When last we left our hero, soulster Don Covay, we had talked a little about his background as a soul artist and had made the point he was way more successful as a songwriter of hits for others than as an artist in his own right. After his circa 1968 gimmick of uniting a bunch of soul stars under the group name The Soul Clan failed to get anything going for his career, Covay scrambled to find something to bring himself back into the public eye.
This frustration with his lack of chart success led Covay to come up with a gimmick to take advantage of the blues revival and all of the white artists (mostly British) making hard core blues albums.
Together with white blues artist John Hammond and Shirelles’ guitarist Joe Richardson (but credited under Covay’s name) he made an album co-credited to the mostly imaginary Jefferson Lemon Blues Band (a play on the name of the famous bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson and possibly the inspiration for Cheech and Chong’s legendary blues pastiche) called House of Blue Lights which was basically himself and a few friends like Hammond trying to make a deep blues CD. Surprisingly, it is an excellent effort that stands up solidly next to anything Cream, Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac or any other blues-based band was doing at the time.
Sounding like it was recorded at a roadhouse somewhere, Covay’s old-timey hollered vocals add an authetic feel to a record that is basically a concept album Covay was using to draw attention to his flagging career. Standards like Key To The Highway are pitted against Covay originals such as Homemade Love and House of Blue Lights (not the Freddie Slack chestnut) and draw attention to the fact Covay could adapt his writing style and his vocals to just about any genre of music. The key to a great song is how well it can be adapted and over the years Covay’s songs have been proven to be as good as anyone’s.
A song from the album, “Black Woman”, managed to climb up to number 43 on the R&B charts and this small feat encouraged Covay and company to record another Jefferson Lemon Blues Band CD, this time for Janus Records. Called Different Strokes for Different Folks, the album stalled and became another roadblock in Covay’s road to getting a hit.
Eventually Covay did strike pop gold, two years later on his hard-to-find-but-well-worth-looking-for album Superdude, scoring about four medium-sized hits. These two blues albums are the Holy Grail, though, and indie label Sepiatone has recently re-released the first one in an excellent package. Needless to say, the album blew my mind. Haven’t located the second one yet, but I am sure one label will put it out someday. Find it on vinyl if you can.
In the next blog we will talk about the groove-head masterpiece Superdude as well as a great tribute CD to Mr. Covay.
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