October 30, 2006

Who Dat Jammin' With The HooDude?

"I Been Hoodood" (Mac Rebennack)
Dr. John with the Meters, live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, circa 1973

Having been suffering for the last five days with a bad case of strep-throat and a cold that two trips to the doctor and several shots o’ medicated mojo have yet to completely dispel, I definitely have been feeling hoodooed and more tricked than treated lately. But what the hell, I’ve got one more goodie for Halloween to offer up from the man with a perpetual bag of musical remedies, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack).

“I Been Hoodood” originally came out on his In The Right Place album in 1973 and was the flip side of the hit single “Right Place, Wrong Time”. As many of you already know, Allen Toussaint produced the sessions for that successful album and it’s follow-up, Desitively Bonnaroo; and the mighty Meters were the main backing unit on both. What is not widely known is that, for a brief period after In The Right Place was released, the Meters backed Dr. John on the road, too. I don’t think their bare bones, go-for-it configuration lasted more than a few dates; so, imagine my amazement and delight when I was fortunate enough to receive a recording of one of those shows by way of a gracious HOTG reader, who knew I needed to hear it. Merci, beaucoup!

From a Lake Charles concert, this recording has all the earmarks of a raw feed soundboard tape. In spite of the obvious lack of a mix and the usual live gig audio problems, it has a fairly decent sound quality that allows us to get a feel for the the results of this merger. The Meters did not often back Dr. John, so some of the playing is not totally tight; but it is intense throughout; and, to the Meters credit, they handle Mac’s diverse musical moves and grooves very ably. Just dig their funky, lowdown vamping on this song about a guy ensnared in the net of a strong love spell. Rebennack is on clavinet, I think, and Art Neville on barely audible organ and way loud backing vocal here. Of course, Leo, George and Zig, complete the line-up. I think Zig gets in a line or two of singing himself.

Concocting (with the inspiration of his friend and former partner, Ronnie Barron) the Dr. John stage persona which he debuted in the late 1960s, Rebennack incorporated elements of the voodoo and hoodoo cultures of New Orleans, mixing them with a trippy swamp psychedelia and his strongly rooted barrelhouse blues, early rock ‘n roll, and gritty street fonk styles to create a type of revelatory performance art that joyously has embodied the spirit and heritage of his hometown ever since. Without doubt, he’s a conjure man in the best of many senses of the term. The musical potions he summoned up with the Meters were so strong, it makes you wonder how powerful their combined sound could have become had it been taken farther down the road. And, wow, what must it have been like to experience one of these shows live? It’s strong medicine, for sure, even at this lower, encapsulated dosage. I can testify to that. I just needed the right doctor and assistants working to get my groove back in action.

Note: Top photo of Mac and the Meters (Leo seen on guitar) playing at a club is from the collection of the late Charles Kimball.

October 26, 2006

Workin' It

"It's Your Voodoo Working" (C. Sheffield)
Charles Sheffield, Excello 2200, 1961

With the Voodoo Music Experience starting in New Orleans today, I thought I’d run with this way cool novelty from Charles ‘Mad Dog’ Sheffield, cut for J. D. Miller at his Crowley, Louisiana studio in 1961 and released on Nashville’s Excello Records, as were many of Miller’s productions.
Sheffield was a blues singer originally from the Beaumont, Texas area on the Gulf Coast, who started off recording as Mad Dog Sheffield in 1957. Backed by the Clarence Garlow Orchestra, he cut a tune called “Mad Dog” for the Goldband label (#1045) out of Lake Charles. Louisiana. Eddie Shuler, owner of Goldband, then leased the single to Hollywood Records (#1079) that year to no avail. Around 1959, the singer started recording with Miller, who initially issued two singles on his in-house Rocko label credited to Charles Sheffield. Then, Miller got Excello to put out “It’s Your Voodoo Working” b/w the fast chuggin’ “Rock ‘N Roll Train”, and a follow-up, “I Would Be a Sinner” b/w “The Kangaroo”; but, despite their excellent quality, both records, like Sheffield’s previous releases, failed to catch on. As far as I know, he only had two other singles, both credited to ‘Prince Charles’ and recorded for ‘The Crazy Cajun’, Huey Meaux, who issued them on his Teardrop and Jetstream labels respectively between 1962 and 1965.

While I haven’t heard all his earliest sides for Shuler or his later recordings with Meaux, I think it’s safe to say that Sheffield’s work with Miller was exemplary, especially the Excello sides, backed by topnotch Southwest Louisiana musicians: smokin’ saxman, Lionel Prevost (a/k/a Lionel Torrence), drummer Clarence 'Jockey' Etienne, and Lazy Lester on shakers [12/5/06: thanks to correspondent bbb, and Lazy Lester, for this info], to name the ones we know. They all conspire to conjure up some slinky, snake-dance syncopation with a touch of Afro-Caribbean, befitting the song’s voodoo* theme.

Back in the 1990s, I discovered Charles Sheffield’s Excello sides on a now out of print Japanese import CD compilation of Miller-produced material, Louisiana Bayou Rockers; and, just last year, I luckily found both of the 45s among a large lot of singles I bought down here on the cheap (#2200 itself often goes for over $400.00 near mint, ouch!). I will be getting back to some more of his work later. Looks like you can still find “It’s Your Voodoo Working” at least on Putumayo’s
Louisiana Gumbo CD for not much cash. Hope it works for you.

*Not to be confused with the actual practice of the Vodun religion(s), of course.

October 23, 2006

Love Among The Ovens

"Graveyard" (Robert Ailsworth-Arthur Booker)
The Blenders, AFO 305, 1962

Continuing the Halloween theme, here’s a cautionary tale of what can happen to careless lovers who choose a cemetery for their tryst. Just the fifth single issued on the ill-fated AFO label (which I have discussed previously), “It Takes Time” b/w “Graveyard”, by a four or five man local vocal group called the Blenders, came out in 1962, around the time that the label lost its distribution deal with Sue Records. That commercial death-blow consigned the label’s remaining catalogue to instant obscurity; and AFO was out of business by the next year.

That was a real tragedy, since many great sides were cut during the label‘s two year run, using the core studio unit, who were co-owners of AFO: Harold Battiste (arranger, alto sax, and piano), Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler (arranger, tenor and baritone sax), Melvin Lastie (cornet, trumpet), Roy Montrell (arranger, guitar), Peter ‘Chuck’ Badie (bass), and John Boudreaux (drums). Also present on various sessions were a second line of great, generally young players: Nathaniel Perriliat (tenor sax, flute), Rufus ‘Nose’ Gore (tenor sax), Alvin Batiste (clarinet), Malcolm ‘Mac’ Rebennack (guitar, piano, organ), James Booker (organ, piano), Willie Tee/Wilson Turbinton (piano), and James Black (drums). While I don’t know specifically who backed the Blenders on their sides, obviously the list of possibilities makes it easy to see why this track works so well.

“It Takes Time” was a fairly forgettable ballad and may have helped doom the release; but
“Graveyard” is an upbeat, cookin’ little novelty number that has a sound different from the popular, mid-tempo, popeye-style swaying shuffles so prevalent on New Orleans records in those days. Particularly on this track, the slightly syncopated snare and kick drum pattern of ba-ba-boom-ba-boom under the fairly straight cymbal work gives the tune a groove that’s hard to resist. The overall arrangement is equally effective, with an outstanding horn section, dominated by that raging tenor sax.

There were a number of groups named the Blenders that recorded during the 1950s and early 1960s; but I believe this outfit was unique to New Orleans and only had one 45. If anyone can confirm any other releases for them, let me know. I’ve read that the lead singer for the Blenders was Arthur Booker, who co-wrote this song with another member, Robert Ailsworth; so, let’s give him props for an entertaining performance, especially on the ride out when he lets out that comic scream and says, “That you, baby? Somebody he’p me!” Good stuff. By the way, many years later, Arthur Booker was a member of
Louisiana Purchase, a group featured on HOTG several times. Stay in the loop, next stop is voodoo territory.

More New Orleans "ovens"

October 19, 2006

Dancing With Ghosts

"Zig-Zaggin' Through Ghostland" (Ed Volker)
The New Orleans Radiators, 1989

Here’s a tune I used to play up in Memphis on my annual New Orleans Halloween radio special along with a bunch of others I’d gather up from the spookier side of the city’s music. You know, songs with hoodoo and voodoo references, graveyards, ghosts and the like – not too serious, most of ‘em. Written by keyboardist and lead singer of the Radiators, Ed Volker, “Zig-Zaggin’ Through Ghostland” isn’t really about fear of the supernatural, the make-believe terrors of scary movies, or people in masks and skeleton outfits. Instead, he wrote this song after seeing a TV show about a soldier trying to stay alive fighting in Vietnam. A real horror story.

Ever since hearing “Zig-Zaggin’” when it first came out on
the out-of-print album of the same name, it’s stuck with me. I think it’s brilliant – certainly one of the best of many great songs, most written or co-written by Volker, the group has done in their nearly three decades together. Effective lyrics, funky groove, and a perfect arrangement by the band. Frank Bua’s drumming is outstanding here and the centerpiece of the production. For a rock band, they put out a distinct jazz vibe on this one. I could hear it worked up as an instrumental with a dominant organ and horns.

As we run up to Halloween this year, I’ll favor you with a few more selections from my trick bag, most all of them much more tongue-in-cheek, even devil-may-care. But for now, meditate on this danceable, haunting little number.

Notes: You might recall that I featured the Rads in
my mudbug special back in August. Looks like today’s song/album may be available for better quality download through mp3.com, or maybe try itunes. The band still tours extensively and tolerates taping. So, I know there are a lot of live shows to sample out there, too, if you’re interested. They’ve got a number of live CDs for sale, as well. And, speaking of live, HOTG music is best heard that way, if possible. So, I encourage you to catch these road warriors, if they ever play in your zone.

October 14, 2006

Further Adventures In Spelling

"How Do You Spell Love" (M. Boxley, J. Strickland, B. Patterson)
Bobby Patterson. Paula 458, 198? (1972)

Although this is a 1980s re-issue of the original 1972 single (#362), with a different flip (“Recipe For Peace”), I was still glad to have found a copy of it while digging the piles down here last year. The only version I had prior to that was Margie Joseph’s great cover on her eponymous first Atlantic LP from 1973. Of course, some of you may know this song too from the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ blues version in the early 1980’s. As a matter of fact, Paula 458 may have been re-issued because of the attention the T-Birds brought to the song.

I am fairly certain that
Bobby Patterson cut “How Do You Spell Love” at Sound City studio in Shreveport (northwestern Louisiana) using the fine house band, who could throw down some serious funk at a moment’s notice and were led by Tunisian-born bassist Louis Villery. Originally based in Dallas, TX, Patterson had signed with Stan Lewis’ Jewel/Paula family of labels in Shreveport about a year prior to this release. There he teamed up with Jerry Strickland on various songwriting and production projects. Besides recording his own Paula material, which included the 1972 LP, It’s Just A Matter Of Time, he and Strickland, worked with many other artists during the 1970’s. In 1972, they also started the off-shoot label, Soul Power, which issued some classic sides of original material by the Sound City studio band, recording as the African Music Machine. The duo also wrote, produced and recorded the remarkable female soul singer, Tommie Young (who Patterson had discovered in Dallas), as well as Baton Rouge vocalist George Perkins.

As others have remarked, “How Do You Spell Love” has a feel similar to what was getting cut at Malaco in Jackson at the time, particularly King Floyd’s sides arranged by Waredell Quezergue with their syncopated interplay of instruments; but, funky as this track is, the drumming doesn’t quite match the grooves dished by Malaco’s James Stroud (who was originally from the Shreveport area, by the way). Still, this is a good ‘un', with a central guitar riff that sinks its hook in early. Patterson sounds totally inspired, too, letting rip some intense screams, particularly the spine-tingling one at the bridge about 1:35 into the song. On the basis of that one, you could almost rename the song, “How Do you Spell

I’ve been seeking out other examples of tracks cut at Sound City from the early to mid-1970s, and will be bringing you more of the ones with a decent funk quotient later on. But, for now, get to work on your lesson – listen and repeat until you’ve got it learned.

Note: Patterson's pre-Paula material can be found on CD here and several examples can be heard at the Soul Club.

Your spelling instructor, Mr. Patterson

October 09, 2006

Who You Gonna Call?

Groove Guardian at work

I recently got to listen to a WWOZ special, written and produced by David Kunian in 2003/2004, on the late New Orleans drumming avatar, James Black (thanks to Paper Bag Brown of MUDGRIP fer dat). It’s a well researched and produced hour-long feature, with various movers and shakers on the local music scene commenting and providing background on this phenomenal man, who regarded himself as the Guardian of the Groove (‘OZ has co-opted that as a description of themselves and their supporters, as well they should). Even though I had discovered a lot about him over the years, I enjoyed hearing fellow musicians talk personally about the drummer and composer – and I certainly learned some things I hadn’t known before about James Black.

That set me off on some more research and today’s examination of two tracks I had heard so many times, not realizing that Black was playing on them. One of the best web sites on him I’ve found is at
Drummerworld, with photos, a nice bio, some great audio of his jazz and funk playing, a remembrance by Idris Muhammad, and three discographies. If you study-up there, you’ll have a lot of the information in the ‘OZ tribute, and, I hope, a greater appreciation for this musician’s musician.

"There's A Break In The Road" (Allen Toussaint)
Betty Harris, 1969 (audio sourced form Charly LP, In the Saddle, 1980)

Common knowledge, such as it is, about players Allen Toussaint used for his Sansu Productions recording sessions has it that he and his partner, Marshall Sehorn, hired Art Neville’s combo, the Neville Sounds, in 1968 to be their core studio band. For the next few years, the group laid down Toussaint-arranged backing tracks for numerous vocalists he was producing, and, of course, went on to become recording artists in their own right as the Meters.

From the mid-1960s to 1970, Lee Dorsey and Betty Harris were the vocal artists Toussaint focused on the most. On the strength his own carefree voice and his producer’s strong arranging and songwriting skills, Dorsey had some substantial national hits and a lot of great recordings; but, despite Toussaint’s high-quality work with Harris’ compelling vocal gifts on nearly a dozen singles, including a memorable duo with Dorsey, the soulful Floridian’s only significant chart success was “Nearer To You’, which got into the top 20 nationally.

As Larry Grogan points out in his fine piece on Harris at his Funky 16 Corners webzine, her last few singles for Toussaint were done when the Meters were in the house. But, as it turns out, on 1969’s “There’s A Break In The Road”, there was an alternate groove taken. The track is from Harris’ final Toussaint-produced single, leased by Sansu to SSS International. Larry rightly remarks that the drumming on the side is “powerful and funky enough to rival even the mighty James Black.” And it really does recall Black’s work on Eddie Bo’s “Hook And Sling” from the same year, which makes perfect sense when one discovers, as I did recently, that Zig Modeliste was not playing on “Break”; James Black was!

Harris and the backup singers have a broken-field day on this tune, moving well into Tina Turner and the Ikettes territory atop Black's rambunctious, go-for-it funk work. As much as the intense syncopation and breaking of beats seem on the verge of going out of control at times, he holds the groove, pushing and pulling, driving it onward and upward. Such is it’s allure. Starting off with deceptive simplicity, Black soon begins a relentless pounding and chopping drum rampage throughout one of Toussaint’s rawest, edgiest arrangements ever. Not only is there a break in this road, there are more off-and on-ramps, over-and under-passes than the LA freeway system. Guitarist Leo Nocentelli and bassist George Porter, Jr. rip on some high-speed riffing throughout, with guitar feedback and trills laced in for a “soul diva meets funk psychedelia” feel. And who better to trip and trick it out than Black, the man who wrote a song around that same time called “Psychedelphia”. I don’t know why Toussaint found Modeliste's magic lacking for this tune – but, to me, there is no doubt that Black was the right man for the job.

"Riverboat" (Allen Toussaint)
Lee Dorsey, from Yes We Can, Polydor, 1970

From what I’ve gathered, when no one else could conjure the groove Toussaint wanted for a song, he would summon James Black (who dubbed himself ‘Drummer Impossible’ in those situations). Notoriously difficult and demanding to work with at times, Black had the ultimate chops for virtually any situation from the most demanding modern jazz, to soul, funk, and many stops in between. Thus, not only other drummers, but virtually all the musicians who played with him or knew him held him in high regard.

On the ‘OZ special, Toussaint’ talks about using Black on the
Yes We Can sessions for Lee Dorsey:

I used to write the drum parts out. Well, “Riverboat” had an up and down kind of syncopation on the drums; and I must say the drummers [must have gone through a few!!] was having problems. I called James Black in; and he sat there. . .and looked at the page and he played it as if he had written it, and he said, “Is this what you want, bro?” He played it like it was written with a little more hips to it and “would you like any fills anywhere”, you know? It was like that with him – and what a pleasure. He’s a good standard-bearer for things that could happen that didn’t go to the conventional backbeat of drums.

More hips to it. How I like that phrase! Wow. I had always though it was Zig Modeliste on all those tracks; but there was an exception. Listening to “Riverboat” with new ears, after hearing Toussaint say this, it now seems obvious that the drumming on it is far different in approach to anything else on the album. Toussaint seems to have been going for more of what a tympani player might do, maybe, with a funk pattern. I don’t know what Black does in technical terms here, I am no percussionist – hey, drummers, feel free to chime in – but it is so right. It has that “loose is tight” feel which is extremely hard to pull off playing from a written score. Using a lot of toms here, he plays with a deft touch, rather than the heavy hitting he lent to the Betty Harris number.

On this artful arrangement, less is certainly more. It’s another master class in Toussaint’s effective use of simple parts to create a greater whole. The backing offsets Dorsey’s voice perfectly and creates a palpable mood, almost as if you can see and hear a showboat off in the distance on the river. That said, as simple as it may sound, what the drummer does is a complex mix of elements that, obviously, perfectly expressed what Toussaint wrote and wanted us to hear. In this case, the arranger/composer couldn’t get it from the other drummers he had at his disposal; and he had some great ones besides Zigaboo, including Smokey Johnson. But it’s good to know that, for the toughest jobs, Toussaint would call in James Black, the impossible groove buster.

October 04, 2006

Another Way To Spell It

"Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man" Pt 1 (Bobby Rush/Calvin Carter)
Bobby Rush, Jewel 834, 1972

Shakin' in the car, and the car won't go. That's the way you spell Chicago.
Knife and a fork and a plate of greens. That's the way you spell New Orleans.
–Bobby Rush

I admit that I was late to the Bobby Rush party; and I’m still learning about him. I actually only took note when I started seeing him perform live at various shows in Memphis and New Orleans over the last five or six years. He’s interesting to me because he’s got a strong funk quotient to much of his material, going back into the late 1960s as I’ve discovered, and is a shining example of a performer and songwriter who has no problem crossing over the fuzzy boundaries between blues, soul and funk. Lately, he’s been calling what he does “Folkfunk; and I guess that’s as good a term as any. When in doubt, create your own category! A lot of his material is mildly salacious and, on stage, he and his band (including several ample, intensely booty-shaking female singer/dancers), do a winking, humorously hokey get-down act that has served them well on the Chitlin’ Circuit for decades; but it can leave many an urban white audience slack-jawed and dumfounded. So it goes. . . .

When I first found and heard this record, I thought it might have been recorded and produced at Shreveport’s Sound City studios, where many Jewel sides were done, using the funky house band there that was also know as the African Music Machine. But, as I researched it, I learned that Rush was still recording in Chicago in 1971, when this side was made. And I could find nothing much out about the backing band. I decided to post it here anyway due to the New Orleans reference, it’s raw, low-down groove, and the fact that Bobby Rush has some Louisiana roots. I don’t know where he assimilated his funk sensibility; but it has been a strong component of his music over the last 40 years.

Born Emmet Ellis, Jr., the son of a preacher, and partially raised near the North Louisiana town of Homer, not far from the Arkansas line (or from Percy Mayfield’s hometown of Minden, LA), he took up harmonica and guitar early in life. In 1948, when he was 12, his family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas; and by the early 1950s the teenager was already singing and performing in roadhouses, influenced and inspired by cats such as Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters, and Fats Domino. The legendary Elmore James even played in his band for a short stint back then. By 1956, Ellis had changed is name to Bobby Rush, so as not to have his father’s sanctified name sullied by the devil’s music, and moved to Chicago. There he formed a band that both Freddie King and Luther Allison passed through early on.

By the 1960s, Rush was a regularly working live performer, cutting a few obscure tunes along the way. His records did not sell until he did “Sock Boogaloo” b/w “Much Too Much”* for Checker in 1967. The former song did well enough locally that he got two more great boogaloo sides, “Gotta Have Money”** b/w “Camel Walk”** onto a 1968 ABC single, and then had a few more James Brown-influenced releases on Salem** the next year; but none of those went anywhere. His luck changed in 1971 with his classic, “Chicken Heads” b/w “Mary Jane”**, cut with producer
Calvin Carter in Chicago and released on Galaxy. The greasy funk work-out charted and sold well; but, Rush and Carter could only get two other singles, “Gotta Be Funky” b/w “Gotta Find You Girl” and the two-sided “Bowlegged Woman” released on Carter’s On Top label. At a commercial impasse, Rush was released to the Jewel*** label in Shreveport, which re-issued our feature, “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man”, in 1972.

Obviously, Rush had a well-established funky thang goin’ on by then. But it did not connect with the public again until late that decade. After several more singles for Jewel didn’t pop, he left the label in 1974 and subsequently recorded one-off 45s for Warner Brothers and London mid-decade. His star rose again when he hooked up with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label, recording another funk-infused hit, “I Wanna Do The Do” in 1979. The label also released a fine LP, Rush Hour, on him; but there were no follow-up hits.

By the 1980s, Bobby Rush had re-located to Jackson, Mississippi to reduce his travel time on the club circuit, and began releasing records on LaJam and Urgent. As the century turned, he put out a number of popular CDs for Waldoxy and his own Deep Rush label. Often called a blues artist, Bobby Rush’s music doesn’t fall simply into one category; but, if you are a funk fan (why else are you here?), there are more great grooves to be found in his catalogue. And that’s how I spell HOTG.

* Hear it at the Soul Club (listed by artist's first name)
** Hear these at Funk 45.
*** Forgot to mention that BR's Jewel material was comped on the Fuel 2000 CD, Bobby Rush - Aboslutely the Best.

What a Rush