Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Barbara George - Love (Is Just A Chance You Take) (A.F.O. 302)

Love (Is Just A Chance You Take)

Today marks the one year anniversary of the levees giving way down in New Orleans. We can't even begin to fully appreciate the cultural impact that event continues to have on all of us...

When I got back from the road trip, I was saddened to learn that Crescent City legend Barbara George had lost her battle with Hepatitis, and died of a lung infection on August 10th. George, pictured here performing at Emperor Ernie K. Doe's wake in 2001, was best known for her monster 1962 hit, I Know. That song, as well as an excellent write-up about Barbara's life and times, was featured at the mighty Home Of The Groove by my pal Dan Phillips on August 17th. I'd like to take this opportunity to feature the other side of the record.

The first thing I want to point out is that Barbara WROTE both this steamy, buttery slice of R&B, and the chartbustin' A side (something I never realized)! The "A.F.O. Studio Combo" (who had just finished recording Check Mr. Popeye with Eddie Bo) are red hot, and just about the coolest guys on the planet at this point. Check out Ms. George beltin' it out, and the incredible guitar work of Roy Montrell... yeah, you rite!

I won't go into all the details of A.F.O.'s ill fated distribution deal with Juggy Murray's Sue Records here (Dan can better school ya on that one), but when the combo backed up Lee Dorsey on Ya-Ya for New York competitor Bobby Robinson, Murray used that as an excuse to sever his ties with A.F.O., and steal Barbara away from them.

As Dan points out, there is an excellent article in the Houma, LA Courier by Naomi King that details Barbara's triumph over all that negative music industry stuff, and her return to her first love, Gospel Music. In the article, her cousin Linda Eubanks talks of traveling with Barbara in the early days of her career, and about how all the photographs, records and awards she had kept for over forty years in her Uptown New Orleans home were destroyed by the mold and mildew left behind by Katrina's devastating flood.

"All that I have is memories", she said.

It's up to all of us to keep those memories alive.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Les Sultans - Non Non Non (DSP 8624)

Non Non Non

Well, we made it back in one piece. Our latest foray into the unknown covered over 2000 miles of highway, and took us to one of my favorite places on earth, Québec.

Québec City was founded in 1608 (!), and while that might not seem like any big deal to those of you on the other side of the pond, the fact that you can drive there in one (tres long) day from New York is, once again, like operating a time machine.

One of the first things you notice after your machine crosses the border is that you can actually listen to the radio. This place has a music all its own... great guitar driven rock & roll-ish stuff that keeps me interested, even though I have no clue as to what the lyrics might mean. The last time we were up there was something like 15 years ago, and a tape I made off of the radio of people like Robert Charlebois still holds up today.

I spent some time in the great Archambault location in the old city this time around, listening to some current CDs, and left with new releases by Pierre Lapointe and MalaJube that came highly recommended by the incredibly helpful people that worked there.

No vinyl, though... hmmm.

I got out the yellow pages (en Francais) up in our hotel room, and was able to decipher enough of it to find the great 'Chez Sonny', just outside the gates of Vieux-Québec. LPs line the walls, and spill out of cardboard boxes on the floor. My kind of place. I didn't see any 45s, though, but when I asked Michel behind the counter (using my rotten high school French), his eyes lit up. He pulled out a couple of those vintage naugahyde boxes, and we started going through 'em. I told him my knowledge of the local musique was essentially zero, and asked him to pick out a few. (All of this was happening, of course, while the wife and kids were waiting out in the car, and so things were a bit rushed...) I ended up leaving with a handful of records, the coolest of which, Michel assured me, was our current selection. "The Japanese just LOVE this stuff!", he told me...

Well, ya learn something new every day. As it turns out, Les Sultans were one of the most popular groups to emerge from the Québecois Garage Band scene of the mid 60s. Originally an instrumental outfit known as Les Dowries, they added lead vocalist (and local hearthrob) Bruce Huard in 1963 and changed their name. A number of singles on local labels like Fontaine and Laniel were to follow, but it wasn't until they signed with Teledisc in 1966 that things really started happening.

Teledisc was formed in 1965 by Denis Pantis, who had started out in 1961 as Elvis-styled singer Danté. He had gone on to do production work for labels like Trans-Canada, working with award winning songstress Michele Richard. Pantis was almost single-handedly responsible for creating the North American equivalent of Parisian yé-yé, and had Les Sultans cover some Zombies and Kinks tunes on their debut album. By 1967, he had formed his own promotion and management company called, oddly enough, Denis S. Pantis Industries, with it's own label, DSP. Les Sultans' second album, Express, was one of the first to be released on the label, and was kind of like their "Rubber Soul", showing off their acoustic folky side.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, the band recorded a live album in early 1968, Les Sultans En Personne A Starovan, that was billed as their "Spectacular Goodbye". It was apparently a HUGE record in Québec, and featured high energy covers of Motown and Chuck Berry tunes, as well as their popular originals. Today's B side is the flip of their last single, En Fermant La Porte, a French language cover of the Wes Farrell penned Jay & The Americans hit, Knock Down The Door, and was apparently released just before their spectacular goodbye. Written by Pantis and lead singer Huard, it's acoustic guitars and tight harmonies put me in mind of 1967 contemporaries like Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds... a very cool record by a band that could have been big south of the border. It's a shame they said adieu so soon!

Anyway, our trip continued on to Charlevoix and around the Gaspésie, through some of the most spectacular scenery on the face of the Earth. It was like living in a dream, man.

I'm having a hard time waking up.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Charles Brimmer - God Bless Our Love, Pt II (Chelsea 3017)

God Bless Our Love, Part II

Charles Brimmer was born in 1948, and grew up in the legendary Ninth Ward down in New Orleans. By the time he was in High School he was singing with The Ravens, a neighborhood vocal group.

His first recording was apparently made with his brother Ivory and released on the New York based Geneva label. By the age of 19, however, he had signed with the local ABS (Always Better Sounds) label which was run by Camille Indacon and distributed by Cosimo Matassa's Dover Records. Wardell Quezergue was the label's arranger, and they came up with a minor local hit with The Glide. He became quite popular on the Crescent City soul circuit, performing with David Battiste and The Gladiators, and was able to pay his way through college.

He was noticed by Dave Bartholomew at this point, and he signed him to his Broadmoor imprint in 1967. His first single for the label, Now She's Gone, Gone, Gone b/w Black Is Beautiful, didn't do much, but his second release, The Feeling Is In My Heart (with vocal back-up provided by 'The Continentals'), would become somewhat of a regional smash, and helped propel Charles' career to the next level. Bartholomew failed to promote the record, and in some tangled business deal, reneged on a promise to release an album through ABS/Dover once he sold enough singles. Although he continued to perform, Brimmer essentially gave up on recording.

This was at about the same time that local mover and shaker Senator Jones was starting up his family of small record labels. The first release on Hep'Me was by a local keyboard player and High School music teacher named Raymond Jones (Ray J) in 1973. Ray had also become the organist and musical director of Charles' band, and it wasn't long before he convinced him to record again.

When Charles' cover of O.V. Wright's Afflicted was released on Hep'Me the following year, it was a big local hit. According to Brimmer, however, people were buying it for the b side, a soulful story-teller called Your So Called Friends that he had written himself. In any event, the record got the attention of Willie Mitchell up in Memphis, who offered to lease the single and produce an album on Charles for Hi Records. Broadmoor/ABS claimed that they still owned the album rights (!) on him, however, and basically squashed the deal.

His next single for the Senator, the forgettable Kung Fu Man, was released on his JB's label and didn't sell much (even though it had been arranged by Wardell Quezergue!). Jones had now moved his operations to Deep South Recording in Baton Rouge, as Cosimo Matassa had gone bankrupt and left New Orleans without a studio of its own.

When Hi released the incredible Al Green Explores Your Mind in 1974, a track from the album, God Bless Our Love, became a favorite on black radio stations everywhere. Hi, in an effort to boost sales of the album, refused to release it (or another little cut from the LP, Take Me To The River) as a single.

Ever the entrepreneur, the Senator saw his chance and brought Charles and Raymond Jones to Baton Rouge to record a cover of the tune. They had been playing it in their live shows, and ran through it in the studio as a rehearsal. The tape was already rolling, however, and much to their dismay, the Senator decided that that was all he needed. He must have been on to something, as the laid-back soulful rendition took off like wildfire in New Orleans. The initial pressing of The New, God Bless Our Love (JB's 2607) sold out immediately, and there were orders for 10,000 more. As was often the case with these small regional labels, Jones was in no position to finance that kind of thing, and began looking for a national company to lease the record to.

Wes Farrell had started his Chelsea and Roxbury labels in 1972 with that sole purpose in mind. Without him, great records by artists like William DeVaughan and New York City may never have made the charts. Chelsea jumped at the chance to handle Brimmer, and liked the record so much that they released it twice, sending it to #43 R&B in 1975, and right back at ya, cracking the bottom rungs of the Hot 100 two years later. These national chart numbers don't really reflect what a huge record this was in the South, though. I mean by the time we join him here on Part II, Charles is just TESTIFYING, ain't he? This is the essence of soul, man... it just knocks me out.

Chelsea would go on to release two excellent albums by Charles, Expression Of Soul in 1975 and Soul Man the following year. The fact that they have yet to be released on CD is positively criminal.

Poor promotion, and what Charles viewed as a lack of interest in providing quality production on his records combined to keep him a "small fish in a big pond", and he left Chelsea shortly thereafter. A couple of releases on family owned labels like King Kokomo and Brimco would follow, but for the most part Brimmer 'kept his day job' as a CPA and head of an industrial cleaning outfit in New Orleans. He is married to Fats Domino's daughter, Andrea...

(At this point I'd like to thank Jeff Hannusch, Barry Fowden, John Ridley, Colin Dilnot and Dan Phillips who have all travelled this road before me...)

Now, here's where things get a little interesting... while 'googling' Charles Brimmer for this post I found out a few things. On August 29th of last year, he was one of fourteen family members to be rescued from the second story of his father-in-law's home on Marais St. in the Lower Ninth Ward as Katrina's floodwaters swirled around them.

He was among the first to return, and is quoted in a Reuters article from October 19th, when he was helping Fats retrieve whatever he could from what was left of his house.

On January 11th, he was featured in a PBS News Hour segment about cleaning up the Lower Ninth (you can check out the video here...). Nowhere in any of this coverage does anyone mention the fact that he just happens to be one of the greatest deep soul singers that ever lived.


Friday, August 04, 2006

The Meters - Zony Mash (Josie 1024)

Zony Mash

Hey folks, it's me. I'm just popping in here to lay this one on ya... I saw The Meters last night in NYC and they were even better than they were in November... THEY BLEW ME AWAY!! Absolutely UNREAL, man... da FONK was IN DA HOUSE!
I'm not gonna go into all the facts and figures here (you can read all about 'em in our previous Meters and Poppa Funk posts), suffice it to say that it just doesn't get much better than this. These four New Orleans legends back out there funkin' it up is something you don't want to miss.

Today's selection, the B side of A Message From The Meters, was released in 1970, just before Josie went out of business. Both sides of the single were 'non-album' cuts, and were unavailable for like 30 years until Rhino put out the excellent Funkify Your Life set, and good ol' Sundazed put together a collection of b sides and rarities called (what else?) Zony Mash. Does it cook, or what? They still sound like this... very cool.

That you can go see THIS band play again, the band behind so much great Sansu Soul... the guys that Mick Jagger called "the best motherf@#king band on the planet" (for once I actually agree with him), is a rare opportunity that won't last forever.

They'll be playing the Newport Folk Festival this Sunday, August 6th and the Hollywood Bowl on August 16th.