STACKS OF STAX (PT. 2) (W/ GIVEAWAY)

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(In case you’re curious what “Part 1” is, I wrote that in 2009.)

Stax was the first music label I ever took an active interest in. This was probably back in 1992, when I decided to splurge with some credit I had at Amoeba and I picked up the the Complete Stax/Volt Singles, 1959-68, 9 CD box set. I can’t even recall why I was motivated to cop it except that 1) the cover looked cool and 2) I must have known a bare minimum about Stax/Volt to think “hey, maybe I’d learn something from this.”

That set stayed in heavy rotation for months and clearly, I wasn’t alone in that. One thing that I feel like isn’t acknowledged enough is that its release set off a spate of rap artists sampling from the Stax/Volt catalog. The examples are legion and maybe it’s a coincidence in a few cases but really, is it just convenient timing that this box set drops in ’91 and by ’93, the RZA is minting classics that loop up Wendy Rene and The Charmels (both of whose songs appear on that first volume)? I think not.

Those box sets – there are three of them in total, spanning 1959 through 1975 – were just the beginning. Over the years, the folks who own the Stax back catalog have done a steady job of mining it for different anthologies and just over the past few weeks, two new Stax-related box sets have hit the scene.

First, there’s the new Stax Vinyl 7s set. This is, if I have my count right, their fourth time reissuing singles within a 7″ box set (notably, they were early to the game, with their first set, called the Stax Box coming out in the mid-1980s!). The focus of this latest set, released to commemorate the label’s 60th anniversary, is somewhat surprising: compiler Richard Searling focused on Stax-related releases that gained a cult following in the UK’s Northern Soul and crossover scenes which is stark contrast with the label’s famed Memphis sound roots. It’s not an unwelcome way to explore the Stax catalog, just an unexpected one.

The challenge for Searling was to come up with a new way to repackage old treats and to that, he focused on tracks that have long been difficult – if not impossible – to get on 7″. Let’s cut to the chase: the best thing in this box, in this regard, is Lou Bond’s sublime “Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards” which has never been released on single. I wouldn’t say that it’s worth copping the box just for this single but it’s the first thing that leapt out to me. It’s kind of amazing, really, that no one’s bothered until now to put this out on 45; it’s so frickin’ amazing.

If the Lou Bond was “never before” status, then a slew of singles fall into “you could have bought these once but good luck finding them now” territory. One of them, the Montclairs’ “Hey You!” was previously re-released in 2001 but the original copies on the Stax subsidiary, Arch, easily sell for $1000+ and I can understand why: it’s an incredible crossover tune. I don’t think I’d drop a G on it but if you threw me a copy and asked for a few hundred, I wouldn’t hesitate a second to cop. It’s that good.

Some other gems include J.J. Barnes’ stomper “Sweet Sherry,” as well as the slow-burning “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” by Carla Thomas. As far as I know, neither song received a formal Stax/Volt release back when they were first recorded though both have also been subsequently reissued onto 45 in the years since.

We have a copy of the boxset to giveaway! To enter, 1) name the three songs used in this short snippet mix and then 2) post your answers here. Good luck.

PUSHING FORWARD

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Swan Silvertones: If You Believe Your God Is Dead
From 7″ (HOB, 197?).

I received this email, from out of the blue, the other day:

Oliver, the world needs you more than ever now.

Your Soul selections (and general selection) is such an important part of global culture especially Soul & Black culture worldwide.

To DJ’s and Soul collectors you are a hero, and the one thing I know we all need in this world is more Love marinaded with your incredible selection skills.

SoulSides wasn’t just a blog, it was access to catalogues of music that never reached parts of our globe like Africa as an example, obviously because of political issues, but mainly because of limited budget releases of those incredible labels and artists.

It’s hard to describe how much it meant to receive it and not just because it’s highly complementary.

When I started Soul Sides in 2004, I was subconsciously using it to replace my old college radio show. The latter had gotten to be a slog so I was happy to reclaim those 3+ hours a week but I missed having a way of sharing and talking about music so voila!: audioblogging filled that space.

And in the heady days where people still, you know, blogged, it was kind of like doing radio but even better because people would comment and there’d be small convos that’d breakout on account of it. That kind of feedback is vitally important; it lets me know that people are out there listening.

And then Facebook and Twitter arose and I was just as guilty as anyone in shifting my attention and energies – as a reader – over to those platforms. I understand why people stopped commenting here but over time, I just couldn’t tell who was reading/listening anymore. Was I writing these posts to a non-audience? And if so, what was the point of doing that? And so, over time, my posting has slowed to a trickle.

I’m not saying this to guilt anyone out there. I’m totally fine with people hopping on, DLing a few songs, and jumping out. I do/did the same. But what this email reminded me was “oh, people are reading/listening” and it helps me to want to create more for you (the abstract “you”, not just the author of the email).

I’m thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been in a dark place because of what’s happening in my society and I keep coming back to something my friend Jeff Chang wrote: “don’t despair, create.” I’m really trying to take that to heart because action is a great counter to depression and so I’m more committed, than ever, to want to create things in the world, whatever forms that may take. And so you may see an increase in posting here but here’s my ask: let me know what you think. Again, feedback to a writer/DJ is part of our lifeblood. It helps to know who’s reading/listening out there. I’m not asking for paragraphs – just a sentence will do. And again, my point here isn’t to guilt people. And maybe what I need to do is create  Facebook group or something along those lines (since there’s not a ton of interaction on the FB page). But in any case, it helps to hear from you all, it truly does.

It also seems apropos that in a time where it feels dark, I gravitate towards songs that seem to burst with light and I can’t think of one much better than this Swan Silvertones’ single. I’m not religious so gospel to me is about feeling rather than faith but heck, the insistence they have in saying, “if you believe your god is dead, try mine, he’s still alive” is so powerful, it makes me want to believe. And theology aside, the basic message is: do not despair, hope survives.

 

THE CHAYNS: FORGED IN SAN ANTONIO

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The Chayns: You
From 7″ (Chayn-Reaction, 1968

Another one I picked up during the Numero Group’s Rapp Cats sale: a gem of a garage/psych rock track that originally hails from San Antonio’s “Teen Canteen” scene of mid-60s. The song would be memorable enough if it only kept to the opening, two-note bass line but the way it switches up for the chorus seals the deal.

SIDNEY PINCHBACK: SET STUNNERS TO PHASE

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Sidney Pinchback & The Sisters: This Is The Woman
From 7″ (Nickel, 1969)

Picked this one up from Rob Sevier during the recent Numero sale in L.A. Immediately fell in love with the phased effect that hits you from jump (listen to this on headphones for maximum impact). It’s the instrumental flipside of Lucky Cordell’s “This Is The Woman I Love” which features Cordell…just talking over the instrumental. Believe me when I say, B-side wins this one (again).

Notably, this wasn’t the only time Pinchback went with a phase effect; “Soul Strokes” was the first time I had heard of his name (I thought it was fake!). I only later learned that he was a semi-prolific songwriter in the Chicago R&B scene of the 1960s, including as a co-writer on Billy Stewart’s “Cross My Heart.”

ABDOU EL OMARI: MOROCCAN MAGIC

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Naima Samih, Abdou El Omari: Rmani Rih
From 7″ (Disques Gam, 1977)

Abdou El Omari: Zifaf Filada
From 7″ (Disques Gam, 1977)

I basically know nil about Moroccan music/records but my friend Bachir, out in France, laced me with both of these. He’s North African by heritage and he’s been steadily collecting Tunisian and Moroccan records, especially pic sleeve 45s. Both of these songs feature the mesmerizing instrumental work of organist Abdou El Omari (Aquarium Drunkard briefly wrote about him earlier this year), whose zippy playing style is all over “Zifaf Filada” (“Wedding In Space”?) though I think it’s the percussion on that track that really sets things off. (That song also seems to be featured on the recently reissued Nuits D’ete LP).

“Rmani Rih” (“Wind Thrown”?) features the vocals of Moroccan singer Naima Samih who came to fame in the 1970s and would have been in her mid=20s when this track was recorded. El Omari’s organ work adds the spacey element here, especially around :25, when the rhythm track comes sliding in.

Thanks again to Bachir for these!

THE IMPRESSIONS: KEEP ON TRYING

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The Impressions: I’ve Been Trying (ABC-Paramount, 1965). Also on The Complete A & B Sides

At random times, I’ll just start singing to myself, “I’ve been trying…lord knows that I’ve been trying.” Don’t ask me why; that’s how ear worms work sometimes but it reminds me of how The Impressions could craft these simple but incredibly memorable lyrics out of just a few words, especially in the mid’60s with hits like “People Get Ready,” “Keep On Pushing,” and of course, “I’ve Been Trying.”

Every time I listen to this, I marvel at how unadorned it is. The guitar and horns are kept to a minimum and the drums are so subtle, they’re practically invisible. Even the vocals are relatively restrained, almost matter-of-factly in tone. I’d like to think it’s because the singers are trying to capture an emotion somewhere between despair and hope and in order to resolve that, you end up in the flat middle. Whichever way, the affect is haunting.

(I think the sparseness of the original is one reason I have a hard time getting into most of the covers of the song. Most of them sound overproduced to me, including versions by The Notations, Jerry Butler and Clarence Reid. Better would be Archie Bell’s flip, which adds some heavier brass but otherwise keeps it faithful. Likewise, my friend Sam turned me onto the Mayfield Singers’ version which, as you might expect, is also very loyal.)