Those of us who love the soulful music that came out of Memphis in the ’60 and ’70 will find it hard not to mourn the recent passing of the great Willie Mitchell (03/23/1928 – 01/05/2010). His achievements as a musician, band leader, record producer and label owner are almost unmatched when you consider how much his signature sound influenced the soul and R&B recordings from Memphis to Motown during those two decades. More popularly known for his production and arrangements of Al Green’s outstanding catalog, Mitchell himself released a string of moderate hits in the ’60s including our featured track, Bum Daddy.
This is an instrumental party track in the classic sense—complete with a hootin’ and hollerin’ crowd in the background—akin to The Bar-Kays’ Soul Finger or Stop, Inc.’s Second Line. The label mentions this track was available on the “Willie Mitchell Live” LP though I doubt, and it has been posited by others as well, that the crowd sound is anything more than Willie’s and the band’s friends gettin’ rowdy in the studio. Nevertheless, they do add a raucous feel to an already driving dance number. The straight-forward drums and pronounced horn arrangement of Bum Daddy provided a hint to anyone listening at the time of the genius that would follow in Mitchell’s work with Al Green. Thanks, Willie for all this great music! | c.1968; Hi Records; HI 2524
So, you think you’ve got troubles? Just listen to the “Frogman” go on about “da rent man” and his wife and such and you will quickly shut yer mouth and start shakin’ yer rump. It was the A-side that quickly became the B-side after Ain’t Got A Home stole the spotlight via that darn, career-defining, novelty frog voice. Just as Gary Anderson forever carried his moniker after those early “U.S. Bonds” releases (a scheme cooked up by Legend Records label owner Frank Guida) Clarence Henry was never able–nor do I think he ever tried–to shake the “Frogman” nickname after the success of that single. I’ve got a small stack of 45s by Henry–all pre-Frogman era–that certainly demonstrate his capabilities and personality. But, a hit is a hit and, in the pre-web/iTunes/MySpace world of 1956, any way to make it onto the radio was a good bet. Well, that story has already been written a number of times, so let’s get back to the featured track, Troubles, Troubles.
I love a song that starts with a solo vocal line and Henry’s first two words here set the burning tempo that doesn’t quit until the finish a mere two minutes later. I couldn’t find any info on which session players were backing him up on this recording, but one can only imagine by the thumping kick drum and bouncing horns that it may have been laid down in New Orleans rather than Chicago (home of Chess/Argo).
This is definitely not my parents’ First Edition. I may still have the 8-track somewhere that, among the handful of others secured by my dad for “just one penny” via the Columbia Record and Tape Club, played incessantly on weekend afternoons when my folks would host cook-outs with their neighborhood friends. Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town was, by far, my favorite track and would–for quite some time–remain in my mind “The Gambler’s” best work. And, heck, I’ll even play Something’s Burning on a jukebox whenever I can find it. Now, I doubt my folks had recognized Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) as the First Edition when picking out that 8-track and so I can only assume that the grooviest First Ed they’d ever experienced was on Burning. Hence the first sentence of this review.
School Teacher is a mystery to me. I don’t possess nor have I ever come across a copy of the LP from whence it came, The Ballad of Calico. Before spending time researching this track I spent some time scratching my head thinking “how does Kenny make his voice sound so different on this song?” He doesn’t. Enter Kin Vassy. Vassy replaced founding singer/guitarist Mike Settle in 1969 and was subsequently featured on what I believe may be the only single released for this album. A Kenny Rogers and the First Edition song not sung by Kenny Rogers? WTF??? Well sorry, Kenny, but this track’s burning. While Vassy lacks Kenny’s buttery smooth character he nails down an impressive performance backed by a rhythm track that’s got the unique blend of folky-bluesy-soul that made the Edition famous. The opening arpeggiated Spanish guitar and gentle quality of Vassy’s voice does nothing to hint at the down-right funky chorus that follows with backing vocals that are inconceivably high-pitched and squeezed out as if almost painfully.
Thumb through random stacks of 45s long enough and you might just come across this surprising b-side to Rufus featuring Chaka Khan’s exquisite down-tempo classic Sweet Thing. Circles is at once an infectiously groovy dance tune, a vocal calling card for the fully-evolved Chaka Khan and possibly Rufus’ (the band’s) creative and recording peak. The single was released in 1975, two years after their masterful debut, Rufus, and yet the band’s best work had, in my humble opinion, already been laid down on wax at the time of its release. While Sweet Thing is an unfolding ‘slow jam’ in the classic sense, Circles pretty much begins and ends with the same vigor and driving pace that makes its just-shy-of four minute length pass all too quickly.
There’s some eerie foreshadowing of Grace Jones’ My Jamaican Guy, but that’s likely a tasty coincidence. The instrumentation is clever and catchy and the melodies are just sophisticated enough to forgive the perfunctory strings that persist throughout the track. If the strings contribute to/detract from the recording in any way it’s probably only to date the song, anchoring it forever to the oft-over-produced mid-seventies. But they’re no deal-killer–the track works perfectly. It’s a wonder that ABC didn’t promote it more heavily in the dance market or, if they did, why it never completely took off like their later disco-esque numbers. | c.1975; ABC Records; ABC-12149