October 31, 2010

An updated prior post....and another goodbye

I found a nice copy of Wallace Johnson's RCA single and have added the audio to last month's post on him, revising the discussion about the record a bit, too. Just so's ya know.

Happy Halloween/All Saints Day - and speaking of saints, Who Dat!

That said, I also regret to pass along the news of the loss of another New Orleans music legend, Mr. Walter Payton, Jr., versatile bassist of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and educator. For more details, read his obituary by Keith Spera and, also, Ben Jaffe's remembrance on Alex Rawls' Offbeat blog.

October 27, 2010

Younka Chunka Returns + Neville Vinyl Voodoo

Included in this Halloween/Voodoo Fest installment is a single I’ve had in the “to be (re)posted” pile way too long, plus one from 1989 (!) by the Neville Brothers I just picked up recently that has album tracks I didn’t know ever made it to the 45 medium. I don’t even see the record listed in the Complete Nevilles Discography at nevilletracks. No wonder I missed it. Must have been a very limited run.

But, oldest (and oddest) songs first, starting with one I’ve posted before from a different source. You can read that Halloween 2005 post, if you care to; but I’m updating much of the information surrounding it and adding a B-side, since I did not have the actual single at the time. Until I finally chanced upon it, I had begun to doubt that it even existed....


My first encounter with the song, “Younka Chounka” (note variant spelling), came via a1980s era Bandy compilation LP, the second of two I bought back then featuring tracks from 1963-64 by Allen Toussaint’s band, the Stokes. While away from New Orleans doing his mandatory hitch in the Army at Ft. Hood in Texas, Toussaint recruited a group of musician-soldiers at the base to work on his songwriting projects. Jeff Hannusch’s rather confusing and occasionally incorrect notes for the LP identified the vocalist as Al Fayard from Gretna, LA (on the other side of the river from the New Orleans Garden District). That attribution, one of the few I know of connecting the singer and the song, states, “The excellent ‘Younka Chounka, Part I & Part II’ and ‘Doin’ Sumpin’, Part I & Part II’ was [sic] released as by Al Fayard, the Stokes drummer/vocalist.....” Well, as we’ll see, he’s about half right

When I first posted Part I of the song, almost all my records were still in storage; so I was sourcing the blog audio from CDs I had burned from my vinyl collection while doing my radio show in Memphis. I mis-remembered then which LP I got “Younka Chounka” from; but I can now attest that it was Bandy #70017,
Allen Toussaint Sings with Billy Fayard and the Stokes. Pulling it out again recently, I realized that the album title is a bit of a stretch, since Toussaint sang some backing vocals on a couple of tracks with the Stokes, but took the lead on only one single, Alon 9021, “Poor Boy Got To Move”/“Go Back Home”. That 45 is a rare and significant classic for several reasons. It was Toussaint’s first recording using his actual name (early singles for RCA and Seville called him Tousan or Al Tousan), and was his only featured solo vocal on record up until he did the Toussaint album in 1970. Two other tracks on the Bandy LP with him on vocal actually came from a 45 he cut as a duo, Allen and Allen, with Allen Orange in 1960 for Minit, several years prior to the Stokes existence!

During the two years or so that Toussaint had the group together, the pianist mainly wrote and recorded instrumentals with them for release on the Alon label, Those singles were credited to just the band, except for Alon 9025, which re-named them the Young Ones. Of course, the best known of the Stokes’ instrumentals is “Whipped Cream” - but not their original version, instead Herb Alpert's cover of the tune from 1965, a national hit, which later became the theme for the creepy but popular
Dating Game TV show.

Toussaint had begun concentrating on such light, poppy fare in Texas because of Al Hirt’s huge hit in 1964 with “Java”, a brilliant little pop ditty Toussaint had originally written and recorded in 1958. It appeared on his first LP,
The Wild Sounds of New Orleans by Tousan, an all instrumental outing released by RCA. When Hirt’s cover version took off, Joe Banashak, Toussaint’s music business boss back home, encouraged the writer to come up with more like it. For several years before the service, Toussaint had done writing and studio production for artists signed to the labels Banashak had started, Minit and Instant, and was so successful at it that Banashak set up the Alon label in 1961, hoping it would become the main outlet for Toussaint's projects. It was slow to get off the ground, though; and, then, Toussaint got called up. Most, if not all, of the Stokes’ recordings were cut in Houston in 1964 with Banashak bringing the masters back to New Orleans for release on Alon.

I'll be focusing on the other much lesser known Stokes vocal tracks over the next two posts. This time, it's two that found an unexpected outlet and featured the singing drummer/percussionist with three names.

“Younka Chunka” (Naomi Neville)
K. C. Russell, Uptown 701, 1965
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Here’s the reason this song was so hard to find on 45. It wasn’t released on Alon or any of Joe Banashak’s labels, nor did it have Al Fayard’s name on it, as Jeff Hannusch had indicated was the case. Instead, I happened to find this Uptown single when the title caught my eye as I browsed an online seller’s listings. It leaves out the second “o” shown on the LP tracks; and the artist is shown as K. C. Russell (for reasons still unknown), but I took a closer look. When I saw that the flip side was also a Stokes title, and that the label shot displayed Toussaint’s production and writer’s credit (pen-name Naomi Neville), I hit the “buy” button in a flash. Fortunately, it was in great condition, and cheap.

Looking for some background on this release, I ran across the May 8, 1965 issue of Billboard online, which had a short article announcing the start of the Uptown label, a subsidiary of California-based Tower Records (distributed by Capitol), geared to the R&B market. The label had two initial releases, one by Cookie Jackson, and the second, “Younka Chunka”/”How Tired I Am”, by K. C. Russell. Uptown was described in the article as working with independent producers and buying masters; so I would think it safe to say they came to Banashak to acquire some sides due to the previous track record of his labels. Of course, those glory days were gone by then; and he likely let these left-over Stokes cuts go, along with two singles worth of material by Chris Kenner, for a little quick money. Business prospects were not bright, since Toussaint had recently severed his ties with Banashak upon his return from the service that year.

Despite the pseudonym, Al Fayard was indeed the lead vocalist on “Younka Chunka”, as confirmed by the online bio I found at the Westbank Musicians Hall of Fame, Inc., which shows his full name as Al’D Francis Fayard, Jr., but consistently refers to him as ‘Billy’, which is, I assume, a long-held nickname. Willie West, who has known Fayard for years, previously confirmed to me that Al and Billy were the same person, as I had been confused by the unexplained use of both names by various sources in reference to the Stokes. Billy’s bio does note he was also called K. C. Russell for this 45 (the site is off on the title and label info), but what it doesn’t mention is that, besides Uptown 701, he also had two equally obscure vocal releases with the Stokes under his own name(s) on Alon: the earlier noted two-part “Doin’ Sumpin’” (#9020) as Al Fayard, and “I Don’t Know”/”I Get Mad So Mad” (#9028), as Billy Fayard. I’ll have a separate post on those singles coming up next time.

As I have said before up in here, I’m a sucker for New Orleans novelty tunes, especially with nonsense lyrics, the stranger the better, and, of course, a good groove. “Younka Chunka” certainly delivers, being one of Toussaint’s more off the wall lyrical concoctions and sporting that loosely syncopated popeye-style drumming (Fayard, I assume) with some great rollin’ professorial piano by the leader. It’s a tale about a scary mystery creature rockin’ a transistor radio (an early hand-held audio device, kids!) who turns up late one night in the path of the teller of the tale. I don’t know if ‘Younka Chunka’ is supposed to be the sound the creature makes, its name, or what. In my head, I imagine it as kind of a cross between Bigfoot and a Loop Garou - but that’s not in the lyrics. Fayard’s rough-edged voice works well expressing the humorous dismay of the only witness to the weirdness.

Meanwhile, rather than another R&B novelty, the flip side was something else again.

“How Tired I Am” (Naomi Neville)
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Toussaint and Fayard shared the vocals on this pretty much straight ahead, driving rock song with a second-tier British Invasion, garage band kind of feel to it. “How Tired I Am” sports catchy guitar riffs, nice horn charts with a hot sax solo, and some intense piano work, though less upfront in the mix than on the other side. While the instrumentation wasn’t out of the ordinary for a Toussaint production. the song itself is a surprise, fitting in nicely with two other rockers that appeared on Fayard's final Alon 45 (featured next time). As he did on those tracks, too, Toussaint directly co-opted the style of music that was sweeping the airwaves, dominating the pop charts, and supplanting both the light pop instrumentals and New Orleans’ bread and butter R&B he specialized in. He seems to have had a knack for it, too. As this single shows us, working outside of his hometown comfort zone with different musicians brought out the unexpected in him; but Toussaint didn't pursue the pop/rock experimentation any further in his writing upon returning to New Orleans, though he would work effectively with some rock artists as a producer in the next decade.

Billy Fayard, who in his early music days prior to the Stokes was in a band with Ronnie Barrouse (Ronnie Barron), later in life became a businessman in Gretna, and has owned a number of clubs, including several on Bourbon Street. Over the years, he has also been involved with a band called the New Orleans Levee Board.

More to come from him and the Stokes next time, so stay tuned.


Speaking of surprises, as I mentioned at the top, I had not been previously aware of this 45 when I ran across it a few weeks back. A fairly recent (for here) vinyl release, it was spun off from the popular 1989 Neville Brothers album, Yellow Moon, righteously produced with plenty of atmospherics by Daniel Lanois, a Canadian who plied his recording mojo in New Orleans for several years back when the city was in the midst of a musical renaissance.

It was a time when the city’s well-seasoned, preeminent soul/funk outfit finally had a big national buzz going for them and were newly signed to A&M. The hip, cutting-edge musician/recordist Lanois really sussed out what the band was all about and allowed them room to express themselves. The result was an incredibly well-conceived new album, featuring fresh music with ancient roots from a place whose deep cultural heritage was being discovered and appreciated by more and more music fans across the county and around the world.

“Voodoo” (A. Neville/A. Neville/C. Neville/C. Neville/B. Stoltz/W. Greene/D. Johnson)
The Neville Brothers, from Yellow Moon, A&M 1277, 1989
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Rather than taking the project into the rather sterile, technically efficient confines of a recording studio, Lanois set up the necessary equipment in a big old house on beautiful Saint Charles Avenue in the city and made sure the space had the ambiance and vibe that would allow the band’s creative energy to flow unimpeded. The result was arguably the best album of their career, full of memorable tunes, performances, grooves, and importantly, a palpable presence of their hometown infused throughout. It was a perfect harmonic convergence of ability and desire that went gold.

“Voodoo” is just one shining example. Recorded with reverb set at very wet and infused with other deft sonic effects, the insinuating groove arises organically from an incredibly fat, slinking bass line and simple, primal percussion set to summon the spirit-dancers latent in our DNA. The other instrumentation layered in - perfectly stroked guitar, ethereal electric piano, resonant horn section, with an up front tenor sax implying a second singer - entwine and uplift brother Aaron’s aching, fallen-angel vocal. The lyrical conceit of equating being in love to falling under a voodoo spell is certainly not original; but rarely has it been so convincingly rendered.

The A-side featured Cyril’s,“Sister Rosa”, a rhythmic but respectful tribute to the courageous civil rights hero, Rosa Parks, and one of his best musical teach-ins. Releasing a 7” 45 late in the 20th century to promote an album was a fairly passe gesture; but I guess A&M felt confident enough in the brothers' accomplishment to specially press-up a few for good measure.

You don’t hear many 45s this well-recorded and with such a low-noise pressing, either; but, of course, while having the collectible is nice, you should own the album above all else, if you don’t already, after all these years. If you do but haven’t heard it for a while, put it on when you have some time to get wrapped up in its rich expression once again.

Not many bands last this long. When
Yellow Moon hit the streets, they had been going for just over a decade, and are still with us now to some extent after two more. At their core, the Neville Brothers are family in a city full of complex musical kinship - although the man-made, government-assisted disaster of 2005 and beyond has disrupted those connections with yet unknown long-term consequences. Like any band, any family, they’ve had their highs and lows over the course of individual and group careers that go back some 50 years now - successes, disappointments, blessings and curses; but few groups have such a diverse and high quality body of work to leave as their legacy. It is truly a tribute to them and the city that raised them up in music. As I have mentioned elsewhere, one of my greatest musical epiphanies came at one of their gigs on Oak Street, not too long after they first formed. They sure put some voodoo on me; and I remain quite susceptible and partial to their powers, open for whatever revelations they may have in store while we're all still in the neighborhood.

October 15, 2010

More Goodbyes: Diamond Joe & Solomon Burke

[Updated audio 10-19-2010]**

I didn’t learn of the passing of
Joseph ‘Diamond Joe’ Maryland until a friend mentioned it at the Ponderosa Stomp a few weekends back. Only later did I see that Larry Grogan, a big Diamond Joe fan, had done a tribute to him at Funky 16 Corners back in early September, and ana-b at the Singing Bones put up some of his tunes, too. I just haven’t been keeping up with the other blogs like I use-ta. Not enough hours in the day...or night.

Once I got that last Charles Brimmer post done, I had a chance to reflect on Diamond Joe and do some more research. While working on that, I heard of Solomon Burke’s death this past weekend and wanted to do a little something on that great man, too, even though his connections to New Orleans were tangential, at best. I’ve got a couple of things by him I’ve pulled from the archives that have the city’s touch. So, forgive me if I do just a brief (for me) combined post on these departed singers, linked only in the closeness of their untimely demise.

Catching Up On Diamond Joe

It’s surprising to me that I’ve never posted anything by Diamond Joe up to this point. Allen Toussaint produced and arranged all seven of his 45s, and wrote the majority of the sides, too. I’ve long had Joe’s first record on Minit, the self-penned, deep-deep, two-part “Moanin’ and Sreamin’” from 1961, plus two of his three Sansu singles, and a couple of his sides on compilations. In years past, I played his stuff on my Memphis radio show, as well.

If my defense, I guess one reason I had never done a retrospective on him here is that there has been little information on his career that hasn’t been covered. Five years ago, Mr. Grogan did a fine overview of the Diamond Joe oeuvre at his old web-zine; and he has also posted several of Joe’s songs on the F16C blog over the ensuing years. Then, ana-b, also deep into Joe, delved into some within the past year or so. So, I felt no urgency. Like Larry, I did not even know if Joe was still alive, until he was gone.

Without further disclaimers, let’s now hear one from this exceptional vocalist from the Houma, LA area. I’ve also got some recently obtained new information to share on this man who has been an enigma to fans and collectors for years.

“How To Pick A Winner” (Allen Toussaint)
Diamond Joe, Sansu 454, 1966
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

A favorite of mine since I first heard it on a Japanese compilation LP back in the 1980s, “How To Pick A Winner”, the plug side of Diamond Joe’s first Sansu release, is a well-crafted, engaging Toussaint composition and arrangement in the soul-pop mode, with a mid-tempo swing reminiscent of the “Teasin’ You” groove on Willie Tee’s single from the previous year. While he may have helped himself to some of that feel, Toussaint went on to create a seamless, distinctive song structure that had varied dynamics and a danceable rhythmic flow. The lyrics speak from the point of view of a guy who is unlucky in love wondering what it takes to make the right choice in female companionship. That he can’t decide whether to go by the “size, the weight, the looks, or the personality”, doesn’t bode well for his bettering his odds with the ladies. Such is our general cluelessness when it comes to love.

But what sells the song, at least in a metaphorical sense, is Diamond Joe's riveting, authoritative soul voice. There is nothing at all timid or tentative about his delivery. With power to spare, he nailed it, throwing in a few emphatic yelps for good measure, making for a song that to my ears should have had a much bigger commercial reaction than it did.

Sansu’s output at this time was being distributed nationally by Bell, but nothing on the label ever got very far out of the gate. One has to wonder why the results were so underwhelming for the quality Sansu artists produced by Toussaint and partner, Marshall Sehorn, such as Diamond Joe, Eldridge Holmes, Betty Harris, Wallace Johnson, and Art Neville. The domination of the airwaves by
British Invasion and Motown records was part of the problem, I'm sure, but not all of it, since Lee Dorsey, with Toussaint’s assistance, was having substantial chart hits during this period on Bell’s subsidiary label, Amy. We can only assume that Bell might not have had the resources to push all products equally. Of course, in the crap shoot of making and marketing records, as in love, picking a winner is nearly impossible - sure things are rare.

Starting back in the late 1950s, Joe worked as bass player in the house band at Hosea Hill’s acclaimed Sugar Bowl club in Thibodaux, LA near Houma. Wallace Johnson remembered him to Bill Dahl in the notes to
Get Low Down* as a “hell of a cat onstage”. I recently asked my friend, Willie West, about Diamond Joe, since they were both from the same general area and era, and he sent along this great remembrance:

Yeah, I knew Diamond Joe. He was from a little town outside of Houma called Mechanicville. He never lived in New Orleans full time. Never wanted to.

We all worked together and were very good friends. I met him when I was playing with the Sharks [Willie’s band as a teenager in the 1950s]; and he played bass with our band sometimes, and sang too. I hung out with him. He'd pick me up in his car, and we pestered the girls. He was a ladies man and had a girl or two in every town along the bayou. He used to wear diamond stickpins and diamond rings, was flashy and that's how he got the nickname. His brother used to sell fruit from a fruit truck, and Joe'd hunt him down to get money from him. His brother would fuss at him; but he'd always reach in his pocket and give him 30- 40 bucks so we could go hang out at the little bars and drink wine and chase the girls. We'd laugh and carry on. Those were good times.

He worked with Hosea Hill’s band - taught himself the bass after he came out of the service. He mainly was a bass player, but would play and sing at times, and occasionally would come up and front the band.... Mainly, though, ‘Thunderbird’ Davis would front Hosea Hill’s band. I don't think Joe ever fronted his own band, at least that I can recall. He was a real showman, would jump around and clown with his bass.

He was a paratrooper in the Air Force and used to tell me stories of jumping out of airplanes and all his other adventures. He was very smart and could speak Japanese and German and a couple other languages pretty fluently. He was a very good friend, and although I hadn't seen him for maybe 10 years, I'm going to miss him.

I asked Willie later how Toussaint, when he started working for Minit, might have gotten connected with Diamond Joe and brought him up to New Orleans to record. He wasn’t sure, but speculated that when Toussaint was playing piano in Shirley & Lee’s road band back in the 50s, they gigged at the Sugar Bowl; and he could have first met and heard Joe there. Willie also pointed out that Toussaint’s “people”, as we say down here, lived in the Houma area, too, and could have helped them find out about each other. Thanks to Willie for those great insights that help to see Joe more clearly as a guy for whom singing was really just a sideline; but one that could have paid off, had things broken differently.

As it was, he only had a few opportunities to score a hit during the five or so years he was recording; but luck and the business weren’t with him, even though Toussaint was in his corner. Having now heard everything he cut back in the 1960s, including his ultra-rare 1965 Instant single (3271), “Too Many Pots”/”If I Say Goodbye” **(these links to Mr. Finewine's WFMU archives were sent along by Travis, for which we all should be much obliged), I’d say that he gave each song his best shot; and his natural vocal ability along with Toussaint’s studio skills made many of them memorable and worth acquiring in whatever medium* works for you. For the small but impressive recorded legacy he left behind, the multi-faceted Diamond Joe can be considered an undisputed winner in my book. Learning more about him makes me wish we all had gotten to known him better.

*The Sundazed CD compilation,
Get Low Down, regrettably out of print, has five sides from his Sansu/Deesu recordings; and a number of them plus some of his Minit material seem to be available for downloading from various outlets.

For a greater taste his output, check out these cuts on YouTube:
“Moanin’ and Screamin’”
“Help Yourself”
“Fair Play”
“Hurry Back to Me”
“Don’t Set Me Back”

...and, as mentioned before, The Singing Bones, currently has hot audio on a number of Joe’s sides. too. [UPDATE: ana-b has now posted another Toussaint production of "How To Pick A Winner" with vocal by Maurice Williams over the same backing track! Check it out. Fascinatin'.

The Irreplaceable King of All Things Soulful

I’m not going into great detail on the life and long career of Solomon Burke, who passed away on 10/10/10, leaving us with a sign and portent, as befitting his regal stature. He was an immensely talented singer and entertainer whose career encompassed gospel, R&B/soul, and rock ‘n’ roll, often blurring any supposed distinctions among them, as well as bringing other styles, such as country, into the mix. I’ve been around long enough to have heard in real time segments of his prolific career from his early influential Atlantic sides all the way up to his amazing 21st Century interpretive albums with producers Joe Henry, Buddy Miller, and finally, last year, the late, great Memphis legend, Willie Mtichell. The music business is rife with hype, hyperbole, and just plain bull; but I don’t think it was an exaggeration when Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler called Solomon “the best soul singer of all time”.

“Get Out Of My Life Woman”
** (Allen Toussaint)
Solomon Burke, from I Wish I Knew, Atlantic 8185, 1968
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

I didn’t choose this one as proof of King Solomon’s credentials; it's just a cool cover of one of Toussaint's classic compositions, with Solomon extracting all the gritty, resentful sentiment of the jilted-lover lyrics. He could dig down for the hurt.
Of course, Lee Dorsey had recorded the original hit (on Amy) for Toussaint a few years earlier. Both approaches have their distinct charms.

A few days ago, I had posted Solomon's single version (Atlantic 2566) from my archives, which appears to be the same take, but, unfortunately, has an inferior mix, and fades about 40 seconds sooner. I had speculated that the LP version might have better sonics; and alert fellow blogger, Jeff (of AM, Then FM), dug it out of his stash for us to hear. Much appreciated! It verifies that the vocals are front and center, and the other elements better balanced, clean and clear. Don't know how Atlantic could have dropped the ball on the mix for the 45, seeing as the illustrious Tom Dowd produced and Arif Mardin arranged the track; but they did.

According to the Atlantic Records Discography at jazzdisco.org, this session was done in Memphis on or about March 15, 1968. The studio is not named, but I would assume that it was Chips Moman’s American Sound. The musicians aren’t identified either - other than unhelpfully calling them “the Arif Mardin Orchestra” - but may have included King Curtis and the Kingpins, or the fine house session crew at American, or some of both.

My other pick from the archives by Solomon isn’t sourced from vinyl. It’s from a CD released in 1994 on the New Orleans blues, soul and R&B label, Black Top Records; and I see that it was re-mastered and re-issued back in 2005 by Shout Factory. I highly recommend it.

“Good Rockin’ Tonight” (Roy Brown)
Solomon Burke and the Souls Alive Orchestra, from Live At The House of Blues, Black Top, 1994
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

It’s a track with awesome energy from a live show I wish I had witnessed. Performing in New Orleans, Solomon paid tribute the the city’s musical heritage on this final number by going back to the true beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll, written and originally recorded by the young Roy Brown in 1947. Wynonie Harris covered it fairly quickly, and, as he was a big star at the time with a better studio production, he had the hit with it; but the HOTG roots of this tune are undeniable.

The band for this concert included several local players, including keyboardist Sammy Berfect (who excelled at gospel and R&B, and to whom Solomon gave a shout-out), bassist Lee Allen Zeno (from Lafayette), and numerous members of the outstanding horn section of over 20 pieces! With so much uplifting power coming out of the speakers from this little digital by-product, you can only imagine how mind-blowing it must have been inside the HOB that night in the presence of the King.

One so great may never pass this way again.

Condolences to the families and admirers of Solomon Burke and Diamond Joe, and deep gratitude for the music they blessed us with.

October 05, 2010

Charles Brimmer: The Bitter With The Sweet?

[UPDATED 3/4/2012]

For those of you who actually follow along here, I’m finally putting up some promised cuts by Charles Brimmer from his last album,
Soulman, on Chelsea. When I did my earlier post on him in August, I was looking forward to his scheduled performance at the Ponderosa Stomp; but he didn’t make it, having been taken off the bill for unannounced reasons by the time the show rolled two weekends ago. I hear that he is just not interested in being onstage anymore, which is too bad, as he would have had a highly receptive audience at the House of Blues that night.

There were certainly enough good to great acts at the event to make up for that disappointment, though. The sets by Wallace Johnson and Willie West, the first two on Saturday night, were excellent, if too brief, and ably backed up by Little Buck Sinegal and a re-constituted version of the Topcats. As I first walked in to the main room that night, Buck and the band were burning on “Monkey In A Sack”, his La Louisianne funk classic, to warm up the lucky scattered attendees who got there early. The band did an incredible job accompanying a variety of acts that night, including Barbara Lynn, a true Gulf Coast soul treasure, still at the top of her game and looking fine. The real revelations for me came on the Friday night show, though, seeing performances by Atlanta-based Tommy Brown, and the Relatives from Dallas. Brown, now 80, is a wildly energetic jump-blues shouter and jokester, who has been performing since the 1940s, but was unknown to me. I had read a while back about the Relatives, a gospel group backed by a get-down funky band; but had not heard them before. Their set hit on all cylinders and thoroughly blew me away. In fact, virtually all of the performances were well worth seeing both nights; and the shows ran pretty smoothly on track. Fez’s off to Dr. Ike and the Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau, keepers of the flame. [see photos]

But, enough recap. Back to Brimmer and
Soulman. As I said in the August post, the LP was the second and last of his career, the follow-up to Expressions of Soul, which had sold well due to the inclusion of his 1975 deep soul hit single, “God Bess Our Love”; but, by the time Soulman came out, the buzz created by that hit had faded, and subsequent singles on Chelsea resulted only in diminishing sales. Not having a new hit to lift it, the second album, though well-done, could not overcome the downward trajectory. Although I stated last time that Soulman is generally agreed to be the better LP, after repeated listening, I have to say that both have their attractions. Soulman noses ahead for me due to more and better upbeat material, improved arrangements and playing, and Brimmer’s voice, which seems much more seasoned and expressive, gritter where needed, with a fluid range. Perhaps this had something to do with the intense touring he did as a result of the earlier hit, with all that singing giving his tenor more character and improving his control.

Of the eight tracks on
Soulman, half were groovers. So, I’ve picked two of those to go with this time, both notable in their own way.

“Play Something Sweet” (Allen Toussaint)
Charles Brimmer, from Soulman, Chelsea, 1976
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

One of two Toussaint compositions on the album, “Play Something Sweet” was covered by a number of national artists of the era, including Maria Muldaur, B. J.Thomas, Frankie Miller (a Toussaint production), and Three Dog Night, who had a big hit with it in 1974. I believe that Brimmer’s version was unique in one sense, at least. He was the only local artist to record the song back then. Toussaint didn’t even put it on any of his own solo albums. For some reason, though, Brimmer’s team changed the lyrics of the chorus slightly to say “play me some old time blues”, rather than Toussaint’s intended and more poetically effective “brickyard blues”; but, still, this take, arranged by Raymond Jones, while not groundbreaking, was a strong and solid mover. Anything less would have been unthinkable, since the LP, like its predecessor, was recorded at Sea-Saint Studio, Toussaint’s home turf.

As on most Senator Jones productions, no roster of session players was provided on the LP cover; but Jones generally had access to many of the fine musicians available for work around the studio on any given day. I had originally thought that James Booker was the likely pianist on this track, due to the inventive and intricate keyboard handiwork that enlivened the proceedings from start to fade. But though Booker was regularly playing sessions at Sea Saint, none other than Mr. Brimmer himself has informed us [see his comments to this post] that Anatole Domino, Fat's son and the singer's brother-in-law, was responsible for enhancing this enjoyable performance.

On the album’s other Toussaint-penned offering, the soul-stirring “With You In Mind”, Brimmer gave it an effective and more nuanced performance, befitting the varied dynamics of the tune. Ray Jones was a capable arranger, but certainly no Toussaint. So, one naturally wonders what wonders might have befallen this project had the master himself handled the sessions. That thought may have occurred to Brimmer, too, since he told Jeff Hannusch that he was never satisfied with the production quality of his Chelsea releases, feeling Senator Jones cut too many corners.

“My Sweet Thing” (Willie Mitchell)
Hear it on HOTG Internet Radio

Another thing Charles Brimmer has brought to our attention in his comments is that the composer of this song as well as one of the LP’s big ballads, “I Love Her”, was THE Willie Mitchell - Memphis music master. As the singer states, "He personally gave it ["I Love Her"] to me at his studio in Memphis. He told Senator to go back to New Orleans and duplicate it. Of course, he could not do it." I'll admit that before hearing from him I had my doubts about the authorship of both these tunes credited to the great Poppa Willie.

[A geekish digression: Neither song is shown among the nearly 300 on Willie Mitchell’s BMI list of registered compositions. But, searching the databse by title, both songs show up with "Willie Mitchell" as writer, but showing no BMI affiliation for him! Strange. After finding that at first, I was tending toward the idea that the “Willie Mitchell” credits may have been a contrivance used by Senator Jones to give the LP more cred in Southern soul markets. He was always working some hustle. I thought that both "My Sweet Thing" and "I Love Her" might actually have been written by Brimmer himself.

Now that the singer has verified that the tunes were actuually penned by Mitchell, the only remaining confusion has to do with BMI. There are three separate but related writers’ registrations for “My Sweet Thing” in BMI: Willie Mitchell (Ancy Music & Senator Jones Publishing); Mitzi Mason and Senator Jones (also, Ancy Music & Senator Jones Publishing); and Charles Brimmer (Swing Beat - which is the publishing arm of Tuff City’s empire). Odd indeed. Ancy Music wasn’t one of Mitchell's publishing companies. Meanwhile, Mitzi Mason, on the second listing, is a name that appears along with Jones on the BMI songwriting credits for many records that he “produced”. Typically, the actual records indicated different writers (probably the actual ones!) on the labels, while Jones’ name got registered in the spot that insured he got the royalty checks. I don’t know how Mitzi Mason was involved in all of it, if she even was. There was a pop singer in the 1950s with that name - but what relation she might have had with Jones is a mystery, and might have just been more smoke and mirrors.

Brimmer’s latter day credit on "My Sweet Thing" through Swing Beat suggests perhaps that Tuff City was as confused as I was about all of this. Many thanks to Mr. Brimmer for his clarifications. As for the rest of it, I certainly don't expect him to fathom the enigmatic ways and mind of Senator Jones.]

Now, back to the song, itself, which is a quirky little confection and a testament to the inventive musicianship of Willie Mtichell. Its clever construction and arrangement remind me of something that Wardell Quezergue might have cooked up for King Floyd when they were tolerating each other and making great records earlier in the decade. The seemingly off-kilter ascending.and descending repeating riffs laid over a 4/4 rhythm may be kind of a one-trick-pony gimmick, but I dig the tricky syncopation that resulted. Seems Brimmer got into it, too, his locked-in delivery alternating between soul grit and sugary falsetto highs. All in all, not your ordinary soul or funk outing by any means. Kudos to Ray Jones and the band for making it work so seamlessly that it seems more simple than it really was.

Of the other two upbeat tunes on
Soulman, “Don’t Break My Heart” by Brimmer had the soulful infectious bounce of “Just Another Morning”, while “Your Man’s Gonna Be In Trouble”, written by Tony Owens, a musical take-off on the Bill Withers hit, “Use Me”, groove and all, was as well-rendered as it was derivative. I hope to get back to those at a later date.

As mentioned last time, Chelsea dropped Brimmer soon after, if not right before,
Soulman came out. Either way, the record didn’t have a chance in the marketplace and likely had a limited pressing. That mine is a stock copy rather than a promo indicates that at least a few saw daylight before the curtain fell. After his deal unwound, Brimmer, tired of Senator Jones’ double dealing ways, severed ties and moved to Los Angeles to try to make it in the big time. He did not have much luck gigging out there, nor could he secure a record deal in that intensely competitive scene. One example of his work on the Left Coast can currently be heard via YouTube, an unissued cover of “Show and Tell” definitely directed toward the commercial mainstream. Not that it got him anywhere.

Finally, in 1983, Brimmer recorded one more single, this time produced by his brother, Ivory, at Sea-Saint. Once again, Senator Jones got in on the action, taking a co-producer credit. He couldn’t get a piece of the song, though, since it was cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover”, with an instrumental version on the flip side. The track had all the trappings of an early 1980s session, with synthesizers and a plodding drum machine on the backing track; but, despite the rather soulless accompaniment, Brimmer managed to pull off a nice vocal performance. Issued on the short-lived King Kokomo label (likely a Jones joint, as well), the single was a virtual non-starter.

Having supported himself and his family with his accounting skills over the years, while seeking his vocal fortune off and on in his spare time, Brimmer pretty much set performing and recording aside for the business world after that last record. If he has looked back from time to time, for whatever reasons, he has not been moved to step in front of a microphone again in many years. I’m sure the slot on the P-Stomp must have been tempting, though; but the music business memories may be more bitter than sweet for him. If he ever changes his mind about going public, I hope I can be there to root him on.