When it comes to music appreciation, Jeff Ash isn't a critic, know-it-all, or expert. In fact, he's the type of guy who has to put his pants on one leg at time, just like the rest of us. In an arena that's disproportionately overloaded with egocentrism and narcissistic personality types (and people who call themselves shit like Scholar), Jeff's approach to audioblogging is refreshingly humble and straightforward. Make it a point to stop by his eclectic site AM, Then FM, where amongst other treasures, you'll discover some killer Percy Mayfield tunes that he recently posted. Thanks for joining us, Jeff...Scholar
Up front, a confession: Having read the guest posts in this series, I must concede those writers are far more knowledgeable than I am about the soul and R&B (and, certainly, their relation to and their sampling in hip-hop) that is at the heart of Souled On.
I grew up in small-town Wisconsin in a time – the late ’60s and the entire ’70s – when soul and R&B were side by side with rock and pop on first the AM radio of the day, then the FM radio of the day, both influenced by what they were playing in Milwaukee and Chicago.
I’ve heard a lot of soul and R&B, but I increasingly have come to realize I know a wide but shallow pool of material. What I know is just the tip of the iceberg.
So to Scholar, and to those who have written the guest posts, and to the music bloggers I regularly read, I say thank you. It’s a pleasure to learn from those who know.
Here, then, are some things I’ve learned. Two years ago, I had none of these tunes in my collection. Now, they’re among my favorites. Hope you dig them, too.
I learned about ’50s organist Jon Thomas at Crud Crud, where Scott Soriano offers up obscure records in a variety of styles, R&B and soul among them. Scott described the following cut as “an absolute stunner” and “a killer.” He is correct on both counts, both for its organ and its sax. But for the 45 release, they cut it into two parts. Listen to them, and it’s clear Part 2 should come before Part 1.
"Hard Head Part 2"
"Hard Head Part 1"
Both selections by Jon Thomas, from “Big Beat on the Organ,” 1957.
I was only vaguely aware of Texas R&B singer/guitarist Barbara Lynn, and then I saw her play live earlier this year. This is what I wrote at the time: “Barbara Lynn, who hit it big on the R&B charts with “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” in 1962, sounded great and looked great. She can really play that left-handed guitar, and she can belt it out. She’s a lovely 65. She could pass for 45, easily. I need to get some Barbara Lynn into my collection.” And I have. I don’t recall where I got this, but it came from a music blog.
“I’m a Good Woman”, Barbara Lynn, Tribe Records single, 1966.
Betty Davis. Oh, man. Had I heard this fierce funk when it came out in 1974, one of two things likely would have happened. 1. Just 17 at the time, I wouldn’t have gotten it. 2. Had I gotten it, my mind would have been blown. I’ll happily settle for having my mind blown now. I have Oliver Wang over at Soul Sides to thank for introducing me to Betty Davis.
"They Say I’m Different", Betty Davis, from “They Say I’m Different,” 1974.
I’m pretty sure I also have O.W. to thank for introducing me to the Kashmere Stage Band, the hottest high school band ever. They were from Houston, and there is no way I would otherwise have learned about them.
"Super Bad", Kashmere Stage Band, from “Texas Thunder Soul: 1968-1974,” 2006.
Sure, I knew about Billy Preston, about his career. Or at least I thought I did. Came to find out I did not. Just another example of that wide but shallow pool. Among the many Preston tunes I have come to know, this is my favorite. I learned about it at The A Side, where Red Kelly serves up vintage R&B.
"Can’t She Tell", Billy Preston, Capitol single, 1967. Preston wrote this with Sly Stone – who sings and plays on it -- and David Axelrod produced it.
If you don’t read Mojo magazine, you should. Leave it to a British magazine to have the proper respect for American soul and R&B. A couple of summers ago, one of Mojo’s sampler CDs, “Southern Soul,” introduced me to Eddie Floyd. The following cut has become one of my favorites, and I’ve since come to know Eddie Floyd’s work a little better. I still have a ways to go.
"I’ll Take Her", Eddie Floyd, 1968, on “Southern Soul,” a Mojo magazine compilation CD, 2005.
Then you have the trinity of East Coast crate diggers – Larry Grogan over at Funky 16 Corners, Jameson Harvey over at Flea Market Funk and Vincent Ebb over at Fufu Stew –from whom I’ve picked up dozens of obscure but fabulous vintage R&B and soul tunes. This cut is from one of Larry's terrific compilations. I had never heard of the “popcorn” style of R&B before reading Larry’s posts. Now I know. Dig it.
Soul Poppin’, Johnny Jones and the King Casuals, Brunswick single, 1968 or 1969.
My introduction to the various members of the Staples family has come in fits and starts, to say the least. I first came to know the Staple Singers from their early hits — “Respect Yourself,” from 1971, and “I’ll Take You There,” from 1972. Yet it was 20 years later before I came to know Pops Staples, the family patriarch. Only recently have I come to learn more about Mavis Staples' solo career. Her current album of new and vintage freedom songs, “We’ll Never Turn Back,” is among this year’s best.
"Eyes on the Prize", Mavis Staples, from “We’ll Never Turn Back,” 2007.
Also among the year’s best will be “100 Days, 100 Nights” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. It was just released earlier this week. I don’t recall which blog first pointed me toward this terrific retro-soul band out of Brooklyn, but I know they are among Scholar's faves. We visited New York this summer – it was my first trip – and one of the highlights was seeing Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings play a free show in Battery Park. Of course, they played some stuff off the new album. Tasty.
"100 Days, 100 Nights", Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, from “100 Days, 100 Nights,” 2007.
Then there are three singers I once knew for exactly one cut each from the AM radio of 1970: Edwin Starr (“War”), Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”) and Clarence Carter (“Patches”). In just the last month or so, I’ve found out-of-print albums from each at Lost-In-Tyme or Fullundie, and they’re terrific. I’m still listening to them, still getting to know them, so I don’t have any favorites to offer. Besides, you know those singles.
I knew “War” was a cover of a Temptations tune. But only recently have I come to learn another of my favorites, “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, from 1971, was another Temps cover. And then, just a couple of days later, I found the out-of- print Temps album with that cut.
"Smiling Faces Sometimes", The Temptations, from “Sky’s The Limit,” 1971.
Man, the things you learn from the music blogs.
Word From Jeff's Moms:
“I object to the fact that people might listen to my music on these tiny headphones. It can only be a disappointment. I created it for you to crank up and have a sonic orgasm!” -- Tori Amos