Thursday, April 03, 2014

Frankie Knuckles (1955-2014)


With all the incredible tributes that have been pouring out for Frankie Knuckles since his death this past Monday, I'm not sure I can really add all that much to the many eloquent, heartfelt ones out there - from Michaelangelo Matos in Rolling Stone, Alexis Petridis in the Guardian, Rich Juzwiak at Gawker, Barry Walters at NPR, his old friend and mentor Nicky Siano at Thump/Vice, to name some of the best ones that I've read so far. I'm perhaps one of the least qualified to write about him now, I obviously never knew him personally, nor would I ever profess to be the biggest of househeads. Granted, while there are house records that I do love (some of them directly attributed to Frankie), my introduction to Frankie had less to do with "Your Love," "The Whistle Song" or "Tears," classics that they are, but moreso when he became just about everyone's go-to remixer (his mixes of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody," Alison Limerick's "Where Love Lives," Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" and a different "Your Love," for the 1992 Chic reunion are firm favourites). Still, when it comes to exploring dance music, my focus had always been and still remains largely tied to disco. Even with that, I couldn't possibly go on here without acknowledging not only Frankie Knuckles' roots in disco, but his importance as a seminal figure who until his death, had been that living link between disco and house, to their origins (and indeed their survival) in the black and gay communities. With a musical lineage that went beyond The Warehouse, all the way back to David Mancuso's Loft, to Better Days, to Nicky Siano's Gallery, to the Continental Baths with his old friend Larry Levan, to Salsoul, which released his first mix - (of First Choice's "Let No Man Put Asunder" in 1983, which had been relegated to the B-side of Shep Pettibone's remix), those were disco roots than ran deep and wide. Speaking to house and disco's ties to gay culture, as Rich Juzwiak had pointed out in his Gawker article, it's something that at the very least, feels both far removed and taken for granted in the current EDM music culture, but Frankie was someone who was not only there, but right at the forefront.

As he recalled in his 2011 BBC 6 Mix interview with Dave Pearce (hear it below, or on Youtube, or on BBC 6 where they'll re-broadcast it this Friday April 4th), what was called house was largely just a term for what he played at The Warehouse, which by the early 80's largely consisted of older disco and R&B records and newer imports. Even though the backlash had little impact on him or his audience, as Frankie recalled, the major labels in the US had already backed off of disco and the pool of records was beginning to dry up, "there were no more disco records being made, nothing with any real kind of energy, other than what was coming out of Europe and out of Canada...It wasn't anything that was premeditated, or trying to create something.. it all came from me, just basically trying to keep my dancefloor interested in coming to that club every week after disco was declared dead... I figured I would do well to just work with what I knew. There was a lot of music that I was already playing, which was a lot of philly soul, I was beginning to learn how to edit and cut tape.."

BBC 6 Mix - Frankie Knuckles with Dave Pearce (May 15, 2011)

A listen to his "Choice: A Collection of Classics" (2000, Azuli) set as well as the many archived recordings of his early 80's Warehouse and Power Plant sets at Gridface and The Deep House Page are proof enough of the heavy disco presence in his mixes, even as late as the mid 80's. Some recently unearthed footage from the 1986 opening of the Power House (including a brief interview with a young Frankie) emphasizes that disco link even further.



Frankie Knuckles at Power House club, 1986 opening night
Uploaded by MediaBurnArchive


While re-editing had been a part of disco and DJ culture well before and well after (as the current proliferation of disco re-edits indicates); even if it was far from the only musical branch to come out of the influence (and to a certain extent, the manipulation of) disco, house remains perhaps one of the most potent and lasting examples of its influence. Perhaps also one of the many testaments to how culture is often created at the margins, in this case, both out of a marginalized people, (thinking about the layers of marginalization in being both black and gay in the already segregated racial climate of Chicago) and out of the cultural scraps (read: disco, post-backlash, in the very city that declared it dead) that no longer carried any currency or supposed "relevance," until they're eventually reevaluated, recontextualized and given value again, as the cycle goes. "Disco's revenge." as Frankie had famously put it.

Aside from the BBC 6 interview, his lecture from the 2011 Red Bull Music Academy with Jeff Mao is another one that I've given a lot of play to recently. I always had the impression, coming from some of his earlier interviews, that he was completely over all of the constant questions about the past - the 70's, his youth with Larry Levan, The Warehouse etc.. Perhaps it's the effect of both seeing and hearing him, or the setting - having an audience before him and being the storyteller, but once he gets going, whatever initial hesitation he may have had seems to fade completely as he gets deeper into the conversation. Now that he's no longer around to personally go over the finer points of his history anymore, both of these interviews are even more valuable in their candid, detailed, (and especially in the case of the BBC 6 interview), animated recollections.



Red Bull Music Academy (Madrid 2011) - Lecture: Frankie Knuckles


I love listening to these not only for the music and memories, but also for the wisdom he imparts and the class and grace he displays. There's no false modesty there, yet no egotism either. I suspect if you could have got him in private, he could have kiki'd for ages and spilt plenty of tea in the process.. I know that I would have loved to have had the chance.

While 59 still feels too young to die, it's remarkable to think that Frankie had remained active for what must have been about 40 years in total, right up until the very end. Whether as Nicky Siano mentions, that may have had as much to with survival as with inspiration, it's nonetheless an incredible feat to have remained active and present the way he has for as long as he has. If all the love pouring out with his passing is even just a small reflection of the love he cultivated while he was alive, his legacy in life and in music is one with few equals.

Rest in peace, Frankie Knuckles. Godfather of House.


LINKS:
npr - the record: where love lives: frankie knuckles and the dance floor (by barry walters) (april 2, 2014)
new york times: frankie knuckles, 59, house pioneer d.j., dies (by daniel e. slotnik) (april 2, 2014)
thump: "frankie was one of the kindest, gentlest people i've ever known" (by nicky siano) (april 2, 2014)
gawker: frankie knuckles, disco's revenge, and gay black music's triumph (by rich juzwiak) (april 2, 2014)
rolling stone: frankie knuckles 'godfather of house music,' dead at 59 (by michaelangelo matos) (april 1, 2014)
the guardian: frankie knuckles: godfather of house, priest of the dancefloor (by alexis petridis) (april 1, 2014)
los angeles times: remembering a house music legend: why frankie knuckles mattered (by randall roberts) (april 1, 2014)
chicago tribune: frankie knuckles, house music 'godfather' dead at 59 (by greg kot) (april 1, 2014)
joe.my.god - frankie knuckles dies at age 59 (april 1, 2014)
chicago sun-times: chicago icon, 'godfather of house music' frankie knuckles dead at 59 (march 31, 2014)

facebook: frankie knuckles official fan page
facebook: def mix productions
gridface: frankie knuckles mixes
deep house page: frankie knuckles mixes
media burn independent video archive: house music in chicago (1986 mini-documentary)
red bull music academy - madrid 2011: lecture: frankie knuckles
bbc - 6 mix: frankie knuckles meets dave pearce (may 15, 2011)
djhistory: frankie knuckles interview
defected: interview - frankie knuckles (january 4, 2014)
xlr8r: podcast 336 - frankie knuckles (march 25, 2014)
resident advisor - features: the warehouse: the place where house got its name (may 16, 2012)
boiler room: frankie knuckles 60 minute mix (may 12, 2013)
discomusic.com: frankie knuckles interview (by dayna newman)
red bull music academy: the kids call it house music (frankie knuckles interview) (by jerd janson) (january 11, 2011)
faithfanzine: frankie knuckles interview (april 19, 2011)
the couch sessions: interview: godfather of house music frankie knuckles (december 9, 2010)
disco-disco.com: interview with frankie knuckles

CATEGORIES: IN MEMORIAM..

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vintage Articles:
Sean Lawrence's Discaire Column -
Supply Without Demand // Christopher Street - May 1979

Recently, while doing a bit of research, I had come across some old issues of Christopher Street - a long defunct gay magazine published from 1976-1995, often referred to as "The Gay New Yorker" in its time. Finding out about Christopher Street for the first time felt, quite honestly, like uncovering a treasure. While perhaps quite a bit more highbrow and New York-centric next to other gay offerings on the newsstands of its day (and certainly compared to what exists now), I'd have to rank Christopher Street, at least what I've seen from this period, as easily one of the best gay magazines that I've read. While the quantity and accessibility of information available online can compensate somewhat for the beleaguered state of print media these days, reading something like Christopher Street, one can't help but feel a touch of nostalgia for a time when something as culturally literate and intelligent as Christopher Street had a solid place in newsstands and in gay culture at large.

Being the sophisticated cultural arbiter that it was, aside from covering society, politics, literature and the arts; given the times and their audience, that usually meant that the topic of disco was weaved into their general coverage fairly regularly (record labels pushing their disco product were some of their biggest advertisers at the time, which probably helped too). One column that stood out in that regard was Sean Lawrence's Discaire, which debuted in May of 1979 as their "on the disco scene" column. It was never really 100% exclusively disco and not so much a look at the 'scene' as much as a record review column, and quite honestly, I wasn't even really familiar with the term 'Discaire' before this, (an apt title for for someone who plays, selects and comments on music) but unfortunately given its timing, the column would be relatively short-lived. Debuting right around the time of the great disco backlash in America (which the column would at times make reference to), Discaire would run, barring a couple of issues, from May 1979, until February 1980.


While Christopher Street had carried record reviews before this, Discaire came across as a much more personalized take on things than your standard record review column. Although Sean Lawrence was not nearly as prolific as, say, Vince Aletti; armed with sharp prose that was generally clever and witty without being merciless; given that he came with a well-cultivated gay sensibility (obviously) and knew his way around disco - even if I didn't always share his opinions, they're always a pleasure to read. While Lawrence is hardly breathless and uncritical about disco (as the title of this very installment proves), I have to admit how refreshing it is to find record reviews from this time, and specifically coverage of disco that isn't loaded with the usual (dare I say - straight white male) rock critic biases, where even a positive disco review usually has the writer twisting themselves into some sort of awkward, apologetic stance just for doing so.

Anyway, for now, here's the first Discaire column, Supply Without Demand - pans for Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, praises for Johnny Mathis, Montreal's Alma Faye Brooks and Ferrara, among others..


____________________________________________




Supply Without Demand 

Sean Lawrence
Discaire
B Songs reveal more than we want to know about the record industry: they sound as if the company needed more product, or the artist needed more money, or the disco/radio station needed more anything to play. When B songs appear on the albums of performers we like and whose work we have followed, they spoil the neighborhood. What, we wonder, can the performer have been thinking when the decision was made to record that junk? And who really made the decision?

         Let's talk about Patti Labelle.

         To those of us who have trekked with the hordes of urban renaissance gays and Bloomingdale's blacks to just about every concert Patti Labelle has given in the New York metropolitan area, her new album, It's Alright With Me (Epic JE 35772), is at once a delight and a disappointment. “Music Is My Way Of Life” is a disco upper if ever there was one, with a full, unstoppered sound of happiness. It's the kind of song that moves swarms of people to rush Labelle on stage when she sings it at the end of a concert – and it almost carries this album. But someone has surrounded this gem with B dross and should be charged with artist abuse.

         Another performer who deserves better packaging is Gladys Knight, and she'd better get it soon. Waiting for an A song on Gladys Knight (Columbia JC 35704) is like waiting for Godot. Knight's efforts on Buddah (Miss Gladys Knight [BDS 5714] and The One and Only ... Gladys Knight & the Pips [BDS 5701]) at least had bonbons such as “I'm Still Caught Up With You” and “It's A Better Than Good Time” (which had a nifty retro-disco quality). Yes, there is life after the Pips, but not much. Like Linda Ronstadt, Gladys Knight is best when she sings about lost or remembered love. Gladys Knight is a collection of mediocre songs that neither departs from nor enhances this terrain, and a waste of time for such a gifted performer. Knight herself is listed, with Jack Gold, as co-producer; insofar as she may be responsible for the selection of material on this album, she deserves a better producer.

         Jack Gold, on the other hand, can't be faulted for his work on Johnny Mathis's new release, The Best Days of My Life (Columbia JC 35649). This is a surprisingly fine album, including the now requisite disco hit (“Begin the Beguine”) and the predictable heterosexual duet (“The Last Time I Felt Like This” from the film Same Time Next Year, sung with Jane Olivor and not awful at all). The rest of the songs on the album are smarter and more authentically moving than the stuff Mathis sings on the Tonight Show just before Johnny Carson starts asking him about his love life.


On the heavy disco scene, “Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)” (Arista SP-38) is an elegantly mellow hit containing disco roller-skating rhythms (they skated to it at Manhattan's Twelve West at the opening of the Disco Convention) that some people have been adapting to non-roller-skating dancing. Although disco roller-skating is not the hottest thing to hit the gay community since typhoid, it seems apparent that Arista Records is serious about trying to get its share of the disco market.

         Whereas “Disco Nights” embodies Andrew Holleran's definition of “light disco,” Madleen Kane's “Forbidden Love” (Warner Bros. 8772) marks the entrance onto the scene of Erotic Funeral Disco. It's about time that intercourse had a new song. (“Hold Your Horses” by First Choice is already worn from play.) “Forbidden Love” is full of dark sexual exhortations that will surely make it the national anthem in the darker corners of the baths. It even smells like poppers.

         From the “Why Not?” Department comes a new disco album based on a Victorian novel, and produced by John Ferrara, Wuthering Heights (Midsong International 0798) is one of the more inspired of the recent disco releases. Three acts on its title side build to a danceable frenzy with the same kind of fervor and calculation we remember of Donna Summer's classic Love Trilogy album. How, you ask, can an album be based on Wuthering Heights? Just keep singing “Heathcliff” over and over, with lots of strings, congas, and orchestra bells in the background. Can War and Peace be far behind?


Two of the latest releases from Casablanca, the mogul disco label, introduce new performers. Alma Faye's Doin' It! (NBLP 7143) indicates that she has promise as a disco diva (we've heard her touted as the Aretha Franklin of disco). On “Don't Fall In Love” her voice overwhelms the normally pushy instrumental, thus breaking new ground for disco. One of the songs even proves that disco is ecology-minded - “It's Over” sounds like a recycled “I'm A Victim of the Very Songs I Sing.”

         Dennis Parker's Like An Eagle (NBLP 7140), produced by Jacques Morali, sounds like a California album about New York. One of its longer cuts (“New York By Night”) contains references to tricking, hustling on 53rd and Third, dancing at Studio 54, and eating gossip at Elaine's, but sounds as if it's being remembered from inside a soundproof limo cruising an L.A. Freeway. Parker is clone-attractive and has been packaged for disco j.o.

         And...

         Now that everyone is coming to the realization that “Disco Saves” (careers, homes, marriages), Paul McCartney has turned to it for salvation. Too bad. His “Goodbye Tonight” [sic] (Columbia 23-01940) is the disco turkey of the year. It makes us look forward to Ethel Merman's “conversion” ■
____________________________________________

LINKS:
wikipedia: christopher street (magazine)
facebook: newmanology - christopher street magazine
arbery books: christopher street back issues
ephemera forever: christopher street

discogs: patti labelle - it's alright with me lp
discogs: gladys knight - s/t lp
discogs: johnny mathis - the best days of my life lp
discogs: gq - disco nights (rock-freak) 12"
discomusic.com: gq - disco nights (rock-freak) 12"
discogs: madleen kane - forbidden love 12"
discomusic.com: madleen kane - forbidden love 12''
discogs: ferrara - wuthering heights lp
discogs: alma faye - doin' it! (us lp)
discogs: dennis parker - like an eagle lp
discomusic.com: dennis parker - like an eagle lp
discogs: wings - goodnight tonight 12"
discomusic.com: wings - goodnight tonight 12"


CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES

Friday, February 21, 2014

Vol la nuit


Recently obtained this dreamy little bit of early 80's bilingual Can-Con, and have been giving this one quite a few spins lately. Produced by a one Frank Ceniccola, whose name I haven't seen anywhere else (aside from the only other France Harlow entry on Discogs), and sung and adapted in both official languages by France Harlow AKA Francine Thibeault, in a slightly idiosyncratic, unaffected vocal style; as far as I'm concerned, its got all the good things about that early 80's Montreal synthy (post-) disco sound that I love (plus some lovely label art, too).

Listen: France Harlow - Vol la nuit (French Version) (1983, Illusion)
Listen: France Harlow - Dance The Night (English Version) (1983, Illusion)

The synthesized backing never crosses into gimmicky overkill, and in a greater feat, neither does the added saxophone, which is deployed rather tastefully on both sides. While the lady herself has made her presence known on the lone youtube posting of this record, hitting back at one critic of her vocal abilities, I do have to say that I actually quite like the fact that the lady's voice is just a little bit rough around the edges here. She almost sounds like a punk/new-wave refugee, with a slightly hesitant deadpan which gives way to little flickery moments of sincerity every now and then. Or maybe she was just an amateur. Either way, a lot of Montreal productions from this time aren't necessarily regarded for their big-budget, hi-gloss finesse, as I've mentioned before. At times there's a bit of a shoestring quality that comes through, which, when done right (as it is here), actually works in its favour.

While I ripped both sides of this single at the proper speed, I personally like playing this one slightly slowed down, for extra dreaminess.

LINKS:
discogs: france harlow - vol la nuit/dance the night 12''
discogs: france harlow
discogs: frank ceniccola
youtube: francine thibeault

CATEGORIES: CAN-CON DISCO, MINI DELIVERIES

Unreleased Candido Acetate Versions


Somewhat overdue, but just to add on to the previous post - a bit more about the recent unofficial repressing of a rare acetate of two songs - "Thousand Finger Man" and "Dancin' & Prancin" from Candido's 1979 Salsoul album.

As far as I know, these were very limited pressings, only available at Juno and Rush Hour, starting sometime around November/December. Initially said to have been a limited pressing of only 300 copies (which included a little info-sheet with a scan of the original acetate), it appears a second run was issued towards the end of 2013 after the first pressings sold out (minus the info sheet and where my copy appears to be from).

Granted, the sound quality is far from perfect - after all, it is a re-pressing, and a re-pressing of an acetate, no less; however beyond sound quality, the recordings themselves seem quite a bit better than demo quality. According to the info sheet, there are no mixing credits given on the original acetate, so these appear to have been early versions of these songs, before they were further mixed/polished up for the album.

Listen: Candido - Thousand Finger Man (Unreleased Version)
Listen: Candido - Dancin & Prancin' (Unreleased Version)

Both versions appear to have been subjected to a few more disco conventions for the album, (ie. added breakdowns towards the last portion of both songs), toning down some of the jazz/improvisational elements (note that distinct recurring sax solo in "Dancin' & Prancin'," later relegated to the fade-out on the LP). While the differences between the acetate and album versions of "Thousand Finger Man" are fairly subtle - a more elaborated breakdown in at the beginning, but missing the percussion break towards the middle, "Dancin' & Prancin'," on the other hand feels quite a bit brighter and bolder here. With the aforementioned recurring sax solos and that extra prominent bass after the 5 minute mark, the acetate version feels both jazzier and funkier than the LP version. As per the album, produced by Joe Cain and arranged by Louis Small (more on them in the previous post), with Norman Durham (bass) and Woody Cunningham (drums) backing Candido - one can definitely hear more than a few shades of the sound Cunningham and Durham (and Louis Small) would craft on their debut album as Kleeer not long after.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
liner notes: candido - dancin' & prancin' (1979, salsoul / 2012, big break/cherry red) (friday february 7, 2014)

LINKS:
juno records: candido - the unreleased versions
rush hour: candido - the unreleased versions
discogs: candido - thousand finger man / dancin' & prancin' (unreleased versions)
secret rendezvous: candido acetate - unreleased versions of 'thousand finger man' and 'dancin' and prancin' ' (monday november 11, 2013)
discogs: candido - dancin' and prancin' lp
facebook: candido camero fans
discogs: joe cain
discogs: louis small
discogs: woody cunningham
discogs: norman durham

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES

Friday, February 07, 2014

Liner Notes:
Candido - Dancin' & Prancin' (1979, Salsoul /
2012, Big Break/Cherry Red)

Although this is my first post on one of my liner note projects, this actually wasn't my first liner note assignment, those would be a couple of France Joli reissues on the Gold Legion label in 2011 (more on that in a future post). My latest, for the "Patrick Adams Presents Phreek" (1978, Atlantic) album reissued on BBR was released just this week, however, I'm starting here because this is the first one that I've actually been compensated for (thank you, good people at BBR/Cherry Red!) and one that overall, despite some twists and turns along the way, that I was fairly happy with..

When this album was offered to me, I was more than willing to take the assignment, as this was one record that had been a favourite of mine, ever since hearing it some eleven years earlier. Unlike quite a few disco albums that I love, this wasn't one that I had discovered through a record store, but from an early online purchase as a teenager, and still a few years before I was able to obtain a credit card (money orders were still cheap then, as I recall). I had little idea what to expect when I bought this, aside from the fact that it was described as a CD reissue of a genuine Salsoul album (released on the Charly label in the UK), which was more than enough for me.

After listening to it, even without having a great deal of context on this album, it had struck me as one of the more intriguing disco records I had heard up until that point. I had no idea how significant Candido Camero was as a percussionist, often mentioned alongside Afro-Cuban legends like Chano Pozo and Mongo Santamaria, and how upon coming to America, he would play with just about anybody that was anybody in the jazz world. Nor did I realize how much of a staple "Jingo" had become and how often it had been covered and remixed thoughout the years. At the time, this was the first album I'd bought where it wasn't a singer, or a producer, but a percussionist that was getting top billing. As unorthodox as it may have seemed to me, this album sounded nothing like a commercial shotgun marriage that the times or the situation may have suggested, but one that actually came with a deep, even elemental disco sound that not only recalled the genre's roots, but at times ended up sounding oddly contemporary in ways that I hadn't quite expected, twenty some years after its release.


Candido - Thousand Finger Man
Uploaded by tkind1

Fast-forward eleven years later, as soon as I started researching for this essay, a few roadblocks. First, the licensors stipulated that any interviews with the artist or any persons involved with the recording had to be approved by them first; second, none was forthcoming; third: even if I did get approval, as it turned out, quite a few of the key personnel were no longer around to be interviewed anyway. These days, whether because of the squeeze on the CD market, or in spite of it, the standards for reissues are generally a fair bit higher today than they had ever been, and that's more often than not reflected in the liner essays on many of the BBR reissues in particular, where input from the principals has become if not essential, often expected. That said, time was ticking and I'd have to do without any outside quotes if I were to ever finish this. As it turned out, that was okay, since that had me trying to compensate in other ways, which, in part, had me delving into the Latin side of the Salsoul enterprise a lot more than I had expected to.

Starting with The Cayre Brothers' Caytronics label (essentially, Salsoul's parent company) where they began licensing Latin music from major labels in Latin America and Europe for release in the US, to what they did with Salsoul, one can't help but admire the Cayre Brothers and their entrepreneurial skill. At a time when major labels in the US paid little attention to the Latin market, to today, when such a thing as the Latin Grammys exist; one could say that the Cayres were one of the pioneers in seeing the potential of Latin music in America and from there in seeing the potential of Disco with Salsoul, which I'm sure, still pays handsome dividends today.

One of the major thrusts of my liner essay was that this album was ultimately one of the last to fulfill the original promise of the Salsoul label, that marriage of Salsa and Soul, of Latin music and Black music that had informed a lot of its early successes with Joe Bataan and The Salsoul Orchestra, one that was foundational to disco in America.. As it turns out, this wasn't lost on Salsoul themselves, as a June 1979 article in Billboard (basically a promo for this record) entitled "Salsoul Back to Mix of Hispanic and Black Musics" had indicated.

Going back to my third roadblock, if I had done this just over a year or two prior, I would have probably been able to talk to Woody Cunningham and Norman Durham both of Kleeer, who had both since passed away (in 2010 and 2011, respectively), and who practically, along with Candido himself, made up the core of this album's rhythm section.

Another person I'd hoped to make contact with was the album's producer Joe Cain. Writer David Carp had published a profile on Joe Cain for Descarga.com in 1999, which is easily the most comprehensive article on the man's work that I've read anywhere. And while it was over a decade old, providing that the email address still worked, I hoped he'd be able to provide a lead in case I did get permission. While I was able to contact David Carp, sadly he would inform me that Joe Cain had passed away some 8-9 years earlier, so unfortunately that too was also out of the question. As it was, Carp's article on Joe Cain provided plenty of background information that I was able to use for this.




Candido - Hands of Fire (Manos de fuego) (Documentary)
Uploaded by MVDmusicvideo
 

While Candido Camero himself is still alive and if one can believe it, still performing occasionally at the age of 92; whether or not he would have been willing to talk to me for this, I would have loved to have had the opportunity. Again, I didn't have permission, so unfortunately I'd have to go without his words also. In the absence of quotes from the man himself, I ended up turning to Ivan Acosta's 2005 documentary - "Hands of Fire" (see above) which is fully viewable online, and easily the definitive exploration of Candido's life and work out there today. Needless to say, this too proved absolutely invaluable to me.

Candido with Salsoul's Ken Cayre
(photo: Doug Young, courtesy: Brian Chin)
Although people involved with the record were off limits, one person that I did end up going to was music writer/historian Brian Chin, who had written for Record World and Billboard in the past and who has also authored quite a number of liner note essays over the years. He ended up providing some key insight into the Afro-Cuban influence in disco and the brief history of remixer/DJ David Rodriguez, Jr. who did the mix for "Jingo". As well, a few months after submitting my essay, Brian took out his copy of the album, a test pressing in which he had found an accompanying press photo - a little-seen shot of Candido with Ken Cayre, taken when he signed his Salsoul contract. Brian generously sent me a scan for it to be included in the reissue. I wasn't sure whether it would make it under the wire, but thankfully it did and has been reprinted on the first page of the booklet, so massive thanks to Brian for his help and generosity here..


Corrections/Clarifications:

There were other percussionists who dabbled in Disco at the time, like Willie Bobo and Candido's old friend Mongo Santamaria, to name a couple of peers that I mentioned in the liner notes. I was perhaps stretching things when I mentioned that "no one had really placed a percussionist like Candido into a full length disco setting before," in which I meant to say that neither of those two recorded full disco albums centered around their percussion quite like this one that Candido did. Unfortunately, I had neglected to mention two other big ones who did. Although not necessarily of the same Afro-Cuban tradition, there was King Errisson and his 1977 "L.A. Bound" album with Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, and Ralph MacDonald, whose "Calypso Breakdown" was on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I suppose one could split hairs and say that perhaps Errisson's album was centred more around him as a singer, rather than a percussionist, and that MacDonald's 1979 album "Counterpoint" wasn't entirely disco focused, but in my case, it was an omission that I should have addressed.

Also, at one point I talk about the arranger on the bulk of this album, Louis Small, who had also worked on Kleeer's records and albums by Sylvester and Inner Life. I had mentioned at one point, that he was "bringing his broad experience across both Latin and Disco fields to the proceedings." Unfortunately, I got this one somewhat backwards. This album pre-dated his work with Inner Life and Sylvester and possibly also Kleeer. Whether this album is what lead to him working on those disco projects, I wasn't able to figure out either, but this was one other thing I should have caught earlier..

Liner notes aside, as far as the music is concerned, a couple of super rare acetate versions of "Thousand Finger Man" and "Dancin and Prancin'" had surfaced just late last year. While these had been re-pressed (unofficially, of course) on vinyl, I only wish these had come out earlier, so maybe someone would have been able to find the tapes and possibly include them on this reissue. Finding tapes would have probably been a long-shot in itself, but perhaps something to flag in case of any future reissues (to add to all the others, see Competing Reissues, below).

Candi's Funk, the follow-up album:

Listening to Candido's follow-up Salsoul record, "Candi's Funk," I couldn't help but feel like that record was a major drop in quality from this album, which had me wondering if maybe that was just an album comprised of this record's throwaways. One other thing that made me wonder about that, was that on this album, three of the four tracks were arranged by Louis Small, with only one track, the last one - "Rock and Shuffle (A-Ha)" arranged by Carlos Franzetti. On "Candi's Funk," Franzetti was the arranger on all the tracks. I thought perhaps Candido and Joe Cain maybe did a series of sessions with both arrangers, with the best cuts selected for this record and the leftovers cobbled together later for "Candi's Funk." Given that I wasn't able to talk to any personnel to confirm my suspicions, I didn't bother mentioning this in the liner essay, but it remains a hunch, so am putting it out there anyway..

Competing Reissues:

I should also say that this isn't the first time this album has been reissued on CD. Aside from the Charly reissue from the mid 90s that I mentioned earlier, there was the Candido Salsoul Anthology released in 2005 back when Suss'd Records in the UK did their own Salsoul relaunch which included all the tracks from this album. Unidisc here in Canada reissued this album a few years later when they were putting out a number of Salsoul albums. Also, more recently, the Octave Lab label in Japan put out their own reissue, as part of their own Salsoul reissue program which they've been doing seemingly right alongside BBRs reissue program. I don't have the recent Japanese Octave Lab reissues, so I can't speak to its quality, but going back to what I mentioned at the beginning of the post though, it's a pretty accurate reflection of the state of disco reissues today, where there are not only a large number of albums surfacing or re-surfacing on CD, but are even given competing reissues in different territories (hence, why they aren't officially 'competing,' but with a great deal of reissue/catalogue album purchases done online, who is anyone kidding?)

Looking at and listening to this BBR reissue though, the attention to detail that they've consistently put into the presentation of their releases sets the bar pretty high among reissue labels and to my ears, this is probably the best that this album has ever sounded. So take that for what it's worth.. Either way, I'm glad to have played a small part in helping keep this record out there for everyone to enjoy.

PURCHASE:

candido - dancin' & prancin (remastered cd) (1979, salsoul / 2012, big break/cherry red)
amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | dusty groove | big break records

latin jazz u.s.a. presents: candido - hands of fire (manos de fuego) (documentary dvd)
amazon.com | descarga.com | mvd entertainment group

LINKS:
facebook: big break records
facebook: candido camero fans
discogs: candido - dancin' and prancin' lp
big break records: candido - dancin' and prancin'
google books: billboard - salsoul back to mix of hispanic and black musics (june 16, 1979)
drum! - drumming for fanatics: candido: the father of modern conga drumming (by bobby sanabria)
descarga.com - meet joe cain (by david carp) (april 29, 1999)
discogs: joe cain
discogs: louis small
discogs: carlos franzetti
soultracks: kleeer's woody cunningham dies (january 10, 2010)
discogs: woody cunningham
soultracks: kleeer bassist norman durham dies (november 4, 2011)
discogs: norman durham

CATEGORIES: LINER NOTES

Monday, February 03, 2014

Disco Delivery Liner Notes


In the last two/three years or so, one of the little spin-offs that has come about, largely through this blog, has been in writing liner note essays for disco CD reissues. Despite what has been said about the demise of the CD; the market, or at least the activity around disco reissues seems like it has never been more fruitful than in these last several years. Those of you who've been following the Disco Discharge/Recharge series on Harmless and labels like Funkytown Grooves, Big Break Records/Cherry Red or Gold Legion can probably attest to that.

I have to thank writer and PopMatters contributing editor Christian John Wikane firstly, for approaching me and giving me the opportunity to add my words to these reissues and help document the stories around these records. While I haven't worked on a large quantity of releases so far, it has provided some wonderful opportunities not just in giving context to these records, but also in getting to speak to some of the people - the artists, producers and singers behind the material in a way that I wouldn't have imagined just several years ago.

That being said, I figured the blog would be the ideal place to document some of that work, and without reprinting the essays in full (at least not while the releases are in print), at least give some background to them and a perhaps little bit of promotion at the same time. There is, compared to what I do here on the blog, certain limitations that come with the space in a CD booklet of course, some material that while compelling to me, won't necessarily fit on the essay and some corrections/clarifications after the fact, so that's at least part of what I hope to document here..

I'll soon be adding a little link on the sidebar to all posts about my liner notes, as well as a post on one of the releases I was involved with last year, and hopefully go from there as they surface..

CATEGORIES: LINER NOTES

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Vintage Articles:
Sylvester Changes - by Douglas Price //
The Advocate - October 19, 1977

One week ago on December 16th marked 25 years since Sylvester's untimely death, from AIDS complications in 1988. Not that it hasn't been said before, but that someone who was not only openly gay, but as unapologetically flamboyant as Sylvester could become one of disco's biggest stars, if there was anyone that symbolized disco at its most liberating, it was Sylvester..

Given the strides in LGBT visibility over the past decade, and having been the subject of documentaries, tribute shows and more recently, a long overdue reissue of his Greatest Hits; despite the 25 years since his death, his legacy and impact still feel as relevant as ever. Thinking about Sylvester lately, I began looking through my files and found this interview with Douglas Price from the October 19, 1977 issue of The Advocate..

Pre-Mighty Real, this interview captures a fairly pivotal moment in his career, having just released his eponymous album, his first for Fantasy, its cover image of a dapper suited Sylvester marked a fairly major departure from the days of the Cockettes and The Hot Band (even if the butch drag never did stick). Discussing his ambitions, like playing the San Francisco Opera House (which he eventually did), Sylvester seemed to be just on the verge of taking off and both artist and interviewer seemed to know it. Eminently quotable, those who have read Joshua Gamson's excellent biography - The Fabulous Sylvester will likely recognize a few quotes taken from this interview. If one didn't realize how perfectly suited that title was, if this interview was any indication, 'fabulous' also appears to have been one of his most well-used adjectives in conversation.

Before I give out any more spoilers, read on and enjoy...

______________________________



Sylvester Changes by Douglas Price

"Changes... Lord I'm so tired of changes." But change seems to be the catalyst behind a singing career that has taken Sylvester from the raunchy drag days of the Cockettes' haphazard appearances at San Francisco's Palace Theatre to one-night stands in cabarets as the blackest Egyptian "queen" since Cleopatra; resplendent with feathered headresses, gold and silver trappings of the gaudiest proportions, to hot pants, sequins and more glitter.

Glitter and outrage: terms synonymous with a man possessing a voice that can range from down-and-out gospel to cool blues and jazz. Tender lyrics ... hot pulsating disco rhythm ... all delivered in a strikingly clear falsetto that belongs to Sylvester alone.

Those lucky enough to have followed his often erratic career see the changes. New changes: new album, a new record company, a new manager, a big new band, a new look ... toned down from the old days but nonetheless electrifying. And backing him up are two of the most talented women to hit the musical scene in some time. Their show saturates the audience with the real love of performing.

This man of changes lives quietly with his lover in a pleasant apartment tucked on the side of Twin Peaks overlooking Castro Village in San Francisco, his adopted home. No sequined curtains at the windows, no glitter on the ceiling; instead a quiet place to live surrounded by the things he loves. Most noticeable is a collection of his photographs grouped family-style around those of Lena Horne, Ivy Anderson, Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. "They're my idols" he says quickly.

On the balcony two five-month-old Borzois are lounging against the San Francisco skyline. "One is Uri and the other is Festoff. Actually pets are my first real love," Sylvester says. "I love to train them to be perfect. Not show dogs, but to stand right and look good and go prancing around town looking fabulous!"

Prancing around and looking fabulous. It sounds like your life. It's all show biz isn't it?

Every day. My fantasies are my realities. I live that way ... then I'm happy. When I conform too much it makes me nervous.

Besides the changes in your management and band, are there any other changes?

Yeah, changes in myself. Changes from the old days. I'm more settled now ... less outrageous, I think, in the way that I think.

Less outrageous than in the days of total outrage, the Cockettes? Where are the Cockettes now?

I have no idea. That's all in the past. Their only claim to fame was the Cockettes and a lot of them never evolved any further than that. To me that's something in the past. That's something that happened along with my big Egyptian shows or blues shows. People who saw them got it; those who didn't, missed it. They can't be recaptured. The Cockettes died in New York and that was it. You don't die in New York ... in music, theatre, or whatever. That's when I decided I'd have to crank here in San Francisco again.

Why San Francisco instead of Los Angeles?

I grew up in L.A. and hated it. It's an awful place for artists and musicians. It's hard there. You could work your whole life and not get where you want. I was out of place. It was too straight ... too strange all the time.

I came to San Francisco and loved it. I saw things and met people I would have never known in Los Angeles because it was hush-hush or you had to belong to a certain clique to be involved. When I came here, everybody - the fabulous ones, the poor ones, the queens, the straights - were all carrying on together, having a good time. Moving to San Francisco was the turn in my life as far as my own personal liberation.

You speak of your personal liberation. What is that?

I strongly believe that I can do anything I want to any time I want to do it. I couldn't be that way in Los Angeles. Here I can do anything.

Was your early life centered in the black ghetto?

No! [laughter] A lot of people would generally associate me with that, but I don't know anything about it. I never knew what it was like not to have money, because I always had it, and when I got it I always went out and spent it on fabulous things. I wasn't from a general poor black family ... not at all.

Are you pleased with the new album?

Yes. The new album is the only one I've made that I like. I never listen to my own records. We don't play any of them here. I do play certain songs on this one. My favorite is "Tipsong."

You have aligned yourself with two great backup singers. Where did you meet them?

I went through auditions for three days. Martha [Wash] came first and I fell in love with her. I went through some more people, but they couldn't cut it. I finally went to Martha and asked her if she had a friend who was big like her and could sing like her, and she said, "Yeah." I met Izora [Rhodes] the next night and we rehearsed in the back of my V.W. van and we've been together ever since - a little over a year now.

How did the connection with Fantasy Records come about?

I met Nancy Pitts from Honey Records Productions at the Palms Cafe. She liked the show and told me she'd been looking for an act like mine. Then I met Harvey Fuqua. They came to the next show I did at Elephant Walk and were completely blown away. They told me they wanted to do this and do that and I said "Sure, all this time we've been looking for a manager; looking for a record company; looking, working and striving for this one goal." That night I thought, "Fuck it. I'm not going to be bothered. If it's going to come, it'll come. If not, I'm not going to die." That was my attitude. Lo and behold, everything I'd been looking for and working for did come. The negotiations and demo tapes were done; they came to me and asked how much money I wanted and I told them. They came back and said I could have this, this and this, and I started working on the album literally before the contracts were signed. That's how much faith they had in me. Before I knew it, the album was done and we were doing a thousand records a day. God, its been two months now and the record is number 20 on the charts.

Has success finally come for Sylvester?

Yeah, but I'm still not excited about it. I don't know when I'll get excited. At first I thought I'd be excited when I heard it on more than one radio station. Now they're coming in at three or four a day and it still doesn't excite me.

Do you think it is important that more gay entertainers begin to speak out on issues concerning human rights and stop hiding in the closet?

Oh God, yes.

Why don't they?

Why don't they? They must be scared, I guess - scared of themselves or the publicity. It might hurt their careers, especially if they're established from the past. But now it's O.K. No one really cares. My God, look at me. When I first went on the road I went to Kenosha, Wisconsin; Des Moines, Iowa; Duncan, Alabama; places like that. God, I had platinum hair down to my waist, birdseed tits, glittered high heels, and I was ragging and carrying on just like I was in San Francisco. I don't think you ever have to come right out and say "Look, I'm a homosexual; I'm gay; I do this; I do that." People should do what they have to do to make themselves secure. But when the time comes for a personal stand against bigotry, then I think people should get together. I am against discrimination on all levels, not just the gay level. My parents never taught me to hate or dislike or disrespect anyone.

In a song on the album, "I Tried to Forget You," you say, "You can have everything and be a king or a queen on a throne, but you still ain't nobody, baby, when you've got to sit there all alone."

It's true. Do you know where that came from? When I went to Europe I thought it was going to be the turning point of my life. I went by myself, which was awful. I really don't like being by myself. And there I was with all these things to see, places to go, and no one to share the experience with. No one for a second opinion. No one to say, "Look at that - isn't that fabulous?" So I came home and just started to work and its been going on ever since.

Why do you just use one name?

Because it's my trip, first of all. Nothing goes on with the band or the show that isn't from my head or energy. Before, when I gave all the credit to everyone, I'd get too many attitudes and couldn't really depend on anyone. I can always depend on myself. I will always know my material. I will always sing. I will always dress. So I decided since I'm doing all the work, I might as well let it just be me. All the way the responsibility is on me.

When you are working a show, you have an uncanny way of making people in the
audience, especially friends, feel as though you are singing directly to them.


God, I am. I always sing to people I know or a familiar face. Even when the audience gets really big, I have to have someone to work off. All I need to know is that one person gets it and then it works. Sometimes I just make a visual contact with someone and it takes up right there. Everyone sees me directing this attention at this one person and they think I'm cruising, but I'm not. Sometimes I'm just not physically up to doing a show, but the energy comes from the audience and I always get into it and figure I'll give it all 'cause I've got one more show to do.

Have San Franciscans seen the last of Sylvester in the gay bars on Sunday afternoons?

I'm afraid so, yes. It's sad in a way, 'cause I would always like a place where I could play for people for free. Like the Castro area. It is where I live, and performing in my neighborhood was my dream - like a workshop for new material. I got closer to people than ever before because I've always been afraid to be close to people. What people think scares me. I know they're going to think it anyway, but it really makes me nervous.

Where do you go from here?

The world. Everywhere that will take me. Anywhere. I'll play anywhere, anytime, to anyone. We're going to New York, Canada and probably Europe this fall. But first I'm going to have my birthday party in San Francisco at someplace fabulous like the Fairmont or the St. Francis, where lots of people can come and spend thousands on a big, big party. It's The Big One for me.

The Big One?

Yeah, my last birthday party. I can't say which one because most people ask how old I am and I just say I'm in my 20's, which I am. But this will be my last birthday party. I go to the lab shortly after, so I'll be ageless.

What do you want most to happen with your career

For it to be comfortable and not too demanding. But it's going to be. It's already started. I have no real projections except I want to play the San Francisco Opera House. I am - and I'm saying this - I am going to play the opera house! It's going to be a fabulous show with a full orchestra, lots of costumes, lots of lighting and lots of everything. Lots! And whenever you think you have too much, you should put on more, just to be safe.

Then the glitter, tinsel, outrage isn't gone?

No. Like I said, there's the streets and there's the stage. I just would not wear anything on the stage I wear on the streets. It is part of the illusion I want to create for an audience. So glitter and sparkle and lighting will always be there in some form. I always encourage people to smoke at my shows so that the lights will do little fuzzy things, because it creates a softness for me on the stage.

In other words, the theatricality of performing happens for you as much as for the audience?

Oh sure. I always get off on my shows. Even the bad ones. I've had shows I thought were awful, but there is always something to learn. I'm very critical of myself and the show. But if something goes wrong, I've learned to control it. Now I just burst out laughing.

Are there regrets looking back at 10 years of good times?

Yeah, I should have saved some money, but I don't really regret not saving it because I had fabulous times with all of it. Now I'm thinking of business ventures and investing my money.

In what?

Condominiums. Oh, and I'm going to open a chain of mortuaries. I really am. I'm going to open them, not work in them, although I did that for two years in Los Angeles. I was a cosmetician. I'll start off with one and have the best service available. I'm going to have Mercedes instead of Cadillacs. I am going to have a special hearse made by the Mercedes Benz Co. I will call it "Death with Dignity." Then I'll buy condominiums and live on a hill in San Francisco where I can see everything.
..............................

For a man who has spent the better part of his life making his fantasies his reality, it is hard to believe that Sylvester won't attain whatever goals he sets for himself. His show and album attest to that; they are as unique as the man himself: a person and product of his own invention, not perhaps for every taste; but for others there is no performer who can get down and sing with such style. He says it all in the last cut on the new album:

I don't care where you're going
I don't care where you've been
Going to keep you in my heart to be my friend
I'm going to love you more and more
'Cause I just want you to be my friend
And it's never too late, never too late ■


______________________________

LINKS:
sylvester - official website
facebook: sylvester (official fan page)
twitter: welovesylvester (official feed)
discogs: sylvester - s/t lp
youtube: sylvester - mighty real (music doc short)
rate your music: venue: the palms cafe - 1977 sylvester performances
uncle donald's castro street: the elephant walk (1975-1995)
mighty real - a fabulous sylvester musical
goodreads: the fabulous sylvester: the legend, the music, the seventies in san francisco by joshua gamson

CATEGORIES: VINTAGE ARTICLES, INTERVIEWS

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's a better than good time..


Recently I was tipped off by reissue consultant Donald Cleveland (who, for the record, was not involved in this particular project) to the quiet release of the full 12 minute Walter Gibbons acetate mix of Gladys Knight and the Pips' "It's A Better Than Good Time," as a bonus track on the Funkytown Grooves reissue of their "The One and Only" (1978, Buddah) album, just last month. For those who may be unaware, the Walter Gibbons mix of "It's A Better Than Good Time," is (or at least was), in both of its versions, one of the more coveted items among disco collectors. Originally released only in Canada as a 12" through Buddah's Canadian licensee, Quality Records, the released 12" version of Walter's mix ran at around half the time of the acetate mix, having been edited down to 6.53. However sought-after that Canadian 12" was (which has appeared on at least two compilations so far, mastered from vinyl - Strut Records' Bob Blank retrospective "The Blank Generation" and Joey Negro's "The Soul of Disco, Vol. 2"), the real rarity was the Sunshine Sound acetate, which until recently was the only place where Walter's full mix had surfaced. While the Funkytown Grooves reissue bills it as 'previously unreleased,' that's perhaps only partially true. The 12 minute acetate mix had appeared previously (and to much greater fanfare) on Strut Records' Walter Gibbons retrospective - "Jungle Music" (2010, Strut) a few years ago. That version was understandably lacking in sound quality, having been mastered from the acetate (which was also in mono). The Funkytown Grooves reissue however, is the very first time it has appeared in stereo, on CD directly from the master tapes, which like many disco masters from this time, had been assumed either lost or destroyed. That being said, while kudos are in order for the people at Battery Studios and Funkytown Grooves for bringing this forward, it's too bad they missed an opportunity here and neglected to mention Walter's name in the tracklist, anonymously calling it a 'full extended mix' instead and furthermore, repeating the typo from the Canadian 12" in the credits, attributing the mix to Walter 'Gibbens,' instead of Gibbons.

Written and produced by British writer Tony Macaulay, (who had come to prominence in the bubblegum era with songs like "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" and "Build Me Up Buttercup") and originally released as the single off "The One and Only," right at the acrimonious end of their tenure with Buddah, it's not entirely clear whether "The One and Only" was an actual album project they had embarked on, or whether these were leftover sessions cobbled together by the label. Whatever the case, this record had come out at what was likely the most tumultuous time in the group's history. With the flurry of back-and-forth suits and countersuits with Gladys (and eventually CBS - who signed her while still under contract) on one side, and Buddah, its then parent company Arista and their respective presidents, Art Kass and Clive Davis on the other, the lawsuits seemed to completely overshadow whatever music they were releasing at the time. As an example, in one issue of Billboard, the full-page ad (pictured here) trumpeting the album's release would appear, along with an article on the very next page, seemingly cancelling out all the hype - detailing the latest developments in the Gladys-Buddah suit.


Needless to say, it hardly seemed like a better than good time for much of anything. With all the ensuing legal action apparently preventing Gladys and the Pips from working together until 1980, if the whole thing wasn't messy enough, this was also happening in the midst of the divorce and ensuing custody battle between Gladys and her then husband Barry Hankerson (uncle of the late Aaliyah and one time manager of R. Kelly and with whom Gladys co-starred in their ill-fated film together, Pipe Dreams). Reflecting back on the brink of her and The Pips' return in 1980, Gladys would call this time "the worst period we've ever had in our entire career....the foundation [of] my family, my career.. everything just started shaking at once."

As far as the song itself goes, I had first come across it over a decade ago, when I had found a copy of Gladys Knight's first 'solo' record - "Miss Gladys Knight" (1978, Buddah). Even though I had no idea about the Walter Gibbons connection at the time, but having been after anything even remotely disco, it was this very song with the slightly altered title "It's A Better Than Good Time (Disco)" that prompted me to buy the record. Again, given that she was on the outs with her label, not sure if "Miss Gladys Knight" was actually intended to be Gladys' first 'solo' album, or just a bunch of leftover sessions assembled together (or in the case of this song, recycled) to make an album and/or fulfill a contractual obligation. Either way, I'd lean slightly towards the latter, since I remember being somewhat disappointed by it at the time. For an album that was supposed to be Gladys' debut as a soloist, the whole thing felt far too dull and pedestrian, and as far as "It's A Better Than Good Time," which was singled out as the album's disco showpiece, I have to admit, at the time the song (essentially a duller mix of the same one on "The One and Only") didn't strike me as anything special at the time, certainly not enough to redeem the record, or rise above anything else on it.

It wasn't until several years later, hearing about the how legendary its Walter Gibbons mix was, and the sums it commanded online (cut to me thinking: "that song? really!?") and later, finally hearing it for myself on someone's disco mix, that I finally realized what everyone was raving about. Listening back now, while the differences didn't render it unrecognizable, this is still one of those cases where this song's legendary status can't be attributed simply to its rarity, but true to Gibbons' form, to the fact that it's a genuinely excellent example of how a good extended mix can be more than just an excuse for extra dancing or mixing time, but how utterly transformative it could be in the hands of someone with the right amount of sensitivity and creativity.




Gladys Knight and the Pips - It's A Better Than Good Time (Full Walter Gibbons Mix)
 

While some are quick to point out Walter's awkward edits in places (one at the 6.09 mark, another at 6.48), what ultimately redeems it is the way he gave space to the vocals and the music; building and breaking down the song, amplifying all the emotion he could wring out of Gladys' voice. What Walter did not only gently deconstructed the layers of production, but also highlighted the feeling of the song in a way that the original version wasn't entirely able to. Take a line like "you could say I'm the classic case, my own thoughtlessness thrown back in my face," - which suddenly revealed itself on Walter's mix, but had completely passed me by on the LP, despite being one of the song's heavier lines. It's like all of the extra space - the subtle string passages, the newly prominent guitar and percussion, and all the ways he deployed the lead and background vocals gave extra opportunities for the song - its groove and the soulful touch of Gladys' voice to really sink in and make itself felt. After a little while, I can safely say that those awkward edits barely even registered to my ears. In spite of the whole thing running some twelve minutes, there's nothing about what Walter did that feels forced, arbitrary or overdone, like its length was not simply a consequence of a desperate disco extension, but simply the time that it took for a story to be told and for the song's emotions to be fully conveyed.

Apparently Walter's mixes of "It's A Better Than Good Time" and its B-side "Saved by the Grace of Your Love," a bit of gospel inspired disco-soul (which sounded like something Walter would have gone back to in his born-again days) which is also included on the reissue, were set to be part of an album Buddah was planning called "Dancing With Gladys," a companion of sorts to the "Dancin' With Melba" album they had released on Melba Moore (also reissued by Funkytown Grooves not long ago) - a collection of tracks from their Buddah back-catalogues remixed for disco play. Reported only briefly in one of Barry Lederer's Disco Mix columns in Billboard, given all that was going on, its release was more than likely thwarted by all the legal wrangling surrounding Gladys and Buddah at the time (and may also partly explain why the original Gibbons 12" only surfaced in Canada). Not sure if this means that there may be other mixes by Walter or anyone else from this project still lying in the vaults; for the moment though, while those who were lucky enough to have had an acetate copy of this all these years may find their copies significantly devalued, I think most of us can be grateful that this particular mix has been salvaged and is now fully available for everyone to enjoy, the way it was meant to be heard.

PURCHASE:

gladys knight and the pips - the one and only (expanded cd edition)
FUNKYTOWNGROOVES | AMAZON.COM | DUSTY GROOVE

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
disco delivery #64: melba moore - burn (1978, epic) (saturday april 14, 2012)
r.i.p. loleatta holloway (tuesday march 11, 2011)
whitney does loleatta (friday august 7, 2009)
disco delivery #36: loleatta holloway - queen of the night (1978, gold mind/salsoul) (wednesday february 28, 2007)

LINKS:
discogs: gladys knight and the pips - it's a better than good time (sunshine sound acetate)
discogs: gladys knight and the pips - it's a better than good time (canadian 12")
discogs: gladys knight and the pips - the one and only (lp)
discogs: gladys knight and the pips - the one and only (expanded edition)
discogs: walter gibbons
djhistory: walter gibbons
tim lawrence: disco madness: walter gibbons and the legacy of turntablism and remixology (from the journal of popular music studies)
tony macaulay - official site
google books: billboard - closeup: gladys knight and the pips - the one and only (august 19, 1978)
google books: billboard - gladys knight and cbs face buddha records suit (august 19, 1978)
google books: jet magazine - gladys knight and pips file $23 million claim (may 25, 1978)
google books: jet magazine - gladys knight names brother, cousins, 2 disc cos. in $28 million suit (november 23, 1978)

CATEGORIES: MINI DELIVERIES, RECENT REISSUES AND RELEASES

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