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DEEP # 3/2018 (September)

The focus in this column is on two new, exciting albums.  Willie Hightower’s only second album in his career prompted me to contact not only him but also the executive producer, Mr. Quinton Claunch. Similarly, in the case of Billy Price’s new CD I turned to the artist himself for his comments.  The rest four records cover such genres as jazz, Southern soul and mostly 1950s blues/rhythm & blues.

Interviews:

An Interview with Willie Hightower and Quinton Claunch
An Interview with Billy Price

New CD release reviews:

Willie Hightower: Out of the Blue
Ruby Turner: That’s My Desire (EP)
Billy Price: Reckoning
Ms. Jody: I’m Doin’ My Thang
Frank Lucas: My Best to You
Various Artists: Music City Blues & Rhythm




WILLIE HIGHTOWER *

Thursday, 30 August 2018, was the release date of one of the most expected records among traditional soul music fans this year.  Willie Hightower’s Out of the Blue (Ace CDCHD 1520/Soultrax; https://acerecords.co.uk/out-of-the-blue ) was finally released.  Although we’re not talking about deep soul but more like pop-infused country-soul in this case, the CD/LP features refreshingly unpretentious, old-school melodic music.  In the notes Tony Rounce tells about Willie’s career and John Broven about the history and making of this record, and you can also check my Willie Hightower story with an interview from last year, at http://www.soulexpress.net/williehightower.htm.

Along with five background singers, Willie is backed by Travis Wammack, Will McFarlane and Billy Lawson on guitar, Milton Sledge on drums, Bob Wray and Billy Lawson on bass, Clayton Ivey and Mark Narmore on keys, Bad Brad Guin on sax and Ken Watters on trumpet.  The set was co-produced, recorded, mixed and mastered at Wishbone Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals by the owner of the studio, Billy Lawson.  The executive producer is none other than Quinton Claunch, who this December turns 97.

Quinton: “I didn’t make too many trips to Muscle Shoals.  Billy Lawson laid down the tracks, mixed them, made the changes and everything on my approval.  I chose him, because he’s got a good ear and he’s got a lot of talent.  He’s got the best studio in Muscle Shoals.  It’s a big studio with a large console.  It was fantastic working with him.” 

Willie: I enjoyed very much working in the studio.  It’s got a good sound to it, and everything went well.  I made about 4-5 trips to Muscle Shoals.  Billy is fantastic.  He has lots of good ideas.  I enjoyed working with Mr. Lawson.”  You can take a peek at the studio at http://www.wishbonestudios.com/billy-lawson.  “This CD came about through Mr. Quinton Claunch.  I’ve worked for him before, so we decided to try one more time and it came out beautifully.”

I FOUND YOU

Of the ten songs on display five are new, and one of them is the opener, I Found You, a mellow mid-tempo toe-tapper written by Michael Curtis, Billy Lawson and Milton Sledge.  It’s also Willie’s own favourite on this set.  Quinton: “Billy Lawson is co-writer on many songs, and we also looked for material in Nashville.”  Raining All the Time is a melodic, wistful, country-tinged ballad, while the atmospheric Tired of Losing You is the most soulful rendition on this record.  Both were penned by the guitarist/singer/songwriter Al Anderson and co-penned by Chris Stapleton, his writing partner on over forty songs to this date. 

You Can’t Love Me (Better than You’re Lovin’ Me Now), a pleasant, easy-listening ballad, was composed – besides Billy – by two Nashville songwriters, Marla Cannon-Goodman and Don Poythress.  A similar down-tempo song called Who Who Who, which closes the set, also appears on a record for the first time.  Quinton: “I thought that was a good song for Willie to cut.”

Rock Me Gently is an easy and poppy dancer by the Canadian Andy Kim, and it went gold and all the way to # 1-pop in 1974.  Quinton: “He sold about six million copies of that.  I chose that song, and it’s one of my favourites.”  Two songs we know from the repertoire of Ronnie Milsap.  He cut the melodic Somewhere Dry twelve years ago, whereas the more uptempo No Gettin’ over Me was a number one country hit for him in 1981.  Quinton: “Ronnie Milsap had a smash hit country-wise.  I thought I would try it on Willie.”

EASY LOVIN’

The smooth Easy Lovin’ is a familiar tune from the past.  Quinton: It was a number one song by a country artist Freddie Heart (in 1971) and I thought it would be a good song for Willie, so I picked that one.”  Actually Willie had released that song on Mercury already in 1972.  “But he didn’t do a good version of it, though.”  Finally a poppy mid-pacer named Everybody Wants My Girl was written by Ed Hill and Billy Lawson and first cut by Sammy Kershaw in 2010.  Quinton: He’s a good country singer.”

Willie: I really think we got a hit album, because the songs are good and I think my performance is okay.  Next I’m going to do a date in Baltimore, Maryland, here in the United States, and then I’m going to Japan in October for six days.”

(Interviews conducted on August 29, 2018; acknowledgements to Willie and Quinton, Tony Rounce, Neil Scaplehorn and Debbie Dixon).

RUBY TURNER


In the U.K., at Bristol Old Vic in 2000, Ruby Turner played Eunice Hubbel in Andy Hay’s production of Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire.  Now after 18 years the musical director of that play, John O’Hara, has unshelved five tracks that Ruby had recorded at the time.  The resulting EP, That’s My Desire (RTR011), brings out yet another side in Ruby’s versatile music profile - her skilful jazz singing.

Backed by the 3-man combo of John O’Hara (drums, producer), Jonathan Taylor (piano) and Dave Goodier (bass), Ruby is an intimate and smooth setting – perfect blue notes for the swinging Snatch and Grab It, the mid-tempo Blow Top Blues, the slow New Orlean’s Blues, the dreamy and mellow That’s My Desire and the slow boogie of Thrill Me. Sheer class! (www.rubyturner.com).

BILLY PRICE


Billy Price’s singing voice was heard on a disc for the first time on Roy Buchanan’s album 44 years ago, and now he has released his 16th solo project titled Reckoning (VizzTone, VT-BP03, https://www.vizztone.com) .  You can read about Billy’s early days in my interview with him right after the release of his Can I Change My Mind CD in 1999, at http://www.soulexpress.net/billyprice.htm.

Reckoning was produced by Kid Andersen and Billy, and recorded at Kid’s Greaseland Studios in California.  Among the musicians you can spot such names as Jerry Jemmott on bass, Jim Pugh on keyboards and Alex Pettersen on drums.  Besides a live rhythm section, on most of the tracks they have used horn players and background vocalists to ensure as rich a sound as needed, and the one element I especially like on this set is strong and full instrumentation.

Billy Price: “Kid became aware of me, when the album he recorded for Wee Willie Walker (If Nothing Ever Changes) was nominated for Best Soul Blues Album of 2015 at the Blues Music Awards in the category that I won with Otis Clay for This Time for Real.  Kid and I had a few conversations in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards in 2016 and 2017, and again at the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas in September 2017, and we both expressed a wish to work together at some time.  A saxophone player friend of mine, Eric Spaulding, who lived in Northern California for a while and played on several of the recordings at Greaseland, had been urging me to record there and urging Kid to invite me out.  I had been talking to another producer about working on my latest recording, but then I decided to contact Kid to discuss, and he made an enthusiastic pitch for me to do my new album at Greaseland.”

The opening song on the CD is 39 Steps, a rhythmic rocker – or sort of modern-day ragtime jam – and on this track the three Sons of the Soul Revivers are on background vocals.  “39 Steps is written by Jimmy Britton, the keyboard player in my Pittsburgh band.”

DREAMER

Dreamer is the title tune of Bobby Bland’s second ABC album in 1974, and on this ballad for sweetening they have used also strings.  “Kid picked this one.  It is one of his favourite Bobby Bland songs.  It has never really been one of my favourites.  I’m older than Kid, and I think I have a possibly irrational prejudice toward the Duke label Bobby Bland recordings, as opposed to the California albums he did for ABC, and even among those this song did not stand out for me as a favourite.  But I’m delighted with how this turned out, and now I really love the song.”

The mid-tempo title tune has a strong inspirational touch to it, and it was first recorded – and also written – two years ago by a Norwegian group called Billy T Band.  “Kid picked this one too.  Billy T is a friend of his, an American living and playing in Norway.”  The preaching part in the beginning of the song is done by Marcel Smith, a member of the WD Gospel Singers.  “He’s a tremendous singer.  He now has a great album on Little Village Foundation that came out on August 1, Everybody Needs Love.”

No Time is a fast country-rock number that J.J. Cale cut in 1990.  “...another one that Kid suggested.  This was among the songs that Kid and Tommy Castro were considering recording for Tommy’s latest album, which Kid produced.  For some reason it did not work for Tommy, but Kid liked the song and recommended that I consider it.  I raised the vocal up an octave and suggested that we think of it in the style of Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose.  I’m happy with the result.”

Talking about Otis, in 1967 he recorded a soul ballad called I Love You More than Words Can Say – written by Eddie Floyd and Booker T. Jones – and now Billy tackles this rather difficult song.  “This came directly from my live performance repertoire.”

LOVE BALLAD

One of the most delightful tracks on the set is a rollicking and catchy dancer named I Keep Holding On, written by Johnny Rawls.  “Johnny sent me several songs to consider and I Keep Holding On was the one that made the final list.”  It’s followed by a mellow mid-pacer titled One and One.  “I wrote One and One with Jimmy Britton, and Expert Witness with Jimmy and Fred Chapellier.”  Expert Witness is a mid-tempo joyous stomper, and on this track they have Nancy Wright on tenor sax. 

The funky Get Your Lie Straight was a small hit for Bill Coday in 1971.  “I actually wasn’t aware that Denise LaSalle wrote this until it came time to write the credits for the songs.  This was suggested to us by Kid’s bandmate Rick Estrin.  I knew the song by Bill Coday and loved the suggestion.”

Never Be Fooled Again is a slow and melancholy song with a touch of jazz in the arrangement on this set.  “I helped Fred Chapellier write it for his album (It Never Comes Easy) and then decided to re-record it for mine.”  Skip Scarborough’s Love Ballad was a big hit for L.T.D. and Jeffrey Orborne in 1976.  “I wanted to do at least one ballad in the Delfonics/O’Jays/Manhattans mode, and this is the one we settled on.  I love the song and had always wanted to try singing it.  Another we considered was Sunshine by the O’Jays.”  The female voice on Love Ballad is Kid’s wife, Lisa Leuschner Andersen. 

Sticking to familiar tunes still, Swamp Dogg recorded Synthetic World in 1970.  “That was my idea.  Swamp produced one of my earlier albums and I thought that the lyrics were appropriate to the world we live in in 2018.”

The final song is the slow and pretty Your Love Stays with Me, which one of its writers, Mark Narmore, recorded for his album two years ago.  It’s a harmonious song that leaves you with a positive feeling.  “This is co-written by Andreas Werner, who lives and works in Muscle Shoals.  I have talked off and on for a few years about having Andreas produce me.  I asked him to send some songs he thought would be good for me, and he sent this one, which knocked me out from the first time I heard it.”

As some of you may remember, Billy was based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  “I am well established in Pittsburgh and play clubs, concerts, and festivals in the area frequently.  I moved to Baltimore, Maryland in May and have a new band here in Baltimore that I am calling the Billy Price Charm City Rhythm Band.  We are playing in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area and in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.  But I still regularly go to Pittsburgh to play with the Billy Price Band.”

“I will be going on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise in October, departing from San Diego and touring the Sea of Cortez, as a guest of Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine.  In February, I’m planning to go back to San Jose to do some more recording with Kid and hid crew at Greaseland.  I also expect to tour extensively in 2019, including a trip to France to play with Fred Chapellier and a summer schedule of festivals throughout the U.S.” (www.billyprice.com).

SOUTHERN SOUL STEW

MS. JODY


This time I won’t even count how many CDs have been released on Ms. Jody during her twelve-year stint with Ecko Records.  Let’s just say that Vertie Joanne Delapaz is a frequent visitor to John Ward’s studio.  And she’s a prolific songwriter too.  On her latest set, I’m Doin’ My Thang (ECD1175; www.eckorecords.com), there are five songs that she and John co-wrote together.  Other composers are the usual suspects: Henderson Thigpen, James Jackson, Raymond Moore and John Cummings.

Of the five party dancers, I give my preference to the effortless and quick-tempo A Kitty Ain’t No Match for a Full Grown Cat, and the equally fast Ms. Jody’s Got a Man comes close.  We’ve Got to Cheat on Schedule fulfils the blues quota.

If we drop the tempo a bit, there’s the smooth and enjoyable Let’s Play Hide & Seek, and also Never Goin’ Back, which is softer and more melancholic.  File I’m a Cowgirl in the Bedroom under “r&b rodeo novelties.”  Of the two ballads, We’ve Got the Real Thing is a more romantic one.  One notion, though: especially on slower songs programmed sounds push disturbingly through, which hasn’t been typical to Ecko tracks lately.  Other than that, one more solid Ms. Jody record!

FRANK LUCAS


Many of you probably remember Frank LucasGood Thing Man from 1977.  This hypnotic floater was well received in soul circles, but after a couple of follow-up singles on ICA Records Frank seemed to disappear... until he suddenly surfaced again - first on Ryan Records in 2004 and right after that on Jerry King’s Jam Stone, which at one point in the 1980s had served as a recording home also for both Trudy and Barbara Lynn.

Frank’s fourth Jamstone CD, My Best to You (JS10018), is a collection of tracks from his preceding CDs.  Three re-recorded songs were originally released during his ICA period - Don’t put out the Fire, Good Thing Man and Time to Move Along.  They are also the best songs on this set alongside one delightful and rolling mover called I Left My Heart in Louisiana.  Other more serious efforts include an uptempo ditty called Mary Had a Baby and a mellow mid-pacer named Lucas Love Train.

Then there are Frank’s carnival songs, such as a fake live recording of his southern hit ten years ago called The Singing Ding-A-Ling, which is titled here The Ninga Ning Song.  Frank’s stage show may well be exciting and funny, but in terms of music I have mixed feelings about his nursery rhyme tracks and a couple of other spoken novelties.  Anyway, happy Ninga Ning to you, too!

COMP-ART-ment

MUSIC CITY


Music City Blues & Rhythm (Ace, CDTOP 1510; track listing: https://acerecords.co.uk/music-city-blues-rhythm; 28 tracks – 24 prev. unreleased - 76 min; notes by Lee Hildebrand and Alec Palao) features music that Ray Dobard recorded or leased in the San Francisco Bay Area mostly in the mid-1950s for his Delcro -> Music City labels.  This CD specializes in blues and rhythm & blues.  His first release in 1953 was a jump tune called Your Money Ain’t Long Enough by Que Martyn’s Orchestra, with Del Graham on lead vocals.

Some of the blues artists that stopped by more than once included Alvin Smith and Al Harris, and a few celebrities turned out, too.  Jimmy Nelson is in the Fats Domino mood on She Moves Me and No More Any More, Roy Hawkins under the alias of Mr. Undertaker moans on Here Lies My Love and Pee Wee Parham Sugar Pie DeSanto’s husband at one point – is featured on two previously unissued songs, the slow To Be Alone and on a jump named Ease My Mind.  The two Little Willie Litllefield tracks – Long about Midnight and Looking Just like You – were recorded as late as in 1964.

This compilation is strictly for blues and 1950s rhythm & blues aficionados.  Let me mention still the slow Lazy Bones and the flaming Roland’s Blues, two tenor sax instrumentals by Roland Mitchell.

© Heikki Suosalo


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