Monthly Archives: September 2012

FALL WITH ME (PART I): LOVE COMES DOWN

“Les Alyscamps: Falling Autumn Leaves,” Vincent van Gogh, November 1888.

The Fall officially began a few days ago and so I have a two-for for you today; both tracks concerned with the theme of women letting their love come down.

Up first is an artist who inexplicably is not a household name. Working extensively with the top-notch writing and production team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter—who at the time served as the prolific house composers for Stax Records—and backed by such legendary musicians as guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. (all members of Booker T. & the M.G.’s), how an artist as talented as Ruby Johnson failed to hit it big is beyond me.

Isaac Hayes & David Porter in the studio.

Booker T and the MGs in 1970; from left to right: Al Jackson, Jr.; Booker T. Jones; Donald “Duck” Dunn; and Steve Cropper.

When it came time to lend her distinctive contralto vocal style to these compositions, Ruby was willing to explore the full emotional range of each song. At the prefect moment Ruby could thrust her immense and torn voice forward through the melody and let it hang there raw and ragged as a display of her sincere investment in the material, which too few singers have the ability to convey. She actually attributed her trademark sound to her enthusiasm and work ethic: “I think a lot of that came from actually being on the hoarse side at that particular time. I didn’t get to go to Stax often, and when I did get down there to record, we worked hard. We were in the studio all day and half the night” (Perrone, 1999).

Born April 19, 1936 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Ruby Johnson was raised in the Jewish faith and began singing alongside her eight brothers and sisters in the Temple Beth-El choir. Upon finishing high school, Ruby began performing with local rhythm and blues bands in Virginia Beach and Washington DC while supporting herself as a waitress. Her career came to be managed by local entrepreneur Never Duncan Junior who subsequently hired the talented Dicky Williams to serve as arranger/producer for her recordings. In 1960 they began to release a series of 45s, first on the Philadelphia-based V-Tone label, and eventually for her manager’s own NEBS Records (Sir Shambling, 2012).

Al Bell (Photo by Josh Anderson for The New York Times)

While working for Washington DC station WLOK, disc-jockey Al Bell had been an early proponent of Ruby Johnson’s music. When Stax hired him as its first in-house promotional manager in 1965, Bell helped Ruby secure a contract with the preeminent label for Southern Soul. Al Bell himself would go on to own Stax during the label’s ’70s heyday; unfortunately, it was under his leadership that the company was forced into involuntary bankruptcy in 1975 (Sontag, 2009). Her 45s now being issued on the Stax subsidiary label, Volt, Ruby later recalled that she was “[…] very excited, very nervous, because that was my first attempt to record on that level. […] They would give me those songs on a piece of paper and say: ‘here’s the lyric.’ We would sort of run over them to let me get familiar with the words, and then we’d say: ‘let’s do a take.’ We were in there for hours sometimes” (Perrone, 1999).

Although several of her records sold fairly well, her recording career never seemed to reflect her great talent and a good deal of Johnson’s Stax sessions remained in the vaults until 1993, when the compilation I’ll Run Your Hurt Away was released. Ruby Johnson eventually quit the music business in 1974 and went on to be the director of Foster Grandparents, a federal program helping handicapped children relate to older generations. Although she continued to sing twice a week at Temple Beth-El near her home in Lanham, Maryland, Ruby admitted to missing the old days: “Every time I see some of those big shows, I long for it sometimes, I really do. I enjoyed what I was doing. […] I always aspired to be a professional singer, even as a child” (Perrone, 1999). Sadly, Ruby Johnson passed away at the age of 63 on July 4, 1999.

When My Love Comes Down” is as fine an example of Ruby Johnson’s talent as you can get, and certainly one of the best 45s ever issued by Stax. Released as the flip-side to the tender ballad “Come To Me My Darling” on October 19, 1966, “When My Love Comes Down” features a gentle melody played on the organ (either by Booker T. or Isaac Hayes) exquisitely contrasted with the punch and pierce of Steve Cropper’s chopped guitar and the The Memphis Horns‘ emotive blare; all-the-while Ruby’s intense vocals alternately smolder, swagger, or just plain tear at the seams.

Enjoy!

———————————(CLICK TO LISTEN

Like it? Buy it.

Evelyn “Champagne” King

Up next: Although this track could perhaps be considered lighter fare than the above, Evelyn “Champagne” King’s #1 R&B hit “Love Come Down,” off her certified double platinum album of 1982, Get Loose, is another fine example of superb arrangement and production value, albeit from a completely different approach.

There’s a certain simmer and bounce to the streamlined synth-funk of this song that makes it stand-out against the assembly-line beats that began to dominate the digitally recorded music of the 1980s. Unlike the majority of music in this category, here is a dance song that is still permitted to have character.

Written by the multi-talented Kashif—a pioneer of hypnotic synth grooves and guitar sheen—he shared production duties with Morrie Brown. When Get Loose was released Evelyn King was in the midst of a somewhat career comeback, as she was crossing over from Disco to R&B. Born in the Bronx on July 1, 1960 but raised in Philadelphia, her career has a bit of a storybook beginning. A 16-year-old Evelyn was working as an office cleaner at Philadelphia International Records when producer Theodore T. Life who had overheard her singing in a washroom discovered her (Hogan, 2012). She was eventually signed to RCA Records and had a string of hits with the label. With its slippery, yet coiled bass-line, up-beat vocals, and quirky chimes and blips it is not difficult to imagine this song as a precursor to Prince’s brilliant B-side of 1984, “Erotic City.” Enjoy a bit of bouncing around with this number, and hopefully this autumn will treat you all right.

————————(CLICK TO LISTEN

Like it? Buy it.

——————————————–Bobby Calero————————

Ref:

Hayes, I. & Porter, D. (1966). When My Love Comes Down [recorded by Ruby Johnson] On I’ll Run Your Hurt Away [CD] Volt (1966), Stax (1993).

Hogen, E. (2012). Evelyn “Champagne” King: Biography. Billboard. Retrieved September 26, 2012 from http://www.billboard.com/#/artist/evelyn-champagne-king/bio/76577

Kashif. (1982). Love Come Down [recorded by Evelyn King] On Get Loose [CD] RCA (1982), BBR (2010).

Perrone, P. (1999, September 10). Obituary: Ruby Johnson. The Independent. Retrieved September 26, 2012 from http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-ruby-johnson-1117495.html.

Ridley, J. (2012). Ruby Johnson. Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven. Retrieved September 26, 2012 from http://www.sirshambling.com/artists_2012/J/ruby_johnson/index.php

Sontag, D. (2009, August 14). Out of Exile, Back in Soulsville. The New York Times. Retrieved September 26, 2012 from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/arts/music/16sont.html.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY NASIR BIN OLU DARA JONES!!!

Today, September 14, 2012, marks the thirty-ninth birthday of Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known under the moniker of Nas. In terms of lyrical technique Nas remains one of the greatest rappers out there, and his off-beat conversational flow truly innovated modern Hip Hop. Additionally, Nas has an eye for detail that is sorely missing amongst the majority of his contemporaries. In a Nas song you can smell and taste the scene. And of course he gets points for representing Queens!

In celebration of this artist (a bit last minute, as I only found out it was his birthday this afternoon) I’ve slapped together a mix from songs of his I happen to have on my laptop at the moment. Again, by no means is this mix meant as my “Best-of-Nas,” and only consists of what I had on hand at the moment. However, with a talent such as his, I feel it shines through regardless. You can grab the mix below.

Enjoy!

Happy Birthday Nas!

A Mouthful Of Pennies Presents:

                                        Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones is Like…

Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones is Like…

1)    N.Y. State Of Mind part 1 – Nas

2)    N.Y. State Of Mind part 2 – Nas

3)    Walking 2 (J.Period Dubplate) – J.Period & Nneka, feat. Nas

4)    As We Enter – Damian Marley & Nas

5)    Last Day – J.Period & G. Brown, feat. Nas

6)    Tom’s Diner/It Ain’t Hard To Tell – Suzanne Vega & Nas (Danger Mouse remix)

7)    You Owe Me – Nas

8)    Give Up the Goods – Q-Tip, feat. Nas & Mobb Deep (J.Period Remix)

9)    Hey Young World – Nas

10) New York Is Killing Me – Gil Scott-Heron, feat. Nas

11) Me Tienes – The Roots, feat. Nas (J.Period Remix)

12) Fast Life – Kool G Rap & Nas (Shaan Saigol Remix)

13) Young Gifted & Black – Big Daddy Kane (J.Period Remix)

14) Young Gifted & Black Freestyle – Nas (J.Period Remix)

15) Memory Lane – Nas

16)  Back To The Grill Again (Remix) – MC Serch, feat. Chubb Rock, Nas, Red Hot Lover Tone

17) Too Many Rappers [New Reactionaries Version] – Beastie Boys, feat. Nas

18) Nas Is Like – Nas

19) Road To Zion – Nas

Come and get it!:

MediaFire: http://www.mediafire.com/?srnfi5gkrg64n4h

…or if you just want to stream the mix, click below:

DivShare: http://www.divshare.com/download/19561704-f05

——————————————–Bobby Calero———————————

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I BELIEVE IN TAKING MY TIME

Few can deliver a song quite like Victoria Spivey. Whether it be a song concerned with the circumstances of hard-living or one about the bawdy delights of intercourse, Spivey wrote them with a sly intelligence, hip attitude, and then got them across in her distinctive “tiger moan,” which, in the case of “Toothache Blues,” could make even dental work sound sultry. Born on October 15, 1906, in Houston, Texas, Queen Victoria Spivey’s personal style was honed as a young teenager playing regularly in local bordellos and music halls after her father was killed in an accident and it became financially necessary for her to utilize her musical talents for more than mere entertainment and pocket money. Moving to St. Louis in 1926, Spivey signed to the Okeh label, and recorded her signature hit “Black Snake Blues.” Over the next two years she would record roughly once a month, often accompanied by Jazz greats like Lonnie Johnson, King Oliver, Clarence Williams, and Louis Armstrong.

Moving to Chicago as the record business collapsed along with all other industry during the Depression of the 1930s, Spivey expanded her career by playing vaudeville musical revues, such as the Hellzapoppin’ Revue in New York City, and she even appeared as “Missy Rose” in director King Vidor’s first sound film—and one of the first all-black films by a major studio: Hallelujah!

Retiring from the stage in 1952—becoming an organist for a church in Brooklyn—Spivey would return to her career in the ’50s and ’60s during the folk and blues revival of that era, and she would even set up her own record label. She died at the age of 69 on October 3rd, 1976 in New York City.

The last time Victoria Spivey was featured in these pages it was with the tale of drug-induced delusions of grandeur that is “Dope Head Blues.” That track was recorded in New York City on October 28, 1927 for the Okeh label. Spivey returns today with a side recorded a decade later on March 12, 1937, now for the Vocalion label.

One Hour Mama” is likewise swollen with braggadocio, however, here the listener gets the distinct impression that she is not lying; she is just a woman who knows what she wants, and what she does not. The woman is simply hard to please.

In my mind’s eye, when listening to this song, this is pretty much what I see—

————————————————(CLICK TO LISTEN)

Like it? Buy it.

I’ve always heard that haste makes waste

So I believe in taking my time

The highest mountain can’t be raced

It’s something you must slowly climb

I want a slow and easy man

He needn’t ever take the lead

Cause I work on that long time plan

And I ain’t a-looking for no speed

I’m a one hour mama, so no one minute papa

Ain’t the kind of man for me.

Set your alarm clock, papa; one hour that’s proper

Then love me like I want to be

I don’t want no lame excuses ’bout my lovin’ bein’ so good

That you couldn’t wait no longer; now, I hope I’m understood

I’m a one hour mama, so no one minute papa

Ain’t the kind of man for me.

Why don’t want no greenhorned lover, like a rookie goin’ to war

With a load of big artillery, but don’t know what it’s for.

He’s got to bring me reference, with great long pedigree,

And must prove he’s got endurance, or he don’t mean that to me.

I can’t stand no crowin’ rooster, what just hits a lick or two

Action is the only booster of just what my man can do.

I don’t want no imitations, my requirement ain’t no joke,

and I get full indignation for a guy that’s lost his stroke.

I’m a one hour mama, so no one minute papa

Ain’t the kind of man for me.

Set your alarm clock, papa; one hour that’s proper

Then love me like I want to be

Why I may want love for one hour, then decide to make it two

It takes an hour ‘fore I get started, may be three hours ‘fore I’m through

I’m a one hour mama, so no one minute papa

Ain’t the kind of man for me.

——————————————–Bobby Calero

Ref:

Commire, A. (Ed.) (2002). Spivey, Victoria (1906–1976). Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. pps. 655-657. Detroit: Yorkin Publications. Retrieved February 6th, 2012 from http://go.galegroup.com.queens.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX2591308746&v=2.1&u=cuny_queens&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w

Spivey, V. (1937). One Hour Mama. [recorded by Victoria Spivey] On Victoria Spivey Volume 4: 1936-1937. [CD] Vocalion. (1937). Document. (2000)

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