Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lemon Prequel

mid-week gospel

Savoy LP # MG-14149 (1966)
Tonight only with a small »prequel« to the post I have in mind for next Sunday ... from the 1966 Savoy LP by the Howard Lemon Singers from Detroit, Michigan. (The album has one of the many covers by Harvey which make the '60s LPs of Savoy so special.)
You can hear them below with a swinging up- tempo version of »Amazing Grace«. On piano: Howard Lemon; lead: Joyce (Lawson) Moore, accompanied by Burnadette (!) Gaudy, Patricia Green and Brenda McDonald and, possibly but uncertain, Catherine Massey Stovall.

The Howard Lemon Singers: »Amazing Grace« from the Savoy LP # 14149 (1966):

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bessie Smith Tribute Contest (1st part)

»After You've Gone«

Being one of the queen mothers of modern jazz, blues and ultimately soul as well, Bessie Smith and the songs she recorded have inspired many. On March 2, 1927, Bessie recorded four popular songs, Turner Layton's & Henry Creamer's »After You've Gone« among them. (The song was first recorded in July 1918 by Marion Harris: listen to it here; find out more about it here and here.) At the time and later on as well, Bessie's choice of popular tunes was often criticized. Chris Albertson writes:
Blues purists - who, oddly enough, don't complain about Bessie's 1923 record- ings of lesser-known pop fare - have bemoaned her "commercial" repertoire for this session, and critics have rationalized it as an attempt to regain lost ground. But Bessie's popularity was not threatened at the time, and her recordings reflected only a part of her actual repertoire. Her treatment of these songs offers delightful evidence of her talent for turning banal material into something special. (...)
Just as the sudden popularity of theatrical blues (as opposed to the street corner variety) had turned "sweet" singers into blues divas overnight, so it was easy for blues singers to venture beyond their regular domain. Bessie did this routinely on stage, but even a song like "After You've Gone" almost be- came a blues when she handled it ... (Bessie, rev. and expanded ed., New Haven 2003, p. 148 f.)
The least one can say is that Bessie made the song her own, so that until today nobody (I guess) associates it with Marion Harris but rather with Bessie Smith. Thus we find it on two »Bessie Smith Tribute« LPs from the late '50s, the one, famous enough, by Dinah Washington, the other, truly obscure, by Becky Hall.

AAMCO LP # 324 (1959?)
Let's start with the second, entitled A Tribute to Bessie Smith (AAMCO # ALP-324). Strangely, the singer is nowhere mentioned on the cover; instead you'll have to read the sleeve notes on the back in order to finally stumble across the artist's name in about one of the last lines. On another blog, the writer is as clueless as I am about who Becky Hall really was. In fact, it is not even clear whether one of the two women posing in the cover photo is Becky Hall or not (my guess is that she isn't, because on many other AAMCO 33⅓ covers there is no picture of the artist but rather a more or less kitschy, if not outright trashy or freaky, tableau composed of otherwise unrelated models) ...!
     The low-priced AAMCO label (a subsidiary of some sort of Alison Enterprises) was established in summer 1958 and barely a year later, in June '59, Alison-AAMCO already filed for bankruptcy (see Billboard, June 29, 1959, p. 7). However, if running across the net you'll find release dates for AAMCO LPs ranging from 1956 to the mid-'60s ... Conventionally, Becky's LP is assigned to 1959, and this makes sense because Georges Rhodes (who was Sammy Davis's accompanist) is mentioned as the arranger in the notes on the back cover. Rhodes joined Alison-AAMCO only at the beginning of '59 (see JET, Jan. 29, 1959, p. 64), thus 1959 seems to be about right as the release date of the album.
     For the curious among you I can add that it is worthwhile to look for other AAMCO LP releases ... you'll find everything from serious jazz by famous soloists and bandleaders to mildly bizarre releases of more or less exotic stuff: Torero (Music of the Bull Ring) (»a 66 piece band captures the pageantry of bull ring«), Favorite Polkas, Mazeltov, Flamenco, The Scots Guards Bag Pipes (»Stirring songs of Scot- land«) and, my favorite album, Tarik Bulut's In An Egyptian Garden (»Sensuous songs of the exotic Middle East«). Also noteworthy is the respective cover art of many of these LPs, and not without good reason at least one AAMCO album made it on the Bizarre Records website ...

EmArcy LP # MG-36130 (1958)
Second, Dinah Washington. Her album Dinah Sings Bessie Smith (EmArcy LP # MG 36130) was out in February 1958. It doesn't need much of an introduction, I think. It features 10 songs made famous by Bessie Smith and recorded by Queen Dinah in December '57 and January '58, accompanied by her then-husband, the saxophonist Eddie Chamblee, and his band. »After You've Gone« in particular was taped at Universal Recorders, Chicago, on January 7, 1959. On the back cover of the EmArcy LP, the tune is explicitly mentioned as »one of a handful of non-blues songs among the 160 (which Bessie put on wax during her eleven years as a recording artist).«

Below, you can listen to Becky Hall's version of »After You've Gone«, followed by Dinah's. I personally feel that putting Becky's version first is doing her a favor, really. Maybe this is because I am, by personal inclination, unshakably partial to the art of Ruth Lee Jones. Anyhow, Becky's every so often strident voice is less forceful and less modulated than Dinah's, especially in the upper registers, and vocally she tackles the song as if it were kind of a French chanson. Finally, and quite indepen- dent from both the artists' respective talents, Dinah's voice was recorded way clearer and more up front than was Becky's. But well, there is always something to listen to with interest, if not delight:

Becky Hall ('59)/ Dinah Washington ('58): »After You've Gone«:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Can't Nobody ...

mid-week gospel

... tell me that this isn't a beautiful LP! A gifted artist and a piano. That's about all you need. And Martha Abbott does give it to us, in abundance, on her 1976 Hoyt Sullivan LP Precious Is His Name (HSE LP # 1458): eight songs, a marvelous voice and about 85 ivories in black & white.

From the cover of HSE LP # 1458
(changed to B&W)
Martha Abbott's first HSE LP was recorded in Nashville and probably released in (late?) 1976; however, three songs from the album were filed for copyright only in January 1977 (if that is to mean anything). The album features two songs by Martha and several more or less known tunes by others.
     Mrs Abbott, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. John H. Clark from Columbus, Ohio, and married to deacon Robert Abbott, dedicated her life to church music. In 2001, she was among the inductees of the Columbus Senior Musicians Hall of Fame and I understand that she is still active in several Columbus baptist communities and occas- ionally gigging. Apart from this, information about her is scarce.

Several months ago, Alex on his blog posted a piece on Martha Abbott. He writes that he called her (you'll actually find her phone no. on the back of the HSE LP!) and eventually had a nice conversation after overcoming some (understandable) diffidence on her part. She said that »Precious Is His Name« (listen to it on Alex's blog) was the first song she ever wrote and that her first HSE LP was recorded in Nashville. After that, she recorded in her hometown of Columbus instead and released a total of eight LPs. Locally, Martha is a known artist and her LPs sold well throughout Ohio and in neighboring states. »You can find them everywhere« she added. Not less importantly, Mrs. Abbott stressed that she feels blessed to have been able to perform her music for so many people for such a long time. »It's all about Jesus,« she said. (Read more here) ... and yes, the cover photo from her HSE LP seems to be the only known »official« photo of her. It does seem to come, in style and posture, from a by-gone epoch so that's why I changed it to B&W above. Not so her music which resonates today.

On most songs of her LP, Martha Abbott is accompanied (almost shyly and much in the background) by an electric organ; on »Precious Is His Name« and »All Of My Life« we have only her and the piano. Some of the tunes are church ballads, but two others are true downhome piano stompers, with a hint of barrelhouse: James Cleveland's »It's So Hard To Get Along« and Andrae Crouch's »Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus« (which means »can't nobody treat me like Jesus« as the lyrics say at one point). It's just what I felt I needed to hear today. Hope you feel the same!

Martha Abbott: »It's So Hard To Get Along« / »Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus« from the HSE LP # 1458 (1976):

* * *

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday's Twosome # 15

Entry from Billboard, Nov. 02, 1963
(click to enlarge)

... will prove today, if anything, the very versatility of this cherished bloglet of mine (chuckling). Just yesterday I uncrated another 45 which I didn't remember to possess. It turned out to be a hit single released in September '63, by Dale & Grace (Dale Houston & Grace Broussard, both from Louisiana; well, Dale originally hailed from Mississippi). Famously, in an impromptu evening session, Sam Montel of Baton Rouge brought together his up-to- then unsuccessful songwriter Dale Houston with 19-year old Cajun singer Grace Broussard. They rehearsed some songs together until they hit upon »I'm Leaving It Up To You«. Montel was convinced that they had a hit and made them record the song the very next day. He then put it out on the Michelle label (MX-921), named for Montel's daughter (and consistently referred to in Billboard's issues of the period as »Michele«). A Houston radio pushed the song and it got airplay in the south. Eventually, it was re-released on Montel # 921 and was soon known nationally; it became a # 1 hit in late November 1963.

Michelle # 921 and Montel # 921 each featured a different B-side, »Foolin' Around« and »That's What I Like About You« respectively. »Foolin' Around« was first done by Buck Owens and Don Rich before Dale & Grace dealt it with grace. The outcome was a mildly fast version with a heavy Mexican flavor. Dig it here:

Dale & Grace: »Foolin' Around« on Michelle # MX-921 (1963):

Ummh, and yes, this B-side is kind of a rarity because it was neither included on their (first and only) Montel LP (#100: I'm Leaving It Up To You) rushed out in December '63 on the wave of their overnight hit nor was it included in modern CD re-issues of this album.

The standard comment regarding Michelle # 921's A-side is that it reached # 1 on the Hot 100 charts on the very day in November '63 when Kennedy was assassinated (in fact, the Billboard charts were published only the day after, on Nov. 23); it was then ousted by the Beatles. To keep to the spirit of this blog, and to put Dale & Grace's single into perspective, we might remember that the rise of their first Michelle 45 coin- cided first with the Vandellas's »Heat Wave«, Doris Troy's »Just One Look« and Inez Foxx's »Mockingbird«, later with Garnet Mimms's »Cry Baby« and Rufus Thomas's »Walking The Dog« (to name but them). Truly surprising that »I'm Leaving It Up To You« also made it, during the same time, into the Top Ten of the R&B charts.

For more info on Dale & Grace, have a look here:

Monday, August 13, 2012

I Wish I Knew ...

... How It Would Feel To Be Free ... from Shirley Scott's 1969 LP Shirley Scott & The Soul Saxes (Atlantic SD 1532).

51 Years ago today, the Berlin Wall was built. Fortunately, it's been down for 23 years now and the world has become a better place. But let us not forget that others are still struggling to acquire their freedom ... in Syria, in Belarus, in Iran, in Alge- ria, in North Corea, in Cuba, in Ukraine ... and in some sense in Russia as well ... and not to speak of the social and racist barriers to freedom that exist throughout the entire world.

Atlantic SD 1532 (1969)
For the record: Shirley Scott's '69 album actually features six songs recorded in July 1969, all with the participation of saxo- phonists King Curtis, Hank Crawford and David Newman, hence the title. There is one title though (the one you can hear below) which was already recorded back in September 1968 ... and it's the only track on the LP without saxophone. Accompanying Shirley on the organ are Eric Gale (guitar),  Jerry Jemmott (bass) and Bernard Purdie (dr).

Shirley Scott: »I Wish I Knew How It would Feel To Be Free« from the Atlantic LP # 1532 (1969):