Donny Hathaway was born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis. Early in his career, he returned to Chicago. During that time period, roughly from 1968 until about 1971, Donny was very prolific. In this hour of Reclaimed Soul, Ayana Contreras explores Donny Hathaway’s early work arranging and writing for other artists in Chicago: from Albertina Walker, Syl Johnson, and Curtis Mayfield, to The Five Stairsteps and Little Milton. We’ll also hear some of his classics, compositions, and some of his very first recordings.
For more on Donny’s career, check out the recently published book “Donny Hathaway Live” by Emily J. Lordi.
Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm
- 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. “
Here in Chicago, music fans know Linda Clifford as a singer affiliated with Curtis Mayfield’s camp in the disco era. But Clifford, a native New Yorker, is also a former Miss New York State, and at one time worked as an actress who played minor roles in major films like The Boston Strangler with Tony Curtis and Henry Ford and Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine.
Still performing today, she is best known for the cuts from her 1978 debut album on Curtom: “If My Friends Could See Me Now” (#1 on the Disco Charts), and “Runaway Love” (#3 on the R&B Charts). Backed by The Jones Girls, her Curtom hits were electrifying, and fully Chicago-bred in an era when the City’s influence on popular music was waning (after the peak of Chicago Soul, and before the House Explosion).
Below, it’s Linda Clifford dishing it out with a televised performance of “Runaway Love”. Jive on!
Chicago has a vast musical heritage. It is known for electrifying Delta Blues, known for creating House Music, renowned for its particular brands of Chicago Soul and Gospel, and also known as contributing its own twang to 60’s garage proto-punk, jazz, and just about every other genre out there. Why not loungy folk-pop goodness?
Spanky and Our Gang formed in Chicago in 1966 when Elaine McFarlane was working as a singing waitress at a local club called Mother Blues. Club owner Curly Tait offered her a chance to form a group to open for his featured acts. She quickly recruited Nigel Pickering and Oz Bach.
With McFarlane playing washboard and kazoo, Pickering on guitar and Bach on bass, the trio jokingly began calling themselves Spanky and Our Gang, playing on their singer’s nickname. Eventually guitarist Malcolm Hale was added to the roster. A club favorite, the group caught the ear of Chicago’s Mercury Records, and their first single, “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” was a Top 10 Pop hit. Four more successful singles followed. The Windy City begat something breezier.
Above, a 1967 live vocal performance by the group of “Sunday”. Even with a bit of a cough, Ellen’s voice was in great form. Below, their groovy cut, “Suzanne”. I love the rhythm changes in this.
Sadly, the group hit an insurmountable loss when on October 31st, 1968, forty years ago (almost to the day), 37 year old Malcolm Hale died suddenly of pneumonia (the cause of death is sometimes listed as Carbon Monoxide poisoning). The group broke up shortly after, but they left us with some Breezy City goodness.
By way of the Bay Area, it’s Chicago’s own Natural Four. They signed to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records in 1972, after five years without a hit, and within a year they gave us this blue light basement classic: “Can This Be Real.”
Inexplicably, the Natural Four never reached the success they deserved, dissolving in 1976. Robert Pruter, author of the book Chicago Soul, pointed out that they most likely suffered from the trend of doo-wop style vocal groups succumbing to the age of Disco, which mainly favored solo artists. But the Natural Four shone brightly, if only for a moment. Jive On.
This week in 1967, at WBEE 1570-AM (out of Harvey), this was the Number One record on their BEE Line-up Chart. It’s the Radiants (on local Chess Records) with “(Don’t it make you) Feel Kind of Bad”. Also on the charts that week:
2. The Whole World is a Stage — Fantastic Four
3. The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game — Marvelettes
4. Just a Mirage — Miracles
5. Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) — Aretha Franklin
I 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 favorite 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….
Chicago-based Shala’s music is afro-punk/hip-hop/electro/freshness (and you can experience it tonight)…
For the uninitiated, here’s a link to a sampling:
Equalizer presents Shala. at Darkroom
Friday, February 27, 2009 at 9:00pm – 2:00am
Street: 2210 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL
Below is Shala. with his former group, Qualo, on CNN in 2007
talking about the anti-rap billboard campaign. Deep. Real deep.
The year is 1969 on the South Side of Chicago (21st & Michigan). Marshall Chess (son of Leonard Chess), has taken the helm at Chess Records (the Seminal Chicago Blues/Jazz/Gospel label). A fairly hip young cat, Marshall realizes that the hottest acts in popular music at the time borrowed (or gangstered) heavily from the roster at Chess: Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter (even Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley). His offensive move was to re-record the blues giants in a psychedelic blues style popular with groups like Cream (featuring Eric Clapton). He also recorded newer, younger, more tripped-out acts. Among them, Black Merda and Fugi (backed by Black Merda), a black rock collective from Detroit (that was still reeling from riots the year before). Above is “Revelations”, one of two records released through Chess/Cadet under the name Fugi (alternately spelled as Fuji). There will be much more on this blog about this topic; but in the mean time…Jive on.