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In Memoriam – September 2011

October 3rd, 2011 4 comments

The headline death this past month was that at 75 of Sylvia Robinson, who featured on this blog before with her 1973 hit “Pillow Talk”, a song taught Donna Summer all she needed to know about pleasured moaning to a disco beat. But Robinson was much more important than that. As the founder of Sugar Hill Records, she produced and released the first ever rap hit (“Rappers’ Delight”). Robinson’s label also released what I still regard as the greatest rap record of all time, Grandmaster Flash’s monumental “The Message”.

Also notable is the death a day later of Marv Tarplin, who was something of a shadow member of Smokey Robinson’s Miracles: he was always listed as a member, but rarely pictured as one. Tarplin co-wrote many great songs with Smokey, including Tracks Of My Tears, Going To A Go-Go, Ain’t That Peculiar and I’ll Be Doggone (both for Marvin Gaye), and later Smokey solo hits like Being With You and Cruisin’, on many of which he played guitar (including that exquisite intro of Tracks Of My Tears).

Most probably, few will know Wardell Quezergue, but many have heard the music he arranged and/or produced on records by the Dixie Cups, King Floyd, Robert Parker, Jean Knight, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Dorothy Moore, Eddie Bo, Paul Simon, Neville Brothers, Dr John and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown. A New Orleans native, he lost almost everything in Hurricane Katrina.

In August we lost Pinetop Perkins; in September his long-time collaborater Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith passed away at 75, just over half a year after winning a Grammy for his work with the Legendary Blues Band (whom you might have spotted as John Lee Hooker’s backing band in The Blues Brothers).

The romantic in me was sad to learn of the death of Johnny Wright, who would have celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary with the country legend Kitty Wells in October 2012 (they got married on 30 October 1937!).

Wright wasn’t the month’s oldest music casualty; that was Wade Mainer, who had been recording music since 1936 and reached the age of 104. On the other hand, two musicians in their 20s departed: DJ Medhi, who died at 24 in a freak accident, and British electronica muscian Joel Devers, apparently of suicide at 25.

Suicide is also a suspected cause of the death of soul singer Vesta Williams. Bottles of prescription drugs were found with her body in a hotel room. And, to reiterate, I tend to mention suicides not to titilate: to my mind, few things are more tragic than suicide, and few deaths as stigmatised. By mentioning suicide, I hope to offer a little contribution towards its destigmatisation.

Fans of Beatles covers will note the death of collage artist Richard Hamilton, who designed the poster that appeared in the White Album, and that double LP’s cover (in as far as it was designed). A week later, Robert Whitaker died. He was The Beatles’ in-house photographer in the mid-’60s, and most famously took the butcher cover pic for the group’s 1966 US album release Yesterday And Today. The photo, which was intended to communicate that the Fab Four were just ordinary human beings of flesh and blood, caused a huge outcry among people who cheerfully defended the Vietnam war (possibly even Johnnie Wright), and was quickly pulled from circulation.

Tom Hibbert, 59, English music journalist (Smash Hits, Q), on August 28
Brothers Johnson – ‘Q’ (1977)

Orangie Hubbard, 77, rockabilly musician, on September 1

McKinley ‘Bug’ Williams, percussionist and founding member of Maze featuring Frankie Beverley, on September 3
Maze feat Frankie Beverly – The Look In Your Eyes (1980)

Ray Fisher, 70, Scottish folk singer, on September 5
Ray Fisher – Far Over The North (1965)

Albie Wycherley (aka Ed Trent/Jason Eddie), 68, frontman of The Centremen, client of Joe Meek and brother of Billy Fury, on September 5

Wardell Quezergue, 81, New Orleans bandleader of Royal Dukes of Rhythm, arranger and producer, on September 6
Robert Parker – Barefootin’ (1966, as producer)
Jean Knight – Mr Big Stuff (1970, as producer)

Eddie Marshall, 73, jazz drummer, on September 7

Graham Collier, 74, British jazz bassist and composer, on September 10
Graham Collier Sextet – Down Another Road (1969)

Wade Mainer, 104, bluegrass singer and banjo player, leader of The Sons of the Mountaineers, on September 12
Wade Mainer’s Mountaineers – Just One Way To The Pearly Gates (1936)

Don Wayne, 78, country songwriter, on September 12
Lefty Frizzell – Saginaw, Michigan (1964, as songwriter)

DJ Mehdi (Mehdi Favéris-Essadi), 34, French-Tunisian hip hop end electro musician/producer, on September 13
DJ Mehdi – Signatune (2007)

Richard Hamilton, 89, British artist (designed The Beatles’ White Album cover and poster), on September 13
The Beatles – Good Night (1968)

Wilma Lee Cooper, 90, country singer, on September 13
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper – Highway To Heaven (1974)

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, 75, blues musician (with Muddy Waters, Legendary Blues Band), on September 16
Bo Diddley – Diddy Wah Diddy (1955, on harmonica)
Legendary Blue Band – Blues Today (1992)

Cora Vaucaire, 93, French singer, on September 17
Cora Vaucaire – La complainte de la butte (1955)

Asnaqètch Wèrqu, 76, Ethiopian singer and actress, on September 17
Asnaqètch Wèrqu – Endègèna

Vesta Williams, 53, soul singer and actress, on September 20
Vesta Williams – Congratulations (1988)

Joel Dever, 25, multi-instrumentalist in English electro trio Battant, on September 20

Robert Whitaker, 71, photographer who took The Beatles’ famous butcher photo, on September 20
The Beatles – I’m Only Sleeping (1966)

John Du Cann, 66, singer and guitarist of British prog rock band Atomic Rooster, on September 21
Atomic Rooster – The Devil’s Answer (1971)

Jumpin’ Jack Neal, 80, bassist with Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, on September 22
Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps – Wedding Bells (Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine) (1956)

John Larson, 61, trumpeter with The Ides of March, on September 22
The Ides Of March – Vehicle (1970)

Paul Kirby, 48, singer-songwriter and member of roots rock band The Cactus Brothers, on September 25
The Cactus Brothers – Big Train (1993)

Jessy Dixon, 73, gospel singer, on September 26
Jessy Dixon – I Won’t Bow Down (1985)

Harry Muskee, 70, Dutch blues singer, on September 26
Cuby + Blizzards – Window Of My Eyes (1968)

Johnnie Wright, 97, country singer (Johnnie & Jack), husband of Kitty Wells, on September 27
Johnnie Wright – Hello Vietnam (1965)

Johnny “Country” Mathis, 77, singer-songwriter, on September 27

Leonard Dillon, 68, member of Jamaican reggae group The Ethiopians, on September 28
The Ethiopians – Let It Be (1977)

Sylvia Robinson, 75, soul singer, producer and record label executive, on September 29
The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street (1970, as producer)
Sylvia – Give Up In Vain (1973)
Sugarhill Gang – Rappers Delight (Extended 12″ version) (1979, as producer)

Marv Tarplin, 70, guitarist of The Miracles and songwriter, announced on September 30
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Tracks Of My Tears (1965)

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Any Major Funk Vol. 6

August 18th, 2011 3 comments

It has been two and a half years since I last posted a Any Major Funk mix. Most of the tracks contained in this, the sixth volume, have been languishing in the shortlist folder since then. So here are 16 more songs from the great era of dance music, stretching from 1977 to 1983.

While I’m at it, I have updated the expired links for the first five volumes.

Michael Henderson has played with the greats. Having moved to Detroit as a child, he was only 13-14 years old when he played the bass with various Motown acts as well as The Fantastic Four, The Detroit Emeralds and Billy Preston. Later he toured with Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Miles Davis. Later he debuted as a vocalist for Norman Connors, the great drummer and producer.

It may be by subliminal decision that I sequenced a track by Norman Connors’ after Henderson’s 1983 effort. Connors has produced, played or arranged for some great acts in soul and jazz, including Billy Paul, Jack McDuff, Charles Earland and Herbie Hancock. As a juvenile he once stood in at a gig for John Coltrane’s usual drummer. He discovered Phyllis Hyman, who in 1981 recorded a duet with Henderson. The vocals on the featured track by Connors, the title track from his 1980 album, are by Adaritha, who still performs, now as Ada Dyer, and who recorded the original of Anita Baker’s You Bring Me Joy.

Rainbow Brown (singers Fonda Rae, Luci Martin, Yvonne Lewis) only ever released one LP, a self-titled effort on New York’s Vanguard label produced by Patrick Adams, a prolific songwriter for a number of soul and hip hop acts, ranging from The Main Ingredient to Keith Sweat and the Notorious B.I.G.. Adams wrote Musique’s enthusiastically banned In the Bush, a song that had little relationship with horticulture, but was a top 20 hit in gardening paradise Britain.

The bush-loving nation gave us Hi-Tension, a 12-member ensemble that is regarded as a pioneer of Brit-Funk. They were led by David Joseph, who went on to record several UK hits, including You Can’t Hide Your Love (1982) and Let’s Live It Up (1983).

Also representing Britain are Delegation, who came from Birmingham and had a UK Top 30 hit in 1977 with the excellent Where Is The Love (We Used To Know). I tend to associate them with Sunfire, for no better reason than sometimes sequencing their 1977 hit with Young And Free And Single. Sunfire were a New York outfit whose best-known member was Bruce Fisher, whose At The End Of A Love Affair should be well known to fans of Northern Soul, and who wrote the title track of Quincy Jones’ 1973 album Body Heat.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R. Homebaked covers are included.

TRACKLISTING
1. War – Galaxy
2. Brothers Johnson – Ain’t We Funkin’ Now
3. Jimmy ‘Bo’ Horne – Get Happy
4. Sunfire – Young, Free And Single
5. George Benson – Turn Your Love Around
6. B.B.R.A. – Do What Make You Feel Good
7. Michael Henderson – You Wouldn’t Have To Work At All
8. Norman Connors – Take It To The Limit
9. Rainbow Brown – I’m The One
10. Shalamar – Full Of Fire
11. George Duke – Brazilian Love Affair
12. Delegation – Put A Little Love On Me
13. Hi-Tension – Hi-Tension
14. One Way – Music
15. The Players Association – Turn The Music Up
16. Parliament – Flashlight

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The Originals Vol. 11

October 22nd, 2008 1 comment

Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23.mp3
Brothers Johnson – Strawberrry Letter 23.mp3
Quentin Tarantino had a good line in compiling soundtracks. Among the nearly forgotten numbers he resurrected was the Brothers Johnson’s catchy Strawberry Letter 23. I loathe the use of it in Jackie Brown though – scoring a vicious scene with a cute song is so Clockwork Orange. The soundtrack for Jackie Brown surely sold very well. All the more the pity that the author and original performer of the song is now reportedly eking out a decaying existence in Oakland. Shuggie Otis, a gifted guitarist, indeed multi-instrumentalist, and son of R&B legend John Otis (Shuggie’s real name is John Otis Jr), released his ode of appreciation for the 22th love letter on strawberry-scented paper in 1971. The song was intended to represent a response to letter 22, hence the numbering. Six years after Otis recorded the track, Brothers Johnson recorded it in a more upbeat mood, produced by Quincy Jones (who, happily, amplified the opening hook) with Lee Ritenour taking over the guitar solo duties so integral to the song.
Also recorded by: Tevin Campbell (1991)
Best version: Much as I like the brothers’ take.and without wishing to come over all purist, I prefer Otis’ original. The clarity of his less lushly produced instrumental part can do your head in.

Smiley Lewis – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking.mp3
Smiley Lewis will feature again with another song when we visit the Elvis originals. Here he provided the original for an early ’70s hit. Lewis, a New Orleans musician nicknamed for his missing front teeth, recorded I Hear You Knocking in 1955. The song was written by Dave Bartholomew and Pearl King, and the former was Fats Domino’s writing partner. Fats naturally later recorded the song. At a time when US radio and charts were subject to much racial segregation, Lewis’ record made little impact outside the black charts, where it peaked at #2, and Lewis’ career never really took off. Instead the song enjoyed commercial success in its version by Gale Storm in 1956. Lewis died of stomach cancer in 1966.

Four years later, he would be remembered by the Welsh singer Dave Edmunds, whose cover of I Hear You Knocking reached #1 in Britain and #4 in the US with slightly altered lyrics which name checked Lewis, among others (including Huey Smith, who played on Lewis’ version). Edmunds himself hadn’t known the song until he produced a version of it for the young Shakin’ Stevens – a decade away from fame as a revivalist rock ‘n roller and Christmas #1 hunter. In fact, Edmunds almost didn’t record what would become his biggest hit. He had planned to find stardom with a cover of Wilbert Harrison’s Let’s Work Together, but was scooped in that endeavour by Canned Heat (as we’ll see below). So he adapted the arrangement he had in mind for Let’s Work Together to create a truly original cover.
Also recorded by: Fats Domino (1955 & 1961), Jill Day (1956), Gale Storm (1956), Connie Francis (1959), Shakin’ Stevens (1970), Andy Fairweather-Low (1976), Kingfish (1976), Orion (1979), The Fabulous Thunderbirds (1981), Rocking Dopsie & the Cajun Twisters (1988), Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1991), Quicksilver Messenger Service (1991), Bart Herman (1993), Alvin Lee (1994), Yockamo All-Stars (1998), Tom Principato (2003) a.o.
Best version: I do like the original better than Edmunds’, but I suspect that Fats Domino would trump either.

Wilbert Harrison – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Canned Heat – Let’s Work Together.mp3
Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together.mp3
When Wilbert Harrison released Let’s Work Together in 1969, it was a slightly customised take on his 1961 song Let’s Stick Together. For all intents and purposes, it is the same song. Where “Stick Together” failed to make an impression, its reworked version was a minor US hit. Canned Heat, who were canny in their selection of obscure songs to cover, recorded their version soon after and scored a hit with it in 1970 (the same year their hitherto unreleased album produced by John Otis – Shuggie’s dad – was released). To their credit, Canned Heat delayed the US release of the single to let Harrison’s single run its course first. In 1976 Bryan Ferry took the song to #4 on the UK charts, having reverted to the original title, introduced some thumping saxophone and applied the suave working-class-boy-gone-posh vocals. Outside Roxy Music, everybody’s favourite fox-hunting Tory never did anything better. Thanks to Wilbert Harrison’s retitling, it is now evident which version – Canned Heat’s or Ferry’s – has inspired subsequent covers.
Also recorded by: Climax Blues Band (Work, 1973), Raful Neal (Work, 1987), Bob Dylan (Stick, 1988), Dwight Yoakam (Work, 1990), Status Quo (Work, 1991), George Thorogood & The Destroyers (Work, 1995), Francine Reed (Work, 1996), Paper Parrot (Stick, 1999), Kt Tunstall (Stick, 2007)
Best version: Thanks to the sax, Ferry’s. Marginally.

Sonny Dae & His Knights – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
Hank Williams – Move It On Over.mp3
Bill Haley & his Comets – Rock Around The Clock.mp3
It is indisputable that Bill Haley was a key figure in converting rock ’n roll into the mainstream – or, if we prefer to stray from euphemistic rationalisation, make a black genre infused with some country sensibility palatable to white audiences (so that’s a doctoral thesis delivered in 13 glib words). The notion of Haley as the father of rock ’n roll is about as plausible as describing the Bee Gees as the “Kings of Disco”. Rock Around The Clock most certainly wasn’t the first rock ’n roll single either (on the original label it is categorised as a foxtrot), or even Haley’s first rock ’n roll song. It was the first rock ’n roll #1 hit, though, and the song’s pivotal influence is undeniable, even if it ripped off a 1947 hit, Hank Williams’ Move It On Over (which Chuck Berry also seems to have borrowed from for Roll Over Beethoven).

Rock Around The Clock was written for Haley, but due to various complications involving a feud between record company and authors, it was recorded first by Sonny Dae and His Knights, an Italian-American band, released on a label co-owned by Haley. The original version – quite distinct from the more famous version – made no impression, and there is no evidence that Haley referred to it in his interpretation – indeed Haley and his Comets played it frequently on stage before recording it. Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (recorded on 12 April 1954 as Sammy Davis Jr sat outside the studio awaiting his turn to record) features one of the great guitar solos of the era, by session musician Benny Cedrone. Alas, Cedrone didn’t live to see his work become a seminal moment in music history – he died on 17 June 1954 in a fall, three days short of his 34rd birthday. Perhaps Cedrone might be regarded as the first rock ’n roll death. Which would give the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame two reasons to admit him.
Also recorded by: Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor and Alan Freed’s Rock ‘n Roll Band and The Modernaires (1956), Eddie Cochran and Gary Lambert (1956), Royale Orchestra (1956), Noe Fajardo (1956), Macky Kasper (1956), Renato Carosone (1956), Max Greger Orchestra (1956), Pat Boone (1957), Marimba Chiapas (1957), Winifred Atwell (1957), Isley Brothers (1959), Ray Martin Marching Band (1961), Meyer Davis Orchestra (1961), Sandy Nelson (1962), The Platters (1962), Frank Zappa (1964), Peter Kraus (1964), Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (1964), Mike Rios (1965), Bill Haley (1968), The Troublemakers (1968), Wild Angels (1970), Mae West (1972), Tritons (1973), Sha Na Na (1973), Harry Nilsson (1974), Peter Horton (1976), Jack Scott (1979), Telex (1979), Sex Pistols (1979), Les Humphries Singers (1982), The Housemartins (1986), Ty Tender (1987), Smurfarna (1993), Starlite Orchestra (1995), Ernie from Sesame Street (1999) and a few thousand others.
Best version: Haley’s. The guitar, the drums!

Johnny Darrell – Green Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Porter Wagoner – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass Of Home.mp3
I make no secret of it: I think Tom Jones is a hack. I’ll cheerfully concede that his delivery on Bacharach’s What’s New Pussycat is amusingly over the top, and It’s Not Unusual is a fine song sung well. But look at what Jones did to Green Green Grass Of Home. He robbed it of its pathos and lent it as much depth as his contemporary panty recipient Engelbert Humperdinck invested in his material. The spoken bit is droll, but inappropriately delivered to the point of creating a template for generations of hammy karaoke singers. And the cheesy backing vocals. Much better then to return to the song’s roots in country music.

Written by Claude “Curly” Putman Jr, it was first recorded by Johnny Darrell, the ill-fated associate of the Outlaw Country movement which also included the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In other words, country music that was cool. Darrell’s 1965 version failed to make much of a splash, but Porter Wagoner – who was cool but dressed like an overdone Nashville cliché – did gain some attention with his recording made in June 1965. Both versions communicate empathy with the protagonist, a dead man walking awakening from a dream of being reunited in freedom with the scenes of his childhood but in fact is awaiting his execution in the presence of the “sad old padre” (not “peartree” or “partridge”).

Jones was introduced to the song through Jerry Lee Lewis’ version, also a country affair recorded a few months after Wagoner, and proceeded to turn it into hackneyed easy listening, selling more than a million records of it in 1966. Who said pop was fair?
Also recorded by: Bobby Bare (1965), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Leonardo (L’erba verde di casa mia, 1966), Conway Twitty (1966), The Statler Brothers (1967), Dean Martin (1967), Hootenanny Singers (as En sång en gång för längese’n, 1967), Jan Malmsjö (as En sång en gång för längese’n, 1967), Agnaldo Timóteo (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1967), Dallas Frazier (1967), Trini Lopez (1968), Skitch Henderson (1968), Merle Haggard and The Strangers (1968), Belmonte and Amaraí (as Os Verdes Campos da Minha Terra, 1968), Joan Baez (1969), Stompin’ Tom Connors (1971), The Fatback Band (1972), The Flying Burrito Brothers (1973), Elvis Presley (1975), Kenny Rogers (1977), John Otway (1980), Jetsurfers (2000)
Best version: I am most partial to Porter Wagoner’s interpretation, which Jones might have consulted concerning the spoken bit.

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