Here’s Eddie Floyd – one of the legendary Memphis label Stax’s most successful artists (as both a singer and songwriter) – doing his hit “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do).” But with a career that predates his Stax days, Floyd also served in the Detroit vocal group Falcons, alongside Sir Mack Rice (also performing at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp) and Wilson Pickett. The group scored hits with “You’re So Fine” and “I Found a Love.” Signing with Stax in 1965, Floyd helped write “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” and “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)” for Pickett. Indeed, almost every Stax artist recorded Floyd’s tunes, often co-written with Steve Cropper or Booker T. Jones, including Sam & Dave (“You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me”), Rufus Thomas (“The Breakdown”), Otis Redding (“I Love You More Than Words Can Say”), and Johnnie Taylor’s “Just the One (I’ve Been Looking For).” Floyd scored his own successes as a solo artist with “Knock on Wood” and “Big Bird,” (which he reportedly wrote in a London airport while waiting for a plane back to the United States for Redding’s funeral), among others.
As some Louisiana lagniappe, here’s Alex Chilton, a fellow son of Memphis and a frequent sideman at the Stomp, offering up his version of the same song, backed by Teenage Fanclub.
How did Knoxville singer Clifford Curry go from Smoky Mountain soul man to a shaman of “the shag,” revered by the Carolina Beach music scene? The credit goes to today’s “Song of the Day”: his pulsating 1967 Elf Records tour de force, “She Shot a Hole in My Soul,” which rose to #45 on the R&B charts and #95 in pop. Don’t miss your chance to do the shag with Curry at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp.
But in the meantime, compare and contrast with Curry’s version these two other takes on “She’s Got a Hole in My Soul,” both done by Ponderosa Stomp favorites and full- or part-time Louisiana legends, now both up in Soul Heaven: John Fred of “Judy in Disguise” fame and the Box Tops featuring Alex Chilton.
Isaac Hayes won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for “Theme from Shaft,” Gordon Parks’ 1971 blaxplotation masterpiece. Released as a double album by Stax Records’ Enterprise label, the mostly instrumental soundtrack became the best-selling LP ever released on a Stax label.
“The song begins with a sixteenth-note hi-hat ride pattern, played by Willie Hall, which was drawn from a break on Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness,’ a Stax record on which Hayes had played. Also featuring heavily in the intro is Charles Pitts’ guitar, which uses a wah-wah effect common in 1970s funk; the riff had originally been written for an unfinished Stax song. The synthesized keyboard is played by Hayes. Even on the edited single version, the intro lasts for more than two and a half minutes before any vocals are heard.
“The lyrics describe John Shaft’s coolness, courage, and sex appeal, and Hayes’ lead vocals are punctuated by a trio of female backup singers. At one famous moment, Hayes calls Shaft ‘a bad mother—’ before the backup singers (one of whom is Tony Orlando & Dawn’s Telma Hopkins) interrupt the implied profanity with the line ‘Shut yo’ mouth!’ Hayes immediately defends himself by replying that he’s ‘only talking about Shaft,’ with the back-up vocalists replying, ‘We can dig it.’ Other well-known passages include ‘You’re damn right!’ also uttered by Hayes, and ‘He’s a complicated man/but no one understands him/but his woman/John Shaft.’”
Tom Waits once described Alex Chilton as “the Thelonius Monk of the rhythm guitar.” He’s damn right. I heard it all for the first time live in 1986 at the 688 Club in Atlanta, Georgia. I was 22 years old; a kid in a band called Green On Red and we were playing on a bill with him that night. We were positively bourgeois; freshly signed to Polygram Records with an extra van and a rag-tag road crew. We were living high on the hog, man (or we thought so, anyway). Alex Chilton pulled up the gravel drive to the back of the joint in an old Buick Skylark spitting plumes of blue smoke. He took off the shirt he was wearing, shoving it into the back of his Fender Super Reverb amp, and pulled out the one he wore for gigs. He donned a harmonica rack and tuned up his guitar to the harp, all the while looking at his bass player and drummer (Rene Coman and Doug Garrison). He stepped up to the mike and clicked his heels four times. That was it. I don’t know who my fragile busted up little psyche’s influences were at the time; Neil Young, Joe Strummer, David Bowie, Tom Verlaine? They all went out the window at that moment; floated up into the ether and stayed put. Alex has remained. I have forgotten many heroes along the way. Put on “Bangkok” and you’ll begin to understand why this man, this rock and roll song and dance man, can’t be tossed aside. Ever.
William Bell performs at the Ponderosa Stomp at Lincoln Center\'s Midsummer Night Swing, 7/16/09.
Even after William Bell brought the Stax label one of its first hits, 1961′s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” – a song that would largely set the tone for the label’s signature Southern soul sound – he still remained on the fence about whether or not to ditch the recording business and go to medical school. At least, that’s what he told me during our live interview this past August at the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference.
Luckily, he didn’t (though our own Dr. Ike proves that medicine and rock n’roll aren’t mutually exclusive.) We’ve posted the audio from that interview below so you can hear one of the Stomp’s most popular returning performers discuss the rise and fall of Stax, the intense creative and political climate of Memphis in the 60′s, and how he happened to come to New Orleans to get a new sound.
On Saturday night, exactly 54 years after he headlined the St. Francis County Fair in Forrest City, Arkansas, alongside Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Floyd Cramer, Sun rockabilly Eddie Bond took the stage at the Center for Southern Folklore‘s Memphis Music & Heritage Festival.
At the fifth annual Ponderosa Stomp, Bond was backed by Deke Dickerson and the Eccofonics, along with special guest guitarist (and one-time Bond protege) Travis Wammack. Saturday, he played with a group of Middleton, Tennessee country musicians, including an unknown hotshot guitarist disguised in a Hawaiian shirt and glasses.
Bond, a showman responsible for the phenomenal 1956 b-side “Rockin’ Daddy” and the 1973 pop culture hit “The Ballad of Buford Pusser” who cranked out the hits even as he pulled double-duty hosting several popular Memphis TV shows, took the stage inside the Center’s Folklore Hall wearing his trademark yellow blazer and played “Rockin’ Daddy” — twice!
Go here to read my Memphis Flyer feature about the changing face of the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, which lost two perennial performers, Stomp alum Billy Lee Riley and famed producer Jim Dickinson, in recent weeks.
From the article:
When I caught up with Center for Southern Folklore director Judy Peiser a week before festival time, she had a heavy heart. Upon pausing to contemplate the gaping holes caused by the absence of the ever-dependable Riley and Dickinson, she said:
“Things are definitely mutating. It’s gotten so hard to do a festival every year because of the people who aren’t there anymore, people who had a major effect on what we do. I grew up listening to the music I started presenting, and now I’m presenting music that’s one generation removed. People like Jim and Billy Lee weren’t playing off records — they were playing off life.”
Peiser sighed, recalling moments she spent with Dickinson, co-producing bluesman Mose Vinson’s solo CD Piano Man. She remembered the blues sets that Riley often delivered, peppered with his classic Sun rockabilly hits such as “Flying Saucer Rock and Roll” and “Red Hot.” She sounded dismayed at the thought of anyone other than Thomas, the minstrel performer turned Stax Records mainstay — billed as “the World’s Oldest Teenager,” he died in 2001, when he was 84 years old — performing “The Funky Chicken.”
“Life goes on,” Peiser finally said. “Sure, there was Michelangelo, but there were also a lot of people after him.”
As the peacock-blue Cadillac with the gold trim and fur lining spun on a giant turntable in the Stax Museum of American Soul Music here, Al Bell, the final owner of the late, great record label, chuckled. Decades before 50 Cent with his customized Rolls-Royce and Akon with his tricked-out Lamborghini, there was Isaac Hayes with this pimped-out ride, an over-the-top gift from Stax to its over-the-top star, who wore slave chains like emancipatory bling across his bare, buff chest.
“The reason I chuckle is because I think of what has been born out of the rap and the hip-hop world, and then I look at what we were doing back then, and, you know, we were really ahead of our time,” Mr. Bell said.
His chuckle is rueful, though. When Mr. Bell, 69, stands by that revolving Cadillac, he sees the arc of his life come full circle, unexpectedly. The original Stax Records is long gone, Mr. Hayes and many other Stax artists, from Otis Redding to Rufus Thomas, have died, and, until recently, Memphis showed little interest in reclaiming or building on its soul-music heritage. Six years ago, though, the Stax Museum opened. And earlier this summer Mr. Bell was invited back to Memphis with a bittersweet mandate: to resuscitate the city’s once great music industry as chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation.
On the afternoon of Sunday, August 30th, at the Silver Moon Club in Newport, Ark., Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, W.S. Holland, Smoochy Smith, former Little Green Men drummer J.M. Van Eaton and Carl Mann will join forces to celebrate the life of fellow Sun Records alumnus Billy Lee Riley, who died at the age of 75 on August 2nd.
Also appearing: Ace Cannon, Travis Wammack, Dale Hawkins, Teddy Riedel, J.R. Rogers, Teddy “Thunderbird” Hill, Larry Don, Warren Crow, C.W. Gatlin and Silver Moon house band Jeannie & the Guys. Admission is $10, and the show starts at 1PM.
Riley was one of the most crazed rockabillies Sam Phillips ever recorded — which is quite a statement considering the Sun roster included the likes of Charlie Feathers and Jerry Lee Lewis. Despite successes like “Red Hot” and “Flying Saucers Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the sharecropper’s son from Pocahantas, Ark. was ultimately one of the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” who occupied Phillips’ Memphis stable, too brilliant and too raw for teenagers content listening to Perry Como and Patti Page.
A frequent performer at the Ponderosa Stomp, Riley will certainly be missed. Go here to see footage of him performing at the 2003 Stomp, backed by Deke Dickerson and Slim Harpo’s band.