Friday, October 31, 2008

Quickie: Sweet Thunder - Everybody's Singin' Love Songs (Disco12" Mix)

Who said you can't get discovered by mailing out a tape? That's how Sweet Thunder, a four man band from Youngstown, OH landed their deal with Philadelphia's WMOT (We Men Of Talent) Productions in 1976. The members were Charles Buie (vocals/lead guitar), Rudell Alexander (bass), Booker Newberry (vocals/keyboards), and John Aaron (drums). They didn't have a name when they submitted their tape to WMOT so an executive at the company came up with the "Sweet Thunder" moniker. WMOT, then distributed by Atlantic Records, released the band's first album Above The Clouds that same year.

By the time the band's self-titled second album was ready, WMOT had inked a distribution deal with Berkeley, Califnornia based Fantasy Records. The album's standouts were the uptempo dance cut "Everybody's Singin' Love Songs" and the Top 40 R&B ballad "Baby, I Need You Love Today."

The band's third and final album, Horizons was released in 1979 to lackluster sales and went virtually unnoticed. Buie and Alexander continued in music as session musicians and vocalists, Aaron became a producer and Newberry went on to pursue a solo career.

Wanna own a copy of this? If yes, then vinyl is your only hope since this mix hasn't seen a CD release yet. But the good news is that the supply is so plentiful you wont end up spending a fortune just to claim a copy. Pick one up here.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Quickie: Diana Ross - Muscles (Extended Version)

After "Mirror Mirror" from her 1981 debut RCA LP, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, this is possibly my favorite RCA-era Diana Ross cut. Penned and produced by Michael Jackson, "Muscles" was the lead single from Ross' 1982 Silk Electric album. I yanked this one from a $2 bin a years back, I own the LP, cassette & 45 but never heard the 12" version. The vinyl was kinda beat up but after a few minutes on the Nitty Gritty and some restoration in Audition it cleaned up pretty nicely.

If you're tryin' to find a hard copy of this extended mix to add to your stacks at home, ya better have a turntable in yer life 'cause this one never made it to any comps (none that I know of anyway). The good thing is, it's pretty easy to find without spending too much dough. You can try your luck here.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

R.I.P. Dee Dee Warwick

*SIGH* More bad news to share, I was shocked and saddened to hear that we've lost one more soul legend. The phenomenal Dee Dee Warwick has passed away.

Dee Dee Warwick, a soul singer who won recognition for both her solo work and her performances with her older sister Dionne Warwick, has died. She was 63. Warwick died Saturday at a nursing home in Essex County, said Kevin Sasaki, a family spokesman. She had been in failing health in recent months, he said, and her sister was with her when she died. Warwick had several hits on the soul and R&B charts in the 1960s and 70s, including "Foolish Fool," "She Didn't Know (She Kept on Talking)" and a version of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" that was later covered by Diana Ross and The Supremes.

Most recently, Dee Dee provided background vocals for her sister's recent one-woman autobiographical show, "My Music & Me," which played to sold-out crowds in Europe this year. She also performed on the title song from Dionne Warwick's gospel album, "Why We Sing," released January 2008.

For more info on Miss Warwick, check out my Dee Dee post here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

R.I.P. Levi Stubbs / Four Tops - Still Waters...

Sad news yet again, Levi Stubbs, former lead singer of the mighty Motown vocal group, The Four Tops has passed away.

Levi, born June 6, 1936 as "Levi Stubbles", began his professional singing career with friends Abdul "Duke" Fakir, Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Lawrence Payton to form the Four Aims in 1954. Two years later, the group changed their name to the Four Tops. The group began as a supper-club act before finally signing to Motown Records in 1963; by the end of the decade, the Four Tops had over a dozen hits to their name. The most popular of the Four Tops hits, all of which featured Stubbs on lead vocals, include "Baby I Need Your Loving", "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)", "It's the Same Old Song", "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Standing in the Shadows of Love", "Bernadette", "Still Water (Love)", and "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)".

Although Stubbs was a natural baritone, most of the Four Tops' hits were written in a tenor range to give the lead vocals a sense of urgency.

As an actor, credited as Levi Stubbs, Jr., he provided the voice of the carnivorous plant "Audrey II" in the movie version of the musical Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and the voice of Mother Brain in the animated TV series Captain N: The Game Master (1989). Stubbs has also guest starred in a number of TV shows as himself.

Stubbs and his wife Clineice were married from 1960 until his death, and had five children.

::- Four Tops - Still Waters Run Deep -::

The Four Tops began life in 1953 (some accounts say 1954), when all of the members were attending Detroit-area high schools. Levi Stubbs and Abdul "Duke" Fakir went to Pershing, and met Northern students Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Lawrence Payton at a friend's birthday party, where the quartet first sang together. Sensing an immediate chemistry, they began rehearsing together and dubbed themselves the Four Aims.

Payton's cousin Roquel Davis, a budding songwriter who sometimes sang with the group during its early days, helped them get an audition with Chess Records in 1956. Although Chess was more interested in Davis, who went on to become Berry Gordy's songwriting partner, they also signed the Four Aims, who became the Four Tops to avoid confusion with the Ames Brothers. The Four Tops' lone Chess single, "Kiss Me Baby," was an unequivocal flop, and the group moved on to similarly brief stints at Red Top and Riverside. They signed with Columbia in 1960 and were steered in a more upscale supper-club direction, singing jazz and pop standards. This too failed to break them, although they did tour with Billy Eckstine during this period.

In 1963, the Four Tops signed with longtime friend Berry Gordy's new label, specifically the jazz-oriented Workshop subsidiary. They completed a debut LP, to be called Breaking Through, but Gordy scrapped it and switched their style back to R&B, placing them on Motown with the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team. After a full decade in existence, the Four Tops finally notched their first hit in 1964 with "Baby I Need Your Loving," which just missed the pop Top Ten.

Early 1965 brought the follow-up ballad hit "Ask the Lonely," and from then on there was no stopping them. "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" went all the way to number one that spring, and the follow-up "It's the Same Old Song" reached the Top Five. The hits continued into 1966, with "Something About You" "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)," and "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" all coming in succession.

The fall of 1966 brought the group's masterpiece in the form of the virtual soul symphony "Reach Out, I'll Be There"; not only did it become their second number one pop hit, it also wound up ranking as the creative peak of the group's career and one of Motown's finest singles ever. During this period, the Tops also earned a reputation as one of Motown's best live acts, having previously honed their performances for years before hitting the big time.

The Four Tops kicked off 1967 with the dramatic Top Ten smash "Standing in the Shadows of Love," which was followed by the high charter; "Bernadette," "7-Rooms of Gloom" & "You Keep Running Away". Toward the end of the year, Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown over a financial dispute, which didn't bode well for the Four Tops' impressive hit streak.

Their next two hits, 1968's "Walk Away Renee" and "If I Were a Carpenter," were both covers of well-known recent songs (by the Left Banke and Tim Hardin, respectively), and while both made the Top 20, they heralded a rough couple of years where top-drawer material was in short supply.

The Tops enjoyed a resurgence in 1970 under producer Frank Wilson, who helmed a hit cover of the Tommy Edwards pop standard "It's All in the Game" and a ballad co-written by Smokey Robinson, "Still Water (Love)." The Tops also recorded with the post-Diana Ross Supremes, scoring a duet hit with a cover of "River Deep-Mountain High" in 1971.

When Motown moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1972, the Four Tops parted ways with the company, choosing to remain in their hometown of Detroit. They signed with ABC-Dunhill and were teamed with producers/songwriters Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who did their best to re-create the group's trademark Motown sound. The immediate result was Keeper of the Castle, the Four Tops' first Top Ten hit in several years. They followed it in early 1973 with "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)," a gold-selling smash that proved to be their final Top Five pop hit. That year they also recorded the theme song to the film Shaft in Africa, "Are You Man Enough."

Several more R&B chart hits followed over the next few years, with the last being 1976's Catfish; after a final ABC album in 1978, the Tops largely disappeared from sight before resurfacing on Casablanca in 1981. Incredibly, their first single, "When She Was My Girl," went all the way to number one on the R&B charts, just missing the pop Top Ten. The accompanying album, Tonight!, became their last to hit the Top 40.

The Four Tops rejoined Motown in 1983, the year of the company's 25th anniversary, and toured extensively with the Temptations. They also recorded a couple albums of new material that failed to sell well, and wound up leaving Motown amid confusion over proper musical direction. Meanwhile, Levi Stubbs provided the voice for Audrey the man-eating plant in the film version of Little Shop of Horrors. The Four Tops next caught on with Arista, where in 1988 they scored their last Top 40 pop hit, the aptly titled "Indestructible." The Four Tops were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and continued to tour the oldies circuit.

In 1995, Stubbs was diagnosed with cancer, and later, suffered a stroke and stopped touring. In 1997, Lawrence Payton passed away due to cancer of the liver, which proved to be the only thing that could break up the Four Tops. After some consideration, the remaining members hired Theo Peoples to take Payton's place on tour. In 2000, Theo Peoples took Stubbs' place as the lead singer of the Four Tops, with Ronnie McNeir taking the place that Payton originally held. Benson died on July 1, 2005 and Levi Stubbs died in his sleep on October 17, 2008 at his home in Detroit from his ailments. He was 72.

JA PressI'm sure y'all know the routine by now, the vinyl LP is, of course, long out of print but you can fetch one here for little to nothing. Don't have a turntable?? No worries!!! If you prefer your Tops in a digital way, you can find Still Waters Run Deep on CD right here.

Featured cut: "It's All In The Game"

Listen to the full album here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Milt Jackson with the Ray Brown Big Band - Memphis Jackson

It's been a while since my last offering, I've been bogged down with work and other trappings of life and haven't been had the time to work on any new posts. To add to that, the place where I used to do most of my updating / post & prep work has decided to block access to making it that much harder for me to find time to get things done.

[Sidebar: Did anyone out there even notice the lapse between posts? I don't mean to sound like a crybaby or anything but, to be honest, I don't know how many of y'all are even out there. Especially since the comments around here are practically non-existent with the exception of the valued few that spend the time to say thanks and drop a line without shamelessly trying to plug their own pages. Seriously, 80-something downloads and ZERO comments? C'mon man, what is that? It takes a lot of time and effort to keep this thing goin'. How much time would it take to stop and say a simple "thank you" before clicking that download link?]

Anyway, for those who appreciate what they find here and keep coming back to support, I thank you and hope you'll enjoy this one too. I was diggin' thru a tub o' wax in my basement and pulled out Milt Jackson's Memphis Jackson album recorded in 1969 with the Ray Brown Big Band for Impulse records.

Milt Jackson started on guitar when he was seven, and piano at 11; a few years later, he switched to vibes. He actually made his professional debut singing in a touring gospel quartet. After Dizzy Gillespie discovered him playing in Detroit, he offered him a job with his sextet and (shortly after) his innovative big band (1946). Jackson recorded with Gillespie, and was soon in great demand. During 1948-1949, he worked with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, and the Woody Herman Orchestra.

After playing with Gillespie's sextet (1950-1952), which at one point included John Coltrane, Jackson recorded with a quartet comprised of John Lewis, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke (1952), which soon became a regular group called the Modern Jazz Quartet. Although he recorded regularly as a leader (including dates in the 1950s with Miles Davis and/or Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, and Ray Charles), Milt Jackson stayed with the MJQ through 1974, becoming an indispensable part of their sound.

By the mid-'50s, Lewis became the musical director and some felt that Bags was restricted by the format, but it actually served him well, giving him some challenging settings. And he always had an opportunity to jam on some blues numbers, including his "Bags' Groove." However, in 1974, Jackson felt frustrated by the MJQ (particularly financially) and broke up the group. He recorded frequently for Pablo in many all-star settings in the 1970s, and after a seven-year vacation, the MJQ came back in 1981. In addition to the MJQ recordings, Milt Jackson cut records as a leader throughout his career for many labels including Savoy, Blue Note (1952), Prestige, Atlantic, United Artists, Impulse, Riverside, Limelight, Verve, CTI, Pablo, Music Masters, and Qwest. He died of liver cancer on October 9, 1999, at the age of 76.

Like so many other great albums, Memphis Jackson is currently on OOP status but every so often, you can find one here or even here.

Featured cut: "Enchanted Lady"

Listen to the full album here.