The Rolling Stones & J Geils cover The Valentinos: (Looking For A Love/It’s All Over Now)

William Goldman, the screenwriter of Hollywood boffo smashes such as, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and, ‘All the President’s Men’ was a highly intelligent and perspicacious observer of the cultural scene.

It seems to me he was speaking the plain truth when he observed that when it comes to predicting success in any artistic enterprise, ‘Nobody knows anything … Not one person knows for a certainty what is going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one’.

That certainly holds true for writing and recording hit songs; especially songs which endure not for five or ten or twenty-five years but for 50 years and more.

Nobody has a guaranteed formula for producing songs that can get up and walk on their own, songs with the mysteriously vitality and stickability which lodges them deep in our consciousness. Songs which manage to mark our personal and collective times.

But, if you write such songs you can be sure of one thing. People, other artists, will sit up and take notice and they will want to perform and record your songs because such songs are rare beasts.

Today on The Immortal Jukebox I’m going to celebrate two of those songs, written by the teenage Bobby Womack, which he recorded with his four brothers in their group, The Valentinos, in 1962 and 1964.

‘Looking For A Love’ and, ‘It’s All Over Now’ were from the get go songs fizzing with life; songs that made you want to get up and dance, songs that made you smile whatever mood you were in before they came on, songs that you instantly fell in love with, songs that made you ring up your friends to say, ‘have you heard…’, songs that you sang under your breath invoking the warmth and light of the sun as you faced another grey school or work morning. That’ll do for me as the definition of a hit!

Everyone, especially when they’re young, is looking for a love, searching, looking here and there, looking for the love they know must be there, somewhere!

Let Bobby and The Valentinos remind you of those searching days!

Listening to The Valentinos here I feel as if I could jump a wall ten feet high! Lots of people agreed at the time as the song was a top 10 R&B hit as well as breaking into the Billboard Hot 100.

The Womack Brothers, in birth order, were : Friendly, Curtis, Bobby, Harry and Cecil. They were the sons of Friendly Senior, a pastor who had moved from the mines of West Virginia to Cleveland. Friendly Senior was a gospel singing pastor so it was little surprise that his sons followed in his footsteps performing in church.

In 1953 they got a big break when, in their home town, they opened up for the premier church-wrecking Gospel group of the day, The Soul Stirrers featuring the Immortal Sam Cooke. Sam was struck by the boys potential and noted that Bobby in particular, had something about him that presaged stardom.

Soon the brothers were working the Gospel circuit with luminaries like The Staple Singers and The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi learning stagecraft. This would be redoubled after they went on the road with the ultimate stern taskmaster, James Brown!

Sam Cooke, ever prescient, decided that the Brothers future lay in secular pop rather than the Gospel world. So Bobby’s gospel song, ‘Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray’ was fine tuned by J W Alexander and Zelda Samuels for Sam’s record label SAR to become, ‘Looking For A Love’ and The Womack Brothers became The Valentinos. The rest as they say is history.

I’m sure the feeling of elation produced by, ‘Looking For A Love’ was also experienced by six super energetic white northern boys who came together as The J Geils Band in the mid 60s determined to blast white hot rhythm and blues at the citizens of Boston and Detroit.

The key figure here is singer Peter Wolf, a legendary DJ and record collector who on Boston station WBCN took late night calls from Van Morrison begging to hear some real rhythm and blues on the radio!

Peter was a song collector and he knew that an amped up, turbo charged version of, ‘Looking For A Love’ would be a show stopper for the band and prove that they could justifiably be called the Detroit Demolition!

Listen here to Peter on vocals, J Geils on guitar, Seth Justman on the organ, Danny Klein on bass, Stephen Bladd on drums and Magic Dick on the lickin’ stick as they demolish Detroit’s Cinderella Ballroom in 1972 with the force of a division of Panzers!

I confess I used to test the patience of the students in my residential block and the sturdiness of the window frames of my room as I played this version at stun volume over and over again in 1973 when I discovered it. Turn your dials up to 11 now!

Early in 1964 Bobby collaborated with sister in law, Shirley Womack, to write another slice of eternity shale, ‘It’s All Over Now’ a song which might be seen by the cynics among us as the inevitable second act to the youthful carefree optimism of, ‘Looking For A Love’.

I prefer to think of it as another example of Bobby Womack’s great gift for crafting a melodic story that we can all relate to wherever we are in love’s endless carousel. What Bobby Womack always had was the ability to write songs which had an irresistible rhythmic flow which defied you to sit still once they started.

Try as I might I couldn’t find an acceptable video clip of The Valentinos original of, ‘All Over Now’ but my search did uncover a glorious take on the song featuring Bobby performing with the redoubtable David Letterman Show House Band.

As you will see Bobby was a natural storyteller, a musician and performer to his fingertips and one cool dude!

As, ‘It’s All Over Now’ debuted on the American radio waves listening with keen interest were a heavy with attitude and talent bunch of Blues and R&B aficionados all the way from Britain, The Rolling Stones!

Alerted to The Valentinos’ original by DJ Murray the K, self appointed US Ambassador to the British Invasion bands, The Stones decided that the song would be ideal material for them to record when they visited Chicago’s Chess Studios where so many of their idols like Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry had wrought the miraculous records they had played until they disintegrated.

Keith Richards recalls that on entering Chess it felt as if they had died and gone to heaven! Absorbing the magic ambience and benefitting from the well honed craft of the Chess engineers The Stones were inspired to produce a performance of, ‘It’s All Over Now’ which gave them their first substantial US hit and their first UK Number 1 record.

There’s no doubt that The Stones version is a wonderfully atmospheric and dramatic demonstration of their prowess as a rhythm and blues band. As always the peerless Charlie Watts drives them along at just the right tempo, not too fast, not too slow, while Bill Wyman keeps everything anchored. Brian Jones plays nice chiming lines leaving it to the inimitable Keith to provide a master class in surging guitar energy that sweeps all before it.

Some, notably John Lennon, thought that Keith’s guitar solo was something of an untutored mess. Well, I hear the unmistakeable sound of the never to be stilled beating heart of Rhythm and Blues from someone who had, in his bones, knowledge that no amount of tutoring can ever provide.

The torch was passed on as in Freehold, New Jersey the young Bruce Springsteen bruised and bloodied his fingers until he could say, ‘Yeh, I know how to play, ‘Its All Over Now’ on the guitar – listen up!’

‘It’s All Over Now’ whether learned from The Valentinos or The Rolling Stones became a staple in the repertoire of bands wanting to show they could sway and strut like the masters.

My favourite versions are by Ry Cooder (an elegant sashay), Rod Stewart and The Faces (a bacchanalian feast), Johnny Winters (Texas Twister style) and Nils Lofgren (Twangtastic!).

When you can write songs like Bobby Womack you’ll never go out of style. People are always out there looking for a love and often later reflecting that it really is all over now. And, if you can incarnate those eternal emotional states in songs that just beg to be played you’re one of the greats. As Bobby Womack surely was.

This post dedicated to the memory of the deceased Valentinos:

Bobby Womack (1944-2014), Harry Womack (1945-1974) and Cecil Womack (1947-2013).

Notes:

There’s a lovely, poignant version of, ‘ Looking For A Love’ recorded in 1974 by Bobby Womack with his brothers, just before Harry Womack’s death which is a wonderful swan-song for The Valentinos. Have a handkerchief handy.

Ace Records has issued an excellent 23 track Valentinos set called, ‘Looking For A Love’.

Barbara Lewis: The queen of sultry early 60s R&B – Baby I’m Yours!

1963 was a vintage year for chart topping R&B singles.

Motown’s imperious domination of the chart was evidenced by Mary Wells’ lovely, ‘Two Lovers’ written by the great Smokey Robinson who hit the summit himself accompanied by The Miracles with the hypnotic, ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ which the admiring Beatles covered on their second album.

An absurdly precocious and energetic, ‘Little Stevie Wonder’ electrified everyone who heard him with, ‘Fingertips (Part 2) while Martha & The Vandellas filled dance floors all over the globe and sent thermometers soaring with the epochal, ‘Heatwave’.

The singular genius of Curtis Mayfield was represented by The Impressions prayerful, ‘It’s Alright’ and the nonpareil vocals of Sam Cooke took the witty, ‘Another Saturday Night’ to the chart summit.

Ruby & The Romantics and The Chiffons kept the Girl Group flag flying with the unforgettable, ‘Our Day Will Come’ and, ‘He’s So Fine’. Jackie Wilson worked us all up into a glorious sweat with, ‘Baby Work Out’ as Garnett Mimms with The Enchanters left us all elated and exhausted with the classic deep soul anguish of, ‘Cry Baby’.

I could (and probably will) write about all the wonderful songs above. But, the R&B chart topper from 1963 that won and retains first place in my heart is, ‘Hello Stranger’ – a sultry, slinky, uptown soul masterpiece written and performed with subtle flair by Barbara Lewis, a teenager from Salem, Michigan.

Now, don’t you feel blessed and enchanted!

Barbara recorded, ‘Hello Stranger’ at the famed Chess Studio in Chicago in January 1963. She had earlier been talent spotted by Ollie McLaughlin a music business mover and shaker who managed to combine being a DJ with Ann Arbour’s WHRV with managing Del Shannon and producing records. Olllie insightfully recognised that it was rare to find a poised young woman who could write and sing in such a distinctive fashion.

A sympathetic team of seasoned professionals supported Barbara on this classic recording. John Young coaxed a warm embracing sound from the Hammond Organ. Riley Hampton skilfully arranged Barbara’s romantic melody to ensure listeners and dancers would be spellbound throughout every second of its duration.

Filling out the sound with characteristic excellence were one of the greatest and most durable of all vocal groups – The Dells. The Rhythm Section maintained a swooning tempo underneath Barbara’s astounding mature – you won’t be able to resist falling desperately in love with me right now vocal.

Listen to the effortless precision of her diction and the way she seems to almost hugging the song to herself. Singing it like a thrilled lover devoutly recalling the intoxicating pleasures of young love. I think the word Luscious can be properly invoked here!

The sharp eared Atlantic Records team knew a hit when they heard one and issued, ‘Hello Stranger’ as Atlantic 2184 which became a No 3 pop hit as well as an R&B No 1. To which signal achievements we can now add the accolade of a hallowed place as:

A 14 on The Immortal Jukebox!

Over the next six years at Atlantic Barbara issues a further 16 singles every one of which showcased some aspect of her gloriously distinctive artistic persona. Through the Atlantic connection she also got to collaborate with some of the finest record industry talents of the era such as Bert Berns, Jerry Wexler, Carol King and Gerry Goffin and Van McCoy.

While I could hymn every one of the Atlantic singles I have chosen three to feature on The Jukebox to persuade you (if any is needed after hearing, ‘Hello Stranger’) of how essential her recordings are for anyone seeking the very best of the frequently neglected gems of the early sixties.

Let’s turn first to a record that will have even the flintiest hearted curmudgeon swaying misty-eyed in a romantic reverie. From 1965 the Van McCoy penned classic, ‘Baby I’m Yours’.

‘Baby’ was recorded in New York and benefited from the pooled talents of Bert Berns, Van McCoy(something of a secret hero of 60s pop), the backing vocals of The Sweet Inspirations featuring Cissie Houston and a well schooled string section.

The silky come hither charm of Barbara’s vocal here has rarely been matched and will surely be so until the stars fall from the sky and the poets run out of rhyme. In other words until the end of time.

Next a change of tempo with a song much beloved by my veteran friends of the, ‘Northern Soul’ scene. I can just imagine the delighted reaction of those tireless fanatical dancers as the first strains of Sharon McMahon’s, ‘Someday Were Gonna Love Again’ rang out at the Wigan Casino or Manchester’s, ‘Twisted Wheel’ club.

While I would have tried in my lumbering way to respond to the call of the beat I would undoubtedly have been lost in admirations as Barbara and the driving musicians behind the record inspired the serious dancers to ever greater heights of virtuosity as they glided and pirouetted across the dance floor.

Nights spent dancing to such music are stored forever as treasure in the soul.

I’m going to conclude with another example of Barbara’s ability to cradle a song in her imagination before slaying us all with the irresistible slow burning power of her recorded vocal.

The way she sings, ‘Come on, come on, make me your baby’ here could make even a dead man rise like Lazarus!

I can’t imagine there’s ever been a man alive who wouldn’t feel ten foot taller if Barbara sang, ‘Make Me Your Baby’ to him. I know it works for me!

Barbara Lewis essentially retired from the music business after a last hurrah with Stax records as the sixties concluded (look for the marvellous side ‘The Stars’).

But, in her 60s heyday she recorded a series of records, highly potent quiet storms, that will resonate forever in the hearts of those lucky enough to have heard them.

I find Barbara Lewis’ records to be endlessly alluring and captivating. I have remained in thrall to their spell since my teenage years.

So, here’s a tip – if I’m ever forty floors up, stranded on the ledge and threatening to jump, its Barbara’s voice that I want talking me down!

Note:

I whole heartedly recommend, ‘The Complete Atlantic Singles’ on Real Gone Music and the more selective, ‘Hello Stranger’ on Rhino Records.

Van Morrison – It’s All in The Game

‘… This is a song from the 50s .. It’s been recorded by hundreds of people … But not like this!’

(Van Morrison’s introduction to It’s All In The Game before performing it at The Albert Hall in 2014)

Van Morrison is a dweller on the threshold.

An artist who delights in the sensual world of earthly love and light and linear time while understanding in the very core of his being that we are also citizens of co-existing realms beating to the rhythms of a different eternal drum.

In his art he seeks to demonstrate that there are no walls between these realms but rather permeable membranes we can pass through if we would but release the flickering fires of our imaginative and spiritual nature.

So, when Van heard the song, ‘It’s All In The Game’; bizarrely written in posthumous collaboration by a Noble prize winning Vice President of The United States (Charles Dawes) and a savvy professional songwriter (Carl Sigman) he recognised that this slight, sentimental ballad from the 50s was ripe for transformation into a kaleidoscopic revelation of the simultaneously transitory and eternal landscape where the travails of all of us as winners and losers in the dance of the love are truly all in the game.

Van’s performance here as a singer, arranger and bandleader is proof of his genius as an artist. Surely, listening to such a searching performance, each of us will find our own history stirred and evoked; often in surprising, potentially disturbing ways.

One of the great gifts true artists can offer us is the opportunity, through encounters with their art, to come to terms with our unresolved subconscious struggles to find integration and wholeness.

Each of us in our own unique way will discover that we know what they’re writing about and what Van is singing about!

Van recorded, ‘It’s All In The Game’ on his magisterial 1979 record, ‘Into The Music’ which is lit with incandescent grace throughout.

Characteristically he assembled a superb team of musicians who had the technical chops and the imaginative reach to follow where his arrangements and inspirations led.

Herbie Armstrong (rhythm guitar), David Hayes (bass) and Mark Jordan (piano) were Van veterans and in Peter Van Hooke (drums), Toni Marcus (violin) and Katie Kissoon (backing vocals) he found rhapsodically empathetic partners.

The extravagantly talented Mark Isham and Pee Wee Ellis on the horns added enveloping depth and colour to the sound.

Of course, as with every great Van Morrison record, it’s Van’s heart-stirring, heart-stopping vocals which cast the spell we have to surrender to.

Here, Van in a vocal tour de force seems to hold the song up to a series of shades of illumination and heat so that, ‘Your heart will fly away’ can move magically as the song progresses from barely perceptible, deeply tender, softly shimmering candle light to searing, inescapable white hot conflagration.

And, this is not achieved through dramatic changes of tempo but through the vocal and imaginative engagement which Van brings to individual syllables, words and phrases as he utters them – teasing them, testing them, for artistic, spiritual and emotional weight.

Van makes intuitive raids upon the hoard of popular song for the mysterious values bound up in the sheer sound of the words as well as their overt meaning.

Of course, Van knows that words can only take you so far. Sometimes it’s the silences between the words and the accents of their placement which are most revealing.

Van added his own coda to, ‘Its All In The Game’ with its segue into his own, ‘You Know What They’re Writing About’ where he brings it all back home to the landscapes of his Belfast youth which will always haunt his every hour.

To my mind it is a mark of Van’s spiritual, not to say mystic insight, that he knows that there is no need to travel to distant valleys or Himalayan hideaways to find illumination.

Sometimes there’s no more words to say but its all right there in front of you. Right in front of you, wherever you are – down by the river, down by the pylons, down by the pylons, down by the pylons …..

Van Morrison is undoubtedly the living custodian of the hallowed tradition of blues based singing. He has spent a lifetime listening to and learning from those he inherited this tradition from.

So, when Van takes on a, ‘Big ballad’ he draws upon and invokes the shades of Ray Charles, Jimmy Witherspoon and Bobby Blue Bland with their ability to command a band, caress a lyric and move with fluent dynamism within a song from whisper to scream.

Van brings all this lore to his live performances of, ‘It’s All In The Game’ – each time setting forth on a new pilgrimage invoking the muse to descend.

It is possible to spend many days losing yourself while listening to epic performances by Van of this song (believe me I’ve done it!).

 

From the treasure trove I’ve chosen a performance from Dublin in 2015 where if you can’t see the muses of fire above his head you can certainly feel their presence.

What Van Morrison adds to the grand tradition he inherited is the product of his own unique Celtic soul: his gift for being at the dead centre of a song while being absolutely outside it at the same time.

So he is both hot and cool.

A relentless seeker and a still contemplative.

A dweller on the threshold.

Sugar Bee: A Saturday Night Cajun Drunkard’s Dream (Cleveland Crochet)

‘Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid
Fool about my money, don’t try to save
My Heart says go, go! Have a time … ‘.

(Little Richard – ‘Rip It Up’ Bumps Blackwell/John Marascalso)

‘Saturday morning, oh Saturday morning All my tiredness has gone away
Got my money and my honey And I’m out on the town to play
Sunday morning, my head is bad
But it’s worth it for the times that I’ve had’.

(Fats Domino – ‘Blue Monday’ Dave Bartholomew/Fats Domino)

‘When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go?
Straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana, Little Bessie, girl that I once knew ..’

(The Band – ‘Up on Cripple Creek’ Robbie Robertson)

As dawn broke one morning during Christmas holidays I found myself suddenly, startlingly awake with the refrain:

‘Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee, Sugar bee,
Sugar bee – look what you done to me’

looping over and over in my head.

While there is nothing approaching the orderly majesty of the Dewey Decimal system about my filing system for songs and song lyrics I am pleased to report that before the refrain had looped ten times a light bulb in my mind had illuminated the name, ‘Cleveland Crochet & Hillbilly Ramblers’ and presented me with a picture of a neon yellow Goldband Records 45 that was securely stored in my collection of essential Cajun singles.

Fifteen minutes later the record was spinning on my old portable deck and the whole house, guests and all, was dancing at a Surrey Woods Fais do-do! (Cajun dance party).

Now it’s only fair that you should have the opportunity to cut a rug and set this classic looping in your head too (and once it’s in your head I have to tell you it’s there for life!) So without further ado:

Sugar Bee was, in 1961, the first slice of pure Cajun music to break into the Billboard top 100. So the whole nation had the chance to catch up with the Saturday night delights that the Lake Charles patrons of The Shamrock and Moulin Rouge had been dancing and carousing to for over a decade.

It’s hot and humid in Lake Charles and when you’ve spent all week breaking your back working construction or in the oil fields you sure as hell need to go out to spend your money on Saturday night somewhere you’re guaranteed to have a whirling fine, fine time drinking and dancing, drinking and dancing – with a side order of flirting and fighting until itstime to fall down or be carried home.

And if that’s what you’re looking for a Cajun dance hall with a Cajun band like Cleveland Crochet and The Hillbilly Ramblers can’t be beat!

Cleveland’s up there on the Bandstand setting that fiddle on fire while Shorty Leblanc is cutting through the layers of smoke and befuddlement with his wake the dead accordion licks.

cleveland crochet

Keeping that dancing rhythm always alive is Charlie Babineaux on guitar and gliding over the top on the Steel guitar and laying down the vocals we have Jesse ‘Jay’ Stutes. Allons -y!

Sometimes the songs are sung in Cajun French sometimes in Cajun English – either way the message of loves won and lost and of a proud people celebrating their uncelebrated culture comes through loud and clear.

As Sugar Bee plays you can practically feel the hardwood floor bouncing up and down as the couples foot stompingly circle the dance hall.

This is gloriously rough and rowdy music with the kick of over proof corn liquor. And, the more you have the more you want – don’t worry about Sunday’s hangover it’s going to be more than worth it for the times that you’ve had! Ah! Lets get it man.

Cleveland was a 1919 born native of Hathaway, Louisiana who found, like so many, that Lake Charles offered regular work and all the luridly promised temptations of the city in full measure.

He had formed the Ramblers by 1950 and began recording for Folk-Star and Leader for the local Cajun market. Hooking up with Eddie Shuler’s Goldband Records in 1960, amplifying their sound and singing in English led to their great breakout hit (of course the record business being a cut-throat Business meant that Cleveland wasn’t exactly able to retire on the proceeds of his hit!).

But, he had made an immortal record that would go on to become a Cajun anthem and there are riches in Heaven for that.

And, I hear you ask – is the B side any good?

Damn right it is! ‘Drunkard’s Dream’ is for that time of the night when you and your dance partner are really in step and in tune (and likely more than three floors drunk!).

Now, you’re floating over the floor and the lights are gleaming like jewels and you don’t know or care what time it is and what time, if ever, you will get home. All you really know is that you wish this dance would never end. And the words of the song waltz and waltz around your mind ;

‘J’ai arrive hier au soir (z)a La maison
J’ai cogne, j’ai crie, j’ai pas de reponse
J’ai connu, (z)au moment que t’etais pas la
Quel espoir, quel avenir mais moi j’peux avoir?’

Monday morning, Blue Monday, will, as it always maddeningly does, come around and you will have to sweat and strain through another week of loveless labour. Yet, just at the limit of your vision is always the promise of another Saturday night when the Sugar Bee will fly again and all the drunkard’s can dance and dream to their hearts content.

Notes:

The hard to find Cleveland Crochet compilation on Goldband is well worth the search. Individual Hillbilly Rambler tracks are scattered across many fine Cajun collections.

I recommend versions of Sugar Bee by Canned Heat, Wayne Toups, Jimmy C Newman (live on the excellent Marty Stuart TV show), Jo-El Sonnier, Dr Feelgood and The Interns and Gene Taylor.’