When I think of the Warwick sisters, I think of unparalleled sophisticated soul, and yet only one of them managed to become a household name. Dee Dee Warwick (born on this day in 1942) never achieved the superstar status of her sister Dionne, but it wasn't for a lack of talent, magnificent material, and glorious productions.
While the Warwick sisters' voices were no doubt of similar quality, their styles were vastly different. Dionne was a master of subtlety while Dee Dee wasn't afraid to ignite the fiery inferno of flaming DRAMA. She never overdid it though. She knew how to use her instrument and applied the gentle touch when appropriate. Just check out "Yours Until Tomorrow" or her country-soul recording of "She Kept On Talking" for a fine examples of that.
Dee Dee is one of my favorite soul singers and there's no lack of recordings I could write about today, but I chose to focus on her Grammy-nominated 1968 single, "Foolish Fool" produced by the legendary Ed Townsend. The true masterpiece recordings of the 1960s didn't just happen. It took a great many elements coming together in just the right way, and I guess that's why I find them such a marvel.
I suppose you could think of a great 45 single in the same way you view a fine film. Everything has to come together perfectly for the final product to become a great work. In a film it takes script, casting, directing, photography, acting, scene decoration, music, editing, etc etc etc. A pre-1970s music production was much the same.
For "Foolish Fool" to become such a stunning recording it needed a well-crafted song (by Ed Townsend), a delicious arrangement (by Rene Hall), skilled and creative musicians, and of course a vocalist who not only could SANG but who can interpret a lyric. In this case we have an incredibly sophisticated symphonic production that still manages to have a cookin' soulful groove. The instrumentation on this record is essential in making this the case.
The guitar in the intro sets the tone, letting the listener know in no uncertain terms, it is PURE SOUL that will be the driving force on this record. Sadly the guitar intro is drastically shortened in the single version of the song (I've posted the LP version here). It's almost like the guitar is taking you by the hand saying "Hey there, let me lead you to this really cool record you're about to hear." I also need to give a nod to those drums. I am such a SUCKER for the climactic use of drums in 1960s NY productions. They makes those records seem so much larger than life.
Give this record a listen and if you like it, consider listening to Dee Dee's entire Mercury/Blue Rock sessions collection. It's one of my favorites.
Today East Coast soul powerhouse Chuck Jackson turns 78 and in honor of his special day I would like to celebrate what I consider the a masterpiece of New York uptown soul. The record was released in 1962 by Wand Records and features a Leiber & Stoller composition and production which stars Chuck on vocals accompanied by the brilliant arrangement of Teacho Wiltshire. The unusual and imaginative orchestration and instrumentation is what really clinches it for me on this one:
- I still can't quite identify what is used for the signature percussion gimmick on this song but whatever it is, it's perfect for creating the feeling of stumbling into a fall.
- The xylophone portrays the singer's emotional unravelling as he struggles to grasp the reality of love lost.
- The back-up singers were utilized in an unusual way on this record (at least up to this point in early soul) providing a foundational layer of unnerving drama. Instead of doing a call and response, they're humming quietly and eerily in the background with the occasional louder punching "AH!"
It's no surprise that Teacho Wiltshire is involved with this masterpiece. He was the arranger on a lot of my favorite soul records:
The Exciters (Do Wah Ditty, Tell Him, There They Go)
Inez & Charlie Foxx (Baby Drop A Dime)
Isley Brothers (Twist & Shout)
The Lullabyes (You Touch Me)
The Shirelles (What Does a Girl Do)
Solomon Burke (The Price)
Tommy Hunt (I Am A Witness)
The Coasters (Wild One)
Baby Jane & the Rock-A-Byes(Half Deserted Street)
What IS surprising though is how little known he is when considering his contributions to early soul. Also surprising is that this record did not chart on the R&B charts. It's part of what I call the great Chuck Jackson break-up trilogy:
"I Wake Up Crying"
"I Keep Forgettin'"
"Two Stupid Feet"
and the bonus vindication song "Beg Me"
Everyone has their go-to singer for break-up music. Chuck Jackson has been my chosen soundtrack to heartbreak and recovery for over twenty years. Thanks for the memories!
Bobby Day, who was born on this day in 1930 in Fort Worth, is best known for one of the biggest hits of the early rock n roll era, "Rockin' Robin". In fact, when I was playing a wedding gig last summer I was about to spin a different Bobby Day record, when a little girl strolled up to my turntables, read the label on the record and said, "Bobby Day. He did "Rockin' Robin!" And by that measurement, I'd say Bobby Day is pretty well-known even to this day.
However, there's more to Bobby Day than "Rockin' Robin." For example, he was an original member of famous LA-based doo wop group The Hollywood Flames. As Bobby Day & the Satellites he wrote and recorded the original version of "Little Bitty Pretty One" which was an enormous smash hit for Thurston Harris. He co-wrote one of the most famous uptempo doo wop tunes "Buzz Buzz Buzz" recorded by the Hollywood Flames and he wrote and recorded the original version of "Over & Over" which is more famous by the Dave Clark 5 (I have yet to find a nice clean copy of Day's version). And if that's not enough, Day was also reportedly the first "Bob" in the famous soul duo Bob & Earl. Bobby Day is full of surprises!
My record of the day is one of those surprises. This rare 45 beautifully arranged by Jack Nitzche, is a rendition of the unofficial "cajun national anthem". The first cajun recording of this song goes back to 1929. The song gained popularity outside of the cajun community when it was adopted by country music artist Harry Choates in 1947 and it swiftly became a country music standard. An r&b guy like Bobby Day wasn't expected to record a song like this and THAT is what makes this cajun meets country meets r&b version of this song so very interesting to me. I love these vintage recordings that pushed boundaries and busted outside of boxes.
Give it a listen as you head into your holiday weekend. It's a great reminder of the beautiful things that can happen when we rebel against societal definitions of who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to do
Happy 74th Birthday to Mitty Collier, one of the MIGHTIEST voices in Soul Music, who was born on this day in Birmingham, AL. She was discovered in 1959 when after touring as a gospel singer, she entered DJ Al Benson's Chicago talent contest. She was soon signed to Chess Records she recorded her signature song, her secular rendition of Rev James Cleavland's "I Had A Talk With God". In the pages of soul history Mitty's career has often been summed up in just that one record, but there's much more to Mitty Collier, including a handful of uptempo #45records that over the years have become soul dance party floor-filler classics.
My favorite will always be the B-Side to "I Had A Talk With My Man" soul bopper "Free Girl (In the Morning)" which I played at Club Nitty Gritty this past Friday. In this performance Mitty packs a powerful punch when she swings two fists of booming blues belts. Ba-BAM! This song hits you with it's celebratory feminist liberation, but it's also representative of what is incredibly common in soul music of the 1960s, a veiled reference to the struggle for Civil Rights.
In honor of the birthday of Shirley Owens Alston Reeves, founding member of the Shirelles, I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend the Shirelles live LP "Spontaneous Combustion". So often music fans of the younger generations are left with only recordings, a handful of photos, and if we're lucky one or two video clips of artists from the past. These are the things that draw a picture of our perception of who these folks were in their hey day. The portrait we're left with is often incomplete.
Such is the case with a group like the Shirelles, in spite of them being hugely popular. Most of us know the Shirelles from their extremely polished sound on their recordings. Unlike artists of today like Beyonce and Kanye West for example, we don't get a glimpse of their personalities outside of their records. That's why this live LP, released slightly after the height of their popularity, is such a treat. We get to hear a more laid back and gritty side of the Shirelles, complete with entertaining stage banter. They joke around with each other, make references to their romantic involvements and personal lives, and they get to cut loose. In other words, we get to see them as real people. The entire album is worth a listen just for the experience of getting to know the members of the Shirelles a little bit better.
Over the years I've heard a lot of people refer to the music they like as "my music". People will stroll into a bar and come up to the DJ booth and say something like "I'm so glad you're playing MY music tonight!" Music, unlike any other art form, has a unique power to reach over enormous chasms to reach into our hearts and let us know that we're not alone in our emotional experiences and life struggles. I think that's why people feel so deeply connected to the music they love. It becomes so personal to the point that even if we didn't create it ourselves, it feels as if it belongs to us.
With that in mind, I'd like to send BIG birthday wishes to Gladys Knight whose voice guided me through the loneliness and confusion of my younger years. Gladys Knight for so many years was MY music.
I've had today's selection of the day in my head a lot lately as I've watched the recent turmoil that feels as though it's tearing people apart while at the same time binding us together in ways we haven't seen in decades. Though on the surface this song may not seem like a message song, here we find Gladys Knight reminding us that when humanity has trouble finding common ground, it's important to remember that one thing we all have in common is the need for LOVE. It's undeniable and has been heavy on my mind as of late - There needs to be a lot more LOVE, COMPASSION & CONNECTEDNESS going around in the world today.
Conga player and band leader Joe Cuba, "the Father of Latin Boogaloo" was born on this day in New York City in 1931. IN the mid-1960s he was instrumental in the development and popularization of Latin Soul (a blending of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican musical elements with soul music). He's probably best know for his hit "Bang Bang" which has shown a certain amount of longevity over the years, especially due to cover versions.
I find endless inspiration in the music of the 1960s. It was an explosion of the intermingling of genres and cultures, a reflection of the desire for a more integrated society where contributions of individual groups of people were valued equally. Within MUSIC the myth of the American melting pot could be more fully realized than in every day life. In Latin soul we hear the musical integration of the New York Puerto Rican and Cuban population. Soul was integrated into Latin music and Latin was integrated into soul. The Latin influence in soul music went from being a gimmick in the early 1960s to being fully fused with funky soul by the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Joe Cuba was one of the KINGs of this genre, and his party records are legendary guaranteed floor-fillers that for me, have raised the roof with nearly every spin. We lost Joe Cuba in 2009, but his musical party carries on. And "Oh Yeah" is one of the BEST summertime songs EVER!!!!!!!
Pop-soul icon Dusty Springfield was born on this day in 1939 in West Hampstead, North London, England.
As you all know, Dusty Springfield has an epic musical legacy. She is one of the greatest pop singers of all time. She was also the queen of British blue-eyed soul singers. Often times, her music transcended musical categories. She was also a glamourous, gorgeous diva. Her incredible success and popularity make it all the more unlikely that this legend would publicly come out as early as 1970. It's such an incredibly brave act, something to be deeply admired.
Dusty is probably best remembered for the way she could reach out and caress her listeners through her delicate ballads. And it's true, nobody could do that quite like Dusty, BUT she could also wail when she wanted to. It's unfortunate and disappointing that so few of her soul stompers made it to 45. I guess they just didn't want to market her that way, or perhaps they didn't have faith in the public buying that side of her. Whatever the reason, we sure did miss out.
Her version of "Can I Get A Witness" is a killer floor-filler. It could have been a SOLID GOLD hit! It took me years to find it on a 7" but it became an instant Sugar Town classic upon the first spin.
Happy Birthday Dusty and thank you for your legacy.
It wasn't until last year that I found out Carmen McRae was queer (word on the internet is that she hooked up with Billie Holiday). By some accounts, she struggled professionally for sexuality. Although, you'd never get that these days as she is one of the most revered jazz vocalists of all time. But ever since I find out about her queerness, the mysteriousness of her music makes a lot more sense to me. In fact, I have an even deeper appreciation of her version of this very queer-leaning classic.
Carmen McRae's vocal style always struck me as eccentric and occasionally borderline avant garde. For lack of a more sophisticated description, some of her phrasing is kind of weird. That's what I've always appreciated about her.
My selection of the day is her soul-jazz version of "Sounds of Silence". It cooks. It's a slightly psychedelic. Best of all, it features one of her hip/weird performances that at times sounds like when my mom would try to sing along with Simon & Garfunkel on the radio melded with sheer brilliance. Actually, my mom singing along with Simon and Garfunkel on the radio IS sheer brilliance.
Marjorie Hendricks (aka Margie Hendrix) was reportedly born on this day in Georgia in 1935. She left us WAY too soon which is hugely tragic. Equally tragic is how little we know about her. For someone so revered in soul circles, there's very little information about Margie. Much of the information that is out there is conflicting. It's also challenging to find many photographs of her (there are even photos online labeled to be her, but they aren't her). She's a bit of an enigma.
What we do know is that Margie was a member of the original Cookies who's biggest hit was the lovely mid-50s classic "In Paradise" for Atlantic. From the Cookies she went on to found The Raelettes (sometimes spelled the Raelets) and spent the mid 1950s to the early 1960s backing and duetting with Ray Charles. This is her "claim to fame." She was depicted in the film Ray and since then has become infinitely more known because of it.
But Margie also had a solo career after parting ways with Ray. While her output wasn't extensive, she did manage to scorch some 45s with her vocal inferno. She was perhaps the greatest soul shouter of all time.
Though Margie didn't put out many solo records, it's still difficult for me to choose my favorite. The record I've chosen to highlight today is "Packin' Up." It's a quick-paced, gospel-charged liberation song, written by Margie. Need a pick-me-up? This is more effective than a triple shot of espresso. Give it a taste.
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!