The Good Foot

A survey of recent blues, soul, R&B and roots releases

Like the blues Young put out, Williams cut and bought material that keeps collectors haunting bins to this day--deep Southern soul, marked by gospel-rooted vocalists, countryish backing bands, brass and stately 6/8 tempos. If that sounds like the recipe for a mess, consider that it has produced some of the pithiest American music.

Many of the singles Williams put out were regional hits that all but disappeared for a quarter of a century. When the AVI Entertainment Group in Los Angeles acquired the Excello and Nashboro masters two years ago, they set out on an ambitious repackaging plan that yielded last year's intriguing collection The Heart of Southern Soul: From Nashville to Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Now they've extended the set with a companion volume that's nearly as terrific as the first: Heart of Southern Soul Vol. 2.

Most of the artists on these two discs--the Kelly Brothers, Roshell Anderson, the Exotics--were little-known in their primes and are altogether obscure today. There are no Al Greens or Otis Reddings waiting to be discovered, but the two discs provide a glimpse of many fine, second-tier artists. Deejays and secretaries by day, they saw in soul music a vehicle for their material dreams, and poured their church-schooled voices into tales of cheating and love gone bad, intuitively marrying the sacred and profane. They burned like fireflies on a track or two, then vanished back into a workaday world.

Vol. 2 features 16 artists on 24 tracks, many of whom were included on the first set. Standouts include the Wallace Brothers' minor '64 hit "Precious Words," replete with high-register vocals and marching organ; previously unissued takes of Kip Anderson's greasy, down-home ballads "Letter From My Darling" and "You'll Lose a Good Thing"; a searing, previously unissued song by Marva Whitney, who put in time as a backing vocalist with James Brown; and Lattimore Brown backed by the crack Muscle Shoals rhythm section on the incandescent ballad "I Will."

My favorite track is by Jerry Washington, a native of Denmark, South Carolina. His "Right Here Is Where You Belong" opens with a man walking down the street to a loping beat, looking for his estranged girlfriend's house. After some ersatz knocking, Washington delivers this passionately bumbled monologue:

"I got something I would like to say to you. You see, I was just released from the hospital. The reason why I was released, because the doctor told me medicine can't do me no good. He told me what I had is beyond medical science. So he released me because--they told me they haven't found a remedy for my condition. He told me what I have is more serious than cancer. He told me what I have is a very, very bad case of the blues . . ."

The song was a small success in the South in '73. But the rest of the Jerry Washington story, told by John Ridley in the liner notes, is what makes the whole set such a pleasure: "After one further minor hit and an engaging LP he seems to have gone back to his day job as a hair stylist."

Land of 1,000 Dances
Remember the boogaloo? That '60s dance craze that swept the nation and gave us those hits by Jerryo?

I didn't, either, when I saw the new Right Stuff compilation The Boo-ga-loo Years. It's a fine but puzzling 14 tracks, most by Jerry Murray and Robert Tharp, who billed themselves as Tom & Jerryo. Murray was a Chicago deejay who moved to Detroit in the early '60s, where he hooked up with Tharp and began performing as a soul singer. They cut their theme song, "Boo-ga-loo," for ABC in '65 (this collection spans '67 to '69).

Boogaloo was also a Hispanic movement in New York in '67 that had mambo roots and branched off into Latin jazz. Joe Cuba had a million-selling single with "Bang Bang," which he says was representative of the style; Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri and Cal Tjader were all associated with boogaloo, as was a dual trombone sound.

By contrast, Jerryo's cuts--"Papa Chew Do the Boo-ga-loo," "Popcorn Boo-ga-loo," "Funky Boo-ga-loo"--sound like the birth of funk. They're driving ghetto party tunes, based on locked bass-and-drum arrangements with guitars played on the beat. The most obvious influence is Dyke and the Blazers, the Phoenix-based band whose "Funky Broadway" peaked on the R&B charts in '67. The boogaloo also sparked a dance fad that worked pretty well with hits from Memphis and Motown, too.

The Jerryo tracks have a loose, layered quality and a dizzying effect. Murray sings over sprinkled shouts and chatter like a referee at a rent party. "The studio was usually well stocked with two of Jerryo's staples," Jon Levy writes in the CD booklet, "scotch whiskey and attractive women."

That was apparently okay with Sammy Kaplan. His father, Morry, ran Danceland Records in the early '50s, issuing singles by a stuttering janitor from a Detroit auto plant who would later become known as John Lee Hooker. Sammy followed in Morry's footsteps and launched the Boo-Ga-Loo label in 1966, built around Jerryo. His star cracked the charts on its first outing. "Karate Boo-ga-loo," the leadoff cut on the new collection, peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard R&B charts. Released in early July '67, it sold 400,000 copies by the end of the summer.

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