Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Go On Yusef Lateef's tour of Detroit!...

I once stepped out on the tarmac of the airport at Detroit, en route to Milwaukee (yes, a little out of my usual way, but that's another story...), amidst a howling wind and driving snow. I wish I could have stayed to explore the city, but it wasn't to be...

But maybe you have been to Detroit for more than five minutes, or grew up there, or live there now! Off and on, I'm going to try to do a little tour of the places mentioned in Yusef Lateef's Detroit liner notes and songs. But I can only do so much from the internet to find images.

SO if YOU can send a photo of somewhere to me via my email, I'll post it and as a reward, I'll post the track that accompanies that neighbourhood.

Here's a few of the intriguing locations I haven't yet found: Russell & Eliot (streets/aves?), Woodward Ave, Livingston Playground, Bishop School, Paradise Theater, Mirror Ballroom, The Arcade, the Dunbar, The Castle (old theaters?), the Madison Theater ...

Yusef Lateef's Detroit: Eastern Market, A Detroit Jewel

Go here to read the first part of the tour and hear Bishop School. Visit Belle Isle here. See the sights of Woodward Avenue here.

"Every Saturday the Eastern Market. Farmer's holiday! Fresh eggs, poultry, fresh vegetables, fruit, fruit, honey, and apple cider - happy faces, fat arms loaded with shopping bags. The joy of an occasional balloon. POP! SHOCK!! Thrill gone. Sound minds, healthy bodies..."

Saeeda Lateef, Yusef Lateef's Detroit, 1969

Here are some photos of the Eastern Market as it is today, taken for a site called the Hamtramck News, which posts information on local issues in Hamtramck and East Detroit. It seems that the market as it stands may be under threat, as the city consider neighbourhood regeneration projects. If you know about how things are going in the area, please post comments. What is it like?

Yusef Lateef's Detroit (Atlantic SD1525) 1969

Monday, May 29, 2006

Otis Redding: Live At The Apollo November 1963

It's holidays again, so I can do an extra post this week!

You should all have everything ever committed to vinyl by the Big O. That is all. Sadly, my girlfriend informs me that I can't afford the Definitive Collection. Unless I am very, very good...

So, it is quite hard to do a posting about Otis Redding, which contributes anything new. However, I found recently a tape of a BBC radio show from some years back about the life of Otis, and amongst the interviews and tracks was a recording of Otis Redding at the Apollo Theater, on 16th November 1963, singing Pain In My Heart. On the stage that night werethe headliner Ben E King, The Coasters, The Falcons (including of course Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd), James Brown's protegé Doris Troy and Rufus Thomas. Otis was understandably nervous.
The recordings that evening were released as The Apollo On A Saturday Night on Atco. This had been a common event from 1944 up until 1962, overseen by engineers from nearby Apollo Records, but shows had been released ad hoc and never viewed as commercial until James Brown's Live At The Apollo. The November 16th 1963 recording was overseen by a crew from Atlantic Records, and considered a showcase of new talents from city and southern branches of soul music. It includes The Falcons singing I Found A Love and Alabama Bound, Doris Troy singing Misty and Say Yeah, Rufus Thomas with Rockin' Chair and Walking The Dog. The Coasters sing Ain't Nothin' To Me and Speedo's Back in Town, and Ben E. King does Groovin', Stand By Me, and its reverse Don't Play That Song.

Ben E. King, putative headliner that night, had nothing but r.e.s.p.e.c.t. for 'the big, bearlike man, sweating and trembling worrying about his suit, his voice, the band...' He recalled:

"Otis told me he was up from home and he was terrified... Otis said to me, 'You think they're gonna go for what I do, what we do down home?' But as long as I knew him, Otis never did get over that little bit of stage fright. He looked over at Rufus that night..."

There is an interview with Rufus Thomas about the evening, in which he reveals that Otis was so nervous and unsure of his stage presence, that Rufus, due to come on after Otis, and Apollo MC King Coleman trained him up in the moves, and showed Otis how to catch the eye of one girl, just one girl, and sing to her, so that her enthusiasm spread through the crowd. Coleman introduced him with the line, "He can sing baby, he can sing!..."

It certainly seemed to work. Backed by King Curtis' band, Otis raises the roof...

Some of the live Apollo tracks can be found on Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding (Rhino Records)

Rufus Thomas interviewed about Otis' debut at the Apollo
Otis Redding - Pain In My Heart (Apollo Theater Nov 1963)

I've got myself so intrigued I have sought out a copy of this LP!... I'll post something when it arrives...

Ben E. King quotes taken from Nowhere To Run by Gerri Hershey. Other facts from liner notes and from A Tribute to Otis by BBC Radio.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Get On Board The Friendship Train: Happy Birthday, Gladys

Happy Birthday Gladys Knight. She is 62 today. Gladys was born on May 28th 1944, in Atlanta, Georgia. Her first taste of success came with winning a talent contest on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour in 1951 at the age of 7. In 1952, her parents created a group, The Pips, around Gladys, her brother Merald ("Bubba") and sister Brenda, and her two cousins William and Eleanor Guest. Over the next eight years, Brenda and Elenor would leave, her other cousin Edward Patten joined, and for a time Langstone George would join the Pips. They toured locally around Georgia building up a following.

National success did not come quickly. In 1961, The Pips had a No.1 record on the RnB chart with Every Beat Of My Heart on Vee-Jay Records. The group was renamed Gladys Knight & The Pips. A second hit with Letter Full Of Tears the next year proved a false dawn for the group, as Gladys felt she should temporarily leave to care for her new daughter. In 1964, Gladys decided that her singing could provide a better income for her family, and she returned. The Pips' act was renowned for its outstanding choreography, orchestrated by Cholly Atkins, and when the Temptations played with the Pips at a theatre in Ohio, Melvin Franklin begged Cholly to work with them and give them the same finesse. It would not be long before Berry Gordy came calling...

In 1965, Gladys Knight & The Pips were signed to Motown Records, but were perhaps not cultivated in the way that they deserved. They still got to record an amazing number of classics, not least the first and best dancing version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine in 1967 (sorry Marvin...), The Nitty Gritty (1969), Friendship Train b/w Cloud 9 (1969), If I Were Your Woman (1970), I Don't Want To Do Wrong (1971), Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) (1972), and Daddy Could Swear (I Declare) (1973).

The group's career reached its heights in the mid-70s, after signing to Buddah Records in 1973. There, they had the services of a songwriting talent in Jim Weatherly as powerful as Norman Whitfield had been at Motown, but with a much higher profile at the label. The songs at Buddah emphasised more the backing vocal harmonies and strings with Knight’s powerful voice. In some ways, Gladys Knight feels more akin to Ray Charles and Nina Simone than to some of her former label-mates at Motown, and in a sense, they already had a sound that was fully-fledged and independent of any Motown style. Gladys Knight & The Pips had more 70s No.1s in the USA with I’ve Got To Use My Imagination, I Feel A Song, Best Thing That Every Happened and Midnight Train To Georgia (the honourable runner-up choice for state anthem, I should hope!). Knight also ventured into acting around this time, landing a lead role in the Alaskan romance movie Pipe Dreams, for which the group sang on the soundtrack.

Gladys Knight & The Pips recorded at Columbia and MCA over the next decade, before parting ways in 1989. Gladys continues to record, focussing on gospel music and on classic american standards. Seek out her gospel albums Many Different Roads (2001) and One Voice (2005) featuring the Saints Unified Voices Choir on Many Roads Records.

Here is a recording of the single Friendship Train. My copy came out on the Motown subsidiary label Soul in 1969. Is that a statement on their importance to Berry Gordy? It is a high-octane song, and played merry havoc with the levels when I recorded it onto my computer. But that's how we like 'em, eh?

Gladys Knight & The Pips - Friendship Train (Soul S-35068 1969)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Movin' with Melvin Brown...

Well, here it is ... my first live soul concert report! This does not happen very often where I live, as you might imagine. But, the Brighton Festival is on, and they bring in a lot of interesting things. Last night, a group of us went to see Movin' Melvin Brown at The Spiegeltent. Great venue and great music. The Spiegeltent is a 1940s German cabaret tent, and makes for an intimate and atmospheric experience, right up close to the performer.

And he is some performer! Born in Cincinnati, and now resident in Austin, Texas, Melvin has had a long career in music and dance, performing as an act alongside the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and BB King. He is a great singer, and also an excellent tap dancer, which adds a great percussive element to some of his numbers, and really brings out the sweat. His current show is a sort of tribute to Ray Charles and Sammy Davis Jr, but with his own style and reminiscences on his career.

Melvin talked about the first time he tried to see Ray Charles play at the Cincinnati Gardens. He was in a singing group at the time, and their usual trick was to offer to be the opening number. No dice. There are dozens of local acts vying for the spot, then the national acts to come on, then Ray himself. So while Melvin and the others are checking their pockets to rustle up some cash, one of the group comes up with an idea. Why don't they climb over this wall, through a window and onto the balcony? Which seemed like a good idea at the time. Five minutes later, the ambulance is taking Melvin's friend to the hospital with multiple abrasions and concussion, and Melvin is waiting in line to buy a ticket...

The show was an inclusive affair. You never hear sulky British indie bands engaging in any call and response with the audience! People up on stage dancing with Melvin, dancing in the aisles, shouting out, joining in with What'd I Say? and Harry Belafonte tunes. The night finished with an encore of I Can't Turn You Loose, much to my delight, and others had to suffer the sight of my geeky white dancing.

During the early 70s, Melvin recorded for Philmore Sound in Cincinnati/Hamilton, with songs including I Know, I Was A Fool To Care, Soul Man and the great Love Stormy Weather with James Matthews. One of Movin' Melvin's labelmates was the Movin', Soothin & Stone Funk Band, although I don't know if Melvin was involved with this.

Melvin Brown raises money through his performances and CDs for his homeless charity The Change This World Project.

Find out more at

On the two songs below, you really get to hear Melvin's passion for music. Melvin does his own background vocals on both tunes.

Movin' Melvin Brown - Everytime (2001)
Movin' Melvin Brown - Night Time Is The Right Time (2006)

For a discography of Melvin Brown's earlier career, visit this posting provided by Ohio Soul Recordings.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ella Brown: Love Don't Love Nobody

I have been busy working recently, but now I have a few minutes free I can make a new entry for the Louisiana soul sensation Ella Brown. According to Yukata Sakurai's Encyclopaedia of Soul, she recorded a number of singles for Adams Records. The track here was recorded for Lanor Records in Louisiana. According to John Ridley, Ella's husband was producer Jackie Avery, who produced acts at Phil Walden's Capricorn Records. Jackie was also a recording artist it seems, and although I don't know very much about him, I have found out that he recorded his own songs for Tail-Gate Records in New Orleans, including the song I Got Love. I think I will be trying to discover more about Jackie in the near future! Off to visit the Soul Detective...

Love Don't Love Nobody is the song for today. It is a great lament about the quality of manfolk. The instrumentation combines a funky band, horns and orchestration. The rockier feel to the band hints at Ella Brown's career in the 70s, when she became vocalist with the southern rock group Wet Willie, and recorded with The Marshall Tucker Band in 1973. Still, this is a classic soul track for us to enjoy.

This song will strike a chord with women everywhere!

Ella Brown - Love Don't Love Nobody (Lanor Records)

I found this song on a compilation of Lanor Records artists, but it is currently available on a compilation CD called Down & Out: The Sad Soul of the Black South by TRIKONT Records.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Soul Clan: Where you going, Joe?...

The way that Don Covay asks, "Hey Joe's packing his bags, where you goin', Joe?" at the begininning of The Soul Clan's single "Soul Meeting" has never sounded like a good omen. The concept of the southern soul supergroup, founded by Covay in 1968, and comprising Don Covay, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, Arthur Conley and Ben E. King, never fulfilled the hopes of its members, and perhaps some could already sense it while recording their first and only single.

The original plan had included Wilson Pickett, but reportedly, Pickett had backed out, concerned both for his solo career ambitions, and perhaps concerned that the group would not prosper amongst Solomon Burke's many other business ventures.

Otis Redding was the other mooted Clan member, and the beginning of recording had been delayed while Otis underwent throat surgery and recuperated. Sadly, by the time the situation had been finalised, Redding had met his tragic death. Arthur Conley, an artist whom Redding had cultivated and produced, was inducted in his stead. Joe Tex said during the 1981 reunion, "I would have given it a chance if Otis had lived. Man's head was on straight... the future of the Soul Clan died with Otis..."

Joe revealed also his take on the spirit he had hoped the Soul Clan would embody, as he describes Otis thus: "Talk to white, talk to black, don't piss nobody off, but don't Tom neither..."

Solomon Burke, who, after Covay himself, was possibly the most committed to the enterprise, said in an interview, “We wanted to interlock ourselves as a group, to express to the younger people how strong we should be and to help one another, work with one another and support one another...”

The sentiment was a noble one, therefore, but the business acumen of Atlantic Records' Jerry Wexler was not buying into it. The Soul Meeting single failed to catch fire, reaching No.34 on the RnB Chart, and only No.91 on the Pop Chart. An LP was scheduled and duly appeared, but it seems Wexler cancelled funding for group recordings. The LP has the two sides of the single, plus a selection of solo recordings by the Soul Clan members. What was the motivation for this? Don Covay said in an interview with Gerri Hirshey, "Some funny stuff went down at Atlantic." Solomon Burke seemed to believe that Wexler in particular did not want to give his most successful black stars a greater control over their careers.

There is some cold logic in this. Wexler had groomed Ray Charles, only to see him leave at the moment Atlantic might have capitalised upon their investment by involving Charles in movie deals etc. He may have feared that to allow five of his greatest and most lucrative hitmakers to work and act in solidarity would give them the power to collectively renegotiate their contracts, and cut the company's profit margins. As I said, logical, but hardly honourable or far-sighted, in my view. In each case, the members of the Soul Clan were poorly served by a company which failed to invest in publicity and actively sabotaged their recording schedule. Times were changing, and none of the final line-up of the Soul Clan were experimenting with, nor being encouraged to try, the new sounds of funk that might have boosted and elongated their hit careers. Atlantic Records was happy to let them fade away, while sucking up the back-catalogues and talents of regional hit factories such as Stax. No Marvin Gayes or Stevie Wonders would be nurtured in New York City.

The B-Side to Soul Meeting is That's How It Feels, an apt summation of a bold but doomed venture to establish the Five Pillars of Southern Soul. It was written by Don Covay and Bobby Womack. The single was recorded in Nashville, in February 1968.

That's How It Feels - The Soul Clan (Atlantic LP 587127 1968)

This song has just been released on Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers, a new compilation of allegedly never-released tracks, that have been mercifully set free from their state of limbo by Rhino Records. I am sure this is not the only example of a track that, rather than being unreleased, Atlantic simply willfully forgot... you can buy it here.

Joe Tex said at the press conference before the1981 reunion show: "I'm tellin you right now, it ain't gonna work." The concert was reportedly chaotic, with many technical problems and other setbacks. "...we been having to make it on our own so long it's hard to get in step. A soul man is that. Singular. Soul Clan is more a beautiful idea to me." A statement that undercuts the sugar-coated marketing of soul music that tries to reduce it to a Starbucks moment.

The quotes and some of the facts for this entry have been found in Gerri Hirshey's "Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul Music".

Monday, May 01, 2006

La La La... Who's Not Listening?

Recently, a woman from Ohio wrote to the British "Guardian" newspaper to criticise a music journalist who hadn't liked Jamie Foxx's new CD. The journalist had found it bland, derivative, modern rnb, and made disparaging comparisons with Ray Charles. The critic reposted: "I have long believed that caucasian people just cannot understand our music." Apparently melanin has a proven scientific link to a 'funky' gene, and activates key polyrhythmic receptors in the brain... and apparently I come from somewhere on the Russian steppes and eat borscht...

However, sometimes, I wonder myself. Here is a track from Segun Bucknor and The Assembly, soon to become The Revolution, a popular band in 60s Nigeria. They started out playing covers of all kinds of pop music, taking on British rnb and American soul. Bucknor particularly admired Wilson Pickett, amongst others, and had spent several years studying at Columbia University in NYC, and brought this experience back with him to Nigeria. "Back in those days," he recalls in an interview with the Nigeria 70 research team ,"everybody was trying to be more Elvis than Elvis!" The band moved towards incorporating more local highlife and juju rhythms into their music, but still liked to retain their other influences, to see what would happen. Great admirers of Fela Kuti, they too began to explore political themes, in their most famous song "Son of January 15th", being the date of the coup which set off the Biafran War. Segun began to shave his head and wear chains and other costumery in a nod to the African culture of ancient Egypt. However, it would be hard for anybody to maintain an outspoken political stance when confronted by an invasion of the stage by disgruntled army colonels who wanted to make some musical criticism.

Apparently, for some critics, though, Segun Bucknor just wasn't trying hard enough! This is what BBC journalist Bren O'Callaghan has to say in comparison to Fela Kuti: "Bucknor, on the other hand, was one of the rank and file, a journeyman who was trying to eke out a living in Nigeria as a popular musician, and who was beholden to local record labels and the demands of the marketplace ... Bucknor can't really be faulted for not having Kuti's unique combination of bravery and megalomania ... However, when Bucknor narrows his focus to personal relationships ("La La La," "That's the Time," "Love and Affection," "You Killing Me"), his music loses some of its conviction, and he sounds more like an American soul singer looking for a chart hit. "La La La" (which is inexplicably presented in three rather similar versions) is certainly funky enough, but it sounds like a manufactured cross between Otis Redding's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)" and Toots Hibbert's "Funky Kingston." The band still cooks, and Bucknor is always in good voice, but these pieces lack the personal stamp of songs like "Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow" and "Son of January 15th."

Well, I am sure that Segun Bucknor is grateful for that! Sometimes, people just don't think. Segun Bucknor was living in a country just recovering from a ravaging war. Is it not just possible that he, and other people, would just sometimes like to hear some nice music and have some fun? So what if it doesn't sound like 'authentic' african music to a musicologist? Has it broken some kind of rule? Is musical fusion forbidden to Africans (at least those not called Fela Kuti)? SO what if it isn't earnest and political? Does Bob Marley get this kind of criticism for singing Three Little Birds? This is as real as it gets!

Segun Bucknor & The Assembly - La La La (Polydor 7" 2068037)

Buy it on the Strut Records Cd "Segun Bucknor: Poor Man Get No Brother" (you can even get a VINYL copy of it!), or find it on the compilation Nigera 70 also by Strut Records. I think this has been discontinued, so see if you can find a second-hand copy - it is a great intro to Nigerian music, and I have used its authoritative booklet to find most of the details in this report.