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Posts tagged ‘Stax Records’

Soul Dynamite: Johnnie Taylor Live at the Summit Club

When people talk about the greatest male soul singers of the 1960s and 1970s, names such as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Al Green, James Brown, Percy Sledge, James Carr, and Wilson Pickett are frequently mentioned. But one guy that deserves inclusion in that same exalted company is Johnnie Taylor.


Taylor, who passed away in 2000 at the age of 66, had a long and distinguished singing career. Born in Arkansas, he started singing with gospel groups in the 1950s and replaced Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers in 1957. He signed to famed Stax Records in 1966 and quickly established himself as one of the most popular soul singers in the business, scoring hits with songs such as “Who’s Making Love”, “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone”, and “Cheaper To Keep Her.” Taylor left Stax for Columbia Records in 1975 and scored a number one pop hit the following year with “Disco Lady.” Like those other great soul singers, Taylor had a versatile repertoire, able to belt funky soul songs along with down and dirty blues tunes, switching to achingly tender love ballads when the mood struck.


I recently bought a CD of Johnnie Taylor Live at the Summit Club, an album culled from live recordings made in 1972. This is, without a doubt, one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard, in any genre. I totally agree with the blurb on the CD’s back cover: “Nobody could work a club like Johnnie Taylor, and on this hot September night in 1972 JT worked LA’s Summit Club. This is Johnnie Taylor like no record ever captured him, squarely in his element, worrying and teasing his way through slow-burn blues and funky soul workouts to a crowd of fur-lined players and ice-cold hustlers who wouldn’t settle for second-rate. Rappin’ to the ladies one moment, smack-talking to his band the next, JT works the room like a storefront preacher gone wrong.”

Indeed, this dynamic live album shows an engaging side of Johnnie Taylor that was glossed over on many of his studio albums. Taylor is on fire throughout the Summit Club performance, storming through a selection of his most popular songs, all while trying to overcome the occasional musical stumbles of his backing band. The liner notes to the CD acknowledge that Taylor was having “some serious problems with the band” (apparently, he had to hastily recruit this unit especially for the LA show) during this performance, and yet to his credit Taylor never lets any of the musical ineptitude prevent him from putting on a powerful, exuberant show.


After detailing the mistakes that the band was making, the liner notes stress that “despite these and other flaws, what makes Taylor’s Summit Club performances so fascinating — and ultimately satisfying — is the way in which he chastises his musicians without breaking the flow. Taylor might have been pissed off at the band, yet he responded with cutting, albeit subtle, wit and proceeded to sing passionately and deliver his ‘soul philosopher’ monologues with the consummate professionalism that was his hallmark.”

Not only was Taylor an expressive and very soulful singer, he was a masterful performer and this Summit Club recording shows him at the peak of those powers. Highly recommended for fans of this golden era of soul music! Meanwhile, here are the other CDs that have been giving me that essential buzz of delight that I need to function each day:


Hank Crawford – Mr. Blues Plays Lady Soul

The Jayhawks – Tomorrow the Green Grass (Expanded Edition)

The Pazant Brothers – Live at the Museum of Modern Art

Elvin Bishop – Live! Raisin’ Hell

Trees – Garden of Jane Delawney



Various Artists – Soul of Angola

Robin Gibb – Saved By the Bell: The Collected Works

Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

The Animals – Complete Animals

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (40th Anniversary Edition)



Petite Noir – La Vie Est Belle

Ash – The Best of

Don Henley – Cass County

The Lime Spiders – Nine Miles High: 1983-1990

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – St. Peter & 57th Street



Various Artists – Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical, and Cumbia

Turnpike Troubadours – Diamonds & Gasoline

Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers – Nothing Can Stop Us

Brewer & Shipley – The Best Of: One Toke Over the Line

Gato Barbieri – Passion and Fire



The Toure-Raichel Collective – The Tel Aviv Session

Michael Murphey – Blue Sky, Night Thunder

Stereolab – Chemical Chords

Bonobo – The North Border

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me



Various Artists – Ian Levine’s Solid Stax Sensations

Donnie Fritts – Oh My Goodness

Sea Level – The Best Of

Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces: The Best Of

Machito – Kenya/With Flute To Boot



The Bar-Kays – Do You See What I See?

Diane Coffee – Everybody’s A Good Dog

Bob Dylan and the Band – The Basement Tapes Raw

Dexter Gordon – American Classic

New Order – Music Complete



The Hues Corporation – Freedom For the Stallion

Brainstorm – Journey To the Light

Various Artists – Studio One Funk

Russell Smith – Sunday Best: The Cream of the Solo Albums

Richard Thompson – Mock Tudor

Eccentric Soul


Over the past decade the Numero Group has been reissuing lost or obscure recordings from the 1960s and 1970s as part of their “Eccentric Soul” series. These CDs are a virtual goldmine of rare soul music treasures. Most of fans of Soul and R&B are familiar with the more popular labels that released great music in the 60s and 70s, such as Motown/Tamla, Stax, Atlantic, Chess, and even smaller imprints such as Hi Records, Okeh, Malaco, and Loma. But during this golden era of music there were hundreds of smaller labels scattered around the USA that released music that rivaled the big companies in terms of quality. Many of these regional labels, however, couldn’t get their records publicized due to lack of airplay, distribution limitations, or financial problems. Thankfully, however, the dedicated music addicts at Numero Group are resurrecting these lost jewels.


One of those regional labels was the South Florida-based Deep City. Numero has released two separate compilations from that label: Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label, and Eccentric Soul: Outskirts of Deep City. Holy Sunshine State, where were they hiding these amazing songs? I grew up in Florida, but had never heard of the Deep City label, or most of the artists on these thrilling compilations. There are a few recognizable names on here, such as Betty Wright and Paul Kelly, but the rest are mainly “no-name” artists who cut a few singles and disappeared for the most part. The material on the first volume comes from 1964-68, and there is a distinct Motown vibe to a lot of the songs on there. The final track, “Darling I’ll Go” by Moovers, even sounds like a classic Four Tops tune. The second volume includes two tunes by Clarence Reid, an underrated artist who later gained fame as a funky and nasty costumed character known as Blowfly. Those antics aside, Reid was a very talented songwriter and the song credits on this compilation offers proof: he wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 20 songs. Most of the songs are culled from the period 1966-1971, along with one tune from 1963.


The very first compilation I bought in this series was Eccentric Soul: A Red, Black & Green Production. Oh my, I don’t know where to begin in praising this CD. I bought the excellent Father’s Children CD that the Numero Group reissued and was so impressed with that one that I ordered this collection of tunes from RBG (Red, Black & Green) Productions, the people behind the Father’s Children recording. Actually, it’s pretty much one man, Robert Williams, who was the genius behind this stuff. He produced all 19 tracks on this CD compilation, recorded between 1972 and 1975, including the closing track, the dreamy “Linda Movement” by Father’s Children. Everything I love about 70s soul can be found here, from funky, jazzy jams to soulful crooning, and pop bliss. One group, East Coast Connection, has a track called “Summer in the Parks” that is a brilliant tribute/medley to popular tunes by Kool & the Gang, Isaac Hayes, Earth Wind & Fire, and Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers.


Another highlight from Numero is their Eccentric Soul: Prix Label collection. The Prix label was headquartered in Columbus, Ohio and most of these tracks were recorded at Harmonic Sounds studios in Columbus between 1969 and 1973. The CD booklet includes this cool tidbit about some of the demo recordings on this collection: “Nearly 30 years after the label closed its doors, a mysterious box of tapes turned up at an estate sale in Columbus, Originally thought to be the lost Prix masters, it turned out instead to be dozens of demos, rehearsals, and few finished songs recorded during the rime of Harmonic Sounds. The tape boxes were, for the most part, unmarked, presenting a puzzle that would require much time and effort to solve.” Thankfully, the folks at Numero Group DID put in the time and effort to figure out who was singing what and the result is this fabulous CD. As with all Numero Group reissues, you get a very detailed booklet with the history of the label and the recording artists, plus a bunch of very groovy old photos. The booklet also includes a 2011 “Postscript” with additional information on the mysterious origins of Penny & the Quarters, the group that was featured on the soundtrack to the film Blue Valentine.


Another of my favorites in this series is Eccentric Soul: The Nickel & Penny Labels. These labels were founded by a guy named Richard Pegue. I’d never heard of him before, but he qualifies as a certifiable musical genius. Pegue was a songwriter, producer, DJ, musician, and the creator of these two labels. Based in Chicago, his labels released some brilliant soul music between 1967 and 1973. But, as the liner notes tell us, most of these singles went out of print only weeks after they were released, and most of these artists never recorded full albums of their own. Pegue wrote 16 of the 24 tracks on this collection, and the quality is very, very high. Some songs just jump out at you, perfect examples of magical soul bliss. Really, if you played these songs for someone and told them that they were long-long tracks from the Motown vaults, they would be lavishing endless praise on this album. But because they were put out on obscure labels in the late 1960s and early 70s, no one seemed to pay much attention at the time, nor is this timeless music getting much publicity even after the 2011 Numero Group reissue.


For a double whammy of soul delights, check out Eccentric Soul: Twinight’s Lunar Rotation. The Chicago-based Twinight (and Twilight) label is best known for being the home of soul legend Syl Johnson, who later recorded for Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records label in Memphis. This 2-CD collection highlights the “other” recordings that Twinight put out from 1967-1972. With 40 tracks, there is something for everyone, including a few torrid instrumentals. As for the “Lunar Rotation” part of this album title, the booklet inside this collection explains that this was the late night period on local radio stations when airplay was given to “high school talent show winners, major label cast offs, minor label upgrades, and girlfriends with decent voices … the DJ’s call it lunar rotation, broadcast lingo for radio limbo, all-night airplay for 45s with no chance of making the charts, a nice time for a disc jockey to make good on that fifty dollar handshake.” The booklet goes into detail about the label’s history and the recording acts represented on this CD. There are not any Syl Johnson songs on this compilation, but the essay in the booklet explains his crucial importance to the label, not only as the label’s sole hit-maker, but its foundation. When Syl Johnson left the label in 1972, the label not only lost their main source of income, but it also severed their ability to attract new talent. It’s a shame that the label didn’t enjoy more success. Certainly, the songs on this compilation are good as anything else you’d hear on airwaves at the time.

And those are just a few of the compilations that Numero Group has released thus far. I’m currently listening to Eccentric Soul: The Big Mack Label, and just ordered the newest release in the series, Eccentric Soul: The Forte Label. Based on the excellent track history of what the Numero Group has been releasing, I’m going to be immersed in yet more soul nirvana.


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