Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Betty LaVette - He Made A Woman Out Of Me (Silver Fox 17)

He Made A Woman Out Of Me

Hey y'all. Just dropping in here to say a few words about the positively excellent show that Bettye LaVette put on last night at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan. At 61 years old, the 'Great Lady Of Soul' has still got it going on!

After some forty six years in 'the business', Betty has lived it all. At sixteen years old, Atlantic Records picked up a single she had made for Johnnie Mae Matthews (the 'Godmother Of Detroit Soul'), My Man - He's A Lovin' Man, and sent it all the way to #7 R&B in late 1962. After her follow-up, You'll Never Change, failed to make much noise, Atlantic dropped her. When a one-off single for Robert West's LuPine label back in Michigan didn't do much, Betty headed for the big town.

Becoming a part of the burgeoning New York Soul scene, she began working with Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford, whose amazing R&B revue performed regularly at places like Small's Paradise up in Harlem. A song Dee Dee wrote for her would become the second release on the brand new Calla label, and Betty would make it her own, taking Let Me Down Easy into the R&B top twenty in the spring of 1965. After two more Calla releases failed to chart, Betty moved on to labels like Big Wheel and Karen, but nothing much was happening.

I'm not sure how she got hooked up with the 'Silver Fox', aka Lelan Rogers (yes, he's Kenny's brother), but I'm sure glad she did! This absolutely incendiary hunk of sweltering sexy southern soul we have here today just kills me. Whew! Like one of those Tony Joe White swamp songs on steroids, it cranked its way to #25 R&B as 1969 turned into 1970, despite being banned by many radio stations down south. I'm not sure of the session details here, but it sure sounds like Muscle Shoals to me...

[listen, I just got the incredible My Goodness, Yes!, the Sundazed Silver Fox collection, and according to the liner notes, Betty met Lelan through Kenny himself, when he was the lead singer of the First Edition and she covered their Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) for Ollie McLaughlin on Karen... our selection here today was cut at Sounds Of Memphis Studio with the Jim Dickinson led band that was soon to become Jerry Wexler's Dixie Flyers. There ya go.]

When the follow-up for Silver Fox, Do Your Duty, broke the R&B top forty as well, Shelby Singleton began releasing Betty's 45s on his primary imprint, SSS International.

By 1972, however, he had apparently lost interest. Atlantic re-signed Ms. LaVette to their Atco subsidiary soon after that, sending her back to Detroit to work with Ollie McLaughlin (whom she had recorded with in her Karen days). They came up with a soulful cover of Neil Young's Heart Of Gold (Atco 6891) that, unfortunately, died on the vine. They had big plans for Betty, and flew her down to Muscle Shoals later that year to record a full length album, tentatively entitled Child Of The Seventies.

With producer Brad Shapiro in tow, Betty cut what she felt was the best music of her career down there in November of 1972. Your Turn To Cry (Atco 6913), an achingly beautiful rendition of a 1971 Joe Simon tune, was released as a single in early 1973. When that missed the charts as well, Atlantic pulled the plug on the album, and never released it. Betty was shattered. She couldn't believe it. Those tapes, after lying dormant in a vault somewhere for like thirty years, were finally issued on a French CD entitled Souvenirs in 2001. More recently, the kind folks at Rhino have released it as part of their limited edition 'handmade' series under it's original title, Child Of The Seventies. It's REALLY good, man. Buy one.

Her stellar performance last night combined elements from all of those early years with some of the the top shelf work she's been creating recently. Her Handy Award winning 2003 effort A Woman Like Me, along with 2005's I've Got My Own Hell To Raise (which was produced by Joe Henry... no not the Joe Henry mentioned in today's selection!), have proved to the world that Bettye LaVette is still a force to be reckoned with.

The material from the new album just gave me chills, as Bettye put her heart and soul into compositions by folks like Elton John and Willie Nelson, giving them new life in the process.
Her crack touring band, led by musical director Alan Hill, moved effortlessly between the decades, and gave Bettye plenty of room to stretch out. At once intimate and in-your-face, this was an evening I won't soon forget.

You go, girl!

On the new album, recorded at Fame down in Muscle Shoals (The Scene Of The Crime, get it?), Bettye is backed by the way-cool Drive By Truckers, the cookin' band which features good ol' Spooner Oldham on the keyboards, and is led by guitarist Patterson Hood, the son of 'Swamper' David Hood, who also shows up on the album.

It was just released today. Get one.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bobby Byrd - Keep On Doin' What You're Doin' (Brownstone 4205)

Keep On Doin' What You're Doin'

So here we are saying goodbye to yet another giant of this music, Bobby Byrd, an absolutely pivotal figure in the history of Soul.

I don't know if you'd be right to say that without Bobby Byrd, there would never have been a James Brown, but you'd be close. It was Bobby who took James under his wing, and welcomed him as a member of his own family after he helped get him paroled from a Georgia juvenile prison in 1952. It was Bobby who welcomed him into his Gospel quartet, The Avons, a group which would soon 'cross-over' and rename themselves The Famous Flames.

While Brown soon asserted himself as the leader, Bobby didn't seem to mind. "I've never seen a man work so hard in my whole life," he said, "...it was hard to keep up. He was all the time driving, driving, driving." That fire inside soon translated into a record deal with Syd Nathan in 1956. Whether it was early vocal group sides like Please, Please, Please and Try Me, or groundbreaking classics like Out Of Sight and Cold Sweat, It's important to remember that all of Godfather's King and Federal sides were credited to 'James Brown And The Famous Flames', right up until late 1968.

Their incredible run of over 45 R&B chart hits (placing over 20 in the top ten, including five #1's) during that 12 year period just boggles the mind. The Flames' soulful moan, along with their precision dance steps, helped define the James Brown experience, and have become an indelible part of our culture. After original Flames Bobby Bennett and 'Baby Lloyd' Stallworth walked (in a squabble over money soon after #2 R&B smash Licking Stick-Licking Stick), Bobby Byrd stepped into his role as 'Soul Brother Number One and a Half' (as Fred Wesley would come to call him).

It's hard to imagine what songs like Soul Power, Make It Funky, Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, and I'm A Greedy Man might have sounded like without Bobby's equally important (yet uncredited) vocals. As I've mentioned before, the banter between Bobby and James (saying things like, "Don't get so funky!" "I can't help it, Byrd") just does me in. Soul personified, y'all. His keyboard skills and songwriting abilities would prove equally essential in those days as the James Brown Band evolved into The J.B.'s.

Byrd's solo records are just as important, as he took James Brown productions like I Need Help (I Can't Do It Alone) and the mighty, mighty I Know You Got Soul onto the charts in the early seventies. He and his wife Vicki Anderson would become an integral part of JB's People label, and produce some of the funkiest music this planet has ever heard. This high energy mover we have here today, issued for some reason on Brownstone (another Polydor subsidiary) would crack the R&B top 40 in early 1972. Get out da way! This is just as tight as it gets, man. Shortly after the release of this monster, Byrd would leave all of it behind, finally tired of 'not getting paid'.

Although he charted twice more on his own, by 1975, he was basically off the map.

He and Vicki continued to perform overseas, and a whole new generation of fans was waiting as Polydor began it's ambitious CD reissue campaign in the mid eighties. Despite their differences with him over the years, both Bobby and Vicki were there last December in Augusta as James Brown lie in state. I'll never forget watching him perform I Know You Got Soul that one last time with the solid gold casket of his fellow Flame there at his feet...

Fred Wesley won't you blow one time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Wild Magnolias - Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right) (Barclay 30)

Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Right)

When my partner Dan Phillips emailed me just three days ago to tell me that Willie Tee was hospitalized with terminal cancer, I couldn't believe it.

As Dan had reported only five weeks before, Willie's brother Earl Turbinton (aka the African Cowboy) had lost his long battle with cancer himself on August 3rd. It seemed positively unthinkable that this could be happening. What a blow to the family.

When I received an email this morning that Willie had passed on, it just knocked me down.

I saw Willie perform with the New Orleans Social Club at Jazz Fest this year, and stood there with Dan in Lafayette Square In New Orleans on May 3rd watching his killer set with Galactic and Chief Bo Dollis. Little did I know it would be the last time I'd ever see him.

I met Willie and his wife Marilyn in Memphis after his set at the Ponderosa Stomp last year. I had just driven up from New Orleans, where I had spoken to Snooks Eaglin before his show at the Rock 'n Bowl with Eddie Bo. It was soon after Katrina, and New Orleans was still basically a ghost town. We talked about the Wild Magnolias (members of which were supposed to show up that night), and the landmark 1974 album Snooks had recorded with them as part of the 'New Orleans Project', the smokin' band organized by Wilson and Earl Turbinton.

"Where Willie Tee at?" Snooks asked me. I had to tell him I didn't know. When I told Willie that Snooks had been asking about him, he broke into a wide smile."That's one of my favorite people on earth, man..." We talked, and we talked. I think Willie was glad to speak with someone who had just been 'home', as he hadn't been back since right after the storm. I ended up driving Willie and Marilyn to their hotel (after we got lost a couple of times), and they were just such sweet and genuine people. Willie gave me his card, and told me about the gig he had just gotten as 'artist in residence' at Princeton University in New Jersey.

I told him I was on my way to Jackson, Mississippi to check out the Malaco Studios, and he told me he was headed there next to visit family as well... why didn't I give his cell phone a call when I got into town, and maybe we could go together. I was floored. What a nice thing to do, man. When I did get to Jackson a few days later, Willie told me that his grandkids had taken the day out of school to be with their Grandpa... we both agreed that family came first.

To the Turbintons, family always came first.

Perhaps the title of the 1988 Rounder album Earl made with Willie said it all - Brothers For Life.

Brothers Forever.
A funeral Mass will be held on September 22nd:
Our Lady Star Of The Sea Church
1835 St. Roch
New Orleans

The same church where Earl's funeral was held on August 11th.

My heartfelt condolences to the Turbinton family.