R&B: RIDDIMS & BLUES


Sebastian: Living In Depression
From 7″ (Brown Dog, 1975)

Sebastian’s “Living in a Depression” highlights a different kind of “cover” (even though it’s technically not): the recording of a new vocal track over a pre-existing instrumental. This happens in R&B more often than some may remember – “Light My Fire,” by Young Hold Unlimited, Jackie Wilson AND Erma Franklin being one of the better known examples. However, it wasn’t until last year that I even realized that “Living In a Depression” existed even if its instrumental track – Little Royal and the Swingmasters’ “Razor Blade” is pretty much a common but classic funk 45.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think this song works well. Partly, the mix sounds way off; you can barely even hear, let alone comprehend, what Sebastian is singing. But even if the song had better engineering, Little Royal’s original arrangement just doesn’t sound like it was meant to have vocals on it. Trying to fit “Living in depression/what you gonna do?” over that opening horn line feels forced and awkward. Yet, I like the 7″ because it is so off, as if this was some bad studio cut that was meant to be thrown out but was released by accident. (Thanks to Soul Marcosa for turning me onto this song).

I also recently got this single from Spain that seems to fall under the same category:

Charly and the Bourbon Family: Boogachi
From 7″ (Poplandia, 1971)

Charly is clear riffing on “Look-a-py-py” by The Meters (uncredited as it may be). A perfectly awesome funk instrument which Charly and the Bourbon Family then proceed to get all CCR over with their vocals. Interstingly, though this appeared on a Spanish label, Charly and the Bourbon Band (aka The Diamonds, aka the Untouchables) were a German band who cut their teeth in the various American G.I. clubs throughout Europe. They also, apparently, do covers of Hugh Maekela’s “Grazing in the Grass” and Cliff Nobles’ “The Horse” both those are formal covers unlike this, an “unauthorized” re-versioning of “Look-a-py-py.” (I have an even more bizarre European 7″ out of Sweden which puts vocals over the Mohawks’ “Champ” but that will have to wait until another time).

In terms of another example of this phenom that I unqualifiably enjoy, that’d have to be this:

Leon Austin: Steal Away
From 7″ (King, 1970)

This is a “double” cover of sorts. For one, it’s a legitimate cover of Jimmy Hughes’ 1964 hit, “Steal Away” but James Brown (who produced the single) also threw the vocals over the instrumental track “Nose Job“. And unlike the ill-fit with Sebastian/Little Royal, Leon Austin sounds great over the “Nose Job” riddim. (Thanks to Mao for turning me onto this song).


P.S. Speaking of covers, here’s a real one. I write up the awesome Mexican cover of the Joe Cuba Sextet’s “El Pito” for Super Sonido.

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