Friday, January 22, 2016

A queue at the gates

I've been playing a lot of David Bowie this last week or so. His passing hit me hard. David won't be feeling lonely at the gates, every day seems to bring news of the passing of another name from the musical world.

Drew, over the kitchen table so to speak, alerted me to the death of a great singer – Otis Clay – recently. Otis died of a heart attack, age 73, two days before David Bowie. Otis Clay had a wonderful Soul and Blues voice and had been actively singing right up to his passing. He started his solo career in 1965 on the aptly named One-derful! Label (and I realise I don't have enough of his releases on that label.) Is It Over, featured here, is a tortured ballad of real intensity; produced by a moonlighting Willie Mitchell late in 1970 and release on Cotillion early in 1971. Otis would move to Willie's Hi label soon after and continue to release some top drawer Southern Soul. More recently he was a regular on the Blues and Gospel circuits.

A few days ago another legend of Southern Soul - Clarence Reid – succumbed to liver cancer. Some people may have known him by his alter ego Blowfly. As Blowfly he performed sexually explicit material in the 70s and 80s. I have never really explored that side of his career, knowing him better as a producer and writer for many Florida based acts, such as Betty Wright, Gwen McCrae and KC & The Sunshine Band. He also released some material under his own name in the early 70s too.

It's going to be quite a party up there this month. Rest In Peace guys.

(*co written and produced by Clarence Reid)    

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

And the stars look very different today

Thanks for everything David. Ever since I saw you perform Starman on TOTP your music has been spinning around in my head, not always to the fore but always there, a bedrock. A part of my life has died. Don't think we will see your like again. I am sort of lost for words, and even if I had the words I wouldn't be able to see through the tears to type them. 


Saturday, January 09, 2016

Back to the future

A belated Happy New Year to you all.

This should be a time for looking forward but I always find myself in a contemplative mood and looking back, thinking about the passage of time. It probably has something to do with my birthday being on New Year's Eve.

In recent days I've been digging deep into my collection and have pulled out a few albums I haven't played enough down the years. When you have 1000+ albums an equally large number of singles I suppose that statement will actually apply to most of my records!

I thought I had featured The Bar-Kays 1972 album Do You See What I See? before here, but a quick trawl through my old posts seems to say not. If in fact it has featured and I have bent your ear with the following musings before, I apologise.

In line with my contemplative mood there are a few things worth saying about this album. In my teens a friend of mine had a copy of this album. Those were the days when department stores used to have racks of cut outs, and I think that is where he probably found his copy. He was very artistic and it was the cover that probably attracted him to it. Of course we only had pocket money, or a Saturday shelf stacking job (in my case) to provide meagre funds for record buying then, so we couldn't afford to buy much, especially blind. I shudder to think what we passed on in those racks back in the day. Anyway I remember listening to this album at his parent's house a few times and it stuck in the memory.

Fast forward to 2004. That was when I joined the ebay hoards and I thought it was time I started acquiring some of the albums I had loved down the years but never owned. This Bar-Kays album was one of the first records, if not the first, I ever purchased on ebay. When I bought it I probably played it maybe three times at most and so for the last 10 years at least(!) it has been filed away in the collection unplayed – until today. Even so, ever since I first heard it at my friend's house back in the Seventies, it has been one of those records that has been with me in my mind, every now and then popping into my thoughts, or jumping onto my mental jukebox. It's funny how just certain records can do that, specific memories give some a helping hand I suppose.

And now here we are in 2016. I understand the vinyl revival continues apace. Apparently the biggest selling home audio product on Amazon this Christmas was a $50 all in one turntable. Most of these have been bought by, presumably young, people new to the wonders of vinyl I would guess. So a whole new generation will be buying their first records. The format kind of demands the music contained is listened to at home, and in the case of albums, straight through. No listening on the move through headphones, no constant skipping and shuffling the virtual collection. Maybe such behaviour will cause a few more records to be lodged in peoples' memory for the long term, just as this Bar-Kays album has in mine.

Do You See What I See? has great packaging – incidentally probably one reason why people are flooding back to vinyl – a gatefold sleeve of thick card, matt finished, with striking artwork. The artwork documents many of the big themes and questions haunting America in the early Seventies and hints at the tone of social consciousness that courses through many of the tracks on the album, although there are some killer ballads, in the simpler vein of love, on the album too. Here are two tracks to give you an idea.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Feel It Advent-ure 2015 #24

So here we are at the end of another Advent-ure. A cliche I know, but they seem to go quicker each year. I hope you have enjoyed the ride.

Not a Christmas record in sight and that's because I don't own many on vinyl, apart from the obvious ones you have no doubt heard more than enough times already again this year on the radio and in the supermarkets etc.

This is as close as I'm going to get to a Christmas record. It's one that comes with a suggestion I put forward with a certain amount of trepidation: you are feeling just a little full after the turkey and all the trimmings, but of course you will somehow find room for Christmas pudding. Take that pudding in it's dish in one hand, and a spoon (or fork if you're posh) in the other, stand up and move around the table, you know - dance, shake a tail feather, do the shakey pudding!         

I will not be held responsible for the consequences!

Jesse Morrsion - Shakey Pudding  1975

I wish you and yours a collective Happy Christmas. Enjoy the holidays. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Feel It Advent-ure 2015 #23

The holiday is approaching (actually, it's here! yippee!). This may allow me to relocate a box or two of singles into the record room and give them some love over the next week or so. I buy all these records, play them a couple of times, and then they get filed. Madness really. 

Since a refiling exercise earlier this year this C & The Shells 45 has been at the front of one of the boxes. Too few times I've been to those boxes this year, but whenever I have it seems C & The Shells have been crying out "play me". Now, finally, this 45's time has come.

C was Calvin White, and the Shells were Lonzine Wright and Andrea Bolden. They started recording in 1967 on Calla as The Sandpebbles. At the end of the Sixties they moved to Cotillion and that was then when they changed their name to C & The Shells. On an old Soulful Detroit thread Jerry Williams Jr (Swamp Dogg), who produced some of their earlier output, says that Lonzine was the main female lead. In their two incarnations they released 14 singles in all. This was their first on Zanzee, it came out in 1972 and only two more would follow before they called it a day in 1973. I don't know for sure if any of the group members carried on in the musical world. A Lonzine Wright, probably the same lady, did have a few 12" releases on Tyson, which presumably date to the early Eighties. Calvin White started out in the Gospel world and possibly he returned to his roots, he passed away in 2007.    

C & The Shells - You'd Better Know It  1972      


Monday, December 21, 2015

The Feel It Advent-ure 2015 #21

It has just struck me the ladies have been under-represented in this year's Advent-ure. So I'll go some way towards putting that right today.

Bettye Crutcher made her way primarily as a songwriter, and a very successful one too. You can find her name in the writing credits of many songs, especially at Stax. And if you find We Three in the credits that is her too in partnership with Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson. Johnnie Taylor's Who's Making Love was probably their biggest and most well known song.

Bettye had just one album in her own name, Long As You Love Me (I'll Be Alright). Released in 1974 on Enterprise (and amazingly it got a UK release too, on Stax) it is a great lost gem. Bettye had a hand in the writing, mostly alongside Sir Mack Rice, on all the tracks. It turns out Bettye also had a very pretty voice, not powerful, but perfectly suited to the material on the album which is a mix of ballads and slinky mid tempo numbers. Deep and sophisticated in equal measure, there is a real cohesion to the album. It should be on everybody's list of top 10 Soul albums of all time in my opinion.

PS It's a shame my copy is not in better shape. I really need an upgrade. This one, incredibly, was described as M- record and sleeve. It is not even close. It didn't even have an inner sleeve and was shipped in a flimsy envelope with no stiffeners. It was a miracle it got to me in one piece. Just about the worst experience I have ever had buying on-line. Not bought through ebay, but I did manage to extract a small partial refund, given with ill grace, from the seller. Should you find yourself contemplating a purchase from a UK seller who has a bulldog for a logo, think twice.