I would like to extend an enormous HAPPY 75th BIRTHDAY to Lester Chambers of the Chamber Brothers, who's still out there playing music.
Lester launched an online campaign a couple of years ago to increase awareness of the unfair business practices of record labels that were experienced by artists throughout the 20th century. The Chambers Brothers, whose record "Time Has Come Today" remains a classic of the psych-soul era still heard regularly today, did not receive any royalties from 1967 - 1994 - A shameful way to treat a band who used their music to create positive change.
The Chambers Brothers started out as a gospel group, but soon took to the stages of the folk scene of the early 1960s. By the end of the decade they were electrified and had pioneered a sound unlike any other. Like much of the music I have come to love, it's hard to draw boundaries around the music of the Chambers Brothers. They are all at once rock n roll, psych-rock, psych-soul, gospel, blues, folk. Perhaps this is why their record label was never able to repeat the success of "Time Has Come Today", for there was no lack of interesting output by this band. Perhaps the label didn't really know how to promote them.
Since it's Lester's birthday, I've chosen to highlight a song written by him. This has been a staple in my collection since the very beginning of my live DJ career. It's the perfect bridge into Latin soul and one of my all-time favorite summertime songs. Almost a guaranteed floor-filler.
Happy Birthday Lester! Thank you for your gift!
As I turn my attention to the upcoming Women of Soul edition of Sugar Town, we celebrate the 73rd birthday of soul chanteuse Barbara Lewis. "S" Words like "silky", "smooth", "sweet", " satin", "sensual," and "sophisticated" have become cliche when describing the vocal stylings of Barbara Lewis, and yet it's hard to get away from that. It also seems hard for some people (even some soul DJs I've talked to) to get away from confusing Barbara Lewis with some of the other Barbaras of the era like Barbara Mason and Barbara Lynn. It's the kind of thing that I find a little bothering. To me, these 3 Barbaras couldn't be more different.
Barbara Lewis had three definitive pop-soul ballad hits in the early 1960s, "Baby I'm Yours", "Hello Stranger," and "Make Me Your Baby". This seductive sound became her signature and she applied it during the symphonic psychedelic soul era with this cover version of "Windmills of Your Mind" from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for this song in the first place, but when paired with "the Barbara Lewis touch" it truly sends me whirling.
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.
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.
One of my pet peeves is when music journalists relate a Black musician's accomplishments to famous white musicians, as if to say this person is important because they influenced a white artist or recorded with a white artist. I realize it's done in an attempt make the person accessible to a "mainstream audience", but it communicates the message that this person's music is important only in how it relates to white people. It's an imperialist perspective and it happens ALL the time, especially in obits.
And yet, with Doris Troy (who was born on this day in 1937) it's hard to separate her from her connection to Brit rock. She is linked to the Beatles. Any time someone is linked to the Beatles, that link will not be broken in the eyes of rockaphiles. For example, most pieces written about Billy Preston, who had a long and successful solo career long before and after his association with the Beatles, will include a mention of him being the "5th Beatle".
So if you look up Doris Troy you will find a number of pieces about her with a storyline written from this perspective (from the Apple Records website):
Doris Troy (1937—2004) was known affectionately as Mama Soul to her legion of British fans, a nickname she acquired in the mid Sixties after she came to the UK following the success of her songs ‘Just One Look’ (as covered by The Hollies) and ‘Watcha Gonna Do About It’. Doris grew up in the Bronx area of New York, and at an early age was talent spotted by James Brown at the Apollo Theater. As well as her solo recordings for Atlantic Records, Doris became the backing vocalist of choice for artists as diverse as Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and Carly Simon.
Doris signed to Apple Records in 1969, after impressing George Harrison with her backing vocals on Billy Preston’s first album for Apple, That’s The Way God Planned It.
Note: Other than the mention of "Just One Look" there is nothing in there about Doris' career in the U.S. and her importance within the soul scene here. Nothing about Doris being a member of "the group" who backed up most of the definitive soul records coming out of NYC in the early 1960s. Nothing about her songwriting skills or her unique sophisticated brand of early 1960s soul.
With all that said, due to my affection for the fusion of musical genres, ironically the song I've chosen for the Record of the Day is one she recorded with George Harrison at Apple in 1969. People who contributed to this LP include Billy Preston, Stephen Stills, Delaney & Bonnie, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voormann, Leon Russell, and Peter Frampton. The song "Give Me Back My Dynamite" (written by Doris and George) has long been included in many of my tributes to feminist soul. This fusion of Brit Rock, blues, and soul is a ripping declaration of the reclamation of personal power and independence. It's right up my alley and I hope you like it too.
On this day in 1939 Anna Mae Bullock was born in Nutbush, TN. She would become one of the mightiest voices of the 20th Century. There ain't another like her. There never could be. Tina Turner has become a (s)hero to women everywhere, and a voice that rips through the darkness. Like a chainsaw, it cuts through the BS to the heart of every matter.
We all know her story, many of us have lived aspects of it. She has become the physical representation of what we want to believe lives somewhere inside of every disadvantaged person: determination, perseverance, and the ability to triumph over a system that is stacked against us. Over the past 55 (!) years Tina has even helped to coax that out of us from time to time.
My selection of the day is a great example. This is from Ike & Tina Turner's LP "Come Together" which is a psychedelic soul masterpiece and easily in my top 10 favorite soul LPs of all time. This is their sequel to Curtis Mayfield's anthem of the Civil Rights Movement "Keep on Pushin," a song they had performed in their live act for years. Their rock-infused, fuzz-frenzied, soul freakout, turns up the urgency in the fight against the machine. It's a message just as relevant today as it was when it was first released 44 years ago, which perhaps makes it all the more compelling. To me it still sounds fresh, raw, and real.
REALNESS, that's what we're gonna need a whole lot more of it we're going to keep on pushing for a lasting change in America.
I guess the rain has put me in a mellow mood this week. It just takes one overcast day and couple of raindrops to send me straight down Introspection Road. And there's nothing I love to listen to more while I'm strolling down that street than a slow soul burner.
"Please Don't Change Me Now" is a rarely mentioned recording by the legendary Chicago group, The Dells. It's actually the b-side of one of their finer dance records "Wear It on Our Face". Both of the tunes are off of the Dells comeback There Is album released over a decade after their initial success with 1956's "Oh What A Night". What I love about "Please Don't Change Me Now" is that it brings the Dells' 1950s doo-wop roots into what was then "modern times" by decorating it with psychedelic arrangement. The contrast of these two sounds make this record all the more surreal.
It was arranged by the legendary Charles Stepney who was recruited by Chess Records in the late 60s to breathe new life into the label and give them an edge with the psychedelic hippie crowd. His arrangements have been met with mixed reviews over the years. Some folks have called them over-the-top. Others think his psychedelic experiments with blues and doo wop just didn't meld very well. His body of work can be challenging listening and doesn't always appeal to the masses, but there are definitely some masterpieces in there. I think the entire "There Is" album is one of them.
Give this cut a listen and you be the judge. I think it's perfect for a lazy, rainy Saturday morning.
Here we are in the midst of the "Season of the Witch", though it doesn't really feel that way in Portland as summer seems to have given itself an afterlife. I suppose that in itself is kind of "witchy". I have to admit that each year I really look forward to October and the moment I get to unearth my Halloween records dripping with mystical sound effects. Which brings us to the Record of the Day.
I actually have three different soul covers of Donovan's "Season of the Witch." It's just one of those Donovan songs favored for the soul treatment. Far and away, my favorite is the 1969 version by Lou Rawls and producer David Axelrod.
I'm sucker for psychedelic soul and when executed with this much perfection I simply cannot resist. I love that this record is so different from the original and yet still delivers the essence of Donovan's version. Honestly, I hadn't realized just how different they were until I went back to listen to the original for this post. It is perhaps one of the best adaptations from rock to soul of that era, an incredibly hip record with subtle instrumentation used for dramatic effect. Listen to the horns lurking in the shadows for most of song, sort of stalking the vocals. Then there is the groove of the enchanted, jazzy organ that drives the record along. Psychedelic effects are applied gently allowing for the eeriness of the performance to creep up on us. A spell is slowly cast upon the listener until the music possesses your spirit. This very well may be the best record Lou Rawls ever laid on wax.
Now, if only I could just find a soul cover of "Goo Goo Barabajagal"...now that would REALLY be something!
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!