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!

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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!

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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!

John Lennon lauded it, Willie Mitchell produced it, Ann Peebles sang it: ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’

‘When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day’.

(Feste’s song from Shakespeare’s, ‘Twelfth NIght’)

‘Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with liquid silver drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain’

(Langston Hughes – ‘April Rain Song’)

‘Hey rain – Get off my window … ‘

(Ann Peebles, Don Bryant, Bernie Miller – ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’)

‘And when the Sun comes out,
After this Rain shall stop,
A wondrous Light will fill,
Each dark, round drop;
‘Twil be a lovely sight.’

(W H Davies – ‘The Rain’)

Shakespeare was right (of course!)

Somewhere, each and every day, the rain rains down.

Sometimes to bend and batter, sometimes to nurture and replenish. Of course, somewhere, each and every day, the sun shines brightly, bathing us in its balm or sending us scurrying from its awesome burning power.

Though we might pray and dance to win the favour of the weather gods in the end we find that the sun shines when it wants to shine and that when it’s time for rain – it rains.

As with so many aspects of our lives we are not in control so we must learn to adapt or spend a lifetime in fruitless frustration.

Naturally, being a storytelling, metaphor manufacturing species, we look to the skies and begin to discern patterns and meaning in every drop of rain and every ray of sun that visits itself upon us.

The rain can seem a rebuke for our failures; a physical manifestation of despair or the blessed agent of change and growth. Perspective is all.

Poets, songwriters and proverb makers have always known that rain, a small four letter word like love and hate, always attracts the ear and can be freighted with multiple emotional meanings to suit almost any human situation.

Bearing all the above in mind it’s no surprise that a sharp songwriter like Don Bryant should have had his imagination quickened when his girlfriend (later his wife) Ann Peebles looked up at the skies above Memphis one summer night in 1973 and exclaimed, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’. Some phrases simply beg to be song titles and this was surely one thought Don.

(Bernie Miller below gives his own account of the genesis of the song!).

Moving to the piano he began, with help from Ann and DJ Bernie Miller, to fashion a steamy soul ballad themed around a spurned woman being tormented by the sound of the rain against the windows of the house she used to share with her departed lover.

Each drop tolling upon the panes seems to bring back memories – she calls them sweet but in the context of the song there is surely a substantial bitter-sweet element to her recollections.

Let’s listen and decide where the bitter/sweet balance lies.

Now that’s a serious record!

Loaded to the gunnels with love, longing and loneliness and blazing with the banked heat of searing emotion.

No wonder John Lennon a man of firm conviction and a lifetime aficianado of superior R&B/Soul balladry, called it, ‘The best song ever’.

I make it a point of my critical practice to rarely take issue with John. So, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ will take its rightful place on the Immortal Jukebox as A11 joining 99 other records in rotation as, ‘the best song ever’ just waiting to be selected by you (isn’t that what Jukeboxes are all about).

Ann Peebles sings the song with mature womanly authority investing the lyric with immense drama and emotional punch without once straying into diva like hysteria.

Her vocal uses judicious variation of vocal volume, tone, register, leaps and slides to convey the migraine inducing situation the protagonist finds herself in as the rain insistently beats on and on against her window assaulting her mind with memories of days and nights when watching the rain was a shared experience.

Now the rain only emptily echoes the sweet times.

Ann brings gospel training to her performance seeming to draw herself up, straight backed, to lament her loss, a loss she cannot deny but which will not defeat her.

There is old testament glower and grit along with new testament sweetness and mercy in her vocal. In the end, exhausted she can still muster the strength to hurl a curse at the rain – Get off my window!

The drama and palpably humid heat of the song owes everything to the enormously gifted musical team that assembled at Hi studios Memphis HQ located at 1320 South Lauderdale in the old Royal Movie Theater.

This is one of those addresses like 3 Abbey Road and 706 Union Avenue which should have preservation orders protecting them in perpetuity in view of the cultural impact of the works created there.

The moving mind and musical intelligence behind a wondrous series of superb soul records emanating from Hi in the 1970s (Al Green’s epochal run of hits being the most artistically and commercially successful of these) was bandleader/trumpeter/producer and arranger, Willie Mitchell.

Willie Mitchell is one of those rare figures who through production alchemy could turn a fine song into a living, breathing great record which would burn up the radio airwaves and sound like it had always been part of your life the first time you heard it.

It was Willie who thought of the attention arresting intro featuring electric timbale to mimic the sound and spooky impact of the rain.

Willie knew that any arrangement he came up with for a song could be given a golden lustre because at his command he had a peerless rhythm section comprised of the Hodges brothers: Leroy (bass), Mabon ‘Teenie’ (guitar) and Charles (organ) with Howard Grimes on drums.

Together, this quartet, supplemented when needed by Archie Turner on piano and the Memphis Horns were able to sustain a distinctively supple and slinky groove that became the signature sound of the Hi label.

It’s a ravishing sound that seduces the ear while providing a singer with the room to strut their stuff.

‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ has the musicians supporting and swirling around the vocal providing an emotional surround sound accompaniment.

Though the sound is full it is never clogged. Maybe that’s something to do with the cooperative trust and intimacy shared by brothers – always aware of the other, always adjusting, so that each has the space they need to build the whole.

The interplay between Teenie’s liquid subtle guitar fills, Charles’ emotion quickening organ and Leroy’s propulsive anchoring baseline is a wonder to behold.

Howard Grimes drums always seem to me to be saying, ‘Listen up! This is some serious stuff we are laying down here!’ Together, their style is at least as tender as it is strong and powerful as if each tune was as precious to them as a child or a woman they loved.

It’s a rare life that doesn’t include some long nights staring out of a dark window as the rain falls prompting memories of lost love, lost time and lost hope.

A song like, ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ can be a true companion getting you through those nights until the world turns again and the rain becomes one more memory while you wait for the sun.

Notes:

Ann Peebles 5 albums from the 1970s for Hi have now been reissued and have my unreserved recommendation. Just listen to the imperious, ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’, the incandescent, ‘Love Vibration’ or the stupendous, ’99 lbs’ and I guarantee you’ll be getting your credit card out!

5 Classic Rain Songs (Send in your suggestions):

Bob Dylan: ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ – a cloudburst of songwriting and performing genius.

Brook Benton: ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ – Tony Joe White who wrote it and Brook Benton singing it will surely convince you, while you listen, that Lord, it’s raining all over the world.

Creedence Clearwater Revival: ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ – John Fogarty is a heroic pessimist with the drive of a 50s rocker combined with an acute eye for history and social dislocation. And, he’s one hell of a singer and guitar player. There are no answers to his question.

Randy Newman: ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ – A typically clear eyed and heartbreaking meditation on the crooked timber of humanity.

Buddy Holly: Raining In My Heart’ – Perhaps there is an artist who can cut more directly and deeper to the heart than Buddy Holly. If there is I’m not sure my heart would be up to listening to them.