Wolfmoon – Wolfmoon (1973) (featuring Swamp Dogg)

 

Wolfmoon
Wolfmoon
1973 Fungus FB 25149

01 Cloak Of Many Colors
02 If He Walked Today
03 My Kinda People
04 If I Had A Hammer
05 People Get Ready
06 Proud Mary
07   God Bless
08 What Is Heaven For
09 Treasures That I Found
10 The Artist

Artwork By – George Reeder Jr
Coordinator – Yvonne Williams

Deadwax matrix runout info:
SIDE A: F-25149-A-RE-1-11-1
SIDE B: F-25149-B-1-11-1 p@ D PR T-2Producer – Jerry Williams Jr.

Lineage:
Fungus 25149 LP; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; Audioquest King Cobra cables; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair on light settings, manually auditioning the output; Stereo->Mono fold down in Click Repair; further clicks removed with Adobe Audition 3.0; dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.


A look at this cosmic album cover art leads you to speculate excitedly about the contents. Who is Wolfmoon? Is he some kind of psychedelic superhero who goes bowling with planets amidst the stars? What does his music sound like? You put the record on your turntable, half expecting squalls of Echoplex feedback guitar to fill the room and fulfill your urge for uncovering some lost psychedelic funk treasure, but what meets your ears is… slightly off-kilter southern soul. I think I use the phrase “slightly off-kilter” a lot whenever I try to describe the work of Swamp Dogg to the unfamiliar. Swamp Dogg, the musical persona of one Jerry Williams, Jr, produced this album, wrote all the songs that aren’t cover tunes, and possibly played half the instruments. And his approach, his musical gestalt if you will, has always struck me as what it would sound like if an arranger for Muscle Shoals Studio ate a quarter ounce of psilocybin mushrooms at 8 a.m. right after getting to work, and continued on as if it were just a normal day at the office. The song structures are more or less traditional, the elements all familiar to the universe of southern soul music of the 60’s and early 70’s, but there is always just enough strangeness – odd lyrics and titles, occasional embellishments of inter-dimensional lysergic audio production creeping through an arrangement like kudzu overtaking a barbecue stand – to alert the listener that something is a little bit “off.”

Williams/Dogg’s production work for other artists usually plays it a little more straight than on his own records, and Wolfmoon is no exception. So I’ll confess to some mild disappointment when I discovered that the sounds emanating from the grooves did not sound like a collection of early Funkadelic outtakes thrown into a blender with some of Otis Redding’s ashes and some paint chips from the discarded scepter of King Floyd. This is high quality soul music, but with the exception of the expansive take on “People Get Ready”, there are no ‘freakouts’ here. Since I have no idea what Wolfmoon actually looks like beyond the comic-book style cover art, I found it helps to visualize an animated film with him “in character” singing all these songs.

Almost half the songs are infused with an idiosyncratic gospel-soul religiosity, and a look at the song titles will probably help you guess which ones.  “If He Walked Today” speculates on the second coming of Christ in a way that uncomfortably reminds me of a truly awful assignment I turned in for a drama-writing class when I was a teenager in which I attempted to cast Jesus as a hippie in Greenwich Village or the Haight (can’t remember which) in 1970.  I mean that was pretty much the whole “plot,” I don’t think there was much else to it.  Wolfmoon’s track is better than my dramatic script, which for some reason I still haven’t burned in a bonfire but refuse to actually reread.  Another track, “God Bless,” is a cute observation of little kids offering nightly prayers to Deputy Dog, Elmer Fudd, and Tweety Bird.  Talking about the “off kilter”, funky gospel-soul tunes among the original compositions is a good segue-way to the cover songs.  While “If I Had A Hammer” wins my praise for being the funkiest version of that song you’re likely to come across, it’s the eight minutes of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” that is truly the centerpiece of this whole album.  I mean, all the other songs clock in at under 3 minutes, meaning that “People Get Ready” here is nearly 4x as long as any other track, so I have to believe we are meant to regard this as THE highlighted show-stopper.  With a long intro and outro vamp on one chord sandwiching Mayfield’s spiritual civil-rights anthem in the middle, it largely works.  But it is one of those things that is probably more impressive the first couple of times you hear it.  It’s a restrained kind of psychedelic freakout leading into the main tune, and I mostly applaud Swamp Dogg’s decision to remain understated rather than taking the easy approach to such an idea and just adding squalls of feedback and tape delay.  But then other times I wish there were in fact a swelling tsunami of feedback and tape delay, leading up to a crescendo that cuts off suddenly, yielding to the stately D-major / B-minor / G major progression of this immortal, uplifting tune.  Instead, the opening vamp just kind of chugs along for a few minutes and then just kind of collapses on itself.  They give the song a worthy treatment, and I’m 99% sure that it’s Jerry Williams himself doing the spoken rap of the lyrics in the middle of the track rather than Wolfmoon.  If I were grading it, I’d give it an A but not an A+.   An A+ for this kind of idea would be reserved, for example, for Baby Huey’s take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which is a truly staggering  achievement of raw psychedelic soul.  Given that Baby Huey’s one and only album was produced by Mayfield, and how that track kind of stands out as a centerpiece there, I can’t help but wonder if Swamp Dogg / Jerry Williams Jr. was actually inspired to arrange “People Get Ready” this way by hearing that album, that it planted the idea of “I want to do something kind of like that!”  If so, good for him – but he doesn’t really get close to that kind of brilliance.  But really, saying that any soul/funk artist falls short of Curtis Mayfield is less of a criticism than a compliment, like saying any pop/rock artist is not quite as brilliant as Lennon/McCartney.  I’m excited to see Swamp Dogg getting more recognition in the last few years, manifesting in unexpected ways – for example, The Isley Brothers and Carlos Santana just covered his song “Total Destruction To Your Mind” on their recent collaboration, and Santana has incorporated into his live set!

As I was putting the finishing touches on my vinyl transfer of my Fungus Records original copy, I discovered that this had actually been reissued a few years ago in a very limited edition.  It was done by ‘Alive Records’ on a series of Swamp Dogg-related reissues, which I know he was personally involved with and fully endorsed.  In fact he wrote personalized liner notes for this and other releases in the series, and I’d love to see them someday – perhaps they would help shed some light on the enigma of Wolfmoon.  If you like this stuff, go and get yourself one and pick up the other Alive Records reissues while you’re at it — I have only one at the moment but it sounds pretty great.  The original Fungus Records version of this was distributed by BASF Records, the famous tape company who briefly had their own label in the 70’s. And in spite of having hardly a scratch on it, my copy is a bit noisy, which indicates cost-cutting somewhere in the laquer-cutting or manufacturing process (although it maybe have been cut at a Preswell plant, based on the matrix info).  So rather than breaking the bank to get an O.G. copy, I’d encourage folks to check out the reissue.  Plus, maybe you send me a pic of those liner notes, I’d like to read ’em.


password: vibes

Bettye Crutcher – Long As You Love Me (1974)

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Bettye Crutcher
Long As You Love Me
Original release 1974 Enterprise / Stax
Reissue 2013 Ace Records
Remastered by Duncan Cowell at Sound Mastering



01 – As Long As You Love Me
02 – When We’re Together
03 – Passion
04 – A Little Bit More Won’t Hurt
05 – Sunday Morning’s Gonna Find Us In Love
06 – Sugar Daddy
07 – Call Me When All Else Fails
08 – Up For A Let Down
09 – So Lonely Without You
10 – Sleepy People

BONUS TRACKS

11 – So Glad To Have You
12 – Don’t You Think It’s About Time?
13 – Make A Joyful Noise
14 – We’ve Got Love On Our Side
15 – Walk On To Your New Love
16 – I Forgive You

Rhythm by Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Horns and strings by The Memphis Symphony Orchestra

Produced by Bettye Crutcher and Mack Rice
Arranged by Johnny Allen
Engineers – Pete Bishop, Jerry Masters, Steve Melton
Cover design and creative direction – The Stax Organization
Mastering – Larry Nix
A Very Special Thanks to: Bobby Womack
Photography – Frederic Torna
———————————————————

Unless you are the type who habitually reads the credits on album jackets, you’ve probably never heard of Bettye Crutcher.  A victim of both a chauvinistic industry and a mismanaged label at the end of its lifespan, as a recording artist her one and only album fell between the cracks of Stax and has been relegated to a cult object for the last few decades.  It was finally issued on CD last year, together with a smattering of bonus tracks that include a few demos – this is, as far as we know at present, the entire recorded legacy of Bettye as a performer.

As a writer, however, she left a much larger body of work.  She penned a ton of hits for the likes of Johnny Taylor, Carla Thomas, Soul Children, William Bell, The Staple Singers and others.  She formed part of a triad of writing partners, We Three, that was a bit like the Stax version of The Corporation, cranking out great tunes for their roster of artists.  For this album she worked with Mack Rice as a writing and producing partner, and the material is more low key, with even the funkier tunes coming out mellow.

Fabulous production and arrangements, filled with just enough patches of strings and horns and Isaac Hazey flute riffs, would make this a joy to listen to even if the songs were mediocre.  But the songs are excellent and Bettye has an alluring personality as a singer.  Like a sort of southern soul Carole King, her voice isn’t quite ideal for the funkier tunes on the album but she approaches them with enough charm to make them work.  You might notice that a lot of her vocals are double-tracked to give her voice a thicker sound (this is a studio technique that I like quite a bit, so mind you I am not bashing it).  The opening track is probably the strongest thing here and sets the bar really high, meaning that what follows may take a few listens for its goodness to fully reach you.  There are no throw-away tunes on it, and a lot going on to keep your ears busy and happy.  Swinging effortlessly between deep southern funk, delicate ballads, and AM-radio pop-soul bliss, it is baffling that this album received no attention at the time.  It may not qualify for breathless declarations of “lost genius soul classic” but it is easily as good as dozens of other albums released in 1974 that received critical and financial compensation, and a lot of it really is brilliant.

Unlike Carole King, there are no re-recordings of her famous compositions recorded by other artists, and the liner notes shed no light as to why not (artistic choice of Bettye’s, or contractual stuff with other Stax artists?).  In fact Stax shamefully did not even release a single off this album in the US (they did release “Sugar Daddy,” a track I do not feel is representative of Bettye as a performer, a year later in the UK).  Just as puzzling is the existence of four completed recordings of very high quality that never saw the light of day until this reissue, where they are included as bonus tracks.  “So Glad To Have You” and “Don’t You Think It’s About Time” are exhilarating songs that would have been ideal singles.  Four tracks, two A and B sides – these aren’t even rough mixes, but rather polished, finished product.  Liner note author Tony Rounce muses that it might have been Bettye’s life situation as a single mother, unable or unwilling to go out on the road, that made Stax reluctant to promote her.  But Stax was so close to bankruptcy at this point that it is almost a pointless exercise to try and guess the logic behind anything going on in their disorganized offices.  Two demos tacked on to the end of the disc are solid, but we know nothing about them – when and where and with who they were recorded.  But as I said at the outset, this disc represents the entire legacy of Bettye as a recording artist unless someone finds some tape reels hidden away under their bed, so you’d better enjoy every last second of it.

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Bettye sitting in between We Three partners Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson and a stack of what look like Universal Audio compressors.

Betty Wright – I Love The Way You Love (1972) (24 bit)

folder

 Betty Wright

I LOVE THE WAY YOU LOVE
1972 Alston Records (SD 33-388)

 I Love The Way You Love 3:20
I’ll Love You Forever Heart And Soul 3:40
I Found That Guy 3:35
All Your Kissin’ Sho’ Don’t Make True Lovin’ 2:35
If You Love Me Like You Say You Love Me 3:10
Clean Up Woman 2:40
I’m Gettin’ Tired Baby 2:40
Pure Love 2:20
Ain’t No Sunshine 3:20
Don’t Let It End This Way 2:50
Let’s Not Rush Down The Road Of Love 2:54






  Backing Vocals – The Reid Singers
   Bass – David Brown, Edmund Collins, Ron Bogdon, Snoopy Dean
   Design – Drago
    Drums – Ivan ‘Nick’ Marshall, Jimmie Lee Harrell, John ‘Duck’ Sandlin, Robert Fergeson, Robert Johnson
Guitar – James Knight , Jess ‘Beaver’ Carr, Snoopy Dean, Willie ‘Little Beaver’ Hale

   Horns – Memphis Horns
   Piano, Organ – Arnold ‘Hoss’ Albury, Benny Latimore, Bobby Birdwatcher
   Piano, Organ – Clarence Reid

Rhythm arrangements by Little Beaver and Clarence Reid
Strings and horns arranged by Mike Lewis

Produced and engineered by Willie Clarke
Additional production by Clarence Reid
Liner Notes – Willie “Moon Man” Bacote
Photography By – Bruce Mac Callum
Back cover design by Drago

 ———————-
Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge,
Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192
Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair;
individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered
and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with
Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.

———————-

* My copy of this LP is not pristine..  But it probably still sounds
better than any recent CD versions, and it has that nice warm vinyl
thing.  The overall sound of this record, mix-wise, is kinda weird
anyway (see below).

03 - Label A

This is a start-to-finish gland slam of an album for Betty Wright. Although she was only 18 or 19 years old when this album was released, it
was *not* her first record – that would be “My First Time Around” released when she was only 14.  I don’t know what accounts for the long
break, I think she was finishing high school or something.   Anyway she definitely doesn’t sound like a teenager, but a woman wise in the ups and downs of life and love.  It kind of
blew my mind when I found this out.  I mean I knew she had started out young, but I didn’t realize she was literally just a kid.

So, the music.  This is mostly straight-up funky southern soul, with a lot of Miami-area musicians.  Alston Records would become TK Records in a few
years.  The record jacket has no session information on it, probably because they would have had to pay the type-setter more than they had in
their budget.  You can tell from listening to it that it sounds like it was recorded at a bunch of different sessions, and a glance at the
credits with the insane number of bassists and drummers confirms that.
There are some weird cameo appearances here – one of the drummers is Johnny Sandlin, later of Capricorn Records in Georgia, and one of the keyboardists is Benny Latimore later, um,  of the band Latimore.   This LP seems to have been patched together from material recorded between 1970 and 1972.  “Pure Love,” ,”Clean Up Woman,” “I Love The Way You Love,” and “I Found That Guy” (a remake of The Jackson 5’s “I Found That Girl” ) were all released between 1970 and the release of this LP in 72.    And for a patchwork quilt, the material all hangs together really well.  The arrangements by guitarist Little Beaver and Clarence Reid are fantastic. The fidelity is weird in places, even when the actual mixes are all consistently good.
Little Beaver (real name Willie Hale) and Reid wrote most of the material between the two of them.  Producer Willie Clark gets writing credits on everything that isn’t a cover song here, which makes me kind of suspicious that maybe he just added some cowbell and insisted on a credit.  Just kidding, there is no cowbell on this album!

If you are collecting cover versions of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” like I am (there are dozens!), this is one is a good addition to your collection.  Holy crap listen to that bass guitar line!  How did they get that tone?  They kind of sweeten up the “I know, I know, I know…” part, and it works.  Variety is the spice of life.  “If You Love Me Like You Say You Love
Me” is the one big stylistic shift as Betty takes on Northern Soul and serves it up righteously.  But really this whole record is a reminder of why I am in the end a Southern Soul lover at heart.  Also, although “Let’s Not Rush Down The Road Of Love” is an original composition, you might recognize what the band is playing during the intro part where Betty speaks over it – it’s a note-for-note
stolen arrangement from Isaac Haye’s “Walk On By.”  It’s no “Ike’s Rap” but its pretty neat.

You know, since this post started out with me talking about how damn young Betty was here, I can’t resist saying something contemporary, against my better judgement.  Lately there has been a lot of flap in the news about a certain Disney pop star who can’t keep her tongue in her mouth.  I dunno, I think she had been a mouseketeer or something,  I’m not interested in the slut-shaming nonsense that seems to have been provoked from mostly white, mostly American people.  I am not interested in whether she is setting an example for young girls.  But I am interested in pointing out this – I do not find Miley Cyrus the least bit sexy.  What do I find sexy and inspiring?  Talent.  That’s why Ms. Cyrus and the dozens more just like her will never hold a candle to Betty White’s flame.

 

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24bit

The Soul Children – Genesis & Friction (1972 & 1974)

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The Soul Children
Friction (1971) / Genesis (1974)
Reissue 1999 Stax SCD-88038-2

are J. Blackfoot, Norman West, Anita Louis, Shelbra Bennett

GENESIS, 1972 Stax (STS 3003)

01 – I Want To Be Loved     (Sam D. Bell)     8:24    
02 – Don’t Take My Sunshine     (Bobby Newsome)     3:59    
03 – Hearsay     (John Colbert, Norman West)     3:38    
04 – All That Shines Ain’t Gold     (John Gary Williams, Tommy Tate)     3:55    
05 – It Hurts Me To My Heart     (Bettye Crutcher)     3:00    
06 – I’m Loving You More Everyday     (James Mitchell)     4:52    
07 – Just The One (I’ve Been Looking For)     (A. Isbell, E. Floyd, S. Cropper)     3:20    
08 – Never Get Enough Of Your Love     (Eddie Floyd)     4:22    
09 – All Day Preachin’     (Bettye Crutcher, Bobby Manuel)    3:55    
10 – Get Up About Yourself     (Carl Hampton, Homer Banks, Raymond Jackson)    4:12  

Produced by Jim Stewart and Al Jackson, Jr.

 Track 1:
James Alexander – bass
Michael Toles – guitar
Allen Jones – organ
Howard Grimes -drums

Tracks 2 through 9:

Piano and organ – John Keister, Marvell Thomas
Guitars – Raymond Jackson, Bobby Manuel
Donald “Duck” Dunn – bass
Al Jackson, Jr. – drums

Track 10: 
Carl Hampton – piano
Raymond Jackson, Michael Toles – guitars
James Alexander – bass
Al Jackson, Jr. – drums

Produced by Carl Hampton, Homer Banks, and Raymond Jackson
————————————————————
String arrangements – Dale Warren
Engineered by William Brown, Bobby Manuel, Eddie Marion, Daryl Williams, Dave Purple

===============================================

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FRICTION, 1974 Stax (STS 5507)

11 – I’ll Be The Other Woman (Banks-Hampton)    3:36    
12 – What’s Happening Baby (Banks-Hampton)    6:42    
13 – Can’t Let You Go (Banks-Hampton)    4:47    
14 – It’s Out Of My Hands (Banks-Hampton-Jackson)    3:24    
15 – Just One Moment (Banks-Hampton)    4:58    
16 – We’re Gettin’ Too Close (Banks-Hampton)    3:52    
17 – Love Makes It Right (Banks-Hampton)    5:52

Lester Snell – Piano
Carl Hampton – electric piano
Charles Pitts, Michael Toles – guitars
James Alexander – bass
Willie Hall – drums

Tracks 11 & 15: Bobby Manuel, guitar / Donald “Duck” Dunn – bass / Al Jackson, Jr. – drums / The Memphis Horns / Memphis Symphony Orchestra

Produced by Homer Banks and Carl Hampton (Al Jackson, Jr. also co-produced “I’ll Be The Other Woman”)

Arrangements by John Allen, Carl Hampton, Homer Banks.  Engineered by Pete Bishop

___________________________________________________________
1999 remastering at Fantasy by Kirk Felton and it SOUNDS REALLY GOOD
___________________________________________________________


With over a dozen soul and R&B hits to their credit, it is a shame The Soul Children aren’t more better remembered for their contributions.  These last two records for the original Stax label are quality, top-notch soul ,but at this point the Stax label wasn’t too far away from bankruptcy and a lot of records were criminally under-promoted.  I think “Genesis” is particularly stellar and it’s my favorite of the two, perhaps because it has more of a gospel deep-groove swing to it, and a lot of people feel that “Friction” was their peak.

1972’s “Genesis” has a great set of songs contributed from the likes of Eddie Floyd, Chicago’s Bobby Newsome, and Bettye Crutcher.  The backing musicians included members of the reconstituted M.G.’s and The Bar-kays and also feature Howard Grimes (of Hi Records) on the drums for what may be my favorite song here – the very first.  It should probably surprise nobody that a vocal group put together by Dave Porter and Isaac Hayes (who played on their early records) would be adept at the type of long slow-burner that opens up the album, “I Want To Be Loved.”  They dig into this tune with an impassioned flare that sets it apart from Hayes’ epic cool delivery, however.  After a suspenseful minute’s worth of subdued build-up, the rhythm section drops out as Anita and Shelbra launch into some intense gospel harmonies and eventually a brief sermon crowning love over the material things in life, and then Blackfoot comes tearing in with his gritty response and ups the ante.  The group on “Genesis” reminds me a little of the early records by label-mates The Emotions, but with the added bonus of a male-female dynamic.   The bigger of the hits on this record was “Hearsy”, penned by Blackfoot and West, and it has a very M.G.-ish vibe to it, which is fine, but it also may be the least interesting song on the record.  “It Hurts Me To My Soul” is a favorite of mine here, and in fact I played it on one of my podcasts.

“Friction” was apparently a concept album based around the idea of cheating  and being cheated on.  The record is admirable in the way it traces a narrative from start to finish without any kind of heavy-handed high drama.  But in some ways I kind of think the idea could have benefited from trying it as a ‘soul opera.’ They could have brought in special guests with assigned roles, Johnnie Taylor as “Jody,” Isaac Hayes as whoever he wanted to be (except Truck Turner)… As it stands, the record is almost too downbeat for me (all the songs are slow to mid tempo except for “We’re Getting To Close”), but then again it has been a long time since I have had any nasty breakups involving cheating partners, so maybe that’s what it takes to bring out the best in this album.  The bookends of the album are undeniable classics, “I’ll Be The Other Woman,” and “Love Makes It Right” are powerful and honest explorations of themes that get glossed over with cliches in even some of the best music.  In fact, let me extend that statement to all the tracks here – “Friction” really is a sophisticated treatment of an eternal and complex subject, and deserves a lot of credit as a unique artist achievement in the Stax canon.  It’s just that I don’t dig listening to it as much as “Genesis.”  Maybe it is the fact that all the songs were written by the production team of Hampton/Banks leaves the songs with less melodic and dynamic variety than the previous record with its overflow of writing talent.  Or maybe it’s that I prefer the MGs and Bar-kay’s (reconstituted though they may have been) to the instrumentalists on “Friction.”  With a group as good as The Soul Children, this is kind of like trying to decide which of your luxury cars you are going to drive today – in the end, it’s a quibbling born of privilege.

In putting together this post I discovered that Shelbra Bennett passed away at the end of May of this year.  She was the first of the four members to go her own way (I think) career-wise but not the first to pass away:  J.Blackfoot died in 2011. 

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Swamp Dogg – Rat On! (1971)

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——————-

Swamp Dogg
Rat On!
Original release 1971 Elektra (EKS-74089)
Reissue 2013, Alive Naturalsound Records (0142-2)

Do You Believe     2:50
Predicament #2     3:07
Remember I Said Tomorrow     2:41
Creeping Away     2:51
Got To Get A Message To You     4:08
God Bless America     3:34
I Kissed Your Face     3:51
That Ain’t My Wife     3:15
She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye     3:05
Do Our Thing Together     4:07

Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone – Sonny Royal
Bass, Percussion – Robert Popwell
Drums – Jasper Guarino
Flugelhorn, Trumpet – Mike Stough, Stacy Goss
Guitar, Backing Vocals – Jesse Carr
Producer, and arranged by Jerry Williams, Jr
Piano, Vocals, Performer [Everything Else Of Any Importance] – Jerry Williams, Jr

Engineer – David Johnson
Photography By [Back Cover] – Siegfried Halus
Photography By [Cover] – Willis Hogans, Jr.*

Recorded At – Quinvy Recording Studio, Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Remastered (very well) by Dave Cooley at Elysian Masters

I don’t see what the big deal is about the album cover.  Apparently it frequently makes the top of ‘worst album covers’ lists, but I can think of far worse.  In fact I think it’s a thing of beauty, down to the awful pun (for the non-native English speakers, the title is a pun on how the phrase “right on” might sound pronounced in a black US southern drawl).  It could reasonably be argued that such a silly cover does a disservice to the high quality of music inside.  But it is definitely eye-catching, and leaves you with handful of pertinent questions — what? why? who? and again WHY? – none of which will really be answered after listening.

You see, Swamp Dogg is the artistic monicker of one Jerry Williams, who had been writing and intermittently recording as Little Jerry since the 1950s with little fanfare.  I had no idea there was something of a Swamp Dogg revival going on at the same time that I had been searching for clean copies of the original vinyl for his first few releases.  I scored the third album, “Cuffed, Collared, and Tagged”and had planned to share it here, but even though it was sealed New-Old-Stock vinyl it had a really obnoxious defect where the entire second side has sounds like someone crunching a potato chip with every rotation of the album.  So I was damned delighted to find out that his first three albums (at least) are being reissued.  And listen up closely when I say this, because you know I don’t say it often about reissues – The remastering of this record is REALLY NICE, a nice warm analog glow that keeps all the dynamics.  Bravo.

As with all revivals of between-the-cracks music there are apparently articles springing up in places like Mojo magazine.  Now I have nothing against Mojo, they have some excellent writers working there, I just don’t have time for them.  I don’t mean that dismissively but *literally* – for now and for the foreseeable near future I just do not have the luxury to read music journalism, no matter how engaging.  It’s all I can do to catch up on the stacks of LPs collecting dust here and occasionally shoot off a blog post when I can rub one out.

So while I am sure there are some cool articles out there and that they help fill in the back story of this fascinating, mercurial artist – who is still around and wrote the notes for these reissues – I prefer to focus on just what I am hearing.  And when my eyes passed some press blurbs and quickly glossed over, seeing comparisons to everyone from Sly Stone to Frank Zappa, or calling him “psychedelic soul,” I decided I would just ignore all of that for the time being, digest the music and write about why I find it so intriguing.  Because while phrases like “psychedelic soul” make for good journalistic shorthand (and probably help sell a few units to a niche market), it doesn’t tell us much.  Listen, Baby Huey was psychedelic soul.  Swamp Dogg was just, well, Swamp Dogg.

The convenient and – I hope – more useful analogy that comes to my mind is Eugene McDaniels.  Both had backgrounds in straight-up traditional soul music (obviously Gene Daniels had much more success at it).  It is not difficult to understand how with bizarre album titles like “Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse” or “Total Destruction Of Your Mind,” potential audiences would be at turns put off or alienated, contemporaneous critics would fail to take them seriously or notice them all, and their creative work would occupy those in-between-spaces where so much unmarketable music dwells.  Both of them donned iconoclastic masks for their own records where they could comfortably let loose their creativity with seemingly no concern for generating hummable hits, while both men were also perfectly capable of operating as professionals.  McDaniels was writing successful songs for Roberta Flack around the same time he was making his own unique records; Swamp Dogg produced Z.Z. Hill, Arthur Conley, Doris Duke, Irma Thomas, and wrote a hit song for Johnny Paycheck with his friend Gary “U.S.” Bonds.

Swamp Dogg / Jerry Williams is, when you get down to it, just good deep southern soul music.   A lot of fun and with a lot more going on than meets the ear.  A balanced mix of mid-tempo groovers and ballads that are sometimes disarmingly poignant.   I’ve seen his stuff tagged as ‘country soul’ and that is a great descriptor, reflecting not only the stuff he heard on the radio growing up but also that the color line was first crossed in recording studios before the civil rights era even got moving, and that the decade of the sixties saw so much productive intermingling between those too genres.  His eclecticism, his off-kilter, sardonic sense of humor, and his occasional raunchiness – Cuffed, Collared and Tagged has a track that consists almost entirely of an orgasm (simulated, I hope) over a riotous funk groove, and then of course there are these infamous album covers.  He was able to be both “out there” and “earthy” at the same time.  Maybe this is what the British mean when they say someone is “a bit bent.”  You can take a song like “Predicament #2” and laugh it off as a humorous anecdote about infidelity, but it is also kind of deep, almost a philosophical reflection on the constraints of monogamy and a person’s ability to love more than one person simultaneously.  At least, that would have been a convenient way to describe it to his partner(s) at the time.  It’s like a less maudlin David Crosby’s “Triad” for soul music.  And of course the typically male double standard rears it’s head when we come around to “That Ain’t My Wife,” but I’m not overly concerned with philosophical consistency here.   The bus-riding protagonist of “Creeping Away”  is also a loveable tramp, when he tells us “I got my bread in North Carolina, and my butter in Tennessee.”  Safado.

From sexual to racial politics to American imperialist war-making, the record was probably too all over the place for most casual fans of soul and too “identifiably black” for crossover success in what had become an increasingly polarized and segregated music industry in post-riots, early 70s America. “Remember I Said Tomorrow” is just plain brilliant, and just as relevant now as it ever was.

Tomorrow we’re gonna pass a law that’ll make everything all right
With equal opportunity for everybody, whether they’re black or they’re white
Tomorrow we’re going to bring the boys home, the end of the war is on its way
Tomorrow you’ll even have freedom of speech, just be careful of the things you say
Didn’t I promise your forefathers they’ll be an end to pain and sorrow
Well then shake off those fears and wipe away those tears
And remember that I said tomorrow.

(In fact I think this song could have been played at Barack Obama’s second inauguration ceremony.)

Swamp Dogg could also lay on some heavy emotional vibes.  “I Kissed Your Face” is an irresistibly pretty and poetic soul ballad with delicate sax runs from Sonny Royal, proving that Williams could “play it straight” with the best of them.  Which brings me to his impeccable choice in handpicking cover tunes, which I think is in some ways a key to Swamp Dogg’s musical  weltanschauung.  Much like the old phrase “he/she is a musician’s musician,” well these tunes are “a songwriter’s songs,” ones that somebody personally familiar with the craft can appreciate in their totality.  The Bee Gee’s “Got To Get A Message To You,” sung from the point of view of a death row prisoner in his final hours, lopes along in a stately, elegiac build-up decorated by lush harmonies (overdubbed by Dogg himself, as far as I can tell).  Then there is an entry from the catalog of that genius of Nashville, Mickey Newbury, with “She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye.”  This is the real deal, people.  You probably didn’t expect this from a man riding a giant rat on the album’s cover, but he embodies these down-on-your-luck narratives with genuine pathos.  To be able to look in these dark places and evoke a feeling without relying on sentimentality or other gimmicks is the essence of the best soul and country music, which must be why he sounds completely at home in these songs.  That gentle darkness continued in his next record, which starts with the amazing John Prine song “Sam Stone” and ends with “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” by Joe South.  Dude sure knew how to pick ’em.

I mention all of these before getting around to the massive “God Bless America For What” because they help understand where he’s coming from.  A superficial encounter with this song, still years away from the end of Vietnam, probably would have inflamed the passions of many who heard only an anthem for anti-patriotism.  It’s a small wonder that he didn’t end up like Gene McDaniels with Spiro Agnew tapping his telephone; once again, the giant rat rodeo on the front cover might have persuaded the authorities there was nothing up the sleeve to be taken seriously.  But they would have been wrong, all of them.  The lyrics are defiant and angry but also simple and frankly compassionate – a little over halfway through the tune, the band grooves on a slow vamp as Dogg goes into a spoken passage urging us not to say anything at all in response or rebuttal, but to stop and think about it a little, let it sink in, do some soul searching about where we’ve been and where we’re going.  Ain’t nothing unpatriotic about that.   At the end of the day, Swamp Dogg’s America is a place I wouldn’t mind living in.

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Frederick Knight – I've Been Lonely For So Long (1973) {STAX}

stax

Frederick Knight
“I’ve Been Lonely For So Long”
Stax Records 1973 (STS 3011)

I’ve Been Lonely For So Long
This Is My Song Of Love To You
Take Me On Home Witcha
Friend
I Let My Chance Go By
Your Love’s All Over Me
Pick’um Up Put’um Down
Now That I’ve Found You
Lean On Me
Trouble
Someday We’ll Be Together

stax

This is a lovely lost classic of an album by Alabama native and soul music underachiever Frederick Knight. It’s not his only album but it might as well be, as its the one that people remember, and (though I could be wrong) he didn’t record again until the late 1980s except for one more single in 75.

The record leads off with what is probably the strongest song here (always a risky move), the singular “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long.” It’s one of the those tunes that everybody has heard but not many know who sang it. The instrumentation lacks a drum kit, which is part of its signature sound – high-hat, tamborine, and a wooden plank equalized to sound like a kick drum make up the rhythm. Prominent acoustic guitar and electric slide guitar parts give some country-soul twang; Knight sings the lead melody entirely in falsetto but also did all the overdubs including bass vocal parts. He tries to replicate the vibe of this song on the album’s second single, “Trouble”, with a similar structure built around kit-less drums, falsetto and bass harmonies, and a rap in the middle of the tune. But the single was a flop, as lightning rarely strikes twice. Still a good song though. The formula is also used on “Now That I’ve Found You.” The first few times I spun this record, this formulaic approach irritated me, but eventually I came to think that they are all quality songs regardless of the repetition and/or attempt to cash in on a successful single. And one of the things that stands out about all of the them is the blend of old-skool doo-wop vocal harmonies with early seventies Stax and Hi Records textures.

There is plenty of really strong material here. Requisite nods to Philadelphia and Motown are scattered about, but everything is done in a funky southern soul approach that makes the album sound original. Probably more original than it actually is in truth. Other highlights are the mellow “This Is My Song of Love To You,” the rolling midtempo “Friend” which has a truly breathtaking arrangement of Wurlitzer electric piano and acoustic guitar balanced against strings and horns. A lot going on here but never overbearing, and the minimal lyric is interesting in a weirdly cinematic and cathartic way, like it ought to be playing loudly at the end of a bittersweet, deep, coming-of-age buddy film. It’s one of my favorite tunes here and if I ruled the world it would have been a hit single. Some heavy funk comes in with “Your Love’s All Over Me,” which features an unfortunate Jimmy Castor impression in the middle of it (which, fortunately, only lasts for a few seconds), and the party continues with “Pick ‘Em Up and Put ‘Em Down.” The closer of this record is an interpretation of The Supremes hit, “Someday We’ll Be Together”, which falls only a few inches short of totally transcendent. It really gives an original reading to the tune, and if you aren’t paying close attention you might not even catch it until the first chorus. By the time the bridge of the song comes along you will want to get out of your seat and yell “Amen!” it soars so much. This song and the title track make the warm bread (perhaps a croissant, perhaps baguette) that sandwiches the meat of the album. And the result is oh so tasty. The one clunker here is “Lean On Me”… I am not sure what Stax was thinking when they produced this tune only one year after Bill Wither’s had a huge hit with a better song with the same name. The money, perhaps?

It’s a damn shame that this record wasn’t the smash it could have been. Particular as Frederick couldn’t make the payments on the coat he wore for the cover photo and eventually had to mail it back to Sears and Roebuck.

Frederick Knight – I’ve Been Lonely For So Long (1973) in 320kbs em pee tree

Frederick Knight – I’ve Been Lonely For So Long (1973) in FLAC LOSSLESS AWDIO

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