Saturday, December 13, 2008

This blog is into its third year of hiatus. Check out my blog on frugal, freezable recipes at

Friday, January 20, 2006

Remembering an often underated hero of music - I'm sorry I never got a chance to see him perform.

Wilson Pickett, 64; Soul Legend Sang Hits 'In the Midnight Hour,' 'Mustang Sally'

By Geoff Boucher
Times Staff Writer

Wilson Pickett, the Alabama-born soul singer who brought a raw groove and growling energy to 1960s R & B music, with hits such as "In the Midnight Hour" and "Mustang Sally," died Thursday. He was 64.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member died at a hospital near his Reston, Va., home after suffering a heart attack, according to a statement released by his personal manager, Margo Lewis. Chris Tuthill, of the management company Talent Source, said Pickett had been suffering from health problems for the last year.

His career spanned four decades and, before slowing down in 2005, he had continued to perform, earning a Grammy nomination for the 1999 album "It's Harder Now," which also received three W.C. Handy Awards, the in-genre trophy for blues and soul recordings.

Despite his longevity as a recording artist, his career was truly defined by his raspy, forceful delivery on a run of '60s R & B hits, among them "Land of 1000 Dances," "Funky Broadway" and the telephonic "634-5789."

The singer was nicknamed "the Wicked Pickett" for his gruff power, and no recording captured that intensity more famously than the revving 1966 hit "Mustang Sally," released by Atlantic Records. That song and "In the Midnight Hour" were touchstone hits for young 1960s music fans, and they were revived memorably for a new generation by the 1991 Alan Parker film "The Commitments" and its hit soundtrack. The popular film's plot is about a scruffy collective of young Irish musicians and their ill-fated attempt to meet and perform with their hero, Pickett. Pickett never actually appears in the film (he did show up in two less-celebrated movies, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," in 1978, and "Blues Brothers 2000") but he tapped into the film's spirit and success by performing at the Los Angeles and New York premieres of the movie. That was a shining moment, but his own youth had been as gritty and melancholy as the hard-luck north Dublin characters in "The Commitments."

Pickett was born March 18, 1941, in Prattville, Ala., and his earliest music experience was in Baptist church choirs. His home life, as the youngest of 11 children, was less uplifting.

"The baddest woman in my book … my mother," the singer told author Gerri Hirshey for the book "Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music."

"I get scared of her now. She used to hit me with anything, skillets, stove wood … [one time I ran away and] cried for a week. Stayed in the woods, me and my little dog."

Pickett recalled that he got another beating when his preacher grandfather caught him with a copy of Louis Jordan's raucous but tame hit, "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens." Eventually he had enough, and as a teen he went north to live with his father in Detroit. There, Pickett performed in the gospel harmony group the Violinaires in the 1950s, but by the end of the decade he was pushing into more secular sounds, as were many of his contemporaries who had brought their Southern church sounds north but were ready to move on.

In 1959, Pickett became a member of the Falcons, along with future Memphis soul notables Joe Stubbs (brother of Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops), Sir Mack Rice and Eddie Floyd. The Falcons' hit "I Found a Love" helped land Pickett a deal with Atlantic Records.

There he hooked up with renowned producer Jerry Wexler.

Wexler would be a guiding hand during the 1965 sessions for Stax Records that included the memorable recording of "In the Midnight Hour," a hit that found Pickett delivering a performance that was somehow both polished and raw at the same time. Wexler, who had worked with Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and Dusty Springfield, said those Pickett sessions were easily among his most memorable moments.

"There was something about those records and Wilson's voice — those were some of the funkiest, deepest-grooving, in-the-pocket recordings I ever heard," Wexler said Thursday from his home in Florida. "The thing about Wilson was he was just a great screamer, but he did it with control. James Brown would scream and it was a scream, but Wilson could scream notes. His voice was powerful, like a buzz saw, but it wasn't ever out of his control, it was always melodic.

"Wexler described Pickett as a "black panther" in those days before the term took on a political connotation. The expression spoke to the singer's glower and confidence, but those same traits may have hindered Pickett's career. Steve Cropper, the guitarist in Booker T and the MGs, was a key sideman in the soul explosion of the 1960s, and he co-wrote "In the Midnight Hour" with Pickett. He said Thursday that the same passion that produced magic on vinyl could rub people raw in person — it was also one of the reasons that Pickett's career never earned the acclaim of singers such as Al Green and Sam Cooke or the fiery but charismatic Otis Redding.

"It's absolutely true, and I think some of that had to do with Wilson himself," Cropper said. "He could be difficult and he didn't really reach out to people. It wasn't like Otis — if you met Otis, he was your best friend on the spot. He engaged people. Wilson was more distant and sometimes he had that angry-at-the-world attitude. But if you got in a studio, he was amazing. Just amazing.

"That disconnect, between ability and acclaim, was made clear in a Times review from 1982 of the singer's show at a local club. Months earlier, Brown had sold out the venue, but Pickett came to the stage to find the room half empty. Still, he raced though an intense performance that included "dramatic spoken passages, extended vocal cadenzas (usually delivered in falsetto) and dropping to bended knees … to scream," the reviewer wrote. Somehow, it all worked, thanks to Pickett's "sheer command and a singularly candid sense of humor."

Pickett is survived by two sons, Lynderrick and Michael; and two daughters, Veda and Saphan. A viewing is being arranged in Virginia next week. Pickett will be interred with his mother, Lena, in Louisville, Ky. Copyright © 2006, The Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Not to be a nag or anything but...

Okay, almost nobody downloaded the Graham Lindsey stuff I posted recently. I've reposted them here at the top (scroll down to read the original post) because if you have ears you need to hear it.

Emma Rumble (via Savefile)
Hutch Jack Flats Rag (Via SaveFile)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Raising Hell in Mt. Airy
Saw Bettye Lavette on Friday night. Damn. She looks and sounds way godd for 59. The story on her is that she was destined for soul greatness but got screwed by her record labels so bad that her 1972 debut album came out in 2002. She's comes off more blessed than bitter (although both are on the menu) and puts on a classic soul show.

Why should I bother reviewing it all when DeLuca at the Inky has done so quite well here?

Lavette has a fine new album out on Anti- that you should buy - all the songs covers of country and pop by women and I've never heard a certain Fiona Apple song sound so good.

Visit for more info, tourdates, etc.

Anti- has generously provided the following tracks for download:

You'll Never Change (Classic)
Let Me Down Easy (Classic)
The High Road (New)
Down To Zero (New)

Good stuff but the live act is way heavier.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A circle needs a what, now?
Okay, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy is a great musician and all. But he can't seem to get along with guys named Jay, and he really ought to. Uncle Tupelo was one of the greatest bands of all time, due to the collaboration/competition between frontmen Tweedy and Jay Farrar. But after Farrar left the band (apparently due to some weird shit on Tweedy's part), the first Wilco record, while excellent, didn't measure up to the Uncle Tupelo legacy.

That all changed after multi-instrumentalist studio-whiz songwriter Jay Bennett joined Wilco, however. The band's next three records were groundbreaking masterpieces. Then when Bennett became more of a force in the band (or more of a egotistical perfectist pain in everyone's ass), Tweedy fired him. Predictably, the next Wilco record, A Ghost Is Born, was a bit of a letdown, marred by uneven songwriting and some seriously overindulgent noodling (aided and abetted by Jim O'Rourke). I think he needs another Jay in his life! (Jay Z? ... no, that would end poorly.)

Jay Bennett has since released three albums that prove he is a major talent in his own right (and as a producer he almost made Blues Traveler sound good).

A few years ago I saw Bennett perform with collaborator Edward Burch at The Fire, a scummy dive bar in Fishtown. I rode my bike in the rain to get there, spent my last crumpled fiver on too much Schmidt's (always a regret) and enjoyed one of the best shows I've seen anywhere.

Talk to Me (served on
Want You Back (served by Jay's site)

Buy the albums at

P.S. Stay tuned for a post on Jay Bennett's first band, Titanic Love Affair, which were a total ripoff of The Replacements and Soul Asylum ... but in a good way.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Another forgotten band: The Dambuilders

My four regular readers know I have a thing for obscure power pop. Here's another band in that mold: The Dambuilders. Their big hit was Shrine in '94. You remember right? She doesn't speak much English but she tells me all her favorite bands...

Well, sometimes a big hit like that, especially a tongue-in-cheek one, can doom your career. (Just ask The Knack.) The Dambuilders got lost in the post-Nirvana indie rock feeding frenzy, tagged as a one-hit-wonder novelty act despite producing two more excellent albums that ended up in the dollar bin. A sad end to one of the only indie pop bands to successfully employ a violin.

There's not all that much info about the band online. It seems the members have all had projects here and there (the drummer was in Guided by Voices for a while). I used to have a great article about them that I cut out of their hometown paper The Boston Phoenix in '94 but I don't know what became of it. Their major-label releases are all out of print but readily available online for $2.50 (as in a penny plus shipping). So anyhow, here are the songs:

You Might Want Me Around (from Against the Stars)
Drive By Kiss (from Ruby Red)

P.S. I don't have their Encendedor album on CD or I would have uploaded Shrine too but you can watch video (and two others) here provided that you have/get a Yahoo ID.

As promised, more Hamell songs
Two of my faves:
In a Bar
First Date

And please visit for Hamell's own generous offerings.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Hey Hey it's The dB's!
Bands with two singer-songwriters seem to produce some of the freshest, finely-crafted music. I guess it's the power of competition. Of course, bands with two strong songwriters or personalities of any kind tend to explode. "A circle needs a center" is what Jeff Tweedy says when he's kicking guys names Jay out of the band.

Which brings me to the dB's, an early 80's power-pop band fronted by Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey that sold even fewer records than Big Star. But man, they made some great music. Lots of mutual friends with REM but the sound is more in line with bands like Pylon and Dramarama.

The tracks below are drawn from the first two Db's albums, available as a twofer on Collector's Choice.

Black and White
Ask For Jill

Also visit for more downloads and news about the band, which is apparently nominally reunited, and some new and classic downloads.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hamell On Trial

Ever since Ed Hamell, a.k.a. Hamell On Trial, found his voice on his major-label debut, Big As Life (out of print by the way) he has produced some of the most uncompromising, creative, funny, moving, rockin' music anywhere. So why am I still buying his records from Hamell's suitcase after the show? This guy should be huge by now.

I guess American pop culture just isn't ready for a sweaty pasty bald man who plays an acoustic 30's Gibson small body guitar like a Mack Truck and blends top-notch songwriting with a powerful spoken word assault. Silly me.

Just a few years ago, Ed Hamell survived near death after crashing his VW on the PA turnpike driving through the night with nobody by his side but his old guitar, just to bring his music to you. So do your part. Buy all his in-print albums on Righteous Babe. Then go knock on the door of Mercury records and demand that they release the rights to Ed's other albums so you can buy those. And if Hamell on Trial comes to your town, get your butt to the show.

Visit http://www.hamellontrial.comfor more info and live dates.

Here are some bootlegs Mr. Hamell has kindly made available on his site. They but scratch the surface of his brilliance...

It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) (.mp3)
Piccolo Joe - Spoken Word (.WMA)
In a Bar
First Date

And please visit for Hamell's own generous offerings.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

James Carr - You Got My Mind Messed Up

Some soul junkies like to refer to James Carr as the greatest soul singer who ever lived. Of course, a lot of them are probably insufferable dweebs who think their obscure tastes prove they're better than you. I'm not willing to say Carr was greater than Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye or Levi Stubbs. But he could sure as hell hold his own.

His is certainly a twist on the doomed sould singer story. After all, he didn't meet his end in the flames of a plane crash or at the barrel of a gun. Basically he recorded a bunch of records in the late 60's, had a few small hits, but never quite broke through. He did get his mind messed up though and a lot of the time he should have been singing he was in seclusion or various mental institutions blowing whatever chance he had to finally make it. That's worse, isn't it? For the record, he died in 2001 at the age of 58, having made just the smallest little comeback in the early 90's before he got sick.

There's a hint of detatchment in the music, perhaps the result of Carr's mental state. However, this stuff still sends shivers up my spine. The sound is absolutely classic. The voice is the epitome of soul, and the backup is tight - completely free of the cheesiness that sometimes marred the output of other greats. Carr could make even a silly song sound deep. I'll stop gushing. The songs below (including the classic Dark End Of The Street, of which you have no doubt heard later renditions), say it all.

A great article on Carr can be found here

You should also buy the CD.

Dark End Of The Street
You Got My Mind Messed Up