"Run Shaker Life" by The Voices of East Harlem - 1971
Updated: Aug 15, 2019
This week on my radio show Travlin' the Tracks with DJ Action Slacks, I'm spinning a song called Run Shaker Life by the Voices of East Harlem, a youth funky gospel choir group. I've always been into the Richie Havens version of the song and when I heard this one after scoring it on LP at a thrift store, I got even MORE into the song.
The songwriting credit is given to Richie Havens, and for years I sang along with this song kind of thinking I understood what it meant and what inspir
ed it. I guess I always thought of it as an "escape" song, running away from tyranny, so to speak.
Then one day I FINALLY looked it up to see why Richie Havens was referring to Shakers in his song. It turns out this is actually an adaptation of hymn from the Shaker religion written around 1835 by Issachar Bates, a prolific composer of Shaker hymns.
Incidentally, if you're not familiar with the Shaker religion, you should read up on it. Very interesting history.
I tried to find info on any insight Richie Havens may have given on his choice to adapt the tune and any meaning he was projecting onto it. Sadly, I came up empty. Since Havens originally released the song in 1968, a time when many counter-culturalists were exploring alternative religions and spirituality, perhaps the idea of shaking out "all that is carnal" and aspiring to something more divine fit with the attitudes of the times.
The version I'm featuring is from the soundtrack of the 1971 documentary film "Soul to Soul" about a concert in Ghana featuring a number of American soul entertainers including Ike & Tina Turner, Roberta Flack, Wilson Pickett, Les McCann & Eddie Harris. I actually got to see this film in the theater many years ago during a limited run. For me the stand out act was The Voices of East Harlem, whose records have garnered a following with soul aficionados in more recent years during the soul revival movement.
The group also recorded a studio version of the song, but this live version (even without the visuals) just jumps outta your speakers and blazers into your ears to light up your soul. It is burning hot!