Sho’ nuff. Patti Drew does Otis Redding. 1969.
Sho’ nuff. Patti Drew does Otis Redding. 1969.
Usually, when writing an installment of Clifton’s Corner, I have an overall theme or artist that I want to highlight. This time, there is no theme. Like all DJs/record collectors, I’m always on the hunt for some new (to me) sounds for my sets. The following group of tracks is comprised of some new acquisitions that are finding their way into my Funky Sole sets, Saturday nights in LA.
An in-demand and versatile drummer, Grady Tate made his name as a sideman with jazz luminaries such as Quincy Jones, Astrud Gilberto, and Wes Montgomery. Some of Grady Tate’s most famous vocal work can be heard in the popular Schoolhouse Rock series (“Naughty Number Nine”, “Fireworks” and others). Released on Gary McFarland’s Skye label, “Be Black Baby” is propulsive jazz/funk featuring Tate singing the praises of Black pride. The song is also featured in the early Brian De Palma/Robert DeNiro film “Hi Mom!” a.k.a. “Blue Manhattan”
Famous for his own bawdy compositions, musical cult hero Andre Williams has worn many hats in the music business (including managing and “roadie-ing” for Edwin Starr). As dynamic and memorable as he is as a performer, Williams is also a songwriter and producer par excellence. To his credit, he co-wrote Stevie Wonder’s first single, wrote “Shake A Tail Feather” (made famous by the Five Du-Tones), wrote Alvin Cash & The Crawlers’ “Twine Time” and supervised the recording of two Contours records. Not every artist achieved the recognition of the aforementioned. Andre Williams’ composition, “The Thang”, for obscure Chicago group The Surveyors is a brilliant raw funk instrumental that has made it’s way into almost every set I play, lately.
In what is an all too familiar story, Melvin Davis is only beginning to receive the accolades that he deserved from the beginning of his career. With an impressive resume that includes playing with diverse artists such as the Miracles, Wayne Kramer, and northern soul legend Steve Mancha, Melvin Davis started out at Fortune Records (like Andre Williams) playing raw R&B. “I Won’t Come Crawling Back To You” comes from Davis’ earliest days at Fortune and was unreleased until Norton Records issued it in 2010. Thankfully, labels such as Norton and Vampi-Soul are helping to bring attention to these gems that would have been lost in time.
A group that needs no introduction to readers of Clifton’s Corner is the amazing Wess & The Airedales (see Clifton’s Corner Vol.11). A recent purchase and new favorite is “I’ll Never Turn My Back On You”. I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve noticed a new interest in vintage 50s/60s R&B (as opposed to soul or funk) in crowds. This song blurs those lines and fits well in R&B, soul, and funk sets. I always keep it on hand for Saturdays.
Big Mama Thornton is another name that really shouldn’t need an introduction. Famous for writing “Ball & Chain” for Janis Joplin and of course for her version of Leiber & Stoller’s “Hound Dog”, Big Mama Thornton was a musical force of nature. Nowhere is this more evident than on this take of the standard “Wade In The Water”. Released in 1968 on the Ball & Chain compilation LP, “Wade In The Water” is a tour de force that sounds as though it could have been recorded 10 years previously. Raucous and high energy, this song is pure, volcanic, dance floor heat!
As in any field, when an artist or song “hits”, there are imitators lined up and ready to try to capitalize on the original’s success. Usually, the imitations are pretty poor but sometimes, something great is created. While an obvious Jackson 5 rip off, Family Plann’s “Come On Let’s Do The Breakdown” is a great bit of “kiddie funk” released on M-S Records in 1971. I must say a big “thank you” to Jesse Chairez of The Analog Eye photo blog for turning me on to this song.
From Jackson 5 imitators to a cover of the legendary J5, Harold Mabern’s take on their “I Want You Back” epitomizes (in my mind) the best of soul-jazz/jazz-funk. While earlier jazz musicians tended to look down on R&B and the burgeoning soul music, by the mid-60s, they were beginning to take notice and notes. There’s an indefinable magic that happens when accomplished musicians tackle seemingly simple material. Here, Mabern adds a faint Caribbean feel that accentuates the dance groove of the original.
To end this installment is Jo Ann Garrett’s “It’s No Secret”. A dramatic and soulful masterpiece, the song was written and produced by the aforementioned Andre Williams. Singer Jo Ann Garrett is probably best known for her song “A Whole New Plan”, a lilting sweet soul tune. “It’s No Secret” is the polar opposite. A song of desperation over a slow funk beat, it’s a great way to end sets.
Previously: Find the Clifton’s Corner archives, HERE…
John Denver died in a plane crash in 1997 — several years later the compilation Take Me Home: A Tribute To John Denver was released via Badman Recordings. Guiding the artist roster, the compilation sonically concentrated on the somber stylings of the (then) quiet-is-the-new-loud zeitgeist – specifically that of Mark Kozelek, whose Red House Painters appear three times throughout the tribute’s twelve tracks. Kozelek, long known for transfiguring the source material of his cover choices like an alchemist, molds, sculpts and strips the tunes to their bare essence. As does Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, who kicks off the set. In Will Oldham’s hands the majestic “The Eagle And The Hawk” is treated to an acapella rendering– his patent warble adding a aching nuance to the original. Naturally, slocore vets Low reinterpret Denver’s ode to the traveling-man, “Back Home Again”, as an elegiac organ hymn.
Fast-forward thirteen years: this month sees the release of The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver. Unlike its predecessor the compilation suffers the same fate as last year’s Fleetwood Mac tribute, as there is no aesthetic through line tying the collection together. The good news: 2000′s Take Me Home is still in print (digitally) and very much worth seeking out – do find it.
Only the good shit. Our ‘astral blues’ t-shirt is finally available, as modeled above by our amigo for life, Cold Splinters‘ Jeff Thrope. It’s spring, and you need a new t-shirt. Wear it as-is, or, if you’re like Justin, embrace your inner redneck and whack the sleeves off. Super-soft, pre-shrunk, priced at a real nice twenty bones. Limited run.
Rep AD – get yours, here.
Wakin on a Pretty Daze is Philly rocker Kurt Vile’s 5th solo LP and new best. It is marked by maturity, craft, and confidence, evidence that Vile successfully cannibalized all the parts of his sturdy back catalog — the howling guitars, bedroom pop, his quizzical, drawling voice, and even the more fully-figured stuff on the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo. This new album isn’t so much a rebirth but a refinement, a peak, an aesthetic streamlining that results in the songwriter’s most clear and modern vision.
Visually, proof that Vile has truly come into his own is delivered via the album’s cover. On past records, Vile is pictured against an urban backdrop, but here, his words are painted into the architecture itself (thanks to Philly graffiti lifer ESPO), infiltrating the very fabric of his beloved hometown. When he closes a song called “Was All Talk” with the lyric “makin’ music is easy: watch me,” he’s not being arrogant or running defense against shit-talkers. Rather, Vile is shifting the focus from the actual ins and outs of his music to this album’s chief preoccupation: the responsibility and yearning for family, friends, and home. This approach works well–Wakin On A Pretty Daze never sounds fleeting, propped up high by strong, determined songwriting.
Vile’s unmistakable lattice of guitars, picked and strummed, is still very much present, as are the echoes and whirring bouts of noise. But that aspect of his music has grown up too. His 2008 debut, Constant Hitmaker, was like looking through a backyard telescope at a fuzzy, tilted planet, all blue and beautiful, a perfect, contained image of something quite far off. Wakin seems more first-hand and hi-def, like an up-close flyby of some overwhelmingly majestic nebula, one in which the listener is occasionally turned around in a long stretch of space fog.
Alan Lomax didn’t know what he was in for tearing down the dirt roads of the Mississippi Hill Country in 1942. He was looking for Sid Hemphill, a multi-instrumentalist he’d one day describe as “the best musician in the world.” When Lomax found him, the “boar-hog musician of the hills,” he was surprised to learn that the fiddle man and string band leader was blind. Not that it mattered. “His face blazed with inner light,” Lomax writes in his 1993 book, Land Where the Blues Began. “His speech, which could not keep pace with his thoughts and designs, had become telegraphic and brusque.”
Lomax’s initial recordings of Hemphill are collected on The Devil’s Dream: Alan Lomax’s 1942 Library of Congress Recordings, issued digitally by Global Jukebox Records and on vinyl by Mississippi Records. The recordings document Hemphill, accompanied by Alec Askew, Lucius Smith, and Will Head – mostly playing instruments Hemphill himself built – performing on August 15, 1942. The songs range from eerie to roaring: “The Devil’s Dream” pairs breathy bursts from the “quills,” or cane panpipes, with a steady martial snare roll, with Hemphill’s vocals sounding feverish and warped. “So Soon I’ll Be Home” is a mournful blues reading, and “The Sidewalks of New York” sounds like a battle cry. But mostly, the recordings sound like a party. “Come On Boys, Let’s Go to the Ball” stomps and “Hog Hunt” is gleeful, with Hemphill’s whoops and hollers imitating the song’s namesake pig. It’s no coincidence that the song is followed by the ribald “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy,” an ode to scrounging up something good.
In Land Where the Blues Began, Lomax states: “Finding this music still alive was the greatest surprise of all my collecting trips in America.” These recordings breathe fire; sounding fresh and vital despite the limitations imposed by Lomax’s crude recording techniques. In 2013, Hemphill’s music still sounds undeniably alive, a kicking, fitful blessing. words/ j. woodbury
Recorded at the BBC Studios London, for the “Tonight In Person” show in July of 1979, this vinyl bootleg finds Waits working up material from his Asylum years. This particular performance hit the spot recently as I’d been spending a lot of time with Waits’ transitional Heartattack And Vine LP—which ultimately reinvigorated an interest in the earlier catalog. Download and tracklisting after the jump.