Monthly Archives: March 2012


Just a quick one today to round out the posts for my forthcoming mix: Longevity Has Its Place.

In 1972 Motown moved its headquarters to Los Angeles. Among their large and talented stable of artists, the Four Tops—perhaps most famously associated with their 1965 number-one hit “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and their 1966 number-one hit “Reach Out I’ll Be There”—opted to part ways with the company and remain in their hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Signing with the ABC-Dunhill label, the Four Tops were teamed up with producers/songwriters Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.

The Four Tops would return to Motown in a decade, but in the interim they would make some great and interesting music. Their first album for ABC-Dunhill— 1972’s Keeper of the Castle—featured the hit “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)”, which was later interpolated in 1996 by Jay-Z and Foxy Brown for the second single off of Jay-Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt: “Ain’t No Nigga.” In 1973 the Four Tops would have another hit with the theme song to the film Shaft in Africa: “Are You Man Enough.”

However, today I’d like to feature another song off of Keeper of the Castle, the fantastically funked-up and feel-good “Turn On the Light of Your Love.”

Like it? Buy it.

It should be noted that unlike most R&B groups, the Four Tops (being Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and Lawrence Payton) remained together for over four decades, having gone from 1953 until 1997 without a single change in personnel. A change of line-up was finally forced upon the group when Lawrence Payton died on June 20, 1997.

For a certain generation (mine), lead singer Levi Stubbs might be more familiar as the voice of Mother Brain on the Nintendo-based NBC Saturday morning cartoon Captain N: The Game Master, which ran from 1989 to 1991.

Even more memorable to my generation’s mind, Mr. Stubbs was the man who performed the incredible vocals for the carnivorous, yet completely charismatic plant Audrey II in the astounding, Frank Oz directed, 1986 musical film Little Shop of Horrors. Really, I couldn’t go on enough about this film, so if you have not seen it (or haven’t seen it since you were a kid) you certainly should make it priority viewing. Not only is the soundtrack amazing, but also this hysterical movie contains Steve Martin’s finest screen performance—as Orin Scrivello, the sadistic, nitrous oxide huffing dentist.



The Geffen Company, Warner Bros. (1986) (Creators). Robonhigh (Poster)  (2008, Aug 20). FEED ME SEYMORE – LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS [Video] Retrieved March 10, 2012 from

The Geffen Company, Warner Bros. (1986) (Creators). TheDoomWizzard  (Poster)  (2011, May 15).  [HD] Dentist! – Little Shop of Horrors [Video] Retrieved March 10, 2012 from

Perry, L., Stubbs Jr., L., Benson, R., Fakir, A. (1972). Turn On the Light of Your Love [recorded by Four Tops] On Keeper of the Castle [CD] ABC-Dunhill. (1972). Motown (1992)


Around Christmas time in the early 1940s, a woman was shopping at a department store in Washington, D.C. with her young daughter. The daughter wandered away from her mother and a brief search was launched. A seasonal employee in her mid-forties found the crying child and promptly returned her to her mother. The mother was modernist composer and American folk music specialist, Ruth Crawford Seeger (mother to Mike, Peggy, Barbara, and Penny; wife to ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger; and stepmother to iconic figure of the mid-20th century American folk music revival and member of The Weavers, Pete Seeger). The department store employee was none other than Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten. Ruth was taken with Elizabeth immediately and offered her domestic work as a housekeeper and cook for the Seeger family (Williamson, 2008).

            Elizabeth Cotten was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in early January of 1893, or possibly1895 (no one truly knows). She gave herself the name “Elizabeth” on the first day of school as up until then her parents George Nevilles (a miner and mill worker) and Louisa Price Nevilles (a midwife, cook, and launderer) had not given her a formal name and referred to her alternately as “Babe,” “Sis,” or sometimes “Short.” The teacher asked if “Babe” had a name and she quickly answered: “Yes, Elizabeth.” Later in life, Elizabeth Cotten was quoted as saying, “I don’t know if I’d ever heard the name, but I had to say something!” (Meggs, 2002).

As a child, Elizabeth taught herself to play the banjo and guitar on her brother’s instruments, and as her and her siblings worked and played, she would continually make up songs (one of these being the signature folk song “Freight Train,” which she composed at the age of 11). It was at this time, being left-handed, that Elizabeth developed her idiosyncratic, upside-down, two-finger playing style—Cotten Picking:

The first thing I’d do, I laid the guitar flat in my lap and worked my left hand till I could play the strings backwards and forwards. And then after I got so I could do that, then I started to chord it and get the sound of a song that I know. And if it weren’t but one string I’d get that. Then finally I’d add another string to that, and keep on till I could work my fingers pretty good. And that’s how I started playing with two fingers. And after I started playing with two fingers for a while, I started using three. I was just trying to see what I could do. I never had any lessons, nobody to teach me anything. I just picked it up (Meggs, 2002).

            At a young age Elizabeth Cotten left school to work, and at the age of fifteen was married and had a daughter, Lillie. From then on she only played the guitar occasionally. In fact, it wasn’t until after she had been working in the Seeger’s musical household for a few years that she began to play again, even though she was now well into her fifties. The Seeger children were developing as musicians themselves and encouraged Cotten to play them her repertoire of songs.

In 1957, while touring Europe, Peggy Seeger performed Cotten’s “Freight Train” and the song soon became a popular standard of the great folk revival. Cotten’s own performance and recording career began that year as well with Mike Seeger recording her singing at her home in Washington, D.C. Her first album, Folksongs And Instrumentals With Guitar, was comprised of these recordings and initiated her professional relationship with the Smithsonian’s Folkways Record label. This led to numerous bookings, and Elizabeth Cotten continued to perform live until just weeks prior to her death at the age of 92 in Syracuse, New York on June 29, 1987. Three years earlier, in 1984, “Libba” (as Penny Seeger had nicknamed her as a child) won the Grammy Award for “Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording” for her album on Arhoolie Records, Elizabeth Cotten Live.

The first song for today is taken from Cotten’s second album for Folkways Records, 1967’s Shake Sugaree. Featuring Cotten’s original melody on guitar, and vocals handled by her twelve year-old granddaughter, Brenda Evans—the odd, nursery-rhyme-like title track’s lyrics were created by Brenda herself, along with her brother Johnny and her two cousins Sue and Wendy. Within the liner notes Cotten states that “the first verse, my eldest great grandson, he made that himself, and from that each child would say a word and add to it. To tell the truth, I don’t know what got it started, but it must have been something said or something done.”

I’ve got a secret

I ain’t gonna tell

I’m goin’ to heaven in a brown pea shell

Oh, Lordy me, didn’t we shake sugaree

Everything I have is down in pawn


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Like it? Buy it.

And here’s Devendra Banhart performing “Shake Sugaree” as a creepy parlor song, in a video recorded early in his career at The Knitting Factory (the video itself was uploaded in 2006, but by his bald, baby face I place it as no later than 2004).

Up next is one of my favorite Cotten numbers, off the same album: I’m Going Away

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To wrap it all up, off Elizabeth Cotten’s first album back in 1958: Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie

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Like it? Buy it.

As a little added bonus, here’s Bob Dylan’s live rendition of the same tune, used as the opening number for his concert of March 15, 2000, held at the Civic Auditorium, in Santa Cruz, California.

Bob Dylan on a stop off the road during his 2000 summer tour. (Photo by Ken Regan/Courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery).

I guess that Elizabeth Cotten is proof that you never really know which way life is going to go.

——————————BOBBY CALERO


Banhart, D. (n.d.) (Creator). jamespcollier (Poster) (2006, July 25). Devendra Banhart – Shake Sugaree [Video] Retrieved March 3, 2012 from

Cotten, E. (1967). I’m Going Away [recorded by Elizabeth Cotten] On Shake Sugaree [CD] Folkways Records. (1967).

Cotten, E. (1958). Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie [recorded by Elizabeth Cotten] On Folksongs

And Instrumentals With Guitar [CD]             Folkways Records. (1958).

Cotten, E. (1958). Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie [recorded by Bob Dylan] live March 15, 2000,

Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, California [CD] Bootleg.

Cotten, E. (1967) Shake Sugaree [recorded by Elizabeth Cotten] On Shake Sugaree [CD] Folkways Records. (1967).

Meggs, L. (2002). Cotten, Elizabeth (c. 1893–1987). Commire, A. (Ed.). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 4. 148-152 Detroit: Yorkin Publications. Retrieved March 3, 2012 from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Williamson, N. (2008). The Rough Guide To The Best Music You’ve Never Heard. New York: Penguin.