SINGLE SERVINGS: JOHN LEWIS, STRIPPED

Lewis

John Lewis: I Can’t Get Started
From 7″ (Pacific Jazz, 1950s). Also on Essential Jazz Masters

I don’t buy much jazz these days but I couldn’t pass this 7″ up when I came across it at the Groove Merchant. There are few things in the world I love better than a jazz ballad standard, stripped down to a couple of players. “I Can’t Get Started” is already a hauntingly gorgeous tune to begin with and Lewis – musical director for the MJQ – does a simply lovely job here on piano.

GET SOME, LEAVE SOME

Gotsome

Billy (Sugar Billy) Gardner: I Got Some
I Got Some (alt. mix)
From 7″ (New Day, 1960s)

On my recent trip up to the Bay for 45 Sessions I stopped by the Groove Merchant first (as I often do). Cool Chris had something special waiting for me: this Gardner 7″. It was to complete a trade we started last fall but it meant a lot more than getting a bad ass record.

As I wrote about before, the first time I ever laid eyes on this 7″ was when Matthew Africa brought it in to KALX for a fundraiser show. From henceforth, it was a single I associated with him, probably even more than Gangstarr’s flip.1

On top of that, Chris gave me his own personal copy, one he got in a trade a dozen years ago from DJ Shadow, and a single that, as Chris put it, “hadn’t left his play crate in 12 years.” As Chris, I and Matthew all had a short-lived monthly together in San Francisco in the early ’00s, it meant a lot to have the single linking all three of us.


This trip down memory lane aside, I did learn something new about the single: the b-side is an alternative mix of the song. As you can hear, they throw in some super-reverbed guitar on top of the drum break (!) and it winds its way back into the song throughout this arrangement. I don’t happen to think it works that well so thank god for Side A. All said, I found this rather unusual – I can’t think of too many other cases where a single has two different arrangements/mixes of the same song on each side (vocal/instrumental flips, sure, but two different vocal mixes?).

As a favor to me, Chris put a tiny green dot on “the right side.”

  1. Though, let’s be honest: Primo MURDERED that loop.

SINGLE SERVINGS: GIANT(S) FEVER: CATCH IT!

Be a believer
This one came gratis The Groove Merchant this past weekend. Seemed apropos since I arrived in S.F. during the 1st game of the divisional series, in S.F. (which, alas, the Giants lost).

Back in 1978, no doubt riding the disco wave, The Paid Attendance put out this single celebrating that season’s team.

The Paid Attendance: Be a Believer In Giant Fever
From 7″ (Solid Smoke, 1978)

In case you want to read the lyrics, here you go.

Not exactly the best disco track ever cut – what, no breakdown in the middle? – but I’m more bothered by the lack of pluralization in the title. Shouldn’t it be “Giants fever”?

“Giant fever” sounds like a medical condition: “oh it’s bad ma’am, your son seems to have a case of gigans febris. It’s worse than a normal fever, that’s why we call it “giant fever.”

BTW: Giants finished third in the NL West that season. Not quite “fever hot.”

Right now (as in literally as I post this), they’re up 3-2 on the Reds in a must-win Game 4. Go S.F.!

SINGLE SERVINGS: BUDAPEST BOOGIE

Atlas
One of the more interesting things I picked up at the Groove Merchant last month was this 7″ on Hungary’s Qualiton imprint.1 I only have a handful of Hungarian records, all of it prog-rock, but it’s always been an intriguing sound: strong rhythms, big horn sections, and usually a drummer playing their ass off.

Here’s the single I got at the GM:

Atlasz: Töröld le a könnyeidet
From 7″ (Quality, 1970). Also on Töröld Le a Könnyeidet!

Before Cool Chris even played it for me, he asked, “doesn’t this sound like ‘Kashmere’?” and indeed, the bridge part does sound quite a bit like the bridge part of “Kashmere.” Coincidene? I’d have to guess so since I’m having a hard time imagining that a copy of a Kashmere Stage Band’s album made its way from TX out to Budapest in the late 1960s. But stranger things have happened.2

In any case, the sheer sound of the single had me hooked: hard, swinging funk, lyrics I don’t understand but clearly sung with some soulful flair, and of course, those drums. I wanted to learn more and through the magic of Google Translate, here’s what I could glean.

Atlasz formed in the mid 1960s, lead by songwriter and singer Francis Flamm. They have the reputation – at least on one site – of being Hungary’s first soul band. I have no way of confirming that but I like the idea. The group’s recording career lasted through the early 1970s at least, during which time they seemed to exclusively record singles but enough to eventually fill up a 17 track anthology.

Digging deeper into their catalog and my initial curiosity only deepened; their best songs are prig-rock at its bet, with a blend of folk, jazz and soul influences all mixed in. Even, on this cute, a little funky flute, ala Harold Alexander.

Atlasz: A kezem zsebre dugom
From Töröld Le a Könnyeidet! (Hungaroton, 2001)

  1. Like a lot of Eastern European labels, the cover art for their records were great. I love this stuff.
  2. I once found this album for sale online at a store based in the United Arab Emirates. I’m not saying that’s stranger than “Kashmere” making it ways to Hungary but it’s still a good, random story.

PRIVATE PILE: SHIRLEY NANETTE’S STYLES UPON STYLES

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Shirley Nanette: Give and Take
Sometimes
Heaven on Earth
From Never Coming Back (Satara, 1973)

Nanette is a jazz vocalist, originally from Portland, OR, and though her own bio says she got her start in 1981, this album would seem to suggest otherwise. It is a most extraordinary LP, one that’s recently been getting heavier mention in select circles after a cache of sealed copies turned up and were quickly sold off (I received mine probably 3rd hand, via my last trip to the Groove Merchant). I’ll just say: I was prepared to feel like the album was overhyped but seriously, it’s really really really good.

Part of it is the diversity of styles on here…Nanette goes from bossa-tinged ballads to a more midtempo, soul/jazz tunes to Northern soul-style tracks to straight up funk songs. It’s like three or four different albums all thrown into one; quite unusual. But more than that, there’s something raw and affecting about Nanette’s performance. These are not hyper-polished songs and for those who can’t take too much “saxy sax,” this may test you at times, but as befits a private issue record, it’s coarse-ness is also part of its charm. “Give and Take,” especially, floors me everytime; I love the vocal arrangement on here. It swings in all kinds of unexpected directions and drops in background harmonies at perfect moments.

I really could have plucked any random assortment of songs off this LP and it would have worked. In this case, I went with my absolute favorite “Give and Take” then threw in the other two to showcase the different styles on here. I have no idea if a reissue is in the works but someone really ought to take it there.

RAYMOND WINNFIELD: WHEN LOVE GOES SOUTH

winnfield.jpg
Raymond Winnfield: Things Could Be Better
From 7″ (Fordom, 196?). Also on Funky Funky New Orleans 5.

I picked this up on my last trip to the Groove Merchant, in November. The track itself would have been enough to draw my attention…like Funky16Corners described it: “downtempo Crescent City funk.” Indeed, the instrumental version of this appears as the flipside to Ernie and the Top Notes’ funk classic, “Dap Walk” but to me, Winnfield’s vocal version is considerably superior (maybe I just have a bias against the overuse of sax-as-vocal-replacement). Indeed, what sealed the deal for me to cop this NOLA 7″ was hearing Winnfield sing “you always try to pull me down” over and over, to devastating effect. It’s not always easy to pull off a good “end of romance” song but Winnfield nails the vibe perfectly here.

THE SOUNDS OF YOUNG LOS ANGELES

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Cold Duck: Cold Duck (On Ice)
Folk: A Helping Hand
L&M Jazz Quartet: Serenade to a Chicken Wing
The Profits: Fantasy of Love
All from Like People: The Sounds of Young Los Angeles (SOYLA, 197?)

I had been after this LP for a few years now, ever since first seeing at the Groove Merchant, back in the day. It was the cover art; there was something so enticing about how everyone was standing at the top of that canyon, combined with a flip on the old Motown slogan, “The Sound of Young America,” now adapted for L.A.

It’s hard to find much on this LP at all. SOYLA was, apparently, a youth-oriented non-profit and this was a compilation album of different teen musicians who were part of the organization. That already makes it a rather cool project, especially given the range of different styles you can hear on here: folk, rock, funk, jazz, soul…hence the “sounds” of young Los Angeles, rather than some singular “sound.”

I turned to Andy Zax since he actually has one of the photo proofs of the cover image (jealous!). Here’s what he had to say about the LP:

most of what I know is conjecture based on a few facts…The album was made with the help of a bunch of music-biz people who donated time and costs. (Capitol did the artwork in-house, and they probably pressed it at well; judging by the scarcity, it must have been a _really_ small run. I’d guess maybe 500 copies; certainly not more than a thousand.) The really alluring thing about it is that cover photograph, which evokes the vibe of LA in 1971 like almost nothing else. I was in kindergarten or first grade at the time, and those kids look exactly like all the other impossibly-older-looking post-hippie kids I used to see wandering around in Westwood Village or on the UCLA campus.

I included what I thought was a representative sample off the LP. “Cold Duck (On Ice)” by Cold Duck was a fairly straight forward jazz/rock/funk fusion track; horns are a bit reminiscent of Jimmy Castor or Kool and the Gang from the late ’60s/early ’70s.

Folk initially sounds a bit twee; very “canyon” in feel until the drummer decides to start crushing the session. Pity this is mixed rather low and muddy. It’d be cool to remaster this with the drums more in the foreground, with a cleaner sound. Apart from having one of the better jazz titles I’ve ever seen, “Serenade to a Chicken Wing” slides on a nice, laid back groove. Very 3am in vibe.

My favorite song is (of course) the slow jam: “Fantasy of Love” by The Profits. Unfortunately, the LP included no info on the groups themselves but by their sound, I’d have to assume these were some Eastsiders, trying to mint their own firme fola on this one. The fact that these are likely a bunch of teenagers just increases its lo-fi charms.

PEREZ PRADO: TIPSY OFF TEQUILA

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Perez Prado: San Luis Blues
Tequila
From El Unico (Dimsa, 197?)

Despite the presumed ubiquity of data in a digital era, there’s a surprising amount of information gaps out there when it comes to even the most famous and prolific of artists. Perez Prado, one of Latin music’s most heralded figures, put out a striking number of funk-influenced albums in the 1970s but trying to keep an accounting of them is harder than you might imagine. The various discographies out there are incomplete and mismatched and that’s not even because of the confusion around which Perez Prado was even recording.

The more famous brother was responsible for the lion’s share of the “funky Prado” albums of this era but as I’ve discovered the hard way, it’s not easy keeping track of all that’s out there. This El Unico album, released out of Mexico, was completely off my radar until I heard a copy at the Groove Merchant and it’s certainly in competition with the better material in its vein. In terms of straight up funk, “San Luis Blues” certainly qualifies with its heated percussion section and a blaring brass section. But the real slower burner is this version of “Tequila” (which is a different version than what appears on Mexico 70). Fans of this classic party tune wouldn’t even recognize it based on how it opens: a heavy bassline that keeps looping around, some slick electric guitar and steady but understated Latin percussion. This is what you call a groove. It takes about five minutes for the main melody of “Tequila” to creep in and by that time, I doubt few would have seen it coming if not for people yelling “tequila!” to clue you in. It’s slow, almost druggy, and altogether heady.

A SNACK OF 7″S

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Freddie North: Love to Hate
From 7″ (Mankind, 1975)

The Profiles: If I Didn’t Love You
From 7″ (Duo, 196?)

South Street Soul Guitars: Poppin Popcorn
From 7″ (Silver Fox, 1969)

Al Green: Get Back Baby
From 7″ (Hi, 1969)

Little Joe Cook and the Thrillers: Funky Hump
From 7″ (Soultown, 1974)

Frank Lucas: Good Thing Man
From 7″ (ICA, 1977)

The Devastating Affair: I Want To Be Humble
From 7″ (Mowest, 1970)

Genie Brooks: Helping Hand
From 7″ (Minaret, 196?)

Pharaoh: You’re My Destiny
From 7″ (Theta, 198?)

I’ve been stacking up a slew of 7″s since the winter and decided to throw together a 20 min mix of some of the better ones for you. We kick off with Freddie North a funky blues track that I re-discovered in my own stacks. I love this kind of sound – smoky, restrained but with a super tight rhythm section and an unexpected dash of strings. North’s vocal approach is equally restrained but effective in meting out the emotive power. This is a cheapie but a damn good single.

The Profiles I picked up at the Groove Merchant and I love the opening – how you gonna go wrong with bells, fatback drums and…a piccolo melody (then repeated on what sounds like either an acoustic bass or a viola). Plus that little piano riff. The actual song is more Northern than you might anticipate; all said, a solid cooker.

The version of “Poppin’ Popcorn” by the South Street Soul Guitars is just on the fence of corny but thankfully, the rhythm section holds it down with such ruggedness that you can forgive the less-than-effective electric guitars. This sounds a lot like something the Bar-Kays might have messed with in the early 1970s (or the Average White Band for that matter).

I thought I was upon my Al Green but I totally slept on “Get Back Baby,” which is up there with the best of his funky soul singles. This is from the early part of Green’s career on Hi, prior to his best-selling run from the early 1960s. Appropriately, it actually reminds me of something Syl Johnson might have put out in the same era.

Next we dip into another funk-touched blues track. This one’s a lot more uptempo (and happy) compared to the Freddie North but it’s a solid dance track, especially with the proto-disco female back-ups.

Frank Lucas (I’m presuming this isn’t the Harlem drug dealer) brings us a slower, salacious funky blues track by reworking the Staple Singers’ big hit “Let’s Do It Again.” The original song was drenched in sex but Lucas makes this sound a bit more blue…not to mention hilarious. I mean…”I’ll make you sing the Campbell Soup song…mmmmmmmmm, good.” Dude’s got jokes.

To begin closing things out, we got with a lovely single from a group out of the Mowest stable, a Devastating Affair (weird name but I dig it). Those opening harmonized vocals just do it for me every time. This arrangement is incredible…I hear there may be a forthcoming Mowest anthology in the works and I sure as hell hope this makes it.

Genie Brooks drops the heavy hammer with “Helping Hand,” a social issues song about getting out of poverty. It opens with a lyric reminiscent of “A Change Gonna Come” but the song actual reminds me more of “All For the Kids” by Frank Turner in terms of its deep soul feel but Brooks sounds like he’s got Al Jackson on the drums instead.

Lastly, a bit of Louisiana modern soul for you: Pharaoh with “You’re My Destiny.” I’m still getting into modern soul – this isn’t my “natural” sound but I love the relative simplicity of the arrangement (and oh, those synths) and more to the point – the earnestness of the lyrics. This vocalist isn’t the best singer but he sounds…sincere to me in a way that’s wholly appealing. Now excuse me while I go find a shiny shirt and a wine cooler to enjoy alongside this.

PUT UP YOUR PATTY DUKES

patty3.jpg
File under: I slept.

I’ve seen the soundtrack to Patty for years but somehow, completely missed out on listening to it despite a rather solid lineup that includes tracks from the stable of New Jersey’s Stang.1 It wasn’t until I was hanging out in the Groove Merchant the other month and Cool Chris threw this on the house system, I realized, “damn, how’d this pass me by?”

Some of the songs on here were pre-existing, such as the Moments’ slinky bit of seduction soul:

The Moments: Sexy Mama
From Patty OST (Stang, 1972)

However, Stang’s in-house studio band, the Rimshots, also turn in a few tracks, none better than this incredible slice of instrumental goodness:

The Rimshots: Revelation
From Patty OST (Stang, 1972)

Revelation indeed! This is a straight up “dusty groove” if ever there was one. Doesn’t it sound exactly like something MF Doom would have looped up, especially early on? The butter hit comes around the one minute mark where the kick drum counts off 8 and then we slide into that sublime, string-accompanied passage. Even the cheesy sax that pops in later can’t ruin how luscious this sounds.

Definitely made me think of this (speaking of soundtracks):

Henry Mancini: Lujon
From Mr. Lucky Goes Latin (RCA 1961)

One of my favorite Mancini compositions and though originally written for a television show, it’s become a movie favorite in everything from Sexy Beast to The Big Lebowski (random!).

And heck, for a bonus, if we’re going to talk about instrumental songs connected to “Patty,” I gotta bring this out:

Larry T and the Family: Patty
From I’m Moving On (LET, 1980)

Amazingly, I’ve never posted this before (oops). One of my favorite Bay Area records, a private press jazz/soul LP by Larry Thompson. I’ll have to dig out some other tracks and put ’em up.

  1. One of the many labels under Sylvia Robinson’s empire.