Stoney Edwards, who was born on this day in 1929, has an interesting story. He was born into a family of rural Oklahoma bootleggers. He left OK and the family business for San Francisco after receiving a warning from the FBI who had been monitoring their corn liquor moonshining.
In the Bay area he took a job in a steel refinery, but became trapped inside a tank and suffered carbon dioxide poisoning. For two years he lapsed in and out of a coma. When he had finally recovered he chose to focus on his passion, country music.
He was discovered in 1970 during an era when record labels were looking to discover "the next Charley Pride". Stoney proved to find some success on the charts, but he never reached the level of Mr. Pride. Sadly, he is largely forgotten and rarely discussed these days. It's a shame because he put out some quality recordings and offered a truly unique perspective to the world of country music.
He was deeply influenced by Bob Wills and his vocal style owes much to Lefty Frizell. That's why I've chosen this song as my Record of the Day.
Esther Phillips had easily one of the most recognizable voices in pop music history. While her unique singing style remained fairly consistent, it was cast against a backdrop of a variety of musical styles: jump blues, traditional pop, soul, jazz, blues, country, and disco. She didn't bend much to the music, but rather the music was transformed by her voice elevating it with the elegance in the artistry of her technique.
Her name should be mentioned alongside vocal greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Aretha Franklin, as someone who brought a new and completely individual and innovative expression to the table. And yet so often it seems she gets swept aside. It's a tragedy equalling that of her premature death. Like so many female musicians, her contributions are often overlooked and remain under-celebrated. That's why over the past 20+ years I've made it one of my core objectives to tell their stories and sing their praises in whatever medium available to me. And for the past 4 years I've thrown a party specifically to honor the women of classic soul and R&B. I hope you will be there to pay tribute to women like Esther Phillips on March 7th at the Spare Room.
The Record of the Day is Esther's version of a song best known to modern audiences by Amy Winehouse. This one goes way back to 1949. It began as a jazz instrumental by sax player James Moody. Vocalese pioneer Eddie Jefferson added lyrics in place of Moody's sax solo (as is the definition of "vocalese") and began performing it in his live shows. Then it was picked up by King Pleasure who had a hit with it in 1954. From there it shot off in all kinds of directions and one of those directions was a pop-jazz production featuring Esther Phillips.
I think this is the most sensual version of this song on record. She stuck to the jazz phrasing, but decorated it with yards upon yards of velvet brushed with sophisticated soul. This performance is so warm and cozy, it's like curling up next to a crackling fire on a cold winter night. So nestle up next to Esther's voice for a spell and listen to my selection of the day.
Things are getting pretty dicey out there in the world of social justice activism. My heart goes out to everyone in the wake of the tragic events in NY over the weekend. My holiday prayer is that this doesn't diminish the movement and that people continue to unify over human rights in the United States. This is an historic movement, and happily people who have taken on this fight in the past have left us the gift of songs to lift our spirits when we hit roadblocks on the path to freedom.
So as we go into the holiday week and hopefully have at least one day of peace, this song comes to mind.
This epic performance is by one of my favorite vocalists, Judy Clay (with Booker T. & the MGs) for the 1969 soundtrack Uptight. The ambiguous gospel song was written by Booker T. Jones and released in the year following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr when the nation was desperately in need of messages of endurance in the face of such an earth shattering setback.
So if you're in need of a little lift, I strongly encourage you to give this song a listen on repeat.
The Queen of Memphis Soul celebrates a birthday today. Starting with her first solo release in 1960 (Gee Whiz) Carla Thomas was a master of the pop soul ballad. And though she demonstrated she could deliver on uptempo numbers, it was with the ballads that she really shined. I am a SUCKER for a Carla Thomas slow soul burner! I suppose it should be no surprise then that Carla's "All I Want for Christmas" is my favorite holiday record. Sadly, I've never found a copy that doesn't have distorted sound. SOMEDAY! I guess all I want for Christmas is you and a non-distorted copy of "All I Want for Christmas".
The legendary Kim Weston turn 75 today. She's best known for giving us the dance floor classic "Take Me In Your Arms," but she also had a recording career beyond Motown. Unfortunately, she's never really received her proper dues. Kim Weston could really wail!
My selection of the day comes from her 1970 lp released on Stax. It was produced in part by Isaac Hayes with Kim's husband Mickey Stevenson as executive producer. I may be wrong, but to my ears this has the Isaac Hayes signature symphonic psych soul stamp all over it. Kim got a chance to show off her chops on this smoldering performance which serves as a feminist blues testimonial for the times.
This one is near and dear to me not only because it's incredible, but there is some sentimental value attached. I share it with you today. Happy Birthday Kim Kim Kim!
Country Music Hall of Famer Little Jimmy Dickens turns 94 today. At 4' 11" he may be little, but he sure was loud! He's also the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry.
I always thought of Jimmy as a novelty song artist. I mean, as a record digger I had come across "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" hundreds of times. As a result, I never really paid much attention to him until recently. It wasn't until I gave this 45 a listen purely on a whim that I realized his early records were absolutely KILLER rockabilly floor-fillers. Consequently, this is currently my favorite male vocal country dance record right now. Thanks Golden Oldies!
I don't typically write about new music ("new" being anything recorded beyond 1985) but on this day in 1965 Detroit garage/punk rock legend Mick Collins was born. Today I will make an exception to my vintage music rule.
During the late 1990s I was a politically-charged soul radio DJ in a punk rock town. I didn't feel very punk myself because my musical passion and area of study has always been based in jazz, blues, soul, and R&B. However, once I began working at the local independent record store and was forced to eat, breathe, and live punk/garage rock every day, I came to realize that my approach to "my art" and the punk approach were very similar. Before long I was wrapped up in the scene. I first observed it as an outsider, then soaked it up like a Viva paper towel. I was saturated in the punk ethos and it became a part of me.
My greatest moments of joy during that period were the rare instances was when punk and soul seamlessly fused together. It made me feel like I could be a part of this revolutionary musical movement that surrounded me. And in the early days of George W Bush era it really did feel revolutionary.
It all began when my friend Chris Sutton introduced me to the music of Mick Collins. Chris and I worked together at the record store and we connected through our shared passion for soul, jazz, blues, and funk. Chris is also a punk though and he (along with my other coworkers) did their best to recruit me (unintentionally I'm sure) to their cause.
One day Chris showed me that in spite of what I thought, there's something for me in punk rock. He told me all about one of his musical heroes, this guy Mick Collins out of Detroit who started a legendary blues-influenced punk band called the Gories. Chris was right, I loved it. There WAS something for me in punk rock!
Then came Ultraglide in Black by Mick's band The Dirtbombs. In the wake of what felt like a stolen election, Ultraglide In Black felt timely. It fused the music of the Civil Rights era with turn-of-the-21st-century punk rock. For me, that record sounded like a musical assault on the recent political catastrophe, a strike back at the powers that actively disenfranchised and exploited scores of people. It proved to be even more potent after 9/11 which occurred within 3 months of the album's release. While a national tragedy was being used to strip away remaining civil liberties and the government doubled down on its war on many U.S. citizens (POCs, LGBTQs, poor people, women, etc) Mick's jagged-edged cover of Sly Stone's "Underdog" as well as Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" seemed to be the perfect soundtrack for the times. It remains one of my favorite soul LPs of all time.
Chris would go on to become an accomplished and revered musician in the punk world and his band COCO would tour with the Dirtbombs. And then incredibly enough, Chris ended up playing IN the Dirtbombs and even recording with them (because he's Chris and he lives the dream). BTW, they are still cranking out great stuff!
So happy birthday Mick Collins! Thanks for the artistic illumination and thank you for getting this underdog through 2001 and 2002. Those were some trying times. And thanks to Chris for helping to guide me to a whole other musical world and for inspiring me to live my musical dreams as well.
I fully admit to having a crush on the late Eddie Kendricks (born on this day in Union Springs, Alabama). How could I not? His adorable face was as gorgeous as his angelic voice.
His was the first falsetto I fell in love with and though over the past decades in all of my digging and research about soul and R&B, I've not found another as warm and pure as Eddie's. Of course it's all subjective and others might disagree, but for me Eddie was the king.
The Record of the Day is one of the recordings meant to jolt Eddie's solo career which was launched the previous year. Lyrically it was designed to echo some of the sweetest sentiments of his solos on Temptations records like "I'll Try Something New" and "Just My Imagination." Musically it's almost bubblegum psych-soul in the style of early 1970s Supremes (some of which were also produced by the Frank Wilson who produced this record). I wouldn't think it possible but that fuzz guitar on this record is nearly as sweet as Eddie's voice. This is one of Eddie's lesser celebrated singles, but it's my favorite. I hope you like it too.)
If you look up Shelby Singleton on the internet you'll likely find his claim to fame to be his purchase and reissue program of the Sun Records catalog. You'll see many articles referring to his shrewd business sense and coups in the music industry. What you'll not likely find is anything written about a common thread that runs through many of his productions and projects during the 1960s.
Today I present the curious case of Nashville-based producer Shelby Singleton, who was born on this day in 1931 in Waskom, TX. Like many mid-century record executives, this was a man of contradictions. However, in an industry dedicated to dividing musical genres along racial lines, Shelby Singleton did much towards bringing the worlds of country and R&B/soul together. He contributed probably as much as anyone could during that era, and yet he also allowed for the release of records with less progressive content under his umbrella of labels.
Was the appearance of the promotion of racial integration purely an accidental outcome of someone simply trying to make a buck in the music business, or was this man truly trying to make a change? I guess I'll never know. I long had fantasies of interviewing him in person to ask that question, but he passed away in 2009. All we have left is music and speculation. Here is the evidence:
His genre bending began with his productions for Brook Benton. Many of those records would fit as neatly within a country music radio playlist of the early 1960s as they would on R&B radio.
He and his protege Jerry Kennedy would go on to blur genre racial lines at Smash Records with artists like Matt Lucas, Pee Wee Crayton, Ivory Joe Hunter, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Rich.
In the late 1960s he created his own record labels. SSS International and Silver Fox were primarily soul labels and their country sister label was Plantation. These record labels would often share backing musicians, further marrying the genres.
At Plantation with his grooming of Jeannie C. Riley and her Harper Valley PTA sound he built upon the genre of funky country that had been popularized by Bobbi Gentry. He also broke new ground by releasing records by the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry, Linda Martell.
On the flip side at SSS International, his experiments with mixing country and soul culminated in the soul-twang recordings of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson. Never before were country and soul blended in such a bold manner. The sound of Harper Valley and the sound of Muscle Shoals were thrown into a cocktail shaker and out came the twangtastically funky 45"Soul Shake" among many other recordings by the duo.
These experiments are rarely discussed in on-line soul or country music nerd circles and yet their impact can be heard in the funky country and swamp rock music of the the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Record of the Day is a Shelby Singleton production that musically falls closer to soul than country on the Singleton spectrum, however the chorus borrows the language of a square dance caller. This is a serious soul STOMPER and it's one of my favorite floor-fillers.
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!