Tuesday, 23 October 2012

R&B Time

Manifesto October, 2012

Well I’m off to Alaska, so no time to gnaw bones of contention with other Manifesto contributors merely time to select a few subjects bearing no reference to previous issues of the magazine. Let me see...

Over the last dozen years or so, some R&B styled record or other has tended to dominate the playlists, particularly good examples are ‘It’s Your Voodoo Working’ and ‘Catch That Teardrop’. These records didn’t particularly herald the Northern scene being taken over by John Lee Hooker soundalikes but did provide an added dimension that was clearly welcomed even by most ultra-conservative oldies-lovers. Some, (including one contributor to Manifesto) railed against these records, others (like myself) thought them to be a worthwhile inclusion provided that they didn’t herald the end of traditional ‘Northern’. But of course this so-called ‘R&B’ side of the scene is also well established in its own territory and across nations, even continents, as well. The accusation from the Wigan-styled Northern camp is that these records amount to Rock and Roll and on occasion this is true, some times there is a thin line between R&B and Rock and Roll due to the way that popular music evolved, but very often there is an essential blackness in the vocal delivery that a true soul lover (as opposed to someone who just wants to dance) will quickly recognise. All of which takes me to the latest Kent compilation ‘New Breed R&B Volume 2’ in which Brother Croasdell (the well-known spelling error) shows himself to be quite adept at providing a selection of early black movers. I use the word ‘quite’ advisedly because a couple of Deep Soul records appear to have crept in – I don’t know how they are dancing to things at the 100 Club these days but I’m sure a slow waltz isn’t in it! There’s lots of great stuff amongst the 24 tracks, all culled from the King/Federal/Deluxe archives (with just one from the King-distributed Hollywood) familiar names such as Little Willie John, Freddy King and the ‘5’ Royales mix with worthy lesser lights such as Dolph Prince, Mel Williams and Willie Wright. Of the few that were new to me I particularly liked the Doo-wop-influenced ‘Let’s Have A Good Time’ by the Hi Tones and I agree with Ady that Hal Hardy’s ‘Love Man’ is one brilliant record whatever the interpretation of its musical style. Just one minor point otherwise then – the cover picture is rather strange, appearing more like Canning Town than Toddling Town I would say!

The above mention of Hollywood Records, or at least the one started by Don Pierce (Disney started a label with the same name in 1989) which was distributed by Starday–King reminded me of a ‘new’ title on the label which we get asked for. The disc in question is ‘Shoe Shine’ by THE PRESIDENTS offered up in two parts or, in actual fact, a vocal/instrumental. Not the Van McCoy sweet soul group on Sussex, the Presidents in question seem to slightly pre-date the above group on Deluxe and Plum labels as does the Hollywood 45. Produced by Bob Riley out of Nashville one Phil Slaughter would appear to have been a leading light in the band, and a band they were, rather than a harmony group. There is a Phillip Slaughter in gospel music so if it’s him or not I wouldn’t know – it wouldn’t surprise me. The Presidents we are concerned with delivered a number of styles even down to the reggae-ish ‘Lovers Psalm’ (Deluxe). ‘Shoe Shine’ is absolutely manic uptempo soul with a funky, funky, twist. Pt 2 is instrumental, and possibly even more manic with a saxophone taking up where ‘The Trip’ left off. I would like to see people attempting to dance to this one, then again they manage ‘Ton of Dynamite’ and ‘So Is The Sun’ well enough! Nice to see the music moving off in yet another direction. Actually the above 45 led me into giving their Plum recording a play in many years and what a pleasant surprise ‘Love Pain’ is – probably more of a candidate for the dance floor than ‘Shoe Shine’ to be honest. A lazy melody floats over a mellow-but-happening rhythm track that could really garner quite a following. It’s not Northern as such, not Modern either, I suppose Crossover would be the nearest category. Definitions, descriptions, categories – they matter not really, it’s just a good piece of soul music.

A chance to show a nice picture sleeve should not be passed up now that Manifesto lives and breathes in glorious technicolour. And who better than PIC AND BILL when it comes to describing some sassy soul music to go with the visuals? Charles Pickens and Billy Mills were the real names of the duo hailing from North Carolina, but selected by Major Bill Smith for his Charay label in 1965, indeed 1967 saw a run of their 45s on the UK Page One logo but not the great Northern Soul mover ‘Talk About Love’ which also saw a release in Spain on the Belter label with picture sleeve (see scan). The latter seems to be a 70s release to be honest but it’s a nice item nonetheless. I first came across the track when Ginger Taylor obtained the Fiery Spartans on Charay around 1978 – and it’s the same record (actually the first release of it). This was the era for soul duos – Sam and Dave of course, but also Eddie and Ernie, James and Bobby Purify, the Soul Twins and more. The genre didn’t really last beyond the sixties as the trademark gospelesque approach was diluted by seventies sophistication. Pic and Bill hit a higher tempo on occasions other than ‘Talk About Love’ but only one of these tracks totally hits the Northern Soul nerve in the shape of the ultra-rare ‘What Does It Take’ a stomping stormer right out of the old school (and not the Jr. Walker song either) which actually has quite a thin rhythm track but is pulled along by a ferocious vocal attack from this great pairing. A release on Charay 60 that is often listed as their first (it isn’t) but is an easy mistake to make due to the fact that Charay managed to have no less than seven releases by Pic and Bill on that label and number. Through various deals the Pic and Bill Charay material has made it to album at least four times in the UK, Japan, USA and Spain even after the duo’s original album on Le Cam (another Bill Smith label) ’30 Minutes of Soul’. To the best of my knowledge none of the albums included ‘What Does It Take’, nor have I ever had a 45 copy of it in my hands (considering that I had both the Frank Wilson’s at one time that’s quite a claim). If you have a copy let me know…I would be VERY interested.

Talk of rarities takes me to another very scarce item which many of you will not ever have viewed (unless you follow our monthly auction) in the shape of the orange issue copy on RCA of JUDY FREEMAN’S ‘Hold On’. I genuinely thought this may be a one-off in my collection until we obtained a second copy fairly recently. We got £800 for it but honestly I thought it to be something of a bargain, after all the demo goes for £250–£300. Until a couple of years ago I had never even seen it although I knew one was listed in the late 70s (I thought it was the one I had). It meant that I had seen, or had in my collection more or less every RCA on a release copy, even a few years ago I would have said that one or two releases at least failed to go beyond the promo stage. And there is the definition of Northern Soul to consider also; Judy Freeman, for instance, had another RCA release (actually her first) in the shape of ‘All We Need Is A Miracle’ it’s a decent midtempo cut that might be described as Crossover and also saw a later release on RCA with a version by Detroit’s Dee Edwards in a similar style. Probable as a Jobete song it exists somewhere in the Motown catalogue too. The point is that I’ve yet to see an issue copy of that one as well. I wonder who she was? According to the internet, she is still alive (in her 70s) and living in Compton, Los Angeles, although she was born in New York. Producer of both RCA releases Ron Budrik was also a deejay who produced a whack of non-descript pop around LA in the late 60s/early 70s whilst arranger Dave Blumberg went on to much greater things (commercially at least; he arranged ‘I Will Survive’). All things considered they produced 4 good-to-great sides on Judy Freeman and Blackrock. Warren Sams wrote ‘Hold On’ and he too operated on the west coast soul scene of the 70’s through California Rock Choir, Water and Power, Christine Adams even Sylvester I believe. He produced the Jackson Sisters material that ended up on the rare Tiger Lily album (a tax loss label for Morris Levy). So many connections – in fact I do wonder if the California Rock Choir (whose Cyclone 45 is quite in-demand) are anything to do with Blackrock? Questions always questions?

We will finish with an artist who is well-known in the shape of BYRON LEE – a true originator of Jamaican Music who even appeared in the first James Bond movie ‘Dr No’. Rather less well-known is Lee’s brief flirtation with soul music which seems to coincide with Lee’s mid-sixties time as a general promoter in the USA (he brought many famous acts to Jamaica). One wonders if the peculiarity whereby certain failed soul tunes were covered by Jamaicans for Jamaican consumption – for instance ‘Wide Awake In A Dream’ by Jerry Jackson covered by the Blues Busters as Phillip James (they were in fact Lloyd Campbell and Phillip James) – is anything to do with Byron Lee. Maybe that’s too simplistic but the fact remains that a number of peculiar non-hit soul records were covered. On the Soul label Byron Lee and the Dragonaires covered Ben E. King’s ‘The Record’, Lee wasn’t ever a singer and on this one Ken Lazarus does vocal duty. There is no concession to any kind of Ska music, this is a pure note-for-note copy of Ben E. King’s version or perhaps H.B.Barnum’s weaker take on it for Capitol. Given that Lee was the Jamaican agent for Atlantic Ben E. King is more likely. ‘The Record’ also came on BRA records (had to get that one off my chest) where another Byron Lee and the Dragonaires release saw the Blues Busters release demoted as second billing to Byron Lee on ‘How Sweet It Is’ coupled with ‘I Had A Dream’ which is something of a West Indian classic soul coupling. The excellent Trojan anthology of the Blues Busters from 2005 makes no mention BRA so goodness knows what was really going on. I claim no particular knowledge of Jamaican soul, but I do know that there is probably much more of it than people generally realise.

For R&B movers, Northern Soul stompers, Modern groovers, Deep crooners, Motown marvels, Funk fever on 45 or CD go to www.raresoulvinyl.co.uk