Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Miracle Worker

I’m a total sucker for 60s-70s soul. If you visit these pages from time to time you’ll know that already. I’m more of a Stax man than a Motown man. I’ve always considered Stax to be the rough ‘n tumble, snotty nosed version of its more well-known big brother. If Stax and Motown started school on the same day, it’d be Stax who came home with the knees out his new trousers, while brother Motown’s hair would look the same as it did at 9.00am and the creases in his trousers would still be sharp enough to put new life into an old pencil.

It’s amazing to think that at Stax, it was a relatively small band of musicians who played on much of the stuff. And it was the same at Motown. The Funk Brothers were the go-to band if you needed a recording in a hurry. Between 1959 and 1972 they added their signature breaks, beats and bouncing rhythms to many a radio standard – Baby Love, My Girl, Please Mr Postman, You Keep Me Hangin’ On, Let’s Get It On….the list is practically endless. They were in many ways Detroit’s answer to LA’s Wrecking Crew; seasoned studio pros who went about their business with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of funk.

marv tarplin

Marvin “Marv” Tarplin was never considered one of the Funk Brothers. You might never have heard of him, but you’ll certainly be familiar with his music.

Marv was Smokey Robinson‘s guitar player of choice, discovered when he accompanied a brand-new girl group called The Primettes at an audition for Smokey, then working in his capacity as in-house Motown producer. Smokey encouraged the girls to change their name to The Supremes and helped them on their way to stardom, but at a price – he nicked their guitar player for his own group.

It’s Marv’s clean, chiming picking that opens The Tracks Of My Tears and carries it to the heartbroken crescendo;

(Michael Caine voice) Not a lot of people know this, but Marv’s inspiration for The Tracks Of My Tears came from playing along to Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song at 33rpm. That wee drop in the middle, when it’s just Marv playing a couple of chords? Until I’d heard Steely Dan’s Peg, I was convinced De La Soul had nicked it for Eye Know. (I know, I know…I can practically hear the ‘tut tut tuts‘ from a gazillion sample-spotting soul boys ‘n girls). Someone else should probably nick Marv’s bit. Thinking about it, somebody else probably has.

Back in my days of music retail, I had a loooong conversation with a regular customer over Charlie Parker’s playing style. The customer swore that Parker added little fluttering riffs at the end of the phrases he was playing and that, once he’d pointed it out I’d be able to spot a Charlie Parker solo a mile off. D’you know what? He was right.

As a guitar player, Marv was the polar opposite of Charlie Parker, with seemingly no distinctive style of his own. Clean and clipped, equally at home chopping out barred riffs or picking little runs, Marv’s style could best be described as The Ubiquitous Sound of Motown, which is not a bad playing style to have at all.

His playing graced a gazillion Motown hits – Going To a Go-Go, I Second That Emotion (above), but mainly Motown misses – I’ll be Doggone, Cruisin’, Still Water and many other minor tracks I’d need to Google. He loved a hammer-on with the pinky, he loved a simple-yet-effective running riff up and across the bass strings, and he was part of the reason Smokey Robinson and The Miracles made heartbreak sound so life-affirmingly uplifting. A real Miracle worker, if you will.

It wasn’t only Smokey who benefited from Marv’s guitar…

Marvin GAYE

Marvin Gaye‘s finger poppin’, hand clappin’ Ain’t That Peculiar features Marv’s ringing riffs and clipped guitar. A belter of mid 60s pop/soul, all pistol crack snare, stabbing brass and coo-cooing, doo-be-doo female backing vocals, Ain’t That Peculiar was a favourite of Phil Spector, who heard something in the piano breakdown midway through and went on to model the main riff for River Deep, Mountain High around it. S’true!

 

 

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!, Hard-to-find

No, No, No. (Yes, Yes, Yes)

December 1970 Sheet 772 frame 5 San Francisco, CA

Bo Diddley. Doesn’t/didn’t get the credit he deserved when it comes to the foundations of rock and roll. Yer Chuck Berrys and Little Richards are undeniable founding fathers of the thing that brings us all here, but so too was Bo. It’s amazing how many bands/records have been influenced by his flat scrubbed approach to the blues. (Off the top of my head) without Bo no Not Fade Away. No Willie & the Hand Jive. No I Want Candy. No Magic Bus. No How Soon Is Now? The list is endless, and some proof at least that Bo was a giant among mortals.

bo diddley

Bo’s 2nd single Diddley Daddy had a track called She’s Fine She’s Mine on the b-side;

She’s Fine She’s Mine is all reverb, shimmer and twang, a three chord blues carried along by rudimentary maraca percussion and a wailing harp. Borrowing heavily from it, Willie Cobbs‘ cut his own hollerin’ dustbowl blues version, re-titling it You Don’t Love Me. The young Brian Jones was certainly listening closely by this point, as was Buddy Guy who re-wrote it as You Don’t Love Me Baby in 1965.

By the late 60s, with The Kinks, Beatles and Who reaching a creative peak, the sticky-fingered garage bands were listening closely enough to appropriate the best bits, with not one but two bands taking You Don’t Love Me and creating terrific slices of angst-wridden melodramatic teen pop, allowing their efforts to escape the confines of the dusty garage long enough in order to be commited to the confines of 7″s of dusty vinyl. Vinyl that would ultimately be unloved and for the main part vastly unheard by almost everyone.

Kim And Grim‘s swingin’ alley cat version of You Don’t Love Me adds Hannah Barbera-style backing vocals and replaces all brass riffs with the same melody played on scratchy twangin’ guitar. Richard Hawley must surely be a fan of this record. Great music to sweep floors to as well;

The Starlets‘ version is wee a bit rougher around the edges, and a whole lot more thrilling for it. A pre Glitter Band caveman stomp of handclaps and brainless tub thumping it adds some terrific ear-splitting guitar that would appear almost note-for-note one year later on The Other Half’s Mr Pharmacist (later done in almost note-for-note fashion by The Fall. But you knew that already).

barbara and browns

Fast forward into the next decade and the song had grabbed the attention of the Stax recording studio. In 1971, Barbara & the Browns cut a fine southern soul version, incorporating both twanging guitar riffs and brass underpinned by electric keys and a backing section (The Browns) that shoo-be-doo and ad-lib like a low-rent end of the pier Supremes tribute act. Which is a compliment, obviously.

dawn_penn

20 or so years later and the song hit the charts once again, this time as a dubby, skanking Jamaican reggae track. Dawn Penn took her version to the Top 10 of umpteen countries around the world, doing the decent thing by ensuring Willie Cobb received an equal writing credit (though not Diddley). As he should. Although, while the skeleton of Penn’s version is undoubtedly based on Bo’s original and Cobb’s arrangement, musically it is on another plain.

 

I wonder if, back in the 50s, Bo Diddley knew just how far his wee song would travel. I doubt it. That’s the power of music folks. And it just goes to show that nothing’s original, no matter how much you might believe it is.

 

 

 

Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

My Whole World Is Falling Down Triple Whammy

When it comes to overlooked, it’s hard to see past William Bell (no pun intended). Precious little has been written about William and his contribution to soul music, but when you poke and prod beneath the grooves and squint at the small print on the records, you’ll discover that he was a key figure in the development of Stax Records’ punkish ying to Motown’s pop yang. All music fans like Motown. All music snobs prefer Stax. That’s just the way it is. And while the stories of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson et al are widely known, William Bell’s tale could do with a leg up.

Bell learned his chops playing in Rufus Thomas’ backing band. It couldn’t have been easy. Thomas has a voice like a rooster at the break of day and liked to dress up in the sort of costumes Elton John might have refused to wear on account of them being too outlandish. Tired of doing the Funky Chicken, the Funky Penguin, the Push And Pull, the Itch and Scratch and all manner of novelty nonsense,  William made the decision to go it alone. A wise decision, as it turned out. With a series of self-penned, tear-soaked, southern soul-inflected heartbreakers, he firmly established himself alongside Isaac Hayes and David Porter as one of the go-to staff writers at Stax. You Don’t Miss Your Water. Born Under A Bad Sign. A Tribute To A King. I Forgot to Be Your Lover. All flowed effortlessly from his pen and into the R’nB charts alongside a handful of duets with Judy Clay.

Weller. On target.

I first discovered William Bell via Paul Weller, who stuck a version of Bell‘s My Whole World Is Falling Down on his You Do Something To Me single. Weller plays a terrific high in the mix guitar riff (same as the original, only grittier, rougher and much more mod) and channels his best white man sings Otis vocal. But don’t let that put you off. It was 1995 and everyone was going mental for Ray Davies. Weller was just being contrary, for which I am eternally grateful as I now own a handful of William Bell LPs on the strength of his cover. Recorded for a Radio 1 session, it’s played live without overdubs and is a fine indication of just how tight and in-tune with one another Weller’s band was back then. Essential listening, as they say in some parts.

An interesting (and totally off the wall) cover is by Jamaican Ken Parker. His uptown uptempo version was recorded at Studio One by Coxsone Dodd and skanks in all the right places. The version I have is over 8 minutes long and goes kinda dubby in the middle before making its way back to the main song and melody. Me tinks da ‘erb might be involved. Jesus. I came over all Alan Partridge there. Sorry ’bout that. Anyway, heady stuff from the son of a preacher man, as they sing in some parts.

Three very different, excellent recordings straight outta three of the most famous studios in recording history – Stax, Maida Vale and Studio One. How’sabout that then, guys ‘n gals?