Thursday, 13 October 2011

September 2011

Manifesto September, 2011

The all-colour Manifesto really came into its own in July with those vintage Billboard ads courtesy of Rob Moss, I took a look at their archive myself – a veritable treasure trove of the times.

Soul wasn’t thought as any better or long-lived than any other musical format but I wonder how cherished the likes of Ray Conniff or Ferrante and Teicher are today?.....

Keith Rylatt’s item on the Contours made me contemplate how, after 20 years or so of retrospective compact discs, there are still people who collect either vinyl or cd, but not both because the big recent news on that particular group was the recent Kent compact disc ‘Dance With The Contours’. The release features no less than 24 previously unreleased tracks from the ’63/’64 period and the booklet clears up the ever-changing Contours line-up. To be honest most of the material has an ephemeral quality about it and although I like a gritty male vocalist as much as the next soul fan, I find the bellowing manner of lead Billy Gordon to be somewhat grating after a while. One track however, pulls in another strand of soul that Keith has touched upon before in the shape of ‘Do The SeeSaw’. This is the record, unreleased at the time (late 1963), for which producer Andre Williams removed the backing track, only to emerge almost two years later behind Tom and Jerrio as ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’ (ABC) with some success, resulting in a successful legal action for Berry Gordy. It has sufficient vim and verve as to appeal to Northern Soulers (just about the only track on the disc to do that). Keith covered Tom and Jerrio in an earlier Manifesto a few years ago but clearly Paul Winley was not deterred by the legal situation issuing the record again around ’66/’67, and if it’s not the same backing track it’s a very good copy of it, ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’ by THE BLAZERS (Winley). The vocal is either a Tom and Jerrio out-take (but mentions the ‘Cool Jerk’ which is a little late for them) or a faithful reproduction of their style (which wouldn’t be difficult). For sure, mention of “getting stoned” may have limited the record’s ongoing commercial prospects.

As I’ve pointed out before my Outta Sight imprint reissued the Mayfield Singer’s ‘My Baby Changes Like The Weather’ recently, imagine my surprise then to find the song lurking on the B-side of a record I’ve owned for over 30 years! Back in the Thorne/Parkers days of the late 80s the fantastic ‘So Much Better’ by EMMETT GARNER JR. (Maxwell) got spins amongst the new wave of crossover sounds which added a wonderful dimension to the scene. It should be easy to pick up a copy at £25 today (until everyone wakes up to the quality). The flipside is ‘Check Out What You’ve Got’ and it’s the same song as ‘My Baby Changes etc’ done, again brilliantly, but in a slightlier messier and long-winded way. Garner was formerly in the Trends (ABC, Smash) before moving on to manage the Notations. As far as I can see, this is his only solo recording.

Another so-called ‘cheapie’ to surprise, indeed astound me, recently was LENNY DEXTER’S ‘Let’s Do It Again’ on Tenacious. A record that has been knocking around my world for almost as long as I’ve been collecting, I filed it away in my mind as somewhat discoey to be honest. In truth, Dexter has a fantastic warm, rather southern approach to his singer which wouldn’t disappoint a Tommy Tate fan and the record doesn’t exactly shoop-shoop along on hi-hats either – lots of twists and turns in the production. Perhaps all of that isn’t astounding but a Canadian release on Quality really is. I mean, why?

Back in the eighties just as crossover was emerging and ‘indy’ new releases were all the rage, an album emerged by one GENE TOWNSEL on the tiny Dobre label that people seemed to like but I didn’t rate too much. As so often seems to be the case, it turns out Townsel had an earlier career on at least two labels one of which, ‘Mr Boon Tang’, is actually rather good on the Ah-La-Vi label. Probably early seventies this blends in a certain sixties sensibility with a fairly mellow approach over a solid clip-clop beat. Even better is ‘Can’t Stop A Poor Man From Makin Love’ on the flipside, not as instant as ‘Mr Boon Tang’ this has all the qualities that would have made it a total ‘last hour’ classic at the Mecca à la the Vee Gees ‘Talkin’, Ron and Candy ‘Lovely Weekend’, Chuck Stephens ‘Let’s Get Nasty’ and many more.

One of my favourite singers is the great BABY WASHINGTON and she needs little introduction on these pages, although Soul Sam might like to know that she was born in Bamberg (South Carolina that is). Best known for her 1963 opus ‘Leave Me Alone’ on Sue, a variety of other Washington sides have been tried on the Northern Soul scene from time to time. One of the select band of US soul artists to see UK-only release for at least one 45, in the shape of ‘Get A Hold Of Yourself’ on United Artists, I’m confident that Simon White must have spotlighted that one in the past. It’s from her Veep album ‘With You In Mind’; my copy claims to be on the Veep Gospel imprint and Washington’s delivery is so intense that I could see that particular ascription although the album is soul music all the way, if just a little orchestral. Better than ‘Get A Hold Of Yourself’ is her fantastic pacy recording of ‘I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good’ a gem of an album-only recording. The Casino more or less missed Baby Washington but I do remember either Richard or Russ (most likely the former) tipping her brilliant ‘I’m Good Enough For You’ (Cotillion), I’m bound to say that the scene in general has largely missed this one. Washington headed south to record this and the result is a fabulous brassy stomper, if you go for Betty Fikes ‘Prove It To Me’ – then you will love ‘I’m Good Enough For You’ which is even better. Why this wasn’t ever a monster is beyond me, sometimes even after these years the scene still mystifies. My final word on Baby is courtesy of her one and only 45 on Chess and a beat ballad of such incredible power in the shape of ‘Is It Worth It’. In fact I’d take the above two tracks as her best ever – quite a statement. Dusty covered her ‘Breakfast In Bed’ on Cotillion but pleasant enough as she is, the Hampstead lass couldn’t have gone anywhere near ‘Is It Worth It’ and a listen to the two versions of ‘Breakfast’ puts Dusty in her place to be honest.

An issue or two ago Soul Sam mentioned the Tommy Bryant 45 on T-Neck that I’ve been raving over for a while now. His name (Bryant) crops up again on another seven with a little demand behind it these days on the tiny Marlborough, Massachusetts label Cobra. The track is ‘Something On My Mind’ by T&T, who are Tommy and Tijuana apparently, an Ashford and Simpson song found also as a Diana Ross album track. Sadly the male half of the pairing doesn’t appear vocally, leaving Tijuana to do a good job on a skipping jazzy rhythm which will definitely appeal to those who like the lighter end of the soul spectrum. The lady sings well again on a version of ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’ on the reverse. Although officially a city, Marlborough is home to only 36,000 people yet it had at least one record label, illustrating the diversity that the US can come up with. For all Britain’s musical input (which is enormous) and regionality (the Mersey Sound, Manchester, Sheffield etc) the fact remains that 98% of vinyl came out of London where the business of distribution was based.

Soul Sam came up with a fantastic description of a type of soul music in July’s Manifesto referring to ‘80s bassline’, I don’t know whether it was inadvertent or if it is a term in use that I haven’t come across before but it really does sum a genre up. I know they are popular with some but it was never my cup of tea to be honest and when these records started cropping up it became the first sign that I should perhaps start looking backwards. Nor were all 80s records cut in such a style, many of the independent labels particularly southern ones served up records way different from those crunching drumbeats which often had an almost explosive, certainly intrusive, element to them. I probably own a couple of thousand records from the decade so I shouldn’t think of myself as a luddite too strongly. I remember thinking that L.J. Reynolds ‘Loving Man’ album in 1984 (Mercury) was pretty good despite the then-modern techniques, but a quick listen now reveals that time has relegated it from my affections, and I still say that Luther Vandross and Anita Baker have a lot to answer for in taking vocal mannerisms away from the church and through a jazz sequence that persists throughout ‘R&B’ today (in fact together with rap it is the basis of it). Actually some of the records that eschewed the crashing percussions and synthesizers and sang without the Vandross melisma retaining just a bassline, can be pretty good. Twelves in this region of my collection would include Jerry Warren ‘I Really Love You’ (Latosia) M.J. Wade ‘I’m Gonna Ball Baby’ (Helva) Jesse Mitchell ‘Time Is The Only Healer’ (JDM) Ford & Co ‘Be Who You Are’ (Lasso, actually 1991, wow!) and Roy Lee Johnson ‘All Night’ (Gold Thumb). Enjoyed going through those but who am I fooling? They are all over twenty years old. Modern eh? Here’s to 70s, and to 80s bassline, new definitions at last.

'Til Next Time

Tim Brown

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