Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Feel It All Down In Your Soul...

"The Soul Of A Black Man"---Maceo Parker w/ James Brown (zshare)

"The Soul Of A Black Man"---Maceo Parker w/ James Brown (savefile)

If you were playing a word association game with your average soul, jazz, and funk enthusiast, mention of Maceo Parker's name would likely generate terms emphasizing his role as sideman to several larger-than-life personalities in contemporary music history. There's certainly no shame in being James Brown's favorite sax player, nor in being an element in the funky freakaliciousness that prompted so many of us to take flight on the Parliament/Funkadelic mothership. However, it's myopic and unjust to relegate Maceo's legacy to the shadows of The Godfather Of Soul, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Prince, or any of the other celebrated artists who've invited this highly gifted musician to join their touring and recording ensembles. These collaborations, in conjunction with his illustrious solo career, have made Parker an essential cornerstone of the grand empire that is funk, soul, jazz, and hip-hop music.

From the very beginning, it seems Maceo had to struggle to negotiate a degree of personal recognition in the overshadowing presence of his peers. He was offered his first major gig after the one-and-only James Brown became enamored with the way his brother Melvin played the drums, and Maceo was offered a job as somewhat of a package deal. A man of lesser character may have lost his confidence under such unflattering circumstances, but Maceo rose to the occasion and blew his way straight to the top (and not the way some folks say Madonna achieved her pathway to stardom, either).

Parker would go on to spend the better part of two decades playing with JB, occasionally departing to pursue other pathways and musical endeavors. As dynamic as James Brown truly was, there's no question that the sheer intensity of tracks such as "(I Got You) I Feel Good" and "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" relied heavily on the magic of Maceo's blistering saxophone solos.

One of his finest solo offerings, Maceo's US LP was produced by JB and originally released on People Records in 1974. The album has since been re-issued and is absolutely worth digging for, if for no other reason than the brilliance of the record's final track, "The Soul Of A Black Man".

For a number of reasons, I consider this groove to be one of Maceo's great defining moments. The track starts out with some of Brown's signature ad-libbing, speaking volumes as to why many musicologists describe him as the great-grandaddy of hip-hop. JB's words pay the ultimate tribute to the saxophonist, as the Godfather speaks sincerely of his pride and pleasure in being affiliated with such a remarkable musician. For a devoted Maceo fan, it's a tremendous thrill to hear the man get some well-deserved props and respect.

Parker soon jumps into the conversation and the two exchange some pleasant complimentary banter, but the track races towards its awe-inspiring peak when Maceo plays the first note following their dialogue. Encapsulated in that moment is the very reason I love Maceo Parker. Hell...encapsulated in that moment is the very reason I love music.

Dig deeper...

"Listening (King E's Roy Ayers Remix)"---J-Live/Kola Rock (zShare)

"Listening (King E's Roy Ayers Remix)"---J-Live/Kola Rock (savefile)

You must know by now that I'm pretty much batshit crazy about searching for dope remixes. As I've said, they don't necessarily have to trump the original in order to gain my approval---sometimes I'm just interested in hearing a joint with the beat flipped in an entirely different way. That said, nothing about diggin' for remixes is more rewarding than finding a fresh beat that breathes some much needed life into a track that I previously considered boring as hell. Such is the case with King E's remix of J-Live's The Hear After LP (2005).

The Hear After was undoubtedly a project worth salvaging, understanding that J is still capable of bringing his own unique brand of nerdalicious lyrical fire to the table. His verbal gymnastics on the mic and intelligent rhyme constructions are paralleled by few, but he still needs stellar production to accompany his wordplay if he hopes to drop classic material along the lines of "Wax Paper" or "Braggin' Writes" ever again.

Therein lies my unsettling discomfort with The Hear After. My man seemed to have suddenly lost his ear for beats, Van Gogh-style. It wasn't as if he gradually lost his hearing over the course of several albums. Nah, that shit happened quickly, swiftly, and with very little notice for those of us who'd been carrying a hefty appreciation for his abilities in our backpacks for a number of years. I certainly hadn't always agreed with J's beat selections up to that point, but never before had I been inclined to dismiss an entire album's worth of his material on those particular grounds. While I'll avoid making the sweeping generalization that none of the music on the LP was up to standard, it's safe to say that it consistently paled in comparison to his earlier work with producers such as Prince Paul, DJ Premier, DJ Spinna, and Pete Rock.

I admittedly don't know a whole lot about King E, but props to him for stepping in to save this record from a lifetime of mediocrity. E effectively reinvented an album's worth of lackluster and primarily snoozeworthy beats by incorporating the use of Roy Ayers samples into his vibrant, lush, and lively production style. For the first time, the experience of listening to this record hasn't had a blatantly tranquilizing effect, allowing me to stay awake long enough to actually hear what J was trying to say.

"Listening" was one of the joints that always seemed to have a great deal of untapped potential. It easily boasted one of the least oppressive beats on the album in the first place, but still left something of the headnod factor to be desired. J and his wife Kola both delivered the lyrical goods on this track, but now suddenly I can have my cake and eat it, too? Hot damn, children... After being truly blessed by these remixes, it's highly doubtful that I'll be returning to the original versions anytime soon.

By the way, I just secured a copy of J-Live's Reveal The Secret EP. I haven't given it a spin yet, nor have I sought out any reviews. Let's just hope the big secret has something to do with a promise not to spit over fucked up beats anymore. I'm countin' on you, homeskillet...

Dig deeper... (J-Live) Still da man...

Dig deeper... (King E) Visit his MySpace page to d/l a generous selection of his remixes for absolutely free.

Dig deeper... (Roy Ayers) It's like two turntables amd a vibraphone...

"A Thousand Wonders"---Archie Bell & The Drells (zShare)

"A Thousand Wonders"---Archie Bell & The Drells (savefile)

There's sort of an interesting backstory "behind the music" of Archie Bell & The Drells' Tighten Up LP (Atlantic, 1968). Dear VH-1, please don't sue me for copping your little phrase...I seriously don't have any money.

Archie Bell (older brother of NFL player Ricky Bell) moved to Houston, Texas as a youth, and would form the first incarnation of the Drells there in 1966. Along with his high school friends James Wise, Willie Parnell and Billy Butler (line-up changes later ensued), Bell signed on with the Ovid label in 1967. Their first single was "She's My Woman, She's My Girl", a tune that became somewhat of a regional hit. The group seemed destined for success, but before his musical aspirations had an opportunity to be fully realized, Bell was drafted into the army to serve in Vietnam.

Prior to Bell's departure, he and The Drells managed to record a few more songs. Skipper Lee Frazier, the group's promoter/producer, saw potential in one of these early singles by the group called "Dog Eat Dog". The song got some airplay in the north, but the group's career failed to fully gain momentum until disc jockeys started playing the B-side, the now-legendary "Tighten Up" groove. With backing instrumentation provided by the T.S.U. Tornados, the dance tune had an incredibly infectious vibe that would eventually capture the attention of Atlantic Records. After being picked up for distribution by a major label, the song skyrocketed to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts early in 1968.

Sadly, Archie Bell didn't find out how successful the tune was until he was recovering from being shot in the leg during the war. This gave a bit of twisted irony to one of the lines in the song, "we dance just as good as we walk". Bell recalls that no one even remotely believed him when he said that it was his hit song that was playing on the radio.

The success of the tune came with a push from Atlantic to tour and release a full-length LP. Bell was able to record additional material for the album during his leave time from the military, but it took several months for him to be released to go on tour. During his absence, dishonest promoters reaped monetary benefits by sending fake versions of Archie Bell & The Drells out on the road for live performances. Crazy, but true. When the real Archie Bell & The Drells stood up and began touring in the summer of '68, they became acquainted with the songwriting/production duo Gamble and Huff, effectively beginning the next chapter of their career.

Since most people are already familiar with the album's title track, I chose another one of my favorite songs from the Tighten Up LP, "A Thousand Wonders". It's an amazing little soul tune, made all that much more intriguing with some knowledge of the circumstances under which it was recorded.

Dig deeper...

"Land Of Nod (Lack Of Afro Remix)"---The New Mastersounds (zShare)

"Land Of Nod (Lack Of Afro Remix)"---The New Mastersounds (savefile)

First things first...a confession. This picture doesn't have a damn thing to do with the song above. I was doing an image search on "lack of afro" and lo and behold, this appeared. I found the whole thing kind of amusing, so here we are...

The "Land Of Nod" remix is from a relatively new compilation called Soulshaker Volume 4: More Deep Funk, Soul, & Groovy Club Sounds From Today's Scene. Although all of the tracks on it have been recorded recently, fans of classic funk and soul shouldn't run from the possibility of thoroughly enjoying this LP. In many ways, it epitomizes the cream of what the new school has to offer, featuring some of the best American and European artists currently on the scene. There are a few fuck-ups here and there, but by and large, it's an enjoyable and remarkably consistent release.

I was torn between a few tracks when deciding what to post, but this one immediately captured my attention with its sample of Roberta Flack's take on "Compared To What". Combine that divine element with Lack Of Afro's (aka Adam Gibbons) dope multi-instrumentalism and the visionary funk of The New Mastersounds, and you're well on the way to enjoying a prolonged virtual eargasm...

Dig deeper... (The New Mastersounds)

Dig deeper... (Lack Of Afro)

"The Rebirth Of Ruckus"---Ruckus Roboticus (zShare)

"The Rebirth Of Ruckus"---Ruckus Roboticus (savefile)

If your aural pleasure ended too quickly after that last song, this joint from Ruckus Roboticus' Playing With Scratches will easily sustain your mood for a little while longer. Wonderfully mellow, groovy stuff.

Dig deeper...

"I Cry Alone"---Ruby & The Romantics (zShare)

"I Cry Alone"---Ruby & The Romantics (savefile)

Last, but never least, the requisite tearjerker...

Ruby & The Romantics formed in Akron, OH in 1961 as an all-male quartet called The Supremes. They changed their name shortly after meeting up with Ruby Nash and being signed by Allen Stanton at Kapp Records. Motown and Berry Gordy thank them profusely...

The group's first single was "Our Day Will Come", recorded in 1963. Although it became a #1 record , there were apparently some doubts as to the group's ability to achieve such a high level of success. Songwriters Bob Hilliard and Mort Garson knew that their song was the shit, but they evidently thought that Ruby & The Romantics might not be the right group to make the tune a hit. They made Kapp Records promise that Jack Jones could record the track if The Romantics' version tanked. Although the song has been covered numerous times since then, it certainly wasn't due to the original recording being a flop.

The group is unfortunately still thought of as a one-hit wonder, because their records sales progressively declined after this first offering. There are differing opinions as to why their career ended up on a downward spiral, but it certainly wasn't due to a lack of quality material. In fact, a number of the songs they recorded would later become much bigger hits for other artists (Eddie Holman, The Carpenters, etc.).

After a series of line-up and label changes, the group called it quits in 1971 and Ruby went to work for AT&T. She was working for a large retail chain around 2001, but she'd be well past retirement age at this point. In case you were wondering, she receives absolutely no royalties from the success of "Our Day Will Come".

Quite honestly, a lot of their material is more on the doo-wop side and less appealing to me than the deep soul sounds I generally tend to prefer. However, I've always thought of "I Cry Alone" as an absolute each their own I guess. If you're interested in buying one of their albums, I would suggest diggin' for Our Day Will Come: The Very Best Of Ruby & The Romantics (RPM Records, 2002) .

Dig deeper...

Supplemental Materials:

Maceo, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis performing "Let's Get It On":

Bonus mp3:

"Compared To What"---Roberta Flack (zShare)

For those of you who've never heard Roberta's rendition of this track penned by Gene McDaniels ...well, it's about damn time...

Word From Your Moms:

"If you can't raise consciousness, at least raise hell."---Rita Mae Brown


Marty aka Marty Mcfly said...

Nice work as usual!


dennis b said...

Great post. That Maceo song is a killer. Also the J-Live speech was hilarious my brotha.

SoulKlap said...

The results are in at HIPHOPDX.COM. I have been entered into the Hip-Hop websites competition for the best American Gangster album remake. The winner of the contest will have his/her version of the album distributed to websites all over the internet as well as handed out nationwide by street teams! It is very important that you all vote and support Soul. I thank you all for your support and pray that the world shares my sentiments of one of the greatest Jay-Z remix albums ever!


Please vote here...

Jackie Treehorn said...

I definitely adore what you are doing here!

Join us with and if you like. There will be some funny stuff going on ...

Jackie Treehorn
of The TwoTeam

Anonymous said...

Well, Scholar...what can I say ~Absolutely awesome post. I want to comment, focusing on one particular area, but how do I determine what sector on such an outstanding piece of work?

Let me say this, Maceo and friends performing 'Let's Get It On' speaks for itself...Makes me want to....oooh;)! I haven't heard such a funky sound like this that's made me feel this way in quite some time. He is a BEAST on the sax.

Interesting bio on Archie Bell...A Thousand Wonders describes the cloud I've been riding on for the past two years.

I remember listening to
Our Day Will Come when I was a little girl and as I became older, it often reminded me of my childhood. However, now that I understand the meaning of these words and have experienced love in its true form, the combination of those two factors couldn't have made this song anymore powerful for me.

Word from your moms:
Hell, let's just do both ~ raising knowledge for some does raise hell for others ;).

Thanks for the passion of music and knowledge.

Much, much love!

Graz said...

I Cry Alone of Ruby & The Romantics it's wonderful...i love it

Vee said...

Cool peace on Maceo and thanks for the track. I don't know if you heard the De La Soul track "I Be" featuring Maceo. There's a nice long smooth instrumental version on the CD. Check it out.

The Incredible Hawkes said...

Yeah Bruh!!! That Maceo joint is dope, and I love that Roberta Flack track is lovely. It good to know that other people are out there loving great music. I don't even have my radio hook up anymore in the ride just my personal music. Let's keep real music alive.

John Q said...

Great Work as use-a-wall. Like to see a little Roy Ayer drops here and there.

Anonymous said...

Archie Bell will always be remembered for the line from "I Can't Stop Dancing",, "Let me put this hamburger down."

purple_Crayons said...


sweet post. i thought your van gogh reference with regard to j-live was funny, particularly because it (unintentionally?) makes sense regarding ras kass' infinitely shelved album of that name ("van gogh"). Although I guess this has been ras's achilles critically, the beat selection on that album, with the exception of the title track, was just shit (topped off by the synth reproduction of the old NBA on NBC theme for "N.B.A.").

in any case, i have checked the "reveal the secret ep," but the marco polo track is really quite nice. let us know how it goes.

and if you get the chance, check my remix of Morcheeba's "Women Lose Weight" featuring Slick Rick:

Scholar said...


dennis---I wasn't sure if anyone would get where I was coming from about J. Comparing him to Van Gogh was a slippery analogy to begin with, but it made perfect sense at the time.

Klap---I really like Remot's remixes, but you and Small Pro got robbed on the fan vote. Still a huge nod to have even made the final 10, fam...

Jackie---Thanks. Two Team is off to a very promising start so far. I'll stop by again soon to see what you guys are up to...

PK---Much love right back at ya, baby. Let's keep raising hell...a'ight?

graz---You might also like their song "Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore". Let me know if you want me to send it to you.

vee---I'm a huge De La fan as well...obviously you've got excellent taste, cousin.

hawkes---We should start a revolution, fam---one good song, one tasty cheese sandwich at a time...

john q---"Use-a-wall" is my hyphenated word of the day. Brilliant. I love your blog, by the way.

anon---I love it. It's refreshing to know that someone else around here knows about Archie's hamburger...

crayons---Ha ha...I still haven't listened to J-live's joint yet, but I'll keep you posted. Nice remix, yo...

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