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!