Tag Archives: Charles Stepney

Kitty & the Haywoods: a slice of Chicago Sister Funk.

kitty and the haywoodsThe Emotions were not the only sister group to come out of Chicago. It was all in the family for Kitty and the Haywoods, as well (although they actually consisted of three sisters and a niece). Before Kitty and the Haywoods’ self-titled debut album, Kitty had a long recording history as a background vocalist for such acts as Curtis Mayfield and Terry Callier. She was also a member of The New Rotary Connection (along with Shirley Wahls) after Minnie Riperton departed from Rotary Connection.

1974, Kitty and the Haywoodweiss recorded a single as Kitty Haywood & the Haywood Singers called “Big Black Cloud”. It was produced and arranged by Charles Stepney (who was the creative force behind Rotary Connection). Kitty had also previously released a solo record on the Weis label.

In 1976, the sisters sang back up for Aretha Franklin on the “Sparkle” soundtrack, which was written and produced by Curtis Mayfield. Before that, they recorded quite a few jingles in town.

The album Kitty and the Haywoods (1977) was produced by Mercury Records label mates The Ohio Players, and it sounds like a gumbo of the Ohio Players and Labelle at their silver-lame-wearing best.

What I appreciate most about Kitty and the Haywoods is that they were quite literally part of the backbone of the Chicago Recording scene. Too many background vocalists faded away into the shadows, remaining anonymous. But these ladies were able to shine.  Jive on!

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Monk Higgins: The Look of Love


An early Charles Stepney arrangement (who later worked with The Dells, Rotary Connection, and Earth, Wind, & Fire, among others), this record rumbles and slinks along with soul.

I love how the chunky electric keys interplay with the swirling strings, and Monk’s swinging saxophone.

Monk Higgins was born Milton Bland in Arkansas. He was already a staple on the Chicago Scene when he released this cut on Chess in 1968 (just before he went to LA, bringing fellow Chicago Scenesters Freddie Robinson and Mamie Galore for the ride).

UPDATE: For more Lovely versions of this classic composition (and a touch of drama), check the comments of this post.


The Mighty Mighty Dells: i miss you.

I love the Dells.  Formed in 1952, their career is simply epic.  But my favorite period for them was ushered in with Charles Stepney.  Unfortunately, as Chess Records (their label from the mid-sixties till the mid-seventies) crumbled, their hits (which include “There Is”, “Stay in my Corner”, “The Love We Had Stays on My Mind”, “Oh What a Night” and more) were harder to come by. 

By 1973, The Dells, still at Cadet Records (a Chess Subsidiary), were recording work with a Detroit/Memphis lean.  Tony Hester, who came from Detroit to Memphis, wrote and produced The Dramatics’ biggest album (“Whatcha See is Whatcha Get”) and subsequent Dramatics outings.  Don Davis is a legend, producing for various Detroit acts (some of which, like Darrell Banks, were released on Memphis’ Volt Records), and ultimately working throughout the world of Soul. 

With such a team behind them, The Dells (with lusciously gruff Marvin Junior on Baritone Lead) couldn’t help but come up with this gold.  Jive on!


You’re Tuff Enough: junior wells’ new breed blues

  • The title cut off this 1968 album is a bluesy monster produced by Charles Stepney with more than enough groove to stay squarely in the pocket.  Also on this album is the local hit “Up in Heah”, another blues-infused party track.  Both of the records will make sceptics rethink the blues. According to the back of the album:

“Talk about somebody being “tuff” enough. One night in Pepper’s Lounge, a little night spot on Chicago’s South Side, Junior Wells was introduced as “the little Giant of the blues”. It was around midnight and the Chatter that had been incessant for about three hours ceased. In cool dignity the little black walked to the stage, and said: “I’m gonna sing them damn blues, and you’d better dig it.” This audience at Pepper’s where all the blues greats have passed through and left their mark, is as hip an audience as any performer ever faced. When you bring them slow blues it better be nasty, and when you swing it better make them move. Shoot blanks and you won’t last long. Junior Wells could stay there eternally. “

–David Llorens

 

 


Minnie Riperton: she was the black gold of the sun.

Minnie Riperton was, of course, so much more than her 1976 smash “Loving You”.  I won’t even attempt to jam her legacy into a blog post.  She was a mother (to SNL alum Maya Rudolph), a lover, (to Dick Rudolph) and a righteous songbird.  Riperton (pictured above, 1968 [photo courtesy jeff lockard]) and her soaring soprano were featured in the Rock-Soul outfit Rotary Connection.  Rotary Connection was the jazzy soulful dirty hippie baby of genius producer Charles Stepney and Marshall Chess (son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess, and a visionary in his own right).

Certainly their most anthologized track is “I am the Black Gold of the Sun” (above), but each of their albums produced its crop of nuggets (my favorites are “Songs”, “Hey Love”, and “Aladdin”).  The sound was a cross-section of Rock, Gospel, Soul, and Jazz nearly as big as the City of Big Shoulders that spawned it.  Featuring Minnie Riperton on lead vocals for a number of their cuts, her other-worldly wails are the sound that almost never was.

Below, my short audio interview with Sidney Barnes of Rotary Connection (pictured far right), on how Minnie Riperton got the strength to embrace her own voice in the days when sopranos weren’t considered soulful.

Love Thyself: Sidney Barnes Talks Minnie Riperton


Hip Chicago Jazz with Soul!


Darkjive has been on Summer Vacation, but always digging deeper… I’ve been really into swinging sixties jazz from Chicago, like “Coming to Atlantis” a hip mover produced by Monk Higgins and credited to Freddie “The Creeper” Robinson (on Lead Guitar).  The Flip of this 45, called “Before Six” is wonderful, as well.

During the late 1960’s, there was, of course, lots of overlap between soul and jazz scenes in Chicago, and many instrumentals charted on Soul-formated radio (like “Burning Spear” by the Soulful Strings [a pet project of Charles Stepney and Richard Evans at Cadet],  and “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited).  

Below is from one of my treasured Dorothy Ashby albums (arranged by Richard Evans), “Come Live With Me” (originally featured in the film, Valley of the Dolls).  Many of my favorite cuts, not surprisingly, are not on youtube.   After all, the revolution wasn’t televised. 
Jive on.


Dancing Girl – Terry Callier. Windy City Mellow.

I remember where I was when I first heard this: the local round-the-way record store.  The carpet was checkered with the maytag logo in bittersweet on brown (harkening back to the store’s past life).  There we stood in a communal experience that began with the shop owner saying, “You’ve got to hear this record”. We stood waiting.  Waiting melted away to awe.  Nine minutes later we knew life was a bit different…just wait for the progression of the track.  It blossoms and eventually bursts.

“Dancing Girl” is from the album, “What Color is Love” (Cadet, 1973).  A great record for a chilled autumn day.

Terry Callier was a childhood friend of Curtis Mayfield and co-wrote numerous Chicago Records for artists as diverse as the Soulful Strings, The Dells, and Garland Green.  He spent much of the eighties and nineties as a single father, raising his daughter, Sundiata, and working at the University of Chicago.

He returned to recording in the late nineties to critical acclaim, and released “Hidden Conversations” (his fifth album in 10 years) this year.  It features Massive Attack.

Jive on…. Jive on.


Electric Mud: Electrified Delta Blues got a New Jolt

muddy rain

(“Tom Cat” by Muddy Waters)

The late sixties in Chicago was a wild time.  The Democratic National Convention and the Riots in 1968 labeled us as unruly, Serial Killer Richard Speck in 1966 labeled us as unsafe, and Martin Luther King, Jr.,  (marching in North Lawndale for equal housing in 1966), labeled us as a place that “The people of Mississippi ought to come to….to learn how to hate”. And yet we created such sweet music…

  Roaring blues, sophisticated jazz, gritty garage rock, smoothed out vocal pop, and shimmering soul (among other genres) all “jus grew” here.  Chess Records (based near 22nd and Michigan) was, in fact, the epicenter of the Electrified Delta Blues that changed the sound of popular American music FOREVER.  That was the music that served as rock-and-roll’s bassinet.  So it was no surprise that Chess Records, nearing the end of the 1960s and reinvigorated with fresh young talent (producer/arranger Charles Stepney, drummer Morris Jennings, and guitarist Phil Upchurch among them), decided to have their living legend artists (i.e. Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf) re-record their groundbreaking 1950s work in an updated funky psychedelic blues style. 

 White psychedelic rock artists had been ripping off their artists’ work for years.  Now they were, in effect, reworking their own art.  Muddy and Wolf weren’t feeling it.  Critics of the day panned the works. Yet, today, the albums born out of this time (including “Electric Mud”) have an almost cultish following.  Produced by Marshall Chess and the legendary Gene Barge, this body of work is just another example of good old Chicago invention….. For a sample of Howlin Wolf’s psychedelic blues tryst, click here.

Drummer Morris Jennings discusses Muddy Waters’ album “Electric Mud” with Ethnologist Jeff Thomas.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Morris Jennings Discusses Muddy Water…“, posted with vodpod

Maybe the oldest rap music you’ll ever hear…

Cadillac Jack by Andre Williams

Andre Williams rapping about the Southside of Chicago with doo-wop backing by the Dells back in 1968.  Produced by Charles Stepney. Local Chicago Chess Records magic. Dig it.


There is….Soul in Chicago

I love the Dells… Great group originally from Harvey, Illinois.    They’ve recorded on various Chicago-based labels, including the Chess Records subsidiary Cadet Records.  In 1967, the Dells issued the album, There Is, and the title track, a cut of baroque soul (produced by Charles Stepney) which showcased the gritty baritone of Marvin Junior and the harmonies with the four other Dells. Together since 1952, the song was also their first top 20 pop hit. Highly recommended….

the-dells