Monday, March 15, 2010

posted by O.W.

I'm about to make some changes to Soul Sides and as such, the site is likely going to be a little wonky until I can iron everything out. Just be patient, thanks!


posted by O.W.

Chris Peters first came to my attention when he sent through a link for that Dennis Coffey "Premium Blend" podcast that featured an impressively informative set of interviews with the legendary guitarist and his history in Detroit's R&B scene. Then, last week, Peters offered up a similar treatment for Laura Lee.

Along with his partner Chris Fuller, these two are producing some excellent segments on the history of soul music, uncovering some stories that I had never heard before. I reached out to Peters to get some skinny on his own background:

1) What's your background in music?

CP: Myself and my partner in all of this (Chris Fuller) have a background in both the artistic and professional sides of the music business. We are both deep into music and its history so that is how we ended up working on these projects. Also, I am a big fan of podcasts, oral histories, and mixtapes. This was a chance for me to both be an amateur Alan Lomax and mix all of that together. Haha.

2) Where did this idea begin to create and produce internet pieces on different musical artists?

We just started working with both Dennis Coffey and Laura Lee in making new music. As part of that process, we wanted to find a way to educate and/or remind people of who they are and why they're both such important and interesting figures in the history of music in Detroit and music in general. To us, it seemed like this was a great way of doing that while giving listeners something deeper and, frankly, more entertaining than a bio on a website or just an interview alone. After all, what you can learn by listening to Dennis or Laura talk about their careers is great, but the music itself says so much, we felt, why not give people both? In both cases, we want to let people know that they have a lot more music to give, but you also want to remind people why they need to care in the first place. So, we think the podcasts do that pretty nicely.

To be honest, though, apart from all of that, we're both such passionate music fans and particularly fans of music from our city that it's been a joy to put these things together. Both Dennis and Laura have had careers that cut across so much important history (musical and otherwise) that getting the opportunity to be in the same room with them, listening to them talk about their experiences and watching their reaction as they hear their own lives coming back at them is really a great experience.

They're very different artists but one thing they share in common is this; both of them have deep histories and important musical stories to tell, and those stories haven't been completed yet. Dennis is a guy whose career ranged from working with Del Shannon through Motown, and then into a solo career which was critical in the creation or furtherance of at least three genres (funk, hip-hop and disco). How many artists can match that?

With Laura, she's someone who was raised in the home of a Soul Stirrer, had hits with Chess Records, worked and lived with Al Green, and also had success with Holland-Dozier-Holland's Hot Wax label. Again, how many artist's careers connect with that many touchstones of American popular music history?

Interestingly, it was Detroit 9000 that got me excited about Laura and I saw the film only a few months ago. After a bit of internet searching I found out who the uncredited singer in the film was and was quite surprised as I had a Meditation Singers compilation, a few of her singles, and a copy of Soul Sides Volume Two already in my possession.

4) What has it been like to talk to these folks about their career and history?

It's been amazing. As we said, we're both gigantic music fans first and foremost, so to sit in the room and listen to these two people talk about their careers has been a real privilege.... As you'd expect, many of the best stories are told when the tape is turned off. I asked Laura if I could share a few Al Green goodies, but she prefers to keep that stuff private. Fair enough.

5) On the technical side, how do you put these together in terms of the equipment, software, etc.

A mic and ProTools.... The music on the Coffey episodes is all sourced from vinyl.... The guys at Rustbelt Studios in Detroit helped me edit the content and we had friends handle the design of the Bandcamp pages.

6) What can we expect in the future?

More podcasts and new records from both Dennis and Laura. With Dennis, we have three more volumes already recorded, and the second one will be released next week (week of March 15). We will be doing additional volumes as well...some of the episodes to come focus on anecdotes from Dennis' book (he reads excerpts and then you hear music related to what he's talking about), a "superhits" episode which speaks for itself, and hopefully some more focused episodes, such as a Northern Soul volume, a mix of his Westbound solo material, and something dealing with Dennis' disco/proto-disco period.

We have had two Coffey recording sessions and the stuff is sounding great. Very much a throwback to the Sussex solo stuff. The Guitar Band is back! Some great players on these sessions too. That's a separate discussion.

We plan on doing additional episodes with Laura as well, so more to come on that front.

Also, I spent a good chunk of the past few days going through Armen Boladian's archive of amazing Westbound Records content. Yeesh! I would LOVE to do episodes on many of the acts from that roster (The Detroit Emeralds, The Fantastic Four, etc) or maybe some stuff on the many great artists that recorded for Hot Wax/Invictus....Right now the immediate focus is on getting people familiar with Dennis and Laura. They both deserve wider recognition and a chance to remind people of their contribution.

7) You plan on archiving these as subscribe-able podcasts?

We are going to continue hosting the podcasts on the Bandcamp pages, All episodes will be available there for the foreseeable future.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

posted by O.W.

Alzo and Udine: C'mon and Join Us
Something Going
From C'mon and Join Us (Mercury, 1968)

Alzo & Udine were Alzo Fronte and Uddi "Udine" Alinoor, one of those "only in New York" combos of singer/songwriters who only released this one album together in the late '60s. I'm not even certain where I first heard this LP (probably at the Groove Merchant), but it's been one of the sleeper albums that I'll forget about and then rediscover how awesome it is. It's hard to classify this LP; if I mashed up all the various descriptions of it, it'd be something like "Latin soul hippy folk pop" though I find the Latin elements more subtle compared to the folksy pop touches, especially on the vocals. Basically, this is happy music; it sounds happy and should make you feel happy.

I actually flipped the order here - "C'mon and Join Us" is the LP's last song while "Something Going" is the first, but I liked how Alzo and Udine took time to introduce themselves before the beginning of the title track. The two songs are really indicative of the overall sound of the album: super-catchy rhythms with almost a flamenco sabor (at least to my ears), that shiny pop feel I just mentioned, and most of all, these killer vocal arrangements that find both singers stretching out their falsetto. Especially on the title track, there's considerable thought put into how the song unfolds and switches up along the way. My favorite part starts around the one minute mark and builds towards the chorus, as charming a hook as I can imagine. Everybody feel it? Yup, I do!

Likewise, "Something Going" starts one way but then shifts into another and really, almost all the songs on the album follow similar paths. This is a remarkably consistent album in terms of the style of the songs and given that I love that style, I'm good with it picking a lane and then driving the hell out of it.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 08, 2010

posted by O.W.

I've had a few individual songs that I've been meaning to post up and usually, I wait for some kind of thematic opportunity but I realize this is an inefficient way to go about things and instead, I just took ten of these stragglers, whipped up a quick sequence for them and if you download them in order, you'll have yourself a half-hour mix.

Paul Kelly: Only Your Love
From 7" (Dial, 1965)

This single (backed with "Chills & Fevers") originally came out on Lloyd but turned out to be enough of a hit that Dial picked it up for distribution and, strangely, Atlantic UK also issued it (but not until the late '70s). My man Brendan first played this for me and while "Chills and Fevers" was the big hit, it was always the flipside ballad that captured my attention. I could be crazy but this definitely sounds influenced by Sam Cooke's "Change Gonna Come" - the arrangements seem remarkably similar though not a copy. But like Cooke, you have this impassioned delivery and the kind of deep, deep soul track I simply can't get enough of.

Marvin Gaye: It's Love I Need
From I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Tamla, 1968)

Confession: much as I recognize the greatness that was Marvin, I actually own very few of his albums besides a few anthologies. I basically missed out on buying a lot of classic Motown-era LPs (I'm starting to make up for it though) and it wasn't until the other month that I finally picked up one of his biggest selling albums of the '60s, I Heard It Through the Grapevine. Besides the now-ubiquitous title track though, I really liked listening to what some might call the "filler", LP-only songs because you will always find little gems tucked away. Motown knew what the f--- they were doing in that era and even the non-hits sound like potential hits. This track in particular has a nice, funky twang to it, anchored by fatback drums. Reminds me a little of this, an absolute favorite of mine from Tammi Terrell's catalog.

Great Pride: She's a Lady
From 7" (MGM, 1974)

I originally heard this back in 2003 when I got booted on a strange, one-off 12". Even then, I remember it being some really crazy stuff but I had forgotten about it for years until recently, when I grabbed an OG copy of the 7". It's such a fantastically quirky song that mashes up some funky white dude rock, lush orchestral production and crazy psychedelic vocals. Call me crazy but didn't the moment where the strings and beat come together at :15 remind you of this? Far as I can tell, this was the only release this 7-man band ever put out; pity - I would have loved to hear what an entire LP's worth of material sounded like from these guys.

The Victors: Magnificent Sanctuary Band
From 7" (Clarion, 197?)

This cover of Donny Hathaway's tune retains the opening drum break and a mostly loyal arrangement that isn't necessarily superior to the OG but it's a fun listen and nice to have on 7".

The Detroit City Limits: 98 Cents Plus Tax
From Play 98 Cents Plus Tax and Other Hits (Okeh, 1968)

Ironically, even though this album was mostly covering other people's hits, as one of the sole original compositions by this short-lived group, "98 Cents Plus Tax" was the group's biggest hit: a squawking monster of an instrumental cooker that's been a favorite of DJs for years.

Big City: Love Dance
From 7" (20th Century, 1974)

This excellent, mid-70s proto-disco jam is a real enigma. If you've ever heard "Mud Wind" by the South Side Movement, you'll notice that "Love Dance" = "Mud Wind" - a minute + vocals. Does that mean Big City is actually South Side Movement? That's my assumption only because I've never seen another Big City single but apparently, this isn't the first time a tune on Wand ended up being re-released on 20th Century (see The Groove: "Love, It's Getting Better").

Juan Diaz: Hit and Run
From Thematic Music (New World, 197?)

This comes from one of the many NY-based New World library music records. New World isn't anywhere near the level of KPM/DeWolfe library respectability but like most library series, there's good tracks to be found if you're willing to sift through. This is one of the better cuts I've found on a New World LP - a slick, disco-y instrumental that rides a nice little groove.

Willie West and High Society Brothers: The Devil Gives Me Everything
From 7" (Timmion, 2009)

Finland's finest teamed up with legendary NOLA soul man for this single that sort of flew under people's radars from last year. Whether intentional or not, there's just something slightly "off" about this deep soul recording but whatever that element is, it works for me.

Myron and E: It's a Shame
From 7" (Timmion, 2010)

And staying on the Timmion tip is the latest single from Oakland's Myron and E who made a strong splash with "Cold Game." This is their follow-up 7" and hopefully paves the way for the duo's long-awaited debut LP with the Soul Investigators. This one's real catchy (but it's not a cover of the Spinners' song in case you were wondering).

Bitty McClean: Tell Me (remix)
From 7" (Sir Peckings, 2007)

Straight up, McClean's "Tell Me" and "Walk Away From Love" are two of my favorite reggae songs that I've discovered in years. I didn't even realize "Tell Me" got a remix 7" treatment but had to cop. This doesn't change the song dramatically; it basically keeps the original rocksteady arrangement but then remakes it over with some heavy dub elements, basically stripping it down and letting McClean's vocals echo out.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, March 06, 2010

posted by O.W.

When I originally created a "how-to guide to audioblogging," it was largely reflective of my own experiences of tinkering with different audio options. Over the years though, I've upgraded that system and it made sense to talk a little about that, both to share with all ya'll as well as get a sense of what's working for you.

My man Brendan wrote a very detailed guide of his own that I'm in the process (B, really, I'm getting there!) of combining with my own experiences but here's the skinny version before that's done.

If you're just getting started, keep in mind that digitizing requires an electrical chain that begins with the stylus and ends with a sound file. How complicated or sophisticated you want to make that chain is really up to you. The basics of a standard chain are:

Analog/Digital Converter (ADC)

However, in some, these things are combined. For example...

When I originally began Soul Sides in 2004, my chain was this.

  • Stylus + Cartridge + Turntable + Preamp: Vestax Handy Trax Portable Turntable
  • ADC: A basic y-adapter (newer versions of the Handy Trax have built-in USB outputs but my generation was too early to come equipped like that)...and that ran straight into the line input of my Apple Powerbook G4 (PPC) where I used (and still use) Sound Studio to convert into MP3s.

    Cheap, simple. Total retail cost (not including the computer): $130? Of course, the sound quality that a portable turntable is going to generate is not likely to be the best you can ask for. Anyways, in 2006, when I moved from S.F. to L.A., I had a desk wide-enough to accommodate both a turntable and mixer and so I upgraded:

  • Stylus/Cartridge: Shure White Label cartridge
  • Turntable: Technics 1200
  • Preamp: Rane TTM56 DJ mixer
  • ADC: a basic y-adapter running into my Apple PowerBook G4 (Intel).

    Retail cost of this set-up...not cheap. If you went by the prices you see on Amazon, we're talking about $1500! But of course, that's sort of misleading because the turntable and mixer were part of my DJ set-up and therefore, equipment I would have owned regardless if I were digitizing or not. I would never, ever recommend someone just walk out and snap up a 1200 and Rane mixer if they just want to digitize. But the point here is that I altered the chain by adding a preamp (i.e. the DJ mixer). I also improved the cartridge/needle by buying the White Label.

    I basically added another component in the chain and hopefully, improved the sound signal as a result. However, I was still running all this through a cheap y-adapter into a stock Apple soundcard. I'd say for many people, this will produce acceptable results. Many folks probably already have a digitizing chain that runs through a stock soundcard and they're happy with that.

    For me though, I just wasn't loving what I was hearing. And that could totally be subjective/psychological. But whatever the case, I got restless with this and decided to upgrade again and that brings us to present. This wasn't all cobbled together at the same time, but happened over the course of the last half year and it's what will likely be the lasting chain for some time to come.

  • Stylus/cartridge: Ortofon Nightclub-E or Pickering XV-15
  • Turntable: Pioneer PL-530
  • Preamp: Radial J33 phono preamp
  • ADC: Apogee Duet, running into the Firewire port of my Powerbook G4.

    A few crucial differences here from previous set-ups. First of all, I bought a dedicated, stand-alone phono preamp. That way, I could return my Rane back to my DJ set-up where it belonged and I had a smaller preamp that I could fit into my home office. The Radial got the highest marks from my peers. More importantly, I finally decided to upgrade from using that y-adapter and bought a Duet, which is a stand-alone audio converter. Essentially, it replaces my laptop's soundcard with one of the most well-respected analog/digital converters out there. The turntable switch-up wasn't an upgrade so much as an aesthetic change of tastes. I still have my two 1200s but I wanted something different for the house, just for the hell of it and I liked the look of the 530. I don't know if the sound quality, overall, is better on this or the 1200 but I doubt it's a massive difference. I did upgrade to an Ortofon Nightclub-E, which is regarded by DJs as the best "bang for the buck" in terms of sound quality for a DJ needle but most non-DJs would probably prefer the Pickering that came with the PL-530 I bought on Craigslist. It's a good quality hifi cartridge and personally, I like the built-in brush.

    In this case, calculating the retail cost means I would have to include the turntable since I bought it specifically for digitizing. Assuming standard, "market rate" on all the components, we're talking about $1000 (by buying used and using credit I had, my total cost was more around $650 so you can find good savings if you're patient). Regardless, that's pretty hefty and I can imagine people thinking, "do I really need to drop a grand for a digitizing system?"

    Of course not. It really depends on how far you want to take it. I'll wait to finish up that digitizing guide that Brendan and I are working on to really get into the nitty-gritty of each part of the chain but just wanted to share how "the magic happens" at Soul Sides Central these days.


    posted by O.W.

    This one really bums me out. Such a pioneering guy in the history of Chicano rock/jazz/soul. Wish I had gotten the chance to talk to him before he passed at only 60.

    Felix Contreras has a great memorial piece up at NPR about him.

    Here's a 2009 interview with him by Jesus Velo of Los Illegals.

    And here's a killer clip of El Chicano performing their big hit, "Viva Tirado" from 1971:

    Labels: , , , ,

    posted by O.W.

    Hey folks - thanks for the advice sent through. It actually was easier than I thought to transfer my domain and get wordpress set up. But here's the next question (and feel free to use the comments section to leave an answer):

    How the %#)(! can I export my existing comments (via echo) so that WP can reimport them?

    The simplest solution would be to:
    1) Export from echo to blogspot so that all the comments that used to be built in echo are now in blogspot's built-in commenting system,
    2) Use the WP plugin to import the entire site - posts + comments - from blogspot.

    I'm looking through various forums to see if this is possible and so far, have come up with nada.

    Kind of makes me sorry I ever used haloscan to begin with back in the day.


    Thursday, March 04, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Lamont Dozier: Going Back To My Roots
    From Peddlin' Music On The Side (WB, 1977)

    Richie Havens: Going Back To My Roots
    From Connections (Elektra, 1980)

    One of my best moments in a club came back in the '00s when I was at APT during a night that Chairman Mao was spinning. I had never heard Lamont Dozier's "Going Back To My Roots" before and I was just marveling at now just how good the song was, but that incredible change in the arrangement that drops around the 6:30 mark. It was so unexpected and sublime, one of those songs that really only could work as well as it does when you give it time to unfold on a dancefloor. Simply incredible.

    Not surprisingly, it drew the attention of other artists. The best known cover is by Odyssey but...I don't know...I think I found the vocals to be too disco-cliché. Richie Havens' version however won me over with that intro piano (I'm a sucker for good piano intros) and though Havens has a rougher voice than Dozier's it works well here. The "reprise" section is missing but otherwise, I find this almost as pleasing to play out.

    Labels: ,

    posted by O.W.

    Junior Parker: Lover to Friend
    Your Love's All Over Me
    From Honey-Drippin' Blues (Blue Rock/Mercury, 1969)

    Bluesman Parker is already responsible for one of the funkiest blues tunes I know, his cover of the Beatles' "Taxman." However, I had totally forgotten about this '69 album until my recent move and I was reacquainted with two of its outstanding cuts. What I like about both of these songs, especially "Your Love's All Over Me," is how they lean more to the R&B side than being traditional blues tunes and both open with waiting-to-be-looped basslines (any producers out there looking to mess with either of these, holler and I'll send you a higher quality version. This might be a tad too simple though; your call).


    posted by O.W.

    Banks is the middle man, literally

    I'd be remiss in not noting the sad passing of the Dramatics' Ron Banks. At this point, most of the original founders have all died in the last ten years and I don't think a single one of them made it 60.

    I don't have a long post to write here - I can't say I really knew the Dramatics' catalog as deeply as that of other groups though obviously, I'm up on their big hits. I did find it fascinating that they were a Detroit group yet signed to the star of the South: Stax/Volt. Wonder if Gordy ever got pissed about that though by the early '70s, he probably had his hands busy with moving Motown to L.A. anyway. In any case, here's two songs I picked out in memmoriam: one being the Dramatics' first hit (and one of their most enduring), "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" and I decided to pair that with a killer reggae cover of one of their other songwriting gems, "In the Rain," done by the Debonaires (thanks to Hua for putting me up on that single).

    RIP, Ron.

    The Dramatics: Whatcha See is Whatcha Get
    From Whatcha See is Whatcha Get (Volt, 1972). Also on The Best Of.

    The Debonaires: In the Rain
    From 7" (Tobin, 197?)

    Labels: , , ,

    Wednesday, March 03, 2010

    posted by O.W.

    Religious Souls: The Condition the World Is In
    Rich Man
    From Sinner Man (Artist's Recording, 197?)

    Religious Souls: Jesus People
    Life Is A Vapor
    From Change Me Lord (JCL, 197?)

    The Kingcannon Family: Jesus Is Mine
    Our Father's Children
    From Unity (Arroyo, 1985)

    I've been meaning to write up the Religious Souls for about 4.5 years and the only reason I took this long was partially because I was hoping (now and then) to find a way to reissue their records (alas, I'm poorly equipped and a couple of the labels I initially approached took pass). But should tell you how much I think this group is fascinating. Song for song, the Religious Souls (aka the Kingcannon family) are, in my book, one of the best gospel soul groups to have ever been recorded. It's not like other gospel albums where there's one or two soul or funk songs interspersed with more traditional gospel styles; every cut on their albums is seeped in R&B/funk aesthetics, with incredibly rich arrangements and a real gift for falsetto vocals. If it wasn't for the relatively poor recording/engineering quality (and obscurity) of their first two albums, I have no doubt these would be stone-cold classics. As it is, they're barely known about as it is (though apparently, my man Lyrics Born knows about 'em).

    I had the great privilege to interview Bishop Reggie Kingcannon, who was one of the core of the group and got some of the story behind the group. They began originally in the late '60s and early '70s, one of the many groups likely inspired by the success of the Jackson 5 (though they rocked seven in their clan). However, before they had a chance to record, David Kingcannon (who played guitar) had a "calling" to join the ministry, seemingly ending their record ambitions.

    Though not originally from the Colorado area, they ended up Denver when patriarch Rev. Earl Kingcannon took over as pastor of the Pentecostal Faith Temple Church of God In Christ in Denver and when the family performed in concert there, they came to the attention of Brother Al, self-billed "America's #1 Gospel DJ" who broadcast on at least four stations: KBRN (Denver), WSUM (Cleveland), WHKK (Cincinnati) and WPFB (Middleton, OH) and he convinced the group to let him exec produce their debut album, Sinner Man.

    9 of the 10 songs on their debut were written by members of the Kingcannon family and they recorded the LP at Music Plant Studios in Denver and I'm assuming Brother Al took it back to Cincinnati where he had it pressed at the custom plant, Artist's Recording Company. As you can hear on the two songs I picked off, the arrangements and vocals are superlative; their content might have been gospel but at their musical core, this was a soul group, through and through. According to Reggie Kingcannon, the group's drummer, it was the family's matriarch, Willa, who did much of the music, with daughter Sarah handling the female lead and sons Reggie and David handling male leads (plus sister Lavern on the bass guitar and I'm assuming the 7th family member, Betty, was on background).

    Somewhere in that midst, they recorded their second album, Change Me Lord, this time for JCL (Jesus Christ is Lord) Records, in Henderson, TN, home to Clyde Beavers' Beaverwood Studios. Unfortunately, their second album suffers from two distinct problems. First of all, the engineering was terrible; you can tell from how the vocals are mic-ed and how unbalanced the mix is (if you listen hard, you can hear the organ in the back of "Life Is a Vapor" and I can't believe they intended to bury it that far back in the mix). Second, the pressing was also low, which means that in order to get the recording loud enough to listen to, you have crank the volume up and that bring its own problems, especially when digitizing from vinyl. Yet, despite all that, the same musical strengths of their first album are still all here.

    Unity came out in the mid-80s, by which time, the group had decided to ditch the Religious Souls' moniker and instead just record under their own name. They had at least one album during this era, Unity, much of which is kind of schlocky '80s pop/rock but the first two songs on the album still had some of that old magic, just updated with more "modern" production.

    Should have shared this with ya'll years ago but better late than never. Enjoy.

    Labels: ,