Saturday, December 30, 2006

We Feel Good: James Brown 1933-2006

James Brown 1928-2006
James Brown 3rd May 1933 - 25th Dec 2006

I have been away on holiday for a week in France, and have had no idea what a loss we have felt this week, until a friend mentioned it in passing when I arrived home this evening.

On Christmas Eve, I left Solomon Burke wearing the crown of the King Of Rock N' Soul and a message of goodwill. At a famous concert back in 1965, Solomon was booked and handsomely paid $10,000 to perform, but was kept waiting for hours to get on stage until he was brought on just to be announced as 'deposed' by the headlining performer. I am sure that Mr Burke would again, for this moment, profer his crown, kingly robes and title to his friendly 'rival' of that night, Mr James Brown.

I chose the title for today's memorial post from an article that I read from Metro Beat, the local newspaper for James Brown's hometown of Augusta, Georgia. Faced with several recent scandals and blows that have knocked the reputation and the economy of the city, the council looked for inspiration from a local boy, and came up with an inspirational slogan and campaign, called We Feel Good:

Charles Walker Jr, a prominent local figure in politics made the proposal last year:

“We Feel Good’ says something about us. And I think the more we say it, the more we feel it.”

Pro Tem Mayor Marion Williams said:

“When you say, ‘I Feel Good,’ it just sounds right... I understand ‘We Feel Good’ includes a more collective group and we ought to be inclusive, so I’m all for it...”

Interim Mayor Willie Mays said of the suggestion:

"Let me say, that as a resident and business owner who just happens to live on James Brown Boulevard, I don’t have a vote anymore on this commission, but the gentlemen you’re talking about is a longtime personal and family friend. I had seven engagements that I had to speak at this week, and at least four of them, James Brown’s name was invoked and I didn’t see anyone with a frown on their face when we talked about him.”

James Brown came to represent a lot of things to many people. Musical pioneer, inventor of funk, the original rapper, icon of self-belief, black capitalist; he was determined in all things; rarely suffered fools; expected the same standards of professionalism from others that he exhibited; believed in competition to bring out the best in people; and made his own chances, having started with next to nothing to call his own. These were some of the things we admired about Mr James Brown, and emulating at least some of those qualities one would hope would bring some measure of the success and acheivement of Soul Brother Number One.

We Feel Good

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Presents For Christmas

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Merry Christmas!

I particularly chose today's song because it was written by Solomon Burke with his own son Solomon Burke Jr. It was released as the b-side to A Tear Fell in November 1966, and on the album King Solomon in 1969.

Solomon Burke - Presents For Christmas

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Nugetre's Nuggets, Part Three: Joe Turner Ties Chains Of Love To You...

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Today's nugget of Nugetre songwriting is Chains Of Love, written for Big Joe Turner.

Joe Turner had already had a long career working with big bands as a vocalist, and alongside friend and fellow bluesman Pete Johnson. By the 1950s, Joe was a veteran of the vocal jazz scene, but his popularity was limited outside this audience.

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The big opportunity for Joe to revitalize his career came in spring 1951, when singer Jimmy Rushing left the Count Basie Band. Ahmet Ertegun heard that Joe was being called in to replace him, so he went to the show at the Apollo Theater. Ahmet signed Joe to a one-year contract with Atlantic. On April 19, 1951, he recorded the first song, written by Ahmet himself with pianist Harry 'Van' Walls, who play behind Joe on the song.

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Chains Of Love b/w After My Laughter Came Tears was the first single in May 1951. It reached No.2, and stayed on the r&b chart for 25 weeks, and became the number four best-selling record of the year. Joe toured with Helen Humes and The Hal Singer Orchestra, then as part of Atlantic's "Cavalcade of Blues" tour traveling throughout Louisiana and Texas.

Atlantic released a follow-up while Chains Of Love was still in the charts. The Chill Is On reached No.3 on the R&B charts. In the meantime, material he had recorded earlier for other labels surfaced on the radio. Joe recorded another Nugetre song, Sweet Sixteen , in January 1952. Up to this point in his career, Joe had written most of his songs, and he continued to write material, including the 1953 No.1 hit Honey Hush. Back in New York in December 1953, Joe recorded his biggest hit of all. Shake, Rattle, And Roll reached No.1 on the R&B charts. While this song wasn't written by Ahmet Ertegun, you can hear Ahmet, Jerry Wexler and Jesse Stone making the noise and doing the backing vocals!

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Oddly, despite the version by Bill Haley and The Comets being heard on the radio, it was Joe's version that remained on the charts for over six months! Such popularity for the original black artist dictated some alteration of the traditional pattern of promotion, and Joe was a rock n' roll star! Joe and Bill ended up bizarrely on a tour together, and became friends. After reinventing himself as an r&b star, Joe now was introduced into the crossover world of rock n' roll, and promoted by DJ Alan Freed as part of his tour, even starring in two rock n'roll movies: Harlem Rock And Roll and Shake, Rattle And Roll.

Pete Johnson watches J.C. Higginbotham win the table-tennis competition at the Turkish Embassy...
Pete Johnson watches in awe as J.C. Higginbotham takes on all-comers at a table-tennis tournament at the Turkish Embassy.

After a string of successful hits after that, Joe teamed up once again with his old friend Pete Johnson to record the Boss Of The Blues album, and they played together at The Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 before going off to tour successfully in Europe.

Big Joe Turner - Chains Of Love (1951)

Information from a BluesNotes Magazine article by Terry Currier, of the Cascade Blues Association. Photos from various and What'd I Say: The Atlantic Story.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nugetre's Nuggets, Part Two: Carla And Otis Get Lovey, Dovey

BUY King & Queen Of Soul (March '67) on Vinyl Reissue!

Some more Nugetre magic, with some Stax sorcery added to the mix. Lovey Dovey was written by Ahmet Ertegun (Nugetre) and King Curtis for The Clovers (see Sunday's post). Carla Thomas and Otis Redding recorded Lovey, Dovey for their King & Queen of Soul album in January 1967. They replace the jazzy piano line and sultry saxophone accompaniment of the Clovers' original with Al Jackson's thumping drumbeat, and the sharp blasts of Memphis horns. I love how the horns build up and up towards the end, like when you start up on a rollercoaster, then we go over the top into the final fade out.

Carla, Otis and Isaac Hayes recording in Jan 1967

Carla Thomas & Otis Redding - Lovey, Dovey (Stax 244) Jan 1967

POSTSCRIPT: If you are an Otis Redding fan (you're not?!?!...), incidentally, the photo was featured on a great website devoted to Otis albums, with lyrics and liner notes, called The Otis Redding French Site. The text is in French but its got great features on hundreds of Otis items. And I am learning the French lyrics to Tramp at the moment! Clochard! (transl. Tramp!)

P.P.S. : I've been trying to buy a Clovers track Little Miss Fannie (by Nugetre) on my friend iTunes, and have discovered to my annoyance that it is only listed on US iTunes, and that as a Brit, I am forbidden from purchasing it! AHHH! WHY! (... take a deep breath, there will be other soul music, remember the 12 steps...) Ok, feeling better. I hope they never find out how many 'gift/hobby' parcels of rare vinyl history leave the New World for my door every month...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Nugetre's Nuggets, Part One: Ahmet's Days In Clover...

Ahmet Ertegun was given a small acetate recording machine at the age of fourteen, and began his own songwriting career by writing lyrics to Cootie William's West End Blues and singing them over the top of the instrumental track playing on a Magnavox record player in the background. His friends would not believe that it was his voice singing!

Being part of the creative process, not just as a producer but as a songwriter, delighted Ahmet, and over the years as president of the company, Ahmet wrote material for numerous artists, under the pseudonym Nugetre (Ertegun spelled backwards). The pseudonym has never been satisfactorily explained for me; after all, everybody knew that the Turkish Ambassador's son ran an r&b and jazz record company. Perhaps it was more that it would look bad for the company to admit that the company president sometimes had to help out at the studio. Ahmet wrote "head" melodies since he couldn't play an instrument or write music. He would record his songs in Times Square recording booths, then take the paper discs and give them to musicians to reproduce.

The Clovers

One of the first groups to benefit from Ahmet's songwriting talents were The Clovers. The Clovers were a local Washington group who often played in Washington's Old Rose Social Club, an old bootleg joint dating back to the 20s. In a way The Clovers were perfect for the place, since their repertoire was locked into that era also, with songs such as Yes Sir, That's My Baby, That Old Black Magic, and Pennies From Heaven. They were paid nothing, and were also responsible for looking after the building. Their singing was beautiful, but more barbershop and crooner than doo-wop, and when his old partner Max Silvermann from the "Waxie Maxie" record shop tipped Ahmet Ertegun to them , he was unsure that they could make it in the r&b market. Unimpressed with much of the syrupy material they were recording for Rainbow Records, Ahmet wrote a song himself on the plane ride down from NYC to his old haunt of Washington D.C. that had a quite different style.

Clovers poster discovered by Marv Goldberg at Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks

On February 22, 1951 the Clovers recorded Don't You Know I Love You (Atlantic 934), a mid-tempo, choppy-rhythmed shuffle with Buddy Bailey's blues-tinged vocal leading the group. The surprising use of a sax solo (one of the first on a vocal group record) came about when bandleader Frank Culley demanded to be paid even though he and his sax were not suppose to play on the record. Since Ertegun had to pay Frank as a leader anyway, he let him play and Culley winged it from there. The song sold over 250,00 copies. Ironically, The Clovers themselves preferred the flip-side Skylark, which was more in the pop ballad vein they were used to singing!

The song was later covered by both Fats Domino and Shirley & Lee, but neither do the song full justice - the one overexciting the rock n'roll without the feeling; the other transforming it into pretty kitsch, nasal, bubblegum pop (strange, since normally, I enjoy their songs - I guess the prior knowledge of the Clovers spoiled it for me...)

Clovers poster discovered by Marv Goldberg at Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks

Ahmet Ertegun wrote eight songs for the Clovers out of their first nine singles, including their first two number one R&B chart records, the second No.1 being Fool, Fool, Fool. The next year, Kay Starr had a big hit with this song with white pop audiences. The other stand-out songs were In The Middle Of The Night, with its distinctive heavy beat and walking bass line woven into a bluesy ballad, and Lovey Dovey, later covered in the Memphis style by the King & Queen of Soul, Carla Thomas and Otis. Don't You Know I Love You, Fool, Fool, Fool, and Lovey Dovey were each on the charts for over 20 weeks. Five of the Clovers' records during this Nugetre-penned period were double-sided hits, with 3 of them in a row.

Nugetre could write a hit or two!

The Clovers - Don't You Know I Love You? (1951)
The Clovers - Fool, Fool, Fool (1951)
The Clovers - Lovey, Dovey (1953)

BUY The Clovers' Greatest Hits
You can buy all of these and many other classic Clovers tracks on the excellent compilation Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash - Their Greatest Hits 1951-55 by Rev-Ola Records. Most Clovers tracks are also easily found on iTunes.

Information from What'd I Say: 50 Years Of Atlantic Records, and the copious research gathered from interviews with numerous members of the Clovers for Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks.

POSTSCRIPT: Has anyone ever heard that Cootie Williams/Ahmet Ertegun recording? I wonder if it survived somewhere in the Atlantic vaults?...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Living In A Hopeful Future: Ahmet Ertegun 1923-2006

Ahmet Ertegün 1923-2006
Ahmet Ertegün, 31st July 1923 – 14th December 2006

Ahmet Ertegün, who along with Herb Abramson founded Atlantic Records, died this week.

"Ahmet Ertegün was injured after a fall at a Rolling Stones performance on October 29, 2006. Ertegun, 83, slipped and hit his head backstage while the band were playing at former US President Bill Clinton's 60th birthday party in New York Sunday 29 October 2006. After being in a positive stable situation, he slipped into a coma and died with his family by his side on December 14, 2006 at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. He will be buried in his native Turkey, and a memorial service will be held in New York in the New Year, an Atlantic Records spokesman said."

Nesuhi & Ahmet in London 1920s

It was a tragic end to the life of a man who from the age of five had dreamed of being a part of the jazz and blues world he was introduced to by his elder brother Nesuhi, listening to records snuck into their bedroom into the early hours at the Turkish Embassy in Washington D.C. The Ertegun family name means 'living in a hopeful future', and Ahmet and Nesuhi's went out to live theirs as soon as they could, going out to see the great names of jazz; walking from door to door in the black neighbourhoods of Washington asking around to buy old records; and getting to befriend some of those same artists they had worshipped - Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Jelly Roll Morton, J.C. Higginbotham and Pete Johnson.

Ahmet M. Ertegun, Duke Ellington, William P. Gottlieb, Nesuhi Ertegun, and Dave Stewart, William P. Gottlieb's home, Maryland, 1941

It wasn't just about music. From the moment he heard jazz as a boy in London in the early 30s, Ahmet felt an affinity with black Americans. He was shocked by the treatment they had to contend with in their own country, and felt something similar in a Europe where their muslim faith set Turks apart despite their modernising new government:

"As I grew up, I began to discover a little bit about the situation of black people in America, and experienced an immediate empathy with the victims of such senseless discrimination. Because although the Turks were never slaves, they were regarded as enemies within Europe because of their Muslim beliefs."

The hopeful future would in Ahmet's dreams include understanding and co-operation between races. As a boy, Ahmet gravitated towards the embassy's black janitor, Cleo Payne, who became a mentor to him, taking him on trips around the black neighbourhoods of Washington and Georgetown, and introducing him to the local musicians, who would then come to play at Ahmet's parties at the embassy.

Ahmet in the 1940s

Nesuhi and Ahmet decided to put on the first ever integrated concert in Washington D.C., the nation's capital being a segregated Jim Crow town back in those years. The Jewish Community Center was the only place that would allow both a mixed audience and mixed band. Later they would be allowed to use the National Press Club's auditorium for other shows.

In 1946 Ahmet became friends with Herb Abramson, a dental student and A&R man for National Records. Deciding to start a label together they talked Max Silverstein into backing them. There was to be two labels Jubilee for Gospel and Quality for jazz and R&B. When things didn't start off well, Silverstein got out, and the two were left to raise some more cash to start a new label, Atlantic Records in the autumn of 1947, working out of a condemned Jefferson Hotel on Fifty-Six between Sixth and Broadway. Sleeping in the bedroom the living room was used as a office, and the office was used as a recording studio through the night. In order to help with the rent Ahmet rented a bed to his cousin Sadi Koylan a poet. With an upcoming recording strike declared by Caesar Petrillo to commence January 1, 1948 they began recording as much material as possible. The first sides were recorded November 21, 1947 by the Harlemaires with The Rose of the Rio Grande. By the end of December a total of sixty-five songs had been recorded.

The Harlemaires

The early recordings, well-written and sophisticated, didn't sell, and searching for inspiration, Ahmet and Herb travelled south to listen to what people were dancing to. The missing ingredient was the danceable rhythm, and with that added to the mix, Atlantic had their first hit with Sticks McGhee's Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee, an Army drinking song with ribald lyrics heavily toned-down for the pop market. It would not be the last time that Ahmet and Atlantic would be willing to seek out and pick up new inspirations and new ideas, particularly from the South, in their quest for great music. It was one of the qualities that put Ahmet Ertegun apart from other record executives of the time, who relied upon talent scouts and A&R men to do the searching. Ahmet was involved with his artists, and loved the music they made:

"From the moment an artist walks through the door at Atlantic, they are already a star to us."

In r&b, Ahmet would sign up and treat like stars such talents as Professor Longhair, The Clovers, Big Joe Turner, LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, Clyde McPhatter, The Drifters, Ray Charles, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin. Later, he would pioneer the move into rock music that allowed the label to offer itself up for sale in the late 60s and guaranteed its continued survival as an imprint. Ironically that change allowed for the continued support of r&b acts and rerelease of the Atlantic r&b catalogues.

To be fair to the whole man, Ahmet was of course a businessman as well as a music lover. Over the years, several artists would have differences with Ahmet and Atlantic over the business of music, and the payment of royalties. Fred Wilhelms, lawyer involved in royalties work for artists such as LaVern Baker, had this to say this week:

"I had a much harder time than most people reconciling what Ahmet Ertegun accomplished with what he knew was being done to artists with his full complicity."

Unlike some other outfits such as King Records, Atlantic had in fact paid music publishing royalties and also royalties to their performers from the start, but while the contracts were considered standard for the time, as the popularity of the music grew, the deals began to appear less than generous. When disagreements emerged over accounting and collection of royalties due, splits occured, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles and LaVern Baker amongst the well-known. To his credit, in recent years Ahmet and the other old executives of Atlantic were amongst those willing to contribute to the foundation of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and other artist benevolent funds, as well as reconciling several outstanding royalties disputes out of their own fortunes.

Now the adventure in search of "cowboys, indians, beautiful brown-skinned women and jazz" , which Ahmet dreamed of as a nine-year old boy collecting and treasuring old 78s has ended with his return to rest in his native Turkey. Ahmet once explained it all, in a slightly tongue in cheek way:

"If it hadn't been for the fall of the Ottoman Empire ..."

I certainly had never really considered the contribution of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to the spread of black American music into the homes of all Americans and on across the Atlantic into the consciousness of the whole world, but it is impossible to forget the part that Ahmet and his brother Nesuhi played in that. Ahmet and Nesuhi didn't treat r&b as 'race music' in the way so many others had done previously, but as music at the forefront of creativity and genius. Quincy Jones made a similar comment in one of many tributes in the press this week:

"[Ahmet was] one of the pioneering visionaries in this whole scene. He was a very 360-degree person. He loved to have a good time. He knew how to party, which is my kind of guy, and he knew how to work. He knew how to look into the future and how to execute to bring it to fruition.”

The music Ahmet brought to the world made us think about living in a more hopeful future.

To read about Ahmet's life and Atlantic Records in his own words, read What'd I Say: 50 Years of Atlantic Records, from which much of the information and quotes here are to be found. Another good read is the biography Music Man. Fred Wilhelms article at CounterPunch offers another interesting perspective on Ahmet.
BUY What'd I Say: 50 Years Of Atlantic Records
BUY Music Man: Ahmet Ertegun & Atlantic Records

Saturday, December 09, 2006

There's Got To Be (some)One For Me: The Suemi Sessions of Lou Pride...

Hopefully, some of you have gotten a taste for more Lou Pride. But what about those of us who want to hear the crackle of vinyl but can't afford to sell out £1000 for the privilege of an original. Well thank Gerald Short, the Jazzman Gerald of Jazzman Records, who last year released Lou Pride The Suemi Sessions as a set of 3 reissued 45s! With detailed liner notes complied by Gerald and Kym Fuller, it recreates three singles recorded in the early 70s in El Paso and in Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio in Memphis. Well worth checking out!

BUY Lou Pride: The Suemi Sessions direct from Jazzman Records, and get hooked on 1000s of other reissues and sound clips!
Jazzman Records

Friday, December 01, 2006

Love Will Make It All Right: Lou Pride In Concert

As promised, here is my description of the show by Lou Pride last Sunday night at the Komedia in Brighton...

Lou Pride @ The Komedia Sunday 26th November

Arriving just in time, I found a side table, and settled down to watch the band, Mo'Indigo, tune up. They began to play some blues entitled Fleetwood Cadillac and Kisses Like Fire, before introducing the syncopated notes of the WattSoul Horns.

Terry of Mo'Indigo plays some licks...

Barely had the horns blared out their fanfare, when guitarist Terry announced,"Ladies and Gentlemen - Lou Pride!", and Lou Pride was on stage, wearing a fine white linen suit.

Catching the audience by surprise, he built up the audience by asking:
"When he said LOU PRIDE, I didn't hear no noise!"

He got what he was after this time, and then Lou kept us clapping and responding each time he called out All Night Long, a variation on the Hoochie Coochie Man lyric.

Lou introduced himself:
"It's my last night her in your country, so we're gonna do two sets for you... and by the time we're through, you'll just be in time for work tomorrow!"

From the back of the room the DJ, I assume local resident Little Rik, could no longer contain his enthusiasm, and holler: "Yeah! I'm Comun Home in the Morn'un!"

Lou smiled and soothed him down a little:
"Hold on, we'll come to that later on, I promise! We've only just begun..."

Lou Pride and the band lauched into a powerful funky blues titled Beware Of The Dog, and then another powerful number, but in a more regretful mood, Heavy Load All Over My Soul. The next number was a slower lament as Lou feels like he 'saw the sky fall down this morning', and looks for his 'broken down white woman' and asks us, does Somebody Know About My Baby?

Time for some more interaction with the crowd:
"I've played a lot of places in this world, and I'm blessed to do so.", says Lou.
The DJ cries: "You're Wigan's favourite, and always will be!"
Lou answers affirmatively:
"You know, I tell everybody I meet in this business, you've got to come here to this country to learn how to be a real fan! Yeah, I'll have upset some people now, but I don't care!"
It is unusual and cathartic to hear an english crowd roar and call out in approval.

Next up Lou introduces his rendition of Waiting In Vain, telling us a lighthertedly:
"I told Bob I was gonna do this song, but I had to tell him I couldn't sing it the way he does, I'm gonna have to do it my way."
It allows the organist Frazier to display his soloing talents during this one. The horns are tight, the rythmn focused and soulful.

Lou next does on of his classic numbers Bringing Me Back Home, and when I look around, there is a line of women who have got up on their feet and are dancing, and on into the final number of the set, an upbeat I Had A Talk With My Baby.

Back after the interval to hear Mo'Indigo go Spencer Davis Group with My Babe. Then Lou was back, having mopped the sweat from his brow and now dressed in blue, and starts to Twist The Knife in. Then he makes us realise that when Love Is Running Away From Me, it's more a case of "I never lost you, because you were never mine."

A change of pace for the next slow country waltz ballad, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, nothing to do with the Beatles number, which reminded me more of That's How Strong My Love Is. in some ways, and evoked a very simple and honest expression of human tenderness. Lou had won over the emotional sympathy of the crowd, and made the next song a personal choice:

"I want to introduce the next song, which is very personal to me... I have children, and I see the children growing up in this world of ours, surrounded by poverty and war and violence... and it's about time we made a change, we've got to do a little bit better in EVERYTHING!... I wrote this song for that reason, to show that we all know that a little Love Will Make It All Right."

It's a theme that has been close to Lou Pride's writing throughout his career in other songs like Message To The People, and while we know that the emotion of soul is an art form and performance, it is nice to know how the music can be inspired by the real feelings of the performer, to bring it to a higher level. Lou sings the line, "Love Will Make It All Right", and we sing it three times back, chorus after chorus, until he is sure everybody is together on this one and part of the communion...

Then the bassist kicks up a driving funky rhythm, and the WattSoul Horns hit a complex jazz-bop trill, Terry plays an F sharp chord, and for a moment few catch on, then my face lights up, as I realise we are about to hear a classic song from the writer and singer, and Lou Pride, staring out perhaps in my direction (ok, I was getting excited by the whole thing) grasps the microphone to sing, "I'm Comun Home In The Morn'un"...

Lou Pride - I'm Com'un Home In The Morn'un (Suemi ST4567) (1972)

Please come back we cry, and he does for an encore, light going up and Lou hitting the floor ot shake the hand of a boy in the front row: "Put it there, son!" His parents are dancing and are in seventh heaven by now. Lou tours the floor shaking hands singing a reprise of All Night Long. The blurry snaps were taken at this time, as I had forgotten how to set the flash in my haste.

A special night that I'm glad I was there for, and to see a performer who should be praised to the rooftops...

POSTSCRIPT: All of you who were at the show in Stamford - you bought up every CD and souvenir Lou had! Nothing left for us poor southerners!