(originally written for Side Dishes)

Few American pop figures were as complete as Curtis Mayfield; not only was he an oft-imitated singer, gifted songwriter and visionary producer, but Mayfield also understood the importance of creative ownership. Through his label Curtom and its subsidiaries, Mayfield created a home for not just his and the Impressions music, but for dozens of other artists who came seeking a chance to make their mark too. I recently came upon a compilation, Curtom Funk which looks at – as you might guess – the funkier side of the label. I picked a few choices cuts from the anthology and sprinkled in a few of my Curtom favorites too.

Donny Hathaway and June Conquest: I Thank You
From 7″ (Curtom, 1969). Also available on Curtom Funk.

I’m so used to thinking of Donny as an Atlantic artist that I forget before he ended up there, he was a singer and songwriter for Curtom for several yars. One of the products of his time there was this duet with June Conquest; a snappy, slow soul stomper that showcases Hathaway’s beautiful voice and a rousing track with a full bank of horns and strings.

Jesse Anderson: Mighty Mighty
From 7″ (Thomas, 1970). Also on The Curtom Story.

Anderson was a local Chicago artist whose career never quite took fire on a national level despite no shortage of raw talent. His version of “Mighty Mighty,” a cover of Baby Huey’s song (another Curtom artist) gives it an instrumental makeover, with a heavy hand for both the drums and the funky wah-wah guitar, yet it’s all balanced by that sweet touch of the flute which provides the song with its melodic zip.

Bobby Franklin’s Insanity: Bring It On Down To Me
From 7″ (Thomas, 1969). Also available on Curtom Funk.

Arguably the hardest funk single to appear in the Curtom family (this one was on the Thomas subsidiary), “Bring It On Down” is all guitar rips and handclaps plus Franklin’s rough, bluesy vocals. Not sure where Franklin’s original roots were but given that he also recorded for the Detroit-based Eastbound, one assumes he came out of the dense Midwest musical community.

Curtis Mayfield: Move On Up
From Curtis (Curtom, 1971). Also available on Curtom Funk.

Seems only right to have some actual Mayfield in the mix and it’s hard to go wrong with the bright, shiny, inspiration energy of “Move On Up” with those glorious horns and propulsive rhythm. Plus, what better anthem to go with the ascension of another Chicago fast-riser, Barack Obama?

Moses Dillard and the Tex-Town Display: I’ve Got to Find a Way (Part 2)
From 7″ (Curtom, 1970). Also on Curtom Soul Trippin’ II.

I had always assumed Dillard was from Texas but the “Tex-Town” part of his band’s name stands for “Textile Town, an allusion to his native city of Greenville, South Carolina (which ran a large textile factory). Dillard originally put the single out of an different label (I’m assuming his own, Textown) but its success in the South encouraged Curtom to acquire it in 1980 and re-release it nationally. For some reason, this song always reminds me of native Chicagoan Syl Johnson and his “Is It Because I’m Black?” – both have a heavy, heavy sound, their funk elements kept dark and moody. I’ve often called this song the best single Rza never sampled.