A Fan’s Notes: “Concert for George” (Four-LP Box Set)

Concert for George

 

 

 

 

 

“There was never a time when I did not exist, no you. Nor will there be any future in which we will cease to be.” — The Bhagavad-Gita

“I could do something like that someday … You have all your best pals out there being groovy and making it interesting. I mean if I had a ‘special’ I’d have a few people who mean something to me.” — George Harrison

George finally got his special but unfortunately, he wasn’t there to enjoy it, or maybe he was. He died on November 29, 2001. One year later, to the day, a group of his best pals gathered at Royal Albert Hall in London for the Concert for George. The impressive list of participants included former Beatle-mates Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr along with sixth Beatle Billy Preston, Wilbury colleagues Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, Eric Clapton, Monty Python, Jools Holland, Gary Brooker, Joe Brown, Anoushka Shankar.

Joining his father’s friends on stage that night was a young Dhani Harrison, dressed in spectral white. He looked so much like George that you couldn’t help but wonder if George really was presiding over the concert that night.

Concert for George

The Concert for George was commemorated with an audio CD and a film release in 2003. The concert film was particularly beautiful set as it was in the majestic old hall. The film won a Grammy for Best Long Form Video and it has become a staple for PBS fundraising broadcasts.

George would have turned 75 on February 25 of this year. To mark the occasion, Concord Music has released the complete Concert for George in an impressive four-LP box set and a truly extravagant Deluxe Box Set (in a limited edition of 1,000) that includes four 180-gram audiophile LPs, two CDs, two DVDs, two Blu-rays, and a 12”x12” hard-bound 60-page book. The concert is also available in new CD, DVD, and Blu-ray configurations.

“We will always celebrate George’s birthday and this year we are releasing Concert for George in a very special package in memory of a special man.” — Olivia Harrison

The four-LP set marks the first time that complete concert has been available on vinyl and the box set includes a booklet full of photos as well as a stirring essay by noted writer Paul Theroux.

From the opening traditional prayer to the wistful closing number by Joe Brown, the Concert for George is as close to a perfect tribute as George’s friends could have hoped for. Like me, you may have seen the film several times and listened to the concert on CD, but the new 180-gram LP set is a revelation and it belongs in your library.

Purchase link: Concert for George – Four-LP box set

Four-LP Vinyl Track Listing:

Side 1:
“Sarve Shaam” – Traditional Prayer
“Your Eyes” – Anoushka Shankar
“The Inner Light” – Jeff Lynne & Anoushka Shankar

Side 2:
“Arpan” – Conducted by Anoushka Shankar

Side 3:
“Sit On My Face” – Monty Python
“The Lumberjack Song” – Monty Python with Tom Hanks
“I Want To Tell You” – Jeff Lynne
“If I Needed Someone” – Eric Clapton
“Old Brown Shoe” – Gary Brooker
“Give Me Love” – Jeff Lynne

Side 4:
“Beware Of Darkness” – Eric Clapton
“Here Comes The Sun” – Joe Brown
“That’s The Way It Goes” – Joe Brown
“Horse To The Water” – Jools Holland & Sam Brown
“Taxman” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Side 5:
“I Need You” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
“Handle With Care” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Jeff Lynne & Dhani Harrison
“Isn’t It A Pity” – Billy Preston
“Photograph” – Ringo Starr

Side 6:
“Honey Don’t” – Ringo Starr
“For You Blue” – Paul McCartney
“Something” – Paul McCartney & Eric Clapton
“All Things Must Pass” – Paul McCartney
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – Paul McCartney & Eric Clapton

Side 7:
“My Sweet Lord” – Billy Preston
“Wah Wah” – Eric Clapton & Band
“I’ll See You In My Dreams” – Joe Brown

Side 8:
Etched vinyl with mandala design

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Soul Serenade: The Ebonys, “You’re The Reason Why”

The EbonysCamden, New Jersey has fallen on hard times in recent years but at one time it was not only a manufacturing center but its close proximity to Philadelphia made it something of a sub-capitol for the Philly Soul sound. As a matter of fact, one of the pioneers of that sound, Leon Huff, was born and raised in Camden. And it was Huff, together with partner Kenny Gamble who eventually signed the Ebonys to their newly-formed Philadelphia International label.

The Ebonys were led by David Beasley who founded the group and added Jennifer Holmes, Clarence Vaughan, and James Tuten to the lineup. They took their name from a copy of Ebony Magazine that Holmes was reading in their rehearsal space, which happened to be her living room. As high school students, they began singing in talent shows and eventually graduated to club performances.

The quarte got a record deal with the Philadelphia-based Avis Records and released their first single, “Back in My Arms,” in 1969. The record label billed them as the Ebony’s. They followed that up with another Avis single called “Many a Man.”

Beasley thought the Ebonys were ready for a step up so he arranged an audition with Gamble & Huff. They passed on the group the first time around but in a case of ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ the Ebonys took on a manager by the name of Gerald Wilson who knew Huff. Wilson brought the group back to Gamble & Huff for a second audition. They sang the same songs but this time the Ebonys got signed to Philadelphia International.

The group recorded its first single for PIR at the legendary Sigma Sound Studios with backing by MFSB on a song written by Gamble & Huff and arranged by Thom Bell. No group anywhere could ask for more of an all-star team at that time. The resulting single was “You’re the Reason Why” and it was a hit, reaching the Top 10 on the R&B chart in 1970 and finding crossover success on the pop chart as well.

The follow-up single was called “Determination” and it didn’t quite deliver on the promise of “You’re the Reason Why,” just managing to scrape into the Top 50 on the R&B chart. “I’m So Glad I’m Me” failed to make any dent at all but the next single, “It’s Forever,” brought the Ebonys back to the charts, reaching #14 on the R&B chart in 1973.

The Ebonys

Despite their best efforts, the Ebonys could never seem to get ahead. They didn’t really have proper management (Wilson was a bar owner) or a booking agent and so even though the records got some attention the group never got to play the venues they should have. Even nearby Atlantic City was out of their reach in terms of live shows.

Despite the lack of overall success, the Ebonys continued to show up on the charts, reaching #34 with “I Believe” in 1974. Their final PIR single, “Life in the Country” reached #69 later that year. The label had released a debut album for the group a year earlier and a second album, compromised mostly of Gamble & Huff songs, was recorded but not released. According to Beasley, Gamble had a problem with Tuten’s drug use and dropped the Ebonys from the label.

Wilson got the Ebonys a deal with Buddha Records. There they released one last chart record, “Making Love Ain’t No Fun (Without the One You Love).” The label also released an album called Sing About Life but there was no promotion for it and there were no gigs to support it.

“There was no promotion on that album. We never were anywhere. We never performed any of those songs on the stage,” Beasley told soulexpress.net.

The Ebonys broke up in 1976. Holmes went on to sing with Creme D’Cocoa and Beasley eventually began a solo career on weekends away from his day job. It was in this capacity that he finally got to sing in Atlantic City. He finally got the group back together, albeit with a new and constantly changing lineup, in 1997. Beasley began to feel the effects of vertigo and decided to retire in 2001.

That wasn’t quite the end of the group though. A replacement came in and in 2003 an entirely new group of Ebonys released an album called That’s Forever. At one point two different groups of Ebonys were performing. In 2015 Beasley put together a group called David Beasley’s Fabulous Ebonys and released an album called Anything That You Want. The album was recorded back at the scene of the Ebonys early success, Sigma Sound, and included new recordings of four songs from the glory days.

Soul Serenade: 100 PROOF Aged in Soul, “Somebody’s Been Sleeping”

100 PROOF Aged in SoulHolland-Dozier-Holland was a massively successful songwriting and production team at Motown Records. Their hits for the company are too numerous to mention but include such classics as “Heatwave” by Martha & the Vandellas, “Can I Get a Witness” by Marvin Gaye, the Miracles’ “Mickey’s Monkey,” the Four Tops “Baby I Need Your Loving,” and the Supremes “Stop! In the Name of Love.” But as it’s so often the case in the music (and other) business that the kind of success they had, and the piles of money that it brings in, lead to a dispute with management. And so, Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland went to war with Berry Gordy, Jr. and their relationship with Motown was the first casualty of that war.

The team was hardly done, however. After leaving Motown in early 1968, they formed their own label and called it Hot Wax. The legal fallout from their Motown departure was so restrictive that they couldn’t use their own names on the songs they wrote, instead employing the nom de plume Edythe Wayne for many of them. The Motown artists they worked with didn’t, for the most part, follow them to Hot Wax, so they had to find people to record.

One of the first things that Holland-Dozier-Holland did at Hot Wax was to put together a vocal group that they called 100 PROOF Aged in Soul. The group was led by Joe Stubbs who, in addition to being the brother of Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, had been a member of Motown groups like the Contours and the Originals, and before that, the Falcons. Sonny Monroe had been the lead singer of the Falcons and he also made the transition to 100 PROOF. Other members included Eddie Holiday and Steve Mancha.

100 PROOF Aged in Soul - Somebody's Been Sleeping

In all, 100 PROOF recorded six singles and two albums for Hot Wax between 1969-1972. It is the second of these singles, “Somebody’s Been Sleeping,” that they are remembered for. The song was written by General Johnson, who sang lead for the Chairmen of the Board, along with Greg Perry and Angelo Bond. Perry produced the record. The song was a tale of infidelity heavily influenced by the fairytale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

Fairytales sometimes do come true and that was the case for 100 PROOF. “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” rose up the charts until it reached the Top 10 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1969. The record sold over one million copies and was awarded a Gold Record. The album that included the single, Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed, made it to #31 on the R&B chart. Several other 100 PROOF singles were Top 40 R&B hits notably the “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” follow-up which made the Top 20.

There was not enough success to sustain the group however and 100 PROOF Aged in Soul broke up in 1973. All of the original members are now deceased.

Soul Serenade: Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & The Best Of The Rest

Stax Singles, Vol. 4In 1991, Atlantic Records released the landmark box set The Complete Stax/Volt Singles 1959-1968. The care that was taken with the release marked a new level of respect for the music of the legendary Stax Records label and soul music in general. The collection was reissued by Rhino Records two years ago. In 1993, a resuscitated Stax Records released two more volumes of Stax recordings covering the years 1968-1975. The two volumes were reissued by Concord Music in 2015 and it was reasonable to think the maybe all of the greatness had been drained from the Stax vaults but that was not the case.

Craft Recordings, a division of Concord, has released Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities and the Best of the Rest. Stax was, of course, best known for classic soul music but the new six-CD collection finds Stax branching out into other genres with music that was originally released by Stax subsidiary rock labels like Ardent and Hip, gospel labels like Chalice and Gospel Truth, and a country label, Enterprise. There are also early instrumental and blues tracks that appeared on Satellite Records, a precursor to Stax.

The collection digs deeper into the Stax archives than any of the previous compilations and comes up with long-forgotten B-sides and other rarities. Classic Stax soul is well represented on the first three discs but the set uses the other three discs to profile Stax’ attempts to diversify its sound over the years 1960-1975. Make no mistake, well-known Stax artists like the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays, and Johnnie Taylor are represented here but there are also tracks from rock legends Big Star and Don Nix and gospel from the Dixie Nightingales and the Jubilee Hummingbirds.

An 80-page booklet accompanies the collection and includes essays by noted writers like Rob Bowman who covers the soul music discs.

“Stax’s B-sides are, by and large, better than most companies’ A-sides,” Bowman said.

Stax Singles, Vol. 4 was co-produced by Bill Belmont who spoke about the impetus behind the project.

“Over the years, within the collector-fan circuit, and in reissues and collections of vintage Stax material worldwide, some ‘B’ sides have attained a status comparable to the promoted work. Stax’s ‘other side’ has never been presented on its own — thus here, the “other” imprints are all gathered under the Stax umbrella; part of the all-encompassing rubric ‘where everything is everything.’”

Stax Singles, Vol. 4 marks the conclusion of a massive 60th anniversary of Stax Records reissue campaign by Craft Recordings and Rhino Entertainment who jointly control the Stax catalog. Over a two-year period, there have been 15 vinyl reissues by artists like Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Isaac Hayes, whose reissues were covered in last week’s column. There have also been CD releases including the Stax Classics series that highlighted some of the labels biggest stars and a three-disc compilation called Soulsville U.S.A.

Soul Serenade: The Holy Trinity of Soul (Isaac Hayes Vinyl Reissues)

Isaac Hayes - Black MosesIsaac Hayes began his career as a session musician. He was called on to sub for Booker T. Jones when Jones was at school, studying for his music degree at Indiana University. There were occasions, however, when both keyboard players appeared on the same record. Obviously, Hayes’ talent as a keyboard player was acknowledged by Stax management but I wonder if anyone knew at the time that one day he would be the savior, at least temporarily, of the company that he was playing occasional piano for.
For Hayes, there was a step in between his role as a session keyboard player and his ascent to the heights as a solo star. Before he made his own records he wrote hit songs for other artists, notably Sam & Dave. Teaming with David Porter, the pair penned smashes like “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” “Soul Man,” “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby,” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” Hayes and Porter also produced records by Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and other Stax artists.

By 1969, Otis Redding, the biggest star on the Stax roster, had been killed in a plane crash. Shortly after that, the label lost all of its master recordings when Atlantic was sold to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts and the distribution contract between Stax and Atlantic was terminated. According to the terms of that contract, if that contract was terminated the Stax master recordings would belong to Atlantic, now part of Warner Bros. Stax was left with nothing to sell and needed fresh product immediately.

Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul

Al Bell was an executive vice president at Stax at the time but in reality, he was running the show by then. He issued a call for a mind-boggling 27 new albums to be released by the label in 1969. The most successful of these new albums was Hot Buttered Soul, the second solo album (the first one hadn’t gotten much attention) by Isaac Hayes. Hot Buttered Soul featured a stunning cover photo and extended versions of songs like Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk on By” (12:03) and Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (18:42). The album topped the R&B chart and rose to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Hayes’ success continued with subsequent album releases The Isaac Hayes Movement (#1 R&B, #1 Jazz, #8 pop) and …To Be Continued (#1 R&B, #1 Jazz, #11 pop). In 1971 Hayes wrote music for the blaxploitation film Shaft. If anything, his wah-wah (played by the late Skip Pitts) driven title song surpassed the film itself in terms of success. The single was #1 for two weeks on the Billboard pop chart. The other two vocal tracks on the album, “Soulsville” and “Do Your Thing” also became hit singles. “Theme from Shaft” won Hayes an Oscar for Best Original Song. He was also nominated by the Academy that year for Best Original Dramatic Score.

Hayes wasn’t done by a long shot, however. Later in 1971, he released a double album called Black Moses. The big hit single from that album was the Hayes take on the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.” The album also included unique Hayes versions of Bacharach-David songs “(They Long to Be) Close to You” which had been a hit for the Carpenters, and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” originally a hit for Dionne Warwick. The Friends of Distinction (“Going in Circles”) and Johnny Taylor (“Part Time Love”) were also covered. Hayes considered Black Moses to be his most personal album.

The three Hayes albums, Hot Buttered Soul, Shaft, and Black Moses, became known in some quarters as the “Holy Trinity of Soul.” It has been a long time since any of the three have been available on vinyl. A few weeks ago Craft Recordings released remastered (from the original analog tapes) versions of all three of the classic albums on 180-gram vinyl. The producers have faithfully reproduced the covers and all of the original artwork for the albums and the Black Moses album even includes the cross-shaped fold out that became legendary.

Purchase links:

Hot Buttered Soul

Shaft

Black Moses

The videos below feature remastering engineer Dave Cooley discussing his work on the project and Isaac Hayes III and Cooley discussing the legacy of Isaac Hayes.

Soul Serenade: Dyke And The Blazers, “Funky Broadway”

Dyke and the BlazersA long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was digging through some crates when I came across a record with a title that intrigued me by a group with a cool name. I didn’t know anything else about the song or the group but I bought the single that day and I still have it. It was something called “Uhh” by Dyke and the Blazers. My research tells me it wasn’t their biggest hit but that doesn’t make it any less of a cool record.
In the beginning, there was a guy with the somewhat unwieldy name of Arlester Christian in Buffalo, NY. Early on he took on the much simpler nickname, Dyke. At first, he was a bass player, working with a local group called Carl LaRue and his Crew. Somewhere around 1963 Carl and his Crew released a single on the KKC label called “Please Don’t Drive Me Away.” I’ll bet that one isn’t easy to find.

Meanwhile, clear across the country, there was a DJ called Eddie O’Jay and he managed a group called, that’s right, the O’Jays. Somehow O’Jay had become aware of LaRue and invited him to bring his band to Phoenix to back the O’Jays. Unfortunately, by the time the Crew made it out there in 1965, the O’Jays had departed for greener pastures. End of band.

Finding themselves without the means to go home, Christian and two other members of the Crew, guitarist “Pig” Jacobs and sax player J.V. Hunt, decided to stay in Phoenix. At the time there was a local group there called the Three Blazers and when they joined forces with the stranded Crew members they became Dyke and the Blazers. The rest of the lineup included Bernard Williams on sax, organist Rich Cason, and drummer Rodney Brown.

The new group played in the Phoenix clubs and they loved to jam. Out of one of those jams emerged the riff that became “Funky Broadway.” Most people probably think that the lyrics were inspired by the Great White Way in New York City, but in truth, Christian was thinking of Broadway in his Buffalo hometown and Broadway Street in Phoenix when he wrote it.

Arlester Christian

Enter Art Barrett. He heard the band, and he liked what he heard enough to become their manager. He quickly got them into a studio to record “Funky Broadway” and released it on his own label, which was called Artco. It was a big enough hit to get the band started, reaching the Top 20 on the R&B chart and crossing over to #65 on the Billboard Hot 100. The success came despite the fact that some radio stations banned the record because of the word “funky” in the title. Yes, you read that right.

Bass player Alvin Battle was added to the lineup to allow Christian more freedom as the lead vocalist. The success of the single led to a lot of touring for the group including stops at the legendary Apollo Theater. But the stress of touring got to them and by 1967, Dyke and the Blazers had broken up. Right after their split, Wilson Pickett released his version of “Funky Broadway” which of course was an enormous hit, #1 on the R&B chart and Top 10 on the pop chart.

Christian wasn’t done, however. He went back to Buffalo and put a new band together to back him. The second band included drummer Willie Earl who had been part of LaRue’s Crew, along with another drummer, “Baby Wayne” Peterson. Otis Tolliver played bass, Ray Byrd was on keys, and “Little Mo” Jones played trumpet. But the new lineup didn’t last, falling to pieces by 1969.

Instead of putting together yet another band, Christian moved to LA where he put out Dyke and the Blazers records that he recorded with session musicians. Those session musicians, by the way, eventually became known as the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Among the musicians was drummer James Gadson, who played with Bill Withers, and Al McKay and Roland Bautista, both guitarists, who later played with Earth, Wind & Fire.

Several successful singles resulted from this collaboration including “We Got More Soul, and “Let A Woman Be A Woman, Let A Man Be A Man.” The singles tended to be long jams that were edited down for radio play. Yes, “Uhh” was one of their singles too, but it didn’t make it into the Top 100 in 1970, and neither did two subsequent singles.

Things did not end well for Arlester “Dyke” Christian. He was getting ready to tour England and to do some recording with Barry White when he was shot dead on a Phoenix street in 1971. Some people tried to make it a drug thing but an autopsy showed neither alcohol or drugs in Christian’s body. A man named Clarence Daniels was arrested for the killing but the charges were dismissed citing evidence of self-defense.

Christian was buried back home in Buffalo.

Soul Serenade: James Brown, “The Payback”

James BrownBy the end of 1974, James Brown’s long and illustrious career was about to head into a fallow period. But the downswing came at the end of one of Brown’s best years ever as he ran three singles to the top of the R&B chart. It was the end of an era in which Brown came to be known as the Godfather of Soul.

The first of the three 1974 hit singles was “The Payback” and it had a story all its own. The lyrics, originally written by JB Fred Wesley but extensively revised by Brown, are a dark tale of betrayal but they could easily tell the story of the song’s history. Brown wrote the song for a film called Hell Up in Harlem which was released in 1973. But the film’s producer’s rejected the song because they thought it sounded like “the same old James Brown stuff,” as if that was a bad thing. The film’s director, Larry Cohen, allegedly found “The Payback” not funky enough. Right.

“The Payback” is as funky as could be but the record’s arrangement was sparse and airy as opposed to some of the hard-driving funk that had preceded it. And a wah-wah pedal was very much present, something else relatively rare on previous Brown records. Whatever the reasons were for the rejection, Brown was pissed off and he decided to release the single and its namesake album the following year.

James Brown - "The Payback"

The basic tracks for the two-part single were recorded in Augusta, GA in August 1973. The following month brass and backing vocals were overdubbed in New York City. In February 1974, Polydor Records released the single. It not only topped the R&B chart, it reached #26 on the Billboard Hot 100. Payback indeed. Brown’s next single, “My Thang,” was released two months later and also topped the R&B chart and crossed over to #29 on the pop chart. Brown’s final R&B #1 hit of the year was “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” which was released in August and reached #31 on the pop chart.

1974 was a very good year indeed for James Brown. But disco was in its ascendency and Brown was slow to respond. The records he released in the late ’70s failed to reach the Top 10 on the R&B chart. It’s not like Brown disappeared from the public eye during those years though. He appeared in films like The Blues Brothers and Doctor Detroit, and on tv shows like Miami Vice. And then in 1985, he came all the way back with the release of “Living in America,” which was featured prominently in the film Rocky IV. “Living in America” was written by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight. The single was released in December 1985 and raced all the way to the #4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It was Brown’s first Top 40 pop hit in ten years and the last one he would ever have.