Song of the Week Revisited – Hope She’ll Be Happier, Bill Withers

Ignored         Obscured               Restored      

Today I learned that the great Bill Withers died at the age of 81. His family released a statement that said it was due to heart complications. At least it wasn’t Coronavirus related! In his honor I’d like to repost a SotW that I wrote about him on December 22, 2012.

I’ve always loved the Bill Withers’ song “Hope She’ll Be Happier” that was on his first album Just as I Am.  So without a lot of fanfare, here it is:

This album is the one with “Ain’t No Sunshine” on it.  It’s really a very good record with some great musical accompaniment from the Memphis boys down at Stax records and other top notch players like Stephen Stills, Jim Keltner and Chris Ethridge.

The song is very simple – a nice guitar figure is repeated over a passionate vocal delivered in the style of a black spiritual.  The lyric is about a man who is in great pain over losing his woman.  He can’t quite come to grips with the reason she left but hopes she will ultimately be happier with the new guy.

This song leaves me in the same emotional state I find myself in after hearing Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluiah” – especially the wonderful Jeff Buckley version.

Now there’s one more thing I need to share and that’s the version Withers’ recorded in Africa when he visited with the James Brown headlined 3 day festival that came to be known as “The Rumble In the Jungle.”  The 1974 concert is available on DVD under the title Soul Power.  Withers’ performance of “Hope She’ll Be Happier” at this concert will take your breath away.

In this version it’s just him, his guitar and his voice.  But it’s powerful.

Enjoy… until next week.

Link: Contemporary Music Archive

There is this place in Soho, in New York City, that has more than three million vinyl records for reference by researchers and movie studios and whatever. Really.

They’re being priced out because it’s valuable space and old records aren’t returning the $ per square foot that’s possible. So, the Times wrote about this. Good, interesting story. But here’s the deal. Why is this massive collection housed in NYC, where rents are big. That’s legacy thinking. My advice, send the albums to Pennsylvania somewhere, or the Catskills, and have a smaller public facing NYC exhibition space to draw folks in.

Everything worthwhile doesn’t have to be huge. It just needs enough support to sustain. And since Mr. George built a little bit of his fortune on records, here’s a great one (though not rock):

Song of the Week – Say It & The Slummer the Slum, “5” Royales

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

The earliest history of Rock and Roll covers the period when Alan Freed coined the term for the R&B records he was playing for teenagers in Cleveland on WJW radio.  And one of the most important R&B groups of that era was the “5” Royales.  The group was led by songwriter/guitarist Lowman “Pete” Pauling, who penned songs that would remain important for many decades, including:

Think – also recorded by James Brown and Mick Jagger

Dedicated to the One I Love – Shirelles and Mamas and Papas

Tell the Truth – Ray Charles and Ike & Tina Turner

But besides being a great songwriter, Loman was a terrific early electric guitar player.  I wanted to select a song that would highlight his playing, so I’ve chosen one of the group’s lesser known records, “Say It.”

“Say It” follows a predictable R&B formula, with piano triplets leading the way.  But its fuzzed out licks probably influenced more than a few ‘60s garage band guitarists.  Check out the insane riffs that open and end “Say It!”

Another, more popular “5” Royales track that features Lowman’s Les Paul is “The Slummer the Slum.”

Lowman’s guitar stabs are the prototype for Steve Cropper’s approach on Booker T & the MGs’ “Green Onions.”  Then at about 40 seconds, Lowman rips off a wild solo and does it again at around 1:35.

If you haven’t had exposure to Pauling beyond this post, please read the excellent article by Lisa O’donnell from his hometown Winston-Salem Journal.

https://www.journalnow.com/news/local/music-s-unsung-pioneer/article_760fb6eb-0c86-54f3-bc51-9147db6fe52f.html

Enjoy… until next week.

Hit Single

This song helped soften up America for punk. It was a juke box smash at Bumpers, a college bar I frequented in the late 70’s. It reached #47 on the American Billboard chart, higher maybe than any other punk single until the 1990’s. It almost became the actual hit it was in Britain (#8) and especially in the French-speaking countries. The Beach Boys meet Chuck Berry at a construction site. I am the king of the divan.

Song of the Week – Trying to Stay Live, Leon Russell & Marc Benno

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

One of my favorite, obscure albums is Asylum Choir II, by Leon Russell and Marc Benno.  The duo released their first album, Look Inside the Asylum Choir, in 1968.  Russell and Benno played essentially all the instruments on the songs.  That album was released on the Smash record label that didn’t have the marketing heft to get it played or heard, despite decent reviews by rock critics.

For Asylum Choir II, Russell and Benno recruited added help from some great session musicians – Jesse Ed Davis (guitars), Carl Radle (bass) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass).  II was recorded as an immediate follow up to Look Inside but didn’t see the light of day until 1971!  This time the disc was released on Shelter Records, another bad choice (though this time Leon could only blame himself since Shelter was a company he co-founded with Denny Cordell).

My choice for SotW is “Trying to Stay Live.”

The lyrics may be a little dated; how’s a guy supposed to make a living if he wants to be a musician “and keep his sideburns too?”

Many of the other songs on the record are period pieces.  “Down on the Base” and “Ballad of a Soldier” are anti-Viet Nam war songs and “Sweet Home Chicago” refers to the riots there at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Another track, “Hello, Little Friend,” became pretty well known in a version by Joe Cocker on his second album, Joe Cocker!.  (That album also had Cocker’s outstanding take on Russell’s “Delta Lady.”)

But don’t let the time capsule aspect of Asylum Choir II steer you away from listening to the whole thing.  The music and arrangements are tremendous!

Enjoy… until next week.

New Releases: Peter Laughner Box Set

Laughner was a member of Rocket From the Tomb and Pere Ubu, influential, more heard of than heard bands from Cleveland. He said he wanted to be to Cleveland what Brian Wilson was to LA and Lou Reed was to New York, but instead died in 1977 at age 26 mission unfulfilled. A record company called Smog Veil has just released a five-LP box set of all known Laughner recordings, mostly self recorded in the late night by himself. The NY Times has a story about the release today. While you read it, here’s Ain’t It Fun! Laughner’s hit, which was later covered by Pere Ubu (if that’s a cover), the Dead Boys and Guns and Roses.

Rockin Band

I posted a song of The Waldos here before and everyone liked it. Here they are live at the Continental Divide, the NYC club that was where the rocker wing of the CBGB crowd repaired to in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Waldos and The Senders and in general the spawn of Johnny Thunders played there a lot. I think it’s ballsy to even attempt Stand By Me and Tony Coiro nails it. I consider their album Rent Party to be one of the best albums of the 90’s. In this video, Walter Lure had broken a string and the band started without him. I like that. They couldn’t wait.

The Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story

I loved Martin Scorcese’s Dylan documentary, No Direction Home. It seemed unusually synced to Dylan’s creative spirit, a major statement about where his talent came from. And also about where, more generally, talent comes from. Scorcese’s new Dylan movie is a weirder thing. Alan Light wrote a good piece in the NY Times about its provenance. I was new to New York when Dylan started prowling the clubs in 1976, playing impromptu shows at the Bitter End that featured a cast of new characters playing Dylan’s music on random nights. I had friends who went, though I never did. I suspect money was an issue, but whatever. This was also the time when Patti Smith and the Heartbreakers and the Ramones and Television and Talking Heads were playing in the East Village, and Steve Forbert and the Roches were playing at Kenny’s Castaways, just over from the Bitter End. Plus Max’s. We didn’t lack for music in those days. So what’s striking about the new movie is the intensity of Dylan’s performances all the way through. This was true in No Direction Home as well, in the film/video it is impossible to miss the intention and direction he brings to every action he takes, every nuance he conveys, even while professing he wants to run a circus. His intensity isn’t his only talent, but the intensity he brings to these performances is the talent that raises him above most. Obviously this isn’t a story of remnants, but it is a story of a superstar and his band playing at being remnants, playing small halls, disregarding commercial considerations, and making a rock ‘n’ roll tour into a work of art. Highly recommended. On Netflix. The version of Hattie Carroll in the movie is fantastic, equally Dylan and Joan Baez, who shines singing harmonies, and so is more exuberant and vivid than this also excellent version that lacks Baez, but is still an amazing song.