LITTLE WILLIE JOHN: The Authorized Biography

March 4th, 2014 Comments off

Little Willie John

FEVER: Little Willie John’s Fast Life, Mysterious Death, and the Birth of Soul 

Author: Susan Whitall  Publisher: Titan Books

Armed with a lion-like voice and sparkling personality Little Willie John was one of the most popular entertainers during the 1950′s and 60′s. Songs like “All Around The World”, “Fever”, and “Talk To Me” all made it to the top of the R&B charts and became the blueprint for what would later be called “Soul Music”. He consistently filled concert halls throughout his career always delivering an electric stage show that left audiences wanting more. On the road more often then not Willie lived his life fast and hard. He regularly stayed out until the wee-hours of the morning drinking and socializing.  One night after a show in Seattle, Washington while he was drinking at an after-hours club Willie was involved in an altercation that ended with him stabbing a man. Willie ended up being charged with manslaughter and was sent away to the Washington State Penitentiary where he died on May 26 1968 at the age of 30. Although the cause of his death is listed as “Heart Attack”, there are questions about the care he was given while incarcerated.  However it happened, it’s a sad but true fact that Little Willie John left this world too soon.

In her book FEVER: Little Willie John, A Fast Life, Mysterious Death, and the Birth of Soul, author Susan Whitall gives us a detailed and in-dept look at the life of one of music’s greatest voices. Written with the help of Willie John’s son Kevin and filled with interviews from those who knew Willie John this book is essential for anyone interested in the history of Soul music.

Essential listening  Little Willie John: Complete Hit Single’s A’s & B’s

Little Willie John

 

 

SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS: GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT!

January 23rd, 2014 Comments off

SJCoverArt_zpscfbb74a4580x580

GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT Daptone Records

Full of raw Funk and organic Soul, Give The People What They Want might be Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings finest hour. The album opens with the in-your-face sound of “Retreat”, the album’s first single, before flowing nicely into the Motown flavored “Stranger To My Happiness”.  On both these tunes we hear the band swinging like never before.  For all the credit we give Ms. Jones we need to also recognize the talents of her band the Dap-Kings.  Able to move effortlessly from one style of music to another, these talented musicians are a big reason this album flows so well. On the Latin infused “Long Time, Wrong Time” the band leads the way with a mellow groove reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman”.  Tasteful playing is the name of the game here and the band finds a nice groove behind Sharon’s soulful vocals. Other stand out tracks are the beautiful ballad “Slow Down, Love” and the hard driving “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” (they bust out the tympani drums for this one).  But this record is more then a collection of songs, it’s a reminder that the best things in life are worth fighting for.

In early 2012 Sharon lost her mother to cancer.  On tour when her mother passed Sharon found comfort in her music. Instead of taking a break she kept performing and began working on this album.  Shortly after the recording was complete she started experiencing some health problems  and was diagnosed with cancer herself.  Fortunately doctors caught it in time and Sharon is now cancer free!  Now with a new lease on life and album to promote she’s back and able to do what she does best… and that’s GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT!

 

 

RESPECT YOURSELF: The Story of STAX Records

December 17th, 2013 Comments off

STAX

RESPECT YOURSELF: THE STORY OF STAX RECORDS Bloomsbury USA

Author Robert Gordon has been writing about the music of Memphis for almost 30 years. In Respect Yourself: The Story of STAX Records Mr. Gordon not only tells the story of STAX but also the story of the Civil Rights movement in Memphis.  Passionately written and meticulously researched this book takes you from the label’s meager beginnings in a garage outside Memphis to it’s bankruptcy in 1975.   Along with Mr. Gordon’s narration you hear from the people that made STAX happen, making this book one of a kind.

A LITTLE STAX HISTORY…

Started by Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton in 1957, STAX Records was more then just a record label.  It was a voice in the community.  The label’s open door policy made it possible for anyone to come in off the street and set up an audition. It didn’t matter where you were from or what the color of your skin was, you were welcomed at STAX as long as you had a passion for music.

Right from the beginning STAX did things it’s own way. Segregation may have been alive and well in Memphis during the 1960′s, but that didn’t stop STAX founder Jim Stewart from hiring an African American DJ named Al Bell to be his lead promotions man.  Working together side by side Jim, Estelle, and Al turned STAX records from a little indie label into a household name!  STAX artists like Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MG’s, Carla Thomas, and William Bell put the label on the map with singles that started appearing on the R&B and Pop charts.  Money was coming in and things were really rolling, until one very dark December day in 1967…

Today many people can remember exactly where they were when they learned that the plane carrying Otis Redding and The Bar-Keys went down. Otis was the soul of STAX and the voice of soul music.  A few months later while the people of STAX were still grieving over the loss of Otis and the Bar Keys their world was rocked again.  On the evening of April 4, 1968  Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  Needless to say, after the assassination of Dr. King everything was different, especially in Memphis.  If all this wasn’t enough,  the label’s distributor Atlantic Records ended it’s relationship with STAX.  With it’s biggest star gone and no way to get music to the stores most label’s would have called it a day, but most labels didn’t have Al Bell.  It was then that Al and the folks at STAX hunkered down and staged one of the biggest comebacks in music history.

The early 70′s found STAX again at the top of the Soul music world. This time around STAX would reach heights that were even greater then it did in the 1960′s.  Al Bell gained full control of the label and STAX rode the success of artists like Isaac Hayes, The Emotions, Johnnie Taylor, and The Staple Singers all the way to the top of the charts.  Sadly this rebirth would be short lived as some questionable business decisions and over expatiation lead to STAX eventually having to declaring bankruptcy in 1975.

 

BIG MIKE’S BEST OF 2013!

November 26th, 2013 Comments off

Mavis

  Here are some of my favorite releases of 2013!  

2013′s Top 5 Albums (New Music)

1. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band “That’s It!” (New Orleans Jazz)

2. Charles Bradley “Victim of Love” (Soul)

3. Mavis Staples “One True Vine” (Gospel/Soul)

4. Robbie Fulks “Gone Away Backward” (Country/Folk)

5. The Relatives “The Electric Word” (Gospel/Funk)

preservation-hallThe Relatives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013′s Top 5 Reissues

1.  JAMES GOVAN “WANTED: THE FAME RECORDINGS” Label: KENT SOUL

Mike says… Underrated and under-recorded Soul vocalist. Sweet Southern Soul!

2. VARIOUS ARTISTS “BLUESIN’ BY THE BAYOU” Label: ACE RECORDS

Mike says…  Possibly the BEST collection of Southern Louisiana Swamp Blues ever assembled. Some tracks issued for the first time!

3. OTIS CLAY “TYRING TO LIVE MY LIFE WITHOUT YOU”  Label: HI RECORDS/FAT POSSUM

Mike says… A gem from Otis Clay’s time at Hi-Records

4. VARIOUS ARTISTS “NEW BREED BLUES WITH BLACK POPCORN” Label: Kent Soul

Mike says… Great collection of some lesser know R&B sides.  Features tracks by Etta James and Bobby Mitchell

5. MERRY CLAYTON “THE BEST OF MERRY CLAYTON” Label: Sony Legacy

Mike says… A collection of singles showing why this in-demand backup singer was usually the most talented person in the studio.

Otis ClayJames Govan

 

 

 

VISITING MEMPHIS!

October 21st, 2013 Comments off

Traveling to Memphis!

This past spring I had the privilege of getting to spend a few days in Memphis, Tennessee.   Let me start out by saying that I found Memphis to be a wonderful city with amazing history!  While Memphis has received a bad reputation for it’s level of crime and high homeless population at no time did I feel unsafe.  I had an excellent visit and found the locals of Memphis very friendly and helpful.   If you have any interest in American Roots music or the History of the Civil Rights movement you should start making plans to visit Memphis immediately.

 

MUST DO’s while in Memphis.

National Civil Rights Museum  450 Mulberry St  Memphis, TN 38103  http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/

In my opinion to really understand the history of American roots music you need to learn about the struggle for Civil Rights in this country. Start your visit here! This beautiful museum will set the tone for the rest of your visit.  Located in the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, the museum elegantly tells the story of the men and women that fought hard for equality in this country.  Learning about the struggle for Civil Rights will help you see why multiracial bands at Stax Records and Fame Studios were so historically significant.

Civil Rights MuseumIMG_0186

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stax Museum of American Soul Music 926 E. McLemore Ave. (901) 942-SOUL  www.staxmuseum.com

Possibly one of the best museums in the United States, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music tells the story of the little record label that could.  From field workers singing gospel music to the artists of today this museum leaves no stone unturned.  Also the museum doesn’t just stick to talking about Stax artists.  It covers artists from Motown, Atlantic, Chess, Duke, Goldwax (my personal favorite), and everything in-between!  You’ll see things like Issac Hayes’ car, Rufus Thomas Mater Tapes, and a recreation of the studio where Booker T. and The MG’s backed many amazing artists.  The museum has lots of interactive touch-screens and even a full on dance floor!  The staff are very knowledgeable and are dedicated to getting you the whole story of Soul music.  Keep in mind if you’re staying downtown you’ll have to take a cab, bus, or car to get here as it’s a little off the beaten path, but you’ll learn there’s a reason for that.  This museum is worth the short trip from downtown.  Only here will you’ll get the whole story of American Blues and Soul music.

IMG_0250 Stax Studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEALE STREET

Although it’s now pretty much a tourist trap, Beale Street should be a stop on your trip.   This is the street where so many musicians got their “start”.  W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Furry Lewis, Rosco Gordon, Rufus Thomas, Memphis Minnie, all have graced the stages of clubs here on Beale.  There is still plenty of live music here but it can be very hit or miss. Luckily, I had a chance to catch the great Dr. Feelgood Potts while I was here and he didn’t disappoint!  He and his put put on a great show and had the place jumpin’! Check him out if you get the chance!

EATING ON BEALE

Blues City Cafe 138 Beale St, Memphis TN  (901) 526-3637  http://www.bluescitycafe.com/

The one sure thing on Beale that’s around today is the restaurant Blues City Cafe.  Memphis has as many amazing restaurants as it does Blues legends and the Blues City Cafe is one of the best.  Late hours, great spices, amazing BBQ, what’s not to love?  I had some of the best Fried Catfish I’ve ever had in my life here!

 

Blues City Dr. Feelgood Potts

 

The Rock N’ Soul Museum

Located at Beale and Hwy 61 (across the street from the Gibson Guitar Factory)

This museum isn’t as essential as the Stax Museum but it’s still VERY good.  They have an amazing collection of stuff from Ike Turner’s Piano to part of a classic Southern style church.  They cover all the essentials from Gospel to today’s Soul and they have a really nice exhibit on Memphis’ own WDIA!  If you’re short on time and cant’s make it to the Stax Museum then make sure you hit this place up!  It also offers a FREE shuttle to Sun Records and is walking distance to lots of stuff in Downtown Memphis.

 

WDIA  Ike Turner's Piano

 

Another thing to do while in Memphis is vist The Memphis Cotton Exchange Museum.  Cotton was king in the American south and because the history of the Blues has so much to do with the life a sharecropper lived you really can’t pass up this museum.

There’s also Sun Records, the studio where Sam Phillips recorded Elvis, Cash, Jerry Lee, and many others.   Now don’t get me wrong, I like the Rockabilly stuff that was done at Sun Records but I’m personally more interested in the Blues that Sam Phillips recorded with his Memphis Recording Service.  Sadly there is little mention of the Blues at Sun Records today, but to be fair, most of their visitors don’t really seem to care about that.  Most of them probably aren’t even aware that Sam Phillips once called Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ at Midnight” the greatest recording he ever made.   So besides an original wax copy of Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88″ there really isn’t much about the Blues here at Sun Records.  The studio is now very touristy and has a large gift shop and cafe in it.  During my visit I tried to imagine Johnny Cash taking a break from a session to shop for a Sun Records hoodie but it made me sad so I left.  However, if you’re into Rockabilly or Elvis Presley you should make this an essential part of your Memphis trip.

Cotton Museum   Al Green's Church

 

Some other non-essential but fun spots to see Memphis 

Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church,

The Blues Foundation office (when they finish building their Blues museum this will become an essential stop)

West Memphis, Arkansas (The clubs in West Memphis were where musicians from Memphis went to REALLY show their stuff)

Also make sure you check out the site www.msbluestrail.org.  Here you’ll find information about the Mississippi Blues Trail and Historical markers that are set up at spots along the trail where Blues history actually happened!  There are a number of these markers around Memphis and they provide a nice overview of the city’s Blues history.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST…

CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

If you’re in Memphis, Tennessee then you’re only about 90 short minutes from Clarksdale, Mississippi.  I HIGHLY recommend taking at least a day and travel down to Clarksdale.    If you’re into Blues, Soul, Gospel, or History you will LOVE Clarksdale.  Here you will get your fill of NO FRILLS BLUES HISTORY.   There is so much to see and do in Clarksdale that I can’t list it all here.  So if you’d like suggestions about visiting Clarksdale please contact me through this blog and I’ll be in touch with you.  Keep in mind that many of the amazing clubs, shops, and museums in Clarksdale are disappearing due to the recent influx of Casinos along the Mississippi river.  So see them while you can!

Happy travels!

 

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Merry Clayton: The Voice Behind the Hits

October 16th, 2013 Comments off

Merry Clayton

Late one night in 1969 singer Merry Clayton was just falling asleep when she received a call from a producer named Jack Nitzsch.  Jack was in the middle of a late night studio session and was desperately looking for a female vocalist to add backing vocals on a track called “Gimmie Shelter”.   Very pregnant and not really in the mood to leave her warm bed, Merry listen while Jack worked hard to convince her that singing with this band called “The Rolling Stones” would be a great career move.  Merry finally agreed to do the session.  It didn’t matter that she’d never heard of the band and wasn’t familiar with their music,  Merry was a seasoned pro. This was just another session gig.  She went to the studio and nailed the track in three quick takes. Then as quickly as she came, she was out the door and gone in the night.  While the song became a huge hit with Stones fans Merry couldn’t bring herself to listen to the recording for many years.  Sadly, after her session with the Stones, she had miscarriage and lost her baby.  It has been speculated that her vigorous singing on “Gimmie Shelter” contributed to the miscarriage.

Ever since her singing career began in the Churches of New Orleans Merry has turned heads with her larger then life voice.  She starting out her professional career as a studio musician singing on records with the likes of Bobby Darin.  Form there it wasn’t long before she was selected to be a “Raelette” and sing backup for one of her main influences, Mr. Ray Charles.  Little did she know that singing backup for Ray was just the beginning.  In later years Merry would go on to sing backup for artists such as Joe Cocker, Neil Young, Carole King, Lynyrd Skynyrd and of course, The Rolling Stones.  Usually the most talented vocalist at whatever session she was working on, Merry signed with Lou Alder’s Ode Record label in the late 60′s. Working with music industry legend Lou Alder, Merry began what many thought would be a successful a solo career.  Unfortunately, her records didn’t sell and most of her solo recordings remain unknown and forgotten about by the general public. That is, until now…

Hopefully 2013 is the year the world will finally know Merry Clayton.  She is the subject of an excellent new documentary called 20 Feet From Stardom that follows the lives of some very talented backup singers.   In conjunction with the release 20 Feet From Stardom Sony/Ode Records has release a collection of Merry’s solo recordings called The Best Of Merry Clayton.  This collection covers most of Merry’s solo career and features soulful renditions of some popular classic rock songs.  One only needs to listen to a few minutes of Merry’s rendition of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” (the album’s opening track) to know that listening to Merry sing is a religious experience.   Very different then the original version, Merry screams and shouts her way through 3 minutes of soulful-funk!  The song takes on a whole new life when Merry screams “…I heard screamin’, bullwhips crackin’, how long is it gonna last?”.   Other great tracks on this album are her versions of Bill Withers “Grandma’s Hands”,  James Taylor’s”Country Road”, and of course the Stones’ “Gimmie Shelter” (her first Ode Records release).  In 17 great tracks you get to hear the voice that helped many artists take their songs to the next level.  Here’s hoping that someday soon Merry will reach the high level of stardom that she so rightly deserves.

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THE PRESERVATION HALL BAND: THAT’S IT!

August 13th, 2013 Comments off

PHJB

In 1961, tuba player Allan Jaffe and his wife Sandra decided to turn a small building in the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter into a performance hall.  The idea behind this project was to help preserve the history and sound of New Orleans Jazz.  Given the name “Preservation Hall”,  this little building quickly became the spot in town where people knew they could always hear exceptional musicians preform classic New Orleans Jazz.  The small size of the venue gave audience members an up-close and personal show allowing them to really connect with the musicians and vice versa.  Shortly after the hall opened some of it’s regular musicians started performing together outside of the club as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  Now after 50 of keeping the sound of New Orleans Jazz alive the band’s done something for the very first time in it’s career, they’ve released an album of original music.

Now some purists might think it’s a little strange for a band that’s made a career of playing standards to release an album of original music, but after listening to THAT’S IT! for about 30 seconds you seem to forget these tunes weren’t written in 1920.  The material on this album is strong and in some cases may even be stronger then some of the classics that fill the band’s regular set! (GASP)  The sound on this album is clearly that of a band that’s out for blood.  Songs like the album’s title track and Halfway Right, Halfway Wrong are fierce and in your face while the tune Dear Load (Give Me Strength) will have you up and dancing in your living room.  Rattlin’ Bones is probably the funkiest tune on the record and although the lyrics might be a little silly this song is upbeat and fun which is really what this music’s all about, having fun. With that in mind, it’s funny that the only real somber tune on the album maybe also be one of the album’s strongest.  While listening to the bluesy balled August Nights  it’s easy to imagine yourself alone in a bar on Frenchman’s street at 3am listening to the band play.  This song is so beautiful and fits perfectly among the other more upbeat material.  It’s nice to see that after 50 years the band’s message is still the same,  no matter your who you are, if you’re a positive person and wanna party, then you’re welcome here.

Preservation Hall

 

MAVIS STAPELS One True Vine

July 10th, 2013 Comments off

Mavis-Staples

MAVIS STAPLES  One True Vine (Anti)

Mavis Staples is a living legend.  Over the past 60′s years she’s not only brought Gospel music to the masses but she’s also been a voice of hope and strength for those who are fighting for Civil Rights. Her career started in the late 1940′s in Chicago when she and her siblings would perform in churches and on local radio alongside their Father, the legendary Roebuck “Pops” Staples.  With a sound was rooted in Southern Gospel and Delta Blues “The Staple Singers” soon became local favorites and in the early 50′s the band recorded number of sides for labels like VeeJay and Checker.  In addition to fans of Gospel music the band was also embraced by folk music fans during the folk revival of late 50′s and early 60′s and they soon found their audience expanding to include hippies and college students.  It was then that the Staple Singers started entering the Pop and R&B charts.  In the late 60′s and early 70′s music was changing and the band changed right along with it.  They started veering away from the gospel/folk sound and adopted more of a Funk/Soul style. The music might have become a little funkier but it still contained a strong message.  Songs like “Why Am I Treated So Bad“, “Respect Yourself“, and “Freedom Highway” became anthems of hope and change during the Civil Rights movement in the United States.  Mavis Staples still preforms many of these songs at her concerts today and it was at one of her concerts in 2008 that these songs inspired Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy to explore the idea of working with her in the studio.

The paring of Jeff Tweedy with Mavis Staples proved to be pure dynamite and led to the award winning album You Are Not Alone. The album not only pleased long time Mavis Staples fans but also exposed a whole new generation to her music.  Now Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy have teamed up once again to give us another album that is sure to become a Mavis Staples classic, One True Vine. 

          Like it’s predecessor, the music on One True Vine is a mix of covers and Jeff Tweedy originals all of which fit perfectly together and give the album a nice organic sound.  The cover songs that were chosen are mainly traditional Gospel tunes except for one surprise, George Clinton’s “Can You Get To That?” from his band Funkadelic’s masterpiece album Maggot Brain!  Mavis and her backup singers make this song their own by filling it up with sweet harmonies and plenty of soul.  Another strong choice is the song “I Like The Things About Me“.  Originally written by Mavis’ father Pops Staples for the Staple Singers this is a song that should be playing on everyone’s MP3 player and stereo from now on!  The song was originally released by the Staple Singers on the soundtrack for the live concert film WATTSTAX, and while the concert took place 30 years ago the message is still the same, love yourself.  As for the Tweedy originals, both the title track “One True Vine” and “Jesus Wept” have nice Gospel-Country vibe while the somber tone of “Ever Step” grows from a mellow groove into an strong R&B march.  Like the rest of the album the Jeff Tweedy original tunes are just begging to be performed live. Which brings me to another point, if you’ve never been to a Mavis Staples performance now’s your chance.  She has live dates scheduled in the States and Europe all the way into 2014!  So make sure to keep an eye out for her and don’t miss the chance to see this soulful songbird who after 63 years in the business seems to only be getting better.

 

Mavis staples

Remembering Bobby “Blue” Bland

July 1st, 2013 Comments off

Bobby Bland

On Sunday June 23, 2013 the Blues world lost one of it’s most soulful voices in Bobby “Blue” Bland.  Unlike many of his contemporaries Bland lived to the golden age of 83, thus making him one of the last living connections to the Memphis Blues scene of the 1950′s.  In his early days Bland performed on Beale street along with artists like Johnny Ace, Little Junior Parker, Ike Turner, Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King.  Although he performed with many Delta Blues players Bland’s smooth vocal style was closer to the big city Rhythm & Blues sound of artists like Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker (this eventually earned him the nickname “The Black Sinatra”).  Along with artists like Junior Parker and Johnny Ace, Bland’s style helped shape the Memphis Soul Blues style that would influence artists like Otis Redding and Al Green.

During the 1950′s the Memphis music scene was one the biggest and most competitive in the South.  Musicians from all over the Southern states flocked to the area to showcase their talent at the clubs on Beale Street and across the river in West Memphis.  In these clubs you had to be not only on top of your game musically but you had to be able to put on a show!  It wasn’t long before record labels like Chess, Modern, and Duke got wind of what was going on and started trying to cherry pick talent from the local scene.  Using recording engineer Sam Phillips and his Memphis Recording Service as one of their main contacts these labels started bringing the music of Memphis to the masses.  Bobby “Blue” Bland started out recording some sides that were released by the Modern and Chess labels were very good but failed to draw national attention. It wasn’t until he started recording for Duke Records in 1954 that he found success as a recording artist.  His first big single was “Farther On Up The Road” which reached number 1 on the R&B charts.  In 1961 Bland and Duke released the album Two Steps from the Blues which was combined some newly recorded “Big Band” style tracks along with some of his previously released late fifties sides. The album was an instant success and took Bland’s career to the next level.

In the years following “Two Steps From The Blues” Bland released albums and kept a busy touring schedule.  Duke released like Here’s The Man, His California Album, and The Soul Of The Man but in 1968 due to a number of personal problems Bland disbanded his touring band and cut his live schedule way back.  He enjoyed some success with the single “This Time I’m Gone For Good” from His California Album which broke into the top 50 on the Pop Charts. In 1974 Bland teamed up with B.B. King and released the first of two live albums with B.B. King.   Together for the First Time…Live was a commercial success and helped Bland and King stay in the spotlight through the 70′s.  The pair toured on and off together for the next 35 years.

Although he may not have had the commercial success of B.B. King or Muddy Waters, Bobby “Blue” Bland was a force to be reckoned with in the would of Blues and R&B.  He’s inspired everyone from the Heavy Metal band Whitesnake to the legendary Rapper Jay-Z.   He’s a member of both the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and The Blues Foundation Hall Of Fame and has performed sold out concerts all over the world.  B.B. King credits him as being one of the best singers he’s ever heard.  Personally, I agree with Mr. King.  Thank you Bobby for sharing your music and talent with us.

 

Bobby Bland

THE RELATIVES: The Electric Word

May 16th, 2013 Comments off

THE RELATIVES The Electric Word (Yep Roc Records)

Psychedelic Gospel? YES PLEASE!

Founded in Dallas, Texas in 1970 by two brothers, Rev. Gean and Rev. Tommie West, The Relatives have been playing their special brand of Funky-Gospel for over 40 years. The band enjoyed some local success the 1970′s, releasing three singles and sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in Gospel and Soul as well as headlined their own shows.  Then in 1980 after a decade of playing gigs of all shapes and sizes the band members called it quits to focus on other parts of their lives.  Then in 2009 the good people at Heavy Light Records re-released the band’s singles on the compilation Don’t Let Me Fall.  The album received very positive feedback and inspired the band to start performing live again.  Word soon got out about the band’s amazing live show and the group was booked into many of the top festivals in the country.  Now after a successful return to the stage that’s brought the band many new fans they’ve decided it’s time to head back to the recording studio and give the people a new studio record called, The Electric Word.

After listening to The Electric Word (Yep Roc) you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that this is The Relatives’ first release of new music in almost 40 years.  Produced and recorded by fellow Texan Jim Eno of the band Spoon, the band sounds just as powerful and soulful as ever.  As you’d expect, the bands vocals and t harmonies are spot on but what really sticks out about this recording is the power of the band!  On the tune Let Your Light Shine the bass and guitar are LOUD and up in the mix giving the tune a real psychedelic rock vibe.  Think Sly Stone meets Band of Gypsies.  This song is just begging to be performed live.  Along with psychedelic rock the band also serves up a healthy dose of FUNK.  Things Are Changing and It’s Coming Up Again both have a great James Brown/O.V. Wright vibe and Speak To Me (What’s Wrong With America?) is a beautiful civil-rights balled that shows off the bands true vocal power.  The band may not be re-inventing the wheel with it’s songwriting but that really doesn’t matter. This album’s purpose is to get you out to see the band on-stage where they really shine. Which is exactly what you should do if these guys pass through your town.