Recording background vocals at Columbia Recording Studios, E. 52nd Street, NY, 1969; left to right, Undernourished Producer, Maretha Stewart, Hilda Harris, and Eileen Gilbert.
What can I say? Fortunately, getting strong doses of doo-wop and gospel music early in life, I immediately gravitated to R&B music. There was something there that instantly reached me; the singing for sure, and the cleverness of the arrangements. Whatever it was, I was hooked at a young age and this music has stayed with me all my life. It was difficult to pick just ten, but I think it worked out okay. I covered half of these eventually, and have included URLs in the individual texts to get to them. So if you never heard the originals you can hear where the pilfering began on my covers of these great recordings. I would say the James Brown and Ray Charles tracks are my faves... and I won’t be covering them in this life.
Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.
1. "Ooo Baby, I Love You" — Freddie Hughes (2:09)
Back in the early '60s, this one really tickled my fancy. I liked the groove and the construction of the song. In 1969, I decided to cover it on one of my solo albums as it had remained a lynchpin in my R&B foundation. Here’s my version after you listen to Freddie's. Have mercy on me...
2. "Lost Someone" (Live at The Apollo, 1962) — James Brown (7:58)
Boy, did THIS shake me up and totally influence me for the rest of my life. I never dreamed music could do things like this. The dynamics of the band, the blend of the horns, and mostly, the amazing voice of James Brown. This never failed to take me out of my bedroom in Queens, NY into a dream world I longed to participate in. As a matter of fact, I kicked a hole in the bedroom wall inexplicably in anticipation of a James Brown scream — and I was right there with the band on the upbeat of four!
3. "Need Your Lovin' Every Day" — Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford (2:03)
This is one of those hypnotics where you get sucked into the equivalent of a long, repeating loop today. I think it was the perfection of both Gardner and Ford’s vocals that kept one there for the entire two minutes, never questioning that it was just the same thing over and over because it was a perfect loop. There is a version around that’s about five minutes long where the hypnotic wore off for ME. This one’s just right. Very well-recorded for its time as well.
4. "Lookin' For a Home" — Little Buster (2:16)
When I was about 17, I was friends with this African-American couple, George and Gloria Coleman. Gloria was a rare female organist and her hubby played tenor sax. So they’d conjure up a drummer and guitarist and play gigs together all the time. One night they were playing in Queens (!) so I took the bus over to the gig to hang. When I got there I heard this record on the jukebox and made special note of it as it impressed me greatly. I later walked down the block on my way home and bought the single. It stayed with me for the rest of my life. When I was 26, I recorded a version with 15-year-old Shuggie Otis on guitar that I’ve included here. To REALLY cement the whole thing, Little Buster, who was blind, ambled into my father’s law office in Long Island one day and asked my dad to manage him, which he did for a couple of years. It made my father and me truly realize how unmanageable I actually was! One of the high points of my life was when the Buster and I played this song together at The Bottom Line in NYC when Buster opened for me one night. I shall never forget that. By the way, he was a really nice, wonderful person, but sadly died shortly thereafter of medical complications. RIP, Edward ‘Little Buster’ Forehand.
5. "Joey" — Little Beaver (3:40)
So I was drivin’ around one day in the early '70s and a record comes on the radio that is so mesmerizing that I have to pull over so I can give it the total listen. They said it was “Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright. So I drove right over to the record store and bought the single (sound familiar?). It was on Alston Records and there was an address on the label in Florida. I had to find the guitar players who played on this so I got on a plane the next morning and flew to Miami, took a cab to the address I had, and ended up in an industrial court in Hollywood, Florida. I walked in and bumped into the only white person in the place and thankfully it was someone I knew — R&B singer and producer Steve Alaimo. I told him why I was there and he said “follow me” and walked through a labyrinth of closed doors and then came to the desired room and we walked in. He said, “Al, this is Little Beaver. He played all the guitar parts on 'Clean Up Woman!'" He was so nice he actually played each part for me live to show me how it was done. Then Steve gave me Beaver's latest album and played me “Joey.” YIKES! What a great singer! I became a fan for life and he played on a few of my tracks. Here’s some amazing guitaring from my version of “This Diamond Ring” in 1975—the way I wrote it, not that wimpy Gary Lewis hit arrangement (hahaha). Beaver roooolz!
6. "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" — William Bell ()
This is an intimate lyric with an engaging, sparse rhythm section performance to match. I always loved this, especially Al Jackson Jr.’s straight ahead drumming with cool little tom fills and bass drum upbeat hits.This is a classic Stax-Volt recording and I don’t know what possessed me to cover it years ago; I was probably in "tribute" mode. I never could come near William Bell’s vocal but I think I added two credible additions: a) tuned bongos in the verses playing the staccato guitar and bass lick and b) a heartfelt guitar solo at the end with my then brand new Hamer guitar (eventually stolen—the guitar, I mean—I stole the licks I played from Albert King).
7. "Green Onions" — Booker T & The MGs (2:46)
When I became an organ player, I HAD to learn this. It’s the #1 organ anthem of all time — “Whiter Shade Of Pale” is just that. I prematurely recorded it on the Live Adventures album with Mike Bloomfield. As time passed, it sadly became the theme for adult diapers in a REALLY bad cover version and younger players don’t know how to play it correctly. It’s not that hard but it seems they just don’t care nowadays. Fortunately, my band The Funky Faculty was caught on tape burnin’ one night in Notodden, Norway in 2000. Here’s a bit of that with a great solo by Bob “Dyno” Doezema on Stratocaster.
8. "Simply Beautiful" — Al Green (3:40)
If you know your gospel music history, then you know how Al Green borrowed judiciously from the Reverend Claude Jeter, lead singer of the amazing Swan Silvertones, in my opinion the Beatles of gospel music. It’s REALLY evident on this track, one of Al’s best, but comparatively obscure as it was an album track and not a single. In an upcoming column, when I reconstruct my foundations of early gospel music, you will hear where Al got most of it from. But Jeter fans were impressed by ALL of Al Green’s skills and most of all by his currently running church on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. Al has never forgotten his gifts from God. Neither has this Al. Here’s a photo of the two Als together in 1972.
9. "Tryin' to Slip Away" — Lloyd Price (3:14)
This is probably the least well known of Price’s singles work as it was comparatively late in his career, about 1972, recorded in Atlanta. I probably never would have heard it if Mick The Jagger hadn’t played it for me one night at a shoot-out at the turntable. I luckily got a copy and still enjoy it now and then. There are two notables on here: 1) Lloyd Price’s voice NEVER sounded like this on any other of his recordings — a diehard fan would never guess it was him; 2) in this steaming R&B groove, about 2/3 of the way through the track there is an inexplicable freakin' BANJO SOLO. Somehow it works, though. And people gimme crap about playing mandolin on my current R&B tracks!
10. "Drown in My Own Tears" (Live) — Ray Charles (6:22)
I’m sure this is a cornerstone in most R&B aficionados' collections. Recorded in Atlanta (there’s that city again) at Hearndon Stadium in 1959, we’re told in the liner notes that the idea to record was last minute and there weren’t many microphones, etc. Well, whoever engineered this mono miracle did a magnificent job and this track is still played often after all this time and is still in print! Ray is famous for doing slow songs REALLY slowly and this is the doppelganger that began his reputation. His time is like a rock, however, as the other musicians do their best in the pared down tempo. But the balance in the mix is almost perfect. Plus, there weren’t many, if ANY, other R&B performers playing in stadiums in 1959 and at the start of the song, you can hear the audience’s recognition of this previously-recorded track and it doesn’t sound like there was one empty seat in the house. I close with this because it is The Genius in his first live, legendary performance. I won’t be covering this one in my current life.