Arthur Lyman Twofer Heaven

This week, Collectors Choice releases a series of nine CDs compiling eighteen vintage Arthur Lyman exotica LPs in their bird-calling, fish-scraping, pupu-platter-clattering entirety. The liner notes were written by David Smay and myself (with a bio that appears on each disk, and notes for each release). We had fun debunking some of the mythologies that have long clung to this great exotic bandleader, and placing him in context as the true and eternally creative link between small combo jazz and lush island hotel pop. A couple of my favorite discoveries were the rocking version of "Windmills of Your Mind" from 1969's Winner's Circle and a sly bosso nova take on "Hawaiian War Chant" that appeared on the Cottonfields LP, but there's plenty of great stuff to hear on all of these bargain reissues. We hope they'll do something to rescue Arthur Lyman's reputation, which has too long huddled in the shadows of his one-time bandleader Martin Denny.

Check them out here.

Little Band Tate

Just a little bit about one of my very favorite record store finds. I feel they are very under appreciated and also feel you, as inquiring musical minds, should know about them as well.

So, here goes:

Eric Quincy Tate – self-titled
Atlantic/Cotillion/Rhino Handmade

Fans of Southern rock will no doubt want to check out Rhino Handmade’s reissue of the band Eric Quincy Tate’s eponymously named debut. It must be in the water as like another legendary Southern rock band (albeit one that achieved much more fame than the one whose album I am reviewing) who just happened to name themselves after a bastardization of their gym teacher Leonard Skinnerd’s lovely moniker, Eric Quincy Tate was actually a band, not a person, and had no members named Eric, Qunicy, or Tate. The name, however cryptic, really doesn’t matter much in this case, though. What matters is how a band this good only managed to make a mark regionally and never really broke out of the Southeast in terms of popularity. After listening to this album you will realize Eric Qunicy Tate blows most of the second-tier Southern Rock bands like Wet Willie and Sea Level out of the water and comes damn close to reaching the musical heights of the aforementioned king-of-them-all-y’all: Lynyrd Skynyrd!

The bandmembers met each other in the Naval reserves and were stationed in Quincy, MA, but later based themselves down South after forming the band. This was mostly because they were able to find a lot of gigs there, their sound more characteristic with what was happening in the deep South. Playing a lot in Texas near the Gulf Coast area, the band was eventually discovered by the Swamp King himself, Tony Joe White, who felt an affinity for the rocking blend of soul, blues and R&B the band was creating. White helped the band get signed to Capricorn records and produced this debut record, which vanished almost as soon as it was recorded, almost forgotten forever until the fine folks at Rhino realized the album compares favorably to White’s own classic Monument albums. Besides this disc, the band recorded two more albums before splitting up by the end of the ’70’s but none of their other albums came near the glorious heights of this one.

Filled with a greasy, swampy brand of rock, this album sounds a little different than just about everything else under the Southern Rock umbrella. Where most Southern Rock bands were mixing blues and rock, Eric Qunicy Tate decided to keep those elements and add generous helpings of Southern soul and country to their mix. By all accounts, the band could really rock and were excellent on their respective instruments, which makes it all the more surprising that most of the band didn’t even play on their own debut album! Somewhere along the line, executives at the band’s label decided to call in The Dixie Flyers, the house band from the reknowned Sounds of Memphis recording studio, and use them on the album instead. Seems the record company brass felt The Flyers, being established studio vets, would be able to accomplish recording the album a lot quicker than the inexperienced Eric Quincy Tate. To the record sompany, this move made more sense than giving free rein to untested talents. The cost of the recording would stay low and the band would jell together while promoting the album and later recordings could then be made by the actual band. Solid strategy – for a label. Disheartening as hell for a young band. Sad part is, it still happens frequently today. If you only knew how many debut albums by your favorite bands were loaded with studio ringers while the real members of the band watched from the wings, you would faint. Any debut album by a new band on a major label is loaded with ringers. They may not be credited, but they are there. Hell, as a guitar player in my youth, I was offered a chance to join the band of an up and coming recording artist on a big label. I listened to the demo and didn’t feel confident I could play the complicated parts, but was assured I would have my name on the album, be “taught” the parts by the studio whiz who actually played them, and be able to go on tour and become a full-fledged member of the band. I turned the job down (yeah, I’m an idiot) – but it happens a lot, believe me.

But, I have digressed. Let’s get back on topic.

It had to be disconcerting for the actual bandmembers of Eric Quincy Tate to show up at their first session and see all these heavyweights set up and ready to play and to be told they couldn’t play on their own debut. Singer/drummer Donnie McCormack and guitarist Tommy Carlisle were the only two members allowed to play on the album as they were the focal points of the band and also the two songwriters, but the rest of the band had to sit it out. The Memphis Horns also played on the album, but they were added later by overdub and were not present at the same sessions as the band. Though no one involved with the band can remember exactly who decided the band couldn’t play on it’s own record, the demos, alternate cuts and unreleased songs show a band more than capable of handling the job. These cuts feature a relaxed, loose, powerful Eric Quincy Tate who could hold their own with the best of their Southern Rock peers. Consider Eric Quincy Tate one of the best bands ever who ended up completely overlooked in favor of lesser talents.

Southern rock fans who have never heard of this band (or maybe had just forgotten them) are going to have an exciting time listening to this album. Not only will it be a revelation, but it will become an album to which you will return over and over again. The album manages to transcend the genre and show depth not usually associated with the mindless boogie most think of when broaching the subject of Southern Rock. Truly, Eric Quincy Tate wre something unto themselves and it’s a shame more people didn’t realize it at the time. Ah well, thanks to this reissue, there is still a chance for the band to get its’ due. Pick this up and have your preconcieved notions of good ole boy rock changed forever.

Lost In the Groovin’

When someone brings up the word “soul” pertaining to music, I immediately flash back to the first time I heard “Groovin'” by The (Young) Rascals. Let me tell you a little something: if you have not heard their stuff, you are missing out on some of the most soulful music you will ever hear. Some of you might remember the band from the mid-’60’s when they still had the word “Young” as part of their name (as they did when “Groovin'” became a hit) before they shed it in defiance of their record company like a snake shedding it’s old skin to become shiny and new again, just as they later shed their “pop band” persona to pursue some more esoteric groove-based music. But, sadly, if you remember the band at all you probably remember the band most as an “oldies” station staple thanks to their hits “You Better Run” (yeah, they did it way before Pat Benatar and way better, too, I might add), “It’s a Beautiful Morning”, the aforementioned “Groovin'”, “People Got To Be Free” and many, many others. Based around the swirling keyboards and soul-drenched vocals of Felix Cavaliere, the remaining members (vocalist/percussionist Eddie Brigati, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli) more than held their own.

While I find most people consider their music as part of the “rock” genre, I have always considered their some of the deepest soul music I have ever heard. Even before they started making concept albums towards the end of their career, their music was steeped in it, though in their early days it was more R&B based. Later on though, after they said screw off to pandering for hits, they could’ve given the Average White Band some lessons in cutting the cake. In fact, to my ears, their last two or three albums compete with classics like Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and Marvin Gaye’s Hear, My Dear as latter-day soul masterpieces. But then, I have always heard the soul in their sound, right back to the day where their hit “Groovin'” dug its’ groove down deep into my soul. To listen as the band evolves from their R&B roots to their later sound is aurally mesmerizing and well worth whatever it takes to by their albums, especially since they have all recently been reissued.

But, back to “Groovin'”.

I first heard the song about ten years after it was first released when sitting around the dining room table at my brother Robert’s new house as he and his wife Marie unpacked their belongings and started to settle into their new environment. This was in January of 1977 and they had moved from their duplex apartment across town to a new place just across the street from where our parents lived. I was overjoyed as I idolized my older brother. He was a music freak and he had turned me into one as well. All my musical heroes like James Brown, Chuck Berry, Solomon Burke, Jimmy Reed and The Rolling Stones were recommended by my brother, who thankfully knew quality when he heard it. He once got me started on a major blues kick when he casually remarked one day that he liked B. B. King and Muddy Waters. Weird names to me, I started saving my allowance to buy any of their albums I could get my hands on. Muddy Waters? Is that near where the Howlin’ Wolves hang out?

Anyway, as I watched them set up their new house (and helped a little), eventually the record player was removed from the cardboard box used for the move and watched as it was set up on their silver-shiny metal entertainment center. Soon the albums were also unpacked as well as a large stack of 45’s I had given to my brother as a Christmas present a year before. I had acquired the vinyl booty at a garage sale from an older couple who noticed me salivating over all them and said I could have them for nothing. Of course, before I gave them to my brother I had made sure to take out the James Brown and Rolling Stones singles I wanted for myself. As my brother’s wife sat the box of singles on the table, he noticed them and thought it would be cool to play some. He asked his wife and I to pick whichever ones we wanted to hear. I had already taken out all the ones I knew and liked before giving them to him so I had no idea what any of them sounded like and, thus, deferred to his wife, who excitedly picked out The (Young) Rascals’ “Groovin'”. Not knowing the song or the band, I said to myself “whatever” and prepared to get back to helping my brother unpack.

The gentle sound of the bongos beating and the birds chirping immediately caught my ear as if someone had grabbed my head and twisted it Exorcist-like towards the speakers. Up to that point I could not remember a song with an introduction anywhere near as compelling. Then, as the song flowed, I knew I was hearing something special. Something that was about to change my life. It was nothing like any of the Top 40 hits I was used to hearing on the AM stations. It wasn’t a throwaway novelty or glammy, pop rock – it was pure soul, but not like the teen-pop Motown songs everyone else liked but that I felt were too obvious and dumbed-down. This shit was DEEP. This was a song filled with passion, love and heart – it seemed more mature and meaningful than most of the rock songs of the time that I was used to hearing. And I’ve later gone back and listened extensively to the music around when the song was a hit, and there’s not too much that can compare. It was a slice of life, made by those who seemed to have lived a little of one, unlike myself who was still in school and hoping to experience some of the things The Rascal’s lead singer Felix Cavaliere was singing in his song.

Though the song’s lyrical thrust was simple on the surface – being about the lead character spending a leisurely Sunday with his girlfriend – what the song implied was ten times more powerful than what it said outright. The song’s lead character and his girlfriend were deeply in love, led busy lives during the week and looked forward to their special time on Sunday afternoons when they could relax and be together. When you’re a kid and still trying to figure out where you belong, how and how much to love someone else, and how to act in a relationship – this was powerful stuff. Stuff that spoke volumes about what it was like to be an adult in a relationship. The song’s simplicity yet earnestness is the charm, its sense of giving so unalloyed. At it’s core the song is just a slice of life – but it implies much and says volumes to those just starting to really live. To me, this shows deep, deep soulfulness. Sure, the bass doesn’t make your booty feel like shaking and there ain’t a funky horn section led by Fred Wesley, but to me, this song and this band, epitomize what soul is about – deep relationships. Sure, later on I figured out “groovin'” could stand for “fucking” – I mean, check this lyric: “life could be ecstasy, you and me endlessly…groovin'” – but at that point what I thought it meant was just as important to me. Everything the Rascals were and what they became is forever captured in this song. The early innocense and the later explorations of soul and jazz. Though my other favorite part of The Rascal’s sound, Gene Cornish’s grinding rhythm guitar breaks, was absent in favor of a softer tone, everything you ever wanted to know about The Rascals is contained in this song.

The Rascals would eventually get out of the pop song business and explore full-on soul and jazz with their later albums. Rambling masterworks, these way experimental albums would embrace far-reaching concepts and themes far more mature than most “pop” acts, with the music always based on Cavaliere’s soulful keyboard work and husky vocals. Though the band broke up by 1974, the Rascals’ music still resonates today and provides many cool grooves to dance to, grooves I can listen to over and over now that the band’s long-neglected back catalog is available again.