Mac Gayden – Everlasting Love, Crazy Mama : The Glory of The Nashville Cat

While you’re getting on with your everyday life the world keeps on turning. Day becomes night and Spring ripens into Summer before Autumn leaves fall heralding the coming of Winter.

And, though it once seemed so very far away ChristmasTide is upon us once again! Last year The Jukebox celebrated with the very well received,
‘Christmas Cornucopia’ series which featured a gallery of great artists singing Christmas songs.

The Cornucopia will return next year. Those of you of a nostalgic bent (and everyone gets a free pass to indulge in nostalgia at Christmas) and those who have become Jukebox readers this year are warmly invited to catch up with the first Cornucopia post here http://wp.me/p4pE0N-4U

This year, as my own form of indulgence, The Jukebox is going to present a series of artists and records which hold a special place in my affections – often for reasons I can’t fully explain (which is the way with many of our deepest affections).

Many of these have been fixtures in my music treasury for decades and have been the subject of lengthy encomiums delivered with beery exuberance on licensed premises often starting with the phrase, ‘What do you mean you’ve never heard of ….’

Given the season that’s in it I have called this series, ‘Christmas Crackers’. So let’s get cracking with a record from 1975, Mac Gayden’s hugely uplifting, ‘Morning Glory’ a song that always puts a mile wide smile on my face every time I hear it.

Now tell me that ain’t better than a medicine for healing!

This is guitar playing that soars with devotional grace like the lark. Guitar playing that glides and glides, stilling time as it opens up azure realms of weightless joy. John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful (whom god preserve) wrote a hymn to the skills of Nashville’s musicians called ‘Nashville Cats’ which perfectly captures the brilliance of Mac Gayden’s guitar playing here:

‘Nashville cats play clean as country water, Nashville cats play wild as mountain dew’.

I first listened to Morning Glory on the radio in my student room in Cambridge. I vividly remember my deeply knowledgeable muso friend Neil (who improbably managed to combine a deep appreciation of Albert Camus with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the fabulous reggae records emanating from Jamaica’s Studio 1) nearly breaking his neck as he vaulted down the stairs from his room in the floor above me to breathlessly ask, ‘Who the hell is that guitar player!’.

Mac Gayden, I airily replied based on thirty seconds or so of superior knowledge! From that moment on I made it my business to find out all there was to know about Mac Gayden.

Turns out he really was a born and bred Nashville cat and that as well as being a stunning slide guitar virtuoso he had played with the great and good all the way from Bob Dylan to Elvis.

Mac was also a fine producer and a terrific songwriter with a gem studded catalogue of songs. And, one of those songs, ‘Everlasting Love’ was one of those songs that got up andwalked by itself into immortality.

A song that was a hit in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s and 1990s and which is still beingsuccessfully covered in the 21st Century! Everybody knows Everlasting Love, though I doubt one in ten thousand could name Mac Gayden as its author (strictly speaking co-author with Buzz Cason). A song that’s built up a very healthy pension for Mac Gayden.

There are versions worth investigating by U2, Carl Carlton, Gloria Estefan, Rachel Sweet, Love Affair and Jamie Cullum. But, as is my default setting, it’s the beautifully restrained and dignified glowing original from 1967 by Robert Knight that features here on The Jukebox today.

The genesis of the song goes back to Mac picking out a lullaby melody on his grandmother’s piano when he was only 5 years old! The same warm melody that’s carried by the horns and organ on Robert Knight’s version above.

The more immediate inspiration for Everlasting Love was the rumbustious live music scene of Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. The fraternity houses provided lots of work for Music City’s up and coming musicians.

The legend goes that one night as Mac took a break from his set at Phi Delta he was entrancedby the sound of a true rhythm and blues/soul voice carried on the night air from Kappa Sigma.

Investigation established that this was the voice of a Franklin Tennessee native, Robert Knight, who had an early 60s hit as a member of The Paramounts with, ‘Free Me’. After some hesitation Robert was persuaded that Mac was a Nashville Cat who was every it as much at home with R&B and soul music as he was with Country music.

The result of their collaboration was a record that might be termed country soul – a record that is immediately memorable and singable with a chorus that all of us think we must join in with arms aloft enthusiasm. The rest as they say is history.

Mac Gayden’s superb slide skills and his understanding of when to unleash those skills and when to lay back supporting others made him a handsome living as a studio musician.

In addition in the early 1970s he was part of two high class Nashville based musical ensembles, Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry which allowed fellow studio greats like Wayne Moss, Charlie McCoy, David Briggs and Kenny Buttrey to stretch out, maintain the groove and show off their chops for longer than a radio friendly single demanded.

I am going to close this tribute to Mac Gayden with his sublime Wah-Wah slide playing with the laid back and leathery supreme master of sun going down back porch groove, J J Cale. There may be a track that’s more lazily hypnotic and addictive than, ‘Crazy Mama’ but if there is I haven’t found it for four decades and more!

Mac Gayden belongs in the secret hero category of musician. I hope that today’s Christmas Cracker feature has done something to let the secret out. Spread the word!

Notes

Mac Gayden – In addition to Everlasting Love Mac Gayden also wrote the Northern Soul classic, ‘Love On a Mountain Top’ for Robert Knight. The Box Tops, Clifford Curry and Geno Washington all took full advantage of his soulful strut of a song, ‘She Shot A Hole In My Soul’.

Morning Glory can be found UK Ace Records excellent combination of two 1970s albums, ‘Skyboat’ and, ”Hymn To The Seeker’

I also recommend, ‘Southern Delight’ by Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615’s eponymous debut LP and the, ‘Trip To The Country’ follow up.

Robert Knight – His tender tones can be explored further on a compilation inevitably named Everlasting Love on the BGO label.

Buzz Cason – As well as co-writing Everlasting Love Buzz worked with Leon Russell, The Crickets and Snuff Garrett. He sang backup for Elvis and Kenny Rogers. He ran a very successful recording studio and wrote a fascinating memoir, ‘Living the Rock’N Roll Dream’.

Yet, despite all these accomplishments his greatest moment for me is as the writer of, ‘Soldier of Love’ for the peerless Arthur Alexander.

A song picked up, played and greedily memorised by a couple of young men from Liverpool, Paul McCartney and John Lennon who would go on to write more than a a few classic songs themselves!

Sam Cooke brings it on home! (Hors Categorie)

This week is School Half-Term in our part of the world. So there will be little time for blogging! Instead, there will be lots of cycling, lots of swimming, trips to see favourite aunts and visits from my extended family.

We are also going to be touring England’s West Country; gazing at the eternally mysterious ancient standing stone circle at Stonehenge, sampling the delights of the grandeur of Bath and idling through charming sleepy small towns and villages.

Following tradition my son Tom will be in charge of in car entertainment. So, lots of Louis Prima, Julie Andrews, Bobby Darin, Ruth Brown and now, top of his charts with a bullet – Meghan Trainor!

While I’m away I’ve cued up on The Immortal Jukebox an artist very dear to my heart – Sam Cooke (about whom I will write much more later!)

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Sam was (is – greatness is always current) an artist of immense talent and cultural impact; a musical exemplar, a guiding spirit able to illuminate life’s arc of sorrows, joys and struggles with power, wit and grace. Sam Cooke resists all easy categorisation. Artists of this stature can’t be neatly filed in genre racks!

When I think about how to describe him I’m drawn to a term taken from the greatest of all cycling races – Le Tour de France. Anyone hoping to complete the race, let alone win it, has to be able to complete a series of lung wracking, muscle burning, mountain ascents seemingly designed to test the absolute limits of human endurance. Mountain stages receive, ‘Categorie’ ratings exquisitely calibrating the brutality of the challenge presented.

Categories of difficulty are assigned taking into account how far the riders have cycled before they begin to climb and the subsequent length and steepness of the ordeal to the summit. The, ‘easiest’ climbs are rated Categorie 4 and the most arduous Categorie 1. And then, then, there are some climbs, climbs like Alpe d’Huez with it’s terrifying 21 hair pin bends on the route to the summit at over 6000 feet involving gradients up to a near impossible 13% that merit the extraordinary term, ‘Hors Categorie’ – beyond category.

When I contemplate the stature of Sam Cooke I now use the term, ‘Hors Categorie’ as my own shorthand for those rare artists who rule imperiously over their own artistic realm. When you hear a characteristic performance by Sam Cooke the use of classifications like, ‘Soul’, ‘Gospel’, ‘Rhythm and Blues’, ‘Jazz’ and, ‘Pop’ becomes insignificant. Sam was a musical explorer; never intimidated by any map that might proscribe the limits of the world he might journey to and claim for himself and his audience. Artists of this stamp have the wherewithal and ambition to redraw all our maps.

Let’s start off with his electrifying, ‘Any Day Now’ when he was still a member of The Soul Stirrers.

This is singing that invites you to share in a transcendent experience. An experience that can’t really be described in prose but which might be just glimpsed through the medium of a poem or here via a song taking us to a place we’ve never known yet still somehow recognise.

Sam’s vocal here glides through the song like a raptor effortlessly riding the air currents – now ascending, now swooping down, now wheeling for the sheer life-affirming thrill of it! Sam Cooke sang, at all emotional temperatures, with an ease and elegant poise that is genuinely awe-some, in it’s proper sense. I’m listening to this performance on the feast of Pentecost – who can doubt that tongues of fire can descend on human heads when you listen to Sam Cooke sing, ‘Any Day Now’!

Now let’s hear Sam taking the church-wrecking skills displayed above into another dimension as he ignites the Harlem Square Club in 1963 with an out of the ball park grand slam performance of his own, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’.

This is a man entirely at home on stage, entirely at home with the audience surrounding him; the audience he can seduce, thrill and command with regal authority. He’s not exaggerating when he sings, ‘Everybody’s with me tonight!’

Sam Cooke seems to live inside rhythm; pushing or lagging the beat in time with the demands of his and our own beating hearts. Crescendo after crescendo rains down on us until we are intoxicated, elated, finally enraptured. Very few singers have genuinely had the gift of opening up the gates to rapture and bringing it on home as Sam could.

When I hear Sam Cooke sing time after time I hear myself saying, ‘Now, That’s How You Sing!’

Betty Wright, Jean Knight, Veda Brown : Sassy Soul Sisters!

Four in the morning. The last train is long gone and the night bus isn’t going your way. The streets glisten with the remains of last nights rain and a sheen of the incoming dawn’s dew. There’s a cold moon lighting up a cold clear sky. It’s going to be a long walk home.

But you don’t care! However hard the pavement beneath your feet it might as well be a deep pile carpet. Because you have been dancing for hours and hours in the club to the sounds of Memphis, Detroit, Philadelphia and Miami. You are floating, floating – almost flying home.

As you pace out the miles you relive the sounds of the records that held you enthralled; that lifted your heart and spirits so that a dark dank tubercular winter evening in England became a glimpse of Eden.

Listening, as loud as you dare, to those records later you can almost recapture that feeling. But, for the full effect you need to dance and dance and dance until you are lost in the music, lost to yourself and lost to all the workaday world and it’s shabby cares.

Buried in your pocket there’s a girl’s name and number on a sodden scrap of paper with the ink fading to indecipherability. But, you have always been good with names and numbers : when you want to remember, you remember.

The Marvellettes, ‘Beechwood 4-5789′, Toots And The Maytals, ’54-56 Was My Number’, The Wicked Mr Wilson Pickett, ’99 And A Half Won’t Do’. Victoria, that’s it – 0198 978 9999 – you’ll call her tomorrow.

Mr Pickett was right. A Ninety-Nine and a half life won’t do. And, when you’re listening to and dancing to those great soul records which glow with passion your life dial hits the 100! So you keep returning to experience an intensity of feeling nothing else you have yet known can provide.

Somehow these songwriters, singers, musicians and arrangers have found a way to gloriously dramatise the dreams and stumbling realities of romantic lives in a way that’s completely convincing and captivating.

You will carry these songs of your youth in your heart through all the joys and sorrows of your adult life. Simply recalling them in your memory will warm the chilliest situation.

Three songs from those long ago nights sung by young women with thrilling verve, panache and a sassy,’Don’t mess with me Brother’ attitude never seem far from the forefront of your mind.

First up, from 1971, a million seller from a seventeen year old veteran of the music business, Betty Wright, laying down with a preachers passion some seriously good advice to her sisters on how to manage their love lives. Never make it easy for the, ‘Clean Up Woman’!

Betty had been singing on record since she was a toddler and clocking up countless performing hours with her family gospel group, ‘The Echoes of Joy’ in Miami. So, when she came to Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke’s tasty song while still a teenager she was able to lean into the lyric and drive the song along with a knowing poise that seems astonishing in one so young.

The interlocking groove provided by the bubbling bass, the sometimes stabbing and sometimes liquid rippling guitar played by the brilliant Willie Hale (otherwise known as Little Beaver) and the humidifying horns creates an addictive soundscape that cries out for immediate repetition.

I love the way the sashaying tempo carries you along while Betty addresses her audience with relaxed rhythmic authority. Don’t put your man on the shelf! Take care or that tough old Clean Up Woman really will clean up.

So, if you want to hold on to the love you’ve got take a tip girls (and boys!) you better get hip to the Clean Up Woman!

Some names just don’t cut it in the entertainment world – I think we can all agree that for a debonair movie icon the name Cary Grant was perfect for the hallowed above the title spot on the film posters. Archibald Leach, his original monicker, would never have suited his screen image.

Similarly, Mildred Pulliam doesn’t trip off the tongue promising excitement and allure. So the next record on deck, ‘Short Stopping’ was issued in 1973, courtesy of a brainstorming session at Stax Records, by the artist who would forever after be known as Veda Brown.

Veda, originally from Missouri, grew up singing gospel at her father’s church. Arriving at Stax she had made demos of two songs, (‘If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right’ and, I’ll Be Your Shelter (In Time Of Storm) that would go on to be huge successes for Luther Ingram before she hit paydirt with her third Stax single written by Bobby Manuel (who also engineered and played guitar) and Bettye Crutcher..

Short Stopping opens with a ‘listen to this’ right now blast from the horns before the rhythm section and the insistent guitar make sure we all get on our good foot for some serious dance floor action. Veda tells her straying man straight from the shoulder that things can’t go on as they are.

She refuses to turn a demure blind eye to his failings – she won’t put up with his short stopping. She needs and demands to be his sole concern. Veda’s vocal has a charm and gliding power worthy of the patented Stax steamy and driving musicianship that surrounds her.

Finally, an absolute belter from 1971 from Jean Knight the properly admonitiary, ‘Mr Big Stuff’. Though the record was issues on Stax and has become one of that label’s biggest ever sellers it was not recorded at Stax. Instead, it came to Stax via the Malaco studios in Jackson Mississippi.

It was actually recorded on the same day as another funky floor filler, ‘Groove Me’ by King Floyd. Jean and King Floyd had both travelled in a school bus from New Orleans in search of a hit.

Both records feature superlative arrangements by one of the unsung masters of Soul and Rhythm and Blues Music, Wardell Quezergue. Wardell, an alumni of the great Dave Bartholomew band, as well as playing the supporting organ parts marshals Jerry Puckett (guitar), Vernie Robbins (Bass), James Stroud (Drums) and Brass Players Hugh Garraway and Perry Lomax to produce a swelling soul tsunami of a record.

Jean Knight imperiously, no doubt with a knowing wink to her girlfriends, puts the so-called Mr Big Stuff firmly in his place (the doghouse!).

Mr Big Stuff features a lovely two bar off beat bass line that grips you from the get go and propels you onwards throughout the song. It’s easy to hear why this song became such a massive seller and why it is regularly used in adverts and movies. You feel Jean deserved a round of applause and righteous Amens from her colleagues in the studio when she completed her vocal.

Those Amens should be taken up again by us as conspiratorial listeners as she turns the tables on her errant lover. Jean certainly showed on this record that she had the,’Right Stuff’ that marks out a true artist.

What all these records share is a relaxed drive and rhythmic impetus. The producers and arrangers have had the confidence to let the musicians and singers keep some power in reserve. As a listener and a dancer you are energised by their tempos – you finish the song elated but not exhausted – ready to dance again.

Betty Wright, Veda Brown and Jean Knight speak out as confident, assertive young women demanding the right to be heard and heeded stating their case with ready wit. Time to cue them up again!

Notes:

Betty Wright – Her best single album is, ‘Danger High Voltage’ and there are several fine compilations available. Look out for fine tracks like, ‘Baby Sitter’, ‘Where Is The Love’, ‘Tonight Is The Night’ and especially the wonderful, ‘Shoorah! Shoorah!’ which will have you singing lustily along first time out and smiling crazily as you dance wherever you are. Betty is a show business trouper who has continued to record and perform up to the present day.

Veda Brown – Veda’s essential career highlights are nicely captured on, ‘The Stax Solo Recordings’ on the UK Kent label where she is twinned with the excellent Judy Clay. I would point you in the direction of the tracks, ‘True Love Don’t Grow On Trees’ and, ‘That’s The Way Love Is’.

Jean Knight – Mr Big Stuff was a once in a lifetime record selling over 3 million copies to date and winning Jean a Grammy nomination. Further notable tracks at Stax to look out for are, Carry On’ and, ‘Do Me’. Post Stax highlights include, ‘You Got The Papers (But I Got The Man) and a fine version of, ‘Toot Toot’. Jean is a fine performer who has often triumphed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Little Beaver – A magnificent guitarist with his own subtle style. Everyone should own his signature track, ‘Party Down’ and his series of 70s albums are a compendium of top class musicianly grooves illuminating the blues, soul and funk traditions. They have accompanied me on many long late night drives and made the miles pass easily.

Wardell Quezergue – Was a renaissance man of the recording industry with real talent as a songwriter, musician, band leader, producer and arranger. He worked with virtually all of the major figures in the New Orleans Soul and Rhythm and Blues world. He is associated with stellar hit records such as Robert Parker’s, ‘Barefootin’ and Dorothy Moore’s, ‘Misty Blue’.

As sharp a judge as Motown supremo Berry Gordy recognised his facility and recruited him to work up stage arrangements for Stevie Wonder and other Hitsville stars. His collaboration with Dr John produces the lovely Grammy winning album, ‘Goin’ Back To New Orleans’ and he showed his mentoring abilities when promoting the career of Will Porter.

Great name, great musician.

George Harrison produced her, She backed up Pink Floyd & The Stones – Doris Troy!

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If like me you’re an assiduous reader of the indexes of reference works and biographies concerning gospel, soul and pop music in the 1960s the name of Doris Troy will certainly be familiar as she features in the histories of some of the most famous and successful acts of the era.

And, I do mean famous and successful for Doris a gifted songwriter and singer in her own right worked as a backup vocalist with; The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Dusty Springfield, George Harrison, Carly Simon, The Drifters, Solomon Burke and Chuck Jackson and that’s by no means an exhaustive list.

Consciously or not you will have listened to Doris’ rich and vibrant tones as the radio played such classics as ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘You’re So Vain’, ‘In The Middle of Nowhere’, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ or ‘Tell Him I’m Not Home’ all of which were all the better for her contributions.

The latter song, one of the powerhouse singer Chuck Jackson’s finest, shows the uncredited Doris making a major contribution to a considerable hit through the clarity and charm of her answer/commentary vocal.

As an excellent recent music documentary directed by Morgan Neville, ‘Twenty Feet From Stardom’ has shown there is an enormous wealth of talent and fascinating life stories to be discovered within the ranks of the backup singers who ensure that the spotlit stars’ vocals are carefully framed and supported to emphasise their strengths and minimise their weaknesses.

Doris, along with colleagues such as sisters Dionne and Dee Warwick and Cissie Houston (mother of Whitney) in America and Madeline Bell in Britain used their grounding in the disciplines of singing in gospel choirs to know when to swell the sound and when to lay back to feature the lead vocalist to best effect.

From a record producers point of view such talents are invaluable as their versatility, modesty and ability to work accurately and quickly in the studio saved time and money and left the studio crew free to concentrate (if necessary) on encouraging or handhiolding the sometimes fractious stars whose names would grace the resultant record and hopefully the charts.

Doris was the New York city born child of a Baptist preacher who loved to sing from her toddling days. Though her family wanted her to use her obvious talents solely in the service of the church Doris could not help but to also want to sing the kind of rhythm and blues and soul songs she heard on the radio as she grew up in the 1940s and 1950s.

Moreover, when Doris was only 16 she got a job as an usherette at the high temple of black music in New York, the Apollo Theatre, where luminaries like Ray Charles and James Brown gave masterclasses in singing and the art of winning and holding an audience.

Doris was an avid listener and a quick learner. Soon she was singing with a jazz tinged group, ‘The Halos’ and trying out her hand as a songwriter. In 1960 Dee Clark provided Doris with her first vinyl credit and top 40 hit when he sang the breezy,’ How About That’ on the Vee Jay label.

Hooking up with the Warwicks and Cissy Houston she became a regular in the New York recording studios working with the cream of the instrumental and vocal talents of the time. She helped to create the sophisticated yet passionate sound mixing the gospel and soul traditions with added latino and broadway seasonings which distinguished early 60s records created in the Big Apple.

All the while Doris was writing her own songs seeking to find her own artistic voice and bag a hit of her own. In 1963 she gloriously achieved this ambition when she wrote and recorded the song most people will always associate with her, ‘Just One Look’.

Doris had taken the song demo (produced by Halo colleague Gregory Carroll) to Atlantic Records where the ever canny Jerry Wexler immediately issued the demo unaltered recognising a sure fire hit when he heard one! The song was a top 10 hit in America and a top 40 hit in the UK (the springy beat group cover by The Hollies made it to the dizzying heights of Number 2).

‘Just One Look’ is one of those soul/pop songs that just fizzes with life. Doris’ vocal and the ebullient production are irresistible to these ears. Doris deliriously summons up the the fast heart beating, head swirling, I want to shout it from the rooftops! sensation of having fallen irrevocably in love. That’s a story that can never grow old and Doris’ song will always tell a lovely truth reminding us anew of the joys of life and love.

Doris was especially beloved by the fanatical supporters of soul music in the UK – a group which in the mid to late 1960s often seemed to take on the devout dedication of a religious fraternity obsessively seeking out icons and relics of their faith in the form of black vinyl 7 inch 45rpm records. Enough of these devotees bought another of her self-penned songs, ‘What’ cha Gonna Do About It’ for it to scrape into the top 40 in 1964.

Here, in under two minutes, Doris gives a virtuoso display of pop soul singing sliding through her vocal gears as she cajoles, castigates and charms her surprisingly reluctant lover. Surely no one could resist such an appeal! I also love the rare use of the legal term, ‘Double Jepoardy’ in the lyric.

Doris found London of the swinging sixties very much to her taste finding a well informed musical community which fully appreciated the depth of her talent and her easy charm and affability.

Musicians and producers simply loved working with a woman who made performing and recording a delight. She was one of those people who took a genuine interest in the people she came across whether they were superstars or the studio janitor.

She was admiringly referred to as Mama Soul and soon became a fixture in the London clubs and recording studios. She struck up a particularly close friendship with Madeline Bell and together they sang soulfully on many of the great 60s hits of Britain’s finest ever female vocalist, Dusty Springfield.

They collaborated with Dusty to sublime effect on, ‘In The Middle Of Nowhere’ and, ‘Little By Little’. Together they produced records that were every bit as soulful as anything coming out of Motown in the same era (something freely acknowledged by Detroit’s finest when they toured Britain).

The final recording of Doris I’ve chosen to showcase here is a particular favourite the wonderfully swinging, stinging and bluesy, ‘He’s Qualified’ from 1967 on Capitol which goes some way to prove the old record collectors adage that it’s on the ‘B’ side of singles that some of the finest 60s gems are to be found.

 

As the 60s drew to a close Doris found herself in the improbable position of occupying an office in the headquarters of the Beatles Record Company and counter cultural fairground, Apple Records.

The Fab Four had always been afficianados of the vocal stylings of black pop and soul singers and like everyone else they were won over by the Doris’ generous and caring personality.

George Harrison produced an LP on Apple by Doris and recruited a veritable who’s who of musical movers and shakers including Eric Clapton to play on the album. To my mind the result shows too many head chefs overwhelming the songs but the record still repays a listen – especially the songs co-written with another secret hero of the 60s Klaus Voorman.

Actually Doris was involved in one great record during her period at Apple: Billy Preston’s magisterial, ‘That’s The Way God Planned It’ which for Billy and Doris must have brought back wonderful memories of their gospel roots. I defy anyone not to get out of their chair and testify along to this one!

Doris’ continued to record and perform in the 70s and 80s though now largely limited to an audience of appreciative long time fans. Her life and career took another extraordinary turn in the mid 1980s when her sister Vy and brother in law Ken Whydro wrote a musical based on Doris’ life titled, ‘Mama I Want To Sing’.

The show was a celebrated long running triumph for its composers and for Doris who took on the role of her own mother for over a decade raising the roof of theatres all over the globe.

Doris died on February 16 2004. The affection she was held in within the music world was demonstrated by the reminiscences offered by Dionne Warwick, Valerie Simpson and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun at her funeral.

I Imagine there cannot have been a dry eye in the church when her companion in the chorus on so many great records, Cissy Houston summed up Doris’ soul and character by singing, ‘If I Can Help Somebody’.

Back in the early 1940s a young girl declared what she wanted to do with her god given gifts – ‘Mama I Want To Sing’. I think we can safely say that Doris Troy kept her promise to herself and did her Mama proud.

Note: The best starting point to appreciate the treasures in Doris’ career is the Kent Records compilation, ”The Doris Troy Anthology 1960 – 1996′.

The Immortal Juke Box A5 : Toussaint McCall Nothing Takes The Place Of You

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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!

Notes:

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).

Arthur Alexander : The Poet of Melancholy – In The Middle Of It All

A3:  Arthur Alexander: In The Middle Of It All 

‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’.

(Henry David Thoreau)

‘Now I ache, with heartbreak and pain and the hurt that I just can’t explain’

(Arthur Alexander)

Imagine you are the manager of a blue collar bar in a tough small town.  You work long hours making sure everybody has a good time and that nobody’s good time winds up leaving someone else on their way to hospital.

You know who not to serve, who to share a joke with, who to warn off and who to throw out for their own good. You keep a weighted pool cue just out of sight from the floor within your reach – just in case.

You stock the jukebox and make sure that there’s old and new favourites: something that counts as a home town anthem; several that are fast and loud for the boys from the base; plenty to dance and sing along to for the girls with the faraway looks in their eyes; and, some for everyone to openly or quietly cry over.

The night, though long, passes quickly for you and you don’t realise how tired you are until the door’s been shut on the last, loud, lonely drunk.

You look around and sigh thinking of the work needed before the whole cycle starts again after you wake up in a few hours.

Time to pour yourself a more than generous measure of premium whiskey and play one last song.

Only one will do.  Arthur Alexander, the patron saint of stoical fortitude.  I can’t go on, I can’t go on – I’ll go on.

‘In The Middle Of It All’ tells the story of a broken man surveying, with an eerie calm that almost amounts to existential detachment, the shattered ruins of his life : ‘ It looks like my life is about to fall’.

Like all the great Arthur Alexander songs – ‘You Better Move On’,  ‘Anna’ and ‘Dream Girl’ – it’s the song of a grown up man; a man who has experienced joy and pain, the ecstasy and despair brought on by love and it’s loss.

Though Arthur’s songs are suffused with intense feeling they are in no sense hysterical – the besetting sin of so much pop music.

The record opens with a beautiful elegaic guitar figure that seems to glisten and shimmer in the background throughout the song.  It then flows on at a stately, magisterial ballad mid tempo with the swooning melody and instrumental backing acting as a cushioned support for Arthur Alexander’s deeply affecting and entrancing southern country soul voice.

Arthur’s vocal charm owes nothing to stylistic tricks rather it is founded on the ageless attraction of hearing the sound of a man’s open, if broken heart.

A sound that we can all recognise when it is authentic and true.  Arthur Alexander’s proud and wounded vocals once heard will echo on in your own heart.

While listening to the song it seems as if you have pulled up your bar stool next to a pleasant looking though downcast guy who with no fanfare or needy plea for sympathy tells you, if you want to hear, why it is that night after night you can find him resident at this bar and why, night after night, no matter how much he drinks he does not get drunk.

During the course of, ‘In The Middle of It All’ the drummer seems to beat out a steady purgatorial pilgrim’s tempo while Arthur’s exquisite vocal lays out the extent of his lonely and desolate emotional landscape.

His love for his girl which was, ‘Really, really real’ remains true even though the house and home their love had built together is now a reproachful ruin he occupies alone.

The place where they had been so happy, as far as he can recall, now has the rain steadily and dreadfully falling all around it.

What he once thought were the certainties of love and loyalty have vanished like some cruel mirage as his world, ‘Just came down one day’.

The song seems to summon up this heart and soul assaulting rain as the strings swell and the chorus of backing singers join Arthur in his examination of regret and loss.

You can feel the southern heat and humidity of Alabama where the song was recorded in every breath of Arthur’s vocal and in every beat of the music.

The wonderful piano playing provides arpeggios of insistent pain and a sense that, in this vale of tears, no shield of love or faith can ever be proof against the truth that a love which seemed so sure can, in an instant, crumble into mere dust.

Arthur Alexander’s singing throughout this song is filled with an aching tenderness as he caresses each word into bruised breath and life.  It is as if by singing with such scrupulous care he can somehow make whole his shattered heart or at least prevent it’s final destruction.

His singing remains controlled and conversational even as it grows in the depth of pain it examines.

Perhaps this is because the song, for this singer, even in such a situation is not a resentful scream but rather a tragic lullaby that tries despite all his trials to shore up a ruined life.

There is no escape from the realisation that all of us must sooner or later confront the inevitability of death, loss and failure.  For as the roman poet Virgil and Arthur Alexander knew living a clear eyed life involves coming to terms with the terrible truth that there are tears in things, ‘Sunt lacrimae rerum’.

If you want someone to hold your hand when this truth becomes real in your own life it’s hard to think of a better soul companion than Arthur Alexander.

‘In The Middle of It All’ is one of those rare songs that seems to live on in the silence after it has finished and after the record arm has returned to its cradle.

Sometimes for me that silence feels like the silence between two sobs.

Forty years ago David Bowie in ‘Young Americans’ uttered an anguished plea: ‘Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry’.

Well David, wherever you are tonight, here it is.

It has always worked for me.

Notes, credits and further listening:

It seems that Arthur Alexander recorded ‘In The Middle Of It All’ four times in his life.  The version discussed above is the second 1962 version.

Arthur Alexander recorded some 120 songs during his recording career for a variety of labels.  His initial career featuring many of the songs he will always be remembered for  began at Dot Records and includes some of the premier recording at Rick Hall’s FAME  studio in Muscle Shoals.

From 1965 he recorded for Sound Stage 7, a Monument subsidiary and in 1971 he recorded a lone album for Warner Brothers.  In 1975, out of the blue, he recorded the marvellously fluid and typically affecting single, ‘Everyday I Have To Cry’ which incredibly made the US top 50.

Finally and most poignantly of all he recorded the lovely low key, Lonely Just Like Me’ album issued by Elektra in 1993 some three months prior to his death.

This was later reissued by Hacktone Records with the addition of live performances and also with some hotel room demos which have some of the 3am in the morning, death on the horizon mood, shared with the New York Demos recorded by Buddy Holly prior to his untimely demise.

The ever alert Ace Records have issued two essential compilations covering the Dot and Monument Years.  The other albums have also been reissued.

A welcome tribute collection, ‘Adios Amigo’  came out under the Razor and Tie imprint and features Nick Lowe’s tender cover of, ‘In The Middle Of It All’ (indeed Lowe’s career in this millennium might be seen as the largely successful attempt to pare his songwriting and recording style to their essentials in emulation of Arthur Alexander).

A relatively small investment will furnish you with the heartbreakingly magnificent catalogue of one of the greatest singers and songwriters in any genre and you will surely find that the songs and performances will become treasured fixtures in your life.

They were certainly a fixture in the life of John Lennon who had clearly listened closely to Arthur Alexander as evidenced in The Beatles cover of, ‘Anna’.  The way that the famously acerbic Lennon could bring a wounded tenderness and discretion to ballad performances also betrays Artur’s influence.

John Lennon kept a jukebox filled with his favourite records to fortify him against the madness of the world that had grown up around him: prominent on his own immortal selection were records by Arthur Alexander.

Arthur Alexander was born in Sheffield Alabama in May 1940 and died in June 1993 in Nashville.  He was only 53 years old.

Despite recording several classic songs and having some of these covered by The Beatles (Anna) and The Rolling Stones (You Better Move On) he never really made much money from his songs.

Sadly, he was also prey to alcohol and mental health problems.  Disillusioned and depressed he was for many years largely estranged from the music business and spent long spells working as a janitor and school bus driver.

There is a heartfelt biography by Richard Younger, ‘Get A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues: The Arthur Alexander Story’ published by the University of Alabama.

Arthur Alexander might be said to be the epitome of the, ‘Country Soul’ style of music.  The movement as a whole is warmly evoked and intelligently discussed in Barney Hoskyn’s book, ‘Say It One Time For The Broken Hearted: Country Soul In The American South’ (Fontana/Bloomsbury).

Musicians growing up in a deeply segregated society were nevertheless heir to musical traditions that, principally through the medium of radio, effortlessly crossed the racial divide.  Mucians and singers recognised great songs whether they were played on country or ‘Race’ music stations.

The constellation of wonderful musicians and songwriters who worked at Stax, FAME and Muscle Shoals studios were artistic freedom riders shattering barriers within the sanctuary of the recording studio even if they had to step carefully once they emerged into the heavy heat of the Southern mainstreet.

Booker T and The MG’s, Dan Penn, Chips Moman, Spooner Oldham and their brothers and sisters in rhythm made records that were recognisably southern and spoke eloquently of the lives shared by black and white alike.

There is a website ‘The annotated Arthur Alexander’ which is a very valuable resource for anyone seriously interested in delving further into Arthur’s recording career.

Bill Withers – The Better Angels (Lean On Me)

A2:  Bill Withers:  Lean On Me

 

‘A good man out of the treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things’ (Matthew)

‘Lean on me when you’re not strong and I’ll help you to carry on’ (BIll Withers)

Bill Withers stuttered painfully as a boy and young man which meant he didn’t say much.  What he did do was listen carefully and thoughtfully to the people around him in his family and his community.

Bill was  born and brought up in poor blue collar West Virginia mining communities where every day was a struggle with the constant background threat of injury and disaster.

In such communities loyalty, mutual reliance  and co-operation were not painted storybook virtues but living realities.   People worked with and for each other so that everyones burden would be a little lighter and thus more bearable.

Bill was and is a proud working man who knows the labourer is worthy of his hire and worth listening to.

After leaving home at 17 Bill spent 9 years in the US Navy where once again you learned that if you wanted your back covered you had to perform the same service for your comrade – buddy or not.  Your life literally was often in your brother’s hands.

He also listened with intent and attention to the songs he heard in church and on the radio. His imagination became infused with the enduring resorative grace of gospel, the energising pulse of rhythm and blues and the sweet balm of soul music.

Bill was storing wisdom and treasure in his heart and when the stuttering stopped his voice came through loud and clear.

Bill Withers would draw from a deep well of resources to write and perform songs that would always be fresh and relevant because they addressed fundamental questions about how our lives were and should be lived.

Which is to say that in many senses Bill Wither’s vocation combined that of a songwriter and singer with that of a preacher ministering to his community through the uplifting medium of music.

The prolific country songwriter Harlan Howard defined the essence of a great song as three chords and the truth and that’s exactly what Bill Withers offers us in his wonderfully vivid songbook.

Lean on Me is a simple song that tells an eternal truth.   We all have pain, we all have sorrow: we all need someone to lean on.

It opens with plain repeated piano stabs calling the listener to attention – listen up I got something to say!

The melody and rhythm echo the tradition of a gospel service: state your theme, tell your story through examples we can all recognise from our daily lives then call on the audience to respond.  Invite your listeners to testify that the seemingly unbearable can be borne if you call out to your brother or if your sister calls out to you – ‘I’ll help you carry on’.

Show that we can all be the leaning post for our brother or sister in need .. ‘I’m just right up the road, I’ll share your load if you just call me.’  For, as long as the moon lasts we are  all bound to stumble and fall in this life – it’s just a question of who falls when and how far and whether a helping hand and load bearing shoulder will be at hand to help you up and lead you on.

The foolishly proud always think they can stand up alone while the wise now that with help we can all make it through today’s troubles to tomorrow.

Lean on me acknowledges, indeed celebrates our weakness and vulnerability but also our strength.  We are supplicants but we are also enablers, uplifters and  restorers.

Yes, life will batter us and nobody walks in the sunshine all through their life but if we are honest, admit to our difficulties and failings and call for help we can be amazed that others are ready to come to our aid. Family, fraternity and faith in each other will get us through.

Of course, where a song is concerned having good intentions and a good moral to impart does not mean that the song will live. And, if a song does not live, get up and walk by itself on its own merits, then you won’t capture your audience, won’t get them to listen once – let alone sing along and punch that number on the jukebox.

Lean on Me passes this test easily: it’s a wonderful up and walking living song!

First and foremost Bill Wither’s warm, supple and alluring voice commands your attention and wins your allegiance – you want to listen to what this man has to say.  This is the voice of a strong, mature man with hard miles over rough ground on the clock.

Yet, it’s the voice of an optimistic man ready to roll up his sleeves and face unafraid whatever challenges the next day will bring.

So, when Bill Withers sings you listen and when he calls out for you to respond you find that before you’ve realised it you’re singing :

‘We all need someone to lean on’

The song proceeds at a stately pace like a great powerful train allowing lolly gagging passengers plenty of time to get on board – confident they are in safe hands and will arrive at the right destination at the appointed time – the driver clearly knows what he’s doing.

As,’Lean on Me’ develops in come the most primal musical accompaniment of all – handclaps.  These are organically perfect in context: a song addressing our common humanity using the, ‘instrument’ even the most musically illiterate can at least assay when enthused.  On record Bill uses the handclap as a propulsive encourager of the spirit of the song, ‘Come on! This way’.

In concert it is unimaginable that the bands handclaps aren’t swelled by all of those in the audience.  By now everybody is on board the train and seeing themselves as one body – whatever seat they happen to be in.

As the song moves forward the strings come in to emphasise the swelling strength that acknowledged common vulnerability can unlock – ‘Call on me brother’ and we will get through, we will get through – together.

This is a song, without doubt as time has proven, an anthem, that proclaims our individuality and our community membership should not be warring forces but aspects of a natural, nurturing whole.

That’s what Bill and, ‘Lean on Me’ are – nurture for our humanity.

The greatest ever political leader once put it this way a century or so before Bill, ‘We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies.’. That is how we will find the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln said that. Or to put it another way:

‘You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand

We all need someone to lean on.’

Bill Withers said that.  I doubt that popular music has ever had a truer or more passionate guide to our better angels than Bill Withers.

 

Notes, Comments and further listening:

Lean on Me was written and produced by Bill Withers and recorded in 1972.

The musicians featured were James Gadson on drums, Ray Jackson on keyboards, Benorce Blackman on guitar and Melvin Dunlap on bass.

Lean on Me was a Number One record on both the R&B chart and the Hot 100 Billboard US charts.

Bill Wither’s catalogue is filled with powerful melodic songs and taut performances.  His first two albums, ‘Just as I Am’ and ‘Still Bill’ are essential components of any record collection.

Songs like the warm, witty and wise ‘Grandma’s Hands’ and the gloriously evocative and consoling, ‘Aint No Sunshine’ are undeniable classics.

‘Bill Withers at Carnegie Hall’ is among the very greatest live records with superlative singing and musicianship responding to an audience that is thrilled to celebrate in his company.

Sony have recently reissued the complete Bill Withers catalogue which is widely available at a ridiculously cheap price given the eternity shale it contains.