Monday, July 18, 2011

Soulful sounds still amaze

The Bo-Keys are keeping the Memphis sound alive with their brash, funky music and vocal backing from great soul singers like Otis Clay, William Bell and Percy Wiggins.

They appear on the Bo-Keys’ “Got to Get Back!” CD and LP, which we reviewed here last weekend with a special mention of trumpet player Marc Franklin, a Sylvan Hills High School graduate, who helps make the Bo-Keys’ horn section one of the best in the nation.

The veteran soul singers on “Got to Get Back!” have a long track record going back to the 1960s. Clay’s many fine records include his “Complete Otis Clay on Hi Records,” “Soul Man: Live in Japan,” “Respect Yourself,” “Gospel Truth” and several other gospel CDs.

Bell was a star at Stax, where his records included “The Soul of a Bell,” perhaps his best, and “Phase of Reality/Relating” and “Wow/Bound to Happen” (two LPs on one CD).

Percy Wiggins sent us his fine CD, “Soulful Sounds of the 60s and 70s,” which includes the singles “It Didn’t Take Much” and “That’s Loving You,” two big hits at discos around the world in the 1970s.
Percy’s brother, Spencer, also had a prolific career in the 1960s and 1970s. “The Goldwax Years” and “Feed the Flame: The Fame and XL Recordings” have been reissued on the British Kent label. His deep, soulful singles were classics of Memphis soul, but were hardly promoted when they were first released.

“Feed the Flame” was mostly recorded in Muscle Shoals, Ala., another important center for soul in the 1960s and 1970s. Both CDs are excellent and are beautifully packaged with informative liner notes.

The Numero Group pays homage to Syl Johnson, the soul singer, with a lavishly produced “Complete Mythology” box set that includes all of his Chicago recordings. The stunningly de-signed set includes 81 tracks on six LPs, which are duplicated on four CDs, as well as a lavish catalogue with photos and a text by Bill Dahl.

It’s an astonishing retrospective of ’60s and ’70s Chicago soul music from tiny labels that, according to Dahl, lacked distribution and were largely ignored by critics and record buyers when the records first came out. Johnson’s later Hi recordings in Memphis may have sold better, but his Chicago stuff is superior.

The Mississippi-born Johnson, who is often suspicious of record companies, should be pleased with the result: Numero has put him in the pantheon with Al Green, Otis Clay, James Bell, James Brown, Otis Redding and a handful of others. Johnson is that good.

Johnson’s recordings for Hi in the 1970’s helped popularize the Memphis sound. His “Complete Hi Recordings” is a two-CD set that’s available on Amazon for about $12, like Otis Clay’s, which is a bargain.

The 74-year-old Johnson, who is still performing, is the brother of bluesmen Jimmy Johnson and the late Mack Thompson (the family’s real name).

Someone should bring Syl and Jimmy Johnson to Little Rock, along with Marc Franklin and the Bo-Keys.

The Bo-Keys perform next Saturday evening at Blues on the Bluff in Memphis.


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