Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sammy Gordon & The Hiphuggers - Breezin' (Archives 1-69)


I've just learned that Sammy Gordon, leader of the legendary Hip Huggers, passed away in Florida on December 1st due to complications from diabetes.

First cousin to our man Benny Gordon, they were raised together as brothers down in Estill, South Carolina. Benny told me that he had lost track of Sammy after he moved north to Brooklyn, until one day he saw him just walking down the street. It seemed like some kind of sign, and Benny (whose career as a Gospel singer had just been shut down by Claude Jeter) asked him to form an R&B band with him, a band they would call (what else?) The Soul Brothers. Acclaimed as the 'best band in New York' by the Daily News, the Soul Brothers held down a gig at Trudi Heller's famed night spot in Greenwich Village, where they would influence a generation of up and coming white kids who were looking for the real thing.

Sammy's excellent guitar can be heard on the 45s that Benny cut for a bunch of different labels in the sixties, like the amazing Gonna Give Her All The Love I Got, or the funky Give A Damn (About Your Fellow Man). In 1969, Benny decided to move back home to South Carolina, but Sammy stayed behind in Brooklyn, forming his own band, The Hip Huggers.

This airy treatment of Bobby Womack and Gabor Szabo's Breezin' is (as far as I can tell) Sammy's first recording under his own name, and pre-dates George Benson's smash hit by about four years. Later on in 1972, Sammy & The Hip Huggers would release the underground funk classic, Upstairs On Boston Road, which alluded to their regular sold-out appearances at the Boston Road Ballroom in the Bronx. In 1976, Sammy cut a couple of disco-era releases - Jungle Bump followed by Making Love, which has become somewhat of a cult favorite.

Ronnie Greico, another alumni of Benny's Soul Brothers, had this to say: "Very sad ...a kind and very gentle man, no anger, good as it gets, great bandleader, always smiling and laughing, he had as good a kickin' funky in the pocket band as anyone that I know of. They worked up in the Bronx... for a lifetime, until his health wasn't good anymore."

May God Rest His Soul.

Hal Hardy - House Of Broken Hearts (Hollywood 1116)

House Of Broken Hearts

Clifford Curry called me today and gave me the sad news that Nashville R&B pioneer Hal Hardy lost his battle with cancer on December 2nd. A founding member of The Neptunes, Hardy went on to become a featured regular on the groundbreaking Night Train television series, where his caped appearances were the stuff of legend. He recorded this Northern Soul favorite in 1965 for Hoss Allen's Rogana Productions with Billy Cox's tight house band. Hardy made the move to Knoxville with Sir Lattimore Brown shortly after cutting this record, and called it home ever since, performing at the Hard Knox Blues Bash every summer.

May He Rest In Peace.

I'll tell ya, it's been a rough year over here on The B Side. We've lost some folks who meant a great deal to us, and at times it feels like I have nothing left to say... except goodbye.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Solomon Burke - A Christmas Prayer (Savoy SCS-0002)

A Christmas Prayer

You know, Solomon Burke was all about Christmas. In December of 1954, when he was fourteen years old, he wrote a song as a gift for the Grandmother he loved so much. As it turned out, she had bought him his first guitar for Christmas that year, and gave it to him a week early so he could sing it to her. As fate would have it, this beloved Grandmother would die the very next day. When some local Church people heard him sing at her funeral, they asked him to perform at their Christmas program the following weekend. Solomon brought the house down with his heartfelt version of The Old Ship of Zion, and was approached after the show by fabled New York record label owner Bess Berman, who signed him on the spot. Before the year was out, she would cut him singing that song he had written for his Grandmother, Christmas Presents From Heaven, and release it as Apollo 485 in early 1955. It was Solomon Burke's first record.

For Christmas 1966, Atlantic would release another song Solomon had written, the rollicking Presents For Christmas, which remains one of the mainstays of those 'Soul of Christmas' type compilations you see all the time. I love when he does that Sam Cooke thing there in the middle, and says "that's from my old friend, y'all - my old Soul friend..." Yes, Solomon was deep. He could surprise you, like releasing the self-penned "All I Want For Christmas" as the B side of "I Can't Stop Loving You" on an MGM single in 1972... suffice it to say that this most spiritual of Holidays was never far from his heart.

When Solomon decided to 'go Gospel' in the 1980's, it wasn't long before he convinced his new label, Savoy, to let him do something for Christmas. In 1982, they would release a 12 inch single (which were all the rage back then) of the most profound Christmas music Burke had ever recorded. I've put his incredible version of Silent Night (which also leads the list of the twenty most Soulful Christmas Songs over at Deep Soul Heaven) up on The A Side, and it never fails to knock me out. This B side of that 'Big Single' we have here today provides an even deeper glimpse into the heart of this greatest of all Soul singers, and the genuine love he had for all mankind.

This Christmas, the first one in seventy years without Solomon Burke, may you and your family find something in his prayer that speaks to you, and helps to light the way.

"All Is Well... Peace."