Pete Townshend, Willie Mitchell, Robert Parker : Barefootin’

My Uncle Joe was, in the hierarchy of his own mind, first a Kerryman, next a Gaelic Football fanatic, then an Irishman and finally a Farmer.

He was at once; very strong and gentle, full of strong opinions and quietly spoken.

He was not much given to offering advice – least of all to his bookish, non stop talking, citified nephew over from London for the Summer Holidays.

So, on the very rare ocassions when he did offer advice I listened closely.

As we were companionably going to The Creamery one August morning, our conversation proceeding at the steady pace of the donkey pulling the cart we rode, I told Joe I wanted a new pair of shoes, nay Beatle Boots!, for my 9th Birthday.

Joe was not a devotee of the four lads from Liverpool but it turned out to my surprise that he was very interested in the subject of Boots and the necessity, nay the duty, to purchase the very best Boots you could afford (and maybe those that were more expensive than you could truly afford) as a ‘Proper pair of Boots was an investment, an Investment, that would repay you many times over as the years passed by’.

He went further, ‘If you’re not going to wear a proper pair of Boots you might as well go barefoot. Barefoot!’

Accepting his argument a fine strong pair of countryman’s Boots we’re wrapped up before the week was out and once opened I barely took them off for the next year.

Joe died tragically young when he was not yet fifty.

I think of him every time I buy a new pair of Boots ; mentally composing a letter :

’Joe, I spent the money I got for my college scholarship on a pair of Tricker’s Boots – a pure investment!’

’Joe, you’ll never believe it! I found a pair of Redwing Boots  (the ones from Minnesota) in a  charity shop for £15!’

‘Joe, there’s twenty guys in this office and I’m the only one who had invested in a decent pair of Boots – sure they might as well be barefoot!’

‘Joe, if I get that pay rise I’m going to invest in a pair of New and Lingwood Chukka Boots (actually I’ve bought them already – bound to get that rise!)

Of course, in the right circumstances, being barefoot is just the thing.

If you ask people to supply an image of being carefree I’ll guarantee you a healthy percentage will paint a picture of walking barefoot along a sun kissed sandy beach.

Sure works for me.

I’m also reminded of a lovely (though possibly apocryphal) about two Irish athletes lining up at the start of the 1960 Rome Olympics Marathon.

Looking around at the assembled greats of the long distance running world they were startled to see a rail thin African runner who seemingly had neglected to bring his running shoes with him.

They agreed that whoever else they had to worry about they would surely have no trouble in outpacing this competitor!

As it turned out the mystery runner was none other than Abebe Bikele from Ethiopia who would run barefoot every step of the 26 miles through the glorious rubble of Rome before cruising to the Gold Medal!

Sometimes barefoot is just the thing.

Come on … Everybody get on your feet … you make me nervous when you in your seat … take off your shoes!

Barefootin’ … Barefootin’ …. Barefootin’

Doin’ a dance that cant be beat!

Barefootin’!

No word of a lie – can’t be beat, can’t be beat!

Robert Parker from 1966 with yet another classic from New Orleans which became a huge R&B and Pop Chart Hit.

Brilliantly arranged by the great Wardell Quezergue, ‘Barefootin” showcases the superb rhythmic sense of Crescent City musicians.

Robert’s vocal is graced by ambrosial guitar and a horn section that demands you dance and keep dancing as long as your feet hold out!

Take off your shoes and Dance Now!

Take off your Shoes!

Embed from Getty Images

Robert Parker was already a veteran of the New Orleans music scene in 1966 when his name briefly hit the headlines.

Growing up with Huey Smith and Sugar Boy Crawford he haunted the Caldonia Inn to watch the legendary Professor Longhair strut his stuff,

By 1949 Robert was playing with The Shuffling Hungarians (got to get that T Shirt!) and recording Mardi Gras in New Orleans with the great man.

He moved on to lead his own band at The Tijuana where he backed up Bobby Marchan, Guitar Slim and Little Richard.

Taking his band, The Royals, on the road he laid down the groove for R&B stars like Roy Brown, Big Joe Turner and Solomon Burke – what I wouldn’t give to time travel back to those days to catch them burning the house down in a club in Florida or Texas!

Robert’s recording highlights before ‘Barefootin;’ include appearing in 1959 on the wonderful, ‘Don’t You Know Yockomo’ with Huey Smith  and on Irma Thomas’ characteristically smouldering, ‘Don’t Mess with My Man’.

The same year he also made his solo record debut with, ‘All Night Long’.

All this time Robert was primarily a Sax Man and Bandleader who could handle a vocal when required.

Though Robert was well known around New Orleans and on the southern touring circuit I doubt anyone was expecting him to write and record an R&B classic that would sell a million copies and have a continuing afterlife in cover versions both in America and the UK.

Strange things happening everyday!

One day Robert fetched up at Tuskegee University in Alabama and he noted that as he began to play the college girls all took off their shoes in front of the bandstand.

This incident was filed away and when about to start a show in Miami he heard the Comic/MC announce – everybody get on your feet; you make me nervous when you’re in your seat’ the creative tumblers turned and clicked and Voila! a song was born.

Now when Robert took the song to Wardell at NOLA Records it was swiftly recorded … but.. but .. the other powers at NOLA didn’t hear a Hit so it languished in the tape vaults for a year until sharp earned local DJ Hank Sample heard it and persuaded NOLA to issue some copies to his Record Store.

They promptly sold like hot cakes and Robert had a great big fat Hit on his hands!

The crowd at New York’s Apollo Theatre went wild when Robert kicked off his shoes and kickstarted the band into, Barefootin’’.

Robert never had another Smash but he remained a much loved figure in The Crescent City and he was properly inducted into the Lousiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

Regular readers will know that I would take some persuading that any other city can truly rival New Orleans for the accolade of being dubbed the premier Music City.

However, one of the few cities that might be considered a genuine rival is Nashville.

And, from there comes the next version of, ‘Barefootin’’ featured today courtesy of some of the finest players ever to record there – Barefoot Jerry.

Key members Wayne Moss and Charlie McCoy had been part of an A Team that gathered around Bob Dylan when he brought his kaleidoscopic imagination to Nashville in yet another of his artistic rebirths.

Take off your Shoes!

We got ourselves a Hootenany and a Hoedown!

 

 

Next we move downriver to Memphis which cedes to no City in musical eminence.

So many great singers, songwriters, musicians and producers!

And, right at the very top of that tree undoubtedly one Willie Mitchell who is one of the all time great exponents of finding the secret alchemy for making classic records.

Find a great band of musicians and find the songs and the arrangements and groove!

Embed from Getty Images

It worked countless times with Al Green and Ann Peebles in particular.

Less well known are the addictive sides Willie made under his own name.

Once the band locks into the groove here even Zombies would be getting Barefoot with some despatch!

Take off your shoes and throw them away!

 

I was born far, far away from the fabled Music CIties above yet it turns out that London, the home of some of the most knowledgeable and fanatical music devotes on the entire globe, was just the place to imbibe the sounds of all those great American conurbations.

Whatever kind of music you groove to someone in London knows all about it in exhaustive detail.

Growing up in London, one Pete Townhend fed the creative muse that would make him one of the most gifted and celebrated songwriters of his age through deep immersion in the traditions of R&B, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Soul Music.

And, that love of the drive of those 40s and 50s sounds fed into the astounding attack of his records and live shows.

Wonderful to see him celebrating his musical heritage in the  joyous performance below.

Surely Pete has been Barefootin’ ever since he was Two!

Anyone sitting in their seat as this one plays must have a serious back problem!

Doesn’t he cut a mean rug!

I like to Mambo.

I like to Samba.

Never go too long without Twisting the Night Away.

Always ready for The Locomotion.

I’m partial to a Polka and never weary of The Waltz.

But, today ain’t no other Dance will do.

Everybody get on your feet!

Let’s do a Dance that can’t be beat!

Come on!

We Barefootin ‘

Barefootin’

Barefootin’!

 

Note :

This Post written wearing Redwing Boots.

Playback dancing strictly Barefoot!

Sun and Stax Records Pioneers: Rufus and Carla Thomas!

All families contains the history of multitudes through the cultures they are heir to and which they live within. At the same time each family can be an agent for cultural change and development through their actions and works. We stand on the shoulders of giants but we can see a destination ahead they could never reach.

This is particularly the case in families whose work lies within the popular arts. If you grow up with music and talk about music is all around; if you watch shows from the side of the stage and know the drudgery as well as the glamour of, ‘show business’ you will either run a mile and seek, sensibly, to become a lawyer or farmer or you will think there is no other life worth living than that of writing, singing and performing songs and bathing in the approval of an audience.

http://Embed from Getty Images

The careers of Rufus and Carla Thomas, father and daughter, take us on a fascinating journey through twentieth century American popular culture. We will encounter: travelling minstrel shows, the development of Afro-American radio and the birth and growth of two of the nations fountainhead records companies (Sun and Stax) which produced many of the greatest rock n roll, soul and rhythm and blues records ever made.

We will also meet music icons of the stature of Sam Phillips, Elvis Presley, B B King and Otis Redding and realise why the city of Memphis can justifiably lay claim to have been the capital city of American music.

Rufus Thomas was a magnetic figure with personality and character to burn. He had that most attractive and winning of human qualities – vitality. There were no downcast faces when Rufus was around! He was a one man party who lit up every room he ever entered with his ebullience and appetite for creating and sharing enjoyment.

He was born in rural Mississippi in1917 moving to Memphis as a toddler. It was in that bustling metropolis that he grew up and learned to become an entertainer who combined the talents of a dancer/hoofer, comedian, singer, talent show host and radio disc jockey. I think that’s what you call an all rounder!

Leaving Booker T Washington High School in 1936 with the depression suffocating the nation he took his talents on the road throughout the South with the legendary F S Walcott Rabbit Foot Minstrels (commemorated in a lovely rowdy song by The Band). ‘The Foots’ were a glorious travelling tent show troupe which operated between 1900 and the late 1950s bringing comedy sketches and salty song and dance routines to any town, large or small, where the tent could be pitched and an audience drummed up.

Arriving in town the brass band would parade with comedians like Rufus announcing the wonders of the show to come. The stage, boards on a folding frame, would be set up with gasoline lamps acting as footlights. While the liquored up audience waited for Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey or Louis Jordan to come on Rufus would whip up the crowd with comic dancing and jive jokes tailored to the local audience and introduce the dancing girls who invariably managed to increase the show’s temperature by several degrees centigrade.

After the War Rufus was back in Memphis working for a textile company and married with three children; Carla, Marvell and Vaneese. He hooked up again with his high school mentor, Nat D Williams, who was a key figure in Memphis Afro-American culture as teacher, journalist, talent spotter and pioneering radio host. Nat D recognised that Rufus’ energy, affability and show business smarts gave him all the necessary qualities to be a successful talent show host. So, Rufus began to regularly host the shows at the Palace Theatre on Beale Street once announcing the youthful Riley (B. B.) King as the winner in the late 40s. Rufus was still hoping to make it as a singer though singles on labels like Star, Chess and Meteor shifted few units.

The next stage in Rufus career was again given impetus in 1951 through the good offices of Nat D who brought him on to be a disc jockey for WDIA – a Memphis radio station which, uniquely at the time, used black DJs to broadcast to the considerable black audience in Memphis and anywhere else 50,000 watts of power could reach!

Radio was king in the first post war decade reaching into almost every home in the country and providing the soundtrack to millions of lives through immensely popular shows that gathered whole families round the set.

Rufus, with his easy charm was a radio natural and his, ‘Hoot and Holler’ show became essential listening not just for his own community but also for young white hipsters like Elvis Presley or Steve Cropper who just knew that they could play those rhythm and blues too if they were only given the chance.

As it happened in Memphis there was a man, one of the true heroes of American music, Sam Phillips who was able to make those dreams come true. Rufus, in the early 1950s was often at Sun studios at 706 Union Avenue working with Phillips as he recorded brilliant blues sides by artists like Howling Wolf. It was Rufus who provided Sun with its first breakout single in 1953 with, ‘Bear Cat’ an answer record to Mama Thornton’s,’Hound Dog’ which reached No 3 in the R&B chart (this launched a series of legal actions but that’s another story).

Rufus let rip with the full force of his personality matching Big Mama all the way while adding a sly spin of his own to the story of mismatched lovers. The featured stinging guitar is by Joe Hill Louis.

Turn this one up as loud as you can!

Rufus, like all the other black artists at Sun then faded into the background as Sam Phillips realised that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow could only be found by recording white artists, preferably young handsome guys, who could combine blues, rhythm and blues and country influences to create a new sound on the face of the earth – rock ‘n’ roll. Enter Elvis Presley! Elvis was aware of Rufus through listening to WDIA and he always retained a fondness for ‘Tiger Man’ which Rufus had recorded at Sun.

Rufus continued to combine full time work at the textile plant with his entertainment career throughout the 1950s. Meanwhile, Carla who had been born in 1942 was soon displaying the family relish for singing and performing. At the tender age of 10 she joined the WDIA sponsored Teen Town Singers and was combining her school duties with twice weekly rehearsals and a radio show every Saturday. Rufus could hear that his daughter had an attractive voice and unusual poise for such a young artist.

So, in 1959 Rufus decided to approach a new Memphis recording outfit, Satellite Records, headed up by siblings Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton and persuaded them that they needed to move beyond the country and pop markets R&B to thrive in their home town and the rest of the nation. Rufus and Carla recorded the duet, ‘Cause I Love You’ at Satellite’s studio and operational headquarters which was located in a former cinema/theatre on McLemore Avenue. And, voila! Satellite had its first hit (helped by the distribution deal agreed with sharp eared Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records). Soon after Jim and Estelle would use the first two letters of their surnames and create Stax Records.

The next time Carla’s name appeared on a record it was on the Atlantic label with a song she had written as a 16 year old, ‘Gee Whizz (Look At His Eyes). Gee Whizz is a heart and soul on the sleeve love ballad that could only have been written by a teenager in the delirious throes of adolescent love/infatuation. Do you remember that oh so sweet feeling as you gazed at your love object? While no one could or should maintain that obsessive attachment to the dream of love its a poor soul that does not cherish a small remembrance of those heady days. And, nothing can swoosh you back to those days with more efficiency than Carla’s utterly beguiling vocal here. Lean back, close your eyes and swoon!

The song became an immediate radio favourite and once Atlantic was behind it and Carla appeared on the nations premier pop TV show, ‘American Bandstand’ there was no stopping, ‘Gee’ from ascending to the top 10 of the national charts and a permanent place in the memories of a generation.

Carla then issued a string of singles on Atlantic and then Stax demonstrating that the attractively naive young girl was growing into a smart and sassy young woman who could convincingly embody a full range of adult emotions with engaging vocal style. Listen to her here in 1963 with a song especially beloved by her European fans, ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’. You’d have to have a stony heart and leaden feet not to be up and practicing your finest twists and twirls to this one!

In that same year of 1963 Rufus showed that there was still life in the old trouper as he released a series of driving singles calling us with unflagging energy and wit to get up off our butts and out onto the dance floor. The most potent and memorable of these, ‘ Walking The Dog’ has become something of a Soul/R&B standard (even receiving the accolade of a cover by The Rolling Stones). The video clip shows Rufus in full flow.

The mid 60s saw Carla and Stax records really hit their stride utilising teams of brilliant in house writers and the incomparable Booker T and The MGs as the house band. A perfect example of the power of such collaborations is a Carla classic from 1966: B -A – B – Y. This pearl was authored by the great partnership of Isaac Hayes (a Teen Town alumni like Carla) and David Porter. There’s gospel testifying here as well as soul enticement in Carla’s seductive vocal backed by a steam heat rhythm section topped off with a straight into your skull chorus – a big hit guaranteed!

The canny bosses at Stax observing the success of Motown duet partnerships like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell had the inspired idea of teaming Carla with the top man at Stax and in fact the top man in soul of his era – Otis Redding. Dubbed the King and Queen of Soul they recorded some excellent sides together including the big international hit, ‘Tramp’. However, the track I’ve chosen to spotlight the duo is a wonderful reverie, ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby ..’. Carla wisely never tries to match the inferno intensity of Otis, rather her caressing coolness offsets him perfectly making for a seriously sexy record. I like to listen to this one with a large Gin and Tonic at hand.

Rufus and Carla were stars of the triumphant Stax/Volt tour of Europe in 1967 which has become legendary for the intensity of the artists performances and the fervour of the audience responses.

Back in Memphis Rufus continued to produce some excellent sides including, ‘Memphis Train’ and, ‘Sophisticated Sissy’ before striking gold again with a novelty dance song, ”The Funky Chicken’ which proved he had learned a lesson or two about pleasing an audience back in the Rabbit Foot days! When it comes to selling a song Rufus has few competitors. I have never managed to play this song only once so be prepared.

The end of the 60s closed out the glory days for both Rufus and Carla though both would record some valuable material later. But, given the history above it is clear that singly and together they were a significant element of the magnificence of Memphis music in that golden era. In an age of fluff and flummery it’s good to be reminded that some things and some people lived lives and made music that will always endure because it was grounded in everyday experience turned through talent and heightened expression into true art. Now, Baby that is real!

,