Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Isaac Hayes - Let's Stay Together (Enterprise 9045)

Let's Stay Together

Here's another superb example of the interaction between Stax and Hi.

Like I was saying over on the other side, Al Green's Let's Stay Together was an unqualified smash. Released in December of 1971, it would go on to spend four months on the R&B charts, including nine weeks in the number one position, while climbing it's way to the top of the pop charts for a week in February of 1972. To say that it was a big hit would be an understatement. It was a phenomenon. A landmark record in so many ways, it ushered in a new era in the history of Memphis Soul. Written by Al Green, Al Jackson and Willie Mitchell, it represented the culmination of everything that had gone before it, and altered the landscape of R&B in the process.

Another record that had done something along those same lines was the Theme From Shaft, which had topped the pop charts itself just three months before, transforming Isaac Hayes from a little known songwriter and performer into an iconic figure who lived up to the moniker Black Moses. Do Your Thing, the follow-up single taken from the Shaft album, would go to #3 R&B during the same time frame that Al Green owned the top slot for those two months in early 1972. This sweet cover of Al's monumental recording would be Isaac's next release.

I just love it.

According to the label, the orchestra on here was conducted by the legendary Onzie Horne, who had worked with Duke Ellington before becoming a professor of music at Rust College, where he taught the young Willie Mitchell a thing or two about arrangements. Isaac doesn't sing on the record, because that's him playing that smoky alto saxophone! How very cool is that? Conceived, I'm sure, as a shout out to all involved, it spent two months of its own on the R&B charts, peaking at #25 that spring.

Soulsville, baby.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jimmy Hughes - Neighbor, Neighbor (Fame 1003)

Neighbor, Neighbor

Here's the hit 45 version of Neighbor, Neighbor that charged into the R&B top five in 1966. Jimmy Hughes told me on the phone that Ray Stevens was the guy who came in and 'funked it up' on this re-recorded version of a Huey Meaux tune that was released as an album track two years before.

Ray Stevens? Like, Everything Is Beautiful Ray Stevens?

Well, I did a little digging around and found out a few things.

As a young station manager at WGST in Atlanta, Bill Lowery started up his own publishing company in the early fifities. He held the rights to Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula when it broke wide open in 1956, which helped him expand into all aspects of the business. In 1958, Lowery founded the National Recording Corporation (NRC), which would include his own record pressing plant, distributorship and studio. He hired some young musicians, and formed a top-notch rhythm section that included Jerry Reed, Joe South and, yes, Ray Stevens. He was affiliated with many area record labels, most notably JUDD, which was run by Sam Phillips' brother, Jud. By late 1961, for whatever reason, the company went bankrupt, and lost its studio and all its assets.

After re-organizing, Lowery got wind of Rick Hall's studio in Muscle Shoals, a few hours drive away. He got his band back together and began making the trip to cut some sides on a new vocal group he had signed called The Tams, who would break into the R&B top ten in early 1964 with What Kind Of Fool (Do You Think That I Am). Lowery brought his crew with him, which by then also included Felton Jarvis and Tommy Roe. His musicians worked side by side with Hall's 'first rhythm section' of Norbert Putnam, Jerry Carrigan and David Briggs, and cut some great records in the process.

It was these 'city boys' that put the idea into the heads of the homegrown talent that they could be making a lot more money in Nashville, as there was always plenty of session work to go around. Eventually the local boys left, and went on to their own incredible heights in Music City. Hall just kind of shrugged it off, and fashioned a new rhythm section that would, some say, dwarf the accomplishments of the first one.

They were young, though, and it took a while for people coming in from the outside to put their trust in them. When Buddy Killen cut Joe Tex there, he brought in some member's of Joe's road band and, as we all know, Jerry Wexler brought in Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill to work on the early Fame recorded Atlantic sides.

Rick Hall, apparently, did the same thing.

This positively crankin' record we have here today was released on May 28, 1966. According to our compadre Bob Wilson, John R was all over it, and played it on his show all summer long. The song just knocked Bob out, and he made sure he tuned in to WLAC just so he could hear it. When he ended up becoming Richbourg's session leader in Nashville, he 'went nuts' when John told him that they were going to Fame to record Joe Simon in 1967. The first question he asked Rick Hall was; "Who played the guitar on Neighbor, Neighbor?" "Joe South," Rick said.

Joe South? Like, Games People Play Joe South?

Yes, indeed. It would appear then, judging by what Jimmy Hughes said about Ray Stevens being there, and what Rick told Wilson over forty years ago, that the rocking, funky band on here must be Bill Lowery's NRC crew, rocking it all the way into the top five.

Cool, huh?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sam Taylor, Jr. - The Stinger (GRT 12)

The Stinger


I just got the sad news that Long Island legend Sam 'Bluzman' Taylor passed away yesterday after his long struggle with heart disease.

Like Little Buster before him, his 'Blues' identity tended to obscure his soulful roots. He started out on the Junior label in 1959 as Good Rockin' Sammy "T", with single releases (under a variety of names) for at least ten other companies (including Capitol, Atlantic and Enjoy) during the sixties and seventies... but that's not all. He was a founding member of Joey Dee & The Starliters, whose standing gig at The Peppermint Lounge led to one of the biggest hits of 1961. He then spent years as the Musical Director for New York Soul Queen Maxine Brown, and as an in-demand chitlin' circuit guitarist backing up everyone from The Isleys to Otis Redding.

This red hot record we have here was lifted from his much sought after 1969 GRT LP, The Tunnels Of My Mind. Just dripping with soul, Taylor's high energy delivery takes no prisoners. "Let me spell it for ya - S.A.M.!" Simply amazing stuff. The rest of the album cranks as well (special thanks to our friend Kevin Kiley for sending along the audio), with soulful versions of songs like Dark End Of The Street and Hey Girl that will give you chills... but that's not all.

Sam was the man behind those infectious disco-era hits by the B.T. Express, like Do It ('Til You're Satisfied) and Peace Pipe, something I never knew until now. I admit it, I loved that stuff. 'Disco' or not, it was homegrown Brooklyn funk (even though it was recorded out in La-La land). The left coast took it's toll on Sam, I'm told, and he wound up drying out in Arizona, which is where he would begin to re-invent himself as the 'Bluzman' (like so many others were doing around the same time).

He built quite a following in and around Tuscon, and the Blues CDs he released in the nineties are as good as anything else out there. Eventually, Sam came on home, and took up residence as Long Island's own Ambassador of the Blues. I guess I kind of took him for granted... he'd always be there on stage somewhere in Port Jefferson or out here in Riverhead at the Blues Fest or at some bar in Bay Shore or Patchogue. I could turn on my radio and listen to his incredible 'Blues With A Feeling' show on WUSB every Friday. He was an actor, an author, one hell of a songwriter, and just a cookin' guitar player.

I guess the last time I saw him was at the Get Busterized! tribute a couple of years ago. He was absolutely fantastic.

There will be a public viewing tomorrow, Wednesday, January 7th, from 4pm until 7pm at the Moloney Funeral Home at 130 Carleton Avenue in Central Islip, New York.

A private ceremony will be held on Thursday in Brooklyn for family and close friends.

The public service will be held on Friday, January 9th at 11am at the Moloney Funeral Home, followed by a procession out to Calverton National Cemetery, where he will be buried.

Please join Sam's family and friends for a celebration of his life and music tomorrow night, January 7th, at Bobbique in Patchogue at 8pm.

...and Keep The Blues Alive.