It’s dark when you set off for another shift at the plant and it’s dark when you get back to this dark room in the boarding house held together with flaking paint. Your overalls are stuck fast to your back and your body holds on to the ache reminding you that there are still some things you can feel.
The radio doesn’t work anymore and the TV is filled with smiling fools selling dreams no one believes in any more or pictures of boys who could be your sons dying in Vietnam for a reason you never could get.
Outside there’s someone shouting at someone something about something that never mattered anyhow. The rain’s begining to fall and the moon stares silently down promising to keep the worlds secrets for one more night.
You stopped off at the corner to buy a bottle that’ll take you through till sleep releases you from her memory for one more night. But, for now while you wait for sleep to come you shuffle the pile of scratched 45s which have been your loyal companions through the days and weeks and months and years since she left.
You want a record that speaks of life as it is – the real life real men and women live. One song that will not pretend that disappointment and pain isn’t the price you pay for those moments of joy. Most of these records were made in small southern studios by singers whose names are rarely spoken of on the radio or by the kids who decide who gets to top the charts. But, for you this is the music that talks to you straight and reminds you how much a man can endure and still be a man.
Here’s one that tells your story like you wish you could tell it yourself – if you had anyone to tell it to. Tell it to me Toussaint!
Toussaint McCall is an organ playing, gospel rooted, deep soul singer from Monroe Louisianna. While his other recordings which include some gems like,’Shimmy’ are of interest to soul aficionados, ‘Nothing Takes The Place Of You’ will be the song that defines his career and provides his legacy. Written by Toussaint and Patrick Robinson It was a considerable hit on the R&B charts when it was released on Stan Lewis’ Ronn label in 1967. More than twenty years later it must have amazed Toussaint to find the song featuring in John Water’s 60s set movie (and soundtrack record) Hairspray.
One song is enough to make you immortal. The song’s quality of dignified resignation will always call out to anyone who carries a torch for the one who got away but who stays pressed close to the heart and soul no matter how many years have passed.
Toussaint sings the song without unnecessary theatricality. His organ playing and vocal is a model of understated passion which has all the more impact for rejecting screams of rage and loss for quietly spoken sadness. This is a song about a state of the heart and being that lasts and lasts not a snapshot of a momentary encounter on the roller coaster of love and romance. The tempo of the song is that of a slow beating battered heart. You feel that Toussaint is singing the song to himself as he counts down the hours to dawn not tiring as he sings the song over and over and over.
The understated power of the song has been recognised by the most discerning judges of the music: other soul singers. It is remarkable that Nothing Takes The Place Of You has been recorded by many of the great luminaries of the genre. I have listened to versions by the sophisicated Al Green, the majestic Isaac Hayes, the Tan Nightingale Johnny Adams, the sublime William Bell, the feisty Koko Taylor, the wonderful Gloria Lynne, the funky Bobby Powell and the stately Brook Benton. Listening to these versions (easily located on the Internet) furnishes you with a deeply pleasurable education in the stylistic personality of each of these marvellous artists. Take the tour!
The late, great John Peel championed the little known retro classic version issued counter culturally in the punk era by Mike Spenser And The Cannibals which I offer for your delight below.
I have always had a dream of hosting a late night radio programme which would present all the music I’m championing here on the Jukebox. It would be called, ‘Turnpike’ (I’ll post the theme tune here one day). I believe you should always sign off with a record that will echo long after it’s finished in the listeners souls. I have no doubt Toussaint McCall’s masterpiece would do the job very well. But, don’t just take my word for it … Let Wolfman Jack say it for me!
Toussaint’s Ronn recordings were reissued on the Fuel label in 2000 though, ‘Nothing … ‘ is the clear standout they’re well worth your attention.
Fuel have also issued a compilation of soul tracks from sister labels Jewel and Paula and a fine gospel set.
Ronn Records was founded in Shreveport by Stan Lewis one of those great regional maverick record producers/entrepreneurs so central to the development of twentieth century American music. Ronn was part of a stable of companies including Jewel and Paula Records. The labels issued many excellent sides covering the gamut of black music: blues, R&B, Gospel, Soul and Pop. The young Elvis Presley often called into Stan’s shop when he was appearing on the Louisianna Hayride. The great guitar riff single, ‘Susie Q’ featuring the teenage James Burton was produced by Stan and written about his daughter.
Having produced so many roots classics no one could begrudge Stan’s lottery winning moment when Paula act John Fred & His Playboy Band held the number one pop position for two weeks in January 1968 with the million-selling insanely catchy Judy in Disguise (With Glasses).