Listen to this track by Virginian singer-songwriter, record producer, arranger, and indie label-owner Michael E. White. It’s “Take Care My Baby”, a cut off of his 2015 platter Fresh Blood.
That’s right; I used the word “platter”. I suppose this is because of the distinctly old-school feel to White’s music, and his approach to making it. Forming Spacebomb records in 2011, the approach that sixties and early seventies soul labels took seems to have been a template. In part, this meant the formation of a house band to back incoming clients putting out their own records. Americana singer Natalie Prass was a recent recipient of White’s expertise with her record drawing comparisons with Dusty In Memphis. Yet, White’s first client was himself.
White’s musical interests are wide, playing in rock bands (The Great White Jenkins), and angular big band jazz ensembles (Fight The Big Bull) with aplomb. His success with his debut record under his own name Big Inner created yet another musical stream for him; silky soul music through an indie rock filter. This song in particular is full of orchestral grandeur that conjures the work of The Chi-lites, The Spinners, and The Delfonics. How did this music come out of a guy who kind of resembles Jesus’ bookish brother-in-law? Part of the reason may be that, like the gospel-blues singers of yesteryear, White and Jesus do have something of a history. Read more
Listen to this track by Brummie blue-eyed soul and rock quartet The Spencer Davis Group. It’s “I’m A Man”, their 1967 hit single as taken from the self-same album I’m A Man. This would be the group’s last hit single in their original incarnation that featured Stevie Winwood on vocals and organ before he left to join Traffic later in the year.
Like many soul singers, Winwood started his musical journey in part while involved with the Church, although this time it was the C of E and decidedly not a sultry Baptist chapel somewhere in the American South. Nevertheless, access to a bona fide church organ had to be important to his trajectory. He had something that a lot of British musicians didn’t have at the time besides. Winwood didn’t just pick up his trade simply by listening to blues and soul records. The time he spent playing in pick-up bands to back up American bluesman like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker as they toured Britain was also an important part of his musical apprenticeship. This gained him first-hand exposure and training to achieve the real sound of the blues and get straight to the heart of soul music. It also introduced him to how all-consuming it can become to pursue a musician’s life.
That’s what this song is all about; a love song to the music itself and to the state of being in a band, despite the dangers of losing oneself while being entangled in it all. It’s a snapshot of a mind that is both juvenile and ambitious all at once, which is part of why it became a rock standard. But, it goes beyond that, too.
Listen to this track by Sheffieldian blues-rock exemplar Joe Cocker, who today turns 69. It’s “Feeling Alright” as taken from Cocker’s 1969 record With A Little Help From My Friends. The album is well-named, given the range of talent that went into its creation, taking Cocker’s own formidable talents as a given. Among the many contributors to the record as a whole include Jimmy Page, Stevie Winwood, Tony Visconti, Henri McCulloch, and Chris Stainton, among others.
On this track, a cover version of Dave Mason’s song that first was heard by Traffic, Carol Kaye holds down the bottom end on bass guitar, David Cohen on guitar, Paul Humphrey on drums, and Artie Butler on the piano. It’s Butler’s ivory-tinkling that really stands out here, balanced against Cocker’s gruff and impossibly soulful vocals. It’s hard to believe that Butler would make his name later on as a musical director for Barry Manilow and Neil Sedaka, among other middle-of-the-road acts. But, there you are.
The concoction made for one of the most memorable songs of the era, eclipsing the original and creating a template for many versions to follow. This isn’t a bad feat for an interpretive singer at a time when interpreters were making less and less impact covering the material of others – although Cocker would pen tunes on the record as well. So, what’s the difference here? Read more