rooster music: the first 2000 years (part 3)
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If youíre just tuning in, this is the third part of a list of 101 great songs, quintessential "Rooster Music." Since Iím compiling it on the fly, I ask you not to put too much stock in the list order: Every ditty on here is worth your attention, no matter what number is next to it.
Originally I planned to do 20 songs
per column, but last time I had to quit at 18 when I ran out of space.
Just for fun, I decided to burn these picks onto CDs and was amazed
to discover that the selections from each of the first two columns perfectly
filled up one CD apiece. So now Iím trying to conceive of the new columns
as "Rooster Mix" discs. Weíre exploring the possibility of
obtaining the rights to these songs, and in the unlikely event weíre
successful we would make them available as a multi-disc set.
That listening experience ó abetted by the full frontal assault of the James Brown Revue at Washington, D.C.ís Howard Theater in 1967 ó left me indelibly marked. Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker would eventually enter the equation, forming the foundation for a lifetime of future explorations into the boundless wellspring of the blues.
A taste for the best of that "deep soul" sound never left me, though, and I welcomed it in the singing of Johnny Copeland, Luther Allison and Buddy Guy. But it wasnít until I really began to wrap my ears around gospel music that I started to get a deeper appreciation of why "Please, Please, Please" did something for me that Bobby Goldsboro (or even the Supremes) didnít: The music that turned me on the most was the Saturday night version of Sunday morning.
Which is a roundabout way of explaining why what I call "Rooster Music" is more than just "The Bluesí Greatest Hits." And it accounts for how Howliní Wolf and Charles Mingus, Jimmy Dawkins and the Swan Silvertones, Pat Hare and Bobby Moore & the Rhythm Aces, Blind Willie Johnson and Irma Thomas can co-exist comfortably on this list. They all share the same essence. But to get it youíve got to listen ó and sparking your interest in doing just that is what this series of columns is all about.
Last issue I promised to include some contemporary artists, so letís jump in with these up-and-comers.
39. "A Lover Like You," Terry Evans
If you saw Ry Cooder perform in the í80s you probably remember his two great backup singers. Terry Evans was the big guy with a voice to match his size (the other was Bobby King). "Lover" was written by bass player/guitarist Jorge Calderon and is driven along on a grooving beat by Phil Blochís rock-steady drumming. It falls somewhere in between old fashioned soul and blues ó maybe more towards the former, at least in subject matter, since itís not about the woman who done him wrong. Rather, Evans has his best preachiní pipes on as he laments how much he misses the good gal who put up too long with his getting wasted and dogginí around. The crystalline sound ó an Audioquest hallmark ó makes it an even better listen.
40. "Nature of the Beast," Clarence
41. "Can You Feel It," Michael Burks
From the Inside Out, Vent (recorded 1997)
For a long time these were both CDs in search of a label. In Clarence Spadyís case, that odyssey came about thanks to an elementary school chum, Scott Goldman, who opened a club called Blues Street in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1990 and let Spady use it to develop his technique. Three years later Goldman recorded his old friend and put the result out on his own Blues Street label. Evidence Music, a label based just outside Philadelphia, bought the disc in 1996 and put it into national distribution.
Spady, now in his late 30s, started playing guitar at age four after watching his father and uncle play at home. His mother sang in a Baptist church choir, and that influence is apparent in his vocal delivery. Through most of the í80s he learned the lessons of the road touring the East Coast with a show band. "Nature of the Beast" is a no-nonsense look at his own weakness in the face of drug addiction and how he learned to accept the help of friends: "I had this problem / I had the devil up my nose / And every time I mess with it / My problem only grows / Thatís the nature of the beast baby / With a helping hand it can cease." A lot of musical road warriors could sing these words, but few with the conviction and depth that Spady brings to the song.
Michael Burks hails from Arkansas. A disciple of the School of Albert King who, appropriately, won an Albert King Award from the Blues Foundation, Burks was also a nominee for this yearís Handy Award for "best new blues artist." From the Inside Out is a self-produced disc that features pretty typical Southern blues subject matter (one song is called "Lyiní, Sneakiní and Cheatiní"). It was your basic homebrewed album until Vent Records in Birmingham, Alabama, added it to its catalog last year. The chorus of "Can You Feel It" is a bit reminiscent of what the Marshall Tucker Bandís "Canít You See" might have sounded like with an Albert King vocal and a churchy organ playing off a soulful Gibson guitar.
42. "If Tears Are Only Water," Yvonne
Iím Trouble, ENJA/Blues Beacon (Germany) (recorded 1990)
Hereís one that seems to have slipped under almost everybodyís radar, although Downbeat reviewed the original CD (on King Snake) as "one helluva first album." Ms. Jackson is a Florida native who started her career as a backup singer for Rufus Thomas, Lucky Peterson and the J.B. Horns, so itís not too surprising that Peterson, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and drummer Jim Payne make contributions. But it is the Aretha-esque Jackson who is the clear star. She makes this break-up ballad sound like it was written just for her (which it probably was, since it comes from Payneís pen). And unlike most contemporary soul blues, thereís not a treacly or corny note in Wesleyís arrangement.
43. "Still a Man," Big Kat Kaylor
Scattered, Step One (recorded 1996)
After one too many "Woke up this morning"s, Iím a sucker for a well-crafted song. Kaylor is a Nashville singer and keyboard player who knows his way around a good lyric. Most of his music is closer to Jesse Winchester than Jesse Fuller, but this one matches his piano with some beautiful work by an unidentified guitarist and a chorus of sweet sisters. Itís a simple tune about a guy who knows he isnít Superman but wants his woman to know that heís still entitled to some respect: "I canít see through walls / But baby I can see through lies / And I can walk right through your worn out alibis." He may not be a man of steel, but heís still a man. I can dig it.
44. "Donít Let Daddy Slow Walk You Down,"
Sittiní & Waitiní, Black Top, (recorded 1996)
The first time I heard this song on the radio, I was sure it was some stroll tune by an obscure old R&B musician. Not quite. Zinn is a Bay Area redhead, just in his mid-20s when he made this recording, who has refreshingly retro tastes. Some of that can be traced to his early association with the late Luther Tucker. Hanging with Kim Wilson, on whose Tigerman CD he first came to national attention, probably didnít hurt either.
"Daddy" is a composition by Nashville producer Ted Jarrett, who penned "24 Hours a Day" and "Best of Luck Baby" for Earl Gaines in the í50s. The saxophones of John Firmin and Rob Sudduth evoke that decade as they frame Zinnís plaintive vocal, taking their own chorus before Rustyís stanky guitar comes in to remind us that this is indeed the blues, baby.
45. "Bayou Drive (Sloppy)," Clifton
Zydeco Dynamite, Rhino (recorded 1957)
The once and always King of Zydeco, Clifton grew up sharecropping outside Opelousas, Louisiana, and came under the musical influence of his accordion-playing father and his uncle "Big" Chenier, who played guitar and fiddle. Clifton learned his lessons well and went on to create a perfect synthesis of black Creole music and the blues.
This instrumental comes from a 1957 session for the Chess brothers in Chicago, with Texan Philip Walker on guitar and some delicious sax work by Lionel Prevost and B.J. Jones. Released on the Argo label two years later, itís nothing but straight-ahead R&B done up on accordion. All his Chess sides were extremely rare until Rhino released them on this excellent, must-have two-CD set. Virtually any track on these discs could have made it onto this list ó which should tell you that this oneís pretty special.
46. "Time Is on My Side," Irma Thomas
The Irma Thomas Collection, Razor & Tie (recorded 1964)
47. "Down Home Girl," Alvin "Shine"
The Soul of New Orleans, Charly R&B (recorded 1964)
When the early Stones were mining Americaís treasures for material they didnít stop with all the Chicago blues greats they heard on Chess Records; they scarfed up some classic New Orleans R&B too. And, of course, when the Rolling Stones covered a song, in the publicís eye it became "their" song.
That was certainly the case with "Time Is on My Side," when the Rolling Stonesí hit version virtually killed any chance that the single by the much lesser-known Thomas had of getting anything beyond local recognition. For the Stones, it was their first smash in the U.S. For Irma it was business as usual. A year earlier, her "Ruler of My Heart" (written for her by Allen Toussaint under the pen name Naomi Neville) had been appropriated by Otis Redding as "Pain in My Heart," eventually resulting in a lawsuit. (Just to complete the circle, Mick and the boys recorded the Otis version on The Rolling Stones, Now! in 1965.)
In any case, as familiar as "Time" is to virtually anyone who was alive in 1964, Irmaís rendition is proof ó if we need it ó that the better mousetrap usually canít compete with the brand-name variety. Her vocalizing drips with the kind of soul that British rockers could only dream about. Sheís abetted by choral backing from the Blossoms, a girl group that included Darlene Love, a singer with some serious chops of her own.
"Down Home Girl" is a different story in that it was never a hit for anybody. The Stones used it on Now! but quickly left it behind, and itís not part of any of their CD retrospectives that Iím aware of.
Too bad, because itís a humorous tune written by Artie Butler and the legendary Jerry Leiber that, like Otis Redding and Carla Thomasí "Tramp," pokes fun at the country bumpkin transplanted to the city:
"Shine" Robinson was a New Orleans guitarist/singer who went to New York to record for Leiber and partner Mike Stoller, who were also the producers of the Coasters. While cut in the Big Apple, the song is all New Orleans in feel. Leiber and Stoller were sure they had a big score on their hands, but it was not to be.
Robinson eventually moved to the West Coast, where he recorded with Dr. John on Gumbo and with James Booker on what was eventually released by DJM as The Lost Paramount Tapes.
Leiber and Stoller, meanwhile, gave the song one more shot with the Coasters in 1967, with mixed success.
48. "Searchiní for My Love," Bobby
Moore & the Rhythm Aces
Chess Rhythm & Roll, MCA/Chess (recorded 1965)
I loved this one when it first came out, and 35 years later it still delivers the goods. The track was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and leased by the Chess brothers for their Checker label. It went to #1 on the R&B charts, and the song also made a splash on the pop Top 40, peaking at #27. In more recent times, it has been featured in the soundtracks of at least two films.
Sax player Bobby Moore got the Rhythm Aces together in 1961 in Montgomery, Alabama, where they backed many of the top touring soul artists of the day. But while bandleader Moore got his name on the record, uncredited and largely forgotten is vocalist Chico Jenkins, whose wailing is what really gets the song over. A current version of the group still gigs the Carolinasí Beach Music circuit.
In 1967, prolific songwriter Bert Berns reworked the songís unforgettable chorus ("Searchiní, searchiní for my baby, yes I am") into "Are You Lonely for Me, Baby," which gave singer Freddie Scott his only #1 R&B hit.
49. "Heís My Guide," The Soul Stirrers
The Last Mile of the Way, Specialty (recorded 1955)
My fascination with Sam Cooke began in the late í50s when I bought my first two 45 rpm records: Samís "Iíll Come Running Back to You" and Buddy Holly and the Cricketsí "Oh Boy." But compared to what he did on his gospel recordings, the smooth crooner I heard on Top 40 radio was merely a commodity watered down for mass consumption by white people.
This disc has not one but three versions of the song. You can hear the group developing an arrangement for it in the studio, as Cooke and Paul Foster swap parts before coming together on the propulsive final version. The original single was issued with overdubs that we are thankfully spared on this superb release. Along with Ray Charles, this is what put the soul in soul music.
50. "Please Send Me Someone to Love,"
The Many Sides of Fred Neil, EMI/Collectorís Choice (recorded 1967)
Wherever heís secreted himself today, Fred Neil is arguably the greatest white blues singer of all time. He couldnít have found a better vehicle than Percy Mayfieldís beautiful prayer for world peace, understanding and, oh yeah, a little loviní, too.
Neil had a lustrous, wine-rich voice and his bottomless baritone perfectly matches James E. Bond Jr.ís acoustic bass lead-in notes. He can cry it too, begging "ple-ee-ease, send me somebody, somebody to love."
A recluse from Coconut Grove, Florida, Fred grudgingly dragged himself to Greenwich Village during the í60s folk boom to perform and record. Musicians like Dylan, Gram Parsons, Jefferson Airplane and just plain fans like me fell under his spell and were spirited into the Cult of Fred Neil. Some of us have never recovered. Nearly all his recordings were out of print until this 1998 release.
51. "Cuttiní In," Johnny "Guitar"
The Very Best of Ö, Rhino (recorded 1961)
Was there ever really a time when relationship rifts were made or mended on the dance floor? Well, thatís what happens in this three-minute snippet from the world of the early í60s, wherein Young John makes his bid to reclaim the girl heís quarreled with by telling her current dance partner to buzz off. We never find out if this smooth move pays off, but who cares? Itís a cool song.
Before he became a high priest of funk in the í70s and í80s, Watson was a bona fide blues triple threat, playing a mean piano and sax in addition to his namesake instrument. He died of a heart attack while onstage in Japan in 1996.
52. "You Done Tore Your Playhouse Down Again,"
King Biscuit Boy
ĎGooduns,í Stony Plain (recorded 1970)
Richard Newell (aka King Biscuit Boy, a nickname conferred by Ronnie Hawkins) was like a wild harmonica wind that came down from Canada in the early í70s and simply blew me away with back-to-back albums: Official Music (with Canadian cohorts Crowbar) and ĎGooduns.í Both LPs were filled with good humor, a fresh singing voice and a holy terror on the harp. Eventually beset by demons of a chemical nature, his career stalled, with only a few sporadic recordings on a couple European labels before his comeback release, Urban Blues Re:Newell on Blue Wave in 1995.
Newell wrote "Playhouse" as a tribute to a pair of Arthur Gunter songs, "Baby Letís Play House" and "Baby You Better Listen." Itís about a hard drinking gal, no doubt a composite of women the singer had met up with. But with lines like "I asked you take out the garbage can / You took out the garbage man," itís hard to take it too seriously.
53. "Long John," Dinah Washington
Risqué Rhythm: Nasty 50s R&B, Rhino (recorded 1947)
Songs about booty seem to be popular in any era, and this was part of a two-sided R&B hit (b/w "Baby Get Lost," written by Leonard Feather) in 1948 and í49. Feather, who made a pretty penny on royalties, figured that a lot of people were purchasing the record to get the B-side, which they were ashamed to ask for because of its bawdy lyrics. At any rate, "Baby" made it to #1 R&B, and less than a year later "Long John" rose to #12.
This little dental ditty is about a woman who goes to her dentist for a toothache and is told not to worry, that her cavity just needs filling. His technique must be pretty good, because afterwards she exclaims to him how "you thrill me when you drill me." In 1954 she "scored" again with "Big Long Sliding Thing," which was of course about a trombone player.
Dinah is best known for her strings-smothered pop recordings like "What a Difference a Day Makes," but way before she crossed over she was acknowledged as the reigning Queen of the Blues.
54. "Okie Dokie Stomp," Clarence "Gatemouth"
The Original Peacock Recordings, Rounder (recorded 1954)
Donít try and tell Gate that heís a bluesman; heíll pointedly inform you that he plays "American music," not just blues. Be that as it may, he was the main inspiration for Houston businessman/hustler Don Robey to start the music empire that included famed blues and R&B record labels Duke and Peacock. And there was no question at that time that what Mr. Brown was playing was anything but the down and dirty.
But in deference to Gateís self-assessment, weíve (barely) chosen this instrumental cooker to represent him here over the slow and steamy "Dirty Work at the Crossroads." "Stomp" does indeed have elements of a country hoedown to it, though very few country records have this kind of horn support. And if boogying around the room can cure your blues, this is the one to put on.
55. "Our Love Is Drifting," Paul Butterfield
An Anthology: The Elektra Years, Elektra (recorded 1965)
56. "Blues for Barry and Ö," Barry
Goldberg and Michael Bloomfield
Barry Goldberg & Friends, Sequel (UK) (recorded 1969)
While British groups like the Stones, followed by Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin, were wowing the kids at home with rocked-up versions of their favorite blues, here in the States Paul Butterfield and his associates were trying to reach the same kind of audience with the real thing. The Butterfield Blues Bandís eponymous first album simply kicked butt in a way that was totally true to the blues without being at all imitative.
The addition of Michael Bloomfield (and keyboardist Mark Naftalin soon after) transformed an already fierce unit that included Elvin Bishop, Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay into a musical monster. Strongly influenced by B.B. King, nobody ó but nobody ó could play a slow blues like Bloomfield, and both these titles are homages to his greatness. "Drifting" comes from that first LP and is marked by a perfect interplay between Butterís voice and Michaelís single-note guitar.
The latter tune is an instrumental that first appeared on Two Jews Blues (Buddah) and was a collaboration between Bloomfield and keyboardist Barry Goldberg, here playing organ. Subtitled "Dedicated to Big Johnís," itís a tribute to the Chicago club where the two jammed many a night away. Although over 10 minutes long, it is never self-indulgent or boring and features some of Bloomfieldís best playing on record.
57. "Your Love Is Like a Cancer," Son
The Son Seals Blues Band, Alligator (released 1973)
"Ö eating away my life." Nothing but Chicago South Side Blues, among the first and still among the best to be put on long player. Son has made plenty of fine records since this debut, but I keep being drawn back to this one. Lyrically itís about as bad an insult as someone can give to their lover. Still, she must have some powerful mojo, because he goes on to say, "If your love could kill me, woman / Lord knows that I donít mind dying."
Sealsí guitar is as rough and raw as it comes, with a tone that nearly 30 years of studio technology has not found a way to improve upon.
58. "Walk Away," Ann Peebles
Hi Times: The Hi Records R&B Years, The Right Stuff (recorded 1968)
The diminutive vocalist from St. Louis was the leading female artist in producer Willie Mitchellís legendary stable of artists at Hi Records in Memphis. She never achieved the status of label-mate Al Green, but sheís shown plenty of staying power and still performs today.
On this slow burner Peebles displays the kind of bluesy, gospel-infused whisper-to-a-scream singing that marks the most Roostericious soul music, complete with churchy piano and Amen Corner backing singers. Peeblesí influence is felt in the work of Tracy Nelson, who did her own stellar version of "Walk Away" on her In the Here and Now CD (1993).