Friday, August 01, 2008

Great Scott!

Some of you may remember in my recent post on Shirley Bassey I promised a feature on a classic soul album whose cover bore similarities to Shirley's. Well I've finally got round to it.

It took the distance of a few years for me to appreciate that Barry White was a genius arranger. At the time he started turning out the hits in the early 70s I was into Bowie, Roxy, Elton, and “The Dan” probably more so than the various forms of “black music” that I now love. Partly this was because it was more accessible – to buy certainly - although paradoxically the soul and funk I was picking up on at the time was not particularly mainstream. I seem to remember I was a bit sniffy about Barry White: His image was not cool enough to latch on to for a British male teenager like me. It was girls’ music. He couldn’t sing very well, could he? His records all sounded the same.

Eventually I grew out of the wildly impressionistic time that is your teens. I recognized that girls music can be guys music too. I grew to appreciate the love bear’s growl, and that he didn’t just sing his stuff he arranged it too. And I realized that his records didn’t all sound the same, similar yes, but that became part of the attraction. Barry White had forged a distinctive sound that would stand the test of time.

During the early 70s he also put his trademark sound behind Love Unlimited. In 1974 he also produced and arranged an album that, unlike his and Love Unlimited’s records at the time, would sink without trace. But for my money it is this album that is his true masterpiece. I think it is safe to say that if it had been released on Motown, or even Barry’s home during the early 70s - 20th Century, it would have become a massive hit and would now regularly be cropping up on people’s “albums you must own” lists.

I, like just about everybody else, was completely unaware of the album on its initial release. Later in the 70s I acquired a Casablanca sampler album that contained the title track off this album. It was buried amongst a mish mash of rock, AOR, mock country, and disco acts (and Parliament!) and was representative of Casablanca’s roster at that time. Parliament’s appearance had attracted me to the album, but I have no recollection of listening, then, to a track on the album by somebody called Gloria Scott. Obviously I tired of all the sub standard rock elsewhere on the album and gave up before I even got to side 2 track 3 which is where Gloria Scott made her appearance. So I had passed up an opportunity to possibly learn of the existence of Gloria’s stunning album back in the day. Fast forward to the 21st century and via the Internet I finally learned of this album’s existence. A few tracks from the album, including the title track, have been popular on the Northern scene, normally placed in the dubious pigeon-hole that is “Modern Soul”. It obviously rang enough of a bell with me then to make me dig out my Casablanca sampler album again, and so I finally played the Gloria Scott track therein, quite possibly for the first time. Then I played it again, and again. It’s that good.

The album in question is “What Am I Gonna Do” by Gloria Scott, released in 1974. You will need to pay big money if you want an original issue. It’s a stone cold classic.
Produced and arranged By Barry White it is soaked in his distinctive sound – hypnotic mid- and down-tempo grooves with magical interplay between strings, guitar and piano. Add to that Gloria Scott’s tender voice, which has a really melancholic quality, and the whole album takes on an almost dreamlike air, infused with an almost overpowering sense of wistfulness, resignation, and yearning. For these reasons the album really does feel like a complete entity, not simply a collection of tracks. The mark of a truly great album.

So what of Gloria Scott? As far as I know, to date, this is her one and only album release. It seems she was yet another example of someone who found her opportunity to shine as a solo soul artist at exactly the wrong time. Disco, and mass commercialism, was just around the corner.

I have not been able to find out much at all about Gloria. It seems she was for a short while (sometime around 1964-66) a member of the touring version of the Ikettes. At the time she joined she was apparently 19, and living in California, although it is possible she was born in Texas. Gloria (then also known as Gloria Dean?) joined as an Ikette along with friend Maxine Smith after the Modern Records era incarnation of the group (Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith & Venetta Fields) all left. They were instrumental in bringing PP Arnold, an acquaintance of Maxine’s, to Ike’s party. Trying to follow the various incarnations of the Ikettes is not easy. Many girls came and went probably due in no small part to Ike’s treatment of them – low pay, fines, no access to royalties. Ike’s fine policy was too much for Gloria it seems and her tenure as an Ikette probably didn’t last past 1966.

What happened to her between then and her team up with Barry White, and when and how that team up exactly started I don’t know. Session singing? Family commitments? Who knows? I can’t find any evidence that she was part of the Love Unlimited set up. But however it started, her hook up with Barry White (and Tom Brock who wrote some of the great songs) resulted in one of the greatest soul albums of all time.

And after “What Am I Gonna Do” it seems Gloria has left virtually no trace in the musical landscape, save for a couple of obscure credits on AllMusic. For all I know she may no longer be with us. All I can say is it’s a crying shame that we are all not more familiar with her beautiful voice.

Her album finally got a limited edition Japanese release on CD a few years ago and now, it seems, there maybe another limited edition vinyl reissue available, which I need to get quick. I can pronounce my love of this album due to the fact that Funk My Soul and Deacon Blues have both upped the whole album recently. Generally I’m a little uneasy about people making complete album rips available for download. Although where the album in question is not generally available then that’s ok I guess, and in the end it can build up a groundswell of support that results in a reissue which has got to be a good thing. Especially in this case - everybody in the world needs to hear this album!

Gloria Scott - What am I Gonna Do (mp3) 1974
Gloria Scott - I Think Of You (mp3) 1974


davyh said...

The strings-drenched thing reminds me of Charles Stepney's work with Minnie - you have Come Into My Garden? Lovely, and a lovely piece Darce.

Darcy said...

I only have one Minnie album and I keep meaning to get more, but as usual so much music so little time (and money). Your comment prompted me to check Come Into My Garden on Amazon and I noticed there is a track on it called Completeness. I featured the very same song by Jean Carn last year but didn't know it had originally been done by Minnie. In hindsight Charles Stepney on writing credit and Jean's soaraway vocals should have alerted me to the possibility.

Andrew Sherman said...

Thank you! What a great find!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Darcy...fenomenal write-up! HIt me up if you ever consider a guest post somewhere! :¬)


whiteray said...

Oh yeah . . . sweet stuff indeed, Darcy! Great post!

Darcy said...

Thanks for the comments everybody. See, if we all spread the word I'm sure one day everybody will realise what a truly great album this is.

ally. said...

hell yes - a case of too much lovemaking is my top choice from this gem - high quality

davyh said...

It's just turned up on, of all things, iTunes...largely due to your lobbying Darce, I'd wager.