Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jean genies #1

I hinted that posts would increase in frequency recently. Evidently not! I’m going to be out of town on business again a fair bit over the next few weeks, and when I’m not I’m anticipating some scorching summer weather (well, you can dream, can’t you?) will divert my attention away from the computer!

My last true Soul post here featured a great single by Jean Plum. The subject of that post was, indirectly, femme soul singers by the name of Betty(e) and Jean qualified as she was actually born Bettye Jean Plummer. Miss Plum(mer) has acted as a sort of Betty – Jean axis hereabouts as I launch into a mini series of posts featuring soul sisters by the name of Jean. This mini series will alternate with my “Tapping My Feet” feature for the next few posts.

Jean Wells is yet another example of a fine singer that, I would suggest, is completely unknown outside soul circles. In lists and ebay auctions I’ve seen her name crop up on a number of different record labels. After a bit of research I can now count 10 US labels in all. I have tried to trace her career through these various releases, but I have to say I’m still vague on many details.

Her recording career would appear to have started on the small Philly labels Quaker Town and Phila around 1965. She had travelled to Philadelphia from her native Florida in search of club work. By 1966 Jean may have upped sticks to New York. In any event she had a single released on the Eastern label (her “If You've Ever Loved Somebody “ / “Hello Baby, Goodbye, Too” immediately followed a string of superb Eddie & Ernie sides) and in 1967 Nate McCalla signed her to his New York based Calla label. There she would have some US R&B chart action through a number of 45 releases. It was rare for small independent labels to release albums but Calla managed a handful in the late 60s and in 1968 World Here Comes Jean Wells! was one of that handful, sporting some fantastic psychedelic cover art. The album was essentially a collection of her singles releases, many of which had a strong Southern tinge and included some great Deep style ballads such as “Sit Down And Cry” and “Have A Little Mercy”. Jean is possibly best known (in Northern soul circles at least) for her storming “With My Love And What You’ve Got” and she seemed equally at home singing Deep style ballads or up tempo movers. “Keep Your Mouth Shut (And Your Eyes Open)” was another example of a mover. That would appear to represent her last Calla outing. It also appeared on the tiny Volare label, I’m guessing after she split with Calla. After that (again, I think) Jean had one release on another New York label Law-Ton.

Her next label was Canyon. Jerry Williams aka SwampDogg worked at Calla as an engineer/producer and recording artist. Reincarnated as SwampDogg he was also at Canyon records and it’s a fair bet that’s how Jean Wells ended up releasing a single on that imprint - “He Aint Doing Bad” / “Somebody’s Been Loving You”. This is the single you can hear here. A great double-sided slab of funkiness, both penned by Jean. The chances are Jean would have released more on Canyon, but like so many of the smaller labels in the early 70s it went bust.

That was just about it for Jean’s “golden age”. There was a single on ABC and then she resurfaced briefly in 1979 back on a Philly based label TEC and then again in 1981 when there was another album release “Number One” (you can buy an autographed copy on Gemm at the moment!). The TEC release was on 12”. I haven’t heard it but it’s a fair bet it was disco flavoured. As for the album “Number One” again I haven’t heard it – disco biased again? Or gospel perhaps - I think that Jean, as many of the great soul singers did, moved back into the Gospel arena – and possibly well before her TEC outing - so it’s possible it was a Gospel album.

The Ace released CD “Soul On Soul” gathers together the bulk of her best output, including both sides of her Canyon single. I’m looking for it at a reasonable price. You can join me in the hunt if you like.

Jean Wells – He Ain’t Doing Bad (mp3)
Jean Wells – Somebody’s Been Lovin’ You (mp3) 1970

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tapping My Feet #2

In my previous post I was reminded of Yellow Magic Orchestra.

And that got me thinking...

In Bath, England, in a nightclub, a DJ is cueing “Firecracker”. In Munich, Germany, some teenagers are playing Space Invaders in a bowling alley, and in an apartment across the street it’s been a momentous day - little Ayumi has just taken her first steps.

As I said, just a thought.

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Computer Game/Firecracker 1979

Buy Yellow Magic Orchestra

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back to now

“Back to now” was the title that immediately came to mind when I started composing this entry. But, as I typed, it was nagging away at me that I’d used this title before. So I checked – and I have. No matter, it seems perfectly appropriate so I’m happy to use it again.

Alan Wilkis sent me an email recently with a very polite request – can I send you some music?

I get my fair share of product pushing emails nowadays. Mostly the musical genres they represent have nothing to do with those I wax lyrical about hereabouts. But the emails come in, scatter gun, and impersonal. Alan’s email was different though, it definitely had a personal touch, and I immediately had a warm feeling. So I popped over to his Myspace page and listened to a few of his featured tracks. As I told Alan - the music grabbed me.

Be prepared for a (pleasant) diversion. Alan’s Myspace page chooses to define his music as electronica/classic rock. It’s not what you would generally expect to find here at Feel It for sure (it’s new for a start! ha ha!). But equally I don’t think you can so simply pigeonhole Alan’s music, so let me quote from Alan’s flyer to give you an idea:

“Babies Dream Big” is the self-produced solo debut from Brooklyn based multi-instrumentalist, Alan Wilkis. The album is an exercise in stylistic cross-pollination, paying homage to the soul, R&B, classic rock, and electronic music of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.”

And also:

“BDB grew out of a genuine love for the pop music of the past”.

I can certainly hear echoes of ELO, Hall & Oates, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Queen, Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra(!), to name just a few. The CD holds a consistently high standard, 12 tracks (well 11 and a twiddly bit), no filler.

It’s unashamedly feel good music. It has a sunny disposition, it’s big and bright, and proudly wears a retro heart on its sleeve.

“Babies Dream Big” will be a perfect accompaniment to the rapidly approaching summer. Get yourself a copy. Jump in the car, put the top down and turn the volume up. Find your favourite park and don’t forget to take your retro ghetto-blaster with you - forget your Ipod, this music deserves to be broadcast!

Alan Wilkis – I Love The Way 2008
Alan Wilkis – Girls On Bikes 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tapping My Feet #1

On ebay the other week I stumbled across someone selling a large selection of late 70s/early 80s disco and jazz-funk singles. It took me back to my years spent moonlighting as a club DJ. For twenty minutes or so I happily scrolled through the list – got, got, got, haven’t got, got, wish I had, got, what happened to my copy of that/ got, haven’t got. I was briefly back in the playground again, you know, just like scanning a friend’s bubblegum cards – e.g. Batman, Man From UNCLE, Soccer Stars – conducting another swap session. We never really grow up do we? Well, I know I don’t!

It got me thinking that I have never seriously mined my own 12” collection for posts here on Feel It. So I thought I should put that right. Under the banner of Tapping My Feet (see what I’m doing there) on a fairly regular basis I’m going to throw up 12” single from back in the day. There will be minimal commentary generally. In truth it’s just a cheap way of boosting my posting frequency!

Summer suddenly burst on the scene in the UK this week. So here’s a sound where you get the feeling the sun is shining bright. Joyous!

Also, with Chelsea and Man U taking the battle for the English Premiership title into the last day of the season, the title is appropriate. (I'm off to put the blue shirt on right now!).

Norman Connors will probably be a familiar name. On the other hand Ada(ritha) Dyer, the vocalist on this track, probably isn’t. After reading this bio I for one now know much more about her.

Norman Connors (feat. Adaritha) – Take It To The Limit 1980

This track can be found on this CD

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A bunch of Bettys

In one way or another radio shows have been the subject of my last three posts. At the risk of boring you this post continues the trend. This time round the subject is my very own appearance on the radio!

Yes, last night on Craig Charles Funk & Soul show I had my 15 minutes (well, a bit less than that) of fame.

What can I say? First and foremost thanks to Hermeet and Craig for selecting my suggestion for their “6 on 6 in 6” feature. If you are not a regular listener to the show – why not? – the idea is simple, pick six songs that do it for you, they play about a minute of five of them and one in full, and you get to be on the radio and chat to Craig.

I gave them a bunch of Betty(e)s!

For the record they were:

Betty Harris – Trouble With My Lover
Bettye Lavette – … Dropped In To See What Condition….
Betty Everett – Sweet Dan
Betty Davis – Anti Love Song
Bettye Swann – My Heart Is Closed For The Season
Betty Wright – Gimme Back My Man

I chose the Betty Wright track to play in full. It was featured here recently and it’s been getting plenty of spins on the turntable of late. It’s a great song and turned up loud on our Pure Evoke it sounded fantastic, and it was my choice!

Just this brief appearance got me lit and it took a couple of hours to come down to earth again. It’s 25 years or so since my spell of Djing so public speaking is a distant memory to me, but I can’t remember it having the same intensity of feeling.

Craig gave a shout out for this blog. So if any of you wished to put two and two together Darcy is no longer anonymous. If you are a regular around this neck of the Internet you can if you really want to -surely not! - hear me talk, as I guess Craig’s show will as usual be available on the listen again feature all week.

To mark this auspicious occasion I thought it only right to play another Bettye.

The B side of this single was featured by Scholar over at Souled On last year. It was so good I had to go out and get me a copy. The A side is every bit as good.

Jean Plum – Look At The Boy 1975

What? Ah, but Jean was born Bettye Jean Plummer and recorded a handful of singles under that name between 1967 and 1973. Too clever by half, eh? Stardom has gone to my head, heh heh! (now I’m laughing like Craig Charles!).

“Look At The Boy” can be found on Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol. 3 which, incidentally, also includes Betty Lavette’s “Let Me Down Easy”.