Denise Keeble: Giving It Up In More Ways than One
This is a follow-up to a post I did last October on Denise Keeble's Pelican single "Chain On My Thing" b/w "Before It Falls Apart". Right around the time I featured those sides, I found a nice copy of her only other known single and am finally getting around to featuring it. Please refer to that earlier post for what little background I have on Ms Keeble and those songs.
"Love School" (E. Small -M. Cottrell)
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If you thought Wardell Quezergue's Pelican label was obscure, B.F.W. had it beat, with apparently only this one release to its credit. Probably the only reason the 45 came out on a newly minted imprint was the hope that it would get some airplay and attract the interest of a larger label that could give it a push into national markets. A hope that was unrealized.
As he did on her other record, Big Q produced and arranged these sides at Malaco in Jackson, MS in 1970/1971, during the very productive days when he was almost constantly using the studio and it's fine young studio band, having created big hits right off the bat for King Floyd and Jean Knight. Though Knight recorded the massive "Mr. Big Stuff" early in 1970, it was not picked up for release by Stax until the next year. I don't know exactly where "Love School" fits into that timeline, but it has obvious similarities to the style and flavor of Knight's hit, which was composed by members of the producer's songwriting team, Joe Broussard, Carol Washington, and Ralph Williams.
Another member of the team, Elliott Small, co-wrote "Love School" with Milton Cottrell; and, while the tune has a pretty funny concept and some of the funky bounce of "Mr. Big Stuff", it pales in comparison. Part of the problem was that Keeble just didn't have the same sassy, stand-out vocal chops to deliver the goods like Ms Knight. But, even if Knight had done it, "Love School" would have been at best a B-side or album cut. Still, Quezergue's signature tight arrangement of interlicking, syncopated parts offered good enough grooving to make the track worth some spins. The predominant, percolating bass line rendered by Vernie Robbins put the emphasis on booty action and keeps me coming back for more education.
As with Keeble's other single, I find the B-side more interesting - impressive even, which is why I am including it, too.
"Giving Up" (V. McCoy)
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The great songwriter and producer of soul/pop hits, Van McCoy, wrote "Giving Up" for Gladys Knight in 1964. In Quezergue's deft hands, this version outshines McCoy's own production on Knight's original Maxx single. Dramatic and musically sophisticated, the song is just the kind of thing an expansive talent like the Big Q could run with. He issued forth a flowing, lush, well-paced, and rhythmically gripping arrangement that uplifted Denise Keeble's vocals and allowed her to finally show her strengths. Although she held her own on the song, she was nowhere near the league of Gladys Knight. Just imagine what Knight could have done with this version. To listen deeply into this song is to behold and relish Quezergue's gifts in all their glory. So why, why, why was it the B-side?
I also have all four songs from Keeble's 45s on the Funky Delicacies CD, Wardell Quezergue's Funky Funky New Orleans, [now out of print, it seems] but totally forgot about this one until I got the single. That's a true record collecting pay-off right there.
Interestingly, around the same time that Keeble did her version, Donny Hathaway also recorded an interpretation of "Giving Up" that took the song somewhere else; but, neither his take nor Keeble's caught a commercial break. Subsequently, she either gave up on the business, or it gave up on her, because, as far as I can tell, she did not record again.