Duncan over at Scratchy Noise posted up an early Betty Wright single the other day. It got me all nostalgic for my earliest days of buying records - Betty Wright’s album “I Love The Way You Love” being one of the first soul albums I bought. (Incidentally I have come to realise I set the bar high early on).
So I went to dig out some of those early purchases. By the time I acquired that Betty Wright album I already had a few soul singles. Quite a few of these were on the Fame label (Candi Staton – of course).This is primarily why I bought this Tommy Strand 45, because it was on Fame, and also I bet because it had the magic word funky in the song title. I bought it blind wanting to know if every release on the Fame label was as good as Candi’s 45s. This was before the internet (before PCs even) and before compilations of rare soul were commonplace and, without a circle of friends into the same the sort of music as I found myself gravitating towards, a weekly (if you were lucky) specialist radio show or a blind punt on a record off a mailing list was about the only I was going to discover more great soul and funk music. I played this record a few times but my lasting impression was that it didn’t quite hit the spot – not quite soulful enough and not quite funky enough (say in a James Brown way), and I think I was a bit disappointed that the singer sounded white.
So I put this 45 on the turntable the other night not expecting to be bowled over, but I was wrong! Like a good wine this single has aged well, or was I just too dismissive of it in the first place all those years ago. In fact the top side of this record could be said to be comprehensively funky – the lyrics use the word funky in its original connotation, i.e. to describe something bad, and the groove is FUNKY in the way that you just can’t keep still.
The wonders of the Internet have now allowed me to find out a bit more about Tommy Strand & The Upper Hand. Tommy was active in the Palm Beach, Florida area through a good part of the 60s and into the 70s. An early band were called The Accents but by ‘66/’67 he was playing as Tommy Strand & The Upper Hand. The then soon to be bassist of Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius, spent a year or two in the band in the early 70s.
I haven’t been able to find anything on how Floridian Tommy Strand managed to end up on Rick Hall’s legendary Alabama based label, but he did stick around on the label for another release – “Am I Grooving You” in 1971. I also don’t know if The Upper Hand were alone on this track, or ably assisted by some of Fame staff musicians.
Some reminiscing of the band and the Florida venues by ex band members and local fans can be found here.
I have also just discovered that this record is in fact a cover. I noticed Calvin Arnold in the writing credits and did wonder, and yes Calvin Arnold himself released “Funky Way” as a 45 and it made the US Top 100 in January 1968. Tommy Strand’s version is very different and a lot harder and faster, which is good because I for one don’t like or see the point in covers that slavishly follow the mould of the original. You can compare and contrast because yes, of course, I found Calvin Arnold’s original version on YouTube: