Gatur Grooves (Tuff City Side)
"Get Up" (Wilson Turbinton)
Willie Tee, Gatur, c. 1971, from Wasted, Funky Delicacies/Tuff City, 1994
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Is this music somehow psychically date-stamped? When I listen to it, I am mentally transported to a summer night in the Deep South circa 1970, swaying in the hot, humid air, a little wasted, locked into a groove that I don’t want to end. I did not hear Willie Tee with the Gaturs either on record or live back then (wish I had); so, this is not some recovered memory from my wayward youth. No, the sense of place, atmosphere, and time must have oozed onto the master tape when these tracks were recorded in New Orleans. Anyway, that’s my aural hallucination; and I’m happy with it.
Not every track on Wasted, the Funky Delicacies compilation of very obscure tunes by Willie Tee (Wilson Turbinton) and his band, the Gaturs, does this to me; but quite a few do. Our feature, “Get Up”, really puts me into the zone. The push-pull of the drums and high-hat coupled with congas, that spring-loaded bass bounce, the syncopated alto sax and guitar riffs all contribute; and I don’t even mind the few generic lyrics sung by Tee and the female chorus or that his hip Wurlitzer piano playing, used throughout these sides, is low in the mix, overridden by the drone of his early string ensemble snyth, because it ain’t about that, now is it?
“Get Up” was one side of a Willie Tee single on Gatur. The flip, “Concentrate”, a slower but no less funked out number, has the keyboardist doing a full vocal. While the latter is a pretty good song and also takes me to that place, as a whole, I prefer the instrumentals (and near instrumentals) in this compilation. Tee can be an evocative singer; but the lyrics he’s given himself on these vocal sides are just uninspiring. It’s no surprise some of them were never issued.
Wasted contains most of the releases from the Gatur label, owned by Ulis Gaines and Mr. Turbinton (thus, Ga-Tur). As far as I can tell, they put out four instrumental singles attributed to the Gaturs, and six singles with Willie Tee as artist and vocalist. The compilation has all sides from three of the Gatur’s singles, all sides from three of the Willie Tee singles, and three unreleased vocal tracks. Tuff City included the remaining Gatur vocal and instrumental cuts in their compilation of other Willie Tee material on Night Train called Teasin’ You.
His work has graced this blog before; so you can use the site search (above) to find out more in the archives about some of Tee's other projects. It’s hard to believe that this compilation came out ten years ago. A real revelation to me at the time, Wasted fills in part of the musical gap between the end of Tee’s association with the Nola and Atlantic labels and his funk band collaborations with the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians that began in 1970. During this time he also released a purely pop album on Capitol, I’m Only A Man.
Long time fans of deep New Orleans groves will have already heard at least some of what Willie and the Gaturs were doing; but, if you’re new to this group, listen up. Maybe the music will take you somewhere, too. If nothing else, it reveals another influential thread in the fabric of HOTG funk.
Here are my reconstructions and surmises about the players on the Gaturs cuts, as the CD notes seem to have misspellings and an omission.
Willie Tee, keyboards and vocals
Earl Turbinton, alto and soprano saxes (he is Willie's brother)
Larry Panna, drums
Alfred "Uganda" Roberts, congas (this is a guess - he played with them on the Wild Mags stuff)
Erving Charles, bass
June Ray or Louis "Guitar June" Clark, guitar