Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

It’s Funk, Jah, But Not As We Know It

This record will be 50 years old this year…half a century young and still sounding like nothing that’s been before or since. Well, to a point…

Lee Perry‘s Jungle Lion is vintage Perry, from the stoned, lion roaring madman-isms at the beginning to the sun-baked skank as the record’s groove kicks in, to the echoing brass refrain that lifts the recording up and out to the moon and back, the hook that keeps the whole acid-fried masterpiece from falling apart.

Lee PerryJungle Lion (7″ mix)

The production on Jungle Lion is insane. The band is locked in and tight, bass and drums laying the groundwork, that wet slap of chicka-chicka guitar adding the scratchy colour like a toddler with a crayon dragged across a piece of paper; messy, unique and creative. Perry toasts over the top in his own freeform fashion, the needles of the mixing desk accelerating far to the right and stuck in the red as he ‘Ughs’ and ‘Aows’ and ‘ch-ch-chs’ his way across the top. ‘Dan-dee-layon! Jung-gal layon! Fay-ah!‘ It’s funk, Jah, but not as we know it.

That brass refrain. The hook. You’ll definitely have heard that elsewhere. The keener scholars around these parts will point to Al Green‘s Love And Happiness and take the bonus round for 15 points, please, Jeremy.

Al GreenLove And Happiness

Now, I don’t know quite what wizardry The Upsetter was capable of manifesting inside Black Ark, but it seems to me – and I may be well off the mark here – that Perry sampled, yet didn’t sample, the horn refrain from Al Green. What I mean is, the refrain on Perry’s track is the same music, not merely a version played by Perry’s horn section, but sampling wasn’t a thing in 1973…or was it? Exactly what technology was available to maverick studio heads with no boundaries and serious creativity overload?

My thinking is that Perry simply played Al Green’s track and, using a studio microphone set up next to the speaker where Love And Happiness blasted forth, recorded what came out. Remember how, back in the days before ghetto blasters with in-built radios, you used to tape the charts? Yeah, exactly like that.

So Perry takes Green’s track – the delicious guitar riff in the intro as well as the horn refrain – and builds his own warped and inventive take on a soul classic. Nothing new in this of course – most reggae tracks began life as sun-baked covers of the soul music that crackled and crept across the US services airwaves and onto the Caribbean – but Lee Perry’s masterstroke is in the direct lifting rather than the direct copying that his peers would do.

Al Green’s original is such a great track. Stately yet understated, quietly assured and coasting on a slow fever bed of warm hammond and honeyed brass, the perfect foil for the Reverend’s measured, restrained vocal.

He always surrounded himself with great musicians, did Al, from the Rhodes sisters on backing vocals, to the slow ‘n steady Al Jackson Jnr on drums and Leroy Hodges on bass, to his guitar player and sometime-co-writer (and brother of Leroy) Teenie Hodges. I’ve written about Teenie before, a relative unknown in the guitar world but, for me, a guitarist whio appeals to me far more than some of the usual names who appear on those ‘Best Guitarists Ever’ lists. He’s such a fluid player, Hodges, clean and clear, with the most delicate of touches. Those fingers can hover an inch above the frets and his guitar will sing, clean and chiming, bluesy and soulful. No wonder Lee Perry was keen to employ him in whichever manner he could get away with.

One great horn refrain, two outstanding records.

 

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Teenie Credit

Mabon Lewis “Teenie” Hodges is possibly not the first name you alight at when thinking about guitar heroes, yet he’s responsible for creating some of the most instantly recognisable riffs in soul music. In an era when all the focus, all the spotlight shone on the name; Isaac Hayes, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Al Green etc etc, Teenie Hodges played out the groove in the background with a fluid anonimity that should by rights have seen him carved up there on the Mount Rushmore of soul alongside the singers he helped elevate to greatness.

Teenie began playing at the age of 12, when he and his two brothers played in their father’s band. From there, he came to the attention of legendary producer/arranger Willie Mitchell and Teenie and his brothers left life on the road to form the famed Hi Rhythm house band at Hi Records. The band would play on all the label’s releases, creating a sound and an identity that was instantly recognisable. It’s mainly his work with Al Green that he’s known for. Amongst others, Teenie co-wrote Here I Am (Come And Take Me) and Take Me To The River with the Reverend, his soulful, steady rhythm guitar underpinning two head-nodding accepted classics.

Al GreenHere I Am (Come And Take Me)

It’s the subtle flourishes and signature riffs that differentiate Hodges from other players of the era. Perhaps it was Al Green’s lack of ego that allowed his guitarist to express himself, or perhaps Green knew raw talent when he heard it, but either way, Green left plenty of space in his music for Hodges to step to the fore. Listen to any number of Green classics¬† – Let’s Stay Together or I’m Hooked On You or How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? for example -and you’ll spot Hodges gently arpeggiating triplets cascading in the background. His playing on the Bee Ges’ cover is particularly lovely.

Al Green  РHow Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

Now and again, Hodges would write an all-out classic riff. Let’s Stay Together and L.O.V.E. (Love) benefit from intro riffs that define the very essence of soul music. What’s soul music? someone might ask. Point them in the direction of these tracks and it’ll all become clear.

Al GreenL.O.V.E. (Love)

Hodge was Green’s musical director by the time of the Al Green Is Love LP and his horn arrangements, understated keys and gentle riffs define the album. L.O.V.E. is a cracker. Green rightly takes centre stage, offset by a gently cooing trio of backing singers. The music allows the vocals to be the focal point but if you can look past Green’s heartfelt vocal delivery and focus your attention on the guitar playing you’ll be in awe of an incredible piece of music. I’ve tied many a finger in knots trying to get the notes and chords down pat. That’s the easy part. Hodges’ feel for the music is just terrific. I doubt it’s something I’ll ever quite get to.

One determined west of Scotland guitar player who had a good stab at it was Edwyn Collins. On Orange Juice’s You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever LP, the band close side 1 with a sincere though slightly ragged run through of it; Hi horn parts, falsetto vocals and a terrific facsimile of Hodge’s original riff. In a post-punk wasteland where angry young men shouted angry thoughts with angry guitars, it was a brave move by Orange Juice. Forever with one eyebrow arched and never far from taking the opportunity to poke fun at machismo, it’s just perfect, even if the record-buying public thought not. Orange Juice’s brave attempt at L.O.V.E. staggered to the giddy position of number 65. There’s no accounting for taste.

Orange Juice L.O.V.E. (Love)

Fact

Teenie Hodges made the lion’s share of his money throught his co-writing credit for Take Me To The River. It wasn’t the royalties that came via record sales of Green’s original, nor the countless covers (Talking Heads and Annie Lennox amongst them) that balooned his bank balance. That honour goes to Billy Big Bass, the singing fish that plays the track at the press of a button. The ubiquitous toy ornament that was all the rage 15 or so years ago made more money for Hodges than all his other writing credits added together and certainly helped his 3 wives and 8 children to enjoy the lifestyle they were accustomed to before Hodges death in 2014.

Another fact

Teenie’s nephew is hip hop star Drake.

Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Live!

Stax O’ Soul

Eddie Floyd was the big haired, big voiced vocalist of such soul nuggets as Knock On Wood, I’ve Got To Have Your Love and Big Bird. An ode to flight, Big Bird was reputedly written by Floyd in Heathrow Airport as he waited to board a plane to Memphis for Otis Redding’s funeral. That’s how the legend goes at any rate.

 eddie floyd

Floyd was also a staff writer at Stax, and co-penned all manner of lesser known gems recorded by the likes of William Bell, the Staples Singers and Carla Thomas. You could do worse than spend an evening digging deep to uncover his work. It’s all terrific stuff, but one Eddie Floyd song stands afro’d head and shoulders above all others.

Eddie’s masterpiece is 1968’s I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do).

eddie floyd stax 7

A great little slice of call and response Southern soul, it see-saws between major and minor chords, swept along by brass and strings and carried from middle to end by the stolen melody of Percy Faith‘s Theme From A Summer Place;

Played by Floyd with the help of in-house Stax guns for hire Booker T. Jones (who played bass, guitar and keys (!)) and Al Bell, and produced by the MGs Steve Cropper, the song would eventually peak at #2 on the US R&B charts.

As a wee aside, you could do worse than spend another evening comparing Booker T’s guitar solo on this track with much of Edwyn Collin’s Memphis chording on some of those mid period Orange Juice records – the intro to I Can’t Help Myself for example.

alex chilton live

Cult hero to the stars Alex Chilton has recorded a couple of versions of I’ve Never Found A Girl, most thrillingly in Glasgow backed by a Teenage Fanclub who gamely hold steady the backbeat and offer enthusiastic backing vocals whilst he chops out gritty little riffs of electrified southern soul atop it.

Recorded at the 13th Note in 1996, in this pre (for me) internet era, I walked into work the morning after the show to hear all about it for the first time. Nowadays of course, you’d never get a ticket for this kind of thing for sticky fingered touts. But back in the day it was good old fashioned lack of information that meant only the hippest of the hip, with a finger to the pulse and an ear to the ground, got to such events. The bastards.

Alex Chilton & Teenage FanclubI’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do);

*Bonus Track!

Here’s Al Green‘s version, rather tame by comparison, but nonetheless a worthy inclusion to this post.

 

 

Cover Versions, Get This!

You Can Call Me Al

Green and Brown. My colour blindness wasn’t apparent until Primary 7 when, as you do in Ayrshire schools, the class created a Robert Burns Tam O’ Shanter frieze. My job was to do the tree next to the bridge where poor Tam’s horse has her tail yanked off by the pursuing witch. My tree had, yes, brown leaves and a green trunk and I had no idea why I was the laughing stock of the school for the next few weeks. An official colour blindness test proved this a few months later. Now I know.

al green

Here I Am (Come And Take Me) was a top ten hit for Al Green in 1973. A brilliant piece of tight ‘n taut southern soul, producer Willie Mitchell has the uncanny knack of making it sound as if the drums are playing right there in the room with you. A warm Hammond vamps throughout, mixed in just behind the brass section while the Reverend’s vocals flit across the top, emotion squeezed out of his voice the way you or I might wring the last remaining drops of juice from a real lemon when following a Jamie Oliver pasta recipe to it’s fat-tongued conclusion. Got. To. Get. Every. Last. Drop. Out. Of. It. Cost. Me. Forty. Nine. Pee.

Green

Al Green’s track is terrific. Of course.

al brown 7

Here I Am Baby was a superb rocksteady version of Green’s track by his skankin’ namesake Al Brown. My version comes from one of those excellent Soul Jazz Records Dynamite compilations (300% Dynamite, I think) that really ought to be in everyone’s record collection. Many of the tracks featured are rubadub reggae versions of popular soul hits – the Jamaican musicians tuning into US radio would hear the originals, get the band together, roll a fat one, play it at half speed and claim it as their own. Al Brown was no different. Dubby bass, chukka-chukka backbeat and a Casio keyboard player with his (or her) own idea of what constitutes a meandering solo, it’s a rather spliffing made-in-the-shade perfect partner;

Brown

Ironically, Al Brown would go on to make a name for himself in The Paragons, whose The Tide Is High would somehow filter its way back across the airwaves to New York where Blondie were fortuitously tuning in. And that folks is how the music world goes around.