Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bill Samuels/Buster Bennett - Chrono Classics 1945-47

   AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
One of the very first acts signed to the newly founded Mercury label in 1945 was a quartet calling itself the Cats 'N Jammer Three, a name derived from Rudolph Dirks' old-time comic strip, The Katzenjammer Kids. Their pianist and lead vocalist was Mississippi native and Chicago-based entertainer Bill Samuels. Adam Lambert played mellifluous amplified guitar, and rhythmic support was provided by bassist Sylvester Hickman and drummer Hillard Brown. The first of two versions of "I Cover the Waterfront" was terrifically successful for the Jammers and for Mercury. Stylistically, Samuels and his group sounded something like the King Cole Trio, tempered with the quaintness of the Charioteers and, at times, the cheerful carnality of the rising R&B movement. Comparisons could also be drawn with the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, the Cats & the Fiddle, Slim Gaillard, the Delta Rhythm Boys, the Three Keys, the Four Blazes, and the Five Red Caps. "Waterfront" is smoothly romantic with cool background vocals, and the lovely "One Hundred Years from Today" epitomizes the old-fashioned aspect of Samuels' act. On the raunchier end of the spectrum, "Jockey Blues" and "My Bicycle Tillie" -- with its repeated references to "pumping" -- are distinctly and daringly copulative. This combination of cuteness and relatively overt sexuality was an important ingredient in R&B and early rock & roll. Tapping into a rowdy novelty routine popularized by both Count Basie and Louis Jordan, bassist Sylvester Hickman tried to out-squeal Jordan during the Jammers' rendition of "Open the Door, Richard." Three sides from July of 1947 find Samuels in front of a small band led by Ram Ramirez, with trumpet solos from Bill Coleman and guitar passages by Mundell Lowe. The Cats 'N Jammer Three seem to have disbanded during the 1948 recording ban. Samuels waxed only a couple of sides in 1949, then moved to Minneapolis where he managed to form a trio, eventually recording an LP and one last single. Bill Samuels passed away in March of 1964 at the age of 53. This is the heart of his musical legacy.

James Joseph Bennett (March 19, 1914 – July 3, 1980) Born in Pensacola, Florida, by 1930 or so, he was working in Texas, but spent most of his active career (1938 to 1954) in Chicago. He was employed as a session musician by Lester Melrose from 1938 to 1942; he played on recordings with Big Bill Broonzy, the Yas Yas Girl, Monkey Joe, and Washboard Sam. Concomitantly he played on sessions with Jimmie Gordon under Sammy Price's direction.

In 1944, the Buster Bennett Trio featured Arrington Thornton on piano and Duke Groner on bass.  Other lineups led by Bennett included Wild Bill Davis, Israel Crosby, and Pee Wee Jackson.

In 1945, Bennett signed a three-year recording contract with Columbia Records; he was marketed as a Louis Jordan sound-alike. In early 1946, while under contract to Columbia, Bennett appeared, under the name of his trumpet player, Charles Gray, on a recording for the short-lived Chicago label, Rhumboogie. He also made an unannounced appearance on a Red Saunders session on Sultan Records in 1946, and on a "tenor-battle" session with Tom Archia for Aristocrat in 1947.

At the height of his popularity, in the late 1940s, he was known for his ability to draw customers into a South Side club - and for his cantankerous personality. On one occasion, he and Preston Jackson got into a fistfight at the Musicians Union hall, over a $2 debt.

Bennett recorded his last session for Columbia in December 1947. By 1956 he was out of music, because of the loss of recording opportunities and his own failing health. He retired to Texas, where he lived out the remainder of his life. He died in Houston in 1980, at the age of 66.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Harold Burrage - The Pioneer of Chicago Soul

A companion post to the one running at "Don't Ask Me".

Harold Edwin Burrage (March 30, 1931 – November 26, 1966) was an American blues and soul singer, pianist, and record producer.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Burrage did session work as a pianist in the 1950s and 1960s as well as recording under his own name. He released singles on Decca, Aladdin, States, and Cobra in the 1950s, and for Vee-Jay and M-Pac in the 1960s. Burrage's backing bands included the likes of Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, and Jody Williams, while Burrage supported Magic Sam, Charles Clark, and others as a pianist.

Burrage's only national hit as singer was the 1965 Chicago soul song "Got to Find a Way", which reached #31 on the Billboard R&B charts. The following year Burrage died in Chicago, aged 35, from heart failure at the home of Tyrone Davis, a musician whom Burrage influenced.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Other Anthology of American Folk Music

In response to the Harry Smith collection for Folkways/Smithsonian, a disappointingly anonymous human being out there somewhere on the interweb collated and produced "The Other Anthology" from other deserving tracks that didn't make the pick for Smith - mainly alternate material from the same artists: the Memphis Jug Band,  Bascom Lamar Lundsford, Blind Willie Johnson, Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Dock Boggs.....  98 tracks in all - some of which, like the Harry Smith pick, unavoidably duplicates some of the recent monster Paramount boxed-sets.

There is no booklet and no notes and no credits for this internet production.

Well-deserved appreciation for whoever painstakingly put this together in the first place, and big thanks to whoever shared it on whatever site I downloaded it from.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bobby Womack and The Valentinos

a repost by request:

When considering what to tell in the epic myth-like tale of the life of Bobby Womak, I came to the same conclusion that wikipedia's editors did...the tale is too rich to abbreviate. If you have been here through enough of the blog you caught the very first chapter in the SAR set. This portion really just covers The Valentino's - there will be even more about Bobby alone. His story is in many ways the tale of the fallout from the killing of Sam Cooke. Womak played the role of pawn, hero, villain, tragic hero, resurrected is the stuff of a fantastic book, complete with side plots, or a movie crafted from the very real history of soul.

"The Valentinos (also known as The Womack Brothers), was a Cleveland, Ohio-based family R&B group, mainly famous for launching the careers of brothers Bobby Womack and Cecil Womack, the former brother finding bigger fame as a solo artist and the latter finding success as a member of the husband and wife team of Womack & Womack with Linda Cooke. During their 22-year tenure, the group was known for R&B hits such as "Lookin' for a Love", famously covered by The J. Geils Band and later a solo hit for Bobby Womack and "It's All Over Now", famously covered by The Rolling Stones.

The foundation of the Valentinos started in church where the five Womack brothers - Friendly, Jr. (born 1941), Curtis (born 1943), Bobby (born 1944), Harry (1945-1974) and Cecil (1947-2013) - performed at their father Friendly's church located from the East 85th & Quincy area of Cleveland. The group started out around 1952 when eight-year-old Bobby Womack played guitar for his father after he had broken a string. Following this, he discovered that all five of his sons could sing, forming the Womack Brothers.

Attracting a gospel following, in 1954, the group, under the name Curtis Womack and the Womack Brothers, cut a single, "Buffalo Bill" with the Pennant label; both Curtis and Bobby Womack were only ten years old at the time of the recording. In 1956, Sam Cooke discovered the group performing while he and his then group, The Soul Stirrers, were headlining and was so impressed with the brothers that he promised to help the group advance in their careers. In 1960, a couple of years after he founded SAR Records and becoming a crossover solo sensation, Cooke made good on his promise signing the teenage act to the label. The group arrived to California in a beat-up Cadillac prior to Cooke signing them.

Still going by The Womack Brothers, SAR cut two gospel singles the group recorded in 1961 and 1962 including "Somebody's Wrong" and "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray". After the singles failed to chart, Cooke advised the group to go a secular direction. Upon this, they changed their name to the Valentinos and while both Bobby and Curtis continued to switch leads, Sam Cooke reportedly favored Bobby and while some SAR singles featured Curtis in lead, the Bobby-led singles would garner the most airplay.

Shortly afterwards, the group under its new moniker, recorded "Lookin' for a Love", which was a pop rendition of "Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray". The song would peak at number eight on the R&B charts and number 72 on the Billboard Hot 100, going on to sell two million copies. The hit landed them an opening spot on James Brown's national tour.

In early 1964, the group issued their next hit, "It's All Over Now", which was co-written by Bobby and sister-in-law Shirley. Prior to them releasing it, however, word got around that The Rolling Stones wanted to cover it. Despite Bobby's initial protests, the Stones were eventually allowed to release it and their version became their first national hit in the U.S. Bobby's anger cooled after he received his first royalty check for the single following the Stones' release of the single.

Around 1963, Womack began touring with Cooke as his backing guitarist. Bobby added in instrumentation to several of Cooke's albums including Night Beat and Ain't That Good News. Around the same time Bobby was one of the first people to hear Cooke's chilling anthem, "A Change Is Gonna Come". In December 1964, the Valentinos' career was put in jeopardy when Cooke was suddenly shot and killed while at a Los Angeles motel.

Struggling to deal with the sudden loss of Cooke, the group lay low. Not long after Cooke was buried, however, in March of the following year, Bobby, who had just turned 21, married Cooke's widow, 29-year-old Barbara Campbell. Womack would claim later that he initially had wanted to console Barbara after she lost her husband fearing she "may do something crazy" because of the attention given to Sam Cooke's stature. Womack, his family and friends later say that Barbara fell in love with Bobby and convinced him to marry her. Womack even wore one of Sam's suits to the wedding by Barbara's request.

The marriage angered many of Cooke's loyal fans due to the fact that Cooke's death was still being investigated at the time. In response to the negative attention, Bobby chose to leave the Valentinos and start his solo career in 1965, first recording for Him Records and later the Chess Records subsidiary, Checker. But due to the Cooke scandal, radio deejays refused to play his records and onstage, he was often referred to as "the kid that married Sam Cooke's wife". Womack settled on session work for the time being as a rhythm guitarist, beginning in 1966, while the rest of the Valentinos, who had initially disbanded following Cooke's death, was urged by Bobby to regroup.

Following Cooke's death, SAR Records folded and the remaining Valentinos auditioned for several record labels before Chess Records picked them up. In 1966, they recorded two singles, "Do It Right" and "Let's Get Together" but neither single failed to chart and the brothers were dropped from the label soon after. Following this, the youngest Valentino, Cecil Womack, was the next brother to leave the group after he decided to marry former Motown singer Mary Wells. Cecil was only 19 at the time of the marriage, Wells was 23. In 1968, Wells and Cecil helped the brothers get signed to Jubilee Records. Several of the brothers - including Bobby - would contribute to the sessions of Mary Wells' Jubilee album, "Servin' Up Some Soul", many of the tracks being Cecil and Mary compositions. That same year, the remaining trio of Friendly, Jr., Curtis and Harry recorded the single "Tired of Being Nobody" followed by the Cecil Womack penned "Two Lovers History" before calling it a day.

Meanwhile Bobby Womack's career was on a rise again, this time as a session musician and songwriter. After contributing guitar to recordings by Aretha Franklin, he gave up some of his compositions to Wilson Pickett, who later took the Womack single, "I'm in Love", to the top 40 on the pop and soul charts. Several of Womack's other songs including "I'm a Midnight Mover" would also be recorded by Pickett. Following this success, Minit Records signed Bobby and released the album, Fly Me to the Moon, which featured the singer's first charted hit, a cover of The Mamas & The Papas' "California Dreaming". Once again being able to have a career after years of struggle following his marriage to Barbara Cooke, Womack would continue his session work, working with musicians such as Gábor Szabó, with whom he would write "Breezin'" with. By 1970, Womack's brothers rejoined him as background vocalists on his work, starting with the 1970 release of his second solo album, My Prescription.

In 1971, Bobby signed with United Artists Records and released his breakthrough album, Communication, which featured the top ten R&B hit, "That's the Way I Feel About Cha", in which the rest of his brothers (The Valentinos) , contributed background vocals to. The brothers would be featured on several of Womack's other albums over the years including Understanding, Facts of Life and Lookin' for a Love Again, the latter album in which the brothers re-recorded "Lookin' for a Love" in a modern funk setting. The remake later shot up to number one R&B and number ten pop becoming the biggest hit the brothers ever sang on, selling over two million copies. Bobby Womack later produced a version of "I Can Understand It" for the remaining Valentinos, releasing it on the Clean Records label. The song gave the Valentinos some traction again on the R&B charts leading to them appearing on Soul Train where Bobby was a frequent guest.

However, this period of success would unfortunately be short lived. On March 9, 1974, Harry Womack was shot to death by his girlfriend during a fight while living in Bobby's Los Angeles home. Bobby said later that he received a phone call from his oldest brother Friendly, Jr., who told him of what had happened to Harry. Bobby was then doing an interview for a local radio station while "Lookin' for a Love" was rising on the charts when he got the call. Bobby said he was shocked by the news and tried to escape the building of the station, later landing in a hospital from his fall where he made a full recovery. In response, Bobby moved his entire family including parents Friendly and Naomi to California to strengthen a fragile family bond. The Valentinos ceased recordings after Harry's death settling on background work with brother Bobby.

Bobby Womack's solo career struggled following the death of his brother as did the careers of the other ex-Valentinos. In 1982, Bobby Womack's solo career received a boost with the release of "If You Think You're Lonely Now", which featured his surviving brothers and other singers backing him. The following year, Cecil Womack, now married to Linda Cooke, Sam Cooke's daughter and Bobby's former stepdaughter, began finding success on his own with Linda as the duo Womack & Womack, releasing the album, Love Wars, which boosted the hit single, "Baby I'm Scared of You", which Cecil and Linda wrote. The duo later had a hugely successful international hit with "Teardrops". Friendly Womack and Curtis Womack continued to provide background vocals for brother Bobby's recordings until the nineties when both singers announced retirements.

An estrangement in the family occurred following the 1977 divorce of Cecil Womack and Mary Wells as it was alleged that a reason for the divorce (filed by Cecil) was due to Mary Wells carrying on an extramarital affair with Curtis. Curtis and Mary continued to date and in 1986, Wells gave birth to Curtis' daughter Sugar. Mary and Cecil had three children during their marriage including record producer Meech Wells (born Cecil Womack, Jr.). In the late eighties, disenchanted with life in the United States and searching for their African roots, Cecil and Linda Womack and their children moved to an African country and changed their name to the Zekkariyas where they continued recording music. As a songwriting team for Philadelphia International Records, the couple wrote hits for Teddy Pendergrass and Patti LaBelle. Cecil died on February 1, 2013 in Africa. In 2009, Bobby Womack was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. During the ceremony, he performed his 1972 hit "Across 110th Street" and the Valentinos hit "It's All Over Now", in which Rolling Stone member Ron Wood backed him. Wood inducted Womack to the Hall. Womack's family with the exception of Cecil Womack was present for the induction ceremony. The family patriarch and founder of the Womack Brothers, Friendly Womack, Sr., died of cancer in 1981. Their mother, Naomi, is still living.

Some of the group's recordings are most noted for their covers by artists of various genres. Alongside the Rolling Stones, Solomon Burke and Wilson Pickett recorded covers of the Valentinos tunes "Everybody Wants to Fall in Love" and "I Found a True Love", both of which were written solely by Bobby. In 1971, The J Geils Band covered "Lookin' for a Love" a couple years before the brothers re-recorded it for Bobby's solo release, Lookin' for a Love Again. Another composition that was first recorded by Bobby as a solo release and revived by the Valentinos a year later, "I Can Understand It", became a major hit for the funk band New Birth. Prior to her later work with Cecil, Linda helped Bobby co-write the hit "A Woman's Gotta Have It", which also featured Cecil singing background for his brother. Cecil and Linda's composition, "Love TKO", a major hit for Teddy Pendergrass, has been covered several times."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Osibisa - Heads

The last album to feature the original "Beautiful Seven".

"Osibisa, the West African high-life band from Ghana, waxed their first LP in 1971 and continues to spit them out. Their longevity can be attributed to a vibrant sound and the ability to inject humor into music. They don't allow themselves to become mired in social issues as did the short-lived but often brilliant Cymande, whose LPs were essentially political statements. Osibisa's only agenda is making good music, and if it happens to strike a political or social nerve, fine, but it's not what they're totally about. "Wango Wango" starts slow but evolves into a wicked jam that's heavy as P-Funk. Pleasant flute and trumpet riffs accent the lovely "So So MI La So." The bands' tribute to America, the floating "Sweet America," teases and tantalizes. Percussion heads will appreciate "Ye Tie Wo" and "Che Che Kule." The deepest slabs of social commentary are the thought-provoking "Sweet Sounds" and "Did You Know." All tracks were written by all or various members of Osibisa, who share production credit with John Punter. "

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Osibisa - Woyaya 1971

Woyaya is a strong follow up to Osibisa' debut record, almost a companion volume.

The Sprit of Memphis Quartet - Happy In the Service of the Lord

A rerun by request:

Gospel music was largely neglected during the surge of CD reissues in the 90s and early 21st Century.  Only the Specialty and Nashboro labels had significant reissues.    The Spirit of Memphis Quartet was unquestionably one of the greatest, most popular, and most influential quartets of the Golden Age of Gospel in the 40s and 50s.    But the CD generation had little opportunity to hear it.  

  Recently, in the Sunset of the CD Age, the indefatigable Opal Lee Nations managed to put into print for first time in many decades a good chunk of the recorded legacy of the Golden Age of gospel.    He uses European labels that exploit the liberal copyright laws of the EU.  The two most prolific labels have been Acrobat and JSP.    While JSP is still going, Acrobat folded rather quickly after a string of great releases.

  Happy in the Service of the Lord was the single most important release on Acrobat, a 2-disc collection that brings us the most important recordings of the Spirit of Memphis Quartet, those made for King and Peacock during 1949-1952.   During this time, The Spirit of Memphis may have wrecked more churches than any other outfit.   The lineup featured three great lead singers: Willmer “Little Axe” Broadnax (tenor), Jet Bledsoe (tenor/baritone), and the inimitable thundering baritone of Silas Steele.    A number of other classic recordings of the Spirit of Memphis from the mid-later 1950s, many of which with Joe Hinton on lead vocals, were included in Acrobat’s 9-Volume “Texas Gospel” reissue of the Peacock label.   We can get into that series later on for this blog if there will be demand for it.
  The Spirit of Memphis stands for quite a rich and diverse gospel tradition.   The Quartet has roots dating back to the 1920s and continues to perform today as one of the finest remaining gospel quartets.   If they come to your town, don’t miss them.   There are also excellent CDs available from the newer aggregations.  But here you have the very artistic peak of the Spirit of Memphis, and one of the peaks of recorded gospel music. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Boogie Uproar - Gems From The Peacock Vaults

Re-run by request:

"The formation of Peacock Records in late 1949 dates back to an event nearly three years earlier when a young guitarist called Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown saw his chance to grab the spotlight - and took it with both hands! 'Gate' had never been backward in coming forward. When legendary bluesman T-Bone Walker fell ill in mid-performance, he leapt up, picked up the guitar left on the stage and started playing his own 'Gatemouth Boogie'. 15 minutes later a star was born. The owner of the club, Don Robey, ensured the young upstart put his autograph on a management contact. Robey would eventually found Peacock Records to release his music, and that's where the label's history starts."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Osibisa - Osibisa 1971

Rarely in popular music history has an unknown band debuted with such a perfectly formed diamond of an album as Osibisa did with their eponymous first album in late 1970. To be fair, these were seasoned musicians, the core of whom had years of experience playing together.

"The Ghanaian founder members of Osibisa – Teddy Osel (saxaphone), Sol Amarfio (drums) and Mac Tontah, Teddy’s brother (trumpet) – were seasoned members of the Accra highlife scene before they moved to London to launch their attack on the world stage. Osel and Amaflio had played in the Star Gazers, a top Ghanaian highlife band, before setting up the Comets, who scored a large West African hit with their 1958 single ‘Pete, Pete’. Tontoh was also a member of the Comets, before joining the Uhuru Dance Band, one of the first outfits to bring elements of jazz into Ghanaian highlife. The other founder-members of Osibisa were Spartacus R, a Grenadian bass player, Robert Bailey (b. Trinidad; keyboards) and Wendel Richardson (b. Antigua; lead guitar), & Lasisi Amao (b. Nigeria; percussionist & tenor sax)."

"Osibisa is a British Afro-pop band, founded in London in 1969 by four expatriate African and three Caribbean musicians. Osibisa were one of the first African bands to become widely popular, leading to claims of founding World Music.
In Ghana in the 1950s, Teddy Osei (saxophone), Sol Amarfio (drums), Mamon Shareef and Farhan Freere (flute) played in a highlife band called The Star Gazers. They left to form The Comets, with Osei's brother Mac Tontoh on trumpet, and scored a hit in West Africa with their 1958 song "Pete Pete." In 1962 Osei moved to London to study music on a scholarship from the Ghanaian government. In 1964 he formed Cat's Paw, an early "world music" band that combined highlife, rock and soul. In 1969 he persuaded Amarfio and Tontoh to join him in London, and Osibisa was born.
The name Osibisa was described by the band members as meaning "criss cross rhythms that explode with happiness" but it actually comes from "osibisaba" the Fante word for highlife. Their style influenced many of the emerging African musicians over the last forty plus years." last FM

To some extent I think the band suffered a bit from their own perfection on this debut...while they certainly equaled this music subsequently, they never really surpassed it.