Category Archives: Soul Music

Elvis is still the King!

I know, I know, the Beatles were better at the music, the Beach Boys were better at major sevenths, Chuck Berry was better at the lyrics, and Little Richard was better at falsetto.  Carl Perkins was better at being down-home, Billy Lee Riley was better at crazed-cat rockabilly, Buddy Holly was better at bringing pop into his rock, and Bo Diddley had a better beat.  Even among the Sun Records cats, Johnny Cash did more drugs, and Jerry Lee Lewis was more dangerous.

But Elvis was an amazing performer–the biggest shining personality of the fifties–with all the moves, lots of style, great looks, and a wild personality.  The fact that he had bad management, mental problems, and an addiction to food and drugs shouldn’t tarnish that amongst modern myth-makers who tend to prefer the Bolans and Joneses to this man.

I mean, fuck, Elvis sang better than Frank Sinatra.  Last night, to celebrate Elvis’ 74th birthday, my gal TiVo’d Fun in Acapulco.  Goddam, could that boy sing!  Listen to this shit!

Fuck all contenders!  This man is the KING!  F U C K !!!

Milk and Sylvester and Neil Young!

I just saw Gus Van Sant’s Milk last night.  Of course it was great and moving and sad and informative.  And of course Sean Penn wowed us with his performance, even though we already knew it was going to be good.

But amidst all the drama and sadness and history, I got a little nugget of sweetness when they had a scene recreating a Harvey Milk birthday party, including Sylvester singing him “You Make Me Feel!”  God, I love that song, and I thought the drag performer Flava (er, real name is apparently Mark Martinez) carried the outlandish role of Sylvester pretty well. 

One purchase I really want to get in the near future is Sylvester’s first album, Sylvester and the Hot Band.  After his stint with the Cockettes, he initially moved in kind of a funk-rock direction, including a cover of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” that I still have not heard, though the reviews are incredible!  Here’s one of the few tastes of this album I’ve gotten, and it’s a goodie:

Levi Stubbs RIP

The singer of the Four Tops died Friday at the age of 72.

I think for years, I eshewed the music of the Four Tops because of this man’s voice.  I preferred the refreshing sweetness of Curtis Mayfield in the Impressions, and the horny bleating of Smokey Robinson with the Miracles, to Stubbs’s rough, manly shouting (not to mention Holland-Dozier-Holland’s plinky choral building blocks that the songs were composed of).  It somehow all seemed trite and bullying.

Only now that I’m older do I realize that the Four Tops did a rare feat, combining the classy (okay, sometimes simply chintzy) sophistication of Motown with the raw, more greasy R&B that they had been a part of for a decade before joining the Motown ranks.  And Levi Stubbs was a big part of that, lending a voice of pain but also one of connection to the slick sounds that threatened to wash over him in each song, but which he always beat back.  It’s a really original sound, and it is elegant.  And though never delicate, it now feels strong and sophisticated to my aural palate.

Of course, you can hardly blame a punk rocker from the sticks (me!) for missing the greatness of a band consistently overplayed on oldies radio his entire life.  So let me send off Stubbs with a song you may not have heard played this weekend on K-Earth:

don’t forget the Bar-Kays!

While we’re all very sad at the death of Isaac Hayes, I feel like there’s a band that’s lived in his shadow for far too long, and that’s the Bar-Kays.  In one incarnation or another, they played great soul and funk for nearly twenty years, doing everything from instrumental soul classics such as “Soul Finger,” to covers of Davie Allan & the Arrows, to playing behind Otis Redding (and crashing in his plane, which decimated the Bar-Kays), to fantastic performances at Wattstax, to funky disco and funky funk, to playing almost all the session stuff for Isaac Hayes.  And as I just learned tonight, they also did crossover new wave Zapp-esque robo-funk, and even proved that blonde girls who run from Falco-looking mob dudes can escape to an underground dance club, if only a mysterious and funky stranger hands them the right magic sunglasses.

Update:  Okay, apparently I’ll have to link to the clip rather than embedding it.  They just stole my privileges!  Instead, listen to the first single I ever bought of theirs, one of the best funk songs from the seventies, “Shake Your Rump to the Funk!”

The Jimmy Castor Bunch – Troglodyte

I think we’ve posted about this guy before, but I have to stress that this man is a secret weapon of funk.  Here he is, layin’ out the caveman rock better than the Warlocks or Fuzztones ever could.

I am going to miss the T.A.M.I. show tonight! But Riot on Sunset Strip is alright.

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I’ve had a sore throat now for seven days or so and it has been one bad trip all the way through, especially now that I’ve run out of Naproxen.  I wish someone would bash my brains out and put an end to the shreeeking, clawing parasite that has laid its hooks in my throat. 

And what really pisses me off is that I was so looking forward to sitting on a blanket with my baby at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and watching The T.A.M.I. Show, as part of the Don’t Knock the Rock Film Festival.  

There’s also a couple cool films at the Egyptian Theater I’ll be missing, including Love Story (about Arthur Lee and Love).

But one freak benefit of being sick is that I went to bed early for once on a Saturday night, and am up in time to hear Dominic Priore do his show “Riot on Sunset Strip” on LuxuriaMusic.   So I’m listening to Love and Gary McFarland on his show, which is making my morning not so horrific.

Betty Harris

Q: What’s funkier than the Meters?

A: The Meters when they back up Betty Harris on “There’s a Break in the Road!”

Oh, that’s funky, that’s funky!  Like nine cans of shaving powder, that’s funky!

Goddam, I don’t really think there was a better era of soul music than the late sixties-early seventies transition from soul to funk.  Tight, snappy grooves, with lots of snare and complex rhythms that just jump out at you.  And the Meters were the best!

Abaco Dream – Sly and the Family Stone’s electronic secret

My gal got me an iPod for Christmas, and sometimes when I try to play my songs randomly, it starts playing bands in alphabetical order instead.

That means Abaco Dream is the first band to play.  And this band is so fucking awesome, I just have to sit and listen each time until it’s done.

They’re a band from 1970, that only came out with two tracks on one single 45, both of which I got on a compilation CD a couple months back at Aquarius Records in San Francisco.  Side A is a really funky tune called “Life and Death in G&A” that proclaims “If it feels good, it’s alright!”  There are horns and groovy baselines and soulful vocals.  It’s a funk-soul slice of awesome that won’t quit!

Side B, on the other hand, is a purely electronic ditty called “Cat Woman,” done with what sounds like a drum machine and live drums, an oscillator, and a couple synths, maybe hooked up to a wah pedal.  Plus, there’s a British dude occasionally scolding a kitty cat for being in his garden “eating ‘erring bones!”  It’s like a mixture of Bruce Haack, Kraftwerk, Silver Apples, early Devo, and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band–in short, like a totally different band from Side A.  In fact, I’d thought the makers of my comp CD had goofed and attributed two different artists’ work to the same band.

So I’ve been wondering about the history of the band.  And a little research online today reveals that Abaco Dream did in fact do both songs, and is none other than Sly Stone’s pet project!  I guess in 1970 he wanted to branch out and do some tunes without record company pressure and away from the critics’ eye.  Side A’s soul-funk is actually better than a lot of his normal stuff, a platter that could move any party.  But Side B–wow, this is something out on a limb from anything that I’ve ever heard Sly do (and I’m familiar with his very different, early work helping craft sounds for bands on the Autumn label, with bands such as the Vejtables).

Maybe Sly wanted to become an originator of a new sound–or maybe he just wanted to get high and play with some toys!  This interview with Dick Cavett seems to hint at the latter:

 I dunno.  The more I look up info for this band online, the more I realize that nobody truly has the definitive answer on whether this is really Sly on Side B or some other band altogether.  It definitely sounds different, but I wouldn’t put it past a man with this much coke up his nose and that much talent to come up with a unique electronic sound.  And despite what the psyche newsgroups suggest, this is definitely not a Simeon sound.  Maybe one of my readers can enlighten us?

The Impressions – This Is My Country

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day coming up in a week and a half, I’ve been bustin’ out one of my favorite Black Power albums.  This one came out just a couple months after King’s assassination, and is full of songs that give ease and comfort to folks going through troubled times.  Though this is largely an album about love and tenderness, it is book-ended by songs declaring the inevitability of the civil rights movement, because blacks have worked too hard in this country “to go second class.”  

 I’ve read some reviews from Curtis Mayfield fans who find this album to be simply repeating the tried-and-true Impressions formula.  I have to admit I’ve only heard a bit of their mid-sixties stuff, but I find this album to be just the opposite–it still has one foot in a smooth, cosmopolitan Motown-esque sound, and it certainly isn’t funky in the way Mayfield and the seventies would be come, but it’s its own thang.  It’s beautiful music, with tender harmonies, staccato strings that don’t sound angry or mercenary, and oh, Mayfield’s sweet sweet voice!  I love men with angelic voices, whether Carl Wilson, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, or Flo and Eddie.  And Mayfield’s got one of the sweetest and warmest of the bunch.  Yet they still have the other Impressions in the background, giving him a vocal support that he sorely lacks in his seventies work.

My favorite track on here is not a political one, except in the cultural sense.  “Love’s Happening” is a tune about a man telling a hippie girl to dump the psychedelic bozo she’s got.  Instead, Curtis is going to “show her the way to love’s happening.”  It’s a beautiful song about a real man stealing a flower child from a chump, and the arrangement is so good and so sweet, I always play this first.