May 19, 2010

Dennis Lee Abides On Sunday Afternoon

In the midst of working up the last post, trying to find some label shots of Dennis Lee's other 45s to peruse for information, I ran across one on auction: Jenmark 104, "Sunday Afternoon" b/w "Funky Penguin". The labels looked pretty worn, but the surface condition was said to be VG (Very Good - which in collector parlance actually means having a reasonable amount of wear and tear); so I went for it.

I had heard "Sunday Afternoon" before on an archived broadcast of Mr. Finewine's fine Downtown Soulville show on WFMU. If you are not familiar with the station, their broadcasts and archives are a great resource for hearing hip, obscure and very hard to find music of many varieties, including plenty of old R&B, soul and funk. In addition, their Beware of the Blog manages to be funny, absurd, and informative, often simultaneously. (end of uncompensated plug)

Anyway, back to the pursuit. Upon hearing the song, I knew I needed me one, but didn't have any luck finding a copy until this popped up last week. As luck would have it, the other bidders dropped out before I reached my limit; and I got it. But, when the record came in the other day, I looked it over thought about sending it back. Calling the playing surface VG was somewhat of a stretch. It looked like it had been used for dinnerware - a dense web of scratches and other strange blemishes overlaying the grooves. Still, the stylus and tone arm of my 'table can track it just fine, though there are plenty of snaps, crackles and pops to be heard. Since the 45 is so hard to find and one in better condition likely hard to afford to boot, I'm keeping this one. But, for your ears, I have run the digitized audio through the filtering software I have that does a fairly decent job at picking out the noise while keeping the musical information intact. This record really put it to the test.

But the geeks and groove-hounds know this stuff already; and the rest of you probably don't really give a flip. So, with the disclosures and disclaimers out of the way, let's listen and discuss why I think this one is worth the trouble.

"Sunday Afternoon" (Dennie Lee - Edwin Williams)
Dennis Lee & Notables, Jenmark 104, ca 1972
Hear it on
HOTG Internet Radio

This song first jumped out at me because it definitely has a discernible atmospheric feel-good quality that matches its subject matter, a great cha-cha kinda groove, and a terrific vocal performance by man of mystery, Dennis Lee. Repeated plays have only reinforced this to me. The sense that comes across here is that he is one utterly cool dude; and his smoothly casual delivery sells it with confidence.

The instrumental backing was fairly sparse and simple. Listening closely, even on this mp3 I think you can hear a nylon string acoustic guitar, bass, congas with a snare drum played mostly on the rim, a little cheapo organ, an electric piano (Fender Rhodes or Wurlitzer) kept in the lower register, some fairly unobtrusive female backing vocalists, and a muted trumpet that verges on annoying. While the horn might have been a good choice sonically for the track, the player didn't have much to offer. His best notes were at the beginning; and the rest of the time he sounded like the giant droning mosquito that almost ruined that party in the park.

Basic as it is, I like the general arrangement. Each instrument had a fairly simple musical and rhythmic part to play; and they combined to create a nice, uncluttered flow that Lee floated his vocal over with ease. Unfortunately, on the ride-out of the song going into the fade, the accompaniment started to fall apart. It's weird. All the players and the girls just kind of lost their way and drifted out of the groove, like they thought the song would fade earlier than it did and stopped paying attention. What saved things was Dennis, the dude, who seemed unfazed by all this and continued to croon with aplomb all the way through. If you follow his vocal, which most folks would do, it doesn't really much matter about the band.

An example of the whole being more than the sum of the parts, the track likely had its off-the-cuff sound because co-producer (along with Charles Brimmer) and label-owner, Senator Jones, didn't like to burn money on studio time getting things tight and right. He went with good enough; but maybe that's part of the charm of the whole exercise. It has a spontaneous, live quality to it that might have been lost on a more perfect take.

Hardly a creative, breakthrough composition, "Sunday Afternoon" may be a bit generic-sounding; but it's hard to get out of my head. There were many such songs of the era that had a similar kind of flavor and subject matter about hanging out with your baby on lazy day, "Groovin'" by the Young Rascals from the prior decade being the most obvious one. In this scenario, the dude brought some wine (in my imagination, Ripple, appellation funqué) to set the right mood for his lady, who is surely at one with her hot pants. Caught up in my reverie, I'm transported lakeside, and can almost feel myself turning that screw-off cap to take a slow swig of the cool, sweet, fruity alcohol. It has a heady radiator coolant aftertaste with just a hint of benzene finish. Good times. Now, about those hot pants. . . .

Excuse me. I actually don't recall my experience with Ripple back in the day being quite so, um, romantic; but some music rolls a little movie in my mind; and "Sunday Afternoon" does the trick. It's a portal to a place and time where stone cool Dennis Lee still abides. Feel free to add it to the soundtrack of your next daydream. It's coming up on hot pants weather, for sure.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review of this great song! Thanks.

4:02 AM, May 22, 2010  
Blogger ana-b said...

Thanks for clearing up my confusion re: Dennis Lee singles. I saw a copy of Jenmark 104 up for auction recently [possibly your copy] and didn't know what to make of it.

Which is to say, I thought there were only two Dennis Lee 45's, one with "Funky Penguin", the other with "Sunday Afternoon/Growing Away From Me".

Nice to know there's another single out there with "Sunday Afternoon" on it. It's a fabulous song.

As to whether Dennis Lee is from New Orleans, I haven't a clue. Odd that there isn't more info on him. Makes me think Dennis Lee is a pseudonym, BMI database notwithstanding.

Excellent, now I get to try to match his voice with another name. That's my idea of fun.


6:39 PM, May 25, 2010  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Good deal, ana. That now makes at least one of us who is not confused!

May your further research on Mr. Lee crack the case. Pseudonym is certainly not out of the realm; but the voice, while ab fab, rang no bells with me. Please report back if you run across something. If not, this might be a Soul Detective project.

I have a feeling the Charles Brimmer connection might be a good avenue to pursue, too.

12:56 AM, May 26, 2010  

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