Tuesday, May 4, 2010

James Carr- "You Gotta Have Soul" / "At the Dark End of the Street"

The story of singer James Carr is just one of the tragic tales of soul music. Born in Coahoma, Mississippi in 1942, James was brought up as the son of a Baptist preacher and sang in many gospel groups. In 1964, at the age of sixteen, he was singing with The Harmony Echoes when songwriter Roosevelt Jamison brought him to the newly formed Goldwax label. Goldwax had only been formed that year by music veteran Quentin Clauch, founding member of the Hi Records label, and Memphis pharmacist Rudolph V. “Doc” Russell who put up much of the capital to get the label going.

James Carr ended up having several hits on Goldwax including the classic “Dark End of the Street”, “You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up”, and “Pouring Water on a Drowning Man”. The tragic portion of Carr’s career is that he was not a mentally stable person. He suffered from heavy bouts of depression, and one time while on tour in Japan he became catatonic onstage from heavy doses of anti-depressants. There have also been tales of producers having to talk James down off the roof of the studio just to get his recordings done.

When Goldwax closed its doors in 1969, it effectively ended the career of James Carr. Several other labels, including Atlantic Records which contracted him for one single 1970‘s “Hold On“, expressed interest in signing him, but his behavior in the studio was so erratic that none of the deals ever stuck. Carr ended up living in a Memphis housing project with his sister through the ‘70’s and ‘80’s with his only output being a 1977 single “Let Me Be Right (I Don’t Want To Be Wrong)” for the River City label. He did attempt one other comeback in 1994 with the record Soul Survivor, but while his voice was as solid as ever, the recording was marred by a dated, synth heavy production.

James Carr’s voice should have landed him in the same echelon of performers as Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, or Otis Redding, but probably due to his mental problems his career never reached those heights. While I want to feature one of my favorite tracks of James Carr today, “You Gotta Have Soul”, I’m also going to include a soul stirring version of “At the Dark End of the Street”. Take time and listen to these, and I think you’ll find that the real tragedy of James Carr is that he has sadly been all but forgotten.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters - "A Quiet Place"

Recently I sent in a list of my top 10 songs to a podcast, and when I heard them read back, I immediately knew I'd left off something important. Today, while looking up some videos of Northern Soul songs (which is a whole different can of worms) Garnett Mimms popped up, and I knew what I had missed. The likelyhood is that even if you've never heard Garnet Mimms sing, you've heard one of his songs. First released in 1963, "Cry Baby" was a hit for Mimms and the Enchanters, but it's more common to hear the Janis Joplin version of the song when it pops up in commercials and such. "Cry Baby" is a great song, but it's not the song I'm going to talk about.

I'm not going to run down all of Mr. Mimms biographical stats, but if anyone is interested, there is a great article on Blackcat Rockabilly Europe, and you know that's for real because I couldn't have made up the name of that site if I wanted to. Anyhow, "A Quiet Place" is another song that came off a Carolina Beach music compilation that I got. I've always loved the vibe of the song, and it kicks right off with a lady crying out for, "Johnny, Johnny Dollar". Mimms captures the forlorn spirit of his long suffering and sleepless character, and for me, it always hits the spot when I feel like I want to get away.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Sticks" McGhee- "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee"

I was first introduced to "Sticks" McGhee's song "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" years ago on one of the Carolina Beach Music compilations that I had. Unlike the other Beach Music songs, "Drinkin' Wine" had more of a flavor of the country or jump blues than the other material. For years it's been a favorite of mine, but only recently did I even think to look on the web to find out anything about the song.

McGhee's actual name was Granville Henry McGhee, and he was born in Knoxville, TN in 1917. He got his nickname when he used to push his older brother Brownie McGhee, who was stricken with polio as a child, around in a wagon piloted by a stick. By the year 1937, Brownie was performing with minstrel shows and would go on to a long recording career with many recordings being issued on Folkways records (now known as Smithsonian Folkways). In 1946, Brownie teamed up with "Sticks" to record the first version of "Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" for the minuscule label Harlem records.

The song itself was a cleaned up version of a song that "Sticks" was known for singing in the army. The original version contained these lyrics: "Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine!
Goddam! Pass that bottle to me." In the first recorded version in 1946, naturally the cursing wasn't going to go over and the "motherfucker" was replaced with "spo-dee-o-dee" and the "goddam" with "bop, bop" or "hoi, hoi". This first version got little traction, but when "Sticks" re-recorded the song three years later in 1949 for Atlantic records it rose to Number 3 on the R & B charts. Since then the song has been covered by artists as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis, Lionel Hampton, Mike Bloomfield's Electric Flag, and Kid Rock.

The only question that remains is what exactly is "Wine
Spo-Dee-O-Dee"? Well, there's a couple of schools of thought on that. One version I've heard is that it is a mixture of wines that poor folks would pour together into one bottle to pass around and drink. From the lyrics of the song this makes the most sense to me, but if you look up the term "spodi" it seems to refer to a party beverage made of assorted types of liquor with fruit soaking in it. I don't know about you folks, but around here that's made of Everclear, fruit slices, and Grape Kool-Aid with the moniker "Purple Jesus". So while I think that the term "spodi" does refer to a mixture of different alcohols, I feel certain that the former explanation is what "Sticks" was referring to.

After his hit, "Sticks"
McGhee continued to record songs for Atlantic such as "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" (later used as a title of a Goodie Mob album), "Let's Do It", and "Venus Blues", but his career never took off. After going through a variety of different labels, he retired from playing music in 1960 saying he had lost the passion for it. He passed away the very next year in 1961 of lung cancer, but if none of his other works have stood the test of time "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" is a song that retains its appeal due to the driving jump blues rhythm and party time feeling of the track. So pass that bottle on over to me and enjoy the Atlantic records version of "Sticks" famous song.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rufus Thomas- "Do the Funky Chicken"

One of the great discoveries I made while visiting Memphis is my newfound love for Rufus Thomas. I’ve known of Mr. Thomas for years due to his hit song “Walkin’ the Dog”, and I even got to see him on a package tour with Lou Christie, Shirelles, and several other groups when I was a lad. It wasn’t until I visited the Stax Museum that I heard some of his other music and learned a bit more about him.

Born in Cayce, Miss., Rufus was a performer from an early age taking part in school plays and learning how to tap dance. In 1936, at 19 years old, he left school to take a job with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. His next job was in a textile mill which he didn’t leave for 22 years, long after he became a recording artist and radio personality on WDIA, the “mother station of the Negros” in Memphis.  His radio career began in 1951, and it lead to his first recording, a response to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” called “Bear Cat”. Unfortunately a copyright lawsuit was brought against the record company, Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, nearly bankrupted the label, and as Sam turned his attention to Elvis and other white artists, Rufus was let go from the label.

A few years later Rufus and his daughter Carla Thomas both signed on to record for the fledgling Stax record label, and in 1963, his best known single, “Walkin’ the Dog” reached #5 on the R&B charts and #10 on Rock. While he never had a single reach those heights again, the self described “World’s Oldest Teenager” recorded a string of classic songs including “Can Your Monkey do the Dog”, “The World is Round (But It’s Crooked Everywhere)”, and “Do the Funky Chicken”.

The latter of those songs is what I want to feature today. Not only is it a great funky song, but I found the dance instruction to be compelling and nearly irresistible. Backed by Booker T. and the MG’s, the track demands you get up and groove if you’ve got any soul at all. Listen out for Rufus’ trademark craziness as he goes into the “Second spasm”, “feels so unnecessary”, and his idea of doing something “nasty”. Enjoy and please check out more of Rufus’ great songs.

Editor’s note: There’s some debate around my house why Rufus “feels so unnecessary”. We’ve decided it is either a) the music is so good he doesn’t need to be on it hence “unnecessary” b) it is a shortened phrase that is intended to mean he feels too unnecessarily funky OR c) Rufus Thomas was an existentialist and was making a philosophical statement. I’d love to hear what other folks idea on it is or which one of those makes sense to you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

It Will Stand by The Showmen

After a recent trip to Memphis, my love of R&B and Soul music has been opened up again, and so I wanted to start this blog in an attempt to spread the word about some of these great songs and groups. I named the site after a song by The Showmen, and so how could I not start out with their hit single from 1961, It Will Stand.

The Showmen were a New Orleans based group that hailed from Norfolk, Virgina, but I know them because of their connection to Carolina Beach music. Both It Will Stand and their single 39-21-40 Shape are classics of the sub-genre. It Will Stand is an anthemic song with a great beat, and I think it about covers the kind and style of music that I'll be talking about here. Of course, anyone who knows my movie blog can tell you that I like a wide variety of films, and my love of music is no different. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy the first track.