Soulful strutting, then and now

Posted September 2, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: September 2013

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In the last week, I’ve heard “Soulful Strut” covered twice by one of Wisconsin’s best bands, and we heard the original on satellite radio last night.

The laid-back soul-jazz instrumental was released as a single in November 1968. It hit No. 3 on the charts for Young-Holt Unlimited, a three-man combo out of Chicago.

However, none of the members of Young-Holt Unlimited — neither bass player Eldee Young nor drummer Red Holt nor keyboardist Ken Chaney — played on it.

The tune was the backing track for “Am I The Same Girl,” a song co-written by Eugene Record, the husband of singer Barbara Acklin. She recorded the song first for Brunswick Records — Young-Holt’s label — but producer Carl Davis and arranger and co-writer Sonny Sanders stripped her vocal tracks and dropped in a piano solo by session man Floyd Morris to create the instrumental.

So, though credited to Young-Holt Unlimited and released on their LP of the same name, “Soulful Strut” was created by Brunswick Records session musicians. Young-Holt took one for the team.

youngholt soulfulstrutlp2

“Who’s Making Love,” “Please Sunrise, Please,” “Be By My Side,” “What Now My Love,” “Baby Your Light Is Out” and “Soulful Strut,” Young-Holt Unlimited, from “Soulful Strut,” 1968. This is Side 1. It runs 17:40. The LP is out of print, but the last two cuts are available on “The Definitive Young-Holt Unlimited,” a 2005 CD release.

Copper Box, that fine band out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, puts its own twist on “Soulful Strut.” Danny Jerabek replaces the horns with his button accordion and Michelle Jerabek adds the vocals from “Am I The Same Girl.” That version is available on “People Change,” the band’s 2011 CD.

Their version just happens to be the first sample on this promo video.

Freed, Nelson Mandela

Posted July 1, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: July 2013

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Among my great memories of the mid-’80s are the politically-tinged protest songs so often heard on WORT-FM, then and now the intensely local, intensely progressive radio station in Madison, Wisconsin.

There was “If I Had A Rocket Launcher,” Bruce Cockburn’s lament for the plight of Guatemalan refugees in Mexico.

There was “World Destruction,” a fierce, desperate, bleak view of the future from John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa working together as Time Zone.

There was “Five Minutes,” the  hip-hop tune that used snippets of Ronald Reagan’s radio gaffe to satirize Reagan’s policies, with Jerry Harrison and Bootsy Collins and pals billing themselves as Bonzo Goes To Washington.

Those songs shared a sense of anger, and rightly so, given the world in 1984.

There was one more that year, another call for action. It was no less urgent.

But unlike the others, “Free Nelson Mandela” by the Special A.K.A. was a joyful noise, a ska song written in England by Jerry Dammers, its rhythms partly inspired by South African music.

Unlike the others, it expressed hope.

Hope that the anti-apartheid activist would be freed from prison after what was then “21 years in captivity.” Hope that came to pass in the decade that followed the release of “Free Nelson Mandela” in 1984. Apartheid was ended. The song became an anthem. Mandela was elected South Africa’s president, served for five years, then remained active in the cause until retiring.

Nelson Mandela is much in the news, much in our thoughts these days, gravely ill. But he long ago passed into legend, one of the giants of our time.

special aka free nelson mandela lp

“Free Nelson Mandela (instrumental)” and “Free Nelson Mandela (LP version),” the Special A.K.A., from “Free Nelson Mandela: The Special Remix,” 1984. This is Side 2 of the 12-inch American release on Chrysalis. It runs 8:20.

I’ve had it since 1984. Tonight, it emerges from that not-so-long-ago time as our side on The Midnight Tracker.

 

After the thunder, after the lightning

Posted May 31, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: May 2013

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As she moved past “Thunder and Lightning,” the hit single everyone remembers, Chi Coltrane in 1973 gathered an all-star group of session players as she recorded “Let It Ride,” her second LP for Columbia.

Merry Clayton and Clydie King were among the backing singers, Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner among the drummers, Klaus Voorman and Emory Gordy among the bass players, and Lee Ritenour and Larry Byrom, who’d just left Steppenwolf, among the guitarists. The horn section consisted of Jim Horn, Jim Price and Bobby Keys. It didn’t get much better than that.

All that talent, led by Coltrane singing and playing the piano with a rare combination of elegance and thunderous force. She wrote all but one of the 10 songs, arranged all 10 and produced the record. A remarkable accomplishment for someone just 24 at the time.

chicoltraneletitridelp

“Who Ever Told You,” “Myself To You,” “It’s Not Easy,” “Feather My Bed” and “Forget Love,” Chi Coltrane, from “Let It Ride,” 1973. This is Side 2. It runs 16:58. The LP is out of print, though some of the songs are available from Coltrane’s website, either digitally or on CD.

This side shows Coltrane’s considerable range. “Who Ever Told You” and “It’s Not Easy” are gospel-flavored rave-ups. “Feather My Bed” is a little bit of roadhouse swing. “Myself To You” and “Forget Love” are love songs, the former fairly standard pop and the latter chock full of high drama, almost a classical piece.

“Let It Ride” was recorded in part at Mama Jo’s Recording Studio (now revived as Dave’s Room) in North Hollywood, California. Coltrane, who was born in Wisconsin and learned her craft in the clubs of Chicago, settled not far away. The year after this LP came out, she bought a home in the Hollywood Hills. Over the last 40 years, her neighbors in Bronson Canyon have included Chuck Berry, Robert Redford, Chick Corea and Madonna. The guy who used to live next door? That was Axl Rose.

You rarely see Chi Coltrane records while digging.

The deeply spiritual Coltrane wasn’t into promoting herself or her records. After “Let It Ride,” she recorded sporadically and is said to have struggled financially after being mismanaged. In 1977, she moved to Europe, where she found a more passionate following and released several records. Her last LP of new material was “The Message” in 1986. She returned to Los Angeles in 1993, where she is said to have built a recording studio and done social work.

Coltrane, now 64, resumed performing four years ago, mostly in Europe, where she remains popular. Her most recent release is a live recording of her 2009 comeback concert in Vienna, where she’s said to have played before a crowd of 100,000 people.

Her first song that night is the first song emerging through the sweet blue haze of time on The Midnight Tracker tonight.

When giants roamed Milwaukee

Posted April 30, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: April 2013

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The last night of April 1971 was a thrilling one for a certain 13-year-old who lived an hour north of Milwaukee.

That Friday night, my beloved Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Baltimore Bullets 118-106 to win the NBA championship. One of the Bucks’ stars was center Lew Alcindor, who had just turned 24.

The next day, Alcindor announced that he would thereafter be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Today, my friend Kurt — also a big fan of those Bucks — tipped me to a wonderful essay written by Kareem, now 66. Posted by Esquire, “20 Things I Wish I’d Known When I was 30” is well worth your time.

No. 1 on Kareem’s list: “Be more outgoing.”

“My shyness and introversion from those days
still haunt me. … When I was off the court,
I felt uncomfortable with attention. I rarely partied
or attended celebrity bashes.”

So I wonder. Did Kareem, now writing for Esquire, ever cross paths with the Esquires during his six years in Milwaukee? Kareem was, and is, a jazz buff. But did he ever hear, and appreciate, one of the city’s top soul and R&B groups?

The Esquires, a vocal group many compare to — and mistake for — Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, had a smash single with “Get On Up” in 1967. Lew Alcindor didn’t arrive in town until two years later, when the Esquires were making their last serious run at the R&B charts with the singles “I Don’t Know” in 1969 and “Girls In The City” in 1970.

So tonight on The Midnight Tracker, materializing from the sweet blue haze of time (and smoke from the corridors of the Milwaukee Arena), is a sweet side from one of Milwaukee’s finest groups.

esquiresgetupgetaway

“And Get Away,” “Listen To Me,” “How Was I To Know,” “Groovin’,” “Everybody’s Laughing” and “How Could It Be,” the Esquires, from “Get On Up And Get Away,” 1967. This is Side 1. It runs 14:49. This was the Esquires’ only LP. It’s available on a 1995 CD titled “Get On Up” and digitally.

This side leads off with the follow-up single to “Get On Up.” They were released in July and September 1967, both reaching the Top 10 on the R&B charts. The second cut, “Listen To Me,” was the B side to “Get On Up.” The fifth cut, “Everybody’s Laughing,” was the B side to “And Get Away.” “Groovin'” is a cover of the Young Rascals tune. Everything else on this side was written or co-written by lead singer Gilbert Moorer.

Tonight, we’re heeding the advice at No. 13 on Kareem’s list. “Do one thing every day that helps someone else.”

“This is about helping one individual you know
by name. Maybe it means calling your parents,
helping a buddy move, or lending a favorite jazz album
to Chocolate Fingers McGee.”

Consider this the digital version of the latter.

Still sounds like the first time

Posted March 31, 2013 by Jeff Ash
Categories: March 2013

Tags: ,

The other night, I played an LP I’ve had since 1977. Save for a little noise on the lead-in groove, the sound remains almost pristine. It’s “Foreigner,” that group’s debut record from that year.

Yeah, maybe Foreigner became mainstream arena rockers, but that record sounded great when it hit Top 40 radio otherwise full of mush in early 1977. It sounded solid and muscular because it crashed a chart populated at the top by Hall and Oates, 10cc, Abba, Barbra Streisand, David Soul, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Glen Campbell and Kansas.

That great sound was the result of an inspired teaming: Two veteran Brits — guitarist Mick Jones (who’d played with Spooky Tooth and the Leslie West Band and had backed Peter Frampton and George Harrison) and the versatile Ian McDonald (who’d been in the first incarnation of King Crimson in the late ’60s) — with New York singer Lou Gramm.

Boston seemingly had kicked open the door a year earlier, and Foreigner followed it through. In fact, Foreigner’s debut record arrived just as the enduring power — or at least the radio presence — of Boston’s debut record had peaked and was starting to fade.

Mark E., a friend of the blog who has long worked in radio, raves about “Foreigner.”

“Not only did the hits from the album sound great, so did album cuts like ‘I Need You,’ ‘At War With The World’ and ‘The Damage is Done.’

So tonight on The Midnight Tracker, materializing through the sweet blue haze of time, is a side with a couple of those cuts.

foreignerlp

“Long, Long Way From Home,” Woman Oh Woman,” “At War With the World,” “Fool For You Anyway” and “I Need You,” Foreigner, from “Foreigner,” 1977. This is Side 2. It runs 20:04. It’s also available digitally.

What followed from Foreigner, though popular, never seemed as fresh as that first record. This is the only Foreigner record I’ve kept.