Johnnie Taylor: Ain’t That Loving You & Watermelon Man
From Wanted One Soul Singer (Stax, 1967)
Johnnie Taylor’s early career – from the early ’60s up through early ’70s always seemed to find this late, great soulman in the shadow of bigger legends who died long before their time. Taylor was more or else “discovered” by Sam Cooke and eventually replaced Cooke in his gospel group, The Soul Stirrers once Sam decided to make soul records. Taylor followed his mentor to Cooke’s SAR label but his career was forestalled with Sam’s murder. He then landed over at Stax, racking up enough sales to be that label’s best-selling artist but Taylor, while duly respected, never attained the same kind of awe that labelmate Otis Redding inspired. Redding’s unfortunate plane crash only further catapulted his status in immortality in a way that Taylor never got to touch. Undeniably though, Taylor was an excellent vocalist – able to hit those deep, bluesy tones yet soar on some funkiness.
This album was Taylor’s first for Stax and holds one of my all-time favorite songs off the imprint (which is saying a lot since Stax is probably my all-time favorite label): “Ain’t That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)”. Not only is it just a masterpiece of songwriting but the arrangement and production is incredible, beginning with those shaking horns and guitar. Super solid soul the whole way through, especially with that strong bassline anchoring the song. Pay attention to both the bassist and guitarist – they’re also what makes Taylor’s cover of “Watermelon Man” so memorable. This is funky without having to advertise: the effect is subtle but definitely groovin’.
Sample heads: at least two people lifted from “Watermelon Man” – one obvious, one perhaps not quite so.