Tag Archives: Brunswick Records

Eddie Sings The Blues

(originally published in the December 2020 installment of the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s JazzGram)

Chicago saxophonist Eddie Harris is perhaps best remembered as an unabashed experimentalist, famously playing the Varitone electronic saxophone on albums like Plug Me In (1968). He also utilized an early tape looping mechanism (now so en vogue) on 1969’s Silver Cycles. So, Eddie Harris Sings The Blues (1972) stands less as an outlier than as a further testament to his legacy of sonic risk tasking.

Sings The Blues opens with the track “Please Let Me Go”. AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams employs an RMI Electra-piano, all flickers of chunky, reverb-drenched notes. This unusual fanfare sets the scene for Eddie Harris to serenade us, very literally singing to us though the mouthpiece of his electric horn, which he further muddled through a wah wah pedal. Naysayers and purists might be tempted to stop reading here, but the truth of the matter is that Eddie achieved an absolutely spellbinding effect on this album with indefinite vocalizations that defy casual listening. After Eddie sings a few plaintive bars on “Please Let Me Go”, a gorgeous swell of strings blooms on the otherwise sparse track (rounded out by Rufus Reid’s upright bass), enveloping his vocalizations flawlessly. The strings come courtesy of E. Zlatoff Mirsky, Sol Bobrov and the rest of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra strings that played on countless Chicago Soul music recordings in the 1960s and 70s (from Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” to Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and beyond), so you know they can swing.

This album may not be an outlier in Eddie Harris’ catalogue in terms of sheer novelty, but it reflects the cross-pollination found on the Chicago music scene circa 1972. For further proof, the horn section on “Walk With Me” included Willie Henderson & Burgess Gardner, record producers and players responsible for hits by artists like Tyrone Davis (“Turn Back The Hands Of Time”) and Barbara Acklin (“Am I The Same Girl”) at Brunswick Records.

Eddie Harris Sings The Blues (1972) stands less as an outlier than as a further testament to his legacy of sonic risk tasking.”

Andre Fischer (of the rock band The American Breed [“Bend Me, Shape Me”], and later of the funk band Rufus featuring Chaka Khan) played drums on that track, as well. Marshall Thompson (a member of The Chi-Lites) even contributed percussion accompaniment on a handful of tracks. And the strings, horns and vocals on the album were arranged by Richard Evans (of Chess/ Cadet Records fame) who had proven at that label to be as deft at working in soulful modes as he was with jazz and blues.

The title of this album is reminiscent of the Billie Holiday standard titled “Lady Sings The Blues”, and Eddie’s hazy, blurred out voice on “Please Let Me Go” and “Eddie Sings The Blues” bears more than a passing resemblance to Ms. Holiday’s (particularly in regards to his phrasing). And on “Please Let Me Go” in particular, arranger Richard Evans dials up an arrangement befitting a gardenia-adorned torch singer. However, this album was not recorded as a cash-in response after the release of the popular Diana Ross film Lady Sings The Blues (a fictionalized account of the life and death of Billie Holiday). Eddie Sings The Blues was recorded months before the film’s release, and contains no material that was previously recorded by Holiday. But Eddie definitely had a sense of humor (even releasing an infamous album of comedy monologues in 1976), so it very well may have been recorded anticipating the film’s ultimate success. Besides, any level of confusion related to the album’s title would likely have pleased him.

But, ultimately, the album’s ambiguous connections to a Billie Holiday biopic are not what makes this album notable. Eddie Harris Sings the Blues is a fairly lean album (weighing in at 6 tracks, soaking wet) that somehow delivers the sort of blues that begs for a Formica bar stool and a stiff gimlet on “Eddies Sings The Blues”, moody, big band jazz on “Please Let Me Go”, the sort of soulful jazz you might find on a Young-Holt Unlimited album on “Walk With Me”, and even a playful, positively angular, Latin-tinged romp through “Giant Steps”. In short, it’s a deeply soulful album flecked with avant touches and a flair for the dramatic that never teeters into schmaltziness.


The All-Brunswick Records Blow Out (Side A and Side B)

Barbara+Acklin+PNG

A mix of music featuring all local Chicago Soul from the Brunswick Label. The label was originally from New York; but moved most of its operations to 17th and Michigan on Chicago’s Record Row in the mid 1960s. From there, producer Carl Davis steered an all star cast of local talent, like Barbara Acklin (above).

This podcast features the music, and an interview with some of the creative people behind the music.

 

This podcast, like all good B-Sides, features some of the trippier cuts from the Brunswick Catalogue.

 


Tonight is a Chicago soul music blowout on Reclaimed Soul!

Tonight is a Chicago soul music blowout on Reclaimed Soul!

Tonight is a Chicago soul music blowout on the Reclaimed Soul Radio Show! Host Ayana Contreras will play cuts from the catalogue of Brunswick Records. The label moved to 17th and Michigan on Chicago’s Record Row in the mid 1960s, and producer Carl Davis steered an all star cast of local talent.

We’ll hear music by Tyrone Davis, Jean Shy, Jackie Ross, The Lost Generation, The Chi-Lites, Freddie Hughes, Sidney Joe Qualls, Ginji James, Jackie Wilson, The Artistics, Gene Chandler, Marvin Smith, and loads more.

It’ll be a stone gas!

Reclaimed Soul airs Thursdays at 8pm-10pm (CST) on http://vocalo.org, or tune in on 90.7fm and 89.5fm.


Baby Be Mine: Johnny Williams’ Record Row Gold

streetAbove, enjoy DuSable High School’s own Johnny Williams with Baby Be Mine, a classically Chicago-styled mid-tempo shuffler.  A delicious record, it was recorded at Brunswick Records here in Chicago (1449 South Michigan Avenue, to be exact) for their Subsidiary label, Bashie.  Get a whif of those cheering flutes on the tail end.  A beast.  Pictured at left, Brunswick Records, 1967-late 70s.

Brunswick was originally based in New York, but moved operations to Chicago in the mid ’60s to take advantage of a hotbed of talent that was nationally recognized.  Brunswick’s Jackie Wilson (on lifetime contract to the label) immediately found success working with the Chicago operation, hitting with the 1966 classic “Whispers (Getting Louder)”. 

The label that ultimately brought us the Chi-Lites, Tyrone Davis, Barbara Acklin, and more also enlisted some of the best producers/arrangers in the city: Sonny Sanders, Carl Davis, Willie Henderson, Tom Tom Washington, and later Leo Graham and James Mack (who taught Tom Tom and Willie Henderson at Crane Junior College).  What they created was a sound that was a perfect hybrid of blues and soul.  Just like the very best of Chicago.


Love is a Merry-Go-Round: Ginji James and “that thing”

ginji_james-love_is_a_merry_go_roundI wanted to share this record with you….because I love it.  From the 1971 (Chicago born-and-bred) album, “Love is a Merry-Go-Round”: it’s Ginji James with “Love Had Come to Stay”.  It’s sitting-in-the-park music from Brunswick Records (recorded on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago).  Sitting-in-the-Park music is that music you hear in your head when you’re feeling all moody and contemplative… like no matter how sunny the day there’s a little bit of your heart stuck on that thing.  Another example of this is “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites (also from Brunswick).  The lyrics of that song is where I got the name for this genre:

One month ago today
I was happy as a lark
But now I go for walks
To the movies – maybe to the park

And have a seat on the same old bench
To watch the children play (huh)
You know, tomorrow is their future
But to me, just another day

They all gather around me
They seem to know my name
We laugh, tell a few jokes
But it still doesn’t ease my pain….


according to Dusty Groove:

One of our favorswingite Chicago soul sessions of all time — and the only album ever cut by Texas-bred singer Ginji James! Ginji’s got a style that’s both sweet and deep — which makes her a perfect fit for the sweeping, loping arrangements of the record — very much in the best Brunswick Chi-soul style of the time — and carried off perfectly by a team of studio talents that includes Carl Davis, Eugene Record, Willie Henderson, and Tom Tom! Ginji’s vocals are really wonderful — every bit as great as that of labelmates like Barbara Acklin or The Chi-Lites — and the whole set sparkles with a warmth that’s pretty darn hard to find, even in the best soul albums from the time!

From my very own album to you….