Ian Johnston brings us his latest round-up of vital releases from Ace Records, probably the best re-issue label in the world.
David Porter – Into A Real Thing And More
David Porter, Isaac Hayes’ award winning song writing associate and long time Stax Records member of staff, might not be as widely known as ‘Black Moses’ Hayes but he certainly should be, given the quality of his second 1970 solo album for Stax subsidiary label, Enterprise. Porter, with Hayes, wrote many of Sam & Dave’s biggest hits, Carla Thomas’ ‘B-A-B-Y’ and hundreds of other numbers before he began recording as a solo artist with the remarkably entitled 1970 LP Gritty, Groovy, & Getting’ It.
…Into A Real Thing opens with a marathon twelve-minute version of The McCoys 1965 number one pop hit, ‘Hang On Sloopy’. In the style of Isaac Hayes’ versions of ‘Walk On By’ or ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’, Porter slowly stretches the Wes Farrell/Bert Russell composition out, with horn section interjections, groovy guitars, dialogue sequences and fine female backing singers (The Precious People), in the process takes it right down to Soulsville U.S.A in thrilling fashion. Porter’s own shorter compositions, such as ‘Ooo-Wee Girl’, the amusing ‘Grocery Man’ (“I got all the love food you want”) and the bluesy ‘Thirty Days’, follow the same course, featuring the cream of Muscle Shoals’ rhythm section.
As the title of this CD implies there are three great bonus tracks that were not included on the original release of …Into A Real Thing. Porter’s song ‘Come Get From Me (Parts 1 & 2) is particularly intoxicating funky soul, while it’s hard to imagine why the yearning soul blues ‘Gotta Get Over The Hump’ has only just been released this year.
If you dig Isaac Hayes’ epic symphonic Stax soul albums from the same period, then you’ll find …Into A Real Thing…and more, a blast. Perhaps, with the extra tracks included, Ace will issue …Into A Real Thing on LP in the near future – Porter’s ‘lost’ classic deserves the deluxe treatment.
Into A Real Thing And More can be bought on CD from Ace Records website.
Various Artists – Ian Levine’s Solid Stax Sensations
Yet more magical soulful sounds from the vaults of the justly renowned Memphis label Stax, and sister label Volt, devotedly compiled and noted by leading rare soul DJ Ian Levine (with archive research and co-ordination by Ady Croasdell). For 45 years Northern Soul authority Levine has collected, written about and played out highly collectable 60s vintage Detroit and southern soul singles. In 1974, Levine compiled a classic 16 track Solid Soul Sensations compilation from cuts deep in the Scepter/Wand archive for RCA. Today, 41 years later, in his first compilation for Ace, Levine finally presents this formidable second volume, Solid Stax Sensations.
Every one of the 25 tracks on Ian Levine’s Solid Stax Sensations is outstanding, and it’s very difficult to pick out a few for attention, but your correspondent will endeavour to do so. First off, the price of the CD is justified with the inclusion of the 1971 Volt 45 ‘(Let Hurt Put You In The) Loser’s Seat’ by Joni Wilson. Written and produced by George Clinton, with The Parliaments on backing vocals, this amazing track was first recorded by The Parliaments in 1967 on the Revilot label as ‘All Your Goodies Are Gone (The Loser’s Seat)’. Parliament later recorded the number as ‘All Your Goodies Are Gone’ on their 1974 Up For The Down Stroke LP but the recycled Revilot version featured here, with Joni Wilson and The Limitations, might be the best of them all. Ian Levine confesses that he doesn’t own a copy of this single, and is shocked that it is only listed as worth £100, as he “would gladly pay eight times that amount.” Once you’ve heard ‘(Let Hurt Put You In The) Loser’s Seat’, you’ll agree.
The superb vocal group The Dramatics offer more Detroit excellence with their 1972 mesmerising single ‘Your Love Was Strange’, Charlene & The Soul Serenaders’ urgent ‘Can You Win’ is the quintessence of Northern Soul, while The Cheques’ ‘Cool My Desire’ features distorted organ that wouldn’t be out of place on a Doors record, if it weren’t so funky. And there’s Colette Kelly’s bittersweet yet strangely elevating 4-minute epic ‘City Of Fools’, Annette Thomas’ funky gospel soul ‘Hang On’ and the incredibly previously unreleased, potential dance floor filler ‘Put Me In The Mood’ by Sylvia & The Blue Jays.
Ian Levine’s Solid Stax Sensations was certainly worth waiting 41 years for. A compulsory purchase, obviously. Pray that Ace put this out as a double album.
Ian Levine’s Solid Stax Sensations can be bought on CD from Ace Records website.
Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes – Visions Of A New World
Pianist Lonnie Liston Smith’s 1975 composition ‘Expansions’ (from the LP of the same name), with lead vocals from Smith’s younger brother, Donald, singing over the tracks distinctive cymbals, congas and compulsive bass impelled groove and drums, instantly became a huge hit with the UK jazz-funk/ clubbing fraternity, has been sampled on countless dance/hip-hop tracks and generally imitated ever since. Visions Of A New World (CD noted by Dean Rudland), the Virginia keyboard player’s fourth 1975 album for the Flying Dutchman label, formed by producer and former Impulse label head Bob Thiele, is blissed out, post hippie, 70s funk jazz of the first order.
Smith did not just appear from nowhere. Before going solo in the mid-70s, Smith’s record as a jazz sideman was highly notable – he had played with blind saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk and with legendary Art Blakey’s hard bop Jazz Messengers, had productive shifts with Miles Davis (he contributed, with no credit, to Miles’ divisive and groundbreaking punk funk jazz 1972 album On The Corner), Gato Barbieri (Smith played on Barbieri’s classic score for Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris), and most significantly of all, tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. It was playing with Sanders that Smith discovered the electric piano, an instrument that became a vital constituent in instituting his brand sound.
Though some may find the constant pleas for world peace and inner tranquillity a little wearing, only the terminally cynical could resist the hypnotic, spaced out rhythms of ‘A Chance For Peace’, ‘Vision of A New World’ (Phase one and Two), ‘Sunset’ and the outstanding soul jazz classic, composed by saxophonist Dave Hubbard, ‘Devika (Goddess)’. Hopefully, Ace/BGP will eventually reissue Visions Of A New World on vinyl.
Visions Of A New World can be bought on CD (and digitally) from Ace Records website.
Various Artists – Unlock The Lock – The Kent Records Story Volume 1 1958-1962
Having covered the Bihari brothers’ record labels Flair and RPM, and the finest R&B cuts that were released by both, in a excellent series of double CDs, for reasons best known to themselves, Ace skip over their largest label Modern to offer an examination of the best of their Kent imprint. Yet there is method in their madness as Unlock The Lock – The Kent Records Story Volume 1, compiled and noted by Tony Rounce, is a brilliant compilation of the pop, rockabilly, doo wop, embryonic soul and R&B that the Bihari brothers issued on the LA label.
The late, great blues master B.B. King was the Bihari’s leading artist on Kent until 1961. King is well represented here, from his bluesy 1958 single ‘Why Do Everything Happen To Me’ to his last 1962 release, the grooving instrumental ‘Mashing The Popeye’, with alternate takes of the rocker ‘Bad Case Of Love’, ‘You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now’ and the horn powered blues ‘Worry Worry’ (all previously unreleased).
B.B. King aside, Kent had more than enough talent to spare. Jimmy Witherspoon delivers a swinging 1960 R&B version of Hank Williams’ country classic ‘Your Cheating Heart’, Billy Ray brings R&B thunder with ‘Texas Queen’ and the walk on the wild side ‘Playboy’, The Barker Brothers rock Lee Hazlewood’s attempt at an Everly Brothers number ‘Hey Little Mama’, while another Hazlewood protégé, Don Cole, delivers the rockabilly flavoured ‘Sweet Lovin’ Honey’.
Lee Denson’s ‘Devil Doll’ is full on rockabilly. While also recording as Jesse James, with a mixed race band, Denson recorded his undeniably rockin’, but politically highly dubious, ‘South’s Gonna Rise Again’. Incredibly, the Bihari’s’ made ‘South’s Gonna Rise Again’ the A-side, over the equally propulsive ‘Red Hot Rockin’ Blues’, for Jesse James’ West Coast release. Unsurprisingly, it bombed.
Etta James’ clamorous stroller ‘”Baby,Baby” Every Night’, the vocal group gymnastics of Danny Boy’s (Danny Flores aping Clarence Palmer & The Jive Bomber’s 1957 hit ‘Bad Boy’, featured in John Waters’ flick Cry Baby) thrilling version of the standard ‘All Of Me’, Don Cole’s Gene Vincent channelling ‘Sweet Lovin’ Honey’ and Chuck “Tequila” Rio’s beautifully twisted version of Richard Berry’s ‘Bye Bye Baby’ are just a few of the other treasures contained within Unlock The Lock – The Kent Records Story Volume 1. Roll on Volume 2.
Unlock The Lock can be bought on CD (and digitally) from Ace Records website.
Swamp Dogg – I’m Not Selling Out / I’m Buying In!
Yes, this ‘lost’ 1980 album really is as good as its title and hilarious cover. Born Jerry Williams Jr in 1942, Swamp Dogg has been making black American music, as a producer, songwriter (he has written and produced The Commodores, Patti LaBelle and Irma Thomas), performer and talent scout, for 50 years. I’m Not Selling Out/I’m Buying In! was released on the Chrysalis imprint label, Takoma, but didn’t find an audience. It should have done.
I’m Not Selling Out/I’m Buying In! is a wild, eclectic mix of R&B, funky disco, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, political comment and broad humour. “The Love We Got Ain’t Worth Two Dead Flies’ is an amusing send up of the traditional love song, featuring a duet with the legendary R&B singer Esther Phillips, ‘Wine, Women And Rock ‘N’ Roll’ does what it says on the tin, while ‘Low Friends In High Places’ castigates, in soulful fashion, those who use their wealth and power to buy political influence and ‘It’s Just a Little Time Left’ offers a verdant plea to change attitudes towards the environment, minorities and the poor. Unfortunately, ‘Low Friends In High Places’ and ‘It’s Just a Little Time Left’ are as just as relevant today as they were in 1980.
I mean, what more do you want? The CD booklet even includes an excerpt from Swamp Dogg’s The Cook Book That Was Heard Around The World. Anyone for Soul Stirrer Turkey Scaloppini?
I’m Not Selling Out / I’m Buying In! can be bought on CD from Ace Records website.
All words by Ian Johnston. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.