One of my favorite compilations in recent memory was the Personal Space anthology, looking at the early incorporation of synthesizers and drum machines into soul music during the 1960s and ’70s. It wasn’t a “genre” (if on can even call it that) that I knew much about but what I heard was the kind of lo-fi attempts at experimentation that appeal to me for both their sonic weirdness and the earnestness of their effort.
Guitar Red’s Hard Times jumped high on my list of albums I wanted to track down after hearing the comp and not only did I find a copy of his 7″ at Big City (R.I.P.!) the week after my review of Personal Space ran but I recently jumped at the chance to cop the album when it came up on eBay.
Guitar Red: Share Your Love
On 7″ and Hard Times LP (Mod-Art, 1976)
Guitar Red: Space and Time
On Hard Times (Mod-Art, 1976)
Guitar Red was the nom de plume of blues artist Paul Johnson who originally recorded in the Chicago area in the 1950s and ’60s. Here’s one of his earliest singles, a rather hopping’ jump blues:
By the time the folks at the tiny Mod-Art imprint tracked him down, he hadn’t recorded in a few years and was doing the dinner lounge circuit and I’m not entirely clear what they really foresaw him pulling off with this album but it’s about as far from any traditional style of Chicago blues as one can imagine. “Share Your Love” is a definite highlight from the first few notes with its mix of synths overlaid atop one another while a rather feeble drum track burbles beneath (it sounds like one of those “pre-programmed” tempos you’d find on a cheap electronic keyboard. Throw in a muscular baseline and somehow, this whole tune works. It’ll never make a dance floor pop but frankly, it sounds kind of incredible over headphones.
“Space and Time” is for later in the evening; straight up end of the night mellow zooted-ness. Use of echo effect gets the props. I absolutely must make it a priority to try playing this out at my next gig, just to see how it goes over. Nice use of stereo separation by the way, with the guitar in the left channel and synth horns in the right.
And since we’re on this whole tip, I had to pull out this 7″, which I think I got courtesy a grab bag’s worth of goodies from Justin Torres:
Clarence Mann: Sadity Lady Pts. 1 and 2
From 7″ (Flower’s, 197?)
This is off a local Indiana label that I have at least one other weird, disco-ero track from. As you can hear, it is moog-ed the f— out (or some similar synth in that lane) and without trying to diss Mann, I actually think this song works better as an instrumental (that’s what part 2 is) than with vocals. I included the two tracks back to back for you to judge for yourself.