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Ken Shane Tag

Soul Serenade - Luther IngramThanksgiving has come and gone. I hope it was a good one for you. Can it be that we’re already into December? As the singer/songwriter Eric Anderson once said, time runs like a freight train. Before we know it, we’ll be into 2016, and hopefully a fresh start after a not so great year for this country, and the world in general.

Luther Ingram was one of those guys who was just not going to take no for an answer. He didn’t care what the world thought. He knew what was in his heart though, and he was going to follow his heart despite the fact that it seemed to be leading him to a dark place. As the old saying goes, the heart knows what it wants.

Soul Serenade - Sly & the Family StoneIt is very easy to become discouraged these days. There is war and terrorism overseas, and a level of political rancor in this country unseen in my lifetime. Some people are still feeling the effects of the economic crash of 2008. No one could be blamed for feeling overwhelmed. But there is a way to, if not fully overcome the gathering darkness, at least cope with it. That solution comes in the form of three simple, corny, cliche words … count your blessings.

Soul Serenade - Robert ParkerLast week I paid tribute to the recently departed New Orleans music giant Allen Toussaint. He was certainly one of the greats to emerge from the Crescent City, but not the only one. Another towering figure in the musical history of the city was Wardell Quezergue, who passed away in 2011.

Quezergue was so highly thought of that he acquired the title of the “Creole Beethoven.” Back in the 1940’s he got his start playing with Dave Bartholomew’s band before leading his own Dukes of Rhythm in the ’50s. During this time he also worked as an arranger for leading lights Fats Domino and Professor Longhair among other.

Soul Serenade - Allen ToussaintWhen Allen Toussaint died this week he was far from the city he loved. He had played a concert in Madrid and then suffered a heart attack. Toussaint was revived once, but a second attack took his life. Although he was an ocean away at the time of his death, the truth is that Allen Toussaint took New Orleans wherever he went, and any place he played was transformed into New Orleans for just a little while.

Soul Serenade - LevertAs it says in the little bio that appears at the bottom of each of my columns, I am no fan of ’80s music. In general I feel like it was the worst decade for music since the 1950’s. Of course there are always exceptions. There was some good music made in the ’80s, but it was just that, an exception, and not the rule.

This week I am making a rare foray into the ’80s to pluck a neo-soul smash from 1987 that had a deep connection to the classic soul era in the person of Eddie Levert, founder of the O’Jays. Because in 1984 it was two of Eddie’s sons, Gerald and Sean, who along with Marc Gordon got together in Ohio and gave themselves the name, what else, LeVert.

Soul Serenade - RB GreavesIn some ways, the story of R.B. Greaves seems unlikely. After all, he was born on an American Air Force base in Georgetown, Guyana in 1943. On the other hand, he was the nephew of Sam Cooke, so he had some powerful talent in his DNA. His path to stardom took an early detour when he spent his formative years living on a Seminole Indian reservation in California, but when Greaves was 20 years-old he moved to England and that’s where his music career really began.

Soul Serenade - JJ JacksonSometimes you have to leave home to find success. It’s never easy to pack up your whole life and take it to another city, and even harder if you’re traveling to a new country. These days it seems like all the rage for musicians to move to Nashville. Some achieve their dreams, but more are never heard from again.

J.J. Jackson has one of the more interesting stories in the soul music annals, and one that might surprise you. Jerome Lewis Jackson was born in Gillet, Arkansas in 1941. He began his career in music as a songwriter and arranger, penning songs for artists as disparate as “Brother” Jack McDuff, Jimmy Witherspoon, and the Shangri-Las. In fact, Jackson’s song “It’s Easier to Cry” was the B-side of the massive Shangri-Las hit “Remember (Walking in the Sand).”

Soul Serenade - Lee DorseySometimes the weeks go by so quickly, each one with a new Soul Serenade column, and once in awhile one of the capitol cities of soul gets overlooked for too long. That’s certainly the case with New Orleans. I haven’t visited the Crescent City in quite awhile in this column, but I’m going to make up for that this week by featuring one of the city’s most iconic artists.

Soul Serenade - Leon HaywoodIt’s ironic that I would be celebrating the life and music of a Houston native just one day after the Houston Astros eliminated my beloved Yankees from the playoffs. When did those Astros get to be part of the American League anyway? I hate this one-game playoff thing and I would have said that win or lose. It’s terrible for a team to have a successful 162-game season only to have it end as the result of one game. It doesn’t prove a thing. Oh well.

A Fan's NotesThe Zombies were the second English group to have a #1 single in the US, trailing only the Beatles for that distinction, when their 1964 debut single “She’s Not There” reached the top of the Cashbox chart in this country. Now, more than 50 years later, the Zombies are still going strong. Their latest album, Still Got That Hunger, will be released on October 9. On September 30 the band will embark on their latest US tour.

In recent years lead singer Colin Blunstone and keyboard player Rod Argent, both founding members of the Zombies, have been touring with a band that includes bass player Jim Rodford (formerly of Argent, and the Kinks), Rodford’s son Steve on drums, and guitar player Tom Toomey. The upcoming tour will be special in that the band will be playing their fabled 1968 album Odessey & Oracle in its entirety for the first time in the US, and they will be doing it with original Zombies drummer Hugh Grundy, and songwriter/bass player Chris White who joined the band in 1962 after original bassist Paul Arnold left.

Aside from three shows in the UK in 2008, it will be the first time that the four have played together in more than 40 years. Last week I had a chance to speak to Colin Blunstone about the Zombies, past, present, and future.

Soul Serenade - Sonny Charles & the CheckmatesI worked at this classic New Jersey hot dog joint called Syd’s for eight years in my youth. Syd’s had originally been in the Weequahic section of Newark and was a popular attraction until Syd himself passed away. Some years later, a couple of guys who worked for Syd in Newark decided to open their own restaurant in another town, Vauxhall, which is not far from Newark. Lennie and Jack went to visit Syd’s widow, seeking her blessing for their new enterprise, which they hoped to name Syd’s. Their request was granted.

Soul Serenade - Rare SoulIf you’re looking for a compilation of classic soul hits you have a great many options. The Motown and Stax hits in particular have been reissued, remastered, boxed, vinyled, and collected in deluxe sets. And the hits are great, but what about all of those wonderful soul records that weren’t hits, but are deserving of a wider audience than they got on their initial release? Thankfully, there are choices there too, with many forgotten records having been gathered over the years in compilations that vary in quality from sublime to subpar.

Soul Serenade - Ramsey LewisWe tend to put music in categories, rock, jazz, pop, soul, etc., and all too often the audience for one genre does not cross over to another. It seems to me that this is a change from the ’60s when all kinds of music were melding together and everyone was into everything, or at least willing to listen. Miles Davis played on the same bill as the Grateful Dead. Harry Chapin opened for the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was all there for the taking.

That’s not to say that once in awhile an artist didn’t manage to cross over in a big way. Lots of soul records were big hits on the pop charts. A harder feat was to put a jazz record on the charts though. There were only a handful of records by jazz artists that managed to appeal to a mass audience. One of the biggest of these records was by the Ramsey Lewis Trio.

I don’t have to stray very far from home for this week’s Soul Serenade. Providence is just 30 minutes away from my home in southern Rhode Island. And it’s in Providence that the five Tavares brothers were born and raised. The capitol city is home to a substantial Cape Verdean-American community, and it was from that community that the brothers sprung.

A Fan's NotesSixty years ago this summer Miles Davis made his first appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. It was the first of several notable appearances by the legendary trumpeter, and this year the festival commemorated the occasion with a host of performances and ancillary events to mark the anniversary. To one degree or another nearly every performer at this year’s festival had a direct or indirect connection to Davis, or at least bore some degree of his influence.

Soul Serenade - The PersuadersThe Persuaders had hits of their own, but it’s the songs they recorded that weren’t hits that are often remembered. That’s because those songs went on to be hits by other people even though the Persuaders were the first to record them. Fortunately they had one hit for themselves that was so big that they will always be remembered for it. Even then, other artists had success with the song.

The Persuaders got together in New York City in 1969. The original lineup included guys who had been on the local scene singing with other groups. Douglas “Smokey” Scott, Willie Holland, James Barnes, and Charles Stodghill were signed by Atlantic Records in 1971. That same year brought them their indelible hit, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate.”

Soul Serenade - ManhattansIt’s the middle of that strange week that comes between the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival every summer. At this point in the week I’m nearly recovered from the first three-day festival, and beginning to gear up for the second. I’m also preparing to immerse myself in music that is, for the most part, completely different from what I heard last weekend. But it’s all music, and I love it all.

As jazz musician Louis Armstrong once famously said, “all music is folk music; I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.”

All of this has nothing to do with the Manhattans, and their particular brand of “folk” music. They got together in Jersey City in 1962. The original lineup was comprised of George “Smitty” Smith, Sonny Bivins, Blue Lovett, Wally Kelley, and Ricky Taylor. They went to different high schools, but after graduation all five men enlisted in the service. The group came together after they were all discharged.

Soul Serenade - Cornelius BrothersThere’s a little town in south Florida called Dania Beach. It’s tucked in between the Miami and Fort Lauderdale metropolises and other than today’s artists it was best known for its jai alai palace (now a casino) and a great old-time ice cream parlor called Jaxson’s.

All of that changed in 1970 when brothers Carter and Eddie Cornelius formed a singing group with their sister Rose. Another sister, Billie Jo, joined two years later. At one time there was another member of the group, a family friend named Cleveland Barrett, but he was killed in a car accident before the group had any success.

Soul Serenade - Brenton WoodAs I’ve told you before, inspiration for this column comes from all sorts of places. It could be a song I hear on the radio or television, or simply something in the air that tripped something in my brain and helped me to remember a song I hadn’t thought of in a long time. Other times a friend will mention a song that works well for the column, or posts a song on Facebook that takes me back.

That’s the way it happened this week. A talented musician friend by the name of Barry Holdship posted on Facebook that his Monday morning mantra was “oogum, oogum, boogum, boogum, boogum …” I think we all know that feeling, right? But suddenly, the music of Brenton Wood was in my head, and I couldn’t let it go without learning more.

A Fan's Notes“The next song is a long one,” Brian Wilson said. “It’s about 20 minutes long.” Apparently Brian felt the need to apologize in advance for the length of the upcoming song. And when he had finished playing the emotional version of his masterpiece, “Surf’s Up” (which actually clocks in at just over four minutes), he seemed to apologize again. “It’s a long song,” he said. This kind of humility, combined with the brilliance of his art, goes a long way toward explaining why millions of people love Brian Wilson.

soulserenadev2square - carl hallMy Soul Serenade column has been around for more than five years now. I think it’s fair to assume that those of you who are reading the column regularly share my love for classic soul music, and hopefully you’ve come to trust my taste in the records that I choose to feature.┬áSometimes I think I should feature more rare tracks and less of the big hits. But I have my ego like everyone else, and I’m concerned that people wouldn’t be as interested in reading the column if the records were not well known. This week I am going to feature Carl Hall, an artist who didn’t have any massive hits, but did have undeniable talent. The impetus for this week’s column is the release of a wonderful new Carl Hall compilation by Grammy-winning archivists Omnivore Recordings called You Don’t Know Nothing About Love: The Loma/Atlantic Recordings 1967-1972.

Soul Serenade - Timmy ThomasWe like to think that racism is behind us in this country. We like to point to our African-American president as the proof of that. But no one knows better than Barack Obama how racist this country remains, and last week another ugly event reminded us that we still have a long way to go in that regard.

Nine people were gunned down in the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. They were murdered by a 21 year-old racist who sat with their Bible study group for an hour before pulling out a gun. He was welcomed to the church because that’s what parishioners at Mother Emanuel do and have always done. When the killer was arraigned the next days family members and friends of the deceased were given a chance to speak in court. Through their anguished tears they somehow found it in their hearts to offer forgiveness to the murderer who had taken their loved ones. The next time someone mentions “Christian values” remember the people who spoke that day.

Soul Serenade - VelvelettesLast week’s Soul Serenade column was #260 in this series. That’s right, I’ve been writing the column for five years now and what an education it’s been. I was going to make a big deal of the anniversary but somehow I lost count. I’ve never been much of a fan of the belated birthday thing so I’ll just say thank you to all of those readers who have taken the time to read my ramblings over the years.

Over the last few years there have occasionally been subjects that I found so interesting that I continued my study of them for a second week. That’s the case this week. If you’ve been playing along you know that last week I celebrated the great Motown producer Norman Whitfield by featuring one of his greatest productions, “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth. This week I want to look at a very different Whitfield effort.

A Fan's NotesI don’t recall ever praying that filmmakers would get it right before I heard the news that a movie was going to be made about Brian Wilson’s life. After all, no musician has ever been as important to me as Brian, and I was concerned that the film would be, at best, another mediocre music biopic, and at worst, embarrassing. After all, it’s easy to make sport of Brian’s problems. Just ask the writers at Saturday Night Live who decided that it would be a good idea for Brian to go surfing at one of the lowest moments of his life.