Gene Clark is for the Byrds!

Gene Clark w/ Carla Olsen – In Concert
Collector’s Choice

Roots rock fans should bow down and give thanks to Collector’s Choice for this recent release. Not only will fans of the genre be absolutely thrilled with some previous unreleased live work from former Byrd Gene Clark but having ex-Textone Carla Olsen along for the ride is a double treat. Not only is Olsen a great singer/songwriter in her own right, but her work with Clark in the ’80’s was Clark’s most fruitful partnership since he left the Byrds. Clark seemed to shine whenever Olsen was nearby and both artists always brought their A-games whenever they decided to work together. Thanks to these newly discovered live recordings, we can once again marvel at Clark’s gifts and the fabulous interplay he had with Olsen, and though Clark always faired better as a team player than he did on his own as his history tends to bear out, he was a marvelous artist and one of rock’s best songwriters.

If nothing else, his brief sojourns with The Byrds will bear this out.

While he was only with the band for two brief stretches, Gene Clark will always be best known for being a part of the earliest incarnation of the Byrds (1964-1966) for which he wrote and sang lead on some of the band’s best known songs (“Eight Miles High”, “Feel A Whole Better,” and “Here Without You”. But before his stint with the Byrds, he was a part of folk-pop group The New Christy Minstrels, who scored a few hits on the pop charts in the early ’60’s. Thankfully for fans of country-rock, he eventually became tired of the Minstrels constant touring and quit the band. He met Jim McGuinn (who later changed his name to Roger) and together they formed the Byrds, becoming forerunners of the influential country-rock sound which would eventually influence artists like Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles, among many others. As previously mentioned, Clark’s time in the Byrds was brief with contributing factors such as a fear of flying and growing resentment from the others for his dominant songwriting skills leading to his exit. Clark was immediately signed by Columbia as a solo act but his debut solo album did very little business, due to his teaming with the Gosdin Brothers for an interesting record. Seems the world wasn’t ready for a total rock/country hybrid at that point in time, though the album was brilliant in execution.

Clark’s next project was met with the same indifference as his album with The Gosdins. After the album with Gosdin failed to sell, Columbia had dropped him and he signed with A&M Records. This time, Clark teamed up with Doug Dillard in another attempt to blend country and rock but after two albums, indifference from the public caused the collaboration to disintegrate. It wasn’t until 1971 that Clark’s first solo project was issued. Entitled White Light, it didn’t sell well in America but sold decently overseas, which gave Clark the opportunity to record his next album for the overseas market only. At this point, he left A&M to join back up with the Byrds in time for a reunion album, which unfortunately didn’t stick. New but mostly unappreciated solo albums released on Asylum Records followed in 1974 and 1977. Thanks to an overseas tour on which he found himself playing on a bill with former Byrds Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn, Clark found himself once again in a band with his ex-Byrd-mates. Despite initial anticipation for the project, the album was produced in a way that made them sound unlike anything releated to The Byrds. This, although purposely done to differentiate the new group from its’ members’ pasts, effectively killed the group as fans wanted to hear something close to the Byrds. Thanks to R.E.M. and all the bands in the Paisley Underground scene paying tribute to the Byrds in interviews and in their music, Clark released another solo album in ’84. He then started his collaboration with Olson, which actually became his best success as a solo artist. Unfortunately, at around this same time, Clark became very ill, dealing with ulcers from years of heavy drinking and having a large portion of his stomach and intestines removed. By 1991, and in the mnidst of a second project with Olson, Clark would die from bleeding ulcers.

For someone so talented, that he ended up towards the end of his life more of a footnote than a star is very disheartening. The heart and soul of the early Byrds, Clark had all the talent in the world but let bad business decisions keep him from reaching his full potential, though his beautiful songs have given him a lasting legacy.

As for Olson, her first foray into the public eye was her band The Textones, which she formed with future Go-Go’s member Kathy Valentine in the late ’70’s. The band was more of a regional success than a national one, but their live rep got them a deal with A&M, which released their first album. Despite being a relative unknown, Olson hung around the right people and was able to corral such names as Ry Cooder, Don Henley, and Gene Clark. Though the band did not record again until ’87, Olson kept busy with tons of live shows, turning her band into a well-oiled machine which could survive without regular album releases by being simply incredible live. Her next album was her first duet album with Clark, So Rebellious A Lover, which garnered near unanimous praise and resurrected Clark’s career while advancing Olson’s. Subsequent albums featured Olson both solo and with other duet partners, most notably former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, but her career has slown down somewhat and she has released only a few new albums the past fifteen years.

This album captures Clark and Olson’s live concerts following the biggest success of their careers, the duet album So Rebellious a Lover. Clark’s health problems (thanks to years of abusing alcohol) and longtime fear of flying prevented a full-scale tour in support of the album, but Clark played scattered live dates after its release, and this album gathers recordings from shows Clark gave in late 1988 and early 1990. The first disc showcases seven songs Clark performed on the NPR radio series Mountain Stage. Clark delivers strong and passionate solo acoustic interpretations of five numbers (including a wonderful “Tried So Hard”) and later sits in with the band for two songs, with the musicians lending subtle support. The disc closes out with three rehearsal recordings with Olson taped at Clark’s home. While the sound quality of the recordings are only passable, the pair’s harmonies are strong and the music heartfelt. Disc two is devoted to a concert Clark and Olson played at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. The show is intimate, with Clark and Olson joined only by the spare accompaniment of guitarist Duane Jarvis and bassist David Provost. Clark is in splendid voice for this show, and he delivers a set that spans the length of his career, from the Byrds to all points beyond. Deferring to Clark for most of the set, Olson is there when the music needs her, and her presence is an immeasurable asset to this performance.

Fans of roots rock are going to love this CD. Full of fire and energy, what has always looked on paper to be an odd pairing has always come up aces whenever they’ve gotten together to record or play live. But again, Clark seems to always come alive when part of a team or group. Olson for her part has always been part of a band, and keeps a band mentality even when her name is up front. Plus, her affection for Clark is obvious. Not in a “she’s in love with him” way but it’s clear she has always loved his early work and is slightly in awe when they play together, though not so much that it mars the proceedings. Remember, when she started performing with Clark in the mid-’80’s he had pretty much been forgotten at that point in his career. She didn’t need him at that point as much as he needed her but you can feel the affection they had for one another. This is a wonderful record. Please check it out.

In the Sill of the Night

Judee Sill – Live In London: The BBC Recordings 1972-1973
Water

I love the name of the label which has put out this fantastic Judee Sill album. It’s a helluva label name when you think about it. And don’t let them fool you. A rose by any other name would not have caught on. All these bands and hipsters who get creative with their label names ought to think about this one here: “water”. Something you need, right? Something you can’t live without, huh? Something that brings life! Water! Just like the music this label releases. Maybe I’ve been going on and on, being facetious to some extent, but when a label is able to dig up something like this release, I believe said label is due some praise. Sill has long been a cult figure, though if more people had been paying attention there is no doubt she could have been a major player. Not only did she have great songwriting abilities, she had a passion and conviction which made you become invested in every word she sang. Oftentimes, passion so intense can only be acquired after overcoming tragedy and pain and unfortunately Sill carried more tragedy and pain around in her tourtured soul than a group of people could handle.

The bleak outlook Sill conveyed through her music was rooted in painful childhood experiences. Despite being born into a wealthy family, Sill found no solace in her family’s wealth and serves as the poster girl for money not buying happiness. Her father passed away while she was very young and her beloved brother died soon after, giving Sill the bleak view which would manifest itself through her life and through her art. Her mother ended up remarrying but Sill despised her stepfather and wasn’t too thrilled with her mother deciding to remarry someone who Sill felt did not hold a candle to her father. So, how to get back at them? The way most kids do – run away. But instead of just saying it and coming back home in time for dinner like most of us did when we were little, she decided to live her life as a constantly rambling artist who never really settled down anywhere. It was when she began her journies that she started turning her love for music into something more. She began to perform at clubs and coffeehouses, or any other little hole in the wall allowing her to sing. While she was just performing for kicks at first, it soon turned into a serious pursuit for Sills and had the dual purpose of supplying her with cash so she could support her heroin habit. Unfortunately for Sills, when she was just getting started and performances were either for free or few and far between, she turned to other means to get drug money, including prostitution. By 1969 she had served a few months in person after getting busted and managed to kick her habit by the time she was released, at which time she decided to focus her energies completely on music. Shortly after her return to Los Angeles she was introduced to future record label mogul David Geffen who was, at that point, just starting up his new Asylum imprint devoted to singer/songwriters. Immediately impressed with Sill’s singing and songwriting talent, Geffen signeed her up immediately for his label. Geffen introduced Sills to Graham Nash who produced some songs for her debut, the rest being produced by Bob Harris, Sill’s onetime husband. Though her first album, the self titled Judee Sill, was released in 1971 to great critical acclaim, it stiffed despite the heavy miles logged by Sill on the tours she did with members of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Compared to (and on the same label with) Joni Mitchell and even Carole King, it could have been too much of the same thing for audiences to distinguish enough difference in Sill’s work to latch on to her as a personality in her own right. A perfectionist, Sill’s next album took over two years to make, a rarity at that time. When she finally released the self-produced Heart Food in 1972, she had learned no one else could convey her own vision better than herself. Thus, she made sure her album was layered in lush strings and heavily orchestrated. All the extra effort was for naught, though, as the album was greeted with raves from critics but almost universally ignored by the public. Soon after, she withdrew from the public eye and resumed her drug habit.

If I was to review this album in one word, I would say the word would be “heartbreaking”. Though Sills performance is fantastic, it is hard to banish from one’s mind how much she had suffered to get there and how much she was to suffer down the line. Her voice is one of a kind, and her accomplished guitar playing ( not to mention her production and arranging skills) signal an immense talent who was just unable to capture the public’s attention at a crucial time. Folk music would never again be as popular as it was during those years and as singer/songwriters ended up turning to light pop as their means of getting over, Sill’s more substantial music languished forgotten by all but a few die hard fans. Luckily, like fellow cult artist Nick Drake, time has added to her mystique and now her recording are sought out by music cognescenti as Holy Grails deservinga closer look. After listening to this live performance, you will know why. Gone are most of the bells and whistles of her albums, replaced by the stark elegance of her voice, guitar and beaten-down heart.

Some say Judee Sill sang true soul music and I agree, though don’t expect boomin’ bass beats or the Memphis Horns on these tracks. Expect heartfelt songs conveying a sense of loss and desperation and a performance straight from the depths of Sill’s heart. Sill poured everything into her career and was devastated when she didn’t see much of a return. For all of her immense talent, she died broke from a drug overdose, years after people had completely forgotten about her. In fact, when learning of her death, many of her peers were surprised, thinking she had already died years earlier such was how completely she vanished from view. Now, courtesy of Water, she has reappeared, in a way. Take advantage my friends, of this newly found live recording, to get to know the music of someone you should have known already. This is killer. Pick it up.

Whole Lotta Shankar Goin’ On

I have gotten into a lot of world music over the past few years. One of my favorite discoveries is the artist Ananda Shankar.

Ananda Shankar – Ananda Shankar And His Music
Ananda Shankar – Missing You/A Musical Discovery Of India
Ananda Shankar – 2001
Fall Out Records

Believe it or not, for a while I began to get really bored with music. Not only did most rock bands sound alike to my ears (as many always do – even more so now that every new band is trying to give their music an ’80’s sound. I mean, the ’80’s weren’t too good for music. Why would anyone want to sound like that? Gratutious sax solos, Yamaha DX-7’s and gated drums. Hooray! Do you feel the sarcasm? DO YOU?) but even the soul and jazz artists I was listening to were beginning to seem tedious and uninspired.

Nephew of the world famous sitar player Ravi Shankar, Ananda Shankar was a musical prodigy and learned sitar (among other instruments) at a very early age although, contrary to popular belief, he did not learn the instrument from his uncle but from Dr. Lalmani Misra in varanasi. After mastering his instrument, Ananda Shankar desired to make his music known throughout the world and realized he needed to travel to the US to achieve his goals. Immediately after arriving in Los Angeles, Shankar began jamming with rock music’s elite. By this time (roughly 1968 or so), everyone was into psychedelic rock and Shankar was no different, spending time honing his rock chops with musicians like Jimi Hendrix, whom he often jammed with. As an aside, I have to note that every musician over the age of fifty has the phrase “jammed with Jimi Hendrix” on their resume. Now, I don’t doubt plenty of musicians did jam with Hendrix and I don’t doubt Shankar did because those sessions have been well-documented. It’s just that when I listen to these claims I get a picture in my head of Hendrix just standing there, like a department store Santa, waiting until everyone of this long line of musicians comes up and plays a few minutes with him and then steps aside so another can come up and do the same thing. I mean, did Hendrix just stand there and wait for people to jam with him? Anyway, by the age of twenty-seven, Ananda Shankar had signed a deal with Reprise Records and the label released his eponymously -titled debut album in 1970. Though it has become a cult classic among those who admire fusion for the way Shankar combines elements of of hindu music with psychedelic rock (the album contains searing verisons of The Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” and The Doors’ “Light My Fire”) the album did not sell well and Shankar retreated back to India for some retrenching.

He re-emerged in 1975 with Ananda Shankar and His Music and blew away his fans with his mix of Indian music and stone-cold funky rave-ups. And I am not shitting you about the deep, deep funky grooves on this album! This is music that would sound right at home on the Shaft soundtrack or in the background of any Dolemite movie. Shankar had decided to eschew the harder elements of psych-rock and use Sly Stone and Geroge Clinton as inspirations for his next foray into popular music. Just a note: these reissues from Fallout come with some brief biographical liner notes, but (like most Fallout releases) their reissues mostly concentrate on the music and not the gee-gaws involved with packaging the album. Your mileage may vary as I love informative liner notes when it comes to archival reissues such as these but Fallout just never includes that stuff. I’ve wished many times Fallout would beef up their liners and such but what can you do? The music is definitely the most important part so just having this stuff released again is great on it’s own. Caveat emptor.

The next reissue from Fallout combines two albums, the first having been released in 1977 and the latter in 1978. The first of the pairing, A Musical Discovery Of India, was a project paid for the government of India while the second, Missing You, was another of Shankar’s funk-themed albums but thematically based around a personal tribute to his parents. A Musical Discovery Of India pretty much sounds like the title and is a more “serious” approach to Indian music. The album contains mostly Indian classical compositions. While definitely not funky, the album will blow your mind simply because of the pure skill displayed in Shankar’s playing. And, despite the album being based totally around Indian music with no fusion of American elements, it is very accessible. You can hear Shankar’s very soul in this music. The second album, while a concept piece about his childhood, brings Shankar’s music back towards the fusion sound of his first albums while retaining some Indian classical elements. It seems that on this album Shankar wanted to bridge the two worlds of trthe traditonal music he was hired to play on the previous record and the more modern choices he was making on his own releases. The result is pure excellence.

Fallout’s third reissue, 2001, was released in 1980 and was what the title suggests: a futuristic space-themed funk fest. While more modern in sound and approach, the album leaves the more serious Indian music of his past few albums behind and returns to the straight acid-funk Shankar had been mining earlier in his career. In other words, sitar funk to which you should be shaking your booty.Though always popular with music fans seeking something a little avant-garde with touches of jazz, funk and world music, Shankar’s career hit a fallow period and he released very little music over the next twenty years or so. During that time, many hip DJ’s began mining his albums for beats and samples and subsequently Blue Note felt the need to release a greatest hits CD on Shankar. The Blue Note album upped Shankar’s profile and he subsequently returned to recording. Sadly, he died in 1999 just before his first album of new compositions in many, many years was to be released.

This music will appeal to a very diverse music-listening and appreciating public. Not only will these albums be interesting to the Indian music fan, but listeners interested inb world music will love these discs and those interested in funk will also find a lot to like here. As I’ve mentioned, even though these albums feature Indian instrumentaion and musical ideas, Shankar was gearing his sound to be appreciated by people who love funk and R&B. These albums are very funky and the way Shankar expands what funk music can sound like and what funk music represents regarding sound and texture will astound those who have never listened to his music. These discs are not for everyone’s tastes, but I suspect those who like the aforementioned genres and have open minds regarding music will find these discs fascinating and very well worth the money spent.

No Sly Stone Left Unturned

One of the greatest funk artists of all time got a reissue set last year which finally justified his greatness. Though he has been a non-entity in the music world for many years, the music he created has endured and rightfully reveals him as one of the most talented, revolutionary artists ever to create music.

Sly and The Family Stone – The Collection
Columbia/Legacy

One of the most talented and eccentric performers in music gets his back catalog re-issued after years of fans begging the record company to give Stone’s work some attention. Thankfully, Columbia finally heard the din and decided to put a great amount of effort into doing this music justice. Not only does this set include all seven albums Stone and band recorded for the label (with added bonus tracks and great restored cover art for each CD) the job done on remastering is nothing short of excellent. The songs sound as bright and fresh as they did upon each album’s individual release. Though he only produced seven albums during his most fruitful period, these albums can be stacked up against anything else produced in the ’60’s (or beyond) and will compare favorably.

A Whole New Thing is the title of the aggregation’s debut but this album isn’t really a whole new thing at all, though signs of Stone’s future funk are evident. For the most part this album shows the band still plying a more traditional R&B style, albeit with some slight sonic innovations. It is in the lyrics where Stone’s genius pokes through as the topics are not your usual straight soul fare and delve into a few goofier places than the norm. Sounding more restrained than they would on later efforts, Stone’s band is funky and tight, but not nearly as tight or funky as they would become. Some rock touches give the feeling something different is happening, but it is not enough to rank this among Stone’s best. While a promising start, this album does not show enough of what made Stone and his group great. Luckily, those qualities would show up on later albums.

The band’s next album, Dance To The Music, not only provided the band’s first hit with the title track but also showed the band coming into it’s own. With an incredible feeling of joy and exuberance saturating the album, it is almost impossible not to get sucked into the spirit of the band. Though not really a classic album, it is hard to resist the band’s charms and what they brought to the popular music table. Remember, this is probably the first album ever made where the sunshiney-psychedelic feelings of the rock music at the time was mixed with pure soul music to create something totally different than anything that had come before. Everything, from the inventive arrangements to the sparking melodies and the hyped-up rhythms was fresh and new – and sounded that way. This, incredibly, is not the band’s best, but it is a damn fine album nonetheless.

The Family Stone’s third release, Life, came just a few months after Dance To The Music and features heavier, more psychedelic arrangements and much fuzzier guitars than it’s predecessor. Though there were no big hit singles from the album, the growth between the two releases is almost immeasurable. The songs show an accomplishment in songcraft that is astounding given the short time between the albums. Each song is a tight slab of funk perfection all its’ own, showing a seamless blending of instruments and vocals more intricate than all get out, yet still retaining a funky-dance feel. Instead of meaningless jams, Stone steered this album toward making each song a piece of genius. He succeeded mightily.

Stand comes next, and if listeners had thought Sly Stone and his band of funkateers had reached their pinnacle with Life, they were in for a rude awakening. Stand takes everything the band had perfected up to this point and raises it to another level. Not only does the band have an unmatched interplay, but the band’s increasingly deep psychedelic touches and effervescent melodies take the songs on sonic explorations previously unknown. Stone’s genre-blending innovations manage to blur all previous stylistic lines seperating various types of music and spurs the band to create an innovative sound all of it’s own. Added to the mix is an irrepressible social conciousness Stone would develop and expand upon on future albums. The title track, though, is a first example of the kind of social awareness Stone would soon bring to all of his music and is a standout, along with “Everyday People” and “I Want To Take You Higher.” This album is beyond great. It is a life-changing album to say the least.

There’s A Riot Going On is the beginning of a change in Stone’s music, and marks a change in mood for the band. Where the band’s previous albums were so upbeat you couldn’t help but smile while listening to them, this album marks a downturn in Stone’s mood as he seems to have become very jaded within a relatively short time span. While some have attributed the mood switch to Stone’s increasing drug problems, that is too simple an answer. What we have here is an album almost totally devoid of the pure joy found in the band’s previous works. Stone seems disgusted by all of the social unrest going on in the world at the time and seems intent on voicing his frustration in a series of songs that can only be called disturbing. While still immensely funky, there is a disconcerting level of depression and disappointment evident in everything Sly does on this album. Whatever had him, be it drugs or band pressures, he let it get the best of him on this disc. Not as bad album, mind you, just more bleak compared to Stone’s earlier efforts.

The band’s next album, Fresh, makes a move back to the fun of Stone’s earlier efforts, though it isn’t a total return to his previous form. A modicum of the joy is back in Stone’s music, however, and while traces of the dark cynicism pervading the band’s last album remains, Stone seems to have found some of his smile. The good humor is tempered by Stone’s remaining bitterness at the world’s ills, a fact the music on this album can never quite overcome. The difference here is Stone seems not to be as resigned to the world’s social problems and let’s a bit of hope seep through, though not much. Still, the funk here is really hot and this is considered Stone’s last great album.

The last album included on this set, Small Talk, is his weakest, mostly due to personnel problems in the Family Stone and changes within his own life including his marriage and the birth of his child. For the first time, Stone sounds tired instead of inspired, exurberant or angry. In fact, Stone sounds disinterested, although the album does have a few strong cuts. For the most part, this album is for fans only and is the last album containing any of the Sly Stone sound people associate with his music. From here on, even though he recorded other albums for other labels, Stone’s career went downhill and from listening to this album it is easy to see the inevitable coming. The song “Time For Livin'” is the standout cut on this album.

Fans of deep funk are just going to salivate all over themselves after checking out this great 7 CD box of some of the greatest booty-shaking tracks ever. Let’s face it – my reviews are loaded with hyperbole. I bathe in hyperbole and eat hyperbole crunch cereal for breakfast, okay? This is the one time – one time, dammit – that every thing I write is the total fucking truth. This is one of the greatest collection of funk tracks ever gathered on seven CDs. The craziest thing about it is one man is responsible for all of it! God bless you, Sly Stone. May you some day come back to us with your talent intact and ready to make great music again. There’s a light on in the window, Sly. Please come home.

Psychedelic Sundae Ice Cream Headache

A friend sent me these. One of my good freinds. After hearing them,
you will know why.

Voyages Into – Rock Vol. 1
Voyages Into – Rock Vol. 2
Voyages Into – Folk Rock Vol.1
Voyages Into – Folk Rock Vol. 2
Voyages Into – Pop Psych Vol. 1
Voyages Into – Pop Psych Vol. 2
Voyages Into – Garage Vol. 1
Voyages Into – Garage Vol. 2
Voyages Into – Psychedelia Vol. 1
Voyages Into – Psychedelia Vol. 2

Lovingly compiled by musicologist and all-around 60’s music guru Ben Chaput, these ten comps feature some of the best obscure sides late ’60’s music has to offer. For the past ten years or so, rare psychedelic rock, garage and freakbeat have occupied the hearts and minds of music collectors everywhere as well as helping to empty their wallets. Scores of labels have popped up in the last decade dedicated to nothing but digging up and re-issuing rare private press releases as well as long-forgotten records put out on major labels. Think about how popular and noteworthy the Nuggets boxsets are and the Pebbles compilations and some of the other boxsets seeking to give listeners the best music of the ’60’s. Then, think about this great series of sets featuring some of the best music of the ’60’s all geared towards the collector and music freak, with rare songs never used on any other compilation. Truly, with this set of well-put-together comps, fans of this kind of music have hit the motherlode.

Though the info on each of the ten comps in this set could fill a book, let’s examine them briefly enough to whet your appetite but not too much as to keep you hungry enough to purchase this fantastic set.

Rock Vol. 1 features great lost bands like Primitive Man, Floating Bridge, The Bone, The Branch Estate, Elephant’s Memory (the same band who later backed John Lennon and Yoko Ono), Plant Life, The Holy Mackeral (featuring Paul Williams of Evergreen and Rainbow Connection fame) and many, many more. Anyone into the brain-searing sounds of 60’s rock is going to love this volume. The guitars sturm, the drums drang and the bass keeps the bottom end covered while the Mellotrons, farfisas and other instruments spice up the proceedings. Why aren’t these artists famous today? It’s a question I asked myself after listening and one which you will ask yourself as well. Better yet, grab some doobage and listen to this comp (and this whole set) with a couple of like-minded, music freak friends. They’ll be jealous of you, for sure.

The second volume of the rock set follows up the great sounds of the first volume by featuring cuts from such obscure groups as Noah (produced by Randy Bachman of BTO and The Guess Who – he also contributes guitar), Think, Wrongh Black Bag (featuring Saturday Night Live’s beehive queen Christine Ohlman), Adam Wind (produced by Booby Hart), Morning Rain (featuring guitarist Dean Parks) and many, many others. If you want to rock out, this is the CD of the set you want to listen to!! Again, very cool hard rocking sounds as good as most of the stuff done by artists who ended up as household names. These are not songs best left unheard. This is some of the best work done in the ’60’s, obscure only because the stars didn’t align properly for these artists. A big part of success is luck, some have it and some don’t. These artists unfortunately had very little – but their music is still top notch as this whole ten CD set will prove to you.

Anyone who loves the jingle-jangle of twelve string guitar and introspective lyrics will love the first volume of the folk-rock set, which features bands like The Unknowns (a Paul Revere and The Raiders side project), The Bows and Arrows, Messengers (the first white band to be signed to Motown), The Tweeds, The Sages, The Underground and many, many others. Talk about your twelve-string jangle! Seems every band was trying to take a page from either the Beatles or the Byrds on this CD, though more often than not the derivativeness is more than made up for by the sheer energy and passion of these artists. This is the best of the best here, uncomped and fresh as a daisy to your ears yet lovingly retro at the same time! So you wanna be a rock and roll star…..

Taking it’s lead from the first comp of folk-rock, the second dives in with some even deeper cuts from the likes of The Jokers, Mystics, The Striders, The Moonrakers (who later evolved into the band Sugarloaf), The Ill Winds (actually the surf band The Chantays of “Pipeline” fame under a different name), The Good Time Singers (showcased on the Andy Williams show for three years and featuring soap actor Michael Storm), and many, many more. Let me tell you, if you love folk music spiced up with a little jingle-jangle, this second volume is for you. Byrds-ian moments abound and it is just cool to hear this great stuff for the first time. Again, the questions must be asked: why didn’t any of these songs or groups hit the big time?

The late 60’s were teaming with bands who wanted to meld the melodic with the psychedelic to create mind-blowing rock which would break new ground. Though we all know the classic bands who made the most impact, the first volume of the Pop-Psych set gives seekers of the obscure some really tasty offerings from Stained Glass, Central Park, Poe, Five by Five (featuring Muscle Shoals vet Eddie Hinton), Underground Sunshine and many, many others. Some of these selections are a little more pop than psyche but you can tell something is in the water as all of these songs are showing trippy influences. This is great stuff and my personal favortie volume of the whole set. Do you see the trails? I do, I do!

For true believers, the second volume of the Pop-Psych set gives lovers of mind-bending melodic rock even more acid-tinged songs. Featuring artists such as Knack (not the group who did “My Sharona”), Six O’Clock News, Proposition, Jennifer’s Friends (produced by Vanda and Young of the Easybeats and, later, the people who produced rock band AC/DC’s first few albums), English Setters, Truth, and a heaping helping of other bands all trying to push the boundries of how pop music should sound by injecting some psych into the brew. I am amazed at how great this music sounds. It’s no wonder there are so many great psych masterpieces being unearthed all the time. There’s a wealth of stuff here and hopefully the volumes will keep coming.

Thanks to The Beatles’ and the other British Invasion bands’ simplistic yet supremely catchy songs at the beginning of their careers, millions of teenagers decided to pick up guitars and drumsticks and passionately bash out their own catchy brands of rock and roll in their garages. Hence, the term garage rock! So many great artists started this way and so many great songs were brought to life, it is just a great visceral thrill to hear the songs on Garage Vol. 1 for the first time and pretend I am listening to a great radio station in the mid ’60’s and hearing this guitar revolution as it originated. Garage rock gave birth to punk and now is all the rage again in the ’00’s! Long live rock. Great bands featured on Volume 1 of the Garage set are the Uniques (featuring Joe Stampley who later became a chart-topping country singer), The Reactors, The Eastside Kids, Shannon Cannon (produced by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint), The Five Sounds, The Contrasts and many, many others. Listening to this set makes me want to strap on a guitar, call some buddies and start a band of my own. Great stuff.

As good as Volume 1 of the Garage set is, the second volume of the Garage set is even better! Filled to the brim with more great obscure songs by some of the best unknoiwn bands ever, the second volume takes the visceral thrills of full-throttle garage rock to new heights. Anyone into balls-out rock and roll needs to get this pronto. Groups featured on this volume include The Distant Cousins (produced by Bob Crewe), The Hombres, The Wild Ones (featuring the original version of the classic hit “Wild Thing”), The Spotlights (featuring Leon Russell), The Street Corner Society and many more! If listening to the unfettered power unleashed by this primal rock and roll doesn’t give you a thrill, you simply have no soul. This is killer stuff!

By the late ’60’s most young adults had begun experimenting with drugs, be it pot, pills or an hallucinagen of some sort. The effects of the drugs opened minds and many musicians who experimented with these ingestibles started to create a form of rock seeking to mimic in sound what they felt in their minds while they were tripping. The results were called psychedelic rock and the music became a fad once the Beatles recorded Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, the first major release featuring this sort of trippy version of ’60’s rock. Part and parcel of the ’60’s musical experience, psychedelic rock cannot be left out of any musical set seeking to encapsulate the music of this time period. With that in mind, Volume 1 of the two volume psychedelia set features some trippy rock from the likes of Boston Tea Party, The Raves, The Believers (a group connected to singer Joe South, who produced and wrote the song featured here), Glass Family (record label honcho Mike Curb and Davie Allen of the Arrows were connected to this band), The Folkswingers (featuring Glen Campbell on guitar) and many, many others that will leave you tripping for days and wishing it was the ’60’s all over again.

The second half of the two volume set is just as trippy and wild as the first. It features bands such as American Express, Martin Martin, Mass (featuring Billy Joel on piano), The Mission as well as a passel of other artists trying to take rock and roll into the stratosphere. Many songs are on this CD but there isn’t a bad trip in the bunch and at least every other song had me scratching my head and wondering why these songs and these artists didn’t reach more of an audience. Pass the windowpane!

Fans of ’60’s music are just going to go apeshit over this set. Not only are most of the songs included on these volumes incredibly obscure yet still fantastic, but most of these songs have never been comped before, so they are totally fresh and not the same songs appearing on the Pebbles and Nuggets ’60’s sets. A definite bonus are the liner notes. Brief yet informative, the notes manage to squeeze in just enough info on the bands to get you hooked and often include an anecdote about which bandmember eventually went off to work with this famous musician or what other groundbreaking band they joined. Very fun to read and informative as hell for being so brief. Also great are the annotations for which label it was recorded and the serial numbers on the original records. Great info for the collectors and music geeks such as myself. The vintage radio commercials spliced in between the songs are VERY cool. Featuring major bands and artists from the period and in line with the particular volume they are featured, these “commercial breaks” help make each of these CDs seem as if they are being beamed in by the coolest radio station ever. If you can only buy one “boxset” this year – this is the one to get.

You can get these comps exclusively at: http://members.aol.com/voyagescd/voyages.html

Give ’em the Bootsy, Baby!

Here’s some more deep funk! Get to dancin’!

Bootsy Collins – Stretchin’ Out In Bootsy’s Rubber Band
Bootsy Collins – This Boot Is Made For Fonkin’
Bootsy Collins – Ultra Wave
Bootsy Collins – The One Giveth, The Count Taketh Away
Collector’s Choice Music

It’s Bootsy baby! The Master of the Space Bass is once again in the forefront of everybody’s fonkin’ mind thanks to a passel of reissues from the funkateers at Collector’s Choice and thank god! Whenever and wherever a party is reaching it’s apex of fun, you can bet Bootsy’s music is on the CD player or turntable, or at least, it should be. You can’t really have a party without some of Bootsy’s butt-swinging funk, and that’s the stone cold truth.

William “Bootsy” Collins first made a name for himself as part of the Godfather of Soul James Brown’s band back in the late ’60’s/early ’70’s. Brown had just made a huge changeup in his career by switching labels from his longtime home at King Records to an upstart label wanting to make a name for itself called Polydor. At the time, Polydor was a major player in other countries but wanted to start becoming a force as a label in the US. Who better to sign than the king of funk himself James Brown? So when they did, Brown took the label change as a sign of maybe switching up his style. He fired his old backing band The Famous Flames (keeping longstanding friend and running buddy Bobby Byrd and a couple of others) and decided to move away from proper songs and investigate the power of the one-chord-vamp repeated over and over, trancelike, until a person’s body just couldn’t resist the power of the groove. In doing that, Brown knew he needed to grab a bunch of young turks to create the energy necessary to sustain and work the deep grooves he was looking for.

Enter Bootsy and his brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins, who were leaders of a band named The Pacesetters. “Catfish” was an excellent funk guitar player and between his inspired guitar licks and Bootsy’s beyond funky bass-playing, Brown started finding the groove he was looking for and started cutting some incendiary, funky sides unlike anything created before. Though Bootsy and his brother were only in Brown’s band for roughly two years from 1969-1971, many ground breaking strides were made in Brown’s music during this time and the invention of funk itself (which most musicologists concede Brown invented with help from his new band) can be traced directly to this time period and Brown’s stellar band of young funk turks’ playing on such songs as “Sex Machine” and “Superbad”. After Bootsy left Brown’s band due to Brown’s dictator-like leadership (always old-school, Brown employed a much-maligned system of fining band members for issues such as lateness, cleanliness of wardrobe, missed cues onstage and drug use – something particularly ironic considering Brown’s later problems with drugs) the man later known as Casper, Bootzilla and a host of other noms de fonk depending on the album hooked up with another funk kingpin by the name of George Clinton. Founder of the Parliaments who had a hit in the late ’60’s with “(I Just Wanna) Testify”, Clinton had studied Brown’s example and began to take Brown’s ideas and advance them into a whole new realm. An extremely smart and savvy businessman, he knew Bootsy would be a great addition to his band. Soon, hit songs for Clinton’s many aggregations would have the name W. Collins on the writer’s credits and Bootsy was gaining some influence as being one of the gems in Clinton’s funk crown.

Collector’s Choice, as part of their ongoing mission to reissue the best overlooked music ever created, has cherry-picked the best of Bootsy’s solo albums to reissue. Originally just one of many side projects for Clinton and the members of the Parliafunkadelicment Thang, Bootsy’s fun-filled funky grooves proved irresistable and soon became the most popular offshoot of the band and rivalled Clinton himself in popularity.

First in this set of four CD reissues is Bootsy’s first solo album, Stretchin’ Out, and it is a doozy. Introducing Bootsy as a solo performer to a Bootzilla-hungry funk world, the album shows the self-proclaimed Thumpasaurus Rex for what he is: a good-humored joker who wasn’t afraid to bring a sense of light-heartedness to some of the most bootylicious funk ever imagined. His distinctive vocals and wobbly space-bass sound (not to mention his considerable stage presence – with his spandex, sky-higth boots and other-worldly basses he cut quite a figure onstage) gave Bootsy a persona you couldn’t create in a marketing meeting, and he was doing it naturally with the flair of a rockstar even before Kiss had started donning their wild costumes. Combine that with the tightness of the P-Funk band with even more JB refugees on board like Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker (Clinton would dub them the Horny Horns) and the plan for funky world domination was fool proof. As expected, this album is fantastic, and equal in every way to any P-Funk album put out during this same time period. These songs kick ass and it is simply impossible not to get into the good time groove on this album. It sounds like the players are having a blast which accounts for the sheer joy present in this album’s grooves.

The next album chronologically in Collector’s Choice’ reissues of Bootsy’s work is This Boot is Made For Fonk’n and it came after Bootsy had several hits on the charts from albums not included in this set of reissues. Though any project Clinton touched during this time period (And there were plenty of them: albums from Parliament, Funkadelic, Parlet, Brides of Funkenstein, The Horny Horns and several other off-shoots were released during this time and all were given tons of publicity by the press and most did decently on the charts.) did well, few expected Bootsy to become the best-selling act of all of the side-projects Clinton was involved in, not that it mattered too much. To be in P-Funk meant being included in every project you could get your musical ass in on. In the liner notes to this album Bootsy remembers recording several projects at the same time, a typical day maybe first doing a song for his own album, then maybe a Parlet song, then a Brides of Funkenstein jam, etc. At times he wasn’t sure which album a song would wind up on, not that you would notice any disjointedness on a Bootsy album, as they’re too much fun to worry about little things like that. Despite there being no steady theme to any of his discs, as long as his distinctive vocals and bass playing were at the forefront, the music worked and this album, like most of Bootsy’s work, sounds like a good time was had by all in the studio, a characteristic palpable in the music, which almost commands you to dance and have a good time. Once again, you cannot listen to this album and not have a good time. This is a killer funk album.

Ultra Wave comes next, and is credited solely to Bootsy as he had lost the rights to the name “The Rubber Band” and was beginning to have troubles with Warner Brothers regarding promotion of his albums. Inside jokes regarding money and expectations of the business are found everywhere from the lyrics to cryptic statements in the liner notes. Though it is actually a fine album, it’s lack of chart success and the fact so few have heard it have left the impression the quality is lacking. While it cannot be called Bootsy’s best, there are several fine funk numbers here and is well worth the money spent. The opening song “Mug Push” is pure Bootzilla and is a highlight, but there are other great songs as well. This album is an overlooked gem and funk fans need to explore this fully as there are plenty of deep, deep grooves worthy of attention on this disc.

The last reissue of this four album set is also the last album Bootsy made for Warner Brothers, The One Giveth, The Count Taketh Away. The title is a subtle play on words for James Brown’s (and to a lesser extent Clinton’s) innovations in funk – in other words, to start playing on the “one”. That particular musical device had netted Brown, Clinton, Bootsy and a host of other lesser funkmeisters plenty of money during the ’70’s for sure, and it undoubtedly seemed fair to Bootsy to work it into the title. “The Count” is no doubt a Bootsy-style sly reference to his label and the amount of money he was receiving, or the lack thereof, “the count” being off in Bootsy’s opinion no doubt. While the bloom was off Bootsy’s rose by this point and he seemed to be relying too much on older formulas that seemed a little tired, there is plenty of Bootsy’s fun funk on this album and, like Ultra Wave, is worthy of both re-examination and the cost of admission.

Anyone interested in funk and soul music needs to have these albums as part of their collection if they don’t already. Sure, these albums are little more than mindless booty-shaking funk. But let me ask you, is there anything wrong with that? Music was created as much to dance to as to convey a serious message and anything that helps a person forget his troubles and dance is worthwhile. For those who would consider the work of Bootsy and others of the time as simply unimportant jams is missing out on some of the most energetic, inspired dance music ever. Still steadily working on album projects and soundtracks, it is no insult that Bootsy is now more known as an icon of 70’s funk than a viable chart-topping artist. The rarified air of the icon is something to admire and Bootsy no doubt relishes his experience of being one of the most remembered funk stars ever, rivalling former bosses Brown and Clinton themselves in popularity and influence. The thing is, Bootsy’s music stands the test of time like his bosses. Few artists can say that. Whenever there’s a party, there is or should be Bootsy. It’s as simple as that. Try to listen to this stuff and not dance. I fucking dare you.

Betty Davis’ Thighs

Nothing like some great obscure soul to get your body moving.

Betty Davis – Betty Davis
Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different
Light In the Attic

Stand up and shout hallelujah! Two of the greatest lost soul albums of the ’70’s have finally been reissued after way too many years out of print. Kudos to Light In The Attic for digging up these great albums and allowing the world to once again enjoy the unfettered funk of the sultry, sexy, flamboyant and raw Betty Davis! Of course, with all of the great soul and funk sides being re-released these days (as well as the classics we all know about) one would be forgiven for thinking I might be heaping undue hyperbole on these albums. Suffice it to say, one listen to these albums by the great Davis would erase all doubt. Don’t know who Betty Davis is? It’s no wonder, as these albums were put out on a tiny label and hardly promoted at all due to the semi-raunchy material contained within. But, let’s not confuse matters by blaming circumstances beyond anyone’s control. These two albums are some of the rawest, greasiest, greatest funk ever released and stand toe-to-toe with anything James Brown, Sly Stone or the P-Funk army released at the time.

Davis (nee Betty Mabry) was born in a small town in North Carolina but her family eventuallly moved up north to Pittsburgh, though she later moved to New York City by the early ’60’s. It was there that she began exposing herself to all the cutting edge music the ’60’s had to offer, from jazz to avant-garde to rock. Working for a time as a model, Davis slowly became part of the music scene, first by working at the hippest clubs, then by cutting a few singles, and finally by becoming a songwriter, scoring a hit song (“Uptown”) for the Chambers Brothers. Her talent and beauty placed her in the midst of the hipster circles where she eventually met and married Miles Davis and began influencing his career and persona in surprising ways right down to the clothes he wore. Introducing him to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and other artists on the cutting edge of funk and rock (in some cases arranging meetings between the artists themselves) she began working with and inspiring her husband to craft albums melding funk, rock and jazz. These albums eventually became In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew (which Miles named in honor of his wife) and became milestone works in the world of jazz, influencing and inspiring much of the jazz fusion which followed. A long union was not to be, however, as Miles soon divorced his wife because he found her too intense and suspected her of carrying on an affair with Jimi Hendrix. She soon drifted to England where she began to get caught up in the heavy rock scene, briefly dating Eric Clapton (who wanted to work with her on an album but was rebuffed by Davis as being too blues-oriented – the relationship imploded soon thereafter) and a member of Santana’s band. Upon returning to the US, she decided to take the ideas she had been formulating and presenting to labels for bands like The Commodores (yep, she worked with Lionel Ritchie before he became famous – Miss Davis seemed to be everywhere during this time period) and turn them into vehicles for herself. Signing a contract with a little upstart label, she began recording her first album.

The self titled album Betty Davis (1973) was and is a milestone release. While countless female soul artists had released albums, no other female artist had such frank and overt sexual material on an album before Davis and had so obviously controlled the proceedings as she had. It was as if Davis was trying to position herself as a female version of George Clinton. For a comparison, think Millie Jackson (or, better yet, Tina Turner) dressed in a spacesuit and then add some searing P-Funk guitars and some thunderously booty-shaking beats to go with the very sexually risque lyrics. Featuring musical talent from Sly Stone’s band (including bassist Larry Graham), Michael Carabello and an incredibly young Neal Schon from Santana, background vocals from the Pointer Sisters, and members of the Tower of Power horn section, the album was stacked to the hilt with the best musicians of the era. Featuring songs such as “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up” and “Game Is My Middle Name”, Davis left no doubt she was freaky-deaky and ready for anything. Sadly, Davis wasn’t quite ready for one thing: her album to bomb. While containing no cusswords, Davis’ lyrics left little to the imagination. Consequently, her album got little airplay and her concerts were often picketed.

Disappointed but not deterred by the poor sales of her debut, Davis released her next album, They Say I’m Different, a year later with a different cast of musicians than her first groundbreaking release. Gone were the big names and studio ringers of her debut, replaced with younger, newer players who had been raised on the funk sounds of the artists she was trying to emulate and, more likely, dethrone so she could take her rightful place on top of the funk heap. Not surprisingly, these young turks were more than up to the challange and manage to at least equal (if not better) the deep, deep funk displayed on her debut. Featuring the songs “Shoo-Be-Doop and Cop Him” and “He Was A Big Freak” Davis once again challenged listners and censors with her raw sexual appetites and her willingness to sing about them. The cover features her in an outfit straight from the P-Funk Mothership and seems to be a distant cousin of the outfit Cher wore on her Take Me Home album of the late ’70’s. Once again, radio stations refused to play her music and angry protestors made their presence felt at her now-infrequent live appearances. It seems the world was not ready for a sexually charged, talented young black female to tear the roof off the sucka. Davis released one more album (entitled Nasty Gal) to the same public apathy as her discs before abandoning the music scene forever and moving back to Pittsburgh. Tired of her music being ignored, Davis never recorded again. An album consisting of outtakes from her third album was issued after Davis “retirement” but, like her other albums, it made pretty much no impact save for a small but devout coterie of followers, DJ’s and beatheads who know great music when they hear it. A greatst hits compilation was also released, but quickly deleted.

Fans of funk need these albums in their collections. It isn’t an issue of “wanting” these reissues – if you are a fan of funk and soul music these are albums you simply have to acquire or settle for having a mediocre collection. You wouldn’t want that, would you? Then rush to your local store and order this right away. You will not be sorry – this is some of the most blazing funk of all time!

Little Band Tate

Just a little bit about one of my very favorite record store finds. I feel they are very under appreciated and also feel you, as inquiring musical minds, should know about them as well.

So, here goes:

Eric Quincy Tate – self-titled
Atlantic/Cotillion/Rhino Handmade

Fans of Southern rock will no doubt want to check out Rhino Handmade’s reissue of the band Eric Quincy Tate’s eponymously named debut. It must be in the water as like another legendary Southern rock band (albeit one that achieved much more fame than the one whose album I am reviewing) who just happened to name themselves after a bastardization of their gym teacher Leonard Skinnerd’s lovely moniker, Eric Quincy Tate was actually a band, not a person, and had no members named Eric, Qunicy, or Tate. The name, however cryptic, really doesn’t matter much in this case, though. What matters is how a band this good only managed to make a mark regionally and never really broke out of the Southeast in terms of popularity. After listening to this album you will realize Eric Qunicy Tate blows most of the second-tier Southern Rock bands like Wet Willie and Sea Level out of the water and comes damn close to reaching the musical heights of the aforementioned king-of-them-all-y’all: Lynyrd Skynyrd!

The bandmembers met each other in the Naval reserves and were stationed in Quincy, MA, but later based themselves down South after forming the band. This was mostly because they were able to find a lot of gigs there, their sound more characteristic with what was happening in the deep South. Playing a lot in Texas near the Gulf Coast area, the band was eventually discovered by the Swamp King himself, Tony Joe White, who felt an affinity for the rocking blend of soul, blues and R&B the band was creating. White helped the band get signed to Capricorn records and produced this debut record, which vanished almost as soon as it was recorded, almost forgotten forever until the fine folks at Rhino realized the album compares favorably to White’s own classic Monument albums. Besides this disc, the band recorded two more albums before splitting up by the end of the ’70’s but none of their other albums came near the glorious heights of this one.

Filled with a greasy, swampy brand of rock, this album sounds a little different than just about everything else under the Southern Rock umbrella. Where most Southern Rock bands were mixing blues and rock, Eric Qunicy Tate decided to keep those elements and add generous helpings of Southern soul and country to their mix. By all accounts, the band could really rock and were excellent on their respective instruments, which makes it all the more surprising that most of the band didn’t even play on their own debut album! Somewhere along the line, executives at the band’s label decided to call in The Dixie Flyers, the house band from the reknowned Sounds of Memphis recording studio, and use them on the album instead. Seems the record company brass felt The Flyers, being established studio vets, would be able to accomplish recording the album a lot quicker than the inexperienced Eric Quincy Tate. To the record sompany, this move made more sense than giving free rein to untested talents. The cost of the recording would stay low and the band would jell together while promoting the album and later recordings could then be made by the actual band. Solid strategy – for a label. Disheartening as hell for a young band. Sad part is, it still happens frequently today. If you only knew how many debut albums by your favorite bands were loaded with studio ringers while the real members of the band watched from the wings, you would faint. Any debut album by a new band on a major label is loaded with ringers. They may not be credited, but they are there. Hell, as a guitar player in my youth, I was offered a chance to join the band of an up and coming recording artist on a big label. I listened to the demo and didn’t feel confident I could play the complicated parts, but was assured I would have my name on the album, be “taught” the parts by the studio whiz who actually played them, and be able to go on tour and become a full-fledged member of the band. I turned the job down (yeah, I’m an idiot) – but it happens a lot, believe me.

But, I have digressed. Let’s get back on topic.

It had to be disconcerting for the actual bandmembers of Eric Quincy Tate to show up at their first session and see all these heavyweights set up and ready to play and to be told they couldn’t play on their own debut. Singer/drummer Donnie McCormack and guitarist Tommy Carlisle were the only two members allowed to play on the album as they were the focal points of the band and also the two songwriters, but the rest of the band had to sit it out. The Memphis Horns also played on the album, but they were added later by overdub and were not present at the same sessions as the band. Though no one involved with the band can remember exactly who decided the band couldn’t play on it’s own record, the demos, alternate cuts and unreleased songs show a band more than capable of handling the job. These cuts feature a relaxed, loose, powerful Eric Quincy Tate who could hold their own with the best of their Southern Rock peers. Consider Eric Quincy Tate one of the best bands ever who ended up completely overlooked in favor of lesser talents.

Southern rock fans who have never heard of this band (or maybe had just forgotten them) are going to have an exciting time listening to this album. Not only will it be a revelation, but it will become an album to which you will return over and over again. The album manages to transcend the genre and show depth not usually associated with the mindless boogie most think of when broaching the subject of Southern Rock. Truly, Eric Quincy Tate wre something unto themselves and it’s a shame more people didn’t realize it at the time. Ah well, thanks to this reissue, there is still a chance for the band to get its’ due. Pick this up and have your preconcieved notions of good ole boy rock changed forever.

Lost In the Groovin’

When someone brings up the word “soul” pertaining to music, I immediately flash back to the first time I heard “Groovin'” by The (Young) Rascals. Let me tell you a little something: if you have not heard their stuff, you are missing out on some of the most soulful music you will ever hear. Some of you might remember the band from the mid-’60’s when they still had the word “Young” as part of their name (as they did when “Groovin'” became a hit) before they shed it in defiance of their record company like a snake shedding it’s old skin to become shiny and new again, just as they later shed their “pop band” persona to pursue some more esoteric groove-based music. But, sadly, if you remember the band at all you probably remember the band most as an “oldies” station staple thanks to their hits “You Better Run” (yeah, they did it way before Pat Benatar and way better, too, I might add), “It’s a Beautiful Morning”, the aforementioned “Groovin'”, “People Got To Be Free” and many, many others. Based around the swirling keyboards and soul-drenched vocals of Felix Cavaliere, the remaining members (vocalist/percussionist Eddie Brigati, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli) more than held their own.

While I find most people consider their music as part of the “rock” genre, I have always considered their some of the deepest soul music I have ever heard. Even before they started making concept albums towards the end of their career, their music was steeped in it, though in their early days it was more R&B based. Later on though, after they said screw off to pandering for hits, they could’ve given the Average White Band some lessons in cutting the cake. In fact, to my ears, their last two or three albums compete with classics like Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and Marvin Gaye’s Hear, My Dear as latter-day soul masterpieces. But then, I have always heard the soul in their sound, right back to the day where their hit “Groovin'” dug its’ groove down deep into my soul. To listen as the band evolves from their R&B roots to their later sound is aurally mesmerizing and well worth whatever it takes to by their albums, especially since they have all recently been reissued.

But, back to “Groovin'”.

I first heard the song about ten years after it was first released when sitting around the dining room table at my brother Robert’s new house as he and his wife Marie unpacked their belongings and started to settle into their new environment. This was in January of 1977 and they had moved from their duplex apartment across town to a new place just across the street from where our parents lived. I was overjoyed as I idolized my older brother. He was a music freak and he had turned me into one as well. All my musical heroes like James Brown, Chuck Berry, Solomon Burke, Jimmy Reed and The Rolling Stones were recommended by my brother, who thankfully knew quality when he heard it. He once got me started on a major blues kick when he casually remarked one day that he liked B. B. King and Muddy Waters. Weird names to me, I started saving my allowance to buy any of their albums I could get my hands on. Muddy Waters? Is that near where the Howlin’ Wolves hang out?

Anyway, as I watched them set up their new house (and helped a little), eventually the record player was removed from the cardboard box used for the move and watched as it was set up on their silver-shiny metal entertainment center. Soon the albums were also unpacked as well as a large stack of 45’s I had given to my brother as a Christmas present a year before. I had acquired the vinyl booty at a garage sale from an older couple who noticed me salivating over all them and said I could have them for nothing. Of course, before I gave them to my brother I had made sure to take out the James Brown and Rolling Stones singles I wanted for myself. As my brother’s wife sat the box of singles on the table, he noticed them and thought it would be cool to play some. He asked his wife and I to pick whichever ones we wanted to hear. I had already taken out all the ones I knew and liked before giving them to him so I had no idea what any of them sounded like and, thus, deferred to his wife, who excitedly picked out The (Young) Rascals’ “Groovin'”. Not knowing the song or the band, I said to myself “whatever” and prepared to get back to helping my brother unpack.

The gentle sound of the bongos beating and the birds chirping immediately caught my ear as if someone had grabbed my head and twisted it Exorcist-like towards the speakers. Up to that point I could not remember a song with an introduction anywhere near as compelling. Then, as the song flowed, I knew I was hearing something special. Something that was about to change my life. It was nothing like any of the Top 40 hits I was used to hearing on the AM stations. It wasn’t a throwaway novelty or glammy, pop rock – it was pure soul, but not like the teen-pop Motown songs everyone else liked but that I felt were too obvious and dumbed-down. This shit was DEEP. This was a song filled with passion, love and heart – it seemed more mature and meaningful than most of the rock songs of the time that I was used to hearing. And I’ve later gone back and listened extensively to the music around when the song was a hit, and there’s not too much that can compare. It was a slice of life, made by those who seemed to have lived a little of one, unlike myself who was still in school and hoping to experience some of the things The Rascal’s lead singer Felix Cavaliere was singing in his song.

Though the song’s lyrical thrust was simple on the surface – being about the lead character spending a leisurely Sunday with his girlfriend – what the song implied was ten times more powerful than what it said outright. The song’s lead character and his girlfriend were deeply in love, led busy lives during the week and looked forward to their special time on Sunday afternoons when they could relax and be together. When you’re a kid and still trying to figure out where you belong, how and how much to love someone else, and how to act in a relationship – this was powerful stuff. Stuff that spoke volumes about what it was like to be an adult in a relationship. The song’s simplicity yet earnestness is the charm, its sense of giving so unalloyed. At it’s core the song is just a slice of life – but it implies much and says volumes to those just starting to really live. To me, this shows deep, deep soulfulness. Sure, the bass doesn’t make your booty feel like shaking and there ain’t a funky horn section led by Fred Wesley, but to me, this song and this band, epitomize what soul is about – deep relationships. Sure, later on I figured out “groovin'” could stand for “fucking” – I mean, check this lyric: “life could be ecstasy, you and me endlessly…groovin'” – but at that point what I thought it meant was just as important to me. Everything the Rascals were and what they became is forever captured in this song. The early innocense and the later explorations of soul and jazz. Though my other favorite part of The Rascal’s sound, Gene Cornish’s grinding rhythm guitar breaks, was absent in favor of a softer tone, everything you ever wanted to know about The Rascals is contained in this song.

The Rascals would eventually get out of the pop song business and explore full-on soul and jazz with their later albums. Rambling masterworks, these way experimental albums would embrace far-reaching concepts and themes far more mature than most “pop” acts, with the music always based on Cavaliere’s soulful keyboard work and husky vocals. Though the band broke up by 1974, the Rascals’ music still resonates today and provides many cool grooves to dance to, grooves I can listen to over and over now that the band’s long-neglected back catalog is available again.

Manning Overboard

Over the past year or so, I’ve gotten into some real esoteric music. Since my refusal of buying over the Internet means that sometimes I can’t find anything that strikes me at the local Record Hut, I have begun buying the weirdest thing I can find in the store at any time, just to test my musical limits. It has led me to a few great discoveries and a lot of things I’ll never listen to again, though I do feel enlightened after giving them a try. I recommend trying it sometime just to expand your musical horizons and to explore some different influences.

The album below, though I got it from a record company to review, is the sort of thing I would pick up during one of these binges. Made by a well-known engineer and producer, it is nonetheless one of the weirdest rock records you are going to find. I am not sure if I will ever listen to it again, but it blew my mind when I checked it out and it was a very, very interesting listen.

Check it out:

Terry Manning – Home Sweet Home
Sunbeam Records

Best known for his production and engineering work with groups such as Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, George Thorogood, Molly Hatchett, most forget Terry Manning was also a well-respected musician and sideman around Memphis for many years before making his name as a producer par excellence. Not that you’d know it from this album, however. Thrown together as a bit of a joke by Manning and some of his Memphis cronies for Stax Records, the album has a decidedly non-commercial air about it which, paradoxically, has led to it becoming a much sought-after holy grail of sorts for music aficianados.

Thanks to the folks at Sunbeam Records, one of the best reissue labels around specializing in late ’60’s early ’70’s vintage music, this album has finally been allowed to re-enter the marketplace. Those looking for transcendant rock music to blow their minds will not find much on this record, however. By making this album more for a lark than a serious statement, Manning ultimately shortchanged himself no matter what the interest is by seekers of rare discs. While Manning more than had the chops to come up with something infinitely more weighty and meaningful, the slapdash efforts to throw songs together smacks more of rushed desperation than anything else.

Begun as the result of a studio prank on the vocal group the Box Tops by taking their song Choo Choo Train and altering the backing tracks to sound like a psychedelic freakout instead of the regular blue-eyed soul the band was known for, the president of Stax Records heard the resulting acid-trip version of the song and asked Manning to record a whole album in that style. Hence, this record filled with overdone (waaaay overdone) pastiches of soul, country, rock and rockabilly. Though selling hardly any copies, the album eventually passed down through the hands of collectors and has become quite notable in reputation.

Weird and eccentric, the album nonetheless stands on its’ own as an artistic statement and there are some interesting moments, but the feeling of the album being somewhat rushed permeates the tracks. That most of the songs were recorded at the end of other artist’s sessions when there was spare studio time left over speaks a lot to how little priority was placed on this album. But, there is one cooler than cool artifact on this album that may blow your mind! This album featurtes a cover of a Beatles tune made before the actual Beatles tune was even released. It seemed that the Beatles had leaked some demos of their song The One after 909 before it was finished and the Manning version on this album contains a version of the song before the Beatles re-arranged the composition. In fact, some of the lyrics Manning uses in the song were later excised when the Beatles recorded their version.

Those interested in quirky rock music unashamed by lack of quality and purpose may find this record a lot of fun. Big Star collectors (it marks the first recorded appearance by guitarist/songwriter Chris Bell) and Beatles aficianados may appreciate its’ weirdness as well. It’s obvious Manning is a talented musician and maybe one day we’ll see a solo album proper. Until then, do with this strange artifact what you will.

I will leave you with this: don’t be afraid of any CD in the racks. It’s only fifteen dollars and it won’t kill you. Try something new, try something different and expand your taste. And, if you don’t like it, send it to me.

The Music Nerd Knows……..free stuff!