Tonight I'll have the pleasure of spinning some Foot Stompin' mid-century music down at Dig A Pony. I can't wait to unleash George "Wild Child" Butler on SE Portland! If your butt can't shake to this one, well there's no hope for you in this Age of the Butt.
Butler grew up in Alabama where he taught himself to play harmonica (upside down) but relocated to Chicago as part of "The Great Migration." It was there that he recorded a couple of singles for Jewel Records with legendary sidemen Willie Dixon, Jimmy Dawkins, and Cash McCall. It's been said that Butler described his own style as "swamp blues." With Willie Dixon's involvement as songwriter, possible producer, and lead vocalist on this track, I guess we can hear what happens when Chicago blues wades in the swamp. Nothing gets bogged down here! So dive into the swamp with me tonight and dance to this one. Before you know it, you'll find yourself up to your eyeballs in pure polyrhythmic hoo doo blues.
I'm getting so excited about my Foot Stompin' party (happening tomorrow night 1/29) at Dig A Pony! I'll be debuting this little treasure which I finally acquired after a lengthy hunt.
Margie Day passed away this past September after a lifetime dedicated to the arts. Her most recent years were spent acting as the Executive Director of an non-profit she established to cultivate the artistic talents of children in Norfolk, Virginia (where she grew up).
Early in her professional music career she sang vocals for legendary R&B band leaders like the Griffin Brothers, Floyd Dixon, and Paul Hucklebuck Williams before launching her own solo career in the mid-1950s. That's when this record was recorded for Atlantic's subsidiary Cat Records.
Here we have an unusual fusion of R&B and country. How often to you hear a jaw harp on an R&B record? Any time these two musical worlds come together, my heart tends to flutter a little bit. I've played the country bop cover of this at QCJ, but it took a long time to get my hands on the original. This record wasn't a hit when originally released, but I'm determined to make it a smash sensation on the dance floors of Portland starting tomorrow night!
Bobby "Blue" Bland was born on this day 85 years ago in Barretville, TN. Though he never achieved much success on the pop charts, Bobby Bland was a GIANT in the blues/soul world. He is perhaps one of the most influential and imitated vocalists of the genres and certainly is credited with launching the genre of soul-blues.
To soul dance party goers he's best known for the famous Bobby Bland growl he unleashed as he roared through uptempo gospel-blues records like "Turn On Your Love Light" and "Don't Cry No More." However, Bland also could gently massage a lyric as masterfully as some of the greatest vocalists in American music history. And that's why today I'm featuring "Building A Fire With Rain," the absolutely gorgeous rumba-soul-blues B-Side of another great Bland tune "Poverty". The rumba rhythm is actually quite common in the blues and as I write this and think about some of my favorite records, I'm noticing that I tend to have an affinity for rumba blues.
But enough about me, let's talk about you and how much you're gonna love listening to this song today.
Sam Cooke, one of the fathers of soul music, was born on this day in 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He grew up in the heart of the gospel scene of Chicago where he launched his singing career at age 9 and began growing a dedicated following as a lead in the famous gospel group the Highway QCs at the age of 14. By age 19 he was a gospel superstar joining the most popular group of the day The Soul Stirrers. When he crossed over to the secular music world, he took gospel with him.
Those of us who weren't around to see Cooke in person may not be aware of his ability to work an audience into a frenzied fervor. The Cooke we get to see is the cool, smooth, sophisticated entertainer persona he presented to mainstream America. But that's just part of the picture. There was a whole other side of this legend that kind of gets kind of lost in the shuffle. It's the Cooke who was adored and cherished by the community who originally embraced him. Luckily there is an audio document of THAT Cooke. It was recorded in 1963 in front of Miami's Black audience at the Harlem Square Club. The album wasn't released until 1985. It was deemed too gritty at the time by his label RCA and they felt it a risky move to release it.
This is the closest we'll ever get to hearing the fiery, raw and rootsy gospel showman in Sam Cooke. This show gets as passionate as a camp meeting and I highly suggest listening to the entire album from beginning to end. It's one of the greatest live albums of all time. I'm posting the first two songs. "Feel It" is of course a gospel-inspired number and leads into Cooke's subtle social comment on institutionalized slavery (aka prison) with "Chain Gang". Give them a listen and let Sam Cooke take you to church.
Motown psychedelic soul artist Edwin Starr was born on this day in 1942 in Nashville. He grew up in Ohio and migrated to Detroit during the 1960s becoming one of the signature voices on the Ric Tic label scoring hits with "SOS (Stop Her On Sight), "Agent Double 0 Soul" and "Backstreet" all of which have become classics at the soul dance parties of today. He also wrote "Oh How Happy" which was a HUGE record for The Shades of Blue.
In the mid-1960s Motown swallowed up the recording contracts of the Ric Tic label and Starr transitioned into a new identity. In the label's efforts to reach the growing hippie market Starr was paired with psych-soul producer Norman Whitfield. Together they created some of the most effective message records of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Obviously 1970's "War" is still being used as a protest cry in present times.
The song I've selected to feature today is from the Starr/Whitfield era. I turned to this record a lot during the GW Bush years, as it was a time when so many people just wanted to escape this place on a daily basis. The song is one with dual meanings alternating back and forth between seemingly addressing a relationship and confronting the oppressive powers that be in the U.S:
Take me clear from here
I don't want this life you want me to live right now
Take me clear from here
I don't want this life your trying to give to me
And if i do not go away
I know you know,
I'll be old and gray before my time
Well, it would take a while, it would take a while before i can forget
Oh, the different ways you try and break my mind
Starr's performance on this song is very convincing, probably because he was truly thinking of getting the hell out of the U.S. He ended up moving to the UK in 1973.
Yesterday Dolly Parton, one of the most important musicians in American music history, turned 69. Good ole 69!
I remember all the jokes people used to make about Dolly Parton when I was a kid in the late 1970s. Of course, I thought she was the most amazing lady walking the face of the earth (other than my mom of course). There was a real snobbery flying around when it came to Dolly, who was just crossing over into mainstream super stardom at that time. You can see the attitude for yourself in this interview she did with Barbara Walters who asked Dolly a bunch of condescending questions and kind of treated her like she was some sort of a circus animal. As Dolly predicted in that very interview, it is she who has had the last laugh (all the way to the bank). She's become someone who is adored and admired by people the world over. Nobody denies her brilliance. She's become one of the most critically acclaimed songwriters in the country and she showed women entertainers a way to steer their own destinies and live empowered lives. And there's so much more.
So happy birthday Dolly! Thank you for your music and your message of love, acceptance, independence, individuality, and overcoming adversity.
The selection of the day comes from Dolly's 1973 concept album "My Tennessee Mountain Home" for which she wrote all the songs. It's a lovely tribute to her childhood in the Smokey Mountains and bravely breaking away to find her musical destiny.
Oh, and speaking of Dolly, I'm happy to announce my upcoming 4th annual celebration of the ladies of classic country, TOUCH YOUR WOMAN will be at the Kenton Club on Saturday 3/28. So close out Women's History Month by appreciating the female pioneers of country.
Happy 73rd Birthday to Barbara Lynn, pioneer of 1960s feminist soul, groundbreaking guitar player and songwriter!
Elvis Presley inspired her to start a rock n roll band (an all GIRL band btw) in high school. In a 2012 interview with LA Record she said "in fact I was in a way sorta wearing my hair like Elvis. But I wouldn’t do that again now, Lord! But at the time I was trying to shape my hair like Elvis Presley. Of course—when I got older I was still into the music. " At this time she began to develop her famous and highly unusual upside down left-handed guitar playing technique.
In 1962 she recorded her first self-penned hit "You'll Lose A Good Thing" which helped to usher in an era of feminist-leaning pop and soul music. She was a woman declaring her worth at a time when women were encouraged to stand by their men and keep their mouths shut. More importantly, she was a Black woman declaring her worth in the heat of the Civil Rights Era. Her music was revolutionary.
I had the honor of hanging out with her for 3 days in 2005. This was right before the current wave of vintage soul resurgence. Younger folks didn't really know who Barbara Lynn was at the time. Some how we convinced her to come up to Olympia and play Ladyfest backed by local punk musicians Chris Sutton, Olivia Ness, and Warren Lee. I can't tell you how incredible it was to tell her how much her music has meant to me. Among many other things, I spoke to her about the feminist theme that ran through her compositions. She didn't really seem aware of her legacy. She didn't know there was a series of compilations on Europe named after her song "I'm A Good Woman". She also didn't know that other artists had covered the song.
When the concert came around she took the feminist theme and RAN with it, inserting epic empowering spoken interludes during her songs "You'll Lose a Good Thing" and "I'm a Good Woman." It was a show for the ages. The best time of my life!
I'm happy to say that since that show Barbara has received a lot more attention from a whole new generation of fans. "I'm A Good Woman" is now a standard on the soul dance floors across the nation and she's receiving credit for being the groundbreaking pioneer she's always been.
The Record of the Day is another example of Barbara's advocating for her self-worth. She's taken all she's gonna take! No more BS!
On this day in 1929 Martin Luther King, Jr was born. There's nothing I can say about MLK that hasn't already been expressed a million times over. Today I will simply say BLACK LIVES MATTER. The journey continues and the fight for equality carries on.
Until this country acknowledges and addresses the deeply rooted racism and classism woven into our system, true equality cannot be achieved. Until the majority of white people in this country realize institutionalized racism not only exists, but belongs to them and they need to actively help fix it, this cannot be fully changed. So, until then (or until we can throw balance of power off) we must keep pushing on, keep demanding change, keep organizing, keep recruiting people to get off of their couches and their devices and stand up for an ethical America, and allies need to keep persuading and coaxing the rest of the folks to see the truth.
The Record of the Day is by Chicago-based gospel and sometimes soul singer Shirley Wahls. It's an inspirational track released in the year following King's assassination. The words couldn't be more relevant today. Listen to this song. Watch "Eyes on the Prize". Go see "Selma" in the theater. Boycott the Oscars.
New Orleans songwriter, producer, arranger, and recording artist Allen Toussaint celebrates his 77th birthday today. This week seems to be jam packed with birthdays of soul folks I've had the honor of interviewing or collaborating with. Mr. Toussaint's roll in r&b, rock n roll, soul, and funk is monumental, and yet I found him to be extremely humble and soft-spoken. He's worn so many hats in the music business, including that of record label owner, I asked him which roll was his favorite. Arranger, he said.
You'll find Allen Toussaint's sweet touch of soul on all of the following:
Walking with Mr. Lee - Lee Allen
I'm Gonna Be A Wheel Some Day - Fats Domino
Ooh Poo Pah Doo - Jessie Hill
Mother In Law - Ernie K-Doe
Fortune Teller - Benny Spellman
Lipstick Traces - Benny Spellman
It's Raining - Irma Thomas
Ruler of My Heart - Irma Thomas
I Like It Like That - Chris Kenner
Nearer to You - Betty Harris
Working In A Coal Mine - Lee Dorsey
Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky - Lee Dorsey
Sophisticated Cissy - The Meters
Yes We Can - Lee Dorsey (also the Pointer Sisters)
Going Down Slowly - The Pointer Sisters
Lady Marmelade - Labelle
and countless others. It's mind-blowing how many classics this fella cranked out. In addition to all of his work for other artists, he is one of the most influential and defining piano players out of New Orleans.
Since Mr. Toussaint has done so much to help other people shine, I thought it would be nice to spotlight one of his own recordings. "From A Whisper to A Scream" may be better known to some by Esther Phillips, but Allen Toussaint's original haunting and theatrical slice of psych soul (featuring dramatic backup vocals by Merry Clayton and Venetta Fields) is brilliant example of vivid musical storytelling. It's the perfect listen for an overcast Pacific Northwest winter day.
When you think of states that bare huge numbers of country music artists, Minnesota isn't exactly at the top of the list. As a Minnesotan, I can admit that. The music was definitely popular in mid-century Minnesota, but not many country and western stars were born there. That's why I was very pleased to learn that Liz Anderson, one of the great country composers of the 1960s, was born and raised in the great tundra before moving to California and joining the Bakersfield scene.
Though her own recording career was launched around the same time, Liz is best known as the mother of 1970s country superstar Lynn Anderson. And although they may be associated with the California scene, these two couldn't be MORE Minnesotan. I mean, just Lynn's numerous appearances on the Laurence Welk Show alone practically make her more mid-western white than Garrison Keillor.
But I'm not here to talk about Lynn. Today is about LIZ. After all, there wouldn't be a Lynn without Liz, in more ways than one. In fact, many of Lynn Anderson's early hits were written by Liz, including her first big hit "Ride Ride Ride" which became a bit of a 1960s country standard. She also wrote Merle Haggard's first two big hits.
The compositions of Liz Anderson contained mid-western humor, creative puns, gimmicky lyrics, and often a theme of a woman asserting her power. These are all the elements I love in a country song. Her records sometimes bordered on novelty (as many country songs did during that era) but they usually landed in the category of clever.
I really had a hard time narrowing down my Record of Day selection. It was between her version of "Ride Ride Ride," "Merry Go Round," "Tonight I'll Throw A Party," "Me Me Me Me Me" and the song I ultimately ended up choosing. This song was inspired by a series of commercials made by Excedrin headache medication. I'm in love with the clever tie-in and the pulsating headache gimmick in the production. This shoulda been a huge hit!
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!