Editions Makossa is a cult label amongst funk fans – it represents some of the hardest core African funk out there. Much like our Caribbean favorite label Charlie’s, all of these recordings got filtered back through Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and put out on singles that claim American manufacture. You wonder precisely who was buying them – I’d actually like to congratulate anyone who was hip enough at the time to do so.
Despite my Brooklyn background, I picked up “Ma Fou Fou” recently in Berlin’s Graefekiez. The guy at the record shop was convinced that he was overcharging me due to condition – I think he listened to it and thought that the weedy sound was due to the condition of the record rather than the no doubt primitive live recording techniques. I was happy to pay what he was asking because it was way less than the market price for the record, and it friggin’ BURNS. I mean, listen to the damn thing! I was going to pick this up even if it was trashed and try to live with it.
Now, I know a few tricks for cleaning up surface noise on monophonic records, mostly involving a thorough cleaning and a double Y cable to cancel out any stereo noise – this I would do all the time because it doesn’t change the sound at all. On “Ma Fou Fou,” unusually for me, I also spent some time in the mastering stage trying to bring out the bass and guitar at their appropriate moments – it ends up giving the record a bit more of a James Brown feel than perhaps existed in the flat transfer. You can call it screwing around with the production intent if you want to, but the bottom line is that this record was recorded rather than produced in the first place. I’m just trying to cut a bit of murk out, and you can rest assured that I will not be doing this with most records.[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24364518-267.mp3]
A little bit square, a little bit hardcore funk, the mysterious Father & Sons’ “Soul In The Bowl” almost defies explanation. A two sided live recording which refuses to follow many of the rules we typically accept as a part of our funky explorations, “Soul In The Bowl” commits what ordinarily would be a grave error in its quotation of “The Charleston” right in the middle of its groove – turning a fine swinging mostly-instrumental into a Bugs Bunny cartoon. And that is just one instance of it shifting keys in a way that makes the song different (and more difficult) than the average funk cut. But personally, I think it rather succeeds – it’s hard to argue with its groove and especially its FEEL.
Acceptance of “Soul In The Bowl” requires embracing the song’s quirks* rather than ignoring them, and given how many other funk nuggets out there play by the rules, I think we can deal with the one that sounds like the bridge was rewritten by your Benny Goodman-loving grandma.[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24364516-929.mp3]
*Things I also love: the New Orleans Nicky Hopkins on piano, and the guy yelling “Makes me feel young again!” You get the sense that there are a few generations in this mix, much as the band name would indicate.
Originally posted April 16, 2010. Some edits to content and new links.
I like to think I’ve watched more 60’s and 70’s television than most people my age, but most of my exposure was as a result of reruns being shown on various cable networks in the early 90’s – for example, when fX was a new network, they had a great bloc of shows including Mission: Impossible and Vega$ (and I realize calling Vega$ great is an incredible stretch of the truth). A few years earlier than that, Nick at Nite had Get Smart and, yes, Dragnet.*
But I never watched Baretta – Robert Blake’s icky trial notwithstanding, it was never really on my radar. But even the cheesiest 70’s TV show can be rescued for the annals of history by a good theme – or, in this case, a good cover of a theme. Given that Sammy Davis Jr. was involved in the original, it’s no shock that someone came out with a better version – but Henry Mancini? That’s surprising.
Mancini was well-known for his movie scores (The Pink Panther, anyone?) but not exactly known as a purveyor of funk. By 1976, though, the big band was on the way out, and one suspects that decline had some influence on Mancini’s jumping on the funky train. After all, even if people like Lalo Schifrin put out some incredible themes themselves**, this was more the exception than the rule.
But the nice thing about some of these more mainstream bands is that they had the chops to tackle funky if they wanted to (on guitar, for example: Lee Ritenour), and had recording budgets that clearly exceeded their more earthy contemporaries. Even if the result is lacking the last 5% of funk that would really push it over the edge, there’s enough to like. See this comprehensive overview of Mancini in the 70’s if you want a bit more context.
Mancini’s version of the Baretta Theme is a boon for bassists (some sick, Jaco-like fretwork from Abraham Laboriel). While the song goes a little cornball in the bridge (strings make the arrangement “safe” for your square parents to enjoy), overall the song is solid.
I discovered this song on a promotional LP put out by Maxell advertising their recording and cassette audio tape products. I think I bought it in a junk shop in Boston and it can’t have cost more than a buck – good thing, since it had damaged grooves. Nevertheless it induced me to search out the album the Mancini cut came from. The song as posted is from the Spanish CD. The rest of the CD is okay- a few good tracks, including a breakbeat and synth heavy “Police Woman,” a great “The Streets Of San Francisco” that bounces back and forth from funk to big band jazz, and a very sample-able “Rockford Files.” There’s even a break at the beginning of “Kojak.” Downside? Nobody needs a cover of Hawaii Five-0. And “Mystery Movie” is near-comically insipid.[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24311319-a50.mp3]
PS: Note that I can only say this is the second best version of the Baretta theme I’ve ever heard. While doing research for the article I discovered Ron Carter had beaten it up something fierce:
* although I must admit my ironic appreciation for Dragnet ’67 has increased, I may have left my fondness for Get Smart behind at age 10 or so
** Lalo’s oeuvre is incredible – Mission: Impossible, Dirty Harry, Bullitt, Enter The Dragon…look for a track or two from him later in the game.
“Moliendo Cafe” may not actually be a schlager, but the way the song has been covered, translated, and re-interpreted by global cultures over the years places it squarely into the schlager bracket of songs. Originally created by Venezuelan composer Hugo Blanco and his uncle, Jose Manzo Perroni, wikipedia claims that over 800 recorded versions exist. Having done a comparative analysis of a few versions of “Body And Soul” during university, and recalling how long that paper was, it’s clear that at this point I’m not brave enough to attempt to reconcile all of those versions of “Moliendo Cafe.”* However, there is one version I’d like to highlight, and that is the version by the Italo Disco group Cheaps.
Existing squarely in Italo Disco’s sweet spot from both a musical (pulsing rhythm and lots of synths) and release year (1983) viewpoint, “Moliendo Cafe” was a one-off – an artist called Antonello Gabelli** has been stated to be the actual artist behind Cheaps, and it’s his name that appears with Manzo Perroni’s as the composer. What’s especially interesting about it is that these lyrics seem to have been created by Gabelli specifically for this release. They bear absolutely no relation to the original “Moliendo Cafe” lyrics in any language, in fact. Gabelli’s new lyrics are effective at transporting us to some alternate reality where the cure for broken-heartedness is a trip back to the Cafe Moliendo, and “dancing every day to the rhythm of the compass” is a regular facet of life in Brazil, even if that phrase and the lyrics themselves make no sense.
I also want to call out the possibly-intentional screw up that occurs at 2:08-2:11, where half of the vocals seem to come in too early. Shades of “Louie, Louie” across the decades! It’s oddities like this that make Italo Disco records so charming and unique***, especially in the 1982-1983 time frame. By the time you get up to the M&G “When I Let You Down” era in ’86, the homebrew aspect was lost, and even great tracks like that one are dead ringers for major label pop in production quality. Time marches on, but we’ll always have the talented amateur era of Italo Disco to hold dear.
This track is digitized from the original Baby Records Italy 7″, sorry for a few pops here and there but I’m not a big believer in post-processing.[audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24331131-7f0.mp3]
*one person braver than myself has an interesting take on a couple versions here.
**also co-writer of JD Jaber songs, as well as Chris Luis’ great “Heart Of The City,” but Gabelli was also an artist in his own right, with at least three releases under the “Duke Lake” pseudonym according to Discogs.
***See also Awesome Hall Of Fame’s post on Block Sistem and the dodgy tape edits that define the instrumental version.
Originally posted April 17, 2010. Some edits/additions to content and a new playback link for “I Stand To Blame.” and, as a bonus, “Colors.” Note that some original CROW tracks, including “Colors” are available on iTunes, on the COLORS compilation. Assuming that it is the artist making money from these, please go and support the artist by picking up the compilation!
Crow began life as a Minneapolis bar band called South 40 in the late 60’s, putting out at least two singles and one live LP on the regional Metrobeat label (which I don’t have, although I regret passing on the LP at Cheapo’s a few years back). They were apparently successful enough that the national record companies came a-knocking. Nothing unusual about that, except what happened next: they turned down industry heavyweight Atlantic Records in favor of the new label Amaret.
Now, if you’re not familiar with Atlantic, they are the most successful independent label in history. They were pivotal (along with Motown) in bringing black music to a white audience. They broke Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding (they distributed Stax Records until he died in ’67), and distributed Cream and a host of other British bands through a distribution agreement with Polydor UK. Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones specifically signed with them because of the credibility of their roster of black artists.
Bringing this back to Crow (and, it should be noted, paraphrasing the band’s story that I recall from a K-TEL compilation I used to have and stupidly sold), Crow was being actively courted by Atlantic in 1969. Instead of running headlong for what was their best shot at national stardom, the band’s management felt that Crow would be lost in the sauce at the “large” Atlantic. (Never mind that Atlantic had the best A&R minds in the business and gobs of money for promotion.)
Crow signed instead with little-known Amaret Records, which proved to be a disaster for the band. Amaret stands for “AMerican Association of REcorded Talent,” which sounds to me more like a lobbying group than a record label. They allegedly weren’t much better operationally than nomenclatorially – with the label unable to master even the basics of distribution, seemingly nobody could find Crow’s LP in a store after seeing the band live. It’s no surprise, then, that Amaret went bankrupt, with MGM (no great shakes itself at the record business) halfheartedly picking up the pieces. Unfortunately Crow’s demise soon followed.
So remember – if you magically appear in 1969-1970 with a hit song in your hand, and can sign with Atlantic – don’t hesitate.
Crow put out a few singles, three LPs and a greatest hits collection, and their lead singer later put out an album called DAVE WAGNER D/B/A CROW, making history as the first cash-in on a band that wasn’t a success to begin with. They are most famous, actually, for Black Sabbath covering “Evil Woman” on their first single for Fontana UK – which later appeared on the UK version of their debut album.
Today’s selection, which surely will be the first of several, is called “I Stand To Blame.” It comes from Crow’s second album, CROW BY CROW, and I reproduce the back cover blurb here for your enjoyment:
“CROW is as a crow…savage! CROW is tough, hard-driving, fast-paced. The swift delivery is like a crow lighting on its prey. The sound is undistorted [a couple of tracks are named here]. CROW can also become cautious and offering…[a couple more track names]. The sound is CROW, a musical informality that is easy to get into and hard to get out of! “CROW BY CROW” is that total intercommunication of individuals[band member names and instruments], each contributing his talent…that is CROW!”
Bet you ten bucks the “writer” never heard the band.
Though by Cal Schenkel, who did design for Frank Zappa, the cover is also a bit literal for my taste. I’m sure it’s Amaret’s fault. The cover of the first album had a motorcycle photo shot in a dark alley – wonder what the A&R guy was trying to make up for.
“I Stand To Blame” should have been a huge hit. It’s a kind of rolling boogie blues, and the singer has a really deep voice with bravado, except in the chorus, where he sounds more like Janis Joplin here than Howlin’ Wolf. My inner producer would have made a slight alteration – killing the “Jailhouse Rock” break in the middle. I can see how that would be entertaining live, but no way should that have made the studio version. Might try to do an edit at some point.
Anyway, in spite of the inexplicable middle, I think it’s a great song. If you’re wondering about provenance, I’ve recorded it to digital from my white label promo LP. Enjoy!
I Stand To Blame: [audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24311235-ecb.mp3]
Colors: [audio http://www.divshare.com/direct/24311278-f59.mp3]
Edit: originally published April 14 2010. Some edits to content and new links.
Everyone loves Motown, right? Or at least, everyone’s mother and father do. Being the offspring of one Motown-obsessed mama*, I have heard some of the most famous Motown product too many times to be entertained any more.
That doesn’t invalidate the concept, however – in fact it’s the basis for the whole Northern Soul movement. If you like Motown but don’t want to listen to the 25 Motown or Motown-style songs played on oldies radio – Northern Soul is the genre for you. And thank the Brits for their dogged pursuit of funk nuggets of all persuasions, otherwise these bits of American culture might have slipped beneath the waves.
Speaking of this song in particular, it is the B-side of one of those 25 songs played on oldies radio, at least when I was a kid – “Band of Gold.” By the way, having read the liner notes of the recent Freda Payne on Invictus CD compilation, I was required to re-evaluate the context of “Band of Gold” – I always thought it was a jilted lover pining, but apparently it’s a sexual complaint (“that night/on our honeymoon/we slept/in separate rooms”). Call me naive if you must.
“The Easiest Way to Fall” is possibly even more heartbreaking than its A-side. “The easiest way to fall/is lean on someone you love” – Bill Withers, eat your heart out, I guess. It’s remarkably emo considering the genre – this is the jilted lover tale that I thought “Band of Gold” was, but it’s really driven home with repeated protestations of how badly the protagonist was hurt. Not just “I used to gather roses/now there’s thorns in my hand” but also “when you cut me down that day/I lost it all.” Ouch.
The song also appears on the LP “Band Of Gold” and the Invictus compilation, but at a different speed – I don’t know whether they slowed down the 7″ mix for the LP or vice versa. I do know that, like so many Motown and Northern songs, the only one worth listening to is the 7″ single mix, presented here direct from the cleaner of my copies.
(note: my divshare died a long time ago, so for expediency’s sake, I’ve substituted a youtube link which probably isn’t equal quality.)
*Fun fact: the first concert I ever went to was The Four Tops in 1991 at Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge.
Edit: originally published April 23, 2010, some edits to text and new links. I have been back to the Bahamas since this post. (In fact, in a truly odd coincidence considering where I now live, both the first and last stamps in my 2005 passport were from the Bahamas.) I ate more conch salad, amongst other activities in and on the beautiful and impressive Exuma Islands. But more relevant to the blog, I had a few years back located a 45RPM copy of Shot Gun Weddin’ by Ronnie Butler and the Ramblers, which I have digitized and linked to for your amusement. Interestingly, later in the same recent Bahamas and Florida trip, I saw a second copy in this wonderful place, but since I respectfully disagree with the owner’s pricing system, I did not buy everything I could have. If you need a copy, call him.
I only spent three days in Nassau way back in 2005, but a few things have stuck with me from that holiday – lust for fresh conch salad, and the mystery of a song called “Shotgun.” Not too often that you hear the hook from a song once after a few beers and can hum it to yourself five years later – but that was the case here. Very vivid memories, actually, considering the number of Kaliks I probably consumed that evening at the beachside shanty. Maybe the chili in the conch salad helped. Anyway, after getting home, I broke up with the girlfriend I was there with, and Lazy Sunday hadn’t come out yet, so Youtube wasn’t available to help with the search. So I gave up, more or less.
Today I was delivered a compilation record that I ordered for a completely unrelated reason (i.e. for another post coming soon to a blog near you). This LP, entitled “This Is Sue,” has a song called “Shotgun Wedding” by Roy C. Not having heard it before I thought it might have been THE “Shotgun” I was looking for. Not the case, but it inspired me to do another search (on Youtube this time) – and I found it! I’m proud to present “Shotgun Wedding” by Ronnie and the Ramblers, one of the Bahamas’ preeminent calypso groups.
Great song, especially if you imagine a bar full of Nassau locals singing along – and pausing perfectly before Ronnie says “shotgun.” I’m not sure whether this is the same version that I heard in the bar, but searches in all the usual haunts haven’t produced an alternate.
I don’t have the record it came from, and unfortunately it’s tough to track down these calypso records considering how few copies were usually pressed (some ridiculous people online would like to charge over 175USD for a copy, but that’s appalling).
PS: here’s another funk nugget from Mr. Ronnie Butler – Bahama Rock.