LET 'THE GROOVE' MOVE YOU
Ever since hearing the impressive top side of this single on grapevine's 2002 CD compilation by Gary Cape, Crescent City Funk and more..., I had been trying to score a copy. I wanted it for the vinyl archives because it's one of those rare records that is not only a massive groover, but also historically significant. Finally, earlier this year, I prevailed, blowing several months of my meager vinyl budget in the process. But, before we get into that groove, some background on 'The Groove' himself.
What little I know about the late Gus Lewis began with Jason Stirland's brief notes for the tune on that grapevine CD insert. Later, I ran across a bit more during research for my Eddie Bo series last year. As a few of you attentive readers may recall, Lewis, a New Orleans radio DJ (WYLD) during the 1960s, was listed in the songwriting credits on a few of Eddie Bo's productions from the mid-1960s. One song, "The Goose", on a Tommy Ridgley 45, showed Lewis and Rosemary White as co-writers right on the label. On the others, Lewis received more covert co-authorship credit with Bo (and a cut of potential royalties) likely just to encourage his airplay of the tunes. As mentioned before, this was common stealth-payola back in the day. The songs were "Shake, Rock and Soul", "Reassure Me", and "Timber", a two-sided obscurity that Bo mysteriously had Chris Kenner cut as Candy Phillips. None of those records actually included Lewis' name in the parenthesis beneath the song title; but the BMI registration for each had him where it counted (had there been anything to count!).
Stirland also noted that Lewis tried his hand at running a record label, Libra, around 1970 in New Orleans. When I looked up the Libra discography in the R&B Indies, there were four releases. But, researching those, I found that two listed (102 and 103) were actually issued by a different Libra label, while the fourth is also spurious - a later 70s disco 12' single on yet another unrelated label of the same name. So, that leaves Lewis' Libra with just one 45, but a great one. Libra 101 featured the pleasing vocal of Inell Young, who is known mainly to Eddie Bo fans, select collectors in the US, and to the Northern Soul crowd in the UK. Young also had two fine prior records, one for Joe Banashak's Busy-B label (sides produced and written by Bo), and the other on Bo's own Big-9 imprint, featuring "The Next Ball Game", coveted by funk aficionados for James Black's broken-field beats. Her Libra single featured a smooth, funkified groover, "What Do You See In Her", penned by Lewis. Sadly, those singles, which were her only known recordings, seem to have been commercial non-starters; and, after the Libra label quickly faded away, both she and Lewis did too.
Now back to the record at hand (you groove hounds have probably skipped ahead, anyway), which was the one and only for Lewis as a featured artist. "Let The Groove Move You", an attention-grabber from the get-go for its raw energy alone, was a somewhat of a harbinger of change for the local music scene.
"Let The Groove Move You" (Gus Lewis)
Gus 'The Groove' Lewis, Tou-Sea 131, 1967
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio
You may recall that the Tou-Sea label was one of several operated by Tou-Sea Productions (which later became Sansu Enterprises), owned by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn. There were less than a dozen releases on the imprint, all probably recorded in or around 1967. After the earlier Dover Records disaster that did in so many small local labels, the partners had regrouped, getting distribution for their output mainly through Amy-Mala-Bell in New York, to which their hit-maker, Lee Dorsey,was signed. At least some of the projects on Tou-Sea seem not to have had Toussaint's creative involvement, including this 45, which had the Big Q, Wardell Quezergue, as the nominal producer and arranger of the sides, both of which were written by Lewis (the ballad "Together" was on the flip).
I say nominal because the playing by the three-piece rhythm section (drums, bass and guitar) on this track was so exuberantly gonzo that I don't think Quezergue did much more than write the charts for and direct the robust horn section and backing singers. It's the kind of performance that would have suffered if messed with too much. Usually, the Big Q, like Toussaint, was much more meticulously hands on in his approach; but what else could be done with the force of nature that Lewis set free in the studio? Just step back, let 'em blow, and try to keep the sound pressure from over-saturating the tape (not too successfully on that last bit).
Anyone who hears this track is immediately struck by the drumming - literally. It's so overpoweringly aggressive, any resistance would be ridiculous, and movement is the only option. Now, note that date. Such powerfully broken-up funkification was unprecedented on record in 1967 New Orleans, and should thus be considered truly groundbreaking, definitely the first wave of the wide-open New Orleans grooves that would come out over the next few years on sides by Eddie Bo and the Meters, among others.
But, who dat drummer? I'm pretty sure it wasn't James Black, an obvious choice for something this rhythmically messed with. As "out" as Black could seem to go into the creative funk, he was a technical master and always seemed to know, or at least sense, where he was and where he was going. The drummer here seems to have been less adept. His spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants enthusiasm worked well for the track, but also revealed some sloppiness and/or over-reaching in his sticking. If it weren't for the spot-on bass work, perfectly in the pocket, motivating the groove on though the dense thicket of beats, I get the feeling the drummer might have lost it. Still, it's awesomely inspired playing from all concerned. Each time I hear that kickin' into, I am reminded of drummer Bobby Williams, who Eddie Bo would use to great effect on "Lover And A Friend" in 1968, the beginning of which, though slower, had equally provocative beats. Then there's Williams' own polyrhythmic tour de force, "Boogaloo Mardi Gras", another Bo production recorded around that same time. To my way of thinking, his driving, street-beat style on that record really makes him a good candidate for the get-down funky drummer on "Let the Groove Move You".
With Lewis repeatedly referring to "my band" on the track, I wonder if he brought in the mostly unidentified rhythm section for the session. Near the central breakdown, he calls out the bass player as Lee "Oiler", it sounds like - a name unfamiliar to me. So, they may not have been session scene regulars. Hard to tell, as the players off the grid in New Orleans can be exceptional, too. Any help?
Finally, while not a singer of any great shakes, 'The Groove' rendered a perfectly appropriate vocal dynamism to the tune, mostly talking his hip lyrics and enthused interjections, spiced up with some apt grunts and screams. Sure, he was channeling some James Brown action and inspiration; but, coming through the New Orleans spigot, it emerged in a uniquely different dimension. Rather than approaching the recording as just a vocal artist, I get the sense that Lewis might have brought the song and players in with him as a ready-made package, almost fully formed, rehearsed (more or less), ready to just add horns and backing vocals, and roll tape.
However it all went down, 'The Groove' earned his handle for all time with this untouchable ensemble performance. He and his musical cohorts surely deserve a more prominent place in the annals of New Orleans funk for it, too.
Consider it so moved, Gus.