CHARLIE WHITEHEAD-RAW SPITT.
CHARLIE WHITEHEAD-RAW SPITT.
For many years, I’ve been a huge fan of Swamp Dogg’s productions, and recently, reviewed Doris Duke’s seminal album I’m A Loser. During his career, Swamp Dogg, aka Jerry Williams worked with many artists, including Gary US Bonds, Patti La Belle, Arthur Conley and ZZ Hill. One of the lesser known artists Jerry worked with, was Charlie Whitehead. Sadly, like many other artists, Charlie didn’t get the breaks his talent deserved, and commercial success eluded him and during his career. However, may people won’t have heard of Charlie, so I’ll now tell you about his career, which spans just three albums.
Charlie Whitehead was born in September 1942, from Franklin, Virginia. Aged twenty-six. Charlie decided to move to New York, and once there, was signed by Charlie Foxx to Dynamo Records, a subsidiary of the Musicor label that specialized in R&B music. It was there that Charlie first encountered Swamp Dogg. Together, the duo wrote songs for Dee Dee Warwick and Doris Duke. One of these songs were Dee Dee Warwick’s 1970 hit single She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking). Another artist Charlie and Swamp Dogg collaborated with was Gary US Bonds, who they sometimes wrote songs with. Later in his career, Swamp Dogg produced Gary US Bonds. Having only released one single for Dynamo, How Can I Forget, Charlie decided to switch labels. By then, Charlie felt Dynamo started to lose interest in his career. He decided to join Swamp Dogg who had also left Dynamo.
Having left Dynamo, Charlie moved to Canyon Records where he hooked up again with Swamp Dogg. It was on Canyon that Charlie released Raw Spitt in 1970. Using the pseudonym Raw Spitt, Charlie collaborated with Swamp Dogg, who wrote or cowrote eight of the songs on the album. Having written most of the songs on the album, Swamp Dogg produced the album. The music on the album is a gritty combination of soul, funk and even rock music. Although there’s an element of humor in some of the lyrics, Charlie’s music has a social conscience. On the album, he sings about the race and the African-American identity, injustice and sex. Overall, it’s a compelling album, featuring some great Southern Soul. When the album was released, it wasn’t a commercial success. Worse was to come when Canyon folded, having encountered financial problems. After this, Charlie would only release two further albums.
Charlie’s next label was Stone Dogg, who he signed for in 1972. Stone Dogg was a Miami label that was a joint-venture between Swamp Dogg and Henry Stone. However, their partnership was short lived with when the pair fell out. During this period, distribution problems meant that not many people were able to hear any of the labels released, never mind anything by Charlie Whitehead. After the demise in Swamp Dogg and Henry Stone’s partnership, Charlie had to find a new label.
It was on the Fungus label that Charlie’s second album was released. This was Charlie Whitehead and the Swamp Dogg Band, released in 1973. There are just six longer tracks on the album, a combination of vocals and instrumentals. Like his debut album Raw Spitt, success eluded Charlie. There was very little interest in the album, and shortly after, the Fungus label folded, being wound up.
After that, Charlie seemed to change labels regularly, first singing to Sweetheart, a short lived label. Then when Swamp Dogg signed with Island Records, Charlie signed for them. Only two of his singles were ever released. Here in the UK, these singles were released by United Artists. Following on from this, Charlie continued to record for various labels, including Vee Jay, Takoma and Musicor. Then when Swampp Dog started the Atomic Art label, Charlie was the first artist signed. It was there that he released his last album Whitehead At Yellowstone in 1976, which was released on the WIzard label. Sadly, the album failed to chart, and was the final album Charlie recorded. Although commercial success eluded him, he’s a hugely talented artist, who sadly, during his career released just three albums. It’s the first of these albums Raw Spitt that I’ll now tell you about.
Raw Spitt opens with Put A Little Love In Your Heart, co-written by Jimmy Holiday, Jackie DeShannon and Randy Myers. Many people whose children like the film Stuart Little 2, will be familiar with this track, albeit not this version. This to me is the definitive version of the track. It opens with piano, rhythm section and chiming accompanying Charlie strong, throaty vocal. Backing vocalists accompany Charlie, their voices a contrast to Charlie’s. Rasping horns enter, their addition really lifting the track, which features a really prominent bass line and some great guitar playing. As the song progresses, Charlie makes the song his own, delivering the lyrics with feeling and power. When his vocal is combined with Swamp Dogg’s arrangement, the result is an excellent track. Hopefully, the rest of the album will be just as good.
The title track Raw Spitt a track with some gritty lyrics, that opens with rasping horns, a driving rhythm sections, guitars and a wailing Hammond organ. The tempo is quick, the arrangement fuller, on this song about poverty and having to leave home to escape it, and seek a better life, away from temptation and trouble. Charlie’s voice is emotive, full of frustration and anger at the injustice he’s describing. Blazing horns reflect his anger and frustration, as the rhythm section drives along, keeping pace with Charlie’s vocal. Key to the track’s success are the horns, piano and Hammond organ. They add to the drama and energy of the track. Charlie gives an impassioned rendition of Jerry Williams Jr. and Troy Davis lyrics, bringing to life the hardship, poverty and social injustice they highlight.
Jerry Williams Jr. wrote Call Me Nigger, a song that describes the pride felt in being black and the African-American heritage. Against a backdrop of braying horns, rhythm section, Hammond organ and guitars Charlie sings with pride about his color and heritage. Later, a piano enters, as the arrangement drives along, with blazing horns, a driving rhythm section and chiming guitars at the heart of the arrangement. Backing vocalists occasionally accompany Charlie, their soulful contributions celebratory. However, it’s Charlie’s vocal that steals the show. It’s joyful, full of pride and passion, and made all the better by a fast paced, celebratory arrangement courtesy of Swamp Dogg.
When The Freedom Under Certain Konditions Marching Band opens, you’re caught unaware. The last thing you expect to hear is a military sounding drum beat. You almost expect Charlie to lead the listener into battle. By now you’re intrigued, unsure what to expect. The drums having returned to a normal beat, are then joined by bass, guitars, piano and percussion, on top of which sits Charlie’s passionate vocal. After an unusual start, the song improves, an arrangement that combines elements of funk and soul unfolding. By now the arrangement has grown, as has Charlie’s voice. However, the song isn’t quite as good as the three that have preceded. Having said that, it isn’t a bad song, just not up to the high standard of the other tracks.
Midnight Driver sees a return to form for Charlie, on a track has a punchy introduction where the tight rhythm section and guitars combine before Charlie’s strong, almost angry and frustrated vocal enters. He’s singing about the inequity and persecution of the character in the song, who’s run out of town. Like other songs on the album, this is music with a social conscience, albeit set against a punchy, driving beat. His vocal is quick, and full of emotion as he tries to keep up with the arrangement. Punchy drums, a quick, fluid bass line and guitars are at its heart, with percussion making occasional contributions, before blazing horns enter. They reflect the frustration and anger that Charlie’s vocal displays. When set against an energetic, punchy arrangement, this allows both the vocal and lyrics to shine.
Like the previous track, Who Do They Think They Are is another Jerry Williams Jr. and Troy Davis penned track. It’s a slightly slower track with chiming guitars, rhythm section, piano and Hammond organ providing the backdrop for the vocal. Charlie is joined by Swamp Dogg on the vocal, as the track opens. It’s when Charlie takes over vocal duties that the song takes off. His vocal suits the questioning nature of the song, as he asks who are people to judge him or ask him or tell him what to? What gives them that right. Guitars chime and scream, horns blaze in, while the rhythm section and piano play an important part in the track’s sound. However, it’s the raw passion and anger of Charlie’s vocal that makes this such a great track. It truly is a hugely impassioned and irresistible vocal from him.
I Dig Black Girls opens with braying horns, rock influenced guitars, a Hammond organ and rhythm section combining before Charlie’s joyous vocal enters. Against this backdrop Charlie sing the praises of the black girls he knows and loves. As he gives his celebratory vocal, a soaring, screaming rock guitars dances atop the arrangement. This is totally out of keeping with the rest of the arrangement, especially the Hammond organ and rhythm section. However, this is just a matter of taste, and I’m no lover of this style of guitar besmirching a soul track. My problem with the guitar solo is it totally dominates the arrangement, meaning you tend to focus on it throughout the track. Apart from that minor gripe, the rest of the track works well, especially a truly celebratory vocal from Charlie.
There’s a real funk influence to This Old Town when it bursts into life. A combination of funk drenched rhythm section, chiming guitars and piano combine before Charlie sings about the problems of small mindedness in towns. His voice is strong, laden of anger and despair. By now it’s a frantically, fast and funky arrangement that now features blazing horns, that reflect Charlie’s energy and frustration. It’s a hugely catchy, driving track, with some great lyrics from William Stevenson, Wilson Pickett and Don Convay and an upbeat, funky arrangement that’s the perfect backdrop for Charlie’s social conscience.
Sweet Bird of Success sees the tempo drop slightly, but the energy and passion in Charlie’s voice is a constant. Against a soulful backdrop featuring a tight rhythm section, chiming guitars, piano and braying horns, Charlie demonstrates just how hugely talented a vocalist he is. Swamp Dogg’s arrangement is excellent, its just a compliments it perfectly. There’s an element of subtlety as the arrangement sits snugly behind the vocal, gently enveloping it. The subtlety of the arrangement and the energy and passion of Charlie’s vocal are a perfect fit for one another, resulting in one of the album’s best tracks.
Raw Spitt closes with Excuses another of the album’s highlights. A slow combination of piano, chiming guitars and rhythm section accompany a much more subtle, gentle vocal from Charlie. Quickly, an understated rasping saxophone enters, drenching the arrangement with its beauty. Meanwhile, Charlie sings about the unfairness of life and the system, and how things just never change. Beneath his gentle vocal, frustration and unfairness is eating away at him. However, it never gets the better of him, as he sings one of his best vocals on the album, against one of the best arrangements on the album. Overall, it’s the perfect way to close what has been, a great album from one of Southern Soul’s unsung heroes.
During the time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written many times about how a particular artist or album deserved to do much better. Charlie Whitehead is just the latest in a long line of artists I’ve written this about. He’s blessed with a huge talent and a great voice. On Raw Spitt, he sings with a combination of emotion, joy and passion, and sometimes, anger and frustration. Backed by a great band, and with Swamp Dogg producing the album, Raw Spitt is a compelling album featuring some great vocals from Charlie. On the ten songs on this album, he sings about race, social problems, injustice and love. How the album didn’t do much better is a great shame. Maybe if it had been released on a bigger label and been promoted more, it would’ve fared much better. After this, Charlie Whitehead released just two more albums Charlie Whitehead and the Swamp Dogg Band released in 1973 and Whitehead At Yellowstone in 1976. Sadly these are the only albums Charlie ever released. Instead of having the hugely successful career his talented deserved, Charlie Whitehead remains one of Southern Soul’s unsung heroes. Thankfully, you can now hear two of his albums again, Raw Spitt and Charlie Whitehead and the Swamp Dogg Band. They’re both part of Songs To Sing-The Charlie Whitehead Anthology 1970-1976 on Kent Soul. This allows those who have never heard Charlie’s music before to hear some of the brilliant music he recorded with Swamp Dogg. Standout Tracks: Put A Little Love In Your Heart, Midnight Driver, Sweet Bird of Success and Excuses.
CHARLIE WHITEHEAD-RAW SPITT.