Monday, August 28, 2006

An old friend

As an impressionable teenager in the 70s I developed a fascination with America and all things American. I am sure that was not an unusual teenage fixation to have. It was, no doubt, fuelled by the explosion of American shows on TV. In comparison with the relatively staid and drab UK that seemed to exist then, or at least the version of it that seemed to be invariably depicted on the TV, America was a big, bold, glamorous place. I loved the fact that there seemed to be a spirit of enterprise, that people could be individuals; I loved the cars, the sunshine… and of course the music. Initially glam rock (T.Rex, Bowie and Roxy Music – the usual suspects) had opened my musical ears. But I soon picked up on soul and funk. All emanating from across the pond, this music fitted perfectly with my developing American fixation and fuelled it even more. One of the first albums I bought that could be labelled as soul was Tower Of Power’s “Back To Oakland”. I had heard some of their music somewhere on the radio and it sounded good, a millions away from glam rock, and redolent of the America I was seeing on those TV shows. The cover of the album was a clincher in terms of making me part with my money - a view of Bay Bridge with the album title represented as a massive road sign – it perfectly represented my vision of America as it was back then. (In hindsight a somewhat rose tinted view of course, but remember I was a teenager). I was too young to drive then but my dream was a road trip across America. Thirty something years on I can drive but the dream remains unfulfilled. The album cover still does it for me today, as does the music on the vinyl within.

As I mentioned on a recent post, Tower Of Power’s music can be difficult to categorise (in fact that post was two months ago already! Where does the time go?, and the weather :( ). They had/have a tight rhythm section, horns to die for, and with Lenny Williams, at the peak of his powers methinks on this album, a SOULful front man. On “Back To Oakland” you get strings added into the some of the arrangements too and a few of the tracks border on jazz supper club territory. So - soulful yes, funky yes, and with a cocktail cherry thrown in for good measure. I won’t hear a bad thing said about this album. It occupies a place close to my heart.

I would love to post the whole album, but that is sort of against my principles. So I’m limiting myself to only a couple of tracks. The funky “Don’t Change Horses” and “Squib Cakes” are possibly the most well known from the album, and excellent they are. But I’m posting what are to my mind the two hidden gems on the album. “Man From The Past” is as perfect an amalgam of soul, funk and jazz as you are likely to ever hear on one track. “Can’t You See” is small and perfectly formed, with a complex arrangement that sounds deceptively simple, TofP make it sound so effortless but it’s full of soul.

Buy “Back To Oakland”

Play that Oakland Stroke....

Tower Of Power – Man From The Past 1974
Tower Of Power – Can’t You See (You Doin’ Me Wrong) 1974

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Beavering away

My usual beat of a post every 5 or 6 days has gone a bit haywire of late, sorry ‘bout that. Busy times. Looks like work is going to take me away from my “blogpit” pretty frequently over the next few months. And of course when I am at home there are all the other family and homey things to catch up with. This has certainly contributed to the less frequent posts of late but who knows? it may have the opposite effect in the long run. As work has taken me to a big European city (Munich) I’m sort of in tourist mode in the evenings, and tracking down the good restaurants and watering holes. However experience suggests that the novelty will wear off and then I suspect I will have some time on my hands in the evenings. So what better way to fill it than by composing more blog posts? There is no free internet at the hotel though so my output maybe a bit thin on the facts and fat on my aimless ramblings. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m sure it’s the music you tune in for, so without further ado let’s get to it.
I think it was on her (excellent) rendition of Super Duper Lover that Joss Stone uttered the words “play it for me Little Beaver”. Younger listeners, or those without an extensive knowledge of Soul and R&B (in it’s original sense), may have been forgiven for thinking “Wow she can do that with it? that’s one versatile lady!”. Of course the Little Beaver she was referring to was in fact guitarist William Hale. Willie was born in Forrest City, Arkansas and celebrated his 61st birthday last week. He moved to Florida in his teens and later hooked up with Henry Stone at the TK label at he start of the 70s. He was a prolific session guitarist appearing on many of the TK and related label’s releases in the early 70s – for artists such as Betty Wright and George & Gwen McCrae. In 1972 he started exercising his vocal chords as well and launched his solo career on another TK subsidiary label – Cat. “Joey” was his first single hit in 1972 and “Party Down” was his biggest hit in 1974. To the best of my knowledge he released five albums in the 70s. His music is a mix of blues, soul and funk. Unfortunately his solo career really got into its stride at the same time as disco was taking off and the Southern soul style was going out of fashion. Having said that his final hit “Groove On” is something of a disco classic (filed under rare groove).

What you are maybe wanting to know is how he got the name Little Beaver? Well I would like to know too. I haven’t been able to find anything on he internet by way of explanation. So if anybody out there knows please post a comment.

Both tracks here today have a really haunting and mellow groove. “Let The Good Times Roll” I remember picking up nearly 30 years ago on a stall in London’s Soho. “We Three” I found on eBay a few months ago. So for your listening pleasure here’s an old favourite of mine together with a new favourite.

The Very Best Of Little Beaver

Little Beaver at Dusty Groove

Little Beaver – Let The Good Times Roll Everybody 1975
Little Beaver – We Three 1977

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The birth of this post has been a real effort for some reason. Sometimes an artist or track just jumps out of the collection and demands to be featured, sometimes something (usually trivial) going on in my life or the world will prove the inspiration for a post. But for some days now I haven’t been able to settle on a track, the words haven’t flowed, and in all honesty I haven’t even felt like listening to much music. Mitigating circumstances? Well I’ve been busy at work, and it took me out of town last week. But apart from that when not at work these lazy hazy days of summer have seemed to fill me with a feeling approaching ennui. Maybe the weather is frazzling my brain.

So how did I finally decide on LJ Reynolds for this post? Some tenuous and random connections. As I said, I was out of town last week - out of the country in fact. It’s the first time for a couple of years I’ve taken a jet plane to go to work. Then, I made a number of trips to Atlanta, Georgia and was staying and working not far from Norcross. (Old Norcross was charming, with a sense of history and some good restaurants I seem to remember). Anyway after getting back from my trip last week (to Germany this time round) and checking the Sitemeter stats for this blog it just so happened the last person to visit would appear to have been located in Norcross. So the first connection is? During my trips to Georgia I spent many a spare hour trawling second hand record shops (and a few thrift shops, and a couple of Atlanta record fairs too) and “Let One Hurt Do” was one of my $1 bin finds. The second connection? I dropped in on Yoni’s Soul Of The Net for the first time in a while the other day to find some new listings for our listening pleasure. From previous visits I know that “Let One Hurt Do” is an entry in his Living Room Chart. Yoni has so much great material available on his site the chances are, even if you have made yourself at home in his living room, you may well have not stumbled on today’s little gem. So there you are – the tenuous and random connections that inspired today’s choice.

LJ Reynolds is probably best known as a long time member of the Dramatics. He joined the group in 1973 and has been a near constant member ever since. He is credited as singing the most leads on their recordings. Larry James Reynolds was born in 1952 in Saginaw, Michigan. His recording career would appear to have started at the tender age of 11 when he released three singles on the Tri-Spin label. The second single was called “Sweet Tooth” which must have been what Larry had at that time as he was credited as Larry “Chubby” Reynolds! (Still, if you can’t enjoy your sweets at 12 years old then when can you?). I guess schooling took priority for a few years because it seems that his next credited recordings didn’t appear until 1969-1972. In this period I have been able to find mention of five credited singles (although more releases on small local independents may well exist): topped and tailed by solo credits, in between came a single with The Relations – real relations, and two with New Jersey based Chocolate Syrup which included “Let One Hurt Do” and the gloriously titled “The Penguin Breakdown”. (Incidentally, both these appear on the UK album Chess/Janus Mobile Discotheque released in the early 70s and not too hard to find in the second hand shops. In fact I have this album but only discovered “Let One Hurt Do” was on it sometime after I picked up the single in Atlanta!). The story goes that Chocolate Syrup recorded the track (possibly simply as a backing track intended to be used for a different song – because this is what appears on the b side of the Law-Ton disc) and LJ’s vocal was recorded separately before he had even met the group, and then the two tracks mixed together. “Let One Hurt Do” was a top 30 R&B hit in 1971. LJ’s time with Chocolate Syrup didn’t last long as he went on to join the Dramatics in 1973, replacing William Howard. He left the Dramatics in 1980 for a solo career with Capitol, releasing four albums, and then rejoined them in 1986. Since then he has recorded a number of other solo ventures whilst still singing with the Dramatics. (some of this information was gleaned from this Dramatics fan site.

It’s a surprise to me that LJ was so young at the time he recorded this track. There seems to be more experience there than his tender 19 years, and with some beautifully restrained backing vocals and soaring strings added into the mix, go on, wallow in that Chocolate Syrup.

Lost Soul Treasures Vol 4 is the only CD compilation I know of that contains today’s track.

LJ Reynolds & Chocolate Syrup – Let One Hurt Do 1971