Monday, September 17, 2007
Though My Soul May Set In Darkness, It Will Rise In Perfect Light
"Where Were You" ---Freddie Scott
With the unfortunate passing of Bobby Byrd this past week, I began to reflect on how many legendary artists we've lost in just the past year or so. Within that time frame, we've witnessed the death of James Brown, Alice Coltrane, Eldee Young (Young Holt Trio), Billy Henderson (Detroit Spinners), Joe Hunter, Barbara McNair, Luther Ingram, Dakota Staton, Zola Taylor (The Platters), Alex Brown (The Persuaders), Alvin Batiste, Tony Thompson, Dorothy 'Kim' Tolliver, Richard 'Kush' Griffith, Nellie Lutcher, Bill Pinkney (The Drifters), Max Roach, Jon Lucien, Willie Tee, and more.
One of the losses that hit me the hardest was that of Freddie Scott, who passed away this summer on the 4th of June. Although I've featured Scott's work in the past (most recently his oft-sampled tune, "(You) Got What I Need"), I felt compelled to write a bit more about his legacy since I failed to do a proper memorial at the time of his death.
Scott was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1933, and had his first musical experience singing with his grandmother's group, Sally Jones & The Gospel Keyes, as a young teenager. Although he initially went to college to study medicine, Freddie joined the Swanee Quintet Juniors and altered his career path to pursue his musical aspirations. His first solo single was "Running Home", a song he recorded for the J&S label in 1956. Later that same year he was called to military duty in Korea, but continued to record sides for a few different labels during and in the years following that period.
What is often noted to be a pivotal point in his musical career came in 1962, when Gerry Goffin and Carole King approached him to sing a song called "Hey Girl" that was originally intended for Chuck Jackson. Scott made the absolute best of being the songwriters' second choice, crafting a single for Colpix Records that climbed into the top ten on the R&B and pop charts. Following this, he relocated to Columbia for a brief stint before signing on with Bert Berns' fledgling Shout label in 1966.
Today's selection is one of many gems from the latter period. Not long after Scott signed to Shout, he and Berns co-wrote "Are You Lonely For Me?", a track that reportedly required over a hundred vocal takes to complete. The record stayed at the top of the R&B charts and even crept in the pop top 40, so it seems as though this element of perfectionism was ultimately worthwhile. Since many soul enthusiasts are already familiar with this much-storied track, I decided to post the underappreciated flip side instead. It's a fine deep soul ballad that Scott penned himself, and is more than worthy of receiving proper recognition.
Rest in peace, Freddie Scott. You will surely be missed.
There is ever so much more to his story, which is why I would encourage you to dig deeper.
"Livin In The City (Willie Evans Jr. remix)"---Akrobatik
Willie Evans, Jr. has been doing some amazing things in the hip hop underground for quite some time now, but is yet to receive the attention and glorification he rightfully deserves. Hailing from Jacksonville, FL, Evans has been affiliated in one way or another with the likes of Asamov, The ABs, Deep Rooted, Therapy, and The Perceptionists. Although he initially made his mark as a skillful MC, he's just as, if not more, capable of crafting phenomenal beats. Counting James Brown and DJ Premier as his primary influences, Evans has undoubtedly set high-as-the-sky standards for the quality of his musical output.
This joint is from Black Mega: The Remixes, a project in which Evans reworked joints by Akrobatik and Mr. Lif. He was already quite familiar with the work of these two MCs, having engineered and/or produced several tracks from their Perceptionists debut LP, Black Dialogue. When asked about why he endeavored to remix some of their joints, Evans noted that at some point every beatmaker thinks, "Man, I could have did something funky with that." On Black Mega, he more than lives up to this expectation, creating layered soundscapes that often outweigh the originals. "Livin' In The City" is one such example, in which Evans brings a soulful vibe to some of Akrobatik's most intelligent and socio-political rhymes. Anyone who thinks hip hop is all about bitches, whips, and the glorification of violence sincerely needs to give this joint a listen.
"I'm Hurt"---Tyrone Thomas & The Whole Darn Family
Despite not being as well known as the most celebrated soul artists, Tyrone Thomas' contributions to the genre are many. His career began at the tender age of 10, when he started going by the name Lil Tommy. He and Major Harris were in a quartet called The Teenagers who opened for some of the finest soul and blues acts at the time---Sam Cooke, Mary Wells, Jimmy Reid, Fats Domino, etc. His legacy from that point forward is far too enormous to be described in a couple of paragraphs, so I would highly recommend further pursuit of information about his prodigous career.
In the interests of providing a brief overview, I'll mention a few highlights. In addition to being blessed with an outstanding vocal instrument, Thomas was also a proficient songwriter, composer/arranger, producer, and drummer. His group Nobody's Children was the backing band for Patti Labelle and The Bluebells in the early 1970s. After the group dissolved, he went on to play drums for a variety of first-rate performers, including Freddie Scott, Charlie Whitehead, Doris Duke, Swamp Dogg, and The Sweet Inspirations.
After being on the road for several years, Thomas went back to his residence in Richmond, VA and formed The Whole Darn Family. He wrote "Seven Minutes Of Funk", which ultimately became one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop history. It appeared with several other sought-after funk classics on The Whole Darn Family Has Arrived LP (1976). "I'm Hurt" stands out as the most soulful cut on the album, a heartfelt torch song that Thomas originally wrote in his youth.
Over the years, Thomas has amassed over 200 songs in his vast catalogue of works, and has continued to make music well into the new millenium.
"Soul Music"--- Stic.man and Young Noble
For those of you who aren't familiar, Stic.man is from the hip hop duo dead prez, and Young Noble is from The Outlawz. Their collaborative effort, Soldier 2 Soldier (2006), was honestly not something that I ever intended to buy. One of my readers sent me a copy a while back, knowing that I'm of the rare breed who isn't turned off by dead prez's political slant. I couldn't possibly give a fair review of the album at this juncture, because I've only gotten around to listening to the whole album once. I was preoccupied with other things while it was playing, but "Soul Music" gave me reason to pause and crank up the volume to a more audible level. It's obvious why I'd be a sucker for this joint---any track that pays homage to classic soul music deserves at least one listen. A lot of legends get a shout here, including Bobby Womack, The Temptations, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, etc. On the whole, it's a worthy tribute to music of days gone by, so you kinda have to forgive them for incorporating an awkward and out-of-place reminiscence on Apollonia's breasts in Purple Rain...
"Sweet Sweet Baby"---Dolly Gilmore
I can write about this tune with relative ease considering that I don't know any biographical information about Ms. Gilmore. This is another instance in which I'll open up the floor to any of my readers who may know more about her than I do. I've included a label scan of the original 45, although this "cult classic" has also been included on a few funk compilations over the years. This slightly abridged version appeared on Sister Funk 2.
Maybe I'm a bit biased in my thinking, but I simply can't imagine anyone not enjoying this track---which is why I'm gonna shut up now and let you give it a listen...
"The Bull Is Coming"---Lee Fields & The Devil's Personal Band
I did a feature on Fields some time ago in which I discussed some of his comeback material that's been released since the '90s. The response was favorable, so I decided to post this song in the interests of generating some enthusiam for his earlier work. This track was released on Angle 3, and represents one of the finest moments from the infectiously funky material Fields released in the '70s. "The Bull Is Coming" is a highly regarded record amongst funk enthusiasts (b/w "Funky Screw"), and gives somewhat of a hint as to why his style was often likened to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. In fact, Fields' style, groove, and sound owed so much to this celebrated figure that he was given "Little J.B." as a nickname. That said, Field was an underappreciated and legendary artist in his own right, so I'd recommend seeking out his releases (both past and present) with a funkdafied vengeance.
"No One Like My Baby"---Bobby Byrd
In the event that I don't have time to properly memorialize the death of Bobby Byrd in the near future, I wanted to share one of the most soulful tunes from his solo career in his honor and remembrance. Rest in peace, my brother...
Word From Your Moms:
"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."---C.S. Lewis
"The soul is born old but grows young. That is the comedy of life. And the body is born young and grows old. That is life's tragedy."---Oscar Wilde