BETTY HARRIS: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL

 Soul Jazz Records 

For fans of James Brown, Irma Thomas, Tina Turner, and The Meters

When you think of the greatest Soul singers of all time you probably don’t think of the name Betty Harris. Despite being as talented as superstars like Tina Turner and Etta James, Ms. Harris isn’t a household name. During the 1960’s she only released a handful of singles and only a few of those became hits. She then retired in 1970 to focus on her family. While her music has become very popular among Soul record collectors and aficionados over the years, it has never reached a mass audience. Fortunately the good folks at Soul Jazz Records are trying to change that with their recent release, BETTY HARRIS: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL!

THE BEGINNING

Born in Orlando FL, in 1941 (or possibly 1939) Ms. Harris started out singing gospel music when she was very young. Part of a very religious family, Harris wasn’t allowed to sing secular music while under her parent’s roof. She left home in her late teens to perform Blues and Soul music in California. After several years on the West Coast she moved to New York City where she hooked up with songwriter/producer Bert Berns. In 1963 she recorded her first hit, “Cry To Me”, a slow rendition of a tune singer Solomon Burke had recorded a year earlier. The song became a big hit for Harris and actually surpassed Burke’s original recording on the national charts! The success of “Cry To Me” inspired a few more releases from the Berns/Harris team including a fiery number called “Mo Jo Hannah”. Unfortunately none of these other recordings because hits and Burns and Harris went their separate ways.

WORKING WITH ALLEN TOUSSAINT

Shortly after her relationship with Burt Berns ended Harris met master Musican/Songwriter Allen Toussaint and began recording for his New Orleans based record label Sansu. Even though only one of the singles she recorded for Sansu charted nationally, the recordings she made while at the label are classic and make up the material on BETTY HARRIS: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL. The music on this compilation is all killer-no-filler and ranges from classic R&B to HARD FUNK ! Songs like “There’s A Break In Every Road” and “12 Red Roses” are so funky you can smell ’em and the balled “Lonely Hearts” is greasier then a plate of food from a Louisiana Bayou Fish Fry! While it’s Harris’ larger-then-life vocals that command the most attention on these songs we must also note that the backing band is made up of some of New Orleans’ finest musicians, including the legendary Funk group, The Meters. Like the Funk Brothers at Motown or Booker T. & The MG’s at STAX, The Meters are as important to the recording as the artist they are supporting. Finally, we must acknowledge that none of these recordings would’ve been possible without master musician/producer Allen Toussiant behind the board. Not only do his talents as a producer take these recordings to another level, he also wrote all of these songs!

THE BOTTOM LINE

BETTY HARRIS: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL is an excellent compilation of Harris’ Sansu recordings. Even though there are other compilations that go a bit deeper into her career this one hits all the main points and is a must have for FUNK loving fans.

 

FUNKY SOUL: THREE ESSENTIAL COLLECTIONS!

Funk and Soul music has always been a large part of my music collection.  My first exposure to Funk and Soul came through my High School band director Dr. Van Decker.  While most other school bands in the area did the marching band thing we played music by Herbie Hancock, James Brown, and Monk.   Inspired by the music we learned about in class, I would often head to Lou’s Record Shop after school and pick up albums so I could hear the original version of the song we were learning in class.  At first listen most of the grooves on these original recordings sounded simple but when you listened a little closer you could hear all the little nuances of the song that made it really move.  So, for those who want to get into what I call “Street Funk” here are three of my favorite compilations.

Play ’em loud and enjoy!

SATURDAY NIGHT FISH FRY: NEW ORLEANS FUNK AND SOUL 

Label: SOUL JAZZ RECORDS

This record from the good folks at SOUL JAZZ RECORDS is a great mix of funk, soul, and gospel from a group of artists that can only be described as New Orleans royalty.  Besides tracks from popular artists like Dr. John, Lee Dorsey, and Irma Thomas this album contains some great b-sides from lesser know musicians like Eddie Bo,  Eldridge Holmes, and Betty Harris. These artists created some of the most soulful funk to ever come out of New Orleans but unfortunately only achieved limited success nationally.  The stand out track for me on this record is “Pass The Hatchet” by Roger & The Gypsies.  This tune, produced by famed New Orleans musician Eddie Bo, became the first hit for the indie Seven-B label and is a perfect example of how a simple drum beat and a little melody can go a long way.  If I have one complaint about this release it’s that it is currently out of print and doesn’t seem to be on iTunes as of this posting (although some of the tracks are available on other releases).  I came across my copy a few years ago digging through the $1.99 used bin at a local record store.  Let this be a lesson to ALWAYS check the bargain bin when shopping for records.

 

 

THE FUNKY 16 CORNERS

Label: STONES THROW RECORDS

Released in 2001 by Stones Throw Records, The Funky 16 Corners  features a hefty helping of unreleased funky music recorded during the 60’s and 70’s.   All the tracks on this record are solid and the stories behind the music are just as moving as the music.  If you purchase this release on-line I highly suggest you check out www.stonesthrow.com to read the interviews with the artists that were collected during the formation of this disc.  For example, one of the groups featured on this disc is The Kashmere Stage band.  This was the school band for Kashmere High School in Houston Texas.  In the late 1960’s music director Conrad Johnson took the school’s struggling music program to a new level.  After introducing new arrangements and letting the kids inject some of their own style in the group The Kashmere Stage band started winning numerous awards and competitions.  They traveled all over the country breaking down barriers in many of the places they played (Kashmere H.S. was predominantly black and most of the school band competitions they entered were made up of all white groups). For more information on the story behind the Kashmere Stage Band check out the documentary film THUNDER SOUL.

 

 

Searching For Soul: Rare and Classic Soul, Funk, and Jazz from Michigan  

Label: Luv N’ Haight/Ubiquity

The album Searching For Soul: Rare Classic Soul, Funk, and Jazz from Michigan shows us that there is so much more to the Mid-West Soul scene then Motown.   Soul/Funk/Hip-Hop drummers, this record should be in your collection right next to your James Brown records.  All the grooves on this disc are slick and full of feel.  Robert Lowe’s tune “Back To Funk” is a classic. Filled to the brim with percussion and a tight saxophone solo this tune is Soul Jazz at it’s best.  As for straight-up Soul music, look no further then Dee Williams’ smooth and soulful voice on “(I Can) Deal With That”.  But the real story on this disc is hard FUNK!  Tracks by the Detroit Sex Machines and The Black Aces Of Soul & The Eyes Of Ebony are full of danceable breaks and greasy grooves, making this record essential to any fan of Funk music.

Although I am a big fan of the used bin,  things like this have a habit of going out of print without warning.  As of this posting you can still get this record most places. So don’t wait!  Pick up a copy today.  You’ll be glad you did.