Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Womack’

Savoring The Sunlight

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 16, 2009

As the sunlight came in the living room windows yesterday morning, I glanced at the date on the Minneapolis newspaper: February 15. And I thought of another February 15, thirty-five years distant now, when sunlight seemed like salvation.

I doubt that I’ve ever lived through a more dreary winter than the one I went through in Fredericia, Denmark in 1973-74. Living there was, of course, a joy and an adventure, but the winter was hard. It’s not that it was cold: The temperatures were generally around freezing, 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius), which for someone from Minnesota wasn’t chilly at all. There were a few days when the temperature dipped to -10 or so Fahrenheit (-23 Celsius), levels that our Danish friends said they’d not seen since World War II, but those stretches didn’t last long and weren’t all that cold by the standards of the Minnesota winters to which we were accustomed.

The difficult part was the lack of sunlight. From the middle of November on, for the next three months, it was cloudy and dreary. The sun showed its face from time to time, but only as a brief respite – an hour or two – before the clouds dimmed the light once more. And Denmark is far enough north that the winter sun rises much later and sets much earlier than in Minnesota: In the depth of December, daylight began about nine o’clock in the morning and ended around three o’clock in the afternoon, which – combined with the near constant cloud cover – left us in what seemed like permanent gloom.

And then came February 15. The sky was blue from horizon to horizon, and the air was brisk but not cold. We had no classes that day, and those of us living at the youth hostel headed out into the sunlight, many of us with cameras. I can’t speak for all, but the bunch of kids I wandered around with had no plans, no real destination. We were just wandering in the sunshine, liberated at least for a day.

The stripe of sunlight across our carpet and the date on the newspaper yesterday morning reminded me of that sunny walk through Fredericia, and as I recalled the sunshine, I wondered what our friends at home might have heard on the radio that day.

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 16, 1974)

“Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” by Brownsville Station, Big Tree 16011 (No. 22)

“Me and Baby Brother” by War, United Artists 350 (No. 53)

“Lookin’ For A Love” by Bobby Womack, United Artists 375 (No. 70)

“Stop To Start” by Blue Magic, Atco 6949 (No. 81)

“Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” by New York City, Chelsea 0150 (No. 88)

“I’ll Be The Other Woman” by the Soul Children, Stax 0182 (No. 94)

Brownsville Station was one of the numerous blues-based boogie bands that arose in the early 1970s, coming out of Detroit to record a clutch of albums between 1970 and 1980 and then fading into obscurity. “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” was the group’s glorious moment, if that’s not too glowing a term for it. The high school references sparked memories for those already older than that and likely rang true for those still playing high school Parcheesi. The record peaked at No. 3. I was surprised to learn this morning that Brownsville Station had more than one hit: “Kings Of The Party” went to No. 31 in the fall of 1974. (The umlaut-obsessed Mötley Crüe covered “Smokin’” in 1985; that version went to No. 16.)

War’s funky and cool “Me and Baby Brother” was on its way down the chart, having peaked at No. 15. I tend to think that War is under-rated and often ignored when talk turns to great bands of the 1970s. In terms of popularity, the group had twelve Top 40 hits, and most of them were pretty good (“Why Can’t We Be Friends” is the exception), and that’s a better record than achieved by a lot of bands that are remembered more frequently. And the group’s albums were good, too, especially Deliver the Word (which was the source for “Me and Baby Brother”) and The World Is A Ghetto.

In two years, I’d not posted a single song by Bobby Womack, and now, in ten days, he’s come up twice. I’m not sure why that is. But “Lookin’ For A Love” is well worth a listen or even three. It was the third and last Top 40 hit for Womack, peaking at No. 10 at the end of April. (The record topped the R&B chart for three weeks.)

The singles by Blue Magic and New York City were nice bits of Philadelphia soul (despite the latter group’s name). “Stop To Start,” from Blue Magic’s first, self-titled album, sounds like something that came from Thom Bell, but it was produced by Steve Bernstein, Norman Harris and Alan Rubens, who – along with the group members – tapped the Philly sound perfectly. “Stop To Start” peaked at No. 74 during a six-week run in the Hot 100, but that summer, Blue Magic’s “Sideshow” went to No. 8 (No. 1 on the R&B chart). New York City had reached No. 17 with “I’m Doin’ Fine Now” – a Thom Bell production – in the spring of 1973, but the Bell-produced “Quick, Fast, in a Hurry” got no further up the chart than No. 79.

The Soul Children, a two-man, two-woman vocal group, recorded several albums for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had one blindingly good single, “Hearsay,” which went to No. 44 in May of 1972. “I’ll Be The Other Woman,” a slower and more reflective but still good piece of work, went to No. 36, the only Top 40 hit for the group.

Note:
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Edited slightly on archival posting.

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Saturday Single No. 113

December 21, 2011

Originally posted February 7, 2009

When the Texas Gal and I are out shopping – as a duo or either of us as a solo act – we are easily diverted from our goals.

For her, the diversion is generally fabric or any of the other materials she uses to make quilts. Frequently, as we head toward home from the mall, she’ll ask if we can stop off at this store or that, and we head in and wander for a while among the bolts of fabric. It’s actually a little bit interesting seeing the wide variety of fabric offered. I occasionally bring a bolt or two to her attention, but so far, I haven’t gotten her interested in doing anything with fabric that shows – in green and yellow glory – John Deere tractors and implements.

It doesn’t always take a special stop, though. The other Saturday, we made a rare visit to the local outlet of Walmart, and as we wandered the aisles, the Texas Gal headed toward the back corner, where craft and sewing supplies live. Knowing she’d be occupied for a good twenty minutes, I waved and headed in my own direction, toward the CDs. A while later, I made my way back toward the fabric section, clutching a box set called simply Big Band, a four-CD package of music recorded between 1935 and 1947 by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Sammy Kaye and others.

And there – unsurprisingly – is one of my two diversions: music. The other is books. As we wander the aisles of either of our neighborhood discount stores – Shopko, a regional chain, and Target have stores within six blocks of our home – I’m frequently taken off course to browse in one or both of those adjacent areas. It’s always been that way, ever since I was a consumer-in-training. During the mid- to late 1960s, Fandel’s, a department store long gone from downtown St. Cloud, had a separate building in which were located its interior decorating services and its bookstore. Occasionally, during family Friday evenings downtown, I’d be allowed to wander off toward Fandel’s Sixth Avenue on my own, where I’d browse through the books until my folks came and got me.

The same would hold true on visits to Crossroads, the mall on the west end of town (now grown to the point that the original mall – which seemed huge in 1965 – now makes up maybe one quarter of the modern-day mall). I’d go off on my own, heading to Walgreen’s to check out the books and then Woolworth’s to do the same. I’d finish my excursion in the record department at Woolworth’s, looking for inexpensive soundtracks and Al Hirt albums. (I often wonder what rock ’n’ roll rarities I passed by as I flipped through the bargain bins, ignoring pop and rock in those days.)

Over the years, my tastes would change in both music and reading, but the temptation to stray from the planned path never diminishes. I headed out Thursday afternoon to run a few errands, one of them a stop at Shopko to check out flash drives, as the Texas Gal needed one. On my way to the corner of the store that features electronics and the like, I came upon a rack featuring CDs for $4.99: Waylon Jennings, some soundtracks, some Earth, Wind & Fire anthologies, country collections, some hip-hop. I dug on, and in the back of the rack, I found a CD called Superbad! The Soul of the City. It’s one of the Time-Life series of CDs we all see advertised on late-night television.

Wondering how it came to be at Shopko, I pulled it out of the rack and scanned the back, nodding. A pretty good mix of stuff, lots of it from the so-called blaxploitation movies of the early 1970s: Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, the Four Tops, the Temptations, James Brown, Willie Hutch. About half of the tracks were familiar to me, half not.

Well, we all need to accept the role of serendipity in our lives. So the CD came home with me. (As did the flash drive; I did not forget my central task.) And one of the gems I found on the CD comes from Bobby Womack, recently named as one of the 2009 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So here’s “Across 110th Street” from the movie of the same name, today’s Saturday Single.

“Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack [United Artists 196, 1973]

Location of Fandel’s stand-alone store corrected from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue on archival posting.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 2

May 17, 2011

Originally posted October 17, 2007

It was in early 1972 that I began my slide into an addiction that persists to this day. Just like in the songs and the movies, it was because of a woman. And an older woman, at that.

I was a college freshman. She was a sophomore. And the addiction was coffee.

It was about midway through my first year of college, and I stopped one Friday morning to say hi to the secretaries in Headley Hall, the building where I’d worked briefly as a janitor the summer before. As I chatted with Ginny – who wasn’t all that much older than I was – her new part-time assistant, a student, came to her desk with a question. Ginny introduced me to Char, a sophomore. She smiled, I smiled, she went back to work and I said goodbye to Ginny and went off to class.

My plans for that weekend were more elaborate than usual. I still lived at home, but two or three times during that first year of college I spent a weekend staying with friends in one of the dorms on campus. We’d hang around the dorm or hit some parties Friday night, recuperate on Saturday, and do the same thing Saturday night and generally act like college kids. The weekend would start as soon as I finished my two-hour stint as a janitor in the Business Building that afternoon. I’d head from there to my dad’s office in the library, grab the overnight bag I’d left there that morning, and then walk to the dorm where Rick and Dave lived.

As I headed down a staircase in Stewart Hall toward the tunnel to the Business Building, I heard a voice greet me. It was Char, the young lady I’d met that morning. We talked for a few minutes and then she asked what my plans were for the weekend. I told her I was staying on campus, and then – emboldened by who knows what – asked if she wanted to hang around with me and with my friends that evening. She agreed. So we spent a good chunk of time with each other that evening, and we spent an hour or so talking and cuddling in a little lounge in her dorm Sunday afternoon. I called her Monday evening, and for the next few months, we saw each other frequently.

One evening after a movie, we stopped to have something to eat. I ordered a soda to go with my food, and Char ordered coffee. Looking back, we were both kids, of course, but to me, as we sat there, she seemed so much more adult sipping her coffee than I did slurping Coke through a straw. That thought stayed with me, and the following Monday, when I had an hour to kill at the student union before heading off to sweep floors at the Business Building, I took a cup of coffee to my table.

About two months later, Char and I went different directions, which saddened me. But I was young, and after some grieving, there was always the prospect of someone new on the next stairway. So I walked on.

And more than thirty-five years later, I’m still drinking coffee.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1972, Vol. 2

“Heart of Gold” by Bettye LaVette, Atco single 6891

“Soft Parade of Years” by Dion from Suite For Late Summer

“Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, Philadelphia Int. single 3521

“All Down The Line” by the Rolling Stones from Exile On Main Street

“Woman’s Gotta Have It” by Bobby Womack, United Artists single 50902

“Gypsy” by Van Morrison from Saint Dominic’s Preview

“(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes” by The Band from Rock of Ages

“Nobody Like You” by Bread from Baby I’m-A Want You

“Harvest” by Neil Young from Harvest

“Hold On This Time” by Fontella Bass from Free

“Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)” by Manassas from Manassas

“Cry Like a Rainstorm” by Eric Justin Kaz from If You’re Lonely

“Hearsay” by the Soul Children, Stax single 119

A few notes on some of the songs:

Bettye LaVette’s standout cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” was part of Atlantic Records’ attempt to make LaVette the star she likely should have been. Recorded in Detroit, where she’d recorded earlier in her career, the record tanked, as did a single recorded in Muscle Shoals later that year. After that, Atlantic pulled the plug on LaVette’s album Child of the ’70s, which was finally released – with extra tracks – not all that long ago by Rhino. It’s worth finding. (Thanks to Red Kelly at The A Side for the info and the tip.)

I do recall hearing Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” at least once while sipping a cup of coffee in the student union. It would have been in the fall of the year, though, when Paul’s record was No 1 for three weeks and was almost inescapable. It’s still a great record. (Billy Paul isn’t quite a One-Hit Wonder, as he reached No. 37 with “Thanks For Saving My Life” in the spring of 1974. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one.)

The more I listen to “All Down The Line” and the tracks that surround it, the more certain I am that Exile On Main Street is the best album the Rolling Stones ever recorded and almost certainly one of the best five albums of all time.

“(I Don’t Want To) Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes,” which Chuck Willis wrote and took to No. 24 in 1958, was one of The Band’s perennial concert favorites. This version comes from Rock of Ages, the live recording of a New Year’s Eve performance at the end of 1971, with horn charts put together for the event by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. The album is a great one, and it’s available in an expanded version that includes ten bonus tracks, including three tracks with Bob Dylan.

“Cry Like A Rainstorm,” done here by its writer, Eric Kaz, is more familiar in versions by Bonnie Raitt on Takin’ My Time from 1973 and by Linda Ronstadt on Cry Like a Rainstorm – Howl Like the Wind in 1989.

The Soul Children’s “Hearsay” is just a great piece of Stax music.