Saturday, March 03, 2012

Immortal Soul

I'd like to get back to "music Saturdays," or at least post about music from time to time...

Am I a serious collector? Well, Uncle Rico, things are getting pretty serious right now. I mean, I spend, like, two hours every day on it, so I guess you could say things are gettin' pretty serious.

But seriously, as a serious collector of all forms of cosmo-American music, one is always on the lookout for something one might have missed, some great-but-unknown artifact of cosmoAmericana.

Let's take, for example, the case of Otis Redding. Otis died in a tragic plane crash in December 1967, at the peak of his powers. No more Otis. Unless...

The amount of music Otis produced became finite -- a thing of the past -- on December 10, 1967. But that doesn't mean we've heard everything he put down and committed to tape. Thus begins the usual exercise in barrel scraping exploitation, in the attempt to squeeze every bit of revenue from his legacy.

The Beatles Anthology series turned barrel scraping into big business, since which time the music industry has attempted to identify every last barrel in its possession in order to dump the contents on boomers with too much money and nostalgia.

Actually, if memory serves, this first started with Jimi Hendrix, whom I believe put out three albums while alive, but, according to Amazon, now has 1,731. When we die, our fingernails keep growing. But do too does our back-catalogue. Truly, death for Hendrix was an exceptionally shrewd business move, as it was for Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.

After all, had any of these three lived, they would have aged just like their peers, and no one gets excited about the prospect of a new album by Grace Slick or Joe Cocker, or even the Who, the Stones, Ray Davies, etc.

Today Hendrix would be 69. If he were still above the sod, perhaps he'd be like Sly Stone, homeless and living in his van; or imprisoned on drug-and-shootin'-at-the-bitch-made-me-do-it charges, like James Brown; or room temp in a crack house, like doomed Tempt David Ruffin.

Or maybe his dad would have bust a cap through him, like Marvin Gaye. Or maybe just faded into self-parody, like Ray Charles, or living fat on his legend, like Aretha. Or maybe he would have found and lost and found God, like Al Greene; or been a victim of a hideous accident, like Curtis Mayfield and Teddy Pendergrass; or alive but severely brain-damaged, like Jackie Wilson. So many career options!

However, every once in awhile you do find that previously undiscovered gem, such as this demo performance of You Left the Water Running on an outstanding collection called The Fame Studios Story 1961-73. In fact, that set contains many fine examples of Cosmo-southern soul that I hadn't heard before, and like I said, I like to think I'm a pretty serious collector and passionate negrophile in general.

On balance, one probably has the best chance of finding those undiscovered gems in soul music, one reason being that so much of it was recorded on tiny independent -- or even fly-by-night -- labels with no national distribution.

For example, some guy has put together a couple of box sets of obscure gospel music, Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel and This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45RPM. I haven't purchased them, but the samples sound fascinating. I don't know that it's even possible anymore to produce gospel music so spontaneously and unself-consciously, with no eye on market considerations. It really is "other-worldly," from a world that no longer exists.

A seriously anal collector is always on the lookout for that great artist that has eluded his attention. Well, just last week I found one. I'd heard the name before, and even heard a song or two, but only last week did I finally order this collection, The Complete O.V. Wright on Hi Records. If you want everything he did prior to 1975, that will only set you back $254.29. That would be a major commitment.

One often hears the term "criminally underrated" tossed about. Well, I am pleased to report that this guy is the Real Deal. In his case, dying at 41, just a few years after this performance, did nothing for his career. He'll even make you believe fish have hands, that's how strong it is. Take a listen:


ge said...

Hendrix produced
these guys
is that he on Gwee-tah?

This dude
was an amazing recent psych-era discovery for me/my particular tastes

julie said...

This is one of those occasions where Spotify comes in handy. A quick search shows almost 60 tracks, so you can get a good listen before buying.

I like his take on these two songs; thanks.

julie said...

His take on "Motherless Child" is awesome, too...

ge said...

-everyone know this gospel dude?
Washington Phillips - I Am Born To Preach the Gospel

John Lien said...

Horrible endings there Bob. Cheered me right up, it did.

Took the family to see B.B. King about a year and a half ago. It was cool to see the legend and all but at 83 he mostly sang. Barely played a lick. Since I am a fan I was disappointed but the rest of the family thought it a decent show.

mushroom said...

ge -- the colors, man ...

I did once have a paisley shirt and a pair of purple velour jeans.

I was going to mention "Motherless Child" as that was the first thing that came up when I saw Wright's name.

Interesting that so many current gospel artists -- I guess the Mighty Clouds are still around -- sound so much like Wright. You'll hear the choirs doing more traditional stuff like "Ride On King Jesus", and gospel groups singing stirring up-tempo songs, but you can always count on somebody getting down and telling it like it is, baby, the way Wright does on that one. Very cool.

Verdiales said...

Love soul music, always have. Bob, great link to the rarities collections. Talk about real deal.

As individual testimonies, these are frequently very moving. As a means of evangelization, they always strike me as being too cathartic in themselves, too self-contained. Maybe that's unfair.

St. Simeon Stylites sat atop a pillar and drew crowds. Do soul singers do something similar on stage? Emotional fervency, testimony, on an elevated stage, drawing crowds. I don't know what to think.

But I love the way it sounds.

ted said...

Bob, check out this song from Springsteen's new album. I know you have your differences with him as of late, but this is truly angelic...