Thursday, September 23, 2010
One of the many kicks of having this blog is discovering that songs I figured were original were actually cover versions. Sometimes a cover is a reasonably faithful interpretation of its predecessor; other times it's barely recognizable, so unique is the new incarnation.
The latter scenario applies to the Human Beinz' Nobody But Me, which tonight enjoyed massive exposure to new audiences kicking off the new season of The Office. Unbeknownst to me, until my friend Chuck pointed it out to me this morning, Nobody But Me was a cover of an Isley Brothers song. To say that it was changed up a good bit by the moptop quartet from Youngstown, Ohio, would be an understatement.
A prime example of garage rock at its most exuberant and ferocious (unlike the weak original), the song repeats the word 'no' or 'nobody' more times in 2:16 than I care to count, working anyone who comes within earshot of its driving arrangement into a frenzy. They were apparently wildly popular in their neck of the woods, playing to enthusiastic crowds virtually every night of the week (or so they say on their official website). With that sort of frequency it was only a matter of time before a record label was tipped off to them. And so they were signed to Capitol Records, had the top 10 hit, and then performed and toured as a group for another several years before breaking up.
Rhythm guitarist Ting Markulin says that Nobody But Me was originally seven minutes long, with a lengthy jam in the middle that was cut, naturally, to conform to the two-minute rule that governed radio airplay in those days. It's hard to imagine rocking out that hard for that length of time to just one song - the existing version has enough mojo as it is. If you're interested in a deconstruction of the song, Markulin provides an in-depth look at how it saw the light of day on their site.
I have no further associations of them beyond this song, but it turns out they had a larger repertoire, not all of it as down and dirty as Nobody But Me. YouTube has a lot of examples of their songs - check them out!
Saturday, September 18, 2010
For decades, I have wondered about the 1985 recording of Live at the Apollo, a performance by Hall, John Oates, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, long after the latter two had left the Temptations. Daryl Hall has a phenomenal voice and this particular recording had some killer stuff on it. There was a time when I played it right into the ground. But I never really understood what the connection was between the two duos, if there was any at all.
So there I was listening to all the great soul music on my George McGregor and the Bronzettes station on Pandora last week when what popped up but a total obscurity called Say These Words of Love by the Temptones. And guess who the Temptones were? Daryl Hall's early Philly-based, entirely white, band, that's who.
Research Mode ensued. And what a story it is. I wish it were my story.
Daryl Hall grew up in a predominantly black community outside of Philadelphia that was vibrant with a veritable melange of musical influences. He moved to Philly proper when he was a student at Temple University and started hanging in the same scene that included the nucleus of people who became the architects of the Sound of Philadelphia - Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Thom Bell, the Delfonics, and the Stylistics. The Temptones was the group he formed with several other Temple students. Initially an a cappella quartet, they soon got a rhythm section, left doo-wop behind and moved into straight soul, with Hall as lead singer.
The gigs the Temptones played were often in front of largely black audiences, which reportedly were stunned at the soul sound these white guys were capable of producing. They performed at soul spectaculars, blew other groups out of the water, and ended up with the chance to appear at the Uptown Theatre - which was to Philly what the Apollo was to New York - in a talent show sponsored by James Brown. (They took 2nd place, ahead of the Delfonics.) It was there that Daryl Hall met his idols, the Temptations.
Farewell My Love (a pre-Ruffin ballad when Paul Williams was still co-lead singing with Eddie Kendricks) was particularly well received - and from what I've been able to dig up, Williams mentored them, even arranging an audition with Smokey Robinson.
Though dreams of Motown were not to be, a record deal with another label did follow, and they released a few singles, including Say These Words of Love, accompanied by many of the session musicians that would later back the O'Jays, Jerry Butler and the Spinners as the Sound of Philadelphia became a force to be reckoned with. However, when two of the members got drafted to go to Vietnam, they called it quits. Daryl Hall had already met John Oates out and about, and the rest is history.
So you can see why I want to have an audience with Hall - to learn more about his knowledge of Temptations history would send me reeling for a month, I'm sure. The story of the lifelong friendship of Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks has not been properly told - hell, it hasn't been told at all - and I believe I am the one who is destined to tell it.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
You know, Otis, I don't care what you say, you're still a tramp. ... WHAT!?!?
One of the funkiest duets of the 60s was an unabashedly rural song that always seemed really out of its element but somehow caught on and became not only a hit but a classic. It was called Tramp, and was sung in inimitable trash talk by the charismatic Otis Redding and Carla Thomas.
Stax co-founder Jim Stewart had the brainstorm to pair up the label's male and female pride and joy, as Motown was doing with Marvin Gaye and various girl singers, on an album of what was, in essence, covers. According to Soulsville, USA: the Story of Stax Records, by Rob Bowman, neither was too keen at first on dueting, but found they enjoyed it; Tramp was the first song they laid down, a suggestion by Redding, who encouraged Thomas to call him every name she could think of.
Stax house drummer Al Jackson Jr. sets the table for Otis, Carla, Booker T. and the MGs, and the dy-no-mite Memphis Horns in this irresistible ditty. The two ooze sass and strut their stuff like there ain't no tomorrow - it's a ridiculous song in every way but there's nothing not to love about it. The first time I deejayed my local Dance Dance Party Party group here in Akron, it was on the playlist from the outset.
However, their version was not the original. Tramp was originally recorded in 1966 by Lowell Fulson (and co-written with pianist Jimmy McCracklin). Born on an Oklahoma Indian reservation, Fulson migrated to Texas where he began to emulate guitarists like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson, which helped him become a sideman to traveling singer Texas Alexander. He landed in California where, with T-Bone Walker, he became known as the founder of modern California blues.
As a solo piece Tramp had an entirely different feel. It was more of a showpiece for Fulson's guitar licks. Although this was released just a few months prior to Otis and Carla's and did almost as well on the charts as the duet, I never heard it.
But the Tramp fixation continued one more time that year - it was also recorded by Roy Head and Johnny Winter, of all people, with Head's band the Traits. Before he was discovered by Mike Bloomfield, Winter often served as an uncredited session musician at Gold Star Studios in Houston and there he became associated with Roy Head (of Treat Her Right fame), for a time leading his band. It was during that brief stint as leader that they recorded Tramp. I can't find that on YouTube, but check out a later kick-ass bluesy version by Johnny Winter solo!