Soul & Funk

BILLY WARD AND THE DOMINOES
Sixty Minute Man (Rev-Ola; CD)

     Ask anyone - sex sells! At the dawn of the 1950s, black vocal groups were beginning to emerge who would help shape the course of popular musical history. WWII had seen unparalleled migration northwards from the deep south for more lucrative jobs in the munitions factories. Somewhere in this period (and we're talking about the same period that saw the birth of be-bop jazz no less), the country blues that came with the migrant workers, morphed into a slicker and sleeker more urban form of music which Jerry Wexler ( working for Billboard magazine in the late 1940s) decided was called 'blues and rhythm'. Wexler changed this to 'rhythm 'n' blues'(thinking it sounded better), as a replacement for the outmoded 'race music' tag black American music had hitherto been lumbered with, so that's what everyone called it from then on! 
     One aspect of this was the new and younger black male vocal groups who wanted to spread this hip urban music to the first post-war generation of black (and indeed white) teens via variety tours and armory shows quite apart from niche market radio stations. Whereas black acts like The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers courted respectability, Billy Ward and (almost synonymously) Hank Ballard & The Midnighters positively flaunted sexuality to an audience as yet unfamiliar with the gyrating hips of the twitching Elvis Presley. Ballard and co famously had their 'Work With Me Annie' number which alluded to an invitation (a plea in fact) for sex. This spawned a whole mico-industry of answer records (e.g. 'Annie Had A Baby', a young Etta James's 'Roll With Me Henry' etc.). But it was Billy Ward's Dominoes who came up with the original outrageous (for 1952) 'Sixty Minute Man' in which the singer boasted of what he would do with his woman in those sixty minutes. Harmless enough half a century after the fact, but in the pre-Presely USA it was the devil incarnate and was used to demonstrate the need for continued segregation from oversexed Negroes by jittery white folks across the nation. 
    Beyond their most (in)famous moment, Ward (a slick 29 year-old) drawing on his service days, ran the Dominoes like his own personal musical regiment. James Brown certainly didn't invent the fines and forfeits system he imposed on his own players, Ward had that off-pat a decade earlier. Ward, a pianist, positioned himself both at a distance from his singers on stage and reinforced his position as ring master. The Dominoes grew increasingly popular in the 1950s, in the early years because of the female appeal of their key singer, Clyde McPhatter. Ward, attempting to contain the growth in popularity of any one singer, rotated lead vocalists for each song. When McPhatter upped and left in protest at being stifled rather than developed, he was replaced by the then unknown Jackie Wilson, who would also follow in McPhatter's footsteps to solo fame. 
     What we have here in Rev-Ola's 44 minute package are some of the key tunes the Dominoes cut between 1950-1952 for Cincinnati indie label Federal (run by Sid Nathan, he also ran King, Queen and a rosta of other labels for specialist sounds from hillbilly and rockabilly to funk, but R&B was always his biggest seller). These tunes (including the ubiquitous 'Sixty Minute Man') run the gamut from up-beat jump-blues (i.e. shuffle-beat R&B, from which ska evolved) such as 'That's What You're Doing To me' and 'Chicken Blues' to patrician ballads such as 'Harbor Lights' and 'When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano' (Ward liked to please everyone!) All of the upbeat numbers are executed with a professional yet swinging pazazz that was to become the hallmark of the hippest doo-wop tunes of the decade and to which Billy Ward & His Dominoes did much to initiate. If this seems like an overly long review for a disc of sounds which might really be regarded outside of the perimeters of Shindig! it's because this group and those that looked to them and Ballard's Midnighters as a template, are so important in the history. R&B and soul were major constituents of the music we love and without early progenitors like The Dominoes, it may not have got off the ground. A great disc for lovers of male harmony voices and a history listen in melody.
www.revola.co.uk
Paul Martin

ISSAC HAYES
At Wattstax (Stax; CD)

     August 20, 1972. Virtually every Stax performer gathers together at the Los Angeles Coliseum to play an all day festival, to not only entertain the 112, 000 African-Americans whom seven years earlier had been at the epicentre of the Watts riots, but to also raise needed funds for various community projects. The beginning of the '70s aired a positive side for the fight for equality and the Wattstax event was most certainly a major signifier for civil-rights at this time!
     Issac Hayes took the stage at 8:30PM after a day's entertainment provided by such talents as Eddie Floyd, Rufus Thomas and The Staple Singers. At the height of his career Hayes was a major draw. Not only were his records selling like hot cakes, or lets call it Hot Buttered Soul, but his socially aware songs, such as 'Soulsville', perfectly caught the frustrations of the African-American. Hayes was at the head of the pack when it came to this more-serious-angle. Not only were his lyrics in a different league to the hordes of '60s soul discs (many of which he wrote), but his progressive arrangements were also light years ahead. Although it seems likely that grand opuses like 'Theme For Shaft' would be hard to recreate out of the studio, the live version here proves that wrong. Played with both energy and precision it's a highlight from a practically faultless set. 'Soulville' ("a mild form of protest") works even better in the live context, and features a stunning saxophone coda played by the big man himself. And if you want some of that Hayes' lurvin', 'Never Can Say Goodbye' and 'Your Love Is So Doggone Good' hint at South Park's Chef - for whom Hayes would regain his famous lover man persona. The complex Black Moses' funk-psych meting-pot 'Part Time Love' is a charged wonder that extols the progressive element of Hayes' work of this period, and with a revolutionary stance the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Jimmy Jones close the concert with a moving take on 'If I Had A Hammer'.
     A slice of history that still resonates.
www.acerecords.co.uk 
Jon 'Mojo' Mills

SENOR SOUL
What it is Y'all (The best of Senor Soul) (BGP/Ace; CD)

     It's HOT HOT HOT and I'm praying to Saint Nick for Xmas snow…and what's this got to do with these Senor citizens? Chuffing nowt cept they're HOT Clint Eastwood type black dudes wrapped up in pancho's ponchos and looking cool but HOT…OK intro…Senor Soul: the band before War (the musical item, not the human hobby), before white man's Burdon and 'Spill the Wine' time. Chuck Miller's the main man here, a horn-y keyboard player who leads his cohorts thru some on-the-spot-on-the-one latin funk tinged with some psychedelia (that's if tons of sodding flute equals psyche to you) …luckily though flutily melodies float the Senors' great infectious funk on these mostly cover versions. They escape the trap of easy listening Studio-2-Stereo retro by sheerly being fantastic players, but I'm sure the tracks you'll enjoy most are the ones your not so familiar with ('Psychotic Reaction', 'Uptight' and 'Spooky', all very amusing). The tracks you need to hear are 'The Mouse', 'Pata Pata' and the track you'll be wishing the whole damn CD was like is the fanfuckingfunky 'Don't Lay Your Funky Trip on Me'…but it's not, and I must admit after a couple of plays this CD stopped making it past the half way point…But that '…Funky Trip…' it means WAR (and I reserve the right to work my journalistic clichés, thank you.)
www.acerecords.co.uk
Rock Wagram

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Let's Copp A Groove: Lost UK Soul 1968-1972 (RPM; CD)

     "An overlooked chapter in UK music history" reads the blurb on the back, and this it would be hard to disagree with. For what we have here is another in the series of RPM's interesting label histories series. This time it's Beacon Records, a label that often crops up on UK comps for rare and un(der)known late '60s acts. Beacon was formed by Antiguan, Milton Samuel in Willesden in 1968. The comp comes about presumably via RPM's association with Miki Dallon, who bought up a lot of master tapes and acetates at the time of Beacon's insolvency and which have been in the vaults ever since. This is therefore the first time in thirty years or more that many of these recordings have been heard publicly. The liners are both detailed and affectionate, written by Beacon's record promoter Roger St. Pierre and Samuel business associate Miki Dallon.
     This is indeed an interesting collection, compiling as it does, 27 sides over near on a full 80 minute disc. In the process collectors jigsaw pieces start to fall into place. For instance John Fitch & Associates 'Stoned Out Of It' (featured here) is well known and liked by long-time fans of the Rubble series, but little was known of who Fitch was. He turns out to have been the Hendrix-like (in appearance and musical style) guitarist with the US soul act, The Show Stoppers, whose 'Ain't Nothin' But A House Party' is a long-time'60s soul-scene fave, and the initial release on Beacon after Samuel got the UK leasing rights for £30! The Show Stoppers indeed, feature here in their own right with the excellent 'Do You Need My Love'. Fitch's other contribution to the comps 'Romantic Attitude' is a scorcher. A smokin' slow-burner of a psychedelic soul side with a simple but highly effective guitar break, one of the highs of a generally great comp. Also here, we find more sides from Black Velvet whose 'Clown' has been recently comped on both Incredible Sound Show Stories Vol. 16 (vinyl) and Jagged Time Lapse Vol. 5 (CD). They make five contributions here, all of which (other than perhaps the last Christmas song) are great examples of rock infused funky psychedelic soul. 
     Elsewhere there are great northern soul pounders in the shape of Paula Parfitt's 'Love Is Wonderful' and Jeannie Dee's cover of 'Come See 'Bout Me'. There's outright funk (yes by a UK band!) in Tony Morgan & The Mussel Power Band's 'Why Build A Mountain' and the Eddie Grant produced 'Black-Skinned Blue-Eyed Boys'. There's morsels of reggae (of the much-loved 100-500% CD series variety) that exemplify the rise of dub and the influence of funk on Jamaican music at the time in the form of The Clangers (an alias for Keyboardist Jackie Mitoo) 'Beautiful Baby' and 'Dance Of The Clangers' (which sounds so much better than it reads, I can't tell you!). Overall, an excellent and indeed important archaeological trawl through the lesser-known regions of British soul and funk in the latter '60s and early '70s. Absolutely essential to anyone with an ounce of soul preference or curiosity in them.
www.rpmrecords.co.uk
Paul Martin