Thursday, August 28, 2008

posted by O.W.

Young Jeezy feat. Nas: My President Is Black
From The Recession (Def Jam, 2008)

BTW: Congrats to R. Brandt and L. Paulson for winning copies of the Bronx River Parkway CD!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

posted by O.W.

So let me turn the tables around and ask a question of the SS massive, especially anyone out there with either/both a carpentry or/and mechanical engineering background:

I want to build a custom record file other words, something designed like a file cabinet that can hold 12" lps: two drawers, vertically stacked, each on rails/casters so they can be pulled out.

I'm quite surprised that I've never seen this anywhere before even though it's not a radical idea. It leads me to wonder if that's because there's some basic engineering problems with load distribution?

Here's the basic (interior) dimensions for each drawer: 13w, 13h, 13l. Each drawer needs to hold up to around 80 records (6lps/inch), which would be around 40 lbs (.5lb/lp). If it'd be possible to increase the length to around 15-16", then each drawer could hold an even 100 LPs (50 lbs).

Any handymen/women out there want to offer their expertise on the feasibility? And if you also happen to be in Los Angeles and would like to sell/barter your skills for designing such a device; let's talk!

Meanwhile, as a thank you for people's indulgence of this query, here's two recently digitized songs in my "party crate" (alas, not one on casters however).

B&G Rhythm: Hibaros
From S/T (Polydor, 1978)

Patucchi: Red Lamp (Blackbeard Edit)
From 12" (Scenario, 2005)

The B&G is a late '70s, Latin-influenced modern soul record which I don't know jack about except that B&G stand for arranger and bassist Donnie Beck and his partner, percussionist Steve Gutierrez while jazzman Wayne Henderson produced the album. As far as I know, it's the only album B&G ever made. I'm feeling "Hibaors" - sounds like something Roy Ayres and/or Ramsey Lewis might have dreamed up together, with some Deodato Brazilian flavor sprinkled in too. Love the use of Rhodes (Bobby Lyle) and the slick groove Gutierrez lays down on the drums, plus the vocal melodies. All this really needed was a breakbeat drum solo to bring it all together at the bridge.

"Red Lamp" was originally by French composer Daniele Patucchi (though the song appears on a Spanish label). The Blackbeard edit is fairly loyal to the original - it strips down the intro and lengthens it and does so again towards the back half, but otherwise, keeps all the elements of the original. I could be crazy, but this song reminds me of the Nite-Liters' "K-Jee." The horn melody is pretty much identical and I suspect Patucchi borrowed from it to lay down the basic melodic riff for the song. Either way, "Red Lamp" smokes on its own (love the handclaps).

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

posted by O.W.

In an effort to improve our site's interactivity...

Ask...anything you've ever wanted to know about [music, records, writing, finding ramen, etc.] but were afraid to.


Q: "I'd like to know where you guys learned what all of the different musical genres and terms mean."

A: Genres are tricky things. Some of them evolve "organically" out of cultural communities in which they were invented - hip-hop or soul for example. But certainly marketing plays a big role in this too: genres are useful to radio stations and record stores and record labels and so they have an investment in perpetuating genres that are neither organic nor make any sense: see "world music."

But as to where one learns it - certainly, if you read music magazines or books, that's one place to pick up a basic vocabulary for different genres. My point above is just to take them with a grain of salt - genres are always subjective categories, open to interpretation and contestation.

Q: "How do you go about reviewing music? What sort of process do you go through up until you review it?"

A: I'm not sure I completely understand the question but I'll take a stab: I don't know if I have a standard way of reviewing a record - a lot of it depends on who I'm writing it for, how much space I have to work with, etc. I'll say this much though: even though I try to listen to a record several times before I write a review, first impressions matter a great deal because it's usually on that first listen that I begin to form different angles - or even single sentences - that I want to write and that gives me the seeds to build a review from. It's not that I'm wed to sticking to those initial ideas but I think there's a natural inclination to letting your most powerful reactions guide you. I'm not like Pauline Kael - who would review movies after seeing them once and only ever once - but definitely, that first impression matters, for better or for worse.

Q: "do you (o-dub) have a desert island top 5 albums?? or does it change from month to month?"

A: As you can see on the right, I've started a basic "Top 5" for songs and albums. That'd be my rotating "desert island 5" though the fact that it's rotating defeats the whole concept of a desert island disc to begin with.

The thing is, there's a difference between "5 albums I think everyone should have" vs "5 albums I'd want to listen to for the rest of my life." I don't know if I could ever definitively commit to a playlist like the latter because, on any given day, I might favor one artist - or even genre - or another. A desert island list would be meaningless in the face of that subjectivity.

Q: "what would be the 5 albums you'd recommend?"

A: Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man
Al Green: I'm Still In Love With You
Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane: S/T
The Beatles: White Album

Set in stone? No.
Liable to go wrong? No.

Q: "How does the wider grooves of a 12" translate into higher quality sound?"

A: I'm not a sound engineer so I might have this wrong but I'll take an amateur's stab. A stylus picks up audio information encoded in a record groove. The wider the groove, the more information that can be encoded and (I think), the more dynamic the sound range. At the very least, a wider groove = a louder record which is partially why 7" and 12" singles play considerably louder than a 12" LP.

That said, a wider groove does not constitute "higher quality sound" - that's dependent on the recording process rather than the cutting process. It's perfectly possible to have a wide groove and crappy sound.

Q: "which is your favourite year in music? how do you rate current state of things?"

A: I'll work backwards - I don't know how quiet to rate the current state of things. If I think, for example, that music has gone to hell in a hand basket but music's still as popular as it ever has been in society; maybe it's not music that's changed, maybe it's me. It's only natural that as times change, you're less and less likely to stay attached/connected to it because most likely, your tastes won't have changed as dramatically.

As for my favorite year, I don't have an answer for that; I don't think of music in such a specific way. I like the late '60s. I was heavily influenced by popular music in the early '90s but also in the mid-1980s. But it's not like I go around thinking, "damn, I wish I could relive 1993 again!" If I had a favorite era, no doubt, it'd be the second half of the 1960s. I can't say I'm nostalgic for it (since I wasn't born yet) but if I had a time machine...

Q: "What really happened to Warren G? Why did his star fade?"

A: The pop music business, especially hip-hop, is highly competitive and unforgiving. As the cliche goes, you're only as good as your last hit and with someone like Warren G, who tended to be in the shadow of Dre since jump, it doesn't matter how massively popular he might have been back when "Regulate" dropped 14 years ago. I have no doubt that G likely suffered from bad luck, bad timing, shady industry b.s. and whatever else but that's grist for the mill in hip-hop in general. No rapper or producer is promised tomorrow, especially when whatever circumstances align to limit their ability to produce hits. Seriously, when's the last time you can remember a major Warren G song? You'd have to go back to probably 2004 with the 213 album and that's four years old at this point.

Despite its penchant for nostalgia, the hip-hop industry isn't very sentimental. Warren G's faded star is just one of many in that regard.

Q: "More on ramen! What's your current favorite place to get a bowl of ramen?"

A: That's easy to answer: Santouka. If you're in the Bay Area, then it'd be Santa Ramen. I have no real recommendations for NY. I've yet to find a ramen spot there I'm really that blown away by. Definitely not this place though.

Q: "Is there any relationship between the early-80s M.C. TJ Swann and the late-80s, down-with-Biz, singer TJ Swan?"

A: I didn't think so but I checked in someone who is far more knowledgeable on the topic and he said, no, not the same guy. More on the Biz's TJ Swan.

Q: "Not much Hip Hop covered on SS lately. Is that intentional? Or is nothing really moving you enough to post."

A: Definitely not intentional. Definitely influenced by "nothing really moving" me. Part of it too is that there are some really incredible hip-hop blogs out there and Soul Sides isn't trying to top, say Nah Right or And so I'm happy they're out there, doing the work that, say, 10 years ago, I probably would have been trying to do. Whereas, I think Soul Sides is able, in its own modest way, to help fill a void that I actually think I can contribute something to rather than just being another voice in the crowd.

Also, I tend to post as guided by what I'm adding to my collection and these days, I just am not chasing after that many rap records because either 1) I already own what I need or 2) I can't afford what I want.

But hey, I'll try to knock out a few rap posts. It's not like I mind writing about hip-hop; it's just not where my musical obsessions are running these days.

Q:"I'd love to read more books about Funk & Soul, the history of the music I love so much. Can you give us a list of books worth checking out?"

A: Sure, I'd recommend you start with any of these three:
  • Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music. Essential reading for anyone interested in classic Southern soul music from the 1960s (not so much on Motown however).
  • Rob Bowman's Soulsville, U.S.A.. It's an incredible, exhaustive history of Stax/Volt records.
  • Rickey Vincent's Funk. It's bent towards the idea that P-Funk was the apotheosis of funk music - an idea some may or may not agree with - but it's still one of the few tomes out there that tries to tackle the history of funk in any real way.

    Q: "I've enjoyed exploring sites on your excellent blog roll, but am wondering if there are two or three music blogs that you check out religiously? Or ones that you think have slipped under the radar and deserve wider attention?"

    Q: "What's a good hip hop blog these days? I mean something along the lines of Cocaine Blunts, that posts mp3's of obscure hip hop artists, say, circa 1983-1993."

    A: Some of the more observant folks will note I haven't updated the blogroll in months upon months. And that's largely because I don't have enough time to look at other sites very often. I'd say if there were one site I'd love for Soul Sides to be more like, it'd be Office Naps. It's so sharp, well-written and informative that I consider it a gold-standard but since I like to play things a bit looser, I've never tried to emulate it very closely with the exception of the Pick Six posts which works off a basic, similar concept of grouping multiple songs together with a central theme.

    As for great new hip-hop blogs, I'm sure there's about four dozen ones that focus on obscure hip-hop from that era...but I don't know any off the dome. If folks want to contribute in the comments, please do!

    Q: "what would you recommend as a few of the strongest r&b/soul albums of the last 10 years or so?"

    A: I can't say I've listened to the full breadth of contemporary R&B to give a comprehensive answer but off the top of my head, I'd want these in my jukebox:

  • D'Angelo: Voodoo
  • Sade: Lover's Rock
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights
  • Justin Timberlake: Justified
  • Erykah Badu: New Amerykah Pt. 1
  • Janet Jackson: The Velvet Rope
  • Aaliyah: I Care 4 U
  • Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

    As noted: that's just what I can think of immediately. There probably should be an album by Mariah Carey in there somewhere but I know her singles, not her LPs so much. Same goes for Destiny's Child/Beyonce. Never found a lot of the neo-soul artists like Jill Scott or Angie Stone that compelling beyond a few songs; same goes for Musiq, Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, etc. Seriously though, my tastes in contemporary R&B vs. "vintage" R&B can run quite different so take everything with a grain of salt.

    Q: how did you first start gigging? what speakers/amp do you recommend?

    I started DJing in the summer of 1993 and did a few parties (most of them disastrous) but I was primarily DJing on the radio for KALX FM in Berkeley, CA. I had a radio show, more or less, continuously from 1994 through 2004.

    I started gigging on a regular basis around 2001, with DJ Vinnie Esparza, up in San Francisco. We had a monthly party called Joyride that lasted for a year or so. But until boogaloo[la], that was the only other regular gig I've ever held down. It's not for lack of interest, mostly lack of effort.

    As for speakers/amps - can't help you there. I don't have a mobile set-up so I'm always dependent on the equipment at the clubs/bars where I spin. I do use a Rane TTM 56 mixer which is an excellent piece of equipment, well worth the price.

    Q: "i have the impression you focus more on the musical aspect than the lyrical side of hiphop is that true? who do you think is at the top of his form the best hiphop lyricist?
    can you recite some of your favourite couplets?"

    A: I think, in general, I've always been foremost a fan of hip-hop's sonic impact; a song with great lyrics and wack beats will lose my attention faster than the inverse. That's not to say I don't appreciate good lyricism - not at all - but where my ears tune in first is the production.

    As for best lyricists, it's a pretty standard list: Rakim and Nas for writing, Chuck D and Ice Cube for passion in delivery, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne for swagger, etc. Ghostface for being Ghost.

    In terms of favorite couplets, there's a few that have always stayed with me, including Nas' "NY State of Mind," Inspectah Deck on Gangstarr's "Above the Clouds" and of course, the entirety of "Freaks of the Industry" by Digital Underground. Oakland, holla.

    Q: "What ten records would you say are a great foundation for Boogaloo/Latin groove?"

    A: First of all, boogaloo was more of a singles phenom than an album one insofar as it was relatively unusual to find an album that was all boogaloo. There were many, to be sure, but a lot of the best boogaloo songs tended to come off albums that had a mix of boogaloo, guaracha, bolero, guaguanco, etc.

    As a result, in some ways, compilations are the best place to start since they isolate the individual songs that are worth considering. I'd recommend you look at this.

    But in terms of individual albums, I'll give you three to start with.

    Joe Cuba: Bang! Bang! Bang!
    Pete Rodriguez: I Like It Like That
    Joe Bataan: Gypsy Woman.

    But since you ask for "foundation" albums, I'd also suggest checking out any of the early to mid 1960s albums by Ray Barretto and Joe Cuba. Pre-boogaloo, you can hear the evolution of the Latin soul sound beginning to happen to their prodigious output from that era. Start with Barretto's "Charanga Moderna" and see if you can find an early '60s compilation of Joe Cuba's Secco output put out by Musidisc called "The Exciting Joe Cuba."

    Q: "I'm a Chinese-American and frequent visitor to your site. I'm curious as to how your love for soul music started. What were your first experiences with it? What drew you to it? Why this genre, and not other genres?

    The question is rooted in my own experience, being a first-generation Chinese (I came to the US with my parents when I was 4 years old), and growing up enjoying primarily hip-hop music. Why didn't I grow up enjoying rock, or pop? It's an interesting question, and one I don't really have an answer or even a sounding board for."

    I had two primary exposures to soul. The first was growing up with my father who was into oldies stations and so that gave me with my initial exposure to the Motown "greatest hits" catalog as well as other major '60s/'70s crossover R&B stars like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. The other main point of entry was hip-hop and more specifically, hip-hop sampling. Because hip-hop was my first big musical love, the more I learned about it, the more it lead be backwards into the musical past and that invariably meant soul and funk. At some point though, my interest in soul between its own thing, detached from any direct connection with hip-hop and I've since continued along that line.

    As to the second part of your question - I don't think there's a way to really explain why somethings appeal to you while others do not. I don't think, in this case, race or ethnicity necessarily brings much to bear. I know plenty of Asian Americans who are into rock and pop, I know many who love hip-hop and soul. There's not, per se, a direct correlation except perhaps one of geography - where you grow up, the kind of cultural influences you're likely to experience on the basis of that geography and the demographics of ethnic settlement will make a big difference. Back in the 1980s, when I was growing up in the suburbs, mostly around other Asians and Whites, I was exposed to mostly rock and pop; hip-hop was something I discovered on my own more or less rather than through my friends. But you talk to other people who grew up around Black neighborhoods, usually though not exclusively in urban centers, and they're more likely to have grow up with soul, gospel and hip-hop as the music "in the air" around them.

    But all that aside, ultimately, what appeals to you sonically are often qualities that are impossible to rationally explain - what we find pleasure in can't be reduced to science and for me, it's one of those mysteries in life that I'm more than happy to let remain enigmatic.


  • Thursday, August 21, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Bronx River Parkway & Candela All Stars: Donde
    Bronx River Parkway & Candela All Stars: San Sebastian 152
    From San Sebastian 152 (Truth and Soul/Candela, 2008)

    Johnny Pacheco: Boogaloo De Johnny (Quantic Remix)
    Dave Cortez: Happy Soul With a Hook (DJ Format Remix)
    From I Like It Like That (Fania, 2008)

    Los Po-Boy-Citos: Wobble Cha
    Los Po-Boy-Citos: Fat Mama/Mother-In-Law
    From New Orleans Latin Soul (2008)

    You have retro-soul on one hand but there's also an equally strong trend of what I'm going to call nuevo-Latin (just for the hell of it): soul/funk-influenced Afro-Cuban rhythms whipped together by a younger generation of musicians. The UK's Quantic is probably one of the best known of this cohort, but you could also include Grupo Fantasma and Chica Libre or Brownout (I'm sure there are many, many more). However, the one I've been keeping tabs on has been the Bronx River Parkway and Candela All Stars joint project. I first heard them probably around 2006 and then was reminded of them again in 2007 and the group - lead by the same people in the El Michels Affair/Truth and Soul - has finally completed its debut album, San Sebastian 152 which should be shipping any day now.

    Bronx River Parkway combines players out of the Truth and Soul camp with a host of Puerto Rican musicians, many of them veterans from bands once lead by Roberta Roena and Cortijo. Most of this album was originally begun during a trip down to San Juan in 2006. The result is a great meeting point between the tight, funky arrangements that Truth and Soul is known for and the infectious Latin swing brought by their PR counterparts. You really hear that on the title song, especially in how beautifully the horn sections from both bands really give the song such a shine.

    "Donde" I included because I was tickled by its nod to one of the great Latin soul/boogaloo joints of all time: "Freak Off" by Orchestra Harlow. It's not a cover per se, but clearly riffs of the Harlow classic.

    Leon Michels at Truth and Soul was kind enough to offer up some copies of the new CD for Soul Sides readers. If you want a copy, email me (subject line: Bronx River Parkway) and I'll pick a couple of winners at random at the end of next week (make sure you include your address in your email).

    Speaking of Quantic and while we're on the Latin tip already, I'd be remiss in not mentioning that Fania has just put out their "remixed" compilation which features a slew of their remix sides (formerly on 12") on one disc. Considering how quickly many of those singles sold-out, it's nice that they put them out on one disc. To be honest, while there's some stuff on here that I thought was really solid (such as the two tracks above), like most remix albums, there's a good deal of material that I personally just didn't care much for, especially the more house/techno-oriented remixes which aren't my musical bag.

    Of the material I did like, the "Happy Soul With a Hook" edit by DJ Format was one of the first 12"s that Fania released and it's easy to see its appeal - super uptempo, funky and big with Xtina fans. This is the same song I wrote about in the Happy Soul Suite and Format reworks this particular version by playing with the drums and giving it some extra kick. I do, personally, miss the vocals from the original Latin Blues Band song but hey, I guess I could remix the remix.

    Anyways, the Quantic remix of "Boogaloo De Johnny" was a very nice surprise - I guess I'm used to QSO's more uptempo styles, but this is more like that great remix of Nas' "Get Down" with its reggae sabor. Overall, I like that approach here - stripping the song down and building it up rather than putting too much on it. (I don't own any Pacheco boogaloo albums - anyone know what the original to this was off of or is it a cut n paste job of several songs?)

    Lastly, we have a new group out of NOLA, the Los Bo-Boy-Citos, a six-man, second-line-meets-Latin-soul outfit. Their conceit is intriguing - take NOLA's funk/soul heritage (itself Cuban-influenced) and then throw in an East Harlem vibe and see what cooks up. At the risk of being an essentialist, I associate both New Orleans and Spanish Harlem sounds with more gritty, lo-fi flavor and this is a little too clean for my tastes; compare their take on "Fat Mama" with Tito Puente's original and you'll see what I mean. That said, 1) the latter song's combination with Allen Toussaint's "Mother In Law" is inspired, to say the least, plus 2) I'm slightly in awe of any band that knows about - let alone covers - such obscure-r fare such as "Danzon Boogaloo, arguably the very first "official" Latin boogaloo ever record, by Ricardo Ray, or Cool Benny's "Wobble Cha" (see below).

    Also, in an unexpected way, their sound is actually much closer to what boogaloo sounded like in the jazz world during the late '60s era of Blue Note/Prestige artists like Lou Donaldson and "Boogaloo Joe" Jones. That boogaloo fad in jazz was never very connected to the jazz world (from what I've been able to research), Les McCann's Bucket O' Grease excepted, and in a serendipitous way, Los Po-Boy-Citos create that missing link between the jazz and Latin boogaloo styles.

    Bonus: Cool Benny: Wobble Cha
    From 7" (Virgo, 196?). Also on California Soul.

    For a bonus, I thought I'd throw on the original "Wobble Cha" - one of those lesser-known West Coast Latin dance tunes. I first heard about it from the California Soul comp (and I might now actually own the 7" that it was mastered from) and DJ Little Danny from Office Naps (which is BACK!) also wrote about it in his Pt. 1 on "West Coast Latin jazz vibes" posts (by sheer coincidence, he just posted up his Pt. 2). "Wobble Cha" has "novelty" all over it which isn't a bad thing (and to be sure, there were a few Latin artists with wobble cuts but it was never as big as even the shing-a-ling, let alone boogaloo) - the song has a fun little swing to it and I'm a big fan of the mambo-era vibes flavor.

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    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    posted by Captain Planet

    recycled.jpg giantstep.jpg evolution.jpg
    roots.jpg satisfied.jpg
    Taj Mahal :Cakewalk Into Town
    taken from the album
    "Recycling The Blues & Other Related Stuff"
    on Columbia (1972)

    Taj Mahal :Farther On Down The Road
    taken from the album
    "Giant Step" on Columbia (1969)

    Taj Mahal :Queen Bee & Salsa de Laventille
    taken from the album
    "Evolution" on Warner Bros (1978)

    Taj Mahal :Why Did You Have To Desert Me?
    Clara (St. Kitts Woman)
    taken from the album
    "Mo' Roots" on Columbia (1974)

    Taj Mahal :Satisfied 'N Tickled Too, Easy To Love &Misty Morning Ride
    taken from the album
    "Satisfied 'N Tickled Too" on Columbia (1976)

    When you fall in love with a song, you mark yourself for life. You can forget about the song, but you won't forget the song. You'll hear it again and experience the type of space-time warping that string theory scientists are still struggling to define. And when you really need a particular piece of music from your past, when a hungry hole of nostalgia or pain rings in your chest like an empty hallway, you have the innate ability to diagnose yourself with the perfect musical prescription. Turning up the volume and traveling on memories is a magic luxury that has carried our ancestors through struggle since the dawn of the lullaby. This week I was in need of comfort, and from some unknown inner dimension, my memory played a melody that collapsed the past into the present and future. I felt my 16 year-old self hearing "Cakewalk Into Town" for the very first time (endless thanks to Chattanooga Hammy Hamilton for that introduction), I could feel the me now, lying on the floor with a little ball of fur named Rosco purring between my fingertips, and I could also see the brightness yet to come. After playing that first Taj LP, I pulled out one after another and continued tripping through past loves. There's so many good tunes, and somehow I'd gone all these years without a single one on MP3!?! Now I've been listening to Taj almost exclusively for a week and I figured I should share my little personal "best of" collection - even though there's lots more to check for.

    The music of Taj Mahal is roots and soul. Part Cymande, part Muddy Waters, part (dare I say it) Grateful Dead- entirely it's own entity which fits within no genre. Call me cheesy, call me a hippy, your words will fall flat against the might of what I feel when I listen to his songs. Where else does steel drum and harmonica mix with banjo and flute so naturally? And his voice alone carries some songs- raw and warm like milk out the utter. It hath been taken there. I'm still a country boy at heart and every once in a while I have to let it show. Truth be told, my lil baby brother was even named "Taj" after senor blues himself.


    Thursday, August 14, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    (Editor's Note: This comes from Matt Rogers, one of the contributing editors at Wax Poetics and someone who I thought could do an excellent retrospective on the late Jimmy McGriff (who we lost earlier this year). With his death, alongside that of Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith, one of the greatest sets of jazz organists to ever come through are now gone. Rogers pays proper tribute to one of those masters. --O.W.)

    Written by Matt Rogers:
      "This is what we call the love instrument," Jimmy McGriff said to me once during an interview for this. At the time, he was sitting at the helm of the 400lb lovechild of pipe organ and furniture-piece, better known as the Hammond B-3 that, along with its Leslie speaker, occupied a significant chunk of the man's living room. "If you love it and play it like you mean it, it will work for you." And work for him "the Beast" (as it's often referred to by many of its devotees), most certainly did, propelling a sixty-year professional music career in which McGriff loved and played the indefatigable instrument in clubs and concert halls the world over, all the while greasing heavyweight grooves onto a plethora of albums for numerous record labels--including Sue, Solid State, Blue Note, Capitol, Groove Merchant and Milestone--that would be sampled by hip-hop heads for years to come. Sadly, on May 24th, 2008, the great Jimmy McGriff died--aged 72--just outside his hometown of Brotherly Love, the cause complications from multiple sclerosis, which he'd battled the last two decades of his life.

      James Harrell McGriff Jr. was humble, reserved, confident; one of the last of his ilk, that is, a "jazz" musician who in the ‘60s and ‘70s took jazz and slapped it silly with funk. Whereas many jazz artists (let alone critics) decried such "debasing" of jazz, Hammond organists—who had a virtual orchestra under their fingertips and heels--seemed a natural fit. Born April 3rd, 1936--not long after the first Hammond organs were being rolled off of Chicago assembly lines--into a family steeped in the thick sacred and secular Philadelphia music scene, McGriff grew up in the Germantown neighborhood known as the Brickyard, where it wasn't uncommon for folks such as Count Basie to be jammin' at the McGriff household and encouraging Jimmy Jr. to take a taste. And he did, sampling piano, violin, drums, and vibes before landing his first gig at 13 playing bass for singer Big Maybelle. Officially bit, McGriff then picked up sax gigs with Hammond organ-based groups, most notably organist Richard "Groove" Holmes's, who insisted Jimmy--now earning his bread as a city police officer (he'd given Miles Davis a parking ticket)--was misfiring his talents and sternly sat him down at the organ bench. Thusly, McGriff became smitten with the Hammond in a town seemingly minting world-class organists daily, including Doc Bagby, Milt Buckner, Bill Doggett, Shirley Scott, Trudy Pitts and, of course, the incomparable Jimmy Smith.

      "Jimmy Smith is the king of the jazz," McGriff would say years later in a radio interview, "but when it comes into the blues thing, we got a little different outlook on things." True enough, throughout his career McGriff routinely insisted he was not a jazz organist but rather a blues organ player, and he found his voice in melding gospel, blues and jazz like no organist before him or after. One could probably attribute part of his claim to his desire (and need) to differentiate himself from the long, thick shadow cast by the Tiger Woods of jazz organ--Jimmy Smith--as well as critics/publicity folk/stores who needed to categorize his efforts. However, one must only look at McGriff's vast record of records to know that the man knew what he was talking about. According to McGriff, his two biggest influences were indeed Ray Charles and Count Basie, and like Basie, McGriff was more concerned not with the speed and number of notes one could play, but where they were placed. His M.O. from the get go was to combine his love for gospel stomp and big band swing into something new, call it jazz, soul jazz, funk, whatever you want. The bottom line: whatever he played, whether original tune or cover, he usually made it groove.

      I've Got A Woman
      From I've Got A Woman (Sue, 1962)

      From Jimmy McGriff at the Organ (Sue 1964)

      Jungle Cat
      7" (Jell, 196?)

      Where It's At
      From Where the Action Is (Veep, 1965ish)

      Motoring Along
      From Step 1 (Solid State, 1968)

      Jimmy Smith: Motoring Along
      From Home Cookin' (Blue Note, 1958)

      [Sidenote: McGriff's first single, "Foxy Do," for the White Rock label in 1960 features a young Charlie Earland on sax. If you've ever heard it, please holla'. McGriff would end up mentoring Earland on organ like "Groove" Holmes had done for him. Probably not a coincidence all three were some of the funkiest of their peers. The tunes covered in this overview lean in that direction.]

      McGriff's first smash single, a cover of Ray Charles' "I've Got a Woman," was recorded first for his manager's record label, Jell Records, in '61, then picked up by Juggy Murray's Sue Records, which was distinctly a very un-jazzy label, focusing more on the likes of Ike and Tina Turner and Baby Washington. A full-length LP, I've Got a Woman followed in '62, as McGriff would proceed to lay down seven LPs for Sue from '62-'64, all heavily soaked with gospel, blues and jazz. "Kiko, " a sped-up kissing cousin of Bill Doggett's smash, "Honkytonk," was another hit for McGriff and became a calling card for his live shows.

      Before Jimmy McGriff moved onto the next phase of his career, in which he was scooped by producer and A&R man Sonny Lester, McGriff recorded "Jungle Cat (pt.1)," a 45-only release on Jell; it's notable as it features his brother Hank McGriff on bongos. Whereas "Jungle Cat" may have been recorded live, "Where It's At" certainly was, in Newark, NJ, itself a hotbed for Hammond organists, featuring the rhythmic guitar wonder Thornell Schwartz, who'd share time between Jimmy Smith's and McGriff's bands. Ironically, McGriff wasn't the first one to record one of his own songs. Jimmy Smith beat him to the punch, recording McGriff's "Motoring Along" in '58, well before McGriff had any record deal, and ten years before McGriff would set his own version to wax.

      From Cherry (Solid State, 1966)

      I Got the Feelin'
      From Honey (Solid State, 1968)

      The Worm
      From The Worm (Solid State, 1968)

      A Thing to Come By, Pt. 2
      From A Thing to Come By (Solid State, 1969)

      Chris Cross & The Bird Wave
      From Electric Funk (Blue Note, 1969)

      Ain't It Funky Now
      From Soul Sugar (Capitol, 1971)

      Jimmy McGriff's association with Sonny Lester lasted fifteen years, as McGriff essentially became Lester's linchpin for two significant record labels he would create, the first being Solid State in '66, the second being Groove Merchant in ‘71. Lester's eye was always trained on the jukebox and he saw McGriff as someone who could place many 45s there. After allowing McGriff to fulfill a lifelong dream of recording an album with Count Basie's band, Tribute to Basie, Lester threw a slew of pop tunes at him, including "Tequila," as well as soul tunes such as "Respect" and "We're a Winner."

      In fact, McGriff told stories about how over the years James Brown, no stranger to the Hammond organ, would harass him for organ lessons anytime he would bump into him at a gig. Maybe the requests had something to do with McGriff's take on the Godfather's work. Regardless, McGriff embraced soul and funk as the decade wore on, and would frequently feature the horn work of Blue Mitchell and Arthur "Fats" Theus. Theus, an astute study of Eddie Harris's Varitone sax technique, would pen McGriff's hit, "The Worm, " the title track from his '68 LP (which also contained the nugget, "Blue Juice"). "A Thing to Come By, Pt. 2" showcases McGriff's simultaneous piano and organ bass work. With '69's Electric Funk, McGriff slathered his Blue Note debut with the assistance of arranger/composer/pianist Horace Ott, Stanley Turrentine and an uncredited Bernard Purdie. With tunes like "Chris Cross" and "The Bird Wave," McGriff's funk bag was cemented.

      Jimmy McGriff & Junior Parker: No One Knows (What Goes On When The Door Is Closed)
      From Jimmy McGriff & Junior Parker (United Artists, 1971)

      Jimmy McGriff & Junior Parker: Drownin' On Dry Land
      From Good Things Don't Happen Every Day (Groove Merchant, 1971)

      From Let's Stay Together (Groove Merchant, 1972)

      Jimmy McGriff & "Groove" Holmes: Beans
      From Giants of the Organ in Concert (Groove Merchant, 1973)

      Jimmy McGriff:The Main Squeeze
      From The Main Squeeze (Groove Merchant, 1974)

      Stump Juice
      From Stump Juice (Groove Merchant, 1975)

      Two of the most interesting collaborations McGriff ever did in his career were with the blues singer Junior Parker and fellow organist Richard "Groove" Holmes. McGriff recorded two albums with Parker before he tragically died of cancer at 38; one, recorded live at McGriff's Newark club, the Golden Slipper, the other recorded in-studio. These albums would be released under varying titles both on Capitol and Sonny Lester's new label, Groove Merchant. Groove Merchant did exactly what it's name implied: sold the groove. McGriff, along with folks like Lonnie Smith, Reuben Wilson, Carmen McRae, as well has his close friend and mentor, "Groove" Holmes, became the label's premier acts. McGriff continued to churn out soul jazz, funk jazz, jazz funk, whatevah, via a host of albums like Fly Dude, Groove Grease and Let's Stay Together. McGriff and Holmes also recorded a pair of albums together, the first in-studio, the other a torrid double LP recorded live at Paul's Mall in Boston. One of McGriff's favorite efforts, you can compare and contrast student and teacher's styles on this jam-laden nugget, as McGriff is panned to your left and Holmes to your right. The shortest cut, "Beans," lends itself to such aural taste tests.

      As synthesizers began elbowing their way onto wax, McGriff held the funk mantle while embracing the new technology, as illustrated on cuts like "Stump Juice, that would serve an eventual death knell for the soon-to-be bankrupt Hammond organ company. At the height of the synth-craze, McGriff's partnership with Sonny Lester sputtered, and he'd forge a new relationship with producer Bob Porter in 1980, moving back to his blues-based roots for the remaining two decades of his recording career. But he never forgot his love for the funk. "Funk had been good to me," McGriff told me once. "And me and that organ had been good to funk."

    Jerry Wexler: 1917 - 2008

    It's been a bad week. More to follow.

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    posted by murphyslaw


    Bill Withers: No Hands, Gramma (Re-edit by Shoes)

    Taken from the whitelabel 12" (2008)

    Barbara Acklin: I Can't Be Myself (Floorman Re-Edit)

    Mp3 taken from here

    Chic: I Want Your Love (Re-Edit by Todd Terje)

    Taken from a mix cd that a friend gave me... (a few weeks ago)

    James Brown: Sayin' It And Doin' It (Sugarloaf Gangsters Mix)

    Taken from the album Doin' James on Gamm (2008)

    Chaka Khan: Every Little Thing (Barna Soundmachine Edit)

    Taken from the whitelabel 12" (2005)

    Ralfi Pagan: Didn't Want To Have To Do It (4 Hero Remix)

    Taken from the album I Like It Like That: Fania Remixed on Fania (2008)

    "Simplify, simplify." --Henry David Thoreau

    I've always liked that quote. And let it be known, friends, that as sure as it applies to the great quandries of existentialism, so too with... a proper re-edit.

    The beauty of a good re-hashing of somebody else's (hopefully) already realized work is the subtle accentuation of elements already present to form a just-barely-ever-so-slightly-more groovy groove. A more slinky slink. A more rifftastic riff. Likely, but not necessarily limited to the intention of moving a dancefloor more provocatively.

    But pay heed re-editors and re-mixers, because often the song itself doesn't need too much work... Your job is to find those few subtle elements and re-establish them as the cornerstones of the whole shebang. All you're looking for is one narrow window--a guitar line, a bass burble, a drum break--and suddenly a 3 minute song becomes 6, a piano spurt becomes a great anticipatory soliloquy... and a dancefloor becomes a temple to your work.

    The tracks: These are some of my current favorites in the re-edit department. Some for their obvious potency on a dancefloor (Chaka Khan, James Brown) others for their truly fine interpretations of the originals (Bill Withers, Ralfi Pagan). I do feel a need to emphasize just HOW amazing "Didn't Want To Have To Do It" is... This song for me has been a frickin' revelation. As a long time fan of Mr. Pagan (and 4 Hero, for that matter), this little number absolutely guts me, leaving me panting, sweating and begging for more.

    The rest I'll let speak for themselves.


    ALSO. Tonight is BOOGALOO! @ The Short Stop in Echo Park (1455 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles,90004)

    For those of you who haven't made it out yet... QUIT SLEEPIN'!!! Thursdays are your weekly chance to get up on joints like these while getting down on the dancefloor. Holler.


    Monday, August 11, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Mighty Voices of Wonder: I Thank the Lord
    From Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal (Numero Group, 2006)

    JoAnn Garrett: Walk On By
    From Just a Taste (Chess, 1969)

    Joe Bataan: Shaft
    From Saint Latin's Day Massacre (Fania, 1972)

    Lyn Collins: Do Your Thing
    From James Brown's Funky People Pt. 2 (Polydor, 1988)

    El Michels Affair: Hung Up On My Baby
    From Sounding Out the City (Truth and Soul, 2006)

    As promised, a few cover songs of Isaac Hayes tunes and compositions in honor of the late master's catalog. To be honest, it's not quite as easy as you'd think. True, there's a gazillion "Shaft" covers but remember that in Hayes' post-Hot Buttered Soul career, most of his groundbreaking songs were reinterpretations of other people's songs rather than original compositions. That said, in the case of JoAnn Garrett's "Walk On By," it's clear that she's working off of Hayes' epic version rather than playing with the Bacharach/Warwick versions.

    We start though with a Hayes/Porter composition, a very striking gospel funk cover of Sam and Dave's "I Thank You" renamed into "I Thank the Lord" by the Mighty Voices of Wonder. The gospel group takes a more lo-fi approach which only makes the opening drums that much rougher. Good god, indeed.

    I generally am not a huge fan of the "Shaft" theme regardless of who is performing it but hey, if my man Joe Bataan is going to cover it, I might as well let it shine. This was a surprising hit for him, so much so that Fania came out with a second run of his Sweet Soul LP and put it on there and then released it, again, on Joe's last album for Fania, Saint Latin's Day Massacre. Caliente!

    Lyn Collins' incredible cover of "Do Your Thing" (probably the best thing to come off the Shaft soundtrack) actually never was released back in the '70s when it was first recorded. Instead, it found exposure finally in 1988 as part of Polydor's hugely successful James Brown's Funky People series. How successful? Enough so that Collins' long-delayed version found instant fans amongst rap producers, including Dr. Dre who hooked it up lovely for Above the Law's "Another Execution" circa 1990.

    "Hung Up On My Baby," from the Tough Guys soundtrack was another hip-hop favorite back in the '90s which no doubt influenced Brooklyn's El Michels Affair to cover the song on their excellent, slept-on 2006 debut (they also did a nice job with "Walk On By" as fans of Soul Sides Vol. 2 already know). I like their take on "Hung Up," - it's cooler, a bit chiller in the cut but still has that classic melody that's so haunting.

    Feel free to add your own favorite Hayes covers in the comments.

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    posted by Captain Planet


    Curtis Mayfield & The Staple Singers : After Sex

    taken from the Soundtrack album
    "Let's Do It Again" on Curtom (1975)

    Bill Conti : Reflections

    taken from the soundtrack album
    "ROCKY" on Capitol (1976)

    Kool & The Gang : Summer Madness

    taken from the album
    "Light Of Worlds" on Dee-Lite (1974)

    Shuggie Otis : Island Letter

    taken from the album
    "Inspiration Information" on Epic (1974)

    Ok, so this is not my official "Summer Songs" post, which is now going to be a dog days affair, but I want to let everyone know that I'm not dead and am still in love with music. I've been going through some pretty heavy stuff lately (basically a divorce, even though we weren't technically married), and working in the studio more than is probably healthy (you'll hear the fruits of labor soon enough), but I'm getting back to the blog for real now. I love this place and the chance to sit down with a lil handful of songs like these ones I picked out today feels highly therapeutic.

    I heard Curtis Mayfield's "After Sex" (an old forgotten favorite of mine) yesterday at my friend's spot, and as I lay melting into the wheelchair that he uses as furniture (superior by far to any lazyboy) I realized that the song was expressing the exact the sound inside me right now. I found myself pulling the needle back at least 10 times. Bill Conti's "Reflections" came to mind next, as an extension of the same sentiment. I still remember watching Rocky for the first time (it was a hot Summer day then too) and loving the scene where he's alone in his grimey little apartment and he drops the needle on a record... "Reflections". It wasn't until I later scooped Kool & The Gang's "Light Of Worlds" that I realized Conti was doing what appears to be a pretty blatant knock-off track for the soundtrack (doesn't really take away from my appreciation of it somehow). And then, to complete the vibe, I knew a little Shuggie was necessary. So here's to a peaceful and uplifting moment of inner exploration. We all know the feeling.

    ps- R.I.P. Isaac Hayes

    Sunday, August 10, 2008

    ISAAC HAYES: 1942 - 2008
    posted by O.W.

    Like the passing of James Brown, Curtis Mayfield or Ray Charles, it is hard to fully grasp the enormity of what has been lost with this weekend's death of Isaac Hayes. The baritone giant will forever be linked with Shaft, for better or for worse, but as critically and commercially important that was in Hayes' long career, it is just one tiny fragment of his overall contributions to R&B and soul music. Hayes was much more than a singer; he was a composer, a writer, an arranger and producer, as multi-talented as any R&B figure, including contemporaries such as Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson.

    Remember that before Hayes ever graced his own album covers, he and writing/composing partner David Porter had penned some 200 songs for Stax/Volt Records; theirs was one of the most prolific and important of collaborations. The Hayes/Porter name, like Motown's Holland-Dozier-Holland or Philly Intl's Gamble-Huff, was like a stamp of excellence for most of the singles and albums the credit appeared on. They are best known for Sam and Dave's hits like "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin" but my personal favorites were some of the tracks they wrote for Stax/Volt's female artists.

    Ruby Johnson: I'll Run Your Hurt Away
    From 7" (Volt, 1966).

    The Charmels: As Long As I've Got You
    From 7" (Volt, 1967)

    Both available on The Complete Stax-Volt Singles, Vol. 1

    Soul Children: The Sweeter He Is
    From S/T (Stax, 1969)

    The Emotions: So I Can Love You
    From So I Can Love You (Stax, 1969)

    When Hayes set out onto his solo career with 1968's Presenting Isaac Hayes, it was a surprising flop and Hayes placed much on the blame on the fact that he hadn't been able to make the album his way (for example, the original version of "Precious, Precious" tops out at over 19 minutes but on the album, it was cut to less than 3. For his next album, Hot Buttered Soul, Al Bell gave Hayes a green-light to do whatever he wanted and thus was born one of the greatest soul albums ever recorded. For those who've heard the single-shortened versions of songs like "Walk On By" and "By the Time I Get To Phoenix," you're still getting good songs but they're removed from the incredible majesty of their album versions - 15+ minute epic songs of orchestral swells and rhythmic thunder. Much has also been made of his innovation on "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" where he monologues for nearly nine minutes before actually getting into the song itself. The device has been turned into gimmick by some (see Alicia Keys on "You Don't Know My Name") but it's better to think of it as part of the same tension/release cycle that was so much a part of Hayes' output in these years.

    For those who've heard this again, listen to it again - tune everything else out and just listen to this. Loudly. If you've never heard this before? Hold ya head.

    Isaac Hayes: Walk On By (album version)
    From Hot Buttered Soul (Stax, 1969)

    The next two Hayes albums, The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued were also cut in similar fashion to Hot Buttered Soul, each song a sonic journey, filled with all kinds of melodic and rhythmic turns and twists. I need to really sit with Movement more but I was enjoying To Be Continued again, earlier today, and the album is as incredible a listening experience as anything he's ever turned out. Here's two-thirds of his B-side medley, including his sublime instrumental, "Ike's Mood I" and a surprising cover of the Righteous Bros.' hit, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling."

    This all culminated with 1971's Black Moses, a double album whose title and artwork were more of the label's choosing than Hayes but it's hard to hold back on messianic analogies given how masterfully Hayes can take on half a dozen of other people's songs and then put his permanent stamp on them (Movement was similar in this respect). I've included one of the two "never" songs from the album, his version of Jerry Butler's "Never Gonna Give You Up" (the other was Hayes' cover of the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye.")

    Isaac Hayes: Ike's Mood I/You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
    From To Be Continued (Enterprise, 1970)

    Isaac Hayes: Never Gonna Give You Up
    From Black Moses (Stax, 1971)

    According to Melvin Van Peebles in an interview I had with him, the filmmaker and blaxploitation visionary was responsible for setting the chain of events in motion that lead to Hayes recording Shaft. Peebles had recorded the soundtrack for his Sweetback's Baadassss Song for Stax, mostly because in those days, Stax head Al Bell was open to taking all kinds of chances, including putting out a soundtrack by a then-unknown Earth, Wind and Fire, for Peebles' independently financed film about sex, drugs and violence in the Black ghetto. When Sweetback turned out to be the most successful independent film of the year, with the soundtrack blowing up as well, MGM decided to change the lead character in Shaft from a white detective to Black and then went to Stax to see if they'd be willing to partner on the soundtrack. Hayes was chosen to head the project and a classic was born.

    Personally, if I never heard the theme to Shaft again, it'd be too soon but I've always had a special fondness for the charming beauty of "Ellie's Love Theme." Hayes would go onto record two more blaxploitation soundtracks, for Tough Guys and Truck Turner respectively. None of them had the same impact as Shaft though that's not to say there aren't some concrete-crackin' hits on them, such as Truck Turner's dark "Breakthrough" or Tough Guys' memorable "Hung Up On My Baby."

    Isaac Hayes: Ellie's Love Theme
    From Shaft OST (Enterprise, 1971)

    Isaac Hayes: Breakthrough
    From Truck Turner OST (Enterprise, 1974)

    I'll be the first to admit, after this point, my familiarity with Hayes' catalog begins to fall off considerably (and for many purists, Hayes' disco-era work is nowhere near as revered), save perhaps for "A Few More Kisses To Go" given the Redman connection. I'll end by saying that, with some artists, Hayes is one of those artists whose work I always respected when he was alive but as is too often the case, you don't realize how truly remarkable someone like he is until he's gone. Having spent much of the afternoon just revisiting his catalog, I'm even more in awe than ever. An incredible man, an incredible loss at age 65.

    For more...

    Fresh Air's interview with Hayes from 1994
    Hayes performing "The Look of Love" at Wattstax.
    Hayes...the Chef years

    ...and maybe I'll whip up a post of the best covers of Hayes' songs...

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    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    posted by O.W.

    Joe Bataan: Gypsy Woman (original, Futura version) + Latin Soul Square Dance
    From Under the Streetlamps: 1967-1972 (Fania, 2008)

    I'm very, very proud to announce the new Fania anthology focused on the work of Joe Bataan, Under the Streetlamps. I was fortunate enough to be asked to write the liner notes for the compilation - you can read a teaser here - and as always, it was a pleasure to rap with Joe but also my first opportunity to speak with the great Bobby Marin as well.

    I've, er, waxed poetic about Joe on numerous occasions, especially here, so I won't add a great deal (though look for my Side Dishes post this week to go over some of the basics). I do want to bring attention to the two songs above though, both of which are important inclusions on the anthology. The "Gypsy Woman" version here is quite a find since it's never been released previously and very few people have ever heard it before. Futura was Al Santiago's (Alegre) short-lived label and a truly missed opportunity since Santiago recorded both Joe and Willie Colon at a time when no one in the Latin music world had really heard of them but he never capitalized on their potential. This version of "Gypsy Woman" is markedly different from the Fania version; it's quite slower which gives it a very different feel. Maybe it's just familiarity but I think the eventual version is better than this early attempt but just for history's sake, it's cool to hear the first try.

    "Latin Soul Square Dance" comes from the opposite end of Joe's Fania career. This was never released as a commercial single (just promo only) and it's from Joe's "lost" Live From San Frantasia album from which the masters are still MIA and may never be found. It would have come out had Joe not finally stepped off of Fania (with whom he was having issues with at the time) and went on to help found Salsoul Records with the Cayre Bros. Again, a really cool track to include since so few people have ever heard it. Enjoy!

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    posted by O.W.

    Been out of town for a bit (shout out to both Big City and Good Records in NYC!) but wanted to quickly catch folks up on some posts you might have missed:

    • Karen Tongson put together an excellent, eclectic Summer Songs post.
    • Adam Mansbach also dropped some summer cuts for us, with an appealing mix of hip-hop, jazz and soul.
    • I wrote about the new Jackson Conti album, plus a revisit of "California Soul" for my new weekly Vibe blog, Side Dishes.

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