Merry Clayton Sings “Southern Man”

Merry ClaytonListen to this track by legendary back-up vocalist phenomenon and vital solo artist in her own right Merry Clayton. It’s “Southern Man”, a song written by Neil Young and recorded by Clayton on her 1971 solo record Merry Clayton.  The sessions were overseen by Lou Adler, and the material was sourced from some of the best writers of the era besides Young; Carole King, James Taylor, Leon Russell, and others.

A few years after this tune was laid down for her self-titled record, Clayton had been called on to sing on the answer song to this tune, that being Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” which chided Young by name on his criticism of southern life. But, the Skynyrd song fails to acknowledge in any distinguishable way that southern life for one is not the same life for another, depending on one’s background. The cultural weight and matters of historical record behind all of that is impossible to ignore. For Clayton, participation on that song rankled. But, as she said about the Skynyrd session in the excellent documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom, part of her calling when it came to civil rights was singing. So, she sang on the Skynyrd tune anyway, and “sang the shit out of it” with the boo-boo-boo backing vocal lines when governer George Wallace is alluded to in the song being among the stand out elements.

But, that session would be after she covered this Neil Young tune. In retrospect now that we’ve got both songs to listen to, Clayton twisted that dialogue back in on itself by doing a full on interpretation of “Southern Man” and transformed it while she was at it. Read more

Rufus Thomas Sings “Walkin’ the Dog”

walkingthedogcoverListen to this song by gravelly-voiced soul patriarch Rufus Thomas.  It’s ‘Walkin’ the Dog’, his signature hit from 1964 that became an R&B smash, as well as a popular number among mods and R&B revivalists from the 60s until today.

Rufus Thomas was a giant on the Memphis R&B scene, a stalwart figure along the Beale Street strip from the 1940s.  Although he was no musical pioneer, what he did do was to embody the regional scene, and providing a reference point for the type of sound that evolved out of Memphis.   And by the mid-60s, he was middle-aged, yet with his biggest hit in front of him.

I just love this little tune; unassuming, kind of silly as in a nonsense rhyme we heard as children, yet imminently funky.  Listen to that loping guitar!  Listen to that growling baritone sax!  And Thomas’ fun-loving vocal just exudes charm.  This song is the perfect example of why Stax soul music was so popular, and in many ways it was one of the tracks that established its popularity.  This is soul music with the grit of electric blues and the sweltering Sunday morning gospel tradition left in.

Rufus would later explore a purer funk sound by the next decade, heavily sampled by hip-hop artists.  And of course, there’s his daughter Carla Thomas, who had a pretty stunning career of her own.

For more information about Rufus Thomas, check out Rufus Thomas on All Music.

Enjoy!

Soul Singer Ann Sexton Sings “You’re Losing Me”

Here’s a clip of no-bullshit, bona-fide Northern soul star Ann Sexton with a 2008 performance of her 1974 single “You’re Losing Me”, originally put out on small label Seventy-7 records.  Sexton is yet another link to the recent, and very encouraging, classic soul revival which has seen the recent rise of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Amy Winehouse, Jully Black, Joss Stone, and many others.  As a result, Sexton has dusted off some of her material from the classic mid-70s period, found now to be just what the crowds are after.

Southern Soul becomes Northern Soul
Ann Sexton: Southern Soul becomes Northern Soul

Not to be confused with the Massachusetts poet of the same name, our Ann Sexton was an obscure artist in her home country, made into a name on the British Northern Soul scene like so many others.  Even though she remained inactive as a performing musician since the 1970s, a resurgence in popularity found Sexton featured at a 2007 Baltic Soul Weekender festival in Germany where she was greeted with great enthusiasm.  The clip above is taken from an appearance at the very same festival the next year.

Sexton is a proponent of one of my favourite sub-genres of classic soul music – Southern soul.  In Sexton’s case, her popularity in the 70s Northern Soul scene in Britain is kind of ironic.  Of course, that ‘North’ refers not to the Mason-Dixon line, but rather to to clubs in the North of England where otherwise obscure soul singles were played by local DJs and made popular as dance music.  It remains to be something of a trend that British music scenes tend fill the role of curator of the best in American music, in some cases music which has gone unnoticed or remains to be underappreciated in America itself.

Much like the work of similar soul singers like Ann Peebles and Candi Staton, you can smell the sweat off of this kind of music.  Sexton kicks it with this tune, the sound of a woman who knows what she wants, what she doesn’t want, and isn’t afraid to say so. There is a certain toughness to this kind of music, which to me is better testament to female empowerment than in any “I Am Woman” anthems of the era.

For more biographical information about Ann Sexton, check out Soulwalking.co.uk.

Enjoy!

Candi Staton Sings ‘Heart on a String’ from her ESSENTIAL 2004 self-titled compilation

Here’s a clip of underrated soul goddess Candi Staton singing her 1970 single “Heart on a String”, recorded on the Fame label in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This track, along with several others from this fertile period in Staton’s career, was brilliantly compiled on a 2004 compilation simply entitled Candi Staton.

Listen carefully to the next thing I’m going to say…

This record is ESSENTIAL.

Source: phuturelabs.com via Valerie on Pinterest

 

The songs compiled on this album are comprised of Staton’s singles and B-sides output between the years 1969-1973. By 1976, Staton caught the wave of disco, and had her biggest hit in “Young Hearts Run Free”. But it was in this earlier period that her work on “Heart on a String”, and other songs including brilliant covers of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”, Otis Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, and one of the latter-day songs in Elvis Presley’s repertoire, “In the Ghetto” made her into the professional she was. In addition to the covers, Staton recorded originals of her own, including the heartfelt “To Hear You Say You’re Mine”, the sassy “The Thanks I Get For Loving You”, and the brilliantly soulful “I’m Gonna Hold On (To What I Got This Time)”.

Songs like this tied the various influences prevalent in the sonic landscape of the American south together, with the grit of soul mixed with the storytelling power of traditional country music. For anyone, ANYONE, interested in pop music, classic soul, or indeed any type of music at all, you must run not walk to pick this up.

The sales of this compilation were impressive at the time, thanks to a lot of coverage from music rag journalists, bloggers, and music dweebs such as myself rattling on about how great it is (well, it is…). I read about it before I’d heard it. And then one day, in an old school sort of way, I wandered into my local record store, A&B Sound at Dunsmuir and Seymour here in Vancouver as I am wont to do. And I heard “Heart On A String” playing over the store’s sound system; it reached out and grabbed me by the … well, it grabbed me where it counts, people. Anyway, I had to have it. It was everything I had been promised. A lot of people felt the same.

The success of the compilation actually allowed Staton to return to the studio to make a new Southern soul album. She’d taken time off as a soul singer by this time, re-fashioning herself as a gospel artist and recording R&B tunes only sparsely. Her comeback record was the impressive His Hands in 2006 which includes songwriting contributions from writers as disparate as Merle Haggard to Bonnie Prince Billy’s Will Oldham. And as always, Staton embodies the role demanded of her in the songs, her voice remaining virtually unchanged since her Fame label days.

All of this music is where Amy Winehouse, as good as she is, is trying to get to, folks. Find out for yourself why she’s trying so hard.

For more, check out the Candi Staton discography page on her site to sample her work across her career.

For full-length songs and other information, don’t forget the Candi Staton MySpace page.