June 30, 1973: Bobby Womack, S.O.U.L., The Montclairs, Bill Withers, Don Covay

Stateside singles

Our exclusive service to RM readers. James Hamilton listens to records so far only available in the US.

BOBBY WOMACK: Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out (UA).
Possibly the last time that this old song was given an R&B treatment was as the adventurous B-side of the Hesitations’ 1968 “The Impossible Dream”. It now gets a slinky sensuous bass-driven slow reading in Bobby’s inimitable hoarsely screaming Gospel-ish derivation of the Marvin Gaye sound, a style with which Womack has become progressively more popular amongst an ever-widening audience with each new LP release. Following “Communication”, “Understanding” and the shared soundtrack, “Across 110th Street” (all of which are available here), his latest US hit album from whence comes this hit single is “Facts Of Life”. Do give him a listen.

S.O. U. L.: This Time Around (Musicor).
Standing for “Sounds Of Unity And Love”, S.O.U.L. are one of those modern R&B groups who draw on many influences, not unlike such as War, Bobby Womack, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. This, their latest R&B hit, is particularly reminiscent of the latter’s “What’s Going On”, in fact, and is a very pretty amalgamation of cool lead, chunkily schlerping rhythm, tootling flute and underlying melodic chords created by the ethereal wordless harmonies of the group. A lovely record, even if not entirely original.

THE MONTCLAIRS: Prelude To A Heartbreak (Paula).
Are these the “Happy Feet Time” Montclairs? Their first R&B hit for years, this Oliver Sain co-production is a wailing slowie which starts with a muttered rap over a sexily soaring sax before the lead singer emotionally swoops through the lush strings, sax and group backing. Old-fashioned and smoochy in sound, it’s almost a throw-back to the late ’60’s. Continue reading “June 30, 1973: Bobby Womack, S.O.U.L., The Montclairs, Bill Withers, Don Covay”

June 23, 1973: The Osmonds, Four Tops, Diana Ross, Pep Brown, The Dells

STOP PRESS SINGLE REVIEW
Osmonds go for a Slade sound

THE OSMONDS: Goin’ Home (American MGM).
The Osmonds rock (writes James Hamilton) on their new American hit! Not only do they feature pounding piano, clanging guitars, buzzing clavinet (or some such other electric keyboard), and a chattering straight-ahead stomp beat, but also their frantic vocals include more than a touch of that Slade sound – especially where they emphasize the line: “I’ve gotta FIGHT, fight, fight, all day, and night, and day, ALL RIGHT!” Sorry I can’t say with authority which brother is singing lead (it’s not Donny or Jimmy!); whoever he is, his uninhibited rawly straining voice is just right, and is well backed up on the emphatic bits by the hollering full sound of the others. Yeah more than a touch of Slade. And a good solid rocker.


STRAIGHT FROM THE STATES

Our exclusive review service to R. M. readers. James Hamilton looks at the singles just released in the States.

FOUR TOPS: Are You Man Enough (Dunhill).
First “Shaft,” then “Shaft’s Big Score.” Now, are you ready for . . . “Shaft In Africa”? Yup, Ricky Roundtree will next be seen on the cinema screen taking giant steps all over the dark continent – as, coincidentally, will Ron O’Neal in the “Super Fly” follow-up. “Shaft In Africa” features music by the Four Tops, and this Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter–penned/produced piece of moody machismo is, if not the title song, certainly the big number. Strange, then, that it resembles the O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers” in just about every respect bar the words! Anyway, there’s always room for another Gamble & Huff dancer in discos, and this blends in with the genuine article pretty well. Uh, before we leave movieland – do go see “Slither,” it’s the flick that’s given me most satisfaction so far this year.

DIANA ROSS: Touch Me In The Morning (Motown).
The title track from divine Di’s new album, this brand new, non-Billie Holiday, tender slowie presents La Ross in a mature and unstrident mood, which may well be a result of lessons learnt while training for the “Lady Sings The Blues” vocal approach. The song itself is nothing unusual for her – it starts dead slow with just piano behind her wistful tones, then she breathes a “hey!” and the slow tinkle rhythm begins before the pace quickens and she gets into a typical fast, staccato chorus. The new difference is that even when the tempo accelerates and her voice rises, at no time does her old piercing shrill shriek spoil the easy listening qualities of the record. Still, what’s good news for some may be bad for others! Continue reading “June 23, 1973: The Osmonds, Four Tops, Diana Ross, Pep Brown, The Dells”

June 16, 1973: Rance Allen Group, Beautiful Zion Missionary Baptist Church Choir, Inez Andrews, Chairmen Of The Board, Melanie, Jerry Jeff Walker

Straight from the States

THE RANCE ALLEN GROUP: Gonna Make It Alright; I Got To Be Myself (The Gospel Truth).
I named the voice of Rance Allen as my “Tip For The Future” in our recent “Soulsation ’73” supplement, which means that the chap had better deliver or I’ll be upset! On his currently rising R&B hit (listed here as the B-side), he is poorly served by a clumsily constructed song, although his incredible swooping, Jackie Wilson-ish voice cuts through. However, it’s on the purer, simpler “Alright” side (straight Gospel) that his remarkable style comes into its own. The song is along age-old lines, used also by Marv Johnson’s “You Got What It Takes“, and the backing is just electric piano, tambourine, bass and guitar (the tempo even goes astray at one point!), which allow Rance to soar, squeal and scream in his spine-tinglingly exciting way. He’s now on his second Gospel market-intended single to go R&B, and his earlier “There’ll Be A Showdown” and “Truth Is Where It’s At” album are both at number five on the Gospel Singles and Albums Chart, so it looks as though he IS winning through in America. How long before he gets British recognition?

BEAUTIFUL ZION MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH CHOIR: I’ll Make It All Right (Myrrh).
Now, this Willie Henderson-arranged/produced Gospel record (on the Myrrh subsidiary of the religioso Word, Inc, of Waco, Texas, for whom Pat Boone has recorded inspirational ditties), is the same song in general as Rance Allen’s “Gonna Make It Alright”. It’s also on the R&B Chart and at number four Gospel. Here it’s given the big choir, lead chick and answering multitude, “Oh Happy Day”-type treatment, to a fast rhythm.

INEZ ANDREWS: Lord Don’t Move The Mountain (Song Bird).
The fourth pure Gospel record to go R&B in recent months, Inez’s calmly rasping treatment of the bass, guitar, organ and drums-backed slow and solid beater is still at number two Gospel, having topped the Chart. What is the cause of this new trend towards accepting straight (albeit accessibly treated) Gospel in R&B station programming? Was it the Vietnam Nam? Whatever, it’s good to see the roots of so much R&B being given non-specialist support.

Our new service for  YOU

THIS week Record Mirror – the pop weekly that REALLY covers the record scene – has expanded its review section into a special four-page pull-out to bring you even more record and live reviews, every week. Featured are
British and American albums and singles. 

Editor’s Note: From this week, James’s American Singles reviews are given a whole page of their own, split off from his “Straight From The States” import reviews which continue on a separate page.

Continue reading “June 16, 1973: Rance Allen Group, Beautiful Zion Missionary Baptist Church Choir, Inez Andrews, Chairmen Of The Board, Melanie, Jerry Jeff Walker”

June 9, 1973: Bobby (Boris) Pickett, Manhattans, Johnny Williams, Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Asleep At The Wheel

Straight from the States

BOBBY (BORIS) PICKETT AND THE CRYPT-KICKERS: Monster Mash (Parrot).
Just to let you know that, following the initiative of some West Coast jocks, this 1962 classic is Charted and climbing, once again!

MANHATTANS: There’s No Me Without You (Columbia).
Rhythm & Blues hit-makers since 1964, these guys have yet to break big Pop. Now, however, following the success of the Philly Sound and the increased profits that they have discovered through their new involvement with R&B, Columbia Records have signed up the group and given them to Philly’s Bobby Martin, who has produced them on this superb slowie (which is already climbing Pop). A powerfully harmonized dead slow throbbing thumper, it features crystal-clear unison note-holding, meandering lead and a sexy gruff rap – the whole being a bit reminiscent of the Dells. If you dig the Blue Notes, you’ll love this!

JOHNNY WILLIAMS: Put It In Motion (Philadelphia International).
One of late-’72 / early-’73’s biggest-selling sleepers, which bubbled under the Hot 100 for months on end, Johnny’s Slow Motion was an out-of-character Gamble & Huff production, being a brassy dancer. Now continuing the same Motion, but at a much faster tempo, the team’s newie is still brassy in the background but much more in the G&H hustling groove (arranged by Thom Bell), which should help its chances when it’s issued here. Continue reading “June 9, 1973: Bobby (Boris) Pickett, Manhattans, Johnny Williams, Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s, Asleep At The Wheel”

June 2, 1973: Smokey Robinson, The Ebonys, Soft Tones, Jim Stafford, Glen Campbell

Straight from the States

SMOKEY ROBINSON: Sweet Harmony (Tamla).
“This song is dedicated to some people with whom I had the pleasure of spending over half the years I’ve lived till now, when we’ve come to our fork in the road, and though our feet may travel a different path from now on, I want them to know how I feel about them, and that I wish them well.” With that spoken intro, Smokey launches into his first solo record since leaving the Miracles. The words to the rest of the Slowie are along the lines of encouragement to the group to go on singing sweet harmony and spread joy around the World. Isn’t that nice? It’s a pity that, while the words and singing of Smokey are good, the actual melody is monotonous.

THE EBONYS: It’s Forever (Philadephia International).
Penned by Leon Huff alone, arranged by Bobby Martin and produced by Gamble & Huff, this exquisite, shimmering strings, spine-tingling stately dead slowie features some breathtaking falsetto wailing offset against the gruff bellowing of the main lead singer. Hopefully it won’t take too long in coming out here, because it’s one that all lovers of the slower Philly Sound will want to hear.

SOFT TONES: I’m Gonna Prove It (Avco).
Arranged by Sammy Lowe and produced by Avco’s bosses, Hugo & Luigi, this is another exquisite (though less dramatic) dead slowie, more in the straight Sweet Soul style, with a pastoral type of lazy backing. Continue reading “June 2, 1973: Smokey Robinson, The Ebonys, Soft Tones, Jim Stafford, Glen Campbell”

May 26, 1973: SOULsation ’73: seven-page supplement, edited and compiled by James Hamilton

SOULsation ’73
Edited and compiled by JAMES HAMILTON

RECORD Mirror’s ace reviewer of the American Singles scene, “Doctor Soul” himself, was saying in print in 1969 that Al Green would be a future superstar, and that Gamble & Huff would one day rule! Read what he has to say today! And remember, no one else reviews pre-release Soul singles “Straight From The States” in any other weekly music paper! SOUL-sational!

Britain’s taste in Soul reflected by America’s more subtle approach

GREAT things have happened since our last Soul Special – who would have guessed that Britain would suddenly go overboard for the Philly Sound? Maybe Motown’s move from Detroit to Los Angeles has affected it, but for one reason or another the label does seem to have lost some ground in the British Charts – ground that Philadelphian producers Thom Bell and Gamble & Huff have eagerly taken up, with hits by The O’Jays, Stylistics, (Detroit) Spinners, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Archie Bell & The Drells, Billy Paul. Now Norman Harris’s First Choice are in the Chart too.

The Detroit Emeralds have had a hit with their least successful US single, and are consolidating their position with a re-issued million-seller. Stevie Wonder is the only old Detroit star doing much here – The Jackson 5’s Chart placings have been surprisingly poor in the light of their supposedly fanatical fan following. At least Gladys Knight & The Pips have finally broken through. Timmy Thomas and Deodato are out-of-left-field ones who thankfully caught your fancy. All in all, Britain’s taste is beginning to reflect the current American fashion for less frantic, more subtle Soul . . . which can only be good.

In America itself it has been the Philly Sound all the way, too. The Detroit Spinners with I’ll Be Around, Could It Be I’m Falling In Love and One Of A Kind (Love Affair) are as hot for Thom Bell as The Stylistics were before them, the latter group only scoring big with I’m Stone In Love With You during the same period. Thom’s also up there via New York City’s I’m Doin’ Fine Now and Ronnie Dyson’s One Man Band (Plays All Alone). Gamble & Huff are of course the success story of the season: hit LP’s by The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, and hit singles from those LP’s with Back Stabbers, 992 Arguments, Love Train, Time To Get Down, I Miss You, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, Everyday I Have The Blues, Me & Mrs. Jones, Am I Black Enough For You. They’ve also had some success with The Intruders, Johnny Williams, Bunny Sigler, The Ebonys.

Motown has been doing much better in America than here, although even there it looks as though the Jackson 5 are slipping. Stevie Wonder’s smash Talking Book LP has spawned Chart-toppers with Superstition and You Are The Sunshine Of My Life while Marvin Gaye’s soundtrack score of Trouble Man made a big LP and single. Gladys Knight left Motown for Buddah, with the sentiment that Neither One Of Us Want To Be The First To Say Goodbye, a sentiment which earned her the biggest hit of her career. Jermaine Jackson’s accurate revival of the Daddy’s Home oldie was a deserved smash. And Motown won the Grammy with The Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone.

Producer / performer / label boss Willie Mitchell kept it all nasty at Hi, where the Memphis label’s superstar Al Green walked off with his sixth gold single and third gold album. Al is the star of the year, and has usurped James Brown’s position as the biggest crowd puller in R&B. In a similarly understated way, Bobby Womack’s Understanding LP continued to be a steady-selling sleeper hit, and he got into movie soundtracks with Across 110th Street. Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly score and its assorted singles, including one of Give Me Your Love by Barbara Mason, was the leader in the black movie score field, though an annoying misunderstanding barred it at the last minute from being considered for an Oscar.

As in Britain, Timmy Thomas’s Why Can’t We Live Together? and Deodato’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001) intrigued huge audiences. War went straight to the top with their The World Is A Ghetto LP, after their All Day Music album had been one of last year’s most consistent sellers. And in a similarly inventive mood, Britain’s Cymande did commendably well with The Message.

If Britain’s taste continues to mellow like it evidently has been, how long before such groups as Cymande have a chance at home? Now, go out and buy Sylvia’s Pillow Talk and Barry White’s I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby, and learn to relax some more!


THE PHILADELPHIA STORY

AS you walk down towards South Street (that’s where the hippies meet), some of the architecture you see reminds you of London’s Bloomsbury – the same Regency elegance, in atmosphere if not in fact, for Philadelphia is as old as America gets. Here was signed the Declaration Of Independence, here is the home of the Liberty Bell.

When you get to South Street, a scruffy tawdry entertainment-lined thoroughfare, you step into Krass Brothers’ clothing store, and the reason for Philadelphia’s modern fame is before your eyes. Everywhere, the walls of this warehouse are plastered with publicity photographs of all the aspiring singers and groups who have come to the Brothers for their ready-to-wear stage gear. Philadelphia is old and it’s big, and if a boy is poor he can maybe break out of it by becoming a star.

Why are you, from England, in the Krass Brothers’ emporium, anyway? Well, brother Ben has a music publishing firm called Krasbe, and this is its address. You’ve seen its name coupled with Downstairs Music on an interesting record label: the other words read, Gonna Be Strong (Gamble-Huff) The Intruders Produced by Gamble & Huff, Excel EX 101. The year is 1966, and you are there at the start of the modern day Philadelphia Story.

The older story began in the ’50s, when Philadelphia became home of the “American Bandstand” TV show, the teenagers’ televised record hop, which Dick Clark still comperes (but from California now). Back then it was the poor white Italian community which spawned forth their Frankie Avalons, Fabians, James Darrens, Bobby Rydells, who became boob tube-created singing idols over -night.

Cameo/Parkway was the local record label which entered the ’60s with a bang. By then there were black artistes getting a look in, and Rock ‘n Roll was becoming a bore to dance. Chubby Checker covered Hank Ballard’s dance tune, The Twist, and a new era dawned. Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann and Dave Appell of Cameo/Parkway had found a winner, and they went on to pen/produce dance craze records like Pony Time, The Fly, Mashed Potato Time, Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes), The Wah-Watusi, Bristol Stomp, and the immortal Let’s Twist Again for Chubby, Dee Dee Sharp, the Orlons and the Dovells.

During the mid-’60s attention switched from Philadelphia to Detroit, Memphis, and London. Whatever happened locally tended to be handled at some stage by Harold Lipsious, lawyer head of the Jamie/Guyden group of labels, just as his associates Huey Meaux and Dick Clark had a finger in any small-size pie in the South and West, respectively. Bob Finiz, producer of Claudine Clark’s The Strength To Be Strong, was working at Jamie with Brenda & the Tabulations: Brenda’s voice and that of Barbara Mason established a distinctive house style for Philadelphian girls. Dee Dee Sharp married a songwriter whose name was beginning to appear on R & B records, Kenny Gamble. Another name was Leon Huff.

Arguably, New York’s Teddy Randazzo produced a precursor of the modern Philadelphia, or “Philly”, Sound with his mid-’60s hits for Little Anthony & the Imperials, whose style had many of the qualities later to be associated with Sweet Soul. However, it was certainly the teaming of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with the Intruders which realized the first true Philly Sound hit in 1966, United (released here 19.8.66). By the time that the same team were hitting a year later with Together, Gamble & Huff’s reputation was growing amongst Soul Freaks but their sound, although identifiable, was in fact not so far removed from the New York-recorded results of producer George Kerr’s work with the O’Jays. In November ’67, Gamble & Huff’s gimmicky Expressway To Your Heart topped the Hot 100 (by the Soul Survivors) and seemed to clear the way for the crystallization of their definitive Philly Sound smash, the Intruders’ Cowboys To Girls, which hit during the following Spring.

The Intruders, four handsome slim young men, were now drawing screams from black teenaged girls, although they could still not be thought of as singing Sweet Soul as we know it. It was later that Summer that three even sexier young Philadelphians got as sweet as they were able – the Delfonics, on La La Means I Love You. Thus producer/arranger Thom Bell first made his presence felt.

Thom Bell had already been working as an arranger and writer, in a somewhat subordinate position to Bobby Martin (responsible for The Horse amongst others), with Gamble & Huff on their sessions with Jerry Butler. Soul veteran Butler, The Ice Man, had been drifting from one producer to another before having some renewed success at the hands of Philadelphia’s Jerry Ross. Gamble & Huff were called on to write for him, and soon took over his production too. There followed an extremely profitable and artistically satisfying collaboration between Gamble, Huff and Butler, which more than anything else helped put the Philadelphian team on the map. Thom Bell became more closely involved too, as time went by, and was replacing Huff in the hit composer credits by 1969 – such as Moody Woman and A Brand New Me were Gamble-Bell-Butler songs.

To accompany their Gamble label, which starred the Intruders, Gamble & Huff formed Neptune, to which they have provided a shot in the arm with Wilson Pickett, Joe Simon, Laura Nyro and the Chambers Brothers. Thom Bell was producing Little Anthony & the Imperials as well as the Delfonics, and then hit his winning streak with the ultimate Sweet Soul group, the Stylistics. To consolidate their position, Gamble & Huff joined the mighty Columbia Records (CBS) distribution set-up when they formed their Philadelphia International label last year, with results which probably staggered even them: album and album track hits by the O’Jays and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and, with Billy Paul’s Me & Mrs. Jones, the top selling single over the Christmas period.

The Philly Sound is big business – strange, then, that it should stem from just one recording studio, where most people seem to help each other regardless of their own commitments. This is Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, at which Joe Tarsia is the over-worked engineer responsible for nearly all the Philly Sounds we hear. Everyone who works there, be it as producer, arranger or musician, is a member of a sort of co-operative, and works in one or other capacity on most of the sessions. Thus Gamble & Huff get arrangements from Thom Bell, Bobby Martin, Norman Harris, Lenny Pakula, Ronnie Baker, Roland Chambers, all of whom probably are playing on those sessions they are not themselves producing. Roles blur, so that it becomes difficult to tell who is responsible for what on which records.

No longer is it the record label which immediately indicates the Philadelphian source of the music, unlike in the days of Cameo and Jamie. True, Gamble & Huff’s work does now tend to be on either Philadelphia International or Gamble (CBS and Epic here), but Thom Bell’s hits with the Stylistics, (Detroit) Spinners, New York City and Ronnie Dyson, to name a few, are spread about on Avco, Atlantic, RCA and Columbia (CBS). These days there is an easier way then reading label copy to tell the city of origin . . . just listen for that Philly Sound!


SOULFUL SIX
Influential stars of R&B

ISAAC HAYES

Began by playing keyboards, writing hits (often with David Porter), eventually producing, at Stax in Memphis during mid-’60’s. Stoned solo album debut was followed in 1969 by classic smash “Hot Buttered Soul,” which single-handedly ushered in the era of the long drawn-out Soul slowie and the super-spade rap. His 12:00 Walk On By remains the best example. Wrote the Shaft score in 1971, establishing the “chukka-wukka” guitar sound and a new fashion for black movie scores. Known as “Black Moses,” Ike is both witty and impressive on stage. (LP: Hot Buttered Soul / 45: (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right – Stax).

JAMES BROWN

Now a law unto himself, whom nobody bothers to copy any more, Soul Brother Number One hit first with Please, Please, Please in 1956 but reached his present position of importance in the early ’60s, especially with his 1963 Live At The Apollo smash LP. Conscious of being black leader. Churns out incredible number of ultra-funky 45s, possibly more for juke box sales than the public. Unbelievably popular in Africa. Exciting soulful screams on slowies, complex rhythms on dancers. The hardest working man in show business on stage (LPs: Live At The Apollo, Volume 2; Revolution Of the Mind / 45s: I Got Ants In My Pants; King Heroin – Polydor).

THE O’JAYS

From 1963 and their work (as a quintet) on Imperial, the O’Jays have always been one of the most passionate yet cool Soul Vocal Groups. With producer George Kerr on Bell in the late ’60s they formulated a hesitant slow style in which rich harmonies counterpointed a pleading lead, and made an important contribution to Sweet Soul by having the stuttering percussion section carry much of the melody. Reduced through four to three, they have adapted their approach to fit their current hit-making Gamble & Huff formula. (LPs: Back On Top – US Bell; Back Stabbers – CBS / 45: There’s Someone Waiting (Back Home) – US Neptune).

MARVIN GAYE

Broke big as a solo star in 1963 with the first of a long line of dance hits, which culminated in 1968’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Tamla’s biggest seller and itself a departure from his norm. Always a sensitive singer, Marvin then withdrew to work (not necessarily with Tamla’s blessing) on a sound that was his own completely. The resultant What’s Goin’ On introduced a new casualness to Soul, with gentle, amorphous, swimming multi-tracked sounds concealing social commentary lyrics. Not a prolific recorder now, his only releases since 1971 being a political 45 and the mainly instrumental / Trouble Man score. (LP: What’s Goin’ On – Tamla Motown).

STEVIE WONDER

Billed as The 12 Year Old Genius when his Fingertips topped the 1963 US Charts, Stevie has only recently managed to live down that “Little” appendage. Like Marvin Gaye, but from a stronger standpoint, he experimented with sound and composition until on turning 21 (contract renewal time) he was able to release Music Of My Mind, an LP that was literally all his own work. Working with synthesizers, over-dubs, and extremely pretty melodies, he has reinforced Marvin’s breakthrough with a joie de vivre. Thought of by many R&B musicians as the hope for the future. (LPs: Music Of My Mind; Talking Book / 45: If You Really Love Me – Tamla Motown).

THE FRIENDS OF DISTINCTION

Mistakenly considered by some to be another 5th Dimension, this two men / two girls (now, only one girl) group are much more Soulful, despite their tendency towards pretty material. Their 1969 vocal treatment of Grazing In The Grass accelerated Aretha Franklin’s “sock it to me” into a dazzlingly staccato percussive effect, at its fastest on “Icandiggit hecandiggit shecandiggit wecandiggit theycandiggit youcandiggit, oh let’s dig it.” A complete contrast, Going In Circles was a tortuous dead slowie of exquisite beauty. Although not as successful these days, their influence continues to be felt. (LPs: Grazin’ ; Best Of Friends – RCA).

TIP FOR THE FUTURE
RANCE ALLEN

Rotund Rance is a Gospel artist whose work is beginning to hit the R&B Charts, and who appeared in the “Wattstax” movie. Known here only for his exciting, Jackie Wilson-ish and more, inspirational reading of There’s Gonna Be A Showdown and its powerful slow That Will Be Good Enough For Me flip. I have a hunch that this is but the start of something big – and I felt the same about Wilson Pickett in 1963 and Al Green in 1969. Watch out! (LP: Truth Is Where It’s At – US Gospel Truth / 45: as above – Stax).

BLAST FROM THE PAST
JOE STUBBS

Ex-Falcons, ex-Contours, ex-100 Proof (Aged In Soul), Joe (brother of 4 Tops’ Levi) has dropped from view: reportedly, unable to cope with fame. His raw Gospel yelping voice is heard to spine-tingling effect on the Falcons live versions of I Found A Love and Alabama Bound, and on 100 Proof’s Backtrack; his sexy stoned conversation with a foxy chick on 100 Proof’s Ain’t That Lovin’ You is a guaranteed turn-on. In my mind, Soul’s most exciting voice. (LPs: Various – Apollo Saturday Night – Atco ; 100 Proof – Somebody’s Been Sleeping In My Bed – Hot Wax)


R&B TOP THIRTY
Review of Billboard’s US Soul Chart for week ending 19 / 5 / 1973

1) LEAVING ME The Independents (Wand), a hesitant vocal group slowie with lots of empty spaces in the quiet backing, traditional and somehow “pure” in concept. Out here on Pye 7N25612.

2) PILLOW TALK Sylvia (Vibration), a sexy romp, coyly squeaked, sucked and hissed by the winsome label president / producer, Sylvia Robinson, to a delightful bubbling backing. Out here on London HLU 10415.

3) I’M GONNA LOVE YOU JUST A LITTLE MORE BABY Barry White (20th Century), another, slower, sexy record, spoken and groaned in the Isaac Hayes manner by Love Unlimited’s producer. Out on Pye 7N 25610. Continue reading “May 26, 1973: SOULsation ’73: seven-page supplement, edited and compiled by James Hamilton”

May 12, 1973: Brownsville Station, Foster Sylvers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Laura Lee, Millie Jackson

Straight from the States

BROWNSVILLE STATION: Let Your Yeah Be Yeah (Big Tree).
Recently in reviewing the J. Geils Band’s Reggae-styled newie, I remarked that the new “R & B” boom was on its way. Maybe my reasoning was a bit obscure: my use of the term “R & B” in quotes was meant to denote what the British Pop public, and not Soul fans, thought of as that type of music, back in the mid-’60s. Thus, just as the British “R & B” groups of that era played a mysterious musical concoction which owed little to its American inspiration, so the new breed of white plagiarists are adapting Reggae to their own limitations, with the result that they may well create in the process a de-based “Reggae” boom that becomes to the ’70s what so-called “R & B” was to the ’60s. Here, for instance, the sometime Rock Reviving raucous white group have made Jimmy Cliff’s Pioneers hit into a crashing clomper which owes just about nothing to real Reggae. Of course, that may have been the group’s intention, as the song itself is strong, but the end result is very similar to the kind of coarse cover-job that made Pop hits out of subtle black songs in the “R & B” past.

FOSTER SYLVERS: Misdemeanour (Pride).
Open the trade mag, see a pic of Michael Jackson, think “Hi, Mike!”, then read the name “Foster Sylvers”, go “Huh?”, do a double take, and believe what I say in the American Singles column alongside when I describe the Sylvers as visually modelled on the Jacksons. What’s more, although there are differences, young Foster has even been made to sound as much like Michael as possible (although I’d imagine he’s a bit younger). The perky little plinker that he sings was penned, as was the group’s British single, by Leon Sylvers III, and the whole group sing Leon’s more intricate flip in their sophisticated Stairsteps/Friends Of Distinction/Miracles style. Again, this is one very good group which should be heard. As for Foster, who could well be the one to break them with the ‘teens, as they’ve obviously planned, he’s in at 127 first week on the Record World Top 150 Chart, jumping from 71 to 40 R&B.


American Singles

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye) (Tamla Motown TMG 855).
Gladys & the Pips’ biggest ever US smash, this subdued and tender super-Soul slowie was topping the American Charts at the same time as the group were switching labels to Buddah . . . such sweet parting, such irony. Continue reading “May 12, 1973: Brownsville Station, Foster Sylvers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Laura Lee, Millie Jackson”

May 5, 1973: Earth, Wind & Fire, The Intruders, The Persuaders, Al Green, Skull Snaps

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: Where Have All The Flowers Gone (Columbia).
Rich instrumental and harmonized “aah-haa, aah-haa” intro . . . this is gonna be a goodie . . . . huh? Whazat? “Where have all the flowers gone. . . ?” But wait a minute! Dig the voice! Wavering, effete, super-Soulful and terrific! As the other voices pile in and the song’s arrangement screams and wails to a climax, I find myself screaming too . . . . and it’s all too rare that a record gets me doing that these days. Oh boy! What might have been a pretentious disaster, teaming Pete Seeger’s Folk protest with this increasingly successful big R&B group, has been a triumph. The result, probably because of the lead singer’s Smokey quality and some of the group’s supporting harmonies, keeps reminding me of the Miracles’ “I’ll Try Something New” album, which, when I got it exactly ten years ago, was one of the most influential in my then small collection. So, I’m biased . . . but I still can’t stop screaming!

THE INTRUDERS: I’ll Always Love My Mama, Pts 1/2 (Gamble).
The Philly group who started it all for Gamble & Huff are hitting the US Charts yet again, with this Bobby Martin-arranged hustling beater which is very much in G&H’s current “Love Train” mould without sacrificing the group’s own old and so distinctive, almost unison, harmony sound. It should be a hit here when it’s issued, especially on account of Part 2 . . . it’s the backing track, basically, with standing-on-the-corner chat between the members of the group over most of it. Something of a grow-on-you record, which only hit me hard on third hearing, and now doesn’t leave the turntable.

THE PERSUADERS: Bad, Bold And Beautiful, Girl; Please Stay (Atco).
Lazy Chi-Lites-type harmonica opening, then the group make oldies-but-goodies “ba, ba-ba-baa, ba-baa ba-ba-baa” noises behind a brief rap, and the lovely harmonies and yearning soulful wailing begin in earnest while the languid slow tune weaves around and about: yes, the “Thin Line Between Love And Hate” guys are back, sounding gooder than good! Their perkier flip features just as much pure Soul (almost Tams-like) vocalese and oldies influence, plus a bit of Drifters old feel. Whata group! Continue reading “May 5, 1973: Earth, Wind & Fire, The Intruders, The Persuaders, Al Green, Skull Snaps”

April 21, 1973: Tommie Young, Little Johnny Taylor, Otis Clay, David Ruffin, Isaac Hayes

Straight from the States

TOMMIE YOUNG: Do You Still Feel The Same Way (Soul Power).
Against all expectations, Tommie turns out to be a chick . . . . and a very Soulful chick at that. With a slight Irma Thomas (and, dare I say, Aretha Franklin?) quality to her “open throat” singing on this Bobby Patterson-produced/arranged/co-penned slowie, she wails away through, over and under her girlie group support in a refreshingly old-fashioned (timeless?) Soul style which is particularly satisfying without being overly spectacular. There’s lotsa church in that voice.

LITTLE JOHNNY TAYLOR: You’re Not The Only One (Ronn).
Another Shreveport, Louisana, recording prod/arr/co-penned by Bobby Patterson, its opening words are enough to tell you that you’re on familiar Little Johnny Taylor territory: “I know about that butcher, baby, and how you get your meat . . .” Yup, and his baby isn’t the only one who is getting benefits from the local tradesmen! “I know about the insurance man, I know he got a one night plan, but here’s something you got to understand, he’s not the only one that’s got some collectin’ to do, ‘cos while he’s selling you health and life, I’m collectin’ the premium from some housewife . . . ” Sounds like a town full of Jodies.

OTIS CLAY: I Didn’t Know The Meaning Of Pain (Hi).
Well, well, well – producer Willie Mitchell’s pushing up the pressure in his famous “comfortable” sound: everything’s still real laid-back, but those drums are pumping a bit harder and the burbling organ is even more buoyant. This is getting on for his Bill Coday “Get Your Lie Straight” attacking style, to which the beat-riding voice of Otis Clay would indeed be suited. Continue reading “April 21, 1973: Tommie Young, Little Johnny Taylor, Otis Clay, David Ruffin, Isaac Hayes”

April 14, 1973: James Hamilton interviews Diana Ross, Soul Generation, The Delfonics, Jerry Washington, O.V. Wright, Sylvia

THE STORY OF BILLIE
James Hamilton talks to Diana Ross about ‘Lady Sings The Blues’

DIANA ROSS – Movie Star! As such, and not as a singer, she came to London last week to attend the British premiere of her first film, “Lady Sings The Blues”, in which she plays the role of Billie Holiday, the tragically drug-addicted jazz singer whose autobiography served as inspiration for the film’s plot.

Billie Holiday died in 1959, aged 44, after leading a life to which this filmed version bears little relation. However, the harsh criticism which has been directed at the film’s fictional simplification of the truth is undeserved by Diana, who went to quite amazing lengths to soak up all that she could about the real Billie Holiday and her era.

Surprisingly, other than once remarking “Ah! That’s really something!” about a version of My Man, Diana had been totally disinterested in Billie’s work prior to 1969, when the idea of making the film was first mentioned to her. Disinterest gave way to devotion, and Diana’s research began.

“If I have to play someone I have to know her. I cannot meet her, because she’s dead: the only way I can meet her and know her is through her music and through pictures, through things that were written about her, talking to people that knew her. And that wasn’t enough.

“I had to know the time, and where she travelled, and how she came about. I had to know what was happening then, in the world at that time. And that wasn’t enough.

“Then I had to know about drugs – why this drug, why any drug? Why did she go this direction and not another? Even to the end of my research I began to know her every day I worked on the film, because it wasn’t just acting – I do a lot of reacting to situations that were given to me that were her situations – or supposedly her situations – and I still began to know her more, every day I began to learn something about her. And I don’t know that even at the finish of the film that that was enough.

“I would think that my research took more than a year. Nine months totally I know that I listened to no other music other than music of the ’30s, and jazz, and, er, looking at pictures of what the clubs looked like from the outside and trying to picture what they looked like on the inside, and what the girls wore, and the Jitterbug, dances, all those things that I thought made a difference in how she lived. I’ve been trying to see how different it was from the way things are today.”

In the light of this dedication to authenticity, the film’s inclusion of many seemingly anachronistic slang expressions, the bantering use between blacks of the word “nigger” among them, could be thought of as odd. Diana, who, it must be emphasised, was the driving force behind the period feel of the whole film, thinks not. “Those words were used then, too. I paid quite a bit of attention to that.”

As you probably heard, Diana was nominated for, but failed to win, the Academy Award. Although disappointed, she recognises the importance and glamour of an award such as the “Oscar”, and knows that a beginner’s chances in the ballot are slim indeed, no matter how well that beginner performed. At least she herself was happy with her performance – and she is seldom satisfied.

“I knew that, with whatever learning I had dramatically, I had done my best. That’s all I wanted to do, that’s all I could do. And then, from there, a lot of the beautiful things that I loved, and spent a lot of time on, ended up on the cutting room floor . . . that’s the way it goes, that’s show business!”

Here, Diana is referring to the sections from the beginning of the film depicting Billie’s childhood which were edited out, even for American showing. Since then much more has ended up on the cutting room floor, as the British version of the film (which Diana was to see after our conversation) has been edited from about 160 minutes to 125 minutes . . . that’s 35 minutes of film!

“It’s hurt me a lot. I haven’t seen the cut version but I think I know what it is, and I know I’m going to be saddened by it – but even the first cut, I was saddened by the first cut! They cut all of the childhood, from the time of the brothel in Baltimore, and the rape scene; after that there was an orphanage scene where I went to the Catholic orphanage, all of that was cut out even before the version in the United States.

“And where I run away from school and where I jump out of the building – those were the things that I really loved, because I had to run up the stairs and run down the hallway, and get out of this window.

“It was very much like the book, but there was just too much film and we just could not do a documentary of this lady’s life, just putting facts. I mean, it had to become a story.

“People have to be interested in the person, and the only way they could be interested in Billie Holiday in this film as a person is to watch her grow, and the only way we could do that is by not just throwing in facts, it had to become a story.

“I hope we succeeded, and I can’t wait to see this version, but I heard that by making it this way it’s quite a bit more entertaining . . . I hope so. As far as what I did, acting, I guess we lose that, but the most important thing is the total story.

“You don’t see the childhood: what you do see where it starts in this version, in the New York street, I’m a little bit older there. I played a much younger girl before that. It was really fun because I remembered those things as a kid, and I drew the hopscotch on the ground as I skipped down the street because my director didn’t know about those kind of things – and I said as a kid there was always one on the ground, even if you didn’t do it yourself.”

Well, we don’t see the hopscotch, or the rape scene (even though the latter is shown as one of the stills inside the soundtrack album’s accompanying booklet). We don’t see the bed scene on Billie’s first night out with her lover (played by Billy Dee Williams with suave modernity), nor do we see the arrest scene (reportedly, Diana’s most moving moment, in which she takes off her sunglasses to reveal tear-filled eyes). The arrest scene and its accompanying action is a key pivot of the film, as the flashbacked majority of the story stems from its aftermath, and the voice of the arresting officer even opens Side One of the album!

Judged only on what we do see, “Lady Sings The Blues” still seems too long. By trying to be both an “entertainment” and a “slice of life,” the film falls sharply between two stools. Its glossy production values and misty photography suffuse the period settings with a romance that is in keeping with the early carefree incidents, and at odds with the later sordid dealings – actually, its look is very much that of “The Godfather”.

For the first few episodes, which show the happily coquettish young girl, the film is delightful entertainment – more’s the pity, then, that it is from this end that most has been cut – but, once a fictitious white bandsman has introduced Billie to drugs, the drama becomes as irritating to watch as is the irrational behaviour of its junkie protagonist.

Junkies, whether on drugs or drink, are an exasperating sight: that Diana Ross has portrayed their desperation as convincingly as she has played her lighter moods is of course to her great credit as an actress, but it is not on account of her role that the film becomes irritating.

It is because, the further the story develops from the fairly authentic opening scenes, the more “Hollywood Musical” become the conventions of its telling, so that by the time that the Holiday character is at its most pitiable it is surrounded by compassion-killing stereotypes (with the exception of Richard Pryor, who plays the brutally murdered “Piano-man”).

If viewed through innocent eyes by someone unable to relate the fiction on the screen to the reality in the book (unlike “The Godfather”, this is a case where the book should NOT be read until afterwards), the film is undoubtedly as moving as any within its glamourized bio-pic genre. It differs from other modern drugs-related films ( “Superfly”, etc) in that it has the power to turn you off, and, in truth, ends up by being such a downer that you would be well advised to see it early enough in the evening to leave you time for a comedy too.

Many of the most evocative bits of dialogue have been preserved on the specially designed and lavishly presented soundtrack album (Tamla Motown TMSP 1131), a double album of which two sides are straight music and two are music-plus-chat. Diana’s renderings of Billie Holiday’s music are brave and sometimes successful interpretations, while the songs, dialogue and sound effects sides are an innovation which will be welcomed by all with good imaginations.

Even bearing in mind the cuts and the fact that it is NOT the true Billie Holiday story, there is much to enjoy – so, see the film and hear the records, and then, maybe, you will want to read the book and hear the real records. At the least, you will be able to decide for yourselves if Diana Ross IS Billie Holiday.


Straight from the States

SOUL GENERATION: Million Dollars (Ebony Sounds).
On this current R&B hit Soul Vocal Group dead slowie (soon to be issued in Britain on the new Sticky label), producer Stan Vincent goes a long way towards exonerating himself after his much-criticised work with the Stairsteps. An exquisite lead-swapping gem, this is a bit too Soulful to earn the “Sweet Soul” tag, and is summed up by the title of its more Stairsteps-like throbbing slow flip . . . “Super Fine“.

THE DELFONICS: I Don’t Want To Make You Wait (Philly Groove).
After they started the whole modern “Sweet Soul” Philly Sound with their “La La Means I Love You” in 1968, bringing producer Thom Bell to prominence in the process, it’s a great shame that the ‘Fonics have faded through internal differences just as their style has found international popularity. Their latest meandering slowie still has their trademark (penned by William Hart, arranged by Vincent Montana and Andy Cosmos, produced by Stan Watson, William and Wilbert Hart), but it’s nevertheless a bit TOO languid and limp.

JERRY WASHINGTON: Right Here Is Where You Belong (Excello).
Oooh! Over a gently repetitive basic flute riff, Jerry raps and wails his Soulful way. To begin with, he sets out to find where Kim lives (“She lives next door, on the top floor”, says her gruff-voiced neighbour), only to be greeted with “What you want now?” in a scolding tone. Well, Jerry wants to tell her how his doctor released him from the hospital with an incurable condition that’s worse than cancer . . . a bad case of the Blues. Get the picture? Dig it! Continue reading “April 14, 1973: James Hamilton interviews Diana Ross, Soul Generation, The Delfonics, Jerry Washington, O.V. Wright, Sylvia”