

Whole Lotta Shakin’ features some of the truest rock ’n’ roll ever committed to vinyl. It’s essentially a rock ’n’ roil masterclass from twenty-six year old Carl Perkins. Proof of that is Whole Lotta Shakin’, Tutti Frutti, Shake Rattle And Roll, That’s All Right and I Gotta Woman. Critics upon hearing the album thought that Whole Lotta Shakin’ marked a coming of age for Carl Perkins who was about to step out of Elvis Presley’s shadow. Critics thought that it would be his biggest selling album.

When Whole Lotta Shakin’ was released in the autumn of 1958, incredibly, the album failed to even trouble the lower reaches of the charts. Record buyers missed out on a future rock ’n’ roll classic. For Carl Perkins the commercial failure of Whole Lotta Shakin’ must have been hugely frustrating, given the quality of music on the album.

Carl Perkins’ fortunes improved later in 1958, when he released Pink Pedal Pushers as a single. It reached seventeen on the US Billboard Country charts and ninety-one on the US Billboard 100. Little did he know this was the last hit single he would enjoy until 1966.

By then, Carl Perkins had visited Britain in 1964 sharing a bill with Chuck Berry, Carl had been greeted with cries of “King Of Rock”. After one London show, his agent Don Arden told him four friends wanted to see him. When he opened the door, Carl Perkins was greeted by The Beatles, who took him to a recording studio, where the Fab Four recorded Matchbox. When it was released in America, the Carl Perkins composition reached number one.

The Beatles were just the latest band to cover Carl Perkins’ songs.  By then, everyone from The Beatles and Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, June Carter,  Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazelwood had covered his song. This provided him with a steady income stream given the hits had dried-up.

This changed in 1966 when Country Boy’s Dream reached twenty-two on the US Billboard Country charts. It looked as if Carl Perkins was back. The following year, Shine, Shine, Shine reached forty on the US Billboard Country charts. Although it was only a minor hit, Carl Perkins was back where he belonged, in the charts.

King Of Rock.

After enjoying two hits in two years, 1968 seemed the perfect time for CBS to release King Of Rock, a sixteen track compilation. It was compiled by David Howells and featured several singles and B-Sides. This included hits like 1958 hit Pink Pedal Pushers and the B-Side Jive After Five and 1959s Pointed Toe Shoes and the flip-side Highway Of Love. They were joined by singles that failed to chart including 1958s Levi Jacket (And A Long Tail Shirt) and Pop, Let Me Have The Car; 1960s Honey, Cause I Love You and Just For You and L-O-V-E-V-I-L-L-E and Too Much For A Man To Understand; 1962s Twister Sister and Hambone and Hollywood City and The Fool I Used To Be and 1963s Forget Me (Next Time Around). Completing King Of Rock was This Life I Have, which covered the first five years of Carl Perkins’ career at Columbia Records.

For fans of Carl Perkins, King Of Rock gave them an overview of his career between 1958 and 1963. It featured hits, hidden gems, B-Sides and the ones that got a way. King Of Rock showcases the considerable talents of the man who would later be crowned the King of Rockabilly.

Just like Whole Lotta Shakin’, King Of Rock failed to chart upon its release in 1968. This was becoming a regular occurrence, with none of Carl Perkins albums reaching the charts. This changed in 1969.

Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits.

In 1969, the King of Rockabilly entered the studio to record what became Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits. It found Carl Perkins re-record Blue Suede Shoes, Match Box, Mean Woman Blues, Turn Around, Folsom Prison Blues and Daddy Sang Bass. They joined Boppin’ The Blues, Honey Don’t, That’s Right, Your True Love and Restless on Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits.

When Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits was released in 1969, it came with a forward from Johnny Cash, who grew up not far from him. The pair was so close that Johnny Cash says in the forward: “I consider him a brother”and encourages him: “to keep singin’ old songs that you know.” That was what he did on Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits. He recorded ten familiar songs for the album. Some given a makeover, while he stayed true to the original on others. This resulted in an album that found favour with critics and record buyers.

Before the release of Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits in 1969, Restless was released as a single and reached twenty on the US Billboard Country charts. This was Carl Perkins since Your True Love in 1957, which reached thirteen on the US Billboard Country charts. Things were looking up Carl Perkins.

Upon the release of Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits in 1969, the album reached thirty-two in the US Billboard Country charts. At last, one of Carl Perkins had charted. With the monkey was off his back, Carl Perkins began work on another new album.

On Top.

This was On Top, which found Carl Perkins cover an eclectic selection of songs. This ranged from blues-rock to country and soul, and included songs by Buddy Holly’s I’m Gonna Set My Foot Down and Brown Eyed Handsome Man; Ronnie Self’s A Lion In The Jungle; Jimmy Reed’s Baby, What You Want Me To Do? and Eddie Polo’s Riverboat Annie. They were joined by Champaign, Illinois which Bob Dylan and Carl Perkins wrote. Carl Perkins also wrote Soul Beat, Power Of My Soul and arranged C.C. Rider with Bill Denny. These ten songs became On Top.

When On Top was released later in 1969, it was hailed as one of the best albums of the rock ’n’ roll revival. On Top featured some of the best material Carl Perkins had released in recent years. Among the highlights were the blues of Baby, What You Want Me to Do and the , rock ’n’ roll of C.C. Rider and Brown Eyed Handsome Man. They joined Champagne Illinois which was Carl’s collaboration with Bob Dylan, and two of the new compositions from Carl Perkins, Soul Beat and Power Of My Soul. On Top was one of Carl Perkins’ strongest albums of recent years, and received praise and plaudits from critics. The King of Rockabilly’s comeback continued.

On Top reached forty-two in the US Billboard Country charts later in 1969. This meant that Carl Perkins had enjoyed two successful album in 1969 already. Things got even better when Sun released Original Golden Hits and it reached forty-three in the US Billboard Country charts. Carl Perkins the King of Rockabilly, was now the comeback king.

The comeback King Carl Perkins released Greatest Hits and On Top during 1969. They featured some of the best music that he released during his Columbia Records’ years. However, not all the records he released were commercially successful and while Greatest Hits and On Top charted in the US Country charts they didn’t crossover to the US Billboard 200.

Despite that, Carl Perkins was still a popular draw in Britain and America during the Columbia Records’ years . By then, the King of Rockabilly had also influenced a generation of artists and bands, who had recorded Carl Perkins’ songs. Everyone from The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, June Carter and Lee Hazelwood had covered Carl Perkins songs. These artists, especially The Beatles, championed Carl Perkins’ music and intruded it to new audience.

They followed the career of the King of Rockabilly up until his death on January ’19th’ 1998. By then, Carl Perkins had won a Grammy Award and had been inducted into the Rock ’N’ Roll, Rockabilly, Memphis and Nashville Halls Of Fame. Carl Perkins had come a long way from when he first picked up a guitar in Tiptonville, Tennessee. This was how Carl Perkins escaped the poverty of his early years, and went on to live the American Dream.

Nowadays, Carl Perkins is regarded as musical royalty, and one of the founding fathers of modern music. While he recorded some of his best known music during his three years Sun Records, Carl Perkins recorded some of his best and most underrated music during his Columbia Records’ years including On Top, a country music cult classic.

Cult Classic: Carl Perkins-On Top.

 

CULT CLASSIC: GUITAR SLIM GREEN’S “STONE DOWN BLUES” WITH JOHNNY AND SHUGGIE OTIS.

Cult Classic: Guitar Slim Green’s “Stone Down Blues” With Johnny and Shuggie Otis.

Guitar Slim Green was never the most prolific of musicians despite his career lasting four decades. However, during that period, he only released a handful of recordings. This included his one and only album, Stone Down Blues, which was released in 1970 and featured Johnny and Shuggie Otis. Sadly, five years later, the multitalented Guitar Slim Green passed away on September the ‘28th’ 1975 aged just fifty-five. His story began in Oklahoma in 1920.

That’s where Guitar Slim Green was born Norman G. Green on 25th July 1920. Growing up, he played guitar and dreamt of making a living as a musician. However, that was just a dream. Even when he moved to Las Vegas in his early twenties. 

Las Vegas was home to Norman G. Green until 1947. In 1947, he moved to California where his dreams came true. Norman G. Green became a musician and Guitar Slim Green was eventually born.

Like many other guitarists, his inspiration was one of music’s most flamboyant showmen, T-Bone Walker. He had pioneered the electric guitar and through listening to his playing Norman G. Green developed his own distinctive style and this resulted in him making a breakthrough.

This came when he got the chance to work with J.D. Nickelson and he featured on the singles, Strange Woman Blues and Bouncing Boogie. They were released on Courtney Records. Not long after this, Norman G. Green released his debut single.

Alla Blues was credited to R. Green and Turner, and released on the J&M Fullbright label. This song would eventually become a blues standard.

The followup to Alla Blues was Baby I Love You, which was released on the Murray label. It was credited to R. Green, and essentially was, Norman G. Green’s debut solo single. The two singles were well received, and showed the future Guitar Slim Green evolving from a country blues singer, to a much more urban, contemporary sound.

Having released his debut single, Guitar Slim Green moved to Fresno, where he played alongside Jimmy McCracklin and L.C. Robinson. Then in 1957, Norman headed to Los Angeles, where he formed his own band.

In Los Angeles, Guitar Slim Green and his band The Cats recorded two singles during 1957. This included My Woman Done Quit Me, where Guitar Slim Green takes charge of the vocal. Both singles were produced by Johnny Otis, who would reenter Guitar Slim Green’s life in 1970. Before that,he had more music to make.

Another two years passed before Guitar Slim Green released another single. Scratch My Back was released in 1959, and would be the last single he released until 1968.

Having been away from a recording studio for nine years, Guitar Slim Green was keen to record some new music. He recorded singles on the Gee Note and Solid Soul labels but the singles sunk without trace. Guitar Slim Green’s career looked as if it was at a crossroads. His music critics remarked, hadn’t evolved. What Guitar Slim Green needed, was someone who could get his career back on track. 

Luckily, Johnny Otis was about to reenter Guitar Slim Green’s life. Johnny Otis  had turned his back on music for much of the sixties. Instead, he had been concentrating on Democratic politics and community projects. However, he still kept practising and by the end of the decade  was ready to make a comeback. 

Encouraged by his friend Frank Zappa, Johnny Otis returned to music. He signed to Kent and recorded two albums, Cold Shot and Snatch and The Poontangs. He also signed Preston Love to Kent, and produced his Omaha Bar-B-Q album. The other artist Johnny Otis signed to Kent was Guitar Slim Green.

Although Guitar Slim Green had released a number of singles, he had never released an album. This was about to change. Johnny Otis and Guitar Slim Green set about to write material for Guitar Slim Green’s comeback album. 

Eventually, Guitar Slim Green and Johnny had penned ten tracks. Shake Em Up, Bumble Bee Blues, Make Love All Night, My Little Angel, You Make Me Feel So Good, Big Fine Thing and Play On Little Girl. 5th Street Alley Blues and Old Folk Blues were written by Guitar Slim Green. Johnny contributed This War Ain’t Right. These ten tracks would become Stone Down Blues.

When recording of Stone Down Blues began, Guitar Slim Green played guitar and added vocals. Producer Johnny Otis played drums and his seventeen year old son Shuggie Otis played bass, guitar, piano and harmonica. They were joined on Bumble Bee Blues by pianist Roger Spotts. It wasn’t long before Once Stone Down Blues was completed, and it was scheduled for release in 1970.

On the release of Stone Down Blues in 1970, on Kent, the album sunk without trace. For Guitar Slim Green, Stone Down Blues it was a huge disappointment and an  inauspicious end to his recording career. Never again, would he set foot in a recording studio again.That’s a great shame given the quality of his one and only album Stone Down Blues.

Shake Em Up opens Stone Down Blues and was Guitar Slim Green’s attempt to launch a dance craze. He unleashes a chiming, crystalline guitar and is accompanied by the Otis’ funky rhythm section.  Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green vamps his way through the song and is accompanied by some searing, blistering licks. They play their part in a contemporary sounding track where Guitar Slim Green delivers a guitar masterclass.

Bumble Bee Blues sees a return to a much more traditional bluesy sound. The arrangement is slow, moody and bluesy. As the rhythm section create a churning arrangement, Shuggie Otis blows a blues harmonica and a piano plays slowly. Guitar Slim Green delivers a needy, hopeful vocal. Then when his vocal drops out the blues harp blows. It’s joined by the rhythm section and piano and together, they provide a glorious bluesy backdrop, before Guitar Slim Green returns, to deliver a hopeful vocal.

Johnny and Shuggie Otis provide a driving arrangement on Make Love All Night. Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green delivers a bravado fuelled, vampish vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, he unleashes a searing guitar solo. All the time, crystalline guitar licks and the rhythm section drive the bluesy arrangement along, as Guitar Slim Green struts his way through the lyrics on what’s one of Stone Down Gone’s highlights.

Guitar Slim Green takes centrestage on My Little Angel. Meanwhile, Johnny’s drums provide the heartbeat and Shuggie’s bass adds a bluesy hue. Flourishes of piano accompany Guitar Slim Green’s soul-baring vocal as he lays bare his hurt and heartbreak to hear. His guitar playing is just as good. Especially when accompanied by Shuggie Otis on piano. He’s the perfect foil for Guitar Slim Green as he unleashes some of virtuoso licks and tricks.

Slow, moody and bluesy describes 5th Street Alley Blues. That’s down to the rhythm section and chirping, searing guitars. They join the piano, and play slowly, as Guitar Slim Green delivers a despairing vocal. As he sings: “where can my baby she went down 5th Sreet Alley and left me in misery,” it’s as if Guitar Slim Green’s lived and survived the lyrics.

A bass bounds, guitars ring out and hi-hats hiss on Old Folk Blues. Guitar Slim Green seems to be paying homage to John Lee Hooker. Both his vocal and guitar are similar in sound. Guitar Slim Green is like a man inspired as he unleashes some searing, ringing licks and a vocal full of emotion and hope. 

This War Ain’t Right was an ant-war song penned by Johnny Otis. As Guitar Slim Green delivers a slow, pensive vocal, a jangling piano plays. It’s accompanied by a shuffling rhythm section and chiming, chirping guitar licks. However, Guitar Slim Green’s vocal takes centre-stage. This allows you to focus on the lyrics. That’s until it’s time for Guitar Slim Green to unleash what’s easily, one of his best solos. After that, he considers the folly of war, on this poignant anti-war blues.

The tempo rises on You Make Me Feel So Good. Straight away, the piano and rhythm section drive the arrangement along and provide a backdrop for Guitar Slim Green’s vocal. It veers between joyous, to frustrated. Later, Shuggie Otis unleashes a blistering guitar solo as Guitar Slim Green vamps his way through the lyrics. Once again, Shuggie Otis proves the perfect foil for Guitar Slim Green as they drive each other to greater heights.

Big Fine Thing sounds as if it was recorded in the late fifties. It’s best described as a vintage sounding blues, with much more stripped down sound. As the rhythm section leave space, Shuggie blows his blues harmonica. Meanwhile, Guitar Slim Green delivers a vampish vocal, paying homage to his “Big Fine Thing.” He also unleashes some crystalline, searing licks. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Shuggie Otis bluesy harmonica. Together, they add the finishing touches to this vintage sounding blues.

Play On Little Girl closes Stone Down Blues and sees the tempo drop. It’s slow, broody and bluesy as the rhythm section join a jangling piano and Guitar Slim Green’s crystalline guitar. As it rings out and flourishes of piano accompany Guitar Slim Green’s despairing, hurt-filled vocal. It soars above the arrangement and he lays bare his broken heart. Accusingly and despairingly, he sings “Play On Little Girl keep on playing till you break up your happy home.” The way Guitar Slim Green sings the lyrics, it’s as if he’s been there, and survived to tell the tale.

Fifty years ago, Guitar Slim Green belatedly released his debut album. He had been a musician for twenty-three years, but had only released a handful of singles. When Johnny Otis reentered Guitar Slim Green’s career, he got him a recording contract with Kent.

Back then, Kent were no longer the powerhouse they once were. Neither was Johnny Otis. He was once one of the biggest names in R&B. However, music had changed and that’s partly why Johnny Otis sat out much of the sixties. Then in the late sixties, he made a comeback. He signed to Kent and released two albums. Despite their quality, they didn’t fare well. Johnny Otis it seemed, was no longer a big star. However, he was a talented musician and producer. This made him the ideal person to kickstart Guitar Slim Green’s career.

Together, Johnny and Guitar Slim Green wrote the ten tracks on Stone Down Blues. Johnny brought his seventeen year old son onboard for the recording of Stone Down Blues. The young virtuoso almost stole the show on several occasions. This seemed to spur Johnny and Guitar Slim Green on. They unleashed a series of spellbinding performances. Guitar Slim Green was like a man reborn. Surely, his career was about to be reborn?

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Guitar Slim Green’s debut album, Stone Down Blues sunk without trace. It was the age old story. Stone Down Blues was the wrong album at the wrong time. Blues was no longer as popular as it had once was.

While the blues enjoyed a brief resurgence in interest, music had moved on. What also didn’t help was that Kent was no longer the force it once was. It’s no surprise Stone Down Blues failed to be heard by a wider audience. Sadly, they missed out on this vastly underrated album, Stone Down Blues which marked Guitar Slim Green’s comeback.

Some fifty years later after the release of Stone Down Blues in 1970, it is regarded as a cult classic and is held in highest regard by blues fans who believe the album features some of the finest recordings of Guitar Slim Green’s four decade career.

Cult Classic: Guitar Slim Green’s “Stone Down Blues” With Johnny and Shuggie Otis.

slim-green-low

 

 

 

 

 

BARRENCE WHITFIELD AND THE SAVAGES-1977-1987: THE FIRST TEN YEARS AND THREE ALBUMS.

Barrence Whitfield and The Savages-1977-1987: The First Ten Years and Three Albums,

Barry White, who later found fame as the frontman for Barrence Whitfield and The Savages was born on June the ‘13th’ 1955, in Jacksonville, Florida, but his family moved to East Orange, in New Jersey when he was a child. That was where the Barry White sang in a gospel choir, and where he attended West Side High School where he sang and played drums in various rock and funk bands. This came as no surprise to Barry White’s friends and family who had watched his love of music blossom. 

Initially, Barry White discovered Little Richard, Sam Cooke, James Brown and Otis Redding, before later, embracing Jimi Hendrix and Funkadelic’s music. All these musicians and bands had inspired and influenced Barry White when he played the various high school bands. However, after he graduated from West Side High School, it looked like Barry White had turned his back on a musical career.

Instead, Barry White enrolled at Boston University, where he planned to spend the next four years studying for a degree in journalism. However, Barry White soon discovered that a student loan didn’t go far, and decided to look for a part-time job after the university. Fortunately, a local used record shop was looking for someone to work part-time in the early evenings, and after Barry White spoke to the owner he was given the job. 

For Barry White who had loved music ever since he was a child, working in the record shop was a dream job. He didn’t even mind people joking about his name, as he was doing something he loved and meeting and mixing with people who shared his passion for music. This included Peter Greenberg the former guitarist with the Boston-based punk group DMZ, who had also played the with legendary local band The Lyres. When he entered the used record store one evening in 1977, he happened to hear Barry White singing, and straight away, realised that Barry White had potential.

Little did Peter Greenberg realise that twenty-two year old Barry White had been in a number of bands while he was in high school ands he had been in back home in New Jersey. Soon, the pair got talking and before long, Peter Greenberg had invited Barry White to his house later that evening.

Having spent the evening listening to records, Peter Greenberg and Barry White had come up with an idea of forming a new group, and had worked out what they wanted to do and who they wanted to bring onboard. This included The Lyres’ former rhythm section of drummer Howard Ferguson, bassist Phil Lenker and guitarist Peter Greenberg who would be joined by local saxophonist Steve LaGreca.  The final member of the band was Barry White who was going to be the new band’s vocalist. Initially, the pair planned to call the band Barry White and The Savages, but the worry was people would confuse the journalism student and used record story employee with the soul superstar having. That was why Phil Greenberg and Barry White decided to call their new band Barrence Whitfield and The Savages.

Before long, the nascent Barrence Whitfield and The Savages were playing live and soon, had established a reputation for their high-octane live performances where they played a mixture of new songs and obscurities from the fifties and sixties that Barrence Whitfield had discovered during his days working in the used record shop. These songs Barrence Whitfield and The Savages learnt and incorporated into their stage show.

Over the next few years, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages who were now a six piece band after the addition of pianist and organist Bill Mooney-McCoy, hit the stage running and unleashed sets where the music was raw, raucous, rough and tough and struck a nerve with many fans of fifties and sixties R&B. Meanwhile, Barrence Whitfield seemed to be channeling the spirit of the old soul screamers including his hero Little Richard and Don Covay, Solomon Burke and Wilson Pickett. Barrence Whitfield and The Savages were a force to be reckoned with, whose star was in the ascendancy as they became one of the top acts on the Boston music scene.

Many within the Boston music scene thought that it was only a matter of time before a record company came calling and Barrence Whitfield and The Savages signed on the dotted line. However, when this didn’t happen, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages decided to take matters into their own hands and finance and produce their eponymous debut album.

Barrence Whitfield and The Savages.

Having made the decision to record their debut album Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, chose a mixture of cover versions and original songs penned by the band. This included Walking With Barrence, Mama Get The Hammer, Go Ahead And Burn, Savage Sax, Walk Out, Miss Shake It, Whiskey Wagon and King Kong. They joined covers of Don Covay’s Bip Bop Bip, Ronnie Molleen’s Fat Mama, Bill Ballard’s Cotton Pickin’, Jimmy McCracklin’s Georgia Slop and The Customs’ The Ship Sailed At Six. These tracks were recorded at Perfect Crime Studios, Watertown, Massachusetts.

That was where the rhythm section of drummer Howard Ferguson, bassist Phil Lenker and guitarist Peter Greenberg who would be joined by local saxophonist Steve LaGreca and pianist and organist Bill Mooney-McCoy. Barrence Whitfield continued in his role of soul screamer, while Peter Greenberg took charge of production. With the band financing the recording, the band worked quickly and Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, was ready for release later in 1984.

Despite the band financing Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, which they released on their own short-lived label Mamou Records, critics were won over by an album that managed to replicate the band’s live sound. There was a raw, raucous sound to Barrence Whitfield and The Savages’ unique brand of high-octane R&B and rock ’n’ roll.

After the release of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages in 1984, mostly, the album was sold at the band’s gigs or through various independent distributors. 

Meanwhile, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages continued with what was a gruelling live schedule and by late 1984 were omnipresent on the Boston music scene. Whenever any of the bigger local bands played in Boston, including De Fuegos, they wanted Barrence Whitfield and The Savages to open for them. Barrence Whitfield and The Savages worked the audience into a frenzy before passing the baton to the headliner.

Across the Atlantic, copies of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages had become prized items among music lovers. This included David Woodhead, who was a member Billy Bragg’s touring band. He had discovered the album whilst touring America, and on his return home, leant his copy to Radio One DJ Andy Kershaw. 

When he heard Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, went into bat for the band. Soon, he was playing the album on his radio show. Before long, Andy Kershaw headed stateside where saw Barrence Whitfield and The Savages in Boston when they opened for Del Fuegos. The next time he saw Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, was in London, where they once again, were opening for Del Fuegos. This lead to an appearance on the legendary BBC television programme The Old Grey Whistle Test, where Barrence Whitfield and The Savages were following in the footsteps of many musical legends. After their first appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, promoters were scrambling to book Barrence Whitfield and The Savages on their first British tour.

Dig Yourself.

When Barrence Whitfield and The Savages returned to Britain for the tour, things had changed for the band. Rounder Records had swooped and signed Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, and sent the band into Blue Jay Studios, in Carlisle, Massachusetts where they recorded the twelve songs that became Dig Yourself.

For Dig Yourself, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages chose eleven tracks that became their sophomore album. Unlike their eponymous debut album, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages didn’t write any of the songs on the album. However, Phil Lenker penned Bloody Mary and Bread Box and wrote Hug Me Squeeze Me with Barrence Whitfield, Howard Ferguson and Peter Greenberg. The members of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages also arranged the traditional song Big Mamou. It was  joined by covers of Rudy Green’s Juicy Fruit, Bobby Dunn and Lee Cropper’s Dig Yourself, Jerry McCain’s Geronimo’s Rock, Bob Geddins and Jimmy McCracklin’s Shame Shame Shame, Jerry West and Leroy Washington’s Wild Cherry, Billy Jones’ Frieda Frieda and Chris Tyler’s Sadie Green. These tracks were recorded by the latest lineup of  Barrence Whitfield and The Savages.

When  Barrence Whitfield and The Savages arrived at Blue Jay Studios, in Carlisle, Massachusetts, there had been one change in the band’s lineup since they recorded their eponymous debut album. Pianist and organist Bill Mooney-McCoy had left the group and they returned to being a five piece band. This meant that the lineup featured a rhythm section of drummer Howard Ferguson, bassist Phil Lenker and guitarist Peter Greenberg who would be joined by local saxophonist Steve LaGreca and soul screamer Barrence Whitfield. They were joined Rob Dimit who engineered and produced Dig Yourself which was released later in 1985.

Critics on hearing Dig Yourself were won over by what was a relatively short, but explosive album of high-octane music that flitted  between and fused elements of R&B, rock ’n’ roll, blues, funk and soul. Still, the music had a rawness, energy and vibrancy from the explosive opening bars of Bloody Mary where the saxophone accompanies primal soul screamer Barrence Whitfield as he whoops and hollers. Meanwhile, The Savages turn the calendar back to 1955 as they work their way standout tracks like Juicy Fruit which is dripping with innuendo, while Hug Me Squeeze Me is raw and ribald.

The stomping Geronimo Rock opened the second side of Dig Yourself, as the music became visceral, gritty and explosive as Barrence Whitfield and The Savages strut and swagger their way Bread Box, Wild Cherry, Frieda Frieda and Sadie Green, which closes the album on a high. 

When Barrence Whitfield and The Savages’ sophomore album Dig Yourself was released in 1985, it proved popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Especially in Britain were record buyers played the album non stop, then told their friends who did the same thing. Mostly, through word of mouth, Dig Yourself sold well in Britain, and back in home in America, especially in Boston and across Massachusetts. 

Eight years after Barry White met Peter Greenberg, and first spoke about forming a new band together, Barrence Whitfield and The Savages were enjoying more success in Britain than in America. This was frustrating for the members of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages. 

While Barrence Whitfield and The Savages enjoyed their trips to Britain, where their records sold well, but not well enough to chart,  they were a popular live band. That was the case in their home city of Boston. However, still Barrence Whitfield and The Savages’ albums weren’t selling well, and after eight years of playing live almost nonstop, this frustration boiled over, when The Savages quit. The last man standing was Barrence Whitfield, who decided to put a new lineup of the band together.

Call Of The Wild.

Eventually, Barrence Whitfield drafted in six new members and lineup of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages was almost unrecognisable. Barrence Whitfield was the only familiar face and he was joined by a rhythm section of drummer Lorne Entress, bassist Richie Robertson and guitarist and vocalist Milton Reder. He was joined by pianist and organist Bruce Katz and saxophonist David Sholl. Given this was essentially a new band, it took time for the latest lineup of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages to hone their sound.

It took longer than Barrence Whitfield had envisaged to get the new lineup road ready, but eventually, he took the latest lineup of the band he cofounded in 1977 on the road. This allowed Barrence Whitfield and The Savages to reconnect with their fans, before heading into the studio to record their third album Call Of The Wild.

Two years had passed since Barrence Whitfield and The Savages released Dig Everything in 1985, and the band’s fans were clamouring for a new album. When Barrence Whitfield and The Savages recorded just six new tracks in studios in Boston and New York. This included Madhouse and Girl From Outer Space which was penned by Milton Reder who wrote Livin’ Proof with Jon and Sally Tiven. They were joined by on Call Of The Wild by David Sholl’s Stop Twisting My Arm, Ben Vaughn’s The Apology Line and Sid Prosen’s Rockin’ The Mule In Kansas. These tracks were produced by Mike Costello and Milton Reder, and scheduled for release in 1987.

With Call Of The Wild only featuring six tracks it was referred to as a mini album. Despite this, Call Of The Wild was released in Europe in 1987, and later in 1987 four other tracks were added and became Ow! Ow! Ow! which was released in America as a full length album. By then, Call Of The Wild was selling reasonably well, but not enough to trouble the charts.

Call Of The Wild opened with Stop Twisting My Arm and straight away, the band’s trademark raw rocking sound can be still heard, although the almost manic energy of Dig Yourself has been reigned in somewhat. The tempo drops on the bluesy Madhouse where David Sholl’s saxophone accompanies the vocal. However, one of the highlights of Call Of The Wild Livin’ Proof which features a much more contemporary sound as rock and R&B melt into one. Soul Screamer Barrence Whitfield unleashes a vocal powerhouse on the bluesy Girl From Outer Space, before he delivers a heartfelt vocal on the ballad The Apology Line. Rockin’ The Mule Back In Kansas which showcases the sound that featured on Dig Yourself closes the album on a high, and leaves the listener wanting more the new lineup of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages.

Despite only featuring six tracks and being called a mini album, Call Of The Wild was actually a longer album than Barrence Whitfield and The Savages’ sophomore album Dig Yourself. It was a high-octane album where Barrence Whitfield and The Savages flitted  between and fused elements of R&B, rock ’n’ roll, blues, funk and soul, as they swaggered and strutted their way through twelve tracks that were visceral, gritty and explosive. The album proved more popular in Britain than in America. This  was frustrating for Barrence Whitfield and The Savages and hastened the demise of the original lineup of The Savages. It was the end of the first chapter in the Barrence Whitfield and The Savages’ story.

 

Two years later, the second chapter in the Barrence Whitfield and The Savages’ story began with the release of the mini album Call Of The Wild. It features blues, R&B and rock on an album that includes  raw and explosive tracks as well as the ballad The Apology Line. It finds Barrence Whitfield transformed from soul screamer to balladeer. This shows another side to Barrence Whitfield and The Savages who in 1987 were celebrating their tenth anniversary.

Little did anyone realise that thirty-three years later, and Barrence Whitfield and The Savages would still be making music. They’ve been together since 1977, and although the lineup has changed several times, their music is still raw, energetic and explosive. That was the case on the three albums they released between 1984 and 1987. This trio  of albums began with their 1984 eponymous debut album and was followed by 1985s Dig Yourself and 1987s Call Of The Wild. They’re a tantalising reminder  of the raw power of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages and are the perfect introduction to this oft-overlooked band.

Barrence Whitfield and The Savages-1987: The First Ten Years and Three Albums,

 

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: DAVID AXELROD-SONGS OF INNOCENCE.

Cult Classic: David Axelrod-Songs Of Innocence.

By the time David Axelrod began work on his debut album Songs Of Innocence in 1968, the thirty-seven year arranger, composer, drummer and producer old had enjoyed a chequered career. He had started off as a boxer, before changing direction and finding work in film and television. However, in 1959 David Axelrod embarked upon a musical career when he produced Harold Land’s album The Fox. This launched David Axelrod’s nascent musical career.

Four years later, David Axelrod was hired by Capitol Records as a producer and A&R man. Initially, he worked with R&B artists, including Lou Rawls who was signed to Capitol Records. David Axelrod produced a string of hit singles for Lou Rawls, his Live album and several albums that were certified gold. David Axelrod was the man with the Midas Touch.

Soon, David Axelrod was working with jazz saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, and produced his 1966 Grammy Award winning album Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at “The Club.” The album also featured the hot single Mercy, Mercy, Mercy which reached number eleven in the US Billboard 100. By then, David Axelrod’s star was in the ascendancy at Capitol Records.

It was around this time, David Axelrod began working with some top session musicians including drummer Earl Palmer, bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist Howard Roberts. This band would play an important part in David Axelrod’s future.

David Axelrod wrote and arranged Mass in F Minor and Release of an Oath for the psychedelic rock band The Electric Prunes. The only problem was that both songs were complex pieces of music. Mass in F Minor consists of a mass sung in Latin and Greek and performed in a psychedelic style. However, there was a problem, it was too complex a piece for The Electric Prunes to record and it was recorded by David Axelrod’s band. This lead to The Electric Prunes disbanding and David Axelrod’s band completed the albums. Executives at Capitol Records were grateful that David Axelrod had rescued what was a particularly tricky situation, and wanted to reward him for his recent success. This resulted in David Axelrod being allowed to record his debut solo album Songs Of Innocence .

David Axelrod had been watching trends in popular music and realised that there was a new breed of record buyer with much more sophisticated taste than the three chord pop of the early Beatles’ record. They were willing to embrace and buy much more experimental sounding albums, including two of the best known, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and The Beatles’ Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Both of these experimental albums had been hugely successful, and proved to David Axelrod that there was a demand for this type of music. 

Buoyed by the experimental climate of popular music David Axelrod decided to write and record his what was akin to a suite-like tone poem, which was based on Songs Of Innocence which was an illustrated collection of poems written in 1789 by William Blake. The poet had inspired many composers and musicians during the twentieth century. Many composers had set his poems to music, and William Blake’s music had been used in theatre and inspired everyone from folk musicians to David Axelrod who was a self-confessed “Blake freak.” 

Over the space of a week, David Axelrod wrote seven compositions and borrowed titles from William Blake’s poems. The compositions death with a variety of themes, ranging from visions, religious iniquity, rite of passage and life experience after a person’s birth and innocence. After just a week, David Axelrod had completed Songs Of Innocence, which was his homage to William Blake. David Axelrod had been captivated by William Blake’s poetry since he was a teenager and seemed to relate to the poet. Neither William Blake nor David Axelrod were regarded as sociable men, and this could’ve hindered the producer’s career. However, he had a successful track record as he began recording Songs Of Innocence in 1968.

Having written Songs Of Innocence in just one week, David Axelrod arranged the seven tracks which he intended to produce and add the vocals to. Now he  was ready to record his debut album, and work was scheduled to start in mid-1968 at Capitol Studios, in Los Angeles.

David Axelrod decided to use many of the musicians that he worked with on a regular basis. This included drummer Earl Palmer, bassist Carol Kaye and guitarist Al Casey. They were joined by percussionist Gene Estes  and organist and pianist Don Randi who would conduct the string and horn section that David Axelrod planned to use on Songs Of Innocence. They would allow  David Axelrod to create his musical vision.

Songs Of Innocence was essentially an instrumental album of jazz-fusion, but incorporated elements of baroque pop, blues, classical music, funk, jazz, liturgical music, pop, psychedelia, R&B, rock and theatre music. During Songs Of Innocence, David Axelrod used contrast extensively during the orchestral compositions which was peppered with euphoric psychedelic soul and dramatic, sometimes, distressing arrangements to reflect the supernatural themes that are found within William Blake’s poems. So does the music’s almost reverential psychedelic undercurrent which brings to mind the themes of innocence and spirituality that is a feature William Blake’s poems which inspired David Axelrod to write such an ambitious album as Songs Of Innocence.

His arrangements on Songs Of Innocence accentuated the pounding drums played in 4/4 time, complex baselines, searing and gritty guitars, sweeping melodramatic and progressive strings, organ parts designed to disorientate and blazing, dramatic horns. David Axelrod who had written Songs Of Innocence in the rock idiom, but used a mixture of jazz, rock and classical musicians to record his debut album.

They were all comfortable when David Axelrod asked them to improvise during this psycheliturgical opus. David Axelrod had been influenced by György Ligeti’s 1961 piece Atmosphères, and Lukas Foss’ concept of starting a piece with a sustained chord and improvising for over 100 bars, and ending on a different chord. However, it wasn’t joust improvisation that David Axelrod embraced.

David Axelrod encouraged musicians to use various sound effects, including reverb and echo during the recording sessions. This included adding echo to breakbeats to reflect the spiritual nature of  William Blake’s poetry. For much of the album, David Axelrod’s rock orchestra painted pictures with music which veered between spartan, dramatic and harrowing to liturgical, ruminative and celebratory. As the music changed, so did the rock orchestra.

Seamlessly David Axelrod’s rock orchestra changed direction and were transformed into a vampish big band. Other times, they played bluesy bop or locked into a jazzy groove and on occasions started to swing. Meanwhile, producer David Axelrod was constantly encouraging his band to experiment, and not be afraid to improvise. Towards the end of recording sessions, David Axelrod’s rock orchestra had fully embraced psychedelia deploying organ licks that seemed to be designed to disorientate and gritty guitars. Then as The Mental Traveler was recorded, David Axelrod was keen to embrace and experiment with atonality. However, he felt that music that lacks a tonal centre of key was a step too far even on such an ambitions and innovative album as Songs Of Innocence.  

When David Axelrod completed recording his suite-like tone poem, everyone who had worked on the concept album realised that it was an impressive, innovative and immersive album, that was ambitious, cerebral. However, the big question was what would the critics who make of Songs Of Innocence?

Not only was Songs Of Innocence David Axelrod’s debut album, but it was ambitious concept album inspired by William Blake’s poetry. This was too much for many critics, and the album regarded as something of a curio when it was released in October 1968 by Capitol Records. Many critics failed to understand what was essentially a mixture of genre-melting music, mysticism and philosophy that was cerebral, creative and showed just how much music had changed over the last few years. David Axelrod’s suite-like tone poem Songs Of Innocence, was a long way from Love Me Do in 1962. Music was changing, and record buyers were embracing much more experimental and sophisticated music. This augured well for the release of Songs Of Innocence.

Sadly, when Songs Of Innocence was released in October 1968, AM and FM radio stations started playing the title-track and Holy Thursday, which became the best known track on the album. However, despite being played on radio,  Songs Of Innocence wasn’t the commercial success that David Axelrod or executives at Capitol Records had hoped. By October 1969, Songs Of Innocence had only sold 75,000 copies in America.

It was the best part of twenty-five years before critics reassessed the oft-overlooked Songs Of Innocence, and realised that it was a groundbreaking and timeless release that was unlike nothing else that had been released in the late-sixties. Maybe the problem was that Songs Of Innocence was way ahead of its time? If that was the case, a new audience was discovering David Axelrod’s Songs Of Innocence.

This soon included many DJs and producers who realised that David Axelrod’s Songs Of Innocence was a rich source of samples. One of the producers who sampled Songs Of Innocence was DJ Shadow who sampled the album for his debut album Endtroducing. Soon, the DJs and producers who were sampling Songs Of Innocence were championing David Axelrod’s music and especially his debut album, which was soon well on its way to becoming a cult classic.

Sadly, David Axelrod didn’t live to see this latest resurgence of interest in his solo career.  One of music’s pioneers passed away on February the ‘5th’ 2017, aged eighty-six. However, David Axelrod  left behind a rich musical legacy, including the trio of albums he recorded for Capitol Records.

This included his debut album Songs Of Innocence, which is an ambitious, cerebral and innovative album that for far too long was overlooked by critics and record buyers. That is no longer the case. Somewhat belatedly, this genre-melting cult classic, which is a mixture of music, mysticism and philosophy is finally starting to find the wider audience who understand and appreciate David Axelrod’s timeless, psycheliturgical opus Songs of Experience, which was inspired by his hero, poet William Blake.

David Axelrod-Songs Of Innocence.

 

CULT CLASSIC: BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE-MANY A MILE.

Cult Classic-Buffy Sainte-Marie-Many A Mile.

Although Buffy Sainte-Marie started out as folk singer in the early-sixties, her career was transformed when she cowrote Up Where We Belong with Jack Nitzsche for the 1982 film An Officer and A Gentleman. The million selling single topped the charts in America, Australia, Canada and South Africa and went on to win Buffy Sainte-Marie an Academy Award, Golden Globe and  an Oscar. This was by far the most successful song that she had written and was a game-changer for  the educator, social activist and visual artist. 

Buffy Sainte-Marie was born on February 20th 1941, on the Piapot Cree First Nation Reserve in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada. Sadly, she was abandoned as an infant and was later adopted by Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie.

She was brought up by her adoptive parents in Massachusetts where Buffy Sainte-Marie was first exposed to music. This became her passion and she would later make a career out of music, and in 1965, released Many A Mile on Vanguard Records. Even then, it seemed almost inevitable that Buffy Sainte-Marie would make a career out of music.

Growing up, Buffy Sainte-Marie taught herself to play both  piano and guitar and by the time she was a teenager was already writing songs. However, when she left high school, she didn’t embark upon a career in music straight away. Instead, she headed to the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Buffy Sainte-Marie  studied for a degree in Oriental philosophy. After graduating, she decided to enrol for a second degree. This time, it was a teaching degree. When she finally left the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she had two degrees to her name. By then, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s musical career was underway.

From the early sixties, she was touring around Canada and America playing everywhere from coffee houses and concert halls to folk festivals. Two places Buffy Sainte-Marie played frequently were the Yorkville district of Toronto and Greenwich Village in New York. They were the focal points of the Canadian and American folk scenes. Just like Greenwich Village, the folk scene in Yorkville was vibrant. Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young would often play there and use like Buffy Sainte-Marie they would go on to enjoy long and illustrious careers. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

In 1963, she suffered from every singer’s worst nightmare, a throat infection. The doctor prescribed Codeine and unfortunately, she became addicted to the drug. However, Buffy Sainte-Marie eventually beat her addiction and and wrote a song about her experience, Cod’in. It would later be covered by numerous artists, included Janis Joplin, Donovon, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Gram Parsons. By then, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s recording career had begun. Before that, she was about to become the homecoming queen.  

1964 saw Buffy Sainte-Marie return to a return trip to where she was born, the Piapot Cree reserve in Canada. She was warmly welcome to her spiritual home. So much so, that she was “adopted”  by the youngest son of Chief Piapot, Emile Piapot and his wife. This reinforced Buffy Sainte-Marie’s interest in her people. She would make them proud a year later.

It’s My Way.

By 1964, Buffy Sainte-Marie found herself signed to Vanguard Records, which by then, was folk’s premier label. Although she was just twenty-three, she was more than ready to record her debut album, It’s My Way.

For It’s My Way, Buffy Sainte-Marie had penned twelve tracks. Some she had written many years previously. Others, including Cod’in and Universal Soldier were recent compositions. Buffy Sainte-Marie was inspired to write Universal Soldier when she saw the first injured veterans arriving back from Vietnam. The US government were denying that their injuries had happened in Vietnam and this prompted her to pen Universal Soldier in The Purple Onion coffee house in Toronto. A year later, in 1965, Universal Soldier gave Donavon a hit single. However, in 1964, Buffy Sainte-Mariewas hoping that her debut album It’s My Way would be a commercial success.

When It’s My Way was released later in 1964, it was to widespread critical acclaim. The songs were a scathing inditement on modern society and were variously powerful, moving and disturbing. Buffy Sainte-Marie seemed to have struck a nerve. Sadly, this didn’t result in a commercially successful album.

It’s My Way failed to chart and was only much later that Buffy Sainte-Marie’s debut album found the audience it deserved. Since then, her much heralded debut album is regarded as an important musical document which marked the arrival of a singers-songwriter who would provide a voice for those that didn’t have one.  Buffy Sainte-Marie continued to do this on her sophomore album Many A Mile.

Many A Mile.

Despite the commercial failure of It’s My Way, Buffy Sainte-Marie was regarded as one of the rising stars of folk music. By 1965, she was playing in Canada, America and occasionally abroad. Other artists were beginning to cover her songs, including Donavon, who covered Universal Soldier in 1965. However, what Buffy Sainte-Marie wanted was to release a successful album.

Just like her debut album Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote most of the songs on Many A Mile. She penned a total of seven songs, including what would become her most famous song, Until It’s Time for You To Go. It would be covered by everyone from Elvis Pressley to Françoise Hardy and Neil Diamond. However, in 1965, it was just one of seven songs Buffy Sainte-Marie had written for her sophomore album Many A Mile. The others were cover versions.

Among the cover versions were adaptations of traditional songs, including Must I Go Bound, Los Pescadores, Groundhog, On the Banks of Red Roses, Maple Sugar Boy, Lazarus and Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies. Other tracks included covers of Bukka White’s Fixin’ To Die and Patrick Sky’s Many A Mile. These tracks were recorded with producer Maynard Solomon.

When recording of Many A Mile began, Buffy Sainte-Marie was accompanied by bassist Russ Savakus. Daddy Bones played guitar on The Piney Wood Hills. Patrick Sky made a guest appearance on Many A Mile. Once the fourteen tracks were recorded, Many A Mile was released later in 1965.

Before Many A Mile was released, critics had their say on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s sophomore album. They were impressed by the mixture of traditional songs, cover versions and original material that she had chosen. They were brought to life by Buffy Sainte-Marie and producer Maynard Solomon.

For Many A Mile, producer Maynard Solomon decided less is more and his productions are sparse and understated. It’s just bass, guitar and with Buffy Sainte-Marie’s vocal taking centre-stage. Maynard Solomon’s arrangements aren’t polished. This is deliberate. Instead, they’re roughly hewn and this is fitting given the material on Many A Mile. 

Five of the tracks on Many A Mile are traditional songs which were arranged by Buffy Sainte-Marie. Some of these songs have been passed from generation to generation and  when they were first sung didn’t have a lavish arrangement. Instead, it would be just traditional instruments, and later a guitar that would accompany the songs. That was why decided to Buffy Sainte-Marie stay true to their roots with the roughly hewn, sparse arrangements accompanying her vocal. This proves to be captivating combination.

That was the case on Groundhog, where Buffy Sainte-Marie plays a mouthbow.  It’s a traditional stringed instrument from South Africa. Mostly, though, it’s just guitars and a bass that accompany Buffy.

That’s the case on the seven tracks she wrote. The standout track is Until It’s Time For You To Go. It oozes quality and it’s no surprise that numerous artists covered this track. Another of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s compositions on Many A Mile would become a familiar song. That’s The Piney Wood Hills. She later rewrote the song which became I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again. It became a favourite of country artists, and is another of Buffy’s most famous songs. However, each and every one of the songs she wrote for Many A Mile are brought to life by Buffy Sainte-Marie.

She doesn’t so much deliver lyrics, she lives them, breathing life, meaning and emotion into them. This she does on each of the fourteen tracks including the ballads and five traditional songs. Stylistically, she veers between folk, country, blues and Americana, proving that she’s a versatile and talented singer. One of the many highlights is her reading of Bukka White’s Fixin’ To Die and this blues took on new meaning in Buffy Sainte-Marie’s hands. Given the quality of material on Many A Mile many thought that it would become Buffy’s breakthrough album.

On its release in 1965, Many A Mile failed to chart. This was disappointing for Buffy Sainte-Marie and everyone at Vanguard Records. However, success wasn’t far away for Buffy Sainte-Marie.

In 1966, her third album, Little Wheel Spin and Spin reached number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200. This was Buffy Sainte-Marie’s breakthrough album and introduced her music to a wider audience.

A year later, and 1967s Fire and Fleet and Candlelight then stalled at number 126 in the US Billboard 200. This was a disappointment for Buffy Sainte-Marie. It was a case of one step forward and two back.

By 1968, Buffy Sainte-Marie had rewritten That’s The Piney Wood Hills and the newly rewritten song became I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again. It lent its name to Buffy’s fifth album, which reached just number 171  in the US Billboard 200. It was  a huge disappointment for Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Three year later in 1971, I’m Gonna Be A Country Girl Again was released as a single and gave Buffy Sainte-Marie a minor hit single in Britain, Canada and America. It reached eighty-six in Canada; ninety-eight in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-four in Britain. By then, Buffy was an experienced singer-songwriter who had featured on  American Bandstand, Soul Train, The Johnny Cash Show and The Tonight Show.

She had already released seven studio albums and the soundtrack to Illuminations by 1971. Other artists were covering her songs and enjoying hit singles. Many were signed to bigger labels than Vanguard Records which maybe, was the wrong label for Buffy Sainte-Marie? Maybe she had outgrown the label and needed to move to a bigger label to enjoy the commercial success that her talent warranted? 

Buffy Sainte-Marie released nine albums on Vanguard Records and moved to MCA after the release of Duffy in 1974. Maybe she had been too loyal to the label that signed her and released her critically acclaimed sophomore album Many A Mile?

It’s without doubt  one of the finest albums that Buffy Sainte-Marie released on Vanguard Records. It finds her breathing life, meaning and emotion into new compositions and taking traditional songs in a new direction on Many A Mile which is a cult classic, and the perfect introduction to Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Vanguard Records’ years.

Cult Classic-Buffy Sainte-Marie-Many A Mile.

buffy-cover-low_383_383

 

 

 

 

CULT CLASSIC: SANDRA PHILLIPS-TOO MANY PEOPLE IN ONE BED.

Cult Classic: Sandra Phillips-Too Many People In One Bed,

Maverick producer Swamp Dogg, hadn’t known Sandra Phillips long before he signed her to Wally Roker’s Canyon Records where he had a production contract. Swamp Dogg was introduced to the singer by her ex-husband who let him hear a single she had cut for Epic. This was kismet.  

Sandra Phillips was  hugely talented and versatile vocalist who was blessed with a soulful, emotive voice that could make lyrics come to life. This was just what Swamp Dogg needed and would fill a void left by Doris Duke who he had previously worked with.

She was proving unreliable and had stopped taking Swamp Dogg’s calls. To make matters worse Doris Troy was missing concerts. Then there was the small matter of a Buick Estate Wagon that Swamp Dogg bought her which had been shot up by her new “manager.” Doris Troy looking unlikely to have much of a future with Swamp Dogg. This was a huge loss for both parties.

After all, Doris Troy had just released the deep soul classic I’m A Loser and could’ve gone on to become  one of the most successful female soul singers of the late-sixties and early-seventies. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. She’d gone A.W.O.L. and Swamp Dogg needed someone  to fill that huge void.

That’s where Sandra Phillips came in. Realising the potential she had, Swamp Dogg signed her to Canyon Records. He then took his latest signing to Macon, in Georgia, where with a crack band in tow, Sandra Phillips recorded her debut album Too Many People In One Bed for Canyon Records. Swamp Dogg hoped that she would fill the void left by Doris Troy. For Too Sandra Phillips this was an exciting new chapter in her career and something she had dreamt about all her life,

Sandra Phillips was born in Mullins, South Carolina and sang from an early age. She entered talent contests and sang in her church choir and when she left high school, headed to New York to try and fulfil her dream of becoming a singer.

Now living in New York, she was signed by Sue Records, releasing two singles on their Broadway imprint. When You Succeeded and World Without Sunshine were released in 1967  neither were commercially successful, but later, became favourites on the Northern Soul scene.

Next stop for Sandra Phillips  was Okeh, where she released I Wish I Had Known and I Still Love You in 1968. Neither single troubled the charts and success continued to eluded Sandra Phillips. She was no quitter though.

Not only was she confident in her own ability, and so was her ex-husband. When he met Swamp Dogg, he let him hear a single Sandra Phillips had cut for Epic. Given the problems he was having with Doris Duke this was fate. She was proving unreliable and he could no longer rely on her.

Doris Duke had stopped taking Swamp Dogg’s calls, and to make matters worse was missing concerts. The presence of a new “manager” wasn’t helping things either. He had shot up the Buick Estate Wagon that Swamp Dogg had bought her. While Swamp Dogg knew Doris Duke was hugely talented and had the potential to enjoy a long and successful career, dealing with her was proving hard work. Signing Sandra Phillips as her replacement made sense.

She was a singer who could fill the void left by Doris Duke at Wally Roker’s Canyon Records, where Swamp Dogg had a production deal. He signed her to Canyon Records and work began on her debut album Too Many People In One Bed.

For Too Many People In One Bed, Swamp Dogg wrote or cowrote eleven of the twelve tracks. Swamp Dogg as Jerry Williams Jr, penned Rescue Song, Ghost Of Myself and If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine). With Charlie Whitehead, he cowrote My Man And Me, Now That I’m Gone (When Are You Leaving) and Some Mother’s Son. They cowrote She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking) with Gary US Bonds. He and Jerry Williams Jr cowrote I’ve Been Down So Long,To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman), After All I Am Your Wife and Please Don’t Send Him Back To Me. The other track was Someday (We’ll Be Together) which was written by Jackey Beaver, Johnny Bristol and Terry Johnson. These twelve songs became the concept album Too Many People In One Bed  which was recorded in Macon, Georgia.

To record Too Many People In One Bed, Swamp Dogg took Sandra Phillips down to Macon, Georgia, where with a crack band in tow, the recording began. The band included a rhythm section of drummer Johnny Sandlin, bassist Robert Popwell and guitarist Pete Carr. Paul Hornsby played organ and piano, while Swamp Dogg played piano. Once the recording of the rhythm section and vocals were completed, Swamp Dogg headed to Philly where strings were added.

Recording took place at the Cameo Parkway studios, with Swamp Dogg’s favourite arranger, Richard Rome taking charge of proceedings. Then when Too Many People In One Bed was completed, Sandra Phillips had to stand in for Doris Troy who had gone A.W.O.L, again.

With Doris Troy missing in action, Swamp Dogg had a problem. He had shows booked in the Midwest and a had lot of money riding on them. Doris Duke was nowhere to be seen so Swamp Dogg convinced Sandra Phillips to pretend to be his A.W.O.L singer. This worked and I’m A Loser stayed in the top ten for two months. Sadly, Too Many People In One Bed didn’t enjoy the same success.

Canyon Records was owned by Wally Roker, and the label scheduled the release of Too Many People In One Bed for  later in 1970. The album was dispatched to retailers  before the release date, but disaster struck when the label folded. For Sandra Phillips this was a huge disappointment as her debut album lay unreleased. It was another case of what might have been?  

Too Many People In One Bed was an album that could’ve and should’ve transformed Sandra Phillips’ career? That is apparent throughout the album.

Rescue Song, which opens Too Many People In One Bed, has Southern Soul written all over it. With washes of Hammond organ and soaring gospel tinged harmonies for company, Sandra Phillips’ vocal is a mixture of power and emotion. It’s almost needy as she almost pleads for “somebody to rescue me” and it’s as if she’s lived the lyrics. Behind her Swamp Dogg’s band fuse Southern Soul with rocky guitars. It’s the perfect accompaniment to this vocal tour de force.

I’ve Been Down So Long sees the tempo dropped way down. That’s perfect for this song. So too is the wistful sounding arrangement. Again, bassist Robert Popwell plays an important part, while guitars chime, horns rasp and drums add a melancholy heartbeat. As Sandra Phillips sings: “I’ve Been Down So Long” there’s a defiance and hope in her voice. She’s not given up yet and never will. With harmonies matching her every step of the way, she unleashes a vocal dripping in emotion, defiance and hope.

Chiming, crystalline guitars open My Man And Me, before a sassy, feisty vocal struts centre-stage. Horns growl, harmonies soar dramatically and the Hammond organ adds its unmistakable atmospheric sound. The rhythm section adds a funky heartbeat and some boogie woogie piano proves the finishing touch to Sandra Phillips’ strutting, feisty vocal.

From the opening bars of To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman) it’s obvious that something special is unfolding. The song takes on a cinematic quality and pictures unfolds before the listener’s eyes. That’s down to the washes of Hammond organ, piano and the rhythm section that provide the backdrop for Sandra Phillips’ vocal. It’s a mixture of power and emotion as is accompanied by strings as she lays bare her soul. Veering between confusion, defiance, joy, melancholy and sadness, Sandra Phillips makes the lyrics come to life. Proud and defiant, her parting shot is that: “the other woman will always be the wife.”

A pensive piano opens Now That I’m Gone (When Are You Leaving), before Sandra Phillips unleashes a powerhouse of a vocal. The arrangement unfolds, sometimes just at the right time. Swamp Dogg builds up from just the piano and the rhythm section providing the heartbeat. He drops stabs of blazing horns and soaring, gospel-tinged harmonies in at the right time. They provide a foil for the embittered, angry and dramatic vocal.

Jazz-tinged is the best way to describe Someday (We’ll Be Together). Sandra Phillips scats while horns rasp, strings swirl and guitars chime. Bassist Robert Popwell is at the heart of the action, his playing intricate and thoughtful. However, Sandra Phillips plays the starring role as horns bray and blaze, strings sweep and jazz and soul unites. She transforms the song and In her hands it becomes an anthemic track. This plea for unity and togetherness could’ve and should’ve become the anthem for a generation.

After All I Am Your Wife sees a lonely and heartbroken Sandra realize her marriage is all but over. She realises this and lays bare her soul. Sadness, frustration and anger comes to the surface during this cathartic outpouring of emotion. Sung against a backdrop of lush strings, Hammond organ and bubbling bass, years of emotion come pouring out. Deep down though, she’s not over him and the clue is when she sings: “after all, you’re my life.” Whether it’s a case of love gone wrong or unrequited love there’ll be no happy ending. So convincing is Sandra Phillips’ delivery that you’ll almost share her hurt. That’s why it’s one of the highlights of Too Many People In One Bed.

Stabs of piano provide a dramatic backdrop to her vocal on Ghost Of Myself. Her vocal isn’t as powerful as on other tracks. It’s as if she’s singing within herself and that’s no bad thing as the listener  hangs on her every word. Her heartfelt, impassioned vocal is truly compelling as she sings about how relationship is over and she’s a “Ghost Of Myself.” Swamp Dogg’s arrangement reflects this heartbreak and drama as a Hammond organ, swathes of strings and the rhythm section accompany the vocal  Later, she unleashes a vocal that’s a fusion of  power and emotion and with harmonies for company, this proves the perfect way to close this heart-wrenching, confession.

Gospel-tinged harmonies sweep as If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine) unfolds. Straight away, Sandra Phillips’ vocal is defiant and dramatic. Delivered against a backdrop of quivering strings, Hammond organ and meandering bass the angry vocal takes centre-stage. Harmonies drift in, adding to the drama and emotion of the feisty vocal. With a combination of defiance and heartbreak her parting shot is: “If You Get Him (He Was Never Mine).”

Bluesy horns open the melancholy She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking). With a slow, thoughtful arrangement where horns, piano and swathes of lush strings combine a quite beautiful song unfolds. A song about a two-timing, good-for-nothing guy, Sandra Phillips delivers what’s easily her best vocal. It’s not just the way she breathes life and emotion into the lyrics.  It’s that she resists kicking loose and delivers a tender, wistful and heartbreakingly beautiful vocal.

Please Don’t Send Him Back To Me bursts into life as Swamp Dogg’s band and the backing vocalists spring into action. Sandra Phillips’ vocal is sassy and feisty, oozing confidence. Harmonies accompany her, soaring above the arrangement. Meanwhile, horns growl and the rhythm section add a driving beat. As for Swamp Dogg he unleashes some of the best piano playing on the piano. It’s the finishing touch to this slice of good time music. 

Some Mother’s Son closes Too Many People In One Bed. Moody, broody and dramatic describes the arrangement. Then it’s all change. Stabs of grizzled horns, searing guitars and probing bass join the piano as Sandra Phillips seems determined to close the album on a high. She does, delivering a needy, hurt-filled vocal. Her lovelorn vocal is a mixture of loneliness, emotion and hope, that one day, Some Mother’s Son will be the one.

Too Many People In One Bed could’ve and should’ve been the album that launched Sandra Phillips’ career. She was a hugely talented singer who was capable of bring lyrics to life. Songs take on a cinematic quality in Sandra Phillips’ hands and pictures unfolds before the listener’s eyes. The characters within the twelve songs become very real and they end up sharing their hurt and pain. Not every singer can make music come alive like that. However, Sandra Phillips could. 

Too Many People In One Bed is like a twelve short stories. Tales of betrayal, heartbreak, loneliness and love gone wrong, it’s all on Too Many People In One Bed. A whole range of emotions come pouring out. We also hear the different sides to Sandra Phillips. One minutes she’s heartbroken, the next defiant, feisty or sassy. Whether her vocal is powerful or tender, it’s equally effective allowing Sandra Phillips to breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics on Too Many People In The One Bed. It’s a soulful and funky concept album which should’ve launched Sandra Phillips’ career.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. When Wally Roker’s Canyon Records folded in 1970 the release of Too Many People In One Bed was pulled. After that, Sandra Phillips’ musical career petered out.

She retrained and enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim as an actress, even portraying Bessie Smith, The Empress Of The Blues, on Broadway. However, Sandra Phillips’ life and career could’ve been very different, if Canyon Records hadn’t folded. Maybe then, she’d have enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim that later came her way as an actress?

In 2013, Too Many People In One Bed was belatedly released and this long-lost Southern Soul concept album was finally available. It’s a musical masterpiece and a tantalising reminder of one of Southern Soul’s best kept secrets, Sandra Phillips, who could’ve and should’ve gone on to enjoy a long and illustrious career if Canyon Records hadn’t folded and her concept album Too Many People In One Bed had been released in 1970. Who knows what heights she might have reached? Sadly, the Sandra Phillips’ story is a case of what might have been?

Cult Classic: Sandra Phillips-Too Many People In One Bed,

CULT CLASSIC: THE MANHATTANS-THERE’S NO ME WITHOUT YOU.

Cult Classic: The Manhattans-There’s No Me Without You.

Like so many other soul groups, success took time to come The Manhattans’ way.  The Manhattans had already released seven albums before making a commercial breakthrough with 1976s The Manhattans. It was certified gold, and 1977s It Feels So Good and 1980s After Midnight repeated the feat. However, before their 1976 breakthrough album, The Manhattans were one of soul music’s best kept secrets.  

The Manhattans had signed to Carnival Records in 1964, and released For The Very First Time as their debut single. However, it failed to chart and so did the followup There Goes A Fool when it was released later in 1964. However, the group’s luck changed the following year.

I Wanna Be Your Everything was released as a single in 1965, and reached number sixty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and twelve in the US R&B charts.  

The same year,  The Manhattans released their debut album Dedicated To You on Carnival Records, and it reached number nineteen in the US R&B charts. It featured the singles Searchin’ For My Baby and Follow Your Heart which both reached number twenty in the US R&B charts. 1965 had been an important year for The Manhattans.

By 1968, eight of The Manhattans’ singles had reached the top forty the US R&B charts. Two had crossover and given them minor hits in the US Billboard 100. This was something to build on as they prepared to release their sophomore album. 

This was Sing For You and Yours, which  was released by Carnival Records in 1968.  Just like their debut album it failed to chart. This was a huge disappointment for The Manhattans and was the last album they released on Carnival Records.

They signed to Deluxe, a subsidiary of King Records in 1969. This was a fresh start for a group whose last hit single was I Call It Love in 1967.  It had stalled at ninety-six in the US Billboard 100, but reached twenty-four in  the US R&B charts. The Manhattans  hoped that better times were ahead for the group.

Now signed to Deluxe, they embarked upon a college tour and played at Kittrell College in North Carolina. That was where The Manhattans met The New Imperials and their lead singer Gerald Alston. They were so impressed by his performance that they asked him to join the group. However, he declined to do so. Little did he realise that their paths would cross the following year.

In 1970, The Manhattans returned with their third album With These Hands. It featured five originals and five standards and was well received by critics. However, the album failed to chart. The single If My Heart Could Speak reached ninety-eight in the US Billboard 100 and thirty in the US R&B charts. It was the group’s first hit single in three years. Then From Atlanta To Goodbye reached forty-eight in the US R&B charts. Things were looking up for The Manhattans. 

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. George Smith fell and later, took ill and was unable to perform. The Manhattans started looking for a replacement and approached The Cymbals’ lead singer, Lee Williams. However,  he was unwilling to leave his current group. This was when they approach Gerald Alston he agreed to join the group and became The Manhattans new lead vocalist. It was the start of a new era for the group.

Tragedy struck on on  December the ‘16th’ 1970, when The Manhattans’ original lead vocalist George Smith died of a brain tumour  twelve days before his thirty-first birthday. He had been a member of the group since they formed in Jersey City in 1962. It was a huge loss for The Manhattans.

In 1972 they returned with their fourth album A Million To One. It reached thirty-five in the US R&B charts and was the first time one of The Manhattans had charted. Things got even better when A Million To One reached forty-seven in the US R&B chats and then One Life To Live reached number three. This was perfect way to end their three year spell at Deluxe. Next stop was Capitol Records where the next chapter in their career began with There’s No Me Without You. 

Now signed to Capitol Records, the five members of The Manhattans Richard Taylor, Edward Bivins, Winfred “Blue” Lovett, Kenneth Kelly and Gerald Alston were about  to encounter a man who would play a crucial role in their career. This was arranger and producer Bobby Martin, who was something of a musical veteran.

He was currently playing an important part in the success story that was  Philadelphia International Records. Bobby Martin wasn’t the only member of Philly’s musical elite to play a part in the recording of There’s No Me Without You. M.F.S.B. would accompany The Manhattans on their major label debut.

For There’s No Me Without You  The Manhattans contributed six of the ten tracks. Edward Bivins wrote There’s No Me Without You and cowrote The Other Side of Me with Gerald Alston. Wilfred Lovett wrote We Made It and Wish That You Were Mine. He also cowrote Soul Train with Little Harlem and It’s So Hard Loving You with Charles Reed.

Other tracks included Kenneth Kelly’s The Day The Robin Sang To Me and You’d Better Believe It which was penned by John Fowlkes and Roger Genger. Teddy Randazzo cowrote the other two tracks. With Roger Joyce he cowrote I’m Not A Run Around and with Victoria Pike and Souren Mozian he penned Falling Apart At The Seams. These ten tracks became For There’s No Me Without You, which was recorded at Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios in Philly.

At Sigma Sound Studios, M.F.S.B. were accompanying The Manhattans on There’s No Me Without You. M.F.S.B’s lineup included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, plus guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers. They were joined by organist Lenny Pakula, Larry Washington on congas, vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr and violinist Don Renaldo, who was the string and horn contractor. Adding backing vocals were The Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Evette Benton and Carla Benson. Once There’s No Me Without You was recorded, it was released in 1973 and The Manhattans hoped their major label debut would be a commercial success.

On the release of There’s No Me Without You in 1973, it reached number 150 in the US Billboard 200 and number nineteen in the US R&B Charts. Sales of the album were helped by the success of the single There’s No Me Without You. It reached number forty-three in the US Billboard and number three in the US R&B Charts and became The Manhattans’ most successful single. Wish That You Were Mine then reached number nineteen in the US R&B Charts. Bobby Martin’s Philly Soul makeover resulted in The Manhattans’ most successful album and was a very different to their previous albums.

There’s No Me Without You opens with the title-track There’s No Me Without You. Earl Young’s pounding drums, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and percussion combine to create a heartbreakingly beautiful backdrop for Gerald Alston’s pleading vocal. Harmonies sweep in. Elegantly and beautifully, they sooth his hurt. Meanwhile, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section add drama, while  vibes, lush strings and Norman Harris’ guitar add to the beauty. Later, when a half-spoken vocal and harmonies enters they adds to sadness, emotion and heartbreak of what was The Manhattans’ most successful single.

From the opening bars of We Made It, you realize something special is unfolding. Understated, wistful and meandering describes the arrangement. So too does sensual and beautiful, which describes The Manhattans harmonies and vocals. Here, they indulge themselves, demonstrating that when it comes to harmonies, The Manhattans were one of the best. The cascading, pleading and hopeful harmonies are laden with emotion, joy and hope. Quite simply, We Made It, with its doo wop influence is simply sensual and beautiful.

Wish That You Were Mine is another of the slow, beautiful ballads that The Manhattans do so well. Percussion, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and Norman Harris jazzy guitar provide a melancholy backdrop for the half-spoken vocal. Gerald Alston’s vocal is tinged with regret at the hurt at the hurt he’s about to cause his friend. As the drama builds, harmonies sweep in, adding to the chaos and heartache that’s about to be unleashed. Muted horns, sweeping strings and an understated Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section add to the atmospheric, emotive backdrop to the vocal tour de force.

Swathes of strings sweep and horns rasp as I’m Not A Run Around unfolds. Norman Harris’ guitar chimes and Earl Young’s drums pound dramatically. Having set the scene for Gerald Alston as he lays bare his soul. He assures and pleads with sincerity and emotion: “I’m Not A Run Around.” Harmonies cascade, adding further reassurance, while Baker, Harris, Young provide the arrangement’s heartbeat. By the end of the track, so impassioned and heartfelt are his pleas that you can’t help but believe him.

Soul Train closes SIde One of There’s No Me Without You. There’s an increase in tempo as The Manhattans kick loose, against a tougher, funkier arrangement. Baker, Harris, Young provide the necessary funk, while Gerald’s vocal is sassy and powerful. Chanted harmonies, blazing horns and searing guitars play their part in adding a dramatic and funky backdrop for your journey on the Soul Train.

You’d Better Believe It opens Side Two of There’s No Me Without You. It’s a return to the balladry of much of Side One, but with a twist. Heartfelt, tender harmonies are cascading strings and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, while Baker, Harris, Young add to the emotion and beauty. The only differences are guitars drenched in reverb, while the arrangement has a real sixties influence. This works well, bringing out the interplay between the lead vocal and some peerless harmonies.

Norman Harris’ chiming guitar dances across the introduction to It’s So Hard Loving You. Cooing harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma and Manhattans accompany the pleading, impassioned vocal. The harmonies and lead vocal take centre-stage, with M.F.S.B. providing a subtle backdrop. This includes growling horns that add to the sheer emotion of The Manhattans’ vocal prowess.

It doesn’t take long to realize that The Day The Robin Sang To Me is one of the best tracks on Side Two. Ron Baker’s probing bass joins swathes of lush strings, woodwind and cooing harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma and Manhattans. Their tenderness and beauty are the perfect foil for Gerald Alston’s vocal, while the husky half-spoken vocal provides a contrast. Add to this Larry Washington’s congas, a wistful flute and sensual harmonies. A combination of a gorgeous meandering, intricate arrangement and The Manhattans at their very best make this fusion of jazz, Latin and Philly Soul an enchanting and timeless track.

Keyboards and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section open Falling Apart At the Seams. Soon, producer Bobby Martin works his magic. Strings sweep and swirl, Norman Harris adds his jazzy guitar and Vince Montana Jr sprinkles his vibes. This seems to encourage The Manhattans to raise their game. Gerald Alston’s lead vocal is even more heartfelt and impassioned, while the harmonies are tighter, more soulful and filled with feeling and meaning.

The Other Side of Me closes Side Two of There’s No Me Without You. It seems The Manhattans are determined to close the album on a soulful, emotive high. Just keyboards, Baker, Harris, Young and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes accompany Gerald Alston’s heartbroken vocal. Harmonies sweep in, trying to sooth his hurt and heartache. He delivers each word as if he’s experienced the hurt he’s singing about. Baker, Harris, Young add to the drama, while pizzicato strings pluck at your heartstrings and The Manhattans bring There’s No Me Without You to a heartbreakingly sad, but beautiful close.

While There’s No Me Without You was The Manhattans’ fifth album, it was their major label debut.  Producer Bobby Martin and M.F.S.B. play their part in the sucess of There’s No Me Without You. From the opening bars of There’s No Me Without You right through to the closing notes of The Other Side of Me, The Manhattans never miss a beat. Their vocal and harmonic prowess is peerless. It’s no surprise that There’s No Me Without You was the most successful album of their career. However, this is relative as the album stalled at 150 in the US Billboard 200 although it reached a respectable nineteen in the US R&B chart. Despite this, the album didn’t sell in huge quantities. 

It would be three more years until they made their commercial breakthrough with 1976s million-selling The Manhattans. They repeated this feat with 1977s It Feels So Good and 1980s After Midnight. They were the most successful albums of  The Manhattans’ long career. However, that is only part of the story. There’s No Me Without You proves that there’s much more to The Manhattans’ music than these three albums. Indeed, There’s No Me Without You is an album packed full of quality soul music.

Producer Bobby Martin, M.F.S.B. and The Sweethearts of Sigma all played their part in the sound and success of There’s No Me Without You. They played their part in The Manhattans’ Philly Soul makeover on There’s No Me Without You, which although not their most successful album, is one of their finest and helped transform the New Jersey group’s fortunes after eleven years together.

Cult Classic: The Manhattans-There’s No Me Without You.

81CvMM47UWL._SL1417_-2

THE THIRD POWER-BELIEVE.

The Third Power-Believe.

Label: Magic Box.

Format: LP with CD.

By 1967, Detroit’s eclectic music scene was thriving and new bands were being formed almost daily. Some never got beyond practising in a garage, while others graduated to playing in local bars and clubs which was where they were spotted by A&R reps for local indie labels. 

Once signed, they released a single which in many cases, sunk without trace. For other bands, the single they released was a stepping stone to bigger and better things. 

That was the case with The Third Power who released We, You, I on Baron Records in 1968. By 1969, they had been signed by Vanguard Records which was primarily a folk label, which had started releasing psychedelic rock. A year later in 1970, The Third Power released their debut album Believe which has just been reissued by Magic Box. The album wasn’t a commercial success and The Third Power split-up after the release of Believe. Theirs is a case of what might have been? Would things have been different if they had signed to a different label? Instead, the group were only together three years.

The story begins in Detroit in 1967, when drummer Jim Craig, bassist and vocalist Jem Targal and guitarist and vocalist Drew Abbott formed The Blewsies. They moved into a rented farmhouse which became their base as they honed their sound. It wasn’t long before the group was ready to play on the local live circuit.

For the next year, The Blewsies were a familiar face on the local rock clubs  where it soon became apparent that they were a cut above the competition. This was because of the interplay between the three band members who were soon attracting the attention of a local record company.

This was a local indie label Baron Records. By then, The Blewsies had changed their name and were now known as The Third Power. 

They entered the studio in 1968 to record their debut single We, You, I, which featured Snow on the B-Side. When it was released later in 1968 the single sold well in Detroit. This was encouraging for a band who had only been formed a year ago.

After the release of their debut single, The Third Power returned to the live circuit and were supporting a number of bands including local heroes MC5 at the Grande Ballroom. This was all good experience for a band who were about to go up in the world.

By 1969, Vanguard Records which was primarily a folk label, was also signing psychedelic groups. They had already signed The Frost who were from Michigan. When Vanguard Records’ A&R rep heard The Third Power they offered them a recording contract. 

This was the opportunity to sign with a prestigious and reputable label. However, one wonders if The Third Power stopped to think was Vanguard Records the right label for them? The label had made its name releasing folk music, and hadn’t much experience with psychedelic music. Would the label know how to market the group and their album? And who was going to produce the album? These were all questions The Third Power should’ve asked executives at Vanguard Records.

When The Third Power entered the studio, they were a progressive power trio whose music incorporated  psychedelia, hard rock, blues, funk rock and the influence of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Moby Grape. They had written nine songs which they would record with Vanguard Records’ Sam Charters who was producing the session.

Jem Targal was the group’s songwriter-in-chief and penned Feel So Lonely, Passed By, Lost In A Daydream, Comin’ Home and Crystalline Chandelier. He cowrote Gettin’ Together and Won’t Beg Any More with Drew Abbott who wrote Persecution. Like Me Love Me was written by The Third Power and closed the album. 

The members of The Third Power kick out the jams on the album opener Gettin’ Together. Searing, scorching guitars combine with the tight rhythm section and Jem Targal’s powerhouse of a vocal. Meanwhile, distortion is part of their armoury as they grab the listener’s attention from the get-go on this hard rocking track.

Feel So Lonely is quite different to the album opener and sounds as if it’s been inspired by Crossroads’ from Cream’s Wheels Of Fire album. Especially the meandering   rhythm and a blistering, wailing guitar solo. It comes courtesy of Jem Targal who delivers an impassioned against the hard rocking and psychedelic backdrop. 

Very Different is Passed By a beautiful ballad where Jem Targal’s wistful vocal is accompanied by an arrangement features a twelve-string acoustic guitar, piano and tambourine. It’s the perfect accompaniment one of the highlights of the Believe and shows another side to The Third Power.

Lost In A Daydream is the equivalent to time travel and takes the listener back to the late-sixties, early seventies. The arrangement gallops along and seems to have been inspired by Moby Grape. It’s dreamy, languid  and lysergic and is the perfect track to listen to as you while away a lazy day. 

After a hesitant start The Third Power kick loose on Persecution and quickly go from 0-60 mph. Frontman Drew Abbot struts and swaggers his through this hard rocking track. His bass helps drives the arrangement along as Jim Craig powers and pounds his way around his double kit. Meanwhile, Jem Targal sprays searing, scorching and machine gun guitar licks. The interplay between the three band members plays an important part in the sound and success of this hard rocking track full of social comment that apparently, was a favourite at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom.

Straight away, the influence of Led Zeppelin can be heard on Comin’ Home. Especially the drums and guitar parts. Elsewhere there’s a nod to Cream and this is noticeable on Jem Targal’s vocal and the harmonies. It’s a melodic and memorable track this is reminder of what The Third Power were capable of.

They drop the tempo on Won’t Beg Anymore which starts life as a soul-baring psych ballad. That is the case until 2:28 when chatter can be heard in the distance. Meanwhile, the tempo increases and Jem Targa’s chiming guitar takes centrestage. Then the arrangement slows down before becoming rocky and dramatic. Still the vocal is still full of emotive and impassioned on this powerful and poignant track.

One of the most beautiful tracks on Believe is  Crystalline. Chandelier It finds The Third Power combine everything from a rolling bass, baroque harmonies, wind-chimes and a heartfelt, tender vocal on a truly timeless track that should be a favourite amongst compilers of psychedelic compilations.

Closing Believe is Like Me Love Me which was written by the band. It’s another hard rocking track and is the perfect showcase for this tight and talented power trio. They close their debut album with this melodic example of riff rock. It bookends Believe and The Third Power take their bow.

Sadly, when Believe was released in 1970, the album wasn’t a commercial success. It sold reasonably well in Detroit where The Third Power had a following. However, elsewhere the album sank without trace. It was a disaster for The Third Power. Worse was still to come. 

When The Third Power returned home to Detroit, they supported the MC5, Bob Seger and various high-profile acts who played at the Grande Ballroom.  

Not long after the release of Believe, Vanguard Records announced that they were dropping The Third Power. Their reason was that they were “too heavy.”That seems strange as they must have known what type of group they were signing?

Even before they signed to Vanguard Records, The Third Power’s music was a mixture of hard rock, psychedelia, blues, funk-rock. They were a progressive power trio who Vanguard Records had been keen to sign as they were branching out and signing psychedelic rock bands. This was very different to the folk music that the label made its name releasing. Maybe that was the problem?

It may have been that Vanguard Records didn’t know how to position and market The Third Power? If they had been signed to a different label Believe may have found the wider audience it deserved and things would have been very different for The Third Power.

Not long after the release of Believe, The Third Power split-up. They had released just one single and one album, Believe. Their story is a case of what might have been. The Third Power were talented songwriters and musicians  who technically were streets ahead of many similar bands who were releasing albums in 1970. Sadly, talent only gets a band so far.

That was the case with The Third Power. Sadly, they were only together for three year, but released what is regarded as “one of the finest psychedelic hard rock albums of its era.” Rather belatedly, record collectors have discovered the hard rocking and lysergic delights of The Third Power’s cult classic Believe which could’ve and should’ve launched the Detroit-based progressive power trio’s career in 1970.

The Third Power-Believe.

SUN RA-CELESTIAL LOVE.

Sun Ra-Celestial Love.

Label: Modern Harmonic.

Format: LP.

Nowadays, maybe music journalists are guilty of using the words innovator and musical pioneer all too freely, but that is the perfect description of the inimitable Sun Ra. He’s quite rightly regarded as one of the true pioneers of free jazz and a truly innovative and influential musician who pushed musical boundaries to their limit, and sometimes, way beyond.

Sun Ra was also a prolific artists who released around 125 albums during a career that spanned six decades. This includes Celestial Love, which has just been reissued on vinyl by Modern Harmonic. It was the final studio album to be released by El Saturn Records. These albums are all part of Sun Ra’s fascinating life story.

Before dawning the moniker Sun Ra, Herman Poole Blount was born on the ‘22nd’ of May 1914, in Birmingham, Alabama, but very little is known about his early life. So much so, that for many years, nobody knew what age he was. However, at an early age Herman immersed himself in music. 

He learnt to play the piano at an early age and soon, was a talented pianist. By the age of eleven, Herman was to able read and write music. However, it wasn’t just playing music that Herman enjoyed. When the leading musicians of the day swung through Birmingham, Herman want to see them play and saw everyone from Duke Ellington to Fats Waller live. Seeing the great and good of music play live only made Herman all the more determined to one day become a professional musician.

By his mid teens, Herman was a high school student, but even by then, music was his first love. His music teacher John T. “Fess” Whatley realised this, and helped Herman Poole Blount’s nascent musical career. 

John T. “Fess” Whatley was a strict disciplinarian, and this rubbed off on Herman who would layer acquire a reputation as a relentless taskmaster when he formed his Arkestra. The future Sun Ra was determined that the musicians in his Arkestra to reach his high and exacting standards and fulfil the potential that he saw in them. At rehearsals, musicians were pushed to their limits, but this paid off when they took to the stage. Led by Sun Ra, the Arkestra in full flow were peerless. However, that was way in the future. Before that, Herman’s career began to take shape.

In his spare time, Herman was playing semi-professionally in various jazz and R&B groups, and other times, he worked as a solo artist. Before long, Herman was a popular draw. This was helped by his ability to memorise popular songs and play them on demand. Strangely, away from music, the young Herman was very different.

He’s remembered as studious, kindly and something of a loner and a deeply religious young man despite not being a member of a particular church. One organisation that Herman joined was the Black Masonic Lodge which allowed him access to one of the largest collection of books in Birmingham. For a studious young man like Herman this allowed him to broaden his knowledge of various subjects. However, still music was Herman Poole Blount,’s first love. 

In 1934, twenty-year-old Herman was asked to join a band that was led by Ethel Harper. She was no stranger to Herman Poole Blount, and just a few years earlier, had been his high school biology teacher. Just a few years later, and he was accepting Ethel Harper’s invitation to join her band.

Before he could head out on tour with Ethel Harper’s band, Herman joined the local Musicians’s Union. After that, he embarked on a tour of the Southeast and Mid-West and this was the start of Herman’s life as a professional musician. However, when Ethel Harper left her band to join The Ginger Snaps, Herman took over the band.

With Ethel Harper gone, the band was renamed The Sonny Blount Orchestra, and it headed out on the road and toured for several months. Sadly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra wasn’t making money, and eventually, the band split up. However, other musicians and music lovers were impressed by The Sonny Blount Orchestra.

This resulted in Herman always being in demand as a session musician. He was highly regarded within the Birmingham musical community, so much so, that he was awarded a music scholarship to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1937. Sadly, he dropped out after a year when his life changed forever.

In 1937,  Herman experienced what was a life-changing experience, and it was a story that he told many times throughout his life. He describes a bright light appearing around him and his body changing. “I could see through myself. And I went up … I wasn’t in human form … I landed on a planet that I identified as Saturn. They teleported me. I was down on a stage with them. They wanted to talk with me. They had one little antenna on each ear. A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me. They told me to stop attending college because there was going to be great trouble in schools … the world was going into complete chaos … I would speak through music, and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.” For a deeply religious young man, this was disturbing and exciting. It certainly inspired the young Herman Poole Blount.

After his: “trip to Saturn,” Herman Poole Blount decided to devote all his time and energy to music. So much so, that he hardly found time to sleep. Day in, day out, Herman spent his time practising and composing new songs in his first floor home which he had transformed into a musical workshop. That was where also where he rehearsed with the musicians in his band. Away from music, Herman took to discussing religious matters. However, mostly, though, music dominated his life. 

It was no surprise to when Herman announced that he had decided to form a new band. However, his new band was essentially a new lineup of The Sonny Blount Orchestra. It showcased the new Herman Poole Blount, who was a dedicated bandleader, and like his mentor John T. “Fess” Whatley, a strict disciplinarian. Herman was determined his band would be the best in Birmingham. This proved to be the case as seamlessly, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were able to change direction, as they played an eclectic selection of music. Before long, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were one of most in-demand bands in Birmingham, and things were looking good for Herman. Then in 1942, The Sonny Blount Orchestra were no more when Herman was drafted.

On receiving his draft papers, Herman declared himself a conscientious objector. He cited not just religious objections to war and killing, but that he had to financially support his great-aunt Ida. Herman even cited the chronic hernia that had blighted his life as a reason he shouldn’t be drafted. Despite his objections the draft board rejected his appeal, and things got worse for Herman.

His family was embarrassed by his refusal to fight and some turned their back on him. Eventually, Herman was offered the opportunity to do Civilian Public Service but failed to appear at the camp in Pennsylvania on the December ‘8th’ 1942.

This resulted in Herman being arrested, and when he was brought before the court, Herman Poole Blount debated points of law and the meaning of excerpts from the Bible. When this didn’t convince the judge Herman Poole Blount said he would use a military weapon to kill the first high-ranking military officer possible. This resulted in Herman being jailed and led to one of the most disturbing periods in his life.

Herman’s experience in military prison were so terrifying and disturbing that he felt he no option but to write to the US Marshals Service in January 1943. By then, Herman felt he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He was suffering from stress and feeling suicidal. There was also the constant fear that he would be attacked by others within the military prison. Fortunately, the US Marshals Service looked favourably on his letter. 

By February 1943, Herman was allowed out during the day to work in the forests around Pennsylvania, and at nights, he was able to play the piano. A month later, Herman was reclassified and released from military prison which brought to an end what had been a harrowing period of his life.

Having left prison, Herman formed a new band that played around the Birmingham area for the next two years. Then in 1945, when his Aunt Ida died, Herman left Birmingham, and headed to the Windy City of Chicago.

 Phase One-Chicago.

Now based in Chicago, Herman quickly found work within the city’s vibrant music scene. This included working with Wynonie Harris and playing on his two 1946 singles, Dig This Boogie and My Baby’s Barrelhouse. After that, Herman Poole Blount worked with Lil Green in some of Chicago’s strip clubs. Then in August 1946, Herman Poole Blount started working with Fletcher Henderson but by then, the bandleader’s fortunes were fading.

By then, Fletcher Henderson’s band was full of mediocre musicians, and to make matters worse, the bandleader was often missed gigs. This couldn’t be helped as Fletcher Henderson, was still recovering after a car accident. What Fletcher Henderson needed was someone to transform his band’s failing fortunes and this was where Herman came in. His role was arranger and pianist, but realising the band needed to change direction, he decided to infuse Fletcher Henderson’s trademark sound with bebop. However, the band were resistant to change and in 1948, Herman left Fletcher Henderson’s employ.

Following his departure from Fletcher Henderson’s band, Herman formed a trio with saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and violinist Stuff Smith. Alas, the trio was somewhat short-lived and didn’t release any recordings. 

Not long after this, Herman made his final appearance as a sideman on violinist’s Billy Bang’s Tribute to Stuff Smith. After this, Herman Poole Blount became Sun Ra.

By then, Chicago was changing, and was home to a number of African-American political activists. Soon, a number of fringe movements sprung up who were seeking political and religious change. When Herman became involved  he was already immersing himself in history, especially, Egyptology. He was also fascinated with Chicago’s many ancient Egyptian-styled buildings and monuments. This resulted in Herman Poole Blount discovering George GM James’ book The Stolen Legacy which turned out to be a life-changing experience.

In The Stolen Legacy, George GM James argues that classical Greek philosophy actually has its roots in Ancient Egypt. This resulted in Herman concluding that the history and accomplishments of Africans had been deliberately denied and suppressed by various European cultures. It was as if Herman’s eyes had been opened and was just the start of a number of changes in his life.

As 1952 dawned, Herman had formed a new band, The Space Trio. It featured saxophonist Pat Patrick and Tommy Hunter. At the time, they were two of the most talented musicians Herman knew. This allowed him to write even more complicated and complex compositions. However, in October 1952 the author of these tracks was no longer  Herman Poole Blount was Sun Ra had just been born.

Just like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, adopting the name Sun Ra was perceived by some as Herman choosing to dispense with his slave name. This was a kind of spiritual rebirth for Sun Ra, and was certainly was a musical rebirth.

After Pat Patrick got married, and moved to Florida, this left The Space Trio with a vacancy for a saxophonist. Tenor saxophonist, John Gilmore was hired and filled the void. He would become an important part of Sun Ra’s band in the future. 

So would the next new recruit alto saxophonist Marshall Allen. They were then joined by saxophonist James Spaulding, trombonist Julian Priester and briefly, tenor saxophonist Von Freeman. Another newcomer was Alton Abraham, who would become Sun Ra’s manager. He made up for Sun Ra’s shortcomings when it came to business matters.

While he was a hugely talented bandleader, who demanded the highest standards, Sun Ra, like many other musicians, was no businessman. With Alton Abraham onboard, Sun Ra could concentrate on music while his new manager took care of business. This included setting up El Saturn Records, an independent record label, which would release many of Sun Ra’s records. However, El Saturn Records didn’t released Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s debut album, Jazz By Sun Ra.

Instead, Jazz By Sun Ra was released in 1956, on the short-lived Transition Records. However, Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s sophomore album Super Sonic Jazz was released in March 1956, on El Saturn Records. Sound Of Joy was released on Delmark in November 1956. However, it was El Saturn Records that would release the majority of Sun Ra and His Arkestra’s albums.

In 1961, Sun Ra deeded to leave Chicago and move to New York where he would begin a new chapter in his career. Much had happened to Sun Ra since he first arrived in Chicago 1945 as the World War II drew to a close. Back then, he was still called Herman Poole Blount and was trying to forge a career as a musician. By the time he left Chicago he was a pioneer of free jazz

Phase Two-New York.

Sun Ra and His Arkestra journeyed to New York in the autumn of 1961, where they lived communally. This allowed Sun Ra to call rehearsals at short notice, and during the rehearsals, he was a relentless taskmaster who was seeking perfection. However, this paid off and Sun Ra and His Arkestra recorded a string of groundbreaking albums. This included Secrets of the Sun in 1962 which was the most accessible recording from their solar period. However, Sun Ra and his music continued to evolve in the Big Apple

The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Volume 1 was released by Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra in 1965. Sun Ra had dispensed was the idea of harmony and melody, and also decided there should be no continuous beat. Instead, the music revolved around improvisation and incorporated programmatic effects. This was the case The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Volume 2 which was released later in 1965.

As Sun Ra and His Arkestra came to the end of their time in New York, their music was often described as “avant-garde jazz” or “free jazz.” However, Sun Ra  started to reject the free jazz label that was attached to his music. He pointed out that his music had been influenced by different types of ethnic music and he often used percussion, synths and in one case strings. 

A case in point was Strange Strings which was released in 1967 and found Sun Ra and His Arkestra playing an array of stringed instruments while he adds vast quantities of reverb. Strange Strings was just the latest innovative album Sun Ra released during his New York period, which came to an end in 1968. By then, the cost of living was proving prohibitive and Sun Ra decided to move his band again.

Phase Three-Philadelphia.

Sun Ra wasn’t moving his Arkestra far, just to Philadelphia where it was much cheaper to live. Again, Sun Ra and His Arkestra lived communally in Philadelphia which was their “third period.” 

During this period, Sun Ra’s music became much more conventional and often incorporated swing standards when they played live. However, still Sun Ra’s concerts featured performances where his sets were eclectic and the music full of energy as they veered between  standards and always at least, one lengthy, semi-improvised percussive jam. 

In the studio, Sun Ra and His Arkestra continued to innovate, releasing albums of the quality of 1970s My Brother The Wind Volume 1, The Night Of The Purple Moon and 1972s Astro Place. However, Sun Ra in 1973 released two classic albums like Space Is The Place and Discipline 27-II. Sun Ra was at the peak of his powers and seemed to have been reinvigorated creatively after moving to Philly.

The Next Phase.

Buoyed by the critical acclaim and commercial success of Space Is The Place and Discipline 27-II had enjoyed during 1973, Sun Ra knew that 1974 was going to be yet another busy year. He was used to this, as Sun Ra and His Arkestra had been working non stop since 1972. They embarked upon lengthy tours and recorded several albums in Chicago, California and Philly. It was more of the same in 1974, with Sun Ra and His Arkestra embarking upon yet another lengthy and gruelling tour of America. Still, Sun Ra found time to prepare a couple of live albums for his label El Saturn Records  including 1975s Pathways To Unknown Worlds; 1976s What’s New and Live At Montreux, and 1977s Somewhere Over The Rainbow and Taking A Chance On Chances and Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue. However, in 1978 Sun Ra and His Arkestra began work on another new album, The Other Side Of The Sun which was released in 1979 but was an oft-overlooked and vastly underrated album.

As the seventies gave way to the eighties, Sun Ra continued to record new albums including Celestial Love in 1982. 

Celestial Love.

When Sun Ra began work on Celestial Love he was sixty-eight and had been a professional musician since he was twenty. With forty-eight years of experience behind him he was a vastly experienced and highly respected bandleader, composer and musician who in 1957, had cofounded his own label El Saturn Records. 

For the previous twenty-five years the label had released many albums by Sun Ra and the Arkestra. Sun Ra planned to release Celestial Love on El Saturn Records. That was all in the future as the album still had to be recorded.

For Celestial Love, Sun Ra decided to record a total of nine tracks. This included five of his own compositions: Celestial Love, Interstellarism, Blue Intensity, Nameless One No. 2 and Nameless One No. 3. They were joined by four cover version of familiar songs including Sometimes I’m Happy and Smile. The other two tracks were cowritten by Duke Ellington. During his long and illustrious career he had penned Sophisticated Lady with Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, and Drop Me Off In Harlem with Nick Kenny. The inclusion of these tracks should’ve hinted to onlookers that the Celestial Love sessions had the potential to produce one of Sun Ra’s most.

Recording of Celestial Love took place in the familiar surroundings of Variety Recording Studio which had been  owned and run by Warren Allen Smith and Fred Vargas since 1961. It had been Sun Ra’s studio of choice in New York since the sixties and he had recorded some of his best and most innovative albums in Variety Recording Studio. He liked the familiar surroundings and was joined by many familiar faces.

Joining Sun Ra who played piano, organ and synths  and produced the Celestial Love sessions was his Arkestra. It included a rhythm section of drummer Samarai Celestial aka Eric Walker and bassists Hayes Burnett and John Ore. They were augmented by percussionist Atakatune aka Stanley Morgan and James Jacson who played infinity drum and bassoon. The horn section included alto saxophonist and flautist Marshall Allen; baritone saxophonists and flautist Danny Ray Thompson; tenor saxophonist John Gilmore; trombonist Tyrone Hill; trumpeter Walter Miller and Vincent Chancey on French horn. June Tyson the Queen of Afrofuturism added vocals on Sometimes I’m Happy and Smile during the sessions in 1982.

After the Celestial Love sessions, only eight of the nine tracks recorded made their way onto the album. The cover of Drop Me Off In Harlem was omitted from the original album. However, it has been included as a bonus track on Modern Harmonic’s recent reissue of Celestial Love.

It wasn’t until 1984 that Celestial Love was released on vinyl by El Saturn Records and was the last Sun Ra studio album to be released by the label. Although the label continued to release live albums by Sun Ra, Celestial Love marked the end of an era for El Saturn Records. 

Meanwhile, in Europe much of Celestial Love featured on the full-length Nuclear War record which was issued in by the post punk label Y Records. That was ironic given how different the apocalyptic sounding Nuclear War single was to the music on Celestial Love.

When Celestial Love was released in 1984 it was one of Sun Ra’s most accessible albums, and whether by design or accident, was the perfect introduction to his music. For newcomers to Sun Ra, and those who struggled with his music, Celestial Love was the perfect primer to one of the pioneers of jazz. 

On Celestial Love, Sun Ra and his Arkestra combines jazz and swing standards with his own compositions. This includes the album opener Celestial Love, where Sun Ra plays an organ which sounds as if it belongs in a church and is at the heart of the arrangement. It combines with drums and wistful, braying horns as Sun Ra and the Arkestra fuse elements of blues, gospel, jazz, soul-jazz and swing during a quite beautiful track that’s a roller coaster of emotions. June Tyson’s croons her way through Sometimes I’m Happy and plays a starring role in this joyous, swinging track. 

When Sun Ra recorded Interstellarism in 1959, John Gilmore and Marshall Allen played on the recording. Twenty-five years later when Celestial Love was released they feature on this slow, swaying and sometimes spacious remake. The tempo increases on Blue Intensitywhere Sun Ra’s organ and saxophone play leading role as the track swings and then some. Then as Sophisticated Lady unfolds its slow and bluesy before the tempo gradually increases and Sun Ra and the Arkestra unleash the first of his homages to one of his heroes.

There’s two version of Nameless One on Celestial Love. The first is Nameless One No Two which starts off briskly, with the blazing horns playing a leading role as a walking bass propels the arrangement along as Sun Ra plays keyboards. They’re part of another swinging arrangement. It’s a similar case on Nameless One No Three where rasping, braying and sultry horns play a leading role and Sun Ra plays synths. Together, they play their part in a truly memorable and swinging track. 

Very different is the cover of Smile, which sounds as if it were recorded during a different era. Sun Ra and the Arkestra show their versatility while June Tyson’s vocal is tender and hopeful. Closing the reissue of Celestial Love is a joyous, upbeat cover of Duke Ellington’s Drop Me Off In Harlem. 

Celestial Love is one of Sun Ra’s most accessible of the 125 albums the great bandleader, composer and musician  released during what was a long and illustrious career. It finds Sun Ea combining jazz’s past and present with sometimes the music of the future as he and the Arkestra innovate and combine free jazz, avant-garde, blues, soul-jazz and swing. In doing so, Sun Ra creates Celestial Joy, which is an uplifting and joyous genre-melting album bristling with optimism and positivity.     

Sun Ra-Celestial Love.

CATAPILLA-CATAPILLA AND CHANGES.

Catapilla-Catapilla and Changes.

Label: Trading Places.

Format: LP.

The story of Catapilla is another case of what might have been. They were formed in West London around Christmas 1970, and signed to Vertigo Records and released two ambitious and innovative albums where they combined progressive rock with experimental fusion. Sadly, neither their 1971 debut album Catapilla, nor the followup Changes, which was released in 1972, found the audience they deserved. Not long after the release of their sophomore album Catapilla disbanded. Their legacy is the two albums they released on Vertigo which have just been reissued by Trading Places on vinyl.

When Catapilla was formed around Christmas 1970 the original lineup featured drummer Malcolm Frith, Edison Lighthouse bassist Dave Taylor and guitarist Graham Wilson joined forces with vocalist Jo Meek, saxophonists Robert Calvert and Hugh Eaglestone plus woodwind player Thiery Rheinhart to form Catapilla. The newly formed Catapilla began playing live.

Not long after this, they came to the attention of Cliff Cooper of the Orange Music Electronic Company. He’s credited with “discovering” Catapilla and became their manager. One of the first things he did was arrange a showcase for the band where they played in front of an audience that featured top music industry figures. This included none other than Black Sabbath’s manager Patrick Meehan.

He was so impressed with Catapilla that he helped the group secure a recording contract with Vertigo Records. Patrick Meehan also offered to produce the group’s eponymous debut album. However, before he could get Catapilla into the studio vocalist Jo Meek left, and was replaced by her sister Anna. This was the lineup of Catapilla that recorded their eponymous debut album.

Catapilla.

By then, Graham Wilson, Thierry Reinhardt, Robert Calvert, Malcolm Frith and Anna Meek had written the four tracks that became Catapilla. Naked Death, Tumbleweed, Promises and Embryonic Fusion a twenty-four minute epic were recorded with producer Patrick Meehan. When the album was completed, it was scheduled for release in late 1971. 

When Catapilla was released it failed to find the audience it deserved, and record buyers missed out on what was an ambitious and innovative album where the group combined progressive rock with experimental fusion, psychedelic free jazz and funky rhythms.  Catapilla was an album that benefited from structure but also featured stunning jams, blistering riffs, fuzzy wah wah guitars and atmospheric, wailing saxophone solos. They helped drive the arrangements along and were joined by woodwinds and Anna Meek’s inimitable vocals.

She was the group’s very own tortured troubadour, and unleashed gutsy gasps, shrieks and otherworldly vocals full of emotion. It was an unconventional vocal style and one that many fans of progressive rock didn’t understand. They were used a more traditional delivery. However, for many fans of Catapilla the enigmatic vocalist is key to the group’s sound and comes into her own on the album opener Naked Death and the twenty-four minute Magnus Opus Embryonic Fusion that even encompasses voodoo jazz and a soul-baring vocal. It’s a genre-melting track and is akin to a journey on a musical roller coaster. It’s a case of sit back and enjoy the rides as this epic takes twists and turns as it reveals a myriad of surprises. By the closing notes, one can only wonder why the album wasn’t a bigger success? Maybe it was an album that was ahead of its time?

What happened after the release of Catapilla certainly didn’t help. Following the album release, the band embarked upon a tour sponsored by Vertigo Records. Catapilla toured the UK supporting Graham Bond and Roy Harper, which it was hoped would lift their profile. Sadly, this wasn’t the case and after the tour disaster struck.  

Citing musical differences, Malcolm Frith, Dave Taylor, Hugh Eaglestone and Thiery Rheinhart all left the band. It looked like the end of the road for Catapilla. 

A decision was made to reform the group. Joining the remaining members of Catapilla were drummer Bryan Hanson, bassist Carl Wassard and keyboardist Ralph Rolinson. This new lineup immediately began work on their sophomore album Changes. 

Changes.

This time around, Anna Meek wrote all the lyrics on the album. She cowrote the music to Reflections, Charing Cross and Thank Christ For George with Robert Calvert and Graham Wilson who wrote the music to It Could Only Happen To Me. These four tracks were recorded by the new line-up of Catapilla and the album was scheduled for release later in 1972.

On the release of Changes lighting struck twice for Catapilla and the album failed commercially. It was another album that deserved to be heard by a wider audience.

They would have discovered another genre-melting offering from Catapilla. They start with progressive rock and add elements of fusion, psychedelic rock, avant-garde, experimental and space rock. The arrangements are multilayered and lysergic and feature cerebral, thought-provoking lyrics. They’re delivered by Anna Meek whose inimitable vocals add an atmospheric hue to the album. 

Especially on the album opener Reflections which veers between ethereal to eerie and is punctuated by saxophone solos and benefits from the addition of Ralph Rolinson’s Hammond organ. Charing Cross features some of Anna Meek’s best lyrics. They’re full of social comment, while the arrangement starts off slow and atmospheric becoming rocky and later a guitar solo seems to pay homage to Pink Floyd. Catapilla’s rhythm section lays down a mesmeric groove on the psychedelic sounding Thank Christ For George. It features a fuzzy wah wah guitar and later, heads in the direction of fusion. By them, Anna Meek’s vocal is a mixture of mystery and misery even desperation and is accompanied by an otherworldly saxophone. They play starring roles in the sound and success of the track. Quite different is the instrumental It Could Only Happen to Me. It’s moody, mesmeric,  introspective and languid and allows the rest of Catapilla to showcase their considerable musical skills on the album closer.

For Catapilla, Changes was the end of the road. Not long after they released their sophomore album the group disbanded. They had been together for less than two years, but managed to released two albums. Sadly, neither album were a commercial success and failed to find the audience they deserved. 

The problem was the genre-melting music on Catapilla and Changes was way ahead of its time and record buyers neither understood nor appreciate such ambitious and innovative albums. 

Although Catapilla are described as a progressive rock band they’re much more than that. Their music incorporates a variety of disparate genres. Seamlessly   they fuse and switch between different genres on their two albums. However, their secret weapon was Anna Meek whose inimitable vocals added something new and different to the albums. Her vocals veered between  emotive to hurt-filled, soul-baring and otherworldly. Sometimes, her lyrics were cerebral and full of social comment. Sadly, Anna Meek’s vocals and lyrics weren’t heard by a wider audience when Catapilla and Changes were released. 

One can only wonder what type of music Catapilla would’ve gone on to make if they hadn’t disbanded in 1972? The lineups who recorded Catapilla and then Changes were innovators who weren’t afraid to push musical boundaries and in 1971 and 1972 set about creating the music of today, tomorrow. This they succeeded in doing, and fifty years after they were formed in West London, this groundbreaking group are belatedly starting to receive the plaudits and praise  they deserve for recording and releasing two ambitious and innovative genre-melting albums, Catapilla and Changes. 

Catapilla-Catapilla and Changes.

THE OHIO PLAYERS-PAIN.

The Ohio Players-Pain.

Label: Westbound.

Format LP.

It wasn’t until The Ohio Players signed with Westbound, and released their sophomore album Pain in 1972, that commercial success came the way of a group that was founded in 1959. Originally, they were known as The Ohio Untouchables, and had a chequered history.

Initially, The Ohio Untouchables lineup featured drummer Cornelius Johnson, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist and vocalist Robert Ward, guitarist and saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchel plus trombonist and trumpeter Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks. In the early days, the Drayton-based quintet was best known as The Falcons’ backing band. This allowed the group to hone their sound before heading out on their own.

When The Ohio Untouchables started playing live, it soon became apparent that Robert Ward was an unreliable bandleader. He would suddenly walk off the stage during concerts forcing the band to stop playing. Eventually, the band decided to keep playing when their leader left the stage. However, things came to a head in 1964 when Robert Ward and bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones got into fight onstage. This resulted in the group splitting up for the first time.

Robert Ward decoded to draft in new musicians, while the rest of The Ohio Untouchables headed home to Drayton. That was where they discovered guitarist Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner who became the band’s lead singer. The other new recruit was drummer Gregory Webster. This wasn’t the end of the changes.

The group decided to change direction musically and starting playing R&B. This allowed them to play to new  Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner’s strengths, and meant they weren’t competing with Robert Ward’s group. With that, the new group began playing live.

In 1965, the group decided changed its name to The Ohio Players. The reason for this was because of how the group perceived themselves as musicians and “ladies men.”

The newly named group added two more singers to its lineup. Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson joined The Ohio Players who were ready to record their debut single.

By then, they were managed by Johnny Brantley a manager and producer. He recorded The Ohio Players’ debut single This Thing Called Love which was released on Ray Charles’ Tangerine Records in 1967. However, the single failed to find an audience and The Ohio Players moved on.

Johnny Brantley arranged for the group to become the house band at New York-based Compass Records. They played on various recordings and backed Helena Ferguson on her top thirty single Where Is The Party? 

The Ohio Players also released two singles on Compass Records during 1967. This included Trespassin’ and It’s A Crying Shame. Despite neither single making any impression on the charts, an expanded lineup began recording the group’s debut album. 

By then, vocalist Helena Ferguson Kilpatrick had joined the group. She was part of the expanded lineup who began recording what later became Observations In Time. It was nearly completed when their manager decided to license the album to Capitol Records. This seemed a strange decision.

It turned out that Compass Records wasn’t in the best financial health. That was why the incomplete version of Observations In Time was licensed to Capitol Records. However, the decision backfired when Observations In Time was released in 1968 and although it was a hit in Ohio, it failed to make any impression on the national charts. This was a huge disappointment for The Ohio Players.

So was the commercial failure of the single Here Today and Gone Tomorrow in the UK in 1970. Executives at Capitol Records thought that the single would sell well in the UK. However, this wasn’t the case and was another disappointment for the band.

Just two years after the release of their debut album The Ohio Players split-up in 1970. It looked like the end of the road for the band.

It wasn’t, and the group reformed with a new lineup. This included  drummer Gregory Webster, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist and guitarist and saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchel. They were joined by trombonist and trumpeter Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks, trumpeter Bruce Napier, trombonist Marvin Pierce, keyboardist Walter “Junie” Morrison plus vocalists Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner and Charles Dale Allen. The new line-up was the start of a new and exciting chapter for The Ohio Players.

Especially when a local label Top Hit sent the group to Sound Recorders in Nashville, to record a new eight-track album. By then, The Ohio Players had discovered that Walter “Junie” Morrison was the group’s secret weapon. Not only was he a talented, inventive and progressive keyboardist who also played guitar and drums. He was part of the group that recorded an album’s worth of funky and sometimes jazz-tinged cover versions. However, when the label listened to the tracks the highlight of the session was Pain, a funky instrumental.

By then, The Ohio Players had come to the attention of Armen Boladian who had founded Westbound Records in 1968. He had signed Funkadelic who were well on their way to becoming one of the most innovative and successful funk bands of the seventies. They were joined in 1971 by The Ohio Players.

Having signed to Westbound Records, Pain (Part 1) was rerecorded and released in 1971, and reached sixty-four in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-five in the US R&B charts. Across the border in Canada, the single reached ninety-one giving The Ohio Players a minor hit single. This was just a start for Armen Boladian’s latest signing. 

Buoyed by the success of Pain, Armen Boladian was keen that The Ohio Players release an album soon. They could’ve released the material recorded in Nashville as their sophomore album, but Armen Boladian decided to send the group into the studio to record a new album.

When they entered the studio The Ohio Players were joined by two new recruits. This included vocalist and saxophonist James Johnson and Dale Allen who was going to share the lead vocal. However, his time with the group was cut short after he had a heated argument with Clarence Satchell in the studio during the third day of the recording session. That was the end of his time with The Ohio Players.

They had written the six tracks that became Pain and coproduced the album with Herb James and Billy Pittman. Once the album was completed, it was scheduled for release in early 1972.

When Pain was released in February 1972, it still featured some of sound that appeared on their debut album Observations in Time. However, the album was funky and had a tough, slick, polished sound that was soulful and sometimes, jazz-tinged. Walter “Junie” Morrison’s keyboards played an important part in the album  

Pain opened with the funky, jazz-infused instrumental Pain, and showcases The Ohio Players’ new sound. It’s followed by the soulful ball Never Had A Dream which later heads in the direction of jazz. Players Balling (Players Doin’ Their Own Thing) has a looser, funkier and vampish sound as the group jam and experiment. The result is a very different tracks to what’s preceded it.

I Wanna Hear From You is a funky, soulful and psychedelic sounding track where Dale Allen and Sugar take charge of lead vocal. The Reds is a progressive genre-melting track where elements of blues, funk, jazz and rock are combined by The Ohio Players. They close the album with Singing In The Morning which features Granny on a track that has a looser, space sound and finds the band combining a jazz, funk and soul. It brought to an end The Ohio Players’ Westbound Records’ debut, Pain.

 It was also an album of firsts. Pain was the first Ohio Players’ album to feature the group’s romantic, sensual sound and featured songs that were devoted to their love of women. It was also the first album to feature what many regarded as a suggestive photo on the album cover. The Ohio Players knowing that: “sex sells” used a Joel Brodsky photo of a woman in leather underwear dominating a prostrate man. This was a controversial photo and similar to the one on the cover of Funkadelic’s album Free Your Mind. 

The other first was the inclusion of Walter “Junie” Morrison’s character Granny on Pain. She featured on all their Westbound Records’ albums and he revisited the character on his solo albums. That was in the future.

Before that, The Ohio Players released Pain in February 1972, and it reached 177 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-one in the US R&B charts. This was enough for Pain to be certified gold and was the start of the most successful period of the band’s career.

They released eight albums between 1972 and 1976 that sold in excess of six million copies. The Ohio Players were one of the most successful funk band in the world. 

This began with Pain where The Ohio Players music was ambitious, innovative and progressive on Pain, where they combined funk, soul and jazz with elements of blues and psychedelia to create a timeless and heady musical brew.

The Ohio Players-Pain.

CULT CLASSIC: ORANGE JUICE-RIP IT UP.

Cult Classic: Orange Juice-Rip It Up.

Buoyed by the commercial success of their 1982 debut album You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Orange Juice were well on their way to becoming one of the most influential groups of the early eighties. Their timeless brand of perfect pop had won over critics and music lovers. Released to critical acclaim in March 1982, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever reached number twenty-one in the UK. For Orange Juice it was a case of striking when the iron was hot. 

Just eight months later, Orange Juice returned with their much-anticipated sophomore album Rip It Up. It featured a song that’s since become synonymous with Orange Juice, Rip It Up. On its release, it became the most successful single of their career. It reached number eight in the UK Charts in 1983. However, there’s much more to Rip It Up than that one track. 

As work began on Rip It Up, there was a change in Orange Juice’s lineup. This came as no surprise. For some time, tension had running high between James Kirk and Steven Daly. This came to a head in early 1982 and James Kirk left Orange Juice. This was a huge loss as his guitar parts, and especially his doubles were an important part of Orange Juice’s sound. Orange Juice’s loss was  his new group Memphis’ gain. Replacing James Kirk was Malcolm Ross.

Previously, Malcolm Ross had been a member of Josef F, another band on Alan Horne’s Postcard Records. Josef K were one of the most important Scottish bands of the early eighties. Featuring Paul Haig, David Weddell, Ronnie Torrance and Malcolm Ross, Josef K released a handful of singles and their only album, 1981s The Only Fun In Town. It reached number three in the UK Indie Charts. Despite this, Josef K split-up not long after the release of their album, and Malcolm Ross joined Orange Juice.

 Malcolm Ross wasn’t just a guitarist, he was also a songwriter, and penned Turn Away. With the rest of Orange Juice he wrote Rip It Up. Orange Juice then joined forces with Zop Cormorantto to write Hokoyo.Meanwhile, Zeke Manyika had written A Million Pleading Face. However, much of Rip It Up was written by one man, Edwyn Collins.

He contributed five tracks on Rip It Up, Mud in Your Eye, Breakfast Time, Flesh Of My Flesh, Louise Louise and Tenderhook. Then Edwyn Collins and David McClymont cowrote I Can’t Help Myself. With the ten tracks that became Rip It Up written, Orange Juice headed to London to wrote record their sophomore album.

Just like the recording of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Rip It Up was recorded at Berwick Street Studios, London. The rhythm section included drummer and percussionist Steven Daly, bassist David McClymont and Edwyn Collins who played rhythm, lead and twelve-string guitar and sang lead vocals and played, lead, rhythm and twelve-string guitar. New recruit Malcolm Ross played, guitar, synths, piano and organ.

Augmenting Orange Juice were vocalist Paul Quinn; percussionist Mel Gaynor; violinist Gavin Wright; saxophonist Dick Morrissey; Martin Drover on flugelhorn; Martin Hayles on piano and synthesiser and Louise Waddle who contributed handclaps. Once the ten tracks were recorded, Rip It Up was ready for release in November 1982.

A mere eight months after their debut album You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever reached number twenty-one in the UK, Orange Juice released Rip It Up in November 1982. Disappointingly, it stalled at number thirty-nine in the UK. The members of Orange Juice hoped the singles would fare better than the album.

When I Can’t Help Myself was released as the lead single, it stalled at  number forty-two in the UK. Then in 1983, Rip It Up reached number eight in the UK and became Orange Juice’s most successful single. However, Flesh of My Flesh was released as the third single it reached just forty-one in the UK. This was disappointing given the success of  Rip It Up. Orange Juice hadn’t been able to build on the success of their first top ten single.

Orange Juice’s much-anticipated sophomore album didn’t surpass the commercial success of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. However,  Rip It contains further moments of pop perfection from Orange Juice Mk. 2.

There’s no better way to start Rip It Up than with a slice of pop perfection. That describes Rip It Up, which since 1982, has become synonymous with Orange Juice. This is their finest hour. From the squelchy synth,  funky bass and chiming guitars the years roll back and suddenly, it’s 1983 again. Especially, when Edwyn Collins’ angst ridden vocal enters. Handclaps, harmonies and drums play their part in the arrangement. So do  stabs of synth and a howling saxophone as everything just melts into one soulful, funky slice of timeless pop. 

A Million Pleading Faces sees Orange Juice head in a direction marked funk before heading in direction of Afrobeat and rock. It’s a melting pot of genres and influences. They’re propelled along by the rhythm section, stabs of synths and reverberating guitars. They’re joined by dramatic drum rolls, a vocal full social comment and some poppy hooks on this genre-melting track.

Mud In Your Eye sees a melancholy, heartbroken Edwyn Collins lays bare his soul. He sings call and response sounding like a crooner-in-waiting. The backing vocalist is a perfect foil sounding like his conscience. Meanwhile, the arrangement meanders wistfully along. Washes of organ, crystalline guitars and the rhythm section provide the backdrop for the vocal. Later, strings prove the finishing touch to this soulful opus, where hurt and heartbreak are ever-present.

Wistful string prove to be a brief curveball on Turn Away. It’s as if Orange Juice want to be Talking Heads on a track where post punk, rock and glam rock are thrown into the melting pot. Flourishes of guitar, synths and a funky bass accompany Edwyn Collins who seems to be taking his lead from David Byrne as he pays homage to Talking Heads. 

Thoughtfully, chiming guitars open Breakfast Time. They’re joined by a bouncy bass, jangling guitars and Edwyn Collins’ unmistakable vocal. He delivers his cerebral, witty lyrics with panache. Yearning fills his vocal as he sings: “oh I wish I was young again.” Behind him, percussion is adding to an arrangement where funk, Latin, pop and rock is combined. This proves the perfect contrast to a wistful, melancholy vocal.

Crystalline, chiming guitars join hypnotic drums on I Can’t Help Myself before Orange Juice unleash their trademark sound. This time, funk, pop and soul is combined. Chirping guitars, funky bass, handclaps and stabs of synths join Edwyn Collins’ joyous vocal. There’s even a diversion into Euro Disco, as he admits: “I Can’t Help Myself.” Later, Edwyn Collins sings call and response as Orange Juice get funky. He vamps his way through the track, spreading joy and hooks. There’s even a blistering jazz-tinged saxophone solo that’s the icing on this delicious musical cake.

One of Rip It Up’s best lyrics can be found on Flesh Of My Flesh. It comes courtesy of Edwyn Collins. He delivers it beautifully. “Here’s a penny for your thought’s, incidentally, you may keep the change.” It’s a wonderful putdown. Scathing and cutting, it’s cerebral and witty. Orange Juice realising this, really raise their game. They don’t spare the hooks and the meandering arrangement is a fusion of funk and jazz. Jazzy horns punctuate the arrangement as Edwyn Collins at his poetic best delivers another vocal masterclass.

Louise Louise is a relationship song. With trademark jangling guitar, Edwyn Collins sets the scene from the opening bars. His lyrics paint pictures of a tumultuous relationship.  It seems Louise is an aloof, enigmatic, drama queen. Frustration fills his vocal and this is reflected in the searing guitars. He feels mistreated and to get his own back heads to her party, where he delivers the lines: “have a wonderful birthday dear, such a wonderful birthday dear, it comes but once a year, I’ll spoil it with pinky sneer.” Revenge it seems, for Edwyn Collins class warrior, is a dish best served cold.

Hokoyo has a genre-melting sound and initially, heads in the direction of world music and funk and later soul and perfect pop. Zeke Manyika takes charge of the lead vocal while, the rest of Orange Juice combine and switch between musical genres. Later, the vocal changes hands, and Edwyn Collins’ vocal provides a contrast on a track that shows another side to Orange Juice. However, it’s the weakest song on Rip It Up and seems out of place on the album.

Tenterhook closes Rip It Up. Wistfully, chiming guitars rhythm section and a thoughtful vocal combines. Memories come flooding back and regrets: “he has a few.” Replacing Edwyn Collins’ vocal are searing, riffing guitars. They’re part of an arrangement that’s like a merry-go-round, and one that Edwyn Collins  wants to climb off of. With a vocal full of emotion, regret and sadness, he breathes life and meaning into the lyrics.

Just months after the release of their debut album You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Orange Juice returned with their much-anticipated sophomore album Rip It Up. The title-track gave the Glasgow band the biggest single of their career and nowadays, is regarded as their finest hour.  Despite that, and what was a  much more eclectic sounding album Rip It Up failed to match the commercial success of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever.  

The loss of  James Kirk was a huge blow for Orange Juice. His guitar parts, especially his doubles, were very much part of Orange Juice’s sound. So were his song. He had written three songs on You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, and  other members had to fill the void caused by his departure.

This they did with varying degrees of success. Two members of Orange Juice contributed songs for the first time. Zeke Manyika’s contribution was  A Million Pleading Faces which was a disappointing song which seemed out of place on the album. Much better was the Malcolm Ross’ composition Turn Away, which sound as if it had been influenced by Talking Heads. However, Edwyn Collins continued in his role as Orange Juice’s songwriter-in-chief writing five songs and cowrote three more as the band continued on their mission to create pop perfection.

On Rip It Up they combined elements  of pop, rock, funk, Afrobeat, Euro Disco, jazz, Latin and world music. It’s given a stir by producer Martin Hayles and the result is Rip It Up, a cult classic from one of the pioneers of Scottish jangle pop. They had  come a long way since their early years as the post-punk Nu-Sonics. 

By the time they released Rip It Up, in November 1982, Orange Juice were a slick, polished, tight and talented band. They wrote songs that are beautiful, cerebral, joyous, literate, melancholy, poignant and wistful. Edwyn Collins’  vocals brings the lyrics to life, breathing life, meaning and emotion into them. Behind him, the rest of Orange Juice provide the perfect accompaniment with their trademark brand of perfect pop.

As 1982 drew to a close closed, Orange Juice were well on their way to becoming one of the most important bands in Scotland’s musical history. It also looked like they would enjoy a long and successful career.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Orange Juice released just two more albums. Texas Fever released in March 1984. Orange Juice’s swansong was The Orange Juice, which was released in November 1984. That was the end of the Orange Juice story.

They never enjoyed the widespread commercial success that other bands enjoyed and never scaled the heights Lloyd Cole and The Commotions and The Blue Nile did. Gold and platinum albums never came Orange Juice’s way during a career that lasted just six years. Their two finest albums were You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever and Rip It Up, which has stood the test of time and is pretty near pop perfection. 

Cult Classic: Orange Juice-Rip It Up.

CULT CLASSIC: THE IMPRESSIONS-ABOUT TIME.

Cult Classic: The Impressions-About Time.

For any group, losing their lead singer can derail their fortunes. In some cases, this can prove fatal. It’s a body blow that the group never recovers from. Especially when the lead singer happens to have written many of the group’s biggest hits. This was the case with The Impressions.

Since 1960, Curtis Mayfield  had been The Impressions lead singer and principal songwriter. He penned and sang lead vocal on many of The Impressions’ biggest hits. Among them three number one singles, It’s All Right in 1963, 1967s We’re A Winner and 1969s Choice Of Colours. Then there’s Impressions classics like Gypsy Woman, Keep On Pushin’ and People Get Ready. However, after 1970s Check Out Your Mind Curtis left The Impressions and embarked upon a solo career.

Curtis Mayfield hadn’t left The Impressions on a high. Check Out Your Mind failed to chart in the US Billboard 200 charts and only reached number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. For a group that had previously enjoyed six top ten US R&B albums during the sixties, it looked as if The Impressions’ career was a crossroads. Over the next few years, The Impressions struggled to recapture the commercial success and critical acclaim they’d enjoyed during the sixties.

Replacing Curtis Mayfield was Leroy Hutson. He was three months out of college when he joined The Impressions. His Impressions’ debut was 1972s Times Have Changed, which stalled at number 192 in the US Billboard 200 charts. 1973s Preacher Man failed to reach US Billboard 200 charts. It was a case of close but no cigar with Preacher Man stalling at a lowly 204 and number thirty-one in the US R&B charts.

After the release of  Preacher Man, Leroy Hutson left The Impressions. His replacement was Ralph Johnson, and 1974 was a year of mixed fortunes for The Impressions.

1974 was also a busy year for The Impressions. They provided the Blaxploitation soundtrack Three The Hard Way. It wasn’t a commercial success, reaching just 202 in the US Billboard 200 charts and only reached number twenty-six in the US R&B Charts. 

Ralph Johnson’s Impressions’ debut was much more successful than Leroy Hutson. 1974s Finally Got Myself Together may have only reached number 176 in the US Billboard 200 charts and only reached number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. However, the title-track reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 100 charts and only reached number one in the US R&B Charts. This was The Impressions’ most successful single since 1967s We’re A Winner. This was the start of a brief Indian Summer in The Impressions’ career.

1975s First Impressions reached number 115 in the US Billboard 200 charts and only reached number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. This was The Impressions’ most successful single since 1968s This Is My Story. Two singles from First Impressions Sooner or Later and  Same Thing It Took reached number three in the US R&B charts. It looked as if The Impressions’ career was back on track.

1976 was a year of upheaval for The Impressions. They left Curtom Records, which had been their home since 1970. They signed to Cotillion, a subsidiary label of Atlantic Records. The other change was Nate Evans replaced Ralph Johnson as lead singer on About Time, which was recently rereleased by Rhino. Would the change in personnel affect The Impressions’ fortunes?

About Time featured eight tracks. Six of these tracks were penned by Melvin and Mervin Steals. They’d previously, as Maestro and Lyric, had written The Detroit Spinners’ Could It Be I’m Falling In Love, Major Harris’ Each Morning I Wake Up, The Trammps’ Trusting Heart and Honey Bee for Gloria Gaynor. Melvin and Mervin also wrote tracks for Ecstasy, Passion and Pain and Blue Magic. For The Impressions, Melvin and Mervin cowrote In The Palm Of My Hands, You’ll Never Find, Same Old Heartaches, I Need You, Stardust and What Might Have Been. The two other tracks included McKinley Jackson and Shirley Jones’ This Time and Paul Richmond and Daryl Ellis’ I’m A Fool For Love. These eight songs became About Time, which was recorded at various studios.

It seemed no expense was spared on The Impressions’ Cotillion debut. Barnum Recording Studio, Wally Heider Recording and ABC Recording Studios in, Los Angeles. Other sessions took place at Paragon Recording Studios, Chicago. Mixing took place at Wally Helder Recording and Kendun Recorders, where the mastering took place. Before that, producer McKinley Jackson put together a crack team of session players.

The rhythm section included drummers Ed Greene, James Gadson and Ollie Brown, bassists James Jamerson and Scott Edwards plus guitarists Ray Parker Jr, Ben Bebay and Lee Ritenour. McKinley Jackson, Melvin Steals, John Barnes, Ronald Coleman and Sylvester Rivers played keyboards and percussion came courtesy of Eddie “Bongo” Brown, Gary Coleman and Jack Ashford. Ernie Watts played alto and tenor saxophone and Oscar Brashear trumpet. They augmented the might of the Los Angeles Brass, Woodwind And String Sections. Arrangers included Gene Page and Gil Askey. The Impressions, Fred Cash, Nate Evans, Reggie Torian and original member member Sam Gooden sung and assisted producer McKinley Jackson. Once About Time was finished, the album was ready for release later in 1976.

When About Time was completed, everyone connected with the album was excited about its prospects. That’s quite remarkable, considering McKinley Jackson wasn’t originally intended to produce About Time. Al Bell had been booked to produce About Time. For whatever reason, Al Bell changed his mind. So, McKinley Jackson stepped in to fill the void. Melvin and Mervin Steals, the principal songwriters flew to L.A. to oversee the recording sessions. There they found an reinvigorated Impressions rolling back the years. Everything it seemed was in place for a hit album. Sadly, one mistake proved costly.

Everything was going well for The Impressions. It looked like their career was back on track. Then after a concert in Atlanta, an alleged incident that involved  one the members of The Impressions proved costly and executives at Atlantic Records were enraged. They felt they couldn’t back About Time. Not after what had happened. This had caused huge embarrassment to a musical institution, Atlantic Records.

Without Atlantic Record promoting About Time it was no surprise the album reached a lowly 195 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-four in the US R&B charts. This Time reached just number forty in the US R&B Charts. Then in 1977, You’ll Never Find reached a lowly number ninety-nine in the US R&B charts. For The Impressions, this was a case of what if? Mostly, it was a case of what if they’d never played Atlanta. Things could’ve been very different. That wasn’t to be and About Time, which I’ll tell you about, was The Impressions’ only album for Atlantic Records’ subsidiary Cotillion.

In The Palm Of My Hands opens About Love. Stabs of growling horns, a pounding rhythm section and dancing disco strings are joined by percussion and a searing guitar. It’s a dramatic, Philly-tinged arrangement. You fully expect Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, The Detroit Spinners or The O’Jays to take centre-stage. Instead, it’s The Impressions. Their harmonies provide the perfect accompaniment to Nate Evans’ needy, joyous lead vocal.  Harmonies coo and soar, while Nate delivers a vocal powerhouse. At the breakdown, strings dance, guitars chime, horns blaze and percussion augments the rhythm section. They then pass the baton to The Impressions as this joyous hook laden opus proves the perfect way to open About Love.

The rhythm section and percussion spring into action on You’ll Never Find. They mix funk and soul. That’s before cascading disco strings signal the entrance of Nate’s grizzled, hurt-filled vocal. He’s augmented by the rest of The Impressions. Again, there’s a Philly Soul influence as The Impressions sound not unlike Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. The Steals’  brothers have picked up where they left off on In The Palm Of My Hands. This tale of hurt and heartache is tailor made for The Impressions. They kick loose, mixing Philly Soul, funk and disco. Featuring a vocal masterclass from Nate, The Impressions trademark harmonies and McKinley Jackson’s production this is a real hidden gem, that would’ve made a great single.

Same Old Heartaches sees the tempo drop and swathes of strings flutter above the arrangement. Meanwhile, guitars chime and the rhythm section provide a subtle heartbeat. This sets the scene for Nate’s heartbroken vocal. Behind him, strings sweep and swirl and harmonies punctuate the arrangement. Helping drive the arrangement along is the probing bass. At the heart of the song’s success is Nate’s soul-searching vocal and tender harmonies. They coo and sweep, while the all-star band provide a big, bold, lush and dramatic arrangement. This is perfect backdrop for Nate’s vocal, where heartbreak and regret are ever-present. He brings to life and meaning the Steal brothers beautiful ballad.

Strings cascade, joining flourishes of piano and the rhythm section in creating an arrangement for I Need You that oozes drama. When the baton passes to Nate, there’s no letup in the drama. His vocal is veers between heartfelt and full of hope, to slow and sensual. Later, what starts of as a ballad changes. The tempo increases and Nate and the rest of The Impressions vamp their way through the lyrics. After that, there’s a return to the earlier balladry as the vocal continues to change hands. Two thing remain the same the quality and drama.

This Time was originally the opening track on side two. There’s no letup in the drama. It’s a hopeful, uptempo ballad. Producer McKinley Jackson, who cowrote the song with future Jones Girl Shirley Jones, makes good use if swathes of strings. They’re joined by percussion, pounding rhythm section and way way guitar. Then there’s the cooing harmonies that accompany the Nate’s rueful vocal. It’s tinged with sadness and regret at the hurt he’s caused his former girlfriend. Hopefully, he sings “this time we’re makin’ it last forever,” as the track reaches its emotive and dramatic crescendo.

Just percussion, strings and muted horns open Stardust. They’re joined by chiming guitars and harmonies. Tender, thoughtful and wistful harmonies sweep in. Meanwhile, the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Drums pound, the bass leads the way and strings cascade. However, it’s the harmonies and strings that are the focus of your attention. That and a sultry trumpet solo leave lasting memories of The Impressions delivering some of their best harmonies on About Love.

A scorching horn solo opens I’m A Fool For Love. Straight away, it’s obvious this is a very different type of track. It’s penned by Paul Richmond and Daryl Ellis. Drums thunder, strings sweep and harmonies soar above the the arrangement. The drums crack as Nate delivers a powerhouse of a vocal. When his vocal drops out, strings sweep and swirl. Then when he returns, he combines power and passion. Nate can cope with this change of style. He seems to relish the opportunity to cut loose and bring meaning and emotion to the lyrics. Nate it seems, was The Impressions’ secret weapon on About Love.

Closing About Time was the rueful What Might Have Been. This is the sixth song from the pen of Melvin and Mervin Steals. Straight away, there’s a rueful sound. That’s apparent in the combination of the swathes of strings, rhythm section and Hammond organ. Then there’s the preacher reading the wedding vows. After that, Nate cuts in with “ he’s standing there, where I’m supposed to be.” Heartbroken and realising what he’s let go, Nate sings the lyrics like he’s lived them. That’s apparent when he delivers the line: “but now that I lost you, darlin’ Im sadder, so I’m sadder than sad.” Meanwhile, the rest of The Impressions add rueful harmonies while McKinley Jackson’s production is a mixture of drama and emotion. It’s the perfect accompaniment to one of Nate’s most impassioned and heartfelt vocals on About Time. 

It’s no exaggeration to say that About Time is one of the great lost albums and nowadays is regarded as a cult classic. Released in 1976, it should’ve soared all the way to the top of the charts. It didn’t. Far from it. Instead, it hardly made an impression on the charts. What should’ve been The Impressions’ most successful album of the seventies has been all but forgotten. There’s a reason for this. 

An alleged incident by one of The Impressions lead to Atlantic almost killing the album off. Executives at  Atlantic Records were enraged. They felt they couldn’t back About Time. Not after what had happened. This had caused all caused a huge embarrassment to Atlantic Record, one of America’s musical institutions. For The Impressions, what’s one of their finest albums of the sixties passed the world by. Some critics realised the quality of About Time. However, with Atlantic Records’ marketing machine behind About Time, The Impressions weren’t going to enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim they deserved. It  was an uphill struggle for The Impressions. Sadly, About Time stalled at a lowly 195 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-four in the US R&B charts. For many people, who’d put their heart and soul into About Time, this was heartbreaking.

This includes three members of The Impressions. Then there’s the principal songwriters Melvin and Mervin Steals. They’d contributed six songs to About Time. They could easily have shopped the songs to any number of other producers. The six songs ooze quality. Mind you, they were on a roll, having written songs for some of the biggest names in Philly Soul. Melvin and Mervin deserved better. So did arrangers Gene Page and Gil Askey. Then there’s producer McKinley Jackson. About Time was variously a big, bold, dramatic and lush album. It was reminiscent of Philly Soul at it’s best. Sadly, through no fault of McKinley’s About Love failed commercially. 

Since then, About Love has languished in the vaults of Atlantic Records. That’s a great shame as About Time was one of The Impressions’ best albums of the seventies and never again, did they come close to reaching these heady heights ever again.

Cult Classic: The Impressions-About Time.

412koYPyZ1L

 

THE SOUL OF THE MEMPHIS BOYS.

The Soul Of The Memphis Boys.

Label: Kent Soul.

Somewhat belatedly, the Memphis Boys are starting to receive the recognition that they deserve. After all, they were one of the top studio groups of the sixties. They were the house band at Chips Moman’s American Studios and are up there with the studio groups at FAME in Muscle Shoals, and Stax and Hi Records in Memphis.  

During the sixties, the Memphis Boys accompanied the great and good of music, and can be heard on recordings by everyone from Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Womack to James Carr, Arthur Conley, Ben E. King and Dusty Springfield. These are just a few of the artists that the Memphis Boys accompanied at Chips Moman’s American Studios.

These artists also feature on The Soul Of The Memphis Boys. It’s a new twenty-four track compilation that was recently released by Kent Soul. This new compilation is a reminder of a remarkable house band who were akin to a hit making machine. However, they were originally two sets of session players.

One set of session musicians were based at the Royal Studio, where they worked for Willie Mitchell at Hi Records. The other band were based at the Phillips Studio which was home to Stan Kesler, and was where  the recordings for Sun took place. Chips Moman decided to combine the two bands in 1967. Little did he know the success the Memphis Boys would have.

Bobby Wood remembers: “We didn’t know until we moved to Nashville just what a legacy the 827 Thomas Street Band would leave behind. In just four-and-a-half years, there were 122 chart records in four different charts: pop, R&B, country and jazz.” This hit making machine feature on The Soul Of The Memphis Boys.

Opening the compilation is This Is Soul by King Curtis and The Kingpins. This was Curtis Ousley composition was produced by Tom Down and Tommy Cogbill. It featured on the  B-Side of (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay when it was released as a single on Atco in 1968. Sadly, this a sultry, soulful hidden gem didn’t feature on the 1968 album Sweet Soul. However, it’s the perfect way to open The Soul Of The Memphis Boys.

When Bobby Marchan recorded a single with Buddy Killen in May 1967, the song they recorded was Rockin’ Pneumonia. This meant that Someone To Take Your Place was left to languish on the B-Side when it was released in 1967. It features a masterful performance from The Memphis Boys who provide the perfect backdrop for a vocal that’s full of emotion on a track that epitomises everything that’s good about Southern Soul.

Chips Moman produced Broadway Walk for Bobby Womack. It was released on the Minit label in 1967 but failed to find an audience. To rub salt into the wound the song didn’t feature on his debut album Fly Me To The Moon. It was the one that got away for Bobby Womack.

By 1967, Jerry Lee Lewis was signed to Smash Records, and hadn’t enjoyed a hit single since 1964. He had worked wit various producers, and in May 1967 recorded Soul My Way with Jerry Kennedy and The Memphis Boys. One of the highlights of the album Holdin’ On which features an impassioned and soulful vocal from man who will forever be known as The Killer. 

In 1968, James Carr entered the studio with producers Quinton M. Claunch and Rudolph V. Russell to record What Can I Call My Own. It features a vocal full of despair and bristling with emotion from one of the greatest Southern Soul singers.

Tom Dowd travelled to Memphis with Arthur Conley  to produced People Sure Act Funny. On the B-Side was a song they had written,Burning Fire for Arthur Conley. While the single was a minor hit, one can only wonder what would’ve happened had Burning Fire been released as a single? It features a soul-baring vocal from Arthur Conley and a peerless performance from the Memphis Boys.

Solomon Burke had signed to Atlantic Records in 1961, and seven  years later, when he recorded Ivory Joe Hunter’s Since I Met You Baby enlisted the help of the Memphis Boys. They were joined by producer Tom Dowd as Solomon Burke recorded a languid cover the features a rueful vocal and an effortless vocal from one of the giants of soul.

Joe Tex recorded a cover of Willie Nelson’s Funny How Time Slips Away for his Soul Country album. It was released by Atlantic Records in 1968 and features a rueful vocal from Joe Tex who breaths new meaning into the lyrics.

He Called Me Baby was released as a single by Ella Washington on Sound Stage in 1968. She transforms this country standard with the help of the Memphis Boys gives it a soulful makeover. Reggie Young’s glistening guitar and braying horns combine with a soul-baring vocal to create the definitive version of this song. It deserved to fare better than thirty-eight in the US R&B charts.

So Much Love was written by Goffin and King and in 1968 was covered by Dusty Springfield on her album Dusty In Memphis. It was produced by Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Martin and is one of the highlights of what was the finest album of Dusty Springfield’s career.

In February 1969, Elvis Presley returns to Memphis to record Kentucky Rain with producer Chips Moman. Backed by the Memphis Boys he delivers an impassioned vocal on this stunning slice of blue-eyed soul that reached number sixteen on the US Billboard 100.

Arthur Alexander signed to Warner Bros. in 1971, and in 1972 released it his eponymous album. It was produced by Tommy Cogbill, and featured Rainbow Road, a Donnie Fritts and Dan Penn composition. It’s tailor-made for Arthur Alexander, and he delivers a breathtakingly beautiful and captivating cover of this ballad. This is the perfect way to close The Soul Of The Memphis Boys.

The twenty-four tracks on The Soul Of The Memphis Boy feature the great and good of music are a reminder of one of the greatest studio bands of the late-sixties and early seventies. Between 1967 and 1972, the Memphis Boys worked with the great and good of music. Everyone from Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Womack to James Carr, Arthur Conley, Arthur Alexander and Dusty Springfield travelled to American Studios and worked with the Memphis Boys. 

They were often asked to help kickstart or rejuvenate ailing or failing careers. Sometimes, they helped an artist reinvent themselves musically. Other times, it was a case of ensuring an artist stayed relevant in what was a hugely competitive musical marketplace. The Memphis Boys were able to do this and much more.

The key to the Memphis Boys’ success was their talent and versatility. They were able to seamlessly switch between disparate genres, often on the same album. That was one reason why for five years, they were a hit making machine and one of America’s top house bands. They were up there with Motown’s Funk Brothers, and the studio groups at FAME in Muscle Shoals and Stax and Hi Records in Memphis. The Memphis Boys could hold their own against the best. Proof, if any was needed, is the music on The Soul Of The Memphis Boys, which is a tantalising taste of the legendary studio band’s rich musical legacy.

The Soul Of The Memphis Boys. 

SHE’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME! GIRL GROUP SOUNDS USA 1961-1968.

She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.

Label: Ace Records.

Format: LP.

Over the last few years, Ace Records have released many lovingly curated volumes of their Beat Girl, Girl Group Sounds and Where The Girls Are compilations. Recently, Mick Patrick who is responsible for so many of these compilations, compiled She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968, which has just been released by Ace Records on vinyl. It’s the perfect way to enjoy some sixtes soul, surf and pop.

For She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968 Mick Patrick picked sixteen tracks from groups like The Rev-Lons, The Belles, The Elites, The Sweethearts, The Surf Bunnies, The Lovettes and The Mirettes. They’re joined by singer that include Beverly Williams, Mary Saxton, Othello Robertson, Pat Hunt and Little Eva Harris. They’re among the sixteen artists and groups on She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.

Side One.

Opening the compilation is Whirlwind by The Rev-Lons. It was written by William Powell and produced by Gary Paxton in 1965. However, the Garpax label never released the song and it made its debut on the Ace Records’ compilation Boy Trouble-Garpax Girls. This hook-laden musical Whirlwind was their swansong and it returns for an encore on She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.

Beverly Williams’ Too Bad He’s Bad is another track that was recorded by Gary Paxton for his Garpax label in 1965. Sadly, it lay unreleased until 2009, when it featured on Where The Girls Are Volume 7. It’s a kitchen sink drama where  rueful Beverly Williams delivers a hurt-filled vocal as tells how she fell in love with the wrong type of guy. Meanwhile, Gary Paxton’s arrangement provides the perfect backdrop for the vocal on this oft-overlooked hidden gem.

From the opening bars of Mary Saxton’s Is It Better To Live Or To Die the listener is spellbound as she delivers a heartfelt vocal full emotion and sadness. Sadly, when this Gary Paxton production as released as a single on Pace in 1967 it wasn’t a commercial success. For Mary Saxton, it was the one that got away. However,  it’s a welcome addition to this loving curated compilation.

So is Summertime Is Surfin’ Time by The Surf Bunnies. It’s another William Powell composition that was produced by Gary Paxton. It featured on the 1963 album Beach Party, and is guaranteed to perfect for any party.  

Side Two.

Opening side two is First Love Baby by Lena Calhoun and The Emotions. It was released on the Flip label in 1961, and is a  fine example of West Coast doo wop.

So In Luv was written by Dell Randle who co-produced Othello Robertson’s version with Eddie Foster. It was released on Era in 1967, and shares the same melody as It May Be Winter Outside which was released just a couple of weeks earlier. It’s an upbeat, joyous and melodic love song with a strong hook that has stood the test of time and is without doubt, the best song on the compilation.

LA-based Pat Hunt released the Marc Gordon produced You Are My First Love on Kent in 1962. This was a quicker version of the single that was released on the Exodus label in 1961. It’s a slicker sounding version and finds Pat Hunt delivering an impassioned vocal on what is the definitive version of this song.

When Felice Taylor released I Feel Love Comin’ On in Britain in 1967, many people commented that the twenty-three year old from Richmond, California sounded like Diana Ross. There were even accusations that she set out to copy the Supreme. This was something that Felice Taylor disputed and said: “it is pure coincidence that we sound so alike”. Felice Taylor was a talented singer and in 1968, recorded Sing Me A Love Song for Kent. However, this Maxwell Davis production lay unreleased in the Kent vaults until 2015. That was when it featured on Los Angeles Soul-Kent-Modern’s Black Music Legacy. Five years later this string-drenched soulful dancer makes a welcome return, and is a reminder of Felice Taylor who sadly passed away in 2017.

Before becoming The Mirettes, Robbie Montgomery, Venetta Fields and Jessie Smith were The Ikettes. When Ike Turner hired three other singers to go out on the road with the Ike and Tina Turner Review they quit in 1965 and formed The Mirettes. In 1966, they recorded He’s All Right With Me which was produced Bobby Relf and Fred Smith and released on Mirwood. It’s another soulful dancer where the hooks haven’t been spared and is the perfect way to close She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.

For anyone who has enjoyed the Beat Girl and Where The Girls Are compilations, and previous instalments in the Girl Group Sounds series, then She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968 is one to add to their collection. Ace Records have released the album on vinyl, which is the perfect way to enjoy the sixteen songs released between 1961 and 1968. They’re an eclectic selection of songs.

There’s pop, soul and surf from girl group and solo artists. They’re responsible for singles, album tracks and deep cuts. This includes heart-wrenching ballads and hook-laden  dance tracks. Sadly, some of the tracks weren’t released when they were recorded and dreams were cruelly dashed.  These tracks were only released over forty years later when they appeared on Kent Soul and Ace Records compilations. This quartet of oft-overlooked tracks  return for a well deserved encore on She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968 and play their part in the success of this loving curated compilation which has just been released by Ace Records.

She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968 is the musical equivalent of time travel, and is guaranteed to take the listener back to the sixties. Just don’t play the album on a Dansette as you’ll ruin it.

She’s All Right With Me! Girl Group Sounds USA 1961-1968.

READY OR NOT-THOM BELL’S PHILLY SOUL ARRANGEMENTS AND PRODUCTIONS 1965-1978.

Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

In the late-sixties and seventies Thom Bell was one of the architects of Philly Soul, and worked with everyone from The Delfonics, The Stylistics and The Spinners to M.F.S.B., The O’Jays, Three Degrees and New York City. Artists came from far and wide to work with the prodigiously talented arranger, producer, songwriter and musician including Dusty Springfield and Elton John. 

Sometimes, artists whose career had stalled travelled to Philly to work with Thom Bell in the hope that he could reinvent them or transform their ailing fortunes. That was the case with Johnny Mathis and The Spinners who were one of Thom Bell’s biggest success stories. He produced seven albums in eight years for The Spinners during the seventies, and five of these were certified gold. Thom Bell was the man with Midas touch.

He wrote, arranged and produced some of the finest and most memorable examples of Philly Soul. These are timeless tracks which showcase his trademark sound which includes a French horn, lush strings. Other times he would deploy what were unusual instruments for a soul song including a harpsichord or sitar. However, Thom Bell was an innovator who imagination knew no bounds. 

Proof of that is a new compilation that has just been released by Kent Soul, Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978. It’s the latest instalment in their Producer Series and sees the seventy-seven rubbing shoulders with great and good of music. This is fitting as Thom Bell has dedicated his life to music.

Thom Bell was born in Jamaica on January the ’26th’ 1943, and his family moved to Philadelphia when he was a child. He grew up in a middle class household, and unlike many of his friends there was no radio he could listen to R&B on. There was no time for that.

Just like his siblings, Thom Bell was classically trained musician. By the time he was nine, he could play piano, drums and flugelhorn. He remembers: “From when I was five ’til I was 17, I studied two or three hours a day.” This would eventually pay off and he would enjoy a successful musical career.

Before that, Thom Bell heard one of the songs that would influence him: “First thing I heard on the radio was Little Anthony & the Imperials’ ‘Tears On My Pillow’. I thought, What kind of music is this? This is nice music!”

Thom Bell became the singer in a new duo. His partner was none other than Kenny Gamble. He would later form a successful partnership with Leon Huff. That was all in the future, and 

A year later the duo expanded to a five-piece, Kenny Gamble and The Romeos, and started to pick up work as session musicians at Philadelphia’s hot Cameo and Parkway labels. This allowed Thom Bell to hone his skills that he would put to good use in the not so distant future.

When Thom Bell left Kenny Gamble and The Romeos, he was replaced by Leon Huff, the third member of The Mighty Three. However, he continued to work at Cameo-Parkway and just like Gamble and Huff, was given the freedom when he recorded singles for Eddie Holman, The Orlons, Dee Dee Sharp and The Delfonics. However, Thom Bell’s time at Cameo-Parkway came to an end in 1967 when the label folded. It was the end of an era.

Of all the artists and groups signed to Cameo-Parkway, Thom Bell saw potential in The Delfonics who he took to Philly Groove Records. He worked on the four albums the group released on the label. The Delfonics also feature on Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978. 

It documents Thom Bell’s work with The Delfonics, The Stylistics and The Spinners, and some of the artists he worked with at Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. This included M.F.S.B., The O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass. By then, Thom Bell had formed The Mighty Three publishing company with Gamble and Huff, and the trio were the architects of the Philly Soul.

Opening Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978 is Here I Go Again by Archie Bell and The Drells. It’s taken from their album There’s Gonna Be A Showdown, which was released on Atlantic, in 1969. It was written and produced by Gamble and Huff, with Bobby Martin and Thom Bell arranging the track. It benefits form one of Thom Bell’s trademark lush arrangements, and became a favourite of dancers on the UK Northern Soul scene. This resulted in the song being released as a single and reaching number twelve in the UK.

In 1967, The Delfonics released You’ve Been Untrue as a single on Philly Groove Records. It was written by William Hart and Thom Bell who arranged and the produced a single. His arrangement was way ahead of its time and featured strings, a harpsichord, timpani and Fender Rhodes. This came courtesy of the musicians who later became M.F.S.B. They prove the perfect backdrop to William Hart’s hurt-filled and soul-baring vocal.

The Mighty Three worked on two Lesley Gore singles, including Take Good Care (Of My Heart). It was released on Mercury in 1968.  On the B-Side was Look The Other Way, which was written be Mikki Farrow and Thom Bell who arranged the track. Gamble and Huff took charge of production on this hidden gem which features an impassioned and emotive vocal from Lesley Gore.

On October the ’22nd’ 1968, The Delfonics released Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love) as a single. It’s another song written by William Hart and Thom Bell composition. Thom Bell also arranged, conducted and co-produced the single which reached thirty-five in the US Billboard 100 and fourteen on the US R&B charts. This heartfelt and joyous paean featured  on The Delfonics’ sophomore album Sound Of Sexy Soul in 1969, and is the highlights of the album. That’s in part down to Thom Bell’s sophisticated arrangement and production skills.

When Kenneth Gamble was working with Dusty Springfield he needed a song for a single that was to be released before the album A Brand New Me. Thom Bell had just started working with Linda Creed and they penned I Wanna Be A Free Girl with Gamble and Huff. It was released on Atlantic Records in 1970 and featured one of Thom Bell’s trademark arrangements. This was the perfect backdrop for Dusty Springfield melancholy vocal as she hopes and longs to be free.

Thom Bell and Linda Creed had already written three hit singles for The Stylistics when they wrote People Make The World Go Round. It was arranged, conducted and produced by Thom Bell and released as a single on Avco in 1971. Three hits became four when it reached twenty-five in the US Billboard 200 and six in the US R&B charts. Forty-nine years later it’s a Philly Soul classic and one of The Stylistics’ finest singles. 

During the seventies, The O’Jays were one of Philadelphia International Records’ most successful groups. They signed to the label in 1972, and by then, were a trio. Later that year, The O’Jays released the album Backstabbers which was certified gold. So was the title-track when it was released as a single. It was arranged by Thom Bell and features a stunning string chart that plays an important part in the sound and success of this Philly Soul classic.

In 1973, New York released their debut album I’m Doin’ Fine. The title-track was which was written by Sherman Marshall and Thom Bell who produced the track. It reached seventeen on the US Billboard 100 and fourteen on the US R&B charts. This should’ve been a reason to celebrate. However, many people though it was a Spinners’ single which annoyed the group. So did people saying that: “It’s the Thom Bell sound.” That’s definitely the case on what’s one a vastly underrated song that could only have been arranged and produced by one man Thom Bell.

When M.F.S.B. released their eponymous debut album in 1973, it featured Something For Nothing. When TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) was released as a single, Something For Nothing featured on the B-Side. It was billed as MFSB featuring Thom Bell. He was one of the bands keyboardists and he also arranged  this lushly orchestrated hidden gem.

 When Could It Be I’m Falling In Love was released by The Spinners on Atlantic in 1972. The song was written by Melvin and Mervin Steals, who were credited as Mystro and Lyric on the single. It reached number four in the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. This Philly Soul classic was arranged, conducted and produced by Thom Bell and featured on the group’s third album Spinners. It was the first of seven album Thom Bell would produced for The Spinners in eight years.

You Make Me Feel Brand New originally featured on The Stylistics’ 1973 album Rockin’ Roll Baby. This was a longer version than the single version and was arranged, conducted and produced by Thom Bell who wrote the song with Linda Creed. The album was certified silver in the UK, and You Make Me Feel Brand New a beautiful ballad and a reminder of The Stylistics at the peak of their powers. 

Teddy Pendergrass released Close The Door as a single on Philadelphia International Records in 1978. It was taken from his sophomore album Life Is A Song Worth Singing. Thom Bell arranged the single, and this bedroom ballad reached number twenty-five in the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. 

Closing Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978 is Track Of The Cat by Dionne Warwick It was the title-track to her 1975 Warner Bros album and was arranged, conducted and produced by Thom Bell who wrote the song with Linda Creed. Sadly, the album stalled at 137 in the US Billboard 200 but reached fifteen in the US R&B charts. Track Of The Cat is one of hidden gems in Dionne Warwick’s back-catalogue.

Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978 which is the latest instalment in Kent Soul’s Producer Series features twenty-three songs from familiar faces, old friends and new names. There’s Philly Soul classics, album tracks and B-Sides on the compilation which is a reminder of Thom Bell’s skills as an arranger, conductor, musician, producer and songwriter.

Many of the songs he wrote with his songwriting partner Linda Creed. They wrote countless Philly Soul classics that have stood the test of time, and sound as good as the day they were released. 

That is the case with the twenty-three tracks on Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978. They’ve got a timeless sound and showcase the considerable talents of one of the architects of Philly Soul, who for far too long has lived in the shadow of Gamble and Huff. It’s time for Thom Bell to emerge from their shadows and take a bow, having arranged, produced and written some of the finest Philly Soul ever released.

Ready Or Not-Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978.

ART BLAKEY AND THE JAZZ MESSENGERS-JUST COOLIN’.

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Just Coolin’.

Label: Blue Note Records.

Format: LP.

Although Philly-born tenor saxophonist Benny Golson’s tenure with The Jazz Messengers was short-lived, he still played an important part in the development and history of the group. He joined in 1958, and during the summer, helped Art Blakey recruit three new Messengers.

They were all from Philly, and included bassist Jymie Merritt, pianist Bobby Timmons and trumpeter Lee Morgan who joined Benny Golson in the front line. This latest lineup of The Messengers made their recording debut on what would become a classic album, Moanin’.

On the ‘30th’ of October 1958, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers journeyed to the original Van Gelder Studio, at 25 Prospect Avenue in Hackensack, New Jersey. By then, Benny Golson was The Jazz Messengers’ musical director and chief composer. He wrote Are You Real, Along Came Betty, The Drum Thunder Suite and Blues March. These compositions plus Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ and a cover of Come Rain or Come Shine were recorded with producer Alfred Lion and eventually, became Moanin’.

After the recording of Moanin, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers embarked upon a European tour. During November and December 1958, they wowed and won over audiences across Europe with a series of spellbinding performances. However, all wasn’t well behind the scenes and there were personality classes during the tour. When Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers retuned home, Benny Golson left the group. 

Although he had only been a Messenger for a few months, he had played on a future jazz classic and ensured the band stayed relevant in spite of the growing popularity of the soul-jazz movement. However, Benny Golson wanted to be part of a more structured band, and in 1959 formed The Jazztet with Art Farmer. By then, Moanin’ had been released and a Messenger had returned. 

Moanin’ was released to widespread critical acclaim in January 1959. Critics said the album featured some of his finest music, played by what they considered to be the greatest lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. Nowadays, Moanin’ is considered a jazz classic and one of the greatest hard bop albums ever released. Sadly, by the time the album was released, the Messengers’ lineup had changed.

Hank Mobley who had already served one tour of duty with The Messengers between 1954 and 1956. He returned in 1959 to fill the void left by by the departure of Benny Golson. 

Hank Mobley joined up with the latest lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers on the ‘8th’ of March 1959 when they traveled to Van Gelder Studio, in New Jersey. The lineup featured drummer Art Blakey, bassist Jymie Merrit, pianist Bobby Timmons, trumpeter Lee Morgan and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley.They were scheduled to record a new album with recordist Rudy Van Gelder and producer Alfred Lion. That album would eventually became Just Coolin’. 

Although Hank Mobley had just returned to the Messengers’ fold, he wrote three of the six tracks on Coolin’. This included Hipsippy Blues, M&M and Just Coolin’. They were joined by Jimerick, Bernice Petkere’s Close Your Eyes and the Bobby Timmons’ composition Quick Trick. These six tracks were recorded by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers during a one day session.

By then, the material on Just Coolin’ was still relatively new to Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers. They weren’t as tight as they had hoped to be when they entered the studio. However, what they lacked in tightness and precision they made up for with passion. Just Coolin’ featured a series of impassioned performances and showcased the band’s trademark hard bop sound. 

On the album opener Hipsippy Blues, Art Blakey plays a shuffle as the horns unite and play their part in the languid, swinging theme. Then it’s time for Hank Mobley’s lengthy solo and he’s at his most soulful as he’s accompanied by pianist Bobby Timmons and a crisp backbeat. Later, Lee Morgan’s solo is ruminative and impassioned before the baton passes to Bobby Timmons. He picks up where he left off on Moanin’ with a flawless solo where his fingers dance across the keyboards. Then the band join forces one last time on this laidback and swinging blues.

As the horns combines with the piano on Close Your Eyes there’s  an understated, wistful sound, as Lee Morgan’s expressive  trumpet takes centrestage before the tempo increases and the arrangement unfolds. He plays with power and passion as Art Blakey’s thunderous drums punctuate the arrangement. Meanwhile, Bobby Timmons adds a steadying influence before Hank Mobley takes inspiration from the cool school as he combines with Art Blakey who later switches to brushes. Before that, Bobby Timmons’ solo is understated, spartan and flawless, and is followed by a trio section. However, the highlights of this captivating track are the solos of Bobby Timmons and the frontline of Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley who play starring roles.

Jimerick bursts into life with Bobby Timmons’ fingers flying across the keyboard. He’s joined by the horns, with Lee Morgan matching the piano and rhythm section every step of the way. Art Blakey plays the percussion with a ferocity and powers the arrangement along. Meanwhile, Bobby Timmons’ caresses the keyboard, while Hank Mobley plays with power and purity at bebop speed. Not to be outdone, Art Blakey unleashes one of his best solos pounding, thumping and almost slashing at his kit on one of the album’s highlights. 

Quick Trick swings from the get-go. Subtle horns pepper and punctuate the arrangement and combine with Bobby Timmons  understated piano. Lee Morgan steps forward and unleashes bursts of high kicking trumpet. Hank Mobley’s braying, rasping solo is shorter, coherent and considered. He never puts a foot wrong, and when he’s reunited with Lee Morgan the front line play a starring role ensuring the track swings and then some.

The tempo rises on M & M with horns and piano to the fore as the rhythm section propel the arrangement. First to breakout is Bobby Timmons’ slinky piano before Hank Mobley unleashes a breathtaking and expressive solo at breakneck speed. Art Blakey adds thunderous drum rolls before Lee Morgan steps forward and plays with speed, power, passion and is always in control as he unleashes sheets of sound. When the baton passes to Bobby Timmons his fingers dart across the keyboard. By then, everyone is in the groove and feeding off each other. Everyone raises their game and there’s even some showboating on what’s the highlight of Just Coolin’.

Closing Just Coolin’ is the title-track where the band enjoy the opportunity to stretch their legs on what’s a more complex and  upbeat composition. The band play as one before Hank Mobley steps forward and plays a lengthy solo, and his playing is impassioned, inventive and fluid. Lee Morgan takes over and plays with speed and power his trumpet soaring above the arrangement. Later, Bobby Timmons fingers dance across the keyboards as he plays a sparkling solo. He passes the baton to Jymie Merrit who plays a flawless solo that is one of his finest solos on the album. Then bandleader Art Blakey powers his way round the kit one last time during a showboating solo where he plays a variety of different rhythms. The band then head for the finishing line on this irresistible and joyous track that closes this album of hard bop on a high.

After the session was over, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers must have thought that Just Coolin’ would be released as the followup to Moanin’. However, it didn’t turn out that way.

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers were booked to play at a Canadian jazz festival and Hank Mobley failed to turn up. Art Blakey called Wayne Shorter who was part of Maynard Ferguson’s big band and asked him to stand in for his missing tenor saxophonist. Wayne Shorter agreed and was meant to become a Messenger for a one-off performance.

When Art Blakey heard Wayne Shorter play at the Canadian jazz festival he liked the way the twenty-five year old played. Despite Hank Mobley having recently played a starring role in the sound of Just Coolin’, Art Blakey decided to replace him with Wayne Shorter who later, became The Messengers’ musical director. Sadly, Hank Mobley’s return to The Messengers’ fold was short-lived, although he remained on good terms with Art Blakey. 

When The Big Beat was recorded at Van Gelder Studio, on March the ‘6th’ 1960, Wayne Shorter had been installed as the tenor saxophonist in The Messengers. The album was released to plaudits and praise later in 1960.

By then, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had played at Birdland on the ’15th’ of April 1950 where the tapes were rolling and enough material for two live albums was recorded. This included four tracks of the tracks that they recorded during the  Just Coolin’ session. Since then, they had regularly played Hipsippy Blues, Close Your Eyes, Just Coolin’ and M & M live and smoothed out some of the rough edges which featured on the album. That was the case that night at Birdland.

When Alfred Lion listened to the recording of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers at Birdland he felt they were superior to the recordings on Just Coolin’. He demanded and expected exactitude which was missing on the album. This resulted in Alfred Lion deciding to postpone the release of Just Coolin’ and instead, he released At The Jazz Corner Of The World Volumes 1 and 2. 

Later in 1959, At The Jazz Corner Of The World Volumes 1 and 2 were released by Blue Note Records. When critics heard the two album they were hailed as among the best live jazz albums ever released, and essential listening for jazz fans. Alfred Lion’s decision had been vindicated.

Since then, Just Coolin’ has languished in the Blue Note Records’ vaults until recently, when it was belatedly released on 180 gram vinyl. At last, jazz fans young and old are able to hear this short-lived lineup of The Messengers on what was their only album, Just Coolin’. It’s an album that has lain unreleased for forty-one years because of Alfred Lion’s high standards.

When the album was recorded, The Messengers hadn’t enough time to familiarise themselves with the new material. Then Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had only one day to the six tracks that became Just Coolin’. That was the Blue Note Records’ way. However, if Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers had the chance to rerecord some of the tracks they may have been able to smooth away the few rough edges on the album and it would’ve met Alfred Lion’s high standards. Sadly, the exactitude he demanded and expected was missing from Just Coolin’ and this was enough for him to shelf the project.

The sad thing is that neither Art Blakey nor any of The Messengers lived to see the release of Just Coolin’. Jymie Merritt passed away on the ‘10th’ of April 2020, aged eighty-four knowing that Just Coolin’ would be released later in the year. Sadly, he never lived to see this hard bop hidden gem released which Alfred Lion felt lacked the exactitude he expected, but since its belated release has been embraced by jazz fans, and is a welcome reminder of this short-lived but multitalented and versatile lineup of Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers on a spring day in 1959.

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers-Just Coolin’.

LARAAJI-SUN PIANO.

Laraaji-Sun Piano.

Label: All Saints Records.

Format: LP.

On the album cover to his new album Sun Piano, which was released by All Saints Records, Laraaji describes playing the piano as: “my music therapy.” This is something the seventy-seven year has been doing since 1953, when he was just ten and living in New Jersey. 

Back then, he was still called Edward Larry Gordon and music was a big part of his life. He studied violin, piano, trombone and took singing lessons. Then at high school, the future Laraaji played in the school band and orchestra. Music was big part of his life.

His family attended the local Baptist church, where Laraaji heard choral and gospel music, as well as negro spirituals. At home though, he heard very different music.

Laraaji  sat and absorbed everything from jazz to R&B and rock ’n’ roll. However, it was the great piano players that inspired him including Oscar Peterson, Fats Domino and Ahmad Jamal. Over the next months and years, Laraaji spent much of his time listening to music. Still, though, he continued to play the violin, piano, trombone and sang. Music was his passion and it was no surprise that having graduated from high school this talented multi-instrumentalist decided to study music.

Having won a scholarship to study piano and composition, Laraaji headed to one of the most prestigious universities in America, Howard University, in Washington DC. During the next few years, he immersed himself in music, and also discovered marijuana for the first time. 

Then during his second year, Laraaji discovered psychedelic drugs which played an important part in opening his consciousness during his spiritual awakening. However, he would later use marijuana as an aide to the creative process. Before that, his friends and family were sure that Laraaji was destined to pursue a career in music. However, that wasn’t the case.

After graduating from Howard University, he decided not to pursue a career in music, which was a huge surprise to his friends, including this he had studied alongside. Instead, Laraaji decided to pursue a career as a standup comic. His love of comedy began in college, and when he left University, he and his comedy partner decided to head to New York to audition at the Bitter End, who regularly held talent shows.

The Bitter End seemed the perfect place to launch their new career. However, the night Laraaji and his comedy partner were meant to make their debut, his partner never turned up. After being left in the lurch, he had no option to make his debut as a solo artist. He was well received, and this was the start of his new comedy career. Soon he became a regular on New York’s thriving  comedy circuit.

Through his exploits as a comedian, Laraaji came to the attention of Ernestine McClendon, who was a respected theatrical agent. She took him under her wing and guided his nascent career. Soon, she was sending Laraaji to auditions, and before long, he found himself appearing on television commercials, theatre and even films. 

One of these films that Laraaji appeared in was Putney Swope, which was a comedy directed by Robert Downey which examined the of role race and advertising in America. Putney Swope was very different to anything he had appeared in before, as much of the film was improvised. This which was new to him, but something he coped with admirably in the film. 

In Putney Swope,  the chairman of an advertising company dies, and the firm’s executive board must elect someone to fill the vacant position. However, each member, is unable to vote for himself, and Swope who was the token African-American on the board is unexpectedly elected chairman. He decides to do things his way, and fires all the staff, apart from a lone white employee. Swope then renames the company Truth and Soul, Inc. and decides that he will no longer accept represents companies selling tobacco, alcohol and war toys. The film must have made a big impression on Laraaji, because when Putney Swope was released it inspired him to look at the role of the mass media. Looking for answers, he read books and learnt to meditate.

To help him, he turned to teachers who taught him how to meditate properly He soon was practising meditation and calisthenics. He was also using piano exercises as an outlet which was  how he discovered spontaneous music. Everything was improvised, off-the-cuff and experimental. Straight away, he realised the possibilities were endless. However, meditation was key to this. Soon, Laraaji was starting to realise just what he could do with music and art now that he had discovered meditation. Discovering meditation was akin to the first part of his spiritual awakening. Before long, the next part of his spiritual awakening took place.

Around 1974 or 1975, Laraaji found himself was living not far from JFK airport, and decided to go out for a walk in the evening. On his return home, he started hearing what he describes as: “the music of the spheres.” This was akin to a cosmic symphony where the music was joyous and celebratory. He became part of the music and was at one with the music. The whole experience had a lasting effect and was his spiritual and cosmic awakening. 

Suddenly, he understood things that had previously puzzled him. Things now started to make sense after what Laraaji refers to as: “a trigger for a cosmic memory.” It was as if he had been enlightened. However, he wanted to know more about what had happened, and decided to embarked on a course of study. 

To further understand what had happened to him, Laraaji embarked upon a study of Vedic teachings. Part of the Vedic teachings is that the yogis hear music in layers. When Larry heard this, he realised this what he had experienced and was why he was able to describe the music so vividly. His teachers told him that he had reached such a high level of consciousness that he was now able to see things differently from most people. It seemed his spiritual and cosmic awakening was almost complete. Now he decided that he wanted to recreate the music that he heard that night near JFK Airport.

At last, Laraaji was able to put his musical education to good use. He had always played music, even when he was working as a comedian and actor. Latterly, he’d been playing the Fender Rhodes, but was fed up having to transport such a heavy instrument. One night as he was preparing to go onstage, he told his “cosmic ear” that he would: “like a lighter instrument to share his musical consciousness with the world.” 

A few days later, Laraaji found himself in a pawn shop where he was ready to pawn his guitar when suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice told him to swap his guitar for a stringed instrument in the shop window. This he realised was an autoharp, which he was unable to play. However, he decided to swap his guitar for the autoharp, and he after that, he headed home, where he was determined to master this new instrument.

When Laraaji took the instrument home, he tuned it to his favourite piano chords and open guitar tunings. The effect this had, was to return it to what was essentially a zither, whose roots can be traced back the ancient, traditional instrument the kithara. Gradually, through a process of experimentation, he discovered what the autoharp was capable of. Then when he added an electric pickup, this was a game-changer, and he discovered that the possibilities were endless. He was able to begin creating the music that he had heard that fateful night, albeit with a little help from a friend. 

Not long after Laraaji begin playing the autoharp, he was strumming and plucking it like a guitar which seemed to him the way to play the autoharp. That was until he  met Dorothy Carter who was a hammered dulcimer artist and encouraged Larry to play his autoharp with hammers. The other thing Dorothy did, was invite Laraaji to the Boston Globe Music Fest where he met another innovator.

At the Boston Globe Music Fest, he met Steven Halpern who is one of the pioneers of New Age music. Meeting Steven exposed him to music that he never knew existed, and changed Laraaji’s way of thinking. He realised that music didn’t need to follow the structures that he had been taught as a child and at university. Music didn’t need to have a beginning, end or even a melody. Instead, it could be a freeform stream of consciousness. He also learnt that there was always room for experimentation and improvisation within music. For Larry this changed his approach to music. Inspired and confident in his ability to play the autoharp, he was ready to make his debut. 

The old saying that the world is a stage proved to be the case for Larry, who made his debut as a busker on the streets of New York in 1978. He had released his first album Celestial Vibration in 1978, which he hoped would introduce his music to a wider audience. 

A year later, Larry was still busking and had self-released his sophomore album Lotus-Collage in 1979. However, he was busking abet in a different location. This proved fortuitous, while other said it was fate.

Laraaji was now busking in Washington Square Park and on that fateful day, he sat on top of a blanket, cross-legged and with his eyes closed, played his zither using the open tunings he favoured. As a result, he never saw Brian Eno standing watching him play. The man who many called The Godfather of ambient music was transfixed as he watched Laraaji play. Little did Brian Eno realise when he walked through the park with Bill Laswell that he would come  across a fellow innovator. Recognising the potential that the busker had, Brian Eno wrote a message on a piece of paper which Laraaji as he was now calling himself found later.

The next day Brian Eno met with Laraaji and the two men spoke about ambient music and electronics. Straight away, they got on and three weeks Laraaji, was heading to Apple Studios, in Green Street, New York where he recorded Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance).

Later in 1980, Laraaji was preparing to release Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), which it was hoped would launch his career and transform him from an underground artist to a successful experimental musician. The album was a groundbreaking fusion of ambient, avant-garde, dub, electronica, experimental, folk, New Age and world music, and was well released to critical acclaim. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success, although nowadays it’s regarded a cult classic and one of Laraaji’s finest albums.

In 1981 Laraaji returned with his new album, I Am Ocean which was released on the Celestial Vibration label, and was the much-anticipated followup to Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance). However, it failed to make much of an impression upon its release. Later in 1981, Laraaji was back to self-releasing his next album Unicorns in Paradise. This was something he would do regularly throughout his five decade career.

During that period, Laraaji would release over thirty solo albums. He was a prolific and innovative artist who pushed musical boundaries on his genre-melting albums. Some of these albums were released by record companies. This includes the British independent label All Saints Records who released his 1992 solo album Flow Goes The Universe.

Since then, Laraaji has released a number of other solo albums on All Saints Records, including Sun Gong, Bring On The Sun and Sun Transformations. His new album is Sun Piano, which is very different from his previous albums. 

Instead of his usual effects laden cosmic zither jams, Laraaji returned to his first musical love on Sun Piano. It features twelve of Laraaji’s spiritual keyboard improvisations. They were recorded in the First Unitarian Church, Brooklyn, on the ‘10th’ and ‘11th’ December 2109 by Jeff Zeigler. It was quite different to other Laraaji sessions.

Unlike other artists, Laraaji didn’t want the church to close while he recorded Sun Piano. Instead, he wanted it to be just another day in the lives of those who use and attend the First Unitarian Church. It’s situated in a busy part of Brooklyn and members of the community use the church each and every day of the year. This could cause problems when recording the album.

Laraaji decided that the sound of the people of Brooklyn going about their business outside of the church would be part of the recording. So would the various community groups used the First Unitarian Church’s facilities. That is why everyday city sounds can be heard throughout the album. This ranges from the sound of schoolchildren playing, to police car sirens, chairs scraping, a door slamming and Laraaji breathing can all be heard during the twelve improvised pieces that became Sun Piano. There was no overdubbing, and instead, the spontaneous recordings were recorded vérité style. 

This meant that only the smallest amount of artificial techniques was used to clean up what was captured by the microphones. As a result, both the full dynamic range and true spirit of the session are captured on Sun Piano. However, some of the longer pieces on Sun Piano were edited by Christian Havins of Dallas Acid, who have collaborated with Laraaji. These shorter pieces are part of what’s a captivating and enchanting album where Laraaji at last fulfils his dream of releasing an album of piano improvisations.

The beautiful, melodic Embracing Me opens Piano Love and is a tantalising taste of what’s to come. This includes the hopeful sounding Hold On To The Vision which is full of emotion and beauty. Flow Joy combines emotion, drama and a joyousness which flows from Laraaji’s fingers through as he play the grand piano with confidence and power. 

There’s a wistful sound to Shenandoah as Laraaji stabs at the keyboard as if making a point. The arrangement becomes jaunty, jazz-tinged and cinematic and later, there’s a sense of hope as he finishes with a flourish.

Initially, there’s a hesitancy as This Too Shall Pass unfolds. Space is left in the arrangement which probes and meanders, changing course as Laraaji showcases his confident playing style. It becomes grand and dramatic as he pounds the keyboard, but later bright and melodic as waves of majestic music wash over the listener.

Sunny Day Horse has a cinematic quality and finds Laraaji painting pictures with the piano. Later, the music becomes mesmeric and it’s easy to imagine riding through the countryside  on a sunny day. Especially as the track takes on a pastoral quality that seems far from Brooklyn on a mid-December day.

Elevation is an enchanting track that ebbs and flow, carrying the listener along in its wake. The music meanders and is variously uplifting, joyous and later meditative although beauty is omnipresent on one of this Sun Piano’s highlights. So is Temple Of New Light with its languid, meandering, meditative sound.

Very different is Moods and Emotions where Laraaji almost pounds at the piano during what is akin to an emotional roller coaster. Laraaji’s piano chimes and ripples on the mesmeric and spellbinding Lifting Me. Resonance is a ruminative sounding track that invites reflection, but like many of the improvised pieces on Sun Piano beauty is omnipresent. It’s a similar case on the album closer Embracing Timeless, which has a spacious, hopeful and pastoral sound. Laraaji has kept one of the best until last.

Forty-two years after Laraaji released his debut album, the seventy-seven year old releases his first ever album of spiritual keyboard improvisations, Sun Piano. These twelve pieces were recorded in the First Unitarian Church, in Brooklyn over two days in December 2019. During these two days, the  church was open and being used by the local community. The sound of the community, and the people of Brooklyn going about their business can be heard throughout Sun Piano. This plays its part on what’s an enchanting and captivating album where Laraaji returns to the piano which was his first musical love.

The music on Sun Piano is variously cinematic, dramatic, emotive, languid, meditative, meandering, melodic, mesmeric, ruminative and spacious. It’s also a beautiful and timeless album that shows another side to Laraaji one of music’s best kept secrets who has spent a lifetime creating groundbreaking music, and has just released one of his finest albums Sun Piano which will brighten up even the darkest day.

Laraaji-Sun Piano.

CULT CLASSIC: JOHNNY RIVERS-NO THROUGH STREET.

Cult Classic: Johnny Rivers-No Through Street.

As 1983 dawned, Louisiana born singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer Johnny Rivers had just turned forty, and had been a professional musicians since 1956. Back then, he was still known Johnny Ramistella when he formed his own band The Spades, who later that year, released their debut single.

Less than two years later, and fifteen year old Johnny Ramistella from Baton Rouge, embarked upon a solo career when he released his debut single Little Girl in February 1958. Later in 1958, DJ Alan Freed who advised Johnny Ramistella to change his name to Johnny Rivers after Mississippi River that flows through Baton Rouge. Little did, Alan Freed realise that the name Johnny Rivers would go on to feature on thirty-million records.

Twenty-five years later, and Johnny Rivers was a successful recording artist who had twenty-nine hits to his name and had released twenty-one studio albums and five live albums between 1964 and 1980. This included his last album Borrowed Time, which was released by RSO Records in 1980, but failed to trouble the charts. After the commercial failure of Borrowed Time, Johnny Rivers left RSO Records, and was without a recording contract. For Johnny Rivers who had enjoyed such a long and successful career, this came as a huge blow.

Nearly three years passed before Johnny Rivers returned in 1983 with a new album, which was released on Priority Records, which was one of the many specialist imprint owned by CBS Records. However, this particular imprint, Priority Records, specialised in gospel music, and was Johnny Rivers one and only gospel album. No Through Street was a new chapter in his career and surprised many people.

Some within the music industry were surprised that Johnny Rivers had signed to Priority Records, and was about to start work on a modern gospel album. However, Johnny Rivers was now a man of faith, who had occasionally included devotional songs on his albums. He decided to take things further on No Through Street, which saw Johnny Rivers reinvent himself yet again on a gospel album with a twist.

For his first ever gospel album, No Through Street, Johnny Rivers penned Nowhere Else To Go and arranged the traditional song The Uncloudy Day. These songs were joined by covers of familiar and soulful songs including Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come; Ben E King, Leiber and Stoller’s Stand By Me; Holland, Dozier Holland’s Reach Out, I’ll Be There and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and Carl Hampton, Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson’s Shelter In Time Of Storm. They were joined by Leo Graham’s Turning Point; David Miner and Larry Knechtel’s Believe In Me; Jim and Ginger’s Hendrick’s New Meaning; Bob Cotton and Hadley Hockensmith’s Live It From Day To Day and Bill Tuohy Dion DiMucci’s Golden Sun, Silver Moon. These twelve songs became No Through Street, which Johnny Rivers recorded in Hollywood, LA,

Johnny Rivers headed to Weddington Studios, in Los Angeles which was home to the best session musicians on the West Coast. He knew many of these musicians, and some had played on his previous albums.  As a result, it was a mixture of familiar faces and new names that  joined Johnny Rivers who took charge of production on No Through Street.

Joining vocalist and rhythm Johnny Rivers in the rhythm section were drummers Jim Keltner, Ron Tutt, Bill Maxwell and percussionist Alex Acuña and bassists Darrel Cook, Jerry Scheff, Larry Prentiss and Hadley Hockensmith who laid down some of the lead guitar parts on No Through Street. The rest of the lead guitar parts were recorded Dean Parks. They were augmented by keyboardist and pianist Larry Knechtel, keyboardist and organist Harlan Rogers, saxophonist Jim Horn and trumpeter Chuck Findley. Adding the final piece of the jigsaw were backing vocalists were The Walters Family, Julia, Maxine, Luther and Dren who added a soulfulness and spiritual sound to No Through Street, which was scheduled for release later in 1983.

No Through Street was the album that was hoped would transform Johnny Rivers’ fortunes. He had released nine albums in the last ten years, and only two had charted. Even then, 1975s New Lovers and Old Friends reached just 147 in the US Billboard 200, while 1978s Outside Help fared slightly better when it reached 142. That was as good as it got for Johnny Rivers since 1973. He desperately needed a successful album to kickstart his ailing career. However, the big question was what would the critics make of Johnny Rivers’ first gospel album No Through Street?

Throughout his long career, Johnny Rivers’ albums had always been well received by critics, including many who were fans of music. Some were surprised by Johnny Rivers’ decision to release a gospel album, but those that reviewed No Through Street were won over by an album that brought new life to many familiar songs. 

Opening No Through Street lis the Johnny Rivers’ composition Nowhere Else To Go opens the album where he paints pictures with the lyrics and a vocal that is full disappointment and despair, as the character in the song reflects on the direction his life has taken and the friends and lover he’s lost. Realising there’s Nowhere Else To Go, and nobody left to turn to, he turns to God, and undergoes a spiritual awakening. Johnny Rivers then delivers a rueful, languid, but powerful cover of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, before the tempo rises on a joyous version of Turing Point. The Waters Family then add soulful and gospel-tinged backing vocals as Johnny Rivers breathes new life and meaning into this uplifting and spiritual rewrite of Reach Out (I’ll Be There). It’s a similar case on the oft-covered Stand By Me, before The Waters Family add soulful vocals during Johnny Rivers’ heartfelt, impassioned and beautiful cover of the ballad Believe In Me. This is one of the highlights of the album, and was the perfect way to close side one of the album in 1983.

Shelter In Time Of Storm is a reminder of eighties soulful, pop rock, before Johnny Rivers heads in the direction of gospel on An Uncloudy Day. Johnny Rivers then gives thanks on a bluesy, soulful reinvention of How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), where The Waters Family’s backing vocals ensure the song swings. Johnny Rivers then shares the details of his spiritual awakening on New Meaning, and follows this one of the album’s hidden gems Live It From Day To Day. It’s a catchy and memorable song that sounds as if it’s been influenced by the West Coast sound. A freewheeling country rock cover of Golden Sun, Silver Moon closes No Through Road and is reinvented by Johnny Rivers and close the album on a high. 

Buoyed by the reviews of No Through Road, was released by Priority Records in 1983, but just like Borrowed Time in 1980, failed to find an audience. Johnny Rivers’ decision to release a gospel album had backfired, and he never released another album for Priority Records. 

Thirty-seven years later, and Johnny Rivers is seventy-seven and has sold in excess of thirty-million records. One of the oft-overlooked albums from Johnny Rivers’ back-catalogue is No Through Road. It was his one and only gospel album, and released after he enjoyed a spiritual awakening. Like many people who had experienced he wanted to share the ‘news.’ The only problem was, the majority of Johnny Rivers fans weren’t interested in an album of gospel from their hero.

When an emboldened Johnny Rivers released No Through Road in 1983, neither he nor his advisers seemed to have thought of this. A gospel album seemed the wrong album for Johnny Rivers to release in 1983, when his career was at a crossroads.

It didn’t matter that No Through Road was a polished album that featured elements of AOR, blues, country, gospel, pop, rock and soul where Johnny Rivers breathed new life and meaning into a number of familiar songs. The lyrics to some of these songs were tweaked to reflect Johnny Rivers’ recent spiritual awakening. However, very few people heard No Through Road, which was a very personal album from Johnny Rivers.

After No Through Road, it was another eight years before Johnny Rivers released The Memphis Sun Recordings in 1991. Just like No Through Road, The Memphis Sun Recordings failed to trouble the charts, and neither have any of Johnny Rivers’ subsequent albums. He still continued to release the occasional album right up until 2009, but never released another gospel album. No Through Road was a one-off, from Johnny Rivers who with the help of a crack band and The Waters Family, breathes new life and meaning into covers of familiar songs that are thoughtful, uplifting and joyous on this oft-overlooked hidden gem of an album.

Cult Classic: Johnny Rivers-No Through Street.

 

CULT CLASSIC: HARMONIA-DELUXE.

Cult Classic: Harmonia-Deluxe.

In June 1975, the three members of Harmonia returned to their studio in Forst for the recording of their sophomore album, Deluxe. It would become the followup to Musik Von Harmania, which had been released in January 1974. Sadly, this groundbreaking album had failed to find an audience. It  was a bitter blow for Harmonia.

Following Brain Records’ release of Musik Von Harmania in January 1974, Harmonia headed out on a promotional tour. In these pre-internet days, this was the only way a band had of promoting their album. Harmonia could’ve picked a better time for a tour.

The tour took place was the middle of a long, cold German winter. Early 1974 was especially cold and Harmonia travelled wrapped in layers of clothes. Their gruelling schedule saw them crisscross Germany, and some nights, they played towns, other nights, some of West Germany’s biggest cities. Among the audience were fans of Neu! and Cluster, and they were joined by the few people who had bought Musik Von Harmonia. Those that made their way to each venue, heard this nascent supergroup at their inventive best. This included on the 23rd March 1974, at Penny Station in Griessem, Germany.

That night, Harmonia’s concert at Penny Station in Griessem was to be recorded, and would be released as a live album. Buoyed by the thought of recording their debut live album, Harmonia gave one of their finest performances of their winter tour. From the moment Harmonia took to the stage, they were at their innovative, genre-melting best. Those that heard Harmonia that night, thought that the resultant live album would be the perfect showcase for the nascent supergroup.

It should’ve been. Sadly, the resultant live album, Live 1974 would only be released on 18th September 2007. By then, the Harmonia story had taken several few twists and turns. 

Once Harmonia’s tour was over, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius began work on the next Cluster album. Meanwhile, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger owed Brain Records an album. Then Neu! would have fulfilled their contractual obligations. 

Neu! 75. 

For the recording of what became Neu!! ’75, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger reunited in December 1974 at Conny Plank’s studio. By then, Conny’s Studio was the go-to recording studio for German groups. They all wanted “the genius” to sprinkle his magic on their albums. This would be the case for Neu! ’75.

The two members of Neu! had changed. Klaus was heavily into rock music, while Michael’s interest in ambient music was growing. As Michael explains: “After two years apart, we were different people. To complicate matters, Klaus wanted to move from behind the drum kit. He felt he was hidden away. I can understand this. But it was what Klaus did so well. However, he wanted to become an entertainer, playing the guitar and singing. He wanted to bring in two new musicians to replace him.” This included Klaus’ brother Thomas and Conny Plank’s former engineer Hans Lampe. These new musicians would allow Neu! to make a very different album. 

Michael realised this was problematic. “By then Klaus could be difficult to work with. I realised we had compromise, so ended making an album with two very different sides. Side one was old Neu! and side two was new Neu!” On side two Klaus come out from behind his drum kit and play guitar and sing. He became the entertainer on what proved to be an album of two sides. It was completed in January 1975, and released later that year.

When critics were sent copies of Neu! ’75, they were struck by side one’s subtle, ambient, melodic sound. Michael remembers: “we used keyboards and phasing a lot on both sides. While Michael Rother’s name was written large all over side one; side two was very different, and quite unconventional. Reviews were mixed, partly because of side two. Some critics felt that if Neu! ’75 had the same sound throughout, it would’ve been hailed a classic. However, later Neu! ’75 and Neu!’s earlier albums would be reevaluated. Before that Neu! ’75 was released.

Just like Neu! 2, Neu! ’75 didn’t sell well. The problem was, many people didn’t understand what was essentially parts of two disparate albums joined together. The proto-punk of side two was so different from the ambient sound of side one. Records buyers were confused, and didn’t understand what Neu! stood for? It seemed that Neu! were just the latest groundbreaking group whose music was misunderstood and overlooked. 

Michael looking back at Neu! ’75 reflects: “It was a time time. Klaus wasn’t the easiest person to work with. He was involved with different people, and being pulled in different ways. We were also very different musically. Then there were the new drummers on side two. They weren’t particularly good. Certainly neither were as good as Klaus,” a rueful Michael remembers. “It was a difficult project. By then Klaus was different to the man I’d met a few years earlier.” Michael wouldn’t work with Klaus for another decade. By then, Michael would’ve embarked upon a solo career. That was still to come. Before that, Michael would record what became Harmonia’s sophomore album, Deluxe.

Deluxe.

With Neu! having fulfilled their contractual obligations, Michael Rother was free to record Harmonia’s sophomore album, Deluxe. Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius took time out from Cluster and began work on the followup to Musik Von Harmonia, Deluxe.

Joining the three members of Harmonia, was a new face, Conny Plank, who was co-producing Deluxe. Conny Plank and Michael were good friends, and had worked together on three projects. This included Kraftwerk’s aborted album and Neu!’s two album. The addition of the man who Michael Rother calls: “the genius,” just happened to coincide with Harmonia changing direction musically.

Deluxe saw a move towards Kominische musik. Partly, this was down to the addition of Guru-Guru drummer Mani Neumeier. He played on some tracks, and added a  Kominische influence. Another change was that Michael Rother’s guitar played a more prominent role. That wasn’t Michael’s only influence.

The music on Deluxe was more song oriented. This was Michael Rother’s influence. He had taught the two members of Cluster the importance of structure. However, still Harmonia were experimenting, pushing musical boundaries. This was Cluster’s influence. Other parts of Deluxe had been influenced by Michael Rother. Hans-Joachim Roedelius agrees. “Michael Rother’s influence can be heard on Deluxe, more so than on Musik von Harmonia.” What was also noticeable, was that Deluxe had a more commercial sound. 

“This wasn’t a conscious decision. The music morphed and evolved, and the result was Deluxe,” Hans-Joachim Roedelius reflects. Michael Rother agrees. “Every album I’ve made I set out for it to be commercial. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out that way.”  Sadly, that proved to be the case.

When Deluxe was released in 1975, it was to the same critical acclaim as Musik von Harmonia. The noticeable shift to what was a more commercial sound, surely would lead to a change in Harmonia’s fortunes?

That wasn’t to be. Deluxe was released on 20th August 1975, and sales of the album were slow. They never picked up, and history it seemed, was repeating itself. Michael reflects: “Still our music was being ignored. It was a difficult time for us. So much so, that Michael decided to record his debut solo album. However, he left and the other members of Harmonia left behind a classic album, Deluxe.

Straight away, Harmonia’s showcase their finely sculpted, and much more structured sound on Deluxe. Michael Rother had encouraged the other members of Harmonia to incorporate traditional song structures on the album. This he told them, would be easier to replicate live. However, two other changes played an important part in Deluxe’s sound and eventually, success. 

The two other changes Michael Rother made, were to bring onboard Conny Plank to co-produce Deluxe; and Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeie to play on some tracks. Deluxe was going to be a very different album, and the new Harmonia make their presence felt from the get-go. 

A futuristic synth signals the arrival of the synths and keyboards on album opener Deluxe (Immer Weiter). Washes and stabs of meandering, lazy synths join dreamy keyboards. Sometimes the synths have a futuristic, otherworldly sound. Other times, they just shimmer, and melt blissfully into the ether. Meanwhile, understated drums underpin the arrangement. Later, melodic, ruminative vocals are shrouded in effects. This results in a noticeable Kraftwerk influence. One wonders if this is down to Michael, a former alumni of Kraftwerk? For his part, Michael unleashes bursts of jagged, rocky guitar. Occasionally, his guitar produces an elegiac wash of lysergic, melodic  and mysterious music. Soon, the arrangement veers between ethereal, cinematic, mesmeric, occasionally dramatic and sometimes, futuristic and otherworldly. This is down to the sci-fi synths and carefully hewn keyboards. That’s not forgetting the  slow, pulsating heartbeat. It adds an element of drama, to the genre-melting arrangement. At its heart, are elements of ambient, avant-garde, Kominische and rock. They’re combined by Harmonia and Conny Plank, who create  what’s Harmonia’s neu, groundbreaking  sound.

Synths sweep and beep on Gollum, before Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeie almost caresses his drums. He eschews the power he unleashed on previous Guru Guru albums. Meanwhile, sci-fi synths shimmer and glisten. They range from Blade Runner-esque, to ethereal and elegiac. Sometimes, it’s as if Harmonia are providing the soundtrack to a sci-fi film. However, it’s left to the listener to provide the soundtrack as the arrangement glides effortlessly along. Gradually, the tension builds to this cinematic track. Mani’s drums rumble, while hypnotic keyboards add tension and drama. All the time, the otherworld synths flit in and out, as this timeless, cinematic track heads towards its dramatic crescendo. 

Kekse is reminiscent of both of library music being produced in Britain and Europe in the early seventies, and Eastern European experimental music. The arrangement is like a mesmeric merry-go-round with sound effects interjecting. What sounds like animals and birds, gives way to lumbering seventies synths. Meanwhile, the mainstay of the arrangement has an obvious Kominische influence. Other parts of the arrangement, have been influenced by avant garde, classical and experimental music. Later, dreamy synths meander as the sound effects become more prominent. It’s like a journey into the Forst countryside, complete with the soundtrack of animals, birds and the tranquil sound of a river. Adding the final touch is a pastoral piano solo from Hans-Joachim Roedelius. Gradually though, its ethereal beauty dissipates, leaving a memory of Harmonia at their most ambitious and innovative.

As Monza (Rauf Und Runter) unfolds, synths meander, flutter and stutter. Meanwhile, Michael Rother unleashes washes of his guitar. It reverberates into the distance. Deep down in the arrangement, sound effects bubble, and an guitar chirps. All this plays a part in what’s a dark, dramatic arrangement. Then it’s all change, when Mani is let off the leash. He  powers the arrangement along, and Michael discovers his inner guitar hero. By then,  a joyous, freewheeling fusion of Kominische, rock and proto-punk has unfolded.  It’s Mani’s drums that underpin the arrangement, while searing, blistering guitars are unleashed. They’re augmented by bursts of vocals and keyboards. Mostly though, it’s Mani and Michael who drive the arrangement along. Rocky guitars, crashing cymbals and pounding drums join sci-fi synths as Harmonia are a group transformed, on what’s one of the highlights of Deluxe.

Banks of progressive rock keyboards open Notre Dame. The keyboards almost sound as if they belong in a church. They’ve a big, bold and impressive sound. Some would say grandiose. That’s no bad thing. Soon, though, a drum machine provides a subtle, sonic heartbeat. Then after 1.22 it’s all change, as otherworldly synths become elegiac. A futuristic sound gradually emerges from the slow, pedestrian arrangement. Synths and keyboards play a leading role. Panning is used effectively, giving the arrangement a lysergic sound. Later, the progressive rock keyboards return for an encore, and race across the arrangement. The hypnotic drumbeats make no attempt to keep up, and provide a contrast to this captivating musical adventure.

Walky Talky closes Deluxe, Harmonia’s 1975 sophomore album. A bass is joined by plink plonk keyboards, before what resembles a braying horn interjects. This however, comes courtesy of Harmonia’s trusty synths, and adds an element of drama. Mani, Guru Guru’s legendary drummer returns for the finale. So do the futuristic, sci-fi synths and washes of Michael’s guitar. It chirps, shimmers and glistens, producing an elegiacal sound. By then, a myriad of disparate sounds are flitting in and out of the arrangement. They range from subtle and ethereal, to bold and dramatic, right through to futuristic, haunting, mesmeric and even otherworldly. It’s fitting finale to Deluxe, and finds Harmonia at their very best. Sadly, in 1975, very few people heard this future Kominische classic.

Just like so many Kominische groups, including Amon Düül II, Can, Cluster, Faust and Neu!, Harmonia’s music passed most German record buyer by in the seventies. For Harmonia, these were tough times. Neither Musik Von Harmonia, nor Deluxe sold well and Live ’74 wasn’t even released until 2007. By then, things would be very different,

Gradually, though, Kominische muzik began to grow in popularity. By the nineties, and the internet age a new generation of record buyers had discovered Kominische muzik. Harmonia were regarded as one of the Kings of Kominische muzik.

It it was fortunate that the long lost master tapes for Tracks and Traces were discovered and belatedly released in 1997. Over the next ten years, interest in Harmonia was at an all-time high. 

Just like so many Kominische groups, including Amon Düül II, Can, Cluster, Faust and Neu!, Harmonia’s music passed most German record buyer by in the seventies. For Harmonia, these were tough times. Neither Musik Von Harmonia, nor Deluxe sold well. Live ’74 wasn’t even released until 2007. By then, things would be very different and interest in Harmonia  increased. 

By 2007, Harmonia’s Live ’74 album was reissued. To promote the album, the three members of Harmonia reunited for what turned out to be their final concert. Never again would the three members of Harmonia take to the stage together.

Dieter Moebius, Harmonia’s synth player died on 20th July 2015. He left behind a rich musical legacy, including what many critics regard as Harmonia’s finest hour, Deluxe. 

On Deluxe, Harmonia changed direction musically. Michael Rother encouraged the other members of Harmonia to incorporate traditional song structures on the album. This he told them, would be easier to replicate live. The result was a finely sculpted and structure album, where Harmonia combine disparate genres. 

Elements of ambient, avant garde, experimental and progressive rock can be heard on Deluxe. So can psychedelia and classic rock. However, Deluxe has a much more prominent Kominische influence than Musik Von Harmonia. Partly, this comes courtesy of Guru Guru’s legendary drummer Mani Neumeier. He played on three tracks on Deluxe, and his drums add a  Kominische influence. Another change was that Michael Rother’s guitar played a more prominent role. It steps out of the shadows of the keyboards and synths, and helps transforms Harmonia’s sound. The other change from Musik Von Harmonia, was the addition of Conny Plank, who co-produced Deluxe.

By then, Conny Plank was a vastly experienced producer. He had worked with Michael Rother on Kraftwerk’s aborted album, and then on Neu!’s first three albums. The two men had established a good working relationship, and Conny Plank was the perfect man to help sculpt and structure Harmonia’s new sound on Deluxe. It was a remarkable transformation. One can’t help but wonder what Harmonia’s next album would’ve sounded like? 

Although Harmonia went on to collaborate with Brian Eno on Tracks and Traces, Deluxe was their swan-song. Harmonia as a band was quietly dissolved, and what become one of the most innovative, inventive and influential Kominische bands were no more.

Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius continued to work together as Cluster. Michael Rother embarked upon a career as a solo artist.

It was only much later that Harmonia’s two studio albums Musik Von Harmonia and Deluxe, enjoyed the critical acclaim and started to find the wider audience their music so richly deserved. For Harmonia, it was a case of better late than never. Now somewhat belatedly, Harmonia are regarded as Kominische royalty, and Musik Von Harmonia and their timeless Kominische classic Deluxe are part of a huge treasure trove of Kominische muzik awaiting discovery.

Cult Classic: Harmonia-Deluxe.

R-7694016-1446890350-2035.jpeg