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Any Major Soul 1978/79

November 25th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

It”s tempting to dismiss the soul music produced in the disco era. I think this mix shows that it was still a golden era for soul, if not of quite the incredible standards a few years earlier when there was the happy confluence of the influences exerted by the likes of Philly, Motown, Hi, Muscle Shoals, Atlantic, and the Chicago scene.

If I was asked which of these tracks in this mix I”d take with me to a desert island, I would be hard pressed to choose between Bill Withers” Love Is and Minnie Riperton“s Never Existed Before. I think the latter would win. Released after her death from cancer, Minnie”s vocals are equally cute and sexy (nobody has done cute and sexy as well as Minnie did). It”s not the best-known track from the Minnie LP, but it is my favourite Riperton song.

Several of the songs here are touched by disco golddust. The Gary Toms Empire are perhaps more disco than soul. Former Motown writers Ashford & Simpson certainly were in their disco groove, and You Know How To Love Me by Phyllis Hyman (another wonderful soul singer who died too young, in 1995, the same year Bobby DeBarge, featured in the bonus tracks, died) is the sort of mid-tempo song one can dance or chill to.

Cheryl Lynn is better remembered for one of the great dance tracks, Got To Be Real. The track featured here, You”re The One, comes from the same eponymous 1978 album, one of the few ballads on the LP on which the 21-year-old Lynn delivered a fine, octave-traversing vocal performance. Signed by CBS on strength of her winning performance on the TV talent programme The Gong Show, Cheryl Lynn was a prodigious session singer too. It”s her soaring voice on Toto”s excellent Georgy Porgy, and she also backed Lenny Williams, whom we encounter in the bonus tracks.

Peabo Bryson does not have a good reputation among soul fans (with that name, it”s surprising he ever enjoyed any credibility), while Natalie Cole“s soul credentials have taken a knock with her endeavours to become her father. Don”t let such perceptions worry you as you hear their excellent jazzy cover of Bobby Caldwell”s What You Won”t Do For Love.

Jean Carn (later rendered as Carne, for “numerological” reasons) sang with Duke Ellington”s orchestra just before his death. Through her stint as a regular on US TV shows she was picked up by Gamble & Huff for their Philadelphia International Records label.

The Jones Girls also found success with Gamble & Huff, via two soul legends. The Chicago sisters were first mentored by Curtis Mayfield, through whom they got to work with Aretha Franklin. It was as a support act for Diana Ross that the Jones Girls “” Shirley, Brenda and Valerie “” came to Gamble & Huff”s attention. Besides releasing their own albums, they also provided backing vocals for the PIR roster.

Johnny “˜Guitar” Watson was cited by Jimi Hendrix as a major influence. He might also have been nicknamed “Organ”, for he played keyboard for Herb Alpert during the 1960s, reuniting with Alpert for his 1979 hit Rise [EDIT: Apparently he didn’t. See comments]. Before that, the man known as “Elvis” private guitar player” had toured with Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. Here he gets seriously funky, providing one of the few instances of snoring released on vinyl. Another legend, Wilson Pickett, made a brief comeback fusing the funk with old school soul, creating a sound which Tom Jones has tried to emulate for years, but never coming near his ambition.

The “Pops” in the title of the penultimate track is, of course, Berry Gordy, paid tribute here by four of the greatest stars in music history. I”d not have included it was it not for this year being Motown”s 50th birthday.

PW is amdwhah.

1. Gary Toms Empire – Welcome To Harlem
2. Ashford & Simpson – It Seems To Hang On
3. Jean Carn – Don’t Let It Get To Your Head
4. Bill Withers – Love Is
5. Rufus and Chaka Khan – Stay
6. Cheryl Lynn – You’re The One
7. Denise LaSalle – A Miracle You And Me
8. Neville Brothers – Washable Ink
9. Minnie Riperton – Never Existed Before
10. Natalie Cole & Peabo Bryson – What You Won’t Do For Love
11. Phyllis Hyman – You Know How To Love Me
12. The Jones Girls – You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else
13. Johnny Guitar Watson – It’s A Damn Shame
14. Wilson Pickett – Lay Me Like You Hate Me
15. The Whispers – Let’s Go All The Way
16. Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & Stevie Wonder – Pops, We Love You
17. Roberta Flack – And The Feeling’s Good





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  1. randy badazz
    November 25th, 2009 at 02:22 | #1


    Regarding Johnny Guitar Watson “reuniting with Herb Alpert for his 1979 hit Rise.”

    Johnny did not play on either the song, “Rise” nor did he play on any of the 8 songs contained on the “Rise album.”

    I co-wrote the song, “Rise” and produced both it and Herb’s 1979 album, “Rise”.

    When Herb asked me to produce his album, “Beyond” in 1980, I suggested that we have Johnny come in and play on 2 songs. At that point I had absolutely no idea that Herb even knew Johnny. Then Herb told me that both he and Johnny had worked together at Keen Records on a few records by Sam Cooke in the late 1950’s early 1960’s.

    That Summer day in June 1980 when Johnny came rolling in to A&M Studios driving his gold Stutz Blackhawk I knew it was going to be a very special day. When Johnny picked up his guitar and started to play, it became one of the most memorable days of my musical life..

    randy badazz

  2. November 25th, 2009 at 07:11 | #2

    Thanks for clarifying, Randy. I’ll have to scribble a correction in my Who’s Who in Soul Music by Ralph Tee.

    But how come Watson came in, but didn’t appear on Rise (total top tune, by the way)?

  3. November 25th, 2009 at 16:45 | #3

    Thanks for mentioning Lenny Williams. The dude has a great voice.

    I really like Lenny Williams’ work with Tower of Power. I especially enjoy their Back to Oakland album (ca. 1974). That album is a nice blend of funk and soul. There are a couple really soulful ballads, Just When We Start Makin’ It and Below Us All the City Lights that Lenny really shines on. The latter is a particular favorite of mine.

  4. randy badazz
    November 25th, 2009 at 17:56 | #4

    Hi halfhearteddude:

    I was 21 years old when I did Rise and JG Watson’s A Real Mother For Ya was one of my favorite albums.

    We went in to record Rise as an experimental single. Herb had never played funk music and didn’t know what to expect. We released the 12″ single a few weeks after the recording and the song just blew up both in the clubs and at black radio so we had to go in very quickly and start recording an album.

    I never thought of calling Johnny during the Rise album sessions. When we went into the studio a year later to record the Beyond album I had thought that Johnny would be perfect on 2 of the songs so Herb called him and he came in to play.

    Unfortunately, I never thought to call Johnny during the Rise album sessions so he was not around nor did he play on any of those recordings.

  5. November 25th, 2009 at 18:25 | #5

    Well, Randy, my wife was hugely impressed when I told her that the guy who produced and co-wrote Rise commented. It’s one of her favourites, and it always goes down very well at parties.

  6. randy badazz
    November 25th, 2009 at 18:36 | #6

    Please tell your wife it is also one of my favorite songs and I appreciate her kind words.

    I had not heard the entire 7 minute album version in many years so when I read your column yesterday I found the Rise cd and listened to the song 4 times and it still rocks 30 year later. It was a magic moment recorded live in the studio.

    You probably are aware that the Rise groove was sampled for the Notorious BIG’s hit song, Hypnotize. A whole new generation of people got to hear the same groove. How cool is that??


  7. randy badazz
    May 16th, 2010 at 07:22 | #7

    Hi Halfhearted:

    Johnny didn’t play on “Rise” because he played on the album after the “Rise” album called “Beyond”. I didn’t think to call Johnny when we were recording “Rise”. Also, thank you for your kind words about the song.@halfhearteddude

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