Saturday, May 31, 2008

Quickie: The Temptations - Mother Nature

Time has been kinda tight lately and I haven't had the time to pull togther my next full-length post. So in the meantime, I thought I'd throw up a track that's been on heavy rotation with me lately. From The Tempts' 1972 All Directions LP comes the single, "Mother Nature" penned by Rare Earth bandmates Nick Zesses and Dino Fekaris. Fekaris would later team up with Freddie Perren to write the anthemic "I Will Survive" for Gloria Gaynor in 1978.

You can find your own copy of "Mother Nature" as a 45 here, or here as an LP cut, or here on CD.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shuggie Otis - Inspiration Information

Guitarist/singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis may not be a household name, but his "Strawberry Letter 23" is in the record collections of millions of households.

Born Johnny Otis, Jr. on November 30, 1953, in Los Angeles, CA, Otis' formidable musical talents appeared at an early age. He began his professional career around 1965. He played a guitar solo on his bandleader, father Johnny Otis' 1969 number 29 R&B hit, "Country Girl," on Kent Records. His guitar skills were so adept that during his teen years, he would have to wear dark glasses and strategically apply black ink between his nose and mouth to appear old enough to perform in clubs with his father.

Signing with CBS Records, Otis began recording virtuoso guitar-laced R&B/West Coast blues sides. His first LP was Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis on Columbia.

Shuggie's 2nd album, Here Comes Shuggie Otis was released issued on the CBS imprint, Epic Records in 1970 when he was only 14. His father, Johnny Otis, produced the LP, and co-wrote most of the album. Some of the session players include Wilton Felder, Stix Hooper, Leon Haywood, Al McKibbon, Preston Love, and many others, including a chamber string group.

On his next album, 1971's Freedom Flight, Shuggie wrote four of the album's seven tunes, did all the arrangements, and helped Father Johnny with production suggestions. The senior Otis produced the set and allowed all of Shuggie's "weird" ideas full-reign in production, and he was joined by a host of musicians from the first album, along with George Duke, Aynsley Dunbar, and the backing chorus of Clydie King, Venetta Field, and Shirley Matthews, among others. The LP included the original version of "Strawberry Letter 23," written for Otis' girlfriend, who used strawberry scented paper for her letters to him.

[Sidebar: George Johnson of the Brothers Johnson was dating one of Otis' cousins who gave Johnson a copy of Freedom Flight. Immediately, he liked "Ice Cold Daydream" and "Strawberry Letter 23." The latter song was played at his brother Louis Johnson's wedding during the wedding march. Louis suggested the song to their producer Quincy Jones for an album track. The track's complex guitar solo was played by Lee Ritenour. The Brothers Johnson's cover version sold over a million copies, peaking at number one R&B and number five pop on Billboard's charts in summer 1977. It was on their LP Right on Time, which went platinum, selling over a million copies, holding the number one R&B spot for three weeks and making it to number 13 pop in spring 1977.]

Otis' fourth LP Inspiration Information was issued in October 1974, with Otis playing all of the instruments on jazzy and Latin-tinged R&B numbers. The LP was one of the first releases to showcase the electronic rhythm box then found usually on organs. Along with the title track, the set included such noteworthy gems as "Sparkle City," "Aht Uh Mi Hed," and the lush, string-laden "Island Letter," which also appeared as the B-side of the "Inspiration Information" single.

Later on in the '90s, Otis played with his own band around northern California and toured extensively. His son, Lucky Otis, played bass with Johnny Otis' band. Shuggie Otis is featured in the book Alligator Records Presents West Coast Blues, issued in August 1998 by Milwaukee, WI, publisher Hal Leonard.

Source: Tweaked from the All Music Guide writings of Ed Hogan & Thom Jurek.

Inspiration Information (along with Shuggie's entire CBS catalog) has been reissued and is currently available on CD here. But if you're in the market for vinyl, you can either grab the official 180 gram vinyl reissue here or try your luck sifting thru represses to find an original pressing here.

Featured cut: "Inspiration Information"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

G.C. Cameron - s/t

Soul singer G.C. Cameron is a veteran of more than 30 years in the music business and is still kickin'. He was born in a small township in Franklin Country, MS, but his family moved to Detroit in 1955 when he was young. The Camerons were a large brood; Cameron had nine siblings, but there was always room for more, as Philippe Wynne (Cameron' s cousin) grew up in the household too. The two ran Detroit's mean streets together but never formed a singing group.

Fast forward to the 1960s when Harvey Fuqua and Gwen Gordy sold their Tri-Phi label to Motown. The vocal group The Spinners came as part of the deal and quickly became basement dwellers at their new home. During much of the decade, The Spinners were given shoddy treatement at Motown--used as road managers, chaperones, chauffeurs for other groups, and even as shipping clerks.

After a Marine stint, which included service in Vietnam, Cameron was chosen by the Spinners to replace Edgar "Chico" Edwards, adding a new lead voice to the group. In 1969, the group switched to the Motown-owned V.I.P. imprint.

With Cameron now in the fold, Motown's producers found the Spinners more interesting, and heavyweights like Stevie Wonder started writing and producing for them. A remake of the standard "In My Diary" (1969), made popular to R&B fans by the Moonglows, was their first recording with Cameron. The flip side was "(She's Gonna Love Me) At Sundown," which features Bobby Smith on lead. What should have been a two-sided smash wasn't, due to Motown's lackadaisical attitude toward the Spinners. Stevie Wonder cut "It's a Shame," only to have it put on ice by Motown for a whole year after it was recorded. A remake of the Temptations' popular album cut "Message to the Blackman" (1970) was their second single featuring Cameron. The Spinners' version was good, albeit shorter, but stiffed from lack of support.

Motown finally released "It's A Shame" on June 6, 1970, and watched it rise to number 14 on the Pop chart, becoming the Spinners' biggest hit to date. But the group was fed up with Motown's treatment. Indeed, these frustrations came to a head when the follow-up, "We'll Have It Made," didn't come close to duplicating its predecessor. It was apparent Motown wasn't ever going to take them seriously, so the Spinners made plans to leave the label. Cameron, however, had become romantically involved with Gwen Gordy (Berry Gordy's sister) and stayed with Motown; but he didn't leave the Spinners in a lurch. His cousin, Philippe Wynne, who had been rehearsing with the group, was brought in to take his place. The master improviser had previously worked with the Pacesetters, a band that included Bootsy and Catfish Collins, in the Cincinnati area. Philippe "Soul" Wynne stayed on for five years enjoying chart-busting success on Atlantic Records with producer Thom Bell.

But Cameron wasn't concerned. Motown was going to make him a star--or so he thought. The company placed him on its Mowest label for a series of singles that went nowhere, including "Act Like a Shotgun" (1971) and a tentative follow-up, "I'm Gonna Get You Pts. 1 & 2," scheduled for release but pulled in the 12th hour. Instead, Mowest dropped "What It Is, What It Is" (1972) with scarcely any promotion. Going for broke, they tried a duet with Willie Hutch, entitled "Come Get This Thing," but shelved it in favor of Cameron's interesting "Don't Wanna Play Pajama Games," written and produced by Smokey Robinson, in which Cameron mimics Robinson to a T.

At this juncture, uneasiness reared. The Spinners, with Wynne, were making an unprecedented run with Top Ten hits and good-selling albums, yet Cameron couldn't make the charts. He was switched to the Motown label for his other recordings, including "No Matter Where" (1973) and "Let Me Down Easy" (1973), neither of which sold well. His first solo LP, Love Songs and Other Tragedies (1974), followed; a second LP, the self-titled G.C. Cameron (1976), was preceded by 45 "If You're Ever Gonna Love Me" (1975). The next single, "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," proved to be a minor hit and served as the the theme song of the 1975 film "Cooley High". The tune became a chartbuster sixteen years later when it was covered by Boyz II Men on their debut album, Cooleyhighharmony.

Cameron's third full-length release, You're What's Missing In My Life, was issued in 1977 and sadly suffered the same dismal fate as his previous efforts.

Later in '77, Motown issued the duet album, Rich Love, Poor Love by G.C. & Syreeta in 1977, and put out one single from the album, "Let's Make A Deal." Two years later, Syreeta scored with Billy Preston on "With You I'm Born Again." Cameron, however, left the company after the pairing with Syreeta failed and his romance with Gwen Gordy soured. By the time "I've Got My Second Wind," a duet with Tata Vega off her Givin' All My Love album, came out in 1981, Cameron was long gone.

G.C. recorded off and on for a bunch of little labels from 1977 on. His most significant recording was 1983's Give Me Your Love, on Malaco Records.

A year later, Ian Levine included Cameron on his Motorcity label as a singer, writer and producer. The association with Levine may have been creatively lucrative, but not financially, as Cameron claims he has yet to receive a royalty check from any recording company he was ever involved with--and that includes the single he cut with the Tams, entitled "Walking Dr. Bill," in the late '90s. The "shag" hit did secure him some dates on the Carolinas' beach music set with the Tams and his own group, The G.C. Cameron Band. The Motorcity recordings, which included a duet with Martha Reeves, were compiled on Right or Wrong (Motorcity 1991) and later on The Very Best of G.C. Cameron (1996, Hot Productions).

In 2000, G.C. returned to the Spinners to fill as 2nd lead for an ill John Edwards. He stayed with the group for two years then left to work on the solo album Shadows which was released in 2004 on Cameron's own Deqajacc label. In 2003, while working on Shadows, G.C. replaced Barrington "Bo" Henderson as lead singer of The Temptations. Cameron left The Tempts in June of 2007 to focus on his group, The G.C. Cameron Review.
Source: edited & tweaked from Wikipedia. Special thanks to WilkyNY ;)

As of this writing, the G.C. Cameron album is still OOP but you can sometimes catch one for a decent price here or here.

Featured cut: "The Joy You Bring"

Listen to the full album here